Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £109,248, 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, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs." [Note.—£70,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
The House of Commons has been very unwilling to hamper in any way the most difficult and complicated negotiations in which His Majesty's Government have been engaged on the question of disarmament and allied subjects by too frequent discussions of foreign affairs in this House, and we have been very careful not on any occasion to press the Government to make declarations that might be regarded in any way as premature or embarrassing. It is now two months since these subjects have occupied the attention of the House. Now the moment has come when I think there is a widespread feeling, both here and in the country, that the Government can well make some formal statement as to the present situation.
That feeling has been greatly intensified by the anxiety that is widely felt in consequence of a ministerial statement that was made a few days ago in another place. On 27th June, the Secretary of State for Air said this:Until recent months the Government have had every reason to believe, and every motive to encourage the hope, that something might be achieved out of the Disarmament Conference which would render unnecessary any substantial addition to the size of our Air Force. Now, as I have already pointed out, the situation has become unhappily all too clear. We can no longer hope that an international convention will solve the problems which agitate the whole of Europe. His Majesty's Government have, therefore, decided that they can 672 no longer delay the steps which are necessary to provide adequately for the air defence of these shores.That is a most significant and indeed formidable declaration, made in terms on behalf of His Majesty's Government and not merely on the individual responsibility of the Minister concerned, in Parliament, and a few days afterwards my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was questioned on the point by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) whose constant watchfulness in these matters renders a real public service. The Foreign Secretary said, on that occasion, that what had been declared by the Marquess of Londonderry in the House of Lords was quite consistent with what he himself had stated here and elsewhere.
This declaration comes at a moment when at Geneva matters are in a very delicate state of balance. As recently as 11th June, the Disarmament Conference agreed to a resolution which the Foreign Secretary and the British Delegation helped to draft, and in which it was agreed that the Conference must continue its work with a view to arriving at a general convention to limit and reduce armaments, and that, in particular, three steps should be further considered, since they needed study and solution. One of these was supervision of disarmament and guarantees for the execution of any convention, and a Committee dealing with that has since met and has done substantial work during the last few weeks. The second was arms traffic, and here again a Committee has met and has drafted a convention of substantial value. The third was the air. That Committee I understand has not yet met, but, so far as I am aware, it is intended that it should do so. Certainly the President of the Conference has by no means abandoned hope that there will be a useful and substantial outcome from these deliberations, and certainly the resolution of 11th June called upon the Air Commission of the Conference to meet again and to resume work on the subjects mentioned in the resolution of 23rd July, 1932. That being the state of affairs at Geneva, suddenly here, on behalf of the British Government, a declaration is made in the House of Lords to the effect that the Government have abandoned hope of any effective results from the deliberations at Geneva and, therefore. 673 find it necessary straightway to engage in a considerable measure of air armament.
It is necessary that all of us who speak in this Debate should state clearly and definitely our general position towards this question of immediate air rearmament. So far as we on these Benches are concerned, we have never favoured the idea of one-sided disarmament. We recognise fully and definitely, and we have always done so, that, if there is to be disarmament, it must be general disarmament of all countries which have inter-relations in these matters. As hon. Members will remember, before the War, when there was a grave menace on the sea from Germany owing to the rapid and continuous increase of the German Fleet, the Liberal Government of that day, of which I bad the honour to be a member, most reluctantly and against all their desires found it necessary to ask Parliament and the taxpayers for enormous increases in expenditure upon armaments. I have mentioned this before in this House, but Our attitude is continually misrepresented. In six years we increased the Navy Estimates from £31,000,000 a year to £51,000,000 a year, an increase of 60 per cent. which did establish a fleet which, when that menace became a reality, was found to be adequate for the purpose for which it was designed. Similarly the Labour party—they, of course, will speak for themselves—have never adopted officially an attitude favouring one-sided disarmament. The Labour Governments of 1923 and 1929-31 in the Defence Estimates which were presented to Parliament, always realised that those Estimates must be adequate for the National security—so far as armaments can safeguard national security—and, in a statement issued a few days ago, the leading organisations of the Labour party make it perfectly clear that they envisage the possibility that, under a system of collective control of international affairs, it might be necessary for the armed forces of this country to be employed.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—whose long absence from the House we all most sincerely regret, and at whose recovery we rejoice—told his constituents that the young men would be well advised to keep away from enlistment in the military 674 services, obviously he was speaking in an ill-considered fashion, and it was a momentary aberration which I am sure did not represent the full doctrine of the Labour party; for, if that advice were right coming from him to his constituents, it would be right that it should be given by every Member of Parliament in every constituency; and the result would be, if that advice were followed, that the Army, Navy and Air Force would disappear from lack of recruits, and this country would be found naked and defenceless. That would be no service to the cause of peace, and no service to the cause of liberty, for if the peace-loving, the liberty-loving nations were to disarm, and the militarist and despotic nations were to remain armed, the only result would be that the whole control of world affairs would be handed over to the forces of reaction. We may all feel that, in the words of Wordsworth's Sonnet on England:We find in thee a bulwark for the cause of man.But those armaments which must essentially be maintained should be maintained in relation to the facts of the European and the world situation, and, when we are asked for increases of armaments on any particular occasion, we must seek the reason, and must have proved to us the necessity. It is not enough merely to adopt a word, such as "parity," and say that increase must be made in obedience to that word, or to any particular formula. Parity in the air is defined to mean equality in air armaments with the strongest Power which is within striking distance. There are only two strong Powers within striking distance, namely, France and Germany. With regard to the French, no one anticipates that there is any immediate, urgent danger that would require that our force should necessarily be at once raised to equality of strength with that of the French, without waiting even for two or three weeks, without waiting even for the results of the Disarmament Conference. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who made a speech on this matter a few days a-go, said, on the contrary, that we ought to concert plans for mutual protection with the French and with other peace-loving Powers which were in danger from what was happening and might happen in Germany; so that, 675 so far as the French are concerned, he, at all events, and he is the spokesman of the most extreme views on these matters, regards the French as a possible source of strength rather than an immediate source of danger.
With respect to Germany, is there anyone who would assert that our present Air Force is not at this moment more than equal in strength to the armaments now possessed by Germany? And yet, that being the position, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping said in his speech a few days ago that we ought to have had a large Vote of Credit to double our Air Force, that we ought to have it now, and a larger Vote of Credit as soon as possible to redouble the Air Force. Utterly regardless of any question of what parity really means in terms of airplanes and other equipment, utterly regardless of any needs of the situation, he comes forward and tells the nation that we ought straightway to double and redouble our Air Force, that we ought to have an Air Force four times as big as we have now, without giving the smallest reasons why this colossal expenditure should immediately be undertaken. That is rather the language of a Malay running amok than of a responsible British statesman; it is rather the language of blind and causeless panic. The House of Commons ought surely in these matters to have some regard to the public finances. I quite agree that national safety must take precedence over considerations of economy, but wanton, reckless expenditure undertaken merely for the sake of increasing forces indefinitely, regardless of the tasks which those forces may be possibly called upon to fulfil, is never defensible.
The House of Commons is being led month by month and year by year into a course of continuously growing expenditure. I should be out of order if I were to discuss any of the items, but in this connection, and when it is proposed that we should engage immediately upon an enormous expenditure upon increased armaments, it is necessary that I should in a sentence remind the House of the commitments which have been undertaken already at the instance of the present Government, even only in this year. In February, we had a subsidy for the build- 676 ing of the new Cunarder, which may impose upon the Exchequer a liability of £9,500,000. On the 5th March, we had a Supplementary Estimate of £450,000 for beet sugar. On the 7th March, we had a subsidy for the production of oil from coal, going up to £1,000,000 a year. In May we had the subsidy for Milk, involving an expenditure, not within this year only, of £3,000,000. In June we had the Beet Sugar Subsidy renewal, involving an expenditure, together with rebates on taxation, of £5,250,000 this year. On the 3rd July, we had the subsidy for Ships, up to £2,000,000, and on the 11th July the subsidy for Meat, of £3,000,000.
I remember that in October, 1932, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told a conference of the Conservative party at Blackpool that "the present Parliament was going to set a new example in practising economy"; I remember that the Conservative Members' Economy Committee—about 100 Members or more —put forward proposals to reduce our expenditure by £100,000,000 a year; and, as the outcome of it all, we have the list which I have just read to the Committee. On the top of all that, we have to contemplate, not only an immense increase of expenditure upon the Air Force, but also upon the Navy, for our battleships, all of them are gradually becoming obsolescent. If they are to be replaced in their present strength and numbers, it will involve an expenditure of some £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 upon each new battleship, or a total expenditure running into scores of millions. At the same time, our Minister of Education tells the country that, on account of the financial situation, it is impossible to provide means for raising the standard of schooling for the population to an adequate degree, and on all hands we are informed that necessary social improvements cannot be undertaken because of the limitations of national finance. As for the hopes of the taxpayer for a large and substantial reduction of the burdens which now press upon him too heavily, what is to become of them if this policy of unrestrained increase of our armaments is to be pursued year after year?
It is not as though this policy would give us security. Each country striving to obtain security by being stronger than its neighbour is engaged in a task which is obviously impossible of fulfilment, and 677 which results only in universal insecurity. I believe that the British people see that, and see it very clearly. We all remember the course of events here and in the world since the tragic events that took place this month 20 years ago. The War, the Peace Treaties, the Covenant of the League of Nations, arousing such great hopes, the disarmament imposed upon Germany and understood to be universal at later dates, the Preparatory Commission of the Disarmament Conference sitting month after month and year after year examining the details of the problem, then the Conference itself, meeting in March, 1932, and endeavouring to solve the innumerable practicable technical difficulties that arose—this long travail still without results, and now we have from a responsible Minister of the Crown a declaration that the Government have abandoned hope of any effective outcome from all these labours and that there is no course open to the country but to proceed to increase its armaments.
Why does this defeatist view find expression on behalf of the Government to-day? I feel bound to say here quite frankly, in the presence of Ministers, what we say in addressing meetings in the country, that we feel that the Government has not shown the zeal, the energy, the determination and the skill in this matter of disarmament which the country hoped to see from it. Fundamentally the Government and their supporters are divided upon this issue. I am convinced that the Foreign Secretary is keenly and eagerly desirous of securing a great and substantial advance in this matter of disarmament and that he cares about it deeply and, if the Conference collapsed without result, that it would be, after all his years of labour, one of the great disappointments of his life, and I feel sure that the Prime Minister shares that view. I believe the Lord President of the Council, who is a, man of long vision, realises fully the calamitous results to this country and to the world which would follow from the failure of these efforts.
But there are others who from the beginning have been utterly sceptical of any good result coming from all these efforts. In the Government, among Members of this House, among active members of the Conservative party 678 throughout the country, there are vast numbers of people who regard the whole idea of the League of Nations as merely the vision of amiable idealists, who have never expected any measure of general disarmament and have taken no interest in the whole subject. As was said some years ago, there are great numbers of people in the world who take no interest in liberty, equality and fraternity, but put all their faith in infantry, cavalry and artillery. That is a spirit widespread in the world and powerful among present supporters of the Government, a spirit which breeds war, which has inflicted upon mankind untold misery and which holds back the progress of civilisation—that is the spirit that is now prevalent in this defeatist view which is adopted with regard to the Disarmament Conference.
There are Ministers in the Government who do their best to speak the language, learnt somewhat late in life, which emphasises the importance of international action and a collective system of control. They make the most conscientious efforts to repeat the formulas which express the official policy of the present Government in order to maintain the useful camouflage that this is really a National and not merely a Conservative Government. But from time to time they relapse into their natural speech, and I feel sure it must have been some relief to the Secretary of State for Air to say, in effect, in the House of Lords, "Of course, nothing is coming of all this palaver, and we had better get on as quickly as we can with a great strengthening of our armaments." The First Lord of the Admiralty, speaking at a meeting on 23rd June, said:It is about time that we woke up in this country and looked to our National and Imperial defences, because we cannot go on pursuing an international dream of Disarmament all alone.That is the First Lord of the Admiralty, who himself during the last three years has been working day by day in his office under the terms of the Treaty of Washington and the Treaty of London, which are not a dream but a reality.
§ Sir. H. SAMUEL
Precisely, but the First Lord of the Admiralty ought to have recognised that he is limited in his action 679 day by day, and all those who hold similar offices in other countries who are concerned in these treaties are similarly limited. He ought to realise that it is not a question of a dream of international disarmament all alone. There are many nations which have expressed themselves at Geneva in the strongest terms in favour of the principle of international disarmament—the United States and others—and have declared that they will be prepared effectively to participate; and even Italy stated that she would be prepared to adopt any limits that are adopted by other countries in Europe. No one has suggested that the Washington Treaty and the London Treaty have been infringed. No one has suggested that either here or in any country bound by them there has been any infraction of those treaties. They are a reality and not a dream. If they had not been in force during the last few years, there would certainly have been continuous competition in naval armaments causing impoverishment of the peoples and growing insecurity to the world. So the First Lord of the Admiralty ought not to go to the country at this stage, when the Foreign Secretary is still engaged at Geneva in endeavouring to secure some measure of agreement on some of these points, declaring that international disarmament is a dream which we are now pursuing all alone. Very different was the view expressed again by the Lord President of the Council in the important and urgent matter of air armaments. He declared on 8th March last:Suppose the convention fails. I would not then relax for a moment, nor would the Government relax, the efforts, if a Convention on our lines failed, to start work the next morning to get an air convention alone among the countries of Western Europe, even if we could not get in some that are far away, for the saving of our European civilisation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2077, Vol. 286.]How does that square with the declaration in the House of Lords of the Secretary of State for Air that the Government have now abandoned hope of anything effective coming out of these international efforts and that they have decided straightway to increase our air armaments in consequence Our view, on the other hand, is that the Government should in in this situation redouble their efforts to secure agreement, and should 680 not let go, and it may well be that the events that are occurring in Germany, obscure though they are, yet obviously far-reaching, may result in some change in the international attitude of Germany which may lead to more hopeful results than hitherto in the negotiations at Geneva.
Let me turn to one other aspect. It is plain that the disarmament question in Europe must necessarily depend upon the political situation and upon political action, and this country has been called upon, in the conversations with the French Foreign Minister and on other occasions, to declare again what is its fundamental position and there, so far as we understand it, we find ourselves in general agreement with the views expressed by His Majesty's Government. There is the strongest antipathy, I believe, among the people of this country to anything in the nature of an alliance with any European Power. An alliance must mean responsibility, either for supporting or for restraining the acts of our Allies, and either may involve us in the gravest embarrassment. Nor do we favour anything in the nature of a balance of power. At the same time, we realise that a policy of isolation is not a possible one. I think that the solution, when all these alternatives are eliminated, is the one which has been adopted hitherto, namely, the continuous strengthening of the collective system of control—the active participation in international affairs through the League of Nations and the strengthening of the collective system.
We do not favour any further automatic commitments in Europe or elsewhere. The Treaty of Locarno is in the nature of an automatic commitment in certain eventualities. It will be fulfilled since that obligation has been undertaken in accordance with the terms of the Treaty, but it is a formidable risk, and, when people say that nothing has been done by Great Britain in order to secure the future peace of Europe by undertaking possible obligations on the part of our own country, they forget that the Treaty of Locarno is an instrument still in force and of great importance, involving this country in very heavy possible obligations. If in Europe or in various parts of Europe the countries directly concerned are able to make regional 681 pacts in order to promote security within the framework of the League, this country, naturally, would give them all moral support, but I feel convinced that public opinion would not endorse any obligation undertaken by our Government which might result in our being obliged to send military or naval forces to take part in what was some purely local dispute, say, in the Balkans or in Central or South America, which had not been found possible of solution through the machinery of the League of Nations.
Our people are not prepared to march at the bidding of the Government regardless of the purposes for which they are called upon to act. We have here no Tsar or Kaiser who, in a moment, can set in motion armies of millions of men to do his bidding. Nothing could be undertaken in this country which was not likely to be supported by the mass of public opinion if the contingency should arise, and consequently the Government are very wise not to undertake any obligation which they cannot be certain of being able to fulfil, for the reason that they might not be adequately supported by the nation as a whole. And further, we must remember that in all those matters we must seek and rely upon the cordial co-operation of the. Dominions and of India, and that our alignment ultimately, although by our geographical situation we are a, European Power, is rather with the Dominions and India and, largely because of them, with the United States of America, than with the ordinary complications of European and Continental politics.
At the same time, I believe that this country would be prepared to support, even at considerable risk, a world system of control over international affairs designed to maintain peace and to prevent war, but it must be a world system. The collective system must be really collective, and there is no reason why this country alone, or even with one or two sympathetic allies, should undertake obligations which really devolve upon humanity at large. Therefore, every step which tends to make the League of Nations more complete.is a step which we should wholeheartedly support.
And here I desire, in conclusion, to ask the Foreign Secretary three specific questions, if he can see his way kindly to 682 answer them, for I am sure that his replies would be of great public interest. The first is with regard to the admission of Russia to the League of Nations. It has been generally understood that the Russian Government now would be favourably inclined to membership of the League, but there has been, apparently, a somewhat prolonged delay in bringing such a tendency to fruition. We should like to know from the Foreign Secretary what is the attitude of His Majesty's Government in this connection. It has been freely stated that their attitude has been lacking in cordiality. I do not know what the facts are, and I do not associate myself with any such accusation, but since such ideas have been spread and are believed in certain quarters, it would be useful if the Foreign Secretary to-day were to state specifically how the matter stands, and whether His Majesty's Government are giving to the possibility of Russian application for admission to the League not merely perfunctory approval, but a cordial welcome, and that they are sincerely and earnestly desirous that Russia should enter the League and are prepared to use all the influence of His Majesty's Goverment to facilitate such an application.
The second question is whether he can tell us what have been the results of his recent conversations with the Foreign Minister of France. It is not often that we have the honour of an official visit from the representative of the French Government. Our Ministers continually go to Paris, but it seems that psychologically, though not geographically it is further from Calais to Dover than it is from Dover to Calais. Now M. Barthou has come over on behalf of his Government and has had important conversations, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be able to tell us to-day something of the outcome of his visit. I believe that the whole British people are conscious that in many respects our standpoint is identical with that of the French people. The spirit of French militarism has been dead a long time. There is no longer the glorification of war in that country, and France, like ourselves, stands for peace, for civil liberty and for promoting in every way the tranquillity of Europe and the world, and, since that is so, we find ourselves naturally in co-operation with 683 her in many aspects of international politics.
My last question is whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what is the present position of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva, and particularly how far the declaration of Lord Londonderry, that hope of a satisfactory convention must now be abandoned and that there is no alternative before us but immediately to proceed to certain measures of rearmament, really represents the mind of the Government, or how far the spirit of the Lord President of the Council prevails when he said that, if a general convention failed, His Majesty's Government would start work the next morning to get an air convention for the saving of our European civilisation? For certain it is that nothing else is at stake than the saving of our European civilisation.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I am sure that on all sides of the Committee there will be the greatest sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in his disappointment that the Government, which he did so much to put into power, should turn out to be merely a camouflaged Conservative organisation, though I cannot help being surprised that he had ever had the naivete to suspect any different results from his actions.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
But the hon. Baronet has not quite realised that this party does not now abide by the Prime Minister. We recognised perfectly well that the present Prime Minister was really being used as a facade for a Tory building. I am, however, dealing with the particular point raised by the right hon. Member for Darwen. He was not referring to the pre-1931 deficiencies of his late colleagues. In 1931 he was one of those who was supposed to be making a new heaven and a new earth, but we on these benches saw through it.
In regard to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech there seemed to be no great reason why we should disagree with the Government. Continental States are puzzled when they try to see what is the foreign policy of 684 this Government. In the space of five minutes the right hon. Gentleman went out for isolation and then plumped heavily for collective security. That seems to be typical of the speeches we have had from the Foreign Secretary, and nobody quite knows where this country stands. My object to-day is to try to find out where the Government do stand. I think we may take it that there has been some change since we last debated foreign affairs in the House. On the former occasion we had a statement from the Foreign Secretary to the effect that, although the situation was still full of doubt and peppered with anxiety, he thought that something would be done at the Disarmament Conference. He declared that it was very foolish for people to pronounce funeral orations. I gather, however, that some kind of funeral oration was pronounced the other day by one of the colleagues now sitting beside him, and we want to know the reason why the funeral oration which was so out of place in May, is now apparently suitable in July.
The most significant speeches that have been made during the last month have been made by the heads of the Fighting Services. They have announced in no doubtful terms that we are out for rearmament. It has been stated perfectly plainly that we are going to have a big increase in the Air Force, and the First Lord of the Admiralty was hopeful that something would be done for the Navy. We want to know what reason there is for this re-armament. Armaments are an expression of policy. The right hon. Member for Darwen referred to the Liberal party's armaments in the days before 1914. They were then depending on a policy with which the public of this country were not acquainted—the policy of secret alliances.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Alliance is a very nice word, but if the right hon. Gentleman objects to it I will say an entente, or talks with naval and military chiefs by certain members of the then Liberal Cabinet. I am not accusing the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he was one of those who was not told anything about it. It has all come out since. What we would like to know is this: Is the rearmament which is to be put into force 685 very shortly an attempt to strengthen our armed forces for the purpose of collective security under the League of Nations, or is it an endeavour to set our national defences in order? That is to say, are we going to depend on our own strength-1 think the First Lord of the Admiralty rather indicated that line—or is it designed merely to put a certain number of cards into the hands of our diplomatists to strengthen their hands in whatever negotiations there may be within or without the League?
We are told that these armaments are strictly defensive. Defence easily slips into fighting. There was a delightful slip the other day in that respect by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. When we were discussing the defensive shipping subsidy, he suddenly made one of those slips which one makes sometimes, by saying that it was a fighting subsidy and not a defensive subsidy. That was very illuminating; it was the subconscious self coming out. Armaments may be strictly defensive, but we want to know quite clearly what the basis of this re-armament is to be. We want to know whether we are to regard the Disarmament Conference as dead. If that he so, as one may gather from speeches of Ministers, what is the new effort that is to he made to bring about agreement. The Lord President of the Council said that if the Disarmament Conference failed, a new effort would have to be made straight away. Is the building up of a great Air Force the new start? If so, we want to know more about it.
We on these Benches do not believe that you can separate the question of disarmament and security. We stand unequivocally for a system of collective security under the League of Nations. We recognise clearly that that does mean undertaking responsibilities. We are entirely opposed to separate alliances, but because one rejects separate alliances that does not mean that you do not have to accept some responsibilities. I was surprised at the speech of the right hon. Member for Darwen. It appeared to me that he rejected the League system altogether. The League system really depends on the proposition that when war breaks out it is everybody's responsibility, and you are not entitled to say that you are not this or that nation's brother and that the belligerents can go 686 on murdering just as they please. The right hon. Gentleman said that certain things are our responsibilty, but that a row in the Balkans or in South America is no concern of ours. I do not know whether that is good Liberal policy, but it is not good League policy. It may be said that the Covenant of the League of Nations is drawn too widely, but the position in which this country stands at the present time is, that it has obligations under the Covenant, and we are not entitled to say certain things are matters with which we have nothing to do.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
If that were the impression that I gave I must not have expressed myself well. I thought that I made it quite clear that I accept the collective system of responsibility, no matter where it may be, but that merely in some local dispute with which the League of Nations was not able to deal, for one reason or another, we should not accept any automatic commitment to engage in it, as, for example, the war now proceeding between Paraguay and Bolivia.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman means. Apparently you can have a little row between Bolivia and Paraguay in South America which the League cannot settle. There may be a little row between Germany and France, which it cannot settle. I do not understand how the right hon. Gentleman proposes to put countries into two categories, one in which there may be general slaughter and the other a small matter, a little row down their street, in which the League of Nations can do nothing. You either come out definitely for a collective system or you do not. We have never yet had a clear statement from the Government as to whether they stand for a collective system or not. We have had recently a visit of the French Foreign Secretary which we all welcome. The country is entitled to know exactly the purpose of this visit and what have been the general lines of the discussions. As I understand, the object of the visit has not been to try to set up a special alliance with this country but to try to reinforce the League system by a system of regional 687 agreements; in the West there is the Locarno agreement and an attempt is being made to supplement that by an Eastern Locarno. I understand that the basis of these agreements are not that they are aimed at a particular Power, not that they are exclusive, but that any Power can join them; that they are essentially non-aggressive and for mutual assistance. If the principle of the League had been fully carried out, there would be no need for special regional agreements, but under the present circumstances I welcome these new regional agreements as one of the ways of building up some kind of collective security, and I welcome particularly the suggestion which, I think, is being made by France, that in this matter we should get Russia inside the League of Nations and that Germany should come back to the League.
I desire to state quite clearly the attitude of our party with regard to the proposal for what is known as an Eastern Locarno. The Labour party is convinced that, in the absence of a world scheme of pooled security, the policy of reducing national armed forces in return for international guarantees of security backed by international armed forces may be promoted by States within the League concluding regional agreements under Article 21 of the Covenant and in conformity with the Covenant. It, therefore, warmly welcomes the proposals made by the French Government for an Eastern Locarno Pact of non-aggression and mutual assistance, open to signature by all the States in the region concerned on the same terms. It considers that these proposals would strengthen the collective system of the League of Nations, and believes that their acceptance would lead to the entry of Russia into the League at the Assembly in September next.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I am reading a document drawn up by the Labour party, and I am giving to the House the official views of the Labour party. The Labour party urgently hopes that His Majesty's Government will give their cordial approval to these proposals, will cooperate in pressing Germany and Poland to participate in the Eastern Pact, and 688 will agree to Russia becoming a guarantor of the Locarno Pacts of 1925. It trusts that His Majesty's Government will forthwith declare their readiness to vote for the admission of Russia to the League of Nations, and for the grant of a permanent seat on the Council of the League to Russia. That is the view of the Labour party on the question of an Eastern Locarno. I suggest that at the present time it is essential that Europe should get a breathing space if we are to do anything with regard to disarmament. There is, no doubt, that events in Germany have profoundly disturbed conditions on the Continent.
The position of the League has been extremely difficult because of the growth of irresponsible government, of irresponsible dictators, who are here to-day and gone to-morrow, either above or below ground. I think that the whole of the movement towards dictatorships in Europe has reached its highest point and that there is a decline in the movement towards dictatorships owing to the failure of the dictators. I think that Hitler and his movement is the last move in the suggestion that somehow or other you can secure the world by getting some wonderful individual who is going to set everything right. [Interruption.] We have always taken that view on these Benches, and I am pleased to see by the applause on the Benches opposite that there is no inclination on their part to take Sir Oswald Mosley too seriously. I think we can generally say to-day that this dictatorship is gradually falling down. [Interruption.] I can quite understand the attitude of hon. Members opposite. We on this side are quite happy.
I am profoundly convinced of the need at the present time for the Government to take the strongest possible steps they can to promote collective agreements and to take the strongest line they can to get Russia into the League of Nations. Hon. Members opposite may not like the Government of Russia, I do not profess to agree with the Government of Russia myself, or with the regime in Russia, but there are a great many regimes with which I disagree. I do not like the regime of hon. Members opposite very much, but we have to put up with it. The one fact, however, which does emerge is that the most stable government in Europe to-day is the 689 government of Soviet Russia. We have had prophesies of woe ever since 1917 of the fall of the Soviet system—
§ Mr. ATTLEE.
Yes, it is a dictatorship of a sort. I am against all dictatorships, and I think that you will find that that dictatorship will pass away, is passing away. The only remarkable thing about it is that it is the one stable thing that has lasted for a long time against every kind of attack. Everyone will agree that Russia to-day is a great force for peace in the world. I do not believe that anyone thinks that Russia has any aggressive designs. Russia has cooperated with the League of Nations in working for a system of security. I believe there is every hope now that Russia will come inside the League, and that therefore there will be.a chance of getting what I call a breathing space in 'Europe. I am not optimistic that you can preserve the peace of Europe for a very long time unless you get very big changes. You have to carry your League idea a great deal further. However, I do not want to go into that now.
What is the Government's attitude towards the Far Eastern question? We are so apt in this House to let slip the fact that all this time we have the running sore of the Far East, and that as long as nothing is done about that we have defiance of the League and of the civilised world. It is a common thing to accuse Members on the Labour benches of being the comforters of the King's enemies. But there are plenty of people in this country, and some in this House, who are comforters of the King's enemies. Anyone who proposes an alliance with Japan is, as a matter of fact, a comforter of the King's enemies, because under the League system the country that refuses to accept the decision of the League and has been declared the aggressor, as Japan has, is, as a matter of fact, in a position in which no citizen of this country ought to advocate having anything to do with it.
We want to know very much what is happening with regard to this matter. There are to be consultations about naval armaments and so forth. Where does Japan come in? Is the whole question so far as Japan is concerned, to be put into cold storage? Again, we believe that 690 we are apt to look too much to Europe in foreign affairs. I think that the greater danger point is in Asia, and that in view of this country's position we ought to be on the terms of the closest friendship and working in the League with the great country of Russia. We should hope to get Japan back into the League, provided Japan will accept the principles of the League. But we cannot emphasise too strongly the destruction that has been brought to the League system by Japan's action.
Coming back to the question of disarmament, you cannot get disarmament without security. What is the policy of the Government with regard to disarma ment? What is their policy with regard to security? What is their policy with regard to Article 16 of the Covenant? It seems, to me that the proposals put forward by France all depend on whether the nations will accept Article 16. I am never sure what the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary does accept. This agreement is to be a supplement to Locarno, but I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman really stands on Locarno, judging by speeches he makes in this House. It seems to me that the Government are always wobbling, on the one side towards collective security and on the other side towards individual security and isolation, and I think that that is felt throughout the world. I believe the fact that there is doubt about the Government's intention has done a great deal to make the position worse than it might have been.
What we want is a perfectly clear statement. Are we out for disarmament under the League? We do not believe that you are going to get any 'security at all on some basis of parity. I think the whole idea of parity is an illusion. I can understand that in the Stone Age it would have been possible to get parity in armaments, but I do not understand how you can get any parity with nations arming in this way, even by any mathematical calculation. The most you can get is a very uneasy equilibrium which slips very soon into rivalry and conflict. The idea of the necessity for parity with other nations is contrary to the whole conception of the League, because it belongs to the politics of force and not to the politics of right. We on these benches will oppose negotiations on armaments that are put up under the 691 question of national defence or the question of parity. We have stated quite clearly our position, which is that we do not believe in individual defence. We believe only in collective defence, and in the use of armed forces by the League for League purposes and for peace.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Sir J. SIMON
It will be for the convenience of the Committee if I intervene for a short time now, because the Committee are entitled to have, at an early stage in this Debate, a statement from this bench in relation to the visit which has recently been paid to us by the distinguished French statesman, M. Barthou. I should therefore like to begin by making, without any preliminaries, a statement on that subject. We were extremely glad to welcome M. Barthou here. It is true, as the right. hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said, that somehow or other London is further from Paris than Paris is from London. We are at the end of the string. Usually when we go on foreign travel, we find ourselves passing through the Continent, but French statesmen inevitably do not find themselves coming this way so often. I was very glad indeed when the suggestion was made at Geneva a short time ago that M. Barthou should pay a visit to London.
I am going to lay before the Committee a very simple and plain statement of what passed and of the results which have been attained, but I would like, in the first place, to say how sure I am that I am expressing the general feeling of the Committee and of the British people when I rejoice in this new opportunity of close contact between the French Government and ourselves. As everyone knows, the main subject upon which M. Barthou came to talk was the subject of the possible creation of a pact of mutual assistance which would embrace a number of countries in the Eastern parts of Europe. I want to present to the Committee a short account of the scheme as it emerged after the exchange of views which took place, the full explanations which were given, and the consideration which was paid by each side to the views of the other.
The plan in contemplation is one which would involve, in the first place, a pact of mutual assistance between the five 692 elements (counting the Baltic States as one)—that is to say, between Soviet Russia, the Baltic States, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany. That is the project which was put before us. The nature of the relation created by such a pact, if it could be negotiated and brought about, would be, as I have already described it, a pact of mutual assistance, and it would therefore follow the analogy of Locarno. In addition to that there is a further feature which I am right in saying that M. Barthou described as a condition, which would in a certain way connect Russia with the existing Locarno Treaty, in a form which may have to be considered by the statesmen of Europe if this matter is pursued; and it will take the form of a guarantee on the part of Russia to France on the one hand and Germany on the other, in the event of conditions arising which bring the provisions of the Locarno Treaty into operation.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I will say a word about Belgium in a moment. Also, reciprocally, there would be an assurance offered by France in respect of the boundaries of Russia and the boundaries of Germany on Germany's Eastern side. That is the bare bones of what is no doubt a very ambitious and elaborate scheme. But, whatever may be the need for secrecy in diplomatic communications, there is no justification at all why the House of Commons should not have the frankest and fullest statement of what emerged from these discussions.
I would like the House at once to consider one or two matters which arise under that scheme. In the first place, it plainly is what the hon. and gallant Member opposite just now referred to as a pact of regional guarantees. I may say, incidentally, that I agree entirely with that part of his speech in which he laid down, I think with great good sense and objectivity, that if you can secure a really reciprocal pact of mutual guarantees between a suitable group of nations, you will, by that process, be contributing to a general building up of collective security. It may be that there are people so attached to the extreme expression of an abstract principle, that anything short of it is automatically rejected, and I hope that I may pay my tribute to the hon. Member opposite 693 when I say that I recognise—and recognise very gratefully—the objective good sense with which he approaches this subject. The first point on which it is, therefore, necessary to be clear is this. We could not in this country—this Government could not, and I do not think any Government in this country could—lend any countenance, or any encouragement or moral support to new arrangements between States in Europe which would be of a definitely selective character in the sense that they were building up one combination as against another. I made it my business in the discussions during the two days when M. Barthou was here, to make that proposi Lion entirely clear, and it is due to that distinguished French statesman to say that he accepted the proposition and confirmed it without any qualification at all.
While, therefore, on the one hand, we could not encourage or lend our moral support to an arrangement which would appear to be in the nature of a selective alliance against any country, quite a different situation arises if what is really proposed is of a genuine reciprocal character. If, therefore, Russia is prepared to offer the same guarantee to Germany as she has now offered to France, and if France is prepared to offer the same guarantee to Germany as she has offered to Russia, then it does appear to me that any objection on the score that what is contemplated is not in the true sense a mutual guarantee, is entirely met. That point, so far as discussion between M. Barthou and myself is concerned, is completely established.
The second point is this—and I wish to repeat it again most plainly and bluntly to the House and the country. We have made it entirely plain from the beginning, whatever may be the interest or encouragement which this country may be prepared to offer in this new pact, we are not undertaking any new obligation at all. That is quite clearly and definitely understood, and there is no possible question or challenge about it. In relation to the original Locarno Treaty, our position corresponds to the position of Italy. In the original Locarno Treaty, in which both we and Italy are partners in the combination, we are only there to lend our support as guarantors and we are not getting ourselves, directly, protection for our own boundaries. But in the present case, in the position that this country 694 takes up, we go further. We undertake no obligation at all. If we are asked what view we should take of such a new pact of mutual guarantee in Eastern Europe, we are bound to give a frank answer, but before giving that answer it should be established, without any possible doubt, that we are doing so on the understanding that this is not a case in which we are extending our own commitments in any way whatever.
There is a third thing which is involved, and with which I wish now to deal. If Soviet Russia is going to take up this new position, if she is going to become a party to this new arrangement in Eastern Europe, well, then, it is absolutely essential that Russia should come within the League of Nations. That is the view taken by the French Government. It is the view, I believe, taken by the Russian Government, and in the course of the last few days, I have made it entirely plain to M. Barthou that it is the view taken by His Majesty's Government. I have no difficulty whatever in facing critics in this country, if critics there be, on the proposition. There you have this immense powerful State with 160,000,000 of people inevitably destined to exert its influence profoundly on the history and development of the world. Now which do you prefer—that this immense power should be inside or outside the collective system of the League of Nations? I cannot doubt. what is the answer.
I cannot share all the partialities and dislikes of the hon. Member opposite. I do not pick and choose. I neither wish to proclaim that Japan is the King's enemy nor that Soviet Russia is my special friend. But this I do say, that if we sincerely desire to lend our support to the new system which we have tried to develop since the war, if we are really and truly going to do our utmost to stabilise world forces and bring within the common council of the world all the important Powers we can, then there is no doubt whatever that it would be an immense gain that Soviet Russia should be brought in. I am not complaining of these matters being raised, but, in fact, I do not think that His Majesty's Government have always been treated quite fairly about this. We have never made any secret of our position. I have stated it myself here in the House more than once; Soviet Russia knows it quite 695 well, and I therefore have great pleasure in answering the question which the hon. Member opposite put to me in terms which I think will satisfy him, and the answer is this. Certainly, we are prepared to welcome Russia warmly to the League of Nations if Russia makes that application. We are satisfied that it would be a contribution to the peace of the world, if that result came about. It is necessarily a matter for Russia to decide whether she makes that application or not, but His Majesty's Government would welcome that result if that result were obtained.
There is a fourth thing that is very necessary to this new arrangement and which, so far as I have observed, has not been mentioned in the two interesting speeches which have just been made. It is a matter to which His Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance. The argument about the relation between security and agreement about armaments goes on continually. At one time it is the one element which is being pushed forward; and at another time it is the other. But in fact these two things are necessarily related, and, if there is going to be brought about by this new Russo-French initiative a new pact of mutual guarantee in which Germany is going to he included, it would appear to His Majesty's Government extremely necessary to realise that the conclusion of such a pact and Germany's participation in this system of reciprocal guarantees that would be given—which mark you would operate for the security of Germany as well as of her neighbours—would afford the best ground for the resumption of negotiations for the conclusion of a Convention such as would provide for a reasonable application of the principle of German equality of rights in a regime of security for all nations.
As a practical matter, Germany must be a member of the new combination if it comes about. Germany would indeed in such a combination, if she were prepared to take part in it, receive very valuable additional assurance under the head of security. But it appears to His Majesty's Government, and I think it will appear to the House of Commons, that we ought not to allow this occasion which has emerged, principally through the consideration of problems of security, to pass 696 without endeavouring to take advantage of it for the immediate purpose of promoting the objects for which the Disarmament Conference was called, and I am very happy to be able to tell the House that as a result of the conversations which took place between His Majesty's Government and the representatives of the French Government during Monday and Tuesday of this week, the French Government agree with His Majesty's Government in holding that view, and have authorised me to make that communication as being a communication of their view to the German Government, which I have already done.
It appears to me that if you put all these matters together this is at any rate a very hopeful suggestion. We must not treat it as more than a suggestion. There is a vast deal to be done before it can emerge in the form of solid content. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) knows very well, nobody knows better, how many were the goings and comings, the concessions here and the persuasions there, which had to be accomplished over a considerable space of time before he had the pride and satisfaction of feeling, with M. Briand and Herr Stresemanu, that they had produced the original Pact of Locarno. I would not wish to represent to the House or to the country the account which I am now giving as an account of something positively achieved. But at least it is a very encouraging sign.
I recapitulate the points in the arrangement which appear to me to be fundamental and of the greatest value, for the adhesion, I trust, of all parties and schools of thought in this country. First that the new arrangement if it comes about is in the truest and most complete sense reciprocal. It cannot by any possibility be represented as being a select combination between certain Powers joining forces, or at any rate joining forces hypothetically, against the possibility of resisting another Power. The thing is completely mutual in its structure, and the poison of suspicion which undoubtedly might be produced by such a suggestion in other circumstances, is completely eradicated, and removed by the fact that it is a genuinely mutual proposal. Secondly there is the point that we ourselves, and I am sure the opinion of the country would support His Majesty's Government in this, have said, and no- 697 body invites us to do other, that it must be entirely clear that this country is not undertaking any new responsibilities. Thirdly, we have made no sort of secret of our view as to the desirability and importance of bringing Russia within the circle of the League of Nations, and we welcome this opportunity of promoting that object.
Fourthly, we must not allow this occasion to pass as though it were solely confined to the structure of a pact of security, however good in itself that may be, but that we must recall the formula of December, 1932, which new takes on if not a new meaning at least a new application and a new hopefulness. What we are all working for is the realisation of the principle of German equality of rights in a system of security for all nations.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
As regards the question of mutual assistance, will these contemplated conferences be through Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations or some fresh device?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I have heard of no suggestion of a fresh device, but I must not allow the hon. and learned Gentleman or anybody else to suppose that the matter has travelled further than it has.:Remarkable progress was made in the course of what was a very short visit, but, of course, there is a vast deal of working out to be done. And especially as we are in the position of benevolent well-wishers and not of actual contracting parties, I must be very careful not to go further than I am authorised to go in any statement that I make.
I was going to make an observation about Belgium. As I understand it, the proposal is one in which France and Germany would be reciprocally interested in the Russian guarantee, and that, of course, operates indirectly to the advantage of the immediate neighbour of both. But I would rather use the occasion to point out how Belgium itself is an illustration of the enormous advantages of this new method of reciprocal engagements as compared with the old method of selective alliances. I conceive the difference very much as though one were to say that in the postwar architecture of the world, the wise architect is the man who is trying to construct a building in which there will 698 indeed be stresses and strains between its various parts, but in which the combination of the various parts takes up the stresses and the strains of the whole and keeps it, therefore, safe and secure.
The whole conception of this collective system in the post-war world is the conception that mankind will be best sheltered and most secure if we live in a building which, by means of a suitable combination of the parts, will cancel out strains and dangers because every part is making a suitable contribution to protect the whole. Of course, the integrity of the territory of Belgium is 710 less vital to the interests and safety of this country to-day than it has been in times past. It is a geographical fact which nothing can change. Indeed, changed conditions, especially in connection with the air, have not altered that, historic fact at all; they have only served to emphasise it. That is the point of view of our own national security. But here again it is the mutual character of the original agreement signed at Locarno, dealing among other things with the frontier between Belgium and Germany, which constitutes its essential feature and makes it so valuable a guarantee of European security as a whole. His Majesty's Government cannot but think —I hope the House and the country will agree—that an extension of this system of assurances, so long as they are mutual in expression and reciprocal in intention, should make for the strengthening of the foundations of peace and the restoration of confidence in Europe.
In these circumstances, as I have said, His Majesty's Government have decided that they would make public their view that an Eastern pact of mutual guarantee, based on the strictest principles of reciprocity and conceived with the genuine purpose of strengthening the foundations of peace in Europe—I will go further and say strengthening the foundations of peace in the world—by creating a further basis for reciprocal guarantees, is well deserving the support of the British Government and of the British people. Our part or responsibility in this matter is not, of course, the same as that of those States which would undertake the new mutual responsibility, but none the less we have a part to play. Let those who are disposed to suggest that British influence in the world has 699 been diminished observe the importance that is attached by the world to the part that we do play. We have a part to play, for peace all over the world remains the first of British interests, and it is the first object of our international policy.
These discussions only took place at the beginning of this week, and I wish to inform the House that we have already put ourselves in communication with certain other Powers, explaning the true character of this mutual guarantee pact as it has emerged from the London conversations, and urging that those with whom we have communicated should do all in their power to secure the success of the negotiations. In the case of some Powers, such as Germany and Poland, that would involve an actual participation in the proposed pact. We are merely, therefore, in the position of a friendly Power offering to them, in all good will, the views which we have been led to form for their consideration. The responsibility and decision is naturally with them, not with us.
The position of Italy is different. Just as, in the case of the original Locarno Treaty, Italy and ourselves occupy corresponding positions, so I apprehend that it is improbable that Italy would become personally responsible for this Eastern Pact. I am very happy to say that I have received, only a few moments before the House sat to-day, a communication from Signor Mussolini, which I understand is to be made public in Italy to-day, and which Signor Mussolini authorises me to communicate publicly here to the House. It is in the following terms:The attitude of Italy, as a signatory to the Pact of Locarno, is similar to that of the United Kingdom. On the clear understanding that the Eastern pact of mutual guarantee does not imply any fresh engagement on her part, Italy regards with sympathy proposals which are made on a basis of absolute reciprocity between all the countries concerned. This is particularly the case when such proposals offer fresh possibilities in the field of a limitation or reduction of armaments and as regards the implicit recognition of equality of rights.I shall be very happy if, at the conclusion of the Debate, I find that the views expressed by those who take part in it in this House are such that I am able to inform the head of the Italian Government that not only the British Government, but 700 the British Parliament, find themselves in entire agreement with the views which he has expressed, and which we welcome warmly. I have made a faithful report to the House of what has happened. I do not Pretend that more has happened than I have said, but it appears to me that this new opportunity is one which we should wish to see seized with both hands. I would earnestly beg the House of Commons to give it their full support and encouragement.
Now, if I may, I will turn for a moment to one or two other questions raised in the debate, which I am bound to say appear to me, after what I have already dealt with, to be of a rather minor order of importance but I will gladly try to deal with two or three points that have been raised.
I was glad that the Chairman took the course of calling upon the hon. Member opposite for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen before I intervened. It is a great advantage that we should have two oppositions, because sometimes, wittingly or unwittingly, they supply some of the necessary ammunition against one another. I thought that in one respect my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen showed less than his usual caution, perhaps less than his usual cunning—using the word in a strictly Parliamentary sense—in his reference to air policy. He noted that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was here and quoted some of the things which the right hon. Gentleman had said. If there be any well-established rule for the present generation of Parliamentary debaters, it is that. where possible the critics of the right hon. Member for Epping should speak after him and not before him. I look forward to the contribution when the right hon. Gentleman may see fit to make in a further examination of the point of view of the right hon. Member for Darwen.
The main point which the right hon. Member for Darwen wished to make, apart from his very important inquiries, had to do with comments on a speech made in another place. Here, Captain Bourne, we are under your Ruling. I believe that by saying that a speech was made in another place we avoid a strict rule which forbids us to reply to Debates 701 in the House of Lords. In the circumstances I feel it a little hard, but, if I may, I will point out that I really think the Minister for Air has been a little misunderstood in this matter. The occation on which he made his speech was a discussion of air defence. Do not let us forget some of the realities of this position. The Disarmament Conference has before it very extensive proposals which will fundamentally modify the old problem of air defence. The Draft Convention contained, in Article 35, reference to the working out of the best possible schemes for providing for the complete abolition of military and naval aircraft, which must be dependent on the effective supervision of civil aviation to prevent its misuse for military purposes. And it certainly must. No one can say that these are not very large and extensive proposals; no one can say that they have not been the subject of very great, close and continuous examination and analysis.
I wish very much that some of the critics of the Government would show more precisely their ideas as to how these admirable proposals should be carried out. A tremendous amount of work has been done by Members of the Government to find what would be the most effective method, but we really must have some regard to the passage of time, to the self-evident fact that the Disarmament Conference, in spite of the tremendous efforts that have been made, has been very long in existence and has not yet positively achieved any very great result. Does the right hon. Gentleman when he makes such criticism, really suggest that if he were responsible, among other things, for the safety of this country, he would, as a matter of course, postpone all consideration of defence until the day, however distant it may be, when the Disarmament Conference has come to a conclusion good or bad? We cannot do anything of the kind. Everybody who knows anything about it knows that if you have to undertake provision in the realm of air defence it is not a thing that can be done between night and morning. The most elaborate and most carefully worked out processes will not get you a result until a long time after the time when you authorise them.
Therefore, I am unrepentant when I say it is the business of any Government, and would be of the right hon. Gentle- 702 man, not to shut their eyes to the possibilities of the conclusion of the disarmament discussions until they have come to an end, and to take the view which I am certain the mass of our fellow countrymen would expect them to take. While we should do nothing which could possibly militate against the good efforts that are being made and in which we are taking a prominent part, it is the height of folly to pretend that on that account in no circumstances must there ever be contemplated the possibility of further provision being made in the air.
§ Sir J. SIMON
What I say on this matter will be approved by the whole of the British Cabinet, and, as far as I know, I am expressing the view which is entertained by vast numbers of people in the country. The very instance which the right hon. Gentleman gave proves the case. I was a minor Member of the Administration before the War. It is true that in those years we made considerable additional provision under the head of Navy Estimates, but I am sure my right hon. Friend would be the very first to assert that we were not doing that with the result that we were increasing the danger of war. We were trying our best to make necessary provision against it, and some of us know, none better than the right hon. Gentleman; with what pangs of anguish that provision was made.
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of the observations which have been made by my Noble Friend as if they betokened some lapse into despair and, when he says, as I see he said in the country the other day, that there had been what he called a premature reference to the collapse of the Disarmament Conference, let us see where we are. The right hon. Gentleman is reported in the "Times" as having said that Lord Londonderry had observed that it would no longer be possible to delay steps which were necessary to provide adequately for the air defence of these shores. There may be a question as to what steps are necessary and as to what would be adequate provsiion, but surely the right hon. Gentleman is not going to say that, given that certain steps are necessary to provide 703 adequately for the air defence of these shores, they should not be taken.
As regards the complaint that my noble Friend showed some lapse into despondency about what the Disarmament Conference may produce, I was interested to observe that not long ago the right hon. Member for Darwen was received most enthusiastically in a gathering of his supporters in the Home Counties Union of Women's Liberal Associations. He proclaimed there that what the country needed was a leader and in the course of his remarks he said it would appear that the Disarmament Conference was on the verge of collapse. May I beg my right hon. Friend not to take this defeatist view. I realise that these things are sometimes rather hard to bear, and I can imagine that he has moments of despondency when he wonders whether a day will ever come when he and his friends will ever command a majority in this House. But let him cheer up. It may be that there is a better future in store for some of us than we believe, and when the Minister for Air, in an Air Debate, makes the observation that it is not possible to wait until the Disarmament Conference has formally collapsed before we begin to consider what we must do in relation to the necessary defences of this country, surely that is a proposition which sensible people will accept. I am not going to say more about that to-day because, as the Lord President of the Council announced not long ago, a statement is to be made on the subject of air policy, on behalf of the Government, before the House rises, and no doubt my right hon. Friend will be able to inform the House very shortly on what day that statement will be made.
Now comes my other colleague, the First Lord of the Admiralty. May I be permitted to say that while I at all times appreciate the bouquets offered to me by old friends opposite, I do not appreciate them when they are offered to me on the terms that they think rather well of me but that some of the others on this bench are past praying for. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman opposite that since he left the Government it has remained an exteremly united body. I am perfectly prepared, if necessary, to take up the defence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, though I do not think he 704 was quite accurately reported. But does anybody here dispute the proposition that an adequate British Navy is the best guarantee of world peace? I should have thought the very last people who would throw any doubt upon that are those who believe in the fullest and most immediate application of the collective system which, as the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) said just now, means that we must be prepared to go into the interior of South America, just as we should have to go anywhere into the old world or the new, if necessary, with armed force. It was most unfair, as it seems to me, to represent the First Lord as if he had been speaking slightingly of the Disarmament Conference. His proposition was a perfectly simple one—that if, as we all trust, we can attain the reality of world disarmament, let us have it; and I do claim here, on behalf of the British Government, and not least on behalf of those responsible for administering our naval affairs, that we have made, and are making, tremendous efforts to secure agreement in regard to limitation in armaments. On the other hand, if the melancholy result were to be that at present this is not a reality, and world disarmament cannot be attained, well, then we cannot indulge in what would be a delusion alone.
That is exactly the proposition of my right hon. Friend when he said, in the course of his introductory remarks, that he and his friends must always be firmly understood to be opposed to unilateral disarmament. What does he suppose is happening in the world now? I have here an occount of the amount of rearmament going on in a great number of countries in the world. We have held our hands possibly to the edge of risk—a phrase I think I first used—because we desired that the whole of our influence should be exerted, not merely by precept but by example, in the direction of reduction. We shall never find a Government standing at this Box which will say that it can pursue that course whatever other people do, and it is nothing but common prudence to face the true gravity of the situation and make any necessary plans before it is too late. On the other hand, a great disservice is done to disarmament by representing that results cannot be attained. The Secretary of State for Air did not say so. He was speaking, obviously, of these far-flung 705 proposals for the abolition of naval and military aircraft, in which case we should indeed need to consider this subject further; but a great injury is done by letting any section of the public suppose that the full effort and influence of this Government are not being thrown into the work of disarmament at Geneva. No one who has been there could profess to think that is true.
The Lord Privy Seal and myself, on the last occasion when we were at Geneva, had the satisfaction of seeing adopted, under great difficulties, a Resolution to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, recording the determination of all there to go on with this work in every way possible, and we conditioned it by only one practical condition, which is this, that no progress can really be expected in the end unless it can bring Germany back into the dicussions and into the League of Nations. I am not going to detain the House longer, though I said in my earlier remarks that I should not wish to be regarded as not having dealt to the best of my ability with some of these more casual observations; but I ask the House to believe that what we have been doing in the last few days, I believe with general public approval, is in fact a reflection of the efforts which we are making throughout. The difficulties which face us and face the world are greater than can be compressed within the limits of a brief Parliamentary description, but that is no reason for not persisting, and we are persisting, and I trust we may continue to persist without this cavil and criticism which, believe me, can have no results whatever except to discourage the friends of disarmament.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. EMRYS-EVANS
I am sure that the House will welcome the statement of the Secretary of State this afternoon, for it is clear from what he said that the whole question of security will be considered in relation to disarmament. The difficulty has been that nations were not prepared to surrender the weapons of offence and defence unless they thought it was safe to do so. We have aimed at disarmament before we tackled the question of security. It seems to me that the Secretary of State has shown that we arc considering the question of security, and that when once that problem has been dealt with we shall be able, 706 perhaps, to get on with the whole question of disarmament. But do not let us be under any illusion that the position at the present time remains what it was when the Conference met. It has become much more acute during the interval. I trust very much that it will not be long before it will be possible for us to arrive at a convention or else to bring the conference to an end and to pursue some other line of country in dealing with these problems, for if the Conference remains in being indifinitely it may block the way to dealing with the problem by other means.
There have been several definite tendencies in the world during the last few years. After the War, when the Peace Conference was assembled, we all hoped that the United States would enter much more closely into world affairs than it had done in the past, but during the last few years it has become clear that it is disinteresting itself in Europe, and that instead of taking its part in dealing with world problems, it is interesting itself more and more in its own internal affairs. What is true of the United States is also true to some extent of the Dominions, Japan, and the rest of the outer world. The outer world is less interested in the internal affairs of Europe because they are not faced by the same dangers that face European countries. London, Paris, Berlin and Rome are menaced from the air, but New York, Canberra, Wellington and Tokyo are not. There is a clear distinction that has driven this country closer into the European system than the Dominions, the United States, or the rest of the outside world.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) seemed to take the view, which I believe is held by various Members of his party, that Great Britain should wait for an equilibrium or, as I prefer to call it, a balance of power, before deciding what line we should take. That would bring us once again to the position which existed in the 10 years before the War, when the uncertainty as to the extent of our obligations and the nature of our intentions undoubtedly helped in the drift towards the War. In present conditions, unless we are able to define our position more clearly, there is a danger of restiveness and anxiety creeping into international public opinion. Restiveness and anxiety are very wide- 707 spread at the present time in Germany. The events of the last fortnight and the speeches of that country's leader make us feel anxiety in regard to its future and in regard to the future action which it is likely to take in Europe. We must treat all the advances which it makes with prudence and reserve. There is a danger that an armaments race will once again begin, as in the days before the War.
The Committee should be under no illusions as to the nature of that armaments race. In those days, the battleship set the pace, but it took a very long time to build and was very expensive. Mobilisation took some days, and during that period there was time for the governments to consult. They did consult. To-day the aeroplane sets the pace of the armaments race. It is cheap, and it can be built quickly. A declaration of war may be followed very rapidly by an outbreak of hostilities. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen said that he was against anything in the nature of automatic guarantees. It seems to be difficult to avoid something in the nature of automatic guarantees so far as the air is concerned, in the situation in which we find ourselves. I was glad that the Secretary of State placed such emphasis on the fact that in agreements to-day, any question of guarantees and of those treaties and pacts which he mentioned, are mutual and reciprocal. Any guarantee to be undertaken must surely not be one-sided. I hope therefore that the Government have not altogether abandoned the idea which the Lord President of the Council placed before the House when he said that, in the event of the Disarmament Conference breaking down, the Government would immediately take steps to conclude an air convention. An air convention based very largely on the same scheme as the pacts to which the Secretary of State referred, would impose on the nations taking part in it mutual and reciprocal obligations. There are the beginnings of these things in the Covenant of the League of Nations and in the Locarno Treaty.
The Kellogg Pact has encouraged us to believe that we shall go back to that system by which our forbears within nations built up a system of law and order and of outlawry, placing outside 708 the pale those individuals who would not come in and play their part. We have reached the point in which it might be possible to establish that kind of law under the terms of the agreements to which we are already signatory. An overwhelming force against an aggressor would surely be a basis on which we could build up a system, certainly in Europe—I believe that this problem is, in the first instance, a European problem—and could deal with the problem from a European point of view. If we could get such a settlement among the European countries I believe that the outside world, by which I mean the United States, the Dominions and Japan, would be much more likely to come to an agreement. If we succeeded in basing our new agreement upon an air convention, we should at least have established a law in Europe which would enable us to sleep more safely in our beds than we have done in the past.
We are in the presence now of a new and very dangerous menace, and we cannot deal with the situation on the pre-War basis. We must realise how different is the position of the modern world from that which existed when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen was a Member of the Liberal Cabinet. He then had to deal with an entirely different set of circumstances. Some of the instruments which now exist were not in being. I would urge upon the Government to give a lead in this matter. The Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations have become very closely allied in the public mind. The Disarmament Conference is only one of the many functions which the League of Nations has had to undertake during its short career. If the Conference fails—I hope it will not fail, but if it does—that failure need not affect the League itself. This House would never have attained to the power and authority which it now holds if it had fallen down on the first great problem which it had to solve. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will give us an assurance that the Government propose to work through and by the League of Nations in all the action which they take to deal with the problems which are ahead of them. Those problems are vast. The Government have done everything they can to deal with them along certain definite lines, and they have 709 made a serious effort to bring the countries together. They have tried to act as mediator, consulting with the various interests concerned. Something more is wanted at the present time, some definite line of policy which will be understood throughout Europe.
What has happened in the field of foreign affairs quite recently? We were threatened by the German Government with a stoppage of all payments under the various international loans. Strong, definite and vigorous action has produced great results in that case, and I hope that the Government will now enter upon a policy which will enable them to bring about more triumphs in the field of foreign affairs to add to those which they have succeeded in gaining in the field of domestic affairs. Men are looking beyond even their economic position to something deeper—to their own preservation. I believe that this country holds the key to the situation, and that, if the Government will take the necessary action, they will be able to lead us to those things which belong to our peace.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
I desire to say at once that we on these benches are in general agreement with the views expressed just now by the Secretary of State with regard to the proposed mutual agreement on Locarno lines between the various States that he mentioned. He desired to impress upon us the great importance that was attached to the views held by the Government of this country, but there has never been any doubt whatever as to the importance attached by other countries to our views; the difficulty has been to get the Government to use the immense power and influence that they wield in the world for some really effective purpose in the sphere of disarmament and peace. With regard to Russia, I think one cannot but be entirely satisfied by the words used by the Foreign Secretary. We quite understand that it is the intention of the Government to give full diplomatic support to the application by Russia for election to the League at the next Assembly. Obviously, it will be desirable that every State in the whole world should come in—every State that is willing to obey the rules and regulations and work in a friendly co-operative way with the others; and I venture to hope that in 710 due course Japan will be prepared to play the game and obey the rules, because obviously, unless she is willing to do so, it is not much good her coming back into the sphere of the League.
I desire to support the view of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Emrys-Evans), and I assume it to be the truth, that all these arrangements will be made through the machinery of the League of Nations. I cannot imagine France adopting any other arrangement, and I am sure that that is the intention of those interested in this matter. should like to press upon my right hon. Friend the great importance, if a scheme of mutual assistance of this kind is to be put through, of linking it up with disarmament. In the case of Locarno, it was unfortunate that it was not made to hang in any way upon disarmament, but I hope that the same mistake will not be made again, and that, in the critical position in which we are in the Disarmament Conference, the Government will make it plain—indeed, I hope they have made it plain—that their diplomatic support for this new scheme will not be given unless there is going to be a willingness to reduce armaments on the part of France. That seems to me to be an alsolutely vital and essential preliminary to the carrying further of a scheme of this kind. I gather from what the Foreign Secretary said, though he did not put it in very definite language, that that is really what is in his mind, and that France has expressed a willingness to come into some scheme of that kind.
I quite agree that, in the particular circumstances of this regional scheme, it was not desirable or reasonable that we should go into it ourselves beyond giving diplomatic support—that we should not be expected to enter into any military, naval, or air commitments, but that such things should be reserved for an agreement of a universal kind covering the collective States of the whole world. I hope, however, that perhaps my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal may be able to deal with this point, that, while we are not going to take any part in this regional scheme, it does not, surely, prevent us from going once more into the question of the guarantees that might be required for the carrying out of a Disarmament Convention. It is true that in April last we made certain in- 711 quiries of France, and she expressed herself as being disinterested in the subject at that time, but it may be that now she is interested once more, and in any case I am under the impression that M. PaulBoncour, when he was Foreign Minister, in December, 1933, made pretty clear in a document just what the ideas of the French Government were on the subject of security. Whether that be so or not, surely it is time we had ideas of our own, and expressed quite clearly what we should be prepared to do in the way way of guarantees of execution in the event of securing in return the essential consent to reduction of armaments, above all by France, and by other countries too. I hope that in that matter the Government will press on with the vital principle of collective security.
I might, perhaps, give a little homely example to illustrate this subject. Nightly we hear echoing through the Lobbies of this House when we adjourn the cry: "Who goes home?" What is that but an appeal for collective security? When it was first started, Members gathered together and went jointly through the streets of London to protect themselves collectively against an attack from an aggressor, which was then a real danger. And so I hope that that cry will echo throughout the world, and that the time will come, I hope soon, when all nations will be willing to take collective action to strike down the aggressor wherever he may rise, in whatever part of the world, by whatever means may seem to be most effective. It does not at all follow that that will require in many cases the use of military force.
May I ask my right hon. Friend if he could deal also with a point about which I think there is a certain amount of anxiety—it may be, and probably is, entirely unnecessary anxiety? There have been certain conversations recently between high Army and Air officers of France and of this country, and a suggestion has been made that tentative military conversations on the lines of what took place in the years before the War are now in progress, and that, while no commitments or arrangements are being made, certain ideas have been jointly put forward for such things, for example, as the establishment of 712 air bases on the Continent from which our machines might operate, and that arrangements are contemplated in this country for an expeditionary force which might be sent on to the Continent. If anything of that sort were contemplated as part of a general collective system, it would have quite a different bearing, but if anything of the sort were in contemplation merely as between two countries, or a group of countries, it seems to me to be highly undesirable that any arrangements of that kind should be contemplated for a moment, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give an assurance that really there is nothing in it at all.
I would like to refer shortly to another aspect of disarmament, namely, the conversations which are now starting with regard to the Naval Conference for next year. I know that they are supposed to be entirely confidential, but these things never are, and leakages have taken place, possibly on the other side of the Atlantic. It appears clear that the Government have stated that in certain circumstances we might feel that we wanted a large increase in our naval programme—for instance, on increase in the number of our cruisers from 50 to 70. It seems to me, if. I may say so, that that is an entirely wrong angle from which to approach negotiations of this kind. Surely, we ought to go into those negotiations saying, "What is the biggest reduction we can possibly hope to attain? We are willing to reduce here, and there, if others are willing to do so." The question of any possible increase could only arise as something coming in at a very much later stage if all hope of agreement for a reduction had been abandoned. I think it is profoundly regrettable that the Government have gone into these negotiations in a spirit which seems to presuppose not a reduction but an increase of naval armaments.
I was very sorry to see it stated authoritatively, apparently, in to-day's papers that discussions between the British and French naval Ministers envisaged agreement with regard to big battleships at a figure of 25,000 tons. That seems to me extraordinarily unfortunate. Is there 'any real objection to coming down to the basis, which was thought proper for Germany when she 713 was disarmed, of the 10,000-ton battleship? Apart from tradition and prejudice and the ideas of the past, is there really anything against it? I think it is lamentable that the Government have not been wiling to appoint an impartial committee of persons qualified to express their views to the public on this matter and state, for the information of the country, whether there is any real technical or practical objection to the 10,000-ton battleship, because you have to bear in mind that in due course, if you are going to have 25,000-ton battleships, Germany will come along, perhaps not now but later on, and rightly demand battleships of exactly the same size.
May I turn to what is the other most important point of to-day's discussion, apart from the new policy which the Secretary of State referred to, which I can only call the Government's re-armament policy. We have called it for a long time the Disarmament Conference, but it is rapidly becoming a re-armament Conference and the Government's ideas seem to be tending more and more in that direction. A good deal of reference has been made to the momentous declaration of the Secretary of State for Air in another place. I think the truth of what happened is that he blurted out what really is the mind of the Government. He did it crudely and indiscreetly, but he said what Ministers themselves have been saying for a long time, though it may be convenient to keep up a certain atmosphere of camouflage and bluff in order not to let the country think they have made a lamentable and complete failure, largely through their own weakness.
The Secretary of State, of course, dealt with the situation with the greatest ability, as he always does, but it seeme to us that his reply was entirely unsatisfactory and that it did not meet the criticism in any way whatever, and we intend, in spite of anything that may be said about cavilling and criticism, to continue that criticism to the utmost of our power, both in the House and in the country, because we think a lamentable state of affairs has been disclosed by the tactless utterance of the Secretary of State for Air. The Foreign Secretary tried to minimise the matter by saying that the Secretary of State for Air was only referring to the ultimate question of the total abolition of air forces, which 714 was a long way ahead, but that is not true. He was referring to the Government's own White Paper, which envisages, when their own scheme has begun, the limitation of our aeroplanes and those of the major countries possessing aircraft to 500 machines and, at a time when he is supposed to be struggling for that immediate object, he is coming forward with the idea of an increased power beyond any question of the 500. So it is impossible to avoid the question by saying it refers to some quite remote contingency.
In view of the importance of the matter, I would ask leave to recall the history of what has been happening with regard to the negotiations for air disarmament, because I think the Government come out of it very badly indeed. The Foreign Secretary, in a moving way, said how much the Government had done and how hard they had worked. I am sure that they are sincere and that they have worked, but I think they have worked very hesitatingly or inadequately and with very poor results. I except. from that statement the Lord Privy Seal, because I am sure that it is not true of him, and possibly of some others. There have been various stages in the history of this question of the Disarmament Conference. I propose to start from the position in February and March, 1933, when the Air Commission of the Disarmament Conference discussed a proposal of France and other countries for the abolition of all national air forces, the internationalisation or control of civil aviation and the creation of an international police force. The French Air Minister strongly advocated such abolition, and he put up a powerfully reasoned case for adequate control of civil aircraft as both desirable and practical. There were a number of members of the Commission who were rather non-commital, but I am afraid that the only part played by the British representatives there, the Secretary of State for Air and the Under-Secretary, was in putting forward the difficulties in the way of the control of civil aviation, and they offered no constructive proposals whatsoever.
I understand that the Government for a long time have been considering practical proposals, but that they have not found anything satisfactory. Surely, if 715 they are keen on their own policy, if they want to see the abolition of military aviation put through, it is up to them to go to the appropriate committee at Geneva and put up some constructive plan or to contribute in some way. They have done nothing of the kind at any stage. Subsequent to that, the Government brought forward the British Draft Convention. There was the Spanish plan and the German and American plan. On 8th March last year the British Government rendered a very great service when they brought forward the Draft Convention. Of course, in that it was envisaged that you could come down to 500 machines for the Greater Powers for the first period and that the Permament Disarmament Commission would in the meantime be working out a scheme for total abolition. When that matter was under consideration, on 27th May, 1933, the Under-Secretary used these hopeful words at Geneva.If, as we trust, the Permanent Disarmament Commission work out some such scheme as is here outlined for effective supervision of civil aviation before the period when the next Disarmament Conference meets, the total abolition of naval and military aircraft will be realised under the terms of that Convention as it now stands.That is a very different statement from that of the Secretary of State for Air when he said there was no hope whatever of getting agreement. It is a total contradiction. Unfortunately nothing was done to press forward internationally the study of the control of civil aviation. The Air Commission did not even meet again to consider the British draft or the Spanish plan or the change of German policy or the American statement of 22nd May, 1933, which contemplated the general abolition within a fixed period of all war planes. Then, at a moment when a large measure of agreement seemed to be within grasp, the matter was allowed to drift, and nothing more was done to remove the impression that had been created by the speeches of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Air at Geneva that the British Air Ministry were really entirely out of sympathy with the policy of abolition or reduction of military aircraft or of international control of civil flying. That may or may not be the case, but it is certainly the impression that is generally held.
716 Now we come to the present position, that is the resolution of 11th June of this year, which we helped to draft and in which we agreed with the French and others that the Conference must continue its work with a view to arriving at a general convention to limit and reduce armaments. My right hon. Friend said just now that three principles require study. I would ask my right hon. Friend if he would be prepared possibly to deal with this point. One of its Committees has already prepared a draft which, I know, has been under consideration by the Government. It was unanimously agreed upon tentatively with regard to arms traffic. Is he in a position now to say whether His Majesty's Government concur with that plan because it is very important to have the information? It. seems to be a plan which, while it does not go as far as one would like it to go, is a great advance upon anything which has been agreed upon up to the present time.
The Resolution of 11th June calls upon the Air Commission to meet and to resume work on the subjects mentioned in the Resolution of 23rd July, 1932, but that is the very moment chosen by the Secretary of State to say—I must repeat his words because the Foreign Secretary turned them round in such a way that it was almost impossible to recognise them—that the Government could no longer hope that something might be achieved out of the Disarmament Conference which would render unnecessary any substantial addition to the size of our Air Force. When we had agreed to go once more to Geneva and had consented to start discussing the practicability of these schemes, we chose that moment to say that there is no hope of agreement whatever. What is the point of wishing to set up a new Committee if we have made up our minds that nothing is to come out of it at all? What has happened since 11th June to justify this reversal of policy and the abandonment of hope and effort? What have the Government to say with regard to the statement of the Lord President of the Council in which he said he would start the next morning to try and get an air convention if the Disarmament Conference broke down? Is my right hon. Friend able to say whether that still remains the policy of the Government 717 and whether as they have now decided, the Disarmament Conference has broken down? The Foreign Secretary said that he spoke for the whole of the Government. Does the Secretary of State for Air speak for the whole of the Government too? Perhaps they speak for the whole of the Government, but at different times. It would be interesting to know which of the two Ministers is supported by His Majesty's Government.
We shall have to consider when the proposed Air Estimates come forward—and it will no doubt decide the attitude which many hon. Members will take up towards them—whether the Government are going to assist sincerely and wholeheartedly a scheme for the continuation of collective security throughout the world. If they are going to build up and to strengthen such a scheme, and hon. Members are satisfied that the Government are doing all that they can to make the collective system work, it may well be that we shall have to consider whether there is not a case for, in that way, strengthening the collective system. On the other hand, one forms the impression that the Government have no real intention of supporting the collective system, and that they are asking for this Air increase solely for the old-fashioned purpose of strengthening one particular nation in the race of armaments. Then, I think, it presents an entirely different aspect and will have to be resisted. I hope that the Government will decide to press on resolutely, with their great influence, as we have heard this afternoon, in the direction of collective security in the world.
Of what are they afraid? Are they afraid of public opinion in this country? If that be so, let me give them certain figures which may be of interest to them and encourage them to go on with the work of supporting the League of Nations. Not very long ago the Rothermere Press thought that they would test the feeling in the Provinces as to whether it would be a popular policy to run in their newspapers, not only an attack on the League altogether, but whether the Government should not be asked to retire from the League completely. In order to try it out in a preliminary way they ran it in certain of their Provincial Press and in particular, which is the example I am going 718 to give, in the Press of Hull. When one bears in mind the fact that this referendum was sent to readers of the Rothermere Press who for two years or so had been saturated in anti-League propaganda and told that it was a useless and futile institution and that they were wasting large sums of money upon it, and that, therefore, it was a carefully chosen constituency, the results are surely significant.
After all that propaganda—and those readers had had two years of it—what do we find them saying? The first question was: Should Britain remain in the League of Nations? Those who voted "Yes" numbered 10,221, and those who voted "No" numbered 759. If that be the view of people who have been under that influence, what would be the view of people of this country who take different, and more neutral and more moderate views? I will give the result of the answers to the second question which was: If the British Government memorandum on Disarmament fails to obtain positive results, should the Disarmament Conference be ended? The number of persons who voted "Yes" was 1,743, and those who voted "No" numbered 9,384. I hope that from those figures the Government will feel that they can go forward boldly and courageously knowing that they will have behind them, as I believe to be the case, the overwhelming support of public opinion of all parties in this country. I am afraid if they are going to do that they will have to alter very much the policy which they are pursuing at the present time. The Foreign Secretary on the Whitsuntide Adjournment this year said that after all, if the Disarmament Conference failed, it would not mean the end of the world. But August, 1914, did mean the end of the world to 10,000,000 human beings and the end of the joys of life to countless thousands all over the world. If as a result of the policy which I believe very largely the Government are pursuing, another race in armaments starts and another world war takes place, history will find the Government when they had the power guilty of failing through lack of leadership and decision, and through lack of vision too, to give the world that sense of collective security through the League of Nations to which we, above all, are able to contribute.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I should have found myself largely in sympathy with the line of argument taken by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) had his speech been delivered before the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign affairs rather than after it. I confess that I came to the House intending to ask some rather critical questions about the general policy of the Government with regard to the Disarmament Conference, but I feel after what we have heard in the Debate that I must take an entirely different line. I could have wished that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, whose intense interest in disarmament, and especially in the traffic in arms, is so well known could have taken this which I think would have been his first opportunity to congratulate the Government and the Lord Privy Seal upon his initiative at Geneva in proposing and persuading other nations to agree to an embargo on the export of arms to Paraguay.
§ Mr. MANDER
Will the hon. Member allow me to say that I took the earliest opportunity of warmly congratulating them in the House on their initiative in that respect.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I am sorry then that on that occasion I was absent. I would only say that I should have thought that he would have liked to have repeated it. To a Conservative who is anxious to avoid a return to unlimited competition in national armaments, and also one who is extremely anxious, at a time when we are proposing to spend so much upon various subsidies, that there should not be increased expenditure upon armaments, the statement made by the Foreign Secretary to-day is extremely satisfactory. It has been difficult for the last three months to see what chance there was of the Disarmament Conference coming to a successful conclusion. In the first place, it has been made apparent in, I understand, private conversations that Germany is still unwilling to return to the Disarmament Conference until she is given that equality of rights which was conditionally promised to her in December, 1932. It is also equally apparent that France is unwilling to agree either to the re-armament up to a certain limit of Germany or to disarm herself.
720 The last time that we debated foreign affairs it was obvious that the Government and the House were turning their minds in the direction of what could be done to give to France a feeling of security as a condition of reaching an agreement with Germany. We all intensely dislike the idea of adding to our commitments, but I remember a very striking sentence in a speech of the hon. Member for York (Captain Lumley) when he said that he would feel happier with commitments in an unarmed Europe than without commitments in a re-armed Europe. The Government inquired of France upon what conditions she would consider that her demand for security had been satisfied. Many of us thought when we read the reply of France to our inquiries that it was the end of all hope of bringing about the reduction of armaments in France. In effect, France said that there was nothing which we could undertake at that time which would make her feel that it was possible for her to reduce her armaments, in view of the increased expenditure upon armaments in Germany. We hear a great deal from the Liberal Benches about the lead which this Government ought to give to the world. We have been giving leads for the last two years. The trouble is that the world has an excellent leader but there seems to be a dearth of followers. It was, therefore, with feelings of great depression that I came to hear to-day's debate on foreign affairs, but the initiative which has come apparently from France is surely a most favourable sign. It indicates that she places some faith in a pact of mutual guarantee in the East, and if the British Government are able to insist that that pact shall result in Russia coming into the League of Nations, one of the principal weaknesses of the League of Nations from its very inception will have been ended. During the last few months we have seen two great Powers, one on the West and one on the East of Russia going out of the League, and it may well be that when they know that Russia has come into the League they will find it difficult, in view of the consideration of their own security, to remain out of the League themselves.
I cannot see any possibility, from what I can learn, of Germany coming back into the League of Nations or into the Disarmament Conference unless she is 721 either going to be allowed some measure of rearmament or France is prepared to disarm, in order to bring about that state of affairs which was promised in December, 1932, namely, the equality of rights. I hope that the British Government will take this opportunity of trying in the most friendly way to bring the necessary pressure to bear upon France. Here is the initiative which France has put forward. Here is a pact to which France appears to attach importance, but the pact can only prove successful if at the same time we give a, feeling of security to Germany. That can only be done if Germany is given the rights which were promised in 1932 and which, if they are conceded, would bring her back into the League of Nations and the Disarmament Conference.
In conclusion, I would only say that Italy and ourselves are the guarantors of the Treaty of Locarno. We are in a very special strategic and diplomatic position in regard to France and Germany. Italy has recently been able to bring special pressure to bear upon Germany and has brought to an end, apparently, the particular difficulty which has been a festering sore in the centre of Europe ever since the Nazis came into power, namely, the Nazi propaganda carried on in Austria. That appears to have been the result of representations made to Germany by Italy. We are in the closest and most cordial co-operation with Italy. It should be possible for our Government to bring similar pressure to bear upon France in order that the proposed new pact may be brought about, not only because of the value of the pact itself, but because it may solve the problem of Germany being out of the League and out of the Disarmament Conference. This may enable a convention to be reached for the reduction or at least the limitation of armaments.
§ 1.53 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) mentioned the arms traffic in regard to the speech of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). I, too, should be churlish if I failed to thank the Lord Privy Seal for the initiative he took in respect to this matter at Geneva, and His Majesty's Government for withholding licences for the export of arms and munitions to Bolivia and 722 Paraguay. I hope the Government will maintain their firmness of attitude. I believe the public have the conviction that this sort of traffic is just as noxious as the traffic in drugs and slaves. Such traffic can, in the long run, be a good deal more damaging to the traffickers themselves, and I believe the public wish to be sheltered front what they regard as an odious and obscene form of profit-making. I hope that the embargo will be permanent, whatever may be the course pursued by other countries. It is true that the embargo means sonic loss. We took unilateral action in regard to the slave trade and sustained a certain amount of immediate loss, but, to put the matter at its lowest, it paid us in the long run.
I believe I am correct in saying—perhaps the Lord Privy Seal will correct me if I am wrong—that the last effective offender over this traffic in arms with Bolivia and Paraguay is Italy.hope that this fact will be publicly proclaimed and that before very long Italy will have enough sense of shame to let go current or recurrent contracts for the export of arms to those two belligerents. The course of the Grand Chaco dispute illustrates precisely the danger and certainty of a duel resulting between two States who have imported into their territories arms and munitions of war. The report of the League Commission said that this dispute had been nourished exclusively by arms from the arms producing countries, and I hope that, in consequence of that report, which was signed amongst others by a British Brigadier-General, we shall not hear as much as we did in former days of the dangerous half-truth contained in the brutally stupid cliché that armaments do not cause war.
Another minor matter upon which I venture to congratulate the Government is that they have succeeded for the present at all events in getting Germany to undertake to pay the interest on the Dawes and the Young loans. It may be that the German Government have abandoned any domestic claims to be regarded as a decent system, but that is no reason why we should allow them in their international relationships completely to ignore their international obligations. I believe that to-day Herr Hitler is publicly communing with his own conscience and I hope he finds it an agreeable pastime. 723 I should like to say how glad I was to hear the Foreign Secretary's pronouncement about the possibility of what is being called an Eastern Locarno. I was glad also to hear not only that he would not dream of hindering the entry of Russia into the League of Nations but was prepared to welcome her most cordially. I hope he will not be deterred by those critics who dislike the collective system and seem to be presented with the prospect of the disappearance of one of the most powerful means of their criticism of that system.
Although chief emphasis in the Foreign Secretary's remarks was placed upon the Eastern relationships of Europe I think that is really a minor matter compared with the obscurity which hangs over the Government's armament, rearmament or disarmament policy—whatever the Committee choose to call it. The right hon. Gentleman with exquisite subtlety and superb dialectics tried to explain away something which was said in another place by the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Londonderry. He might have succeeded in satisfying us had his explanation and the original statement of Lord Londonderry stood alone, but they do not, in fact, stand by themselves. Had it stood alone Lord Londonderry's statement might have burnt itself out as a kind of flaming indiscretion, but other statements have been made by other Ministers no less responsible. Indeed we have not heard today of an almost exactly simultaneous statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reported in the "Times" of the 2nd July. Speaking at Brockworth Aerodrome near Gloucester on 30th June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:Since the War successive Governments have allowed the defences of this country to get dangerously low. They had done it deliberately, because they felt that the danger of attack upon us from the air was less than the danger that we might go bankrupt if we spent large sums of money upon defence at a time when our people were already overtaxed. But to-day our finances were getting easier.This is indeed a revised version of our air policy. The authorised version used to run that we were trying to give a lead to the world in respect of disarmament by abstaining from armaments or re-armament. I suggest to the Cabinet that they really cannot have it 724 both ways. Half of them cannot be singing or attempting to sing "Rule Britannia" and the other half trying to sing "Auld Lang Syne". They cannot, without causing misgiving, give reason X to one audience and reason Y to another. There is again the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty at Spetchley Park. The right hon, Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) did not continue his quotation from this speech beyond the remarkWe could not go on pursuing an international dream of disarmament all alone.This observation was received with loud cheers at Spetchley Park as it was greeted with cheers in the Committee to-day. But the First Lord of the Admiralty continued in this way:He believed that a strong Navy helped more than anything else towards world peace.The First Lord of the Admiralty is not present and therefore I must curb my language, but I should like to remind him by proxy through the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary that when Great Britain reached the zenith of her maritime ascendency at the beginning of this century it did not prevent us from suffering the terrible calamity of 1914. To show that this was no mere indiscretion on the part of the First Lord I would remind the Committee of what was said by the Lord President of the Council on the same day when he was describing why years ago he had chosen the First Lard of the Admiralty. He said:I want a man who will sink or swim with me. I can find many who will swim, but those who will sink with one are not many.May I say in parenthesis that there was no reason for the Lord President of the Council to refer to sinking. The National ship will not founder in the waves of circumstance provided we discover a more buoyant foreign policy than we have. And in Bewdley and Evesham there have been no serious electoral sinkings for the last quarter of a century. Now I come to the most authoritative remark of all on the question of rearmament. I respectfully recall to the mind of the Committee one of the most weighty pronouncements made during the last 12 months by no less a person than the acting Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, in addressing 725 his own party at Birmingham on 6th October last. He was dealing with the possibility of re-armament in Europe and said:If rearmament began in Europe you may say goodbye to any restoration of cuts, to any reduction of taxation for a generation. And it is just as well to face these things. We may have to face them, and let us realise what it is we are up against. With many a nation, or let me say some nations, the expenditure that would be involved in increasing would bring them much nearer to financial catastrophe, it might even bankrupt some, and you may imagine from that what the effect would be on the trade of the world. Psychologically we should be back in 1914, with more knowledge than we had then, and I have never disguised my own view that another war in Europe would be the end of the civilisation we know. Few can be so careless, so ignorant as not to have noticed how the very foundations of our mid-European, Western European civilisation have rocked in these last 15 years. They cannot stand a second explosion akin to one that wrought such damage at that time, and you cannot wonder at the anxiety with which His Majesty's Government is now endeavouring in every way to come to and ensure some agreement with regard to limitation of arms.Is the rearmament which has been foreshadowed by these three authoritative pronouncements the right way to achieve limitation of armaments 4 It is only necessary to quote the Foreign Secretary in his broadcast speech after his difference of opinion last autumn with Baron Von Neurath. This is almost verbatim what he said:You cannot begin a disarmament convention by rearming.Then the Lord President of the Council, if the Committee will forgive me one more quotation, continued in these terms at Birmingham on the 6th October:There are many people who say ' cut away from Europe, cut out of Europe.' It always strikes me that before the invention of the internal combustion engine that may have been an arguable proposition. Today I think it is both crude and childish. Traffic in the air is only beginning. The air links open up the Continent in a manner that would have been unthought of by our parents.In view of the other statements which I have cited earlier one can imagine the Lord President of the Council murmuring to himself sometimes—Video meliora proboque.Deteriora sequor.I know the mandate with which I personally came to this House, and I feel 726 that I can say with confident sincerity that I was not elected to assist in the re-armament of Europe, even in my own insignificant capacity. If the Supplementary Estimates which have been hinted at constantly for the last few weeks are actually placed before the House, I shall without hesistation, though with a good deal of regret, feel compelled to vote against them. Speaking personally, I feel that any other course would be mere cowardly dishonesty. I am very seriously afraid that we may be sliding back in Europe into that armaments race, the multiple evils of which have been so constantly and authoritatively described inside and outside this House. In these days of the aeroplane, by increasing aerial armaments and so intensifying national sovereignty, you are in my judgment only inviting obliteration sooner or later. In any case no one can say in this country or abroad that any large air force in the hands of any Sovereign Power is going indefinitely to deter a neighbour from attempting to strike a knock-out blow at its heart.
I think there is a solution to this problem. I believe it can ba expressed in these terms: In Europe at all events, by a regional arrangement, the nations should make this novel, peculiar, and revolutionary power the handmaid of justice. Some such solution was foreshadowed in the most eloquent piece of prose published since the War. It was written by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in "The Aftermath." I think the British Government should express their readiness at least to co-operate with France and the other Powers who are willing, in constituting an International Air Force. For my own part I can see no other means by which the various States of Europe are going permanently to be guaranteed against aggression, and no other means by which Europe can indeed be saved from that obliteration which is being so constantly predicted. It is only by some such action, by identifying might and right, that we can make justice a permanent reality in the affairs of Europe.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
One appreciates the sincerity with which the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) expresses his point of 727 view, but I confess that I am glad I do not share his dismal outlook of the European state.
Has the hon. Gentleman read a speech delivered by the Lord President of the Council in this House on 10th November, 1932?
§ Mr. STEWART
Most of us, of course, have read that speech. I welcomed the statement of the Foreign Secretary today. It was a highly important statement, which we hope and believe may have profound effects and results for good upon the general situation throughout the world. I rise for a few moments only to pick up one particular aspect of international affairs. I noticed that throughout the Foreign Secretary's statement there was repeated time and time again, with the complete approval of the Committee, the determination of the Government of this country to keep out of any further commitments.
§ Mr. STEWART
All of us agree with that, but we also agree that by so much as we keep out of these agreements each of these agreements is weakened. The question I want to address myself to is, why do we keep out of these regional agreements? Partly because of the reluctance of our fellow-countrymen to engage in other hostilities. I put that point of view during the last Debate of this kind. Without co-operation and co-ordination with that great nation, the United States of America, it seems to me impossible for us to undertake any of the new obligations which we are invited to undertake. I do not think that any of us here are reluctant to bear our proper responsibility in Europe; I do not think any of us are reluctant to undertake the collective responsibility for which the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked. But without this closer union between ourselves and the United States it seems to me impossible for us to take any other attitude than that which we now adopt.
I have no desire to belittle the efforts of the great nations of Europe, and of our own Government, in what they are 728 doing to bring about peace in this part of the world, but I take the view that the key to the innermost chamber of world peace lies in Anglo-American friendship, in friendship between the two great democratic peoples. It would be regrettable to let this Debate pass without making some reference to that all-important subject. I can imagine no more powerful action and enterprise on the part of the British Government than that which is directed to bringing the two English-speaking peoples into closer harmony—not only harmony between the Governments, between their officials and their Foreign Offices, but between the two peoples themselves.
We are inclined sometimes to criticise the Americans for their unwillingness to take what, we think, is their proper part in European entanglements, or for their attitude upon a number of problems; but do not let us forget that at this moment we, also, are being criticised in America for, among other things, our recent statement with regard to War Debts. I should be out of Order if I spoke at any length on that point, but I will mention it in a few short sentences. I take the view that our recent statement on debts, from the point of view of economics, was sound. I know many Americans who take that view. But that really is not the test of the Government's policy. The test is what the people think of the economics or the soundness of that statement, and my information is that the opinion of the average man-in-the-street in New York, Chicago and elsewhere, is that it is not a fair statement. I will, not develop it, but there is that disagreement, to put it no higher. There is that hostility to the attitude of this country in regard to War Debts. I do not ask the Government to withdraw a word of their recent statement, but I do suggest that it would be for the benefit of this country and of America, and for the peace of the whole world, if the offer we made in that last statement to continue the negotiations on the War Debts to America were followed at the earliest possible moment with a real, practical offer. I believe it would be of the highest value for the security of the peace of the world, and the relationships of this country and America, if that were followed by a practical offer by this country to negotiate with America. I 729 make that contribution in the desire to retain the good will and friendship of that other democracy across the Atlantic, one of the few democracies left with this country. I feel sure the Government will respond to that invitation.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think that the Leader of the Liberal party has been well advised in asking for this Debate. It is a timely occasion for discussing the new developments, of which the Foreign Secretary has given us an account. It is in some ways overdue, because of the general march of events, and, for my part, the impression which has been left upon my mind by hearing the speeches from the Liberal, Labour and Government Benches is, that I have never listened to a Debate upon foreign affairs where there has been such a deep, wide measure of agreement upon many of the most difficult and fundamental points. There is agreement, of course, with the object. The object that we all seek is peace. We all wish to prevent war. We all wish that the horrors into which we were plunged 20 years ago may never be repeated in our time, at any rate. There is always agreement on the object, but there has been to-clay, I think, a nearer approach to agreement upon the method than anything I have seen—I do not know what the experience of other hon. Members may be—in our recent debates.
Let me take the statement made by the hon. Gentleman who leads the Labour Opposition. He presented to the Committee what I may call the re-statement of the Labour view in regard to war, as well as showing us their view upon the present situation. I paid great attention to that re-statement of the Labour Opposition, and I am bound to say that it faces many of the realities and many of the dangers in a courageous manner, and I believe that the new attitude, the new definition of the Labour attitude, will undoubtedly be a help in preserving the peace and security of this country in the difficult times which lie ahead. Then I was very glad, indeed, to hear the tribute which the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) paid to France. He spoke of French militarism as being at an end. He spoke of the great ties of sympathy and agreement which exist between us and what is now almost the only great democracy in Europe. I am 730 not quoting him; I am carrying his thoughts forward, I trust into fields where he would not be unwilling to venture.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I said "in Europe." Those are very important declarations. When the Labour party definitely state that their abhorrence of war does not extend to passive recognition of flagrant wrongdoing, and when a member of the Liberal party, taking a very different course from that advocated some time ago by the Archbishop of York, goes out of his way to express his sympathy for France, I am bound to say that there are the elements of a more general body of agreement than anything seen so far.
I have been for the last few years trying to seek out for myself what would be the best way of preventing war, and it has seemed to me that the League of Nations should be the great instrument upon which all those resolved to maintain peace should centre, and that we should all make our contribution to the League of Nations. I should have thought that if there be Powers alarmed at the behaviour of their neighbours, they should refer to the League, and lay their anxieties before that body. It has seemed to me perfectly legitimate that the League of Nations should encourage the sanction of international authority for the formation of regional pacts between nations who may fear danger, and who seek to join hands together for mutual security against aggression. Therefore, I had the hope, I am bound to say, that the Government would not hesitate to further such developments. I cannot see how better you can prevent war than to confront an aggressor with the prospect of such a vast concentration of force, moral and material, that even the most reckless, even the most infuriated leader would not attempt to challenge those great forces. It seemed to me that if a number of agreements all under the sanction and authority of the League of Nations grew up between Powers who have anxieties, those Powers would naturally maintain forces which were adequate to enable them to discharge their duties and their obligations, and not try to weaken each other at all, because there is no greater danger than an approximation of force. If you wish to 731 bring about war, you bring about such a balance that both sides think they have a chance of winning. If you want to stop war, you gather such an aggregation of force on one side that the aggressor, whoever he may be, will not dare to challenge.
This process of agreements under the sanction of the League of Nations might eventually lead, I think, to a state which we should never exclude, namely, the ultimate creation of some international force, probably particularly in aviation, which would tend to place the security of nations upon a much higher foundation than it stands at present, and it seems to me you will never get such a development by arguing about matters purely in general. If there were, over a prolonged period of time, some general cause of anxiety, which all nations, or many nations, felt, then possibly forces might come together ad hoc for that purpose which, after that danger had happily been tided over, might still subsist permanently in amity. Therefore, I was very much interested to hear the lucid statement which the Foreign Secretary has made to us upon what is called the Eastern Locarno. My right hon. Friend added a new word to the diplomatic vocabulary of nations. Locarno has become a common noun, and it is but a step to creating it a verb. It is no longer a place-name.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The phraseology which we would prefer and which is preferred internationally is "Eastern Pact of Mutual Guarantee." I was not aware that I had made the use of the phrase "Eastern Locarno" in my speech, but I know that I used the other phrase and I have good reason for suggesting that the other phrase should be used. In any case, I do not wish to be regarded as recommending the convenient abbreviation referred to by my right hon. Friend for official purposes.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We have to be very careful in dealing with these nuances of phrase and expression but I understood that what had been done in the East was in the same sense and spirit as that which was done in the Treaty of Locarno and that the spirit of mutuality and reciprocity which is so important in the Locarno Treaty, is, indeed, one of the principal features in this Eastern—I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, this 732 Eastern Pact for the Guarantee of Mutual Security. That brings us to a very grave consikleration. It involves the reassociation of Soviet Russia with the Western European system. Remember that it is an historic event. I must say that I do not see how anyone who wishes to induce Germany to come back to the League, as she has a perfect right to do at any moment, can possibly find reasons for objecting to Russia also joining that body. I believe that the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made as to the welcome which would be extended to Soviet Russia in the League of Nations is one about which there will be no dispute in this country, even among those who have the greatest prejudices against the political and social philosophy and system of government which the Russian people have, I will not say chosen for themselves but have found it necessary to adopt.
I notice that for some time the speeches of Mr. Litvinoff had seemed to give the impression which I believe is a true one, that Russia is most deeply desirous of maintaining peace at the present time. Certainly, she has a great interest in maintaining peace. It is not enough to talk about her as "peace-loving" because every Power is peace-loving always. One wants to see what is the interest of a particular Power and it is certainly the interest of Russia, even on grounds concerning her own internal arrangements to preserve peace. If Russia is to become a stabilising force in Europe and to take her part with other countries whose danger she feels herself to share, it seems to me that that would possibly have a favourable reaction upon the propaganda which might take place in those other countries. There certainly would be no incentive, nothing that could be reconciled with a logical process for Russia to make the arrangements suggested in this Eastern Pact and at the same time to seek to weaken those countries with whom she was associated on either side in this matter. As time passes our dangers present themselves to us in new forms and in different ways and while I certainly did not expect to find myself supporting the step which has been taken, I can do so with natural feeling and without the slightest doubt that that step is in all the circumstances right and wise.
733 I am also very glad that the Disarmament Conference is passing out of life into history. I think it is one of the greatest mistakes that can be made—and the right hon. Gentleman opposite dropped into it to-day—to mix up the Conference with the League of Nations and to point to the failure of the Disarmament Conference as if it were really the failure of the League of Nations. It is the greatest mistake to mix up disarmament with peace. When you have peace you will have disarmament. But there has been during these recent years a steady deterioration in the relations between different countries, a steady growth of ill wealth And a steady, indeed, a rapid increase in armaments that has gone on through all these years in spite of the endless flow of oratory, of perorations, of well-meaning sentiments of banquets which have marked this effort.
Europe will be secure when nations no longer feel themselves in great danger, as many of them do now. Then the pressure and the burden of armaments will fall away automatically, as they ought to have done in a long peace, and it might be quite easy to seal a movement of that character by some general agreement. But at this time when, as we know, the causes of anxiety have increased rather than diminished it would be, as it has been for several years, most inadvisable to press nations upon this issue further than they wish to go. I hope, indeed, that we have now also reached the end of the period of the Government pressing France—this peaceful France with no militarism—to weaken her armed forces. I rejoice that the French have not taken the advice which has been offered to them so freely from various quarters and which the right hon. Gentleman opposite no doubt would strongly endorse, because I am sure that if they had done so and if France were as weak on the land as we are weak in the air, dangers which we may now succeed in averting, dangers which we can by patience, sanity and coolness succeed in sweeping away from the lifetime of this generation, would be on top of us at the present time.
What is the dominant fact of the situation? Germany is arming. That has been the great result of the Disarmament Conference. Out of it has emerged the 734 re-armament of Germany. Germany is arming particularly in the air. They have already a civil aviation which is called Air sport "and which is, I believe, on a gigantic scale, with aerodromes, trained pilots and so forth. All they have to do is to give that vast plant a military characteristic. It may take some time but it will not take anything like as long as it would take us, with our very limited aviation, to develop our air armaments. I have no special knowledge of these matters but it may well be that by this time next year German aviation will be definitely stronger than ours whatever we do. I hope that on a suitable occasion we may hear more from the Government on that point, because if that be so, it seems of the utmost importance, not only that we should lose no time in putting ourselves in an adequate position of defence but, that we should keep close and friendly relations with other great Powers of a friendly character who have not fallen into the error which has overtaken us of late years, of neglecting the essentials of our own security.
It is no use disguising the fact that there must be and there ought to be deep anxiety in this country about Germany. This is not the only Germany which we shall live to see, but we have to consider that at present two or three men, in what may well be a desperate position, have the whole of that mighty country in their grip, have that wonderful scientific, intelligent, docile, valiant people in their grip, a population of 70,000,000; that there is no Parliament where anything can be discussed and no restraint of Parliamentary government, one of the great securities that we were invited to believe in after the War was over; that there is no dynastic interest such as the Monarchy brings as a restraint upon policy, because it looks long ahead and has much to lose, and that there is no public opinion except what is manufactured by those new and terrible engines of broadcasting and a controlled Press. We have to consider all those things and the risks these men run, because politics in Germany are not like they are over here. There, you do not leave Office to go into Opposition. You do not leave the Front Bench to sit below the Gang way. You may well leave your high Office at a quarter of an hour's notice to drive to the police station, and you may 735 be conducted thereafter, very rapidly, to an even graver ordeal.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It seems to me that men in that position might very easily be tempted to do what even a military dictatorship would not do, because a military dictatorship, with all its many faults, at any rate is one that is based on a very accurate study of the real facts, and there is more danger in this kind of dictatorship than there would be in a military dictatorship, much as I deplore that, because you have men who, to relieve themselves from the great peril which confronts them at home, might easily plunge into a foreign adventure of the most dangerous and catastrophic character to the whole world. People may say that we have no quarrel with Germany and that Germany has no quarrel with us, but do not doubt that there is very grave resentment against England in Germany at the present time. Look at the newspapers. Nearly all of them, of the three great parties, have been banned. The "Daily Herald," the "Daily News," and a great number of Conservative papers have all been stigmatised in very striking terms, and certainly they have expressed their opinions with the utmost freedom.
There are other things that may arise, such as the question of naval strength, and so on, and we may find ourselves in a position in which, if offence is taken against anything we say or do in this country, we may be confronted with an ultimatum or very grievous action even before an ultimatum is delivered. We ought not to be in a position where we are dependent upon assistance which France could give. It is our duty to place this Empire in security at the heart and centre, and to rely upon our own strength; and, believe me, it would be far more likely to keep us out of trouble, and to keep the world out of trouble, if we put ourselves in that position. No nation as large and as wealthy as ours, with so many resources, with such a great place in the world, has any right to be in a position where it can be held to ransom and made the object of blackmailing demands.
I do not at all understand the line which my right hon. Friend the Member for 736 Darwen took in his carefully-thought-out remarks about a Malay run amok, which arose, possibly, from an imagination lately stimulated by contact with Oriental lands. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the pre-War Cabinet of which we were both Members, and of how measures had been taken then to put our naval forces into a state of adequate preparedness, and he was proud, and rightly proud, of that. Though it was extremely obnoxious, as the Foreign Secretary said, to the members of the Government of that day, yet they did their duty, and what had to be done was done; but the situation now is in many ways more dangerous than it was done. I am not to be understood to mean that the possibilities of a gigantic war are nearer, but the actual position of Great Britain is much less satisfactory than it was this time 20 years ago, for then at least we had a supreme Fleet; nobody could get at us in this Island; and we had powerful friends on the Continent of Europe, who were likely to be involved in any quarrel before we were. But, to-day, with our aviation in its present condition, we are in a far worse position. The right hon. Gentleman has had his chance. His discredited policy on the Disarmament Conference has been carried out year after year, ad nauseam, and nobody objects to its continuing as an effort, but it must no longer delay our taking the necessary measures ourselves.
I was also very glad to hear from His Majesty's Government that" a statement is now to be made, in a few days, before Parliament rises, which will proclaim without any further delay the beginning of steps to create a powerful Air Force in this country. It certainly should be an effort to double the existing Air Force, and that alone would take a long time; and it is open for us to consider the situation when we have done that. Hoping and believing that that statement will be made, and will be found satisfactory, a statement which we shall await with great anxiety, I feel entitled to congratulate the Government on at once taking the diplomatic steps which are appropriate to collective security at the present time, and also informing us of their intention to propose the necessary military and financial measures which are required for our own safety.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I should like to welcome the pronouncement of policy which has been made to-day by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and particularly his acceptance of the principle of regional pacts to be negotiated within the League of Nations. As one who has for many Tears past supported the closest and best possible relations, both political and economic, between this country and Russia, I should also like to join the right hon. Gentleman the. Secretary of State and even, as I was delighted to hear, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in welcoming the proposed advent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the League of Nations. I believe that that will be a very great stabilising force in the world at a very critical moment in all our affairs.
As in all these Debates on foreign affairs, there has been a certain sense of unreality about this debate, certainly until my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping came to speak. Words like "mutuality", "reciprocity", and so on fly about, and security and insecurity are talked of, but we do not know really where we are. I have always felt—and sometimes I thought I had been alone in this—that far too much attention in international affairs has been given by successive British Governments in the last few years to the question of disarmament as such. I have always felt that armaments are not a cause, but a symptom, and my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, for one, has, I think even latterly, put far too much stress upon the value of a convention—any sort of convention, he said once, would be better than no convention—regarding armaments.
The hon. Member who led for the Opposition said you could easily draft some kind of agreement which would give you an uneasy equilibrium, and a certain definite ratio of men and armaments here and there which would begin to tip in one direction or another quite soon. How far ahead will that be? I suggest that in the long run a mere disarmament convention will not under existing conditions get us any distance at all. It may very well increase the general sense of insecurity. It is not disarmament, as such, that is wanted. It is 738 a sense of security. I would like the Lord Privy Seal to consider the history of European politics since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The four vital European questions were: French security, reparations, Silesia, and the terms of our relationship and the relationship of our western Powers to Soviet Russia. Those four questions go to the very root of the international problem, but they were all shirked year after year; if they were not shirked, they were muddled. Is it surprising, therefore, that economic war began to break out, that the general sense of insecurity increased, and that armaments inevitably began to increase?
I would remind my right hon. Friends that armaments are not only a symptom. They may be an instrument of policy, and they may not necessarily be a very dangerous instrument. Armaments, as such, do not necessarily lead to war. The Committee will be aware that armaments in one case recently have, in the opinion of many well-informed observers, prevented it. It was the rapid rush of armaments in the air against Japan that, in the opinion of many competent observers in the Far East, prevented an outbreak of war. There is much truth in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping said, that only when the aggressor realises that if he does strike he will be confronted by a force of such size that it will be extremely doubtful if his blow will be successful, shall we ever ultimately preserve peace. Take, on the other hand, the Canadian-American frontier. There is an example of disarmament following a condition in which the people on both sides have realised that war is out of the question, and in which both sides have a sense of absolute security.
We want to tackle the problem of security before we tackle the question of disarmament. We want to build up an international organisation and get the collective system first. Then, when we get that functioning, the sense of security will increase and we shall get disarmament. It will follow as day follows night. Because I believe the Government during the last few years have constantly put the cart before the horse in international affairs, have aimed at getting disarmament before tackling the problems which give rise to 739 armaments, and have talked about nothing but guns, bombs, tanks and calibres, alarming the nations of the world instead of assuaging their fears, I am delighted to have got from my right hon. Friend, for the first time, a direct and definite policy of action quite apart from the wretched Disarmament Conference, which will do very much to allay the fears of Europe and may, and we hope will, produce genuine disarmament.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I confess that I have not found in our Debate this morning that air of unreality which my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) seemed to have found. It seemed to me that the speeches dealt with very real problems, with a very real sense of what was involved, and that the announcement which the Foreign Secretary made opened a more hopeful vista than that which it would have been possible for any of us to have looked down a week or two ago. We have heard a good deal in the country, and echoes of it in this House, about the uncertainty of British policy and the anxiety which that uncertainty spread in all quarters of the land. The appearance of this Chamber during the Debate this morning is perhaps all the answer that my right hon. Friend needs to that allegation. If there were really that widespread anxiety and that fear that the Government were either doing nothing and merely drifting on the current of events, or were steering the ship of State on to the rocks, would these benches show the spaces that they do now and that they have done throughout the sitting? I am not sure that the House of Commons could have given my right hon. Friend a better vote of confidence than by preferring the other attractions of this particular day to an attendance on our Debate.
I am always delighted when we enter on a discussion of foreign affairs, for whatever the differences of emphasis or even of method which appear among us, we find a national policy clearly indicated by the agreement on certain great fundamental principles which is expressed in every quarter of the Committee. If I may judge by the speeches 740 made to-day never has the House of Commons been more united than it has been to-day in support of the policy which my right hon. Friend announced earlier in our sitting. M. Barthou's visit to this country has indeed been fruitful. I think it was fully time that the French Minister should come to London, that he should exchange with the frankness of a conversation ideas about the condition of Europe and the world, and explain exactly what is the French policy to that, country which was the ally of France in the War and which desires always to be on the best terms with its neighbour across the Channel. The result which emerges from that conversation may be—I put it no higher than that—if it can be brought to fruition a real step forward in the pacification of Europe and in the restoration of confidence in the world.
I detected—I suppose it is inevitable in a party system—a certain inclination on the part both of the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), who spoke for the Opposition, to criticise, wherever criticism was possible, the conduct of the Government; but I was reassured when the hon. Member for Limehouse read out the resolution passed by the executive of his party the other day. He will not, I hope, think me unduly cynical if I say that it was fortunate that the Labour party-passed that resolution before the policy of the Government had been announced by His Majesty's Government, for I doubt whether they would as warmly have approved the policy if it had first come from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman as they did when they thought it might meet with opposition. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen has said nothing which could indicate any doubt that the policy which my right hon. Friend announced as to the part which must be played by this country at the present stage was not one which would have his full approval.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not want to call it an Eastern Locarno. It is an Eastern pact of mutual guarantee. The Treaty of Locarno was a Western pact of mutual guarantee. It was the policy of the British Government, who made 741 that Pact, while limiting our responsibilities to our direct obligations in this Western sphere, to encourage among those concerned similar pacts in other parts of the world. It was not possible then, it has become possible to-day. We must recognise that there has been a great change in the policy of Soviet Russia and in her attitude to the League and we all do well, as my right hon. Friend has said, to welcome it, and, in view of the new policy, to do whatever we can to assure her of a cordial welcome to the League of Nations if she offers to join and take that position in the League and on its Council which her strength as a great Power makes her right in that case.
Here is a proposal for a mutual and reciprocal pact between Germany and her Eastern neighbours, mutually guaranteeing the peace and the sanctity of their frontiers, but anyone would be foolish if he pretended that the mere proposal of such a pact, and even its favourable reception, secures its ultimate success. There is a long way to tread, as the Foreign Secretary said, and many obstacles to overcome, but great will be the responsibility of any country which makes the achievement of so great an additional security for peace impossible of acceptance by the world. I have always hoped to see such mutual pacts made among other nations. I hope that if this proposal succeeds it will be imitated in other quarters of the world where alliances in self-protection may develop into reciprocal treaties of mutual assurance. As far as this country is concerned, the whole weight of its opinion must be behind such reciprocal pacts until it is proved that it is impossible to secure them. Happily, in this case there is agreement as to the purpose, and broad agreement as to the method, between the French Government and ourselves, and I think the whole House heard with appreciation the quick response which Signor Mussolini had made to the communication sent by the Foreign Secretary.
The proposal had its origin, I believe, in Russia; it has been elaborated in France; it is now made public, and it is offered to Germany. My right hon. Friend called attention to the immense advantages which it had for Germany, the answer which it gave to her fears 742 no less than to the fears of others, the answer which it gave to that dangerous cry, spread throughout Germany in the earlier years of this century, which prepared the German people for the war of 1914, and which is now being renewed in German authoritative quarters, that there is a new encircling of Germany. This is an offer of a mutual pact and a reciprocal guarantee. What will be Germany's answer? I suspect that I am like many people in the House to-day in that I find myself unwilling now to make the speech which I had contemplated making yesterday, because I would not say a disturbing word when a happier prospect opens before us. I think the reception of this proposal in Germany will form the touchstone by which we shall discern what is Germany's purpose in demanding equality of armaments, whether she will be content with security or demands domination. I earnestly hope that her answer will be favourable, that she will take her place in the system now offered to her for the East, as she has taken her place in the system of mutual guarantee for the West, and that she will come back to the League of Nations and occupy her rightful place, as Russia will come in to take her place for the first time. But if this proposal be brought to nought by the refusal of Germany, it is not for us, who are not prepared ourselves to take a greater responsibility than we have already taken, to stand between those who, by that very refusal of Germany would have their fears justified and their peril confirmed, and security in any form in which they can get it. If Germany refuses a reciprocal arrangement she cannot complain if those whose advances she has declined provide for their own security.
In the matter of disarmament for this country I occupy a middle position between those who have spoken. I agree that it is a great mistake to suppose that if you have reduced armaments you have abolished the danger of war. I agree that exaggerated armaments are the result and not the cause of those incidents or situations which lead to war, but in that piling up of armaments which took place in the early years of this century there came a time when the armaments were masters of the men who were supposed to control them, arid when, in a critical situation, you could not wait but had to follow. Once you had mobi- 743 lised, the weight of the armaments fell over on you and crushed you and everybody else at the same time. I do not agree with those who think that we should.cease our endeavour to get a limitation of armaments, and I share the hope which was exressed by the Foreign Secretary and by the French Minister that if this agreement and this new policy can be given effect to, they will afford a ground upon which we can build a new system of armaments limited by international agreement.
I want to say a word or two to those who consider themselves, and are apt to speak of themselves and their friends, as if they were particularly the friends of peace in this country. I do not recognise the right of any party or any individual to adopt that attitude. We share without exception the desire to preserve peace. I share with them the desire that the peace of the world shall be fortified.and strengthened by a collective system, but is there any possibility of creating such a system if we are not in a position to make the natural contribution of a great Power, situated like ourselves, to that common security? The hon. Member for Limehouse found fault with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen for drawing a distinction between those parts of the world in which we have a vital arid immediate interest in the maintenance of peace, and those in which our interests are more remote. Had we not better face the reality? The hon. Gentleman spoke of the war in South America. If he and his party were in power, would they send a man to South America to fight in that struggle at the bidding of the League? Have they ever considered what the effect upon our relations with the United States of America would be if they did? If you try to give the same guarantee for every frontier and every land, you will have to whittle your guarantee down until it is of no value. We serve the interests of peace much more by concentrating our main efforts where we can really make them effective, and where we can bring a powerful contribut in support of them.
What is the Treaty of Locarnol? In a sentence, the pledge of this country to place its whole Forces at the disposal of the League in support of a decision by the Council that a certain nation has com- 744 mitted an act of aggression within a limited sphere. You cannot ask this country, and the hon. Gentleman would not ask this country to enlarge that guarantee—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
In my recital of the position, I did not say whether the Covenant was right or wrong. The essence of the Covenant is not a distinction between this country or that, and it is not proximity that creates the obligation, but membership of the League.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
No, Sir; the hon. Gentleman misinterprets the Covenant. At any rate, it is not interpreted in the same way in the Assembly of the League itself. It was agreed at Geneva that the obligation to send should rest in the discretion of any Power invited to send, and there is no automatic obligation under the Covenant to send our Army to any frontier on which the League has declared there has been aggression. It is impossible to ask this country to do that. If such an agreement were signed in their name, it would not strengthen the cause of peace, but would merely weaken confidence in the more limited engagement into which we have already entered.
What is the value of our engagement if we are disarmed in a world where all are armed? What is the value of our signature to the Covenant if we bring no contribution, but only ask to draw out of the pool that which all the other nations have put in? I am a member of the League of Nations Union. I have listened to speeches by Members of that Union, and I have listened to speeches in this House by hon. Members who are continually urging the Government to extend their obligations, to increase the risks which we run, but who, in the same breath, or at any rate the next day, announce that they will oppose the Government if they even seek to create a force in this country which is reasonably capable of defending our own shores and our own Empire. That is not the Covenant. To take that line is to take a line which is destructive of the Covenant.
Unless we make our contribution for the general peace, it is idle to affix our name to the Covenant, and it is idle to pretend that our policy is a League policy. I think it is time that that was said, and that the contrast which it is attempted 745 to draw between a League policy and any reasonable provision for our own defences was shown to be what it is—false from beginning to end, not a homage to the League, but, if it spread, its destruction. We talk of security by common action. How are we to get that? Only, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping has said, by confronting the would-be aggressor with such a formidable combination of forces that he refrains from breaking the peace. It we do not play our part in that task, if we do not make our contribution, we shall have destroyed the League, and those who think themselves its best friends will be the authors of its destruction.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
I do not think I have previously taken part in a Debate in this House on foreign affairs, but something that was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) rather prompted me to seek the opportunity for a few minutes to express a view which, so far as I am aware, has not been expressed in this Debate. I have been impressed, as I always am, by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), but there was one little point on which I felt that I disagreed, when he implied that the late Great War was partly due to the fact that the great pile of armaments had Fallen over. I think that that was the phrase he used. I have always thought that may have led up to the situation, but the immediate and urgent cause was the fact that this country did not make up its mind sufficiently early so that the rest of the world knew where we were going. I think the world ought to know precisely what our intentions are. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said, and I think he was right, that we have to make ourselves worth considering in the world; otherwise, no one will take any notice of us. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said the same. That means money at a time when we cannot afford more money.
I am inclined to think that one of the problems of the Disarmament Conference has arisen out of the fact that the approach was the wrong approach. I never thought that disarmament was primarily connected with the cause of 746 peace. I have always thought that disarmament was a device to obtain the same security with lower insurance premiums. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) was emphasising the same point. It is a mistake to think that the Disarmament Conference is something primarily concerned with peace. I always regard the Disarmament Conference as a device whereby we might have the same security with a less burden. I think that the pacifists, about whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was rightly a little critical, are perhaps more responsible for the disturbed state of public opinion than any other body of people. It is largely true to say that mast of the wars in which we have been involved have been the product of the pacifist mind, which failed to face realities.
The Socialist party is inclined to suggest that war is a product of capitalist machinations. That sounds well on the platform, but it is nothing more than nonsense. On the other hand, if they say that economic circumstances cause war, that is saying something which is historically true. The march of people-to search for food in primitive times was a cause of war. The march does not take quite that primitive form to-day. It is the pressure of population on limited land, and a general system of economic unease which is in my judgment one of the causes of unrest. I think it is one-of the causes of unrest to-clay. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said one could not tell what the leaders in a certain country might do at a time like this and that, haying to face great responsibilities, they might seek a way out of their difficulties by some violent action. Obviously, the economic difficulties of that country are very great. At the Disarmament Conference we have seen the spectacle of nations argue about the size of their respective armaments. They have attempted to equate battleships, reserves and aeroplanes, to devise some yardstick, and all the, time we have had the spectacle of countries economically and financially embarrassed not paying their debts but still incurring financial expenditure beyond their means in maintaining armaments on a scale which may threaten our security and impose upon us the necessity for increased expenditure. I am per- 747 turbed about the economic side, and it is with regard to that only that I wish to speak.
This country is now taxed at a rate which in relation to our income is probably as high as at any time in our history. Since last year we had some slight remission, but if we estimate our expenditure, national and local, in relation to the actual income of the people, it is probably as high as it has ever been in our history, and I sincerely and fervently believe that this oppressive burden is one of the reasons why we still have 2,000,000 of our fellow countrymen out of employment. I do not believe that relief work provides employment even if it takes the form of new battleships. I have never been attracted by the idea that on the ground of providing employment you ought to undertake the enlargement of your Navy. It is not a very reproductive form of expenditure, though it may be a necessary form. Yet it is something we may have to undertake because of the insecurity which has prevailed and because the Disarmament Conference has created, not a spirit of peace, but a spirit of unrest. We may be involved in an expenditure, the amount of which we cannot tell. We must wait until we hear the announcement which the Lord President of the Council has promised to make in a few days with regard to our Air armaments. Obviously, there must be some expansion. This country will always need, relatively, rather a larger military Air arm than other countries because our circumstances force us to have a smaller civilian strength. This country can never afford to give opportunities for civilian flying on the scale afforded in other countries, and therefore we shall not have anything like the reserves in the civilian flying service as have other countries. I am afraid that we shall be forced into new expenditure in that direction.
Although overseas trade is not as important as it was and our dependence for certain commodities is less than it was. nevertheless, we are dependent upon countries overseas for much of our food and for many essential raw materials and other goods. I observe that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, thinking no doubt of another subject, smiles. I was not thinking of that at the moment. It 748 is obvious that this country will never grow rubber, bananas, or oranges, and I could give a long list of other commodities which would satisfy even the most ardent Protectionist that such imports are essential and that their security must be preserved. The preservation of their security in times of trouble and difficulty involves the use of forces on the sea, because the Air arm is of limited significance in respect of the greater part of our trade routes. It appears, in view of what is happening elsewhere, as if our naval resources will be inadequate to meet the liabilities imposed upon them. If there is going to be a period of rather greater tension, I imagine also that our land forces, much reduced as they are, may have to be increased, if not in numbers, in their striking power through the wider use of the mechanical devices which have replaced man power. That is the spectacle ahead of us, and it is not a very pleasing one. It will involve an expenditure which I am not in a position to estimate. Even this year we have seen some increases. It is true that the increase in expenditure in this year's Estimates is not primarily due to increased forces, but to the replacement of stores which were not purchased during the period of more stringent economy. But there has been a slight increase in effectives in the Estimates this year. It looks as if, within a measurable period, unless the fair hope offered to us by the Foerign Secretary to-day is realised, we shall not be able to obtain security without expansion.
I wonder what hon. Members will think if, nine months from now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stands at the Dispatch Box and has to announce that, as a result of the increased burden of necessary armaments, it is not possible for him to restore the remainder of the cuts, to make any concessions with regard to Income Tax allowances, and to abolish the tax upon the cheaper seats in cinemas and upon other things which the people regard as being rather important? If that happens, what will be the penalty I The penalty will be that the power will leave the hands of those responsible for it, electorally, unless they satisfy the people with regard to the burdens of taxation, and somebody else less suitable, conceivably, will be asked to assume the 749 responsibility not merely for the direction of your domestic policy but for the direction of your foreign policy.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
Will the hon. Member allow me to develop one point which has occurred to me as a result of his interesting speech? What would he consider to be the turnover of trade and industry in this country required for a really protective policy in respect of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. What would he, as a business man, consider to be the necessary premium to pay for the protection of the trade and commerce of this country?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If I go to an insurance company and say that I want to insure my house against fire, they would quote me the remarkably low figure of, I think, 2s. 6d. per cent., but if I say that my house is situated near a gasworks, where they have frequent explosions, or in the neighbourhood of an arsenal, where they are carrying out very dangerous research work, the premium would be rather high. What we have to do and what the Foreign Secretary is seeking to do is to encourage in the world a sense of security.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I think that our French friends are a little selfish in their foreign policy, but they are more realistic and have constantly said throughout: "Let us have security first; when we have got security, the other things will be added unto us." That has always seemed to me to be a singularly logical policy. I do not want to be diverted from the main issue, the very grave issue, of the relationship of our foreign policy to our domestic policy—our trade, our industry, our commerce and our finance. You cannot divorce them. The policy of the Government is not a policy in separate compartments. That is why every country has a Cabinet of some kind in order to co-ordinate policy. It is rather unfortunate that when we discuss, say, the Ministry of Health vote, those who have built houses, or want to build houses, and the doctors, think that is the right time for them to speak. When we come to the Foreign Office vote, those who have a recognised position in foreign affairs or who have written books or 750 articles about foreign affairs, take part in the debate. There is a tendency for departments to become isolated, except that the party leaders who speak on every subject provide a co-ordinating link.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I have never regarded the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) as a private Member. His present seat has always seemed wrong to me. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) speaks with eloquence and interest although I do not always agree with him. He is one of the co-ordinating links. I am in earnest and do not want to be regarded as frivolous when I say that it is a profound error to think that when we have a Debate on, say, the Navy, it has nothing to do with the Board of Trade, and that all these policies are so many isolated policies. They are not. We are at this moment faced with grave dangers, political and financial, if our foreign policy does not save us from the necessity of a great growth of armaments. I have been attacked with much viciousness in my constituency by pacifists and, not being of a very kind disposition, I have generally answered them in kind, and with vigour, because I think they are a really grave danger to our security. I have been for many years a member of the League of Nations Union and I am It most sincere believer in the League of Nations for thirty days out of every thirty-one. The only day of the month when I have doubt, is when I read "Headway", the organ of the Union, and its perfectly deplorable articles in regard to our foreign policy. I hope, with the utmost sincerity, that somehow or another, in the interests of the financial and economic stability of this country, the two right hon. Gentlemen will be successful in their efforts to produce that sense of security which will give us a continuance of the peace we need and avoid casting upon us new and oppressive burdens of taxation.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. Eden)
It will he for the convenience of the Committee if I preface the few remarks I have to make by dealing with one or two of the comparatively minor points 751 which have been raised in the course of the debate. I have been asked, for instance, whether previous to or in the course of the conversations which have taken place between us and the French Foreign Secretary in the last few days there has been any question at any time of military conversations, and whether such conversations have, in fact, taken place. The answer to both questions is quite definitely "No ". I was also asked about the work of one or two committees which are still sitting at Geneva, particularly, as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government to a committee which has been sitting with reference to the manufacture of and trade in arms. Certain proposals, as the result of the initiative of the -United States, have been submitted to the Governments concerned as the outcome of the work of that committee, and these are now under active and sympathetic consideration by His Majesty's Government, and I have no doubt by other Governments. It is not yet possible for me to make a final declaration of our attitude, because these proposals contain some novel features, but I can say that His Majesty's Government cordially welcome the United States initiative and are particularly pleased to note that the proposals are based on two principles for which His Majesty's Government have always striven in the past—namely, national responsibility for the manufacture of and trade in arms and equal treatment for State and private manufacture. These are two important principles which we note with satisfaction are included in these proposals.
In the main what I want to say is to express on behalf of the Government our gratification at the reception accorded to the policy outlined in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary earlier this afternoon. For my part, and I am sure it is true of my right hon. Friend also, we are glad to have had this Debate, and are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) for creating the opportunity. It cannot but be of value that this House should show itself united in support of the action which the Government have thought fit to take, and it is particularly gratifying to have the approval of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) for proposals which 752 he described, and I think rightly described, as offering great additional security for peace. It will be much too early to suppose that because we wish to-see this goal attained, an agreement reached, that it has yet been reached. But I am confident that this House has done all in its power to further the results we all wish to see by the spontaneous unanimity expressed in this Debate. It was very gratifying to note the support which came for my right hon. Friend's statement with reference to the entrance of Soviet Russia into the League. There has been in that respect no dissentient voice, and I believe that all those who believe in the consultative system cannot doubt but that that system must gain an important accession of strength if and when the Soviet Government is included in it.
Having said that, may I deal very briefly with such criticism as has been revealed in this Debate? It has been gentle criticism. It seems to have followed two main lines of thought. There was my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who is critical of our being never weary in well-doing in the pursuit of disarmament. I think I am right in saying that his attitude is that he does not believe in pursuit of disarmament as an aim in itself; it is an incidental result which you may get from the pursuit of a wise foreign policy. Then on the other side there is the criticism of the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), Who leads the Opposition, and of the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), that we have not in fact been vigorous enough in the pursuit of the work if disarmament. I do not plead guilty to either charge. I hope that in restating the Government's position in this respect I shall at the same time satisfy those critics who persist in maintaining that there is some doubt as to our policy.
Taking the long view in the interests of world peace we must constantly keep before us, and endeavour to ensure that other nations keep before them, the ultimate aim of disarmament. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastern Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) complained that an armament convention was an obsession of mine. I think we have to face the alternative. It is not for nothing that the Covenant contains an obligation, and 753 those who are supporters of the League in this House, as we all are, might well remember that obligation in Article VIII. It is not there by accident. It is there because the alternative to an agreement about armaments is an armaments race. It is, among other reasons, because of our fear, of the consequences of such a race that we persist in attempting to find some agreement on this vexed subject.
Where I differ, with respect, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, is that he seems to conceive that in order to have an effective world consultative system nations have to be heavily armed. I do not agree. I think that a consultative system is far more likely to work effectively in a disarmed than in a heavily armed world. My conception is rather that in a progressively disarming world, in a world which wishes to see disputes: settled by pacific means and according to their merits, the rule of law may become progressively more authoritative. Therefore, I repeat that general disarmament must continue to be the ultimate aim, for without its realisation a consultative system can never be wholly successful. We are all agreed upon the essential need for such a system.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Our argument is not that disarmament in itself is undesirable but that so far the Disarmament Conferences do not lead to progressive disarmament.
§ Mr. EDEN
That is another point. I admit that the Disarmament Conference has not so far been successful, but I am glad that we are in agreement that the ultimate aim of disarmament must be pursued since it is an important element in securing a successful collective system for the peace of the world.
Let me say something about the present position of the Disarmament Conference itself. I do not pretend that that is a situation which gives me, personally, any satisfaction, and I hope that it will not endure. At the present time a number of States whose co-operation is essential if a disarmament convention is to be secured have as their primary concern some other pre-occupation. I say this in no sense of criticism and in no sense of self-righteousness on our part, but if the House and the country are to appreciate the present position, it must be frankly stated. With France at the moment se- 754 curity is the pre-occupation, and nobody in this country will be surprised that that should be her pre-occupation. The particular proposals of which my right hon. Friend has spoken this morning for an Eastern Pact are welcomed by us just precisely because they will be a contribution towards the security for which she asks. Disarmament, in her view, can follow after, but only after this security has been achieved. Germany is concerned with equality of rights. In the absence of disarmament down to the Versailles level, this means some measure of rearmament. With regard to Italy, Signor Mussolini for some time past has regarded limitation as the most that can be hoped for. Unfortunately, limitation is not only a very much less satisfactory result in itself, but it is technically as difficult, if not more difficult to arrive at, than disarmament.
Take another great country—Russia. Those who have listened to the speeches of Mr. Litvinoff at Geneva recently will remember that Russia's pre-occupation at the moment is her own defence. Indeed one sentence from Mr. Litvinoff's speech I will read:Without wishing to anticipate the discussion, he would permit himself to start in his remarks from the premise that it would be impossible at present to find a solution of the problem of disarmament, on account of the irreconcilable differences which had come to light.That represents a point of view not far from the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby).
There remains in the background the attitude of Japan. In these circumstances, it is clearly unjust to complain that the failure of the conference to reach agreement, is due to the apathy of His Majesty's Government. I believe that the hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition to-day was perfectly right when he said that what we needed in the present European situation was a breathing space. We need, too, a clear realisation of the facts, and that we should not tempt to delude public opinion to think that because they hope for certain results in Europe, they can therefore be achieved regardless of the fact that other nations have their preoccupations at the present time. What is likely to be the immediate future in respect of the international outlook? It 755 may be that the best result we can reasonably hope for is that France may find the security which she at present seeks in a system of regional pacts such as the pact of Eastern Europe, to which reference has been made throughout the debate. It may then be possible so to narrow the gulf between France And Germany as to render it bridgeable by the efforts of others.
That I think is the best result for which we can hope. Should this be the outcome, then we have preserved at Geneva both the structure of the Conference in which such an agreement could be effected and I think the authority of the League which is indispensible for the future peace of the world. As to the committees which are being set up and to which reference has been made their purpose is technical. They cannot of themselves offer a solution of a political difficulty which we have always realised cannot be solved except as an outcome of improved relations between France and Germany. If we take the gloomier alternative, if the worst comes to the worst, and if the Conference were unable at the present time to achieve any result at all, we should have to renounce, though I believe only momentarily, the hope of further progress and take our stand upon the League, upon Locarno, and upon the Kellogg Pact in order to hold the ground which has been won in these post-War years.
May I now say something on a subject which has been raised in this Debate in different forms, namely, the problem of our relations to a consultative system. We are all agreed that there has to be such a system. There remains the problem of our relations to it. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) that the policy of isolation is not practical politics. The whole trend of modern science, the arts, commerce, and letters continually brings nations nearer together. But when we say that isolation is impossible it does not follow that we are advocating more commitments in Europe. I, for my part, am not advocating any such thing. I think there is here a factor which is frequently overlooked. In these post-War years it is not only the Channel, but the oceans which have grown narrower and the antithesis of isolation is 756 not closer collaboration with Europe alone, but closer world collaboration. For this country which is a Member of the British Commonwealth that consideration has a special force. I agree with the right bon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen in his comments in this connection. That to me is a decisive consideration against undertaking any new general automatic commitments in Europe. The world would gain nothing, the cause of peace would gain nothing if Great Britain were sucked closer into the European circle and by the same process drawn away from association with the other members of the British Commonwealth. That is a factor which must always be in our minds as we seek to evolve a consultative system.
I believe that the truth of the present international situation is this. I do not share the extreme views which have been expressed in some quarters. I admit that there are anxieties and difficulties but there is not I believe justification for those who want to wallow in a Johnsonian atmosphere of inspissated gloom. It is not as bad as that. It would be, I think, right to say that the characteristic element of the present foreign international situation is not so much its desperate as its fluid condition. We are passing through a period of transition which is actively continuous and sometimes violent. The very process of movement always creates an element of hope for it is precisely when conditions are in that state that opportunities for leadership and direction occur.
We are in truth only feeling our way towards the new order of things. We have had some encouragements and perhaps rather more buffetings. We have made a forward step now and a backward slide at other times. But as we look at the world to-day it is clear enough that the old Adam is not yet dead. At times I wonder whether he is even old. It is not therefore surprising that in these conditions there should be public anxiety. Let us distinguish between anxiety and despair. The House has been told to-day of the policy which His Majesty's Government are pursuing and of the effort which has been made and which finds expression in the outcome of these London conversations with our French colleagues. We believe that the result of that work done by my right hon. Friend 757 and the French Foreign Secretary will be to give a new element of hope to an anxious situation. I can only, in conclusion, assure the Committee that any and every opportunity which may offer for making further progress on the basis of this new endeavour will be eagerly taken, for we appreciate—perhaps none more clearly than those who are negotiating at the Foreign Office—how great is the responsibility of His Majesty's Government, whose concern is known to be peace and whose acknowledged authority places upon them a responsibility not to fail in pursuing it.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
In the conversations between the right hon. Gentleman and M. Barthou, was any time for the duration of the Pact considered?
§ 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 upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.