HC Deb 29 June 1931 vol 254 cc907-1030

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £189,543, 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, 1932, for the Salaries and other Expenses in the Department of His Majesty's Treasury and Subordinate Departments."—[NOTE: £130,000 has been voted on account.]

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

I understand that this Vote has been put down to enable the Committee to review matters relating to the Committee of Imperial Defence, but more particularly the state of European armaments. So far as the Committee of Imperial Defence is concerned, its composition, its operations, and the work it does, I have nothing new to add to what the right hon. Gentleman my predecessor said when he gave the Committee that very valuable survey, on 27th March, 1928. I think we may allow that speech to stand as the authoritative statement not only at the time but up to date. The Committee would, however, like it perhaps if I said something about disarmament, which is the dominant consideration at the present moment.

For February, 1932, there has been summoned a conference at Geneva to discuss this question. We hope to settle the question of disarmament, at any rate for the time being, to review the issues revolving round it, and if possible come to an agreement as to the next stage in the operations. We know already that that conference will be attended by representatives of all the members of the League of Nations, the United States of America, the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, Turkey and Mexico. It will take, I assume, as the basis of discussion, the document which the Preparatory Commission, after some years of hard and efficient work, has produced. But it will attempt to carry that further. The general convention which one hopes will issue from the Disarmament Conference will not be a declaration of principle, will not be a declaration of intentions, will not be a declaration of method, but it will be something which will be perfectly definite, which will contain standards and schedules, which will bring the question of Disarmament into the realm of ascertainable and checkable facts, so that when the work of the Conference has been accomplished we shall not merely have piety, but scales; we shall not merely have principles, but standards; and we shall have something which each nation interested can examine and can see that obligations undertaken by other nations are actually fulfilled.

Our preparation for that Conference, the tremendously great importance of which everyone in this House recognises—not only the Members of one section or one party, but the Members of all parties—has taken the form of the setting up of a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, a committee upon which Members of all three parties are represented. The purpose, first of all, has been to have a body of responsible men, Members of this House, sitting in the various quarters of this House, in possession of reliable facts, to give them the information they want so as to enable them to make up their minds regarding their conclusions. This committee and this nation must never get away from the fact which meets them straight in the face as soon as the committee begins to consider Disarmament, and that fact is the obligation of Disarmament, whether we are going to take an interest in this subject or not. This nation and this House must never forget the specific commitments to which our name has already been placed. I will venture to take up the time of the Committee by quoting these commitments in their specific and precise terms. Article 8 of the Covenant provides: The members of the League recognise that the maintenance of peace requires a reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations. It goes on: The Council, taking account of the geographical situation and the circumstances of each State, shall formulate plans of such reduction for consideration and action by the several Governments. Then the Treaty of Versailles itself, Part V, says: In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of armaments of all nations Germany undertakes strictly to observe the military, naval, and air Clauses which follow. The section of the reply of the Allied and Associated Powers to the observations of the German delegation on the conditions of peace, dated 16th June, 1919, says: 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 for Germany 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, and which it would be one of the first duties of the League of Nations to promote. Then in the final protocol of the Locarno Conference of 16th October, 1925, this further declaration and obligation—it is not merely a declaration, but it is an obligation—is found: The representatives of the Governments represented here declare their firm conviction that the entry into force of these treaties and conventions will hasten on effectively the Disarmament provided for in Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. They undertake to give their sincere co-operation to the work relating to Disarmament already undertaken by the League of Nations and to seek realisation thereof in a general agreement. If we were trying to get away from those obligations we could not do it. They are there written definitely, and it is well to remember that yesterday was the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace which, whatever its defects may have been, certainly at some points glowed with the declaration of pacific faith, and at no points did it offer a greater promise for energetic action and favourable conduct than the declarations that were made in it, and, through its signature, in favour of the Disarmament of Europe, not because one nation had abused arms, but because every nation frankly confessed that there was no peace and no security in continued armaments.

4.0 p.m.

How far have we gone in the meantime since the signing of the Treaty? I am going to try a task which I confess I would rather be excused, a task which I always execute very badly, the task of going through a somewhat, it must be on account of the circumstances, intricate series of figures, but I shall do my best. I think it is very essential that these figures should be put on record. I dare say when the figures have been published there will be some controversy about them, and some dispute as to their accuracy. It is a very difficult thing to give figures comparing the expenditure of one nation with another, because there is such a great variety in the value of the coinage used in the various countries. There is, first of all, a difference in the internal value of the coinage compared with its external exchange value in the coinage of another country. There is a constant variation in the value of coinage, not only internally but also externally, and when figures are compared over a series of years, it is discovered that there are all sorts of opportunities for quarrelling with the result. Moreover, there is some difference in what I may call the international art of budgeting, so that some Budgets conceal what other Budgets reveal. One must use his common sense and, if I may say so, one's experience of the world, in making up one's mind what exactly some of these figures mean, but, roughly this is the rule which has been followed in making up the figures which I am going to quote. In converting foreign currency into sterling, the average annual rates of exchange year by year have been used. I know it is not a meticulously scientific method, and the result may be out by £1,000,000 or even more. I doubt it, but it may be out up to £1,000,000. But when that has been recognised, I venture to say that in no case where I am going to quote figures will the impression be wrong, although it may not be accurate to a hair's breadth. I will take our own Navy first. In 1914, the total naval expenditure of the United Kingdom was £51,500,000.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. LAMBERT WARD

Is that 1913–14?


I am giving the figure for 1914, that is before the War. In 1914–15 the figures were the pre-War figures.


The Budget of 1914.


Yes, the Budget of 1914, which would have been spent by March, 1915, but for the War, but it indicates our status before the War. In 1914, our total naval expenditure was £51,500,000, which, calculated in terms of present-day currency, is equivalent to £76,000,000. That is the figure with which we compare what has happened. In 1924–25, the expenditure was £56,000,000; in 1930, it was £52,400,000. These figures show a reduction of £23,700,000 since 1914, and of £3,500,000 since 1924. Take the figures for the United States. In 1914, the United States spent on its Navy a little over £30,000,000, equal to £42,000,000 valued in present currency. In 1924, the figure was approximately £70,000,000, and in 1930 approximately £78,000,000. These figures, again, show an increase of £36,000,000 as compared with 1914, and £8,700,000 as compared with 1924. If you take France, in 1914 France spent £26,700,000, equal in present-day currency to £29,200,000. In 1924, she spent £13,800,000: in 1930, £24,300,000. These figures show a decrease of nearly £5,000,000 since 1914, but an increase of £10,000,000 since 1924. If we take Italy, before the War she spent £13,300,000 or, in present-day currency, £18,250,000. In 1924, she spent £9,800,000; in 1930, £16,900,000. Here, again, there is a decrease of something like £1,250,000 compared with 1914, but an increase of over £7,000,000 compared with 1924.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Could the right hon. Gentleman explain to us why there is such a difference between our values in 1924 and the French? There seems to be some discrepancy there.


The hon. and gallant Member will have to take these figures. I have had them very, very carefully compiled. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty will answer him if there is any discrepancy at all. I am bound to say I examined them, and did not detect any discrepancy.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I do not say there is a discrepancy, but I would ask for an explanation.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICKHALL

I also noticed the difference between what France spent and the value to-day compared with the large amount of difference referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. I venture to think that the right hon. Gentleman may have made a slip.


I think there is some difficulty with regard to one or two figures, but the explanation is a very simple one. The varying variations in the currency produce some rather unexpected results when the composite sums are worked out, but if there is any difficulty, my right hon. Friend, who will speak later, will, I am certain, supply the explanation. Now take Japan. Japan, in 1914. spent £8,500,000 on her Navy, equal in present currency to £15,400,000. In 1924, the figure was just over £23,000,000. In 1930, it was £26,600,000, an increase of over £11,000,000 as compared with 1914, but of only approximately £3,500,000 since 1924. With regard to Germany, the expenditure there has been limited by the Treaty of Versailles. Before the War her naval expenditure was £31,000,000; at the present time, it is in the region of £9,250,000.

Let me turn now to the personnel. In 1914, the naval personnel of the United Kingdom—and I am not at all sure this is not the simplest test for it; it has to be examined and slightly qualified, but, on the whole, I think it is the simplest and most straightforward—in 1914 the naval personnel of the United Kingdom totalled 151,000. In 1924, the figure was 99,453. In 1931, it was 93,630, a reduction of 57,350 since 1914, and of 5,803 since 1924. An examination of the figures of the personnel of other countries will show that they have increased in much the same proportion as ours have decreased.

Then I have in front of me figures regarding the number of ships. In 1914, the British Commonwealth possessed 89 capital ships, and to-day it has 15 capital ships. That is owing to the operation of the Washington Treaty of 1922. The number of cruisers has decreased since 1914 from 131 to 59 built, building and authorised. The number of destroyers we possessed in 1914 was 298, plus 70 torpedo boats, and these figures will be reduced to about 120 by the London Naval Treaty. We have 40 fewer submarines now than in 1914. In spite of that fact, the number of those vessels has shown a marked increase in other countries. For example, the number held by France has increased by 35; those held by the United States, by 35; Italy, by 38; and Japan, by 49.

Turning to the Army, as regards the British Army, the expenditure, exclusive of forces maintained at the expense of India and the Colonies, in 1914 was £28,800,000, or in terms of present-day currency, well over £40,000,000. In 1924, the corresponding figure was £45,000,000; and in 1931, £39,000,000, or practically £40,000,000. But these figures require explanation, because they might otherwise be taken as an indication of pure strength. This later figure of £40,000,000, which looks as though it were, from a military point of view, an equivalent expenditure to that of 1914, is not, as a matter of fact. The non-effective charges—the civilian pay, the pay connected with civilians in the War Office service, the maintenance of fabrics and so on—have all substantially increased. The pay of the officers and men has increased, salaries have increased, and the amount, scope, and cost of the amenities of the soldier's life—improved rations, better barracks, canteens, recreational facilities, higher standards of education, improvement in medical and dental treatment—have considerably increased, and have cost money. The cost of mechanisation has also increased. These considerations must be taken into account when the military value of the £40,000,000 is being struck. Since 1925, the military expenditure of France has increased by £20,800,000, that of Italy by £15,400,000, and that of the United States by £15,680,000. Then take the man strength. In 1914, ours was 186,420, exclusive of forces maintained at the expense of India and of Colonial Governments. That exclusion still holds good. In 1924, it was 161,600, and in 1931, 148,800. There has, therefore, been a decrease of 37,600 since 1914, and of 12,800 since 1924.

As regards the Air, it is impossible to make comparisons with the Air Service as it is to-day and what it was in 1914. In 1914, the Air Service—I do it no injustice—at the time before the outbreak of war, was, for the purposes we have in view at the moment, somewhat negligible. It was not organised in the way that it has been since, and it is difficult to get out the costs and so on. It is also very difficult to compare our Air Services with foreign Air Services, on account very largely of budgetary methods—of mixing up the Air Service with Naval Services and Army Services, and other considerations—and I can only give one or two figures, which, however, will be striking enough, and will certainly not be misleading. I ought to say that, in the figures of cost which I am going to give, the grants made for civil aviation and the upkeep of aerodromes and so on are included.

If we take France first of all, we find that recently there was a separation of the Air Forces in France from the other forces, so that it is more possible to make a comparison there. Air expenditure in France is at the present moment nearly £21,000,000. That shows an increase of about £4,000,000 from 1929, when her Air Budget was first separated. We have estimated, so far as we can, that the United States has increased her Air expenditure since 1922 by something like £20,000,000, the actual Budget figure this year being, we believe, somewhere in the nature of £34,000,000. Italy, similarly, shows an increase of some £6,000,000 on the 1922 figures. Our own Air expenditure shows no such marked proportionate increase. It is, indeed, only £2,000,000 in excess of the figure of 10 years ago, and is actually lower than it was five years ago. [Interruption.] It is £18,000,000, which is £2,000,000 more than 10 years ago. The figure now is £18,000,000, and the figures I have given are to be added to or taken from that sum. As regards actual numbers, we only possess some 800 first-line aircraft, of which only 400 are permanently available at home. I have already said that comparisons with foreign Powers are very difficult to make, but we know that France has 1,300 aircraft of the first line, and that the United States, Italy, and the Union of Soviet Republics are very well equipped as regards that arm. [Interruption.]


They are all greater than ours?


May we be included in these confidential conversations across the Table?


I am only answering a question. If I were the head of the Air Department, I should be able to answer without consultation, but I really cannot carry all these figures in my head. The circumstances in which a statement like this is made are perfectly well known. We cannot give accurate figures in some cases. My attention was drawn the other day to a poster—not published in this country—declaring that, in disarmament, again, Great Britain is just the old perfidious diplomatist. That is absolutely and maliciously untrue. I again say that they may take a million here or a million there off these figures, especially the money, but it makes no difference at all; the impression that I have given to the Committee is absolutely accurate, and can be sustained right up to the hilt. This country has been swift, patient and persistent in carrying out what it believed to be its obligations, and which were its obligations which it held in common with other nations.

Let us note that, if that were the whole story, our risks would be far too great, but that is not the whole story. The risk to security which a country runs is not expressed in technical military terms. Indeed, it is very often exactly the opposite that is true—that the strength of armaments is often the measure of war risk. If the figures quoted stood alone, our risks, as I say, would be uncomfortably great, but they do not stand alone. Military security must always be embedded in and subordinate to political security, and it is very often the case that steps taken to produce military security destroy political security—that nations, imagining that they are arming themselves to avoid war, are doing nothing of the kind, but are arming themselves to try and secure victory should war break out. In that case they are doing nothing to avoid war at all, but everything to continue both the psychology and the political conditions which all history has shown to be the fruitful sources, and perhaps the only sources, of war.

Therefore, if the signature of that Treaty on the 28th June, 1919, 12 years ago, was to any appreciable extent a fulfilling of that oft-quoted dictum during the War, "This is a war to end all wars," nations in the interval should not only have been taking steps to secure victory in the event of war breaking out, but they should have been taking steps to prevent war ever breaking out; and the best way to do that is to improve the relations of the countries one with another. Therefore, we have been acting in that direction. The peace securities of Europe, we have believed, can be weakened by armaments, but there is a corollary to that—that, unless the Disarmament Conference of next year is going to put an end to those expansions which have been so evident in the figures that I have quoted, a declaration is going to be made that Disarmament is a failure, and that nations are being doomed to tread the old ruts which have always ended in battles, in ill will, and, cynically, above everything, in a Treaty of Peace that demands war, and war in order to strengthen it.

The reduction must be all round. We have gone pretty nearly to the limit of example. I would appeal to every nation that is interested in peace and in Disarmament to study those figures, and to admit and confess that one nation cannot by its own example bring about Disarmament, and that it is the duty and responsibility of everyone to join together and make that further disarmament possible by international agreements and arrangements. I need not summarise the work that has been done on the political side, although the story can never be told of one side without bringing in the other. To recite the figures I have recited, and leave the matter there, is to mistake the meaning of the whole thing, is to misread the story of the last few years; and, therefore, I would remind the Committee that the general policy of the Government, with its influence at Geneva, has been to get those political relationships which will stop war from the very beginning.

It is not a miracle. It is not something which is a mere experiment forced upon sagacious nations by people with bees in their bonnets. It has been proved again and again that steps taken such as are prescribed by the optional clause which we have signed mean that the causes of a quarrel are taken away from the two parties immediately concerned who, therefore, cannot afford not to come to agreement. One's honour is at stake but honour is never touched in quarrels until the quarrel has proceeded for a good long time. A quarrel does not begin with honour. It begins with some material dispute—a dispute not in the region of spirit but in the region of a claim of some kind or another. It develops until at last a situation is created in which honour and sensitiveness come in and, if the settlement of the dispute is left directly to the two parties concerned, then the dispute will not be settled except by force. What has been done at Geneva by the signing of optional clauses, and so on, has been to take the cause of a dispute straight away from the two parties primarily concerned and bring them before some court of justice or committee of conciliation and arbitration.

Moreover, the Naval Agreement which we have been able to fix up between the United States and Japan and ourselves is a further step in the direction of peace. I am sorry it was not a five-Power agreement, but it is not hopeless yet. The mills of God, as we find in many walks of life, grind slowly. But even the three-Power agreement—what an extraordinary effect it has had, not because it is a naval agreement but because it has brought three peoples together and enabled them to demonstrate to the world that they can act in very ticklish points in terms of good will and of friendly relationship.

I think I might also claim that the recent visit of Dr. Bruening and Dr. Curtius, and the return visits which are to take place within three weeks, will have a pacifying influence on Europe and, above all, we can say this with great sincerity. The announcement that was made from Paris the other day that the German and French Ministers are also to meet is exactly the thing we have been praying for—not exactly working for, because that would be misunderstood—we had no finger in the matter or anything like it—but a declaration like that makes one's heart glad in spite of the terribly distressing and disturbing outlook which everyone holding a responsible position in Europe has to face at present.

Then, later on, the initiative which President Hoover has taken shows once again that, where there is will, where there is vision, where there is insight and where there is a conception of the things that do move the world to good results, the world to-day is not the abandoned place that so many glib superficial cynics are always prating about. It may be defeated once but the man who remains faithful to the end is the man who is going to conquer. Then with all the machinery of peace in operation, the League of Nations, the work of the League, agreements removing quarrels, international Courts of Justice and so on—the Government has every encouragement to set an example even as risky as that which I have referred to. Then take that example before the other nations and let us all chance following the better way which is truly opened up in front of us.

There is one other point, of course. One cannot overlook the fact that there are dangers in the way. The Pact of Paris, for instance, eliminates war from our diplomacy. It does not seem to eliminate arms. I am sure that is only an oversight, and, when the logical and practical discrepancy is pointed out effectively, the oversight will be admitted by everybody. But still we have to keep our eye upon the oversight. There are certain great forces that we are up against. There is a self-regarding nationalism expressing its nationalist spirit in an exclusive economic policy. There is the nature of peace and there is the problem, the most difficult and intricate of all problems, how you are to readjust, not by force, not by wile, not by guile of any kind whatever, but by just allowing ordinary natural processes—I know that word is a very indefinite one, but the handling must also be indefinite—how we are to enable a readjustment of a Continent settled by force to be made into one settled and enjoying natural relationshipe—that is one of the most difficult, intricate and dangerous problems that any generation could have to face. The transition is bound to be marked by apprehension, and when movements are made of the most simple commonsense, they are bound to arouse fears.

Here one may say that a country in the position of France is in a peculiarly attackable position in that respect. We are an island. Let us be fair. Let us be just. Fairness and justness do not consist merely of logic. We must be able to use our imagination, to make our fairness a full measure of fairness and our justice a full measure of justice. These people, invaded again and again and again—their fields flattened by the feet of millions of invading soldiers—no Channel, however thin that trickle may be in view of modern invention and the application of science and research—no Channel, but a lie drawn upon the ground is their only frontier. What should we feel like if we were in that position? Anyone who goes over the Border country between England and Scotland, especially if he has any imagination, can understand modern conditions and the modern psychology of large sections of the people of Europe. Therefore, while we give our figures and ask for our agreements, and beg for our agreements, and negotiate our agreements, do not let us lose that sympathetic touch which is bound to keep France and us together so long as we have the proper imagination to see what a Frenchman feels and, above all, what a French woman feels when war Is talked about and disarmament is being negotiated. All that we have been doing has been on the assumption that we are secure in peace for a certain period.

I am not going to say to-day how long that period can be, but I do say this, that assumption, on which the policy of every post-War Government has been founded, ought still to be made. It may be good or it may be bad, but 1932 gives all the nations of the world a chance of laying their heads together and relating their military strengths to their political obligations, and it would be folly on the part of this country, it would be madness on our part, if we did not wait until 1932 came to review the situation as it is then. I hope, in consequence of what has been done both by the reduction of military strength and by the increase of political security, agreement will be come to at that conference. I hope that agreement will enable the Government which will be here to prove by results the justification of the policy which has been revealed by what I have said to the Committee to-day, and that, after the chapter has been closed, the figures agreed to, the columns made, the assignment of this category of strength made and the assignment of that made, it will be the happy position of the British Government to ask the House of Commons, and the Committee of the House of Commons, to back it in going on to make still further reduc- tions in the cause of international agreement, removing still further away than we have been able to do up to now the military causes of war, and strengthening and laying deeper and broader the only foundation upon which peace can rest—complete agreement and most friendly relations between all the nations of the world


I am sure the whole Committee and the country will be grateful to the Prime Minister for the statment that he has made to-day. He has acceded speedily and willingly to a request which I put to him on behalf of the Opposition only about 10 days ago, and I think he felt, as I feel and many Members on this side feel, that, having regard to the fact that the Disarmament Conference was to take place next year, and the time is moving on fast, and there is a great deal of work to be done to occupy Ministers, it was in the highest degree important that at an early date a statement should be made to clear away misunderstandings and spread the truth, not only in this country, but throughout the world, because there is great ignorance, mostly real, if not all of it, not only at home but abroad. In these grave matters, it is hopeless to look for any kind of success unless the Governments point out the facts for the people to know and understand, and the peoples of the nations of the world to know exactly what they are up against. Unless the facts and the truth are known, we render ourselves liable to charges of insincerity, and we may also cause among our own people a feeling of unjustifiable disappointment because the realities of the situation have not been envisaged with that lucidity and courage which the Prime Minister has shown to-day.

I do not propose to speak at any length to-day nor to go into any technical matters, but merely to make a few observations leading to a general Debate, which, I am sure, Members on all sides of the Committee will be only too anxious shall take place, to try and reinforce some of the points which the Prime Minister has made and to make one or two observations of my own upon others. I think that in one regard perhaps we have really advanced both nationally and internationally in the last century or so. I do not know whether there is within the recollection of many Members of this Committee, the sentence uttered by a man well-known in his generation, Benjamin Franklin. He made an observation which was true when he made it, but I believe that in our progress it is becoming less true, and from that I would take good augury. He wrote: I have never known a peace made, even the most advantageous, that was not censured as inadequate and the makers condemned as injudicious or corrupt. 'Blessed are the peace makers' is, I suppose, to be understood in the other world, for in this they are frequently cursed. To-day I rejoice to think that at any rate there is a general feeling for continuity of national foreign policy among all parties—it is not always successful, but we are all striving for it—and I think that the general good will of thinking men in all parties would try and secure that the course pursued by this country in its foreign relations should vary as little as possible from Government to Government, partly for the honour and prosperity of our own country, and partly also for the stability of the world in which that foreign policy is carried out. Though there may have been many differences of opinion in the great treaties which we have been considering this afternoon and which were introduced by the Prime Minister, yet we are not now criticising. We are not saying that the framers of those treaties were injudicious or corrupt, but we all recognise that we are pledged, and every signatory of those treaties is pledged as far as a nation can be pledged, to the reduction of armaments. Therefore, nationally we have to do what we can do in that direction, as the Prime Minister has said.

He has shown clearly and conclusively the good faith with which this nation from the beginning, from the moment the War stopped, has done its best under different Governments in succession to go on with progressive Disarmament. We had when the War stopped, I suppose, the finest and the largest Air Force in the world, and we practically scrapped it all. The figures that he has given—not only the money, but I agree with him in thinking much more important, the personnel—show that we have indeed taken grave risks in what we have done. No one will regret those risks if they help us to bring home the fruit that we desire. But he has shown quite clearly that we have gone already as far as we can in uni-lateral Disarmament, and I hope and believe that the figures that have gone forth from this Table this afternoon will convince all countries in the world that our case is one that deserves, and must have, examination.

If the world wants Disarmament, the world has to play its part no less than we have played our part. It is very easy to say there are obstacles. That there are difficulties in Europe, we all recognise, and difficulties exist in various parts of Europe. I was very glad to hear from the Prime Minister that two great countries not members of the League of Nations, will be present at the Disarmament Conference—Russia and the United States of America. I think that that is of very great importance because, after all, those are the two countries in this world which, so far as one can see, are absolutely immune from invasion owing to their natural position—the United States because she is guarded by 3,000 miles of sea on either side, and Russia because of her vastness and her climate. There has been but one man who tried to invade Russia, and he was the greatest soldier that ever lived, and where he failed it is not likely that anyone will succeed. I welcome to this conference those two great nations, and particularly because of the fact that throughout the East of Europe to-day the increased armaments of Russia militate more than any single fact against prospective Disarmament right down the Western front of Russia. Anything that our Government or that Europe can do to convince Russia of the security of her own position, and of the anxiety her armaments are causing throughout the whole of the Baltic States—anything they can do there, to bring her into line with Disarmament will be of service towards the pacification and civilisation of Europe.

I would say one word in addition to what the Prime Minister said about France. I am glad that he said what he did, because there is a tendency in many quarters to make France the scapegoat for every trouble that occurs in Europe. While I admit that there is often much to criticise in France, as in ourselves, I think that where people make a great mistake is in the psychology of the French people. If I read it aright, I would say that today, as they have been for many years past, the French people, are as peace-loving and domestic a people as exists in Europe. But let us never forget that twice within 120 years the manhood of France has been bled white. The Napoleonic age crippled the manhood of France. Of the war of 1870, terrible as that was, I do not think I would use the term "bled white" as I do of the Napoleonic age and the recent War. What was the spirit which drove France into the Napoleonic Wars? It was not so much that France was seized with imperialist ideas, whatever may have been in Napoleon's mind. I always regard the spiritual impulse in the French people at that time as the impulse of 1789; it was the feeling that they were the apostles of this new liberty, equality and fraternity, and they were going to upset all the thrones in Europe and impose those doctrines upon Europe.

One of the dangers of the situation at the other end of Europe at this moment, as I see it, is this: I ask myself, Is there a danger of this spiritual ideal which animated France in those years, animating Russia and driving her out from her boundaries as France was driven out at that time? But however that may be, that was, in my view, the impulse which led the manhood of France to its death in those years. It was what so often has caused wars in history; it was a great clash of ideals. The clash took place in Europe—and wherever there is a clash of ideals, the Englishman is found in it on one side or the other—and the Napoleonic wars took place with the result that we know. There came 1870, and there came the last war, and those last two wars have burnt into their very souls what the Prime Minister has spoken about.

5.0 p.m.

It is difficult for us to realise what it means to be a nation in a vast continent with nothing but, it may be, a river or a field as the boundary against your neighbour. We are, of course, from a military point of view, not an island any more. It was some time before our people realised that. But we have to get the continental mind with regard to the position of our own land and those of us who have been able to get it can sympathise with France. She is an agricultural country in the main. She has seen her fields, her corn, and her vineyards trampled upon by an hereditary enemy, and by the armies of her own allies. That is an experience which men, women and children can never forget. I can remember the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), who, I think, can be classified as a pacifist, speaking in this House and saying that, if anyone invaded Scotland, they would have to get into Scotland over his dead body, and that is exactly the feeling of the Frenchman. That would be exactly the feeling of pacifists in this country if it were possible for an invading army to cross the Channel into Kent and Sussex. So do let us show France that sympathy that she needs and deserves at the time that we do all, as the Prime Minister said, to bring her along with us and to convince her that, difficult as the path to which we are all pledged may be, the difficulties and dangers of any other path are greater still. The Prime Minister spoke of war to end war. On that, I should like to say a few words before I draw to the close of the few observations that I desire to make. It has always seemed to me that a great deal of the propaganda which is being conducted by people—I dare say much better than myself—against war, is propaganda that is calculated to have precisely the opposite effect from that which the propagandists desire, whatever the reason may be. Human nature seldom responds to appeals to abstain from doing something because the consequences will be unpleasant. You seldom stop a man who wants to drink from going to the bottle, because you tell him he may ruin his health. The same is true of every sin of the flesh.

After all, the fighting instinct is one that has been in man from the beginning and the fighting instinct will not be repressed by telling people that it is dangerous to fight. The fighting instinct will only be cured at the end of an enormous evolution of time as and when it is cast out by a higher spiritual ideal. That we should work for that ideal is our plain duty, but do let us recognise all the difficulties that we are up against. It will not prevent people fighting by telling them as some newspaper told us in 1914: "Keep out of the war, and you will be able to trade with both sides and make money." Who thought about money in August, 1914? When human nature be- lieves that there is an ideal that is worth fighting for, although you may disagree with that particular ideal, it is difficult to stop people from fighting. Take, if you like, the example of the United States of America, a pacific and peace-loving people, yet in the lifetime of some of us, certainly in the lifetime of the parents of most of us, the United States—who were, to all intents and purposes, people of our own flesh and blood, before the alien immigration of the '80's, the '90's and 1900—fought the bloodiest civil war that has ever been fought in any country in the world, for a clash of ideals—the clash of ideals between the Federal control of the States or of Free States in the Federal Republic. So it is, and so I utter this word of warning, that we have to go deeper down in human nature than by merely telling people that they will lose their money or their lives.

Human nature responds always ultimately to the hard course, the difficult one, and that is the way to get the loyalties of men and to get all that is best in them. Hence it is that I do feel a great desire that this propaganda, which is meant to help the cause we are all trying to promote, shall be directed by men who know something about the human heart of mankind. We politicians and the Press have our parts to play. There is a great deal that we can do to make the relations of countries worse by careless speech about them, by not considering, as we are trying to consider the difficulties of France, the difficulties of other countries. There is an enormous responsibility on the Press, who act in the world as germ carriers, sometimes a beneficent germ and sometimes a malignant one. I wished that we could see an end to telegraphing from one end of the world to the other any odd foolish remark that may be made either by a politician or by anybody else; something that never ought to have been said, perhaps something that the man who uttered it never wanted to circulate. It goes out to a million breakfast tables, something that someone in America said about us., and it gets as on the raw, or something that someone in this country has said about America, that they are a nation of Shylocks. These are the observations that run round the world, not the observations that we so often make in speeches and conversations when we dwell on the better side of human nature. The responsibility that rests upon us and upon the Press is enormous. The influence of politicians and of the Press is one of the most potent influences for bringing the nations together.

I should like to say a word before I sit down about the work which has been accomplished by the various Governments in the League of Nations. We must hold firmly to the League of Nations. I was never one of those who expected that the League of Nations would make a new world in a decade. It will not, nor in 20 years, and perhaps not in a longer period. But it is the one medium to-day which brings together the public men, the responsible public men, in the countries of Europe and of the world, and everything that brings them together and gets them into the habit of discussing: with each other, instead of into the habit of shooting notes at each other through their respective foreign offices, is all to the good. It is a most curious thing, but it is human nature again, that whenever you write documents to a man instead of seeing him, the cleverer you are the more you want to score off him, and every time you score off him you make a potential enemy. The sooner we can supersede correspondence by discussions the better it will be for the peace of the world. We can bring the peoples together by travel, by sport, by wireless. All these things are fighting on our side, and we ought to use them for all they are worth.

I cannot say—whether it be this Government or whether it be another next year at the Disarmament Conference, no one can say—what progress will be made. Progress, I think and believe, will be made on the lines that the Prime Minister has laid down, but it must not be unilateral any longer; it must be all of us together. If it be only a step or a few steps, it will be all to the good. The one thing that we must strive against is failure of any result at all. On the lines on which the Prime Minister has addressed us this afternoon, I can assure him from this side of the House that he has spoken as the Prime Minister of the whole country. On those lines we will give him all the help, unofficially and behind the scenes, that we can. I am quite certain that if it be our fate or the fate of anyone else to be at that conference next year, the same generous confidence of the majority of the House will be extended to them on those lines, because the lines were broad, they were statesmanlike, they were full of an eager enthusiasm to help Europe, not helping Europe at the expense of our own country or any other country but helping her in the only way that she can be helped, and that is by the work and sacrifice of every nation in common.


It is well that Parliament should envisage in advance the conditions of the Conference which is to meet at the beginning of next year. That Conference, whether it succeeds or whether it fails, by its success or by its failure must prove to be one of the most momentous events in the modern history of the world. It is well that opportunity should be given in the House of Commons at this stage for an expression of the essential unity, of purpose and of action, that prevails in this matter among all classes of political thought. In associating those who sit on these benches with the purport of the observations of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition I wish to emulate the brevity with which the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) has spoken. I am sure that it was most necessary for the Prime Minister, with the vast publicity that attaches to this place and to his office, to make the statement which he has made with regard to the degree of Disarmament that has already been accomplished by Great Britain. There is undoubtedly a widespread belief in other countries, and to some extent in this country, that almost nothing has been done by us since the War to accomplish the general purpose of Disarmament, and there is a real danger that opinion in the various countries of the world may have crystallised before the Conference meets, on a basis of misinformation, with the result that the success of the Conference may be imperilled.

The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear in his speech, and particularly in the final words, that in emphasising the degree of Disarmament that has already been accomplished here it must not be taken as implying that there is nothing that we are still willing and indeed even eager to do, if only general agreement can be obtained for further measures of Disarmament. He made a comparison with 1914 and re- minded the House of a factor that is very often forgotten, that merely to take the crude figures of expenditure now and then is not a true representation of the facts, any more than it would be a true representation of the facts to say that in a certain trade wages to-day are so much higher than they were then, without taking into account the difference in the value of money and in the cost of living. The difference has been due not only to questions of currency. The Prime Minister made his comparison on the basis of the values of to-day compared with the values of 1914. In this connection values are not only a matter of money but they also raise questions of the rates of pay in the Army, the Navy and other similar considerations.

I have the advantage of being a member of the Three-Party Conference, to which the Prime Minister referred, and I have had the benefit of examining the figures. I think the Prime Minister will agree, in answering the questions put by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and some hon. Members on this side, that it is not merely a question of currency but that one of the most important factors to be taken into account is the great increase in the pay of officers and men in the Army and the Navy, which accounts for a great part of the increased expenditure in this country. This factor affects other countries which have got conscription in a lesser degree. It will be found, if the figures are examined, that the average pay per man of officers and soldiers in the Army has doubled since 1914, and has more than doubled in the Navy. This country, impressed by the calls made upon our armed forces during the War, was generous, I will not say over-generous, and the remuneration of our forces is double what it was before the War. Stores and other such items of expenditure have increased by 20 to 50 per cent., and that fact accounts for the immense increase in the figures given by the Prime Minister compared with the result we have in armaments in relation to the expenditure we have to defray.

There is one other point in the comparison with 1914 which works in the opposite direction, and, if we are to paint a fair picture, we must take it into account. In 1914 we were conscious of being faced by what might prove to be an overwhelming menace across the North Sea and we had to make active preparations over a series of years for meeting that risk should it ever eventuate. The Liberal Government of that day, of which I had the honour to be a member, year after year found itself compelled to increase vastly the naval Estimates, greatly against our desire. We made every effort to come to an arrangement with Germany for a naval holiday, or in other ways, which would prevent that necessity, but all these efforts were made futile by the policy adopted in Germany under the old regime, and the consequence was that we had to increase our naval Estimates from £31,000,000 in 1906 to £51,000,000 in 1914, an increase of £20,000,000. That menace has disappeared, that fleet is at the bottom of Scapa Flow, and there is no comparable menace now anywhere in the world. There ought to be a great reduction in our naval Estimates, apart from questions of present-day values, owing to the fact that the one risk which our Navy was intended to meet has disappeared.

I feel some doubt whether any comparison with any datum line of any year is of great value in this discussion. Possibly we may not be able to avoid it. No doubt such a comparison will have to play some part, but I think the comparison which should rightly be made is not a comparison with our own past or the past of other countries, but with the world at the present day and present expenditures on armaments. We are all agreed—and certainly the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Bewdley are of one mind—that Disarmament cannot possibly be merely one sided. I know that there are some hon. Members who say that if the Governments of the world are really sincere, if they believe in the reality of the Kellogg Pact, if they put true confidence in the League of Nations, why should not any one of them singly abolish its armaments? [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] I am expressing the views, apparently, of one hon. Member opposite, that we should lay down our arms irrespective of what any other nation may do, and that, if we do not, it is because we are cynically sceptical of the assumed advantages and guarantees to be given by the League of Nations. No doubt if everything went according to plan it might be safe to do that, but we can never be certain that everything will go according to plan.

There may be a doubt as to who is the aggressor in a great war. It may be that if the aggressor is identified the moral and economic forces of the world would bring him to book, but there is always a risk that the League of Nations may not find full agreement within its own Council as to who is to be stigmatised as the aggressor in any particular case.' There may be all kinds of risks which we cannot at present foresee, and if these risks were to be realised, and we were in advance, trusting that all would be well, to lay down our arms whilst other nations were armed it might lead our country into the most appalling Catastrophe, for which none of us would wish to bear the responsibility in the eyes of history. The Prime Minister has said quite truly that the piling up of armaments does not guarantee peace, but for one country to disarm in the presence of an armed world may not be a guarantee of peace. Possibly it could be done by a country situated like Denmark, and we all honour the initiative which Denmark has taken in this direction. But the conditions of the British Empire are very different, and a disarmed British Empire in the presence of an armed world might expose other nations to temptations which they might find it exceedingly difficult to resist, [An HON. MEMBER: "The Central Powers are disarmed!"] I will come to that in a moment. Taking the world as a whole, and in view of the facts I have mentioned and also the possibilities that may arise, one may say, paraphrasing the old expression, that one-sided disarmament may be magnificent, but it is not peace.

Does it mean that if we are to get security we must accept the doctrine that it can only be found by piling up armaments? Not at all. Security may depend not only on the greatness of your own armaments but on the smallness of the armaments of other people, and the latter gives just as great security whilst it lessens the burdens of everyone and exposes the world to far less risks. That was the intention of the Treaty of Versailles. I agree that the present one-sided disarmament cannot endure indefinitely. The Prime Minister has quoted the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the pronouncements made then, and has said that these were the first steps towards a general disarmament. Twelve years have gone by and the second step has been sadly long delayed, but it is essential that it should be taken. The present situation cannot endure indefinitely. If after the Napoleonic Wars, at the Congress of Vienna, the statesmen of that day had laid down the rule that the country which was then conquered and which was regarded as the aggressor should be permanently disarmed and all the rest of Europe allowed to continue their armaments no one could imagine such an arrangement enduring to the present day. The Treaty of Versailles did not contemplate any such thing and the existing non-fulfilment of the intentions of the Treaty cannot possibly endure indefinitely.

The Foreign Secretary has been chosen by the League of Nations to be the chairman of the forthcoming conference. That is a great and well-deserved compliment to him personally and to the nation which he represents. I hope and believe that his acceptance of the chairmanship will not mean that the British Delegation will play a passive role, waiting upon the initiative of others. Whatever initiative and action may be required I feel sure will be forthcoming from the British Delegation, although its principal member perhaps is in the chair at the conference.

The public opinion of the world, in the long run, decides all these matters. I most sincerely hope that there will be from this conference great and definite results, but in any event it is the duty of the delegations of those Powers which are eagerly desirous of the largest possible measure of general disarmament to place their full proposals frankly before the conference in order that the nations should know what their proposals are and also the difficulties which may prevent or hinder their adoption. The peoples of the world, who have to give their substance and too often their lives, are entitled to know from their statesmen just what it is that they desire to achieve, and if that full achievement is not found possible where and what the difficulties have been. The peoples of the world have a right to know; and not least the women have a right to know. Women, when they contract the war fever, sometimes contract it in its most harmful forms, but in the main the women of the world are the greatest lovers of peace. They are tired of having been for centuries the victims, generation after generation, of agonies of suffering from wars resulting from what they are entitled to call the tragic mismanagements of a man-ruled world, and it is I believe not without significance that those countries in which women to-day have the largest share in political power are just those countries which are most zealous and eager in the cause of peace, and it is those countries where they are excluded from all share in political life which are somewhat laggard in comparison in this movement.

The workers also have a right to know what the proposals are and also the difficulties. We have a democracy of the workers of the world which is not influenced by the old mediaeval tradition which affects a great many other classes, which regards war as a somewhat gallant adventure. They see it for what it is: at its best a colossal burden, and at its worst an abominable crime. The conference is to meet next year, and that fact and the fact that the world has set up the League of Nations to achieve these great objects, are proofs that in this present age man has determined to be as far as he can the conscious director of his own fortunes. Men are not prepared to accept a fatalistic philosophy and to surrender to what are regarded as world forces, which although they are evil cannot be withstood. There are no such things as world forces. There are only the opinions and doings of millions of individuals—Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans—following the ideas of the leaders of thought and action of their time. I believe that this democracy, and also the great Dominions of the British Empire, are eager that their representatives at the Disarmament Conference with zeal and sincerity shall press for the widest measure of general Disarmament that the nations can be persuaded to endorse.


It is probably the experience of many hon. Members of this House to have lived in more than one country. I happen to have divided my life about equally between three. Those who have had experience of that kind will have been struck by this: that the figures which were given us this afternoon, of the progress made by this country in Disarmament, will be given by the Governments of other countries, not with equal accuracy, it is true, perhaps, but with equal sincerity. We have to face the simple truth that each country believes that it is doing its utmost; each country believes, rightly or wrongly, that it has made great sacrifices for peace. That is certainly the view of Prance, certainly the view of the United States; and in these figures, the elements of calculation are so various, so easy of manipulation, that a case can be made out by those countries; and, although I do not in the least challenge the accuracy of the figures which we have heard, I do ask for just that imagination for which the Prime Minister himself asked, so as to enable us to see that other nations may sincerely feel as we do in this matter.

I am sure that it was not the intention of the Prime Minister to create an impression which might be gathered from the statement that he has made. He has pronounced against further Disarmament by example, and I for one accept that principle. But it was put in a somewhat negative form at times. He said: "We have done all we can," the implication being that it is now the turn of other nations to disarm similarly. That is a negative way of expressing it, and I see that it is welcomed by some hon. Members opposite. But there is a positive way of putting it. The Prime Minister added, in effect, and perhaps some hon. Members opposite did not sufficiently note this: "We will go a great deal further if other nations are prepared to go further."

There is the positive way of putting our position, and the psychological effect of so putting it differs very greatly from the negative way. We can say, "Well, we have done all we can," and create among our own people the impression that there is nothing further for us to do in the way of organising Disarmament; or we can put it positively and say, "We will go as far in reduction, pro rata, as the other nations will go." If you put it in that positive form you can confront your people with a very definite task, and we can bring home to others that we have not done all that we intend to do, but, on the contrary, that we intend to co-operate, not merely to induce those others to reduce their armaments, but to bring about an agree- ment which will enable us to reduce ours as well. I suggest that it makes all the difference whether the emphasis is thrown upon the negative or upon the positive form. The latter form, the positive form, by which we come out and say, "We will go as far as the other nations dare to go," means, leadership; means giving a lead in the true sense. In the last 10 days we have had an astounding example of what giving a lead may mean: that given by President Hoover in the matter of the postponement of debts and reparations. That has a lesson for us in the Disarmament problem. There was what one might call a universally accepted dogma in politics—the dogma that the American nation was quite unready for the discussion of debts or reparations or the linking of the two. We had been told this last year or two on a thousand occasions, by wiseacres in the Press and elsewhere, that never, never, never would the American public, the middle Westerner particularly, accept any discussion of debts or reparations. It became a tribal tabu of American statesmen——


The hon. Gentleman must not enlarge on that topic, which does not come under this particular Vote.


I was using it purely as an illustration of what might be done in the way of giving a lead. The problem of disarmament is a problem of public opinion; it is a problem of giving a lead to public opinion. We have had this astonishing American illustration. Against all general impressions to the contrary the response to the lead has been astounding. There is not that obstacle in public opinion which we were led to expect there would be, and I suggest to this Committee that perhaps this effort towards Disarmament may furnish an occasion for a similar giving of a lead, by putting the thing rather in its positive than in its negative form; by saying that we are prepared to go as far as the world will go; which means that we are prepared to take our full part in the general task.

The question of security has arisen in this Debate, and I am not sure that the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) quite caught the point of an interjection by one of my hon. Friends. I am not arguing the case for Disarmament by example, but the case for going forward boldly and giving the benefit of the doubt to Disarmament rather than to armament. If each of us goes into this Conference with the idea that we have, as it were, to retain every ton and every gun, that it is the business of each State, not to achieve Disarmament, but to protect its own relative weight of power, the Conference will fail. The object must be Disarmament or reduction in armaments by agreement. When, in this choice of risks, we hear the dread word "security," do not let us be misled by panic, of fear of something terrific that will happen if only we surrender a few more guns or a few more tons of shipping. What is the worst that will happen? I suggest here that the example of Germany given by my hon. Friend is very much to the point, and that it was not quite met by the right hon. Member for Darwen. The point is not whether the other nations followed her example, but whether vital security has been less in Germany itself these last 10 years than it would have been had she been fully armed. Surely her condition of defencelessness has not prevented her people from carrying on their daily lives and earning their own livelihood; and has not made it more difficult to solve the terrific economic and social problems that confront her.

The world is menaced to-day. Our civilisation does shake, but it shakes owing to the failure to solve problems that have not much to do with larger Dreadnoughts than the other nation. The economic problems which confront us, that welfare which represents real security, the capacity of people to carry on their occupations and to earn their bread—is Germany much less secure in these things because she is disarmed? She did suffer, it is true, an invasion in the Ruhr—because she was disarmed? I suggest that the damage from that invasion would have been immeasurably greater if she had been armed. That is obvious. I am not saying that we should necessarily follow this example. I am saying that we should utilise these plain facts of the last 10 years to preserve ourselves from panic and to decide which is the better risk to take: whether to haggle over small points, or what I regard as small points, of tonnage and guns and the rest of it; or whether to throw the emphasis in effort, not upon each preserving its relative position, but upon the achievement of general disarmament.

I do not know whether the Chairman will rule me out of order in suggesting that this problem of Disarmament is definitely related, indissolubly related, to the solution of the debt and reparations problem upon which we are now engaged. Imagine that a year hence this Conference has failed, that Europe is about to spend vast sums in competitive armaments. Does anyone suppose that the attitude of the American President at that date would in that case be what it is now, or that we should get the sort of spirit in the settlement of debts and reparation that we are now getting, and hope to continue to get, from America? Of course in the event of failure and withdrawal of American help, we should be confronted by the fact that we could not pay our debts, and it is also true that the preponderant navy or armaments of America would not enable her to collect these debts. If preponderance of naval power gives a nation the means of collecting debts due to it, why have we failed to make Germany pay? If a year or two hence we say to America, "Sorry, we cannot pay," that nation's preponderant naval power would not enable her to collect debts due. That is true. But how would it help us? The failure of the Conference, a reversion to a competition of armaments, will mean utter disorganisation of credit and finance, that is to say losses far greater in the long run than amounts involved in the debts. It will mean that our whole economic system will disintegrate still further, not owing to the direct cost of armaments, but owing to the perpetuation of that condition of anarchy in which Europe these last 100 years has been trying to live.

The importance of these efforts at disarmament is not in the saving of 10 or 15 or 20 or 30 million sterling. The importance of these efforts resides in the fact that if they do not succeed, our children will inherit a Europe in which this island will not be able to support its population, and a large proportion of that population will be driven from its soil or die upon its soil, as a large proportion of the population of Ireland was driven from the soil or died upon the soil 100 years ago. It is the effort to create a workable Europe which constitutes the importance of this Conference. That is its economic significance. While I completely accept the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) that there are other things than money in the world, I think he overlooked the fact that the economic problem is important, not because economics are necessarily the sole aim of life, but because the economic preoccupation will be the main preoccupation until the economic problem is solved. A hungry people is a people thinking only of food and material things. We must solve the economic problem of our nation, which means our continent, if we are to devote ourselves to those higher things in life which matter.

We have heard once more the human nature argument. It is true that man was born pugnacious, that he is a fighting animal. That is why we must make effort after effort to see that these international institutions succeed. There is no other remedy. The human nature argument, the pugnacity of man argument is, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, usually turned upside down. We need these institutions and efforts because, without them, the natural pugnacity of man will destroy us. We have evolved, for good or ill, a society which is far too complicated and vulnerable to be guided by mere pugnacity, by mere instinct. We must face the necessary conditions of civilised life and create for all nations a code, a law if you will, differing from that of the past, by which we shall discipline these innate pugnacities of our nature. If we cannot do that, it will be the end of us. But we can do it. History is full of examples of where it has been done.

I merely follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley in going a little into history. We have had, for instance, the example of Greece. There, a people liberated themselves from jungle terrors and the superstitions of witchcraft by the effort of the human mind. Very truly, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen has said, we are not puppets of those forces outside ourselves, as indeed the Greeks showed. They liberated themselves. That effort died, it is true, but that we can liberate our- selves from these instincts and impulses so rampant in nationalism is shown by another example, perhaps an even greater one. The fact that, after long centuries the religious wars and the inquisitions and the evil tyrannies which go with them have ceased, is a hopeful thing. It is hopeful, not so much because men have ceased massacring each other because they do not attend the same churches, but because, in large measure at least, they have ceased wanting so to do. The latter is a far greater miracle than the former. What has been done for these religious conflicts can be done for the conflicts of this insane and blind nationalism with which our generation is cursed. It is within our power to raise ourselves above these instincts and to say that we shall, by co-operation with our neighbours, and our neighbours may be on the other side of the world, make it possible to leave to our children a state and a country in which at least they will be able to live.

Captain EDEN

There has been such a pleasing unanimity about this Debate, that I should not like to mar it by attempting to annotate the speech of the Prime Minister as the hon. Member for North Bradford (Sir N. Angell) seemed tempted to do. I am prepared to take the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made and to say that the reductions which it showed, in their immense significance, are accepted by us, and I can only hope that his figures will have the same lesson for the world as they have had for the Committee this afternoon. There is one mild criticism which I must make of the right hon. Gentleman. He complained that the world was sometimes suspicious of disarmament figures as given in this House of Commons. If the world should be at all suspicious of him this afternoon, and I hope it may not be, he has himself and his party to thank for it. When we were in office they continually gibed at us that our party were not sincere in Disarmament. In fact, if there was any sincerity in the Prime Minister this afternoon, there was also sincerity in us, for the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made this afternoon might just as well have been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) a short time ago. It will suffice for the purpose of my argument to give one quotation from "Labour and the Nation" which, I believe, was the official programme of the Socialist party at the General Election. It contained this sentence: The Conservative Government has contented itself with uttering pious exhortations to other nations to do what it declines to do itself. The Prime Minister himself has answered that statement this afternoon. He has shown that, so far from merely expressing pious exhortations, the last Government in common with successive Governments since the War made its contribution to national disarmament. Actually, I think the reduction in expenditure on the defence services during the last Conservative Government's term of office was about £6,000,000. That was their contribution to what has, in fact, been a continuous reduction by all parties. It is to be hoped, after the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon, that we have heard the last, even for election purposes, of these attempts to misinterpret the situation in that respect.

There is another feature of our disarmament which I would emphasise. It has been regular and continuous—very different from the attitude of most other Powers in Europe. Our naval disarmament, for instance, has had its dramatic phases. The hon. Member for North Bradford expressed the wish that we should make a gesture to the world in Disarmament, something like that which President Hoover has just made on the debts question. I am not sure that our gesture in scrapping 1,250,000 tons of British ships at the conclusion of the War was not almost as significant a gesture in Disarmament, as President Hoover's gesture has been in the field of international finance. I am not sure that the scrapping of another 500,000 tons of British ships some years later at Washington was not also a gesture comparable with that of President Hoover to-day; and I am afraid that while the Prime Minister's figures prove the reality of those gestures, they have not met with that response for which we might have hoped from the other nations of the world. Again, I do not think you could have a more remarkable gesture in Disarmament than that which we made when we scrapped seven-eighths of our Air Force at the end of the War. It was the finest Air Force at the time in any part of the world, and we are the most vulnerable nation to air attack in Europe. I think that that was a gesture at least as significant as President Hoover's.


On a point of accuracy, I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not wish to misinterpret my statement. I was not appealing for gestures. I was appealing for leadership in Disarmament by agreement, since it makes all the difference, in fact, whether you say: "I have done all I can," or "I will do as well as you can do."

Captain EDEN

I have no intention of misrepresenting the hon. Member, but he left the impression on my mind that he thought we had not given the leadership in Disarmament that we might have given. If that was not his intention, then I withdraw my observations. The fact remains that a leadership has been given and, most dramatically of all perhaps, in respect of our air armaments. In the last five years while we have been reducing our air armaments slightly—by 1 per cent.—France has increased hers by 140 per cent., Italy by 40 per cent. and the United States by 160 per cent. As the Committee I am sure appreciate it is the air defence of this country which will most concern future generations, and they must realise therefore the extent of the risk which this country has taken.

That brings me, in the light of the Prime Minister's declaration, to ask what precisely this campaign in the country, of which we hear so much, is intended to do. The Committee ought to be clear on that point at an early stage. We are told in the Press that we are to have a great campaign in which leaders of all three parties are to take part—to do what? To ask other countries to disarm themselves, as we have disarmed ourselves so far? If so, well and good, but I do not know that platform orations are necessarily the best possible method of inducing other countries to follow our example. It sounds perhaps a little priggish. If it be to tell us to continue in the path of righteousness, surely it is pushing at an open door. I do not believe that it is necessary to have a national campaign in order to remind this country of what it has done in Disarmament. We are fully aware of that. If it be a national campaign to urge that we should further disarm, without others taking some steps, then that is not a campaign in which I, for one, could take any part.

It seems to me that there is a danger that, in the discussion of these disarmament questions, our pious aspirations, our eagerness to give effect to noble sentiments, may confuse us as to the objects which we have in mind. I would be content with the statement which the Prime Minister has made which shows clearly, both the extent of the sacrifices made by this country, and its earnest intention to go further, if and when the actions of other nations justify that step. But it seems to me that there is another consideration which the Committee ought to have in mind. We have, manifestly, so reduced our armaments that we cannot effect further reductions, except in the light of the situation in Europe, quite apart from the actual Disarmament Conference itself. That situation, to speak frankly, is in the judgment of all, the very reverse of satisfactory. It is to be hoped that President Hoover's declaration apart from its financial aspects will bring about, if only temporarily, some relaxation, but there is no denying the fact that, whether we like it or not, the seeds of war psychology still exist in Europe. There is not yet that instinct which, no doubt, exists in this country to refer any disputes which arise to the League of Nations. That spirit unhappily is not universal in Europe, not even among all those nations which are members of the League, and by no means all the nations of Europe are yet in that category.

6.0 p.m.

There still exists, to put it no stronger, a sense of uneasiness. There are the remnants of war psychology not altogether dead. I even doubt whether during the last two years what is usually called the spirit of the League has grown in strength in Europe. On the contrary, the probability is that it has weakened. I do not wish to be alarmist but I do not think that anyone who studies the European situation to-day can be otherwise than anxious about it. It seems to me that we can divide Europe for this purpose into two groups of nations. There is the group which is, if not dominated, at least influenced by fear, and the group which is dominated or influenced by impatience. To the former group in the West belongs France about which I say nothing except cordially to agree with every word said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley and by the Prime Minister. I think we should be making the greatest mistake if we looked upon the feelings of the French people in this matter as artificial, or as worked up by the Press, or as governed by politicians. There is a disposition to do that in some quarters in this country, but it is a wrong judgment. This sentiment is as it were born in the soil of France and requires the strong sunshine of many summers of peace to draw it out. That is France in the West, but there is another group of nations, about which very little has been said this afternoon, and that is the group in the East of Europe which borders on Soviet Russia. They also must be numbered among those whose national outlook is influenced by fear. (Soviet Russia has to-day, as we know, the largest standing Army in Europe, More than that, the five-year plan includes in its scope a certain definitely militaristic ambition. Soviet Russia is not, unhappily, a member of the League of Nations. She is not therefore bound as we are by the undertakings of the Covenant and other subsequent undertakings to which we have put our name.

There is in existence in Russia an organisation which, I believe, can be translated as the Air and Chemical Defence Society, which at the beginning of the five-year period had a membership of about 4,000,000 and which aims at an ultimate membership of no fewer than 17,000,000. The programme of this organisation includes military training in all its aspects. I do not want it to be thought that I am saying this merely in order to attack the Soviet Government or its ways, but I think this Committee should appreciate that while that, to my mind, very natural fear of Soviet Russia exists, not only in the Balkans but in Poland also, we cannot expect to see at this Disarmament Conference those nations living so near to Soviet Russia joining, as we should wish them to join, in a drastic measure of international Disarmament.

This then is the position: We have France and Belgium in the West and Russia, Poland and Rumania in the East dominated by fear; and then, of course, there is the other group, the group dominated by impatience—those countries which were defeated in the late War. Some of them wish for a revision of articles of the Versailles Treaty which they hold to be unjust to them; others wish that other articles of the Versailles Treaty should be carried out to their furthest conclusion in the spirit and the letter in which they interpret them. Whichever their view may be, their tendency, equally with that of those who are dominated by fear, is not to-day always to lend stability to the European situation. Therefore, there are surely evidences in plenty of sore spots in Europe, and perhaps the sorest are not those that come first to our minds. One of the unhappy features is that in many countries of Europe—and France is not one of them—the youngest generation is being trained up into military formations, taught and encouraged in military methods of thought and military drill, with consequences which can hardly be happy for the future peace of Europe.

Where these anxieties are so many—and it is not necessary to dwell on them any longer—we ourselves appear to be almost the only sobering element. We belong to neither group. Fortunately by our geographical position, unreal though it may be, we belong to neither of these two camps. Therefore, it is surely of the first importance that our influence, when we shall have to exert it, may be strong. Is there not a danger that, if we are too weak even in a purely military sense, those nations which have to look to us for the guarantees to which we put our name will begin to become doubtful of the value of those guarantees? Certainly the nation which is to be the stabilising nation of Europe should not be too weak. That is a consideration which I think should not be absent from this Committee while considering the future of our national armaments.

I believe, too, that in this country we are ahead of others perhaps in our repugnance to war. This may sound a self-satisfied dictum—and, of course, the Anglo-Saxons are the smuggest race on the face of the earth—but even making that allowance, I think there is a germ of truth in the statement that other European nations have not yet the same repugnance to war that we have, and we should probably be misjudging the situation if at the present time we credited them with it. How much then can we hope, after what the Prime Minister has said to-day, that this Disarmament Conference can effect? Much must depend upon the tone and temper of Europe next spring. If it be similar to that tone and temper to-day, then I believe that this country would be wise not to be too ambitious in its programme, not to try to effect something very dramatic. That was the mistake that we were always making in the dark days of the Coalition, in my judgment; we were always seeking for drama. I hope there will be no such temptation when this Disarmament Conference meets, for I fear that if we do that, we shall run a real risk of spoiling the work of the conference by over-reaching ourselves at the start. On the contrary, I would hope that the steps which we would take would be small, but just of the, type that will lead to further and more important steps at the conferences which must follow afterwards. The vital thing is that the conference should not fail and that it should open up prospects for further improvement when confidence grows in Europe.

I am not going to ask what the Government propose, but there is one caveat that I should like to enter. I saw a speech recently, made by Lord Cecil, in which he suggested that what the Conference should try to achieve was something like a 25 per cent. all-round reduction in armaments by those nations which had not been disarmed. As we have not been disarmed but have disarmed ourselves, I suppose we are to be included in the category of an all-round reduction of 25 per cent. I would like to say on that subject that if the datum year to be chosen is the present year, I hope the Government will not carry out that proposal in that form, because it would not be a just one to this country. If there is to be a budgetary limitation of that character, the datum year should be some years back. I should suggest 1921 or 1922, but it would not be just to penalise those countries which have reduced their armaments in recent years and to favour those which have steadily increased theirs. That would be the only effect of a budgetary limitation of 25 per cent. based upon this year's estimates of armaments. You would be penalising the righteous and favouring the iniquitous, and I cannot believe that the Government want to do that. That only shows the difficulty that lies under even the most easy generalities which may be pronounced from a public platform.

I hope the Government will achieve other things than Disarmament, which this is neither the time nor the occasion to enumerate. I hope they will not set too much store by budgetary limitations, but try to find a limitation by weapons, by heavy guns, and by material—[an HON. MEMBER: "And personnel!"]—so far as that is practicable, but I do not think there is any use in our attempting any step to do away with conscription on the Continent of Europe. The feeling there in favour of conscription is too strong, even among pacifist nations like Switzerland, and the most that we can do in that direction is to try to limit the duration of military service. Unless we can achieve a limitation of heavy guns, a limitation of war material, the Disarmament Conference will have missed one of its greatest opportunities, because I fear there is a real danger that in future wars it will not be personnel that will play the dominating part—and this is why I do not agree altogether with my hon. Friend-but armaments. Perhaps it will be a comparatively small personnel assisted by a highly mechanised armament, and it is to that peril that the conference must address itself.

I hope we might perhaps secure parity in that conference in air armaments with France, Italy and Soviet Russia, whose armaments are mounting at such a speed. We should strive for a limitation there. In any event, the important thing is that those nations which go to the conference, whether they be those which to-day are armed or those which under the Treaty of Versailles are disarmed, the important thing is that none of them should go in the frame of mind of "We must have this," "We will not be content with less than that." The important thing is that they should go with a determination to contribute their share to further the successful conclusion of the conference. We have got our dual responsibility to discharge—responsibility to our own people, which the Prime Minister's figures show to be very heavy, and responsibility to Europe—and I trust that we shall not forget the former in our haste to discharge the latter, because I think it likely that we shall be the better Europeans the closer the attention, in the immediate future at least, we pay to our responsibility to this nation.

At the same time, I would yield to no man in this House in my earnest desire, which is shared by every Member in it, that the sombre shadow of war should not darken the world again. It is a truism now to say that those who have seen war are the least likely to want to see its repetition, and I think perhaps the truism goes even deeper than that. It is not only that those who have seen war dislike it, but those particularly who saw the last months or the last weeks of the last War had a vision of what the next war might be expected to be. I remember an evening in the very last weeks of the War, in the last stages of our advance, when we had stopped for the night at brigade headquarters in some farmhouse. The night was quiet, and there was no shell fire, as was usual at the end of the War, but quite suddenly it began literally to rain bombs for anything from 10 minutes to a quarter of an hour. I do not know how many bombs fell in that time, but something between 30 and 40, I suppose. It seemed to us to be hundreds. I do not know what the explanation was, but perhaps it was that the enemy aeroplanes had failed to find their objective and were emptying out their bombs before crossing the line on the way back. Whatever the explanation, what rests in my mind is not only my own personal terror, which was quite inexpressible, because bombing is more demoralising in its effects than the worst shellfire, but the comment made when it was over by somebody who said, "There now, you have had your first taste of the next war!"

That is why those of us who have experienced that are surely not likely to be other than earnestly anxious to ensure that what a military population suffered then shall not be suffered by a civilian population in the future. There is your problem, your vital problem, with the younger generation of this country. Everyone knows that there is something in war that to the young and unknowing appeals as a spirit of adventure. What is the good of denying it? There were many in the last War who were anxious to get out there before it was over. There was that spirit, and that spirit will always exist, and what you have to do is to direct it into another channel with our rising generation now. You have to make them see if you can, and it is not easy, that in the next war there will be none of that spirit of adventure. There will be no heroics in a war where the safest place will be the front line, if there is one, and the most dangerous the homes of our civilian population. That is why I hope that hon. Members opposite, when from time to time they may have cause to criticise our point of view on disarmament questions, may, if they will, condemn our judgment or our logic, but I trust they will not suspect our sincerity, for I can assure them that it is born of an experience that has to be endured to be understood.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I should like to add a rider to the very interesting speech we have had from the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick (Captain Eden). He is mistaken in thinking that the next war will be anything like the bombing which he related. The bombs will come quite silently, and the first you will know of them is that you are choking. The explosive bomb is rapidly becoming obsolescent I am informed; the hon. and gallant Gentleman will forgive me for differing from him there. I would also like to congratulate him for his temerity in attacking his own leader. He asked what was the object of this great campaign for peace. I have an invitation to go on the platform at the Albert Hall on 11th July and to listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) speak on Disarmament. My own leader and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will also be there. The hon. and gallant Member asked what they are going to talk about, suggesting that we were already disarmed. I advise him to address that question to his own leader.

The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) who, I am sorry to say, has been called up to the perennial party conference, reminds me that he was in the Government before the War, of which the late Lord Oxford was leader and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who is going to address us a little later, was a Member. They started the War in 1914 with the finest land force that this country has ever had, and with an overwhelmingly strong Navy—a Navy which had a greater relative strength than that with which we have ever started a naval war in the past. Our forces had magnificent training and were efficient in all arms, though it is true that we were weak in the air, but so were other powers. We of course had our weak points like other nations, but we were absolutely ready ashore and afloat, yet all the time the Cabinet, of which the right hon. Member for Epping and the right hon. Member for Darwen were such ornaments, were playing the harmonium and singing hymns of peace and talking of international brotherhood——


I find it hard to connect the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks with the Vote before the Committee.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I was only comparing the position then with the position now. Things are different to-day. Now we really have reduced armaments. We have reduced the Air Force since 1924 by a certain amount. But we still spend more than we can afford on armaments. The Debate has so far been an overwhelming triumph for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I wish he were here so that I could congratulate him personally. Hon. Gentlemen who have listened to the Debate will have noticed that we have succeeded in completely drawing the teeth of the Opposition. The hon. and gallant Member for Warwick, who is one of those taking part in the three-party conference on Disarmament, takes pride in the fact that the Conservative Government disarmed even more than the Labour Government. As the result of the speech of the Prime Minister the Opposition are now in complete harmony with us and we are no longer open to attack on that ground, always a weak point with a Government of the left. We cannot be accused of reducing more than the Conservatives. It is true that we have been deprived of a useful line of attack from our platform on capitalist Governments and some of our most eloquent perorations on the need for Disarmament will have to be dropped. We are now safe from attack from the other side, and we can no longer be accused of doing no more than they did when they were in office.

I welcome this Debate because for many years certain Members irrespective of party had considered that we should have a day on which to discuss defence as a whole. On the Navy Estimates we are rigidly circumscribed to the Navy, and on the Army Estimates to the Army. We are never able to discuss Imperial defence as a whole. I am not going to take a pacifist line on this question at all. I realise that all disarmament that is coming to this country has come until other countries come into line with us. On the figures which we have had from the Prime Minister, however, we are not getting very good value for our money. We are extremely vulnerable.' The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley admits that, too. He admits that we are tremendously vulnerable from the air, yet according to the figures which the Prime Minister gave, we are spending very nearly the same as the French, although France has 1,300 first line aeroplanes against our 800 and 400 for home defence. I know that air expenditure is in pounds sterling and the French expenditure is in francs, but I cannot understand the reason for the discrepancy.

Another point puzzled me very much, and I should be grateful to the First Lord of the Admiralty if he can give me some further enlightenment. Why is it that when we compare the cost of our Navy before the War with what it would cost if we had to pay for the same amount of fleet now, there is a 50 per cent. increase? We spent £51,500,000 before the War on the Fleet, for which we got a tremendous force with 440 warships—the greatest Navy we have ever had. If that be reduced to present values, it would be £76,000,000—a 50 per cent. increase. Why should the French expenditure of £26,700,000 before the War be represented in to-day's values by only £29,000,000, or an increase of 12 per cent.? Why have we to add 50 per cent. to arrive at comparable figures and the French only 12 per cent.? I know that French sailors are paid less than the British sailors, but in navies the pay of the men is not a very great item. The cost of material is what matters. I have always understood that we could build warships in our Royal and private dockyards cheaper than the French. We used to pride ourselves in the past on being able to build cheaper. It is true that the retail cost of living is up but that the wholesale price level is very much down, and some further explanation is required.

Why is it that France, on a Navy that so alarms hon. Gentlemen opposite, spends only £24,300,000, while we are to-day spending £52,400,000? There must be some explanation for it, and the explanation that I would offer is that we spend too much on overhead charges.

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

The hon. and gallant Member might consider that the Non-effective Vote in the British Navy is £9,000,000—a very substantial proportion of the total Navy charges.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I am not forgetting that, and I accept the fact also that the French Budget is drawn, perhaps, differently from ours. I am asking for an explanation of the difference between the 50 per cent. and the 12 per cent. The explanation I suggest is that our overhead charges are so tremendously high. I am not talking about the Non-effective Vote. Why is that with a largely reduced Navy we keep up very nearly the same dockyard establishment? We still have three great dockyards in the South, two of them being vulnerable to air attack. We are having to find another £11,000,000 in the Budget owing to our proper action with regard to the Hoover proposal, and we shall have to make the most drastic economies. Whatever Government is in office will have to make them. Our overhead charges on all the three services are far too heavy. Why, in these circumstances, should we have to go on with the Singapore Base? Why is that so necessary? Why is it that to-day in the War Office there is the staff of 2,291, whereas in 1914, when we had this mighty Expeditionary Force, there was a staff of only 1,878? The staff work then was excellent throughout the War Office. In 1930, with this much larger staff, there are 152,000 officers and soldiers. In 1914 there were 181,560 officers and soldiers.

We have reduced armaments a great deal, but we have reduced the headquarters staff hardly at all, indeed, increased them. The position at the Admiralty is much the same. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping created a staff which was not really a staff, although he thought it was. He never understood the fundamental basis of a staff. The only man who understood that in the then Government was the late Lord Haldane.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman should keep a large part of these remarks for the Navy Estimates.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I understood that we could discuss defence as a whole, and I am discussing the figures of soldiers and sailors which the Prime Minister has given, and the numbers of officers who look after them.


I understood that the Prime Minister gave figures for the respective nations; he did not go into details like that.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I thought that he gave comparisons, and I was giving a comparison between 1914 and 1920, but if I am out of order, I do not want to pursue it. The staff of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was very much smaller for a Navy which was about four times as big in 1914 as it is now. I know the official reply; it is said that the material is more complicated. That is not altogether an adequate reason. The fact of the matter is that, as regards the Navy, there are more sailors ashore to-day than there are in ships at sea. Everything else is on the same principle. In these hard times we really need some form of rationalisation in the three Services. We have heard it admitted to-day on both sides of the Table by the Prime Minister and the ex-Prime Minister that we are vulnerable to air attack. Everybody knows that. Then why, out of a total of £111,500,000 which we spend on defence generally, do we spend only £17,000,000 in air armaments? Why is such a large proportion spent on the other two Services and such a very small proportion on the Service which every speaker in the Debate has admitted will be the vital Service in the next war?

Even now I believe there are great savings which could be made without any loss of efficiency, if this matter were properly tackled. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty is taken so much away from his Department, though I know that is not of his seeking. Week after week he has to sit long hours on the Committee dealing with the Consumers' Council Bill, although we are spending £1,000,000 a week, and over, on the Navy, and I am certain that very great economies could be effected there. The fact that he has already secured economies shows what more he could do if he were not taken away from his Department to sit on these Committees such as the Cotton Inquiry and the Consumers' Council Bill.

The same observation applies to the Minister for War and the Air Minister. I believe the Air Minister is still presiding over the Royal Commission on Licensing Laws at a time when, admittedly, we are intensely vulnerable to air attacks. The capital of the Empire is exposed to-day as it has never been since the days of the Romans, and yet the Air Minister is occupied with this long drawn out Commission which has been sitting for two years to discuss the licensing laws. As I have mentioned the air, I will refer in passing to our Mediterranean trade routes. If there were any question of a treaty with Egypt the right hon. Member for Epping would be standing at that Box demanding why we were releasing our hold on the Suez Canal. I should like, if I might, to have the attention of the right hon. Gentleman for a moment. I said he would be saying that we must retain our hold on the Suez Canal. Why do we need to safeguard the Suez Canal? Because it is part of the Mediterranean trade route. If we cannot use the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal is no use to us as a trade route. At the present time the whole of our Mediterranean trade routes are dominated by French and Italian air stations on the African and the European sides, and that domination would mean that in time of war if they were against us our oil tankers coming through the Mediterranean would be bombed out of existence. But we never hear a word about that from the right hon. Member; it is always about the Suez Canal. On all the rest of the 1,800 miles, or whatever it is, of the route through the Mediterranean we have no sort of adequate defence. There is a small air force at Malta. Malta dockyard would be utterly untenable in time of war, if Italy were against us. Of course, these things are unthinkable—all wars are unthinkable till they occur—but when we compare our forces it is with Italy and France that my right hon. Friend makes comparisons. Regarded strategically this country is extraordinarily vulnerable. It used to be a question of our food supplies; in the future it will be our oil supplies that will be in danger. To the tremendous menace of the submarine which the last war disclosed will be added the still greater menace of the aeroplane in any future war, and as far as I can make out we are lacking in adequate preparations to meet that menace, although we are spending more than we can conveniently afford in the economic state of the country, and this is an added reason why we must not despair of getting other nations of the world to see reason and to stop this vicious expenditure on armaments.

I have one more suggestion to make, this time to the First Lord of the Admiralty, if I may have his attention. We hear a great deal of the reduction of our naval personnel, and it has been very substantial. I think the Prime Minister said that the personnel of navies was a very accurate test of their strength and of the sincerity of the parties to disarmament. My right ton. Friend knows perfectly well that the present personnel would not be sufficient in case of hostilities. We have to rely to a large degree on our reserves, and the natural reserves are the men of the mercantile marine. I suggest to the First Lord and to the rest of the Cabinet that it would strengthen our position very much if we could encourage British shipowners to employ more seamen of British nationality in their ships. At the moment there are 32,834 British seamen unemployed, and as fast as a great many of those men can get other work they are leaving the sea altogether. There are 1,800,000 tons of British mercantile shipping laid up, and nearly 33,000 British seamen unemployed. While that is the case, according to an answer given to me by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade on the 18th of this month, there are 52,682 foreign seamen employed in sea-trading vessels registered at ports in Great Britain—that is, vessels trading to and from our home ports.


It seems to me that the hon. and gallant Member is departing from the general question of Imperial Defence and dealing with matters of detail which would be more appropriate on the Estimates of the Department concerned with such matters.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I am sorry, and I will leave that point. I would like to say with reference to the coming Disarmament Conference that I do not join in the jeers of the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick about those who stump the country trying to rouse the people to appreciate the need of disarmament. I think it is very necessary. If this Disarmament Conference fails it will be a terrible disaster, comparable only to the events of August, 1914. It is the duty of every one in the House to try to make it a success. I will add one remark to what he said about the younger generation. When he spoke of the terrible picture of young men in foreign countries being taught militarism I thought he would also refer to our own junior officers' training corps in our public schools. According to him, it is not wrong to teach our young men to be soldiers, but very wrong to teach young Germans or Austrians to become the nucleus of the future Austrian or German armies. That is one more example of the view that what we do is always right and what the foreigner does is always wrong. We should not go to the Disarmament Conference in that frame of mind, or in the frame of mind that we are the only people who have disarmed, and that we are going to be penalised if we are not allowed to keep our armaments. I do not agree with what has been said about the younger generation. I agree that they are not over much frightened by talk of the horrors or atrocities of war, but they are appalled at the stupidity and uselessness of war, and the fact that it never settles anything, creating, instead, more problems than there were at the beginning. The greatest appeal we can make to the public is not an appeal to sentiment, fear, nationalism, or so-called patriotism but to common sense and cold reason. On that appeal this conference must be made a success. I believe the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is the finest chairman that could be appointed, and if he is supported by public opinion here and in the other countries of the world, which we can do a great deal to influence, he will steer that conference to success.


No one can say that the Committee this afternoon has not been occupied with matters of the gravest consequence. The statement made to us by the Prime Minister is one of the most important that I have heard for some years in this House, and I would crave indulgence to express some comments and opinions upon these great questions, to which I have given very long reflection and about which I am, perhaps for the first time for many years, able to speak in entire independence. I take this statement of the Prime Minister and the series of figures which he has had drawn up with so much care by the technical departments. What did it prove, in the first instance? It proved, quite clearly, the failure of all the Disarmament Conferences which have been held up to the present time. It was not only a confession, but a declaration, a proclamation, of the failure of these conferences. We all respect the motives and the movements which have promoted these conferences, and we all admire the sentiments which have been expressed at them, but up to the present they have not done any good at all. On the contrary, they have been a positive cause of friction and ill-will, and have given an undue advertisement to naval and military affairs. They have concentrated the attention of Governments in all countries, many of them without the slightest reason for apprehension about or dispute with each other, upon all sorts of hypothetical wars which certainly will never take place. The reason why these Disarmament Conferences are so fertile in provoking and promoting misunderstandings is because everyone pushes his own national point of view; everyone adopts a rather hypocritical formula of words to cover the national point of view while taking advantage of any criticisms to which the others are open. It is the habit of nations represented at these conferences to: Compound for sins they are inclined to, By damning those they have no mind to. Nations which have conscription point in astonishment to the very heavy cost of the British and American defence services. Britain and America in their turn criticise the growth of those very large reserves of man-power which are obtained by nations having compulsory service, practically at no serious charge at all. The naval Powers take a serious view of land armaments, and the military Powers are of opinion that there ought not to be naval organisations, and that the freedom of the seas is what should be aimed at. The nations which have battle fleets regard the submarine as a most improper weapon of war. The nations which cannot afford battle fleets regard it as a highly convenient discovery. And so on. Every country champions its own special interest at these conferences, and all together proclaim their high ideals. I am of opinion that up-to-date, whatever may happen in the future, nothing has been achieved by all these conferences that have been held, and by all the immense amount of pressures of argument and eloquence which has been applied. I believe that the armaments of the world to-day would be positively even smaller, certainly no greater, if none of these discussions had taken place at Geneva. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Washington?"] I will deal with Washington in its proper place. I am talking now about the International Conferences at Geneva. The pressure of expense in hard times, the growing confidence which comes from a long peace, and the removal of specific causes of danger—these are the forces on which you must rely, in the long run, to promote a general diminution of armaments.

There has been one result of this great and beneficent movement for Disarmament. One nation has disarmed. One nation has disarmed to such an extent—it is admitted on both sides—that she has become extremely and dangerously vulnerable. We alone have disarmed. The figures which the Prime Minister recited to-day—an enormous structure of figures—show not only the passing of British sea power, but they show the descent of this country into a condition of unpreparedness, and but for political considerations of insecurity, such as we have never previously experienced. We have abandoned our naval supremacy. We have abandoned parity with the next strongest Power. We are, as I shall try very briefly to indicate to the Committee, incapable of maintaining our food supply and our oil supply in certain contin- gencies. Our Air Force is vastly inferior to that of our nearest neighbour—luckily a good friend of ours. Our Army was never measured against the armies of the Continent. Our Army was never more than a glorified police force to aid in preserving the tranquility of one-fifth of the human race, and as such it has been cut to the bone.

I frankly admit that what has been stated in this Debate is correct, that the diminution in the power and strength of our military forces is far greater than the reduction in their expense. The Navy was certainly in 1914 in size far greater in proportion to the expense than it is at the present time. The staffs have been increased while the fighting force has diminished, and the same is true of the Army and the Expeditionary Force. As for the Air Service, that is a new and an additional expense very necessary for security. Everything has been reduced except the cost. Expenditure is undoubtedly heavy on armaments, and that is one of the counter-criticisms used by other countries when they attend Disarmament Conferences.

I shall say only a word or so about the disclosure of our naval weakness which has been made by the Prime Minister to-day. I accept unreservedly the exclusion of the United States altogether from our calculations. I think that is the decision of the country as a whole, and if it is accepted it should be accepted with the full courage of conviction. If the United States Navy is equal to, or weaker or stronger than ours, that is a matter with which we need not concern ourselves at all. But I must draw the attention of the Committee to the evil consequences which have followed the negotiations and treaties of Washington and of London. The Prime Minister spoke of the Treaty of London as a potent step in the direction of peace. I do not at all deny that it has been productive of very great benefits in the relations between Great Britain and the United States, and that is an enormous advantage, but the inconvenience and injury to our Navy and our naval policy are most grave taken, as they must be, in conjunction with the diminution of our naval strength.

I have no intention of doing more than mentioning the facts. We have lost our freedom of design and all that power of initiation in which we were the leaders of the world. We are being condemned to building a long series of artificial treaty ships, ships not built to conform to the highest conception of naval architecture for war purposes, but to fit in with the clauses and limitations of Treaties. We have been compelled, and are still compelled, to go on scrapping valuable vessels, with many years good service in them, while out of the small remaining money we have had to build new ships in their place. The worst feature that has followed from this policy of endeavouring to regulate armaments by means of artificial agreements and conventions has been that we have become so involved in Treaty specifications that we no longer study the naval problem with that precision and intensity which it requires. For instance, we are always engaged in matching and examining the strength of our Navy on the basis of parity with the fleets of the United States, which has nothing to do with our problems.

We spend an enormous proportion of our naval effort upon maintaining battle fleets at parity with countries we have long ago ruled out of all military consideration—thus depriving ourselves of the power of making provision against the real dangers which are advancing upon us in the narrow seas. Our flotillas are becoming altogether inadequate to the task of protecting our food supplies in the narrow seas. I yield to no one in my genuine friendship for our neighbour France, but I say to the Committee that our flotillas will soon be inadequate to meet and afford protection against the rapid and formidable growth of the weapon of the French submarine. In the Debate last year I stated that never since the days of Charles II have we been less able to assert an independent view against our French neighbours. That is a very formidable fact. I have meditated a great deal since I spoke, and I find that my view has been, confirmed by further reflection, and I consider that is a most grave and serious thing.

If the French Minister for War were asked about the various military problems which he might be called upon to face; if he were asked questions on that subject in a Committee of the Chamber, he would no doubt have an answer ready for almost every case. He would, for instance, be able to point to arrangements in case of certain events happening in Germany, or with other countries, and, in case trouble with this country were suggested, he would be able to show certain precautions. If he thought that trouble would arise by Poland being invaded by Russia, he would be able to point to the network of treaties which are supposed to guarantee freedom in that quarter. To every one of those questions in the French Committee of Defence there would be an effective answer to be made. There are three or four questions for us going to the root of matters to which the representatives of the great Services in this House, and still more their officials and experts, would not be able to provide coherent or effective answers.

I have often wondered since the Great War whether it could not have been prevented by more frank and open exposures of the real dangers which were largely apparent to many of those who knew what was passing. We were restrained in those days by the fact that merely to talk about such matters' created alarm and excitement. This is undoubtedly a disadvantage, but it must be faced. Before the War, silence was preserved under thick layers of civility and discretion, padded quilts of agreeably embroidered diplomacy, and these were used to muffle all sinister or discordant sounds until in quick succession there came crisis, clamour, mobilisation, censorship, cannonade, and our lives were wrecked. Surely it ought to be our unceasing thought and effort not by any means to allow such a surprise to fall upon the populations of great countries again.

7.0 p.m.

Of course, I understand that the Prime Minister is bound to cover up everything he says with a canopy of smooth-sounding and comfortable phrases and generalities, but I feel entitled to probe a little more precisely into the causes of the failure of these Disarmament Conferences, and, if the Committee will permit me, I will try to do so. The foundations of world peace are strengthening among all the civilised countries of the world. That is my firm belief, but there is one country that is outside the scope of these considerations, and that is Russia. [Interruption.] Russia is incalculable, aloof and malevolent. I want to call attention to this aspect of the question. The importation of the war metals —antimony, tungsten nickel and vanadium—there are others—which are used for the purposes of hardening steel or for other instruments of war—into Germany in 1914, exceeded five times the average for the three or four years which preceded. That is a very remarkable fact. I do not say it for a moment to suggest that the German Government were planning the War. What they were doing was putting themselves in a position of special preparation. Exactly the same phenomenon, according to my information, is repeating itself to-day in regard to Russia.


Who is selling it to them? [HON. MEMBERS: "You are giving them credits!"] They are not getting it from France or from Germany. They are getting it from us.


I am not concerned with that at the moment. My argument is a connected argument from beginning to end, and if I can have the courtesy of the Committee to follow it, they will see that it is a connected argument. I say that, according to information which I do not believe will be challenged from the Treasury Bench, the importation of these special war metals which are required for the hardening of steel and other purposes is proceeding in Russia at an altogether unexampled and unprecedented rate. Of course, there is a very good explanation. It is that the Five-year plan is making Russia into a great manufacturing nation, and that, naturally, she requires exceptional supplies of these metals for the high-speed machinery which, for the first time, she is installing in her factories. I hope it is a true explanation. But this Five-year plan may be a cause of very considerable disturbance. It is breaks down, the Government of Russia will need to put some new theme before the minds of their people. They have introduced in a time of peace the mentality of war. Even the ordinary processes of trade and industry are presented in the language of battle—"shock troops," and so forth. If a failure takes place in this great plan, for which the whole people are making sacrifices usually made only in time of war, then it is certain that some other theme may be required to engage the efforts of these great numbers of human beings. If such another theme were required, then the special importation of war metals would be available for the alternative.

Then there is the possibility, which we cannot exclude from our thoughts, that this scheme may succeed, or that it may succeed to 60 per cent. of its strength, and then one country after another in Europe may find itself upset by importations of a wholly uneconomic character. Suppose these nations proceed in concert against importations of this kind, and the Russian experiment is thrown back on itself, might not that also be a moment of great tension and great danger? Certainly it will be a moment of great danger for all those border States which lie on the Russian frontier. It is true such dangers do not involve us directly or immediately. They are distant, and do not immediately concern us. But they may spread—as things have spread before, from evil causes—very rapidly from nation to nation, in defiance of human reason and until the most unexpected conclusion has been reached.

These are the circumstances in which the Disarmament Conference of 1932 is to be held. The Foreign Secretary will be there, no doubt, a very competent chairman, unless any local troubles should rob Europe of his services in the interval, but his task will indeed be attended, as my hon. Friend who spoke from these benches has said, by difficulty and delicacy. All that line of small new States from the Baltic to the Black Sea are in lively apprehension of Russia. Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Rumania—every one is in great fear and anxiety about its neighbour. All of them have been carved in whole or in part out of the Russia of the Tsars. They have won their independence at the conclusion of the War, or they have won territory at the conclusion of the War. All are in fear of Russian propaganda or of Russian military force. All are strongly anti-Communist. They have gone through great internal stress and tension, and they have built themselves up on a Radical, democratic antithesis to Communism. As such, they are specially obnoxious to the ideals and interests of the mighty Power which lies to the east- ward. All these States have universal military service; they are all heavily armed, so far as they can afford to pay for it. They all look to each other for mutual aid. They all look to France for guidance, and they all consider—I am bound to state these facts to the Committee, and I have many years of thought and study behind me—the French Army their ultimate guarantee. You may say, in fact, that the French Army to all these small States and their independence and liberty, plays the same sort of part that the British Navy in the days of its power did to the small countries and liberties of Europe. Sermons addressed to these States at the conference will no doubt be received with politeness when they come from people whom one knows to be entirely well-meaning.

But Communism and Russia are not to these countries the kind of topic they are to us, where they can be made a matter of mockery. The whole structure of these States is rent with a conflict that is proceeding, persecution of Communism and counter-attacks on all these Governments, and beyond the frontier there is always the sense of this enormous mass which may at any time be set against them. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the White Army?"] That is not, I think, a very fertile contribution. Sermons and exhortations are all very well, but I was very glad to hear from various speakers this afternoon that it is realised this kind of advice and moral lecture may be pushed too far when it comes from countries not in anything like the same danger as those to whom the exhortation is addressed. Coming from England, we at least can say—as has been proved to-day—that we are setting an example, that we have exposed ourselves to real danger, that we are in a position of insecurity, and that we have done that in our desire to set an example. But, still, our dangers are very far off. Coming from the United States, such lectures would not, I think, be well received, because she is not only protected by two great oceans, but, since the War, has increased her armaments more than any other country. I am very glad the gist and tone of the Prime Minister's speech were such as to indicate we were not going to press our views unduly upon this very delicate combination of countries with which we shall be brought in contact next year.

I was, indeed, delighted to hear the Prime Minister making an appeal, addressed to his own party, to be fair to France. The Prime Minister, naturally, has to veil everything he says, but the significance of the few words he dropped during the latter part of his speech in regard to recognising the anxieties and position of France were, I venture to think, much more important than all those well-turned phrases which expressed sentiments which will never miss their proper reception of cheers in this Island. That is the most important part in the concluding portion of the Prime Minister's speech. It is not in the immediate interest of European peace that the French army should be seriously weakened. It is certainly not in British interests to antagonise France, or all these small States associated with France, by pressing unreasonably for its reduction. We may well think France is over-insured, but it is certain that if we press at this conference too heavily in that direction, we shall not succeed in improving the relations between the countries. I must say that the French Army at the present moment is a stabilising factor, and one of the strongest, apart from the general hatred and fear of war. We should beware of deranging the situation which exists. It is not satisfactory, but it is one that might easily be replaced by a worse situation. The sudden disappearance or weakening of that factor of stability, the unquestioned superiority of French military power, might open floodgates of measureless consequence in Europe at the present time, might break the dyke and Let the boundless deep Down upon far-off cities while they dance— Or dream. Apart from that, it would be the highest imprudence for our Government to cast reflections or disturb the good relations which prevail between us and the French.

I have ventured to lay these reflections before the Committee while there is plenty of time and while there is calm. I think we ought to recognise that the dangers which come from Russia are at the root of the failure of Disarmament in Europe. This mighty Power, outside the family of nations, outside the concert of Christendom, proclaiming a creed destructive of all existing civilisation, pursuing an economic policy funda— mentally disturbing to industry, not influenced by any consideration of morals or of humanity, with many lost provinces to retrieve, possessed of unlimited manpower, and rapidly equipping itself with all the most frightful and devastating instrumentalities of modern war—there you find a reason why you are not making the progress in your Disarmament Conferences that you had a right to hope for—there, and not in the undue nationalism of particular countries. It is in the perfectly comprehensible and very valid fear of all these small nations in contact with the power of Russia that you find the obstacle which has delayed your progress. That is the first thing that we ought to recognise.

Secondly, I venture to submit to the Committee that in my judgment, whatever these dangers may be, whether you rate them high or low, they will be seriously aggravated if at any time there should be any approximation of military strength between Germany and France. In this connection we must not forget that the man-power of Germany, the contingent of youth arriving at the military age each year, is at the present moment double that of France. I am quite certain that the whole situation would become infinitely more critical if there were at any time an approximation of military power between those two countries. Thirdly, there is our own influence that we have to consider. We must use of our influence to modify the age-long antagonisms, as we have done, between Germany and France. We may have to use our authority in the discharge of our obligations under the Locarno Treaty, and our power to play our part will be deeply, and perhaps fatally, affected if we have not a sense of safety and security in regard to our naval defence and in regard to the supplies on which we live and which must come in through the narrow seas.

Those are the three considerations which I would venture to put before the Committee. I would not wish it to be supposed that I am an alarmist, or foresee another great war in our lifetime. I am as anxious as any Member in this House to work my utmost to keep us out of war, and, even if the peace should be broken by others, to prevent our being involved in the struggle, and I do not believe that, if we act with wisdom and prudence, we need be drawn into another war. But, believe me, much more is required than good will and fine sentiments to put us in a satisfactory position. We must be safe, as we are not safe now. England's hour of weakness is Europe's hour of danger. It was so in 1914, and it may be so again. Therefore, I recommend to the Committee, first of all, that we regain at the earliest moment our naval freedom to secure our food supplies in the narrow seas, and, consequently, regain our independence from European entanglements and our free judgment in regard to any issue which may arise and which may be inseparable from the secure position of our vital food supplies. Secondly, I greatly welcome the statement of the Prime Minister that we shall not seek to weaken unduly the power of France on land, and thus expose ourselves to a dangerous rebuff. Lastly, we must, simultaneously with these other two processes, ceaselessly endeavour to bring France and Germany together for a settlement of outstanding disputes and grievances. If all of these three policies—not any one of them will suffice, but, if all of these three policies are pursued at the same time, soberly, sincerely and skilfully, then we shall have done our best to contribute towards the maintenance of the peace of the world, and there is as yet no reason why we should not succeed.


I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in his arguments as to the relations between Russia and the rest of Europe. I feel that his mind was working on an entirely different plane from those of other Members of the Committee on this side of the House, and, indeed, I think most Members on the other side, both above and below the Gangway. Remarks like his might have been heard during the Crimean War in 1854. They might have been heard again during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877 and 1878, or during the 'eighties, when Russia was advancing through Central Asia. They only disappeared during the early years of this century, because other issues were before this country, and for the time being Russia was put into the background. Now, once more, the bogey of Russia is being trotted out. Let me, however, remind the Committee of one thing. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping refers to the great military danger of Russia, he seems to have forgotten that Russia, in the whole course of her history, has never been successful on the offensive except in the eastern parts of her Empire. Russia's advance has always been to the east and to the south, whenever she made an advance. I admit that on one occasion her troops appeared in Paris, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when she was in alliance with the western Powers against Napoleon, but that was the sole occasion on which she ever conducted a successful western offensive.


The hon. Member forgets that the particular countries of which I was speaking were conquered by Russia under Peter the Great.


That does not detract from my argument that in the main Russia's offensive has always been towards the east. As I have said, the only successful offensive to the west which Russia ever made was in alliance with other Powers against Napoleon. Such conditions do not exist to-day, and show no signs at all of coming into existence. It may be true that there are fears of Russia all through the Baltic States, but, if you read the Russian newspapers or speak to Russian Communists to-day, you will find them using exactly the same argument of fear—fear that Western Europe is organising to invade Russia, as they have every reason to fear, in view of what happened in 1918–19. Therefore, we have the fear complex all along Europe's eastern boundary. It is our duty, instead of making speeches like that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, to try to allay these fears—superstitions, I might call them—and to try to draw Russia into the general concert of Europe and bring her into the Geneva Conferences. It has been said that Russia's Army is the greatest army in Europe at the present time, but I would ask the Committee to remember that Russia's Army, in proportion to the enormous frontier that she has to cover, is not so very excessive. If you take into consideration the fact that her western frontier extends from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and if you work out her army strength in figures according to the length of her frontier, you will find that it is nothing like so excessive as is generally supposed.

To pass to the main topic of the Debate, I suggest that the Disarmament Conference which is to take place next year is one of the most momentous events in the history of civilisation, because upon it depends whether it will be possible to maintain the whole peace of Europe and the general balance which was attained at the end of the War. I am quite certain that, unless the former Allied Powers take steps to reduce their armaments the present situation will not continue in Germany. I was only reading the other day a report in the newspapers of a speech made by the General von Seeckt at Munich—one of the most sinister and reactionary figures in German politics, a member of the reich-stag and of the Eight Wing. He said: It is Germany's duty to work for and aim at re-establishment of conscription. There is no doubt that, if the Disarmament Conference fails owing to ourselves, France and Italy being unable to come to the necessary arrangements, voices like that of General von Seeckt will become more heard, more influential, and more powerful than they are even at the present time. Therefore, it is abundantly necessary to see that we succeed in bringing this matter through, in order that those pacific elements in Germany, which are growing in spite of all the difficulties that they have had to face, are assisted by the success of this coming conference.

There is another side to this question, which ought not to be left out of consideration, though it would not be in order to make more than a passing reference to it. It is not entirely a question of disarmament alone. Civilisation is threatened by a three-headed Gorgon, the three heads being Tariffs, Disarmament and War Debts. They are closely interconnected with one another, as the recent developments in America have shown. We all know how sensitive American opinion is, and has been for some time, at the connection, as they see it, between expenditure on armaments and remission of War Debts, and, therefore, this three-headed Gorgon is the danger which we have to face. If we strike off only one head, that of Dis- armament, and leave the other two living, the other two will help to recuperate and restore the third.


Would the hon. Member say how he would strike off the Gorgon head of American debt?


I do not propose to be provoked by the hon. Member into getting out of order; I leave it to him to get out of order; I intend to keep strictly in order. I agree that the Government have done all that they can under the present conditions if they are to keep to Disarmament by agreement, and that, as the Prime Minister said, the future depends upon international public opinion being formed. I agree that it is necessary that there should be a campaign up and down the country with a view both to moulding public opinion here and giving a lead to nations abroad. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden) that such a campaign is unnecessary. I think there is a vast amount of opinion here which is not active, which is not really aware of the gravity of the situation and, if we can get opinion fully mobilised, I am sure it will have a reflex action upon other countries. Moreover, I think it is high time that we should consider what actual practical steps we can take at the Geneva Conference. There is no use going to that conference unless we have some plan. I should like to see some definite policy worked out in regard to our attitude towards battleships. There has been a strong naval opinion in existence for some time which takes the view that battleships are entirely unnecessary, are an enormous expense and are an agent of provocation, and I think we might consider whether we should not come forward with a bold policy for the scrapping of big ships over 10,000 tons. I understand that the cost of replacing battleships is about £5,000,000 a year. That is a contribution which would come most agreeably to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in view of the financial condition of the country.

There are political grounds, also, on which I think we might formulate a policy ready for Geneva. One thing we need to do is to try to alleviate the fear of Germany, which undoubtedly has some basis. She feels that there is a certain need for equality of security. She is disarmed. She is bound by the Versailles Treaty, but her neighbours are not bound in a similar way. There are various ways in which we could see to it that opinion in Germany is made more amenable, so that there shall be no fear of her leaving the League of Nations. Oar signature to the Kellogg Pact and the Arbitration Treaty is undoubtedly a great step in advance, because it is the first step towards the abolition of private warfare and towards what we might call the freedom of the seas, because if once we can get the principle admitted that private war is abolished, that no war can take place unless it has the sanction of the League of Nations against a recalcitrant State which refuses to obey the decisions of the League, we shall have gone a long way towards allaying opinion in Germany, and in other countries, too, where there is a fear that all is not being done that could be done. Of course, there is the fear that, if we take steps towards the limitation of our Navy still further by the abolition of battleships, France will not come into line. There is always the fear that the French will stick to their land armaments and, by means of conscription, maintain a big army which will bold the balance of power, as it does at present, but here again I think we can come forward with a practical proposal.

The Preparatory Commission at Geneva has come to an agreement that we should proceed by way of budgetary limitations. In this compaign that is going to be made in the near future, we should come forward with a definite proposal that we should work at Geneva next year for a definite reduction, let us say 25 per cent.—I would not tie myself down to any figure, but I give that figure as a suggestion—of the Budget reductions of Armies, Navies and Air Forces. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington thought it would be a very undesirable thing to take as the datum line for the reduction of armaments the expenditure last year because that would be greatly to the disadvantage of this country. We have already taken steps towards the reduction of expenditure on armaments. I do not think that is a view that is held by many who have been considering the question. Those with whom I have been associated rather feel that we might take the average expenditure on armies and navies for the last five or six years and make that the datum on which to base a 25 per cent. reduction at the coming conference.

There is, undoubtedly, a fear that, if no success can be achieved at Geneva next year, Germany may take steps which will be to the disadvantage of the peace movement in Europe generally. I think there is something that our Government might bring home to Germany even now. Germany has set the pace in one way quite recently by introducing a small so-called pocket battleship. She has already constructed one and is considering constructing a second. It is time we let it be known in Berlin that, if Germany wishes to create a good impression abroad, so to speak, in view of her serious financial position she might quite well, with advantage to herself and to the rest of the world, postpone the consideration of that pocket battleship. I put that forward as a suggestion to the Government. I think it will be a contributory cause towards success at Geneva, because there is no doubt that opinion is disturbed in France, not unreasonably, at the possibility of a second battleship of this kind being constructed by Germany. Germany is within her treaty rights in doing so, but, in view of the situation throughout the world, it is clearly bad tactics and bad diplomacy for her to pursue this.

This question of Disarmament cannot be separated altogether from the other two great difficulties with which human civilisation is faced, namely, the hindrance to trade by tariffs, which tend to create misunderstandings and to breed friction, and the incubus of war debts and reparations. We are all thankful that within the last week hope has come to the world with the great action of President Hoover in taking steps towards the moratorium, which I hope will lead towards a scaling down of this great burden of debt. American opinion, quite rightly, connects armaments with War debts, and I believe it is possible in this coming year, with the reparations crisis coming to a head as it is now, with the Disarmament Conference in front of us, somehow to connect the two. Is it unreasonable to hope or to expect that those countries which agree to scale down their expenditure on armaments should also be allowed to have their debts and their reparations scaled down so that at least those two heads should be severed, leaving only the third—tariffs—to be dealt with? That is a step that must be taken sooner or later if the world is to return to a more reasonable and hopeful frame of mind and, between now and next year, it is our duty to try to arouse public opinion in order that it may help towards moulding the international public opinion which the Prime Minister has spoken of and without which Geneva next year cannot succeed.


I feel that I owe the Committee an apology for intervening in a Debate in which, up to now, so many exports on international affairs have taken part. I am rather one of those, of whom there are perhaps too many in this country, who, confronted with the main urgent problem which we have to face, have been apt to overlook a problem which in itself is perhaps the most important of any. Owing to my lack of expert knowledge, I do not pretend either to criticise or to suggest, but I should like to put before the Committee some of the doubts and fears that are felt on this subject by those who think as I do. Those doubts and fears are in no way inspired by any love of war. There are irresponsible adherents of the party opposite who have been wont to proclaim that the Tory party is a militarist party. They have linked that on to the accusation that war is the object of capitalists, and that financial interests find a profit in the battle of nations. Whatever may have been the truth of a statement of that kind before the last War—I myself attach no great weight to it—it surely cannot now be sustained for a moment. We have had a successful War and now, 13 years afterwards, no one can claim that it has been a very great financial success.

Looking round the world, we have learnt the lesson that the only way of making money out of war is to keep out of it, at any rate until the last moment. On the contrary, it is the capitalists, it is the financial and industrial classes, which have most of all to lose from war. War has strained the capitalist system. It has opened leaks which were unsuspected. It has disclosed difficulties all of a sudden which, in ordinary circumstances, would have been disclosed only by degrees, and could have been dealt with by agreement. Whereas the last War strained the system in which the capitalist believes and by which he lives, there is no doubt that the next war will destroy it. Therefore, there is no monopoly of the desire for peace in any one section of opinion or in any one class of the country, nor do we on this side believe that armaments are the only, or indeed the best, security against war. The old adage that if you wish for peace prepare for war, has been disproved by history. Since the beginning of time, every nation has been preparing for war, and no nation has ever had peace. It is true that strength may postpone conflict, and that weakness may invite it, but armaments, by themselves, will never secure the disappearance of war from the world.

We believe, as hon. Members opposite do, that the only real and everlasting guarantee against war in the future is an increasing application to our national life of that rule of law which we accept so unquestionably in our private life. But where we differ from hon. Members opposite is in the time in which we think that process can be completed. We do not believe that, with all the catastrophic events of the last few years, there has yet been that complete reversal of human nature which would bring into being in a moment a state of affairs which we believe can only be the outcome of long processes of careful thought. The very foundation upon which hon. Members opposite can rest their claim, the preparations of this House, are a reminder to us how a short time ago it was thought in our own British House of Commons that violence was so much a matter of course, that precautions had to be taken against it. In our national life we have moved from that, but how long ago is it since, if an hon. Member opposite had unfortunately seen fit to issue a gross slander upon my character, I should have been forced in honour to have challenged him to a duel? Now, if he were foolish enough to repeat such a slander outside I should take it to the law. I have discovered that that, in fact, is a better way of composing any differences between us. I realise that, however clear my character, it was, under the old system, no defence against the straighter eye or the stronger wrist of the hon. Member opposite. I know that now I can take an hon. Member before a court where I should be assured of a justice only slightly handicapped by the forensic; eloquence of hon. and learned Friends in all parts of the House. Furthermore, I know that having got such a judgment, the whole force of public opinion, through its officers and its law, would see to the enforcement of the judgment in my favour. That is a state of affairs which has arisen in this country, not as the result of one great revolution, but as the steady evolution of the process of thought.

That same process is going on in international affairs to-day. We have already attained the first step. We all realise that of all means of settling a difference, war is the least satisfactory. It takes no account of the justness of the cause. It falls with equal effect upon the winner and upon the loser. We are passing through the second stage. We are beginning to believe in a possibility of referring our case, however important, to a tribunal where justice will be done. I do not think that we have yet attained the third, where we shall be certain that the judgment of the world, however injurious it may be to the interests of one particular nation, will be accepted by them with that unquestioning belief with which an adverse decision is accepted by us in our national life. That does not mean to say that we do not believe in the future of the League of Nations, and that we do not believe in the future of the process of settling international disputes by agreement. We believe, however, that that growth is bound to be of a long and a slow duration, and that it will be like any other organism. When the tree is young, it is imperilled by the rabbit; when it grows old, it can be indifferent to an elephant. That is why, in the earlier stages, we lay in a stock of wire-net ting.

Even those who, like myself, have perhaps been rather indifferent in this matter in the past, have been brought up against the fact that within the next year important decisions, which may be vital to the future of the country, will have to be taken, and that this is the only occasion we shall have in this House of discussing them. During the progress of the conference, to refer to those matters will be deemed to be unpatriotic; after the conference, if agreement is reached, to criticise will be dishonourable. This is our only chance, and we are grateful, therefore, to the Prime Minister for the opportunity we have had of laying before him the point of view of all classes in the country, so that the Government, when they go to this vitally important conference, may go fully seized of the opinion of the country as a whole, and not of any one section of it.

It appears to me that there is in this question of security a double problem. There is a double standard; a standard of comparative and a standard of positive security. The first—comparative security—is dependent upon the position of our neighbour. The second is practically independent of it. The first is conditioned by the aggressive possibilities of the great Powers around us. The second is conditioned by our imperial composition, contacts and communications. While one, therefore, can be vitally affected by any substantial measure of agreement that may be reached at the conference, the other will remain almost untouched. It was largely with the first—the question of comparative security—that the Prime Minister dealt in his speech to-day. We were glad to hear from him the statement of the great sacrifices which this country had already made in the cause of disarmament. Some of us, perhaps, thought that that acknowledgment was a little tardy, and that the reference he made to the long-continued policy of all Governments of this country was strangely at variance with statements we found in "Labour and the Nation" before the last Election, and the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members opposite at that time. That, however, is a political question, and we are glad to welcome the fact that he has acknowledged that we have to-day, whatever Governments are responsible, reached the limit of unilateral disarmament; that we have walked along (he path for long enough alone, and that it is time now to stand still until others are prepared to join us. I hope that in this question of the formulae, and in what we give up—and we have given up so much that we have little left to give—we shall not overlook that positive standard of security which is the result of our imperial obligation.

I will give two instances of what I mean. The first is the case of our defence of the North-West frontier in India. Either on the frontier itself, or resting behind it, in the necessary reserves we have probably 60,000 British troops in India to-day. No one who has any knowledge whatever of the Indian situation, from whatever angle he looks at it, can deny that those troops are there to meet a real menace, and the very fact that there is that menace, and that they are held down to meet a particular danger, makes the presence and the existence of those troops of the least possible danger to the peace of Europe or to the peace of the Great Powers of the world? How is that menace going to be affected by any agreement to which you may come during the Geneva Conference? I do not suppose that the frontier tribesman has ever heard of the League of Nations. If he has, he probably regards it with the same kind of feeling as the Devonshire stag-hunter looks upon the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), namely, as a well-intentioned spoil sport. If, as a result of that conference, you agree to reduce your land forces, and the consideration for the agreement is the increased security you are going to get because America, France, Russia, Italy and all the other great Powers have come into the agreement, and if you surrender any part of the armaments which you hold to-day on the North-West Frontier, the consideration you are accepting is a sheer illusion, because no agreement so reached will have added one whit to your security in that particular part of the Empire, or will reduce the responsibility that you have to bear in that quarter.

The other example is rather the banal one of our sea communications. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) speaking the other day, referred to a passage in one of the Greek comedies on the question of the Athens, which preferred a dole to a fleet. It had a singular parallel application to our situation. Athens was, like us, small in extent, large in population, existing as a great industrial nation with an entrepot trade and almost entirely dependent for her food supplies on grain from the Black Sea. Athens saw her corn supplies cut off, her population starved, her Empire destroyed and her trade ruined, but the Greece that won did not secure peace, freed from the domination of Athens, but encountered years of internal strife, until she fell once more under the domination of a conqueror. Whatever agreement to which you may come with the great Naval Powers at the forthcoming conference, it will affect very little the security which our trade routes will still demand. We are in such a situation that a few ships of a South American Republic can do almost as much damage and be almost as dangerous to our whole existence as the battle fleet of any great Power. I know that hon. Friends of mine on these benches seriously feel that we have today reached the standard of naval armaments necessary to secure the vital interests of this country, not against an attack by a combination of great nations but against the hostility of anyone who happens to have a few raiding cruisers. We ask that when the Prime Minister and his colleagues go to the Naval Conference at Geneva they will remember that our security does not only depend upon the armaments of other Powers but that it depends too upon those peculiar responsibilities which are ours by reason of our Empire and our geographical and economic situation.

8.0 p.m.

Hon Members on this side will welcome the success of the conference if it is an honest success and they will welcome an agreement if it is a real agreement, but I, for one, and I differ from other hon. Members who have spoken, would rather the conference failed altogether, and failed honestly, than that it should be covered up with a formula—that blessed word!—which covers such a multitude of differences—a formula designed to bring two points of view together, which means that people holding an opposite point of view can continue to believe that the formula gives them what they want. Agreements reached by methods of that kind only lead, in the long run, to suspicions of good faith. Better an honest failure and a sincere effort to start again than to gain a patched-up agreement, which means nothing in reality, but leaves suspicion in the minds of all. Above all, we hope that the Prime Minister, whatever offers are made, whatever agreement can be reached, will not accept such a diminution of our strength that events, unforeseen and unforeseeable, which in the days of our might would merely have been unfortunate episodes, may in the days of our weakness develop into events so serious as to presage the downfall of our imperial power.


There are very few members of the Committee who listened to the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) without, I am sure, rejecting almost every proposition upon which his speech was founded. I am quite certain that none who has followed closely the history of the last 12 years since the War would agree that Disarmament Conferences have accomplished nothing. No one who followed the events at Washington would agree that the ending of the then growing competition in battleship construction between the United States and Japan was an achievement of no account. I know very well Americans and Japanese who told me at that time that the universal conviction in their countries before the conference was that a conflict between them had become inevitable, that that which happened in Europe before 1911 was happening in the Pacific then, and that it could be but a few short years before the clash came. Thase who have been familiar with the, trend of events since the Washington Agreement know that year after year after the competition in battleship construction was ended by that agreement, the feeling of an inevitable war and the conviction that it was coining soon disappeared until to-day you would probably find in neither country no one in a responsible position who would put it forward.

The policy of the right hon. Member for Epping really involves the scrapping of the Covenant of the League of Nations and all our obligations, which were quoted by the Prime Minister, under the Treaty of Versailles, to disarm. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about those obligations? He has not told us. How is he going to settle with Germany? Is he going to allow Germany to re-arm? That is the fundamental question in European politics to-day. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman another question. Does he believe that there is any possible alternative to Disarmament by international agreement, except to return to the conditions before 1914? Does he not now see before his eyes, in the figures which the Prime Minister quoted, of the increase of armaments on the Continent to-day, a return to that very competition which we then had and which will lead us into another war if it continues? Except by a mutual agreement for the reduction and limitation of our forces, how are we to deal with that new competition which has even now begun?

Apart from the speech made by the right hon. Member for Epping, I have listened to the Debate with a growing sense of pride and satisfaction, if I may say so as a new Member, because it has seemed to me that from all quarters of the House there has come a very gratifying acceptance of certain fundamental propositions. In the first place, that we are all of us bound by obligations to disarm; secondly, that unless we do disarm we shall have another war; thirdly, that next year's conference must bring us not merely stabilisation of existing armaments but large reductions; and, fourthly, and this is of great importance, that Great Britain can go with other nations beyond what we have already done, that we can go as much further as other nations are willing to go, and that it is the duty of our Government at the conference to give a lead in putting forward constructive proposals for further reductions below those that have already been made. I have risen to support the view that the reductions we need are a good deal greater than those which have been already made, that our armaments are still far too great, that they are still an appalling danger to the society in which we live and that stabilisation or even a modest reduction of existing armaments cannot possibly solve the political problem with which we are faced to-day.

I should like to begin by some comments on one or two observations in the admirable speech which was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden). I listened to that speech with great admiration and with a great measure of agreement, but there were one or two propositions in it on which I found myself in less agreement than on others. In the first place, he seemed to imply that the European situation was one of such disturbance and unrest that it would be dangerous and perhaps wrong for us to agree to make any further reductions at the present time. In comment upon that view I would like to say that, in our opinion on these benches, incomparably the best method of dealing with that unrest, if unrest there be, is to secure a Disarmament treaty which will bring about a real reduction of national forces. What are the essential issues in European politics at the present time? They are two, and they have both been mentioned from the benches opposite. One is to secure a real reduction of and a rigid limitation upon the growing armaments of Russia. Russia has agreed to come to the conference. She has taken part in the preparatory work. She has in no way acted in a disloyal spirit in that preparatory work and I have every confidence that if we can make an agreement with her for a reduction of her armaments we can be perfectly certain that, through the machinery of the Permanent International Commission which is to be established, we can ensure that her obligations, once undertaken, shall not be violated.

The second factor is this, that it is absolutely vital to restore a feeling of confidence between France and Germany. If we can get that confidence, every political problem in Europe will go far towards solving itself. If we cannot get that confidence, the politics of the Continent will become utterly beyond control. There is no way by which we can get that confidence between those two nations while France remains the most powerful military nation in the world and Germany remains disarmed by the Treaty of Versailles. In the second place, I would like to disagree, with less emphasis but very sincerely, with the proposition put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington, that the present year would not be fair to our country as the datum line from which reductions might begin. I agree with him that 1925 would have been a better year, before the present competitions had begun. Indeed, the Labour Government in 1924 had got an international agreement that the Disarmament Conference should meet in June, 1925, but that agreement, unfortunately, was destroyed by their successors.

But apart from that consideration, I am not wholly clear that the relative position of our country to-day is really so very unfavourable, if you compare it, for example, with our relative position to the rest of the world in the year 1913–14. As the Prime Minister has said, his figures are open to various interpretations. I have talked to a good many foreign experts on the subject, and I am certain that there is no foreign power that is going to accept our interpretation of those figures. That does not mean that they are wrong. I remember very well the answer given by a schoolboy in an examination on elementary anatomy when he was asked what was the principal parts of the eye, and he replied that they were the pupil, the mote and the beam. Foreign Powers will certainly make a case which will be extremely convincing to their own people against the figures that we put forward. But I want to leave that point aside and to put; before hon. Members opposite who have doubts about the strength of our present position some considerations which I would ask them to accept in the spirit in which the present Debate is being carried on.

The hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington said that the real point about armaments to-day is not so much man-power, but the equipment with which that man-power is provided. In man-power, taking our Army, our Navy and our Air Force together, we have made decreases since 1914 of something like 16 or 17 per cent. in the number of service men which we have to maintain on this country's Budget. Not a very considerable reduction if you remember the burden which we thought those armements to be in 1913–14, but still not negligible. Against that, we have to consider the various things which have improved our relative position. Take, for example, the Navy. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) mentioned that the German Navy was now at the bottom of the sea. That is not all. The Austrian Navy has ceased to exist. The Russian Navy has virtually ceased to exist. The French and the Italians have practically no battle fleet that is worth anything at all. In Europe, I suggest to hon. Members opposite, our position as a naval Power is one of a supremacy which we have never had before. That is not true of Japan and the United States of America. They have both increased their armaments while we have diminished ours. As against that, however, we have by the Treaties of Washington and London, which have had the support of this House, and, I think, the virtually unanimous support of the country, agreed to a ratio of power as against the United States and Japan. Therefore, on that consideration, there is no reason why we should not make further reductions, provided that other Powers will do the same.

In regard to the Army, it is true that we have made a reduction of 36,000 men, but it is also true that we lead the world in tank construction. Many people think that we lead the world in gas research and chemical warfare in general, and certainly in mechanisation, which is now so immensely important in economising man-power and in improving the fighting capacity of a given number of men, we are again far ahead of any other nation. With regard to our Air Force, it is true that as compared with France we have an inferiority, if I remember aright, in peace time aircraft and first line reserves of about 25 per cent., but as against that we have a degree of efficiency which certainly no foreign power has yet achieved. I would quote from an article in "The Times" of Saturday last, the day of the air display at Hendon, in which the Air Correspondent of "The Times" said: Great Britain, deficient in numbers as compared with other powers, has gone far ahead of them in efficiency. He went on to explain that during the last year we have made a general advance in speed for all our categories of machines of at least 60 miles an hour, that, broadly speaking, our machines are at least 30 miles an hour faster than any other, and that even our bombers can quite easily outdistance any fighting machine that any foreign Power can put into the air. That is an immensely important fact, because it is the efficiency of the individual unit that counts in air warfare. It has been said by a great service writer, and no one has ever contradicted it, that a single fighting plane at the present time, if it could carry enough petrol, would be able to shoot down 1,000 of the machines with which we ended the War in 1918. Like other hon. Members, I would like parity with France, though I should like it to be parity at nought. I do not want to press these propositions beyond where they can logically be pressed, and, of course, in arranging the ratio of power between one country and another the thing must be reasonably elastic. But, broadly speaking, I do not believe it can be shown that our position of relative military power is really seriously inferior to that of other Powers, as compared with our relative position in any previous year, and, therefore, I hope that before they accept the proposition that the present status quo would be a dangerous datum line for us to accept, hon. Members opposite will reflect very seriously upon what that involves. For if we start with the idea of finding some new and ideal basis, some new and ideal datum line of comparison with foreign Powers, then, indeed, the Disarmament Conference would be faced with a problem which might well prove insoluble.

The third and last point with which I want to deal is the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington, that it would be dangerous to try to put forward proposals for a considerable reduction and that we had better be content with something modest in order to avoid the danger of total failure. For the reasons I have already given I believe that considerable progress is essential if the conference is not to fail in its primary political purpose. But I believe also that on technical and strategical grounds we have an overwhelming interest in trying to get the utmost possible reductions to which other countries will agree. The power of armaments has enormously increased since the end of the War. Every force of every kind is for a given number of men employed incomparably more competent to destroy than it was then, and I believe that hardly any general staff in any country would be prepared to exchange its present day force with its present day equipment for the force with which they began the War or perhaps even for the force with which it ended the War in 1918. But there is a greater danger in the development in armaments which is going on, and it is that for the first time in military history the power of attack appears to be out-distancing the power of defence. That is undoubtedly true as regards the air. I know no air expert who suggests that air defence is within miles of reaching the power of air attack. All sorts of schemes and propositions are being put forward, of wire netting 10,000 feet above the ground, of building underground works to house the population of our cities, of teaching the whole civilian population, including infants in arms, in the use of gas masks. Are these seriously put forward as the best we can propose for defence against air attack? If they are, it means that the power of attack is at present infinitely greater than the power of defence. And the same thing is even more true with regard to poison gas. I have been reading recently the works of certain experts who are giving a great part of their lives to a study of this subject, men who had the organisation of the gas operations in the last War. Major Lefebure, who is recognised to be one of the first authorities in the world, discusses in his recent book "Scientific Disarmament"—what he calls the new possibility of "an absolutely decisive weapon," against which there will be no defence. He quotes Professor Myers as saying— The recent War produced a new weapon.… This weapon is the chemical weapon. It is doubtful whether the peoples of the world are aware of the power of this weapon and the danger which threatens them. Major Lefebure goes on to speak of "the fierce torrent of armament development which is at this moment raging and gaining in volume." He says that we have to look forward to the time when chemical bullets, which would be used against troops in the field, may mean a mortality not of 3 per cent. but perhaps 80 per cent., and he puts it forward, as a self-evident proposition, and so does Major Livens, who invented the Livens gas projection so much used in the last War, that the use of poison gas against the civilian population will leave them without any means of defence, and that it will in all probability be decisive in its effect.

The reason why I cite these facts is because I want hon. Members to consider this: that they are of vital importance to us from a strategical point of view. In these regards our position is the most vulnerable in the world. Our geographical position makes us more vulnerable to air attack than any other country in the world, and the fact that our population is concentrated in great cities makes us peculiarly vulnerable to these gas attacks from the air. Therefore, I submit that it is in our strategic interest—and every document I read of a technical kind convinces me that this is true—not to rely upon the maintenance of a certain minimum armament of our own, but to secure as great a reduction as possible in the armaments maintained by other people. If at this conference we can secure the abolition of the submarine, the abolition of, or a great reduction in, military aviation, an abolition and an effective suppression of chemical warfare, it will be enormously to our interest to do so. For these reasons, I am hoping that the Government will do what they have been invited to do by the right hon. Member for Darwen, and will go to the conference prepared to take the initiative themselves. I hope they will put forward proposals of a bold character. I am perfectly certain that however far they go our nation will be ready to follow them.

Commander SOUTHBY

Of all the untrue accusations which are levelled against the British Empire perhaps the most mischievous and certainly the most untrue is that the British Empire has done nothing to further the cause of Disarmament, that it has not played its part or done its share as compared with other nations. The danger of parrot cries and lying propaganda is that no man can see where their effect will end. Reference has been made during the Debate by previous speakers on this side of the Committee to what was said by hon. Members opposite at the time of the last election. There can be no excuse for using the question of Disarmament or armaments for the purposes of party propaganda, and I make no excuse for quoting to the Committee what was said at the time of the General Election by hon. Members opposite. In "Labour and the Nation," which has already been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden), it was said: In 1924 Great Britain was hailed as the leader in world pacification; to-day she is slipping into a position where she will be regarded by the conscience of the world as one of the principal impediments to it. In "Labour's Appeal to the Nation," it was said that the Tory Government had hampered Disarmament. From the Prime Minister downwards the same accusation was made by hon. Members opposite for party purposes during the last election. The Prime Minister in a speech at Newcastle on 30th May, 1929, said, in reference to the Conservative Government: They have neglected chance after chance, and Great Britain instead of leading in the campaign for peace has held back and has hindered progress. In a message to the "Dundee Free Press" on 30th May, 1929, he said: The Tories by neglect have allowed millions to suffer unnecessarily from unemployment, and have failed in a policy of peace and disarmament. If proof were needed that these statements were made for party propaganda purposes, it is to be found in the Prime Minister's broadcast message to the United States on 22nd January, just before the Naval Conference, when he said: Surely we are living in times of great miracles. A sentiment which was but the bare truth considering what he said and what he tacitly endorsed at the time of the General Election. But this is what he told the people of the United States: I have been told, for instance, that the statement is very widely scattered that this country, while talking of disarmament, is showing no example, and I have been asked to-day to answer quite specifically to you whether that is so or not. I think I can fully satisfy you. He gave instances of the reduction in military expenditure, and in the personnel of the Army. He said: We are the only nation among the leading Powers who can show a continuous reduction in expenditure on its Army. He then went on to speak more particularly of naval reductions by this country. He said: The position in the British Empire in December, 1929, compared with August, 1914, presents a remarkable contrast, which deserves to be pondered by those who speak lightly of the British contribution to disarmament. He went on to quote figures to show what we had done: reduced battleships from 69 in 1914 to 20; large cruisers from 27 to 11; light cruisers from 81 to 43; and submarines from 74 to 53. He added: These few figures are more eloquent than columns of speeches. The right hon. Gentleman also gave instances of great reductions in the Air Force. And all this from the man who had said that Great Britain, instead of leading in the campaign for peace, had hindered progress. He wound up by saying: Could there be more striking evidence of the will to peace in the British people? I contend that the greatest disservice is done to the cause of Disarmament by the spreading about the country, from whatever party or section of thought it comes, of inaccurate and untruthful propaganda regarding the contribution of this country in the cause of universal disarmament. There have been other Members of the party opposite who did not keep silent. When the Prime Minister came down to the House to-day, I wondered whether his mind went back to what he had himself said at the time of the General Election, and to what he had tacitly consented to being said in "Labour and the Nation" and on election platforms. Personally, I welcome the fact that he has made a statement which I am sure has received common agreement from both sides of the Committee. I hope that with that statement will come to an end any question from the opposite side or from the Liberal party that this country has lagged behind in the slightest degree in the desire for Disarmament, or has lagged behind in its endeavours to give practical effect to its desire to disarm, and its will to do so. I hope it will also stop once and for all accusations made for party purposes against the Conservative party.


Against the Russians, too, I hope.

Commander SOUTHBY

The First Lord of the Admiralty who, I understand, is to reply, said this at Newcastle this year: You can go too quickly in this matter, unless you can get other countries in Europe to go just as quickly as you. And then he added these words: You find a steady decline in our naval expenditure and a steady rise in almost every other country, and you begin to ask whether it is sane policy. The Conservative party can, perhaps, show a better record, or at any rate as good a record as anyone else in this country, in the cause of Disarmament. I do not want to refer again to the Kellogg Pact, the Locarno Treaty or the Security Pact. Indeed, this country has led the way all through its history whenever the question of Disarmament or of arrangement by arbitration has been brought forward.

The only point with which I want to deal specifically relates to Naval Disarmament. We, indeed, have been precipitate in our desire to lead the world in Naval Disarmament. Ever since the War we have scrapped ships, closed arsenals and reduced complements. Reference has been made to the Washington Conference, which was indeed a milestone on the road to Disarmament, and one to which we can certainly look back with great pride, as our contribution, and our attempt to assist the contribution of others, to the cause of Disarmament.

Then we come to the question of Geneva. It was no fault of ours that Geneva broke down. Indeed Lord Cecil used these words, which will have considerable weight with hon. Members opposite. He stated, when introducing the British draft: The proposal made by the British Government is clear and has been proved in actual practice to be practicable.


It is a fact that Lord Cecil resigned because of his disagreement with the Government about that conference.

Commander SOUTHBY

That may be, but at any rate in producing the British proposals he made use of the expression which I have quoted. When it was found impossible to obtain agreement at Geneva to our proposals, which would have saved this country many millions of money, and when with the complete knowledge and agreement of the Preparatory Disarmament Commission, we endeavoured to hammer out some agreement with the French in order that differences which were clogging the progress of disarmament might be removed, we met with nothing but criticism, not too accurate or truthful, and made for the purposes of propaganda by hon. Members opposite and by the Liberals. Indeed the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was as bad as anyone else, because when my right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary made an announcement to this House of the terms of agreement in July, 1928, not one word was said by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and it was not until a great deal later that the accusations about secret diplomacy and so forth were made. Although the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs must have heard the announcement made in this House by my right hon. Friend, and must have seen the announcement made to the Prese by Lord Cushendun, at Geneva on 30th August, 1928, when Lord Cushendun said: Speculations as to secret clauses and so forth have no foundation whatever. And later on: Nor is there anything at all in the shape of an agreed policy between ourselves and the French. There are no secret clauses, nor any arrangement as to an alliance or co-operation of navies. Although the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs must have seen that statement, he wrote in an article to a New York newspaper: The Anglo-French Pact is either the clumsiest or the most pernicious diplomatic act of modern times. We know too little about it, even now, after weeks of discussion, to place it in the appropriate category. The final verdict will probably be that it was both mischievous and fatuous. Writings of that kind do no good to the cause of Disarmament. That effort on our part to seek agreement with the French was an honest effort. It was not secret in any way; it was made In the light of day. It was only when premature publication was given for definitely unfriendly purposes in the United States, that a storm was provoked. Indeed a distinguished Member of the Liberal party, Viscount Grey of Fallodon, used these words: I think the point ought to be emphasised that the whole discussions with the French Government were not devoted to a separate agreement between the two Powers, but to arriving at something between themselves which should be preliminary and lead to a general agreement. I give these quotations because I want to make the point that, both from the Socialist side and the Liberal side, for party purposes at election times, the cry is continually raised that we of the Conservative party have not been sincere in our desire to promote universal disarmament. I wish to make this point clear so that never again shall people listen to propaganda of that kind. Indeed the Prime Minister himself addressing the League of Nations Assembly on 3rd December, 1929, said: The British Government declines to build up against the United States and the United States might take that as, I think I may call it, the last word, because it is not only the word of a Labour Government but also of its predecessor a Conservative Government. That is from the man who allowed the statement to be made in "Labour and the Nation" that the Conservative Government had "brought appreciably nearer a ruinous competition in armaments." To-day the Prime Minister referred with pride to the London Naval Treaty and the conference which preceded it. If one wanted to find an example of secret diplomacy, the proceedings which led up to that Treaty furnish a very good one. The critical figure in that treaty of 91,000 tons was agree to by the Prime Minister and the President of the United States behind the backs of the other parties to the conference. So much has almost been admitted in so many words. What is there to be proud of in that Treaty? We set out to get a five-Power agreement. We got a three-Power agreement and, however good its intention—and! I am anxious to see the greatest possible measure of disarmament by agreement—it has had exactly the opposite effect to that which was desired. Our programmes have been reduced but the programmes of all the other parties who went into that conference have been increased. The United States went into the conference with 90,500 tons of cruisers and emerged 323,500 tons. Japan entered with 166,000 tons and emerged with 208,000 tons. Indeed though the conference has resulted, or will result in a race on armaments unless something is done pretty soon, it stands as a monument to our desire to sacrifice almost anything in order to reduce armaments and give a lead. I need only give the comment of an American writing in the "Christian Science Monitor" of the contribution of this country to the conference: She has done more than any other nation there represented to call a halt in competitive building. But the Treaty does not call a halt in competitive building. It endeavours to scale down the various signatories to certain figures and what has been the result? There is not agreement between Prance and Italy and without such agreement the Treaty is bound to be unworkable. The First Lord, no doubt in good faith, declared definitely and categorically on 13th March that complete agreement had been reached between France and Italy. That premature announcement has probably made it infinitely more difficult for this agreement, which is essential to the progress of disarmament to be reached. That statement made in the House of Commons by the First Lord has had a directly negative effect on disarmament and nobody knows that better than the Foreign Secretary.

The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

Does the hon. and gallant Member challenge the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty? The First Lord was reporting upon a conference at which he had been present along with me, both in Paris and in Rome, and he reported that complete agreement had been reached at the conference. The members of the conference had to report to their respective Parliaments just as we had to report to the House of Commons and, in one instance, the higher authority did not accept the report. That did not contradict or make improper the statement of the First Lord.

Commander SOUTHBY

I accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, but that was not the impression which was given to the House of Commons. I am within the recollection of hon. Members in saying that the impression given by the statement was that a complete, final and definite agreement had been reached. There was no qualification of the statement; the First Lord was the recipient of congratulations upon it and bouquets were thrown from Front Bench to Front Bench on the fact that agreement had been reached. Now we are told that the agreement was only a tentative one which has to be ratified elsewhere, but that was not made plain in the House of Commons. I challenge the statement that complete agreement had been reached on a naval building programme between the two countries. Now we find, after the matter has been discussed, and when the failure to reach agreement has become patent that the statement ought really to have been that it was hoped that complete agreement would be reached between the countries, because the conference was in complete agreement. I think I can leave the matter there for the consideration of this Committee and the country in general.

I have no desire to quote the figures of what this country has done in disarmament. Those figures have been given by the Prime Minister. I agree that it is extremely difficult to compare the cost of armaments now with the cost before the War. Many factors come in such as increased pay and pensions, and increased costs of various kinds, and there is the difficulty of arriving at comparable figures as between one nation and another and as between 1914 and the present time. But, taking everything into consideration, I do not think it would be inaccurate to say that we are now spending £15,000,000 a year less on naval armaments—roughly speaking—than we were before the War. Reference has been made to personnel. There again it is almost impossible to find a basis for comparing like with like. The figures given by the Prime Minister of reduction in British personnel did not tally with the figures given to me by the First Lord in answer to a question which I addressed to him recently. There may be some governing factor which makes both figures correct but it is difficult to arrive at a real understanding of what we have done in reduction of personnel, when sometimes we refer to the reduction by Great Britain, and sometimes to the reduction by the whole British Commonwealth of nations. The safer method is to take the latter figure.

I plead with the Committee to realise the marvellous example which we have set to the world. Before Washington we scrapped 1,250,000 tons of naval shipping voluntarily. It was not incumbent upon us to do so. We did it as a gesture to show that we desired to commence the good work of disarmament at the earliest-possible moment. After the conference another 500,000 tons of shipping was scrapped and then we scrapped over 800,000 tons of completed Dreadnoughts as against about 500,000 tons scrapped by the United States. We, the premier maritime nation of the world, between Armistice Day, 1918, and 1st June, 1931, scrapped 2,020,195 tons of naval shipping and that figure excludes all small craft such as trawlers. No other Power can show such a figure as that.

To come nearer to the present time, before the Naval Conference took place between 1st January, 1928, and the 1st March, 1930, we concelled 66,000 tons of naval shipping and not one other signatory to the Naval Treaty scrapped a single ton before it went into the Naval Conference. I apologise for quoting figures, but I believe that it is actual concrete figures that the people want. I do not believe it is any good talking in general terms about disarmament. I believe they want to know how many Dreadnoughts we have scrapped, what we are spending on armaments, and what other people are spending, in order that they may see whether we are sincere in our desire to disarm. As far as the cost of the Navy is concerned, the whole country will welcome the figures given by the Prime Minister, to which I hope the widest possible publicity will be given. I hope that people will realise that we at any rate can show a big decrease, and it is worth while remembering that the French, who are so often accused of being militaristic, are about the only maritime nation that shows a decrease in the numbers of her men, in the amount and tonnage of her naval shipping, and also a decrease in the amount of money which she is spending on her Navy.

I would like to ask the indulgence of the Committee to quote an extract from a letter which I received within the last week from the United States of America. It is a copy of a letter which was addressed by the Chief of Staff of the United States War Department to the editor of a periodical appearing in the United States. It was in answer to a questionnaire which had been sent out regarding the question of ministers of religion bearing arms in time of war, and in this lengthy but very well considered reply to this questionnaire the Chief of the United States War Department said, among other things: I am surprised that men of clear and logical minds confuse defensive warfare with the disease which it alone can cure when all other remedies have failed. He went on to refer to those who are …. deluded into believing that the mechanical expedient of disarming men will transform hatred into love and selfishness into altruism. Truer words were never spoken. You do not remove the chances of war by removing the means by which you can keep the peace, and see that others also keep the peace. In conclusion, he said in that letter: Any organisation which opposes the defence of homeland and the principles hallowed by the blood of our ancestors, which sets up internationalism in the place of patriotism, which teaches the passive submission of right to the forces of predatory wrong, cannot prevail against the demonstrated staunchness of our population. I confidently believe that a red-blooded and virile humanity which loves peace devotedly, but is willing to die in the defence of the right, is Christian from centre to circumference, and will continue to be dominant in the future as in the past. To-day's Debate will, at any rate, have served one very useful purpose and helped to make it clear, not only to the people of this country, but to the whole world, that Great Britain has gone as far down the path of disarmament as she can go until she is caught up by other nations. Speeches from the other side asking us to make further gestures and proposals and to give a lead ignore the fact that we have already given a lead in no unmeasured way, and it is impossible for us to go any further until at any rate those to whom we have given the lead say whether they wish to accept it or not. In conclusion, may I remind those who are rather apt to belittle the efforts of this country in the cause of disarmament of the words written by the Spanish Ambassador in November, 1927, when he spoke of the Conservative Governments …. wise and indefatigible endeavour to stem the war-like passion.… to assuage the bitterness of international friction, to stifle each threatening outbreak, to pave the way for friendlier understanding, and, above all, to spread by word or example, ever farther, ever more strongly, that spirit of peace. That at any rate is the best testimony of the sincerity, not only of this country, but of the Conservative party, in the cause of disarmament.


I think the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Commander Southby) was a little unreasonable in blaming the Government for the breakdown of the naval negotiations between this country, France and Italy. I think it was a very important and a very excellent achievement for this country and for the peace of the world, and they naturally did not anticipate at the time that one of the parties would back out of it. France backed out of it. That is the simple truth of what happened, and I do not think you can blame the Government for that.

Commander SOUTHBY

I did not blame the Government for the breakdown of the negotiations, but for announcing that they had been successful when in fact they had not.


I do not agree. I think they had been successful and that they had every reason to suppose that they were successful. They are not responsible for one of the parties concerned going back on the words which they had used. Nor do I think the hon. and gallant Member was wise in endeavouring to introduce into a Debate in which there has been a great deal of harmony a discussion of criticisms that were made of the late Conservative Government at the time of the last General Election. The Liberal party said exactly the same about the foreign policy of the late Government as the Labour party said. We stand by every word of that criticism, and if it were necessary we should be prepared to show clearly why we regarded their efforts in the main as purely obstructive and as having done a great deal to prevent the onward march of peace and progress. I feel that it is better not to go into these questions but to leave them in the silence of the past, and to march forward now in the much happier atmosphere of that co-operation between all parties, in preparation for the Disarmament Conference, that was started by the Government when they invited the representatives of the three parties to meet on the Committee of Imperial Defence and try to go into the conference as a united country.

I hope that we shall go into the conference as a united country under the leadership of the Foreign Secretary. He will be leading not so much the delegation of this country as leading the world as a whole, and I think we ought to be exceedingly proud of the position in which we have been placed through the personal impression that he has made by his diplomacy abroad. I hope that we shall go forward as a united country, leading the world, as we ought to do, and succeed in making a very great success of this vital conference. It seems to me that the least that we ought to hope for is a progressive reduction of 25 per cent., which seems to be a generally agreed figure in many quarters, to be followed perhaps at the end of the first period of five years by another cut of 25 per cent., until we gradually get to a state of affairs in which the armaments of all countries are reduced to a purely police basis or sufficient to carry out the obligations which all countries have under the Covenant of the League of Nations.

I hope that the Government, and public opinion, and those interested in this question will be on their guard against what may be a very real danger as the conference approaches. We know quite well that in the Naval Conference at Geneva a few years ago—it has been well established now—those who profit by selling armaments and make their money by it were using that money to poison the wells of information, and actually had a representative there in Geneva, who was paid to do everything in his power to prevent the success of that Naval Conference—a representative, not from this country, but from America. I hope that no one in this country would stoop to such a mean action. I hope that public opinion will be brought to bear upon this matter, and that we shall be on our guard against people trying, by personal motives of greed, to stop the success of the conference.

It seems to me that the prospects of the conference have been changed to a very considerable extent by what has happened in America in the last few days. As a result of the leadership given by President Hoover, he and America have been placed in a position to dominate the Disarmament Conference and to control it, and I hope that they will use the great power which they will possess. It is not inconceivable that you may have a position, in the earlier months of next year, when general agreement has been reached about what ought to be done, but that certain Powers in Europe will be holding back and saying that they cannot agree, that they are afraid, and that really the reductions, if any are made, must be on a much smaller scale than is the general desire. I hope that if that is so, President Hoover will not hesitate to say to Europe and to any particular country concerned, "Unless you disarm in a reasonable way that is accepted by most nations, we are going to exact all the debts that are due to us next year. We are going to make you pay up every penny, even if it creates chaos in Europe, because if there is no Disarmament, there will be chaos in Europe in any case, of a military if not of an economic kind." I hope that that economic and financial power will come as a force into the picture and will be used to the full, and used mercilessly if the necessity should arise.

I hope, at the some time, that in any of these concessions that are made to Germany, it will be made perfectly clear that the financial support that has been given her is not to be used in any circumstances for building fresh battleships or in more expenditure on such armaments as she is permitted to keep. The French are naturally very restive on this matter, and quite rightly so, and it will be a real tragedy if what is intended as a great reconstructive effort for the economic life of Europe were to lead in any way to the development of armaments. One of the most important points that is bound to arise at the Disarmament Conference is the question of how far we are prepared to say precisely in what manner we are willing to carry out our obligations under Article 16 of the Covenant. The French attach enormous importance to this. They are always saying that they are ready to give up their armaments if it can be made clear that the full security promised to them under the Covenant is to be available. I hope that we shall feel free at the psychological moment to say, in return for sufficient concessions, that we are willing to make more definite the obligations which in any case we have committed ourselves to carry out loyally and effectively.

9.0 p.m.

It is said by some that war is always liable to break out unless a country or different countries can be sure that every nation is going to carry out its obligations under the Covenant, but there is another side to that: unless a particular country can be sure that other countries are not going to carry out their obligations—and it may be difficult to be sure of that—I venture to say that it will be a very long time before any nation dares to take a risk of that sort. Suggestions have been made in the Press of other countries from time to time that in the present period of the world's history, February, 1932, is not a suitable or convenient date for the Disarmament Conference, and that it might be as well to leave it for a few months or a few years. Of course, the suitable moment never will arise, and I am very glad that the League of Nations has unanimously decided that the conference shall meet whatever the consequences, whatever happens, in February, 1932. If it were perfectly clear that the Disarmament Conference was going to meet, even though it were certain to fail, it would be far better that it should have met, and that the peoples of the world should be made to realise that the only alternative before them was war, destruction and massacre in a few short years. The more they are made to realise that, the better it will be and the more certain it will be that the Conference will be a great success. I am sure that if the ministers of this or any other country were to return from the Disarmament Conference saying that they had failed, the people of every country would turn and rend them, and they would get the deserts which they merit.


I was impressed when an hon. Member opposite complained almost pathetically at past criticisms of his party from this side of the House. I do not wish to break into what has been alleged to be the harmony of to-day's proceedings—a harmony which has already been marred by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). The hon. Member towards the end of his speech stressed the sinister significance of an American writer, one of those typical "he-men," for whom certain Americans are wont to rave as exponents of a virile Christianity. The quotation, of which I think I can give an honest paraphrase, was that you do not remove the chance of war merely by removing the instruments thereof. That is only a half-truth. We all know that the mere absence of implements of destruction, without the removal or the dissolution of the spirit of destruction, means that we should only fall back on more primitive methods; but it is true that to have a number of instruments of destruction to hand is provocative of the spirit of destruction.

Therefore, it is of great psychological importance that we have managed to acquire at least some limitation in the race for armaments since the last War. On the other hand, I would also agree, with a full sense of the seriousness of what it means, that if the coming Disarmament Conference fails, the psychological value to the whole world will be one of great depression and hopelessness, and one which will certainly be bound to drive out the growing aspirations which the democracies of the world have generated. The fact is, of course, that at the present moment, the greatest conflict of all is proceeding, that is, the conflict between those who are frankly cynical of the peace movements in the world, and those who, although they recognise the weakness of those peace movements, believe that they can be encouraged and nourished and that they will lead to great triumphs.

I was interested, in listening to the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), to notice how he stressed the fact that it was insufficient merely to play upon the psychology of fear and to warn the nations of the world of the consequences of any future war. I would not reject the appeal to the psychology of fear, and the right hon. Gentleman himself does not avoid that appeal. The Conservative party from time to time makes what capital it can out of the psychology of fear, but I agree that merely to rely upon that psychology of fear is not to be true to human nature at all. The right hon. Gentleman pleaded, I understand, for an appeal to something greater and more self-sacrificial, and I venture to suggest that the movement which those of us who sit on these benches represent has been performing precisely that function for many a day without any assistance from some of our cynical friends who sit opposite. We have been calling to the peoples of the world to realise that, although their respective nations have characteristics of value, and although there is a legitimate element of patriotism which calls us to cherish the genius of our own land, nevertheless, more important even than the virtues of one particular land, is our membership of the human race. Because of that we have been calling for years to the peoples of the world to realise that if they are going to unite in a common effort to meet a common world need, all the energy and sympathy that can possibly be shown will be necessary.

Here is a call we make to the peoples of the world to organise, and in particular to realise that, though natio- nalities have their value it is a less value than the value of humanity. The interest of humanity is higher than the interest of any particular nation. I said just now that the Tory party have not always helped us in this respect. I do not deny the sincerity of those who have criticised us or have possessed the corrosive acid of cynicism, nor do I deny that there have been exceptions. But I would point out, in spite of what was said just recently, that it is not our party that is responsible for Churchillitis and Beaver-mania, that it is not this party which has produced a great journalist who uses all the resources of the Press to deride the League of Nations. We do not produce types of that character, nor is it from our ranks that speeches have been made such as that of the right hon. Member for Epping. I am certain that a large number of Members opposite heard it with profound dismay and regret. It was full of certain half truths, but at the same time its full effect was to try to undermine the growing hope and confidence of the peoples of the world. After centuries of travail and of the futility of warfare they are beginning to realise that their truest interests are in international understanding and mutual disarmament.

The speech of the right hon. Member for Epping was couched throughout in terms of that psychology of fear which, at least indirectly, the right hon. Member for Bewdley tried to discount. He spent some time in holding up Russia as the new bogey man of the world. A few years ago people spoke in the same accents of Germany, and a short while before that it was France. In between the last War and our present absurd fear of Russia we have been talking in absurdly horrified accents about the Yellow peril. There are those who have the bogey man mind, and while the right hon. Member for Epping was speaking I felt that there must be times when he wakes in the night filled with nervous horror, with nightmare surrounding his brain, at the possibility of the Russian hordes, as he would no doubt call them, overrunning Europe. It may be that there are elements in Russia which we deplore, it may be that there are tomes of philosophy which we deplore—certainly I do myself—but people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, and one can understand the Russian people claiming that they must have powerful means of defence when they see that the people of this country have in the past used means of violence in order to obtain then-ends and to retain them.

I am not suggesting that the British Empire was entirely built up upon violence; there have been elements, undoubtedly, of enterprise and exploration, but it is not for us to point the finger of scorn at Russia, to point to her growing Air Force or her growing Army—even now less than it was in Tsarist days. Are we to say that she, surrounded by a ring of foes, is a menace to the peace of the world because she, an atheist country, copies the example of Christian countries like our own? We can hardly blame that country for doing more effectively what we are doing. If the tone of the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping were characteristic of the feeling of the country, one could well understand the fears which possess the Russians. It is not by following the pathway which the right hon. Member for Epping pointed out to us and along which he himself strode with such vain glory that we shall achieve our desires. Rather, we should call to Russia, even though she alone does not heed us, or, heeding us, gives no response. We should call aloud again and again, in the belief that, at heart, the Russian peoples are human beings like ourselves, and that in the end they will respond to the sincere cry for disarmament and for understanding which we issue.

We on these benches have high hopes of the Disarmament Conference. We realise the great psychological difficulties in existence. We recognise the cynicism and scepticism that prevail in other lands, and which undoubtedly exist here. We know that other countries have the counterpart of the right hon. Member for Epping. We know there are exiles from at one time great Imperial Powers who have a feeling of affinity with the right hon. Member for Epping, and who feel that when he is talking light is calling to light and spirit to spirit. At the same time we say that Britain, so far, has undoubtedly taken the lead and by its initiative has assisted and stimulated other countries to follow its example, or, if not to do that, at least to be more prepared for disarmament, for mutually agreed disarmament, than otherwise would be the case. An hon. Member opposite claimed rightly that we have given some measure of leading in the direction of disarmament. The effects are already being realised. Had we not done it, there would not have been the possibility of mutually agreed disarmament which exists to-day. If we had followed the example which the right hon. Member for Epping seems to offer us, if instead of agreeing to enter into conferences and discussions to prepare the way for disarmament we had concentrated purely on what we mean to be defensive methods for the preservation of own own sovereign power, I am quite convinced that other countries would have done likewise, and that to-day we should have been nearer to a ghastly world conflict.

I want that moral lead which has been established to be continued, and that is why I have high hopes of our Government in the coming Disarmament Conference. I trust the present Government will be able to send their representative, and that they will represent not only the Government, but all the parties and the peoples of this country. It will have a profound effect upon the representatives and peoples of other lands. I personally would that our representative should go further. If the peoples of the world were ready for it, I would delight that we should proceed along the lines of unilateral Disarmament and offer a still more drastic example to the world, for I believe the power of such an example would be far greater than the cynics will allow; but, unfortunately, the peoples of the world have not yet reached that stage, and we have to look forward to Disarmament by agreement. I am certain that great results will accrue from that conference if the spirit of our present representatives is preserved, and if, instead of hearkening to the cynical fears of some Members who have spoken to-day, the peoples of the world listen to the appeal made from this side of the Committee; and not only listen to it, but show, in no unmistakable form, that they give to those who express those sentiments their whole-hearted and fundamental support.


Reference has been made from every quarters of the Committee this evening to the wonderful example we are setting in Disarmament. From some long experience of public opinion I should say that this is not a very good way of setting to work to secure further Disarmament. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) made one suggestion which was unique in this Debate. I understood him to say that a great opportunity would arise for forcing peace and Disarmament owing to the intervention of President Hoover in the financial situation, and that any country which did not fall in with his general proposals and which continued to spend more money on armaments should be coerced into disarmament by continued payment of reparations to the rest of the world. I think the hon. Member might have carried us one point further by suggesting that pressure should be brought to bear upon debt collection.

We have heard that kind of talk before about the League of Nations. The League of Nations is on its trial. It has failed in many things, and may fail to bring about general Disarmament which we all so greatly desire, and which we should all be glad to see take place. But is it realised how far this country has disarmed already? I will not go into details. We have always pleaded for maintaining sufficient sea power to keep open the sea routes. We have to keep the sea routes open for our food supplies, and it is singular that the one arm which has been selected for reduction is sea power. Is it alleged anywhere that there has been any great effort to reduce the air forces or the land forces in any other country but ours? We fought the late War both on land and sea, and after the peace pressure of public opinion was turned to this country to reduce our Navy.

The Navy is vital to us, and you cannot judge this question of Disarmament of the British Navy by any other standard. In judging what we need in ships and naval power, we have to consider our national obligations, and we must maintain the minimum force that is sufficient to maintain those obligations. There are certain strategic points which we must guard in order to make our sea route safe, and therefore the strategy of sea power has also to be considered. It is nonsense to say that you are going to have parity with the United States. The conditions are totally different in each case. What this country is doing by agreement is really to hand over the command of the Channel to the French Navy. I know there is no need for us to fear France if we have a sensible Government which adopts a sensible policy in this country, but we do not want to subordinate our naval power to any other country. It is said that we are handing over the control of the trade routes to the United States. It is clear that we must give a certain range of operation to the new cruisers which the United States are laying down and producing so well.

It has been said already in this Debate that no naval Power is reducing its Navy except one country, and that happens to be the one nation in the world to which sea power is absolutely vital for its security. It is a matter of life or death to us, and no other Power is in the same position. We find that in this respect other countries have not followed our example. If by any chance we have to restore the power of our Navy, we shall be accused of bellicose sentiment, and yet we should be simply doing what was absolutely necessary to place ourselves in the position which we have sacrificed under these agreements. There has been some bickering about the projected agreement between France and Italy in regard to naval limitations, and we have had a new explanation from the Foreign Secretary. We were told, in the first place, that the projected agreement had broken down through some misunderstanding about the replacement of cruisers. Now we are told that there was a complete understanding, but it has broken down.

I do not think the Government have been quite frank with the country on this subject. The Foreign Secretary has been asked, but he has never told us, what was the position of the British Government in these negotiations between France and Italy—whether they were the honest brokers or principal parties. We ought to know. It is a very singular thing that in all these matters of naval strength the people who are deceived or kept ill-informed are the people in this country and in this House. We are always told, for one reason or another, when it is inconvenient to give an explanation, that it is not in the national interest. Yet all those experts and diplomatists of foreign Powers, whose business it is to know, know all about these things and know a very great deal more than is vouchsafed to this House and the British public. That is one of the great evils of the way in which we are treated in this popular assembly, where we are supposed to be discussing questions and where decisions are supposed to be taken. As a matter of fact, we do not do any such thing, because matters are largely decided behind our backs, and not the least by the present Government.

There is no doubt whatever that the Debate has not shaken the statement made that the state of the world is by no means suitable at the moment and is such as to cause anxiety. While there is anxiety about safety you will not get anxious nations to disarm. I cannot imagine a more unsuitable time at any point during the past few years for a general conference on Disarmament. So far from conditions becoming easier and more stable, the continued instability is causing increased anxiety. Governments are the trustees of the people. There may be Governments of this country who are willing to gamble with their trust, but Governments in other countries would be brought quickly to book if they talked nonsense which was not in accordance with the facts of the position, which are much better known on the Continent than in this country. We have a certain blindness here in regard to politics and foreign affairs. They do not arouse very great interest and we go about our business and take more interest in economics, taxation, and the successes of parties than we do in foreign diplomacy and the intricate questions affecting foreign nations. Sometimes we are brought up with a round turn with a position which has not been realised.

Hon. Members opposite who have spoken in this Debate may receive a great shock to their self-complacency before very long. It should be realised that we are now not in the position—owing to the disruption of the Navy by this Government, and further reductions apparently projected—to fulfil all the obligations which must be fulfilled by the British Navy in time of war or national emergency. Our sea power in 1935–36 under present conditions will be gone. That is the culmination of the policy of successive Governments, each one going a little further than the other. Our Army is cut down to the bone, and is hardly large enough now to do the police duty of the Empire. I am not going into the question of stocks of ammunitions, re- serves and so on, in the Army and the Navy, because if I did so I would be told it was not in the national interests to mention them. I could assure those on the Government Bench that foreign countries know a great deal more about it than we are allowed to discuss in this House. In regard to the Navy, there is also the question of the supplies of fuel, ammunition and stores necessary to maintain ships at sea in case of emergency. It is the same with the Army. There have been all these economies in stores.

It has been suggested that there might be a reduction of armaments on the basis of expenditure. I can imagine no basis less favourable to this country. Why? It is quite simple. Foreign countries get far more out of their currency, unit for unit than we get out of the pound. We spend extravagantly; we maintain far too great a staff and buildings and we have to pay more for anything we have to provide. The French find it easier to maintain their army in francs than we do in pounds, and the Germans find it easier in marks. The only country which is any way comparable to our own is the United States, which pays in dollars. There is no basis less favourable to the maintenance of a reasonable force for this country than that of currency or financial considerations. We have now come to the point where we can go no further without other nations moving. I hope it will be explained that there is no reservation made by the Government upon that point. They talk about no further unilateral disarmament. Do they mean they are prepared to proceed with disarmament further if they can get disarmament by foreign countries at Geneva? Are they going to wait to see what foreign countries do and whether they come down to the standard we have set ourselves? It is important that that point should be made quite clear. This matter cannot be dealt with entirely by sentiment. The sentimental speeches of hon. Members opposite do not reach foreign countries. You are dealing with men much harder-headed than some of those gentlemen who go to meet them at Geneva. They know what they want. Until there is general Disarmament in the world, and there is some hope that the world will take to general Disarma- ment all along the line, you cannot expect this country to go further than it has done.


When the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) began his speech, I thought that he was really going to shock the Committee out of the complacency into which he said it had fallen, but I can imagine no more effective method than his speech of fastening the stranglehold of complacency upon us. He says, in effect, that we are all right in this matter of Disarmament, and it is all the other nations who are in the wrong. In other words, he has continued the language which has been employed by practically every Member who has addressed the Committee on this subject this afternoon. He concluded his speech by deploring the proposed application of budgetary limitations at the forthcoming World Disarmament Conference, and he said that this would have very grave disadvantages for our own country. In saying that, he is using the same kind of fallacious argument which some months ago disposed the United States of America to refuse acceptance of that principle; but the people of the United States have now begun to realise that it is not countries with high wages and high producing power that are likely to suffer under that principle. Its application is based on percentage reductions, and, therefore, there is no comparative disadvantage for a country like the United States or Great Britain. It is gratifying to see the immense change in public opinion that has taken place on the other side of the Atlantic because of the recognition of the fact that there is a relative advantage, and certainly no disadvantage, to a country like the United States in the application of this principle. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be willing to take a leaf out of the book of the United States, and to work with them in this matter.

I rose, however, for the purpose of making one or two comments upon the very important comparative tabular statement of armaments which the Prime Minister gave to the Committee this afternoon. Those of us who have been working in the field of propaganda for Disarmament for many years know how exceedingly difficult it has been to obtain any kind of objective basis for reasonable discussion of these complicated problems, and it is clear, from the appreciation with which it has been received by all parties in the House, that this comparative statement is going to prove of the utmost importance, and to facilitate and focus objective and helpful discussion in the preparation of public opinion before and during the meetings of the World Disarmament Conference. I rejoice at the favourable position in which our nation emerges, in comparison with the leading armament-using nations of the world, in the light of these figures. I know that there are important sections of public opinion in France, the United States, Japan, and the other countries named, which have not a just appreciation of what this country has done in the matter of armament reductions and the working out of Disarmament policy, and nothing but good can accrue from this statement of the Prime Minister. It is a good thing that opinion in those countries should be met by a frank comparative statement of these figures.

The figures will undoubtedly exercise a salutary and important effect upon opinion outside this country, but I should regret it if, when we come to deal with our own public opinion, the kind of complacent conclusions were drawn which have been expressed in so many of the speeches in the Committee this afternoon. If I understood the Prime Minister aright, his main objective was to place us in our relative setting with regard to the leading armament-using nations of the world, and I can imagine nothing more disastrous, from the point of view of our helpful contribution to the most important international post-War conference which has been convened since the League itself was started, than that we should, before we begin, say to all and sundry, "We are all right; it is you people who have to set the pace and take the lead." That is not the temper of a British nation which is going to make a really effective contribution, even in its own narrowest self-interest, to this important conference.

I regret very much that more prominence has not been given to one aspect of the Prime Minister's tabular statement, to which the right hon. Gentleman himself only devoted a very short para- graph. I admit the relative advantage of the position in which we stand from the Disarmament point of view in relation to France and the United States. The Prime Minister, however, pointed out, when he was making naval comparisons with Germany, that, whereas Germany was spending between £31,000,000 and £32,000,000 upon her Navy in 1914, she was spending last year only £9,000,000. I cannot help thinking that, from the point of view of the development of the best kind of opinion in this country, we should be far better engaged as a nation, not so much in patting ourselves on the back with regard to the position we occupy in relation to France, the United States and Japan, as in facing what may prove the be really the gravest problem when the Disarmament Conference meets, namely, what is to be the practical attitude of that conference towards the unilateral Disarmament which was applied to Germany and Austria in 1919.

From that point of view I was very much interested in the speech of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he referred to the necessity of this country supporting the present Disarmament policy of our Continental neighbour, France. I think that that is a totally false deduction from the statement of the Prime Minister. There is no party in this House that will ever lack sympathy with the French nation, in view of the experience which they underwent from 1914 to 1918; but it would be the last of possible conclusions that would be drawn from that sympathy, or from the statement of the Prime Minister this afternoon, that we should let it go forth from the House of Commons that we consider that the best service we can render to the French nation is to encourage them to maintain their present armament policy, either with respect to their present land Army, or their naval armaments, or, perhaps most formidable of all, their developing military Air Service.

From that point of view I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he can say anything as to how the provisional agreement of the Preparatory Disarmament Conference will be implemented in the Conference. He knows perfectly well what a formidable and growing volume of opinion there is in Germany in relation to the documents upon which the Conference itself will be opened. I am not thinking now of the opinions of men like General von Seckt and Lieut.-Colonel Duesterberg, whose recent speech in Breslau I heard. They are of the temper of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I could not help being much impressed with the almost identity of substance between the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day and that which was delivered three weeks ago by the second in command of the Stahlhelm movement of Germany. I am not concerned with the attitude of mind in Germany that says, "We want re-armament. Germany's glory in the past was her powerful Army and Navy. Germany will never be again a nation commanding respect in the world until we have a powerful Army, Navy and Air service."

I know that that opinion is represented by Eight Wing Conservative opinion in Germany, that it is growing and that it is a menace for the future of Europe, but I am not interested except from the point of view of finding ways and means to combat it. What I am gravely concerned about is the moral problem with which unilateral Disarmament confronts the world conference and how that problem can best be met. Behind General von Seckt and Lieut.-Colonel Duesterberg and Stahlhelm is a vast body of the best young men in Germany who are animated by ideas of moral revolt, who say, not only in terms of economic injustice but in terms of armaments, it is preposterous that the German nation should be compelled indefinitely to accept a unilateral basis for the disarmament of their own country. I should like to ask the First Lord in what way he proposes to meet that growingly difficult situation?

Arising out of that consideration, I would draw attention not so much to naval and land armaments, though I am sure there are many grave problems thereto he met on the basis of the disarmament that was applied to Germany and three other nations in 1919. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary for Air whether, with regard to the future of air armaments, he is likely to make any contribution to the discussions that will begin in February? I think there is a grave danger, if we succeed in cutting down the size of our naval armaments and lopping off relatively less vital parts of our land armaments, that we shall be all the more free to concentrate our expenditure upon the armaments which are the most destructive of all. I know of no field where the danger is more grave than in the field of air armaments. It was precisely because of these reasons that in 1919 we completely abolished the military air service of Germany and the other Powers. In this country and, I am happy to think, in France there is a growing opinion that the only way to deal effectively with the menace of military air services is by complete abolition on the basis of mutual agreement. There is no part of the work of the Preparatory Commission for General Disarmament, and the documents which will form the basis of discussion at the conference, that is less satisfactory than the conclusions that were reached with regard to aerial disarmament. I should like to ask my hon. Friend who has this grave responsibility in his hands, whether it will be possible, in view of the growth of opinion favourable to total disarmament, to bring forward some really important and practical proposals in advance of the Conference for serious international discussion, particularly among the West European Powers.

I hope the result of this Debate will not be to add to the general sense of complacency as far as this country is concerned. We are spending £109,000,000 a year. It can afford no one any satisfaction to compare that with the 1914 situation, when the whole Continent of Europe spent far more on armaments than at any preceding time in its history. I hope, so far as British public opinion is concerned, we shall use this Debate not to develop, either from the Labour or from the Conservative benches, an attitude of self-complacency but rather to develop a policy of initiative whereby, while not prepared to carry further any policy of unilateral Disarmament, we shall face the moral and legal obligation that we contracted ourselves into in 1919 with regard to the four nations and, as I hope, bring forward a practical policy for Disarmament by mutual agreement on land, on sea and in the air which will enable us at an early date to get down this £109,000,000 to a considerably lower level and, at the same time, by every stride that we take in this direction by mutual agreement, not only bring great honour to our country, but establish still more firmly the foundation which alone can make for the peace of the world.

Vice-Admiral TAYLOR

I should like to look at this case from the point of view of the naval forces which the country now has at its disposal and, in particular, with regard to those cruiser forces which are essential for the safeguarding of our 80,000 miles of trade routes in all parts of the world. I should like to read the statement of the French Minister of Marine in 1927: Navies ought to be measured not by political ambitions but by real defensive need inscribed in history and geography, that is to say, by the requirements of the geographical situation, the extent of coasts and colonies, the bulk of industry and trade and the moral prestige implanted over the oceans by centuries and centuries of navigation. Such a criterion gives Britain premier rank. That is a frank and clear expression of opinion with regard to the naval forces that a country should have. We have the most widespread Empire in the world. We are more dependent on the safety and security of food and raw materials coming to us from all parts of the world than any other, and it is our duty, no matter what Government is in power, to see that we have such a force at our disposal that in the event of war it can safeguard those vital necessities coming to our shores. We are limited to 50 cruisers and about 120 destroyers. I would ask the Government to explain to the country how it is possible, with that number at our disposal, 25 of the cruisers being definitely allocated to the battle fleet, and some of the destroyers also being attached to the battle fleet, to safeguard those 80,000 miles of trade route? All over the world there are certain definite, main focal points where ships will congregate and concentrate in order to obtain supplies to bring to this country. Those areas have to be protected. Undoubtedly, in any future war, ships will require to be convoyed from all over the world by cruisers and ocean-going destroyers. How is it to be done? I should like the First Lord of the Admiralty to explain how it will be possible. It is, of course, the Government's responsibility, but, in the event of war, it is the responsibility of the Admiralty and the officers at sea to carry out the operations of war, with forces which are totally inadequate for the functions they have to perform.

It is a most unfair responsibility to place upon the men at sea. There is not an admiral, either at the Admiralty or at sea, who would be content, if war broke out to-day, to have to ensure the security of our food and trade routes with the forces at disposal to-day. The operations in the late War against our trade were carried out by single cruisers and by a few ocean-going submarines, but in the next war matters will be greatly intensified. There will be oceangoing submarines in far greater number armed with the 5-inch gun, which is no mean weapon, to operate against our trade. In confined waters, such as the Mediterranean, in waters through which our ships will have to pass in convoys close to the shores, Powers may send out torpedoes or destroyers from suitable positions to operate against our trade. Flying machines will also, no doubt, operate with great intensity against our trade. Yet here we are cut down to 25 cruisers and a few destroyers with which to carry out the safeguarding of our trade in all parts of the world. It is not possible to do it.

Now we are going into this conference, as we are told, prepared still further to cut down this most inadequate force on condition that other nations will also cut down. But there is no question whatever of the comparison of our forces with other nations as far as the safeguarding of our trade routes is concerned, for the forces we require are actual and not relative. No matter how small the forces may be that may operate against us, with our world-wide trade routes open to attack, unless we can have cruisers and destroyers defending the convoys bringing food and raw material, we cannot possibly ensure success in any future war against this country.


I hope that one consequence of this interesting Debate—and all who have listened to it will agree with me that it has been a very interesting one—will be that the Vote which we are now discussing will appear more frequently upon the Order Paper, so that we may review our position in respect of defence, not as a question of this service or of that, but of all the services which contribute to it. It is only in taking into account the whole needs of the country, and bringing into account its whole resources, that we can get an accurate view either of its present position or of its future needs.

10.0 p.m.

We who asked for this Debate are well satisfied with the discussion which it has produced. There have been, of course, speeches in which I could find a great deal to criticise, if that were my purpose. There have been one or two which seemed to me so wholly guided by the heart and so little influenced by the head as to constitute, not an aid to reasonable Disarmament and the progress of peace, but an obstacle to them. But I am glad to note the great measure of agreement, not only as to the purposes in view, but as to the conditions which must attach to their execution, which has been revealed in these discussions among responsible speakers in all quarters of the Committee. The Prime Minister made, none too soon, I think, a speech which, I hope, will be widely read and deeply pondered in this country, first and foremost, but not in this country alone. There has been evidence, as he said, in more than one country of a disposition to ignore, or of a complete ignorance of, what we have done, and, in some quarters, a disposition to try and throw upon us a responsibility which does not belong to us. The figures which the Prime Minister gave, whatever qualifications may be made in them and whatever variations may be made when they are examined in other countries, nevertheless make a case which, as he said, can be proved beyond contradiction.

It is not my purpose, nor is this a suitable time of day, to add to the figures which he gave. They can be supplemented by others. Test the matter where you will, the same lesson will be taught and the same position—but carried further—will be disclosed. I venture to add that figures such as these, which, after all, can be derived from the published figures of our Estimates from year to year, do not disclose the full extent to which we have gone in the process of disarmament. If you went behind the published figures into the facts which are not disclosed, the deeper you probed the more you would find how much we had done, partly in order to meet the economic necessities of the time, partly because, whatever the future has in store for us, successive Governments have felt that the danger was not now, and partly, and largely, because we desire to live up to the expectations which we had raised by signing the documents which the Prime Minister cited, and because we hoped that what we were doing—I will not say it would be an example to other nations—would be accompanied and followed by similar action on their part. What results from the statement of the Prime Minister is, that up to the present that has not been the case. It is in this country alone that any comparable reductions have been made. Elsewhere there has been no reduction but growth, and even in those countries in which pacifists—I do not like the word—in which peaceful opinion in regard to resort to war is most potent, and probably is most genuine, there has been, instead of reductions, a gigantic growth.

I have said that I could add to the figures given by the Prime Minister. Every Member of the Committee will have noticed the significant gap in those figures. He made no reference at any point to Russian armaments. Secrecy broods over Russian preparations to a greater extent than over those of any other country, but enough is known to show that if the Prime Minister had chosen to cite the approximate figures for Russia, they would have shown an immense growth, and particularly in most recent years. That country maintains the greatest standing army now existing in the world, and it is well that we should realise that unless that country is animated, or can be brought to be animated, by the same peaceful tendencies and hopes as animate the rest of us, it is impossible to carry Disarmament at the present time to any considerable length. In any case, I would utter a caution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was, I believe, saying no more than the truth when he said that we should be at least as far advanced in the reduction of armaments, and perhaps further, if there had been no Disarmament Commission or Conference, at any rate in respect of land and air forces. The one considerable contribution has been the contribution made by the Washington and London Conferences in the sphere of naval limitations. But the London Conference agreement is still only a Three-Power Agreement. The agreement of the other two Powers does not seem to have come nearer. Unless they can be brought to agree between themselves, it will be inevitable that our Government should have recourse to that Clause which they inserted in the agreement with the United States and Japan, specially to provide for the case where we as a European Power cannot sit idle or be bound by those restrictions, while other European Powers steadily increase their naval forces.

I am not going to occupy much time to-night, but there are one or two considerations that I want to put before the Committee. We have taken risks. I am not in the least criticising the present Government. Their predecessors no lees than themselves have taken risks such as would not have been justified unless it was reasonable to say that the early outbreak of a great war was a practical impossibility. So far am I from criticising the present Government that I say that, if the right hon. Gentleman instead of taking as his intermediate date 1924, had taken the Budget of 1929, very nearly the whole of the reduction in the military forcee of the Crown had already been made by that time, before his Government had any responsibility. The reduction in the Air Force had been, I think, entirely made by that time, before the present Government had any responsibility, and the only considerable additional reduction since has been in the naval field. In passing, let me say, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden) said—in a speech which impressed the whole Committee by the wisdom of its general survey and the depth of feeling which obviously animated my hon. and gallant Friend—that there is a point beyond which by Disarmament we cannot serve the cause of peace.

Great Britain is necessary to Europe: a Great Britain which can carry weight in its councils and, if need be, in its differences. It is well to remember when talking rather easily of the reductions which we have made, and which we may still make, that the weaker we are the more dependent we become upon other nations. The less our strength the more our policy depends upon other nations and the less it is within our own control. I have read, as I have no doubt other hon. Members have read, the biography of Lord Carnock by his son, and I was struck by a passage in which he pointed out that it was owing to the relative incapacity of the British Navy alone to defend the British Empire that we were forced into those naval negotiations and arrangements with France which by themselves, if no other circumstances had existed, would have made it impossible for us to stand by unmoved and leave France to her fate when war broke out, [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It would have been impossible. That is not merely the view of the historian or of the politician who is now speaking at this Table, but it was the view of Members of the Cabinet of the day who complained, some of them, Lord Morley among the number, that by those conversations and arrangements we had been committed to action. Those conversations, those arrangements, arose out of the fact that we were not strong enough to defend ourselves by ourselves. Therefore, I say that that historic instance reinforces my argument that the weaker we are, the less independent is our policy, and the more we have to take account not of what we desire but of what other people wish. There is a second consideration.


What about the small nations? Have they no privileges of defending themselves?


The hon. Member, if he ever reads the proceedings at Geneva, may reflect how important is the strength of the British Empire to the League of Nations, and particularly to the small nations. That leads me to the second consideration, which is our commitments. Many of these arise out of the Covenant of the League of Nations. What are the sanctions, what is Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations worth if the British Navy does not count in the world? What are they worth if the British Empire does not count? It will not be these little nations of whom the hon. Member speaks who have either the strength to enforce these sanctions or who, if left alone by us, would wish to attempt the task. No. I beg the Committee to remember that just in proportion as we have reduced our military forces, in the broad sense including all the three branches of our military forces, we have assumed new, and larger and wider responsibilities than we have ever done before. If we honestly and completely fulfil the duties of the Covenant, it will be difficult for us to remain a neutral in a war where one party has failed of its obligations, and has wantonly and in defiance of those obligations, attacked another. It really does not serve the interests of peace that Great Britain should go on disarming in order to set an example which, at any rate at present, has not been followed; it does not serve the interests of peace, because the weakness of Great Britain is not in the interests of European stability, European confidence or the peace of the world.

One further general observation. This conference meets, as one hon. Member has said, at a moment which in some respects is not wholly propitious, but its meeting will mark a turning point in the world's history. Such a conference cannot assemble and separate leaving the world where it was when it met. Either it will have done something to improve the situation or the situation will be sensibly worsened. I agree with every word that fell from the Prime Minister and other speakers as to the importance of this conference, not merely of the conference itself but the vital necessity of wringing from it somehow a practical advance upon our present position. I hold that view profoundly; I think it will be a disaster for the world if it is not so. But do not let us set our hopes too high; that is as dangerous as a cynical acquiescence in the present state of things. One Disarmament Conference will not bring armaments to the point at which we wish to see them. If it is successful, it will only be the first of many. The steps by which we approach our goal must be slow and gradual. We must be content to recognise that this is a day of small things. Take these small things gratefully. If they lead us in the right direction, they will mark the intention on the part of the nations of the world to proceed in the path of peace and will strengthen the conditions which make for peace.

It would be fatal to risk what is obtainable by demanding that which may become obtainable some day but is not obtainable now. The Prime Minister spoke, in words to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping and I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) have already alluded, about our friendship with France. I have sometimes been accused of thinking too much of France and too little of my own country. I do not plead guilty to the charge, and I am not going to stop to defend myself to-night, at any rate. I have never thought it necessary. But because we are good friends, and because I am as good a friend of France as an Englishman can be, I can talk freely. I am not afraid of attack by France. I believe that France has need of us, as we have need of her. I believe that only upon a good and firm understanding between our two countries can you build our common reconciliation with Germany, and that you will make no progress whatever by sacrificing an old friend in the hope that thereby you may get a new one. But then, not even with all that reliance on France, not even with the deep conviction of the necessity for good understanding and good will between us, would I, as an Englishman, be willing to see the fate of my country at the mercy of France.

The Prime Minister said, and rightly said, that though we still thought as islanders we had lost our insular security. The air has bridged the Channel. Even in the Channel there is a situation arising which is dangerous to our existence. We do not serve the cause of disarmament by concealing those facts from our own people or by concealing them from the world. We have to state them plainly, and for my part I believe that the fuller the statement of our own situation, the fuller will be our justification and the greater our chance of securing some results. I think that that statement ought to be accompanied by an equally frank statement that the special risks that successive Governments have taken in these years cannot be indefinitely continued, and that unless those countries which are over-insured against any peril that can possibly beset them, are prepared now to make a beginning, and a serious beginning, in the reduction of their armaments, we not only can go no further, but no Government will be justified in remaining where we now stand.

That is all I want to say. I earnestly hope that this conference will lead to a successful result. I have the pleasure of being one of those who are co-operating with the Government in the examination of the problem on behalf of my party and attempting to yield such assistance as we can. I believe that the responsible leaders of the three parties are at one as to the principles which govern our actions; and I hope we may remain at one, and that the Government may act with the full assent of the nation, not merely in the preparatory conversations which must take place before the conference meets, but throughout that conference itself; and that they, in conference with other nations, may take the first step towards the fulfilment of the moral obligation which several of us had signed, and towards the realisation of those aspirations which are nowhere more widespread or more deeply felt than in our own country.


I am sure that in every part of the Committee there will be general agreement with the spirit of the closing words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). It is absolutely essential, as he has put it to the Committee, that if we are to be successful in the approaches which we make to the coming General Disarmament Conference, in the preparation of the agenda, and in maintaining the discussions at the conference itself, we ought to carry with us the support of the great majority, if not of the whole of the people of this country. If the right hon. Gentleman and his friends directly opposite, and those who sit below the Gangway, who have been invited by the Government to co-operate and have willingly co-operated in discussing the general questions which are to come up at Geneva, carry through, as I believe they will, the discussions in that spirit, then, I believe we shall be in a very strong position indeed at Geneva, and that we shall be able to present at that conference a far more united national front on this great world question than perhaps we have ever been able to do at any previous major disarmament conference. For that reason I felt, as I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), that it was a very good thing that the Prime Minister had been able to arrange for the discussion of this Vote, if only to draw from the Leader of the Opposition the amount of support which he gave, vocally, this afternoon to the policy outlined by the Prime Minister.

If I say one or two things about the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, it will not be intended in any way as criticism but merely as comment upon certain phases of it. He says that if the world wants disarmament, it must play its part as we have done. I felt that in the speech made later on by my hon. Friend who has made such a study of this question, the Member for North Bradford (Sir N. Angell), there was an answer to that comment of the Leader of the Opposition, and it was this. If the world does play its part, as Members in all parts of the Committee recognise that we have done up to the moment, surely we must be prepared to go further. More than one of my hon. Friends on this side who are just as mindful as I am, whilst I am the head of a fighting service for the time being, of the danger of going too far, but who definitely want to see this country give real moral lead to the world in disarmament——


We have done it.


I have already referred to that. May I say, too, that I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) for 40 minutes to-night and never once interrupted him. In a moment or two I shall have one or two things to say to him and I shall not resent it if he comments upon my speech but, in the meantime, perhaps he will allow me to continue my argument. I have said that many of my hon. Friends on this side recognise the difficulties which any one of us who is at the head of a fighting service has to face. While recognising those difficulties, they want to see that if other countries are prepared to deal with this matter in a spirit of co-operation we ought not to say, "We can go no further," but that we should as other countries show their willingness to cooperate, examine the whole of the facts with carefulness and without any lack of concern for our own national considerations or for the general future of our own people, and in that spirit be willing to go as far as we possibly can in building for peace by getting actual Disarmament. The right hon. Gentleman further said that he wanted to help Europe, not at the expense of our country or of any other. May I say to him that that is exactly the spirit in which the Government approach the problem? We want to help Europe. We do not want to help Europe specially at the expense of this country, nor do we want Europe to benefit at the expense of some other country. What we do want is, by our example, by our work, to get the whole of Europe into the proper frame of mind for making a more speedy contribution to general Disarmament than we have yet attained.

The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said to-night that he appreciated the extent to which the speech of the Prime Minister had made a revelation of the facts, and that that revelation was necessary from more points of view than one. He stressed one in particular, and that was that it was necessary to avoid the crystallisation of the opinions of the delegates of the foreign countries before they arrived at the conference. I am sure the facts given by my right hon. Friend will be exceedingly useful. The right hon. Member for Darwen was rather concerned—and one or two other of my hon. Friends on this side were concerned—about undue stress being placed upon some of the monetary figures given in that speech, having regard to the differences in the value of exchanges during the period covered by the figures. The Prime Minister was most careful in his statement to say that because of those very changing conditions ho was not prepared to rely upon the meticulous accuracy of each one of the comparisons made from a monetary point of view, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and all those who have mentioned this point will recognise that in the painting of the general picture which the Prime Minister put to the Committee we do not rely upon that one set of facts. We rely upon the actual material facts, of strength of armaments, of personnel, of tons, of guns and of the development of mechanisation, and it makes us all think when we find such an organisation as the Navy League, for whom the right hon. Member for Epping sometimes speaks, using as the basis of their propaganda the published graphs of the League of Nations. I believe that that one fact is sufficient in support of the general picture which my right hon. Friend has put to the Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen need be under no illusion. We recognise the point that he made in that connection, and we are relying more on the general picture; and when he says that we want still to make our national contribution to leadership on the disarmament question, I am sure he will find that we shall be willing to work with him.

There was another point that he mentioned which is perhaps of some importance. He referred to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had been unanimously elected as chairman of the conference. He congratulated him upon it, as we all congratulate him upon it, but he was rather anxious as to whether it would in fact tend to detract from his sway and power in the delegation. I am sure of this, that any examination of the precedents in the case of conferences of this kind will show that the fact of the election of my right hon. Friend as chairman of the conference need have no such effect as the right hon. Gentleman feared, and he can be as well the active and leading delegate of this country. I come next to the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping——


Did the right hon. Gentleman say that the Foreign Secretary can both be President of a conference of this kind and act as leading delegate of his own country—put the case of his own country from the chair?


There are precedents at any rate for that. The particular details of our arrangement at Geneva are not settled, but I do want to take away from the mind of my right hon. Friend any impression that the election of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the chairmanship of the conference would detract from his help and service to the British delegation.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping opened a speech which, I think, all parts of the Committee will regret, with the statement that he had studied this matter. With that I agree, because although we do not like the right hon. Gentleman's views, I will pay him this tribute, that from the technical point of view he knows a great deal about armies and navies, and has studied tactical questions. I do not want to detract for a moment from that side of the right hon. Gentleman's capacity for speaking on this question. He also said he was going to speak, perhaps almost for the first time, from a really free and independent point of view. It was a lucky thing for the party opposite that the speech was made from an independent point of view. If it were to be the basis of an appeal of the Conservative party to the country on the question of Disarmament, in the present temper of the people of this country and of the working classes in all countries, I should be very sorry for their prospects of success at the poll. He said that nothing has been achieved by disarmament conferences. Would the right hon. Gentleman say that nothing had been achieved at the Washington Conference?


I carefully said that I was not dealing with that. How could I condemn that conference when I was in a very important position actively connected with it? I excepted the Washington Conference, and I directed my attention particularly to Geneva. An interruption was made which the First Lord heard, and it is nonsense for him to pretend he did not hear it and to produce the statement he has made.


The right hon. Gentleman said that conferences had accomplished nothing. Apparently now, because he made some slight reservation about the Washington Conference, he thinks he can get away from it, and we are to decide that, leaving out Washington, no other Disarmament Conference accomplished anything. That is very interesting and exactly what I thought I should get from him. He also said that such conferences were far more likely to be the cause of friction than develop friendship and goodwill. The right hon. Gentleman is a very clever speaker, and always gives us a great demonstration of the English language. He produces adjectives for which some of us have to look in the dictionary. From that point of view, he interests us very much, but he is one of the most illogical and inconsistent speakers that ever addresses the House. In the same speech to-night he was complaining about the silence on these matters before the War, and what a dreadful thing it was to cover it all up and for the world suddenly to find itself faced with a catastrophe. Yet he thinks it is a bad thing and a wicked thing for us to go into conferences openly to avoid war.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, in a very reasonable speech, emphasised how necessary it is to have openness about these things when he pointed to the fact that it was because of certain weaknesses we felt at not being able to defend ourselves on land and sea, that we entered into secret negotiations and conferences, which left this country committed on 3rd August, 1014, without the common people of the country ever having been aware of it. The right hon. Gentleman was a Member of the Government before the War. He knew all about the conditions, negotiations and policy at that time. He condemned that policy to-night. He says, "Do not leave the people unawares. Do not be silent"; and then he goes on to say, "Do not have conferences, because they cause friction."


It is necessary that I should say that the account of things that was given by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) is not admitted.


In what respect, may I ask, is the right hon. Gentleman challenging any statement which I have made?


I was referring to the statement of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham——


Oh, I see.


—that there were commitments of the Government before the War to France, which was a commitment which was never alleged by the French Government.

Mr. BRACKEN rose——


Sit down!


I have come to the conclusion, after having listened to the right hon. Gentleman to-night, that it might be there would be friction arising out of conferences if he were one of the leaders on the stage at the time. I remember a most significant speech last year in which he committed the indiscretion of reading a secret telegram. [Interruption.] I remember that incident proved clearly to my mind that he was one of the persons responsible in the Government of that time for restricting the scope of the Washington Conference to what it actually accomplished.


Well, what is the matter with that?


I remember something else. I remember there was a Naval Conference in 1927 at Geneva, at a time when the right hon. Member was a Member of the Cabinet, and I remember that one of the great workers for Disarmament, a Member of the Conservative Cabinet, resigned. After the speeches we get from the right hon. Member and his declaration to-night, I am not surprised. He told us that Treaty limits placed great handicaps upon our architectural design of ships. I would be the last to say, after having been at the Admiralty for two years, that we can build as freely in respect of design as we could before there were Treaties, but if that was a serious factor, why did not the right hon. Gentleman resign from the Government? Why did he accept the Washington Treaty? That Treaty, more than any other, laid limits of architectural design upon the British Navy. He did not resign. Why should he make complaints on that score now?

Vice-Admiral TAYLOR rose——


Sit down?


Another point was that these treaties have meant the scrapping of ships which, had they been kept, would have been very valuable, especially in view of our economic circumstances. It is true up to a point, but I want to examine it in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's language and records, and, after all, I am entitled as the naval Minister for the time being, to look at it from that point of view. First of all, he said that he did not resent that it was decided to scrap all the capital ships at Washington except 20—that means putting 69 out of the 89 ships on the scrap-heap.


I certainly did not resent that, but I was not directly concerned in the details of the Washington Treaty.


The other point I am interested in is this: If capital ships were laid up, and we incurred the loss of keeping them on a care and maintenance basis, would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to incur the expense, and provide the necessary extra store, or would he keep them in a useless condition? Would he have incurred the additional expense of maintaining the skeleton crews which would have been required for those ships? I do not think he would, judging by the way in which he treated the request of the Sea Lords of the Admiralty when he was at the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman was one thing at the Admiralty and quite another at the Treasury. Indeed, he hardly knows on which leg to stand. The right hon. Gentleman repeated to-day a statement which he made last year that never since the days of Charles II were we less able to defend our interests, especially in the narrow seas. I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman's historical knowledge, which is far greater than my own, but I have read a little naval history in the last year or so, and I commend to the right hon. Gentleman the study of Admiral James' book, "The British Navy in Adversity," and if the right hon. Gentleman says that our Navy is worse to-day than it was at the time described in the "British Navy in Adversity," well, I cannot understand it.

Let me say that we have always within the last 300 years been warned that the British Navy is incapable in its present strength of doing its job. In 1911–12 and 1913, when the right hon. Gentleman was providing for the great pre-War Navy to meet the German menace, naval supporters on the other side were always saying that the Navy was not adequate to do its work and always within the last 300 years the same story has been told. There is only one point to which I wish to refer in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Just before the right hon. Gentleman gave us his three special points, he made a quite uncalled-for attack upon Russia. It is not my special desire to use this occasion for the defence of Russia, but that attack was quite unnecessary in this Debate, especially in view of the fact that the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) said he welcomed the fact that both the United States and the Union of Soviet Republics had agreed to come to the Disarmament Conference. The right hon. Gentleman took that occasion to give us another flow of words, and he described Russia as "incalculable, aloof and malevolent." There seemed to be something similar in that to what the right hon. Gentleman wrote in his book on Lord Randolph Churchill in which he quoted what his father said that: Russia was sometimes stealthy, sometimes open, always gradual, always in advance of countless hopes, now resembling the gliding of a serpent, now the bound of a tiger, a perpetual injury to stability and progress in the government of the people. That was not Russia under a Soviet, but Russia under quite another regime altogether, and I could not help thinking, when I heard the right hon. Gentleman's description of the relations of Russia today, that Russia always will be held up as a bogey when it suits the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping to do so. He made an appeal to-night which I can only describe as contemptible, and as fostering and developing mistrust and suspicion in small States, and which ended up with what amounted, to all intents and purposes, to an open invitation to one great European Power to maintain the largest forces possible. His plea, summarised, was that we ought at once to regain British sea supremacy.




He said we should regain the power to defend our trade routes, and in relation to what he had said before I think that was a fair description.


No. I carefully said that I accepted the sea supremacy of the United States.


That is rather interesting, having regard to some of the speeches from the back benches over there. As a matter of fact, His Majesty's Government have agreed, with the concurrence of our technical advisers, to an agreement which does not give supremacy but which gives a reasonable measure of parity. There are some people in America who think that the reason is not on their side but on ours. The right hon. Gentleman thinks the other way, but when two sets of people think so differently, I think it may be accepted that the middle course was right. Then he said we ought to see that the French Army was maintained, and we ought to bring the French and Germans close together. That is his contribution to the consideration of the problems which await the general Disarmament Conference next year. All I can say is that it is a very fortunate thing for the Disarmament Conference that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has decided to adopt a position of independence, and that he will not be called into the councils of those who prepare for the conference.

The hon. Member for North Bradford (Sir N. Angell), whose speech I am sure we all enjoyed to-night, said he hoped we should not in the coming conference devote too much time and consideration to what he called small points like tonnage and guns. I am sure, however, he will recognise that in an Agreement of the kind we shall have to negotiate at Geneva, tons and guns and mechanical units will be very important factors. There has been a very long discussion before one could evolve the technical agenda and the schedules attached to the technical agenda for a great world Disarmament Conference like this, and it must be remembered that the schedules are blank. While in the case of one class of armaments, that is to say, naval forces, we and two of the other principal naval powers have inserted our figures, really the great discussion has to come in regard to the schedules at Geneva next year—what are the figures to be inserted? While the hon. Member urges us, in effect, not to mind giving up a bit more here and there, may I say to him that when you get round a table examining what are, the facts, then he would recognise, that as we have made our contributions freely and openly and generously in the question of Naval Disarmament, we must expect other nations to do the same. But I will assure him that if they will do that, they will be met in the same spirit.

The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) asked me one or two questions with regard to the figures which have been given by the Prime Minister and especially in regard to costs. He thought that the cost of our Navy today in relation to its size, ships, guns and personnel was far too high. I would much rather debate that question with him in detail on the occasion of the examination of the Navy Estimates, but I think I ought to say at once that, when he criticises the size of staffs, whether in the case of the Navy or of the Army, the conditions to-day are, totally different from what they were prior to the War. I believe the technicians would say that, in 1914, both in the case of the Army and of the Navy, it was found that the kind of staffs which had existed before the War were inadequate for the purposes which they had to perform, and it has been necessary, not only for that reason but owing to the great development in mechanisation and in other technical directions, to have adequate staffs for the purpose.

The hon. and gallant Member asked me about overheads. Overheads, in matters like Navy and Army Estimates, cover a great many matters. I am sure there is no desire in any part of the House that the developments which we have made for the welfare of the men of His Majesty's Forces should be cut down or withdrawn, and the overhead charges on the surface to-day are very largely composed of increases in amenities for the men who are employed. As I pointed out during the hon. and gallant Member's speech, when you come to reckon the cost of the British Navy to-day, and realise that practically £9,000,000 of the £50,000,000, or nearly 20 per cent. of the total Vote, is for non-effectives, it must be seen that the cost of the Navy to-day, having regard to the increased pay of the men and the officers in addition, is not, perhaps, quite of the order that the hon. and gallant Member has suggested.

I have not time to refer to the other speeches, but I want to say a word or two in conclusion about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. I am sure that, although points might be found here and there with which hon. Members on this side would not agree, the general spirit of the appeal which he made to the Committee is one which will find an echo in all our hearts. We are not unmindful of the proper need for caution in dealing with these matters, and for making quite sure that we are taking a safe step at every step that we go. We agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this conference can only be the beginning of a series of conferences. We want to see an evolution in this matter, and, as we make progress in 1932, so we shall hope to make still further progress at subsequent conferences. That, indeed, was the spirit of the appeal which the Prime Minister made in 1929, when he first took up afresh the question of Naval Disarmment. We made no secret, at the time of the Conference of 1930, that we recognised that the naval decisions of 1930 could in no way be regarded as final decisions, and we want the progress of Disarmament to go forward steadily year by year as the desires of the peoples of the world grow in that direction, and as the corollary happens that there is a growing confidence in other methods for obtaining security than the appeal to the arbitrament of war. We recognise that men and women in all parties have given their brains and their time in order to try and develop these other recourses rather than the recourse of war, so that we might make more rapid progress than we have yet made towards a state of having an international as well as a national law, which will be based on confidence on the part of the people because it has been put into practice—that is why we signed the Optional Clause—and which shall be finally in a state of codification and trusted by all the peoples of the world. For that object we shall continue to labour.

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

Everybody will be delighted to find the harmonious spirit which has prevailed in this Debate. If a united feeling goes forth from the House, it can be nothing but helpful.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.