Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £117,673, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1998, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs."— [NOTE: £95,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I desire to make a general survey of the present condition of international affairs. In the ordinary course, this Debate would have been initiated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, but, in the circumstances of which the Committee is aware, my right hon. Friend is unable to attend as regularly in this House as he would like. It therefore falls to me to bring to the notice of the Foreign Secretary and His Majesty's Government certain considerations which make us, on this side of the House, regard the present situation in Europe with some apprehension. Our general view is expressed in the Motion which is put on the Order Paper for some future date, and in case hon. Members may not have noticed it, I would like to read the terms of it to the Committee. The terms of this Motion are:That this House views with apprehension the development of sectional alliances which lead to a growing tension between the nations of Europe, contribute to the sense of insecurity prevalent amongst the Governments, and indefinitely postpone any prospect of a substantial advance towards disarmament; convinced that peace can only be established on a permanent basis by a definite and open policy of fair dealing, conciliation, and respect for national rights, this House urges His Majesty's Government to abandon secret and sectional understandings which lead to jealousy and suspicion, to support at the Council and Assembly of the League of Nations the free discussion of 1762 national grievances that have an international significance, and to take a bold initiative towards the establishment of national security guaranteed by the League of Nations, the settlement of international disputes by compulsory arbitration, and a drastic limitation of armaments.The ground to be covered is necessarily very extensive, and I desire only to detach several points for special observation. The three main subjects into which I want to divide this discussion are the relationship between France and Germany, the relationships in South-Eastern Europe, and the present position of Russia. With regard to Germany and France, we in Parliament here are no longer able to consider the differences that may arise between those two great countries as a subject which is outside our purview and is no immediate concern of ours. Of course, international relations have always been our concern, but it becomes impossible for us now to adopt the attitude which we did in 1870, when there was, unfortunately, a conflict between France and Germany. That attitude on our part would no longer be possible. By the Pact of Locarno we have a very definite obligation. The relationship between those two countries is our immediate concern; we have to watch it with the greatest possible care, and, in the event of strained relations between those two nations and hostilities arising, we are in the very unenviable position, I think, of having to decide which is the aggressor and having to throw the forces of His Majesty on the opposite side. That is a tremendous commitment, and makes it very necessary that we here in Parliament should know very precisely all the ups and downs in the relations between those two countries.
We have noticed within the last few weeks that, in spite of the Pact of Locarno, there has been a change in tone between those two nations, and M. Poincaré's speech, answered by Herr Stresemann's, made us feel that the effort made at Locarno had not really resulted in any definite renewal of friendship between the two nations. On the contrary, we were apprehensive that another period of strained relations might arise between them such as arose some years ago. We should like to ask the Foreign Secretary what is the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to the evacuation of the Rhineland? Are we following 1763 whatever the French Government desire on that point? Eight or nine years after the War is over, when the Pact of Locarno has been signed and a guarantee of the friendship between France and Germany has been made, are we refusing to allow the evacuation of the Rhineland by an armed foreign force larger than the force of the German Army which occupied it before the War? Or are we taking a policy of our own, and are we looking forward to encouraging the evacuation of the Rhineland and urging France to come to some decision upon it? I think it is very important that we should know whether we have got any policy, or whether we are simply saying "ditto" to France.
Rumours are arising constantly all over Europe. Many of them may be without foundation, but we do not know, and without information we cannot deny them. The hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, presiding at a luncheon of the Foreign Press Conference the other day, said in a very excellent speech that it was not only what statesmen said and did, but that the interpretation put on it by the Press mattered just as much. Unfortunately, the Press all the world over finds that crises and scares and strained relations are more paying than statements with regard to peaceable relations. In this commercial age, when every newspaper wants to get the highest circulation, we have on the part of the Press of the world a desire to magnify differences, and I cannot say that we can look upon the Press as very hopeful for producing a peaceful atmosphere. However that may be, the only way in which we can refute comments and statements in newspapers which are not true is by having information before us here in the House of Commons. So long as we are kept ignorant we shall very likely be deluded by the Press. Whenever possible the Foreign Secretary should give us full information and allow us to have the true facts of the case.
There have been comments and rumours that our policy with regard to the Rhineland is dependent on a settlement of the debt question between France and this country. Whether that is true I have no knowledge at all. If these two questions are not being dealt 1764 with side by side, are not interwoven, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will inform us this afternoon. I would also like to ask, before leaving Western Europe, whether the right hon. Gentleman noticed that M. Briand, in a statement issued to the Associated Press in the United States, made a very important pronouncement. In that statement M. Briand said:France is willing publicly to engage, itself with the United States to put war as between the two countries outside the pale of law.That statement received far less attention than it deserved. It is a gesture for what Americans term "the outlawry of war." I should very much like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman observed it, whether he does not think there is a hopeful line of advance in that direction, and whether he is prepared to make a similar arrangement with the United States and with France for the outlawry of war, that is to say, agree that all disputes between the two countries shall be settled by arbitration, and that in no conceivable circumstances will they have recourse to the brutal, senseless and futile method of international war. Another cause for apprehension on our part with regard to Franco-German relations is the French Conscription Bill. These might have been described in times past as the domestic affairs of a foreign nation, in which we have no concern, but, as I said just now, circumstances have changed, and we have the very closest concern in every phase of the relationship between these two countries, and I think it is quite in order for us in Parliament to ask for very full information.
With regard to South-Eastern Europe, which is always rather a hotbed of disputes, in that district we might regard the relationships between the Balkan States with more or less cool indifference were it not that here again we seem to have a commitment, or, if not a definite commitment, a relationship, which seems to make us specially interested. The Committee will have noticed during the last few years that of all the Governments in Europe the Government of Italy seems to have been singled out by His Majesty's Government for special favour. In September, 1926, the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary 1765 met Signor Mussolini at Leghorn, and they had a conversation. I am the very last person to object to Foreign Secretaries meeting one another and talking things over. I think an enormous amount can be done by personal contact in dispelling misunderstanding, but we must remember that this Government, in the very first week of their life in 1924, declared that they did not think it necessary to continue the practice adopted by the Labour Government of making public all commitmitments and agreements, whether verbal or in writing, with foreign Governments. We do not know whether we may be committed in any way in conversation; we do not know whether there may not be some implicit agreement of which we are ignorant, and therefore we have every right to be suspicious and to ask for more complete information. An official communiqué was issued after the Foreign Secretary visited Signor Mussolini, in which it was stated that the two statesmen hadexamined the most important questions of the day and had confirmed the intimacy of the Anglo-Italian relations as well as the identity of the policy to be followed for the solution of the most important European problems.That shows a very close and amicable agreement and something that means mutual support in the policy to be pursued. That was in September, 1926. The Fascist Press during 1926 had not been referring to the Locarno Pact with the approval which the Foreign Secretary, I should think, had expected. The "Tribuna" referred toThe so-called spirit of Locarno as an expression of social democratic imbecility.The Facist Party Orders stated that:The spirit of Locarno is evaporating with impressive rapidity. Soon nothing will remain but the faded label. … The whole of Europe is furiously arming.After the Foreign Secretary had had that interview, Signor Mussolini made a speech on the 27th of May, 1927, in which he said:The spirit of Locarno has evaporated. Everybody is arming. Italy must arm. … Italy must be able to mobilise 5,000,000 men and to arm them … and our air force … must be so numerous that the surface of their wings must obscure the sun over their land.That is the expression of the policy of the country which has been singled out 1766 by the right hon. Gentleman and the Government. Not only does our Foreign Minister visit Italy, but other Cabinet Ministers visit Italy whenever they have a holiday, and they go off to see M. Mussolini. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer went to Italy, and the Fascist Press were especially delighted with him, and the "Corriere d'Italia" said:Churchill had a better understanding of Fascism than many Fascists.This peculiarly close intimacy between our Government and the Government of Italy necessarily makes one watch the policy of Signor Mussolini, and the world has been watching it very closely in recent times. Whether it is the question of Albania or Yugo-Slavia, we see disputes arising; we see a more truculent attitude on the part of the Italian Government, and we know by this and other indications that our Government is on the side of Signor Mussolini. Therefore, I think we have good cause for regarding South Eastern Europe as being in anything but a peaceful condition at the present time, and we are rather doubtful whether the various differences among the nations of Eastern Europe are going to be amicably settled.
I come now to the situation in North Eastern Europe. I do not want to go into all the reasons which have caused the rupture of diplomatic relations between this country and the Soviet Government. I do not want to distract the attention of the Committee on this occasion by referring to the rather turbulent and acrimonious Debates which have frequently arisen in regard to the question of the Soviet Government. I will only say that while our policy in dealing with the Soviet Government was dictated by domestic considerations—and I am afraid also by party considerations—the repercussions it has had throughout Europe are not fully realised by hon. Members of this House. In this very delicate condition of the relations between European Powers which year by year seem to get more difficult to handle, to come down clumsily and break one of the main threads was, of course, to throw a great deal of suspicion on our action, and it has caused perturbation among the Central Powers and the smaller nations and Europe as a whole. I do not think that the full effect of this clumsy bit of diplomacy 1767 has been realised. I believe there were a number of hon. Members opposite who expected that the French Government would do the same as we have done in regard to the Soviet Government, but the French Government are far too astute diplomatists to indulge in any elephantine diplomacy of this sort, and they would deal with such difficulties as they arose. The French Government would never think of doing anything so dangerous as to make a rupture between two great nations, thereby forcing the starting of rumours, which may be baseless but nevertheless have their effect upon the European situation.
There can be no doubt at all as to the danger which which has been caused by this rupture of international relations. After all, the Russians have some justification for their fears. They remember how they were treated from 1917 to 1921, and they still think that a plot is being formed against them. I know the Foreign Secretary has repudiated any such idea, but the justification put forward by the Soviet Government to their own people seems sufficient for them to sound an alarm which is causing a great deal of trouble in Eastern Europe. Speeches on this subject have been made in this country which do not help. I see that the Home Secretary made a speech in which he said that the nations of Europe must unite together to stamp out Communism. If that be the opinion of hon. Members below the Gangway, then they cannot be surprised if the Russian Government consider that we are taking steps to unite the nations of the world to stamp out Bolshevism. They are perfectly justified, and if they seize every opportunity to do us a bad turn it is not surprising. The reason of the whole rupture came from us. We were in a position to disregard what was going on, and their propaganda and all the rest of it. It was grossly exaggerated, always with a view of tarring the party, for which I am speaking now, with the Communist brush. That was the object of the whole campaign. Let us fight our domestic party squabbles within these islands. For goodness sake, do not let us allow these absurdities to go out, and make trouble amongst the nations of Europe. That is what I mean—making 1768 into a first-class European question, something which does not deserve such treatment. I dare say there are several hon. Members who follow the foreign Press, and they will see how newspaper after newspaper is talking about the manœuvres we are making in order to surround Russia. Anyhow, none of us feel that this situation in Europe is peaceful. We do not see a peaceful prospect.
Then we turn to the League of Nations. I have always been a supporter of the League of Nations—a real League of Nations—and I had hoped that by means of that body we should get international co-operation and open covenants openly arrived at. I had hoped it would have a unifying influence, and my hopes were never higher than they were in 1924, when my right hon. Friend went to Geneva. Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but the atmosphere in 1924, compared with the atmosphere to-day in Europe, is a very different thing. In 1924, the hopes of peace were high. In 1927 we see nothing but dissension, factions and acrimonious disputes between the nations of Europe. More than that, the League of Nations is being relegated into a back seat to deal with secondary problems. The real business goes on behind the scenes. During the meetings of the Council, in June, the "Times" said:The Council met formally to-day and begins to deal with its agenda to-morrow, but, as is usual, its real work began in Paris and was continued in the train, to be elaborated in hotels and gardens, and, it is hoped, finally given concrete form in the Chancelleries of Europe. The League Council's chief usefulness lies in the fact that the formal questions to be debated, however important they may appear to the respective protagonists, really form the screen behind which the real work goes on.The League of Nations has become a screen, and in the drawing-rooms and gardens, and in the right hon. Gentleman's own hotel the real work is done. China, Albania, Jugo-Slavia—all the really crucial difficulties are never brought before the League. There is always some reason found for preventing the League dealing with them—"You must not strain the League, or it will break." The League is not going to break by straining; it is going to die of inanition, with not being given the work it ought to do. The confidence of the peoples of 1769 Europe is being shaken in the League of Nations. The League does very excellent work in secondary matters, but whenever there is a vital matter between nations, a reason is always found for preventing the League from giving an opinion. On the contrary, we see sectional alliances growing up. And what is an alliance? It is always a war preparation. This new character which the League is taking on is causing a great deal of concern to its best friends.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Austen Chamberlain)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but what are the new sectional alliances to which he alludes?
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I am coming to that. This new character which the League is taking on is causing grave concern to its best friends. We find a grouping and a manœuvring between the various nations and States of Europe and the world. Instead of this unified action of the League, we are going back to the sectional and particular action. The Treaty of Locarno was concluded in October, 1925. I have got here—I am afraid it is not complete—a list of 12 Treaties that have been concluded since that date. There was a Treaty between Turkey and Russia; a Treaty between Turkey and France of "mutual neutrality"; a Treaty between France and Jugo-Slavia, which is initialled only, and is not yet registered; a Treaty between Poland and Rumania for a defensive alliance, supported by France; a Treaty between Russia and Germany of "mutual neutrality"; a Treaty between Italy and Spain of "amity and mutual neutrality," to which, I believe, secret clauses are attached; a Treaty between Italy and Rumania; a Treaty between Russia and Afghanistan of "neutrality"; a Treaty between Russia and Lithuania; the Treaty of Tirana between Italy and Albania; a Treaty between Italy and Germany of "arbitration and friendship," and a Treaty between Italy and Hungary. One will notice, by analysing this network of Treaties very closely, that there is a tendency to form groups, to a new orientation, to an attempt to make a policy of balance. You have France making a Treaty with Jugo-Slavia, Italy disputing with Jugo-Slavia, Turkey going on the side of 1770 France, Turkey combining with Afghanistan and Russia, and gradually these Treaties, these sectional alliances, all those old diplomatic methods which we hoped the League of Nations would sweep away, are bringing us back into the same sort of atmosphere, and a worse sort of atmosphere than that which existed before 1914.
In an atmosphere of that sort, we cannot expect much in the way of disarmament, and the attempts that have been made at Geneva do not surprise us in their results. Eight years have passed since the members of the League of Nations solemnly recognised that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of the national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations, and here we are still with competition in armaments growing up, and, instead of what was expected, namely, an exchange of full and frank information with regard to armaments, each nation is still dependent on espionage for its information. And then they come together in the Preparatory Committee at Geneva, and there is issued the document which we have all been studying. To nobody who considers this document will it give hope of disarmament and peace. It shows us very clearly that this question has been tackled in the wrong way. It shows us very clearly that if you leave this question of disarmament in the hands of experts, you cannot possibly come to any sort of agreement. I do not blame the experts. Nobody ought to blame the experts. How can they find formulas which would be applicable to all the varying nations with all their varying circumstances? It is quite impossible, and this clearly shows how impossible it is.
There are disputes and differences on every conceivable point. There is a very grave dispute between the nations who have conscription and those who have not about the limitation of trained reserves, a most technical and difficult subject. The difference is very natural, and agreement seems very far from being realised. There is the same difference with regard to naval and air effectives and as to whether naval armaments should be reduced in tonnage or classes; and no agreement has 1771 been arrived at as to how expenditure is to be limited. At the same time, we find that this Committee has not dealt at all with war material or the manufacture of armaments. The existing Convention on Traffic in Arms should, of course, be ratified, but it has not been, and the projected Convention on the Manufacture of Arms should be completed and ratified. But that is not mentioned. Then we get international supervision. There are objections to that. Should there be an international body which would go round and see whether the limitation of armaments is carried out? Each national naturally objects to any such method being adopted. Lord Cecil says that you must trust the good faith of nations. Really, it is misleading the world for statesmen to attempt in peace time to draw up regulations, the observance of which depends on moral obligations, knowing that when war is expected, those moral obligations never have, and never will be, observed. You cannot trust the good faith of nations if they are expecting war, and if they deem themselves to be in danger.
These Regulations with regard to the restriction of armaments are not only waste of time, but they are deluding the people of Europe and the world into the idea that something is being done to abolish war. Nothing of the kind is being done. The experts go out, and they are quite determined they are to be prepared and ready, and are to have sufficient armaments, because they know their Governments, in certain eventualities, are determined on fighting. No Regulation, no limitation, no ratio, no standard can be found which will make the world safe from war while each Government has the nationalist ambition of preserving its supremacy or enforcing its demands by force of arms. The preliminary conference that has been called at Geneva is, perhaps, a more flagrant example of this futile method of trying to limit armaments. The experts go there; the experts are on their guard that nothing they do shall weaken their country. And they are quite right; it is their job; no one ought to blame them for a single moment; the people I am blaming are the Government, who try to delude us into supposing that these conferences mean anything. They mean nothing at all, and they will come to no sort of conclusion that is 1772 worth anything at all unless it be some trivial reduction in expenditure. The practical steps might be taken, but they are not taken. The fear of the aggressor is the fear which stands before any Government, and, through every Government, every people is made to fear. This aggressive foe is going to attack this nation one of these days.
That is the war myth, kept up in war time, and kept up in peace time to make people pay for armaments and war preparations. Without all these technical committees and conferences, there is a principle which might be laid down by the Governments a principle to which they have practically agreed in the Treaty of Versailles. That principle was laid down when Germany was disarmed in 1919, and, if the Governments of Europe were really sincere, they have only to adopt the same standards for themselves as they enforced upon Germany. There you have your principle, and then you send your experts to work it out. But the Governments of Europe have no intention of doing that. They send their experts to wrangle over the details, without giving them any principle upon which to work; and, of course, the result is bound to be failure. Another method of going forward would be, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, for the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of this country, to make a similar gesture to that which M. Briand made to the United States, and to initiate the idea of compulsory arbitration and the rejection of the weapon of war. If the right hon. Gentleman did that, he could grasp laurels that are far more enduring than the, unfortunately, fading laurels which he gained at Locarno. Only in that direction can some advance be made.
I believe that, in Europe as it is today, there will be no change so long as we drift back into the old road. You have alarming ambition in Italy, fear in Russia, resentment in Germany, suspicion in France, danger in Poland, confusion in the Balkans, mistrust in America, and war in China. [Interruption.] I quite admit that I have painted a gloomy picture, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to prove that I am wrong. I shall have done some useful service if I can get a pronouncement that I am wrong. But my memory 1773 is long enough to remember the sense of false security into which we were lulled before 1914—[Interruption]—by secrecy and concealment. It is because I want to have au open declaration of how matters stand, and a denial that there need be such apprehension, that I have ventured to make the remarks that I have made. As it seems to me, there has not been the change that we expected. The voice is still the voice of war; the language is still the language of nationalism; the manner is still the manner of the old diplomacy, and the method is still the method of alliances and pacts.
Some time ago, M. Briand asked the representatives at Geneva to endeavour to learn European. I am afraid they have not even mastered the grammar. But there is one language that they have made no attempt to learn at all, and that is the language of the common people, through which they might express the opinion of the multitude. Surely, the common people, the multitude, the mob, call them what they will, should be heard. However ignorant, however inarticulate they may be, it seems to me that they ought to have some say in the eventualities which may, and probably will, lead to the destruction of themselves, their women and their children by the hundred thousand and the million. The Governments of Europe would derive more inspiration from the blunt refusal of the common people to allow the quarrels of statesmen to precipitate them again into the barbarity of war than they will find in the manipulations and intrigues of the stale old game of diplomacy. I believe that at this moment what stands between us and other nations and warfare—actual conflict—is the determination of the peoples in all countries that they are not going to have it again. If the Governments were to abandon the weapon of war because the peoples loathe it, if they were to insist on compulsory arbitration because the peoples want it, if they were to make the League of Nations into a real instrument for expressing conciliation between nations and reaching disarmament, then I believe they might avert another terrible catastrophe, and they would certainly earn the gratitude and the blessing of countless generations to come.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I am a little embarrassed by an accident which, I think, has interfered with the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I had been given to understand that he would follow the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Ponsonby), and I proposed later to follow him. He is unable to be in his place, and I was finding it a little difficult to decide whether courtesy required that I should reply to the hon. Member for Brightside or should wait for the, as far as I understand, uncertain arrival of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I think that, perhaps, I shall best conform with the desire of the Committee if I speak at once.
As I listened to the hon. Gentleman—and I think that at moments he was conscious of it himself—he reminded me of a phrase that was more common among the ladies in my youth than it is in my old age. Ladies of the Victorian age were not unaccustomed to say that they had enjoyed a good cry, and it is not surprising that my hon. Friend, who has Victorian features about him, was indulging in that operation, which I must confess never had any particular attraction for me. The hon. Gentleman, I thought, was going to open a serious attack upon the policy of this Government. As he proceeded, I became less and less sure what was the case, if case there was, which he urged against the present Government, and which I was expected to answer. The hon. Gentleman, at a very eary stage of his speech, expressed his distrust of the Press and of the mischief which they often did; but every statement of his which he wished to support, or attempted to support with any evidence, was based upon some statement in some newspaper. At one moment it was an English correspondent who said that the last Council meeting at Geneva had begun in Paris and in the train. In that case, it began without me, for I was not engaged in any confabulation, either in Paris or in the train, before I got to Geneva, which I reached by motor car from a different direction; and I was not aware, when I met my colleagues at the Council, or entered into conversation with any of those who were present outside the Council, that my liberty had been in any way 1775 impeded, or the interests of my country in any way jeopardised, by any private conversations that might have been held at the station in Paris or in the sleeping cars by which they proceeded to Geneva.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Opposition have every right to be suspicious of the Government, and that right gives him so much pleasure, and so much scope for his imagination, that it would seem almost ungenerous to do anything to deprive him of it. But I can assure him, if he needs to be assured, that there is nothing secret about British foreign policy. There are no engagements or undertakings that are not known to the House of Commons, and I have more than once repeated, not merely for this Government but, as I believe, as a statement which every Government in this country has adopted, that it will undertake no future engagements on behalf of our country without submitting those engagements to Parliament and having the approval of Parliament for them. There are, therefore, no such commitments or undertakings as the hon. Gentleman, reading the Press, embroidering the news that it supplies to him, lying awake at nights anxiously pondering the future of Europe, feels lie behind the inadequate utterances of the present Secretary of State in the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman is suspicious of the British Government. It is some consolation to me that he is equally or more suspicious of every other Government. There is no charge which he lays at our door which he will not equally lay at the door of all those other Governments. If there be a fault in our policy, it is that we have desired to co-operate with other Governments, and have not propounded schemes and plans which, however beautiful they appear in theory, would make confusion worse confounded, instead of carrying us by slow and modest steps along the path to peace and progress.
The hon. Gentleman observed, correctly, that since Locarno we cannot be indifferent to the relationships of the other nations of Europe, and, in particular, France. That statement is, of course, commonplace, but why did he affix that particular date? Does not the Great War show that without any treaties or agreements we could not be indifferent to the state of Europe, or to the relations 1776 existing between France and Germany, and if the example of the Great War is not sufficient to enforce that truth, is not the fact that we signed the Covenant itself a committal, as it were, to take an interest in the maintenance of peace everywhere and in the settlement by peaceful means of every international dispute, however remote the subject of that dispute may be from our own particular interests? I agree that we are profoundly interested in the peace of the world and, whether by public treaty disclosed to this House and approved by this House, or by private conversation, or at the Council, in the Assembly or apart from the Assembly, all effort of British statesmanship is to reconcile all enemies, to remove, if by our good offices we can remove, or to help in removing, present causes of difference and to help nations to settle those differences which must inevitably arise in a spirit of good-fellowship and without resort to force. We have done our best, and not without some success, to remove suspicions, to facilitate the meeting of those who have to discuss differences and to help to settle some of these questions of which there are, naturally, an unusual number with us at so short a period after the War, but from which it is too much to hope that the world will ever be free.
In no more than a passing allusion the hon. Gentleman spoke of recent speeches made in France and Germany as if they were a reversal of this policy of reconciliation, which is not merely our policy but the policy of the Government of France, the policy of the Government of Germany and the policy, as I hope and believe, of all the other Governments concerned. It is very difficult when you speak of foreign affairs to measure your language so that you may say all that you wish to say, or think it necessary to say, to your own people and yet produce no false or exaggerated impression elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman is never tired of insisting upon open diplomacy. Open diplomacy involves controversy, and calls inevitably for a certain mobilisation of the Press in support of the orator of their own country, and it evokes an equal mobilisation of the Press of whatever country is the other party to the question discussed in the opposite sense. These things are inevitable. Do not let us exaggerate the consequences.
1777 There is no reason to dispute the hon. Gentleman's statement that 1927 is very different from 1924, but what reason is there to suppose that it is worse? I have attended every meeting of the Council and have been present for a time at each meeting of the Assembly since I accepted the Seals of the Foreign Office. I will say without hesitation, that if, instead of reading the tittle-tattle of an occasional correspondent, or his momentary impression, the hon. Gentleman would consult anyone who has equally frequented all the meetings at Geneva, who was there before me and is there now, he will find a practical consensus of opinion—I wish above all to guard myself against the language of exaggeration and against holding out expectations which are themselves exaggerated, but in the sober language of truth the League and the Council are stronger to-day than they were three years ago, that the atmosphere is more peaceful than it was three years ago and that questions that could not be discussed and were not discussed three years ago are now discussed in that very spirit of friendly co-operation which it is the desire of the hon. Gentleman, as well as of ourselves, to see prevail in Europe.
The hon. Gentleman called attention to a striking statement of M. Briand made earlier this year in which he said the Government of France was willing to enter into negotiations or conversations with the United States of America for the outlawry of war between their two countries. I believe such conversations are likely to take place, and I need not say I unfeignedly wish them well, but that it would be an impertinence, and worse than an impertinence, if I were to indicate any opinion as to the lines on which such conversations should proceed. For ourselves, I hope between the United States and this country war is already outlawed, not on paper but in the heart and soul of every citizen. I know it is in the heart and soul of every citizen in this country, and I hope it is equally so in the great Republic of the United States of America.
The hon. Gentleman passed from these allusions—I can hardly call them a summary of the relations between France and Germany and ourselves—to consider our relations with Italy. It appeared to give him quite particular pain that those 1778 relations are cordial and satisfactory. He said Italy had been made by this Government the subject of its special favour. Actually the Foreign Secretary, when taking a 10 days' holiday cruise in the Mediterranean with a friend, had responded to the invitation of Signor Mussolini to meet him at Leghorn. It is not only the Secretary of State who has thus conspired with Signor Mussolini. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Cabinet Ministers had passed through Rome, and I think it was suggested, and probably quite truly, that none of them had passed through Rome without paying a visit to Signor Mussolini. But we pass through Paris, and not only I, but my colleagues, pay visits of the same kind in Paris to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, it may be to the President of the Council or the President of the Republic, who has been good enough to receive some of us, or to the Minister of Finance, and we talk over matters. I beg the Committee not merely in words, but in fact to put away all suspicion. Had there, been regular meetings of the statesmen who bore the largest weight of responsibility, who were charged with the daily conduct of foreign affairs before the War, is it not just possible that the results might have been different? Is it really to be a matter of suspicion if I meet the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary at Rome, or the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of France in Paris, or if I met the Foreign Secretary or the Chancellor of the German Reich in Geneva, where I have met them, or in Berlin, as some day I hope I may?
On the contrary, the Committee may be assured that, as I have said and as I repeat, we have made, as a Government, no binding engagement committing us to ultimate action in case of war without those engagements being submitted to this House and without the House having an opportunity to express its opinion. But when you have that guarantee, for Heaven's sake do not hold it up as a matter of suspicion that the Ministers of two friendly States meet and discuss affairs of common interest, and do not suppose that because they find a coincidence of purpose in the maintenance of peace, in support of the League, in the effort to settle the difficulties which are disturbing the peace of 1779 the world, they have been engaged in some base intrigue which they clothe under this show of fine words, and that, because two countries are friends, their friendship must be pointed against someone else. That is the most mischievous of international delusions. I suppose nothing did more to pervert Germany's policy before the War and to produce the catastrophe of the War than the obsession of the Germans that at that time it was their interest to keep other Governments quarrelling among themselves, and that any settlement between other Governments of their differences, any improvement in the relations of other Governments, was a blow to Germany.
That, I say, is the most fatal doctrine that can spread in Europe. That, more than anything else, was responsible for the Great War, which is still fresh in our memory, and it is a tragedy to see that same obsession, driven out of Germany, now taking root in another great and neighbouring country. The hon. Gentleman did not wish, as he said fairly, to debate our breach with Russia. He thought our diplomacy clumsy. He was quite sure that the French would do nothing so elephantine. They would prosecute or expel any Communist of whom they had reason to complain. They would tear up any documents of whatever character—whether trade agreements or otherwise he did not specify. I have never invited any other Power to follow our example. Each of us must protect his own interest in his own way. Each Government must do what is suitable to the circumstances of its own country and the necessities of its national defence. And if the hon. Gentleman, deceived by the perusal of nameless Continental journals, which, he says, are full of rumours, thinks that His Majesty's Government—I presume through me—have been attempting to form an anti-Russian block, then I say to him without hesitation that no Government in Europe is under the same misapprehension. The German Government know that it is not true. The French Government know that it is not true. The Italian Government know that it is not true. Every border State knows that it is not true. And they all know that, from first to last, so far from trying to involve them in our quarrels or disagreements, even before those that led to a rupture of diplomatic 1780 relations as since they have led to a rupture—I have told them all—they need fear no criticism and no jealousy from the Government of this country if they should do anything to produce a détente or improve their relations with the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Home Secretary what he has just told the Committee?
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
It is not necessary for me to repeat it to the Home Secretary. That policy is a policy of His Majesty's Government which the Home Secretary helped me to formulate at a Cabinet Council.
All these circumstances, this rather jejune summary and not very accurate picture of European history in the speech of the hon. Gentleman were but a prelude to his approach to the League. The hon. Gentleman complained that the League was now relegated to a back seat to deal only with secondary questions; that all the most important matters were settled either in Paris or in the train, or even in my room in the hotel in Geneva. Now let us get down to commonsense. I was asked at Geneva by M. Briand and Dr. Stresemann to invite the Powers to the Ambassadors' Conference and the representative of Germany to a meeting in my room. Would the hon. Gentleman have had me refuse? He shakes his head. He would have accepted as I accepted and gladly placed my room at disposal for a conversation which, I think, all would desire. If that be so, and it is so, and that is the whole of the story, why build this vast and mischievous structure of suspicion and misconception in so simple an affair? We met once in my room and we met once in M. Briand's room, to which we adjourned the discussion because, I am sorry to say, M. Briand was suffering severely at the moment.
What did we discuss at these meetings? I will tell the hon. Gentleman, rather negatively, I think, than positively. Though this much of the positive side I will say. I was invited to give an explanation of the reasons which had led to our rupture of diplomatic relations with Russia and to state, and openly declare if I was willing, whether we meant to carry the quarrel any further. I gave to the gentlemen who were present an explanation of our reasons such as is 1781 familiar to the House; because it had been made by the Prime Minister and by myself in previous statements, before ever I had gone to Geneva and I repeated firmly, what is known to the Committee, that while breaking off diplomatic relations which had been abused to the point at which they were a danger, instead of a security, to peace, we had declared our intention to make whatever arrangements were necessary for the continuance of trade, and that that was the best guarantee that we could give, if any guarantee were needed, that we on our side did not desire to push our differences any further, and that we did not invite any other Power to change its policy on our account. That much I say positively, lest my failure to say it should feed the suspicions on which so much of the public controversy turns. Otherwise, I say negatively—and I think it is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the business of the Council is removed to these secret conversations—that, as far as I know, only a single question which had to be discussed at the Council was discussed by us in the course of the conversations on those two afternoons. I hope I do not commit any indiscretion or embarrass anyone else if I say that that one subject was the addition of a German citizen to the Commission of Mandates, as to which Dr. Stresemann wished to know how the ground lay before making his decision whether to make a formal proposition in the Council or not.
Having therefore, I hope, disabused the hon. Gentleman, and as far as my words may reach and carry conviction, other people of the idea that we have arrogated to ourselves in some little conclave, sometimes big or sometimes small, to do the work, I ask the Committee to pause for a moment to consider what work the Council has done in the course of the last two or three years, and whether it justifies the charge that it is left to deal only with secondary questions and that all big questions are removed from it. The Council arranged a settlement of the dispute which broke out in consequence of the frontier incident between Bulgaria and Greece where the frontier had already been crossed and where military operations were in progress, military operations to which an immediate halt was called and an almost immediate 1782 retreat of each party behind its own frontier. But for that machinery, gathered at a moment's notice when the emergency arose, the incident might have led to very serious consequences. That was done by the Council of the League. The question of the boundary between Iraq and Turkey was settled by the Council of the League. The financial reconstruction of Austria and Hungary was made possible by the League, and, owing to its success, the financial control and supervision have been practically terminated in both countries. The admission of Germany to the League was secured, and the re-organisation of the Council of the League. Not one of these was a light task. Not one of these was a small question. All were successfully handled by the League, and the consequences of a breakdown or a failure to deal with them were averted. I do not need to dwell on the countless questions that have been in dispute between the free City of Dantzig and Poland, and upon the countless petitions from minorities under the Minority Treaties against this or that act of their Government which have been examined by Committees of the Council and dealt with by the Council whenever occasion arose.
The Council is doing its work. It is doing it with an ever increasing authority and certainty. But the Council and the League are very young bodies. They have got their way to make. Wisely handled, prudently conducted, with some good fortune, which, we may hope, may be granted to us, I who try never to use exaggerated language, and I who am not given to loose expressions of faith without meaning, I say that my experience as Foreign Minister and as an attendant at the Council of the League has added to my confidence that the League will grow in power and strength and moral influence under the conditions that I have mentioned. But do not let the hon. Gentleman run away with the idea that because there is a League and a Council it is, therefore, the business of the Council to interfere, here, there and everywhere, as soon as they see any sign of disagreement, or that it is the business of every Government which has a difference which it cannot at once settle with another at once to invoke the League and carry its question before this great Council of the League. 1783 That is not my conception of the League; it is not my conception of the purposes for which it was created, or the methods by which you can conserve its strength and its usefulness. It is the business of two Governments who have a difference to settle it between themselves. The League is a last resort—something better than war, as a law court is better than resort to personal violence, but it does not mean that two nations which have a dispute are at once to go before the League, any more than that the existence of law courts mean that if two men have a dispute they are to take it straight into court, or someone is to bring it there against the will of them both, before they have had time or have made the effort which is incumbent upon them to settle it among themselves.
The hon. Gentleman did not give a true picture of the League, or a correct picture of the League, any more than his picture of Europe was a correct picture of Europe. At that point in his argument he dealt upon the particular treaties which have been signed. Look at the kind of treaty which he stated in his list with a view to showing how depressingly Europe is going back and how dangerous is the present situation—the treaty of amity and friendship between Italy and Hungary; the treaty of amity and friendship between Italy and Germany and the treaty of amity and friendship between France and Turkey. In each and every case, the treaty is in some measure one of appeasement and reconciliation between two Powers that were at war two or three years ago. It is from the signature of such treaties that we are to draw those gloomy inferences, and from the fact that these treaties are concluded that we are to assume that the League has become a shadow and no longer serves any useful purpose! The hon. Gentleman may have in his mind vast and ambitious schemes of a universal character. I mistrust them. They give scope for magnificent professions of faith, they give ample room for fine rhetorical effect, but they do not lead to business, and I think that the more modest efforts upon which we have concentrated, since the famous Protocol was got out of the way, have accomplished 1784 more than all the vast and ambitious schemes which the hon. Gentleman was no doubt silently regretting.
Then the hon. Gentleman came to disarmament. He alluded to this question so cursorily that I had a little difficulty in following him, alike in regard to the Preparatory Commission on Disarmament, which held its last meeting in May and which adjourned to the Autumn, and to the Conference between representatives of the United States, Great Britain and Japan, which is now in process at Geneva. The hon. Gentleman made some observations on this subject which surprised me so much that I wrote them down at the time. He takes a very gloomy view of the results of the discussions of the Preparatory Commission. He says that failure can only follow if you send experts to discuss technical questions; but he ignores the presence of men who, although they may becomes experts by study, are not experts by career in these matters of armament and disarmament, a man like my Noble Friend Lord Cecil, and his foreign colleagues of similar rank or extraction, who have presided over their respective delegations. He goes on to say that these conferences are doomed to failure, and that you cannot trust to the good faith of nations if they expect war. But all international relations depend upon the extent to which we can trust to the good faith of nations. Unless you can build upon some reasonable assurance of international good faith, you might as well give up not only all diplomacy but every kind and form of treaty or agreement whatsoever, whether they are negotiated between individual nations or groups of nations, or whether they are signed, sealed and solemnly delivered by all the nations in the League in the presence of the League Assembly. The hon. Gentleman not only discussed the good faith of other nations and told us that it is futile to build on the assumption that there is good faith, but he went on to say that the Coolidge Conference is an even more futile example of this kind. The hon. Gentleman would not allow a ray of sunshine to pierce through the gloom of his oration.
I do not want to be more optimistic than circumstances justify, but I do not by any means abandon the hope that, in the sphere of naval armaments to which 1785 the present conversations at Geneva are directed, these, conversations may yet lead to a sensible relief of the burdens which would otherwise fall upon the peoples of the three countries which are there represented. If the hon. Gentleman is under the misapprehension, which his words seem to convey, that this conference means nothing to us; if he is under the impression that that is a true statement of the views of His Majesty's Government, he is under a complete misconception. It is quite obvious that I cannot enter here and now into a detailed argument or exposition of the British case—
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
—as it has been discussed and disclosed at Geneva; but I say this to the hon. Gentleman, that our delegation went out there with a carefully thought-out plan for the further alteration of naval armaments, and the efficacy and extent of the proposals which we were prepared to lay before the conference may be measured, perhaps, by this single fact, that for years to come they would mean a reduction, adopted by others following the same example, on the naval expenditure which we would otherwise have to incur of a sum nearer £50,000,000 than £40,000,000. You see the controversy which is going on in the Press. To my mind, and to the mind of our Government, the question of total tonnage is by itself insignificant, and a decision on total tonnage and that alone would by itself be ineffective either to check armaments or to secure further limitation. Unless some further limitations are to be put upon the number of ships which have the most aggressive character, which are accompaniments and parts of the great fleets, then the mere total limitation of tonnage would lead not to a reduction of naval competition, and not to a reduction of expenditure, but would involve all the parties in still further extension and still further expenditure. I cannot believe that when the proposals of His Majesty's Government, which mean a great deal, are fairly before the country; when it is possible fairly to put before the country both our own proposals and the proposals of foreign countries, there will be any doubt as to their reasonable character or as to the sincerity of His Majesty's Government 1786 in seeking to derive the greatest possible relief for our people and the other peoples associated with us in that conference, called through the initiative of President Coolidge.
We can only move with other Powers. We reduced our Army without waiting for anyone else. Immediately, on the conclusion of the Armistice, without waiting for the conclusion of peace, we brought the size of our Army down to what is nothing more than the bare military police required for the purposes of such an Empire as ours. It is unthinkable to us that we should enter into competition with the United States of America in a new race of armaments. We do not attempt to suggest that in any class of vessel they are not entitled to parity, without criticism or objection from us, that their needs require. For our own part, we seek only to secure the special protection which is vital to an Empire so peculiarly situated as ours, on the lowest scale that we can arrange with other naval Powers, so that all our burdens and efforts may be lightened, and that the menace of war, if there be a menace of war, with big armaments may be removed. We must recognise, and I am sure that others will recognise, the difference between an Empire such as ours, which is scattered over every sea and divided by wide oceans, and the position of Empires which are practically self-contained, and whose communications in war would be unmenaced, even although they were engaged in a great struggle.
We in this island not merely desire trade as others desire it, not merely desire protection as others desire it, but we in this country whose supplies are only sufficient for seven weeks' subsistence of our people have to think how we can live, not how we should starve, if our sea communications were interrupted. These are obvious considerations, and they are considerations to which others, I am sure, will give due weight. As I hope and believe, through the Coolidge Conference may come proposals that will mark a real step forward in the limitation of naval armaments, and then, encouraged and moved by that example, a new stimulus may be given to the larger International Conference which is to meet to consider not merely naval armaments but land armaments and air armaments as well. We are faithfully discharging 1787 what we conceive to be the duties that our countrymen would wish a British Government in whosoever hands it is, to follow. We are seeking to avoid quarrels for ourselves, and we are seeking, where we can do so properly and usefully, to smooth the paths of others, and to reconcile their feuds or differences, or help them to reconcile them. We base our whole foreign policy on support of the League, and on appeal to the League in the last resort. All the purpose of this policy is to secure peace, not only for ourselves but for the world.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Gentleman always delights us with his Parliamentary manner and his great debating skill, if I may say so. I suppose he will be making speeches similar to the one we have just enjoyed, when the guns begin to shoot. He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. Ponsonby) of having a good cry, and he proceeded to have a very good laugh himself. I would remind him of what used to happen in the days of my youth, and I suppose it happened in the days of his youth. When people laughed too much at a comedy at the theatre, they sometimes reduced themselves to tears. In the latter part of his oration, I thought the right hon. Gentleman himself came pretty near to crying. He was very careful to avoid answering certain questions which my hon. Friend put to him, and I do not altogether blame him. If I were in his place, I should probably try to avoid answering such questions. I will put a few questions, which may or may not be answered later. In answer to a question which I put to the right hon. Gentleman last Wednesday, with regard to the Conference at Geneva about Russia, he spoke of the representatives of the six Powers which had met at the suggestion of M. Briand—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
—to explain the reason why we had broken off relations with Russia. It is a very extraordinary thing after the Debates in this House, after the White Papers that have been issued, and the speeches outside this House by Ministers of the present Government, great and small, that it should still require this 1788 private meeting in the right hon. Gentleman's hotel apartments in order to explain why we have broken off relations with Russia. I am not going to traverse the ground of the Russian situation, which will have to be debated in this Chamber probably before very long. If the representatives of these favoured Powers were to be given special reasons why we have broken off with Russia, was not the whole Council of the League entitled to the same explanation? The right hon. Gentleman rode off, when he was questioned on that point, by saying it was not on the agenda. Why was it not on the agenda? Why could not His Majesty's Government have had it placed on the agenda, and why should not a reassurance have been given to the world, through the Council of the League, that, although we have broken off with Russia, we are not going to push the quarrel further, as far as we are concerned? Why was it necessary to have a secret meeting of the six Powers? Why could not the matter have been declared openly before the Council and the world?
Before leaving the Russian question, I would point out that the right hon. Gentleman admitted that the atmosphere in Russia was simlilar to the atmosphere in Germany just before 1914. It will be remembered that, as a result of the Entente Cordiale and the understanding with Russia, the German Government led the German people to believe that they were being surrounded, and that Germany had to break through. That, as the right hon. Gentleman explained, was one of the causes of the War—the fear of being encircled. He now tells us, and he knows better than anyone else, from the information at his disposal, hat the same fear now obtains in the Kremlin in Moscow. What is he doing to remove that fear? He admits that the fear is there. He says there is no foundation for it. He hopes that his words spoken in this House will reach the Russian people. What is he doing other than making speeches in this House to remove that fear? It is a serious matter.
There is another serious matter which claims our attention. We find that Persia is making a demand, similar to the Chinese demand, for the abolition of all capitulations. At one time, our influence in Persia was paramount. We were the 1789 most loved people and a people in whom the Persians had confidence. To-day the Persians are demanding the cancellation of all capitulations. The Persians are twisting the lion's tail over a most vital line of communication, the air route from Cairo to Karachi, the air mail route to India. If our air communications with India develop further, that route will be as important as the Suez canal route is to-day for sea communication. The Persians agreed with us to allow aeroplanes to fly over Persian territory, but they now refuse to permit them to fly over Persian territory. That position has gone on for two or three months, and that promising line of Imperial communication is held up. That is a serious position. Hon. Members opposite, when they are told to say something or when the newsapers tell them to say something, wax very indignant when there are any threats to our communications, but they are quiet on this point. We have weakened our position with Persia owing to our policy over Russia. I do not say that Persia is acting on suggestions from Moscow, for I believe that its policy is dictated by a high-minded Persian patriot, Rizza Khan, who wants to lift his country up to a high position in the world. I am glad that, he has risen to the throne of the shah. The reason that he can defy us now and why he thinks it pays him to defy us is because we have broken with Russia. That is one example. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) laughs.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Gentleman says the dates do not support that conclusion Then, it is because of our strained relations with Russia. The break with Russia was only the culmination, the natural result of the whole attitude of the present Government.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. and gallant Member's heart is still on the sea. He does not realise yet that we have ceased to be an island. Perhaps he has been reading the book called "The Great Delusion." He has 1790 not understood what the Imperial air communications will mean to this Empire in the future. It is of very great importance to our trade.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is a great supporter of the League of Nations and that he thinks things are much better as a result of the League's activities during the last three or four years. He was too modest to say that it was because he has held his present high office. Is it a fact that he has proposed that the Council of the League shall meet less often? Is it true that he proposes that the Council should meet once a year less owing to the amount of work occasioned? Is that so? If so, I do not think it shows a very great belief in the League of Nations and the work it is doing where great matters are concerned. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman as I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside in many things with regard to the League of Nations. While sharing the views of my hon. Friend, I also, in part, share the views of the right hon Gentleman. The League of Nations performs, perhaps, its most important function by bringing statesmen of all States together, not only Foreign Ministers but Prime Ministers, and I agree that that is all to the good.
Furthermore, the League of Nations has a most efficient machine. It has built up an international civil service, industrious, capable, devoted, and when it can be used, when the situation in the world allows it to be used, to the full, it will be a blessing to all the nations of the world. The League is doing very useful work in preventing the spread of disease where possible, in preventing slavery where it can, white slavery and black slavery, in regulating the transmission of opium and other important duties. We must all recognise the great value of that work; but with regard to one of its prime functions, the bringing about of disarmament, as the Covenant of the League lays down that it shall, by agreement among the nations, so far its success has been exactly nothing. In spite of all the Commissions of experts, in spite of the 1791 Preparatory Commissions, in spite of the great and devoted work of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—we all recognise the sincerity of Lord Cecil in this matter and his untiring energy in this cause—the net result has been that not one battalion of infantry, not one battery of artillery, not one battleship has been disbanded or scrapped, not one new vessel has been stopped from being built, not one new aeroplane the less has been ordered, as a result of all the negotiations and discussions and conference that have taken place at Geneva. As far as I can see, especially after what has happened at the Coolidge Conference—I understood that it had been tacitly agreed that it would not be discussed to-day, although the right hon. Gentleman has made some very valuable remarks upon it—we can expect nothing from the League of Nations on the present lines on which it is going.
The problem of disarmament has always been approached from the wrong angle. So long as you recognise war as an institution, as a legality, as a possibility, you cannot lay down to independent sovereign States what armaments they shall have. You can do it in the case of defeated enemies, as in the case of Germany, Bulgaria and Austria, and you can get voluntary disarmament in the case of small nations like Denmark. And no one threatens Denmark. But you cannot say to nations like Poland and Rumania, who are exposed to the dangers of War, that they are to reduce their armaments, that we must have commissions to see that the armaments are reduced; you cannot get agreement so long as there is a possibility of these nations being attacked. If you wish to prevent the traffic in armaments, the sale and manufacture of munitions of war, if you want to bring about great reductions in armaments, you have first to abolish war as a recognised legality. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to, and welcomed, the statement of M. Briand inviting the United States Government to agree with what he himself called the outlawry of war between France and the United States.
My hon. Friend has asked whether the right hon. Gentleman proposed to make a similar declaration. The right hon. Gentleman in this connection used words 1792 which I noted. I was struck by their remarkable nature. He said—I am paraphrasing his speech—that "for ourselves, we believe that the idea of war between the United States of America and England is already outlawed." He said that we believed that in our hearts, and hon. Members opposite cheered here and there, not generally. "We believe in our hearts," said the right hon. Gentleman, "that there can be no question of war between ourselves and the United States," and a few minutes later he devoted his attention to the so-called Coolidge Conference at Geneva, and made a defence of the British position, in which he said that he thought public opinion would inevitably endorse our contention that it was better to have a limitation of classes rather than a total tonnage limitation, and the reason he gave was that when you have a total tonnage ratio—the matter must have been in everyone's mind—then certain Powers would be able to build vessels of an aggressive type. The right hon. Gentleman must be referring to the United States of America, because at the discussions at Geneva we have declared that we would be satisfied with so many cruisers of so many thousand tons, but that if the United States built a certain number of cruisers of 10,000 tons we must build a similar amount, in addition to the smaller cruisers required for the protection of our trade routes.
That was where the right hon. Gentleman nearly came to the verge of tears. They followed his humanitarian, sentimental declaration that our hearts were filled with the idea that war between us and the United States was already outlawed. The right hon. Gentleman has deluded himself. The sentence I have quoted regarding cruiser vessels shows that he has deluded himself. I want to ask the Under-Secretary of State, who is now present, why we do not make a similar declaration and invite a similar declaration from the United States. If we arid the United States would make that declaration one towards the other, and invite other nations to come in with us, we should certainly be joined by many important Powers in Europe. Holland and Switzerland would immediately follow our example, so also would Denmark and Scandinavia. I see the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Boothby) smiling, but he 1793 does not seem to have noted the fact that I have mentioned the four Powers in Europe which are the most important financial countries, and banking is a force in this matter. Finance is an important factor when you are discussing war and rumours of war. If the French Government are prepared to make this declaration towards the United States we should invite them to make a similar declaration towards us. In this way you would have the beginnings of the outlawry of war. If nations like Germany, with her latent resources and potential strength, her science, and her great population; if France, with its military force, and ourselves and the United States of America, with Holland and Switzerland, would make this declaration amongst themselves, many other things would solve themselves.
You must approach this question of disarmament from an entirely different angle. This is not a matter of a few weeks or months, but if you begin now, and now is the time, I am sure it is an example which would spread. If you talk to the ordinary, decent-minded man or woman in this country, one who is not concerned with politics at all, and ask him or her whether war is a right thing as between nations, you will in every case get a negative answer. They will always agree, that is, every decent-minded person, I do not mean the professional alarmist, but the ordinary man and woman, that war should be made illegal. There is a general agreement in this House. Why not make a start? War should be looked upon as unthinkable, and as illegal, just as illegal as the raising of a private army in this country. Four hundred years ago it was a, most respectable thing for a noble lord to raise his own private army against the King's Government. It is impossible now, because the man who starts a civil war in a country is looked upon with loathing and contempt, and when war between nations is looked upon as being as hateful a thing as civil war, all these other matters will settle themselves, including the private manufacture of armaments, the manufacture of munitions of war, secret diplomacy, all these problems will settle themselves. Now is the time to do it.
I fear that the Coolidge Conference at Geneva has been a failure. I regret it, 1794 because I discussed it in America with many prominent men, including the leaders of the so-called big-Navy party. I had great hopes of this conference, but I fear that it is going to end in failure, and the position afterwards will be much worse than it was before. We shall be on the eve of a great race in naval armaments. I do not wish to dwell upon the matter to-night because it will have to be discussed on the Floor of this House before Parliament rises, and with all the facts before us. Even if some sort of agreement is patched up, many people will be greatly alarmed. Now is the time for a bold step on behalf of the Government, and I think they should seriously consider a suggestion as to whether they cannot follow the example of France and invite the United States to converse with us as to the declared illegality of war between us. If it is in our hearts impossible to fight America—and the position of Canada would make it impossible—then why not put the matter into a written, signed and sealed document? Then all these questions as to the number of cruisers, the number of guns, of submarines, and all the other things will settle themselves. We are always approaching this question of armaments from the wrong end. The League of Nations is hampered by being an institution which has to recognise war as a possibility. Its function is to limit war, to shut it off in a corner and prevent it spreading. That is an impossible task. There is no other way of preventing our drifting into war, because war once started will spread, and nothing will prevent it. If any two major Powers in Europe were at war to-day, the other Powers would follow, and nothing would prevent it. If we allow matters to drift as they are, we shall drift into another catastrophe worse than the Great War, from the effects of which we have not yet recovered.
§ Sir PARK GOFF
My only reason for intervening in this Debate to-night is that I happen to represent disarmaments on the Inter-Parliamentary Union of this House and I attended Conferences on their behalf in Paris, Geneva, Washington and Toronto. I have studied this question for some years in most of the countries of the world, and all the countries of Europe from Moscow and Baku in the 1795 East, to Lisbon in the West, from Scandinavia to Finland and the Baltic States in the North to Cadiz, Gibraltar, Brindisi and Athens in the South and it is my most profound belief that this question is one of the most serious and, at the same time, one of the most important problems with which this country has to deal to-day. Those who consider the question of disarmament can be divided into two schools of thought, those who consider continual preparation for war as the greatest safeguard for peace, and those who support disarmament, security and arbitration. The world to-day is doing its best to devise some other means of settling our international difficulties than by the savagery of war. The economic lesson of the world War has been burnt into the conscience of Europe. Everyone is feeling the pinch of armaments to-day through taxes, prices, and unemployment. The reduction of armaments will certainly tend to relieve the one and reduce the other.
The League of Nations is pledged to reduction of armaments by Section 8 of the Covenant. This can never be the hasty product of a day. The organisation of peace is a far more complicated thing than the organisation of war. The habits and customs of centuries can never be wiped out by a stroke of the pen, nor can natural instinct. As far as I know, no means has yet been discovered to stop boys fighting at school. But I do think that a question of this sort requires the co-operation of all the expert opinion of every shade to establish the possibility of a constructive scheme for the reduction of armaments and the constitution of a peaceful settlement instead of the arbitrament of force. We cannot afford, in a case of this sort, to indulge in any doctrinaire theory. The results must be presented at the bar of public opinion, and no such scheme, in my humble judgment, can ever be practicable or effective without the united backing of the public opinion of the world. This plan has taken two forms. It was adopted by the Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations in September, 1924, as a Treaty of mutual guarantee based upon the two chief principles, firstly, a guarantee to come to the help of one another against aggression; and, secondly, on the basis of this 1796 security, a general reduction of armaments. During the interval between the Fourth and Fifth Assemblies it was felt by many Governments that the Treaty did not give sufficient guarantee of safety and security. So the Fifth Assembly concentrated on strengthening the guarantee and creating a more definite sense of security and safety.
This was done by adding the principle of compulsory arbitration to those of security and the reduction of armaments. These three were mutually independent, and would conserve the interests of peace and peaceful settlement. With the co-operation of America, which has been mentioned this afternoon, a new Armaments Traffic Convention has been instituted for the better control of traffic in arms. These nations have been doing invaluable work for a peaceful solution throughout the world, on this particular question. I am one who holds with a peaceful solution in any international dispute. If any one nation is in dispute with another and has to settle that dispute by war or arbitration, then I am in favour of arbitration. May I put it in this way as an illustration? Suppose that six nations, A, B, C, D, E and F, have signed a treaty of mutual assistance. If A attacks B it will find itself not only against B, but against C, D, E and F as well. If that were known to be certain it would be very improbable that A would venture to attack at all. This does not necessarily mean the limitation of armaments, which is the central object of the whole Treaty, but it does make disarmament possible, for a State can afford to reduce her own armies if she knows that the other armies will come to her rescue in time of conflict. Any Treaty should take this further step by laying down that no State shall be entitled to claim the benefit of a Mutual Guarantee unless and until it has limited its armaments to a scale approved of by the Council of the League of Nations. There can be no limitation, therefore, without security, and there will be no security without limitation.
As regards America, we should all like to see the United States become a member of the League of Nations. Whether she does so or not, I feel that if the League is allowed to lie dormant she will 1797 despise it, but if the League becomes a real and effective means for preventing armaments and securing peace in Europe, she may not join the League but she will respect it. The United States of America is in a very different position from ourselves. She has an ocean on either side of her. She has huge territory, self-supporting, self-supplying and self-relying and the whole continents of North and South America, from whom she need fear nothing at all. So the United States is in a position which entitles her to do without the League of Nations. But we in Europe cannot afford to do without the League of Nations. Where there are so many international obligations and rivalries, we cannot do without a League of Nations for the keeping down of armaments and for the future peace. I feel certain that if we can make the League a real agency in Europe for supporting these objects, we are far more likely to have sympathy and assistance from the United States of America. We know that the President of the United States signed the peace but the United States did not ratify the peace. This was a great disadvantage to all of us in Europe.
Some people say that we should not complain, that we have no right to complain, that a nation can do what she considers best for herself. Other people say that we have a right to complain, that if the United States had backed up the original proposals at the time Europe would be much nearer a solution of her problems and difficulties and there would be far less misery in the world to-day. On the other hand, we have every reason to be grateful to the United States, because, although she did not join the League of Nations, nevertheless she agreed to go into the reparation question on its merits and agreed with us to try to find a solution of this question. The Dawes Committee, which is associated with the name of the distinguished American citizen who presided over it, did an immense amount of service in solving our difficulties. This American assistance was invaluable at the time and helped to clear the way for Germany coming into the League. We do not forget that America was the first to summon the Washington Conference, which resulted in the first decisive international Act of Parliament that the world 1798 has ever known. Her naval policy since the War has been so friendly to Great Britain that she has transferred her entire naval base to the Pacific coast and has never once quibbled at our Singapore Base.
Pride of race and patriotism are inherent in every nation. Every nation has its obligations and responsibilities. Great Britain is in a unique and isolated position. We are only a little island in the North Sea, entirely dependent upon our overseas Dominions, Colonies and Protectorates. Our Navy is essentially our first line of defence and the most powerful life insurance which we possess to-day. We are all in favour of the reduction of armaments to the fullest limit consistent with our national safety and our international obligations. The removal of fear is the first essential. The British Empire, in my humble judgment, has already disarmed down to, and possibly much beyond, the limit of safety. We cannot afford to economise in naval armaments, as our Empire is entirely dependent upon our sea communications. America has a territory of 3,000,000 square miles. We have a territory of 13,000,000 square miles, scattered throughout the globe. Yet, although we are in this singularly exposed position, we agreed to put ourselves on a level in naval armaments with countries which can never be in the same position as ourselves. We did this only because we honestly believed in the necessity of limiting armaments, and because we believed that an undertaking such as that at Washington would prove to the whole world how sincere and earnest we were in our desire for peace, and in the hope that the nation with whom we accepted this policy would go still further in the reduction of her own naval armaments. After all, we came by the sea, we live by the sea and our whole future is on the sea. Our navy is the strongest bulwark we possess and the only means of securing our daily bread. Therefore, that bulwark must always be kept in the most perfect condition. The British Empire is the British Fleet, and if we are to preserve the one we must maintain the other.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
The hon. Member for Cleveland (Sir P. Goff) has made a speech of great sincerity and a speech which shows that he has made a close study of the technical phraseology 1799 of disarmament. Speeches of that kind have been delivered here for the last 50 years, and I am sure that the hon. Member must have read them all, because there was not a phrase in his speech which has not appeared in at least one of those which have gone before. Fifty years ago the House of Commons passed a pious Resolution in favour of disarmament—50 years ago, and periodically since that date this question has been discussed by the House. I would like to offer this in consolation to the hon. Member, that if his speech was full of pious phrases and diplomatic platitudes, it was no worse in that respect than the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary. For an hour the Foreign Secretary made a speech which, if any hon. Member studies the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow and takes a blue pencil, he will find it extremely difficult to underline a single sentence which means anything at all. The Foreign Secretary is an adept at making a speech which befogs the main issue. The subject for debate this afternoon is disarmament, and the right hon. Gentleman spoke for 45 minutes without referring to disarmament at all. He crammed into the last few minutes of his speech a few references to disarmament, which no one whom I have been able to consult can understand.
It is time that this question of disarmament was approached in a more drastic and realistic way. The Foreign Secretary appeared to boast that his record at the Foreign Office had been satisfactory, and, though that is not the subject of this Debate, I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman of one or two events which have occurred during his regime. In the first place we all remember that after the Treaty of Versailles the German nation was compelled to disarm. That act was justified by an understanding that it was no penal measure to be inflicted on the German nation, but that it was to be followed by a general measure of disarmament among European nations. Many years have elapsed and no single step forward has been taken to meet that general understanding.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted; and 40 Members being present—1800
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I was saying when I was interrupted that no single step forward has been taken since the War towards any practical measure of disarmament. The Foreign Secretary claimed that his regime at the Foreign Office had been a success. I ask him if he can point to a single diplomatic success which has been secured during his regime. He boasted that the League of Nations had been able successfully to tackle big problems. We all remember that when the Italian Navy bombarded Corfu, the League of Nations was conspicious by its absence and when this country politely suggested to Italy that the matter could properly be referred to the League of Nations, our representations were treated with complete disdain. The same thing occurred during the occupation of the Ruhr. Time and again, successive British Foreign Secretaries protested to the French Government that this step was illegal, but the only result was that the occupation continued as before.
Then there is the case of China. China is a member of the League of Nations but the League has proved itself quite unable to tackle the Chinese at all. I do not want it to be thought that I am criticising the League. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are."] I am going to examine the reasons why the League is wholly ineffective. It appears that, when these statesmen meet at Geneva, they relegate all minor matters to the Council of the League and attempt to settle all major problems in private consultations. I propose to read to the Committee a description of the League of Nations by Signor Mussolini. I am not sure if I have it quite accurately but I think this is a nearly accurate rendering of the French words. He described the League as "A convent of laymen, fantastic, impotent and, for that very reason, dangerous." I ask the Foreign Secretary how can he expect the League to exert a powerful influence on important diplomatic questions when a leading member of the League holds that opinion of its efficacy? It is hopeless for the League to attempt to settle these questions unless it has the complete confidence of the leading statesmen of each country and it has not that confidence at the present time.
I should like now to leave the question of general foreign policy because, after all, it is not the subject which we are supposed 1801 to be debating. We are supposed to be debating disarmament, and I propose to state, as briefly as possible, how I think that matter ought to be approached. Regarding land and naval forces, each nation has its own requirements, and the meetings and conferences held up to the present have sought to secure not so much disarmament as a balance of armaments. Each nation is striving to secure that strength in its armed forces which will enable it to defeat its enemies. I think the question ought to be approached in a different way. The easiest way would be to approach it in one field only. There are the naval forces, the land forces and the air forces. To begin with, we should try to confine the field of conflict to the naval and land forces.If we could secure the removal from the field of possible conflict, of air warfare, a great deal would be achieved. I suggest, however, that if we attempt to do so by allocating to each Power a certain air strength, whether in numbers, tonnage or gun-power, the effort will fail. I believe the only way to tackle it is by prohibiting air warfare altogether. The Under-Secretary will probably tell me that the time is not opportune, and that this is not the most favourable way of tackling the question. I am going to suggest a formula which, if put forward to a conference of European nations, would, I believe, find a great measure of accord. I hope the Under-Secretary will put the suggestion forward in responsible quarters—to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary—that we ought to propose to Europe that every form of aerial warfare should be prohibited by international law. Doubtless I shall be met with the reply that the proposal is wholly impracticable, but at any rate it cannot be more impracticable than the efforts at Geneva to secure disarmament. It cannot be more impracticable than the efforts of the Preparatory Commission. I suggest that this should be put forward as a proposed rule:No weapon or material of offence or capable of offence, whether bomb, poison gas, machine gun or any other such weapon or material, shall be mounted or carried in air craft for any purpose of peace or war.No doubt, objections will be raised to that proposal. It will be said that the use of air weapons should be allowed for aerial reconnaissance and for purposes of defence. It will also be said that the 1802 League of Nations should be allowed to have a punitive force of aircraft, in case it is desired to inflict punishment on some hostile tribe or to drop bombs on some natives who have refused to pay their taxes. One finds every conceivable objection put forward to a proposal of that kind; but it is the only way to tackle the problem. Similar objections can be put forward to partial proposals. What is the substantial objection which would prevent the nations from coming together and prohibiting altogether the use of the air weapon in warfare? I believe that to be a practicable proposition, and I believe no other proposition to restrict air warfare is practicable. The more these conferences and discussions go on, the more we find that attempts to restrict warfare by mean, petty and small conceptions are certain to fail.
The question must be tackled in a more thorough and radical way. Some hon. Members above the Gangway take the view that the ideal way would be for this country to demobilise its armed forces altogether, and thus set a great and magnificent example to the world. I do not subscribe to that view. I respect the sincerity of those who hold it, but I believe it would not prove effective. I believe, however, if we could come together and prohibit warfare in the air altogether that would be a practical method. If the effort fails, what shall we lose? If this country had made every conceivable effort, and placed its cards on the table, surely it will not be in any weaker position if the hour comes when it is necessary to resort to war. It is just possible that the effort might succeed, and if it succeeded in the case of the air similar principles could be extended to the naval and land forces. Governments labour continually to secure the good will of the people of this country. There is nothing they can do in any field of political activity, which will more entitle them to the gratitude of the people than if they were able some day to go to the people and to say: "We have made, at any rate, a definite and practical step towards disarmament."
§ Mr. DUFF COOPER
The hon. and gallant Member told us once or twice in the course of his speech that the subject of the Debate this afternoon is disarmament and he blamed the Foreign 1803 Secretary for not having dealt at greater length with disarmament. But the hon. and gallant Member is mistaken. The subject of the Debate this afternoon is not disarmament. The subject of Debate is really the very lengthy Resolution referred to by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Ponsonby). I forget the exact wording of that Resolution, but it urges a great many things on the Government, including the abolition of secret agreements and the adoption of a new line altogether in our foreign policy. That is the primary subject of our Debate, and the Foreign Secretary was, therefore, quite right in dealing at length with the considerations raised by the hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Resolution. However, the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), although he said disarmament was the subject of Debate, was good enough to allow himself to deal with various other subjects, and he made what I can only describe as a mischievous attack on the League of Nations. He sought at some length to show the weakness and inefficacy of the League of Nations, and he went back to its furthest history, recounting every instance in which its activities had not been entirely successful. He concluded by saying that Signor Mussolini did not believe in the League of Nations—for which he bitterly reproached Signor Mussolini, having himself just given reasons why nobody should ever believe in it.
Apparently Signor Mussolini agrees with the hon. and gallant Member and others, in disbelieving entirely in the League. That he ever used the words which the hon. and gallant Member attributed to him, however, I can hardly believe. "A convent of laymen" seems a very odd description to apply to the League of Nations. Convents are not usually designed for the use of men, either lay or clerical. But it does appear that the real leader of the Liberal party, with regard to its attitude towards the League of Nations, should now be Signor Mussolini. The hon. and gallant Member raised the kind of criticism against the League of Nations that has been raised by other people all over this country. I was surprised to hear anybody so well informed as the hon. and 1804 gallant Member bringing forward points of that kind. He asked how had the League of Nations dealt with China? How does he suggest that the League of Nations should deal with China? Everybody knows that it was absolutely impossible for the League of Nations to deal with China, and I fear I only waste the time of the Committee in replying to the point. In China there was civil war. In China there were many different parties, and only one of those parties is represented in the League of Nations—
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I did not intend to suggest that the League of Nations could have prevented civil war in China. What I did intend to suggest, though I may have done so imperfectly, was that the League of Nations might have taken some responsibility for protecting the rights of nationals of all countries when those rights were threatened by the actions of some body of Chinese.
§ Mr. COOPER
It was not so much the rights of nationals that were threatened, but their lives and property and the only way to protect life and property when it comes to dealing with an uncontrolled mob, is by force and the League of Nations, having no force at its disposal, is utterly unable to deal with a situation of that kind. The hon. and gallant Member went on to make some interesting suggestions with regard to disarmament—at any rate, he put forward one suggestion. It is an important suggestions and I think deserves consideration, although I am not sure that the Foreign Secretary will yield to his representation that it should be put before the Prime Minister and receive the attention of the Cabinet. His suggestion was that all aerial war-ware should be declared illegal from this moment and that every Power should agree to that proposition. There is something to be said for that proposal, but there are important arguments against it. In the first place, aerial armaments are the cheapest and most efficacious, and, if you are going to abolish armaments, in my opinion you ought to begin by trying to abolish the most expensive and the most useless. Aerial armaments are the kind which it is most easy to conceal. You cannot 1805 very well conceal a Dreadnought. Dreadnoughts are apt to be apparent to the naked eye, but it is very easy for a large country to have large manufactures of aeroplanes practically unknown, and if as the hon. Member for Brightside said, we cannot rely on the good faith of nations in these matters, we have no kind of guarantee that any undertaking of that sort will be carried out.
Then there is another important argument against the suggestion, which is that aeroplanes can very quickly be changed from a commercial purpose to a war purpose when the emergency arises. You cannot change an ordinary merchantman into a battleship at a moment's notice, but it is easy to change a commercial aeroplane into one that, if it will not shoot guns, will at any rate carry bombs and be able to drop them over undefended towns. That again is an important reason why that kind of disarmament alone would not be Very useful, but, to my mind, there is another and stronger argument still, and that is that the menace of air warfare in the future is the most awful menace of all. It is going to render the next war very much more terrible than any war which has gone before: it is going to produce more cruelty and horror and destruction, and upon a wider scale, than the submarine or any other weapon yet invented. It threatens to wipe out whole cities, to kill women and children, and to destroy all the monuments of civilisation. That, you will say, is a very strong reason for doing away with it. I am not sure that I agree. I think, on the other hand, that it is much more important not to diminish the horror of war, but to let the people realise to the full what the horror of war is. If you are really going to get that hatred of war, that determination not to go on with it, which I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) in thinking is the only way in which you will ever get disarmament, the more the people of the world realise what the horrors of war are likely to be, the more likely they are to make up their minds to have done with it.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
My point is that if you have such horrors, 1806 people are afraid of them, and because they are afraid of them, they insist on armaments, and these very armaments breed wars.
§ Mr. COOPER
You will never persuade them that those horrors do not exist. I remember 18 months ago, when there was an accident to a submarine, and a great many people wrote to the "Times" advocating the abolition of the submarine, and many still hold that that is one of the first steps we ought to take. One gallant Admiral wrote a letter to the "Times," of which I have forgotten the exact wording, but the gist of it was this: He was very strongly in favour of abolishing submarines, which he called those ungentlemanly, dirty weapons, so that naval warfare would once more be the jolly, gentlemanly pursuit which it used to be in the past. I think that is the wrong attitude to take, and I am not in favour of abolishing submarines or aeroplanes. I am in favour of letting the people realise the full horrors of war, for only so shall we get into their minds a determination to get rid of war.
The hon. Member for Brightside, in opening the discussion, set before himself two different tasks. He attempted, in the first place, to draw as gloomy a picture as possible of the condition of Europe; and, in the second place, to show in some way that His Majesty's Government were largely to blame. In the first part of his task. I think the hon. Member was singularly successful. It is never very difficult to draw a gloomy picture of any state of affairs in this unhappy world, and he certainly filled in the dark patches to the satisfaction, I am sure, of those who agree with him, but in his attempt to show that the Government were in any way to blame, I think he was less successful. He divided his speech into various parts, and he dealt first with the situation between France and Germany. I agree that the affairs of those countries now concern us so nearly that we must discuss them on the Floor of this House, but I cannot go so far as to take the view that, because they concern us so nearly, therefore the nnfortunate Foreign Secretary has to explain every speech made by M. Poincaré and every article published in the "Tribuna." After all, whatever the "Tribuna" may say—and the actual words quoted from it were not very alarming; they were to the effect 1807 that the spirit of Locarno had already evaporated—I remember hearing 18 months ago the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) saying that the wine of Locarno had already turned sour. He forestalled the "Tribuna" by 18 months.
Then the hon. Member went on to justify, to the best of his ability, the words of the Motion which he read to the Committee, urging the Government to give up secret and sectional agreements. A good deal has been said about sectional agreements, but how otherwise can anybody suppose that you can have agreements on all the myriad subjects with which the world is faced? Agreements must be sectional. The hon. Gentleman said that the state of Europe is much worse to-day than it was three years ago, when he and his friends were responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs. I think, on the other hand, it is very much better. I think the League of Nations itself is very much more powerful and stronger than it was at that time: and, after all, sectional agreements existed then just as they exist to-day, only there were not quite so many of them, because there had been three years less in which to make them. There were all the sectional agreements building up the Little Entente, the agreements between Germany and Russia, and the Treaty of Rapallo. Europe was full of sectional agreements then, and the only chancre is that a few have been added since that date owing to the lapse of time. If the three great Naval Powers of the world wish to come to an agreement with regard to the reduction of armaments, it is no use, and I suggest that it would he a waste of time, to wait for the adhesion of Switzerland. as the hon. Gentleman thinks. These matters must he done sectionally, one at a time, and it is in accordance with the true spirit of the League that they should be so done. All that the League says is that when the agreements are concluded, they should be published to the world and registered with the League, and that is a policy which we have loyally followed.
The hon. Gentleman did not make any direct accusations with regard to secret agreements, because I am sure that in his heart he knows perfectly well that no such secret agreements exist. He is not 1808 speaking like many of the ignorant people who speak on foreign affairs; he knows very well what our commitments are, or what they were three years ago. He has had the whole of the secrets of the Foreign Office displayed before him, and he knows that the old bogey that haunts the minds of readers of modern detective stories about secret agreements is pure nonsense, and does not exist, and never has existed to any extent. If secret agreements are what the hon. Members opposite mean when they use the old shibboleth of secret diplomacy, I agree that secret diplomacy should be done away with, but I believe that it has been done away with, because there are not any secret agreements at the present time. If, on the other hand, secret diplomacy means secret negotiations, it is absolutely essential to the carrying on of diplomacy and of foreign affairs.
The hon. Member for Brightside quoted a great deal from the Press. He quoted from the "Times" correspondent at Geneva. I wonder if he read the leading article of the "Times" this morning, commenting on the possible failure of the present Disarmament Conference. If so, he will have seen that in the opinion of the writer of that article—no doubt, an opinion formed as the result of advice received from Geneva—the main reason why that agreement has failed, and the main danger of any real harm resulting from that failure, are owing to the fact that the various Powers concerned had come to no preliminary secret agreements, had had no secret negotiations beforehand. They did not know where they were, and those steps ought to have been taken. They ought to have found out exactly how far each Power was going to go, or, if not exactly, how far to some extent; there ought to have been some exchange of views put forward, as there must be before you get to the stage at which you can openly speak in a public place. If you have M. Briand at Geneva speaking for France, and our Government have certain proposals to make to him, it is much better that they should know first what is likely to be the reception of those proposals. We should say, "Do you think you can meet us in any way?" and he would perhaps reply: "I should have to consult my colleagues. I should have to 1809 see what M. Poincaré has to say with regard to that before I can give you an answer." He would find out, and no doubt urge his views upon his own Prime Minister and Government, and then get authority to go a certain length; whereas, if the proposal has been made for the first time in public, he would have to say, "I cannot agree with that proposal," and more harm than good would be done.
That is why we must have secret negotiations, and that is why the clamour against secret diplomacy is largely fictitious. I hope the present conference may still result in some good. I confess that I always have been pessimistic with regard to the results of Disarmament Conferences, but although there is the danger that they may, they should not do any harm even if they fail. They, at any rate, serve the purpose of ventilating—to use a fashionable word—the whole subject, of allowing people to form views, of putting before the world what the real difficulties are, and of allowing the people of the world to understand or to see, at any rate, what the point of view of the other country is; and it is only by getting the people of the world behind the abolition of war that you are ever going to get real disarmament. The hon. Member for Brightside introduced the people into his peroration, but I do not believe he is a very good judge of the wishes of the people, if I may say so with respect. I know that if he had supreme power in this country, he would abolish the Air Force and the Navy to-morrow, but if he did there would be a revolution the day after, because it would be a most unpopular step.
It is only when you have the people really in support of that kind of policy, not in this country alone, but all over the world, that you are going to get any really satisfactory result, and I agree to a large extent with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull that we are inclined to approach this problem from the wrong end. We are inclined to use disarmament as a means to an end, whereas it is really a corollary that will naturally follow when the end is attained. I do not suggest that that end is in sight, and I am convinced that progress towards it must be very slow. It can only be done by education, by propaganda, and by 1810 changing the minds of men. I think we may, if we work together, and if we do not lose faith in the League of Nations, as hon. Members opposite seem to be inclined to do, if we continue to rely upon it in spite of many partial failures, and if we continue to work towards the end for which it was established, we may, in the far and dim future, though most of us will not live to see it happen, attain the end we have set before us.
§ Mr. MOSLEY
With the final observation of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper) I find myself in considerable agreement, and I think that most of us on these benches will agree that disarmament must be the corollary of a favourable European situation. But when the hon. Gentleman, in his earlier remarks, said that the present unfavourable position of Europe was in no way due to the activities of his leader, the Foreign Secretary, we, on these benches, began to find our paths diverge. Before I come to an examination of that proposition, I should like to comment briefly upon one or two of the contradictions which the hon. Gentleman imagined he had discovered in speeches made from this side of the House. He began by finding, as he thought, a contradiction in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), who pointed out that the League of Nations was at present weak, and that Signor Mussolini, the friend and ally of the Conservative party, did not believe in the League of Nations. The hon. Member for Oldham replied by saying that Signor Mussolini naturally held the same view as the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney, and that if the League was in fact weak, there was no reason to believe in it. But the real fact is that this new alliance between Italy and the present Government of Britain has reduced the League to impotence, and naturally these statesmen do not believe in the instrument which they themselves have done so much to destroy.
§ Mr. MOSLEY
The hon. Member shall have full particulars later on, but he had better begin by the very helpful exercise of reading the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which will improve both his information and his powers of speech.
§ Mr. MOSLEY
I am sorry, but I cannot follow the hon. Member's not very audible observation any further. The hon. Member for Oldham, whose interesting speech I was endeavouring to animadvert upon, strained our credulity rather too far, I think, when he pretended that secret understandings were confined entirely to preliminary discussions on such subjects as disarmament. The non. Member said, "If disarmament proposals have to be made, how much better that there should be some preliminary discussion between the parties principally concerned." Of course, no one in the world would dissent from the holding of such preliminary discussions, but such a situation as that is very different from the kind of secret alliance or agreement which we are told does not exist; just as before the War we were told that secret agreements and alliances which envisaged military preparation and co-operation did not exist. Nobody knows better than the hon. Member that even if those agreements do not exist to-day—and on that subject, naturally, we can have no information—they certainly existed in the past and they have been exposed to the full view of mankind.
I should perhaps best deal with the further observations of the hon. Member in referring to the speech of the Foreign Secretary, whose ground was largely traversed by him. The Foreign Secretary expressed the fear that his speech would convey a false impression elsewhere. I venture to say that the Foreign Secretary need have no alarm. His speech will not convey any impression anywhere. It is tragic that at a moment of such gravity in a European situation of considerable menace there should be not only no lead from the Foreign Secretary of Britain but no coherent expression of policy or of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary complained that my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. Ponsonby) had indulged in a good Victorian cry. I did not notice this tendency, but that though a Victorian cry is not a pleasant pastime, it is not so dangerous as Victorian complacency and we had an overdose of Victorian complacency from the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. That complacency has resulted not only in the tears but in the blood of subsequent generations in the 1812 past, and it is a pastime in which we cannot afford to indulge in the present situation.
The Foreign Secretary went on to attack my hon. Friend because he had ventured to refer to the foreign press and the almost unanimous view of the foreign press—a mistaken view, I think—that the right hon. Gentleman is engaged in some vast conspiracy, conducted with singular ability, for the encircling and enmeshing of certain Powers in Europe. The Foreign Secretary made light of the opinion of the foreign press, but I venture to say that when an opinion is held almost unanimously in the press of Europe, the Foreign Secretary cannot afford to laugh at it. If all the press says that Britain is preparing for war, the mere fact that they say it is likely to lead to war. In foreign policy it is not enough to have an evil intention, it is necessary also not to create the impression and the suspicion that you have that intention. Whether or not the right hon. Gentleman entertains the malevolence of those designs—and upon that matter I am not competent to adjudicate—at any rate he has by the clumsiness of his policy succeeding in creating the almost universal impression that he does hold those designs; and I will show later, by extracts from the most responsible papers of foreign countries, such paper as "Le Temps," practically the official organ of France, that that view is held and is stated frequently in the press of foreign countries.
When my hon. Friend mentioned a series of sectional alliances in Europe, the right hon. Gentleman seemed surprised at first to hear that any such thing was occurring, and he rose at the Box and said: "What are these alliances to which reference is being made?" My hon. Friend promptly read out a list of 12 to the Foreign Secretary, who presumably might have had some information on those subjects and have held this matter in mind. When he was informed of what my hon. Friend had in mind, the right hon. Gentleman read the published terms of those Treaties to prove that they were quite harmless and, if anything, beneficial documents. He said these Treaties refer to amity and friendship. Has he ever heard of a Treaty formed for the promotion of war? Has he ever seen a Treaty which declared to the world that it was an alliance between 1813 two Powers for the purpose of making war upon another Power? Every Treaty that has ever been made has been a defensive Treaty. The Triple Alliance was a defensive Treaty, the Entente was a defensive understanding, but the creation of these understandings and these alliances, ostensibly for peaceful purposes does in fact, as is well known, and now universally admitted, lead to that condition of suspicion and distrust which inevitably brings war in its train.
My hon. Friend did not refer to one Treaty which is very typical of these Treaties, and the words of that particular Treaty do not contain many expressions of amity and friendship. There was a Treaty between Italy and Rumania—to which, I think, my hon. Friend did not refer—agreed upon in September, 1926. That Treaty, according to the "Times," was to defend the mutual interests of the two countries if threatened, and if their interests were threatened they wore going to take measures to safeguard them. That may be amity and friendship between Italy and Rumania, but it is a new and very significant development in Balkan politics. I do not know how much amity and friendship is contained in that Treaty towards other countries in the vicinity of those two nations. It is really a straining of our gullibility too far to ask us to believe that if a treaty is formed which contains the words, "amity and friendship," no sinister purpose of any kind can lurk behind it. Perhaps our credulity was strained even further when the Foreign Secretary said that between him and Signor Mussolini was a coincidence of purpose—I took his words down—in the maintenance of peace and in the support of the League. To tell this Committee that the purpose of Signor Mussolini, as we may judge his purpose by his public utterances, is the maintenance of peace and the support of the League, and that in that purpose there is a coincidence with the views of the present Foreign Secretary, is really to treat Parliament and the country, if I may say so, with derision.
What is the main indictment, as I see it, of the policy of the Foreign Secretary The indictment is that, whether in fact or only in appearance, he has created the impression that, he is using Italy, and the Fascist regime which 1814 rules in that country, as an instrument for the encircling and the overthrow of Soviet Russia. I know that in Debates on foreign affairs it has been the custom in the past not to state these things bluntly, but when they are being stated daily in the foreign Press, when they are believed not only by masses of the people abroad but by very distinguished men in European countries, there is nothing to be gained by concealing these fears and these suspicions which have arisen in conection with British policy. It is far better to have the matter out, to let the right hon. Gentleman make his defence and, if possible, to explode these fears. I would point out to him that Ministers in his own Government, if not he himself, have very materially assisted those fears. First of all there was the notorious utterance of the Under-Secretary for the Colonies. I think that utterance is well within the memory of the Committee, and that I need not read it again. It was a reference to Locarno as a bloc being formed against Soviet Russia. I believe that the Under-Secretary for the Colonies did take steps on that occasion to throw some doubt upon the actual report which appeared in the "Observer," but it certainly created a most deplorable impression upon the Continent of Europe. We need not, however, rely on those comparatively old instances of this kind of thing. We have our perennially discreet Home Secretary, who on 30th June last was reported in the "Times" as saying this:He thought the time was approaching when many of the nations of the world would come to the conclusion that Communism in its extreme form was an enemy of mankind.Then there was applause from the Conservative benches:He was not sure but that all nations of the world in the near future would have to combine to stamp out this form of belief and propaganda.When a responsible Minister, with the applause of the Conservative back benchers, makes a speech like that, utterly unchecked by the Government of which he is a member, not repudiated or rebuked by the Foreign Secretary, how can we complain if suspicion is entertained not only in Russia but throughout the foreign Press and throughout the Chancellories of Europe?
1815 When we record the belief that Italy is being used as an instrument, we have some grounds on which to proceed. Our first apparent relationship with Italy after the present Government took office was in the support which Italy gave us over the question of Mosul. That support, again according to the foreign Press, was repaid not very much later by the support which we gave to Italy on the Abyssinian question, and we were so unfortunate in that policy followed in conjunction with Italy as to antagonise Turkey as well as Russia. To those two countries has now to be added renascent China, which we have already antagonised, and Japan, whose friendship we have lost to a large extent by the building of a foolish and provocative dockyard at Singapore. [Laughter.] Really, when we hear the laughter which emanates from the profundity of the hon. Gentleman's information, I would say that it is not necessary for him to read the Japanese papers, he can read translations into European papers of articles and speeches made by Japanese statesment and journalists which entirely support the point I have just made.
The right hon. Gentleman, after two years of his policy, has succeeded in creating a block of nations including Russia, Turkey, China and Japan resulting in antagonising the nations of the West. That was a situation envisaged by the Kaiser who actually painted a picture illustrating a war between East and West with himself standing at the head of the nations of the West in shining armour. A minor alteration has now been made in the central figure of that picture, and in place of the Kaiser in shining armour we have the Foreign Secretary in shining monocle. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] But where the Kaiser failed, the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded. For 20 years German diplomacy strove to bring about this situation. In two years the Foreign Secretary has created a clean division between the nations of the East and West, and he has succeeded in driving these Eastern nations together in the bonds of a common outlawry. Having succeeded in forming this Eastern block, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to re-divide the nations of the West. His use of Italy in his anti-Russian policy 1816 led to one of the most serious features of the whole situation, which is our estrangement with France. Our first dealings with Turkey over Mosul were followed by a treaty between France and Turkey. In the years that follow we find a steadily increasing tension between France and Italy, a tension which it is no good disguising because it is notorious, and this fact has been drawn attention to, not only by the "Manchester Guardian" but by many French newspapers. There has been a growing tension between France and Italy which has made it increasingly difficult for Britain to support Italy and all her projects without antagonising France.
I am sorry to say that these tendencies have developed, the Foreign Secretary has lost almost entirely the good feeling which the previous Foreign Secretary brought about between this country and France, and he has done this at a moment when the mollifying factor of British influence was so much required. These tendencies have reached their climax in the Treaty of Tirana and the situation which arose from that Treaty. The Foreign Secretary has denied that during the Leghorn conversations he was told the terms of that treaty, and, of course, we accept his explanations. That, however, is not the real charge. The charge made from these benches and in the French Press was that the right hon. Gentleman was informed of the principles of that treaty and the general tendency and outline of that policy, and he gave his approval to the advance of that policy, and an assurance that it would not meet with any restraint or antagonism in the policy of this country.
That has been stated almost universally. It has been stated in the French newspapers and the "Manchester Guardian," and a specific denial has never been forthcoming. The words of the right hon. Gentleman's reply can very easily be held to exclude the charge which has been made in the foreign Press. The quarrel between Italy and Jugo-Slavia is intimately connected with the foreign policy of France, and this incident has created suspicion in France in regard to the whole foreign policy of this country. You cannot have such a relationship as that which now exists between the foreign policy of this country 1817 and Italy without creating disquiet in France in the present relationship between those two countries. As long as the Chancellor of the Exchequer goes to Italy and makes such extraordinary speeches, you cannot be surprised that disquiet in France increases. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in Rome learnt all the wisdom of the Duce except the vital secret of how to control his followers, and that was the talisman which I wish he had brought back with him. That was the one secret which was not revealed to him. This seemingly insensate support of Italy has led to the most serious situation in Europe. It has already led to the loss of our influence with France, and we cannot now get France to expedite the evacuation of the Rhineland.
In this way we lose the grip of our influence on French policy which we used to have just when French policy was becoming more liberal in its tendency. Consequently, we have not had the opportunity of using that influence to promote a permanent foundation for European peace. Now that opportunity seems to have passed away altogether, and the liberal tendency in French policy is beginning to suffer from a retrograde influence. It may well be that the support we have given to the Fascist policy may prove very greatly to have affected the relationship of Germany and France. In European affairs, with their present inter-connection and complication, a mistaken policy pursued in one part of Europe has a reaction over the whole It can be argued that this extraordinary policy of using Italy in this way has led to a recrudescent of European difficulties which seemed to be passing away some few years ago. I do not believe myself that the Foreign Secretary is really the Machiavelli he is represented as being in the European Press, a man of extraordinary power and ability, coldly plotting and scheming to enmesh Russia. That is not our homely conception of the Foreign Minister. It is rather a comical picture of His Majesty's present advisers. I leave to others to determine whether they are Machiavellian in their intentions, for my part I rest assured in the belief that they never would have the wit to execute them. This hopping from one side of the road to the other is a pathetic rather than a sinister spectacle. This is not the wisdom 1818 of the serpent. This is the inconsequence of the rabbit. Nevertheless, we have to admit that the muddler and the blunderer is often more dangerous than the criminal. Although he may be a man with the best intentions, he may arrive at a yet worse result. When a Minister pursuing such a blundering policy leads, the world may believe that he is a brilliant and clever schemer, but he is really the most dangerous kind of statesman we can have at such a juncture to direct the foreign affairs of this country.
It is really useless for the Foreign Secretary to argue that the condition of Europe to-day is better than it was when he first took office. When the Labour Government came out of office, the age-long quarrel between France and Germany was appeased. The reparations problem had been reduced to manageable proportions, although it was not entirely solved. When the right hon. Gentleman took office he found that sectional alliances and understandings were being rapidly overcome, the isolators of Russia and pariah countries was destroyed, and they were restored to the comity of Nations. [Interruption]. Do hon. Members opposite believe that the relationship between Russia and this country was worse in 1924 than it is to-day? Are we in a more favourable position in regard to our dealings with Russia to-day than we were a few years ago? [Laughter]. Unless we are, that laughter has no meaning, but I am always ready to admit that Conservative laughter may have no meaning. What I have stated is no overdrawn case of the situation in Europe when Labour vacated power. According to the Foreign Secretary's admission this afternoon, we have now sectional alliances, regional understandings, and 12, 13 or 14 sectional treaties have been signed since the right hon. Gentleman took office which have gradually spread over the whole map of Europe. The authority of the League of Nations has been undermined and the Protocol was destroyed by the present Government. The conditions which should precede any practical scheme of disarmament, namely, arbitration or security, have been destroyed by the first speech made by the Foreign Secretary in which he stated that this country would not submit to arbitration where its interests were concerned. That is the situation 1819 which the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in bringing about.
It is always difficult to ascribe the exact measure of responsibility which should be meted out to any individual statesman or any individual country, but this at least we may claim, that the fall in British prestige is due to the vacillating lead which directed British policy, and wherever you look in Europe you find that the Foreign Secretary has thrown the weight of British authority into the scales of reaction. The nations of Europe will remain in this unhappy position until we have a Government in this country that is prepared to give that lead in foreign affairs which Europe expects from the Government of Britain.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The hon. Member who has just sat down has delivered a very entertaining speech which I think might do a certain amount of harm if taken seriously upon the Continent of Europe. But I am perfectly certain that it will not be. He appears to be almost obsessed by the idea that we have got an alliance with Italy. Let me assure him that such an alliance only exists in his own fevered imagination. I happened to be in Rome at the time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his famous speech which was quoted by my hon. Friend. I can assure him that nothing in that speech, if it was carefully read, could give rise to any apprehension that an alliance existed between this country and Italy. There was only one remark in it which might have caused pain to the hon. Member, and that was when the right hon. Gentleman made some forcible comments on the subject of Leninism. But the right hon. Gentleman has never at any period concealed his views on the subject of Leninism, and he was merely repeating what he has often stated before and since, namely, that he was not, in any way partial to that particular form of government.
Afterwards, the hon. Gentleman proceeded to attack the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper), because he had accused the hon. Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) of contradicting himself, but really the hon. Member for South Hackney, having expressed the hope that the Committee 1820 would not for one moment think he was criticising or intending to criticise the League of Nations, proceeded to say that in his opinion the League was wholly ineffective, not partially ineffective or functioning badly at the moment, but wholly ineffective. It seems to me, if I were to say that the speech of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Mosley) was wholly ineffective, he would be fully justified in saying I was criticising it, and I think the hon. Member for South Hackney did contradict himself in that respect. Then the hon. Member said that it was a very menacing fact that so many treaties had been signed between individual countries in the last few years. Does he really expect the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary to come down and in some way stop a foreign Power from signing a treaty which is properly registered with the League of Nations? The thing is impossible. In what wily is the right hon. Gentleman responsible for these treaties, even if they are a menace—and I disagree in nine cases out of 10 that they are—to the peace of Europe?
The hon. Gentleman went on to reprove the right hon. Gentleman for not reproving the Home Secretary for saying something which apparently conflicted with the right hon. Gentleman's policy. I seem to remember an occasion in which another Home Secretary did that. Perhaps it occurs more or less frequently in regard to Home Secretaries, but there was an earlier occasion when the Home Secretary in the Socialist Government expressed himself on foreign affairs in a manner which caused great dismay all over the country, and I think it quite frequently happens that Members of the Government have bursts of ardour on subjects which particularly appeal to them, and which cannot always be controlled. Then the hon. Member painted a very lurid picture of a great Eastern bloc, which he said the right hon. Gentleman had built up against this country and talked of the right hon. Gentleman leading the forces of Western civilisation against the East. That is surely childish. The whole of the Liberal Members and a good many Labour Members in this House have expressed profound admiration for the patience and skill with which the Foreign Secretary has handled the Chinese problem from the very beginning. He has handled it with such 1821 skill as to commend it to the admiration practically of the civilised world. The only other thing I will say about the hon. Member's speech is that I suppose we ought to be grateful to him in that he at any rate accuses the Foreign Secretary of blundering rather than of carrying out of a deliberate Machiavellian doctrine.
On the other hand, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) made a very optimistic speech and told us he was convinced about a great many things. I wish I shared all his convictions, because they were very often optimistic. However, I am disposed to agree with the hon. and gallant Member in so far as I believe also that Holland and Switzerland would undoubtedly enter a conference for naval disarmament with considerable enthusiasm. I think he was quite right in expressing hopes that such a conference would come to a successful conclusion. But the hon. Member for the Brightside Division (Mr. Ponsonby) was very pessimistic indeed. He painted a sombre picture of the present condition of Europe and said that we were now standing under the shadow of war and that we were basking in a false sense of security similar to that existing before 1914. If we were really in that false sense of security before 1914 and if, as he himself said, the policy of the Liberal Government in concealing the real facts, was so largely responsible for the War, I can only express my surprise that he, who was a Member of that Government, did not attempt to raise the curtain and show the danger.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
He was in this House supporting it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Private Secretary to the Prime Minister."] The hon. Member for Bright-side ended that speech by saying that he hoped we should in the future trust the people of Europe to prevent war. If we are to put our trust in the mob—that is his own expression, which I use—I think the chances of peace will be very few and far between, because surely it is axiomatic, and agreed by all historians, that the greatest danger to the peace of the world is a democracy that is allowed to run riot. The only 1822 hope is that the leading statesmen will so control the democratic ardour and fervour of the nations of Europe that they will be able to check tempers from rising and passions from being allowed free play.
I should like to ask the Committee to direct its attention for one moment to the present position in regard to disarmament. What is the present position? We have for the last 10 years given the lead to the whole world. Take the case of the Army. Nothing like the reduction we have made has been seen in the history of the world. We have demobilised air army of 4,000,000 men until we have an army which is barely sufficient for exercising the functions of a police force. We have an Air Force which is barely capable of defending London from Continental attack—London which is the arterial centre of the Empire.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I bow to the superior knowledge of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Then we come to the Navy, which has demobilised from 42 Dreadnought to 15 Dreadnought battleships. I do not think anythink like that—if you take the whole fighting sphere, including the Navy, Army and Air Force—has been done by any other country in the world. I only want to make one brief reference to the Geneva Conference. The hon. and gallant Member referred to the Conference, and I share his surprise and dismay that even after he had personally recommended it to the President of the United States its course should not have been so smooth as we at one time hoped. However, the fact remains that the Conference is in jeopardy. I beg the Government not to give way to the United States upon the subject of small cruisers. These cruisers cannot in any conceivable circumstances he used as weapons of offence. They cannot be used against the battle fleets of any Power in the world nor in conjunction with a battle fleet except for the purpose of securing information. The only thing for which they are of the slightest use is protecting our trade.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
I do not know what exactly has passed, but it is hardly relevant to introduce 1823 purely naval matters into this Debate, particularly if the hon. Member who proposes to do so has not given notice to some representative of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. DALTON
On that point of Order, may I mention that the Foreign Secretary did refer to this Conference, and I hope your ruling is not so narrow as to prevent us from expressing opinions about it.
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Godfrey LockerLampson)
On that point of Order. While it is perfectly true the Foreign Secretary did refer in very general terms to the discussions taking place at this Conference, he also said—and it was generally agreed—that he could not possibly deal with what is going on at the Conference at the present moment.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The question with which the hon. Gentleman was dealing may be a matter of policy, but what I was referring to was that it would be impossible to debate naval questions on this Vote, and that they must be deferred to the Admiralty Vote. There is also the more important point that it should be so deferred if Members have not given any notice to the representative of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I am quite ready to leave the subject now. The only reason I mentioned it was that the Conference had been referred to at considerable length by the Foreign Secretary, who spoke upon the subject of cruisers for five or 10 minutes, and gave reasons why we ought to hold out on that subject.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If that be so, I will not stop the hon. Member, except to ask him not to go further than is really necessary in introducing any fresh naval technical matter.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I was only covering ground that had been traversed before, and I am quite ready to leave the subject. My only object in touching the matter was to show that we had been doing more than any other country in the world in the matter of disarmament. There are, of course, many problems in Europe today. There are the problems of the Balkans and Poland and other countries 1824 which will take patience and skill and time to solve, but which, I am perfectly certain, can be solved with a spirit of good will. But there are two fundamental problems in foreign affairs which overshadow all the rest and which, perhaps, stand more in the way of real genuine disarmament, because policy must always precede active disarmament itself. The first problem is that of France and Germany, and that resolves itself at the moment into the question of the military occupation of Germany. I do not want to say anything about that, because on these matters one has to speak very carefully, but I do beg the right hon. Gentleman to realise that he is assured of the support of the whole House if he will use every endeavour to terminate that occupation at the earliest possible moment. As long as Germany or any portion of it is occupied by Allied troops, there is bound to be a sense of uneasiness, insecurity and resentfulness on the part of Germany, which it is vital we should clear away at the earliest possible moment.
I want just to refer to one other subject which is even more delicate than the subject of France and Germany. I apologise for having to come back to it, but I will detain the Committee only briefly upon it. There is no doubt that, as long as diplomatic relations between London and Moscow remain raptured, the international situation is bound to remain also uneasy. It is quite useless to have any extensive plan for disarmament either by land or air so long as we have no relations with Russia whatsoever, because, unless you get Russia to come into a Disarmament. Conference and agree to the limitation of armaments, it is useless to talk about the matter at all. Russia has one of the most formidable Armies and Air Forces in the world today, fortified by ever new modern invention, and, so long as that goes on and unless we can get her to come in, it is childish to talk about disarmament either on land or in the air.
I am optimistic enough to think that there has been a slight improvement in the situation with regard to Russia, and put it down to a certain extent to this: In the past, the Russian question has been a question at issue between the political parties of this country, but, since the break with Russia, the question 1825 has been less bitterly debated, and has become less a question at issue between the Socialist party and ourselves. It is a very noticeable fact that the Labour party have not lately made great political capital in the country, so far as one can see, out of the break with Russia. I do not know whether it is that the fact that the Bolshevist Government deliberately murdered 20 people as a gesture to the civilised world has given the Labour party an insight into the somewhat astonishing mentality of the Soviet Government, but the fact remains that they have not come to the support of the Soviet Government lately to anything like the extent that they used to. The clash between the parties is less severe, and, simultaneously, the Bolshevists have directed far more bitter attacks upon the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Purcell) than they have upon the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. That is all to the good.
Before we can ever get a satisfactory solution of this Russian problem, we must, as a nation, present to the Bolshevists and to the Soviet Government a united front. It must be remembered that, whenever a question like this is brought into the arena of party politics, every sort of exaggeration and every sort of distortion takes place on both sides. Both sides magnify any evidence that there may be. According to the Socialist party, nothing that we can possibly do is ever right, and, far more, nothing that they can do is ever wrong. When you get two political parties fighting over an international question, a question of foreign policy, as has not been the custom in the political history of this country for the last 100 years, you are bound to get an unsatisfactory handling of the matter. I am hopeful and sanguine enough to believe that in the very near future we shall be able in this country to present a united front to the Russian Government, and to lay down, not as a party but as a nation, the terms on which we will have those people back. Those who believe in the possibility of a coup d'état in Russia occupy a somewhat different position. They would, naturally, be anxious to bring to bear upon Russia as much pressure, economic and, if necessary, military pressure, as possible, but, for myself, I do not think that, owing to geographical 1826 considerations as much as anything else, such a coup d'état is possible. Therefore, if we do not conceive of any such possibility, we must pin our faith to the gradual evolution of Russia and the development of trade with that country.
I am very glad to see that Lord Birkenhead, who recently made in another place a speech which caused some of us apprehension—which has, happily, turned out to be unfounded — has recently made two speeches in the country in which he laid it down that the attitude of His Majesty's Government is that they do not contemplate, and would not ever contemplate, keeping Russia permanently out of the pale of the civilised comity of nations, that they do not contemplate with equanimity—as no one who knows can possibly do—the position of an indefinite breach of all diplomatic relationships between that enormous country and the British Empire. Therefore, I would beg the Government to make it quite clear that, if and when the Russians announce to their own people, as they have never yet done, that their policy is going to be to keep absolutely clear of the British Empire and of all foreign countries, and, further, that they will abandon and renounce the policy of world revolution—and if we can announce as a nation that, when they make it their business to create such an atmosphere as will render a further conference possible between Russia and this country we shall take part in it—we should take a further step towards disarmament and towards a general political stability which does not exist at the present time, and I believe that ultimately we should get them back, and that they might in the end be induced to come back on those terms.
I would beg the Opposition to back up the Government in any statement of policy that the Government may lay down. If the Government say, "We will not have these people back unless and until we can get undertakings, in which we can believe, that they will leave us alone," and if the Opposition go against the Government and send their representatives to the Soviet Government behind the backs of our Government, how can you expect the Soviet Government to believe that we mean what we say, or 1827 that they will not get easier terms out of the Opposition if and when they come into power? The only way in which we can get a quick settlement of this problem, and bring Russia back to her senses, is to stop quarrelling amongst ourselves. M. Tchitcherin, the Russian Foreign Secretary, said the other day, in an interview with a correspondent of the "Daily Express" in Moscow, that, with regard to Anglo-Russian relations, he saw no way out. If we make it clear that we will do business with them—both economic business and political business—if they leave us alone, he can adopt that policy, and set about creating an atmosphere that will make a treaty possible. There the path is opening out.
These are the running sores, as it seems to me, that have to be removed before we can get any real disarmament or any real political stability in Europe. Some of us believe that, unless and until we can get some form of economic agreement between this country and Western Europe, between Germany and France, it will be almost impossible for our heavy industries to survive in the future. We must come to some international trading agreement, and reach some international co-operation, but political stability is a condition precedent to any economic alliance; it is the necessary foundation upon which we can proceed to recreate a new European civilisation; and, surely, for the next 50 or 60 years, the recreation of a new European civilisation and economic polity upon the ashes of 1918 must be the chief task of British statesmanship.
§ Mr. DALTON
The hon. Member who has just spoken began a very entertaining speech, with parts of which I found myself in agreement, by apologising for his official chief, and at the same time rebuking, very properly as I consider, the Home Secretary for indiscreet utterances on international affairs. Later on, after having made a plea, of which I hope the Under-Secretary will take note, for the evacuation of the Rhineland at the earliest possible moment—which was pressed also by my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. Ponsonby) in his opening remarks, but was not dealt with by the Foreign Secretary in his reply—the hon. Member returned to the question of disarmament, with which we on 1828 this side are primarily, though not exclusively, concerned in this Debate. The hon. Member suggested that we had carried out a very miraculous work of disarmament since 1918. He spoke of the reduction of the Army by some 4,000,000 men, and corresponding reductions in the Navy; but he did not seem to take account of the fact that the War was at an end in 1918, that the War, so far as fighting was concerned, had then been won, and that the pretended necessity for these armaments, consequently, no longer existed. It is evidently quite misleading to make any comparison between the armaments which we have now and those which were piled up towards the close of that long Period of world war.
The hon. Member would have been on more plausible ground had he dwelt upon the reduction that was made in our expenditure and in the strength of the Navy by the Washington Treaty of 1921, which did indeed, according to an answer which was given to me in the House by the First Lord of the Admiralty on the 22nd November last, result in a reduction of from £50,000,000 to £80,00,000 in naval expenditure spread over five years. It is for that reason, bearing in mind the possibility which was disclosed at the Washington Conference, that we are particularly concerned to see that there is no similar prospect of reductions resulting from the present conference at Geneva, nor, so far as we have yet gone, from the larger League of Nations Conference which will also be taking place at Geneva. With the heavy pressure of taxation of which hon. Members on the other side complain, and with the great restriction upon desirable social expenditure which we on this side consider to be an even more unsatisfactory feature of our present finances, it is not surprising that we should sometimes view disarmament largely as a means of economy. An even important aspect is even as a means of peace in the world and security for all nations. The present insecurity is due, in the minds of the Government of each nation, to other people's armaments, from which we on this side deduce the very simple conclusion that perfect security will only be attained when no nation is afraid of the armaments of 1829 any other nation, when, in other words, total disarmament of all nations on land and sea and in the air is secured by international agreement.
It is admitted that that is a goal which must be reached by stages. I only hope that hon. Members on the other side who may be sceptical with regard to the possibility of reaching it will not cause those stages to be longer than is necessary. That is our ultimate objective, and it is the only objective which will ultimately give security. I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper) that to attempt to regulate war, to turn it into a polite parlour game played according to gentlemanly, old-fashioned rules, is no stage at all towards what we desire. It is false sentimentality to believe that poison gas is any less defensible or any more cruel than high explosive shells. Proposals such as that, to allow armaments to continue to exist or war to be waged, but to say that certain weapons should be taboo, seems to me to be an entirely false line of advance, and I associate myself entirely with what was said by the hon. Member for Oldham in that regard.
If I may turn for a moment to the Coolidge Conference which is proceeding at Geneva, bearing in mind your ruling, Mr. Hope, about technicalities, we may none the less say that we are seriously perturbed at the course which events have taken at Geneva. We are seriously perturbed at the apparent failure of the British and American delegations to get down to some common measure of agreement. I do not here seek to apportion any blame, but I do note that admirals have done a good deal of talking to the Press at Geneva, and I venture to say that that is an unwelcome departure from what we have been led to understand to be the tradition of the so-called silent Service. I suggest that admirals may be very good expert servants, but are very bad dictators of policy. Policy ought to be in the hands of the Government, and it should be expounded by the representatives of the Government and not by admirals. In that view I am supported by no less an authority than Lord Lee of Fareham, who wrote a notable letter which appeared in the "Times" of the 9th of this month, and which is well worth 1830 consideration by His Majesty's Government. He wrote:This question of the relations between England and America is far too serious to be left to the naval experts on either side of the Atlantic,and earlier in his letter he wrote:As between England and America the question of the relative naval strengths is mainly psychological. Neither Government, and certainly neither people, contemplate or are prepared to conceive the possibility of war against each other.…In my view, therefore, it is superfluous … to balance meticulously the relative 'requirements' of the British or American navies in cruisers or any other class of ship.I read in the "Times" this morning that the Foreign Secretary, realising the way in which the British delegation at Geneva, along with the American and Japanese delegations, are drifting into a dangerous impasse, is himself taking a hand in the game, and I hope, though I am not confident, that the result will be that we shall find that the Coolidge Conference at Geneva will not be entirely without fruit. I think it is, perhaps, desirable to say that there have also been sinister rumours, which I hope are not true, although, again, I have no confidence in the matter, that agents of armament firms have been at Geneva, and have been busy feeding the Press there with lies. I am not referring to any one country, either with regard to its Press or with regard to its agents; I merely say that there is this rumour, and that it is all the more to be regretted that, at an earlier stage of these proceedings, a bolder policy was not announced on behalf of the Government, and that there was not greater clearness in the presentation of their policy, so as to prevent unscrupulous misrepresentations of it in the Press of other lands. At last, this morning, in a leading article in the "Times," the interesting question is asked, "What are these armaments for, and against whom are they to be employed?" The "Times" reminds us of the often forgotten fact that before the War the German Fleet was the excuse for the maintenance of the British Navy on an enormous scale and at high cost. At the present time, the "Times" reminds us, the German Navy has practically ceased to exist, and we are back, therefore, at the question, "Against whom are these enormous and costly naval armaments being maintained, either in this country, the United States 1831 or Japan?" That question has not yet been answered. If it were to be answered frankly, I think it would be found that there is no immediate danger to this country rendering a Navy on an enormous scale necessary, and consequently very large all-round cuts could be made without any serious damage, or any at all, to our security.
If I may turn to the League of Nations Conference, the Preparatory Commission met and achieved little except a clear statement of disagreement last April. It is to meet again in November, and therefore we have a few months in which to endeavour to mobilise public opinion on this question and to warn it of the possibility of the breakdown of that Commission when it meets in the autumn. We have made very slow progress with disarmament under the auspices of the League. It is more than eight years since we signed the Covenant of the League pledging ourselves, in common with the other members of the League, to follow the lead which we have imposed upon Germany and the other defeated Powers. We have been following in many cases in the wrong direction, increasing armaments rather than reducing them, in the years which have passed, particularly as regards aircraft. Next November it appears likely that Russian representatives will attend the Commission, They have been invited, and I understand have accepted. I hope they may be there, and I hope their presence may be helpful. [Interruption.] I am, perhaps, not so sceptical about it as the hon. Member who laughs. I am very glad the Russians and the Swiss have at last settled their very foolish quarrel, discreditable to both, which has hitherto prevented the Russians from attending any conference at Geneva. That obstacle has been removed by the belated good sense of the two parties concerned. The work that will have to be done in November is indicated by the Report that has been submitted to the Foreign Secretary by the British representative at the Preparatory Commission, and I hope, although there are one or two technical points on which I wish to say a few words, that will be brought into order through the fact that these matters are dealt with in this Report by Lord Cecil.
1832 The first point that we want to realise—and if we do we shall realise how slowly we are moving—is that in November we shall only be asked to prepare a skeleton, into which no figures will be fitted, for development into a subsequent treaty. None the less, some of the bones of the skeleton have great importance. I regret very much that no attempt is apparently to be made to limit war material directly. German war material was limited strictly, and substantially effectively, in the Treaty of Versailles. Tanks, large guns, which are visible objects and cannot be concealed, were prohibited, and I regret very much that there is to be no attempt made in the forthcoming Conference to forbid the manufacture of tanks or guns of more than a certain size, and in other ways to impose direct limits upon war material. In the second place, I regret very much that the British representative at the Preparatory Commission should have put up opposition to the proposal for a Budgetary limitation on expenditure on armaments. A number of nations there, the French in particular, were very anxious that this form of limitation should be adopted. It appears to me that such a limitation s an essential part of a watertight scheme of disarmament, although it is only one element in it, and I regret very much that we have in the earlier discussions taken what seems to me the wrong and reactionary side in the controversy.
I hope it may not be too late for us to reverse our view on that point and support the French view, and, in exchange for that support, I hope, get the French to come rather nearer to us on certain other matters that are in dispute between us. The dispute as between total tonnage in the limitation of naval armaments and tonnage by class is one in which it seems to me that our contentions are substantially right. Limitation by class is much more important, much more effective and much more appropriate to the facts than limitation merely by the total block of tonnage. At the same time, it appears to me that we approached some distance, in the preparatory Commission, towards a possible compromise on that point, that was suggested by the French, and the French, having been induced to advance alike in that direction towards meeting our view, I hope may come a little further and enable a 1833 compromise of a satisfactory kind to be reached.
Another point on which it seems to me that our representative took up a reactionary view and on which the French, who differed from us, were substantially right, was with regard to the principle of control and inspection of armaments in the various countries that are to carry out the Treaty. It may be that the French proposal was a little too elaborate in form, but it seems to me that in substance it was right—the proposal, namely, that if there is a dispute, if there is an allegation that any particular country has more armaments than it is entitled to under the treaty, to have that dispute settled by an international investigation in the country concerned as to the truth of the allegation or otherwise. It seems to me to make a mockery of the whole nation of disarmament by international agreement that any Power should have a right under the treaty of disarmament to impose a veto upon an impartial inquiry, on complaint made, in its own territory as to the amount of its armament. I hope we shall not take up any such impossible position as that. It is really asking too much that we should believe that good faith alone will go far enough, supplemented, I suppose, by the spies of the Secret Service. Good faith is always, in the absence of proper international arrangements, recognised official arrangements for inspection, supplemented by spies of the Secret Service. Would it not be more worthy of a great country frankly to say, "We will admit, on any primâ facie case having been established, that we are arming in excess of the amount allowed; we will admit investigation quite freely, and will not raise any question of false dignity and prestige. We will allow someone appointed by the League of Nations to come and make an investigation whether or not it is true."
Then, to take a small but an important point in principle, the question of the derogations in the Treaty. There again it seems to me the French are right and we are wrong. On page 10 of this Command Paper 2888 it is suggested that the provisions of any Treaty which may be reached by way of this Conference shall cease to be binding upon the high contracting parties if any of the high contracting parties is threatened with a rebellion or an emergency involving 1834 serious military operations. We could all arrange to be threatened with rebellion, or to think we were, if we desired to dodge our Treaty obligations. The French view, which seems to me the proper view, is that once a Treaty has been entered into and a limitation been imposed upon the armaments of any State, that limitation may only be lifted by the consent of the Council of the League. The French appear to be completely right there and the attitude adopted by the British Government is likely to give ground for very serious suspicion of our good faith. It is not as though the balanced judgment of the Home Secretary or other Members of the present Government is so secure that they could not imagine out of thin air a rebellion that had no real existence. I can imagine the Home Secretary at any moment during the past two or three years telling the Primrose Dames that we were threatened with a rebellion by Communist nuclei in the dockyards and barracks, and thereby being enabled to increase our armaments to any extent might think necessary.
With regard to the air, we seem to have reached at the Preparatory Commission a fairly satisfactory first stage of agreement with regard to the limitation of military aircraft both by total tonnage and by horse power, but we do not seem to have taken any serious account of the measures to be taken with regard to the possible conversion of civil aircraft to military purposes in the event of the outbreak of war. It is, of course, clear that civil aircraft can easily be transformed into bombers. Some of my hon. Friends in previous Debates have put forward proposals for the establishment of some kind of international organisation to deal with civil aviation. It is evident that the details of such a plan would need careful working out, but it is also clear that if such a plan could be effectively brought into operation it would very greatly limit the danger, which would otherwise be very grave, of the conversion of civil into military aircraft in time of war. I hope, therefore, the Government will give careful consideration to the possibility of such a plan.
I have done with these technical details, which are somewhat tedious but none the less important. I agree that we cannot consider disarmament without reference to other elements in the international 1835 situation. In particular, as is suggested in our Amendment, disarmament cannot be considered except in close connection with arbitration. The progress of disarmament is essentially bound up, in our view, with the future progress and practice of international arbitration. The necessity of linking those two lines of policy together was recognised in the Geneva protocol. That in itself is no great commendation in the eyes of Members of the present Government, but it has also been recognised in the Locarno Treaty. The astonishing fact about the Locarno Treaty is that all the other signatories to the Treaty consented to compulsory arbitration in their disputes and we alone did not. We were the only Power who signed that Treaty who failed to enter into any obligations to submit our disputes with the others to arbitration, and the Foreign Secretary has never to my mind really justified the separation of our action in that respect from that of France, Germany and [...] rest.
After all, willingness to accept arbitration in any dispute between ourselves and other nations is one of the clearest possible tests of our will towards peace. On international arbitration this Government has a long and thoroughly bad record. It began by rejecting the Geneva Protocol, which provided for the compulsory reference of all disputes between ourselves and other nations to arbitration. At Locarno, though they imposed arbitration upon others they would not accept it themselves. They have rejected on several occasions offers by particular foreign States—Switzerland, Sweden and Holland—for the conclusion of treaties of arbitration with them, and further, and in some ways more serious than the rejection of these offers from smaller States, they threw all their weight at the last Imperial Conference against the Dominions, if they were so minded, signing the optional Clause for the arbitration of justifiable disputes, and thereby encouraged the whole British Empire to hang back and to refuse to commit themselves to this principle which we on this side of the House consider so salutary and so difficult to defend a refusal of.
The Foreign Secretary about 18 months ago, in answering an appeal made to him on behalf of some society—I forget 1836 the name—which was requesting that we should sign the optional Clause, used a very curious argument. He said that His Majesty's Government preferred, in the case of serious disputes which were likely to lead to the rupture of the peace of nations, to retain the right to submit these disputes to the Council of the League rather than to the International Court at The Hague. He said, or seemed to argue, that, as long as they were willing to submit disputes to the Council of the League of Nations, that was just as good as submitting them to the International Court. Of course, it is not. The Foreign Secretary must know it is not, the difference being, that whereas in disputes submitted to the International Court the result is a judgment and an award which is binding on the two parties, a dispute submitted to the Council, if the Council does not arrive at unanimity, leaves the parties free, under the Covenant of the League, to go to war with one another after three months.
Let me come back to our relations with America. They are, obviously, in an unhappy condition as a result of the consequences of the events at Geneva. Is this not a good moment for His Majesty's Government to make an offer to the American Government to conclude with them an all-in arbitration treaty? Would not that help to undo the recent mischief which has arisen at Geneva? The Foreign Secretary this afternoon said that he wished well to the proposed treaty of all-in arbitration between France and the United States. He went on to say that as far as we and the United States were concerned, war was already outlawed, he believed, in the hearts and souls of the citizens of both countries. If this be so, what is to be lost by putting a legal seal upon that outlawry and making a gesture to show to the great mass of the people rendered suspicious by the evil machinations of the Hearst Press and other organs which distort opinion, that we, at any rate, when we say we do not in any circumstances intend to fight the United States, mean what we say, and are prepared to make formal arrangements beforehand for submitting any dispute between the two countries to third-party judgment? What would be lost by such an arrangement? Why should the 1837 Government hang back from making it? I repeat the question asked before, "Why do we hang back?" If the Government are not prepared to go the whole length of signing the optional Clause—which is really a small step, though a very helpful one—what prevents them from making an arbitration treaty with Switzerland? What likely cause of war have we with Switzerland which might make us desire to drop bombs upon Geneva or Zurich? On what grounds is it possible at this hour in the development of the world's international history, to justify this timid refusal to submit our differences to the principle of arbitration?
We have arrived, in my judgment, at a critical point in the history of the post-War world. My hon. Friend the Member for Brightside (Mr. Ponsonby) was somewhat ridiculed for taking a gloomy view of the world situation. It is better to take an unduly gloomy view, and therefore to realise the importance of acting in the right direction, than to take an unduly optimistic view and then to be let down by the facts. Some competent observers hold that the present moment is very full of danger for the peace of Europe and the rest of the world. The impetus of Locarno, for what that be worth, is now very clearly spent. The time has come when another step forward must be taken, and it should be the privilege and proud duty of the British Government to take the lead and the initiative in making that forward step. I will not go over the ground, already mapped out by earlier speakers, of troubled relations between the countries of Europe and the rest of the world. France and Germany—the evacuation of the Rhineland has been referred to already. France and Italy—nothing has been said about that so far, but very evidently the relations between France and Italy are troubled. Both of them suffer from insecurity due to fear of each other's armaments and intentions. Italy and Yugoslavia—their relations are very uncertain. Anglo-Russian relations, naturally, could not be kept out of such a Debate as this. There is a great deal of hysterics at both ends of the broken telegraph line between London and Moscow. But the Russians, at any rate, have this excuse for their hysterics, that they remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others made war upon them with money that this country's tax- 1838 payers had to pay not very many years ago, and they still read his speeches, and they know he is still a Member of this Government, and not an uninfluential Member. They know that it is hard for a leopard to change his spots. They also read accounts of speeches by the Home Secretary and of other outbursts in the Press here which, at any rate, are not reassuring.
I received a few days ago a leaflet inviting me to go to the Albert Hall on Friday 15th July, "to Celebrate Routing the Reds." The principal speaker is to be the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) who has the distinction, which the Russians may perhaps exaggerate, of being the brother of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, with whom he is sometimes confused, by ill-instructed people, and who is also an ex-Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign Minister. He has now passed from the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary to that of task-master. He cracks the whip. He cracked the whip that led the Government to indulge in the elephantine diplomacy characterised by the hon. Member for Brightside. We read, "The first battle of the war on the Reds has been won." When is the second battle to begin, and of what sort is it to be? Can we be surprised if some of those doctrinaire leaders in Moscow who think that a certain set of simple principles can be applied to all and every country and every State, and govern all human relations, take his words literally and imagine him to be a person of greater importance than he is, and if they take such fanatical outbursts as this as evidence of the intention of the Government to urge other countries to make war upon Russia, even though they are not going to indulge in that operation themselves? Russians, if they are hysterical, have very good grounds to be hysterical in the light of such proceedings as this. One of the greatest evils that has been done by the breaking off of relations between this country and Russia is to increase the difficulties of every statesman in Middle and Eastern Europe who is working for peace. There are in Poland and Czechoslovakia two foreign ministers both of whom are working, I believe, consistently for peace. M. Zaleski in Poland, and M. Benes in Czechoslovakia are, I believe, two of the 1839 most wholehearted seekers after peace that the modern world can show. We are putting obstacles in their way and in the way of better relations between their countries and Soviet Russia by the breaking off of relations with Russia.
The Foreign Secretary has told us that he is very pleased with the progress of the League of Nations, that it has dealt with a large number of important questions and that it is growing in strength from month to month. He is only afraid that it may be going a little too fast and a little too far. He said a little while ago at the Council of the League with regard to disarmament that "he was always a little alarmed lest the public in the different countries should be led in the first instance to expect too much." His practice has cured us of undue expectations. He need have no fear now. We do not expect too much from him as far as the policy of the League and the policy of constructive and imaginative peacemaking are concerned. We have long ago given up such expectations. His attitude towards the League of Nations always reminds me of the old hen and the young duckling. The old hen is always telling the young duckling not to go into the water, or he may get wet and even drown, and in the same way the Foreign Secretary seems to fear that the League, which he admits is growing stronger and more hopeful, should at any time really insist upon dealing with some of these questions which now disturb the peace of the world.
Before 1914, as was said by the writer of a rather remarkable book, Europe was living in a world of whispers; we are now living in a similar atmosphere. There are whispers in all the centres of government in Europe, and we do not know whither we are drifting or what will be the end. It is no good for the Foreign Secretary to protest to us his good intentions. Nobody has ever said in this country that the Foreign Secretary desires war. Of course he does not. Neither did Sir Edward Grey nor any of his fellow blunderers among the diplomatists of pre-War days. None of them desired war. All their intentions were good. And yet the path which led to the hell of 1914 was paved with those good intentions. Besides good intentions we need imagination, courage and the sense of leadership, and particularly so in this 1840 country. The word of Britain has still a magical power throughout the world. The possibility of a response to a British lead, a really bold British lead of constructive pacification of the world cannot be exaggerated. Instead of this, we have a Government suffering from paralysis, from lack of will. We see a Foreign Secretary full of formal correctitudes, but making no step forward, no vigorous gesture, and throwing out no new and hopeful ideas for the settlement of these problems. We are losing golden hours. We are losing opportunities which will never recur again. The peoples of the world are not, as the hon. Member who last spoke imagines, in their natural state desirous of war. The peoples of the world, except when they are misled by the Press and by misguided politicians, are desirous only of peace, of being left alone so far as international relations are concerned. They are beginning to recognise that there is no real antagonism between any of the peoples of the world, but only fictitious antagonisms created by diplomatists and certain evil-disposed persons.
Let us not forget that there are millions of men in every land who fought in a war which they were told was to end war. They are still nourishing the hope that, before they die, they will find that they were not mocked by that phrase and that the daybreak of their dreams will come true. But we are drifting hopelessly. The international sky, instead of lightening, seems to be getting darker. I say frankly that the Foreign Secretary of this country has a sacred trust, the peace of this generation and of our children who shall come after us, our vital interests, in the most literal sense of the phrase. If through lack of vision, even if it be not through ill will—we do not accuse him of that—but merely through lack of vigour and imagination and leadership he betrays that trust, he will have to answer a terrible indictment at the bar of history.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I had hoped, in common with so many other Members of the Committee, that we might have heard something new in the speech of the Foreign Secretary to-day, but he has remained true to himself, and we have heard nothing at all helpful in the way of information or hopeful from the point of 1841 view of our future policy of building up a constructive peace. My hon. Friend who has just sat down has pointed out how systematically this Government has resisted every effort which has been made to develop arbitration as a method of organised relations among the nations of the world, how this country has, indeed, the worst record of any Government in the world for deliberately blocking the way that might lead to a settlement of disputes and to a guarantee that disputes would not lead to war by the policy which it has systematically pursued and which it has encouraged other parts of the British Empire to pursue in this matter of arbitration. When every allowance has been made, the fact remains that, although the Government is utterly bankrupt in policy, we have still plenty of basis for an effective policy to be built up at the present time, even without any further development of arbitration. With regard to arbitration, there has been sufficient in the way of world development and world change since 1919 to make reasonable a very thorough-going disarmament policy on the part of the present Government. The rise of the League of Nations, the development of Locarno, the disarmament of four of the member States of the League of Nations since 1919, and the fact, as the Foreign Secretary has said, that the heart and soul of the whole of the British people are permanently allied to a policy of peace so far as America is concerned—and similar assurances have come from responsible men in America on that particular point—all these things form a very largo foundation for British policy on disarmament.
The two factors that are always present in our minds in regard to this matter of disarmament are, first of all, the remarkable rise of the American Navy and, secondly, the fall of the German Navy and the fall of German armaments. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary, when he comes to reply to-night, one or two questions in regard to the effect of the British disarmament proposals as they have been outlined by the First Lord of the Admiralty recently at Geneva. I should like to ask him whether he can give us some assurance that the net effect of that policy, if it does lead to the most hopeful results as to limitation, is not merely going to be that there will be a limitation and reduction of armaments, 1842 but, in effect, a limitation of a very considerable increase of armaments, certainly from the side of America and therefore from the side of Japan, and, leading through them, to Italy and France. So far as one can judge from the temper of the American people, they are thoroughly of the persuasion that they must have a Navy which is equal to that of Britain and, indeed, the only result that has come from the discussion which has been taking place at the conference has been the complete achievement of the principle of parity both in general and in detail. The deliberate expression of policy by His Majesty's Government that they are prepared to admit in detail in regard to every class of ship that America can, if she wishes, build up to a full equality with ourselves, represents the only substantial achievement that has come out of this conference to date.
It is only a little more than a year ago since the First Lord of the Admiralty, on behalf of the British Government, was still seeking to observe the two-Power standard in regard to cruisers so far as this country was concerned. Speaking at a banquet in March of last year, he said it would be a very dangerous thing if this country were to be satisfied with a one-Power standard in cruisers. We must be superior in cruisers to any other country in order that we might protect our trade. That was the policy of the Government a year ago, notwithstanding the demand of the Washington Conference. The only thing that has emerged on this issue from the present conference is that America has now the consent of the British Government to go to a full equality in regard to cruiser construction, and in regard to every other class of ship not discussed and not subject to regulation under the Washington Conference. So far as we can judge from the American Press and from the Press of this country, which supports so wholeheartedly the policy of His Majesty's Government, headed by the "Times," it looks as if the main contribution that His Majesty's Government are going to make in regard to the policy of disarmament is actually to promote a new movement for armaments on the part of the Governments of the world. I should like the Under-Secretary when he replies, without discussing the details 1843 which are now going on in the Conference, to say whether the proposals put forward by the First Lord of the Admiralty do represent the final contribution that His Majesty's Government are prepared to make; whether in principle they are prepared to encourage America to embark upon a policy of cruiser construction which would react upon Japan, and, through Japan, on Italy and France. It would, indeed, be a sorry comment on the policy of the Government if their net achievement in regard to the cruiser conference should be that of establishing a "fifty-fifty" struggle between ourselves and America when our hearts and souls are unquestionably on the side of peace.
With regard to the other important factor, namely, the fall of the German Navy in 1919 and the fall of the German armaments in 1919, I have been very much impressed this afternoon to see how one speaker after another from the benches opposite have assumed that we have done all that can possibly be done in regard to disarmament. It has been pointed out that we have reduced the large Army of 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 of men which we had in 1919, that we have reduced a very large Navy that we had in 1919; that we have made ourselves into a third-or fourth-hand service as compared with other nations; that we have really brought ourselves down to the smallest possible limit. Indeed, the hon. Member who represents the Cleveland Division of Yorkshire (Sir Park Goff), who has been specially studying the disarmament question from the point of view of the League of Nations Union, even went so far as to say that we were actually endangering ourselves, so great was the amount of disarmament to which we have submitted ourselves since 1919. I am only sorry to see that a fine body like the League of Nations Union, with its 650,000 members, allows itself to take that kind of attitude towards the problem of general disarmament. If you are going to start this discussion on the assumption that the British Army is the smallest that can be raised, that the Navy is down to rock bottom on its present expenditure, and that the Air Service is a very small and insignificant thing, if we are going to start with that attitude of mind, the attitude of mind which has always been 1844 expressed from the benches opposite and which, I am sorry to say, is too frequently expressed by that large body, the League of Nations Union, if that is to be the temper with which we are to confront our work in the League of Nations, then it is perfectly clear that we are not going to get anywhere at all in regard to disarmament policy, a policy which could prepare the way for peace in the years that lie ahead.
I would, therefore, remind the Committee that we only have at present since 1919 two really substantial contributions to disarmament. We have the work which was done by the Washington Conference, which was limited to five Powers and two categories of ships, and which was, therefore, a very restricted piece of disarmament. I think, in practice, perhaps we can say that the one effective piece of work done in regard to disarmament was that policy carried out for four States under the organisation of the League of Nations in 1919. Up till then we never had, in the last 100 years, a definite policy of disarmament actually carried out, but then a definite standard was established. If we take the case of Germany, the largest of the four Powers involved, we find that her estimates for the Army and Navy in March of this year—she has no estimates for the Air Service—amount in round figures to something like £34,000,000 as against more than £80,000,000 which was her expenditure in the year before the War. How do those figures compare with our own? Our estimates in this year are £117,000,000 as against £71,000,000 in 1913–14. It is of the greatest importance, and it is very significant from the point of view of disarmament, that we have had four States, all of whom are now members of the League of Nations, who have carried out this radical policy of disarmament.
I regret very much that the statement made by the British Government and the proposals put forward by the First Lord of the Admiralty have contained no reference to the state of the world at the present time. We have a disarmament policy which carries with it total disarmament so far as the Air Service is concerned; it carries with it total disarmament so far as the submarines of the world are concerned; it carries with it so far as land armaments are concerned 1845 the practical abolition of heavy armaments, like tanks and armoured cars and the heaviest battle cannon; it carries with it a very big limitation of every category of ship on the seas, and their size and the guns which they are to carry, and I want to ask the Under-Secretary what he supposes the effect of the so-called Bridgeman policy on navies is going to have, assuming that it is carried out, not only on the one side by America, but also on the other side by a country like Germany? He must know, as we all know, that those four States carried out their 1919 policy of disarmament at our instigation and subject to very solemn obligations which were then entered into to the effect that armaments would be limited to the 1919 standard. The gathering which was held at Berlin, the International gathering of the League of Nations, was used as a sounding board by responsible leaders of public German life to express their profound disappointment with the result of a general disarmament discussion going on at that time at Geneva, and to underline the difficult position in which they were finding themselves as contracting parties to existing treaties in Europe. Count Bernstorff said frankly that the whole German nation were profoundly disappointed with the work that had been done through Lord Cecil in regard to this matter of general disarmament at Geneva. We see from every angle of the German Press the view being put forward that unless there are signs in the world of an extension of the 1919 standard of disarmament as applied to the land, sea and air forces, and some reasonable prospect of its being carried out under the solemn treaty obligations, Germany would be obliged to repudiate the position in which she was then placed. Dr. Gessler, the German Minister of Defence, in regard to a statement made in Germany with respect to his policy as to Russia and disarmament generally, said:It must be frankly stated that it is out of the question for us to carry on under our present system indefinitely, for we could not strengthen our forces as we wish in face of an attack. We must demand from the other nations disarmament to the extent of the system imposed upon Germany, either general disarmament, or we must also be placed in a position to meet our adversaries with weapons of equal value. It is quite impossible for a State like Germany, a member of the League of 1846 Nations, to be kept down on the level of an Indian tribe.I will quote a statement from an article written by a member of the German Reichstag, who is not a Socialist member, but one who stands in the middle of German thought as represented in the Reichstag, in which he expresses what I am perfectly convinced covers the thought of a very large section of German life at the present time. He said:The opportunity is now offered to Germany of bursting the chains of Versailles and attaining her old freedom and greatness. All that it needs is another war, which is certainly coming. England will wage war against Russia, France will fight Italy, or Poland will fight Lithuania, and we gather that the conflagration will spread. Germany must join on one side or the other. If she remains neutral, she will be divided up. Opinions may differ as to which side Germany should take. She will join that side which offers or can offer the assurance that the Treaty of Versailles will be torn to scraps, and that Germany will recover her freedom and that, above all, she will be able to have her own way as to her armed forces.It is perfectly understandable that we should have this kind of temper shown in Germany, and I want to ask the Under-Secretary what is the Foreign Office attitude towards that kind of Germany; towards a Germany which says that we are not carrying out one of the most fundamental provisions of the 1919 arrangement. We have done nothing up to date, and there is no sign in the Bridgeman proposals that we have any such intentions in the near future; there never has been and there never will be, so long as Conservative policy can influence Government policy in this matter. Will the Under-Secretary tell us what is to be our attitude; whether it is going to be the contribution of the present Tory Government to disarmament in the world, that on the one hand they are going to help to build up an American Navy by the policy they are now pursuing, and, on the other, whether they are going to give a free hand to Germany to rebuild their Army and Navy and Air Service along the lines of the French, British and American model. Is it really the definite intention of His Majesty's Government to accept that position?
We are already getting that kind of propaganda in this country by, presumably, 1847 responsible British writers. I had a book sent to me a few days ago written by a person who uses the nom de plume "Augur," and who, for anything I know, may come from the Foreign Office itself. It is written on a line which is not unfamiliar to the British Foreign Office. He argues the thesis that we have made a great blunder in regard to the policy of German disarmament since 1919; that we have done a number of things which have driven Germany into the arms Of Russia, and that we ought to be doing everything we can to win Germany back to West European policy: a line of thought which, I am sure, is very sympathetic towards the policy which has been pursued by His Majesty's Government during the past few years. He asks what is the price which must be paid if we are to make sure that Germany will become a member of what he describes as the white race, the European race. He underlines again and again in his little book that the thing that will have to be done will be to do away with the disarmament regulations to which Germany submitted in 1919, and he goes on to say that:the restrictions in the Treaty in respect of German armaments must fall.I ask His Majesty's Government whether they are envisaging as a part of their deliberate policy at the present time not only the creation of a very large American Navy, but also deliberately reserving the power in their own hands to give Germany this kind of new freedom under the heads prescribel by Britain and her policy in regard to disarmament. Are they deliberately going to break with the 1919 obligations as a party which has always honoured its treaty rules; which has always been open and frank? Are they really going to give Germany the right to be free again in regard to armaments? These thoughts are agitating the minds of people who are watching the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to disarmament. It is for this reason that we on this side do not feel that the statement made by the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Ponsonby) in opening the Debate, a statement of a very gloomy character, was at all overdrawn. We are very greatly concerned about the policy of His Majesty's Government, and I ask the Under-Secretary—who has 1848 more than once when we have been discussing foreign affairs vouchsafed to us very important information—if he will tell us whether the proposals put forward by the First Lord of the Admiralty in regard to disarmament are the considered proposals and the final proposals of the Government, and whether the Government are going to close their eyes entirely to the existence of the 1919 standard, and to the obligations that were entered into that year?
I am not arguing that the Government should sink a considerable proportion of the present Navy, like the Germans did at Scapa Flow, or that we should originate a revolutionary policy of that kind; but is it not possible for the Government to say, "We will regard this as an ideal. It is part of our solemn contractual obligation. We would like to get down to the 1919 standard, and we will aim at it for, say, five 10 or 15 years." What is the Government doing to build up a common policy? We see things drifting into some kind of nemesis in regard to disarmament. It is impossible for the four leading States to carry out for years a policy which is at variance with the standard accepted and practised by the rest of the nations of the world. The Labour party think that Germany's present armaments are quite enough; but Conservatives in Germany are doing what Conservatives do in this country. They are using the argument of Germany's needs, and the need for the protection of Germany's trade routes. We are getting tired of hearing this endless claim that it is necessary to safeguard the Empire; that is is necessary to protect our trade routes.
That argument can be applied to every nation in the world. There is hardly a nation which is not dependent on the sea for its food supplies. We are all dependent on the sea for our food supplies; and we are asking that Great Britain should be put into a separate category on the ground that its particular concern is on the waters of the world. Conservatives in Germany are arguing in exactly the same way. They say they want to protect their trade routes. They want the same thing on the same terms and under the same conditions, for which the British Foreign Secretary has been arguing this afternoon. 1849 We are getting into a very difficult situation, and if we do not clinch this matter of armaments this year, or early next year, we shall drift helplessly into a policy of increasing armaments, and be giving up what is one of the few gains of the last War—the 1919 standard—something actually in operation. I want to see this most precious part held and retained for civilisation. I want to see the 1919 standard of disarmament kept at all costs, and preserved and developed, and for this reason I am pleading with the Government to stop closing their eyes and hoodwinking the people by saying that we want 72 cruisers and to spend £117,000,000 as a minimum at the present time. I appeal to the Government to get down to this question and give us a serious and considered answer. What is our attitude and policy towards the 1919 standard? What are we going to do to be really honest and faithful members of the League of Nations and to play our part, as we promised, in generalising that standard, and making it applicable on the same terms and conditions to the Treaty members of the League of Nations, and to all others who are prepared to subscribe to it.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
I was very glad, and to some degree astonished, to hear the Foreign Secretary confess that the atmosphere in Europe to-day, so far as militarism and future war is concerned, is much worse than it was in 1924. Indeed, we should have to go a very long way back in order to find such a change in atmosphere and outlook as has taken place during the last three years in regard to this situation. In 1924 the action taken by the Labour Prime Minister completely changed the atmosphere of Europe in the short space of a few weeks, and if that atmosphere had been continued and improved it would have been possible to carry out extensive schemes of disarmament. I was disappointed to hear the Foreign Secretary deprecate the sort of conferences or agreements which were contemplated in the Protocol, for if this had been carried out we should have had a basis for a policy which is impossible at the present time. The Foreign Secretary said that he did not believe in these universal gatherings and conferences, 1850 for while they gave plenty of scope for rhetoric and oratory nobody got down to the real things which count.
You cannot make any headway in a matter of this kind unless you can first of all create an atmosphere. During the War we had a separate department operating in order to maintain an atmosphere in which the War could be carried on, and if you are to cary out a policy which involves a large measure of disarmament you will be obliged to create an atmosphere wherein that policy may be carried through. That atmosphere was changed in 1924 and since then we have had one of the most flagrant examples of the breakdown of that universal policy and the development of a spirit of sectionalism which has filled the air with suspicion and fear and brought us nearer to war than we were before 1914. The Governments of the world are a very long way behind the public opinion of the world in this matter. The present Government does not seem to realise the extent to which public opinion in this country, and in every country of the world, has changed during the last ten years. In fact, I go as far as to say that there is no example in history where public opinon has changed so completely and radically as it has changed on the question of disarmament during the last ten years. But while public opinion has been going in one direction the Governments of the world have been going in exactly the opposite direction. So far as all the conferences which have ben called since the close of the War to deal with disarmament are concerned, no real progress has been made. We have had only a tampering with those sides of disarmament policy which, generally considered, do not count very much in modern warfare.
Public opinion is not only going in the direction of disarmament but is going in the direction of complete disarmament, and we have powerful movements and organisations which make total disarmament the object of their agitation. Just now one of the most popular and most respected Ministers in the United States, Mr. Borah, is about to introduce the question of calling an International Conference to discuss one matter alone, and that is complete disarmament throughout the world. I maintain that if the policy started by the Labour Prime Minister in 1924 had been pursued, if we had a new 1851 basis on the lines of the Protocol, if we came forward with drastic proposals for disarmament and meant to carry them out, we should carry the public opinion of the world with us. I am not only in favour of asking the nations of the world to agree to a very large measure of disarmament; I believe that if we were to go to such a conference and advocate a certain policy in regard to disarmament and say that we were prepared, whatever other nations may do, to go to certain lengths in the direction of disarmament, we should certainly not lose but add to our prestige and gain in moral influence in the world.
May I say a word or two on the question of Russia? Much has been said on that issue in to-day's Debate and it is necessary that much should be said. There is a great deal more to be said on it than has already been said. I want to emphasise the point that has been made, that Russia to-day is filled with suspicion in regard to what this country is doing and proposes to do. I think that Russia has very great reason for entertaining those suspicions. Russia has been facing our implacable opposition for a period of 10 years. We ought not to forget that after the close of the War not only did we carry on a most barbaric and inhuman blockade against Russia, but we were the means of assisting what are known as the White Generals in Russia to bring down the Soviet régime, to the extent of £100,000,000, and the people of this country for a considerable time knew nothing whatever of what was being done. Those were the beginnings. Russia cannot forget the damage that was done to her existence at that time, and her economic losses as the result of having to maintain a huge army to meet the opposition to her. It is a recognition of the fact that from that date to this we have maintained our opposition to Russia, that she is very suspicious of us now. Furthermore, the matter goes much beyond the region in question. There is the Eastern aspect of the question, and to my mind it is a very serious aspect. We are confronted with the fact that during the last few years Russia has increased her influence in China. It is a matter of serious concern to this country that the influence of Russia in China is as great as it is at the present time.
1852 I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary to what extent Russian policy in the East is likely to determine our attitude towards militarism in India. I know that we have a special Department for India. Nevertheless I think there is a side to this question which concerns the Foreign Office. Mention was made in the India Debate on Friday of a rumour regarding the transference of part of our Expeditionary Force to India. That rumour was denied, and I was very glad to hear it denied. But there is another rumour in regard to our military affairs in India, which has not been denied and with which I would like the Foreign Minister to deal, because if the rumour be true it does concern our general Eastern policy. That is to say, is there any likelihood that we are going to increase our air establishment in the North of India? Are we going to do that from fear that Russian influence is likely to be increased in the near future, working from Afghanistan? That rumour is going about very much indeed. If it should be the case, if that is going to be done, it is hopeless to expect any policy of disarmament to be pursued by the present Government.
The only way in which we can deal with the menace of Russia in the East, as the Government would call it, is by beating Russia upon her own lines. There has been much talk in recent years in regard to Russia, particularly with regard to her paying her debts, but there is one debt that Russia has paid, and that is the debt of freedom to the little countries round her border, and her debt of freedom to China. That is why Russian influence has increased in China; it is why it has gained in Persia; and it is why it will grow in other parts of the East. There is only one way to face this question and to overcome the influence of Russia in the East, and that is both in China and India to revolutionise our policy, to give a far larger measure of freedom than we have ever anticipated, and so win the respect of the whole of the East, of China and India, and, coming even a little nearer, we may include Egypt, in order that we may on that security pursue a policy of peace both in the East and in the West. Those are the main points upon which I desired to say a few words, and I would like to have some assurance from the Foreign Secretary that we are not going to be 1853 involved by the fear of Russia in the way that I have described, but that we are going to be prepared both in Europe and in the East to trust humanity to a far greater extent than in the past, in giving freedom in China and in India, and in calling that wider conference on the basis of the Protocol of 1924, and being able to go to that Conference conscious of the growing mind of the world in the direction of disarmament, and realising that our greatness in future will be determined not by the strength of our armaments, but by the strength of our resolve to trust the desires of the world for peace.
§ Miss WILKINSON
There are various ways in which one can discuss the question of disarmament. There is, as is known to one who was a student of Debates in this House before she came here, the characteristic and rather old-fashioned way of regarding foreign policy and disarmament conferences as matters that primarily concern the people who meet in those conferences and the comparatively small ruling classes from which they are drawn. It is the traditional view of foreign policy to regard it as a game of very highly placed people. M. Paleologue and all the memoirs that have recently been published of 19th Century policy, give that view. It is a most interesting, intricate, and somewhat delightful game of very highly placed people, who cannot be troubled by such outside considerations as the men who are to be mangled by these policies or the destruction that they are likely to leave behind them. But the discussion this afternoon has taken a more realist view than that. After all, before we can even discuss the, question of disarmament, we have got to get down to the real causes of war. We no longer go to war from the old dynastic reasons. To-day the problems that cause war are the struggles for markets, the complicated economic problems which are the basis of the whole of our foreign political affairs. The feature of the last 15 years has been that we have seen the economic combination going outside the confines of the State where it can be controlled and supervised, if desired, by the Government of the day, and we have seen more and more a tendency towards great international combinations, international 1854 monopolies, which, though they are in touch with all the Governments, are supervised by none and can be controlled by none.
I suggest that these international trading combinations, who are responsible to nobody and who give an account to nobody except to their shareholders, by the use of immense funds and immense influence keep a state of disturbance in the world in which they can fish for their own advantage. It means that, in practice, disarmament is impossible until they have been dealt with. Russia has been mentioned many times this afternoon. In spite of the family connections of the present Under-Secretary, I think it would be true to say of him, as of the Foreign Secretary, that the last thing they desired was a break in diplomatic relations with Russia. What has happened? We have heard of the charming personality of the hon. Gentleman's brother in the drawing rooms of Mayfair, and his appearance on platforms in the country suitably escorted by gentlemen waving Union Jacks and suitably hymned by Dame Clara Butt, but, however delightful a performance that might be, I hardly think it was likely to cause the serious diplomatic rupture with Russia that has actually happened. But we have two great oil monopolies; we have the Royal Dutch Shell Combine on the one hand and the Standard Oil on the other. They have parcelled out the world's markets and the world's supply of oil between them. They have come to amicable relations but there is, unfortunately for them, a disturbing factor. Russian petrol has been placed on the markets of the world at a price considerably cheaper than that at which the monopolies handed it out to their customers and, at all costs, that disturbance of their monopoly has to be destroyed. So, you get the "Daily Mail" campaign and you find placards in a large proportion of the garages of the country, "No Soviet Petrol sold here."
If the issue were put to the average user of petrol—I may say I am a very small consumer, but it is an important item in one's expenditure—they would very much like to have petrol considerably cheaper than the price at which it is supplied by the oil monopolies at the 1855 present time. But we are to have the hon. Gentleman's brother, we are to have Dame Clara Butt, we are to have the appearance of Union Jacks in the hands of British business men, not really because we are not to shake hands with murder—seeing that we sent the hon. Gentleman's colleagues to shake hands with Signor Mussolini—but in order that the international oil combines may put their oil on to the markets of the world at the price which they think suitable. I see the Under-Secretary shakes his head. I am sure family loyalty will prevent him agreeing to any economic doctrine such as I have suggested, but, nevertheless, it is true that the oil shareholders and the big oil companies put money pretty freely behind any kind of movement likely to cause a rupture with Russia. I am not suggesting by any means that that is the only reason. The fear of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues of having a successful experiment in workers' government on the other side of Europe is also a real fact in the situation, but I think everybody would agree that the desire of the oil companies to maintain oil monopolies has been one of the big features behind the "Daily Mail" campaign at any rate, and one that has contributed very largely to the creation of that atmosphere.
I give that as one illustration of the results of private, but powerful international trading operations on the foreign relations of the chancelleries of the world. A previous speaker on the Opposition Front Bench has dealt with another very serious situation, and that is the evil of private trade in armaments. The armament firms of the world are a very small group. I think it is true to say that, in practice, four big armament firms represent the controlling influence in the armament ring. If that be true, and if the representatives of these firms are giving out information to the Press, as they notoriously did in a previous crisis, we see, on an international scale, what was the stock-in-trade of older Labour speakers about the coffin trust in Glasgow. The coffin trust was supposed to object to any kind of public health reform because they were afraid it would interfere with their trade in coffins. Be that as it may, we see the same idea very grimly carried out when the repre- 1856 sentatives of private armament firms being allowed—I do not say officially allowed—to use the hatreds, suspicions and fears of a war-torn world merely in order that armaments may be ordered, so as to increase the dividends of their shareholders.
I have no doubt that, if it were put to these men individually, they would protest that they were public servants meeting a public demand and so forth. Even the opium traders have urged that view, but the most convinced supporter of private trade should see from the activities of the armament representatives at Geneva, that private profit made out of armaments is one of the matters that must be dealt with before we can get down to a serious discussion of disarmament. Another factor in the international trading complications is investment in undeveloped countries by firms who desire to use those investments purely for the exploitation of cheap labour and for getting the quickest possible return on the money invested. I suggest to the Under-Secretary that too long have we been in the undignified position of having the British Navy used as a debt collector for foreign investors. I quite understand the wild enthusiasm of some of these gentlemen for the largest possible Navy that the unfortunate taxpayers of this country can be induced to maintain. We see these men investing their money in affairs which they know to be extremely risky and yet, although they charge enormous interest because of the extra risk, they are the first to squeal if that risk eventuates, and to demand the strongest measures against people who are not paying their debts. One could give a large number of instances of that kind. Egypt has been the classic case. A great deal of our trouble in China has come from the assumption that, although British capital abroad is used for private investors' profit, when it is threatened, it is the British Navy, paid for by the British taxpayer, that has to be used as the debt collector. Of course, it is always said that it is to protect the lives of the clerks and other white workers who are sent out to these undeveloped countries. That argument would carry greater weight if these companies showed any particular enthusiasm for decent conditions for their clerks when their capital is not threatened, but it is only when their capital is threatened 1857 that you find that the British Navy must be called in, that we must have a gunboat policy, and that this country must have its foreign relations threatened because of the investments of private capitalists abroad. A good deal of our trouble with Russia has been due to people who have got concessions there, who have risked capital and got very much higher interest because they have risked it, and who have then demanded the whole weight of the Fleet to be used for their private profit.
I suggest that if we are serious when we speak of the League of Nations being a force for peace, it is not sufficient to keep the League as a sort of decorative screen behind which the old game of foreign policy is played. If we seriously mean that the League of Nations is to be a force for world peace, it has to tackle some of these fundamental causes of world war. I suggest that the League of Nations should collect and publish information, not merely about labour, but about the activities of some of the international monopolists and what they are doing. I suggest that a really honest and impartial survey, and the publication of the results of that survey, of the work of some of these big international trusts would be a startling eye-opener to the countries of the world. It is because these trusts work in secret, because they are in control of enormous funds, and of social prestige, because the lure of their gold is such that the very highest interests in the various countries can be brought to bear and to control or rather cajole Ministers into carrying out their will, that we see nothing of the work that they are doing. I suggest that a really impartial survey, not some of these decorative publications, but a real attempt to find out what these international trusts are doing, would at least let us know where we are. If humanity is to be crucified on a cross of gold, at least let us know that that crucifixion is going on, and let us not merely see these international combinations waving the flags of the various countries, and setting the various countries to wave their flags against each other, in the interests of the private dividends of these firms.
Would it not be a real step towards disarmament and world peace if it could he made clear that armaments should exist only for policing purposes, and that capitalists must be left to take their own risks? If we can get to that point, it seems to me that we shall arrive at 1858 some real basis of disarmament, but while we have it maintained that any private profiteer can, as a matter of fact, rely on the arms of his Government, so long as he is big, and important, and wealthy enough to control, or rather to cajole, the Government, then we might just as well give up talking about disarmament, because these people can laugh in our faces, and regard the Debates in this House as merely letting off steam. It is a terrible commentary on our civilisation that while the principle of disarmament is now verbally accepted by leading politicians of all parties and by all civilised Governments, very little is being done in practice to secure that disarmament. We used to say on Labour platforms that just as, if they are given toys, children will play with them, so nations, if they have armaments, will inevitably go to war. We were sneered at for saying that, but it has now become the respectable doctrine of conservative speakers. We find Lord Grey, in his recent book, "Twenty-five Years," saying:The enormous growth of armaments in Europe, the sense of insecurity and fear caused by them—it was these that made war inevitable. This, it seems to me, is the truest reading of history, and the lesson that the present should be learning from the past in the interest of future peace, the warning to be handed on to those who come after us.9.0 p.m.
I would add a footnote to that, not that armaments are the cause of war, but the fact that the armaments are there, and can be used, constitutes a standing excuse for the adventurers and private monopolists.
Let us consider for a moment what is the economic burden of the cost of armaments to the peoples of the world. It is rather amusing in 1927 to realise that in 1895, when Mr. Gladstone made his great protest against naval expansion, the total Naval Estimates of this country were only £15,000,000; in 1914 they yere £50,000,000; and in 1926 £60,000,000. The British Government are now spending approximately £120,000,000 per annum on defence. If we reduce that to 1914 prices, which, after all, are the only fair basis of comparison, we find that it is really equal to £79,000,000 but the total defence expenditure in 1914 was only £72,000,000. This is an extraordinary state of affairs. Whereas the peoples of Europe were 1859 armed to the teeth in 1914, when everybody was expecting war, and the statesmen of the world were not doing all that they might have done to prevent it, whatever they may say now, the total defence expenditure of this country was £72,000,000; that is to say, that when the War is over, when nobody can say against whom we are building, when the only reasons for these armaments are the sinister forces in the background that I have suggested, we see an all-round increase of 10 per cent. on our real expenditure on defence.
I would point out further that the burden on the British people now is out of all proportion to the burden in 1914. In that year this country was almost at the peak of its prosperity. The year 1913 is still taken as the peak year, the year to which we look back as the standard of normal prices. We were bearing our £72,000,000 burden at that time, but this burden of £79,000,000 on 1914 prices is being borne by a country with at least 1,250,000 people out of work, with at least another 750,000 on short time, with wages appallingly low, with the whole standard of life low, and with all the people concerned in industry talking about enormous burden of taxation that is being placed on industry. The present expenditure of £79,000,000—I am giving the figures on the 1914 basis—is therefore out of all proportion to the burden we were bearing in 1914.
Another feature of this situation is the appalling increase in air armaments. Possibly we may be faced, in fact we are faced, with a race in air armaments which places us pretty much in the position in which we were in 1908 with regard to naval armaments. This brings me to the fact that the next war will be so destructive as to threaten the very existence of European civilisation. Only this week I was attending a lecture given by an expert on chemical warfare, which made me make up my mind that somehow or other I was going to get into the Army in the next war, because it seemed to me it would be the only reasonably safe place. This chemical expert showed upon the screen pictures of tubes containing every kind of death-dealing disease which could be hurled into our cities. We are to fight with bacteria, bacilli and disease germs of all kinds. Our cities will be not merely decimated but rendered utterly 1860 uninhabitable by chemical bombs. Bombs are now being manufactured in our research laboratories which would render utterly impossible for days—not merely for a short time after they were dropped—any kind of life, human, animal or vegetable. These things make us realise that it is not war in the ordinary sense that we are talking about. Indeed, it is a scandal that during the greater part of this Debate these benches have been completely empty, and that the whole attitude of the House towards this subject is one of boredom. We are faced with the wiping out of our civilisation unless we deal with this question. It is not a matter which can be left to experts. The Government themselves ought to awaken the conscience of every elector to the appalling danger which we are facing and which civilisation as a whole is facing. It may be that I shall be accused of exaggerating—I have frequently been accused of inflicting sob stuff upon this House—and I will therefore read an extract from a memorandum to the League of Nations prepared in 1922 by General T. R. C. Groves, who was the Director of Air Operations for the British Air Force in 1918. This memorandum is old-fashioned now, but this is what it says:In the first phase of the next war, when each side is striving to snatch victory by the method which Marsh Foch has described as 'demoralising the people and thus disarming the Government,' there is little doubt the belligerents will resort to gas bomb tatacks on a vast scale. This form of attack upon great cities such as London or Paris can entail the loss of millions of lives in the course of a few hours. The gas bombs employed will contain gas in a liquid form. The liquid would be released on impact and expand to many hundred times its volume. The gas cloud so formed would be heavier than air, and would thus go into the cellars and tubes in which the population had taken refuge. As the bombardment continued the gas would thicken until it flowed through the streets of the city in rivers. All gas experts are agreed that is would be impossible to devise means to protect the civil population from this form of attack.That is a cheerful prospect for those of us who are left behind. Some of us still remember the speech made by the present Secretary of State for Air when defending his first year's Estimates. Members from these benches put up similar arguments to those I am using now in their plea for air disarmament, and the Minister for Air then assured us that he thought the matter might be 1861 arranged by means of treaties under which the centre of cities need only be bombed when the civil population had gone back to the suburbs and the cities were left in charge of caretakers and so on. I preserve that copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT, because when I quote it at public meetings I have been frequently challenged about the absurdity of the statement. If that be the attitude of mind in which such experts as the present Secretary of State for Air are facing the question of air disarmament, it seems to me that the prophecies of General Groves are not by any means likely to be an exaggerated statement of the peril which we are likely to face in the next war.
We are facing an entirely new problem and we are facing it from a technical point of view. Britain is no longer an island. Air armaments have wiped away our old tactical position, but have not wiped away the old-fashioned mentality of the people who are considering the question of disarmament. They will think on the old lines. They still think of us as having 22 miles of moat all round, not realising that not only are we in danger of air attacks from Paris, but that we are possibly in danger from attack from New York as well. What we need is to tackle this problem from a new standpoint, from the economic standpoint of disarmament, rather than considering it purely as a diplomatic game realising also that it is not a question of limiting or cutting down expenditure here and there, but a question of uniting the civilised peoples of the world in a great campaign to get rid of armaments before armaments get rid of civilisation.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I did not intend to speak at all during this Debate, but on listening to the speech of the hon. Lady I could not help thinking it was a great pity that she, like many others, had not had the advantage of more practical experience of the subject on which she was speaking. As one who has been right round the world, and who has lived for a number of years far from this country, I cannot help thinking that these Debates become theoretical lectures instead of practical politics. The Foreign Secretary has to consider, not what is best in theory, but what is practical politics, what can be done, and what has to be left undone. 1862 Although the majority of us in this House and this country would undoubtedly like to see armaments cut down, we realise that we are living today in an age when it is an impossibility to go beyond a certain limit of safety. The hon. Lady has spoken of those who have gone out to foreign parts to exploit the natives. Many of us have gone out into those foreign parts not knowing what we were going to meet and having a very hard struggle to fight through to the end. As for the poor native he, as a matter of fact, is not often quite so poor as he is made out to be. The natives know how to look after themselves quite as well as many people in this country know how to look after themselves.
The hon. Lady has talked of those who go out overseas to make profit from the people, in China or Africa or India, but these traders, these brothers and sisters of ours, are doing this country a great deal of good. I have had some experience of the tremendous distances that our food supplies and other things have to be carried in order to reach this country. If we were unable to get those supplies, this country would cease to exist. When we realise that, we must acknowledge that it is absolutely necessary that we should have a sufficient Navy to guard our trade routes. I myself have been a journey right from Singapore to South Africa occupying 17 days without seeing another ship, and I have had the same experience in sailing from Cape Town to Las Palmas. I mention that to show the immense seas we have to go through and that at any moment a ship laden with wheat or sugar destined for this country might very easily be attacked by a foreign vessel.
I merely intervened in this Debate to say that I have never taken part in any war, although I have fought many battles on the cricket field and the football field. Therefore, I cannot be looked upon as one keen after blood, because I am not. I should like to see a peaceful world. I should like, more especially, to see peace starting at home, and then we should begin to talk about making other countries peaceful. Peace should begin at home, and, when we can trust ourselves, that is the time to talk about other countries. We must bring this matter down to practical politics. It is all very well to talk about cutting down 1863 our Navy, Army and Air Force, but, unless other nations are willing to cut down their armaments in similar proportions, it is absurd for us to try and get the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for War, or the Minister for Air to cut down their Estimates. I only intervened in this Debate, because I thought it had gone a little away from the practical side.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I have been very interested in the remarks which have been made by the hon. Member for North West Camberwell (Mr. Campbell), who generally deals with these questions in a practical manner. I hope I shall be able to deal with this subject in a practical way. By way of supplementing the remarks which have been made by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson), I would like to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary to the fact that the Foreign Secretary did not deal with a very important matter, and that is the question of the limitation or the total abolition of the use of poison gas in warfare. I think we ought to have some common measure of agreement as to our position at those Conferences where the question of poison gas is considered. In the old days, according to the Convention of Nations, it was forbidden to poison water, but we have reached the position to-day when the very air itself may be poisoned to such an extent as completely to transform the whole of our system of warfare. Poison gas kills men by a method which has never been employed before, and I would like the Under-Secretary to give the Committee an assurance that the Foreign Secretary is really alive to the importance of this matter of the limitation or the total abolition of the use of poison gas.
I will now come to what the hon. Member for North West Camberwell spoke of as the practical side of this matter. I want to deal with the question of armaments in a way in which it was not dealt with by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough. During the War we had an opportunity of examining this question of expense in regard to armaments and of asking ourselves whether it was justified or not. I agree with the hon. Member for North West Camberwell that we 1864 must have a Navy to protect our commerce. We all realise that, but the question that concerns us most of all to-night is whether we are justified in our present expenditure in order to keep the Navy at its supposed efficiency. I want to examine the question as to whether our Navy is efficient when it comes to the test of actual warfare. I have been engaged nearly all my life either in working on ships or supervising ship-workers. What happened after the Battle of Jutland? What was the first thing that happened as far as the repletion of the Navy was concerned? It is not generally known that we came perilously near to defeat in the Battle of Jutland.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
A discussion in regard to the efficiency of the Navy is not relevant to this Vote.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I am discussing the question of the expense of the Navy, and I am trying to show that that expenditure is not justified.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
That question cannot be discussed on this Vote from that point of view. A question affecting the expense of the Navy cannot be discussed on the Foreign Office Vote.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
Surely a question as to the amount of money which is being spent on the armaments of the country is in order?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Not in that sense. If the hon. Member wishes to deal with naval matters, he must do it on the Navy Estimates and not on the Foreign Office Vote; otherwise, we should be able to discuss any subject under the sun on this Vote.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
Our supposed preparedness for war is not really preparedness at all. If we take our own country and compare it with Germany, our preparedness before the last War counted for nothing, because Germany on land was supposed to be invincible. Of course, if preparedness was the only thing that was required, Britain was invincible on the sea before the last War. I hold that the War proved that Germany was not invincible on land, and that we came perilously near to defeat on the sea, and it was only our quickly improvised methods which overcame our difficulties. I submit that in our own country 1865 we had that lesson during the War, namely, that all our preparedness and expense was proved in the main to be futile, and we had to engage during the War period on the building up of armaments quite different from those we had prepared prior to the War. During the first two years of the War, we were engaged on improvising methods, such as the getting up of decoy ships, monitors, and all the rest. All these things, which we had never thought necessary before the War, we found absolutely essential, and the things which we had regarded as essential and on which we had spent so much money were practically useless. I submit to the Chairman's ruling, and I am not going into the question any more closely, but I intended to show the Committee that the greater part of our expense is wasted, so far as armaments on sea and land are concerned.
With regard to the general question of disarmament and who is going to lead the way to the disarmament of nations, I agree with the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell that we must protect our sea-borne trade, but I want to remind him, as I have reminded the Committee before, that we are the most bellicose nation the world has ever known. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] I repeat that. We are the most bellicose nation the world has ever known. Before 1914, we fought 43 wars in 50 years, and since 11th November, 1918, we have fought four wars costing £700,000,000 and thousands of lives. We are the most bellicose nation the world has ever known, and it is not Belgium, Holland, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Russia or Germany which will require to show the nations the way to peace but it is we ourselves—it is this great fighting nation which has led the world in fighting which will have to lead the world back to the paths of peace.
Let me once again remind the Committee of that great example of peace not won by armies but by something else. If we were asked which was the safest part of the British Empire to live in, would we say, "Here in Great Britain"? We would not. Would we say it was in India, with all our fortifications and garrisons or would we say it was on the Rock of Gibraltar. No, the part of this great Empire which is the safest as far as war is concerned is the part that has no armaments whatever. Take our own Dominion of Canada, without a gun or a 1866 soldier on the frontier. That is the safest part of the Empire to live in, but if 127 years ago, there had been a different spirit, we would have a different spirit now between the two nations of Canada and the United States. If 127 years ago we had erected one gun on the northern side of the frontier, the United States would have erected two on the south, we would have erected three on the north, they seven or eight on the south and so on right across, until the whole line of 3,000 miles from St. John's to Vancouver would have been bristling with armaments. Then someone would have said something or done something, a covert act would have been committed, and there would have been war within two or three years. Then there would have been an armed peace—a peace worse than the war itself. That is what might have happened 127 years ago, but we had peace and we have had it there during all these years because we had the will for peace. Let me draw the attention of the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell when he speaks of these things as a necessity. We say they are not a necessity and that we want first of all disarmament of the mind and of the nations as a whole. I say that this great nation of ours which has taught the world how to fight ought to lead the nations back to the paths of peace.
If I intervene in this Debate just for a few minutes it is not to follow the last speaker in his very picturesque description of what might have happened along the Canadian frontier or the fears of the hon. Lady the Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) about air attacks on London from New York, but merely to touch on one or two points more related to foreign policy which were raised earlier in the evening, because this Debate has ranged over a very wide area. The complaint which the Opposition is apparently bringing to-day against the Government is that they have not been farseeing and active enough in pursuing the policy of disarmament whether at Geneva or elsewhere. That point I should have thought might better have been postponed because the matter, even as we are speaking now, is very much sub judice in Geneva, and I would remand the Committee that what we say here is very often carried far wider over the world than many of those who speak have any idea could possibly be the case. 1867 Members who, perhaps, have no great opinion of their own oratorical skill, find their words reproduced up and down the whole of the civilised world, and may perhaps in a moment of thoughtlessness do immeasurable harm to the very subject of disarmament which has been the subject of the discussion to-day.
The hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Ponsonby), who opened the Debate, and the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) pinned their criticism on to two or three points, and one which they both dealt with was the reference to a suggested treaty which M. Briand touched upon as between France and the United States by which the two countries should put war outside the pale of legality. The Government was invited by the Opposition speakers to adopt a similar policy. The leading article in to-day's "Times" has been quoted several times, and there were some words which I remember noticing this morning in which war between this country and the United States was stigmatised as being "unthinkable." This new idea of the Opposition that we should, by a solemn covenant, say that war between these two countries should be illegal seems to me a very different argument from that which we heard in our own country when the Government attempted to pass a Bill which laid it down that the general strike should be considered illegal. "Oh, no," it was said, "in that case it is not worth putting into words'—
Words were found which will be eminently satisfactory if the time comes, though we hope it will long be postponed, for it to be put into force, but the whole argument then was that if trouble arose there would be such an urge among working men that no form of words in an Act of Parliament would be effective. Yet to-day we are invited to do something in a far more difficult sphere, because hon. Gentlemen opposite will quite realise that, whereas it is in some ways possible to do certain things in your own country where all speak your own language, and where there in a common outlook on the majority of the subjects which come into political discussion, it is not at all easy to translate 1868 that similar action into the international world where people have entirely different traditions and ideals and ways of looking at a problem.
The second point discussed this afternoon and which was particularly introduced into the speech of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Mosley), was the extraordinary hallucinations which the Opposition seems to have as to the subject of the Foreign Secretary's conversation with Signor Mussolini—hallucinations which the right hon. Gentleman entirely dispelled when he made his official reply. The third point which cropped up was our relations with Russia. Several times quotations were made from the Home Secretary's speech in which—I only take the words as they were given—he said that "the world must unite to stamp out Communism." The Opposition seem to think that that is something very terrible. They must be forgetful of their own policy. Only in this morning's "Times" I read that one of the things to be discussed at the Labour Conference in the autumn is the question of turning out Communists from their own party. Is it so strange that the Home Secretary should say that Communism in the world at large is a public danger, when they themselves are apparently going to be invited to recognise that in their own party it is an even worse menace? Apparently they have not even read the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) during the week-end, because, if ever one wanted an indictment of Communism—I am not talking about Russia—it is to be found in the words he spoke to his followers. The Opposition, apparently, do not endorse them, but the right hon. Gentleman's own union most certainly and emphatically did.
Then the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull asks why we do not talk about Persia and the capitulations. There might or might not be a great deal to be said on that subject, but, when negotiations are going on, as the Under-Secretary has stated several times in this House, it is just as well, perhaps, that discussion should not take place here. One would have thought that the Opposition, looking down the Foreign Office Votes for discussion, would have raised two matters which are of outstanding importance in foreign affairs. The first 1869 is that of the chaotic conditions in China and the reactions that they have upon our foreign policy. But the Opposition are getting a little wily. They have burnt their fingers once over China, and they have very carefully avoided raising that subject to-day. The second matter is one that would have been, not only topical, but of very great interest, namely, the whole question of our position in Egypt, arising out of the discussions which were so happily settled, as we understand, a few days ago. Not having raised, however, the questions that were most obvious, they plunge into this question of disarmament, which, in view of the present conversations at Geneva, it would seem to be particularly improper to raise, for fear that we might do something to hamper what is so desirable there.
We may take it that the text upon which some of the Opposition speakers have been preaching is the text of the most extraordinary Resolution which appears on the Order Paper, although, of course, it has not been moved, and which has formed the basis of a good deal of what they have said. It deals with the question of national security and disarmament, which is a wide enough heading for any Resolution, and it suggests that:This House views with apprehension the development of sectional alliances.That has been entirely put out of the discussion by the speech of the Foreign Secretary, because he carefully explained that any sectional alliances that might or might not have been signed—whether the whole of the 12 which the hon. Member for Brightside read out or not—were merely alliances between two nations, under which they might come to more friendly terms with each other under the general ægis of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Some of them, to be sure, were between Powers which have nothing on earth to do with the League, which are not members of it; but the majority of them were between members of the League, and, therefore, subject to all the overriding considerations of the Covenant. The Foreign Secretary emphatically said that, so far as we were concerned, there was no such alliance, and that, so far as we were concerned, there were no secret clauses. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Mosley), remembering, perhaps, his Conservative tendencies, took up the line of argument 1870 that in past treaties there always were secret clauses, and that therefore, there must be some to-day—the most fantastic argument, probably, that ever issued even from his lips. The Resolution goes on to say:These sectional alliances indefinitely postpone any prospect of a substantial advance towards disarmament"—a real Pontifex maximus utterance on the part of the Socialist party. How do they know anything of the kind? How can they indefinitely postpone disarmament, or anything else? By improving the relationships between nations, they bring about a far happier frame of mind over Europe and the world than would otherwise be the case. Then the Resolution goes on:peace can only be established on a permanent basis by a definite and open policy at fair dealing, conciliation and respect of national rights.That is exactly what we claim, and what the Opposition, in the case of China and Russia, have been so anxious to deny to our Government and our people. Open diplomacy means, as we understand it, and as the hon. Member for Brightside understands it, that the result of your diplomacy should be made open to the world, open to the Governments, and openly arrived at. What about that extraordinary Russian treaty of which, at the very moment when he was signing it he himself, his Noble Friend in another place, said he did not know the terms? Who are the Socialist party that they should come and preach to us, who have nothing to hide whatsoever, that we should hide nothing? We have repeatedly urged that national rights should receive consideration, and, every time that question arises, attempts are made to thwart it in the Socialist party. They say:We should take a bold initiative in the establishment of national security guaranteed by the League of Nations.That is what we have done. Every observer who has followed the conference that is now going on at Geneva knows perfectly well that it is only the British representatives who have produced a scheme at all, a perfectly definite scheme for disarmament, most scientifically contrived and well thought out; and yet, apparently, this Resolution is to be brought forward as though we had done nothing. We have done everything in our power, and certainly this country has led the way.
1871 Finally, the Resolution makes reference to compulsory arbitration. The Socialist party are talking about compulsory arbitration in international affairs, when everyone who ever mentions the word "arbitration" in industrial disputes is howled out of court by them. When Amendments were moved from this side to a Bill, as was the case not very long ago, to enable something to be done towards co-operation and arbitration, they took to their tents and sulked, and would have nothing whatever to do with it; and yet they have the face to put a Resolution on the Paper urging that we should press forward compulsory arbitration. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was perfectly right in what he said. It is by modest and slow steps that the desired results will be obtained. Do not let us rush forward blindly to put on paper all sorts of nonsense like these words that I have touched upon. I am sure I am perfectly right in saying that, if my right hon. Friend were asked what his opinion had been at the Council of the League of Nations before he took the seals of the Foreign Office, and what it is now, it would be a revelation to one and all to know how he has advanced the work of pacification of the Council. I hope that the Government will go forward on the lines that he is following, not in search of spectacular results, as the Socialist party invite us to do, contrary, in international affairs, to all their principles in home affairs, but that they will go right on slowly but surely and will, as I am certain will be the case, get the loyal co-operation of the House of Commons and of all thinking people in this country. We shall then achieve the results for which we all hope.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
Before I say anything about what the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) has just been putting before the Committee, I should like to refer to something that was said by the Foreign Secretary which does not bear immediately upon the main subject of our discussion. The right hon Gentleman said, on behalf of the Government, that he would undertake that no engagements involving the country in the obligation of war would be undertaken without the knowledge of Parliament. I was extremely glad to hear that statement, because, in the first Session of this Parliament, I moved, on behalf of the 1872 Labour party, a Motion the main part of which ran as follows:That no treaty should be ratified and no diplomatic arrangement or understanding with a foreign State involving, directly or indirectly, national obligations, shall be concluded without the consent of Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1925; col. 1430, Vol. 181.]When I moved that Motion, I was rather surprised at the extremely unfriendly way in which that proposal was received by the spokesman of the Government, who was not the right hon. Gentleman, but his Under-Secretary—not the present Under-Secretary, but his predecessor. I was surprised because I thought that the terms of the Motion were in consonance with the right hon. Gentleman's general principles. I am extremely glad now that we had from the right hon. Gentleman a statment that is so explicit in saying that engagements involving the country in an obligation of war would be submitted to the House of Commons, and that the House would have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon them. I wish to note that, because I think it is a great constitutional advance if it is accepted by both parties, as it has for some time been accepted by ourselves.
I come now to what the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough was saying. There are two things I should like to allude to. The first is that he rather sneered at us for not discussing the question of China. We should be perfectly ready to discuss it, and I think some of us were thinking of raising it before the Session is out, but we have had plenty to talk about to-day. We are not afraid of discussing it. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks the Government are profoundly successful in China. I do not know whether he has been observing the British Trade Returns. I do not know whether he has been studying what is happening in China and our relations with the Chinese. I should not have thought it was very much to be proud of on the part of the Government. There is one thing of which both sides of the House are glad, and that is that our Army has not had any fighting. Thank God for that. If we can say of our Army a few months hence—The grand old Duke of York, he had 10,000 men,He marched them up to the top of a hill, and he marched them down again.1873 we shall on this side all be very pleased. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman taunted us in a kindly way with being in favour of international arbitration when we were not in favour of industrial arbitration. I will only point out one difference, though there are many. One very important difference is that in the case of compulsory industrial arbitration neither the masters nor the men are in favour of it at present. I am not discussing whether they ought to be. I only say that is the fact that neither side is in favour of it. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman says the Labour party come forward with a new idea to make war illegal. Not in the least. It was the idea of the Protocol. The Protocol was approved by all the nations, and that is the difference, that if we had had a Government that was in favour of the Protocol, we should have had in effect compulsory arbitration for all the world, a very different thing from the situation in the industrial world, where neither party was ready to adopt it.
The object of this Debate is an exploration of what our nation, holding as it does the premier position at Geneva, would be able to do in the matter of disarmament if the Government was rightly inspired. I think, to put it quite shortly, it is to put forward two ideas, that the Government ought to take the lead in disarmament and not wait for others, and, secondly, that disarmament can only be real and effective if it is accompanied by a policy of all-in arbitration, and the sense of security which that would create. Our complaint, and the reason why we shall divide the Committee, is that we do not see any signs of our Government realising to a necessary degree our obligations and opportunities in either of these directions. I do not think the interest or the participation in this Debate of either side represents the real interest of the country in this matter. We share with France the principal responsibility for the Versailles Treaty, for the settlement after the War and for the League of Nations, and the success of the League of Nations is in this country desired by more of the population than any other thing has ever been desired in our time. The movement of the League of Nations Union, utterly unpolitical, has attached to it more people from all parties than any other movement in our time. What does 1874 that mean? It does not merely mean that they desire to have the League of Nations in existence. It means that they believe the League of Nations may lead to the end of war. The great hope of Versailles was the prospect of disarmament, and the only one unqualified advantage in the Versailles Treaty was the disarmament of Germany, and the corollary and consequence of the disarmament of Germany was the disarmament of the other nations. Here we are, eight years after May, 1919, when this statement was made to the world as the great hope of the world. How much of it is being realised yet?The Allied and Associated Powers wish to make it clear that their requirements in regard to German armaments were not made solely with the object of rendering it impossible to resume her policy of military aggression. They are also the first steps towards that general reduction and limitation of armaments which they seek to bring about, as one of the most fruitful preventives of war which it will be one of the first duties of the League of Nations to promote.There is the promise. Time is pressing. It is eight years since that was made and what has happened? Have armaments been reduced? Has there been any serious disarmament since then? The challenging question keeps ringing out, "Did we mean that?" and it is a question which will be asked louder every day. Moreover, let those who are interested in the League of Nations nate that it will be asked more definitely in the League of Nations now than it ever was before because Germany is in the League of Nations, and all Germany is asking: Is it going to be fulfilled? Part of Germany is sneering, "You never meant it." Another large part of Germany is saying very sincerely, "We have learned our lesson. Has not the rest of the world learned it?" At any rate, that question is going to be asked more and more every year.
Where is the world going to look for its lead in disarmament? At present the Governments are waiting on one another. Disarmament conferences and committees meet and each Government says, "We will do well if others will do well; we will limit if others will limit," and no one makes drastic proposals. Some hon. Members will have read the report by Lord Cecil of Chelwood of the Preparatory Committee for the Disarmament Conference. Those 1875 who know him know perfectly well that he does want disarmament, and at the end of this report, in which he discusses all the difficulties, and points out the differences between the attitude of the British and other representatives, he ends up on a different note. Note what is going to happen. This Committee that he reports on has been preparing a skeleton draft which might be made a disarmament treaty. There have been all sorts of difficulties in connection with it. There has not been complete agreement and there is to be a fresh Committee to finish it. This is the way in which Lord Cecil concludes:From these observations it will be seen that on a very large number of very important questions agreement was reached. The general principles of limitation of the land and air forces are not seriously in dispute, and even with regard to the sea the differences can scarcely be considered irreconcilable. On the question of budgetary expenditure, I certainly understood that a provisional arrangement had been reached, and with respect to international supervision I cannot help hoping that further consideration will show that a very considerable approach has been made to agreement. In other words, if the countries represented at Geneva really desire a draft convention for the limitation of armaments, which shall state the principles and methods by which such limitation can be done, that agreement is within their grasp.''The question is, what is going to be put into the agreement, and whether there is going to be anything effective put into it? I want my country to take the lead. There is no chance if nobdy is going to make the original suggestion. What I should like to see is a big flagrant reduction proposed by our country in order to arouse the conscience of the world and to startle the lethargy of the world. I do not mean that we should say unconditionally we intend to do this and that, but that we should say we, the British, are ready if other nations will do the same. If other nations will follow, we are ready to do something really big—to abolish all our capital ships, to abolish all cruisers over 5,000 tons—I am only putting forward what we might say; something that would make the world feel that we meant business—to abolish all tanks, to abolish all aircraft, to abolish all preparation of chemicals. I say what is the use of our prating about our good intentions and waiting for somebody else to do the good actions? I want my 1876 country to do some great, drastic thing which will create a new atmosphere in the world. I believe, in spite of the obvious disapproval of some hon. Members opposite, there are many people in their party who would not be sorry for this to be done. The difficulty, I think, which hampers and holds back our statesmen is that we have ceased to take the lead in producing these international conditions which will alone facilitate disarmament. The only real, stable foundation for disarmament is the exception by the great nations of all-in arbitration.
How have the Government acted in relation to that? They have not got a very inspiring record. The Government began by rejecting the Protocol which was prepared in 1924 and which was supported, as far as was known, by all the nations of the world. It was certainly supported by France—certainly by all the principal nations. All-in arbitration and disarmament were to have been the essential sequel to it. The present Foreign Secretary thought that he had got something better—the Locarno policy. No one will deny that it was something, but few people will think it offered as much as the Protocol. The idea of Locarno contained the very idea which we are discussing and urging in this Resolution which causes the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) to scoff. Locarno, after all, contained that idea, and the Foreign Secretary himself declared that the idea of it was "disarmament through security, and security through arbitration." In the Locarno Treaty, in the framework of it, there was all-in arbitration between Germany and France and between Germany and Belgium. That system of all-in arbitration—arbitration on every subject, not only on local questions—we are guaranteeing as a people. We set our seal to it for other people but we will not adopt it for ourselves. It is a curious position for the right hon. Gentleman to adopt, that when it comes to our own case, it is not good enough, or it is too good for us.
The policy of the Government in regard to all-in arbitration is, first of all, to refuse the Protocol. Then they refused to submit legal questions uniformly to arbitration. They refused to subscribe to the optional cause. There are 23 other 1877 countries that have accepted it. We did not accept, in spite of the fact that we preached arbitration to France, Germany and Belgium. In 1925 Switzerland and Italy made a new Treaty. By that Treaty the two countries submit all questions to arbitration. I think in the same year the Swiss turned to France, and asked them whether they would have an all-in arbitration. France accepted it, and there is a Franco-Swiss all-in arbitration. But when the Swiss turned to Great Britain, "No," says the right hon. Gentleman, "there is nothing doing; we are not in favour of all-in arbitration." The same thing occurred with the Swedish Government. The proposal by the Swedish Government was refused. The same thing occurred with the Dutch Government. The Dutch offered us all-in arbitration, and it was refused. M. Karneberk, the Foreign Secretary for Holland was asked in their Parliament why it was that Great Britain had refused. He said it would not be courteous to Great Britain to say why. The position is this. We no longer take the lead in arbitration, and I think it is a pity we do not. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I again press this question of France and America as an example and ask why we cannot do the same kind of thing. France goes to the Americans and offers them—I will quote the actual words of M. Briand:France would be ready publicly to sign any reciprocal engagement with the United States with the object of outlawing war according to the expression in use in America.These are the governing words of his offer. The matter is now being thoroughly and seriously discussed. I can conceive of no reason on earth, except want of will and want of imagination, why our Foreign Secretary should not say the same to the United States. We have abolished war in our hearts. Well, then, why cannot be abolish it in the terms of Treaty? Perhaps those of the next generation might not wish to abolish war as much as we do. Perhaps there might be a change and, therefore, let us then tie them down with the same common sense as exists in this generation. On 4th June, 1928, our Government will have to decide whether it is going to renew the Treaty of arbitration with America and in what form. We already have got an arbitration Treaty with America, but it is not an "all-in" arbi- 1878 tration Treaty. That Treaty ends on 4th June, 1928, which is 20 years from 4th June, 1908, when we made that first arbitration Treaty, and why cannot we, if we are really bound to the Americans in this way, offer them an "all-in" arbitration Treaty? I think we are all ready for it. I think many right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite are ready for it. Why should not our Government offer it and begin a series of Treaties outlawing war and arbitrating every question to the instrumentality of the League of Nations?
I do not want to speak long. The case is quite obvious to everyone. I think our people will soon become restive. We all know perfectly well what is going to happen, if not in our generation then in the next, if armaments go on. It is not a difference between the two sides of the House; it is not a difference between pacifists and warmongers, or between Labour and Conservative. Over and over again we have stated here, it has been stated from both sides of the Committee to-day, what is going to happen in the next war. It has been read out in detail by my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) on our side, and it was summarised on the other side by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper), who said that in the next war we should wipe out whole cities and all our monuments of civilisation. There is no difference. We all know our fate. We know our cities will be all depopulated and our citizens slain in millions. There is no difference in opinion, and still time flies fast. Governments, not through ill-will but through no will, are allowing armaments to accumulate to-day. Why do we consent to go on living under this sentence of death? We are the most important voice in the united jury of the greater nations which is now condemning the world. Surely the Government realise what will happen to them or their successors—it does not matter which particular Government it may be—if they come back from a disarmament conference with nothing in their hands. Unless they can come back with £30,000,000 or,£50,000,000 to be struck off every year from the ghastly bill which we pay in order to destroy our civilisation in the next generation, surely the Government know that there are pent-up volumes of frustrated hope and angry disappointment which will make it hard for any Government, 1879 even this Government with its 200 majority, if they come back with nothing. Unless they are to come back with nothing, they must be quick about it and present a real policy which will grip the imagination and the faith of the world.
I think we all recognise that the great bulk of Members of the House of Commons are most anxious to keep foreign affairs outside the arena of party politics. I, certainly, have no complaint to make of the tone, practically speaking, of any of the speeches that have been made to-day. I think it was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) who said that it is sometimes a humble Member of the House who makes a speech on foreign affairs which sometimes becomes misconstrued and misinterpreted in foreign countries. Therefore, I think it is essential to do all that we can, when speaking about foreign affairs, to get rid of our conceptions of party for the moment and to speak about foreign affairs from the larger point of view.
A very large field has been covered, and if I really attempted to answer or to reply to all the speeches made, I should not really be able to finish my speech and, therefore, I think, if the Committee will allow me, that I had better concentrate on one or two of the definite questions that have been put, and one or two of the criticisms levelled against the Government. One question was asked by the hon. Member who initiated the Debate this afternoon about the evacuation of the Rhineland, and I think that was also referred to by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham (Mr. Dalton). They expressed the hope that evacuation of the Rhineland would soon take place, and the Secretary of State has asked me to say that he was very sorry he did not reply to that point which was made by the hon. Gentleman who started the Debate. As a matter of fact, he informs me that the question of the evacuation of the Rhineland was not raised in Geneva at this last Session, and His Majesty's Government do not think that any useful purpose could be served in discussing the question now. As a matter of fact, there has been a considerable 1880 reduction of troops in the Rhineland since December, 1926. His Majesty's Government consider that this reduction has not been carried far enough and, indeed, has not been carried as far as was contemplated in the Resolution of the Ambassadors' Conference, and His Majesty's Government will continue to do their best to see that the early completion of the expectations raised by that Resolution of the Ambassadors' Conference is carried out. I think that answers the question by the hon. Gentleman opposite.
Then the question of Russia was raised. It was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeen and the hon. Member—I do not see him in his place now—for Stourbridge (Mr. Wellock). The hon. Gentleman opposite and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen said they hoped we should soon be able to resume diplomatic relations with Russia. I must say at once, and, of course, it is a truism, that we have got absolutely no quarrel with the Russian people at all. None. We want to live in amity with the Russian people. We are very anxious to do trade with Russia. We are very anxious to be friends with Russia, but until the Soviet Government make up their mind to drop propaganda against the British Empire it is impossible for us to have diplomatic relations with them or to remain on the footing with then that we are with other countries of the world. The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) said that she believed that oil interests had a great deal to do with the rupture of diplomatic relations. I cannot believe that the hon. Lady really thinks that. It is surely not necessary for me to say that the oil interests had absolutely nothing to do with it, and that such a consideration was not even as heavy as gossamer in the scale.
§ Miss WILKINSON
May I make a correction there? I thought I made it clear and that I said that the oil companies were behind the "Daily Mail" campaign against Russia, and that that had a great deal to do with creating an atmosphere in regard to relations with Russia. I said that they were behind the "Daily Mail" campaign, which created the atmosphere.
I am very glad that the hon. Member has made 1881 that qualification. We were considerably influenced by the fact that month after month and week after week we were faced by this Government carrying on propaganda and intriguing against us in every part of the world. The Soviet Government has only to turn over a new leaf in that respect, and only to make it clear that it will cease this propaganda and recognise its obligations, like every other civilised community, and we shall certainly be prepared to resume diplomatic relations.
Various hon. Members, among them the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) asked me to say something about the tripartite conference which is now going on at Geneva. I think we ought not, at this moment, to discuss in the House what is going on at Geneva. To the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) I would say that an Under-Secretary of State is a very unimportant individual.
Even the words said by an Under-Secretary may be misconstrued and carried abroad in a truncated form. All I can say is that the British representatives have gone to Geneva in order to contribute to a solution of the great problem of peace. We shall do our best, and no feeling of mere pride or amour-propre are going to stand in the way. The hon. Member for Newcastle East (Mr. Connolly) raised the question of gas warfare and asked what we were doing about it. I would remind him that in the Treaty of Versailles poisonous gas warfare is absolutely prohibited in the future. Naturally, we shall abide by that Treaty. In addition to that, in the second Treaty of Washington the nations who signed that Treaty agreed to be bound by the prohibition in the Treaty of Versailles. That, I think, will probably satisfy the hon. Member.
I think the hon. Member for Newcastle, East, may 1882 remain satisfied that we shall adhere to our obligations under the Treaty.
The right hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan) asked me if I could refer in some way to the message sent by M. Briand to the United States, and several hon. Members have referred to that subject. I think we ought to deal with one thing at a time. At the present moment, we are engaged with the United States and Japan in considering the very urgent problem of naval disarmament, and until that is out of the way I do not think we ought to complicate matters by dealing with any other particular problem. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) made an interesting suggestion, which was also made by several other hon. Members, that war ought to be made illegal. That is, of course, the object of the Geneva Protocol; but the difficulty is that you have to define the aggressor. If you make war illegal, in order to show that an illegality has occurred you have to define the aggressor. You may have two very nervous countries, co-terminous with one another, where frontier issues may arise, and it would be practically impossible to define the aggressor in that case. We are all in agreement that, if possible, war should be stopped, but I feel that we must advance along practical lines. Another suggestion, made by the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), was that all forms of aerial warfare should be abolished. It would be a good thing if that kind of warfare could be abolished, but again I feel that it is not practical politics at the present moment. We must really do what we can to advance on practical lines, because if we try merely to deal with impossible realisations, we shall make no progress.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I have been trying ever since I have been in this House to find out why that proposal is impracticable; why it is more impracticable than the proposal to limit armaments in any other way. I have suggested that the thorough method is the only method. What is the practical 1883 objection to the policy of abolishing aerial warfare?
At the moment I do not think it is a practical proposition. In order that a proposition should be practical you have to find people who will agree, and at the present moment I doubt very much whether you would find the world in general willing to abolish the aerial fighting arm altogether. [An HON. MEMBER: "Has it been proposed?"] I am coming to that in a moment. The hon. Member said that no single step had been taken towards general disarmament, and the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Dalton) said that we had achieved very little towards general disarmament. Have they really forgotten what has happened under the Preparatory Conference? The hon. Member for Peckham criticised us for opposing the limitation of armament expenditure at the Preparatory Conference. The proposal that was made was to give a limitation to expenditure on war material; the proposal that was made was that this limitation should take place over a five years period, and that if less was spent in the first, second, third or fourth year, the whole of that could be made up towards the end of the period. In our opinion that might have resulted in a very sudden increase in war expenditure in certain cases, and that again would have compelled other countries to increase at the same pace. There were other reasons as well. I maintain that it was not such a simple proposition as hon. Members opposite think, and that was one of the reasons which prevented us accepting it. The hon. Member also criticised us for opposing the supervision of armaments. As a matter of fact, although the Washington Treaty has been a great success—we signed it with other countries—there was no supervision proposal or condition under the Washington Treaty. The proposal put forward before the Preparatory Conference was that the Disarmament Committee should be able to go into any country; a sort of Committee of Inquiry. Even the Council of the League of Nations cannot do this without the consent of the parties concerned. I do not believe that countries in general would tolerate it for a moment. In the first place, it would be usurping the functions of the Council of the League. In so far 1884 as merely collecting material and the making of reports and sending to the Council are concerned, it would do on more than the Secretariat of the League does at the present moment. The only use of such an inquiring body would be if it really possessed the goodwill of the whole world. I do not believe that it would possess the goodwill of the whole world in inquiries of that kind. Therefore, evasion would certainly take place. That is one of the reasons why, when that proposal was raised at the Preparatory Conference, we could not accept it.
I feel that His Majesty's Government have shown their earnestness and desire to contribute what they could to this disarmament problem. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said that he wished that this country would take the lead in disarmament. Does he forget that this country was the first country at the Preparatory Conference to submit a draft convention on disarmament? France followed suit and produced her own draft convention. What has emerged from this Preparatory Committee? You have only to read the White Paper that was laid a little time ago to realise the immense measure of agreement on many important aspects of this problem. The problem is so vast, so complicated, that I think no one has any right to assume that an immediate solution will be found. It is very important to go carefully and to go patiently. Lord Cecil himself said, in a speech not very long ago—I was glad to hear the tribute paid to him by an hon. Member opposite—that nothing would prejudice the chance of final success and achievement more than impatient and ill-considered action now.
I have said that from this Preparatory Conference a large measure of agreement had emerged. I believe that the result so far is full of promise. Agreements were come to in regard to land armaments, naval armaments and air armaments. In regard to armaments as a whole, general agreement was reached to limit the effectives in the services of the armed forces, the land and sea forces, organised on a military basis. That is a vital agreement, for it forms the basis of the whole superstructure of detail which some day will have to be built up and completed. To go back for one moment to land armaments, various definitions 1885 were agreed upon, and, although they were merely definitions, it has always seemed to me that it is of vital importance to get these definitions, because in discussing these matters it is very important that you should mean the same thing. Without an agreement about these definitions no real progress is possible. In regard to naval armaments—I do not propose to go through the list—a very large number of agreements were reached. In fact, the whole of the agreements come to at the Washington Conference in regard to these particular subjects were agreed to again by a much larger number of nations.
In regard to air armaments, a general agreement was arrived at to limit them in accordance with figures to be laid down. Finally, there were two other important agreements. There was a general agreement that an annual statement should be sent to the League of Nations by each of the contracting Powers in regard to their military effectiveness, and there was also a general agreement that an annual statement should be sent to the League of Nations of the amount proposed and actually expended in the current and preceding years respectively. If these two agreements are carried out, they will prevent any sudden or unexpected increase in armaments, without the world in general knowing about it. As so much emphasis has been laid upon the matter from the oposite side of the Committee, I feel it necessary to make this statement in order to prevent anyone saying in future that no progress has been made. I do not say for a moment that there is not much more to be done, but do say that there has been a considerable step in advance and that the basis has been laid for future negotiations and discussion.
There is one more subject with which I should like to deal. The hon. Member for Peckham and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Newcastle criticised our attitude in regard to compulsory arbitration. They said, we ought to have made a declaration in accordance with Article 36 of the Statute of the Permanent Court. There are various reasons why we still think it is not advisable to make that declaration at present. In the first place, Article 13 of the Covenant already largely safeguards disputes that are not likely to lead to a 1886 rupture of diplomatic relations. This Article binds us to refer to arbitration any matter which we recognise as suitable and which diplomacy cannot settle. As to disputes likely to lead to a rupture, these are already covered by Article 15 of the Covenant. Under that Article, we are bound to submit such disputes either to arbitration or to the Council of the League. Therefore, the only result that would follow, if we made this declaration of compulsory arbitration, would be that a certain number of cases, which would otherwise go to the Council of the League, would go to the Permanent Court at The Hague. In addition to this, we have already a considerable number of arbitration treaties with foreign Powers, which provide for the submission to arbitration of differences of a legal nature or the interpretation of treaties. Not alone is this the case, but 19 countries have in the past signed agreements with us. Therefore, the sphere in which this declaration would operate would be a very narrow one indeed. It would only operate in regard to very small differences which was really not subject-matter for arbitration at all. Also in regard to those questions which are not likely to lead to rupture, but affecting the independence or the vital interests or the honour of the countries concerned, it is asked: Why cannot we submit these to compulsory arbitration? There are one or two very important reasons.
In the first place, no constitutional Government can guarantee that the necessary legislation that would arise in case of an unfavourable arbitral award, would be passed by Parliament. We cannot possibly guarantee that, and I need only remind hon. Members of the strong popular feeling aroused when an attempt was made, in 1907, at the Hague Conference, to carry out a measure of compulsory arbitration in the shape of an international Prize Court. That proposal was decisively negatived, and in the future we have no guarantee whatever that if an arbitral award went against us, we should be able to carry the legislation in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Twenty years ago."] I merely quoted it as an illustration and exactly the same arguments apply to-day. Another very strong argument is that our Constitution is not a unitary Constitution. We have all the time in this 1887 matter to get the consent of India and the Dominions. You have an exactly analogous position in the United States of America, where they have to get the consent of their separate States, and it is for that reason that the United States have up till now declined to make that declaration; and in fact we cannot possibly proceed in this matter as though we did not require the consent of every other part of the Empire. As a matter of fact, I have here in this box a declaration, in a speech made by the Leader of the Opposition, at Geneva, when he was Prime Minister, that this required a great deal of careful thought, and that before making the declaration, a Commission would have to be set up very carefully to go into the whole matter.
Now I think I have answered most of these questions. May I end my speech by saying this, that it is the policy of the Foreign Office and of the Government to keep on good terms with all their neigh-
§ bours. We want to live in amity with the whole of the rest of the world, and we are prepared to make sacrifices to do so. Just as an individual, if he is a wise man, abstains from being provocative, is patient, is conciliatory, and tries to understand the point of view of other people, so the Government are determined, while not betraying their trusteeship to the nation, to do all in their power to defend and fortify the citadel of peace. As a Government we have proved that over and over again, in China and elsewhere; and although we may sometimes suffer rebuffs, we shall continue to follow this policy, believing that in the long run it is going to prevail, and that as the world grows older it will become ever more anxious to settle its disputes by goodwill rather than by arms.
§ Question put, "That a sum not exceeding £117,573 be granted to His Majesty for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 105; Noes, 222.1889
|Division No. 257.]||AYES.||[10. 40 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hudson, J. H. Huddersfield||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Baker, Walter||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Barnes, A.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Batey, Joseph||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Snell, Harry|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Bromley, J.||Kelly, W. T.||Sullivan, J.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Kennedy, T.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Kirkwood, D.||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lansbury, George||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W.)|
|Compton, Joseph||Lawrence, Susan||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Connolly, M.||Lawson, John James||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Lindley, F. W.||Varley, Frank B.|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Livingstone, A. M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lowth, T.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Lunn, William||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Mackinder, W.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Dennison, R.||Montague, Frederick||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Duncan, C.||Morris, R. H.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Dunnico, H.||Mosley, Oswald||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer)||Murnin, H.||Whiteley, W.|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Naylor, T. E.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Oliver, George Harold||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Greenall, T.||Palin, John Henry||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Paling, W.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Ponsonby, Arthur||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Groves, T.||Potts, John S.||Windsor, Walter|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wright, W.|
|Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Riley, Ben|
|Hardie, Georae D.||Ritson, J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Charles|
|Hayday, Arthur||Rose, Frank H.||Edwards.|
|Hayes, John Henry||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Ainsworth, Major Charles||Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T||Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Nall, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Neville, Sir Reginald J.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Bristol, N.)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hammersley, S. S.||Nuttall, Ellis|
|Blundell, F. N.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Oakley, T.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Harland, A.||Penny, Frederick George|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Hartington, Marquess of||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Brass, Captain W.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Pilcher, G.|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Haslam, Henry C.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hawke, John Anthony||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Henderson, Lt.-Col. Sir V. L. (Bootle)||Ramsden, E.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Buchan, John||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Remer, J. R.|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Burman, J. B.||Hills, Major John Waller||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hilton, Cecil||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Caine, Gordon Hall||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs, Stretford)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth. S.)||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Salmon, Major I.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K.||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Hudson, R. S. (Curaberl'nd, Whiteh'n)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W. R., Sowerby)|
|Christle, J. A.||Huntingfield, Lord||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Clayton, G. C.||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Jacob, A. E.||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Jephcott, A. R.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Cope, Major William||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Kidd, J. (Linllthgow)||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn., N.)||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Derltend)||Knox, Sir Alfred||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Frase|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Lamb, J. Q.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell|
|Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Loder, J. de V.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir John H.||Long, Major Eric||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Looker, Herbert William||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lougher, Lewis||Waddington, R.|
|Dawson, Sir Phillip||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Lumley, L. R.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Wells, S. R.|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Ellis, R. G.||Macintyre, Ian||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|England, Colonel A.||McLean, Major A.||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||Macquisten, F. A.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Forrest, W.||MacRobert, Alexander M.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Foster, Sir Harry S.||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Margesson, Captain D.||Womersley, W. J|
|Frece, Sir Walter de||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Mason, Lieut-Col. Glyn K.||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Ganzonl, Sir John||Meller, R. J.||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Merriman, F. B.||Wragg, Herbert|
|Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (Norwich)|
|Goff, Sir Park||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Moore, Sir Newton J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grace, John||Morden, Colonel Walter Grant||Mr. F. C. Thomson and Captain Lord|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Stanley.|
|Grant, Sir J. A.|
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put; and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.