Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £124,278, 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, 1934, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I do so in order to call attention to certain specific questions. We have asked for this Vote for two main purposes. One of those I cannot discuss very much at present—that is, the question of the American debt, about which we are to have a statement later—but the other question that I wish to raise is that of the Disarmament Conference, and I think it is clear that those two matters are very closely connected. There has never been an occasion on which we have debated foreign affairs in this House with the consciousness that the representatives of all nations were gathered in this City to discuss the affairs of the whole world. It is not for us this afternoon, in my view, to discuss at all the questions that are being dealt with at the World Economic Conference, but I think it is suitable for us to discuss certain questions which are intimately bound up with the success of that Conference.
Many of us, no doubt, were listening either in the hall or on the wireless to the Gracious Speech that was made at the opening of that Conference yesterday, and we were struck, I think, by what was said there with regard to the problem of the unemployed. I could not help thinking, when listening to that speech, 30 that there was a former Member of this House, who was known as the "Member for the Unemployed," and of what would have been his feelings if he had known that, whereas 30 years ago unemployment was considered to be a matter for the individual, to-day it is the world concern of 66 nations. I think he would have been particularly glad of those words spoken at the opening of the Conference:It cannot be beyond the power of man so to use the vast resources of the world as to ensure the material progress of civilisation.Success at the World Economic Conference undoubtedly depends on the wholehearted co-operation of all nations and in a frank acceptance of the fact that the interests which unite nations are greater than those which divide them. Sir Arthur Salter, a very great international civil servant, writing in the "Times" last week, said:Success within the Conference will depend largely upon what is determined outside it, upon international relations, as, reflected in the Disarmament Conference, and upon the War debt negotiations.Therefore, in bringing forward those two matters this afternoon, we are in fact dealing with the two pre-requisites to the success of the World Economic Conference, and the statements both of President Hoover and of President Roosevelt point in the same direction. The thing that strikes me first of all is that warfare to-day depends mainly on economic power. In my view, economic nationalism, which is recognised by every delegate to that Conference as one of the greatest causes of world unrest, is really a form of armament. The idea of selfishness is natural in a world that depends on force, in which every State is apprehensive of the designs of its neighbour, and in which force has not been superseded by reason. Therefore, moral disarmament and a very large measure of actual physical disarmament are essential to the success of world trade co-operation. Everybody agrees that in the economic circumstances of today the United States of America holds the key position with regard to world recovery, and we all know that in the United States the question of world recovery, bound up as it is with the settlement of the debt question, depends upon the success of the Disarmament Conference.
31 Therefore, I think that it is useful for this Committee to see just what is happening at the Disarmament Conference. The first point that I would make is the terrible long-drawn-out delay of the Conference. There were years of delay before its inception, and it actually started on the 2nd February, 1932. So far we are still in the stage of discussion, and we have not yet reached any finality on any one point. If one looks at the history of these rather long-drawn-out discussions, one finds at first a period in which we had the wrangling of the experts, in which every nation compoundedfor sins they are inclin'd to, by damning those they have no mind to.In July, 1932, we had the Hoover suggestion—a very broad and wide suggestion—and this country met it at once with a counter suggestion, which in fact shelved it. We then had long-drawn-out discussions over the German claim to equality in August, 1932; then more delay and more trouble until finally we had the British plan of March, 1933. Then we had some real progress when the United States accepted that plan on its broadest lines. It is an unusual thing for one nation to accept the plan of another, and we all hoped when we listened to the Prime Minister describe the plan in this House that there was going to be a real advance. On the 27th May we dropped our bombshell in our reservation with regard to aerial bombing.
I want to ask whether this country has really taken the lead that it ought to have done in the Disarmament Conference and in the League of Nations. The League of Nations is an instrument of very great potential power, but it cannot be stronger than the strength of the members that compose it. Its effectiveness depends on a lead being given by those from whom a lead is expected, and this is the country from whom that lead is expected. Since the accession to office of this Government we have failed to give that lead. There are two sides to the disarmament question—security and disarmament itself. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that security must come first. Speaking in this House on the 26th May, the Foreign Secretary said: 32It was, I think, perhaps in some ways a little unfortunate, because I am profoundly convinced that until we can satisfy certain great States that we have got inside our scheme something which may fairly go by the name of 'security' we shall never persuade them to join in an effective degree of disarmament."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May; col. 1441, Vol. 278.]That is true, but one might add that if great States see a certain great State breaking every covenant, doing exactly what it pleases by virtue of its armed strength, it will be difficult to persuade other great States not to follow the bad example. Unfortunately the policy pursued by our representatives, as reflected in the action, or rather the inaction, of the League of Nations, has been such as to show that at present there is no security under the League of Nations. I refer, of course, to the Sino-Japanese dispute. I make no apology for raising that matter again; it has been discussed in this House very often, but it is an open sore in the body politic of the world. It is all very well to say that there is an armistice now and that actual warfare is not going on. That does not relieve the situation in the least with regard either to the trouble in the Far East, or to the wider question as to how far the League of Nations has provided security for its members. What is happening in the Far East to-day and the talk about an armistice is just as if the victim of a burglar were now holding up his hands and ceasing to struggle while the burglar went through his pockets, and the police were saying, "It is all right now, for there is no fighting on the premises; they are going to settle it quite amicably." That is the line, as far as I can see, that is being taken. In fact, the burglar has been so successful in business that we are going to negotiate a trade treaty with him.
The timing of our trade treaties with regard to the political situation is singularly unfortunate. We made the German Trade Treaty at an unfortunate time for the world, and if we are to have anything of that kind with Japan, it will be a thoroughly cynical proceeding and will show that business cares nothing for ethics. The point of the Sino-Japanese struggle is that China, who, whatever the defects in her Government, was a loyal member of the League, appealed to the League for support; she relied on the 33 pledged word of the Christian Powers, and she has been entirely let down. We have taught a good many lessons to the East, some of them good and some of them bad. It will be a very bad lesson if we tell the East that the nations of the West regard only force and never right. The present state of frustration of the Disarmament Conference is due very largely to its failure to make effective security. It will continue until we have actual proof that the League of Nations can give security.
Hitherto, when these questions have come up, we have always been told that the League of Nations will act some time. At first it used to be said that the League of Nations was Very young and that we must not test it beyond its strength. Always it seemed to be not the occasion to act. It was like the story of the man who wrote from the trenches "Dear Mother, I am sending you one pound, but not this week"; or like the Darwen party, who are always going to find an occasion to revolt against the Government but never do so. Meanwhile, pact follows pact, obligation follows obligation, protestation follows protestation—all words. We have had the Covenant, the Kellogg Pact, the Locarno Pact and the Four-Power Treaty—on which I shall have something to say later; but what the world is waiting for is action. It is all very well to say there are grave reasons for not taking action in the Far East. Of course there are grave reasons; but I do not believe in a policy of buying off militarism by concessions, and I do not think the Foreign Secretary believes in it. He is a distinguished lawyer and knows perfectly well the methods of the blackmailer. If you pay the blackmailer he comes back again and again, enlarging his claims. Hesitation to act at the inception of the Sino-Japanese dispute has simply meant that it has gone further and further. The use of force by one Power brings up the use of force by another. I believe that to-day the nations are saying "If there was no security for China there is no security for anyone else," and that until we can establish that the League of Nations can give security we shall discuss in vain the details of actual disarmament.
To turn to the question of actual disarmament. We had an elaborate plan put forward by the British Government, 34 and it was very well received, and then we had that extraordinary reservation about bombing. Hitherto, discussions on armaments have taken place on the plane of national necessity. A nation has said "We must have battleships"—or tanks or cruisers or what-not—"for our national security." But in this instance the Government say "It is not a question of security but a question of economy." We knew this was an economy Government, but this is the most extraordinary piece of economy of which I have ever heard. On the one hand we have the possibility of a new race of armaments in the air, a piling up of armaments among the nations, and on the other hand we have the question of policing some particular outlying area of the Empire and the claim that a monetary saving may be accomplished by bombing from the air rather than by sending a land expedition. It shows an amazing lack of the sense of proportion. I recall that speech by the Lord President in this House to which we all listened with the utmost interest. He showed us quite clearly the horrors which faced the world if we could not get rid of aerial warfare. Surely the sum to be saved by policing from the air is a tiny one to set against that misfortune. To make a homely comparison, it is as if the Lord President knew of the terrible dangers threatening the county of Worcester from the ravages of the musk-rat but said: "I must keep musk-rats because then I shall manage to get a cheap fur coat for my wife." Personally, I do not in the least believe that this reservation is put forward solely on the grounds of economy.
I doubt very much whether bombing in outlying regions is justifiable. I do not see a nice point of ethics between bombing an Indian village or an Arab encampment and dropping bombs on a great Western city. I do not believe that bombing is really effective or that it is economic. I heard from a distinguished soldier, a great authority on India, that bombing on the North-West Frontier creates far worse feelings than are occasioned by the ordinary routine, if you like to call it so, of frontier warfare. There is the further disadvantage, too, that when people are attacked from the air there is no one to whom they can surrender and therefore an expedition has to go out in any case. People may have repented, but there is no one to 35 whom they can express their repentance when it is a case of attack from the air. I am very much afraid that we see in this reservation the baneful influence of the expert. I believe a great many of the delays at the Disarmament Conference have been due to experts. We all know the rivalry between the Services. In this House we have often heard the demands of the Air Force to be put into a position of equality with the sister Services, and of its desire to get independent commands. I cannot help thinking that that is at the bottom of this reservation.
When one looks at the effect of this reservation on the world, one cannot help being struck by the fact that in the League of Nations or at the Disarmament Conference the whole world with the exception of Iraq is against us. That is not very much for a great Western Power to depend upon—the support of Iraq. Further, in this country there have been letters and articles in the Press and a whole chorus of condemnation from people of very various political views, and as far as I can see the only defenders of the action of the Government are people specially interested in either the Air Force or in aircraft manufacture. It is terrible to think that for these considerations we should hold up the Disarmament Conference, because, after all, air disarmament is the big outstanding question of the present time. It is a very difficult question as between the great Western Powers, and I believe there is a danger of the disarmament proposals breaking down unless this country, with America, will concentrate on the absolute abolition of air forces and on the internationalising of air services. I hope we shall get some explanation that will save us from humiliation when we consider that reservation.
The next point with which I would like to deal is the Four Power Pact. We have already had that pact under discussion in this House, and we got some account of it from the Prime Minister, and now we have this White Paper. It strikes me as a very peculiar White Paper. There is a despatch to the British Ambassador in Rome which is almost entirely made up of excuses and apologies and of what the pact does not do. Qui s'excuse s'accuse is very often true. We read that, in its original form, 36the draft appears to us to require further consideration and considerable amendment.It would interest us very much to see what the original form was like. I cannot believe that it was worth a journey to Italy to compose a pact with so little in it. It looks as though it were one of those cases where people came together for a pact and reached some preliminary agreement and then the rest of the world took fright. Pressure was brought to bear upon them, and they decided to cut out anything objectionable, but they had to have a pact because they had met. When one reads the five articles of the Pact one sees that they amount to nothing more than that the nations will agree to consult together before taking action; but that is what they are bound to do already under the Covenant of the League of Nations. We are told that this is not outside the League of Nations but all inside it. The point made by the Prime Minister in his speech was that its big and almost only detail was the revision of treaties. Revision of treaties seems rather to have slipped out of the Pact now. It is lumped together, in Articles 10, 16 and 19 that the high contracting Powers will examine the position. Without revision, is there anything effective about it?
I would like to refer to the position of the Continent of Europe with respect to Austria. Certain limitations have been placed upon interference by one Power in the internal concerns of another. Where action by one Power gravely affects the stability of another, outside nations are entitled to interfere. In my view, here is a case for action by the League of Nations and by our Government. I should like to see the rulers of Germany warned perfectly distinctly that the world will not tolerate the kind of thing that is happening in Austria and on the Austrian boundary. Kidnapping of citizens and incitement to violence are being carried on in connection with a movement in another country. What tremendous talk there used to be in Germany about the activities of the Serbs in Austria. Here is the same kind of penetrative action that was complained of in that case. The danger is that the Government of Austria may be overthrown, against the will of the people, by emissaries from another country. Here, again, is a case where the use of 37 force has been encouraged by a failure to take action before. I hope that we are not going to repeat our errors of the Sino-Japanese question, where the longer we delay the more intractable the problem becomes. We should take action at once, and warn Germany perfectly clearly that the world will not suffer this.
I was going to speak upon the subject of the American Debt, but we have not yet got the Government decision. In our view, Sir Arthur Salter was right in saying that you cannot make a success of the World Economic Conference until the debt situation is dealt with. How do you think that you can get world commerce going as long as these payments are taking place from one country to another? In our view, you cannot separate the question of debts from the question of disarmament. The United States has made it perfectly clear that without disarmament they are not willing to forgive debts. Secondly, you cannot separate the payment of debts from the endeavour to establish world trade, because it is just this movement of payments that upsets everything. We believe that you cannot isolate the question of our payment to the United States of America from other debt questions, both internal and external. The last time that debt payment was due, we paid. We paid in one form, and got a receipt in another. To-day we are face to face with the question of whether we are going to pay or not. What we do will have a very important effect not only on the payment this year but on the payment next year. The President of the United States is limited by the Senate, and I understand that the Senate soon adjourns until December. If we pay again, we shall be landed into paying next year. It is not much satisfaction in this country to have a statement saying: "This is the last payment," and when next year comes to have to make another "last payment, and then another "last payment."
Although this debt may seem to stand on one side by itself, it has to be considered with the general world indebtedness. We have a changed situation from what we had when we last discussed the matter. America has gone off the Gold Standard, and she has, I understand, practically repudiated some of her obligations. She is only following the example of other nations. I was misguided enough during the War to buy £100 worth 38 of French War Loan. Eventually I got back £22. I may be a very bad financier, but I have not gone to war with France. Germany, in the same way, repudiated an immense amount of debt. Russia repudiated a vast amount of debt. Some repudiations are moral and some are immoral. In this country, despite the Conversion Loan, we are staggering along with a mass of internal debt, and, we are trying to pay our external debt as well. Co-operation is going to be very difficult in the new world between nations which have a burden and those which are without a burden. We proposed that we should have a capital levy to wipe off our internal debt. Many people, who laughed at it then, now think that we-were right. There is a very difficult situation with regard to the debts owed to us by the Dominions. In the present state of world prices, it is exceedingly difficult for them to pay. There is a very difficult situation in regard to payment from debtor countries such as the Argentine.
On these benches we do not want the position that this country should continue to have to make gold payments to America, and to bear an enormous burden of inflated liability; or that, in order to enable other people to pay their debts, we should put taxes on to our people. That is broadly the effect of the Ottawa and Argentine Agreements, to get money out of the pockets of the consumers in this country in order to enable other countries to pay the rentiers in this country. There is too heavy a burden represented by the rentier class throughout the world. The important question is-not one of an individual settlement with the United States of America, important as that is, but a general consideration of the whole level of debts, internal and external. We believe that it is profoundly true, as was stated yesterday at the opening of the Conference, that the great thing is to try to get the world to take advantage of the abundance that science has provided. We believe that you can do that only by increasing the consuming power of the masses of the people, but that if you diminish it by a swollen rentier class, you will not get out of your difficulties.
We think that it is time we departed from these ideas of "Britain's honour," etc. We believe in Britain's honour as much as anybody, but we do not see why 39 we should be the only people of honour in the whole world. It looks as if the whole world will be free of debt, but that we shall go on paying. We say that it is time we came to a definite halt in the payment of this debt. We do not say repudiate altogether, but we say that this debt, like other debts, must be considered, discussed and adjusted in accordance with what is best for the whole world. We regret that the debt question has had to be separated from the World Economic Conference. It is too late to complain of that now, but we do say, on the debt question and on the disarmament question, those two things may kill the World Economic Conference, and, because we are entirely dissatisfied with the handling of the whole disarmament question, we move the reduction.
§ Sir ASSHETON POWNALL
May I ask the hon. Member a single question? Are we to gather from his speech, to which we listened with much interest, that he would not make the payment to the United States of America on Thursday if he were responsible?
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The responsibility for that decision is the Government's, but I think that no direct payment should be made going on the old lines, and that if anything is paid it should be paid as part of a general settlement, on the understanding that we shall not wait another year before we go on with it, but that the whole question of debts will be taken into consideration at once.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
I want to deal with one particular question which the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) dealt with, or rather endeavoured to deal with, in a mixture of prejudice and ignorance, and a thorough refusal to face up to the realities of the situation. The whole trend of the hon. Member's remarks concerning the aerial bombing reservation were phrased in that airy sentimentality in which the Opposition seem to revel when the word "disarmament" is mentioned. The hon. Gentleman showed, I think, a confusion of thought which is common among a great section of the population of this country as to what the reservation with regard to aerial bombing does mean. I do not pretend in any way to be an expert, but 40 the hon. Member threw out a statement that he distrusted really all experts and that they were usually the cause of all the trouble. If it were not for people who are experts our politicians, and the politicians of the world at Geneva would have made a worse mess than they look like having made in the past. On several occasions they have been saved by experts who have managed to get the conference down to practical realities. There is a tremendous confusion of ideas around the word "bomb." Directly anyone mentions a bomb, they seem to think of some inhuman, dreadful new development, but I would ask the Committee whether a bomb, if aimed at a legitimate target, is really different from the shell fired from a long-range gun? I submit that it is no more objectionable than the shell-fire at an indirect target by a long-range gun.
I am in sympathy, and I think everybody in this House is in sympathy, with the desire to protect the civil populations of the world from the disasters of aerial warfare in the future. We start all level as regards that premise. But surely the really effective method of protecting the civil populations of the world from the menace of aerial bombing is the total prohibition of bombardment from guns or from bombs on land and sea and from the air, and when the world is ready for that type of prohibition, then, I believe, we can do away with this reservation as regards bombing, and we could do away with armies and navies. But until such a time arrives, I do not think we can afford to neglect the most economical, and, as I am going to endeavour to prove in a few moments, the most humane form of Imperial protection. In the past, navies have bombarded coastal towns in this country. Navies of other countries have carried out bombardments of coastal towns hundreds of miles from the seat of the battle where the armies were contesting. Is that to be allowed in the future? If you are not protesting against that in a Disarmament Conference, I submit that it is illogical to protest against a bomb when it is aimed at a legitimate target in the course of ordinary warfare.
I would like to ask any hon. Member who supports the hon. Member who has spoken for the Opposition, whether he would accept this—that our aircraft 41 which, under the draft Convention, would be allowed us for reconnaissance and artillery co-operation purposes, are not to be allowed when they go out on their work an effective method of defence against the anti-aircraft guns fired from the ground? Again, are the long-range guns to be immune and allowed to shell unprotected towns, like Big Bertha, in the War shelled Paris, nearly 100 miles away? Is that to be allowed, and, at the same time, anyone who drops an aerial shell from an aeroplane is to be an outlaw? I think that if the position is analysed, it is quite illogical. The total abolition of bombing itself is illogical. Prof. Gilbert Murray, in the "Times" a few days ago, said that if we abolished bombing, our insular position would be restored. Our insular position in the past was maintained only by the retention of an adequate and a sufficient Navy, and so in the future will our insular position be maintained only by the protection of an adequate and a sufficient Air Force just so long as flying exists. Prof. Gilbert Murray based his remarks on the supposition that bombing in war can be prevented. I, personally, very much doubt whether any convention passed at the present time would, if any war came about, be effective as regards aircraft defending themselves from attack from the ground. I think Prof. Gilbert Murray was somewhat grasping at the shadow of security while neglecting the realities of the situation to-day.
As regards the general abolition of bombing, I, personally, I think that it is illogical, but if it is to come about, all right. It may not do much good, though it is a gesture in the right direction. But I do most earnestly ask the Committee to consider whether they should not wholeheartedly support the Government in their reservation as regards bombing in outlying areas for police purposes. The hon. Member said that we are the only country in the world which wants this reservation, that we are isolated in the Disarmament Conference. He was not quite accurate in saying that we are the only country desiring to reserve, but we are the country which has greater frontier control commitments than any other country at the Disarmament Conference, and we have responsibilities as regards the protection of Empire and mandatory territories which no other country has got. Since the right hon. Gentleman the Mem- 42 ber for Epping (Mr. Churchill) at the Cairo Conference, in 1921, took the very experimental and grave risk, as it was considered at the time, of putting Iraq under air control, and putting the defence of Iraq under a new form of technique in warfare for the protection of that country, we have developed along those lines until Iraq, Aden, Transjordan, and a great deal of the North-West Frontier is now protected with this new technique. The hon. Member for Limehouse said that it was a strange economy. He jeered at the fact that we were endeavouring to save money by this new technique. But the financial saving in Iraq has made the fulfilment of our commitments under the mandate possible, and I do feel that if we had not developed this new technique, and brought the Budget of the last military year down from about £10,000,000 to a comparatively infinitesimal sum for the protection of that country, we should have been unable to fulfil that obligation.
It has been alleged that Great Britain is illogical in claiming to use bombing against undefended villages while supporting the abolition of bombing against defenceless cities. The hon. Member said that the whole world was against us as regards bombing from the air, and that it was a strange sort of economy. Tribes may be repentant, and the aerial bomb has the disadvantage that when a man was sorry there was no man to whom he could say "Sorry." In fighting on the North-West Frontier, the majority of the field artillery are firing at indirect targets, and when the men who are the indirect targets are tired of war, they also do not have the opportunity, any more than the man bombed, of saying that they are tired of it. But the people on the ground, if bombed, can always hold out a white sheet to show that they are endeavouring to surrender, whereas in the case of artillery fire, they cannot do so. In the aerial bombing of villages there can always be a warning. There is always-time to tell the people of that village, and to give them a warning as to your action for the next day, but, in the case of an undefended city, there is no chance of warning or evacuation such as can take place in outlying areas. In the outlying areas you can give a warning, but in the case of undefended towns it is slaughter of the civilian population without any such opportunity to evacuate. Therefore, there is no comparison between the 43 two forms of bombing. In 13 years of overseas operations in maintaining British Empire frontiers, the Royal Air Force casualties have been 26 only. Contrast this with the older methods. The hon. Gentleman wants us, I suppose, to go back to the older methods. I have here a passage from Haldane's "Insurrection of Mesopotamia, published in 1920, which will indicate to those who want to go back to the old methods the kind of methods to which they would be going back. It quotes from a published military order:Villages will be razed to the ground, and all woodwork removed. Pressure will he brought on all inhabitants by cutting off water power and destroying water lifts. Efforts to carry out cultivation will be interfered with, and the systematic collection of supplies of all kind's beyond our actual requirements will be carried out, the area being cleared of the necessaries of life.How our pacifists must glory in the knowledge that they are going back to that charming, humane method of warfare when they abandon the reservation with regard to bombing in outlying areas. If we do away with that reservation, we shall have to go back to expeditions like those which have been necessary in the past for the maintenance of order on the North West Frontier of India, at Aden, and at other places, where cholera was rife, and where casualties of killed and wounded among the infantry were quite out of proportion to the work to be -carried out. Alternatively, if we do not agree to go back to those old methods, I personally can see no other course than for us to surrender forthwith the obligations which lie upon us under our Mandates, and to prepare to evacuate the outlying parts of the British Empire and give place to those who do not take any pride or glory in the fact that we maintain those places primarily for the permanent benefit of their indigenous inhabitants. We shall have to be prepared to let those who care not take over the administration of the Empire. But, as long as we who care for the administration of and the maintenance of peace in the Empire have anything to do with it, we must face the realities of the situation, and, while we face those realities, it is essential that we should maintain this reservation.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
I desire to go over some of the ground which has been covered by the hon. Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee). It seems to me that the Disarmament Conference has now reached a stage when decisions will have to be taken by principals sitting round a table, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) succeeded so well in getting done at Locarno. One can quite understand that individual nations, who attach great importance to particular points, are not prepared to surrender those points unless the result is going to be a final settlement of the whole problem. I feel sure that that is so in the case of the points to which we attach importance just as it is with other nations, and I was very glad to learn, from what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said at Question Time to-day, that that really is the process that is going to be followed in London during the next few weeks by the Disarmament Conference. I should like to pay a tribute to the magnificent work on disarmament which the Under-Secretary has been doing at Geneva. One never meets anyone who has been at Geneva who is not full of the most glowing opinions both of his abilities and of his personal qualifications. I have referred to various matters to which different countries attach importance, and I desire to mention some of those which affect this country very closely. President Roosevelt the other day, in his message on disarmament used these words:The ultimate objective of the Disarmament Conference must be the complete elimination of all offensive weapons. The immediate objective is a substantial reduction of some of these weapons and the elimination of many others.He makes it quite clear that he has in mind war-planes, heavy mobile artillery, and the land battleships called tanks, to use his description of them; he refers to these as outstanding examples of the modern weapons of offence. He makes it clear that he has in mind military and naval aircraft and I suppose he would include guns over 4.2 and 4.5 inches, and tanks as well. Our position is going to be very difficult if we continue to resist the abolition of tanks. I believe that the present position is that France and ourselves are the only two countries who are putting up a fight for the mainten- 45 ance of tanks, and I venture to hope that that is one of the things which, in a final exchange of concessions, we shall be prepared to surrender. It is interesting to note that the German Chancellor, in making reference to what had been said by President Roosevelt, used these words:Germany is ready to renounce instruments of aggression if during the five years other nations likewise destroy theirs.That, surely, places upon us the very serious responsibility of considering whether we ought not to consent to go still further than we have actually gone in the excellent programme which the Prime Minister laid before the Conference a few months ago, and be prepared to deal with the three questions of military aeroplanes, big guns and tanks. I think it is important, if the Government are to attain their declared objective of getting rid of military and naval aircraft altogether, that they should say so with much more vigour and determination than they have up to the present time. It is quite true that they have stated their objective, but their attitude has rather seemed to indicate to my mind that they would not be so frightfully sorry if difficulties of such a kind arose as to make it impracticable. At any rate, I feel sure that some Members of the Government would not regret an eventuality of that kind.
I now turn to the very important question which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour), and by the hon. Member for Limehouse, of our claim to retain the right of bombing for police purposes in remote areas. I entirely agree with all that the hon. and gallant Member said about the technical side of this matter. I believe it is perfectly true that the air method in Iraq and other places is more humane than the military, that it is much cheaper in human life and in expense, and that it is a very great advance on anything that has been done in the past; and, looked at purely from that point of view, looked at purely from the air angle and from a selfish point of view, I believe that the arguments are overwhelmingly in favour of it. But, after all, one has to have a sense of proportion in these matters, and, when our claim to retain the right to bomb is compared with the success of the Disarmament Conference as a whole, 46 or with the possibility of obtaining abolition of all bombing from the air, I say that, there too, the arguments are overwhelming on the side of making this ultimate concession as regards bombing, and so enabling the Disarmament Conference to proceed. I hope very sincerely that the Government will feel, when they come to this last stage of exchanging final concessions, that this is one which they must and ought to make in the wider interests of humanity as a whole.
The hon. Member for Limehouse touched upon a technical detail in referring to the impossibility of surrendering to aircraft. I think it was found, in the case of the bombing at Aden, that, after the people there had had one or two days of it, they actually came in and surrendered to the authorities, and found no difficulty in doing so at all. I entirely failed to follow the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet when he dealt with the point about this country getting more security if bombing from the air were not abolished. Surely, the abolition of bombing would make us an island once more. We are not an island at the present time, for there is no real defence against aircraft from another country we can only go and do the same thing to them. If it were possible by international agreement to stop the whole thing, it would be greatly to the advantage of this country, giving us security and making us an island once more from the air point of view.
I desire to make a few comments on another aspect of the Disarmament Conference, namely, the Permanent Disarmament Commission. I suppose that, if there is one thing which is of supreme importance in the success of any convention, it is the work of that Commission, Obviously, many of the great States in the world are not going to disarm themselves unless they are, perfectly certain beyond doubt that the other great States are carrying out their obligations and are themselves disarming, or, at any rate, not re-arming. The only way in which that can be made certain is by having an international system of inspection—not an inspection taking place whenever a complaint is made, but carried out regularly every six months, or whatever the period may be, so that no one could take offence when the inspectors came round to see what was going on. I trust that this 47 country, together with France and all other countries, will be willing to go to the utmost possible extent to give the assurances that can only be given in this matter by a thorough ventilation of all the facts by independent experts going round.
I think, however, that there is considerable danger in the present form of the Permanent Disarmament Commission. As I understand it, it is going to consist of about 60 representatives of independent States, responsible to their Governments. It has been found in practice that it is far better to have, as in the case of the Permanent Mandates Commission, a number of eminent individuals —nominated, if you like, by their Governments but appointed by the Council—who can carry out their jobs without any interference, who can be told go to right ahead and try from a practical point of view to turn out the best results that they can. I think it would be infinitely better to have a system of that kind, rather than simply the representatives of Governments, who would have to think all the time of what their Governments are thinking, and who would be afraid to take the strong action which otherwise they might be inclined to take. If it is too late to alter that arrangement, I very much hope that there may be added in some way to the Permanent Disarmament Commission representatives of the many international or representative bodies which have made a study of disarmament from a technical point of view, and which could bring really valuable assistance to the work of the Commission. There would then be on the Commission a certain number of people who were keen on disarmament and who understood it, rather than, perhaps, a large number of people who had been more accustomed in the past to armaments in the other direction.
We shall also have to deal with the arms traffic. It is quite clear that there will be no solution of the disarmament problem unless there is some check on the dealings of the private armament firms. I have no doubt that that matter is under consideration. Perhaps some system of licence, such as has been found so effective in the case of the drug traffic, might be put into operation. I feel certain that, unless we place in fetters these private interests in all 48 countries who live and make profits out of the slaughter of individuals in war, we shall not be doing our duty and securing a successful result.
I want to say just a word with reference to the position of security. Enormous importance is attached by France to knowing what is going to happen to her in the event of a dispute if she surrrenders her armaments now. Can she rely on the pooled security that was promised in the Covenant by other nations? I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary if he could find it possible to deal with this question, because to my mind he has spoken with two voices on it. He has on several occasions, and in very strong language, referred to the importance that we attach to our international obligations under the Covenant and in other ways, and even in the letter covering the Four-Power Pact he says:We take our existing responsibilities too seriously to be willing in a light-hearted and speculative fashion to enlarge them. The obligations which Britain has entered into we shall try to perform.That would be all very reassuring were it not for the fact that early this Session, referring to the dispute in the Far East, he said:There is one great difference between 1914 and now, and it is this. In no circumstances will this Government authorise this country to be a party to the struggle."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1933; col. 59, Vol. 275.]That is the exact contrary, and the French nation may well think, supposing there is some dispute in the future: is it not possible that the British Foreign Secretary will say: "In no circumstances will this Government authorise this country to be a party to the struggle"? I entirely fail to understand how the Foreign Secretary could make any such statement having regard to the foreign obligations which we have undertaken and to which he has declared our adherence to the full on so many occasions.
No doubt the Four-Power Pact in its present form is very different from the form in which it was presented when the representatives of the British Government went to Rome. At the same time, I think the Pact was well worth putting through, and I congratulate the Government on having contributed towards its production in its present form. I do 49 not think this is just a case of the vain repetition of the heathen—the same thing said so many times over. This is a case where affirmation and reaffirmation more definitely each time will mean that it is going to have an effect not only on the lips but in the lives of the States who are parties to it. Examination is going to be made of Articles 10, 16 and 19 of the Covenant. With reference to Articles 10 and 16, very valuable work might be done. There are three main actions which might or might not be taken at present. I am referring to the question of sanctions. There is the policy of doing nothing. So far as I understand, that is the policy of the Government. Certainly it has been their policy with regard to the Far East. Secondly, there is the policy of military sanctions, a matter which is to be avoided if we can possibly do so, although there may be cases where it would arise, and, if it arose, I would not shrink from using them in defence of world order. It may well be that in future an international force of that kind will eventually develop. I was interested to note support given to that idea in the "Times" the other day. But the real weapon of the League is economic sanctions. I hope very much that that is going to be carefully studied in accordance with the terms of the Pact. Two other things might be done—the withdrawal of Ambassadors and an embargo on arms—but they are of minor importance compared with economic sanctions.
It seems to me that there has been a great deal of exaggeration about what might be done with regard to the revision of treaties. When you go into the thing in detail, I think it will be found that, if you have good will and tolerance and fair play in the various countries, the question of revision of treaties comes down to a very small thing indeed. I am afraid that in some quarters hopes have been encouraged of territorial changes which are not in the least likely to be carried out, and which ought not to be carried out. At the same time, no doubt, some changes of a minor nature can be made, and it is interesting to note the speech made by Dr. Benes, one of the great statesmen of the world, the other day in which he indicated that in certain conditions he, speaking for his country, was quite willing to consider the possibility of terri- 50 torial concessions provided that they were reasonable, that there was consent of all parties, and that they were not to be the jumping off ground for still further concessions but were a final settlement of the question. No doubt, the German nation will be putting forward claims and ideas for changes and Colonial mandates and all that sort of thing, but, until Germany is able to show that in her own country she is able to treat minorities, whether Jews or Socialists or those who believe in international peace or the many other classes who are being ill-treated at present, properly and not brutally, there is no chance whatever of consent being given to one single human being being placed under her control.
We stand in a critical state of world affairs at present, but I think that at this juncture we stand on one of the high peaks of history, and, according as our Government during the next few weeks and months gives an impulse, as it can, for progress or for ruin, so it may well be that, when the history books of the future come to be written, they will show how from this time onwards the world turned once more to prosperity or, alternatively, that she went down into chaos and ruin. I hope that the Government, with the supreme power that they have, are going to adopt a policy which will enable the happier of those two themes to find its way into the books of history.
§ 4.39 p.m.
I should not have intervened in the Debate but for the fact that the question of aerial warfare has been introduced. I wish to say a few words in support of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) said. The saving in life and money, as compared with performing the same operations by ground troops, is so great that that alone ought to make the Committee pause before registering a decision against the use of the aerial weapon. But it is not only that side of the case that I wish to dwell upon. I have been in the House of Commons off and on for 23 years, and I have been impressed with the immense technical knowledge possessed by every Member except myself. The impression that I have received on the general subject of disarmament at the conferences that have been sitting for the last six or 51 seven years is that they are getting nowhere. Pious remarks are made by the Ministers of foreign countries, but no one gives an inch. The man in the street gets the impression that countries are merely bluffing each other to try to obtain concessions in the direction that suits them best. If that is so, is it not better to face the music and admit that no one in the world is going to disarm unless it suits them to do so? Human nature will remain the same in the next decade as in the last and the one before, and I cannot help thinking that, from the point of view of the man in the street, it would be better to cut out a lot of the nonsense about the possibility of disarmament. We only have to read the case put forward by the various nations to see that they want what suits them best. It is better to be open about it.
If we did away with aerial bombing, it could only be by international consent, and that would mean that the French would have to do away with it too. There is a difference between the problems of the two countries. Ours is miles away from home, and the bombing squadrons would be of little or no use for home defence. The case is exactly the opposite as far as France is concerned. She has her bombing squadrons just across the Mediterranean, available for International defence or air attack within a very few hours notice. It is said that it would be to our interest to do away with it, but I hold exactly the opposite views. It is in our interest that the French should maintain the strongest military force that she can possibly afford to keep.
I read that, in order to keep a peaceful Europe, you may have to have revision of the territorial agreements arrived at Versailles. It is put forward on all sides, by the very peacemakers who are wasting their time at Geneva, that the way to get peace in Europe is to re-fortify Germany. If you re-fortify Germany and refuse to strengthen France, you are throwing France into the most difficult of all positions. It is only by the maintenance of her strength as we have it to-day that she can remain independent of small middle European alliances, and, if you reduce her strength, you force her to depend upon those alliances. They have been promised at Versailles that certain 52 existing arrangements shall be maintained. It seems to me that, by reducing France to an equality with ourselves, we are weakening the position of the Treaty of Versailles and not only throwing a burden upon the middle European countries, but putting them into the position of finding fault with the good faith of the superior nations who made promises to them at Versailles. I only put these points forward because I cannot get an answer to them. If there is an answer, I should be glad if the Foreign Secretary will deal with them. I can assure him that many electors are wondering whether it would not be wise to abandon any attempt at international disarmament and to encourage as far as possible international agreements and let them make the wisest and most sensible agreements that suit them best.
Great Britain has set a wonderful example without pressure from anyone. She has reduced the tonnage of her ships and the materiel and personnel of her Army. She has carried on with reduced Estimates while other countries have not followed her example. I submit that we have gone far enough and that there has been a great deal of sloppiness attached to our general attitude which is reflecting itself, not only in this matter but in regard to India too. It is time that Great Britain called a halt in all this sentimentality which, I think, can only lead us to disaster.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Drake Division (Captain Guest) is a skilled aeroplane driver and he is also a skilled advocate of that branch of the Service which he particularly supports, but I think that this evening he has not made out a good case for his branch of the Service, nor, indeed, as good a case as he might have done. It is hopeless and foolish to urge that we should stop a world movement in favour of disarmament. It is disastrous that we have pinned our faith to the perpetuation of bombing from the air for police purposes. It gives the whole of the English case in favour of peace and disarmament a bad flavour with every other Power in the world, and for our own purposes of police it is really unnecessary to preserve the power of bombing. For the repression of disorders such as those with which the 53 police deal, the aeroplane is as efficient in carrying troops as it is in carrying bombs, and infinitely more humane. It is more discriminative when it carries the police instead of dropping the indiscriminating bomb.
I think with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is time that we in this country gave more attention to the air arm of the Service and realised that in any future war the Air Service and big guns are the only two items which would be of any service whatever. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman ought not to be asking for more money to be spent on aeroplanes with the necessary corollary that less money should be spent on the obsolete Services. When one thinks that in any future war you will have great battleships which cost £3,000,000 crawling slowly over the sea, visible to those who are invisible to them, both below and above, and when one thinks of the development of those great guns, firing with detectors and concealed absolutely from the enemy, one must realise that the defence of this country, if it is to be continued, must depend upon an arm other than our Fleet. And the same applies to our land forces. The mechanical age has come to arms. The mechanical age affects the Army. Cavalry are only one obsolete item of defence. War in future will be an underground war and an overhead war, and the whole of our ideas of carrying on warfare must be modified. If the danger is great, as I believe it to be, it is very urgent that we in this country should apply our minds to developing our defence forces on the lines best capable of preserving freedom and the British Empire.
I am not anxious about the military defence of the Empire at present, but about other and more immediate matters. What about the conduct of foreign affairs? I am satisfied with the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as far as we understood foreign affairs 10 years ago, but the question now is whether foreign affairs do not cover items far more vital to international relations and to the recovery of the trade of this country than those old subjects which formed the basis of the dispatches to Ambassadors and Ministers of State. The whole world to-day is meeting here in conference to discuss the economic position of the world. All of them with one accord 54 have avoided facing the one issue which really matters to all. The real issue before the whole world to-day is how to get rid of debt. I do not mean debt between nations only but private debts as well. Debts piled up when prices are high become impossible when prices are low. This does not affect England only. It is not a question of our debt to America by any means. That is a mere fleabite. It is a question which affects every country in the world, and most of all those countries which are the producers of primary products. This Conference is called here to-day and that is the problem which they have to face, but not one of them has faced it frankly. Every one of them is now practising or contemplating some scheme of getting rid of their debts. Those schemes vary and are as infinite as the different Governments in the world to-day.
I want the Committee to consider for a moment the principal varieties of method at present in operation, or contemplated, for getting rid of debt. We are to discuss to-day how we shall get rid of a national debt owing to a foreign country—a very small corner of the great question. I would have the Committee consider, first of all, what other countries have done to get rid of the burden of debts accumulated when prices were high and at a time during the War when everyone had to borrow. The original method of getting rid of debt was that employed by France, Italy and Belgium. Their method of getting rid of their indebtedness and of enabling their countries to start again was what I should call the "justest" way of getting rid of debts. It was default, but, at any rate, it affected everybody who had francs throughout the world; everybody who had investments in francs, and not merely the foreigner but the Frenchman who had invested in francs as well. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), indeed, all of us, lent money to France during the War, and we all lost it, except those who got out in time. We know how four-fifths of all the debts of France was wiped out by inflation. And that method has been followed in other countries.
I emphasise the fact that that form of default, at any rate, affects everybody equally throughout the world. It was not the cancellation of money lent to the 55 French Government, It was the cancellation pro rata of money lent to everybody. The moneylender and the creditor lost four-fifths of their capital in order that France might once more get upon her feet and produce and enable producers to make profits. The way in which that was operated in France—and I ask everybody to observe this—was by failing to balance the Budget over a long series of years. During the War they never attempted to take into account the interest on the money they borrowed, and at the end of the War, for a series of five years after the War, they made no attempt to balance their Budget, and the deficit grew and grew until the franc flopped, and once more the Budget could balance in new francs, debts were eliminated, and the country survived.
At that time we were particularly honest. We regarded the French method as being such that England could not possibly follow it, and right up to three years ago we were all for paying back the pounds which we had borrowed. Observe what has happened the last two years. We have been driven off gold. We have inflated, or our currency has depreciated, whichever way you like to put it, or we have written off, roughly speaking, one-third of our debt—one-third of our national debt and one-third of our private debt—but nothing like the amount of money borrowed in the country and nothing like enough to bring back the weight of the money we borrowed to the prices of the goods which we purchased with that money. But that method of inflation is a reduction of debt.
In Germany they had inflation very badly. They inflated until currency was worth nothing, and then they stabilised, now some seven years ago, and ever since then they have managed to maintain their mark undiluted. They had the good fortune to be well trusted by moneylenders and they borrowed anything up to £1,000,000,000 sterling from countries outside which was invested in German municipalities, in Dawes and Young Loans, and far more largely in industrial concerns, so that it seemed for a time that nearly one-half of the capital of some of the great German concerns was in American or Swiss or Swedish hands. As long as the lending went on, and as 56 long as any interest was paid, or was only paid as a balance against further loans, Germany managed to survive. Obviously, that could not go on indefinitely. America drew in her horns, and lent no more. The interest failed to be paid. Tariffs prevented it from being paid in goods, and there were exactly the same arguments, which we rather foolishly, I think, addressed to America six months ago, pointing out that if we repaid the money we owed America it would be much worse for America than for us. I always feel, in matters of the repayment of money, that the creditor is in a better position of judging whether he wants the money than is the debtor. Anyway the arguments we put forward to America are now the arguments put forward by every debtor in the world. I venture to suggest that it is already translated into 36 languages in Whitehall, and will form a model for other countries. Indeed, it has formed a model argument for all other countries. We see what happens. You get it all over South America, and now in Germany, Austria, Greece, and Hungary, spreading day by day, You get countries based upon the doctrine that it hurts you much more than it hurts the other fellow if you pay him money. In that way you have a new form of getting rid of debt; a form that is unjust. That method, now adopted in Germany and in other countries where they prohibit the export of capital, is a repudiation of any money owing to foreigners while they continue the payment of money owing to their own nationals. That is an extremely dangerous business for anybody who has lent money in any way. The system of universally writing down debt is justice itself compared with the new method. Under the new method there is being built up an entirely new political economy and a new national economy everywhere.
It is no use saying to Dr. Schacht or any of the emissaries of those countries which have put an embargo upon the export of their capital in the payment of debt, that they should not do so. It is no use arguing with them, because they can see how much better off they will be if they do not pay. As soon as you get to the position of never wanting to borrow any more money it becomes obviously essential not to pay the money you owe. Germany wrote down all their capital. They wrote down all their pre- 57 ference and debenture shares. They depreciated their currency, and consequently they were able to borrow more from the foreigner. Now, they are writing off that, and they will be able to balance their budget, and they will be able to preserve the mark at its full gold parity. To ask us now to reconsider the position on the assumption that they do not owe us money or that they do not owe America money, is asking for blackmail, and nothing else.
Whatever else happens at the Economic Conference, I do not think that we can hope that those countries which are depreciating their currencies, still less those which are repudiating all their debts to foreigners, while paying their own nationals, will see the error of their ways. We must realise that we are face to face with an entirely new situation. I do not know whether hon. Members have observed the telegrams from America which have been appearing in the "Times" recently. Up to three months ago Senator Hull and President Roosevelt were in favour of reducing tariffs and enabling people to pay to America the interest on the loans which America had made to them, but that is no longer so, and it is time that we realised the change that has come over the position. The United States are going in for exactly the same policy of isolation as Ireland. They say, in effect, "If we cannot get paid by the foreigners, let us lend them no more money. Let us live on our own. Let us be self-supporting and self-sufficient. Let us scrap our export trade. Let us prohibit imports. Let us save ourselves, seeing that we can no longer save the world." I do not think that is an extravagant statement of the position taken up by American business men and the American people.
That being so, I ask the Government whether it might not be possible, even at this late hour, to persuade America to come into isolationism with the British Empire in the sterling convoy, and not on their own. It all depends upon whether we are wedded eternally to the most-favoured-nation clauses. The situation seems to be getting so much worse every day, and there is so little possible hope of any agreement being come to by the World Economic Conference that I, Free Trader as I am, would welcome the building up of a new world where we might be international in our ideas and in our trade 58 and develop a union with America which would prevent that isolationism which is going on in America, cutting us out, and at the same time would prevent that isolationism which is being built up in the British Empire from cutting America out. Let us save what we can.
With the collapse of the world's finances, we cannot expect to do much more foreign trade. Let us save from the wreck what we can. Just as in our foreign policy, and in our trade, I would always have this country and America go hand in hand, as the only countries with any sort of elements of altruism about them. I would like to see that instead of the narrow isolationism of the United States of America, but if there must be isolation, at least let it be isolation in that larger unit of the sterling convoy among those few nations that can agree not merely on a stabilised currency, but can agree that their budgets shall not be such as shall upset that stabilisation in the interests of any particular country that wishes to send its currency still further down.
The real difficulty is this, that if you have any sort of opening up of the trade gates and the breaking down of trade barriers you must have it between countries that you can trust not to send their own currencies down so as to get an unfair advantage in competing with the other countries. There are some countries that you can trust. Those countries that have been in sterling with us are obviously the democratic countries where similar ideas to ours hold good, where the idea of paying one's debts still holds the field. It seems to me that between those countries an arrangement might be made to stabilise currency—I do not care what the gold content may be—but those countries must be saved from the fear that one of the countries in the group will break away. They must be safeguarded against being forced to do it against their wish by unbalancing their budget, as we were forced to do in 1931.
Unfortunately, since countries have learned that to depreciate your currency is the best way to get rid of all your troubles, it will become increasingly popular in the future and it will be an increased temptation to all statesmen to do so. Therefore, this economic trouble that we are facing to-day is only a forerunner of more trouble. Just as Ger- 59 many has led with the idea of repudiating debts to foreigners, other countries will follow. Just as America is learning that the best way to revitalise her trade is to depreciate the dollar, so other countries will be inclined to depreciate their currency, and we must at the Economic Conference get together with people who will agree with us to enter into a bond with them not to vary our currencies by unbalanced budgets, not to shove up tariffs, but to collect some of the small relics from the free trade world into a free trade union of those people we can trust. It is not merely weakness but bad policy to be blackmailed into giving a concession. We had much better deal with those people who are of our sort and come to an arrangement with them. If we are to go into the business of isolation at any rate let us go into isolation with America.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I do not propose to follow the last speaker very closely, but I make no apology for asking the Committee to continue to direct their attention to a branch of foreign affairs, which, I believe, all of us agree is really more fundamental and more vital than any of those ancient subjects which we used to associate with the Foreign Office. This is particularly true, as the Foreign Secretary is probably at the present moment more urgently concerned in the World Economic Conference than any other branch of affairs in this country. I do not propose, and it probably would not be helpful, to go into any specific detailed proposals, but I do not think it would be amiss to offer a few observations upon the general principles which must underlie His Majesty's Government's policy if there is to be any hope, however slight, of a successful issue of the Conference. I do so particularly because I seem to be one of the comparatively few private Members among the Government's supporters who on those occasions when they do address the House support the policy of His Majesty's Government, particularly when there is reference to financial and economic matters.
I should like to offer my humble congratulations to His Majesty's Government on the fact that by what is more important than mere words, by their actions, they have shown that they have 60 a firm hold on the principle that in these matters you cannot blow hot and cold. It is no use sending Sir Otto Niemeyer to the Argentine to show them how to balance their budget, and then to tell him to hurry back because we have unbalanced ours while he is away. It is no use indulging in ingenious schemes, as does the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Macmillan), for transferring to political bodies the affairs of the Bank of England and the control of investment and then explaining to the Indians that they cannot have a constitution at all until they have a reserve bank entirely free from political control. It is no use the Foreign Secretary having to tell the President of the Board of Trade how important it is that he explains to the wicked Italians that they must stop shipping subsidies, or that he must tell the wicked Germans that they must stop subsidies on oats, and then running round to have a conference with the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) about having subsidies on "selected exports," which, of course, means the exports of our particular constituencies.
Above all, I congratulate the Government on setting an example on the most fundamental matter of all. They have shown that this country has made up its mind whether a certain sort of conduct here is expected to lead to the Treasury Bench or to the Old Bailey. Whatever criticisms we may have on the actions of His Majesty's Government prior to the World Economic Conference, I, for one, am glad that they need have no feeling that anyone can point the finger of scorn at them if, as I trust they will, they impress upon all the countries of the world-that there is nothing from which to begin economic and monetary reconstruction until one has balanced one's accounts in the ordinary way in which a private individual has to balance his accounts. Budgets are the biggest, the most central and the most public in the accounts of John Bull, Limited, but they cannot be drawn up on an entirely different system from that upon which we expect the accounts of any common or garden public company to be produced. For all these reasons, I think that the Government have done better than words. By their deeds they have started well, and have set an example in this momentous experiment in financial co-operation which is now taking place under the leadership of His Majesty's Government.
61 But if the Government have done well so far, I suggest that it has not always been with the heartiest co-operation of their own supporters. There have been expressed on numerous occasions in this House not only an advocacy of dangerous policies, but bitter and acrid criticism of the actions of the Government. I do not refer only to the professional critic of the Government who sits, or rather who speaks from the corner seat below the Gangway; the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who is always raising Keynes somewhere, but to others who ought to know better. The Foreign Secretary has introduced several actual samples recently of the Government's policy of small but legitimate babies; but they have not been received with rapturous applause, and some of the criticisms and suggestions have been such that if they had weighed at all with His Majesty's Government they would have made the World Economic Conference impossible. I do not propose to weary the Committee with any details of these schemes, but they are relevant because deeds are more important than words. Let me refer to the first of them which aroused the most bitter attacks, attacks which left us speechless, an air of propriety being given to them by their being sponsored by one of the most distinguished and respected Members of this House, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain).
The German Agreement was made an opportunity for a very bitter attack upon this branch of the policy of His Majesty's Government. That agreement was signed by the Foreign Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade. I will not refer to any particular coal detail, but it was made the opportunity for expressing a doctrine which I am glad to see the Government repudiated. That was that the duties which this country has imposed, and intends to continue, should be made a minimum, and that any negotiations should merely be with a view of ensuring that higher protective duties should be granted to different countries. That is exactly the bone of bitter complaint often made by this country—that other countries do not mean tariff bargains; they mean tariff wars; they mean to give us nothing, and to make us pay for it. They mean to keep our goods 62 out anyway, and that if we like to have the pleasure of thinking that an effective 20 per cent. is better than an equally effective 30 per cent. and are prepared to pay for that "advantage," they are willing to enter into negotiations. Put in its crudest form, that is all that the doctrine which those who have criticised the agreements amounts to.
We have to make up our minds whether we do or do not want more international trade We cannot tell the Americans, as we did in our famous note, that trade does not mean one-way traffic, and then tell our own people that it does. International trade means two-way traffic, and it means it at the Port of London just as much as at the Port of New York. I confess that, watching the unexpressive face of the President of the Board of Trade under this criticism, I thought he would have been justified in being rather more acrid in his reply than he was. He was being attacked by people who were not content with a 20 per cent. currency depreciation and a 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. tax. He represents an industry which has never had any protection at all. His industry has fought its way to becoming the most typical English industry, it has gone so far as to provide him, perhaps not with a fortune but, shall we say, a family competence, without any kind of protection, by pushing its nose into every corner of the globe and fighting the fiercest competition, and he is told that he and other industries such as coal are to be sacrificed for industries which already have a far greater degree of protection than has ever been available to our exporting industries. We must make up our minds on this matter. The Government have apparently made up their minds, and I hope they will stick to it. I myself speak rather from the old-fashioned academic Free Trade point of view. I agree that when the National Government was formed, we agreed that we would not allow theoretical objections to weigh with us, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, I do not suggest that there is any personal application in that phrase, but it is quite impossible for so-called supporters of His Majesty's Government to proceed upon the assumption that all those others who support the Government have suddenly become converted to the old- 63 fashioned Protectionist point of view, equally old-fashioned as the Cobdenite Free Trade which they are so fond of attacking. I heartily support the Government in the action they have taken on these lines, and I hope they will not be impressed by the attacks made upon them.
May I make one observation, which arises out of another negotiation for which the Foreign Secretary was responsible upon which I heartily applaud the Government, and heartily disagree with the criticism to which it gave rise. I refer to the efforts that are being made for freer trade with South America. These agreements raise a fascinating question to which the Minister of Agriculture will have to devote most of his time this summer, namely, when is a quota not a quota? The Minister of Agriculture has told us that quantitative regulation of imports has come to stay, and it has been incorporated in the Argentine Agreement. I am not going to say that it is impossible to justify in the present chaotic condition of world currencies quantitative regulation of imports, but I do say that some of the arguments used in its favour, even some of the phrases used by the Minister of Agriculture himself, cannot be justified within the terms of an intention to increase world trade and free it from restrictions. I have here an incautious observation of the Minister of Agriculture on this matter. He said:With regard to frozen meat as opposed to chilled meat, the position was that by June, 1934, the Argentine would have lost a third of her trade in these commodities.I am not going to press the Minister of Agriculture too hard. He was speaking to the Agricultural Committee; he was Daniel among the lions, but Daniel only had to deal with lions who consumed meat; he did not have to deal with the far more formidable lions who produce meat. But even (making that allowance, it requires a Pickwickian exegesis to produce loud cheers at the prospect of one of our principal customers losing one-third of her trade as being a really helpful contribution towards increasing international imports and exports. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman were present, I should have proceeded a little further, because most ingeniously he has invented an entirely new branch of the 64 constitution all to himself. He is the leader of the Socialist opposition to the Socialists.
I make that observation because there are two dangers facing the World Economic Conference. There is the danger of those who do not really want to increase world trade but want to strangle it, and there is the other danger of those who do not mind increasing it, but want to regiment it, and among those who look with a friendly eye on this evil way I am inclined, with some anxiety, to include the Minister of Agriculture. These Socialist flirtations are very dangerous, because they are likely to be permanent. May I make a quotation from Mr. Noel Coward's "Cavalcade"? The Minister of Agriculture is "passing gallantly through the chorus girl stage." I doubt whether his family will allow him to marry the girl, and I doubt whether the county will receive her when he does, and I would suggest to the Foreign Secretary, as an old Liberal, that in the most friendly way he should keep an eye on these Socialistic experiments of his colleague. He will have quite enough to do in beating off the assaults of the gallant and right honourable and discarded gentlemen who attack the Government from outside, but he must spare a moment of his time to prevent world trade, or such of it as still remains, from being entangled in new restrictions, possibly necessary, temporary, but rather dangerous when presented by a brilliant and original individual like the Minister of Agriculture.
I cannot conclude without pointing out how unanimous over a considerable number of years has been the opposition to every increase of limitation, contraction and regimentation of trade. Nobody ever sets out to strangle world trade, but it is the little daily dose that does it. It is here a tariff, there a quota and there a restriction, and all done with the best of intentions. I took the opportunity of going over some of the papers on my files relating to previous conferences. This is, of course, not the first conference which has attempted to tackle the problem of world trade. The International Conference at Brussels in its report unanimously agreed upon these words:The conference moreover strongly endorses the declaration of the Supreme Council of 8th March that the States which 65 have been created or enlarged as a result of the War should at once re-establish full and friendly co-operation and arrange for the unrestricted interchange of commodities in order that the essential unity of European life may not be impaired by the erection of artificial economic barriers.And they did the opposite. We then had some trouble over Austria and called in the experts, who advised on their very first page:The adoption by Austria herself of the most stringent measures for the improvement of her internal financial situation, and the committee also urged that immediate and effective measures should be taken for the removal of trade barriers between Austria and the Succession States.We had a conference at Genoa almost as representative as the present World Economic Conference, and it decided:The system of prohibition or restriction of imports or exports which certain States have introduced temporarily to protect their finances or to control their markets is in principle injurious from the point of view of the economic restoration of Europe…Such prohibitions and monopolies should not be used for the purpose of discriminating between different foreign markets or different sources of supply.A little later we had to consider the position in the Near East. There was a conference at Stresa. In our distress we called in the experts, and they all again came to the same conclusion:In order to guard against this disturbance of the balance many countries have had recourse to a series of restrictions…Each State has tried to protect itself—has tried to push its exports and to reduce its imports to a minimum…The result was —experience on this matter is conclusive— not only nil but negative.And so on. I do not want to weary the House by continuing the quotations. My point is that with the most disquieting unanimity the same experts, called in to produce an agenda for the World Economic Conference almost in the same words said the same thing. What some of us are afraid of is that one more useful, interesting, and true report will come to rest upon our shelves, but that all the clever people, all the active people, will seize the opportunity, saying that this is all very well but nothing will happen; let us get down to brass tacks. They will once again use this conference while some of them are drafting a number of Articles, just the same Articles as they have always signed, to do behind the scenes what they think is really practical business. This conference will not be judged by the 66 number of Articles signed, but by the number of articles sold. No amount of diplomatic camouflage will be able to pretend to the world that the conference has succeeded even for a few weeks, let alone months or years. It will be judged week by week, by the clearing house returns, by export returns, by unemployment returns.
I implore the Foreign Secretary and the English delegates not to waste time by attempting to explore avenues and diplomatic formulae, because they are all of non-effect. If they only want to produce a nice signed report I can lend them these which are in my possession, and they will do just as well. If at this conference nations set out in despair to get selfish benefits for themselves, assuredly once again those benefits will crumble through their fingers, salt, bitter dust, just as they have done before. There is no future for that attempt to drag immediate selfish advantages out of an ever-increasing world decay.
I apologise for speaking with some feeling. If I may I would conclude on this note: I am one of those Members of this House whose interest in public affairs does not date back to the happy far-off times before the War. I belong to the generation that has grown up in the past 20 years, a generation that has never known that happy world of normality which our economic professors and some of our statesmen hold out to us as the goal to which we should return. For five years the whole world wasted its substance in riotous dying, and when war came to an end little attempt was made to heal those national emotions. All the world has attempted ever since to build up prosperity upon a rotten foundation of hate; we are all stumbling about in a graveyard, tripped up by old and dead quarrels. Every attempt to carry on the ordinary avocations of life has been thwarted from the outset by these hatreds, and false ideals. We are bewildered by all these ignoble scurryings to and fro, of frightened capital seeking some shelter. There is surely, to any one who has eyes to see, no security, no prosperity to be built upon a world which is attempting either Jo creep into its shell like a wounded snail and there starve, or just to feel "Well, I am all right; let the other fellow drop over the edge."
67 If history teaches anything, such history as those of my generation have had an opportunity of seeing with their own eyes, it teaches this: It is surely time that we here in this country, of whom it has been well said that England has no foreign policy but peace, gave a lead towards the only way in which the world can hope to become prosperous. Cease to please ourselves with those mirages that hot nationalist emotion can build up over a desert sand; irrigate the world's fields with trade; allow the natural impulses of ambition to achieve their end without everlasting governmental restriction, everlasting new efforts to regiment and restrict and prevent and telling other people how to manage their own business. All this unemployment, all these endless years of hope deferred, are the result of attempting to build upon a false foundation. The time is very late and we have got very near to breaking point. If this Government were to falter now, or if at a later stage it came to this House with a wider agreement and this House, as it appears to be advised by some trusted counsellors, should refuse, then we might well despair.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
This is one of those rare occasions when it is not too difficult to catch your eye, Captain Bourne. We have just listened to a speech of very considerable interest, and if I may I should like to congratulate the hon. Member who made it. I do not accept all the views that he has expressed, but I realise that he has made a very profound study of many of the problems with which we are concerned at this time, and I always listen to him with pleasure. He has expressed the view that the present generation, those who have grown up since the end of the War, have not yet had an opportunity of judging the economic affairs of the world fairly, because they have never had the experience of normal commercial conditions. In that I agree with the hon. Member. I am inclined to think that a great many of the difficulties with which we are faced to-day are due to the fact that a large proportion of the world is without experience of normal times.
I am one of those who hold that, although there are proper spheres for the 68 interference of Governments in the economic life of the world, in the long run the less interference there is the better. I think that the normal impulses which animate the ordinary man, the ordinary desire to be a little better off, provided that his impulses are on lines of honesty, in the long run will provide the greatest advantage for the whole community. But that is not the view which prevails throughout the world to-day. There is too great a desire to plan everything for everybody, too great a desire to reconstruct the world from above instead of seeking to allow people to carry on their own business in their own way. But at this time there are directions in which Governments must interfere, because Governments have to correct the evils which they themselves have committed.
The World Economic Conference is obviously compelled to face the currency problem. Those who took some part in the Debates on the Finance Bill last year will remember that, very largely as a result of a speech by the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), the Debates were largely dominated by the problem of currency. I am one of those who do not accept the popular view that it was necessarily a mistake to return to the Gold Standard in 1925, although I realise that probably we returned at too high a parity. That was not the fault of those who made the decision at the time. It had been the accepted policy of the Government from that day in May, 1919, when it was decided to unpeg the rate of exchange and no longer to borrow in support of the exchange. The Government at that time adopted the policy of the Cunliffe Report. That policy was pursued by the Coalition, and later on by the Government of Mr. Bonar Law, to which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council succeeded as Prime Minister. It was followed equally by the Socialist Government of which the present Prime Minister was the head. During the next four years the results were not unfavourable. From 1925 to 1929 industrial employment in this country expanded by 10 per cent., and industrial production in roughly the same proportion. The year 1929 was in fact the year of record production and the year of the highest standard of living that this country has ever known.
69 Therefore, I think it is an unsound view that the return to the Gold Standard in 1925 was essentially a mistake. Nevertheless, when, on 17th September, 1931, circumstances drove us off the Gold Standard, we had to realise a new fact. It would have been to the advantage of this country, and of the world, had we remained on the Gold Standard. We suffered a great deal, and the world at large suffered a great deal, because we were driven off the Gold Standard, and those who took the view—rightly—that commodity prices were too low, did not realise the extent to which commodity prices in the world outside would be driven downwards as a result of our being pushed off the Gold Standard. There was a material aggravation in the unemployment situation throughout the world as a result of that financial disaster to us. Once we were off the Gold Standard a new set of circumstances arose. I, for one, would never consent, willingly, to the pursuance for a period of years of the policy, right in intention but wrong in practice, adopted in 1919. I think the view then taken was mistaken. I think we imposed on ourselves too great a burden in attempting to deal with the situation with regard to the dollar valuation—dollars then being at 3.20 to the £ and ultimately getting back to 4.86.
I remember the only occasion on which I have ever been privileged to make a speech in France—and I may say that my audience in France gave me better attention than the Committee is giving at this moment. It was an occasion when we were discussing economic problems, and I was privileged to represent His Majesty's Government at an annual banquet of Chambers of Commerce. Those who were assembled on that occasion examined the currency policies then being pursued by various countries. At that time this country was, and had been for four and a-half years, on the Gold Standard, and the general results had not been too bad. But we had to study other examples. The United States had never been off the Gold Standard, but nevertheless had experienced a variety of currency inflation. On the other hand, in France, where they had inflated, they suddenly got into a panic from which they were saved by M. Poincare, merely, I think, by his name, and ultimately they stabi- 70 lised at one-fifth of the pre-War valuation. Belgium and Italy had done more or less the same thing, but the two other great countries in Europe, Germany and Russia, had pursued a different policy. In Germany they had inflated to destruction. The Russians had also inflated to destruction and had restored a Gold Standard which at that time had some validity, though, I think, it has none today.
When we examined the circumstances of those countries at that time we found that the United States, which have never departed from the Gold Standard, were enjoying a period of almost hectic prosperity. France and Belgium, which had gone back to gold at one-fifth of the pre-war valuation, were experiencing economic circumstances more favourable than ours. Germany, which had inflated to destruction, was experiencing acute difficulty, and, as regards Russia, it was impossible to draw any accurate conclusion. That was the position in the early part of 1929. In the meantime we have had upheavals, as a result of which to-day only a few countries are on the Gold Standard. At the same time, we have this extraordinary position that business is being more hampered to-day by currency uncertainties than by anything else. All the world looks forward to a time when there will be a measure of certainty which is lacking at this moment. The ordinary person in business has plenty of risks to take without the additional risk of not knowing what value he is going to receive for the article which he is selling.
There are those who advocate a managed currency. The Gold Standard is a managed currency. It does not work quite by itself. If it is found that there is an undue exportation of the currency reserves, obviously the central banking institution has to protect itself either by raising the rate of discount or by open market operations or by both methods jointly. Therefore, there is an element of management. If you establish rules under which you are going to work the Gold Standard, then what you have to do in any existing body of circumstances is laid down for you, and the only question at issue is how soon you are going to take the necessary steps. On the other hand, if you are going to attempt to continue throughout the world managed systems of currency you are 71 going to introduce into the mechanism a degree of political interference which in the long run will make impossible the complete restoration of world prosperity.
It is interesting to recall that in 1924 there assembled in London a conference which arose out of the report of the Dawes Commission, for the purpose primarily of dealing with German reparations, but also in part for dealing with the general economic and financial reconstruction of Germany. One of the decisions of that conference, to which, I think, not sufficient attention has been paid, was that as far as possible the Reichsbank should be taken out of political control. It was felt that the long period of inflation—influenced substantially by the Ruhr occupation—which ultimately led Germany to disaster, might have been avoided if the politicians had not been in control of the central banking institution of Germany. I know it is urged by some that the change which had been made some months before had, in part, terminated political control over the Imperial Bank in Germany. Nevertheless, it is notable that this conference was held in London when we had a Socialist Government in this country, and that one of its decisions which received the full endorsement of the Socialist Government was that the Imperial Bank in Germany should be under commercial and not political management. There was a fundamental decision that the policy of inflation which was largely the result of political weakness should not be permitted again. This digression may appear to take me a little outside the scope of my subject. I am not going into it, however, for the reason which may occur to some hon. Members, but because it is pertinent to the question which we are discussing. Simultaneously there was a decision that the control of the railway system in Germany should be taken away from the politicians and the amazing thing, as I say, was that this denationalisation, if I may so describe it, of the Imperial Bank and of the railway system in Germany was decided by a conference in London largely influenced by leading Members of the Socialist Government then in power.
That, however, is largely a side issue and I come back to the main question raised by the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin) and that is the 72 great question which is naturally the subject of discussion in responsible circles to-day, and which I have no doubt will be extensively discussed at the Geological Museum. There, at least they ought to have on view records of the past currency systems of the world. Some people take the view that the great thing is not to make any mistake as to the currency ratio at which we may return to the Gold Standard. I hold strongly the view that we need not worry unduly on that subject. The rapidity with which price levels adjust themselves to the exchange ratio in a country is remarkable. When we went off the Gold Standard the immediate effect was an export bonus— or subsidy if you like to call it so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Prosperity!"] No, it was a temporary subsidy which enabled us to sell our goods abroad at low prices while we paid very dearly for all that we bought from abroad. If you continue to depreciate your currency sufficiently long you will ruin yourself beyond all possibility of redemption. It never pays to sell cheaply and buy dearly—and that is all that happens in such cases.
What temporarily gives you a certain artificial prosperity in those circumstances? Your price level for the moment, measured by the exchange value of your currency is temporarily low and everything that you produce seems cheap to the people abroad while everything that they produce appears dear to you. Accordingly, you have this export advantage and import restriction acting as a tariff of the worst kind, because it is wholly undiscriminating and applies to raw materials as well as to manufactured articles but that situation is temporary. When your inflation or whatever it may be stops, within a very short time either your price level rises, or the price level outside falls, and you get a new level of stability and your temporary advantage has gone. What many people fail to appreciate is that this is the effect of a depreciating and not a depreciated currency. In other words, the action is dynamic and not static.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
May I put a question to my hon. Friend? A few moments ago he was speaking about managed currencies, and I believe he is still dealing with that subject. He has not, however, explained the different forms of managed currencies and I would 73 like him to state which he regards as the best form and the worst form respectively of managed currency. There is the method of printing paper; there is also the management of currency by means of gold, and there is, thirdly, the question of the use of silver. This is a great international question at the present time and I should like my hon. Friend's views on those three methods. He has often, I believe, spoken on economic subjects generally but not so often on the subject of managed currency. Would he kindly state also, which of the countries which have attempted managed currencies, have been most nearly successful, which have most hopelessly failed, and why? Further will he give his view as to whether it would have been possible for those who have failed, to have done better if they had had behind them some expert like the Minister of Health to give them advice? If the hon. Member could answer those questions, all of them, completely, I should be very much obliged.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
On a point of Order. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) to inflict these interrogations on the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams)?
It was in the hands of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). If he wished to resume his speech, he had only to stand up again.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I am aware that the clan to which I belong is the most numerous in this House, but I think this is the first occasion on which three of us have spoken in succession. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has addressed to me a series of interesting questions, but before I answer them, perhaps he will permit me to conclude the argument on which I was engaged when he got up to ask me those questions, the answer to which he will find in a volume, sold by John Murray at half-a-crown, which I once wrote.
The question of the currency level at which we should return to the Gold Standard is not so important as a great many authorities, political and economic, assume. Provided you can keep—and it is possible under existing circumstances to do so—your rate of exchange reason- 74 ably stable for a comparatively short period of time, the necessary adjustments can take place, and you can then resume the Gold Standard without any very great difficulty; but that assumes, of course, first of all, a general condition of faith in your institutions, so that you are not going to have panic withdrawals, and also it assumes the existence of a balance of trade when you take into account not merely the movement of goods but also capital movements and payments for what are called invisible exports. Provided that you are on an even keel in respect of those things, you can in fact go back to the Gold Standard at any level at which you may be, and you can expect to remain at that level without difficulty. The only thing to do is to avoid undue rapidity of change.
The experience which many of us have gained by studying the events of the past indicates that the time factor in economic movements is as important as it is in a great many scientific processes. Provided that you do not attempt to vary your rate too violently, you can, quietly get back to what level you may think desirable, having regard to all the circumstances, or, if you choose the level at which you happen to be for the moment, and take steps, by the management of your currency that you have in operation for the moment, to preserve stability, at round about the level at which you are, you can subsequently resume gold payments at that level with the certainty that you will not be involved in a very great deal of difficulty in maintaining that level in future.
Many people seem to think that we went off the Gold Standard in this country because of the failure of the Gold Standard, but there is not the slightest evidence that we were driven off the Gold Standard by any failure of the Gold Standard or by any failure of management. We were driven off the Gold Standard because the world outside had lost faith in us and, because of that fact, withdrew the sums which they had deposited in this country for security. It was an external panic withdrawal which drove us off the Gold Standard. The United States of America was driven off the Gold Standard because of a panic that happened to be internal. People in the United States wished to place their funds outside the United States because 75 they were afraid, and apparently with some justification, of some measure of internal inflation.
On a point of Order. Would it not be more dignified for the British House of Commons, in the midst of the greatest crisis in history, to adjourn, if necessary, for half-an-hour? I have seen it done. To carry on this kind of farce is beneath our dignity.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I am not sure why the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should have risen. I have been presented with an opportunity of preaching to a very crowded House of Commons certain views that I have held on currency and banking for a long time, views which I know are in opposition to the popular view now held. I welcome the opportunity thus given to me, and I do not think it is at all undignified for me to address the Committee on this subject. The point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) and—
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot move that in the middle of another hon. Member's speech, neither can he move to adjourn the Committee.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) raised the problem of the introduction of silver into our currency system. I have often been attracted by the arguments presented by those who support the doctrine of bimetallism, but up to now I have never been convinced by those arguments. Gold and silver are used as metals for the purpose of currency. They come into being as commodities, and gold has a value in terms of other commodities, which in the long run is determined by the relative cost of the production of gold and other commodities. It involves a certain amount of human labour, the use of a certain quantity of raw materials and so on, to produce an ounce of gold. There may be times like the present when the production of—
I have difficulty in associating the hon. Member's speech with the Foreign Office Vote, unless he wishes to argue the case to be 76 put before the World Economic Confer ence to morrow.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I followed the speech of the hon. Member for Central Southwark, who was raising problems of currency and banking and the decisions which are likely to be taken at the World Monetary and Economic Conference, to give it its full title. It is not the World Economic Conference, but the World Monetary and Economic Conference, and accordingly I thought that, in raising the issue affecting monetary policy, I was within the scope of the conference now sitting in South Kensington, at which the Foreign Secretary is one of the important delegates. Therefore, I hope I have not infringed your Ruling, Captain Bourne, in bringing in the question of silver, which is certainly to be discussed at this conference.
So long as the hon. Member makes it clear that he is urging the case that should be put before the World Economic Conference, he will be in order.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
On a point of Order. Is it not obvious that it would be in accordance with the general desire of the Committee that we should adjourn at this point? We are grateful to the hon. Member for his remarks, but an adjournment for half-an-hour would, I am sure, meet with everyone's acquiescence.
The difficulty is that there is no power for the Committee to suspend the Sitting.
If a Motion to report Progress were carried, it would mean that we should be back in the House, and, this being a Supply Day, although it might then be possible to move the adjournment of the House, we could not revert to this Debate. That is the difficulty.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I was addressing my remarks to the Committee partly in the hope that I might do a little propaganda amongst the Members of the party opposite, who spend one-half of their time in deploring the fact that the prices of any commodities have risen and the other half in urging some readjustments of monetary policy which are likely to bring 77 about a world-wide rise in commodity prices. May I resume my argument? I was dealing with the question of silver and pointing out, what I believe to be the truth, that in the long run the value of gold, which in other words means the general price level, is determined by the cost of producing that gold as measured in other commodities. Gold comes into this world primarily as a commodity, and silver comes in primarily as a commodity also. Therefore, in the long run the price ratio between gold and silver, though there are special causes which produce violent fluctuations, will be determined by their relative cost of production.
If that be the case, I am quite unable to see how it is possible to fix permanently a ratio between the two commodities, one gold and one silver, when the essential conditions under which they are being produced are different. Therefore, I have so far not been willing to accept the views of my many distinguished friends in this House who are bimetallists. They have never succeeded in satisfying me that you can establish a permanent ratio between those two commodities. There will no doubt be future opportunities of discussing this vitally important problem, and it may be that we shall have further Debates before this Session comes to an end, as a result of the Conference that is now taking in London. I, for one, welcome the opportunity which I have had to give expression to certain views on monetary problems which up to now I have not had the opportunity of doing in this House.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)
I am extremely sorry that the Committee have been kept waiting for a statement which I had hoped to be able to make to them nearly an hour ago, and I am sorry to say that I have to disappoint them still further. An unavoidable delay has occurred, and, in consequence, I find that I shall not be in a position to make the statement which I had been expecting to make until later in the evening. I hope to be able to make that statement at about 10 o'clock, and I trust that the Committee will be content to wait until then.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
I think hon. Members in this House can be taken, without offence, to be here representing special interests, and I think that we, on these benches, would at least plead guilty to doing that ourselves. We are here uppermost in defence of the interests of the working classes of this and every other country, and possibly it would not be out of place to remind hon. Members of other parties that, in dealing with monetary problems, there is an aspect of the question that affects very closely the working classes of this country. Possibly the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), who has just spoken at some length on monetary problems, would be very much surprised to find that I at least would express a considerable amount of sympathy and accord with his point of view. He has dealt with the fundamental relations of money to commodities, I think, on sound, scientific lines; and really this problem of money seems to present more snags to the square yard than any other question. It is astounding that in this representative House of Commons, upon a matter of such fundamental importance, there should be so many varying points of view on this question.
I am particularly interested in the monetary aspect of the problem, for the reason that we have forced upon us at the present time the presumed necessity for raising world prices as providing a possible solution of the troubles that now beset the world. I can understand, from a certain standpoint, why this particular solution is being pressed forward. Let us put it in this way. If we consider the position of this country in 1914 prior to the outbreak of war, what was the burden that British industry had to carry? If we leave out of consideration the revenue derived from foreign investments and that section of the community which received its sustenance from that quarter, it must be agreed that the whole population of this country received their sustenance from British industry at home. What burden did that British industry have to bear? It had to provide the earnings of the wage-earning classes, profit for the employer, and revenue for the State. Comprised within these three sections was the total burden which industry had to bear. Then followed the years of war.
79 In consequence of the War, there was a vastly increased burden upon British industry, and it is precisely the problem of that burden that the suggested solution of raising world prices is designed to meet. What is meant is that British industry is overburdened in one or two directions. As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee), who opened the Debate, an immense rentier class, which forms a tremendous burden on industry in every country, has been created. There is also the immense problem of the expenditure involved in armaments. How is industry to be able to carry these tremendous burdens? It is suggested that the way to do it is to raise world prices. I am particularly interested in that problem from the working-man's point of view, because, as has been pointed out in very weighty volumes published under the authority of this House, when a return was made to the Gold Standard in 1925 there was introduced a period of declining prices and, in consequence, an increased purchasing value of a given unit of money. It is suggested—and I think rightly—that in consequence of a period of falling prices a redistribution has occurred in the national income. More, proportionately, is now given to the State for its expenditure, more is given to the holders of interest-bearing stocks of the Government, more is given to the working class, and less is left to those who depend upon profits.
Now it is said, "Let us raise world prices by manipulation of the currency, getting further away from the Gold Standard." Incidentally, it may be well to emphasise that it is wrong to say that we have left the Gold Standard in the sense that our currency has no connection with it. It is true that the currency of this country is no longer fixed at 123 grains of gold to the standard sovereign. We have left it in that sense, but there is a definite relation to-day between our currency and gold. What does the suggestion to raise the level of world prices mean, and what does it mean from the standpoint of the working class? If it has any effect at all, not only wholesale prices, but retail prices will rise. No hon. Member will suggest, however, that the wages of the working class are going to be raised. They will not be raised at all. What will follow automatically is that the purchasing power of the units of 80 our currenrcy will be reduced, and anyone who receives interest on account of any holdings of war stock or any other form of fixed interest-bearing security will receive less value after world prices have been raised, in exactly the same manner as during the period of falling prices purchasing power automatically increased.
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume now that if world prices are raised again purchasing power will be correspondingly reduced. That will be the case for all those who draw interest from War stock. It will also affect the old age pensioner, the widow and orphan who receives a pension, in fact, the whole element in the working-class which receives a weekly income, including the unemployed. All members of the working-class who draw their small sums of money weekly will have a reduced purchasing power in consequence of a rise in world prices. As soon as the purchasing power of money is reduced in this manner, the whole wage-earning population of the country will have their wages directly reduced in terms of goods. So that really this suggested solution of world problems by a rise in world prices is simply a cunningly worked out scheme for saving capitalism at the expense of the working-class. It is perfectly correct that industry is carrying too great a burden, but it is trying to relieve itself by shouldering the burden on to the working-class.
I do not believe that raising world prices is the solution. I have not the slightest sympathy with all this talk which we hear, often from members of my own party, that we can get away from gold and imagine that we are safe and sound in our currency problems. I do not subscribe to that. If we are under capitalism and are to have a currency, I am satisfied that it must have a definite relation to gold. All other schemes will simply result-in greater difficulties in consequence of currency not being on a sound basis. I want particularly to emphasise that if any scheme is to be embarked upon for raising world prices, the trade unions and Labour forces of this country will have to take action to defend their share of the national income. We cannot sit quietly and subscribe to a policy that will directly reduce the purchasing power of the working-class. We must voice our opposition to it and our intention, on any oppor- 81 tunity that presents itself, to defend to the utmost the interests of the workers whom we represent.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I rise to call the attention of the Committee to the question of the Four-Power Pact. I should like with great warmth and sincerity to congratulate the Government and the Secretary of State upon the work they have done in bringing about the initialling of that instrument. I ventured on a previous occasion to welcome the initiative that had been taken by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State in going to Rome, as I had for a long time felt that there was a similarity of outlook of the Italian Government and our own on important matters of foreign politics, and that there was a great hope of bringing about an improvement in the general feeling of Europe if we had closer and more intimate co-operation between this country and Italy. That co-operation has now come about, and it has brought with it at the same time an improvement which, I think, has not been fully understood. There has also been during the last few weeks a great improvement in the relations between France and Italy, which were so dangerously strained last summer and autumn. I had the privilege of hearing last Friday, when I attended a debate in the French Chamber, M. Daladier reply to the gesture of Signor Mussolini, and I repeat my congratulations to the British Government that they have been successful in bringing about that rapprochement.
I see the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the Treasury Bench. I hope that he did not think I pressed him unduly at Question Time about the publication of more details in the White Paper. I do not think that the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) would have spoken as disparagingly of this Pact as he did if he had had the advantage of being able to see exactly what was the proposal originally put forward by Signor Mussolini, the actual proposals that were put forward by our Government, those that were put forward by the French Government, and the amendments which were proposed by the German Government. I would repeat my request to the Under-Secretary of State to consider whether it would not be possible to publish in English the 82 same documents which have been published in France. In the original Pact as drafted by Signor Mussolini the first purpose, as laid down in Article 1, was a general maintenance of peace. At the same time, there was an undertaking as between the four great Powers to use their influence in order to insist that all other countries in Europe should pursue the same peaceful policy. It contained a curious coercive element which is out of harmony with the Covenant of the League of Nations, and I am glad that in the English proposals that were put forward and in the French proposals, that coercive element was removed. But the general principle in Article 1 providing for peace for 10 years remained, and I regard it as of great value.
Article 2 provides for the revision of the treaties, and Article 3 for the implementing of that equality of armaments which was conceded to Germany in the declaration at the Disarmament Conference on 11th December last. With regard to Article 2 dealing with the revision of treaties, I feel that the British Government were again quite right in seeing in the draft as originally put forward by Italy an undue emphasis upon the revision of the treaties. We must all agree, I think, that the Treaty of Versailles was by no means verbally inspired and that sooner or later there will have to be modifications; and we hope that the Treaty of Versailles may be modified in a more peaceful and more gradual manner than was the case with the Treaty of Vienna 100 years ago. It is a very definite advance that in Article 2 of the Pact that we should have obtained for the first time from France a recognition that Article 19 of the Covenant of the League of Nations provides for an amendment and modification of the Treaty of Versailles as circumstances and changing conditions require.
On Article 3, which deals with the question of disarmament, I would like to put one or two questions on points on which, I think, it would be of value to the House if the Under-Secretary or the Foreign Secretary could give us some information. The Italian and British original drafts of Article 3 explicitly reaffirmed the right of Germany in the long run to have equality of armaments. At the same time Germany agreed that the return to equality could only be gradual 83 and by agreement. There were in those original drafts two principles which, I think, most of us regard as esential to the peaceful settlement of the disarmament question—that France should not be asked suddenly to abolish the armaments upon which she depends, or believes she depends, for security, and that Germany should be given an assurance that she is not always to be maintained in a position of subjection. In the drafts of the same Article put forward by this country and by France, explicit approval was given to the plans for the disarmament proposals which were put forward by us. When we had two of the drafts agreeing upon a general declaration of equality, and two of the drafts agreeing that the British disarmament plan was a valuable step—and in the French draft it was regarded as a practical basis of discussion—when in those early drafts so much had been conceded by the different parties to these negotiations, I feel it is most unfortunate that when the final draft came to be approved we found that both the explicit recognition of equality of armaments and also the definite reference, with approval, to the disarmament plan had been excluded.
I am afraid there is no doubt that the exclusion of a reference to the British disarmament plan must be attributed to Germany, because I find that in the amendment which Germany put forward to the French draft it was Germany which proposed the exclusion of any reference to our disarmament plans. When one remembers that only a short time ago Herr Nadolny withdrew the amendments, which we bad rather regarded as wrecking amendments, at Geneva, I would ask the Government why it is that in these negotiations we find that Germany is refusing to regard that disarmament plan which is at the present time the basis of discussion at Geneva as being worthy of mention in this Pact as something which the four great Powers agree to support?
That Pact, unfortunately, has to contemplate the failure of the Disarmament Conference. It provides for the negotiations which are to be undertaken by the four great Powers in order to carry out the equality declaration of the 11th December last in the event of the Disarmament Conference breaking down. I 84 do not think, however, that the recognition of that possibility is likely to increase the probability, so to speak, of the Conference breaking down. On the contrary, I believe that once this Pact has been entered into, and that machinery is provided for continuing the discussions in the event of the Disarmament Conference breaking down, there is a better chance of compromise on both sides in order to arrive at agreement.
What are the two problems which are holding up the Disarmament Conference at the present time? I am afraid the first one is the insistence by this Government upon continuing the right of bombing for police purposes in outlying areas. I do not intend to say very much more upon that question than was said by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). I agree with him that, from the point of view of finance and economy, there is no doubt that bombing from the air is of the utmost value on the North-West Frontier of India and in Iraq. I think it is significant that Iraq, whose nationals have on some occasions in the past suffered from bombardment from the air, although on other occasions they have benefited by the protection given to them by our aeroplanes from incursions and raids by the Wahasis, should have supported us in the line which we took at the Conference. But surely this is one of those cases where it would be well worth our while to be prepared to make a sacrifice. It would not be a sacrifice of security for ourselves. We are asking of other nations to make sacrifices which they believe involve their very security. Here is a case which means sacrificing convenience, a cheap and efficient method of aerial defence. Surely this is one of those cases where, in order to bring the Conference to a successful conclusion, we might well be willing to make a sacrifice in return for sacrifices on the part of others.
I am far from saying that the present difficulties at the Disarmament Conference are solely or even principally due to the policy of our Government. I found that in Paris people of all kinds of political opinions are far more deeply concerned at the Hiram Johnson Amendment carried in the Senate the other day which deprives the President of the United States of the right of prohibiting exports 85 of arms and munitions to the aggressor of two foreign combatants. If he imposes that embargo, it is to apply equally to both of the combatants. That is regarded in France—and rightly regarded, I think—as meaning that that step forward—the Stimson doctrine, the abandonment of the old doctrine of neutrality—may represent the opinion of the President of the United States and of the executive in general, but that when it comes to legislative support the Senate is as wedded as ever it was to the old doctrine of neutrality. When I recall that the greater part of the last speech of the Foreign Secretary on foreign affairs in this House was devoted to a recognition of this changed outlook upon the part of America, and that we have a return to the old doctrine of Grotius with regard to neutrality, with the new doctrine definitely turned down by, at any rate, a committee of the Senate of the United States, I do hope that an early opportunity will be taken by the Government to explain what their view of the matter is.
I end by summarising what I believe the Four-Power Pact has achieved. I welcome it not so much for what it has actually done as for what it has avoided. It has, in the first place, avoided the division of the great Powers of Europe into two armed camps. There might have been rapprochement between Italy and Germany upon the one hand and with France upon the other hand, with we ourselves, I suppose, rather uneasily in the background, sometimes supporting the one and sometimes supporting the other. This Pact avoids that and represents the first fruits of the honest brokerage which Italy and Great Britain together have undertaken in trying to improve the relations between France and Germany. It has brought about at the same time a real spirit of friendliness between France and Italy. It provides a procedure for continuing discussions between the four great Powers if the general Disarmament Conference at Geneva ends in failure. In addition, it gives a guarantee, and this time accepted by Herr Hitler, that the peace of Europe will remain undisturbed for a further 10 years. It is for these reasons that I regard this Pact as being of very definite value, chiefly as forming a framework within which it will be possible for the Secretary of State and 86 the Government to carry on with the work of the pacification of Europe, for giving security to France, and for giving to Germany those modifications of frontiers, and that improvement in status without which there could never have been tranquility.
§ 6.42 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
I would like to apologise to you, Captain Bourne, and the Committee in general, for any responsibility that I may bear for the hiatus which occurred just after 5.30. As a matter of fact, I thought it would be an act of impertinence on my part to seek to command the attention of this House when they were waiting for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and therefore I expected some Member of the Government to rise and intervene on behalf of the Government. Having said that, I would like to say that I do not want to enter the arena of war debts, because I have already said to this House on a former occasion that, taking into consideration all the circumstances of the situation, and in full view of the political implications that may follow, this country ought to be prepared to refuse to pay. If I may use the language of the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) I am going to use him and the right hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest) as my "legitimate targets," and to make some reference to the Disarmament Conference.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division used the quaint word "unnatural" in connection with war and preparations for war and the Disarmament Conference. I would suggest to him, if he were here, that no intelligent human being ever behaves precisely in accordance with the dictates of human nature. I am inclined to attempt to rebuke him with ah anecdote which I once used in answering, or attempting to answer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in debate, when he said that it was an unnatural thing for the nations of the world to be collected round a table seeking to reduce their armaments. The anecdote was this. A Bishop was trying to justify war and warfare from the pulpit, and he said in the course of an eloquent peroration, "Brethren, as long as human nature is human nature, human 87 nature will be human nature still." In a point of strict fact modern warfare is the most grossly unnatural and artificial thing in the world. There is absolutely no personal element in it. People are sent to try to destroy others whom they have never seen. I would submit further to my right hon. and gallant Friend if he were here, that it happens also to be un-Christian, but that aspect may not have occurred to him.
The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) referred to the delays that have attended the Disarmament Conference. Before he condemns His Majesty's Government out of hand, I would like to remind him of the fact that, owing to the skilful use by His Majesty's Government of the doctor's mandate, the Disarmament Conference has recently given lively indications of the approaching end of its period of gestation, although that period has already far exceeded that of the higher mammals. The career of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has proceeded like a game of golf in which, I am told, he excels. If the plaudits of the House of Commons are any criterion, he was adjudged to have hit straight down the fairway when he introduced the Measure to enable the Government to impose an embargo upon Russian imports into this country. It was a fine long drive. Only two of our nationals suffered as a result of that trial, but in my view the next shot was sadly sliced—I hope that I am using the correct technical terms, because I am not a golfer—when the right hon. Gentleman and His Majesty's Government imposed that embargo in the chill of the morning, and without consulting this honourable House. I should not be surprised if, as a result of that embargo, Messrs. Thornton and Macdonald, one of whom repeated a plea of guilty, had to serve at least half of their term of imprisonment.
The right hon. Gentleman's ball has got into a bunker of quite appalling dimensions over this matter of police bombing, and in order to escape from it he will need a whole quiverful of niblicks. I appreciate his embarrassment. I have never been able to understand the theory of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, because I have never been able to understand how 20 distinguished individuals could be expected to hold 88 identical views on any one particular major issue, but I think that there is some value in the collective secrecy of the Cabinet. The Press seem to have got an impression that the Foreign Secretary dissented from a majority of his colleagues over this matter. How or why they were allowed to get that impression I should be reluctant to conjecture, but the impression exists, and I hope that, in the case of the Foreign Secretary, it is a correct one. What are we to do? Are we to condemn the majority decision of the Cabinet, which I do not think was a defensible one, or are we to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the stand which he is alleged to have made? I hope that this major agreement to differ—we had better agree that such a difference is a fact, and that that is a true description of the situation—will not be a prelude to the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
I will refer particularly now to the speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet. Nobody in this Committee will dispute the intrinsic strength of the case for police bombing. Were I to play the hireling and advance a case in which I did not believe, I have no doubt that even I could make out a plausible case for this kind of policing. It is beyond question that the Government has been saved a considerable expense, in money and in the lives of her soldiers, by this method of dealing with outlying districts. The Committee is probably familiar with the enormous saving in Waziristan and in Iraq, and how expeditiously we expelled from our Protectorate at Aden the Imam of the Yemen. I admit that, in that limited aspect of the case, there is no answer, and yet the nugatory nature of this argument and its essentially narrow limitations were brilliantly exposed in an article in the "Times" newspaper on 30th May. I make no apology for referring to the "Times" newspaper. It is true that it has been called before this honourable House, by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton),"the organ of the mugwumps," but I hold the view that, in common with the "Yorkshire Post" and the "Manchester Guardian," that paper stands pre-eminently for a sane world. In dealing with this question it pointed out that this country is not the only Power which 89 has Imperial and overseas commitments, and that if we proceeded with this reservation it would certainly be claimed by other nations. The Southern shores of the Mediterranean would be fringed with aerodromes in order to deal with the Italian and French commitments in the Continent of Africa. You would still have military aerodromes chequering the Continent of Europe just as they do today, and war would remain as calamitously simple in its starting as it is today for some successor to Von Papen or Hitler, or some other political King Kong of the European jungle.
His Majesty's Government had better recognise that if they persist in this reservation, they are going to bear the responsibility for keeping the civilian populations of Europe in their present neurotic jeopardy. I know that it is a very improper thing for a Member of this House to keep dragging in references to his own constituents but how can I, with a clear conscience, face the densely packed denizens of Leeds if I support this reservation? In his celebrated speech of 10th November last, the Lord President of the Council concluded with these remarkable words:If the conscience of the young men should ever come to feel with regard to this one instrument that it is evil and should go, the thing will be done: but if they do not feel like that—well, as I say, the future is in their hands. But when the next war comes, and European civilisation is wiped out, as it will be and by no force more than by that force, then do not let them lay the blame upon the old men. Let them remember that they, they principally or they alone, are responsible for the terrors that have fallen upon the earth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 638, Vol. 270.]I suppose that I can still claim to be a relatively young man, but when I find a resolution upon the Paper tabled by a still younger Member of the House who represents an adjacent constituency, I am afraid that I feel my hair growing perceptibly greyer and I am inclined to say:Parturiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus.Perhaps the Committee will allow me, in my own language, to construe that hexameter.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. If he uses the classical form of the word "nascitur," he will find that it is impossible to scan that line. If, on the other hand, he will realise that this is a line from an archaic form of Latin he will appreciate that "nascitur" is the third person singular of the present indicative deponent of the archaic form "nascior" of the more clasical form "nascor." Therefore, I respectfully suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should not make irrelevant or inaccurate interruptions in my speech. I will now resume the construing of that line in my own language. "Parturiunt montes"— the Air League of the British Empire is in travail. "Nascitur ridiculus mus"—a Motion is tabled by the hon. Member for South Leeds (Mr. Whiteside). I, at all events, being a comparatively young man, am not going to expose myself to the charge that I wish the obscenity of bombing to continue. I suggest to His Majesty's Government—and the only Member of it that I can see is the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who may not have a direct responsibility for these matters, but who, perhaps, will pass my observations on—that they are inviting the odious suggestion that this country wishes permanently to discriminate between the white and coloured peoples. The case against bombing can be stated quite simply in this form: If it is wrong to bomb Europeans, it is not less wrong to bomb Africans and Asiatics. This discrimination seems to be a new form of the white man's burden. It is the public school spirit almost run amok —"Bend over and take your beating like a man; we know you cannot retort." I am not so simple as to imagine that the policing of outlying parts is not going to be necessary for a very long time. Of course it will. If we really believe in the security of Christendom we have to sacrifice our own convenience in this particular.
It would be very interesting to find out which Members of His Majesty's Government can be held responsible for this reservation. I suppose that we can come near to the truth by a process of elimination. We can at once rule out the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. If the Prime Minister chose to be either lucid or concise upon this issue he, too, could be sent to join the angels. I think that every hon. Member 91 in this Committee would concede that the Lord President of the Council could not possibly subscribe to this reservation—not anyhow since 10th November, when he said:It is not a cheerful thought to the older men that, having got that mastery of the air, we are going to defile the earth from the air as we have defiled the soil during all the years that mankind has been on it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 637, Vol. 270.]I suggest to the Committee that we could also exclude the President of the Board of Trade, and possibly the President of the Board of Education, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the First Commissioner of Works. By this process of elimination we have reduced those who, dare I say, may be the culprits for this dubious distinction. One is driven to the sorry inference that it is the myopic self-interest of the fighting services that has held us up, as it is always liable to hold us up, and I suggest to the Committee that they must not and cannot be allowed to obstruct progress in this matter. Everyone of us of military age would be expected to fight in an emergency, and nine out of 10, including myself, would not be able to resist such an appeal. If there were a general call to arms, our swords would leap from our scabbards.
Let the Government have the courage to do something unconstitutional. Let them take a referendum of the country and see whether the public are willing to sacrifice the heart for the finger. The last remark of mine applies intimately to this great Chamber. If, in the course of some future catastrophe, a gas-filled bomb, owing its survival to our own predilection for the principle of air-bombing, were to crash through the delicately illuminated ceiling of this Chamber, which is so securely immune from the pedestrian assaults of hunger-marchers, I hope that any elder statesmen who happened to survive the first shattering detonation would not try to lay the blame upon the young men. Let them remember, as they choke and sweat in the article of death, that they, they principally, or they alone, are responsible for the terrors that have fallen upon the earth.
§ Mr. ANNESLEY SOMERVILLE
Might I ask the hon. Member a ques- 92 tion? I gather from what he has said that he would be in favour of the complete abolition of military aircraft. How would he deal with this position? There is a Power whose object is to enforce its particular social system upon the rest of the civilised world, by force, if necessary. That Power has a vast aircraft force. Is the hon. Member in favour of all the other Powers abolishing their air power and leaving themselves at the mercy, in the air, of this Power?
I am obliged to the hon. Member for putting that point to me. I would remind him that on two occasions the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics made what may, or may not, have been a sincere proposal—and I hold no brief for them—to what they call the capitalist States, to abolish all air forces, navies and armies. I must say that the interruption of my hon. Friend rather surprises me. The rest of the world leaves Russia virtually in isolation. If Russia were to follow a policy such as he foresees—for reasons best known to him, although I believe Russia has no external territorial ambitions— within a few weeks every civilian aeroplane on the air routes of the capitalist States would be turned into a bomber and used in counter-attack upon the cities of Russia. But the hon. Member should not direct his criticisms against me. The total abolition of military aircraft has been the policy of His Majesty's Government, and they should be the target for his battery and bombs, not myself. I have quoted the speech of the Lord President of the Council.
§ Mr. SOMERVILLE
The hon. Gentleman has said that the Soviet Government has no external ambitions, can he then explain the ceaseless propaganda carried on by that Government?
The phrase I used was no "external territorial ambitions." The hon. Member must know that if the Communist system is to survive in Russia, the only means by which it can survive is to carry on propaganda in capitalist States. I do not believe in Communism and I hope, of course, that that propaganda will collapse.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
I desire to follow up one or two observations which the hon. Member has made with such sincerity, and with an eloquence which I cannot claim. I could not make the same masterly-analysis of Cabinet meetings and the same elimination of the healthy from the septic element. The hon. Member's objection is not really very much alive to the necessity, or otherwise, of bombing from the air, but rather to the Christianity, or otherwise, of military operations. I would submit to the Committee that there is nothing un-Christian in military operations in certain circumstances.
§ Mr. WISE
On the question of air bombing, the hon. Member very truthfully said that air bombing had resulted in great saving of the lives of our troops in expeditions necessary for the preservation of order in outlying parts of our Empire. The abolition of air bombing will not make these expeditions any less necessary, and will merely increase the casualties among the British soldiers. I do submit that the first concern of this House should be the lives of our own soldiers and not the lives of those at war against us. Even in their case, I think it can be shown clearly from the figures of campaigns, particularly on the North-West Frontier of India in the last few years when the Air Force has been employed, as compared with the years when we used the old cumbersome methods of small but very expensive expeditions, that 94 the new system of bombing from the air is far more merciful, in the matter of life to the people against whom these expeditions are made, than the old system of embarking on a regular war. If we make this gesture of doing away with bombing from the air, we are, in the circumstances, involving ourselves in a considerable amount of difficulty. We sacrifice deliberately a large number of the lives of our own men. It may be that the corresponding benefit will outweigh that loss, but we should consider it.
What difference is the abolition of the bombing aeroplane from the air forces of the world to make to the danger in any industrial town of being bombed from the air when the next war breaks out? Any large passenger aeroplane can be converted overnight into a bomber. Any partially equipped metal working factory can turn out a bomb. The abolition of the bombing aeroplane will not make one iota of difference to the prospects of the civilian population suffering in the next war, if it ever comes. Let us hope this country will not be involved in it. If it is, it does not matter whether the bombing aeroplane is there or not. Our towns will be exposed to the danger of bombs, and the only way to avert that danger is to see to it that we can force an action over the other State's territory. In other words, we should have sufficient force at our disposal to bring on an air engagement in circumstances which suit us, and not hover over our own capital waiting for the bombers to come and drop bombs on it.
If we are going to lose a good deal from the abolition of air bombing surely it would be an empty gesture. It is not going to be valued very highly as a gesture by other nations. As has been wittily suggested, the correct word to describe making a gesture is "gesticulate." Our action will be interpreted as another gesticulation. If this air bombing is retained in our hands, I think we have every justification for its use. I speak as one who has seen some little of our outlying dependencies, although not very much. I mention one dependency, which has 700 miles of frontier, bordering on a State which still desires slaves and derives a great deal of its revenue from stolen ivory and stolen camels. In an attempt to stop that, six companies of 95 infantry and a large police force were employed. The casualties among the infantry were consistent, but not high. The casualties among the raiders were both consistent and high. One squadron of aeroplanes stationed on that frontier stopped the raiding permanently. Is it not clear that that has been a benefit not only to the British Empire but to the whole world? May I remind the hon. Member of the line of Virgil—I use the old pronunciation—
Hae tibi erunt artes Romane memento—parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.If we continue to use our air force for those purposes, and spare the vanquished, I think we shall have no reason to criticise ourselves for the continued use of aerial bombing.
May I for a moment proceed to a larger issue—the question of disarmament as a whole? May I suggest to this Committee that the real success of the Disarmament Conference will bring war nearly 12 months nearer? May I support that by stating that those who wish to disturb the peace of Europe are those who are dissatisfied with their territorial possessions, as they now stand? Disturbance of the peace of Europe is not coming from France, which has what it wants, but from Germany which has been deprived of what it wants. As long as Germany has no means of going to war, war will not take place. If our disarmament efforts are successful, and armaments are made equal, can anyone believe for a moment that there will not be a determined effort to reverse the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles? I am prepared to admit that the Treaty of Versailles was a thoroughly bad issue. That was not the fault of most of us who sit in this Committee. It is a fact, which we must accept, that the state of Europe was created by the Versailles Treaty. If we equalise armaments, then will come the effort to reverse the treaty. Until the treaty has been readjusted to the satisfaction of all the countries of Europe—and that may be further off than the Kalends of Greece—there is no reason for proceeding with disarmament which creates equality.
At the moment the peace of Europe depends, as was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), on the strength of the French Army, and, as long as that is the case, 96 surely we can afford to turn our backs on Europe, to forget disarmament conferences, to forget the impossible Geneva— although I do not think we can do that— and to devote ourselves to the real problems - of the English as a race, namely, the creation of fresh markets to make up for those which we have lost in Europe, and the development of our trade in our own Empire and in countries like China and South America. Hon. Members might consider this point for a moment. Since the War, in vain efforts to bolster up the economic structure of Europe, great Britain must have spent or lent nearly £400,000,000 sterling, all of which is frozen, and most of which is lost. If we had taken one per cent. of that sum and given it to an intelligent Chinese, saying to him, "Make yourself Emperor of China; we want to trade with you when you have done it," we should have had a market now in which to trade which would have been worth more than all Europe can ever give us again. So long as we keep our minds on this question of private European quarrels— quarrels about whether the French shall have two battalions of Senegalese, or whether the Brown Shirts should be be reckoned as a military force—so long will our capacity for expanding our own trade and bringing work to our own people be hindered.
If we are strong enough to withdraw ourselves for the moment into our own shell, if we are strong enough to protect ourselves and to protect the food supply of our people when it comes in, if we can retain the form of isolation which we retained after the Napoleonic Wars, when our Statesmen very sensibly turned their backs on the Holy Alliance, another form of which is endeavouring to do what the Holy Alliance did then—if we can do that, we shall see our export trade flourish, and our export trade is, after all, the mainspring of this country. In past years all our foreign policy was directed to the maintenance of our export trade, and to-day we might well direct our foreign policy to it again, ignoring other considerations and side issues, and saying to ourselves that with those countries with which we can trade we will be in friendly alliance, while those with which we cannot trade we must negotiate to see if we can. In conclusion, I would remind the Committee of the words of Lord Nelson, who was a 97 great negotiator. When sent on a trade mission to Denmark, he remarked before he went:The best negotiator in the world is a fleet of British ships of the line.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
My two hon. Friends who have just spoken have put before the Committee diametrically opposite views on the subject of air bombing. I myself am much interested in aircraft from the professional point of view, but my feeling is that we can well leave this matter now in the hands of the Government and of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The views that have been expressed, both here and in the Press, will have shown to all and sundry that this subject is regarded by many people, looking at it from entirely different standpoints, as one of immense importance, and it seems to me that, this agreed conclusion having been arrived at, we might well leave it in the hands of the Government, who have placed on record at Geneva their viewpoint regarding it. They regard the retention of this police bombing as of importance to the outlying parts of our Empire, and, therefore, if we are to forgo this utilitarian, even humanitarian, asset in defence, they will obviously see that some very considerable asset is obtained from others; and, if they can obtain a quid pro quo in disarmament elsewhere if we should ultimately forgo this police bombing, then the views that have been voiced in the House of Commons and outside may have been of some avail.
It was not, however, my intention primarily to raise that matter further. I had hoped, if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been able to make his promised statement earlier in the afternoon, to refer, in, possibly, a more apt setting, to the question of our payment of the debt instalment to the United States. Nevertheless, seeing that I have had some slight opportunity recently of making my own observations in America on this subject, the Committee will perhaps bear with me for a few minutes if I express briefly a viewpoint. It seems to be fairly well agreed now that the President of the United States cannot of his own volition grant remission of debts to foreign Powers, and, that being accepted, he must obviously rely upon the support of Congress. The recent history of Congress will, I think, 98 be sufficient to prove that the individual member of Congress is not likely to support a remission of war debts in advance of public opinion in the United States. Therefore, if we are right up to this point, the matter of prime importance is so to weld public opinion in America that at no distant date it will be ready to view this question in a manner rather different from that which it has evidenced in the past.
The presumably intelligent part of America is the Eastern seaboard, and it seems to be generally admitted that those who live in the Eastern States are in favour, if not, perchance, of complete cancellation of the War debts, at any rate of so great a reduction that they would bear no relation to the immense figures which we have to contemplate at present. But the trouble with those in the Eastern States is that they know that this is an intelligent view in exactly the same way as the Englishman knows that the viewpoint at which he arrives is the one to which the Scotsman will come in a few years, and the Welshman in a few decades. But, as we all know, that is not strictly the truth. In this particular instance, the bogy is usualy regarded as being the Middle West. On more than one occasion early this year I had the privilege of speaking in the Middle West on the subject of the War debt of this country to America, in States where the agricultural depression is so severe that no less than 75 per cent. of the land has been foreclosed on mortgage to the State. Nevertheless, although there is such widespread depression and disaster in those areas, I found that, when the position was put frankly to any audience, they were willing, not only enthusiastically, but vociferiously, to appreciate the point of view that War debts were one of the great difficulties which had to be removed before we could hope to get the international monetary and economic machine working again. Thus this bogey of the Middle West is not in fact so real as it might appear. The average American elector realises, not only the impossibility of collecting these debts, but the hardship which they are inflicting on international trade; and what, therefore, we have to endeavour to achieve is such an augmentation of a favourable public opinion that ultimately we shall have a reasonable and sane discussion of the war debt situation.
99 Euclid tells us that, when we cannot arrive at a solution by the application of logic, we should endeavour to proceed by an appeal to absurdity, and on this aspect of the case I would like to make three separate observations. Euclid could regard absurdity as absolute, but the politician, dealing with humanity, must, as all hon. Members will readily admit, regard it essentially as comparative. That which is preposterous to one mentality may even seem sane to another. Thus we may have for a time to hammer away at this very depressing problem, to press home harder and harder the absurdity and the inequity of Britain's continuing to pay these debts; but we must not expect that the same degree of absurdity which turns our minds into a given course of action will necessarily so turn the minds of the crowd. The second point is that we have to remember that the American nation as a whole is very considerably misinformed and misled as to the exact position in this country. Without wishing to make any party capital out of this issue, it is only right to say that the last Labour Government must assume a very heavy responsibility in this matter, because it was the manner in which they cast to all and sundry funds from the public purse that has given the impression in America that this country can afford to continue to pay and to pay every penny. There is, indeed, a very general impression that our Unemployment Fund is entirely State supported. It is not within the ken of 2 per cent. of the citizens of the United States that employers, employés and the State subscribe equally to the Unemployment Fund.
There is also the point that there is a definite hostile propaganda against any remission of debt to this country, sometimes offered to the public in the most pernicious form. As one instance, in the weekly News Budget at the cinemas, first a few destroyers were shown passing in front of the camera, with some indication that this was the American Fleet. Subsequently our largest and newest battleships were shown, with the suggestion that this was why Britain could not pay her war debts. There is thus considerable need for elucidation of the true position of this country, both economically and so far as her attitude towards 100 debt is concerned. It appears to me, therefore, that this question between. America and ourselves is rather in the nature of a mild dispute between friends, as the Foreign Secretary explained in a recent speech when he returned from Geneva, friends who have a very close outlook upon the world's problems. May I draw a comparison between this and a possible domestic dispute. Even the best ordered households sometimes have difficulties. Husbands may sometimes have views which wives cannot readily assume. The ladies also have their periods when mankind finds it very difficult to follow their particular viewpoint. But, as all Members who enjoy matrimonial felicity will readily agree, we may have to give in to-day in the knowledge that to-morrow or the day after sanity will return.
In this instance, the feeling generally in this country is that America is taking up a very hard, stubborn attitude. My own observations were that a very large proportion of the American people are in favour of the remission of war debts to this country. We have, therefore, not to start a battle, but we have gradually to urge the other partner round to our viewpoint. I hope that, whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have to tell us to-night, the Government are not going to start a mild debt war with the United States Government. It is of paramount importance that, if that Government conceives that the continued payment for the moment of the debt instalment is indicated, we should fall in with their point of view. What an enormous sacrifice we should be making if the historian of these days was compelled to say, "They had stayed the course a long while, they had suffered to a degree, they had in the face of depression continued to pay, but they just gave up that excellent procedure a little too soon." On the other hand, if the historian is able to say, "When all other nations fell in the race this nation maintained the position it had always endeavoured to uphold with a magnanimity that was quite beyond praise," then I think we shall in the long run be able to congratulate the Government infinitely more than if they pander to what is, after all, a natural instinct, to save more money passing across the Atlantic. I trust that the Chancellor's statement will be something in the nature of the hope that I have expressed.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
I had not intended to intervene in the Debate but I was, I will not say inspired, because that sounds rather conceited, but stung into speech by some remarks of the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) on the subject of disarmament. I was amazed at certain things that he said. We are fairly well inured here to statements made on insufficient information. It is not rare to hear one Member speak about India and say that all natives should have votes and then hear another say that none of them should have votes, neither having been within a thousand miles of the country. It is, therefore, very difficult to startle the House, but some of the things that the hon. Gentleman said were of a very staggering character. To hear him one would certainly think that this country alone had been holding up the business of the Disarmament Conference, that the Germans, the French, the Italians and the Americans have all been struggling to put away their armaments and that we alone stood in the way. There were certain facts about the conference that he conveniently left out. He said nothing about the Secretary of State's resolution on qualitative disarmament last year. He said nothing about the Programme of Work, and, though he mentioned the draft convention, he did it in a rather slighting manner. If he had gone to Geneva before he made his speech, he would have found that it was the general opinion there that it was the British Government alone that had kept the conference alive. When he condescended to come down from the general to the particular and developed his attack, it-was not really so very formidable after all. There was only one point that he had against the Government and that was the question of bombing from the air. He talked of it appropriately as a bombshell. This, in his opinion, was the stumbling block. This was what held everything up throughout the conference.
I should like to give the Committee the truth about this question, because it does not seem to be at all recognised in any part of the country. The question of bombing from the air was never discussed until about a fortnight ago, and then the time devoted to the discussion was one single day, from half-past ten to half-past six. It was never discussed before nor was it discussed after that. The question 102 of air bombing has caused no delay during the course of the conference. I do not say that there was agreement on the subject. Of course, there was not. Very likely when the second reading of the draft convention comes it will be found that there will be some delay. It is quite impossible to say. But up to now there has been none, and I hope that hon. Members opposite, who have been making so much party capital out of the question, will in future leave out that argument at least. The question of bombing from the air is, we all would admit, a very thorny one. It is one of those questions on which two protagonists, arguing from different premises, can make absolutely conclusive arguments on different sides. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) represents what I should call the administrators. He says, with great truth, that the object of any Convention is to allow the population of any given area to carry on their ordinary avocations in peace, and that you cannot use the same methods to that end in different parts of the world where conditions are different. The maintenance of peace and order in Western Europe entirely depends upon communications. If there is a revolt there, the Government use the roads or railways and send troops or police to put it down. Those conditions do not exist in the Middle and Far East. There are no railways and very few and very bad roads. Therefore, if a peaceful population is to be protected from raids by marauding tribes, it can only be done-from the air. That is the argument, as I understand it, of the administrator, and it seems a very conclusive argument from that standpoint.
Then you get the other side, from what may be called the moralists. They admit that bombing is cheaper in life and in money but, they say, there is more to be thought of than that. There is the question of the innate wickedness of bombing. In the Great War, they say, we saw that it carried the area of war into the great cities, and women and children were sacrificed. To these people that is far more important than the administrative argument; and one must recognise their complete sincerity. I do not say which argument is the better but neither of them has any connection with the fact of 103 the conference being held up. The fact remains that it has not been held up by the question of bombing up to now, and, for all we know, it never will be. It is sheer moonshine to say so. It seems to me that there has been no conception throughout on the part of hon. Members opposite, who have spoken, of the difficulties that the British delegation has had in piloting their Convention through the conference. In a very remarkable speech a few weeks ago the Secretary of State said it was like the task of a Minister trying to get a Bill through this House without a Parliamentary majority, without Whips and without the Closure. That is profoundly true, and there is another factor which adds to the difficulties. The Measure has to be an agreed one. If you get a subject of controversy in this House, like the taxing of cooperative societies, if there is not eventual agreement, it is taken to a vote and the minority accept it temporarily until, perhaps, they become a majority and reverse it. That is not so in an international conference. If a really important question involving the security of a great nation was put to the vote, and that great nation objected, it would not accept the vote. It would be more than the life of its Government would be worth. What would happen would be that the conference would break up altogether. Therefore, no question can be put to the vote, until there is already agreement. That means immense delicacy and diplomacy on the part of any delegation that is trying to pilot a Convention through.
I will give a very simple analogy of what I mean. The task of a delegation doing a job of that kind is rather like the task of a man who is trying to solve one of those puzzles which one buys in the streets, wherein he has to get a number of little balls into a number of little holes. That man does not make strong decisive movements. If he did, he would fail. He makes a lot of little vacillating, almost furtive movements to and fro until he has made all the balls go into the respective holes. That is like the task of the delegation in conference at Geneva. In these circumstances, I hope that hon. Members opposite and other opponents of the Government will not talk so much about getting on with the job, when they do not realise what that 104 job is. The one remarkable thing is that in all these circumstances the 96 articles have been discussed at all. When the Conference rose the 96 articles of the Convention had all been discussed, and there had been remarkably little change in them in spite of all the battering they received. I believe that when the Conference meets again there is a very fair chance that the Convention will go through. But if that is to be the case, instead of indulging in carping criticism, it is essential that we should get complete unanimity in this country in support of it and of the British Delegation, which is doing its job in exceedingly difficult circumstances.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Before I proceed with the argument which I want to adduce, I wish to say a few words in answer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) with regard to the misunderstanding which exists in America over the ability of this country to pay the debt. I should imagine that if there was any misunderstanding it must have arisen in the first place from the terms under which the debt was settled by the present Lord President of the Council. He has been charged in this House many times, and by his own supporters, with giving terms of such boundless generosity as to stagger almost everybody who has considered the matter of international debt. He has been condemned very roundly for the terms to which he committed this country. If the Americans thought that we were well able to pay, it must have been because they took the Lord President of the Council at his word and believed that we were a rich country; otherwise, we should not have suggested or accepted the terms we did under the original settlement made by the Lord President of the Council when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I would point out that when my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council went to America upon debt negotiations we were then bound to pay at the rate of 5 per cent., and that as a result of his mediation, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it was very substantially reduced, and 105 therefore it is not at all pertinent to the point which I made in regard to the Labour Administration.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I am not quoting this as my own opinion, but he was regarded by the American Press as having been used as a "sucker." He was condemned whole-heartedly for the terms he accepted, and it was stated by the American Press and by American financiers that they did not expect to have received such terms from this country when the debt settlement was considered. With regard to the point raised in connection with the question of unemployment, I understand that the hon. Gentleman put the whole burden upon the backs of Labour for their generosity in making continual payments under the dole and in ladling out public money. There has been a misapprehension about the question of unemployment pay, and the hon. Member admitted that there was a misunderstanding. He said that not 2 per cent. of the people of the United States of America knew that the Unemployment Insurance Fund was a joint fund contributed to by the workman, the employer and the State. If there is a misapprehension in the United States of America with regard to that matter, it must be charged to the party of the hon. Member and his friends, because they have constantly referred to unemployment pay as a dole coming from the State with no relation whatever to the workman or the employer. I have refused to regard the money as a dole. I never refer to it as a dole. It is well know that the last Committee which sat upon the question of the unemployment debt which has been piled up regarded it as being worth something, because it is assumed that when the crisis has passed payment will be taken to the extent of some scores of millions and that the rest will be considered as having been wiped off as a bad debt. The hon. Member must blame his own party for the misuse of the word "dole" in relation to unemployment pay. It is a joint contribution, and I have always regarded the use of the term "dole" as being one which no self-respecting person ought to employ or to accept.
§ Mr. SIMMONDS
I do not wish to intervene unduly in what the hon. Member is saying, but it is only fair to tell him that the word "dole" is not particularly 106 due to the activity of the Conservative party or I think of his own. It just came into general usage. I have used at public meetings in my constituency exactly the same disclaimer as he now uses in connection with the word, but it is now a general word in the vocabulary of those who are insured under the Unemployment Insurance Act, and they do not regard it in any sense with animosity.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Well, they ought to do so. That is all I can say, and, if they do not, I will express it for them. I have never accepted it. I accept what the hon. Member may have done when in his constituency, and he has done it here to-night, but I wish that it were done more generally in this particular case. In any event, he cannot get away from the fact that the Labour party, the trades unions and Labour Members did not invent the term. Conservative Members invented the term, and the Conservative party have used it with acclamation and with glee. The hon. Gentleman must admit that unemployment pay is never now referred to in this House on the benches opposite, except by officials on the Front Bench, as other than the "dole." It is not fair, and it is not true.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) has done something to redeem the young men of the Tory party from the stigma which was beginning to rest upon them for being absolutely reactionary as far as the question of bombing from the air is concerned. It has been said many times that the young people of to-day are suffering from the wickedness of the old, and that the calamities of the last War were brought upon us by the foolishness of old people. From what I hear young men say in this House, I am driven to the conclusion that, whatever calamities come in the, future, they will be based upon their statements and their utterances, for the young men in this House are a most reactionary crowd. The old men have at least lived long enough to have gained a little sense. Take the question of bombing from the air. I know so far as bombing is concerned that arguments have been used with regard to safety and economy both in life and treasure, but when you come to the proposition that 107 bombing aeroplanes shall be abolished and declared internationally illegal—that was the proposition which was made.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
Bombing should be abolished, not bombing aeroplanes.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
That is better still if it means the abolition of bombing as far as all aeroplanes are concerned. It is urged against us that if we abolish the bombing aeroplane, the civil aeroplane can be made into as effective a machine of destruction as any bombing aeroplane. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his correction. I suggest that we who have taken upon ourselves the responsibilities of Empire must accept those responsibilities, and, if we can do something to save humanity as a whole from the terror of the air bomb or air machine, we should jump at the chance of doing it. It will be a terrible thing if, when the next horrible war comes—and we are told that it will come—and bombs are rained upon defenceless women and children in the towns and villages of Europe, we are charged with having put an impediment in the way when a proposal was made that these things should be abolished for ever. Without faith and belief in the things you are proposing you are bound to fail; you must fail. Failure will be written over everything you do and propose if you go to the various conferences with a reservation in your heart and mind that what you propose will be futile because the convention which you sign will not be adhered to by those whose signatures will be attached to it. It is not a proper atmosphere and one worthy of a nation which prides itself on the fact that it engaged in a war a few years ago for the purpose of abolishing war for ever.
A few words about the Four-Power Pact. I have no belief in the reality of the Four-Power Pact. Before Hitler tempered down the statement of German policy, the fatal mistake had been made in Germany when, three or four days previously, Von Papen spoke about the function of German motherhood being to provide the German war machine with more cannon fodder. The French will not forget that statement. They may put their hands to Pacts and sign Pacts, but the French will not forget. There is 108 nothing on earth that will make them forget that Von Papen made that speech and Germany will have to pay the penalty for it. No one believes that with the Nazis in power in Germany they have forgotten their own philosophy, that they have forgotten the thing that brought them into power. I cannot blame France for taking the point of view that they do, when across their borders there is a Government in power operating in a way that outrages decent feeling. The signing of the Four-Power Pact will have the effect of weakening the League of Nations. It will stand to the everlasting discredit of the Prime Minister of this country that he went to Rome for the purpose of suggesting a Pact which will have the effect of weakening the League of Nations. One wonders what he went there for, except perhaps it was to see his friend Mussolini on questions relating to the death of his friend Matteori. He may have got some information on that subject which has been denied to most of us up to now.
I should like to say something about the policy of His Majesty's Government and of the League of Nations over the Chinese-Japanese dispute. It was the most calamitous exhibition that we have had for a considerable time. I have read the speeches explaining the Government's policy, but none of them is very convincing. The League appointed Lord Lytton as head of a Commission and badly let him down when his Commission had reported. It took not the slightest notice of anything they had said. They allowed the Japanese Government to go on in its own sweet way. I came to the conclusion, and I hold the same opinion to-day, that the policy of the British Government was not devoted to retarding Japan in the brigand work she was carrying out in China. It has been referred to to-day as the Sino-Japanese dispute. What a misnomer. What a misuse of words. A dispute in which the Chinese had thousands killed in a war they never sought, which was forced on them by this imperialistic Power whose growth and whose accession to economic power this country will have reason to regret before very long. If I were to seek an explanation for the supine policy pursued by our own Government and other Governments in regard to Japan in her unprovoked attack on China and Manchuria, I should find it in the 109 attempt to build up a power against Russia in the Far East. I believe that there was always an idea at the back of the minds of European statesmen to provide something to check Russia out there.
If Russia had done in Manchuria what Japan did, I wonder what European statesmen would have said. I am positive that there would have been war, although Russia would have had far more excuse for invading Manchuria than ever Japan had. She at least would have had the excuse that she was protecting her own railway, the East China Railway. To a very large extent she would have had that excuse. She would also have had the excuse of knowing something of the objectives of Japan. It is a mistake to assume that Russia does not realise the objective of Japan in regard to the maritime province. Russia could very well have been excused had she done that, but she made no attempt whatever. She showed her pacific intentions by the way she handled the entire situation as far as the Far Eastern question was concerned, and one could have wished that our own Government had shown something of the same attitude of mind that was exhibited by the Russian Government.
Japan has been allowed to do what she likes in Manchuria. Already the economic threat of Japan is making governmental action imperative. Demands are arising upon all sides that the Government shall take action to stop the overwhelming economic power that Japan is now exercising so far as industry is concerned. Japan has been made stronger. She has now access to the raw materials of Manchuria. It is no use saying that Japan does not control Manchuria and that the so called Manchukuo Government is a force: it is no force at all. Japan has now unrivalled sources of raw material and a supine mass of cheap labour power, and Lancashire is in terror, India is in terror and the whole of our industrial markets in the Far East are threatened by the new economic power which we, by our own policy, have assisted to place firmly upon its feet. It is time that we had a new tendency so far as the question of Far Eastern policy was concerned. We ought to have used the economic boycott. That is the most effective thing to use. It was the one thing that frightened the Hitlerites 110 off. The moment the Jews stuck up placards: "No German travellers need come here," the Hitlerites began to make excuses, they began to explain and to indicate that they were feeling the draught of the economic embargo. Japan would have kept clear from committing the atrocities she has committed on China and the helpless populations of the Far East if an economic boycott had been put into operation.
May I say a few words on the folly of our policy in regard to the Russian embargo? What incalculable folly we have committed in the so-called attempt to save our nationals from the terrors of Russian prisons. Two of them are still there. Frankly, I think they got off very luckily. I think they did very well. They admitted the charges brought against them. If they had been charged with the same things in this country and had made the same admission they would have not have been dressed in lounge suits, enjoying themselves with books and newspapers and with flowers in their rooms. They would have been breaking stones at Dartmoor, and for a pretty long spell too. They got off fairly well, and in order that we might help them we committed the foolishness of the Russian embargo. It is time we began to realise that there are nations and peoples who are not prepared to be dictated to even by the British Raj.
Before we began this game with Russia we tried it on De Valera, but it did not work and it does not work to-day. We cut off our nose to spite our face, and we have not done ourselves the slightest good. The Irish are prepared to suffer, to go through the mill, to put up with difficulty because they believe that they have right on their side, and people who believe that they have right on their side are prepared to suffer to maintain their point of view. The Russians may suffer, but we shall suffer too. We are suffering and shall continue to suffer. If we were wise we should restore the trading relations with, Russia before conditions become worse than they are so far as our own people are concerned. All over the country people are looking with fear and trembling to the coming week so far as their industry is concerned because of the effect of the embargo on Russia. The Vote which has been moved, which is tantamount to a Vote of Censure so far 111 as the Government's foreign policy is concerned, is thoroughly justified, and I have great pleasure in supporting it.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
This Debate on foreign affairs, ranging as it does over a very wide field, takes place at a time which may well be historic, and I think every one whose privilege it is to participate in this discussion will agree with me in the hope that the Conference which has begun this week, representing for the first time the whole of the nations of the world round the table to discuss matters for world good, will come to an end with world satisfaction and with a programme and a policy that will benefit the world in general. Having said that, may I say, especially as it is a little pertinent to the last observations of the hon. Member opposite, that, rather than expressing censure on what has been done in foreign affairs by His Majesty's Government, most of us feel grateful for the very valuable work which has been done by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and for their exacting and unremitting efforts not merely for the sake of this country but civilisation in general at Geneva?
We can boast that this country has been an agency for world peace. We have taken steps to bring about, first, a limitation and, then, where it was possible, an abolition of armaments. It is idle to say that because we hold a definite view about the need, in present conditions, to retain air bombing it is evidence that we want to retain armaments. We have to police the wild places of the earth, and it is wrong to say either here or elsewhere anything which may hamper the efforts of the Foreign Secretary at Geneva on behalf of this country and on behalf of civilisation generally. Although the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Wallhead) spoke slightingly of the work of the Prime Minister in failing to reach some agreement in Rome, it must be remembered that ever since the great instrument was initialed at Locarno in 1924 every advance taken towards a limitation of armaments to secure peace throughout the world has been taken by the statesmen of this country, and very often by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Prime Minister of England. Many of us appreciate the efforts he made when he 112 went to Italy to bring about further security for European peace.
The best instrument for world good is without doubt the British Empire. We have to protect that Empire, to police it throughout its far-flung Dominions, but there is not the smallest doubt that every effort has been made by our Ministers at Geneva to bring about world-wide peace consistent with the position of this country and the British Empire. They have had to meet great difficulties. The actions of Japan and China, while members of the League, have gone a long way towards smashing the whole work of that Assembly, but our representatives, labouring in times of great difficulty, have brought about a measure of success which many of us thought was impossible. I join with those who hope that the Disarmament Conference will be brought to a successful conclusion, and if that success is reached it will be largely through the work of the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State.
The League of Nations is responsible for the assembly of the World Economic Conference which is now meeting in London. We hope that some of its efforts will be directed towards lowering restrictions and world tariffs in order to bring about free trade in its widest and broadest sense. Although it was necessary, through force of circumstances, to-take measures some 18 months ago to give some protection to our industries and to employment, which are meeting with good results, we believe that the whole world is now looking for some measure of free trade to bring about the widest distribution of goods. At the same time it was idle to think that this country could stand aside and be content to have no restrictions, no protection, no limitation of imports, while the rest of the world, with high tariff walls, brought into this country its surplus goods, manufactured under conditions which are intolerable in our view, and that we should then take any credit or advantage from being what is termed a free trade country. That is not a state of free trade; that is a state of free imports in a protective world, which must in time mean the closing down of many of our industries, bringing unemployment to many men and women engaged in industries, to which we have now given some measure of protection. We believe in the freest trade throughout the world 113 and hope that one of the results of the historic Conference now assembled will be to bring about a measure of free trade and free distribution of the world's goods such as we have never seen before.
A good deal has been said at various times that the British Government should have gone further towards a limitation of working hours. It occurs to me, and to many others, that a case, and a strong case, is made out for a great reduction in working hours. But we want to see that done by the only practical way, a limitation of working hours throughout the world, and we hope that the League of Nations at Geneva, assisted by the deliberations of the Economic Conference, will provide some scheme which will guarantee to the workers all over the world a much shorter working week and a period of leisure in each day, without it being reflected to the advantage of one country or the disadvantage of another. Such a state of affairs can only come from the initiation of one country to secure universal agreement on the limitation of working hours throughout the world.
We are to receive a statement to-night in reference to the payment which is due to America, and that is one of the things which makes this Debate important. I am quite satisfied that the decision will be taken after the gravest reflection of its consequences. Whether the debt is paid or not there must be not merely nation-wide but world-wide repercussions as a result. Some weeks ago a number of hon. Members joined me in putting a Motion on the Order Paper. We made no secret of the fact that we believed that the question of payment by this country alone, in the extraordinary conditions of the world to-day, is so interwoven with considerations of tariffs, currencies, restrictions, monetary questions, and all kinds of economic disturbances, that we hoped that no payment would be made by us until these considerations, which are vital to world prosperity, had been considered and discussed by the World Economic Conference. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply to a question of mine, said that it would be a decision of the Cabinet. Whatever our individual views may be about any one of the matters that I have indicated, the view of the Cabinet, I am sure, will be a view reached after full 114 and mature reflection on all the considerations and all possible repercussions.
I desire to say a few words about the repayment of the debt. We have to accept the fact that this is not an ordinary example of taking over a contractual obligation. A great amount of our entanglement is due to a debt undertaken in the cause of civilisation; otherwise civilisation would have perished. It was not undertaken for the industrial furtherance of England. It was not undertaken for any particular benefit to this country at the cost of any other country. It was taken over at a time of world-wide anxiety, when this country was recognised as the country in which confidence existed. And this country had a duty to the world at large. An hon. Friend said to-night that he had experience of a very strong view about the American Debt amongst people living on the Eastern seaboard of America, and he thought presumably, that that was the most intelligent part of the United States population. As a great believer in the people of the West of the United States I do not agree entirely with what my hon. Friend said about the Eastern seaboard. I believe there is a very definite desire among all the people of the United States to be on terms of complete understanding, complete amity and complete co-operation with what they know are the humane objects of the British Empire. I believe that the American people understand the conditions with which we are faced to-day, in having to meet an obligation which assumes monumental dimensions.
It has never been said that we cannot afford to pay. We have liabilities to an amount which at times is staggering. We meet our obligations, and I hope we always do so. But this is not an ordinary national, contractual obligation; it is something which goes far beyond that. I believe there is a tremendous feeling among thinking people in America, that sooner or later this position has to end. Thinking opinion in every country realises that one of the great barriers to prosperity's return is the entanglement, the misunderstanding and the misapprehension caused by War debts. We made a great step at Lausanne. We showed the whole world then that we wanted a clean slate. We believe in a clean slate as one of the fundamentals of world economic recovery. It is no secret that 115 there was no stable Government in America that would come to any arrangement with us. There is such a Government now. That Government has seen the difficulties which face the country. They realise, as we do, that the disparity in exchanges must hinder world trade recovery. They realise also that sooner or later there can be no more payments under the present arrangement. There is to be an understanding by two peoples, united not merely by ties of sentiment or language, but united in the common desire to be the leaders in bringing the world back to some kind of prosperity. I hope that the day when that result is reached will come sooner rather than later, and that all the dead wood which is now blocking the way can be removed.
Although War debts as a separate item do not form part of the agenda of the World Conference, I hope they will form a very large part of some independent consideration and discussion, so that these two enlightened peoples, through their accredited representatives, can put an end once for all to the difficulties that beset them. We are to have an announcement here to-night. It may not be a final announcement. We want to see these two countries coming to grips with the question, in a contemplative mood and without any harshness between themselves, and as soon as possible putting an end to these difficulties. Looking at the matter from the world standpoint the question is not merely, can we afford to pay? In the extraordinary position of affairs in the world to-day the question is, can America afford to receive?
One of the most important matters that must engage the attention of the Government is the question of monetary conditions, monetary stabilisation and exchange values. The trade of this country and of the world is put into a unique position, a tragic position, when it has to base its contracts on a moving currency. A difference in exchange values may make all the difference between getting a contract and losing it, or between a contract which is profitable and one that is not worth having. It may make all the difference to the employment of the people who are dependent on the contracts that a factory can get. We want to see a stable world-wide currency. We hope that one of the results of the present Conference will be 116 a stabilisation of currencies at an economic level. This is a responsibility which no preceding Government has ever had to undertake and we can now appreciate the foresight shown by the Government in establishing the Exchange Equalisation Account which did a great deal towards keeping our currency at a proper and reasonable level.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil referred to the embargo upon Russian goods. He said he thought it was foolish and that the men who were convicted in Russia had got off very well. The hon. Member is not in his place now or I would like to ask him the source of the information which shows that they got off very well. Many hon. Members have had their post-bags polluted in recent times with a newspaper published in Moscow purporting to give a full report of that trial. I do not know where the hon. Member gets his Russian information. I can only rely on what I have seen both in Russian, American and British papers, but if the information which we have from those publications be correct, then these men were treated in a diabolical manner. The conduct of the trial, the language used, the manner in which statements were extorted make the whole incident most disgraceful.
I venture to assert that the whole country are behind the Foreign Secretary and the Government in the action which has been taken, as they were when the matter first came before the House. I had the privilege of listening to the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) on this matter, and to many other speeches which were not nearly so correct or informative as his, but I failed to find a single suggestion in any of them as to how otherwise than by the action of the Government we could safeguard the position of British citizens faced with the difficulties with which these men were faced. It is easy to say now that only two of these men are in prison, that those two made confessions and that the others got off. But it was the bounden duty of the Government at the time to take whatever measures were then at hand to protect their own nationals who were in a position of grave peril. We were not trying to dictate to Russia or to any other country what system of 117 justice it ought to have. Many of us think that our system of justice is the envy of the world but nobody suggests that we can dictate to other countries the systems which they should adopt.
At the same time, when we are dealing with British nationals abroad we have a right to demand that they should be shown simple, ordinary, natural justice. That was missing at all stages of the proceedings against these men. While they were under arrest they were interrogated and admissions were extorted from them, and a number of people in the custody of the same political gang—the Ogpu—in an adjoining place were shot without trial. The Foreign Secretary realised to the full the gravity not only of their position but of the Government's position in its duty towards its own nationals in Russia. The Government took a step which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil describes as an act of folly, but it was a step which the men and women of this country, whatever their views will, I think, agree was an act of justice, and one to which these men were entitled. It showed that the British Government was behind its nationals everywhere in the world and determined to get justice for them. I think the hon. Member for Merthyr will find that the people of this country, regardless of party politics, are behind the Government in the stand which was taken on behalf of these British subjects.
This is not the time to try to manufacture party capital against an all-party Government formed in circumstances of unparalleled gravity, to deal with world conditions the like of which we could scarcely have conceived a short time previously. In the face of the great difficulties that Government have done well. They have set an example to the world and have shown that the British Empire is an instrument, not of oppression, but of peace. I hope they will continue on these lines and will show, not merely to the League of Nations, but to those recalcitrant countries who desire apparently to be in the League to-day and out of it to-morrow, that this country is adamant in its desire to bring about world peace, and is determined to proceed stage by stage in all legitimate efforts to make that peace more secure, and to protect British nationals wherever they may be. I hope they will also spare no effort to 118 bring about a lasting bond of understanding with our English-speaking cousins across the Atlantic. Keeping these objects in view I feel sure that the Government can have confidence that the great majority of the people of this country are behind them.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. RICHARD LAW
I hope the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the details of his interesting and thoughtful speech. I am anxious to deal briefly with one aspect of the American Debt question. Like every other Member I have been rather baffled by the alarms and excursions of this afternoon. I have heard a great many rumours as to what they mean but those rumours come with such rapidity one after another that I find it difficult to give credence to any of them. I fear, however, they mean one thing, and that is that it is not much to the credit of the Governments of two great countries, like this country and the United States, that a question of this magnitude should be left to be settled in this rushed way at the last moment. While I Say that, I am quite convinced that hon. Members of the Opposition would not have done any better had they been in office, and might have done a great deal worse. The Committee ought to realise that the difficulties which the Government have encountered are not difficulties of their own making. We must admit that the whole story of War Debts since 1917 has been a sordid and tragic one. I think almost every Government since that date has contributed its quota of mistakes, well-intentioned mistakes, in dealing with that question.
I should like to revert to the debt settlement of 1923, and I hope the Committee will not think I am taking advantage of my position in this House if I do so, but I have a very deep personal interest, in the second generation, as it were, in that settlement, and I would ask for the sympathy of the Committee if I deal with it for a few minutes. The Committee knows that there has been in the past 10 years a great deal of controversy about that settlement and about the part played in it by my father, and I know that the fact that he had to accept that settlement almost, if I may use the phrase, broke his heart. I should like to take the opportunity of saying a 119 few words now to make his attitude, which has become so much obscured in the last 10 years, plain in so far as I can do so. I have some special knowledge of that settlement from his point of view, because I was very close to him from the time the settlement was made until his death, and I have had, of course, access to his papers since then. Anything that I have to say, the Committee will realise, is partial. I cannot pretend to any impartiality, but I would like to assure the Committee that in anything that I do say, the partiality will not be deliberate, but that I am putting forward a view which I hold, quite sincerely, as being the correct view of the attitude which was taken up by Mr. Bonar Law 10 years ago.
First, I should like to make two things clear. I have no wish—and I am sure the Committee will acquit me of any such intention—to attack my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council for the settlement which he negotiated in 1923, and I am sorry the Lord President is not in his place now to hear what I am saying, but I mentioned to him that I was going to speak on these lines this evening. The second thing that I should like to make clear to the Committee is that I do not wish to acquit Mr. Bonar Law of responsibility for that settlement. I believe the settlement was a mistake, but his responsibility was, of course, final, because he was Prime Minister at the time, and his responsibility, in some ways, apart from that, was greater even than that of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, who was fighting, as he was perfectly entitled to do, for a settlement which he believed to be honourable, just, and prudent; but the Prime Minister of the day accepted a settlement which he believed to be monstrously unjust and which he knew to be fraught with the gravest potentialities for disaster.
I should like to clear away, if I can, one or two misconceptions regarding that settlement and Mr. Bonar Law's attitude towards it. In the first place, I have heard it stated that the settlement to which the Prime Minister of the day objected was not the settlement of 1923 which was actually arrived at, but some hypothetical settlement which in fact never took place. But I know, from my own knowledge, that it was the settle- 120 ment negotiated by my right hon. Friend to which Mr. Bonar Law took such strong objection and which, of course, as the Committee knows, he himself, however unwillingly, did accept.
The second misconception which I nave seen in the Press is that, however much Mr. Bonar Law opposed the settlement at the time it was made, he came to realise before his death that the fears which he had entertained about it were groundless and that the terrible things which he had expected to happen did not happen. That again, I think, is a complete misconception of Mr. Bonar Law's attitude. I remember the last time that I heard him discuss this question, two or three days before his death. A friend said to him that, after all, perhaps it was not such a bad settlement; that it did not seem to be unpopular and did not seem to be having any very terrible effects, and that everything seemed to be going on smoothly. Mr. Bonar Law brushed aside any such easy consolation, and he said, "I never expected that the settlement would be unpopular now, and I never expected that things would not go on smoothly now, but it was the future of which I was thinking." That was his view at the time, and I remember his saying at that time too, when he had had time to think it over, that he would sooner have broken up his own Government, new and fresh at it was at that time—it was only a few months old—and retired permanently from public life than accept the settlement which he did accept. I do not think he would have accepted it, if it had not been for the fact that he was at the time a very sick man.
I would like to analyse, if I may, the division of opinion between my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and the Prime Minister of the day, because I believe that the division of opinion was very real, and that by examining it I may throw some light upon the same problem which we are discussing now, 10 years later. In the first place, there was a moral issue between them. I do not think I should be misrepresenting my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council if I said that, in his view, the paramount consideration was that at all cost this country must honour her bond. I think that was his view, and it was a view widely, 121 almost universally, shared in the country, and it was obviously a most honourable view to hold; but Mr. Bonar Law, on the contrary, held that this was not an ordinary contract in the spirit, whatever it was in the letter. He held, in his own words, that you could not measure blood against money, and he thought that the spirit of the contract far transcended the letter. I think that that was essentially the moral issue between my right hon. Friend the Lord President and the Prime Minister of the day.
There was also a practical issue, and that practical issue is perhaps more important to us now. Again, I hope I do net misrepresent my right hon. Friend when I say that it was his view that a settlement of the American Debt at that time on almost any terms was an essential preliminary to the recovery of world trade. That was a view which was held, not only by my right hon. Friend, but widely throughout the country, in many very respectable quarters, and when the settlement was finally arrived at there was a positive chorus of Hallelujahs swelling out from Threadneedle Street because of the recovery in world trade which it was thought would come about as a result of the settlement. Mr. Bonar Law never joined in that chorus of praise; indeed, he took an exactly opposite view. He took the view that the effect would be exactly the reverse, and that the settlement, so far from encouraging a revival in world trade, would actually retard it. There is a contemporary record of his view upon that point, and I should like to read it to the Committee. It is an extract from the "Times" of the 30th January, 1928, from the Parliamentary correspondent. This is what he wrote:Mr. Baldwin is believed to support a settlement of the funding difficulty on the lines finally proposed by the United States. The Prime Minister has, on the other hand, been disposed to think that the United States may not be disinclined to go into the facts and figures again in the near future, if not immediately, and that time for reconsideration by both parties is desirable in the interests not alone of the British taxpayer but of the reconstruction of world trade and finance also.That was his view, in complete contradistinction to the view of the Lord President of the Council. The Committee will remember that at the very time that my right hon. Friend was in Washington 122 negotiating this settlement the French invaded the Ruhr—
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Captain Crookshank)
I have hesitated to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in what has been somewhat in the nature of a personal explanation. It is only right to warn the Committee that I do not think that it would be in order that this subject should be pursued by subsequent speakers bearing in mind the particular circumstances in which the hon. Gentleman is addressing the Committee.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
May I recall to you the fact that this Debate has been allowed to spread rather widely. I do not know whether it was with general consent, but several hon. Members who spoke from the other benches seemed to go a long way from foreign affairs.
§ Mr. LAW
I am sorry if I have transgressed the Rules of Order. I think that this question has a bearing on the topics which we have been discussing to-day, and I think that I can put very briefly what I want to say in such a manner that it will not transgress the Rules of the Committee. The reason for Mr. Bonar Law feeling that world trade would be hindered rather than helped by the settlement was that the invasion of the Ruhr showed to him finally, as he thought, that there would be no reparation payments made by Germany and that, as a consequence, there would be no payments of War Debts by our Allies to this country. Essentially, I believe, his judgment on that point was correct. It is true that payments took place, and that reparations were paid for some time; but it was the merest chance that they were ever paid, and it was simply due to the fact that the American public was willing to lend the money with which they should be paid and to regain it later in the form of War Debts.
It seems to me that the fundamental distinction between Mr. Bonar Law's view and the view of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council was this—and I think it has a very serious bearing upon the topics which we are discussing to-night, and I am putting it not impartially, but from Mr. Bonar Law's point of view: He thought that my right hon. Friend and those who thought as he did were indulging their hopes at the expense of their reason. He appreciated the fact that it would be a very desirable 123 thing if there could be a permanent debt settlement and a permanent settlement of reparations and War Debts all round. He did not think, however, that he would be justified in hoping for any such permanent settlement as a result of the settlement which took place in 1923. He regarded the settlement and the arguments upon which it was based as a kind of self-delusion, a kind of anaesthesia which blinded people to the real result of the settlement. He thought that the arguments in support of the settlement were based, as it were, upon a kind of wish fulfilment complex; that, merely by hoping, any kind of settlement would be a final settlement. He believed that the settlement that was made was based upon hope and not to any very great extent upon reason.
I would like humbly to implore the Government to see that any settlement which they are in process of making now is a settlement based upon something that will be lasting, and that this country and the rest of the world may accept. It will be very easy for the Government once again to make a settlement which seems to be a final settlement, without it being one. This problem of War Debts, it seems to me, has to be got out of the way one way or the other at once. We may hope that it will be got out of the way gently, by agreement, by persuasion and by negotiation, but if it cannot be got out of the way in that manner, I really believe it would be better if it were kicked out of the way. Last December we made, against our wishes, the full payment which was due. We did it "to buy time," as the phrase was. I think that if the Government try to buy time again they will not gain anything. All they will do will be to lose time, and to lose time that is of the utmost value to this country and to the whole civilised world.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. EDEN
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the very interesting record which he has just given. He will, I know, appreciate that I have none of the qualifications necessary for doing so, but perhaps he will allow me to content myself with thanking him for his contribution. My task tonight is rather to seek to reply to some of the criticisms which have been made 124 on the Foreign Office Vote—for, after all, it is the Foreign Office Vote that is at stake and our £100 which is being taken from us. In the first place, I may perhaps answer a number of criticisms that have been made on the Four-Power Pact. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) minimised the significance of this agreement. It seemed to him to have created a quite unnecessary noise in the world, to have contributed nothing to that appeasement which we all seek, and, in fact, to be one more of those many pieces of paper which the world has spent its time agreeing upon of late. But I regret that I cannot share his view, if only because this agreement has certain features of special importance which should, I think, be welcomed in all quarters of the House. If the hon. Gentleman will look, for instance, at the dispatch which was addressed to His Majesty's Ambassador at Rome on the 7th June, and which figures at the opening of the White Paper, he will find a sentence which largely explains the significance we attach to this agreement. The sentence runs:His Majesty's Government felt that such an agreement would tend to eliminate the danger of the formation in Europe of opposing groups, would secure that as between themselves, the direction and the purpose of the policies of the Four Powers would he co-ordinated with the primary object of preserving friendly relations and strengthening mutual understanding.We want to see how, in the words of nations which are signatories to this agreement, that judgment is interpreted, and I turn for that purpose, first, to a statement by Signor Mussolini for Italy. After paying a tribute to the work done by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of Great Britain in assisting the negotiation of this agreement, he went on to pay this remarkable tribute to France:France has given an example of collaboration on the European plane which must be duly placed to her credit. In the improved atmosphere brought about by the Pour-Power Pact it is perfectly possible to proceed to that speedy settlement of certain definite questions dividing Italy and France already envisaged by M. Herriot, as also of other questions which may concern Germany and France. Now that the signing of the Pact has created a new situation of reciprocal confidence and collaboration the outstanding issues between France and Italy assume, in fact, in the new picture of European politics a character that is different from that which they had up to now.125 I think the House will agree that there have been very few aspects of post-war policy which have more intimately concerned His Majesty's Government, which we have watched more closely, than the relations of France and Italy. It has been our continuous anxiety to see a betterment of those relations, and if, as I believe, the signing of this Agreement will bring about the betterment of relations such as we look to see, then, indeed, the hon. Member for Limehouse is wrong in regarding it as a mere scrap of paper. Let us see what was the reaction of France to the Pact. In the French Chamber M. Deladier said:I thank Signor Mussolini for the courtesy and willingness which he has continued to display throughout these negotiations, as well as for the moving words which he used in the Roman Senate about our country. I have deplored and I deplore the misunderstandings and difficulties which have so long separated the two great Latin nations, whose loyal agreement is, on the contrary, necessary for the organisation of European peace.Those words of friendly response to a friendly greeting were received in the French Chamber, we are told, with loud applause. I think the House will agree that an agreement is more than worth while which brings about that better understanding between the Latin sisters referred to by M. Deladier, which no Government would be so happy to see as His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
May I turn from the Four-Power Pact to the criticisms which have been made in respect of the Disarmament Conference, for, as I understand the position, we are to be deprived of our £100 not for the Four-Power Pact but because the Disarmament Conference is making very slow progress? I should be the first to agree that the Disarmament Conference is making slow progress, and, if I may say so to the hon. Member for Lime-house, I am even more anxious than he, if only for personal and selfish reasons, that it should make more rapid progress, but I cannot agree that because the 60 nations assembled at Geneva are not agreeing as rapidly as we should wish upon a programme of progressive disarmament the fault is necessarily and exclusively Great Britain's. There are some 59 other parties to the negotiations, and my first task is to dispose, in a few sentences, of the charge which so 126 cheerfully lays blame upon us—well, a generous measure of the blame upon us. I am just anxious to show that we deserve none.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
If the hon. Gentleman will remove the mote from our eyes, he will then perhaps be able to look at the beam in his own.
§ Mr. EDEN
I will do my best We have just finished a stage of work at the Disarmament Conference which has consisted in giving a first reading to a draft convention of, I think, some 96 clauses. That draft Convention, at the conclusion of the first reading, has now been accepted by the whole conference unanimously as the basis for the Convention which it is now to seek to negotiate, and that draft Convention is only in existence as the outcome of the action of the Government of the United Kingdom. I can hardly think it would be complimentary to the conference to suggest that it has worked for so many weeks on a draft so unworthy of its efforts, and though we have never pretended that the draft was an ideal document, and still less that it represented the views of the United Kingdom Government, we have held for it, and still hold for it, that it is a balanced document, so balanced as, in our judgment, to have the best chance of acceptance by all the countries at the conference—for without unanimous acceptance we can achieve nothing—and as unbiased a text as it is possible for any national Government to produce before an international assembly. That is all we have claimed, and that our claim is not unreasonable is perhaps shown by the words of the delegate of the United States. The hon. Member for Limehouse was praising, quite rightly praising, the attitude of the United States Government to disarmament, and so if he does not think much of His Majesty's Government perhaps he will think something of this quotation from the representative of the United States:As it represented a real measure of disarmament the United States Government accepted it wholeheartedly as a definite and excellent step towards the ultimate objective. It was therefore prepared to give its full support to the adoption of that plan.We have also consistently received support from the Italian Government, another nation whose earnestness in disarmament is beyond question, and whose support has even gone so far that 127 they like our text so much that they do not want to see it amended in any respect. We have completed this first reading, which has served to show us the essential differences in clear relief. They are just those differences of post-War politics which have to be solved before we can achieve success at the Disarmament Conference, or appeasement in the world generally.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse said that the chief problems of the Conference were security and disarmament. I would call them the French demand for security and the German demand for equality. Those have been, from the very moment when the Conference began its work, the essential difficulties, beside which all others are comparatively minor, and the solution of those difficulties must precede the signing of a Convention to lead to real disarmament in Europe. Our Disarmament Conference is little more than a mirror of contemporary European politics, and it is not to be expected that, in the light of present international relations, we should not find a reflection in our work at Geneva of the troubles in various parts of the world. The most difficult articles that we have to negotiate are those concerned with security, effectives, and land war-material. The Foreign Secretary, in a speech which he made in this House a few days ago, described how agreement had been reached in respect of certain articles which form an all-important part of the chapter which deals with security.
There remain, in the chapter upon security, outstanding difficulties, for instance, in respect of the definition of "aggressor," some nations wanting a fixed rule and others preferring to rely upon their own judgment. I remember, in that connection, complaining to one of my colleagues who was a warm advocate of the fixed rule, and using the argument, which is very familiar: "What is the use of this definition? None of us can define an elephant, but we all know one when we see one"; to which he retorted—I must admit with some force—"We are all sure that Great Britain can recognise an elephant. I wish I could be quite so sure that Great Britain could recognise a whale." The Committee will recognise in that answer some of the difficulties which cause anxiety to some of our continental friends.
128 In respect of effectives, we have made a certain measure of progress, thanks to the German Government withdrawing amendments which would have wrecked that chapter: Germany having consented to a standardisation of her army on the same basis as the other armies of continental Europe. The details remain a matter for negotiation. In regard to land war-material, we have suggested a certain definite reduction of them, which, although not enough particularly for some who have no land war-material, goes perhaps a little too far for others. I can say on that subject that the convention has chosen a fair basis of likely agreement. As to the naval chapter, there our objective is definitely limited. We have sought to stabilise the progress achieved by the Treaties of Washington and London, which are the only accepted instruments of international agreement upon armaments, and to prepare for the next Naval Conference in 1935. In order to do that, we have had to ask some of the nations who are not parties to the Treaties of London or Washington to maintain their armaments at their present level until the next Naval Conference. We have had some difficulty in inducing them to take this course, and conversations have taken place at Geneva lately between my Noble Friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty and some of the Governments concerned. I am hopeful that, before we reach the second reading of this subject, there will be a fairly general level of agreement.
Now I come to the question of air disarmament. There can be no doubt that there is in the world a widespread and sincere demand for the abolition of naval and military aircraft. But I fear that the problem is not quite so simple as that. If we were to abolish all the military and naval aircraft of the world, without taking any steps to control civil aviation, we should merely transfer the problem from one plane to another. More than that, so far as our own country is concerned, we should definitely be worsening our position. Owing to our geographical position, and to our comparatively small territory, we are unlikely to develop civil aviation as it is being developed in some countries on the Continent of Europe. We should thus be completely at the mercy of an uncontrolled civil aviation, and that is a state of affairs to which no Government of this 129 country could conceivably agree. It is round that problem that the debate at Geneva has revolved. Pending a solution of that problem of controlled civil aviation, our Draft Convention sets out far-reaching reductions in the air forces of the world.
I come to that portion of air disarmament which has called for most notice in the Debate to-day, the reservation which exists in our Draft Convention in respect to bombing for police purposes in outlying regions. I should like, at the outset, to try to put the matter into what I believe is its true perspective. The hon. Member for Limehouse sketched the history of the Disarmament Conference, and when he came to 27th May he said: "His Majesty's Government dropped their bombshell." the inference being that, after that fatal day, no progress was made or was likely to be made. He told us that it would be a terrible thing if this were holding up the whole Disarmament Conference. It might be a terrible thing if we were holding up the whole Disarmament Conference, but, of course, we are doing no such thing. This problem in relation to the major problems of the Conference is, so far as the deliberations of the 60 nations are concerned, of quite minor significance. It is not one of the major problems. We spent, if I recollect aright, one afternoon in the discussion of the First Reading. If this problem were to be solved to-morrow, the essential difficulties of negotiating the Convention would remain.
Every Member of the Committee is familiar with the reason why His Majesty's Government put in that reservation. It is because we have certain responsibilities in certain parts of the world which can be discharged not only more cheaply in cash, as the hon. Member for Limehouse said, but more cheaply in life. I cannot see what other course the Government could have pursued but to state to the Conference frankly its difficulties. No one, either at Geneva or here, fails to appreciate the strength of our local case. For that reason, I stand in no white sheet. I refused to do so at Geneva because we were stating to an international conference that we were carrying responsibilities some of which the League of Nations has in the past asked us to discharge. That is the position, and that is the 130 admittedly local problem. I must state the counter argument which is: "We admit the administrative advantage, we admit the saving of money, and even life, but we believe that what the world will gain by the abolition of bombing without reservation to be greater than your local advantage through retaining your reservation." These are the contending theses. I wish that they were the only contending theses. Then we might feel infinitely more optimistic than it is possible for me to be to-night. We have to find the means of reconciling them. I cannot tell the hon. Member what that means will be, but I will tell him this, that if this Conference had no more difficult task everyone of us who is a delegate would be able to take a holiday in a short time.
Matters more difficult to negotiate, and of far deeper significance, hold us up in reaching a final agreement. I fully appreciate the advantage to hon. Members opposite of any attempt to magnify this problem. I think it shows that the record of His Majesty's Government is not so bad if the first occasion for that is found in this pretext. I do not complain that the Opposition should take the opportunity offered them to oppose, but it is my duty to state the matter in clear perspective because the inferences from some of the speeches would create an impression utterly false as to the reality, so far as the Conference is concerned.
In our draft convention we have placed certain proposals for the supervision of the working out of the convention which go further than anything agreed to previously, but even these proposals do not go so far as some nations would wish. It is notable how much store the French Government now set by this matter of supervision. They have moved a series of Amendments to our proposals. These Amendments are of a very far-reaching character, and are now being studied by His Majesty's Government.
Now what of the future? We maintain that our action in placing the draft convention before the conference was fully justified. Without it the conference would not now be even in such a state of comparatively good health as it is to-day. The first reading has made plain our difficulties. It would, I believe, be a mistake to embark upon a second reading until we have tried, if we can, by means of 131 private discussions and negotiations to remove some of the major difficulties. After all, votes at an international conference decide nothing at all. All they do is to emphasise divisions of opinion, and make agreement more difficult. It is to be hoped that the president of the conference, who has been noble enough to charge himself with this work of negotiating, will have, in course of time, the measure of success which will allow us to embark on the second reading.
Whether the conference can succeed or not, is impossible to say, but that it still has an opportunity of success, I am convinced, is due in no small measure to the draft convention. The conference has accepted that basis for its work. No one who has sat through the discussions for weary weeks would claim that the conference has had a brilliant or rapid career. Probably it could never have. No subject is more complex, not in the sense so much of technicalities, but in the sense of interlocking national needs. The deeper you go into the subject, the more clearly are these difficulties revealed to you. I do not believe there is any subject upon which the nations could have been asked to embark which could have more severely tested their capacity for international cooperation. If hon. Members cast their minds back 14 months, or more, to the time when this conference began, and if they care to refresh their memories as to the points of view of the different Governments at that time, they will find a truly remarkable measure of progress has been made towards a general agreement. Every Government, in the interests of trying to obtain such agreement, has departed to some extent from the attitude it took up in the earlier days of the conference. I believe that international statesmanship could have undertaken no more difficult task than trying to negotiate a convention embracing so many and such intricate particulars as those involved generically in the term "disarmament." If we realise a convention at the last, we should surely be optimistic that future international conferences cannot fail.
§ Mr. EDEN
I am quite willing, if the hon. Gentleman wishes, but I thought that the Committee would be aware that 132 at the present moment matters are in the hands of a League of Nations Committee at Geneva. A committee has been set up of which we, and 20 other nations, are members whose task it is to watch these events in the Far East. In the meantime, so far as local conditions are concerned, an armistice has been arranged.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The hon. Gentleman's explanation was not quite so satisfactory to the people of this country as probably he would imagine. The action that has been taken forms a grave reflection upon the methods by which the League of Nations has conducted its negotiations. Had the League of Nations been stronger there would have been no occasion for an armistice in the Far East to-day. As the British Government of that day was one of the Governments mainly responsible for the establishment of the League of Nations, the Foreign Office, through its representatives at the League of Nations, might have taken up a firmer attitude at the beginning of the trouble in the Far East, and probably, have prevented that trouble extending in the manner it has done. The situation there is still full of possible trouble and, so far as this country is concerned or the world which is represented at the League of Nations, there does not seem to be very much being done there. The hon. Member has said that 20 odd nations are sitting with a watching brief until a satisfactory treaty may be, or may not be, concluded between these two nations.
The Under-Secretary seemed to cast a reflection upon the Opposition by saying that this was the first time that they had attacked the attitude of the Government with regard to the bombing of native tribes, but may I point out to him that the matter has been raised on several occasions since this Government came into office, and that upon every occasion unsatisfactory replies have been given to us by the Government as to the necessity for the bombing operations that were being conducted against native tribes? The Under-Secretary seemed to imagine that we had seized upon an isolated case, but he knows, or ought to know, from the documents that he has had at his disposal and from the despatches that he must have received, that on several occasions bombing has taken 133 place, that whole tribes have been attacked from the air, that women and children, as well as what might be regarded as male combatants, have been killed, to say nothing of cattle and sheep and other property belonging to the tribes When the Under-Secretary tries to assure the House of the satisfactory policing of these wild areas, he must, surely, bring something a little more peaceful than the bombing operations which are going on, under the direction of the Foreign Office, or of Colonial Governments, or of Governors of mandated territories, to try to bring these unruly tribes to reason by blowing them out of existence. I suggest that, if that be the Government's method of colonising wild parts of the earth, it is time that the Foreign Office was abolished and that we gave up all our mandated territories.
We consider ourselves to be a Christian nation, and in the House of Commons we open our transactions every day with prayer. Shortly after Prayers, a question is asked of the Under-Secretary, and he has to rise in his place and admit that we have blown several people to kingdom come merely because they happened to be stealing somebody's cattle, or making a raid upon some region in the lowland districts of our mandated territories. It is absurd for the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary to go to a Conference and demand that we should be allowed to retain an Air Force merely for this purpose, because that is what the argument means—that our sole object in maintaining bombing planes is to use them for policing purposes in certain of our mandated territories and certain hill regions in India where there are still wild tribes. Surely the hon. Gentleman must remember the times when there were no aeroplanes, when we still had to police those areas, when there were wilder tribes in existence which were more numerous and armed more on an equality with our land forces than they are to-day. We, with our up-to-date land weapons, could surely do all the policing that is necessary, even more effectively than it was done in the past, when we had to do it on more level terms with those tribes.
I repeat that it is no wonder that some of the nations represented at the Dis- 134 armament Conference are treating the proposals of the British Government as hypocritical, when we still demand the use of bombing planes against native races, although we are quite agreeable to discarding them when we know that the nations whom we are asking to discard theirs can use their planes upon us. Unfortunately, the natives cannot use planes upon the British police forces in those regions; otherwise it might have been possible to admit them to the Disarmament Conference, and the British Government or their representatives might have taken a more reasonable outlook towards the abdication of their claim to preserve planes for bombing in those areas. The records in our possession, and the answers given in the House by the Under-Secretary relating to these bombing incidents, form a black chapter in the history of this Government. It is indefensible on moral grounds. We send out missionaries to convert the people to our religion, and we send our bombers to send them to that Heaven which we are trying to convert them to believe in, more speedily than they would go in the natural course. We think so much of our religion that we want them to be there first.
Mr. GURNEY BRAITHWAITE
May I ask the hon. Member how many natives were sent to Heaven by the Socialist Government, which he supported?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I cannot say, but I do not think there were many. At any rate, I do not think any went the other way.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
All that we know is that legions came from the other place to form a National Government. The reports that we have, the answers that have been given, and the documents that have been submitted from time to time to the House, justify us in attacking the Government or in challenging the Foreign Office as regards the whole responsibility of our governing of the natives and our attitude towards the use of bombing planes. The Under-Secretary made a point of the difference of opinion between France and Germany over the question of aeroplanes. There was a difference of opinion in the Disarmament Conference, he said, between France and Germany. 135 Is it not the case that that difference of opinion was mainly over aeroplanes? Is it not mainly due to the fact that France is laying down a claim that she cannot give up the whole of her aeroplanes because she desires to retain security, mainly against Germany, while Germany insists, if France retains aeroplanes, upon equality in regard to the number of aeroplanes that she will retain? I put it to the Under Secretary, is not that one of the problems of the Disarmament Conference?
§ Mr. EDEN
I cannot undertake to say what is in the mind of any of the nations at the Disarmament Conference, apart from what they said. I thought I explained that the issue of French security and German equality was an issue at the Conference, but I do not think I specified that it was with respect to air armaments.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I submit that the question of aeroplane armaments is really one of the problems of the Conference. I am certain that the Under-Secretary, although he made no definite statement with regard to that point, will admit that one of the problems is the question of aeroplane disarmament on the part of France—France's objection to it because she wishes for security, and Germany's insistence that, so long as France retains aeroplanes, she demands equality in the number that she desires. Round that point the Conference cannot get; it is a stumbling-block which it has not been possible to remove. When the hon. Gentleman claims that we must retain them for police purposes, and France wishes to retain them for security purposes, some other nation will demand their retention for some other purpose, just as Germany is demanding to have an aeroplane fleet equal to that of France. The problem naturally bristles with difficulties, and everyone sympathises with our representatives, but that is no reason why these problems should be made to appear small and an effort made to make the Opposition appear to be trying to raise mountains which are only molehills— raising opposition for the sake of raising opposition—and suggesting that there is no concrete case. Among the heaviest cases that we have is the failure of the Government to get the League of Nations to take proper action in the Far East, 136 and the failure of the Government to renounce, as a gesture, the use of bombing planes in our mandated territories and in the hill regions of India. If we did that, we could tell both Germany and France that we must insist upon them conforming to the convention that we have submitted, that we are willing to reduce our Air Force, and that they must be prepared to reduce theirs as well. If that were being done, there would be greater hope for the future out of the Disarament Conference that any of us look for at present.
With regard to the debt, we cannot very well ask the United States to concede to us either a cancellation or a reduction in payments while we go on spending more on the Army, Navy and Air Force than we spent before the War. America is entitled to tell us and the other European nations that, if we have money to spend on armaments, we have money to pay our debts. We have the spectacle of the very Members who are now asking us to repudiate the American Debt appealing to the Government to go even beyond the increases which the Government desire the House to vote for armaments. If we can spend more money this year, we have no excuse for saying' that the payment of our instalments of the American Debt is impoverishing the country. The country can be impoverished by spending too much money even upon its domestic affairs. We are spending too much on our armed forces. France and Italy are spending more on armaments.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Yes, but Russia has much wider frontiers to defend. The hon. Member also forgets that we spent £100,000,000 in supporting Koltchak and Denikin in their effort to upset the Russian Republic. Then he wonders why Russia should maintain armed forces.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Whatever I am, I have the right of every Member to speak 137 my mind in the House. That is what comes of having excitable Members. The Foreign Office, and the Government as a whole, have laid themselves open to what is intended as a Censure Motion. We seek to reduce the Vote because we object to the manner in which they have conducted the foreign affairs of the country. We desire to see our foreign affairs conducted in such a way that the country will again be looked upon as the greatest nation in the world from the point of view of the manner in which it conducts its relationships with other nations, and particularly with the smaller tribes of the world.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I have heard so many expositions of policy put forward to-night that I am beginning to wonder whether we are really dealing with the Foreign Office or with the Treasury or whether we are just passing the time. I am glad, however, that this opportunity has been given us to reconsider the foreign situation. It seems to me that there is such chaos that everyone who has any ideas at all to contribute, or any worry or anxiety as to the foreign situation, is justified in expressing the alarm that he feels. The changes are so swift and so kaleidioscopic that it is almost impossible for the man in the street, and even for a Member of this House, to keep touch with what is happening and to form at any one minute a clear picture of the situation in Europe. As I see it, there are three factors at present operating in regard to the European situation.
In this connection I should like to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for the amazingly lucid, clear and candid speech which he has given us to-night. It certainly has brought me far more up to date with foreign affairs and with the immediate repercussions of those affairs than I have been for many weeks past. I am probably expressing the opinion of other back bench Members of the Committee in thanking my hon. Friend for his contribution to the Debate. There are, as I was saying, three factors which seem to give rise to anxiety and thought, and in regard to which, possibly, my hon. Friend has not given us the fullest possible information. I am not blaming him for that, because the time has not yet come when he can give us the information. The first is the Four 138 Power Pact. Then we have the disarmament proposals put forward and sponsored by the Prime Minister, and we have the suggestion made by France a few months ago to reintroduce the Protocol of 1924.
In dealing with the Four Power Pact, I think I shall again be voicing the opinion of the Committee in congratulating the Government upon the efforts they have made towards bringing the Pact to a successful conclusion. There have been difficulties, and we know that there will be further difficulties, but we feel that the Government are honestly determined to make whatever provision they can against the possibility of future war in Europe. I particularly congratulate the Government because they have exercised the very wise prerogative which is in law exercised by good insurance companies. When we undertook certain obligations— I do not say whether they were wrong or right; probably in the circumstances we happened to be right—in the Treaty of Loarno we took on a very definite responsibility. By the Four Power Pact, like a good insurance company, we are spreading the risk. By taking Italy into this general pact of non-aggression and agreement to resist war and warlike influences in Europe, we have made a considerable step towards ensuring that, as far as human device can be resorted to, the peace of Europe will be secured for, at any rate, five or 10 years.
There is one other point about the Four Power Pact considered in conjunction with the disarmament proposals of the Prime Minister, and that is the implications in it in regard to Treaty revision. Like many other Members of the Committee who have watched the development of these proposals in Europe for some years past, I have felt that there can be no real possibility of peace or real finality in the peace movement until the question of treaty revision has been tackled and brought to a successful conclusion. In that connection I feel that I should possibly break a lance with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) for whom I have the greatest respect. Like many others, I shared the feeling of regret that in the last Debate before the Recess the question of revision of the Peace Treaties of Europe had been put on one side by the speech of the right 139 hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He put the case very fairly, but I think that possibly he did not give the real reason for the attitude taken up by the German Government towards the Jewish population.
For years past we caused Germany to believe that we were to disarm. We in Britain are the only people who have disarmed. The rest of our colleagues in Europe have not disarmed. Therefore, since the War there has grown up a new youth who have no conception and knowledge of war, and yet are filled with an inflamed and flaming nationalism. They have no outlet. They are penned in by their own borders. It seems, to me that it was almost impossible to prevent them from being carried away by this flaming nationalist patriotism into committing those excesses of terrorism, destruction and murder which they committed against the Jewish population in Germany. I believe that Germany is a country which has suffered far more by the persecution of the Jews, because she is in course of eliminating the most cultured, artistic and highly developed of her population. At the same time, one must express the utmost sympathy with those of the Jewish faith who have been persecuted while carrying out their daily avocations.
I do not wish to pursue the matter further, but I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that at some time, when conditions may render it more reasonable for such a suggestion, it may be possible to consider the question of handing back to Germany one of her ex-colonies. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Yes. It would give to her some means of developing the youth which at present is shut in. If you can give Germany an outlet, give her a colony, where she can exert her youth and give her a constructive method of using her surplus ideas and strength, I believe it will possibly keep from Europe the possibility of war for years, if not for centuries. That is a matter with which I leave my right hon. Friend to deal when it seems good to him. I know that on this question he has wiser judgment and far greater knowledge than I possess.
I was very glad to note that in the speech delivered by Herr Hitler we had an indication that be is at last using the 140 judgment and wisdom for which his country have long been famed. He has shown a sense of sobriety for which we all looked in the German people during the last few months. By that speech the situation with regard to treaty revision has been brought back where the Prime Minister left it a few months ago. In the question of revision one is first and foremost desirous of bringing to the attention of the Committee and to European Governments the Treaty of Trianon. I cannot believe that peace can ever be secured in Middle Europe until that Treaty receives wise and sympathetic revision. We know that in Hungary alone, which was considerably mutilated by the Treaty of Trianon, 72 per cent. roughly of the territory was taken away. I think that sometimes these peace treaties must have been framed in a spirit of revenge and fear. I cannot believe that statesmen sitting down to consider the whole question of the future of the world and the traditions, history and economic and ethnographic situation in each country would have devised such treaties, because as long as they exist, and as long as hate, fear and suspicion replace trust and confidence, so long will you have the immediate danger of war in Middle Europe.
In regard to a thousand-year old country such as Hungary, where immigrants were received from neighbouring countries and invited to go by the tolerant and wise government of that country, it is a strange commentary on good government that because of that good government in a country which has lured immigrants from other countries, that country should be handed over to the countries from whom the immigrants came. That is the situation in regard to the Hungarian territory acquired by Rumania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. They have acquired portions of Hungary because their peoples were living there simply because of the wise and good government of Hungary. Those are matters on which the Foreign Secretary, when he has time and when circumstances lend themselves, will be able to represent the feelings of this country, and I hope that it will have an effect on the situation in Europe.
I should like to say a few words in regard to the reintroduction of the discredited Protocol of 1924. The same 141 drawbacks attach to that Protocol as existed in 1924 and for this reason, that it is the strongly armed nation that wants war, and not the weakly armed nation, and that by giving these tremendous powers to the League of Nations you immediately create a super-strong nation. Therefore, you immediately have an increased danger of war. [HON. MEMBERS:"NO!"] Certainly.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I am not arguing with the hon. Member. I am merely putting forward suggestions to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. It seems to me that if you accept the thesis that the strongly armed nation is more likely to produce war and that it is the weakly armed nation that evades war, then if you are to arm the League of Nations and make it a super-armed nation, you immediately create a further difficulty in addition to those that already exist. Furthermore, you would have the League of Nations probably declaring war on a country, and it would be a war which would be totally abhorrent to the majority of those providing the arms, equipment and money to carry on the war. Therefore, I hope the Government will strongly resist the suggestion to arm the League of Nations with any material or arms which would enable them to go to war.
I was struck a few months ago by M. Herriot's proposal for a 25 per cent. reduction in the armaments of all countries as a means of producing a situation of peace. I agree with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham that you will never create a desire for peace in the world until you create a desire for peace in the minds and hearts of the nations of the world. If you cannot do that, and that is the ideal, the practical thing is to make it impossible for any nation to wage war. How can you do that? You cannot do it by simply reducing armaments by 25 per cent. I would adopt a far more drastic method. I would say to every country, whether they subscribe to the League of Nations or not: "Reduce your armaments by a definite percentage every year for a definite period." Suppose you establish the period of 10 years. [Interruption.] I am not going to keep the Committee another minute, because they are far keener to hear someone who has just 142 entered the House than they are to hear me. When you have been waiting to hear something all day you are not likely to listen to the arguments of one who is making a speech possibly expressing views which have been expressed before.
I will content myself by suggesting to my right hon. Friend one idea that he might think fit to put forward, and that is, not to accept the suggestion of M. Herriot of a 25 per cent. reduction but that there should be adopted a definite period during which disarmament must take place in every country subscribing to the League of Nations. Make the period, if you like, 10 years. Then make every country disarm to the extent of 10 per cent. every year up to the ninth year. There are always marauders on the sea, there are countries with no honour and countries which subscribe to no sense of justice. Therefore, you must have a police force. Let the disarmament stop at the ninth year, but make sure that every nation subscribes to the regular lowering of armaments. If a nation re-fuses to do it, and there will be nations that will not observe the rule, or will refuse to obey it, then you have always Article 16 of the Covenant of the League-of Nations. You may not want to put that Article into force, but it is there if need be. My proposal is a drastic method of achieving disarmament and of keeping peace in a situation so dark and dangerous to-day that any steps, no matter how often they may have been advocated in this House, are worthy of consideration.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
This afternoon I told the Committee that I was not in a position at the moment to make the statement for which they had been waiting, but that I hoped this evening about 10 o'clock to be able to tell them what were the intentions of His Majesty's Government with regard to the June instalment of the War Debt due to, the American Government. I am sorry to say that even now I am not in a position to make a complete statement upon the subject, but I can tell the Committee this much to-night, that there has been a long exchange of views between the British Government and the Government of the United States, and, as a result, the British Ambassador in Washington has to-day handed to the State Department 143 a Note setting forth the British proposals concerning the June instalment. We expect to receive the President's reply to our Note to-morrow. We have no reason to suppose that it will be other than satisfactory to us, but, as it has not yet reached us, I am not in a position to state its terms to the Committee. I understand, however, that arrangements have been made through the usual channel by which it will be possible for the Debate to be adjourned about 10 o'clock to-morrow night, and I then hope for the last time that I shall be able to make to the Committee a complete statement upon all the documents that have been exchanged between us and the American Government.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
It would be quite idle, in view of the statement by the right hon. Gentleman, to detain the Committee any further to-night with a discussion on the American debt settlement. As he has stated, arrangements have been made through the usual channels to allow a discussion, after a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, tomorrow night. Therefore, as far as we are concerned, we propose to take the Division at once if the Committee so desires.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £124,178, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 34; Noes, 299.145
|Division No. 222.]||AYES.||[10.17 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Mainwaring, William Henry|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Milner, Major James|
|Banfield, John William||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Batey, Joseph||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Price, Gabriel|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hirst, George Henry||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cove, William G.||Jenkins, Sir William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Dobbie, William||Lunn, William|
|Edwards, Charles||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. John and Mr. C. Macdonald.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Davison, Sir William Henry|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Burnett, John George||Denville, Alfred|
|Albery, Irving James||Butt, Sir Alfred||Dickie, John P.|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Dower, Captain A. V. G.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nhd.)||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Duckworth, George A. V.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Duncan, James A.L.(Kensington, N.)|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Eady, George H.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Carver, Major William H.||Eastwood, John Francis|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Cassels, James Dale||Eden, Robert Anthony|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Castlereagh, Viscount||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Castle Stewart, Earl||Elliston, Captain George Sampson|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Elmley, Viscount|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Emrys- Evans, P. V.|
|Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Chamberlain,Rt.Hn.Sir J.A.(Birm.,W.)||Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Flelden, Edward Brocklehurst|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Clarke, Prank||Fleming, Edward Lascelles|
|Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Clayton, Sir Christopher||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)|
|Bird, Sir Robert B.(Wolverh'pton W.)||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Bossom, A. C.||Colfox, Major William Philip||Fremantle, Sir Francis|
|Boulton, W. W.||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Ganzonl, Sir John|
|Bowater, col. Sir T. Vanslttart||Colman, N. C. D.||Gibson, Charles Granville|
|Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Gillett, Sir George Masterman|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Conant, R. J. E.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Cooke, Douglas||Gluckstein, Louis Halle|
|Bracken, Brendan||Cooper, A. Duff||Goff, Sir Park|
|Braithwaite, Ma]. A. N. (Yorks, E.R.)||Courtauid, Major John Sewell||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Granville, Edgar|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Cranborne, Viscount||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Craven-Ellis, William||Graves, Marjorle|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Grenfell, E. C. (City of London)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Cross, R. H.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Crossley, A. C.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.|
|Buchan, John||Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Dalkeith, Earl of||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.|
|Burghley, Lord||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Hales, Harold K.|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Meller, Sir Richard James||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Hanbury, Cecil||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)||Salt, Edward W.|
|Hanley, Dennis A.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Milne, Charles||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Harris, Sir Percy||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Hartland, George A.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Harvey, Majors. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdaie||Scone, Lord|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Hellgers, Captain F. F. A,||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell.)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Morrison, William Shephard||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Holdsworth, Herbert||Munro, Patrick||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Nall, Sir Joseph||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Hore-Bellsha, Leslle||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Waiter D.|
|Hornby, Frank||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.)|
|Horobin, Ian M.||Nunn, William||Smithers, Waldron|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||O'Connor, Terence James||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Soper, Richard|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Hume. Sir George Hopwood||Palmer, Francis Noel||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Patrick, Colin M.||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Pearson, William G.||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Penny, Sir George||Spens, William Patrick|
|Iveagh, Countess of||Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Peto, Sir Basll E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n,Bilston)||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Janner, Barnett||Pickering, Ernest H.||Stewart, William J. (Belfast, S.)|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Storey, Samuel|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Pike, Cecil F.||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Potter, John||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Pybus, Percy John||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Law, Sir Alfred||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Lackie, J. A.||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Lees-Jones, John||Ramsden, Sir Eugene||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Rankin, Robert||Thompson, Luke|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Ray, Sir William||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Rea, Walter Russell||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-||Tryon, Rt. Hon, George Clement|
|Llewellin, Major John J.||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.|
|Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Renwick, Major Gustav A.||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)||Wedderburn, Henry JamesScrymgeour.|
|Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Robinson, John Roland||White, Henry Graham|
|McLean, Major Sir Alan||Rosbotham, Sir Samuel||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Ross, Ronald D.||Wilson. G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Magnay, Thomas||Rothschild, James A. de||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl.|
|Maitland, Adam||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Runge, Norah Cecil||Womersley, Walter James|
|Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Martin, Thomas B.||Russell,Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tslde)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Captain Austin Hudson and Major|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)||George Davies.|
§ Original Question again proposed,
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.— [Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.146
§ The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.