HC Deb 28 July 1927 vol 209 cc1505-34

There are several questions connected with foreign policy about which I have been asked to speak on behalf of the Labour party, and I understand from the Under-Secretary that the Foreign Secretary will be here later.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Godfrey Locker-Lampson)

My right hon. Friend has been detained, but will be here in a few moments.


It was our original intention to have asked for a detailed discussion of what has been going on at Geneva, but, in the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and owing to the unconcluded negotiations, we agree that it would be better to ask for a day for the discussion of the Geneva Conference in the Autumn Session. The Government have intimated their readiness to afford that day, and to-day we do not want to enter into any detailed discussion of what is going on there, and will simply express the hope that it will have some successful issue. In the few words that I will say on that question, I will speak very generally. What I say will apply equally whether our modest hopes with regard to the Geneva Conference are realised or not, and will concern the later discussions on disarmament which are bound to take place, probably beginning before we come back here, at the meeting of the League of Nations, and subsequently at the Disarmament Conference. We believe that any difficulties or disappointments there may be with regard to the Coolidge Conference, any uncertainty there is as to whether there will be any material alleviation of the great armaments throughout the world next year. those difficulties and disappointments are liable to come because the Government are going the wrong way about it, are beginning at the wrong end. Better relations between the various countries, the obtaining of all-in arbitration must accompany disarmament, and precede it if it is to be of any use, and the Government hitherto have shown themselves opposed to any substantial advance in the direction of all-in arbitration.

Take our relations with the United States, and what we see going on at the Conference at the present time. The basic difficulty of all our negotiations with the United States is that it is assumed there may be war between the two countries at some time or other, and that therefore one cannot allow the other country to get ahead. The other day we pressed the Foreign Secretary with regard to his views as to all-in arbitration with America. We pointed out that France and America had begun discussing the possibility of outlawing war. We quoted an offer from M. Briand, saying that the French were ready to consider outlawing war in company with the United States, and when we pressed the Foreign Secretary upon this, when we asked him why we could not do the same thing, when we pointed out that we already had an Arbitration Treaty with the United States of America, in which most questions were subjected to arbitration, and that that Treaty would come up for revision in 1928, and when we asked him whether when that Treaty came up for revision it would not be possible for the Government to look forward to making it an all-in arbitration Treaty, where both nations would agree that all questions should be argued instead of our going to war, the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman was that we had done all we could, as I understood him, that we had outlawed war in our hearts, and that that was all that could be done. It, obviously, is not enough to outlaw war in our hearts. The right hon. Gentleman believes that war is impossible between us and the United States of America. But our emissary at Geneva is acting on the assumption that war between the two countries is possible.

I want to call the attention of the House to another rather remarkable speech which has been made lately by the American Ambassador, Mr. Houghton, in which he, speaking in America, put forward another idea of understanding between our peoples. I am not arguing in favour of it, and saying that necessarily it is the right line of procedure, but his idea was that there should be a plebiscite among the great peoples of the world—and he was thinking, obviously, of our own people and the Americans—to declare that on no ground would we attack each other for 100 years, and, if ever there were any likelihood of war, both nations should agree that they would not go to war without a plebiscite of their respective peoples. I am not saying that that is a feasible way of getting something like an agreement between our peoples not to go to war, but it shows how the spirit exists in America, and what we want rather to point out is that the conference which the world wants is a conference between M. Briand, Mr. Houghton, Lord Cecil of Chelwood—people who believe in peace, and will get the right relations between peoples, rather than a conference of admirals, whose presumption is the certainty of war, whose duty it is to act on the assumption that war will continue between our peoples. I do not want to discuss at all the detailed questions of the Geneva Conference, but before the House meets again there will have been the Assembly of the League of Nations. It is likely enough that the question of disarmament will be one of the chief matters discussed there. The Preparatory Conference on Disarmament will be meeting again, either at the time we reassemble or immediately afterwards. The Government will have to make up their minds as to what line they are going to take in the near future, and I do hope the Government are going to give a stronger lead to the waiting and hoping people. Cannot we make some great, challenging, dramatic offer of disarmament, not saying that we are going to disarm in any circumstances, but say to the nations, "We are ready to do the really big thing, to abolish all capital ships, if others will follow?" I see an hon. Member smiling, but may I say that, even naval authorities are agreeing that if you can get universal agreement, you might have very much smaller ships. Why not smaller, and smaller and smaller until you are relying, we will say, on quite small cruisers?

Commander BELLAIRS

America has already, in the negotiations, refused to agree to reduction in the dimensions of capital ships, much less abolish capital ships.


I will put my position in this way. May I remind the House what happened at the Washington Conference? The reason that Conference was a success at all was that the Americans came to it with a great offer which struck the imagination of the people, and it practically challenged us to agree to a very considerable reduction of first-class ships, and, in effect, whether we liked it or not, we had to follow. What I want to say is that we, who hold, really, a more influential position in the naval world than even does America, should make some great offer which America, Japan, and other nations of the world could not fail to meet to some extent, if not to the full extent that we made the offer. The lead has got to come from somewhere. If it does not come from somewhere, next year, I am afraid, there will be a bitter disillusionment on the part of the peoples of the world. They are looking for something from disarmament. It is no use one nation after another saying, "We are ready to reduce our armaments if somebody else will do it." Somebody has got to begin, and I only wish it would be our Government.

There are one or two other questions to which I want to allude. I want rather carefully to ask the right hon. Gentleman about something which has occurred recently in Paris. Since the Arcos Raid, and the expulsion of the Russian Trade Delegation from Great Britain, there has been abroad on the Continent a condition of suspicion and anxiety as to the future which is, perhaps, not quite appreciated in this country. We have rather tended to put it out of our minds, and to say "This is settled." Unfortunately, abroad it is widely believed that this movement on our part is the prelude to even worse relations with Russia, and there is abroad an atmosphere in which anything is very easily believed. We have seen the activities of White partisans in different parts of Europe. We have heard it constantly asseverated that the British Government is organising Europe against Russia, and as constantly the right hon. Gentleman has denied it in strong terms. In the last few days there has been published in "Humanité," a French paper, a series of letters which purport to show that Lord Crewe, our Ambassador in Paris, has been in intimate communication with members of a rebel Ukranian Government; that he has met a man named M. Tokarjevsky, whom he asked to go to see him and that Lord Crewe has made promises of a more or less overt kind of British assistance in overthrowing Bolshevist rule in Ukrainia. I place no credence on these statements in "Humanité."

The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Austen Chamberlain)

Hear, hear!


But everyone will see how very serious the allegations are. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will state, quite explicitly, if Lord Crewe, as alleged, sent for this person or these people. If so, did he have conversation with them? If so, did he discuss the subjects alleged? If he did not discuss the subjects alleged, did he discuss anything else? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's reply will clear the air. I think I am justified, in view of the very serious conditions abroad, to ask that the matter should be cleared up. I do not wish to say anything more on that subject.

A further subject which the House will agree ought not to be neglected when we are going to adjourn for three months is that of Shanghai. We have a large Army in Shanghai, although we do not hear very much about it. I almost believe that the Government want the country to forget its existence. The other day, the War Office was most extraordinarily secretive on the question as to how many troops we have in Shanghai. They cannot pretend that they do not know. Why then, should they not tell us? They flatly refuse. It is true that they said there are so many infantry units; but we are not all military experts, and even if we were the mere statement of how many infantry units there may happen to be there does not tell us the size of the whole force. For the purpose of argument I am going to assume that the force in Shanghai consists of 15,000 men. I do not know whether it does consist of that number or not. It is not my fault if I have underestimated or exaggerated the number. The reasons become less and less apparent for keeping this considerable force, at enormous expense, kicking its heels in Shanghai. When it was sent out originally we made various objections, and all our objections, I maintain, have been fully justified.

We said, in the first place, that when armed force came to the front diplomacy would be at a discount. No one has tried to deny or wished to deny that the Foreign Secretary in the later months of last year seemed to have a very clear perception that things were changing in China. He had issued the December manifesto and shown a very clear recognition of the insurgence of Chinese nationalism, of their patriotic self-assertion, and of the general recognition that Western domination in China had, gradually, to come to an end. His negotiations were all tending in that direction. Of course, you cannot play two games at once, and when the British Army and the British Navy, in large force, went to Shanghai, negotiations fell in the background and we have not heard very much about them since. So far as we can see we are no nearer coming to an arrangement which will satisfy the one thing which, it is perfectly clear, dominates the whole of Chinese politics, and that is the determination of the Chinese, to whatever section they belong or under what ever General they are. They are all agreed on one thing, and that is that they want to be rid of all unequal treaties. The right hon. Centleman was moving in that direction, but since our troops have gone out other things, apparently, have taken place, and I have not seen any indication of any further progress in an understanding with the Chinese governing class.

The next thing we said was that illfeeling against the British would be accentuated by our sending out troops. We said that everyone outside the wire entanglements in Shanghai would be in a more uncomfortable position than they were before, and we were fully justified in that statement. The Government actually advised a general sauve qui peat to the rest of the British population to come to the coast, and that has been largely acted upon. The fact is that, owing to the exasperation of the Chinese at our action, more Britishers were in danger in other parts of China than were saved from danger in Shanghai. The other thing we said was that British trade would be disastrously affected by what we were doing. We pointed out what had been happening in the previous year and that because we had got across the whole of the Chinese Nationalist movement, owing to the shooting at Shameen and Shanghai, the trade of Hong Kong had been hit very badly, that there had been scores of bankruptcies and that the condition of antagonism had been a disaster for Hong Kong. We said that the same kind of result might very likely be more prolonged and more disastrous by our sending out these great military preparations to Shanghai.

It is extremely difficult to get trade figures. Here, again, the Government are not very ready to help us; but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken worthy) and I have been putting questions, and have elicited some information. The most important part of the information is that if you compare the trade with China in the three or four months at the beginning of this year with the trade at the beginning of last year, you find that whereas the United States trade with China has gone up by 8 per cent., our trade has gone down by 20 per cent. A further fact which we have elicited is that in the April, May and June averages of trade with China last year, our exports were £1,182,000; this year they have fallen to £576,000, or to one-half. That is some indication of what is happening. I do not think there is any denial of the very serious effects on our trade. The real question is, how are the Government going to get out of this present impasse, and what is their policy? Sooner or later, the Government must give way to the united Chinese demand for the abolition of unequal treaties. When are they going to get a move on in that direction? Are they going to leave the British Army in Shanghai indefinitely or when are they going to bring them home? They have no business to keep the Army there, whatever the original justification may have been, except under imperious necessity—15,000 men or whatever number they are.

While the War Office is not able to give us the figures as to the size of the Army in Shanghai, it is able to give us the figures regarding the number of men in hospital, and it is not a very satisfactory total. In March, there were 580 in hospital, in April 745, in May 871 and in June 959, or with officers practically 1,000. I do not know what proportion that is to the whole, but if my estimate of 15,000 is, right it means that one man in 15 is in hospital, and they are now only reaching the worst months. That is a formidable and serious thing. There is also the expense. That is a formidable cost. The newspapers to-day say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by economies, is going to be able to pay for the expedition in China. I wonder! It will have to be a formidable economy. The original Supplementary Estimate was for £950,000. There is another item for capital and transport of £1,000,000. Then there is the extra maintenance, presumably not put at any higher figure than it is by the War Office, of £250,000 a month. That means that at the end of six months we shall, on the Government's admission, have paid £4,450,000 for the expedition. By the end of the year at the same rate we shall have paid £6,000,000, to say nothing of the expense of bringing the troops back, if ever we do get them back. That means that already we have spent £740 per Britisher in Shanghai whom we have been protecting. I do not know whether it would not have been better to have waited for the risk—[HON. MEMBERS: "Suppose your own family were there?"]—and if the risk had appeared to have brought away our British population. I do not know whether it would not have been the wiser thing if and when any danger did appear to have brought away our population.


Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of China, may I ask what the policy of his party is in respect of the missionaries who, for so many months, have been taking their lives in their hands?


The hon. Member asks about the missionaries who are gallantly doing their duty outside Shanghai. I have already said that they are in greater danger because of the aggravation of Chinese opinion brought about by this policy. I want to consider the results of three years of Conservative foreign policy, and I ask even those who sympathise with all the excuses and reasons which are used to justify each separate act of the Foreign Secretary and the present Conservative Government to see what the main results are of three years of Conservative policy. What are they? You have two great tracts of the world, Russia and China, two of the greatest populations, running into hundreds of millions, two areas of potential trade development, either immediate or eventual; two areas which it is absolutely certain will form enormous areas of trade development, and the Foreign Secretary has managed not to be on speaking terms with the Government of either people. He has broken with Russia and he has refused to make any serious attempt to get into close relations with Chinese rulers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?" and "Which?"] And what is worse, the British nation is on worse terms with Russia and China than any other nation in the world, although we are the nation which needs trade more than any other nation and which politically needs better relations with both these countries because of our responsibilities in Asia. We may hold different opinions as to the balance of blame and responsibility for this state of things but no one can fail to see that we in this country are faced with a formidable and unhopeful future in our Asiatic relations, unless, somehow or other, a new spirit can be breathed into our relations with these two great countries.


The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has devoted a considerable part of his speech to the question of China. He said, first of all, that everything which he and other hon. Members opposite have said in opposition to the sending of troops to China has been fully justified. I wonder whether he really thinks of what might have happened in Shanghai if there had been no British troops there to protect the inhabitants when the defeated Northern Army, fleeing before the Kuomintang Armies, reached that city? Then he asked: What is the policy of His Majesty's Government in China? I take it that the Foreign Secretary will say that as soon as there is in China a stable Government with which he can deal he is prepared to reiterate his statement that he is ready to revise the treaties and gradually bring about a state of affairs in which the British Concessions will be abrogated. That has been the declared policy of His Majesty's Government, and I have no doubt it is the policy to-day. The right hon. Member had a word or two to say about disarmament. Naturally, one is going to say nothing about the Naval Conference at Geneva. But a White Paper was issued the other day containing the report of the Chief British Delegate to the Preparatory Committee of the Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations. That Report forms very interesting reading and contains a good deal that is hopeful.

The question of disarmament seems to me to be the last of the great legacies of the War which has to be cleaned up. We had, first of all, reparations, and at one time that question seemed to be utterly and completely hopeless. I am glad to say that it has been satisfactorily settled, and we give credit to the Government of the party opposite for the action which resulted from the Dawes Report and the Conference which was held in London. Then there was the even more difficult question of security. That has been settled. It seemed, at one time, when the Triparte Pact, as it is usually known, between this country, the United States of America and France, fell to the ground through the withdrawal of the United States, that the question of security in Europe once again had become insoluble. Nevertheless, more sensible and more statesmanlike counsels eventually prevailed, and the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary at Locarno was able to bring about a state of things as regards security without which any discussion of disarmament would have been wholly and completely impossible. Then we had the question of inter-Allied Debts as the third great legacy of the War. Even the question of inter-Allied Debts has been partially solved, and the position with regard to it is much more encouraging than it was a few years ago. But there still remains the question of disarmament. I have taken the trouble to write down the words of Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. I have no doubt they are well known to hon. Members of the House. Article 8 reads as follows: The members of the League recognise that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations. The Council, taking account of the geographical situation and circumstances of each State, shall formulate plans for such reduction for the consideration and action of the several Governments. Such plans shall be subject to reconsideration and revision at least every 10 years. It is as a result of the provisions of Article 8 of the Covenant that the Preparatory Committee has been sitting. Before that Committee the British Delegation produced a draft of their views about disarmament. That was followed by a draft from the French Delegation. Then came the Report, and that Report is in some respect an unsatisfactory document. It is full of reservations on the part of the different Powers concerned. The particular meeting which has been taking place recently has only been in the nature of a "first reading," and we are fold that when the "second reading" takes place in November the decisions arrived at at the first reading can be reversed. However, Lord Cecil of Chelwood in his Report does give us some hope that it may be possible, eventually, for the Powers concerned to reach some kind of agreement which may render disarmament in Europe a possibility.

After all, what we are aiming at, what the Powers of Europe and the world are aiming at, in disarmament, is to stop aggressive armaments. The importance of disarmament is not perhaps quite as great with regard to the preservation of peace in the future as some of the other matters to which I have already referred. What is of vast importance is that at any rate the Powers now do get together and discuss these matters at the League of Nations. When we think of what took place before the War, when we think, for example, of the suggestion for a Naval holiday and of Lord Haldane's mission to Germany, all with a view of bringing about some cessation in the competition in armaments, surely it is a very great advance that the Powers of Europe should now be able at the League of Nations to meet together and discuss these matters amicably among themselves and with a real desire to arrive at some solution. Of course, the condition of Europe to-day is full of snags which have to be surmounted before we can really say that we are in calmer waters. The Treaty of Versailles itself is undoubtedly full of snags. Several of them occur immediately to the minds of all who take an interest in the matter. One feels that somehow or other and sooner or later those snags have to be overcome.

Then there is the condition and the question of Russia. It is very difficult for us to consider the possibility, of a successful result to any Disarmament Conference when we consider the present position of Russia, because there you have a country with great military forces at its command, great armies, one of the great armed nations of the world to-day, and you have a Government admittedly based upon the principle of force and ruthless violence. In those circumstances it is very difficult to see how it is possible to arrive at agreement upon disarmament. Then you have Italy with, in another way, motives which are sometimes a little belligerent. Then you have permeating Europe the kind of thing to which open expression was given the other day in Vienna, a kind of Communistic unrest amongst many of the people of Europe. You have all these disturbing factors to face in dealing with the present condition of Europe and the possibilities of disarmament.

I most earnestly hope that with the help and the undoubted coed will and sincere purpose of the British delegates, eventually the Disarmament Conference at Geneva will produce results which will be to the good of Europe and the world. I was present last Sunday at the unveiling of the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, and no one who attended that very beautiful, very torching and very inspiring service could fail to have brought back to his mind the kind of thoughts that he was thinking nine years ago, when the War came to an end and when those who had fought through the War, particularly the soldiers, were thinking that as a result of it some definite advance towards the prevention of war in the future was to be made. One could not help feeling that. The most we can do is earnestly to hope and fervently to pray that before long it may be possible, in a greater measure than it is to-day, for that result to be attained.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The right hon. Gentleman has made a speech with which all of us on this side of the House can sympathise. The right hon. Gentleman treats these matters in a very serious way, and the only thing in his speech with which I disagreed was his reference to the snags in the Treaty of Versailles, when he spoke of surmounting them. You circumvent snags, you do not surmount them.


I have been on a river boat in South America, and it certainly surmounted snags by knocking them under the water.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I was not thinking of river navigation but of the rocks of the right hon. Gentleman's beautiful, wild, Irish coast. Any ship trying to surmount those rocks would come off very badly. Most people who try to surmount the right hon. Gentleman's fellow-countrymen have come off badly. When the Treaty of Versailles was before Parliament, I moved its rejection, and I got no support from the right hon. Gentleman. The trouble was this. Negotiations were going on and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and his assistants were carrying on those negotiations. We were told that under no circumstances must we ask for any details of what was being done. Then the whole Empire was committed to the Treaty. Ever since then, with the Dawes scheme, the Reparations discussions touched on by the right hon. Gentleman, we have been trying to get out of the Treaty of Versailles, to circumvent the snags—and there are many more to get around somehow. When the Treaty itself came before this House we were told, "Oh, good heavens! It is unpatriotic to criticise. You must pass this." There was a long discussion to a late hour, but no one thought of voting against the Treaty. Viscount Cecil, then in this House as a private Member and not in the Government, criticised it much more thoroughly than I could. But no one would oppose it. We have the same thing to-day at Geneva. I am not going into the details of what is happening there. Until yesterday's statement from the Foreign Secretary, we have had no official and authoritative statement as to where the Government stands on these vital questions in the discussions at Geneva. Now the First Lord and his assistants and Lord Cecil have returned. Again we are put in the position that we cannot press for details. We cannot express even our views as to what should be done. The House is to-morrow to rise for three months, and in the meantime we are committed to heaven knows what at, Geneva.

I must follow up what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan) with a few generalities. Suppose that the Geneva Conference is a success, as we all hope it will be. We, nevertheless, will be committed to an immense expenditure on armaments. The right hon. Member for Antrim (Mr. O'Neill) expressed sentiments about armaments with which we all agreed. The French are prepared to agree to cut down navies, but suggest cutting down the French Army and see what will happen. We will agree to any nation in Europe cutting down its army or its air force, but the moment the Navy comes in there is a tremendous uproar. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) says, "I am all for peace and disarmament, but hands off the British Navy!" Then you go to some other Power, perhaps Italy, and suggest that submarines should be abolished. The Italians say, "No, they are a vital necessity to us and we must have submarines." You are always faced by these difficulties.

I repeat that all the conferences are approached from the wrong angle altogether. Before this Conference had met at Geneva, and before the experts were allowed even in the same room together, we should have had purely political conversations. I know some of the British naval experts taking part in the Conference, and some of the American experts. I know two of the Japanese experts. I know that all these devoted officers will do their utmost to preserve somehow or other the greatest strength possible for ships of their fleets, and if you put them together in the same room they are bound to resist any reduction for their respective units. There should have been a preliminary political discussion. If this Conference is a success, if some arrangement is patched up, that is only a beginning. There is the question of agreement with America. Let us recall what happened at Washington in 1921. The agreement reached there left very serious loopholes, which have led to new waste in cruisers instead of battleships. I am afraid that, whatever happens at Geneva, we will be committed to a new race in another type of cruiser again. There was the question of the 10,000-ton cruiser, and now there is the 5,000-ton type, the trade protection cruiser, and that will lead to fresh competition. The best that can happen at Geneva will be only a beginning.

I have said that these matters have been approached from the wrong angle. As long as you have nations who are afraid of war yet have to face the remote possibility, as in the case of ourselves and America, you will have the respective Governments insisting on a minimum defence force in the air, on land or at sea, and you will not bring about peace by disarmament in the first place. You have first of all to bring about peace and then you will get disarmament. My right hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of an arbitration treaty. He mentioned Mr. Houghton's recent speech at Harvard, a most remarkable utterance. He mentioned Lord Cecil. I would remind the House also of the extraordinary utterances recently of Mr. W. R. Hearst, in the United States—a most extraordinary turn round of policy by a great newspaper proprietor and a man who has been an aspirant for the office of President. Extraordinary proposals he has made. Senator Borah has brought a Motion before the Senate advocating what is called, euphemistically, the outlawry of war. "You have in America and in this country, and in France in the person of M. Briand, those who are reaching towards some different method of avoiding the future catastrophe of war. It is in that direction that we will get disarmament, and not in the direction of Geneva or the League of Nations as represented by the Treaty of Mutual Assistance, and so on. Suppose that the worst happens and we break off the Conference at Geneva. Let us frankly admit in that case that the matter is beyond the purview of the so-called experts, the Admirals and their assistants, and that it is a matter for the politicians. If the politicians fail, it becomes a matter for the peoples themselves, and we must continue without being disheartened to work for an understanding with the American people.

I believe that if this country and America can agree, we can ensure peace in the world. If this country and America cannot agree, peace is not worth many years purchase. It will be a bad example to the other nations and all the efforts of the League of Nations in future will be in vain. The whole key to world peace is friendship between this country and America.

5.0. p.m.

I apologise for reiterating this, but I have noticed the beginnings of criticisms in the newspapers, and speeches both in this country and in America, which may increase, if they continue far a series of years, and may bring about the very same kind of catastrophe which brought war between us and Germany in 1914. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes) entered the Army, and when I entered the Navy, we never had any idea of fighting Germany. We had a different potential enemy against whom we made our preparations, bat, about 1903, there was an extraordinary change. We patched up our century-old estrangement with France, we made the entente, we made an arrangement with Russia, we renewed our alliance with Japan, we recalled our battleships from the outer seas from China and so on, we reorganised the whole of our naval dispositions, we built Rosyth base, and we prepared for the war which, sure enough, came in 1914. That was because in those years the German Emperor began to make foolish speeches about his being the Admiral of the Atlantic and grasping the trident of Neptune, and he thoroughly alarmed the British people. From that time on, the friction grew, the ill-feeling increased, the newspaper campaigns went on, I am afraid I must say, on both sides of the North Sea. All the efforts for a naval holiday failed, and in 1914 we plunged into a war which cost the world 20,000,000 men, immense suffering and untold wealth and treasure that will not be reclaimed far 50 or 60 years.

How much better off are we now? What have we learned? What progress have we made towards getting peace? The war-weary peoples of the world are impoverished, and only two of the peoples who took part in the War are solvent to-day; I do not count Japan as she was in a distant theatre of the War. So far, we have not really learned the lessons of the War, and, unless things improve, we may be at the beginning of a similar situation with America to that which began in 1902 and 1903 with Germany. It took 12 years for the seed which was then sown to germinate. The seed may be in the process of sowing at this moment in Switzerland, but it is time that we should look back on recent events and make very sure that that seed is not allowed to bear fruit. I can only repeat that we are very much hampered in this discussion by the situation in which we find ourselves, but this Parliament must not draw out of its responsibilities. We have been promised a full Debate in the autumn, and that must be insisted upon. I hope it will be a Debate that will he conducted in no partisan spirit. The matter is too serious for that. We are responsible to the whole of the peoples in the Empire. I can only end by saying that we require to he very patient indeed with the American people, and they with us. These two countries, with all their wealth, their resources and their potential strength, can keep the peace. If there is friction between them, and if they start a system of alliances against each other on either side of the Atlantic, there will he little hope of peace in the world, despite all the sacrifices of the War.


I feel that we are very much hampered in this Debate by the general understanding that a full discussion, at arty rate of the proposal regarding, naval disarmament, will have to be postponed until some date in the Autumn Session. But, whether we postpone our discussion of naval disarmament or not, there are certain facts that have come to light during the last few days which will make most of us feel that, even if, in the Autumn Session, the Government is able to announce that a considerable measure of naval disarmament has been achieved, none the less the situation of this country is one of danger. I am referring to the news which we have had during the last few days of the aerial manœuvres. There is a general impression in the country that we have freely advertised, during the last day or two, the fact that, whether we have an effective supply of small, fast, or any other kind of cruisers; whether we have as many cruisers as the Americans, or whatever arrangements we may make from the point of view of naval armaments, the situation in the air is such that, if war does become an actuality again, we shall be wiped out although the whole of the seas be covered with our cruisers. I heard in 1924 a distinguished general reminding us that, if war came, the only defence of London would be for the whole of its inhabitants to run like rabbits out into the night as far from the town as they could get. I heard the Air Minister, two years ago, make a statement that the aerial situation was such that it was necessary to commend to the House a proposal which he had read in a book, the name and author of which he gave us, that the nations of the world should agree before war came that they would not drop air bombs upon the people, but only upon certain areas. I noticed, in the last year's discussion on the Air Estimates, that the Minister again expressed hopes that some arrangement might be arrived at by which there would be a delimitation of the areas in which aerial bombs are to be used in the case of war.

It is pretty clear, from the expressions of the Air Minister, that, however successful the Government may be during the next few months with regard to naval disarmament, we shall still be left with this nightmare of aerial warfare and all the consequences that follow from it. I have no doubt at all that if, by a successful prosecution of the disarmament policy at Washington or Geneva or elsewhere, you can effect a considerable saving of expenditure on cruisers or upon other types of warships, there will be released immediately in this country an overwhelming demand for the expenditure of all that you may save upon cruisers upon other means of defence in order to meet the newer menace in the air. I feel, therefore, and I am sure we must all This feel in House, that we must come back to the wider issue of disarmament, quite apart from the particular issue of naval disarmament. I agree with the contention, which has been several times stated in this Debate, that we shall have to take risks, and very considerable risks. After all, there cannot be any action that we can take that can involve us in much greater risks than the drift, in policy which seems to be taking place at the present time. Suppose we do, from the point of view of naval armaments or aerial armaments, leave ourselves open to the possibility of this or that type of attack, is it not also true all the time that, when we have done our best, at any rate from the aerial defence point of view we are left with a terrible catastrophe confronting us. I desire, therefore, to take the discussion back again to the question of policy upon which the right hon. Gentleman who opened it spoke, a policy more deeply seated than the one which gives all its attention to the question of armaments, particularly naval armaments.

I feel that my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister in the Labour Government was on the right track at Geneva, in the famous speech which he made at the open Assembly and out of which ultimately came, I think, the proposals which were worked out in the Protocol. I think the policy which was then indicated by the Labour Prime Minister is the policy that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary will, in the long run, be compelled to revert to, a policy that proceeds by making closer links between proposals for disarmament and proposals for arbitration. I speak with respect of the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary to bring peace, but he must permit me still to feel that, particularly in matters of arbitration and his unwillingness to take risks in the matter of arbitration, he must himself bear a considerable responsibility for the slow progress that has been made in disarmament. I had the privilege, as the secretary of a very big peace movement in this country, to present to him in 1925 a very widely-signed petition which we had got up in a very short time—we only spent six weeks upon it, and yet we got 500,000 signatures—and in which we begged the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary to consider the need of accepting the optional clause and submitting in future at least certain kinds of disputes to the decision of an international tribunal. The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to send a very full and reasoned reply as to why he was unable to do that.

I never felt that his reasons were satisfactory and, particularly, I have not been able to feel satisfied with his refusal to accept the openings that lead towards the process of arbitration. There have been offers on the part of Holland, Switzerland and Sweden of arbitration treaties, which the Foreign Office has found it impossible to accept. There is the proposal already referred to, associated with M. Briand's name, with regard to the new relations with America; but, so far as I am able to learn, the Foreign Office does not seem to be trying to imitate it in any practical form. All the time, the impression has grown, not only in our country but in the world, that, this country is prepared to take no risks whatsoever with regard to a settlement of its disputes in future by a, process of arbitration. I agree that we might go to an international court or to some arbitral council with a dispute and get a judgment which we did not like. We might possibly lose some of our territories, if we agreed, for example, to submit to the optional Clause. It is conceivable that a country like Spain might get up a case about Gibraltar and make a charge against us that we were holding property which ought to belong to someone else or ought to be managed internationally. It is conceivable that the judgment of an international court or an arbitral body might go against us in such a case. But I submit with all earnestness to the Foreign Secretary that, if we did lose this or that strategic point in the world, if we were robbed of this or that piece of territory, and if by showing our willingness to submit to arbitration, we induced in the world a greater feeling of confidence as a result of which more people were willing to meet us in common agreement for disarmament, then it would have been well worth while. I feel that until the Government can get back to the policy of close association, of advance towards arbitration at the same time as we are trying to advance towards disarmament, little success can be expected from the present naval disarmament proposals or any other disarmament proposals that may be put forward.

I should like to refer to the issue which has been brought into public discussion recently as a result of the speech of Mr. Houghton at one of the American Universities—Harvard, I think. I observe that a Conservative paper during the week-end stressed the importance of that speech. I do not know that I agree entirely with the contentions of the editor on the point, but at any rate he says that in the proposals which the American Ambassador made—purely as a private individual and not as an official—he sees new light upon a very difficult problem. I do not believe this is exactly the way out of our difficulties, but the fact that a great Ambassador is willing to take a risk of loss in international affairs while we submit our difficulties to a public plebiscite, is a sufficient reason why some of us on this side should also be willing to take risks in regard to the difficulties which confront us. No doubt it will be said that I am too much of the visionary and that I am not sufficiently in touch with the practical difficulties of the situation, but my feeling seems to be the feeling of the American Ambassador—that the people of to-day knowing what they do of the last War, and knowing what a future war would mean for them, will vote against war every time a plebiscite is taken on the subject. If we could take the Ambassador's line, I believe we should remove the possibility of war from the world, but I find his proposal the more interesting because it seems to fit in with another proposal which my hon. Friend the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Ponsonby) has been making recently—a proposal with regard to a signed declaration by the people that, if war comes, in no circumstances will they take part in it.

I know that not much attention has been given to that proposal, but as I have gone up and down the country engaged in propaganda on behalf of the idea for which my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside stands—and for which, if I may respectfully say so, the American Ambassador stands—I find there are thousands and tens of thousands of our people who are so oppressed by the idea of the horrors likely to confront us in any war of the future, that they are prepared to take their stand here and now and to say that come what may they will in no circumstances support a Government which goes to war. I assure the right hon. Gentleman and any other right hon. Gentleman who may hold the office of Foreign Secretary, that unless a way can be found out of our difficulties the common people will take the issue out of the hands of Ministers and will decide for themselves that they will have nothing to do with any resort to force. I feel all the more earnest in putting forward this point of view, because I do so quite apart from any party consideration. This is not a party issue at all. One hon. Gentleman has referred to the question of Russia, and the danger which Russia represents to those who are at present considering disarmament. I agree that the Russian issue is serious. I do not pretend that because the Russian nation is Socialist, it is therefore pacifist. I know it is just the opposite, but I know also that Russia is being driven stage by stage towards a more cast-iron militarism as a result of the policy which we are pursuing in regard to her.

There are gentlemen abroad to-day who a year or two ago regarded themselves as Russian Whites, and who to-day are prepared to return to Russia and take their part in the present Russian system, because they believe that under Bolshevism with its Red Army and its use of force it may be possible to win that great Russian hegemony which was the dream of Peter the Great and of the Tsars who followed him. Indeed, I discussed with a Russian Count on the Terrace of this building the fact that some of his friends who hated the Russian revolution, and were utterly opposed to Communism, felt that because Communism had got into the saddle, and Russia was making good as an Empire, their place was back in Russia, helping the nation against whatever forces might assail her. By the policy of suspicion which has been pursued, by unfriendly acts towards Russia, both here and in other parts of the world, Russia is being made more and more warlike in her tendencies, and we are being driven nearer that star with Russia which some fear to be inevitable. If we are to get away from these nightmares which so constantly confront us, the common people must determine that, whoever may be made the enemy of the future, whether it be America, Russia, Japan, Germany or France, no consequence that may be gained by war will be worth the loss which the people will be asked to undergo. For that reason, I am sure that the propaganda will go forward. Unless a new hope arises that out of the Foreign Secretary's policy some practical results may be obtained, the policy will go forward by which the people will more and more express themselves beforehand that if war is to be made in the future, they will leave it to the Governments to fight that war.


The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. Hudson), like my right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Mr. O'Neill), has made a thoughtful, and interesting and in some points a very instructive speech. I must return at a later moment to the broader issues with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Trevelyan) who opened the Debate was chiefly occupied, and which formed the text of the major portion of his speech; but I would like, first of all, to dispose of one or two other matters. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to some articles which appeared in the French paper "Humanité," which attributed to Lord Crewe communications with the representatives of a non-existent Ukrainian Government, and intrigued with them against the integrity of the Soviet Republic. There is not a word of truth, whether as concerns Lord Crewe or any member of his staff at the Paris Embassy, or any Member of the Government or servant of the Government, in the statements that were published in "Humanité. "It would perhaps be well that those who too lightly believe these silly and senseless, but at the same time dangerous rumours, should take warning that that paper is not one to be trusted for accuracy or truth.


In order to make the matter absolutely clear, may I ask did he see them?


He did not. He neither saw them nor has anyone seen them on his behalf. Of course, there has been a certain amount of talk in certain quarters about an independent Ukrainian Government. I have given no encouragement to it. I profess no sympathy with the object which the Soviet Government proclaims as the purpose of its policy and I have a detestation of the methods which it employs whether at home or abroad. But I know—and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to recognise that the very fact that I have no sympathy with the Soviet system of government makes me act upon my knowledge, if nothing else—that there is no surer way to strengthen that Government and to rally the Russian people behind it, than to take any action or give countenance, to any action which seems to the Russian people to threaten their national unity. That is common-sense. It is so clearly common-sense as almost to be a platitude, and perhaps this persistent rumour that Great Britain contemplates aggressive action is not altogether divorced from the fact that, by the spread of such rumours, the Soviet Government finds it easy to make the Russian people pardon the tyranny to which it subjects them. At any rate, I hope my answer has been sufficiently explicit, not merely to confirm the view which the right hon. Gentleman obviously took, that there was no truth in these statements, but to convince others that there is no foundation whatever for them.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke of China. I do not know whether he expects me to reargue the question which was argued in this house when we sent the defence force to Shanghai. The right hon. Gentleman is confident—such a thing is not unknown about prophets—that every prediction which he made has been realised. I think his predictions have been falsified. On the other hand, in contrast with him, I am confident that the timely presence of those troops at Shanghai alone saved that great international community from a, recurrence, on a larger scale and with infinitely greater loss of life, of the outrages perpetrated at Nanking. We have no desire to keep more troops there, or to keep troops there any longer, than is necessary. We have already, as the House knows, withdrawn the mixed Brigade, which was indeed only sent in the first instance because it was the Brigade which, being nearest to China, could arrive on the spot before any troops from this country or from the Mediterranean could reach that place. That Brigade has already been withdrawn, or is in course of being withdrawn. I am not quite certain about the exact state of the shipping, but I think it has actually left Shanghai—the whole Brigade.

Whenever we can take the responsibility of a further reduction of troops, we shall do it. We have, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, every interest on grounds of economy, and we have every interest on the ground of the health of the troops to do so. Shanghai is not a healthy place in summer. The military authorities, well aware of that fact, have taken every precaution that science would suggest in order to safeguard the health of the troops, but if we can bring them back, again from that point of view, we shall be glad to do so; and we shall be glad to do so because that would show that there is a greater security or a lesser danger in China for the foreign community than existed at the moment when we had to send them. Nor has the policy of the Government in regard to our future relations with China changed from the declaration made in December, to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded, and amplified in the further Note of February. We adhere to that policy of negotiating new treaties, conforming to the changed situation, and we shall be ready to do so whenever we can find a Government which can speak in the name of China and can discharge the obligations which it takes upon itself.

The right hon. Gentleman made it a cause of complaint that I did not get along fast enough. I wonder whether he makes to himself any picture of the state of things existing in China, where Governments rise and fall, where generals come up and fade away, where every kind of shifting alliance and intrigue is perpetually in progress, and where there is nobody who, in large parts of China, can enforce or secure acceptance of any agreement that he may make. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this internal conflict among Chinese parties and Chinese Generals makes negotiation additionally difficult because every Government with which you have not made an agreement resents your having negotiated with the one with which you have made an agreement? Every Government demands that you negotiate with it, and with no one else, and makes it an offence, or a cause of complaint at least, if you try to keep out of their domestic quarrels, their civil wars and their anarchy, and to live in peace with them all. I think the right hon. Gentleman, if he occupied my position, would find that the objects of policy which he set before him were not so very far removed from mine, and that, as far as negotiations are concerned, he could move no faster in these anarchical conditions than His Majesty's present Government have been enabled to do.

I ought perhaps, for one moment, to return to Russia, if only to repeat what I have already clearly said, that while the conduct of the Soviet representatives in this country, and the general policy of hostility adopted by the Soviet Government—in defiance of the agreement which they had signed and of the remonstrances made to them by each successive Government in turn—made it, in our opinion, impossible to maintain diplomatic relations with them, we had no intention, we have no intention, to push our differences any farther. We cannot restore diplomatic relations with a country which ignores all the courtesies and the decencies of international life. But trade may go on. We will do nothing to interfere with it and we have no desire to push, and no intention of pushing, our differences any farther.


The statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made with regard to our relationship with Russia does not, I suppose—I am quite sure—close the door to any expression on their part of a wish to resume relations if they choose to make it?


No, but they cannot be resumed on the old footing that they are to use their mission here to interfere in our domestic affairs or for improper purposes which would not be tolerated in the case of any other foreign mission.


All that I wished was to make it plain that the door is not barred to an approach from their side if they choose to make it.


Certainly not. If they make an approach, they will no doubt state the conditions on which it is made, and we can discuss them, but relations cannot be resumed subject to the old abuses. There must be such a change of mind on the part of the Soviet Government as enables us to believe that, if the Soviet Mission be re-admitted to this country, it will conform to ordinary diplomatic and international usage.

The right hon. Gentleman opened his speech with observations about compulsory arbitration and disarmament, and that has been the main burden of the speeches which have followed. I am sorry that I missed the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut-Commander Kenworthy). I had gone out for the double purpose of obtaining a little light refreshment and, at the same time, of reading papers in regard to a matter which was raised in this House, so that I might be certain that I was fully informed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, I understand, expressed his horror at the thought of our drifting into any kind of quarrel with the United States of America. I need not tell him, or anyone, that I share to the full his abhorrence of such an idea; and be there agreement or be there not, about a practical and immediate scheme for a further limitation of naval armaments at Geneva, the last thing that I am willing to contemplate is that a failure to agree should lead to anything like a quarrel between us. Let us agree as friends, if we can: let us differ as friends, if agreement be impossible.

After all, there has been nothing unfriendly, no unfriendly word spoken, no hostile thought expressed by any British representative at home or at Geneva. On the contrary, the most friendly attitude has been throughout preserved. Take the very statement which I made yesterday—and it is all that I am going to say about the matters in question at Geneva. Is there anything unfriendly, novel, or alien to the Americans themselves, to American thought, in the views which I then expressed on behalf of His Majesty's Government? It is an old tale. The same thing was said by Lord Balfour at the Washington Conference, and met with acceptance, and the same thing was said this year by an American, by the Chairman of the House Committee on Naval Appropriations.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Who is that?


Mr. French, Chairman of the House Naval Committee. In presenting the Naval Estimates in the House of Representatives on 4th January this year, he spoke as follows: The people of Great Britain depend, and must depend, upon the outside world. Their dependency is for food, it is for clothing, it is for structural material, it is for fuel, and especially fuel oil. Great Britain must maintain open to her ships the lanes of the sea. To do this, Great Britain must have naval bases, and Great Britain, more than the United States, is in need of types of ships, such as cruisers, that are swift and of the widest radius of action. Great Britain must pay attention to reserve supplies of fuel oil and materials of all kinds in a manner that the United States does not need to consider. Stop the lanes of the sea to the ships of Great Britain and suffering would be brought to the people of the British Isles within a period of weeks, and the collapse of the British Navy as a fighting force would be a matter of days. Turn to the United States."— And remember again that it is an American who is speaking to his country— Our country could be cut off from the rest of the world, and there would be food for our people, there would be fuel oil for our use, there would be materials of all kinds for our service. The lanes of the sea might be closed to us for weeks or for years. Should the necessity arise, the United States, within our own territory, could sustain our people without suffering and could produce the material to meet whatever emergency naval necessities might require in the resumption of active naval warfare for the protection of the dignity and the honour of our country. That is a statement of the British case with which no Briton would quarrel, made by an American, and all that I invite and ask is a fair consideration, without imputation of motives, without misrepresentation either of purpose or of means, for the argument which he has addressed in those convincing words to his own people is an argument which to us, situated as he describes, must be one of overwhelming force and necessity, needing our constant attention.

The right hon. Gentleman is impatient of the slow progress of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva or of the limited scope of the negotiations now taking place there between the three Powers. He calls for some great, challenging, dramatic offer. A challenging offer! Is it, quite certain that that is what is wanted? A challenging offer may very likely bring, may more likely bring, a refusal than an acceptance. For my part, I think the less there is that is dramatic about international affairs the more likely we are to serve the cause of peace. One of the dangers which we who have had habitually to attend the League know confronts our meetings at Geneva is that a Press eager for news, not disinclined for headlines, demands something dramatic, I had almost said melodramatic, every time we meet. You cannot have such a thing. You can only proceed slowly, modestly, little by little. It is idle to think that the great world problem of limitation of armaments will ever be solved by some, great, challenging, dramatic offer on the part of any Power, big or little. I hold, and I know that my Noble Friend Lord Cecil holds the same view, that the most it is wise to hope for or reasonable to expect from the first meeting of a conference for the limitation of armaments is some small step forward, and that what we must look forward to is a series of such conferences gradually carrying forward at each meeting the task which the earlier conference had begun—not a sudden decision which changes the whole face of the world as the result of one meeting and will provide the right hon. Gentleman with the dramatic situation which he so much desires.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The trouble is that we are not moving forward in this matter; we are actually moving backwards on the question of armaments.


I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member. Like my Noble Friend, who is a representative on the Preparatory Committee, I take a sober and modest view, but I think we have made some progress, and I think that if we persist we may make further progress; but I cannot believe, and I think it would be fatal to expect, a great dramatic change produced by a single conference. This I must add in reference to what the right hon. Gentleman said, though I disclaim for His Majesty's Government any desire to produce a challenging dramatic document, anyone who took the trouble to read the opening speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty—not the opening speech of the Conference, but the first speech made by the First Lord of the Admiralty on the opening day of the Conference—will see that His Majesty's Government had threshed out before their delegates left for Geneva a considered scheme of further limitation directed to checking, above all things, the further growth, reducing the size, and limiting the numbers, of the great fighting units of the Fleets of the world. Do not let it be supposed that that programme was hurriedly put together. Our authorities had been working on it for weeks and for months before President Coolidge's invitation was received, and it was brought to the notice of the Government as a whole, for their consideration, I think, a week before we actually received President Coolidge's invitation. It was, therefore, a carefully thought-out scheme. It is not dramatic, I do not claim that, but I claim that that would put not merely a check upon the growth of, but further the restrictions which are now in operation upon existing armaments, and would thus, without endangering the national security of any of the Powers who might become parties to it, limit armaments and secure economy, with consequent relief to our people.

More than that I cannot say, and if I did I should myself be lacking in the discretion which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have shown in dealing with this subject, which is now actually under discussion between the representatives of the Powers. I can only say for His Majesty's Government that we think that in the instructions with which our delegates have gone back there ought to be the basis of an agreement acceptable to both the Powers with which we are negotiating and, if adopted by them and ourselves, acceptable to the other naval Powers as well when their time comes to consider it. We cherish the earnest hope that this Conference called by President Coolidge may secure the objects which he had in view when he summoned it, and that by its success it may encourage and assist the great work which the League is endeavouring to bring about.