§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I beg to move, to leave out "£153,005,000" and to insert instead thereof "£153,004,900."
The Debate which we are now about to initiate takes place in circumstances which are different from those in which we thought we would conduct it when we decided to take this Supply Day. In common with all other hon. Members, we anticipated that the Government would be in possession of the complete series of replies from all the Governments with whom they have consulted, but I gather from the public Press that so far the Government have not received any reply from the French Government. That being so, I hasten to say to the Lord Privy Seal that I do not expect the detailed observations from him that one would have expected in other circumstances. I might say none the less that, in as much as he has recently conducted a journey to some of the capitals of Europe, he might perhaps, without going into details, give us some general idea as to the attitude of the Powers in whose capitals he has been upon the problem which the Government put before them. While there is that disadvantage in having this Debate to-day, it will not be entirely without usefulness, because in the absence of a Government pronouncement of an official character hon. Members in all parts of the House will probably feel a little freer to express 374 their views, and to pool their opinions in advance of any Government pronouncement.
A significance attaches to the fact that this foreign affairs Debate is sandwiched between two Debates upon the Estimates. I have no powers of draftsmanship, but, if I were a political cartoonist I should try to adapt a well-known picture which was familiar to us all some years ago. In that picture a child is welcoming its father home. It is putting its hands into its pocket and saying, "Daddy, look what I've got." The Lord Privy Seal has returned from various capitals to Whitehall, and I would like to have the power to draw a picture of the First Lord of the Admiralty saying to him, "See what I've got," and producing a model of a cruiser; of the head of the Air Force producing his model aeroplane, or of the Secretary of State for War his toy soldiers, and each one saying to the itinerant parent on his return "See what I've got." The hon. Gentleman has been engaged in what I presume to have been a journey on behalf of peace. He returns to this country, and the Government welcomes him home with increases in the Estimates of the various Service Departments.
An hon. Member addressed a remark last week not actually to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) but about him, when the right hon. Gentleman was not in the House. The hon. Member made the obserfvation that the right hon. Gentleman "might have left his reference to foreign affairs to another day" and have allowed the hon. Gentleman to go on with the discussion of the Air Force. I think that the remark sprang from a wrong conception of things. There is a close association at all times between diplomacy and the strength of our fighting services, and that association we on this side of the House cannot afford, and do not propose, to ignore. Looking out upon the world to-day, no one would I believe controvert the proposition that everywhere there seems to be a worsening of international relations and that we are lapsing as rapidly as we can to something akin to pre-War conditions. There is unrest in the Far East, unrest in Europe, a certain amount of drifting towards alliances and the grouping of Powers, and, lastly, but not least, the apprehensions which many of us are entertaining as to the 375 ultimate issue of the Disarmament Conference, to add to our general sense of disquiet.
I will add another observation, and I think it will be accepted without question. There has been more talk of war and more rumour of war in Europe in the last month or two than we heard in the whole lifetime of the late Labour Government. That is beyond question. I believe that one reason for it—I would not dare to put the whole blame for it upon the Government but I state this as my position—is that the Government have been rather hesitant in their leadership among the nations of the world. Whatever else might be said by way of criticism of the Labour Government of 1929–1931, in relation to foreign affairs there was leadership during those years. Britain did lead the nations of the world and other nations did know where we stood and what we stood for, and many rejoiced in the fact that we were leading.
Having laid down that proposition, let me ask: Can any hon. Gentleman say with any confidence what our policy is in international affairs at this moment? Are we for the League of Nations or are we not? Are we for disarmament, or are we not? It is not at all easy for an opponent or even for a supporter of the Government to give a confident reply to those questions. There is a sense of dissatisfaction in our own country, and I am quite sure that there is a sense of dissatisfaction abroad. The importance of this is clear to us all, because, whatever Government is in power in our own country, the position taken up by the British Government at a given moment is of supreme importance to the world. Therefore, if there is hesitancy or lack of direction, lack of clarity or lack of touch—if I may use that expression—on the part of the British Government it leads consequentially to hesitancy and to lack of precision and direction abroad.
Before I deal with that matter in detail, I want, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, to interpose at this point one or two questions concerning individuals. I do so in order not to interfere with the main line of my argument later. In the first place, I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman what the position is in regard to a case which I cited in this House some months ago, and in regard to which, I fear, there has been very 376 little development. If there has been any development, I shall be very glad to hear of it this afternoon. It is the case of Mr. Lenox-Simpson, who was in business, I think on a fairly large scale, in the territory of Manchuria. I think his headquarters were at Harbin. Mr. Lenox-Simpson was, I think, in the publishing trade, and suddenly the Manchurian authorities, by, I take it, the direction of the Japanese authorities, removed him from his business headquarters. He was turned out neck and crop, and is now, I think, quite removed from the actual centre of his business. He has no control over it. Others are carrying it on as agents for him. But, as any business man knows, to have agents doing a piece of work for you when you feel that you ought to be looking after it yourself is not at all satisfactory. I should be very glad indeed if the hon. Gentleman could tell me whether Mr. Lenox-Simpson's case is receiving attention from the Foreign Office, and whether the Foreign Office is following it up with, shall I say, as much vigour as they did the case of the engineers in Russia.
I would also ask a question with regard to another individual. I am afraid I have mislaid his name for the moment, but he is a boy of 16 who, judging from the public Press—I have nothing more to go upon—has been arrested, together with two other people, I think in Spain.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir John Simon)
It is Mr. Richard Clark.
§ Mr. JONES
I am much obliged. That was the name that I had in mind, but I did not like to commit myself to it, as I was speaking from memory. He is 16 years of age, and he has been in prison now for, I think, something over a month, without, so far as I can gather, any trial at all. I should like to feel that the case of a boy of these tender years will be carefully watched by the Foreign Office, and, if we can get some information on the matter this afternoon, I shall be very glad indeed. I hope that the House will forgive me for calling attention to these two individual cases. After all, we must safeguard the interests of our nationals in foreign countries, wherever they are.
I turn now to the general argument upon which I have embarked. I asked a few minutes ago what was the attitude 377 of the Government in relation to the League of Nations. When I spoke on this subject some four months ago, I ventured to suggest that the Government were not acting with sufficient clarity in relation to affairs and events in the Far East. I take the view, and I think I could fortify it with arguments, that the action of our own Government through the League, or rather, the inaction of our Government through the League, has proved to be a very serious blow indeed at the prestige of the League in all parts of the world. On the 24th February, 1933, as the House will remember, the League Assembly arrived at two conclusions concerning Japan's action in the Far East. One was that China had been the victim of Japanese aggression, and the other was that Manchukuo, as it is now called, was a State set up by Japanese arms on Chinese territory. I understand—I speak subject to correction—that the position of the Government in relation to Manchuria and its independence and sovereignty remains exactly as it was during the lifetime of the last Conservative Government. I am not going to argue this afternoon whether the action of the Government in relation to Japan was right or wrong. I merely cite it in order to say this: Whether it was right or wrong, it must, I think, be accepted that the effect of the inaction of our own Government and of the League itself has been of a very serious character. Article 16 of the Covenant speaks, I was going to say very explicitly, but I know there are differences of view concerning the interpretation of Article 16. I will give its actual words:Should any Member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants…it shall ipso facto"—I desire to emphasise the words "ipso facto"—be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other Members of the League, which hereby undertake immediately to subject it to the severance of all trade or financial relations, the prohibition of all intercourse between their nationals and the nationals of the covenant-breaking State, and the prevention of all financial, commercial or personal intercourse between the nationals of the covenant-breaking State and the nationals of any other State, whether a Member of the League or not.The point that I want to make apropos of Article 16 is this: If it was not the intention either of our own Government or of all the Governments that are members 378 of the League to implement Article 16 of the Covenant, it seems to me that it was their bounden duty to make that abundantly clear. After all, if you have committed yourself to a covenant embodying certain provisions, and if you pick and choose—if you say at a particular moment, "This one I accept, that one I do not"—from that very moment you begin to throw doubt upon your loyalty to the Covenant as a whole. If you are not prepared to implement Article 16, clearly one of two things must be done. There is the possibility of a withdrawal from the League, which no one would urge. On the other hand, if you remain in the League, it seems plain that, if Article 16 is unacceptable, you must take what steps are open to you in order to get Article 16 removed from the Covenant.
I am convinced that this question of economic sanctions is one which the nations who are members of the League must study with very great attention. We have moved into a new world since the War, and it seems to me that if we are, through the medium of the League, to bring pressure to bear upon a recalcitrant State, one of the most potent instruments at our disposal is this instrument which we call economic sanctions. I know that it is a tremendous weapon; but, tremendous as it is, and far-reaching as I admit its consequences are, it is, after all, in the long run, a more innocuous form of sanction than military or naval sanctions. But, if you arrogate to yourselves the right not to implement Article 16, what becomes of Articles 10 and 11? The point I want to make is that, if your attitude with regard to various Articles of the Covenant becomes suspect, then the whole loyalty of nations to the League becomes suspect in consequence. Let us apply this to the question of disarmament. Many States are unwilling to disarm because they are not prepared to submit themselves to what they regard as undue risks. They want assurances concerning security. If we cannot be relied upon in regard to the articles which I have cited, clearly we encourage States thereby to be more exacting in the matter of security and less disposed to face the problem of disarmament. In my judgment, the Government are open to the criticism that they have given the impression by their policy of indeterminateness, 379 of indecision, of lack of clarity, and of lack of purpose. If Britain is open to a charge of that sort, the nation which ought naturally to accept the leadership of the League is subject to suspicion.
I said earlier that I should not like to place the responsibility for all the unfortunate circumstances in which the world now finds itself at the door of the present Government, but they have failed to avail themselves of certain favourable conditions which have been available in the last year or two. Take Germany. Before the Hitlerite regime, Doctor Bruening was responsible for affairs, and his policy was largely a programme of the maintenance of democracy and the fulfilment of peace treaties, and for the most part he successfully resisted the pressure of rearmament, not perhaps entirely, but still his attitude was one of resistance to the pressure for rearmament. But he was not encouraged, and the result is that the youth of Germany has been led to believe that the only way of breaking the shackles, as they call them, of the Versailles Treaty was by force, and Herr Hitler has been able to succeed to power largely because of the failure of the nations at Geneva to give that large measure of encouragement to the late German Government which ought to have been accorded to it. Now we have an entire change of scene and last week Member after Member of this House was emphasising the fact that in Germany a considerable measure of rearmament is going ahead at a fairly rapid pace. Observers tell us that in the area of the Saar things are in a very precarious condition indeed, and the pressure brought by Germany upon Austria has been sustained, though hitherto it has been unsuccessful.
Let me take France. Last year there was, as Governments go in France, as progressive a Government as they have had for a long time. That pacifically-minded Government was, as I understand, in favour of a reasonable measure of security from the League of Nations. It offered a drastic measure of disarmament in order to avoid, as I believe, the prospect of rearmament in Germany. Largely due to the comparative failure hitherto of the Disarmament Conference to arrive at conclusions and to the reaction in the direction of German rearmament, that Government of the left has 380 lost its hold and there has been a collapse and a reaction to a more right wing form of government. In the United States we have one of the most progressive Governments that America has ever seen. I believe it offered in 1933 the abolition of all weapons forbidden to Germany in 1919, and I believe that offer was acceptable to Germany. Was the position of our Government favourable or unfavourable? I think it was very unsatisfactory.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I have heard that statement made before but only outside the House. I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that, according to his information, the United States Government offered to agree to the abandonment of all arms except those allowed to Germany by Treaty. I assure him he is quite mistaken. It is quite inconsistent with anything that I know of United States policy.
§ Mr. JONES
Then clearly my information is not accurate on the point, and I at once withdraw it. But the attitude of our Government in relation to America's approaches to disarmament was unsatisfactory for—there is no official announcement in the matter, but we are entitled to our own conclusions—towards the end of last year the unofficial Ambassador of the United States left Geneva and, as far as I have heard, he has given no sort of indication of returning to Geneva since. In 1932 Italy too made for her a very progressive proposal. Here again our own Government was very largely in hostility to some of the proposals put forward by Italy. Indeed, in case after case there have been favourable conditions presented to the Government by reason of the nature and character of the various Governments in various countries with which they had to deal. Take the case of Russia. As everyone knows, in relation to Russia, there has 381 been for a very long time ill-concealed antagonism culminating in the withdrawal of trade facilities on both sides. That has passed. Let us hope that it is a chapter which has been finally and definitely closed. But it was a situation which was not helpful to the development of disarmament proposals on the Continent of Europe. As to our immediate neighbour, I think that I should be right in expressing my opinion of the situation something like this. We have not availed ourselves of the international policy propounded by the more left-wing form of government in France for obtaining security through the League of Nations. On the other hand, in relation to Germany, that country has been convinced not solely, but largely by the action of the League of Nations itself that the only way of breaking the chains of Versailles was by means of force.
§ Mr. JONES
It is a form of expression which I should have thought everybody would have appreciated. The imposition upon Germany of certain conditions of disarmament by countries which have as yet not disarmed would be to the German mind a chain imposed on the limbs of the Germans which is not imposed on the limbs of other nations.
§ Mr. JONES
In relation to disarmament, and we can see the effect of that mentality in the observation of Herr Frick so frequently quoted by critics in all parts of the world, when he said:We admire the League, but we thank Japan for her example.That was to say, that the Germans felt that what Japan had been allowed to do was something which Germany ought equally to be allowed to do. Whether that reaction was justified or not, it is not for me to say. I will add this observation from Herr Von Papen who claimed in a speech that since the Covenant had not been applied to Japan it could not be applied against Germany if she rearmed. I merely cite these instances in order to show the effect upon the mentality of other nations.
I think that in general I could summarise the result of the policy of the 382 Government in this way. I suggest that it might be held that by allowing the Covenant to be violated in Manchuria the National Government have very seriously damaged British interests. The Manchurian market which was capable of very great expansion has been closed to British trade very largely. The Japanese militarists are now openly aiming at securing a similar monopoly in the rest of the Chinese market and have advanced beyond their hopes by their success in Manchuria. Thirdly, I would suggest that the future of the international settlements of Shanghai, and of Hong Kong may be seriously prejudiced as well. The British position there has been based upon international treaties, European prestige and the Chinese fear of European armed forces. But as the restraining power of all these motives has been undermined if not destroyed, and if China should cease to fear Japan, or should decide to ally herself with Japan, the future of the settlements would appear to be extremely precarious. We see something of the reaction of those settlements in the preparation for the defence of British Dominions, especially Australia and elsewhere. I think that the world balance of power, of naval power certainly, is seriously threatened. I understand that the Japanese do not now intend to renew the London and Washington Treaties unless they are granted parity. Great Britain would be hard put to it, I fancy, to stand the pace of competition both in Europe and in the Far East.
Lastly, I submit that owing to the rise of the Hitler movement Europe is now faced with a very real danger of war in which Great Britain might only too easily be involved. We may all draw our own conclusions from those facts, but as to the reasons for the existence of those facts the National Government must take their share—I am not suggesting more than their share—of responsibility for that situation. We can have little satisfaction, after all, from a review of the past. Whether the Government have blundered in the past or not cannot help us at this moment. We are concerned with the future. I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether there is any prospect of a re-assembly of the Economic Conference or something akin to it? I saw a paragraph in the Press towards the end of last week— 383 it was only a news paragraph and not official in any way—to the effect that there was some suggestion that perhaps the United States of America might presently ask for the re-convening of some such conference. I do not know whether there is anything in it or not, but I should be very glad to know what would be the attitude of the Government to the reconvening of the Economic Conference. Whatever we may feel and whatever our differences may be concerning disarmament and other problems relating to it and to international problems generally, we all will admit, I think, that at the bottom economic causes play a very big part in the international unsettlement at this moment.
As to our attitude towards international treaties generally, Members of this House can be divided pretty well into three groups. There are those who are frankly isolationists. I am not of that group, but, if I were an isolationist, I confess that I should be very strongly, and perhaps even enthusiastically, on the side of those demanding better armaments of every sort. I believe that isolationism must necessarily involve that policy in relation to armaments, but as a policy I think that it is impossible. After all, the nature of the Empire makes isolationism a policy thoroughly outside the pale of acceptance. The second alternative is the policy of alliances. That was the old policy in Europe before the War. The grouping of Powers on the one side and the other, each side being attended by vast accumulations of armaments, is the old system which inevitably must lead to war sooner or later.
There are tendencies, it seems to me, in Europe at this moment in the direction of certain groupings. There was a reply given at Question Time to-day to a question put by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) in relation to Italy, and the same applies there, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is any information available as to the purpose of the Conference about to take place in Rome at which representatives of Austria and Hungary are to take part with Signor Mussolini? It is a subject of some importance to us as well as to the rest of the world. The third alternative is that school which believes in pooled security. For my part, I feel compelled to come 384 down upon that side. It was inherent, as I understand it, in the Covenant; it is certainly in the Protocol of 1924. I do not know what the present opinion of the Prime Minister is about the Protocol—I would not venture even to guess—but I think that, sooner or later, governments will be compelled to come back, if not fully, at least in part, to some of the ideas contained in the Protocol of 1924.
Lastly, on the question of Russia I believe it is true that at this moment there are no longer any territorial questions outstanding. Are we now to take it that His Majesty's Government are about to work heartily with the Russian Government in the direction of peace and co-operation? I rather like an idea—I do not say that I commit myself entirely to it, but I was intrigued by it—which was thrown into the arena, as it were, by hon. Members on more than one side of the House a week or fortnight ago in which a suggestion was made that those nations which are prepared, through the League of Nations, to accept the idea of pooled security, should associate together, and, if I remember rightly, some three or four were cited as likely to associate, namely, Great Britain, the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and, I think one hon. Member said, Sweden. It is just possible that an idea of that kind might even commend itself to France—I do not know. Anyway, the idea was not developed very fully in the House, but it does seem as though there might be something to be said for availing ourselves of the cooperation of all nations who are prepared to accept collective security. I beg the House to understand that I am not asking for an initial step to create a new alliance—far from it—but for leaving the door open to all nations to associate themselves together in the direction of establishing the idea of pooled security in the world.
Lastly, I want to say this about the German position as I see it. Some months ago I ventured to ask the Foreign Secretary what was the attitude of the Government in relation to German equality. For myself, I see no escape from granting equality of status to Germany, but that equality in relation to disarmament can only take one of two forma. Either you must bring down the armaments of other nations steadily, gradually if you like, to the level of Germany, 385 and achieve equality in that way, or, if you do not disarm, you must allow Germany to rearm up to the level of other nations. The second alternative would not be disarmament but rearmament, and rearmament is not what the nations of the world desire. I would, therefore, urge upon the Government that no stone should be left unturned in order to give effect to what I conceive to be the real desire of the people of this country, namely, not increased expenditure on armaments, but the actual achievement of a measure of disarmament among the nations of Europe. Surely we ought to be able to look forward confidently to the time when this perpetual divergence of views between Germany and France which is leading almost inevitably to further exacerbation in Europe, should be brought to an end. I was going to suggest that, perhaps, the three rivers, the Rhine, the Seine and the Thames are symbolic of what we would desire in our international relations. Each has different sources. They irrigate different territories; they pass through divergent landscapes, but they pour their waters into the same sea. The ships that ride them carry merchandise over all the world; they make their common contribution to the world's trade. May we not hope that in the near future the great streams of British, French and German culture and ideals, deriving their inspiration from varying sources, and serving peoples of divergent outlook, may also contribute to the great ocean of human activity, wide as the world in its service, and contributing to the happiness and contentment of all mankind?
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. EDEN
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) began by asking me a number of questions about recent visits which I have made to Paris, Berlin and Rome, and I would like to confine my remarks, in the main, to telling the House what I can upon that subject. Before doing so I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman on one or two points. He suggested that on my return I might have found that my task had been made more difficult by the increases in the Estimates of our fighting services. I would like to reassure him on that point, because they had not the least effect on the work I was trying to do, nor were they likely to have any effect in view of their extremely modest proportions; 386 in fact, the largest of them, the increase in the Navy Estimates, is, of course, within the limitations of the London Naval Treaty, and if only all the increases of armaments in the world in the post-War years had been within treaty limits, the House would not have been worried by so many debates upon the subject of disarmament.
I would also like to deal with the criticism which was made as to His Majesty's Government's past conduct at the Disarmament Conference. I do not want to delve into past history, because the House is so familiar with it, but I seem to find two new lines of criticism to-day. The first was that there had been on occasions Left Governments in France, and on occasions Left Governments in Germany. Those Governments have not chonologically coincided. This was unfortunate, but I really cannot see where our responsibility comes in for the decisions of the electorates of France and Germany. It was unfortunate. The points of view of the two countries, or rather those sections of the two countries whose points of view most coincide, did not happen to coincide with the work of the conference. That is a matter which we may deplore, but for which we can scarcely be blamed. Then there is the new argument that in some way the United States Government and our own Government have not been in accord in the later stages of the work of the conference. That quite definitely is not so. The United States Government have lent throughout most valuable support to our Draft Convention, and the chief representative of the United States, to whom the hon. Member has just referred, speaking at Geneva about our Draft Convention, said:As it represented a real measure of disarmament, the United States Government accepted it whole-heartedly as a definite and excellent step towards the ultimate objective. It was therefore prepared to give its full support to the adoption of that plan.And it has consistently given such full support. I believe it to be no exaggeration to say that in the difficult months of the Disarmament Conference one of the most encouraging features has been the close collaboration between the representatives of this country and the representatives of the United States. Finally, a very few days ago, as the House will he aware, President Roosevelt 387 issued a statement again lending full support to our fresh initiative in the shape of the United Kingdom Memorandum. In the face of all that evidence, I hope that we have heard the last of any attempt to find new differences where no differences exist. Our task is hard enough without imagination added to its difficulties.
I wish it had been possible this afternoon for me to give to the House some record of events during my visits to Paris, Berlin and Rome, but the House will recall the limited scope and purpose of my work. I was to explain to those Governments the purpose of the proposals in the British Memorandum, to seek to meet their criticisms upon them, and, if possible, to gain from them statements of their point of view upon our proposals. When I had completed my task, it was hoped that His Majesty's Government would have been in a position to see how far there was agreement upon the proposals they put forward in their Memorandum of 29th January. That hope, unfortunately, has not yet been fully realised, but it will be within a very few days. We have an expression of opinion on our Memorandum from two of the three Governments, and we expect to have the view of the third Government in a very few days; but at present it would clearly be undesirable for me to attempt to give any account of what was said to me by these Governments. Moreover, of course, it would be necessary, first, to obtain permission to do so.
While I am, therefore, unable to do that, I might perhaps seek to give to the House, briefly, certain impressions which were forced upon me in the course of those journeys. After all, it was perhaps an exceptional opportunity for comparative observation, and what I am going to say now is in no sense official, in no sense the direct result of what was said to me by any of the heads of Governments whom I met in the various States, and, indeed, is nothing more than the impressions of an ordinary observer who had, perhaps, extraordinary opportunities.
It has always seemed to me that in the last few months especially, the Disarmament Conference has been suffering from the limitations of its title. Something very much more than the future of the Disarmament Conference must be decided in the next few weeks, and it is well perhaps that we should look 388 beneath the surface and see the stark realities, even if we are a little discomforted in the process. It is better that we should know what they are and decide our policies accordingly.
Why is it that this Conference has been so long delayed? It is not because the experts cannot agree upon the number of tanks, the calibre of guns, the weight of aeroplanes. The interminable paraphernalia of disarmament is wearisome enough, but it is not those questions that are holding us up. It is rather, I think, that the nations of the world have not been able to summon sufficient confidence, or, if you like, sufficient courage to trust one another to the extent that is necessary if a Convention is to be realised and kept. Ever since the War, I suppose as an inevitable legacy of the War, hon. Members must have been conscious of two overmastering motives and their presence in Europe, according as each nation has been affected by the outcome of the War—on the one side a mistrustful apprehension and on the other side aggravated impatience. Perhaps those two motives are not always conscious motives, but they are always there, and it is quite impossible to move from one capital to another in Europe to-day without realising their existence.
The rival demands, with which we are so familiar, for security on the one side and equality on the other are only a vocal expression of those sentiments which are so strongly held. How difficult it is for a citizen of Paris to appreciate the point of view of a citizen of Berlin, and, even if he can do that and vice versa how infinitely more difficult it is to appreciate the sentiments or even the convictions upon which those views are based. For a moment I will try, by leave of the House, to place myself in each of those capitals and to look through their respective spectacles. We shall then, at least, know the extent of the problem with which we are faced. France's anxiety, as it has ever been since the War, is for security; a demand that is based in every Frenchman's mind upon deep and abiding memories. Just as France has this instinctive desire for security herself, it seems none the less difficult perhaps to her in turn to appreciate that it is possible that Germany may have the same feeling, expressed in another form. France is so convinced that she has no intention whatever of 389 attacking anybody else that she finds it difficult to believe that another country, which cannot at present have and is not at present permitted to have comparable armaments, may not feel absolutely secure in her vicinity. The problem of population, again, increases France's natural anxiety on account of the pari-military training as it is called in Germany.
There is another motive in the French mind, which we share. We, as they do, set great store upon the collective peace system which has been built up since the War and of which the League is the outward symbol. It is difficult for Frenchmen to believe that a great Power of Western Europe can remain for long away from Geneva with good intentions. From time to time events have happened and speeches are made which add to these fears. There was one such speech in the last two days, the speech of General Goering. I am frankly prepared to admit that a distinction exists between a military nation and a militarist nation—this country which is, perhaps, to-day neither one nor the other, should not forget that distinction—but I am equally confident that in the judgment of the people of this country the tone of that speech belongs rather to the latter nation than to the former. These things would not be of so much account if trust between nations was instinctive and confidence was deep and abiding. It is just because that is not the present situation that incidents which in themselves are perhaps of comparatively small importance may have a greater significance. Let us complete the picture by seeking to look for a moment through German spectacles. It is no doubt the German contention that her own security can be of as much vital interest to her as the security of France is to France. She would contend, no doubt, that she has waited long for equality, and she might add that for a German it is hard to believe that France can really need yet more security,
If these have been the respective positions, not of Governments but of nations and of sentiment for some years past, it is clear that they cannot be readily reconciled. How is it to be done? Can it be done at all, and is it the experience of the brief mission upon which I was engaged that it is hopeless to try? Perhaps I can answer the last question first. The answer to that question, in my 390 judgment, is "No. Definitely no." Until we are in possession of all the replies to our Memorandum and the complete cycle of answers, it is premature to be so pessimistic. Not only is it that, but I believe it to be definitely wrong to paint the picture darker than it is in fact. While there is still a glimmer of light we cannot admit defeat, and there is more than a glimmer.
Our interests in this matter are those of Europe. We have as a nation very much at stake. I noticed how from the start of my brief mission certain newspapers, particularly one which has a wide circulation on the Continent, were good enough to take it upon themselves to express the conviction, sometimes it seemed to be a cheerful assumption, that I must fail. I do not know that I altogether envy the consciences of people who put out such stuff abroad. Our stake as a nation in peace is probably greater than that of any other nation in the world. Our stake in the League is very great also. If the Conference fails, it is no doubt true that we, like every other country, will have to take certain steps. If the Conference fails it will not only be the security of this or that continental country which will be at stake, but our own security. Just as when we sign a convention, we are as interested in keeping it as any other signatory, so if there is no convention we have perhaps as much cause for anxiety as any other nation in the world. If the Conference fails every country, no doubt, will then have to proceed to review its armaments, we, like every one else, and we perhaps more immediately and more urgently than others because we have disarmed so much voluntarily already.
If that be so, how many of us believe that even a manifold increase in our existing armaments in this country would alone suffice to ensure our national security? I myself have no such belief and no such faith. Competitive armaments in themselves are no security. We had competitive armaments before 1914 and they availed us nothing as a preventive of war. Therefore, however much we may spend on our own security by armaments, we cannot flatter ourselves that we shall then have realised the luxury of isolation. Our efforts, not in the interests of this or that continental country, but in the interests of our own 391 national security, need no apology at this time, and those who prefer to substitute cheap sneers for statecraft deserve the severe condemnation of every right-thinking citizen.
What can be done to restore this waning international confidence and to bridge the gap between France and Germany? I do not myself believe that the situation, anxious as it is, is desperate. It is not so. Something is surely to be gained from the fact that public opinion in many nations of the world is to-day alive to the seriousness and the anxiety of the situation. That was not, so far as I am aware, the case in 1914. Better clean timber than a blind ditch. I do not therefore accept the judgment of those who speak as if war in Europe is imminent. But that is not to say that we have not an immediate and an urgent responsibility to get on with the work. Every month that passes makes our task more difficult. That task seems to me to be twofold—and we must realise both parts of it or we shall not have contributed enough to bring back confidence to Europe—first, to realise a Convention, not a spectacular Convention, perhaps that is out of our reach, but a Convention which contains some disarmament, a Convention which faces the realities of the present time, in short, a Convention on the basis of our recently issued Memorandum. Second, to seek to restore to the League of Nations that full authority which can only be enjoyed from a membership of all the great Powers of Western Europe. It seems to me that every development of science and policies since the War has increased the need for some such organisation as the League of Nations. If immediately after the War it had not been set up some one would have improvised it in the years that have elapsed. The world becomes so much smaller every year, it becomes almost a village, and we are almost uncomfortably close to one another. That process has not yet come to an end, and the widest possible membership of the League of Nations has become now an indispensable element in our international economy.
Those are our twin objectives still; the realisation of a Convention and the restoration of membership of the League of Nations in so far as it can be fully obtained. Nothing in my experience in the past few weeks has in any way 392 caused me to regret the initiative of His Majesty's Government in putting forward their Memorandum, or the decision they took to send this mission to the three capitals. If we can realise these twin objectives we shall put a stop to the rot and shall be able in the future to improve upon the situation thus realised.
That is my answer to the hon. Member for Caerphilly who says that public opinion here and in other parts of the world is doubtful whether we really want disarmament or really believe in the League of Nations. I do not believe that public opinion abroad has any such doubt, and I cannot believe, after the course of events in the last few months, that there is much doubt on that score at home except possibly for electoral uses. I make no complaint, but I do not believe that these doubts have any sounder foundation. It was, I think, too much to expect that the recent initiative of His Majesty's Government and the mission would have been enough in themselves to bridge the gap which exists. They have not done so, but they have definitely narrowed that gap. These initiatives were taken upon the responsibility of His Majesty's Government. Other nations, other countries, have their responsibilities also.
What I have learnt in these three capitals has convinced me that there is no alternative to the general lines of our Memorandum, that there is no substitute for it if agreement is to be reached upon a Disarmament Convention at all. When His Majesty's Government have received the complete replies of the three countries whose capitals I visited we shall examine them with sympathy and understanding, and with the conviction that no nation will willingly allow a final breakdown of the Conference. Not one of us in any capital who has these responsibilities can allow it to be said that in so great an issue we failed in our generation for lack of real endeavour. I am convinced that if the nations will pursue the work upon which they have been engaged in recent weeks upon our Memorandum in the spirit to which I have just referred, then, even now, difficulties notwithstanding, no man need despair of an issue to these long and trying labours.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is no doubt unfortunate that this important Debate on 393 foreign affairs should have taken place when the representatives of the Foreign Office are not in a position to make anything but an interim, an exceedingly guarded, and, if I may say so, an obscure statement upon the actual facts of the European situation. I was taken to task the other day for saying that my hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal in his mission to the three capitals in Europe had failed. I have listened to his very agreeably delivered speech, so excellent in its phrasing and so well meant in its sentiments, and I am bound to say that the furthest I can go in altering my statement that his mission had failed is to say that up to the present at any rate it has not succeeded. There is certainly no one in this House who would throw the blame on the hon. Gentleman. We are quite sure that if at Berlin, Paris and Rome, he did no good, he did no harm as far as we are concerned, for no one seems to have mastered more completely the art of discussing these grave topics of foreign affairs without at any point committing an indiscretion or using expressions which would be likely to hinder the growth of that harmony which is no doubt the desire of all.
As I said the other day, the hon. Gentleman was set an impossible task. Take one instance. He had to commend to France an elaborate scheme of disarmament which meant that the French would have to agree that their Army in Europe, long the most famous in the history of the world, should be no stronger than the Army of Poland, Germany or Italy. It seemed to me, even before my hon. Friend set out on his tour, extremely unlikely that France would agree to that at any time, least of all at a time like this. I ventured to say a year ago, when the Prime Minister's first scheme was put forward, prescribing in great detail to the countries in Europe exactly how large their armies, navies and air forces should be—and may I say that that proposal was in no way detrimental to Great Britain, on the contrary, it was advantageous—that there was no chance of it being accepted. And when this scheme had been received by the French with the greatest politeness, and with an ingenuity born of what is now a long and careful study of the Anglo-Saxon mentality and the character of public opinion in the United Kingdom and in the United States, when they accepted 394 with great civility the scheme as a most valuable contribution to the progress of mankind and the consolidation of the peace of the human race, but mentioned that there were a few little reservations on this point and that which they might find it necessary to introduce, I ventured to predict what the fate of the scheme would be. The modifications in the scheme have not relieved the proposal from the fact that it is bound to encounter the greatest opposition and resistance, which will be put forward through diplomatic processes of which we are now only too painfully familiar.
The Lord Privy Seal has pointed out that the objections now are not the technical objections of experts as to the size of cannons, and so on; that is not what is holding up agreement. For a long time we were told that this was the difficulty, but as the experts have now adjusted their views we have got back to where we started. Nations are not prepared to accept a great diminution of their individual security at this juncture, and they begin, at their end, to raise new and fundamental opposition to the principles of the proposals put forward. Another proposal with which the Lord Privy Seal was charged was that France should reduce her air force to 500 machines. Actually at the moment she is proposing to spend, over a certain period, £40,000,000 to £50,000,000 in order to improve the character, quality and power of her air force, which already numbers three or four times that figure. Are they likely to agree? Will the French write back to us and say that they are entirely converted from their point of view and are ready to reduce their air force to 500 machines, while contemplating an improvment in the German air force at the same time?
We are awaiting the French answer. What answer does my hon. Friend expect? Is it realy worth while indulging in these illusions? Can we expect the French to write back to us agreeing with the proposal? What is their position? They have been feeling very anxious about our own weakness in the air. Public men have been making statements about their alarm as to our own position. They desire to fill the gap in our defensive system. Now we are told that we must expect them to write and say that in consequence of the threat that England will increase her Air Force 395 they are willing to reduce theirs. It is the exact opposite. By not reducing their air force they will compel us to put ourselves in a position of reasonable security; that will certainly have its bearing on the answer which the French Government will give. We are deluding ourselves if we suppose that we are going to receive from this outstanding Government something which will meet the first MacDonald scheme or the second Mac-Donald scheme. It is a mistake to indulge too long in credulity. The word "credulity" reminds me of a famous quotation from Dr. Johnson, which might well be read and pondered over by my hon. Friend:Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope, who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas, Prince of Abysinia.But I did not find very much of that in his most attractive and engaging speech. Neither did we find very much that was reassuring. On the contrary, in the most correct phraseology which could possibly fall from the lips of a Minister of the Crown he painted for us a more sombre picture of the deterioration which has been going steadily forward in the European position, than any we have yet heard from that Bench. I venture to suggest to my hon. Friend, in whose career really the whole House has a common interest, because we do like to see new figures emerge, to be very careful not to be too obliging in his departmental duties and not be too ready to do what is asked of him on all occasions, because he is very valuable, and we all hope that he will be associated with real successes in the domain of foreign affairs.
But, as the House knows, I have for the last four years and more been pointing out the difficulties into which we have got by this persistent harping upon disarmament. False ideas have been spread about the country that disarmament means peace. The Disarmament Conference has brought us steadily nearer, I will not say to war because I share the repulsion of using that word, but nearer to a pronounced state of ill-will than anything that could be imagined. I pointed out four years ago, 396 when we were in opposition, that this pressing of Disarmament Conferences upon nations who had already signified in one way or another their desire not to be pressed further, was most dangerous diplomacy. First of all, you were met with a competition among the different countries to disarm the other fellow, to take away the peculiar weapons of this or that other country, while safeguarding their own special military or naval interests. Then, in the second place, at Disarmament Conferences which were persisted in again and again year after year in spite of every failure, the desire was to throw the blame of the inevitable breakdown on some one country or another. "It was not me but that other country which was responsible for the failure."
So, in the end, what have we got? We have not got disarmament. We have the rearmament of Germany. That is the monstrous child which has emanated from this immense labour—the rearmament of Germany. Why, it is only a little while ago that I heard Ministers say and read diplomatic documents which said that rearmament was unthinkable—"Whatever happens we cannot have that. Rearmament is unthinkable." Now all our hope is to regulate the unthinkable. Regulated unthinkability—that is what is the proposal now; and very soon it will be a question of making up our minds to unregulate unthinkability.
I think it is always an error in diplomatic policy to press a matter when it is quite clear that no further progress is to be made. It is also a great error if you ever give the impression abroad that you are using language which is more concerned with your domestic political state of things than with the actual fortunes and merits of the various great countries upon the Continent to whom you offer advice. Even suppose that the hon. Gentleman's mission shall be judged eventually to have failed, I am not be sure that we shall be so much worse off than if he had succeeded. Suppose France had taken the advice which we tendered, and have tendered during the last four or five years, and had yielded to the pressure of the two great English-speaking nations to set an example of disarmament. Suppose she had taken the advice of the Liberal news- 397 papers. Only a short time ago, three or four years ago, we noted the derision with which they wrote about the French barrier of fortresses which had been put up, and so forth. Suppose the French had followed our example. Suppose they had made this gesture which is on everyone's lips to-day, and had reduced themselves to allowing their defences to fall into the kind of disarray to which we, out of the highest motives, for which we do not always get credit abroad, have reduced ours? What would be the position to-day? Where should we be?
I honour the French for their resolute determination to preserve the freedom and security of their country from invasion of any kind; I earnestly hope that we, in arranging our forces, will not fall below their example, so far as the freedom and independence of this country are concerned. The awful danger, nothing less, of our present foreign policy, is that we go on perpetually asking the French to weaken themselves. And what do we say is the inducement? We say, "Weaken yourselves," and we always hold out the hope that if they do it and get into trouble, we will then in some way or other go to their aid, although we have nothing with which to go to their aid. I cannot imagine a more dangerous policy. There is something to be said for isolation; there is something to be said for alliances. But there is nothing to be said for weakening the Power on the Continent with whom you would be in alliance, and then involving yourself more in Continental tangles in order to make it up to them. In that way you have neither one thing nor the other; you have the worse of both worlds.
The Romans had a maxim, "Shorten your weapons and lengthen your frontier." But our maxim seems to be, "Diminish your weapons and increase your obligations." Aye, and diminish the weapons of your friends. It has been a most extraordinary policy in late years. Great hopes were put on the Disarmament Conference when it began, and after Locarno there were great hopes. I am not going to pretend or suggest that the insistence on disarmament, the nagging and harping on disarmament, have been the sole cause of the great degeneration of European affairs. That would be unfair. Hideous and new factors have rushed up at us from the gulf. Hideous new events have taken place which no 398 one could have foreseen. I quite agree. Surely now we have reached a point where we ought to make an end of this effort to force disarmament upon countries which feel themselves in great danger, and to put ourselves in a reasonable position of security. That will be better for peace, much better for peace, much better for our own safety if peace should fail.
We now have an urgent duty, and I am very glad the Prime Minister is in his place, because we know that the Lord President of the Council has been called away on some urgent business. The Lord President made a very important and very welcome declaration in Debate last week upon air policy, that if these attempts to obtain a Disarmament Convention failed, we should then place ourselves in a position of air parity, or words to that effect. I accept a statement of that kind in the most absolute good faith, because I am certain that with his reputation and with his responsibility my right hon. Friend would not have made such a statement if he had intended merely to use it to get round a Parliamentary-corner on a particular occasion, or to stave off the fulfilment of his undertaking by dilatory processes. Therefore, I did not share the anxiety of some hon. Gentlemen at some passages in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
But there is one point on which anxiety might have arisen. When my right hon. Friend was making his speech and saying that if all failed, then—we all expected him to say, "Then we shall immediately take steps to put ourselves in a satisfactory position"; but after the "then" came something different. He said that then there would be an Air Convention. That was rather disappointing to some of our hopes, rather anticlimax in a way. But it seems to me that if the Air Convention, that is to say if this main tableau of military and naval arrangements, cannot be accepted, as I am sure it will not be accepted, then I gather it is the intention of the Government to say, cannot we make a convention limiting the air forces? There would be no harm in that, and I do not see why it should take very long. But what would be very dangerous indeed would be if we had to begin again in regard to the Air Convention all those elaborate discussions with all the Powers, the tremendous procedure at Geneva, to go over the whole 399 course again for one-third of the prize as it were, and at the same time remain ourselves in this extremely dangerous position, while all the time the situation, for all we know, might be altering from week to week by the development of the aerial armaments and facilities of Germany.
Therefore, one hopes that when the Minister who is to reply speaks he will say something to reassure us that this Air Convention which, if the main Convention fails, is to be entered upon, will not interpose a delay of more than a few weeks in the proper review and reconsideration of our domestic defence. I made a proposal myself that we should endeavour to have an agreement with different Powers near us to limit the use of the air weapon. That is quite a different matter. There need be no delay in consequence of that—to regulate air warfare as far as you can to the zones of the armies or military objectives. There need be no delay in that, because the essence of it is that we have parity, have an equal air force. Therefore, every step we make meanwhile to secure parity would help an agreement if it could be reached on the limitations which should be imposed by either side in the use of aircraft.
I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to promise us another day some time between Easter and Whitsuntide to discuss the general question of air defence. There ought to be some day found for it, and I am sure everyone would be quite willing and content to wait till then. But there are a very great number of Members who are very anxious about it, and the Government are very anxious, as we know and see by their utterances, and it would be only reasonable to have a day to discuss the Air, either on the existing Estimates, which seem wholly inadequate, or else upon new proposals which the Government will put before us.
I do not intend to detain the House any more. But there was one remark thrown out very tentatively and guardedly by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones), a remark which I am bound to say seemed to me to be pregnant and deserving of attention. He said, in effect, why, if other things fail, should not the nations who are actually in agreement about keeping the peace 400 and so forth, reach out their hands to one another? I think that is an idea which should be pursued, but it should be pursued through the League of Nations. It is to the League of Nations that France or Belgium or any of those countries who are alarmed by the proceedings of their powerful neighbour, Germany, should have recourse. There it is that they should make their case and all consequential action should be taken under the authority of the League of Nations.
If it be true that those countries are deeply alarmed by proceedings across their frontiers and if no satisfaction is given to them and no explanation made of what is going on, then it seems to me that those nations who are alarmed and who agree together should associate themselves one with another, under the aegis of the League of Nations and within the circle of the League and under its express authority. Thus you would have a large number of countries who agreed and who had powerful forces and who could stand there, armed, as it were, to defend each other if necessary, but who would not be able to move in any way except by the sanction of the international body. You would thus have the strength of the individual armies plus the control and authority of a great world-wide international organisation. I do not believe you will ever succeed in building up an international force in a vague and general manner or that it can be created out of cold blood. But it might well be that an international force would come into being by an alliance of national forces for a particular emergency or for particular purposes, and, once having been started, it might give the security to the world which would avert the approaching curse of war.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
I am sure everyone has listened with intense interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I find myself in agreement with some of the remarks which he has made, but, while he spoke with his usual eloquence and wit, some of his other remarks left me wondering. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman himself has faced certain facts which enter into the situation, and cannot conceivably be neglected by anyone who wishes to deal with it faithfully. The right hon. Gentleman deprecates 401 any further attempt at a convention. I wonder whether he himself envisages all the possibilities. I assume that he would prefer that the French should remain as fully armed as they are and that we should welcome all preparations made by them for defending their country and maintaining their army at its present strength. I assume also that in the right hon. Gentleman's view we ourselves should be asked to make increases in our present forces in order to be able to act together with the French. I ask the right hon. Gentleman what does he think would be the course taken by Germany under those conditions and how he would propose to treat that great country in those circumstances.
Is Germany, under the conditions I have indicated, to be allowed to go on rearming or not? Is there any point at which France and this country would step in during the course of Germany's rearming? Looking at the question as dispassionately as possible I would say that without question Germany intends to arm, and she is probably doing so already. There is no question that she is drilling, and, as some people would say, militarising her people. Yet can one say that she is wrong? There she is without arms, in the middle of peoples who are fully armed. If she goes on in her present course who shall say that she is wrong? Everybody who has been in Germany can give accounts of how she is drilling her young men, how they are marching along the streets singing and laughing, glad instead of sorrowful, joyful instead of pessimistic, full of hope instead of full of despondency as they were before. If they are making these young men into troops, who can say, in the circumstances, that it is wrong for them to do so? What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do to deal with that situation? Is he going to let Germany go on arming? Does he visualise that as a part of the situation which would arise or, on the other hand, does he propose that at any point Great Britain and France together should step in and prevent any further re-arming by Germany? When one faces that situation one sees that it leads to an impossible result either way. As to preventive occupation, I cannot believe that either the people of France or the people of this country would agree to it for one moment.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that preventive occupation of Germany by France or this country is inconceivable. If, on the other hand, Germany continues to re-arm, without let or hindrance, we get back exactly to the position which existed before the last War. We get back to a competitive race in armaments, and the result of that race will be just the same as it was before, a conflict like that from which the world is only now painfully and slowly emerging. That is the vital flaw in part of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I would put to the House this proposition with part of which I know the right hon. Gentleman would disagree, but with another part of which I think he would agree. In the first place, it is of prime importance to try to get a convention, at as low a level of armament as possible. At the same time we ought not to stop trying to get a convention, even if the level of armaments should be a great deal higher than we would wish to see it. The making of such a convention would call a halt in the armaments race which otherwise must inevitably lead to another war.
I have no illusions about a convention or about the value of international inspection. I do not think a convention could guarantee peace. I do not think that international inspection could give full knowledge. But the greater number of the peoples of the world are peaceable and the existence of a convention with the restraints which it would impose, would reinforce their influence and enable the world to have a breathing space. No one need cherish any illusions about international inspection. It would never be a hundred per cent. effective, but it might be 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. effective, and, taken together with all the other sources of information which any country would be able to use, while it might not give complete knowledge, it would make it impossible that any prolonged or flagrant breach of a convention should pass without notice. For that reason, I would give all the support I could to every attempt to make a convention 403 even at a level of armaments which we should not ourselves desire. If by next year a convention has not been made, we may look back and wish to heaven that we had made one while the opportunity was with us:The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor WitShall lure it back to cancel half a Line,Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.I would make a second proposition which is the corollary of the first. If a convention should be made, I put it to the House and to the Government that our own air armaments should be brought up to whatever level is agreed upon in that convention. I would not have imagined some time ago that I should have proposed or even assented to an increase in British armaments. But one has to face facts, and, though the objective remains the same, there may have to be a different method of approach. There are two methods of approach to disarmament. One is the "go-as-you-please" method in which one nation sets an example hoping that the others will follow. We have tried that and failed. We have disarmed and the other nations have not. The second method is to try to arrive at parities, and, when you have done so, then perhaps you will have a breathing space in which to make another endeavour at disarmament.
I think we owe it to ourselves and to others if there is a parity in air armaments to bring our own air armaments whether we like it or not up to that parity. The reason is obvious. This country has always had a belief in the essential character of its Navy. Yet today air armaments are just as essential to our defence as our Navy has ever been throughout past centuries. It would be idle disputation to argue as to which is most essential to-day, but there is this to be said that the air arm is always a surprise weapon. Its great force lies in the surprise character of the attack. Therefore, the existence of a sufficient air force in being at any moment is a necessity.
I say that from our own point of view, but I also venture to say that the existence of such a force would be helpful to other nations as well. I listened to the Lord President of 404 the Council the other night, and I agreed with what he said. One nation may attack by air another nation when it is confident of its own superiority and feels certain that it will not have to suffer the horrors of air bombardment in retaliation. But it is likely to pause before delivering an air attack on another nation when the forces are equal and there is a risk of its own population having to suffer. It is not likely to engage at all in such an attempt when its forces are inferior to the forces that may be brought against it. For that reason, I think that it would be for the benefit of other nations as well as ourselves to bring our air armaments up to the level that might be fixed in any Convention. I believe it would turn a Convention which could never give a guarantee of peace but only the likelihood of it, into something as near to certainty as could be ever be obtained in this imperfect world.
There is a third proposition. I think it would be a good thing for this country if we could make our foreign commitments clear. I doubt if there are many people in this House or anywhere else who want to extend the area of those commitments, but at any rate there are some which exist already. It is not a case of extending them. They are there, and we cannot get away from them. I think we ought not in this respect to get the worst of both worlds; we should not have obligations by which we are bound, but which, because of some obscurity in their language, neither inspire the confidence of nor give security to the country to whom we are obligated. I refer to the Treaty of Locarno, by which we are bound jointly, both to France and Germany, that if an act of aggression is committed and the country which is attacked has itself observed the Treaty, we should go to its support. We must ourselves, I think, always continue to be the judge of what constitutes an act of aggression, but my point is that we are bound by that Article if the occasion should arise, and yet there are words in it which undermine the confidence of others, though we could never appeal to those words to release us from our own obligations. I am referring in particular to the words at the end of Article 4 in that Treaty. I think they create uncertainty in the minds of others. We should therefore 405 clear them away, because the greatest folly of all is to get the worst of both worlds, to be under an obligation without it doing the good at which we aim.
I have always believed, and I shall continue to believe, utterly in the necessity of some international body, and I believe the League of Nations will come to its own again, but again I would ask this House to face the facts. I suggest that we should never jeopardise the possible attainment of a Convention through formalities which are not absolutely necessary. We should not complicate the obtaining of it in any way, but we should try to get a Convention which would stand by itself as a desirable fact, eyen if at the moment it was not under the aegis of the League. Once the Convention was obtained, we ought to try to restore to the League its greatest effectiveness, an effectiveness which has in fact been impaired by the events of recent months. I have placed before the House such views as I have ventured to express as briefly as I can, and I think they express what many average people in this country would feel if they tried to look at the facts and to face them squarely and also to draw the inferences from them.
I think perhaps I have had one advantage which some of my friends have not had. Absence at a distance of 3,000 or 4,000 miles from this country sometimes gives an opportunity of seeing facts in their perspective which otherwise one cannot very well obtain. Recently, when I was in Canada, I was impressed by two different facts. One was in the economic sphere. Three or four years ago the Canadians there regarded this country with affection but at the same time with another feeling, a feeling akin to pity for the old country, as if it were becoming a back number and almost down and out. When I was there quite recently, there was a complete change of feeling. They expressed openly and willingly, in the first place, their belief in the virtue of the steadiness and sticking power of the British nation as a valuable asset to the world, and, secondly, their belief that we were taking the lead in leading the world, in its recovery all too slowly, from the misery of the present slump. That was one impression. The other was that there is an opportunity for us in the international 406 sphere of politics which is just as great as in that of economics. We really need to believe in spirit and in truth that the ideal is in facing the facts of armaments at the present moment. If we do so with a sense of realism, then in the end we may help not only to seek peace but to ensue it with the other nations which are our neighbours, and to do something to help them out of the jungle of distrust and of wars and rumours of wars into the clear air and peaceful land outside.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I feel that the speech of the Lord Privy Seal this afternoon was an admirable example of work well done for a good cause, but slightly out of date. I am speaking this afternoon because I wish that the policy of His Majesty's Government should be directed a little more towards realities. I would refer to the speech which we have just heard from the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland). We know very well that the situation to-day is completely different from what it was a year ago, not because the League of Nations has been weakened, but on account of the new attitude of the German Government. They are outside the League, and I am glad they are outside the League; and they have introduced into all our foreign politics an entirely new situation. As the Prime Minister knows, there was a time when I was bitterly opposed to the Protocol, a time when I voted against Locarno. The change in the situation has changed my views and, I think, changed very largely the views of a great many people in this House.
It seems to me that, in spite of the admirable work that the Lord Privy Seal has been doing, we are still adrift and that all the Powers on the Continent, Germany included, are completely at sea as to what British policy is in reality. They know that we are in favour of disarmament, but as to the points at which England can be squeezed or as to the point at which England will put down its foot, they are still at sea. It is open to argument that in 1914 there would have been no war if France and Germany had definitely known that we should come in. I am: not of the school that thinks that if they had known, the Germans would not have fought, but still it is possible that war might have been avoided if 407 France and Germany had known. Now I am particularly anxious that the same uncertainty on the part of either Germany or France should not land us in exactly the same situation.
Locarno, so far as it goes, has a certain advantage. The French know—I am not certain that they know as well as they did before the speech of the Foreign Secretary some time ago—that if there is trouble on that particular frontier, they will have us with them, and the Germans know that we shall be on the other side. That does give a certain element of stability on that particular front, but the whole question is, How far do the French and the other people also bordering on Germany know whether we shall line up or whether we shall concede? In Germany to-day there is no immediate fear of any action on the Alsace-Lorraine front. The whole German spirit, particularly the new spirit in Germany, is based on what they call the Drang nach Osten. Extension to and through the Baltic States is their ambition. Their colonisation will dream ever of expansion in Lithuania, in Latvia, in Estonia, and in Finland. They see there their future Colonial expansion, exactly as we saw ours in America 200 years ago. That is their historic field. They are not really interested in tropical colonies, but they are interested in that Drang nach Osten, which, ever since the time of Bismarck, has been the goal of the super-patriotic Junker class in Germany.
I want to ask whether something in the nature of Locarno could not be extended elsewhere. The question of the extension of Locarno is, I believe, the really vital issue at the present moment. I do not want the Government to rush into it. I am merely showing that I think that is the problem of the immediate future, that we should lay down some limit beyond which Great Britain cannot be pushed. Before the present German Government came in I think we were all in favour of the revision of the Versailles Peace Treaty in certain particulars, but I have no longer the slightest desire to revise it in any direction. It may be that we ought to do so, but undoubtedly those of the Powers of Europe which are in danger to-day should come to an understanding as to how far that revision should go. Personally, I dislike the German Government 408 to such an extent that I would object to their getting any concessions in the East at all. I think we should all resent, nationally, the suppression of Latvia and Estonia, and I am certain that we should not tolerate Denmark being robbed of those Danish provinces in Schleswig-Holstein which were restored to Denmark by the Peace Treaty.
It is a question of where you are going to draw the line, because these demands will not all be made together. The German Government are certain to try first one thing and then another. We have had Dantzig, we have got the Saar next year, and, I suppose, the Austrian question, one after the other. It is never worth while to fight for each individually, but there ought to be a line drawn, known perfectly well to the Government and to our colleagues abroad whose interests are the same as ours. I do not say that it should necessarily be known to the public or even to Germany, but the people who are in danger ought to know at what point the stand must be made. If I could think that the German Government would ever change, would ever be upset, I think I should be prepared to go on without coming to any definite decision or making any pledge, but I feel that the dictatorship in Germany, the suppression of liberty in Germany, is permanent for our time. It can only be upset by a complete revolution, so I think it is necessary to recast our ideas, and I am willing to appear in a white sheet and to apologise for my opposition to those measures which now, in the present year, would, I think, be desirable for Europe.
The Lord President of the Council in his speech the other day pleaded for equality in air armaments, as also did the right hon. Member for Tamworth just now. That, too, would have been all right under the old conditions, but I feel that we ought to realise that the next war is almost sure to begin by surprise, and equality of armaments will be of no value if the other people destroy our aeroplanes and our petrol tanks before the declaration of war and before the risks are even known. The advantages of surprise were great in the old days, but they are infinitely greater to-day. It would be as if you started by having all your artillery put out of action. After that what could the Navy or the Army do, what could even the resolution of a great 409 people do, if suddenly we were deprived of our new arm? The aeroplane is I believe, going to replace the gun, and if before a declaration of war comes your equal armaments in aeroplanes are blown sky high in their aerodromes and our reserves of petrol, which we can see on the river all too obviously, are blown up; if the advantage of surprise is thus given to people who consider they have been treated badly in the past, and think they may treat other people badly in future, many excuses can be made. They can make the excuse that they are not making war, but are levelling things out before they sit round a table with you to argue about it.
When you are dealing with a situation such as that, it is vital that there should be not merely a Convention, but a realisation on the part of our forces that the next war may be over in half an hour. When arguing with people who are disarmed, you rely upon the justice, the good faith and the rightness of your cause, but if when you are bargaining with people who are capable of doing what I have visualised, you get into such a position, you can roll up the map of the British Empire. So that the two new things I would point are, that it is desirable that somebody who matters should know where we are to draw the line and where we are to stand fast; and on the other hand, that the air service should not have unlimited money spent upon it, but unlimited new ideas pumped into the higher command so that they may realise the danger to which the Empire is exposed and work out, if it be possible, a counter to the most dangerous movement that could possibly be made against this country.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. GODFREY LOCKER-LAMPSON
I should like to refer to something out-side the question of disarmament, although it is, I think, indissolubly connected with it. I refer to the question of the reform of the League of Nations. In answer to a question the other day, the Foreign Secretary told us that disarmament must come before the reform of the League, and that he had consulted the Governments of France and Italy, and they agreed with him that disarmament must come before the reform of the League. My right hon. Friend never told us whether he had also consulted the Governments of the United States of 410 America, of Germany, of Russia or of Japan in this matter, but he took it for granted that the question of disarmament and reform were wholly divorced one from the other. I venture to think that this cannot be so. In the United Kingdom Memorandum which was issued the other day, it is made clear that the question of disarmament and the reform of the League are very closely associated. In the last sentence it says:If agreement is secured and the return of Germany to Geneva and the League of Nations is brought about—and this ought to be an essential condition of agreement—that is to say, agreement on disarmament. That means that agreement on disarmament is made dependent on the return of Germany to the League of Nations, and that if Germany will not return to the League no agreement on disarmament is possible. If that be really the case, is it not of paramount importance to find out whether the League in its present form is the kind of body to which Germany can give her adhesion. I do not see, after this statement in the White Paper, that the Government can possibly divorce the two questions from each other, or postpone one in favour of another. I do not for a moment suggest that the question of disarmament should be postponed, but I do suggest that we should not postpone the question of the reform of the League of Nations.
The League is now 13 years of age, and I do not suppose anybody has the slightest doubt that the creation of the League has been an outstanding event in the world's history. No one can doubt that the League has done an immense amount of valuable work in various directions quite outside and unconnected with the questions of war or peace. But no one can deny that, in spite of those 13 years of activity, the armaments of some of the greatest Powers in the world have grown progressively and enormously. Everyone knows that at the present moment Europe is little less than an armed camp. No one also can deny that, in spite of the League, international animosities are more virulent in some directions than at any time since its formation. In fact, during the last year Europe has been nearer the possibility of war than at any time since the formation of the League. It is true that the other day the tension was slightly relaxed owing to the agreement between Germany 411 and Poland. But that agreement was negotiated entirely outside the League of Nations and without any assistance from the League—a fact which in itself has derogated from the prestige of the League. Finally, no one can deny that the League has been unable to stop wars taking their usual course of victory and defeat in different parts of the world, not only between small Powers, but between great Powers.
If these statements are unchallenged, I venture to say that the time has come to review the League and the Covenant of the League. The Foreign Secretary a few days ago at Birkenhead said that he deeply deplored the present situation, that is to say, deeply deplored the inability of the League to counter the movement for increased armaments. To deplore the situation is not enough. The League of Nations to-day is obviously not a League of Nations in the ordinary sense of the term; it is a League of most of the small Powers plus a minority of the great Powers of the world. Four great Powers now stand outside the League, and one other great Power has expressed grave dissatisfaction with the present constitution of the League. If Italy left, there would remain only two of the great Powers, and that, I think, would probably spell the end of the League for all practical purposes. It would simply resolve itself into an Anglo-French alliance with Great Britain on the one side and France and the Little Entente on the other. That might be an extremely strong combination for various European purposes, but it would certainly not be a League of Nations and would undoubtedly be conducive to war.
What really is the weakness of the League of Nations constituted as it is at present, which prevents its obtaining the adhesion of other great Powers of the world and prejudices the question of disarmament? I submit with all humility that there are two cardinal defects that go to the root of the League of Nations, namely, the incorporation of the Covenant with the Peace Treaties and the punitive sanctions which are embodied in the Covenant. May I take the first point? The Covenant is inextricably bound up with the four great Peace Treaties—the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, the Treaty of Saint Germain 412 with Austria, the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria, and the Treaty of the Trianon with Hungary. In all these treaties the 26 articles of the Covenant are incorporated. I ask the House, how are we ever to get a revision of the treaties in those circumstances? It is true that Article 19 of the Covenant provides in a general way for a revision of any treaty, but: no revision can take place under Article 5, unless the members of the Assembly and of the Council are unanimous and, as everyone knows, some of the nations in Europe, including France and the Little Entente, are bitterly hostile to any revision whatever.
Can you be surprised that Germany left the League in those circumstances when there was practically no hope that the League would ever agree to any kind of revision? I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will disagree with me, that it is not any exaggeration to say that the machinery of the League has over and over again been utilised by certain Powers to preserve the letter of the Peace Treaties when a timely revision of those Treaties would have made all the difference. In fact, if we look at the Covenant, the whole tenor of Article 10 is to perpetuate the Peace Treaties, guaranteeing, as it does at present, the territorial boundaries of all members of the League against an aggressor. This is, to my mind, the one fundamental reason why the United States of America refuse to join the League. How can we hope that they will ever give adhesion to the League as long as this Article in the Covenant asks them to guarantee European boundaries which they never ratified? I think that it is absolutely hopeless to expect them to do so.
I submit that the second great difficulty of the League as at present constituted lies in the sanctions embodied in Articles 16 and 17. Under the Sanction Clauses nations are bound, if necessary, to go to war for some quarrel in some part of the world with which they have no concern at all. These are the words:It shall be the duty of the Council in such case to recommend to the several Governments concerned what effective military, naval or air force the Members of the League shall severally contribute to the armed forces to be used to protect the covenants of the League.413 That certainly is not disarmament, whatever else it may be. In fact, these Clauses containing the sanctions necessarily imply preparations for war inside the League itself. Surely that ought not to be one of the objects of the League of Nations if they want all the great Powers to join. Everybody knows that there are no sanctions in the Kellogg Pact, and I do not believe the United States of America will ever undertake the responsibility of compulsory sanctions. The United States of America expressly refused to attach penalties to any breach of the Paris Pact. It is prefectly true that one American statesman—I think Mr. Norman Davis—not long ago declared that America would not stand in the way of collective effort against an aggressor if the United States were in agreement with the League about the quarrel, which is a very, very important qualification. But going even to that extent is a very long way indeed from the sanctions in Articles 16 and 17; and since then President Roosevelt has made it absolutely clear that the United States of America are never going to join the League of Nations in its present form.
Therefore, it seems to me, with all respect, that these sanctions will have to disappear from the Covenant if we want the United States to join the League. In any event, these sanctions cannot possibly operate without the United States of America. Certainly this country would be very ill-advised indeed to carry out any sanctions which would mean interference by the British Navy in American neutral trade. The effectiveness of these sanctions obviously depends upon their acceptance by all the great Powers of the world. I notice that the other day Professor Gilbert Murray, one of the greatest authorities, I suppose, on the League, replied to certain criticisms of the League of Nations at a big meeting at Oxford, but, unless the report I read was very much abridged, he never referred to the sanctions of the Covenant, and I am hardly surprised, for there is no excuse for their retention in the Covenant to-day.
§ Mr. LOCKER-LAMPSON
I am referring to this particular speech. It may have been an abridged report, but he 414 certainly avoided meeting any criticism that had been made against those sanctions. After all, the Covenant has already been modified several times. Articles 4, 6, 12, 13 and 15 have been modified, and one advantage is that the amending of the Covenant, although it requires a unanimous Council, needs only a majority of the Assembly. But the Government have told us that the reform of the League should await the results of the Disarmament Conference; in other words, that disarmament should precede reform. To my mind, that is absolutely putting the cart before the horse. How can we get permanent and general disarmament by means of the efforts of the League unless we persuade all these other big Powers to join the League as members and undertake its obligations and how can we expect them to become members of the League unless we, first of all, make attempts to alter its present scope? To think we can do that is to live in a fool's paradise. Without the United States, without Japan, without Germany and without Russia in the League, the case for disarmament is completely hopeless. We are trying to build a top storey with no supporting scaffolding underneath. As my last word, I hope that before this Debate is concluded the Foreign Secretary may be able to indicate whether the Government have any policy in this matter—they must have some ideas on the subject—and that the disinclination of any particular European Power, however friendly, to consider this question of reform ought not to deter the Government from formulating their own policy.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. WILMOT
No one who listened to the speech of the Lord Privy Seal, charged as it was with the most obvious sincerity, could fail to feel that it was a very valiant attempt to disguise a conviction of impending failure. I make no claim to any specialist or expert knowledge on this subject, but it is the ordinary man who will have to pay the price of failure, if failure supervenes. I feel that that speech, to which we listened with so much interest, was marred by the charge that those of us who express doubts and misgivings as to the past and current policy of the Government do so not from conviction but from a desire to exploit the national extremity for party purposes. That is 415 an unworthy statement, and I rather wonder it was repeated. This question of war and peace is far too terrible a responsibility for any man with any sense to seek to gain party capital or advantage from it, and if we on this side of the House express our anxieties and our fears, we do it because we believe that it is better to face stark realities than to deal in smooth phrases and endeavour to make out that we exist in some cloud cuckoo-land.
I feel that the mission which was undertaken by the Lord Privy Seal was a hopeless mission from the start, but that does not mean that the situation is altogether hopeless in every respect. He went to persuade two other Powers to smile upon the latest proposals of the British Government. I suppose everybody realises now that those proposals were made too late. To say that is not deliberately to paint a dark picture for the pleasure of doing it, but because it is better to realise where the mistake lies than to go on with the facile optimism that something will turn up to rescue us in the end. I believe that the fundamental cause of the failure lies in the fact that this country is governed by a Coalition Government made up of dissimilar elements expressing fundamentally different conceptions of what the foreign policy of the country ought to be. That is why, in my view, when the right thing is done it is, time after time, done too late. If the latest British Memorandum had been put forward 12 months earlier, it would possibly have achieved its object, but it was drawn up after the rearmament of Germany had proceeded some distance and had, in fact, been condoned, and at that point it was obviously useless, as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) pointed out. It was obviously useless to suggest to France the proposals which were embodied in the Memorandum.
The tragedy of this situation is that nobody believes, nobody understands, what is the real, fundamental policy of the British Government. Nobody knows whether we are pursuing an out-and-out frank League of Nations' policy or pursuing a policy which is one of making a gesture towards the League, one of, perhaps, hoping that something may come from that direction while holding a real 416 belief that nothing really can be done, and that in the end we shall have to come back to some pre-War system of security, if security it be. We have had the unfortunate fact that the Estimates for the righting Services have been introduced at the very time when this question of disarmament has arrived at its most critical juncture. It seems ludicrous that the British Government should be able to decide what the size of our armaments are without knowing what the future of our foreign policy is to be. Are we to build battleships and aeroplanes in the belief that we are part of a collective peace system? If so, what contribution are we expected to make to that system of collective security, who else is going to contribute to it, and what is the magnitude of their contributions?
I was very much surprised to hear that sincere friend of the League of Nations the right hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) express the views he holds with regard to sanctions. Unless the League of Nations is to be armed with some power to enforce its decisions it will be as useless as the Kellog Pact has proved to be. It is so difficult to expect the other nations of Europe to believe in our sincerity when we bring forward our increased armament proposals at the very time that the fate of disarmament is trembling in the balance. What is our policy? Do we believe that security is only to be found in our own strong right arm? There are many hon. Members who believe that. I give them credit for their sincerity. If I believed that the best security from invasion for our people lay in a big Army, a big Navy and a big Air Force, I should support those policies. My prime interest in this matter is to see to it that nothing is left undone that will protect our people from the horrors of war and invasion. I do not know—nobody knows—whether the British Government believe that the best and only form of security is to be found in armaments. Do they believe that some sort of balance of power, for instance, can best be evolved, and that we had best pool our forces, not with the other member-States of the League as a whole, but with a selection of powers who can be got into an alliance, much as was the situation in 1914? Even then it is necessary to know who are our allies upon whom we can depend in an emergency, and against which possible combination 417 of Powers we are to build and arm. None of those things is made plain. Nobody knows what the conception of the future policy of the Government is, and in such a situation is it to be wondered—
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
How can any Government at any time declare against what enemy or potential enemy it is arming?
§ Mr. WILMOT
That question displays a lamentable lack of knowledge of the history of British foreign policy.
§ Mr. WILMOT
The present is not different from the past in that respect. A policy to be effective must be related to the conditions that surround it. It is useless to stand in a vacuum unable to decide whether we are to depend solely upon our own armaments, or whether to get the best alliance that we can—
§ Mr. WILMOT
It is the point that I was making—or whether we are to depend upon a new conception of security embodied in the idea of the League of Nations. I believe that it is the vacillation, or the apparent vacillation, of the British Government's policy which is primarily responsible for the impending tragedy. All of us believed at one time that every British Government, no matter of what party, was a firm supporter of the idea of collective security. That idea was accepted throughout Europe. I believe—I say it with the deepest respect to the Foreign Secretary, and in his presence—that the fatal blunder that was made with regard to the Japanese aggression was the worst blow that was delivered against the belief in the effectiveness of the League system. A similar blow was dealt in this House by the same right hon. Gentleman when he made that memorable speech upon the implications of Locarno. After that speech, is it to be wondered at that nobody in Europe believes that the Locarno Pact means anything? Unless in undertaking to go to the aid of a State which is attacked, we abide by the judgment of the League, we are placed in the position of judge 418 and executioner as well. We become the judge of our own liabilities.
If we were sitting in Paris and were looking at the actions of a foreign Government, and we were asked to rely for our security upon a pact the interpretation of which was left until the emergency had occurred, we should regard that security as mere waste paper. That is the second vacillation of policy, lack of decision, and failure to convey a sense of security, which have caused the whole of Europe to regard the policy of the British Government as beyond human understanding, and in extremis to turn to the old and the simple method of getting security, which 13 by building the biggest armaments that you can afford. If I believed that that was the one way left, and that only by the big armament policy could we secure peace and freedom from invasion, I would whole-heartedly support it, but such are the conditions of modern war, that however large our forces may be, however much we drain away our substance and for however long we give up all hope of social development because of the burdens that we are going to put upon our backs, we get no more security.
We might get some sort of guarantee that we shall not be quickly defeated in a war, but we get no guarantee that we shall not be destroyed. In the new conditions of warfare it is the destruction of the civilian population, rather than the defeat of the armed forces, which is the objective of any potential enemy. Therefore I believe that the course of those who really and sincerely desire to do what is possible to protect our people is still to endeavour to secure at all costs, and at no matter what risk, something in the way of a system of collective security. I see no hope in any other direction. I believe that it is not yet too late. I believe that because, speaking here in England and voicing, as I believe in my humble way, the feelings of the ordinary man-in-the-street, I know that in France and in other countries similar people are thinking along similar lines. If only some great Power occupying a key position, as we do, would, even now, take a lead in this matter, something would be done.
Let us look at the situation as it now is, desperate and black as it looks. 419 There is France, desperately desiring security, for reasons which we can well understand. There is Belgium. There are the Scandinavian countries. There is Italy and there is Russia—all of them staking their all upon continued peace—and, removed by distance but not in sentiment, there is the new world across the Atlantic. Is it too late to make a fresh start to try to cut through these disbeliefs and this lack of conviction in our security and our intentions'? Can we not determine on a policy and stick to it, and not give it up until at last we say, "We can go no further, and we will take the only alternative that is left"? We cannot possibly ride more than one of these policies at the same time. I beg of the Government to make one more attempt to do all that is possible to bring into the society of nations that great new factor, the implications of whose co-operation we cannot measure; I refer to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and to see whether we can, in this desperate situation, bring the Soviet Republics into the collective peace system. We should see also whether America in her new temper, with her new hopes and her new conception of world responsibilities, will not lend to our endeavours a closer co-operation than we have had before. If the Government would do that, if they would put aside their own past and would stick valiantly to that policy, I am sure that there would be throughout this land a sigh of relief and of thankfulness, and that the British Government would earn the gratitude of the whole world.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
The purpose of this Debate was primarily in order that the House might hear from the Lord Privy Seal the impressions made upon him by his journey in Europe to certain capitals upon the Continent. The hon. Member was sent out like the dove from the Ark to see whether the waters had abated from the earth—the waters of suspicion, enmity and antagonism—and it was hoped that he might come back bearing the sprig of olive. He has returned, and there is as yet no leaf of olive. The floods still cover the face of the earth. Although his journey has been completed, his mission has not yet been fully completed, for that will not 420 be until we have the replies from all the Governments whose capitals he visited, and with whom he was in consultation; and that is not yet. So that really this Debate is premature, and it must necessarily be incomplete and inconclusive. I confess that I am rather sorry that the official Opposition did not, in the circumstances, substitute some other subject for foreign affairs in their request for the allocation of to-day's Debate, and postpone it until a week or two hence, when advices would have been received on this subject for the consideration of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The right hon. Gentleman will be interested to hear that we did try to postpone the Debate.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Then the Opposition are certainly absolved from criticism. I am sorry the arrangement could not be made to postpone the Debate, because then we might have had a much more effective discussion, and there would have been greater interest in it in the House and in the country. Still, the occasion having arisen, the House must avail itself of the opportunity to express the feelings which are uppermost in the minds of hon. Members. I regard this as an occasion on which it is right that we should express our very grave concern that it should appear that the race of armaments is again beginning. The cost is likely to be enormous. We read that France is now allocating an additional sum of £28,000,000 to her defences, including £750,000 for the provision of gas masks for the population. We know that Japan has been spending enormously upon armaments, and the United States are devoting a, further immense sum to armaments, while our own Defence Estimates have increased this year by £4,500,000, and we were told to-day at Question Time that, if we are to have the parity in the air for which some right hon. and hon. Members are pleading, that will involve a further addition of £8,000,000 to our Estimates.
All this must be a matter of grave concern, not only to the House of Commons but to the whole country, because everyone knows that these resources are needed for other purposes. They are needed for many measures of social amelioration, touching very directly the lives of great masses of the population. They are needed also for the relief of 421 taxation, for we have had impressed upon us again and again that it is essential for the development of industry and the restoration of prosperity that the enormous burden of taxation, still equal, or nearly equal, to what we were bearing in the War, should be lightened. But, if this race of armaments is to proceed, and further millions year by year are to be devoted to this purpose, all hopes of reduction of taxation or amelioration of social conditions must vanish.
When the Disarmament Conference first met, everyone said that it must not fail, that it dare not fail, that its failure would be a confession of the world's bankruptcy of statesmanship; and yet at this moment it is on the very edge of failure, and its failure will be a declaration of bankruptcy of the world's statesmanship. Such an event must undermine the confidence of the great mass of ordinary people—such confidence as they may have—in their rulers. In our great population of 40,000,000 there are vast numbers of people who are sorely tried, whose lives are very hard, and who know that our social system treats them harshly. They are subjected to grinding poverty, and to unemployment from time to time; they live in evil environments. All those people will revolt against the idea that tens of millions, increasingly year by year, are to be devoted by Parliament merely to the piling up of more and more competitive armaments, and at the end we shall have no greater security than at the beginning. As the Lord Privy Seal said to-day in his wise and able speech, if I may venture so to term it, "competitive armaments are no guarantee of security." That is an absolute truth, and it is well to hear it from the Treasury Bench. I only wish that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) would realise the truth of that statement. He seems to be under the delusion that two neighbouring Powers can both obtain security by each of them being stronger than the other.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
He seems to forget that, if one country has full security from its armaments, its neighbours must by that very fact have insecurity, that what is one country's security from armaments is its neighbour's insecurity. You do not get any general feeling of security or tranquillity in Europe by a policy of that kind. My right hon. Friend claims that 422 we should have parity in the air with the next strongest Power in Europe—I gather that that is his plea at the moment—with any Power which happened to be the strongest in Europe. If that were Russia, I presume we should have to build enormous fleets of aeroplanes against the imaginary possibility of a conflict with Russia. My right hon. Friend shakes his head—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I said we should have parity with any Power that could get at us—with any Power within striking distance, to use the phrase of the Lord President. I quite agree that, when you come to a Power so remote as Russia, that factor comes in.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
It is better that we should speak frankly. No offence is meant to any other particular countries, but these discussions would be unreal unless we did envisage particular countries. It is obvious, however, that no question could arise with regard to Belgium, or Holland, or the Scandinavian countries. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend says we must be equal in power to any country that is within striking distance from the air, there are only two other countries, France and Germany.
With regard to France, my right hon. Friend has been pleading to-day that France should increase her air force, and that we should encourage her in her efforts. He says that now she is developing her armaments, that it is a good thing that she should do so, and that we have been wrong for years past in trying to induce France to lower her defensive power, to reduce her army, navy or air force. My right hon. Friend would see with gratification an increase in the striking power of the air force of France, and, that having been effected, he would immediately come to the House of Commons and say, "Now you must vote another £5,000,000 or £10,000,000 in order to secure parity with France." If he does not mean that, what does he mean? Obviously, my right hon. Friend is declaring on the one hand that we must be equal to the strongest Power in Europe, and next he says that France is to be encouraged to increase her air force and is quite right to do so.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I never said that France was to be encouraged to increase her air force. I mentioned the fact that we were asking her to diminish it at a 423 time when she had already embarked on a programme of increase.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
It really comes to the same thing. My right hon. Friend would view without dissatisfaction—I will put it in that way—a strengthening of the forces of France, which he regards as really a pacifying influence in Europe, and as tending by their strength to maintain tranquillity and prevent attack from any quarter. Having done that, he would say that, while it is true that we are in no danger from France, because she is a pacifying element in Europe, and, therefore, her strength is to be regarded as a good thing, nevertheless it is necessary for us to build an equal number of aeroplanes to whatever France may require—that, although France has to consider, not us, but various other countries on her borders, yet, whatever she may consider to be necessary for her own security in view of her relations, North, East and South, we must necessarily, for the very reason that we have adopted this formula of parity with the strongest Power in Europe, spend unknown millions in order to achieve the same standard. If it is not France, it is Germany.
I agree if there is any menace from the air from any country within striking distance, but can anyone say that at the present moment, or in the immediate future, there is any menace on that scale from the air from Germany? Whatever she may have in the way of civilian aeroplanes, and whatever surreptitious developments there may be in secret arming—I know nothing as to what the facts may be—it is certain that we have far more than parity at the present time as regards Germany; and yet my right hon. Friend says that our present Air Estimates are wholly inadequate, and that it is necessary that we should take immediate steps to put ourselves in a reasonable position of security. Security against whom? Until my right hon. Friend says what are the dangers against which we have to defend ourselves, it is absurd to come to the House of Commons and press the Government to spend from this country, which is over-burdened with taxation, further sums to provide against a wholly unreal danger.
There has been in these recent Debates a new development with regard to the question of disarmament, and I think the 424 House would be well advised to give its attention to it. Gradually our hopes have been diminished, the proposals at Geneva have been whittled down stage by stage, and now it appears that, if the whole Convention fails, at any rate something may be saved from the wreck. The Lord President of the Council has suggested that, if a general convention proves to be impossible, there might be at all events an Air Convention, and we might endeavour to provide against the terrible danger to the civil populations of all the countries from air attack. That is a new development which has been presented to the House and to the country.
I had the privilege of being at Geneva, as one of the representatives of the Government when I was a member of it, in the summer of 1932, with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and I took part in the conversations that were proceeding then with, in particular, the French and the Americans, and also the Italians and others; and my right hon. Friend will not, I know, object to my mentioning the fact that among those conversations—I think it was made public at the time—there were discussions with regard to the possibility of reaching an agreement to limit any air attacks that might be permissible to military objectives. The whole subject is surrounded by very great difficulties in regard to defining what military objectives are. However, the conversations went on, and were not unhopeful at the time. Indeed, it seemed to me then that, whatever might be the result of the Conference in other respects, there was a real possibility of achieving agreement there, and also with regard to the complete prohibition of the use of gas. Everyone seemed to be agreed on these matters. That hope was to a large extent destroyed by a speech—a most admirable speech in many respects, which won world-wide admiration—that was made by the Lord President of the Council in November, 1932. It was the famous speech in which he described in most vivid terms, and with great eloquence and power of language, the terrible perils which faced the civil populations from air attack. In the course of that speech he said:The prohibition of the bombardment of the civil population, the next thing talked about, is impracticable so long as any bombing exists at all.425 He went on to say:The first difficulty about that is this—will any form of prohibition not to bomb, whether by convention, treaty, agreement, or anything you like, be effective in war? Frankly, I doubt it, and in doubting it, I make no reflection on the good faith of either ourselves or any other country. If a man has a potential weapon and has his back to the wall and is going to be killed, he will use that weapon whatever it is and whatever undertaking he has given about it. Experience has shown us that the stern test of war will break down all conventions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 634, Vol. 270.]That is a view which is held by very many people, but for my own part I do not agree with it, and I deplore the making of that statement, because in effect it meant that no convention of any kind that might be made at Geneva, no matter how universally signed, would be of any avail under this stern test of war; that, even if the right hon. Gentleman's own proposal were adopted, and all bombing were prohibited and all naval and military aircraft abolished, that also would be equally infringed; and, similarly, that all the conventions that have been made for arbitration and conciliation and everything else are mere paper and would prove to be worthless. As I say, I know that that view is very widely held by those who regard themselves as realists in this matter. I do not think it is a true view, because I think that the moral forces in the world have a tremendous effect upon wars, and did in fact decide the Great War of 1914–18.
It was the German invasion of Belgium, the breach of a treaty, which brought this country into the conflict as a united country. If Belgium had not been invaded, if the treaty had not been broken, if we had not been able to appeal to the law of nations as a reason, certainly the then Cabinet would not have been united, and there might not have been a majority for participating in the War. Certainly, the country would have been disunited; certainly the Labour party as a whole would have opposed the War; and the whole course of events would have been entirely different. That, at the beginning of the War, was a great moral issue which brought the whole power of the British Empire unitedly into the conflict. Then, step by step, the use by the Germans of gas, their sinking of some hospital ships, and events of that kind, 426 caused a feeling of anger and resentment to prevail in a large part of mankind, which had a profound influence upon the issue. Finally, the sinking of merchant ships by submarines, against treaty obligations, was the main reason that brought the United States into the War, and consequently it was really the breach of treaties which, by bringing in the whole of the British Empire and finally the United States, was the absolutely deciding factor in that Titanic and world-wide struggle.
Therefore, I believe that, if the Powers to-day solemnly signed a convention declaring that in no circumstances would they attack ordinary towns with civilian populations—definitions, no doubt, would be necessary—arid would limit themselves to military objectives and, if any country after that were, in definite breach of it, to send great fleets of aeroplanes to bomb the defenceless civilian population of ordinary towns, there would be such an explosion of anger and such a moral revulsion throughout the world against that country, that it would lose infinitely more than it could possibly gain by an attack of that character. So I think it would be well worth while pursuing this line further, and I am glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), with whom, I am sad to think, I find myself so seldom in agreement nowadays, and particularly on these matters, revived this project and took the initiative on the 8th instant in pleading for an international convention, or a series of treaties, confining our air warfare to military and naval objectives. What is more significant even, considering the course of past events, the Lord President of the Council, in spite of his speech in November, 1932, responded to the right hon. Gentleman's invitation and in the same Debate used these words:I agree most warmly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping with regard to agreements for the definition of specified areas for bombing. It may not be a great deal; I do not know. I am not sure, but I feel that coupled with restrictions and equality—with those two things together—it would be a far better combination for the maintenance of the peace of Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2078, Vol. 286.]Although the right hon. Gentleman was guarded in what he said, he spoke in quite a different tone from his earlier speech, in which he said that all such 427 conventions were useless, that they would be broken under the stress of war and were not worth having. Now I am glad to think he agrees that that line could be further pursued and I trust that, as the outcome of these discussions, if the Government find that a general convention proves impracticable, they will fall back on their second line of defence, a convention with regard to the air, and will explore the possibilities of securing agreement, with adequate definitions, to protect the civilian populations, at all events, from the worst barbarities of modern warfare.
The present tension in Europe and the parlous state to which the Disarmament Conference has been brought, is undoubtedly due to the emergence of a new factor, namely, the German revolution and, as a consequence of it, the withdrawal of Germany from the League and the revival of the spirit of militarism. I was very glad that the Lord Privy Seal drew attention to a very significant and, I think, deplorable speech at Potsdam a few days ago by General Goering, the Prime Minister of Prussia, and particularly these words:We should be proud to be laughed at abroad as a nation of militarists. We know what this militarism has achieved.No one has laughed. No one regards the revival of German militarism as a comedy fit for laughter. It is a tragedy fit for tears, and a tragedy in which, it may be, all of us will be doomed to take a lamentable part. It was said by Gibbon, who could speak, if any man could, in the name of history, that:History, after all, is little more than a register of the crimes, the misfortunes and the follies of mankind.That is a pessimistic view, but a declaration such as that of General Goering is a confirmation of that view and, indeed, an assurance that history will continue to be a register of the crimes, the misfortunes and the follies of mankind.
This revival of German militarism has placed Europe in a terrible dilemma. Are we, on the one hand, to acquiesce, to watch it grow and become more and more formidable until some day it results in a terrible catastrophe for Germany and for the world, or, on the other hand, are we to take steps to endeavour to stop it and thereby to refuse to a great 428 country like Germany that equality of status to which she has laid claim, and which our Government have in principle admitted? It is a terrible dilemma, and, whatever answer is given, the result cannot fail in some degree to be evil. And yet I think of the two it is not possible to say to any great country anywhere in the world, "You shall be kept disarmed in the presence of an armed world," and, if the other countries will not disarm, you cannot say to Germany that the restrictions of Versailles shall be indefinitely maintained. As I have said previously, speaking on these matters, it such a demand had been made after the Napoleonic Wars in 1814 at the Congress of Vienna, and France had been required to disarm and to remain disarmed in the presence of an armed world, who can imagine that such a state of things could possibly have lasted throughout the whole of the 19th century? Very significant was the speech of the Prime Minister of Belgium a few days ago, in which he declared that it would not be possible to maintain such a regime of inequality. So I believe Europe must choose that horn of the dilemma which admits a greater equality of armaments, trusting that a sense of fairness may lead in time, perhaps, to some change of heart among the masses of the people in Germany. I agree with the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) that it is not in a policy of isolation, which must lead to competitive armaments, and it is not in a policy of alliances, which always in history have led to war, but only in a policy of maintaining a collective system of control that the hope of the world can lie.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Captain LUMLEY
Every speaker in the Debate, including the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, has contemplated the possibility, or the danger, of another war. To one who, like many others, left the regular Army at the end of the last War in the belief that it would be impossible for such a thing to occur again, that is a very singular feature, and it seems to indicate that these next few weeks, in which very vital questions will have to be decided, will be fateful weeks for Europe and for this country. I think the speech of the Lord Privy Seal, although it was obviously not intended to be a definite pronouncement of Government policy, has served a very 429 useful purpose, because it has cleared the minds of many of us in relation to these very important matters, and although we could not reasonably expect that the Government would be able to-day to say very much on this all important question, I hope no harm will be done if I attempt in a general way to face up to the situation which would arise if these disarmament negotiations were to end in a deadlock. If I contemplate the possibility of such a deadlock, that does not mean that I think we must abandon all hope of a successful result. On the contrary, we can still retain the hope that all the work during the past few years of the Foreign Secretary and the Government, as well as the visit of the Lord Privy Seal to the three capitals, will result, even at this eleventh hour, in a convention which at least will contain some limitation of armaments, and, I hope, some curtailment of armaments.
Neither does it mean, if we contemplate the possibility of a deadlock, that that would be any justification for laying the blame for it on the British Government. In all the welter of criticism, some of it contradictory, some ill-natured, which has been bandied about for the past few months, this fact seems to me to emerge perfectly clear and incapable of contradiction, that it has been the British Government which has already saved the Disarmament Conference from failure on more than one occasion, and has time and again taken the lead in putting forward practical proposals. I do not think any fair-minded person can say with truth that, if a deadlock should arise, the blame for it can be placed at the door of our Government. But, although we still retain hope of a successful issue, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that a deadlock is at least possible and may very soon be upon us, and I think it is time that the House and the country considered the situation which would then arise. It seems to me that, if at the end of all these negotiations there is a deadlock or a breakdown, there will be two possible courses of action open to our Government. Either we may accept the deadlock and leave it at that, or we can make yet one more attempt to try to resolve it.
I should like to examine each of these possible courses of action from the point of view of security—not the French security, about which we hear a great 430 deal, but the security of the people who live in these islands, for. I believe, however high may be the ideals of our statesmen, in the long run no Government in this country will be forgiven if it fails to produce the largest measure of security for our own people in a disturbed world such as ours is to-day. Let me take, therefore, the first alternative. If no agreement is reached and a deadlock ensues, what will be the result? I do not believe that anyone will deny that the most probable result would be the open re-armament of Germany, that that would be followed by an increase of the armaments of France, and possibly many other countries would follow suit. In other words, the course would be clear once again for a race in armaments over the Continent of Europe. If those were the circumstances, what advantages could we gain? One advantage would occur to us at once. In those circumstances we should feel free to increase the level of our own armaments to make ourselves more secure, and that seems to me to be an inevitable course which would be forced upon us. But the amount of security which we could obtain by our own armaments in a re-armed Europe can be very much exaggerated. It would be limited to making ourselves secure only against a sudden and treacherous attack, and I doubt whether it would be any more than that.
It does not seem to me that our own armaments would secure us from the risk of being entangled in a European conflict, neither would they secure us from the consequences of such a conflict. Even supposing that Great Britain was no longer moved by considerations of honour, it would be a very strange thing if, should such a conflict arise, sooner or later she was not compelled to intervene on one side or another in her own interests. No great country could keep out of the last War, and I cannot recall more than a few instances in our history in which we have been able to stand aloof from a great European war. If we were able to stand aloof, would our people be secure against the economic catastrophe which would be bound to follow any major war? There could be no security against that. It would be folly to present the situation as any more gloomy than it is, but I feel that if the Disarmament Conference ends in a deadlock and gives rise to a race in armaments, 431 it will be a very grave event for us.
I do not share the views of those who consider that armaments by themselves are the cause of war. The danger lies much deeper. The reasons which make nations arm are the causes of war, and the danger which I see in the re-armament of Europe is that such a race in armaments would be the expression of the mounting fears of Europe. If there is any ground for the apprehension that a failure to reach agreement on disarmament would lead to re-armament, I am driven to the conclusion that the security which we could obtain by rearming ourselves would be very limited—so limited as to make it well worth our while to examine the other alternative, which is to go further than we have gone hitherto to obtain an agreement among the other nations about disarmament. It amounts, in plain language, to giving a more definite guarantee to France. It is not necessary for me to state why that particular course would seem to be necessary. No doubt the reasons which make the present situation in Europe so tense are well known to hon. Members. Germany will not acquiesce in a position of inferiority any longer and desires rearmament, and France dare not disarm unless she is given greater guarantees of security.
Therefore, the key to the immediate problem is to find some guarantee for France that will satisfy her. Let me assume for the sake of my argument that we could find such a satisfactory guarantee. What then would be the advantages to ourselves? Here, again, one advantage is obvious, and immediately leaps to our minds. We would not need to burden further Budgets with large additional estimates for the fighting services and so destroy for many years to come our hopes of reducing the burden of taxation or of improving the social services. If the shadow of that great impending financial burden could be removed from our horizon, there is not a Member in this House who would not be glad. It would meet with universal approval. One might even hope that the bench of bishops would discover unanimity upon it. What would be the effect upon our security? If we accepted a policy, such as that adumbrated by the Lord President of the Council, of parity, we should retain the 432 only advantage which we should have from the former alternative; we should still have security against any sudden or treacherous attack. But by far the most important aspect of this question is, What security can we obtain if we give a further guarantee? Would we obtain greater security or would we run greater risks from entanglements in a possible European conflict?
Here we are treading upon such vital ground that it would be a crime to make any exaggerated claim. Let us approach the matter with caution. All I would say about it is that I would feel much safer with more commitments in a disarmed Europe than I would without commitments in a re-armed Europe. I believe that that is the position which is before our country to-day. I do not feel competent to state in any more exact language what kind of guarantee we could give to France, but if we do give a guarantee we must have something in return, and it ought to be definite and substantial disarmament in Europe. Any guarantee which failed to obtain that result would seem to be wasted. As far as I have been able to follow the statements which have been made public by the French Government during these negotiations, our French friends have often asked us for further guarantees, but they have never stated in very plain language what they would give in return. It would be essential, if we were to reap the full benefit from any guarantee that we might give, to make quite sure that in return we achieve disarmament. The coming weeks, when these decisions will be taken, will be very vital weeks for the future of Europe. I have tried to consider this question from the point of view of our own security, and as far as I am able to do that, it is to our advantage to make yet another attempt, if a deadlock in these negotiations is reached, by giving a further guarantee to France. I believe that if the choice were placed fairly before the country of general re-armament or another guarantee by us, or another commitment to obtain disarmament, I believe that the country would accept the second alternative, and would give its approval to the Government if that decision were boldly taken and effectively pursued.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. HAMILTON KERR
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for York 433 (Captain Lumley) will forgive me if I do not follow him in some of the points he raised in his interesting speech. I am certain that all hon. Members who follow the European situation with care, and with a certain knowledge of the facts, cannot fail to congratulate the Government on the sincere desire for peace which their latest White Paper shows. It is a document which, if disappointing to idealists, nevertheless faces the iron realities of the European crisis.
The kernel of discontent which exists in Europe to-day is, as hon. Members know, the essential opposition of the French demand for security with the German insistence on equality. The teaching of history surely shows us that, of all the guarantors of peace, the policy of Macht-politik, to use the Bismarckian phrase, or power politics, is the most uncertain. After 1870, when Germany snatched the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from France, the whole genius of Bismarck devoted itself to the encirclement and the humiliation of his fallen enemy. Every combination his political skill devised professed this one objective—the isolation of France in Europe. But this policy, so far from ensuring peace, aroused in the minds of that proud and martial nation a bitter desire for a war of revenge. Similarly Mr. J. A. Spender, in his book "Fifty Years in Europe," shows how both the Kaiser and Von Tirpitz thought that they could pass a succession of Navy laws and yet maintain their friendship with England. "Build more battleships and England unable to ignore us will extend to us the hand of friendship," they told their adherents. Thanks to this fantasia every sincere and disinterested attempt at reconciliation from both sides inevitably broke down.
France, like Prussia after 1870, now dominates Europe with her military strength. To-day she evidently believes the maxim Samuel Butler enunciated in his notebook:What is the use of exalting the humble and the meek? They will not remain humble and meek long once they are exalted.Under the crushing burden of her armaments her finances are strained to the uttermost. But it is an idle dream of her statesmen to suppose that, by maintaining large air and military forces, she can for ever protect herself from a war of revenge undertaken by Germany. No network of alliances could hold in check 434 a Germany disillusioned with a bitter sense of being disarmed in the midst of powerful surrounding enemies. The White Paper shows its wisdom in recognising this essential fact. If international agreement grants to Germany, as the White Paper suggests, the 155-millimetre gun and the 6-ton tank, French military experts need have no qualms on that score. Against the great defensive systems of the Maginot line, these weapons would be of no more effect than pellets thrown against the hide of an armadillo. While French military experts need have no qualms about the security of their eastern frontier, this concession would do much to soothe the very sensitive German amour propre.
The great danger in Europe at this moment is that some Power should attempt to upset the status quo by force of arms. However unjust certain people believe this Peace Treaties to be, however jealous the victors are of maintaining the territories they won after such hard conflict, the overriding necessity of peace demands that these disputes, so far from being carried to the extremity of war, shall be submitted to the League of Nations. At Geneva the only justifiable and necessary machinery already exists. The Government White Paper states its belief that in reduction of armaments coupled with political assurances the best solution of peace will be found. From the earliest dawn of civilisation in Egypt and Mesopotamia, to the sheriff and his posse in the Western States of America to-day, men of determination and good will have always banded themselves together to defend the elemental rights of the community. This idea survives in the name of the Watch Committees in many of our English boroughs. We need a watch committee of the great European nations, and I include Germany among them, to see that no dispute is carried to the extremity of war. If smaller nations believe that such combinations menaced their security, they might possibly group themselves in combinations equal in strength to any one of the great Powers. One would perhaps be the Little Entente, another perhaps the Balkan nations. Such schemes would form the groundwork—so to speak—of local security pacts.
It seems to me that the League of Nations has failed so far because those nations who are its members have been either unwilling or unable to put the 435 sanctions into effect where no immediate interests gave them a stake. Take the case of Manchukuo. The Powers interested in the Pacific are the United States, Russia, Japan, China and, to a lesser extent, ourselves. Of these both Russia and the United States are outside the League of Nations; China is helpless. And, had the League of Nations decided to employ sanctions against Japan, our forces would have been the only forces available for putting those sanctions into effect. The situation was obviously impossible.
It seems to me, however, that the local security pact, combining nations whose interests are immediately at stake in local dangerous areas, would be more effective. The Treaty of Locarno guaranteed the German and French frontier. Lately Herr Hitler has formed a security pact with Poland lasting for a period of 10 years. Mr. Litvinoff, the Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs, has likewise guaranteed his Western frontier and made a peaceful agreement with the Balkan nations. Why should we not, in such storm centres as the Danubian basin and the Italo-Yugoslav frontier, have a number of security pacts to maintain the status quo as it exists to-day? The principle might be applied to the Far East, to Manchukuo, where many Powers have an immediate interest in preventing war, and the situation has lately been considerably eased by the sale of the Chinese Eastern Railway by the Soviet to the Japanese authorities.
The military philosopher Clausewitz defined war as a continuation of policy pursued in a more violent idiom. The Pact of Paris formally outlawed that conception, but the new conception of the Pact of Paris requires additional guarantees. In his monumental work "Leviathan," Hobbs writes some interesting facts about war:For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together, so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.It is this "assurance to the contrary" which Hobbs so strongly postulates that we need in Europe to-day. I therefore claim that any agreement entered into now, however limited in scope, however disappointing to those who place great 436 hope in it, is better than no agreement; that any small breastwork or barrier against the rising tide of armaments is better than no barrier. Such an agreement could, perhaps, prove the first, over a period of years, of further agreements amplifying and extending the security system throughout Europe. If that be the case, the old Scotch saying will prove itself worthy of application:Wha does the utmost that he can,Will whiles do mair.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
I come to this discussion realising that we are considering perhaps the gravest and most perplexing problem that confronts men to-day, one that is a matter of life and death for this civilisation and the civilisation into which we shall introduce our children. It is, therefore, a question which each one of us must consider with the greatest possible care and anxiety. I have not myself hitherto ventured to intervene in these Foreign Office Debates, because I have never felt competent to deal with the technicalities. I do not feel any more competent to-day, but the House will perhaps bear with me if I admit that the more I read and study the reports from Geneva and from abroad, the more anxious and the more concerned do I become.
No one can accuse the Scots of being a nervy race. I have heard them described by some of my hon. Friends below the Border as being cautious, canny, even narrow. We had an example the other day over the Sunday Trading Bill. I have even heard the adjective "extortionary" used to describe my fellow-countrymen—an adjective for which there is no justification—but never has it been suggested of the Scots that they are a nervy race and easily fluttered. In no part of Scotland is there less nerviness, less-fluttering, less shakiness than that division which I have the honour to represent. In the War we found in that part of the country some of the most amazing responses to the nation's call. The figures of recruiting in Fifeshire were as high as the figures in any part of the country. Yet, in that county of sane, sober, supremely sensible people, there is at this time real concern as to the future and the safety of the country. A woman with a child in her arms asked me only 437 the other day, "Is it true that we are going to have another war?" I met not long ago a man working on the roadside who stopped me and inquired, "Are they really gathering their forces again in Germany?" I came across in a club, a week or two ago, a group of young men considering and wondering what is about to happen.
I will not say that there is alarm in the country, but there is at any rate that worried, concerned feeling among very many people, and that is my excuse for intervening in this Debate. Their feeling is not only concern for Europe, Germany and France; it is concern for this country and ourselves. When they ask, "Is Germany arming, or preparing for war?" deep down in the hearts of these people is the question, "What is to happen to us in such an eventuality?" In all the obscurity which surrounds Europe and the world at this time one fact is abundantly plain: that the people of Great Britain are determined to stand out of any conflict. It is no exaggeration to say that no cause, other than direct or threatened invasion of our shores, no call, no appeal, no matter from what source, will make this people go to war. That is an overwhelmingly important fact. It is one that should be the burden of speeches and debates; it is one that should form the background of and colour every memorandum issued.
What does it mean to us? We are here responsible for the safety and the future of this country. It means that our first duty is to ensure the maintenance of peace in this land. Are we performing that duty? Are the Government pursuing a course in line with the desires of the people? To hear some of the criticism that has come from that Opposition Bench to-day, you would imagine that we have on the Government Front Bench a gang of professional warmongers, bereft alike of courage, common sense and common decency. I hear hon. Members say that the Government have been dilatory, aimless and lacking in purpose. The hon. Member who introduced this Debate quoted, as one of the opportunities missed, a so-called advance by Amercia. That was the best example that he could produce, and it was immediately proved to have no foundation in fact. If that is an example, as I take it to be, 438 of the strength and foundation of the criticisms of the Opposition, I do not think much of it.
I hope that I am charitably minded. Many of the hon. Members who from time to time criticise the Government's foreign policy are my friends, for whom in private I have the greatest respect and admiration. But somehow or other, however, when they enter this Chamber and rise to their feet, every quality of fair play, fair dealing and fair sense seems to leave them, and they become little more than prejudiced partisans. That is how it strikes me. The subject of this Debate is not, one would have thought, a subject to be viewed from a partisan or a party point of view, but one to which we should all attempt to offer what contributions we can. The suggestion is that the Government have done nothing. Time and time again, at Geneva and elsewhere, we have made proposals, we have tabled suggestions, we have offered guarantees, some of them involving great sacrifice for this country and its people. Not only has our pressure for peace been unremitting, but we have also weakened our defence during the last two or three years for the sake of peace and in the interest of disarmament.
I interrupted the hon. Member who introduced this Debate when he suggested that we did not know where we were or what the Government's policy was. He did not allow me to ask him whether he had read or studied the British Draft Convention. You may not agree with the terms of the British Draft Convention, but you will agree that it represents the greatest constructive effort in this direction that any Government has made in recent years. It is ridiculous for any hon. Member in those circumstances to ask what the Government are doing or to pretend that nothing has been done in recent years.
I want to address myself to the position in Europe. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) offered a constructive and helpful proposal, and I should like to follow him on that line. What is the trouble in Europe? The trouble mainly is to reconcile the interests of France and Germany. If those interests were reconciled other major problems would automatically solve themselves. There have been notes between 439 the British, French, Italian and German Governments, and the striking feature of those notes is not the disparity of their aims or purposes but the large amount of common ground that exists between those nations. They are all anxious for peace and disarmament. That is repeatedly stated not only by ourselves but by the other countries, including the German Government. Some people may say that it is all talk. I do not take that view. I am more inclined to agree with the view expressed by the Italian Government in giving:the utmost weight to the pacific declarations of President Hindenburg and Chancellor Hitler.If the countries desire disarmament, it may be asked what it is that prevents it coming about? It seems to boil down to a difference on two points. One is the reckoning of the effectives that are to make up the German forces, and the other the date of the equipment of the future German army with defensive weapons. It is agreed by France and the other nations that Germany should be allowed to re-arm, and it becomes a question only of when and the exact character. On other major matters there are grounds for agreement between the various nations. That is a considerable tribute to my hon. Friend and his Government. Both sides accept the principle of supervision. That in itself is a very considerable step forward. Both are ready to agree to some form of limitation of aerial bombing and the bombing of civil populations. More important still, Germany and Italy are prepared to allow France to maintain her present level of armaments. That is the most important of the various points of agreement. I grant that it is also the most disappointing—that Germany is prepared to leave France with her present level of armaments, on the understanding only that there is no further increase. That view is shared by Italy, regretfully shared, but stated definitely.
It may be tragic as well as disappointing that after eight or ten years' constant negotiation at Geneva and elsewhere all that we have got is a promise by France, not to disarm, but only not to increase her armaments still further. To those who have laboured hard in the cause of peace that may seem calamitous. I understand that it is the view of His Majesty's 440 Government that it is calamitous. In their note they say that theyCannot contemplate as acceptable a conclusion which though it would provide for a limitation of armaments would do nothing to secure their reduction.I do not suppose that there is any one in this House who does not share the regret of His Majesty's Government that that is the position, but I wonder—I am offering this in the most helpful spirit and in no defeatist spirit—if we could not swallow our regret, as we have swallowed a good many other regrets in the past, for the sake of an immediate agreement; what Hitler calls a rapid settlement. France resolutely refuses to move from her present decision not to disarm further. Italy accepts that as a matter of fact and so, surprisingly enough, does Germany. It is looked upon by all the other countries in close touch with Germany as a fait accompli, as something which is done and not worth arguing more about. If that is the view taken by the other countries, why should we hold out against it? Why withhold our support for a possible agreement because of that which has now become an accomplished fact, if from that agreement we can obtain some reasonable security for the future? The value of an immediate agreement cannot be exaggerated. In the words of the Government's note:We must seek the solution where the solution exists.If a solution in international affairs is not to be found in the gallery, do not ignore it if it rests somewhere in the pit. If we cannot have the lofty and noble thing that we have striven for for years, do not let us ignore something less lofty, something that would be useful for mankind. I believe that such an agreement can be reached if we recognise that state of affairs. If we leave France with her present armaments, (supported by our latest offer of guarantees) and restrict German rearmament to their own modest claims, we shall give to France the security asked for and at the same time recognise for Germany the equality which she finds necessary. This may be disappointing and unheroic, but at least it is something. I believe with Signor Mussolini that such an agreement, disappointing as it may be, could be made to form the basis of a 441 greater and loftier agreement in years to come.
Let us make the treaty now. Let us obtain by that means, not heroic but practical, the signature of Adolph Hitler. It is impossible to over-estimate the value of that signature upon a document. We may have our views about Herr Hitler—the right hon. Gentleman opposite has very definite views about his barbaric methods and philosophy but Hitler has shown that he is a man of his word. No promise that he has made to other countries has been broken, and I believe that if his name was affixed to a document, an agreement with other nations, he would hold to that pledge. Let us also get the signature of France now, because in two or three months' time it may not be so easily obtained. Democracy holds out its hand to peace, but a dictatorship may scorn it. So long as that peace-loving democracy enjoys free institutions, let us get its signature now. Agreement can be obtained on those lines. I am not concerned about the numbers of effectives. That is a matter for the technical experts to examine and settle. Nor am I afraid of an armaments race. If you have armaments, limited as they would be by such an agreement, and if you have international supervision, I see no necessity for an armaments race. In any case, I can see no alternative.It cannot be proposed that Germany shall remain subject to unilateral disarmament which is not applicable to other States and which has no relation to the level of the armaments of those States.I have been quoting from the German document. To accept a position of that kind would be in very deed to encourage a new race in armaments, with all the drive and with all the strength of a nation made rancorous by unfair treatment. I beg the Government, the country and the House to face realities. Because we cannot get all we would like, do not let us turn down something which may be useful. My suggestion, summarised, is that we negotiate on the basis of the status quo. If we cannot get France to reduce her armaments, then let us negotiate with France on her present position, with the single purpose of getting an immediate agreement. Time is running out. The Italian Government expressed the view, and I think it was the proper view, 442 that unless this problem is taken in hand within the next few weeks, no man knows what may be the position of Europe. Therefore I suggest that we should swallow whatever regrets we may have that our first object has not been obtained, that we should negotiate on the basis of the status quo and in that way obtain immediate agreement between the great Powers of Europe. We have taken steps in the last two years to alter, amend and change the economic organisation of this country. We have swallowed some of our life-long beliefs and convictions. Let us for the sake of the peace of the world swallow some of the high desires that we may have had, and let us obtain for the sake of peace and disarmament something which, be it modest, be it only half-hearted, would mean immediate agreement and peace between the nations of the world.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Colonel CLIFTON BROWN
This is the first time that I have ventured to address the House on foreign affairs, on which I do not pretend to be an expert, but I have travelled in Europe and abroad as much as any ordinary Englishmen and I can represent the views of the average Englishmen on this question. The last speaker said that we want an agreement now. I doubt whether we can get it. I doubt if there are the conditions in Europe which would give us an agreement now. There are many people in this country who have some doubt whether a far-reaching agreement would really be of great value at the present time, because there are not the conditions in Europe which would make an agreement binding. When one looks at the condition of Europe and at the Governments of Europe and how unstable they are, one wonders what would be the value at the present time of a signature on paper to an agreement when the Government concerned in that signature or the individual who represents that Government may be changed at any moment.
We have in Europe to-day too many one-man Governments. And they are not the most stable things in the world. They are often upset by another man, who undoes everything his predecessor has done. I doubt whether in present conditions you can hope or expect to get lasting agreement in Europe. If that be so, then I think that the efforts of His 443 Majesty's Government ought to be applied, not so much towards getting a far reaching agreement, as to creating conditions which may produce stability abroad, and by that I mean to encourage governments who can be relied upon and with whom an agreement would be binding. Far more important than obtaining an agreement now is for the Government to encourage everything which will make for stability in Europe. One thing which would make for greater instability in Europe is for this country to start a large programme of rearmament. That would destroy the position abroad and put a burden on the taxpayers of this country which would be very intolerable at the present moment, and in the opinion of most people would take us but a very little way upon the road to security.
While that may be true, there are other things which the Government can do to help the friends of peace in this country and abroad. It is essential that we should keep our forces up to present limits, and not neglect them in any way. They should be efficient although small, and then they would be a factor in European politics should any country suffer from a fit of hysteria and embark on warlike courses. Apart from that, there is very little the Government can do beyond looking after the interests of this country. We must also realise that the enemies of peace are not so much the people of other countries as sometimes their Governments. Governments may train their people to be warlike, but even in Germany and in other countries there is always a sound body of business men whose interest is to carry on their trade in a peaceful way. These are the factors which, if given time, are bound to have an effect upon their Government, and the more we can do to help these people, to give them confidence and prevent them being stampeded by their Governments, the more we are really helping the cause of peace in Europe.
This country has a role to play in establishing peace in Europe. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said that the Government was much to blame because they pestered France and other countries with proposals for disarmament which were not welcome. I do not know whether they were welcome or not, but I am certain that the efforts of His Majesty's Government must have 444 been some encouragement to those people who really are anxious about peace. If we relax these efforts, I am afraid that these people will lose heart, and then there is very little chance indeed of Europe coming into line or making any agreement in the future. Therefore, even if the mission of the Lord Privy Seal has been fruitless—I am certain that it has not—it will have been well worth while, because it has shown to people abroad that England, after all, is keeping the flag of peace flying, is not going to withdraw but intends to do everything she can to keep the peace spirit alive among the countries of Europe. I have no complaint to make against the Government in their foreign policy. I have no faith in quick remedies. We must have patience, and, if we continue on our present road, in due course we shall get our reward.
The Government have been accused of not following strictly a League of Nations policy. In fact, one hon. Member said that what is wanted is a strong policy by the Government along the lines of the League of Nations. What good is that at the present moment in Europe? What encouragement is it to business men in Germany to be told that England is following a League of Nations policy when Germany is outside the League? What encouragement is it to the Italians, or what hope and encouragement is it to Japan? I am afraid that we are not facing realities. There are some countries which are suffering from a kind of hysteria, and a time of hysteria is not the right moment at which to expect a lasting and far-reaching agreement. We must go forward with our present efforts and I am sure that we may look forward, in the long run, to their bringing their reward; the peace and security of Europe.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. EMRYS-EVANS
The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) referred to the rearmament of Germany as a monstrous child of the Disarmament Conference. I think the rearmament of Germany is really the result of something much farther in the past. It is the result of the Versailles Conference and Treaty. We then missed our opportunities. It was then that we failed to lay the foundations of a new Europe. The Treaty was based on the fears of the moment, not on the hopes of the future.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. EMRYS-EVANS
In 1932, we had passed from a period of what I may describe as one of uneasy stability into a period of movement; the international situation had become liquid once again. With this new period there were new opportunities and also new dangers. I have an uneasy feeling that this problem has been dealt with in what I may describe as the traditional spirit, the pre-War spirit. In the course of a speech last week the right hon. Member for Epping said that we should regain our freedom of choice. He spoke with vast knowledge and with great authority, but it seems to me that freedom of choice leads us towards the attitude of mind of a mediator; it means that this country adopts a policy towards European affairs which is to some extent detached. It means that the Government hesitates when it is dealing with questions which mean our entering into further international obligations, and it hesitates because it feels that there may be some other way out of the difficulty than undertaking obligations which are necessary if we are to find a new basis for peace in Europe. I do not believe that freedom of choice is any longer possible in a world of changed military, naval and aerial relationships. Surely, the attitude of mind of the mediator is utterly unsuitable for dealing with the present conditions in Europe.
Our hesitation to co-operate with other nations is not a sign of freedom and liberty of action but a sign of real weakness. At the present time there is cause for a great deal of anxiety, not abroad but in this country. I have a feeling that public opinion is not being consolidated as far as foreign affairs are concerned. There has been no real effort to consolidate public opinion in favour of a definite line of policy. We are often told that public opinion will not stand this line of policy or that line of policy, my complaint is that public opinion has not been asked to stand any line of policy. The position of the public towards the Government is similar to that described in these lines:Great Chathan with his sword drawn,Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham.446 Let us look at Germany. She is united. She is being driven forward in both foreign and domestic fields by ideas which may be crude and primitive, but nevertheless have dynamic force; and it is because German public opinion is being consolidated and directed that she has gained one diplomatic victory after another during the last year. So successful has her diplomacy been that within a short period of two years she has emerged from her weakness and is facing Europe with renewed strength. We see a dictatorship on the one hand, strong and confident, and a democracy, on the other hand, hesitant. The hon. Member for Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) said that this country would not fight under any circumstances. If that is true, I despair of the future of peace. I do not think it is true. I do not share the feeling that public opinion is not prepared to face its responsibilities and that democracy has not the courage to take decisions. Public opinion in this, as in other matters, is alert and expectant. We are often told that there are great difficulties and dangers about this course or about that course. There are always great difficulties and always great dangers in foreign affairs. Two years ago there were great difficulties and great dangers, but they were less than they are to-day. If in future we do not take a more active line, if we have not adopted a more definite policy, I believe that the dangers will become still greater and that the position will continue to deteriorate.
I do not believe that the nations of Europe are really so worried or so anxious about the wording of this agreement or that instrument. What they are anxious about and are looking to this country for is some kind of spirit behind these agreements which will assure them that we will carry them through when the day of trial comes. I hope that the Government will not cling to what I might describe as the traditional policy of this country, trying to stand aside as long as possible. I think that the day for that policy has passed. It is essential that we should go forward in Europe and be prepared to give guarantees and to enter much more closely into the European system than we have entered before. I believe that it is only by taking the country into their confidence, only by deciding on a vigorous policy of close co-operation in Europe, that it will be possible for the Government 447 to take any part in preventing the world from drifting still further into those dangerous places where the preservation of peace becomes so difficult.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
It is just a year since the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) gave his historic warning to the House of what the new Nazi Germany meant. At the end of the year the right hon. Gentleman has the right to say that every one of his words has been abundantly justified. We have had the speech that has been quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) this afternoon-General Goering's speech. I think that that speech is more ominous than anything that even the ex-Kaiser said before the War. What heightens the danger is that there is no criticism in Germany. The war party in pre-War Germany at least had before it the menace of a rising Social Democratic party. That opposition has gone; the party has been dissolved, the leaders are in exile or in gaol; and the military party in Germany is now in undisputed control. What is to be done? Those surely are the stark realities of the situation.
The situation so far as we are concerned is changing very fast. We who for want of a better term are on the left in politics feel that disarmament is for the moment off the map. The Government are not thinking on those lines. It is not the time to criticise or to apportion blame. The situation is far too serious for that. What the Government are now asking for, apparently, is a restricted German rearmament and a limitation of general armaments among other nations. It may be only half a cake, but it is a thousand times more worth having than no cake at all. Unless we can get this limitation on the lines of the British Memorandum, it seems to me that we are doomed to nothing else but unrestricted re-armament.
In this connection, speaking as a Liberal, I must confess that I welcomed the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President when he spoke of the possibility of having to build up to a one-Power standard in the air, not because that leads to re-armament, but because it takes away all inducement from among other nations of the world 448 to stand out against the limitation of air forces. After all, if there is to be—Heaven forbid—a race in armaments, this country can stand the strain better than any other country. I remember the days before the War when we were building a Fleet. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) came down to this House, I think it was in 1909, and said, "For every keel that is laid down in Germany we will lay down two." We stood the strain. We put out all the resources of our nation, and we kept to the bargain. It is well that Europe should realise that when it comes to spending money on armaments there is no country in Europe that can keep pace with us.
The Government are asking for a guaranteed security. That security, I suggest, depends on the extent to which we are prepared to guarantee it. How far do we really mean it? I would like to direct a question to the hon. Gentleman who will reply for the Opposition to-night. How far are the Opposition, who may one day be the Government, prepared to back up the League of Nations, if necessary in the last resort by force? I have here a remarkable speech by the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition. On 6th February he taunted my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with this:Perhaps the knowledge that the right hon. Gentleman is never prepared to stand pat when it conies to the point accounts for his having to give way all the way down. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman rattling the sheath because they know that he will never draw the sword."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1934; col. 1003, Vol. 285.]Did the Labour party say that in East Fulham? Did they say that in no circumstances would the Foreign Secretary draw the sword, that they knew he would "never draw the sword for anything at all," not even for collective security? We have a right to ask and the country has a right to ask the official Opposition whether they are prepared to draw the sword for guaranteeing security. Will they say it to-night, and, what is much more important, will they admit that they have said it in the forthcoming by-election in North Hammersmith? The official Opposition have complained that the Government have no policy on disarmament. I find it very difficult to discover the official Opposition's policy. They profess a belief in guaranteed securities and then they proceed to vote against the 449 Navy and the Air Force Votes, which alone can make that guarantee effective. They talk about Japan, and they were anxious for the Government to intervene with all its might in Japan, but on Monday night they voted against the Singapore Base, which alone would make that effective.
Surely it is time that we exposed our views on peace to the cold douche of realism. The pacifists may be the worst enemies of peace. Do hon. Members say that in no circumstances will Great Britain fight. They cannot say in the next breath that they believe in guaranteed peace. The time may come when that will be put to the test. Germany is rearming. She is rearming for no other purpose than to win back her lost territories. I am just old enough to remember the warning given by Lord Roberts in 1913 regarding Germany. He said: "Germany will strike when Germany's hour has struck. That is the policy of the Wilhelmstrasse." After General Goering's speech at the week-end one cannot help thinking that that, too, is the policy of the Wilhelmstrasser now. Hon. Gentlemen say in this House or outside that it is no concern of ours, that this is a fight between France and Germany and they should fight it out between themselves. Will there not come a time when we shall be forced to say, "This is our concern."
To what extent are we going to let Germany return to her old position? Are we going to sit back and let Germany cripple Denmark, swamp Austria, regain Alsace and Lorraine, and sweep over the Polish Corridor? Is there any moment when the opposition will say, "Stop!" Are we going to Jet Germany return to her old position of bullying and blustering and dominating and straddling all over Europe like a monster? Is there no moment when the Leaders of the Opposition here will say, "We cannot stand this." That would be a betrayal of those who died in the War; it would be the end of all for which they died. I do not believe there is a Member of the House who would support such an attitude.
What is it that those, like myself and hundreds of other hon. Members, who loathe and detest the idea of rearmament—what is it that we put our trust in? There are hon. Gentlemen who talk about the value of the collective front, the League of Nations, the collective protest. 450 I wish I thought that that was really effective. We have seen its results in the case of Japan. Japan snapped her fingers at it, and there was no answer. Then supporters of the League of Nations say, "Well, the League is a European institution, and it stands or falls by Europe." Germany has pretty successfully defied it. Collective protest was no use there.
There are hon. Members who believe in the economic blockade. I would like to think that that would be really effective. I agree that there might well be a restatement of the economic boycott provisions of the Covenant. Those provisions are practically in abeyance owing to the non-adhesion of the United States. It is very well worth while exploring the possibilities of bringing in the United States. But will Russia support an economic blockade? Will Italy? If they do, will it be effective? Germany is a debtor nation, and it is not easy to blockade a debtor nation. She owes I do not know how many millions in interest on the Dawes Loan, on municipal loans and the like, and a blockade might easily mean that this House would be asked to pay those loans instead of Germany. I cannot believe that that would really in the last resort be effective. I wish it could. I believe that the main guarantee, the only guarantee is the strengthening of the guarantees through the League of Nations.
I am not in the least afraid to say, speaking for myself, that I would like to see Locarno strengthened. There is the analogy of the Great War. It is almost indisputable now that if Germany had realised that in her attack on France she would be certain to have the swift and smashing force and might of the British Empire against her, even then, at the last hour, she would have hesitated and drawn back. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. Doran) will see that I am banned in Germany, but he cannot ban me here. We are not yet in possession of the French answer to the British Memorandum—a fact which makes this Debate rather unreal—but if that answer entails suggestions for more specific guarantees I suggest that the Government ought to give them the most searching consideration. At least, we ought to agree to co-operate in defence against air attacks.
451 We might go further and more precisely define what we mean by the terms of Locarno. France surely has a right to know more precisely than she knows now, in what circumstances she can be certain that there will be thrown into the scale the whole resources of the Empire. I fully recognise, as everybody must, the dangers. It may be argued that Prance would wantonly provoke a war. I do not think so. I think it has been well said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping that France is armed to the teeth but pacifist to the core. When one passes from a German village to a French village one is impressed by the enormous difference in the atmosphere. Even after 1870 there was really no revenge party in France. Marshal Joffre's memoirs published recently disclose how desperate was the anxiety of the French general staff, even in the last few days before the War, to avert the clash if possible.
It will be argued that the British electorate will not stand for further commitments. I do not believe that at all. In my judgment, the lessons of East Fulham have been misunderstood. That was a passionate protest against isolated rearmament and against the "my country right or wrong" mentality. I do not believe it was against peace through international action. The electors believe in the framework of securities, and they are prepared to take risks for peace if only they are given a lead. What they will not tolerate in their Government is an aimless drift to re-armament and rightly or wrongly, that is whither they feel Government policy is leading them. A policy of the strengthening of international guarantees if promptly "put over" and resolutely followed, will not fail, I believe, for want of support from the British people. Whatever may be said by the pacifists, patriotism is not dead in this country. But there must be a price for this guarantee, and I suggest that the price should be the acceptance by France of the British Memorandum. If one could make a criticism of Locarno, it seems to me that we did not get a quid pro quo. We gave guarantees, but got little in return. In return for those guarantees, we should make France sign along the dotted line the British Memorandum.
452 The price we should get for a real definition of Locarno is incalculable. The shadow of war would recede. It would mean reconciliation between France and Germany, and once that is achieved then real disarmament of the kind we want becomes a? practical possibility. Surely it is worth taking risks for that. The Nazis are not all General Goerings. There is a powerful section of them desperately anxious to reorganise and revitalise their own country and opposed to foreign adventures. If only we could get this breathing space, I believe there would be a chance for these better forces in the Nazi movement to come to the top. There are dangers in this policy. Of course there are, but they are nothing to the dangers which would result from isolated re-armament and the blind piling up of one fiendish weapon of destruction after another until civilisation as we know it comes crashing in ruins about our heads.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. LEWIS
The House this afternoon has been engaged in debating grave matters of high policy, and I feel that I ought to offer some apology for asking hon. Members to turn their attention for a few moments to something which, though important, cannot challenge comparison in importance with the supreme issue of peace or war to which the majority of the speakers have devoted themselves. The matter with which I wish to deal is referred to on page 4 of the Vote on Account. There, hon. Members will see in Class 2 the following item:League of Nations, Required on Account for 1934, £85,000.I would direct the attention of hon. Members, and particularly of the representatives of the Government, to the extremely unsatisfactory state of affairs which exists with regard to the contributions to the cost of the upkeep of the League of Nations. The latest figures were given on Monday last by the Lord Privy Seal in the following reply to a question:The approximate total of the contributions of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to the expenses of the League of Nations, including the International Labour Office, was, up to the end of 1933, £1,469,800. The contributions in arrear from other countries on the 21st January, 1934, amounted to gold francs 29,401,836,41, equivalent, at the current rate of exchange, to £1,872,700."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1934; col. 4, Vol. 287.]453 That means that other countries are in arrears with their contributions to a greater extent than the whole amount charged to and paid by this country since the beginning. I regret that when the League of Nations was started a rule was not made such as I venture to say would be made by almost any other assembly of men, that if anyone refused or neglected to pay his proper share of the general cost, while he did so, he should not be entitled to take part in the management or direction of that institution. No doubt it was thought at the time that the nations of the world would have sufficient national pride to prevent such a situation as this arising. But the plain fact is that at present a large number of countries refuse to contribute anything to the cost of the upkeep of the League and leave the whole burden to be borne by this and certain other countries.
Possibly some hon. Members do not realise how widespread is this state of affairs. In November last in reply to a question put by the hon. Member for East Dorset (Mr. Hall-Caine) the Lord Privy Seal said that 19 countries which were represented at the last meeting of the League of Nation's Assembly were in arrears with their subscriptions. No fewer than 19 countries are in arrears but are anxious to take part in the work of the Assembly. It may be urged that those countries find it difficult to pay and that they are hard up. It is difficult for us to pay; we are hard up and I fail to see why the burden should be thrown to such a large extent on the British taxpayer. When the late President Wilson conceived the idea of the League I ventured to think he had in mind something which would be a reality and not a sham; that he visualised the meeting together of nations in equality and not a gathering at which a few nations entertained the others for a time at Geneva.
The Lord Privy Seal, in reply to a Supplementary Question on Monday last, told the House that this matter of arrears of contributions had been constantly before His Majesty's Government and that they were doing their best to secure payment. If someone on behalf of the Foreign Office is replying to this Debate I hope he will spare a few minutes to tell the House exactly what the Government mean by "doing their best to secure payment." Does it mean that 454 occasionally they ask the representatives of these other countries to pay? It is perfectly evident that that course of procedure is futile. I submit there are two ways in which the matter could be brought to an issue. It would be possible for the Treasury to make a calculation as to what relief we should have in our contributions, were all arrears paid up, assuming a continuance of the present expenditure, and the Government could refuse in future to pay more than was shown to be really due from this country.
Alternatively, it would be possible for a representative of ours at Geneva to bring the matter up in the Assembly and to urge that countries which care so little about their responsibilities to the League, if they are, shall we say, more than a year in arrears with their allotted contributions, should be disqualified, until those arrears are paid, from appointing representatives to the Assembly, Council, and various committees; in other words, disqualified from taking part in the management and direction of the League. It may be that the spokesman for the Government may say that neither of these two methods commends itself to the Government. If that be the case, I would be glad, and I think there are others also who would be glad, to hear what alternative the Government propose. We have been told by the Lord Privy Seal that the matter has been constantly before them and that they are doing their best to secure payment. Again, I ask that when the opportunity comes later in the Debate, and the Foreign Secretary is replying, he will spare a few moments to tell us actually what the Government are doing in the matter.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. JANNER
I hope my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will forgive me if I deviate a little from the general trend of the Debate so far. I know the House will be sympathetic when it hears that I propose to deal with the position of the minorities and in particular of the Jewish community in Germany. There is an impression about that circumstances have changed very considerably, and no doubt there has been some slight relief in respect of the brutal attacks that were made upon the persons of individuals, but I am not at all sure that that in itself has ceased. 455 On the contrary, I am given to understand that it is continuing. I remember, when this matter was first raised, we received in this country a number of publications from the German authorities, or rather directed by the German authorities, and I have one of those publications in my hand. It is headed, "For the Vindication of Truth, Freedom, and Right," and among the statements that it contains are the following:It is not truethat foreigners or German Jews are molested or even ill-treated.It is not truethat German citizens or their property are in danger merely because they belong to parties hostile to the existing Government.The truth is (amongst other untruths which were at that time spread) all foreigners and all German citizens irrespective of their religious beliefs and of their race enjoy the full protection of the German Government, that they follow their usual occupations in the same way as always, and that they, too, acknowledge the admirable discipline of the National Socialist Government.
§ Mr. JANNER
I am sorry to have to tell my hon. and learned Friend that the many publications came from anonymous sources and in an anonymous manner, but they did undoubtedly emanate from certain directions which are not difficult to trace. The anonymity of this unfortunate document, which was widely spread, does not detract from its value, as it was information which was being spread at that time.
§ Mr. FLEMING
I gathered from the hon. Member's remarks that it was an official document, but perhaps I was mistaken.
§ Mr. JANNER
If I have said that I knew definitely that it was official, then I withdraw that statement, but I am sure that every one who received that document felt that it was not spread by minorities in Germany or with the intention of conveying any other impression than that the National Socialist Government in Germany was not to be blamed. We saw what happened. In this House Members of all parties rose in their places and condemned the brutal actions that took place, times without number. In other countries the same attitude was 456 adopted, and recently in America a tremendous meeting was held which examined the position and came to the conclusion that the attack which was being, made upon minorities in Germany was an attack that was contrary to all the principles of civilisation. No one can deny it. His Holiness the Pope recently himself issued a statement of a somewhat similar kind. The position has not altered, and I would like to quote some of the examples which illustrate how the position has not altered. For instance, a marriage between an Aryan and a Jew has been annulled. The Aryan appellant pleaded ignorance of the danger to the race when the marriage was contracted. The ruling of the court was:There is no provision in Aryan legislation regulating this question, but in view of the pernicious character of such marriages, the divorce must be allowed.A new rule for divorce, in spite of no legislation regulating it, is there made. A Jewish merchant, who objected to an attack which had been made upon him in a market, was arrested because of the fact that he brought his claim to a court, and was himself sent to a concentration camp. I am not raising these cases merely in order to bring forward once again the serious and sad condition particularly of people whose Jewish descent is being traced back to the fourth and possibly to the fifth generation. I am raising this for the purpose of getting from the right hon. Gentleman particulars of what action may be taken at some later stage in respect of the specific obligation which rests upon members of the League of Nations.
I would also like to bring forward the position of the child, the poor, innocent, Jewish child attending schools, in many cases placed on separate benches, submitted to the torture of having to listen to lessons which are anti-Jewish, and in one case at least, I am informed, actually being brought forward in a queue where milk was being distributed to the other children, being made to follow that queue and, when the turn of that Jewish child came, not being given an allowance of milk. The Leipzig education authority has suspended Dr. Behrehds, the headmaster of the Goethe School, and Fraulein Vorwerk, one of the teachers. The circumstances, I understand, are these: Fraulein Vorwerk refused to allow 457 a pupil to recite an anti-Semitic poem by Dietrich Eckart in the presence of Jewish children. The father complained to Dr. Behrends, who supported the teacher. The father then took his complaint to the local authority, which took the action to which I have referred.
There is one other incident that I should like to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure it must be known to him, and I am also sure his sympathy must be with these people, but I think the House ought also to have these facts before them, in view of the fact that so little is known at present of the crystallisation of this unfortunate position in Germany to-day. Driven from the professions, driven from the arts, driven from academic life, even on the soil in circumstances where he decides to train in order that he may possibly be able to obtain employment in another country, this unfortunate member of a great race, a very great race, is subjected to refusal even for this purpose. I would like to quote from the "Jewish Chronicle," which is very widely read. They write:In one village the peasants were called together by a Special Commissioner and told to dismiss immediately all Jewish youths working in their fields as agricultural labourers. In other places the peasants have been instructed that they must not train Jews in agriculture even if they are paid fees and intend to go to Palestine, Brazil or other countries as qualified agricultural workers. In the Rhineland, 70 farmers have been called together by the local authorities and ordered to dismiss their Jewish trainees immediately. A Jewish landowner who was employing a number of young Jews on his land was taken into protective custody by the Gestapo—secret police—and kept there for several days, being released only when he undertook to dismiss all the Jews. The Chamber of Agriculture for the Province of Brandenburg and Berlin has issued instructions to all peasants in its area that only Ayrans are to be admitted for training in land-work. There were newly 30 training centres established at Sommerfeld with the express authorisation of the authorities. These have now been dissolved, the authorities notifying them that the land is required for other purposes.The position is becoming more serious every day. It is not surprising that we now find books issued in Germany which emphasise the fact that religions which have prevailed hitherto are of no account at all and that the Edda religion is the religion that must be put in their place. It would be foolish for people who pursue 458 the policy to which I have referred to attach themselves to any of the great religions. In these circumstances is it not remarkable that considerable apprehension exists as to the fate of the 4,000 or 5,000 Jews in the Saar in addition to those who are members of other minority units, in the event of that territory being handed over to Germany by the League of Nations as a result of the plebisite next year. The handing over in cold blood of these individuals to a regime which will deny them more or less elementary rights of humanity cannot be contemplated without a shock. If they venture to express themselves against the return of the territory to Germany their fate is likely to be too awful to contemplate. As I have said, the regime of terrorism may have abated to some extent in Germany, but it is not over. There are still constant reports of individuals being spirited away to internment camps and their relatives being left without knowledge as to their whereabouts. Such a state of affairs was not contemplated when the Treaty of Versailles was drawn up. Otherwise, it is certain that provision would have been made for the protection of the rights of the inhabitants of the Saar in the event of a return to Germany.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can take steps to ascertain whether it is still possible to obtain guarantees for the protection of these people or, at the least, to make representations to the German Government as to the anxiety which is being felt on their behalf. It is necessary, moreover, to consider that this anxiety as to their eventual fate is one of the conditions that must be examined if the plebisite is to be regarded as a fair test of the feelings of the inhabitants. The terror of their eventual fate if they are known to have voted on the wrong side is itself sufficient to impair the freedom of the voting, and one can say that it is not possible in present conditions to ascertain the true opinion of the inhabitants. It may be possible to get the German Government to accept minority obligations—as she said she was prepared to do when the treaties were made—in respect of this territory, as in the case of Upper Silesia though one has reason to doubt the efficiency of such an arrangement. Can the Government say, for example, that the minorities of Upper Silesia are now 459 in full enjoyment of the rights guaranteed to them by the Minorities Convention applicable to that territory.
It is a serious problem. The number concerned is relatively small, but do not our extradition laws require our courts to examine the circumstances of even a single individual whose handing over to a foreign Power is requested? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the concern that exists. I am sure that he does, and I am sure that from the statements he has made from time to time that he realises full well that I and others who speak on this matter speak in the sincere hope that there will once again be established a brotherhood of man among those who are living in that great country of Germany, and that, instead of having a constant fear and terror hanging over them, as it does to-day, there will be re-established for them, within, let us hope, a short time and with the help of such action as the Government may be able to take here and as they can foster, a spirit of friendship and good feeling.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir MURRAY SUETER
I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) in the case he has put before the House, but I am sure that everyone, not only in the House, but in the country, sympathises with the lot of these unfortunate people. We listened with great interest-to the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones). I know him as a great pacifist, and I always respect his views. He put before us in great detail the unrest in Europe and in the Far East and wherever there are disturbances throughout the world. When I listened to him I thought how wise the airmen were to press for an adequate air defence of this country. We are the fifth or sixth Power in the air. We have sunk to that level because many Governments have reduced the force in order to make a great peace effort. Then we had speeches on the other side of the House telling us how all other countries are re-arming in the air. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said that Germany was re-arming and creating air fleets and that in all the other nations they were voting money for the air. The airmen welcomed very much the statement of the Lord President of the 460 Council, and the Members who are associated with me on the Air Committee thank him for what he said about parity. He also made another statement for which we were grateful. I do not think it was quite understood, and I will quote it. He said: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 own European civilisation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2077, Vol. 286.]All we ask if the convention fails, if the Disarmament Conference fails, and we have to set up an air conference, is that its work shall be speeded up as much as possible. We ask another thing, and that is that there should be a maximum number of airmen on that conference. The reason I ask that of the Lord President of the Council is that I was a member of the first Air Conference of European Powers, which was held in Paris in 1911 or 1912. Delegates from all the European powers were sent to that conference to get out rules for the navigation of the air. Great diplomatists, international jurists, admirals, generals, poets and a few airmen were sent there to represent the different European countries. They sat for six weeks in Paris, the literature mounted higher and higher every day, until it would almost reach the roof of this Chamber, and they never came to a single decision. One after another the delegates got up and opposed the most trifling things. If this conference is formed to draw up an air convention I ask that it should be composed largely of airmen, because then they will get on with the work. The Lord Privy Seal said the reason why the Disarmament Conference went on so long was that the nations were not able to summon sufficient courage to trust one another to keep a convention. I would say that the Disarmament Conference has failed because it took on too much. They try to go into too much detail. If only they would take some simple point and thresh it out they might be a little more successful.
We have heard about limiting the air arm and I agree with that entirely, and with what the right hon. Member for Epping said. I think it would be possible to come to an agreement to outline the 461 great open cities of Europe which have no munition factories in their area, which have no armaments and no combatants, with a cordon of balloons by day and a cordon of searchlights by night. If we could bring that suggestion before an international conference we might get agreement on it, because none of the great nations, and particularly the airmen of the great nations, want to bomb civilians. If that proposal were put forward at a conference we might get agreement, and I think the nations would carry out that agreement in exactly the same way as they refrained from using the expanding bullet in the late War. No nation used that bullet. There may have been one or two exceptions, but, generally speaking, the nations kept that agreement. I suggest to the Foreign Secretary, if he goes to this conference, that he should press for what I have suggested. The League of Nations has cost the nations of the world something over £11,000,000—I believe it has cost this country some £1,500,000—and the people of the world and of this country are getting tired of it, because nothing comes out of the League of Nations. I ask the Foreign Secretary to give me an assurance that the whole question of marking out these cities shall be gone into at the conference. I feel quite certain that something can be achieved on those lines to justify the great expenditure on the League of Nations.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Captain CUNNINGHAM-REID
The Lord Privy Seal has recently had an opportunity of observing the vicissitudes of political life in a form rather more consecrated than falls to the lot of the ordinary man. Only a few months ago he returned from Geneva, that veritable graveyard of reputations, where he had been conducting his country's case with extreme ability, to find that it was "Roses, roses all the way." He was, very rightly, overwhelmed with congratulations, and was rewarded with the appointment of Lord Privy Seal. He now returns from a journey of equal importance to find that a change has come o'er the spirit of the dream. Surely a young Minister setting out upon so important a mission—agreed that he has been asked to make his disarmament bricks with perilously little straw; nevertheless, for the time being, he has been the country's principal champion in its hopes for peace 462 —ought to have been able to carry with him the united support of this country, and particularly of this House. Yet what is it that he has received? I consider that it has been most unworthy treatment. There have been sneers and jeers and a general assumption of failure coming from the Press, and coming even from this House in the Debate to-day. I suggest that these critics have not even taken the trouble to read the memorandum as to disarmament that was issued by the Government this year. Had they done so they would have observed the very limited objectives of his mission, and I must really take up the time of the House to the extent of reading just one paragraph from that memorandum:His Majesty's Government are making the present communication not for the purpose of formulating unattainable ideals, but in order to indicate the lines of compromise which they believe, after reviewing the history of the discussions and closely studying the recent interchange of views, should be generally acceptable.I suggest that it has been wrongly assumed that the mission of the Lord Privy Seal was to negotiate. There was no reason whatsoever for thinking that. The only purpose of his recent trip to the capitals of three countries was to carry out the spirit of the paragraph which I have just read; there was no other reason. Only this week one newspaper discounted his mission in advance on the ground that he left Rome a day earlier than was originally intended. I consider that to be extremely petty, and decidedly harmful. The very excellent speech made by the Lord Privy Seal earlier this afternoon greatly interested me. If I may say so, it was a very difficult speech to make, because I am convinced that the majority of the House anticipated hearing something which it was impossible for the Lord Privy Seal to tell them. He asked what can be done to augment waning international confidence? I suggest that one thing that would help in this respect would be for the Press of this country to realise their very grave responsibilities. The majority of the Press have not recently been of much use to the cause of disarmament. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) made a statement in his opening remarks concerning an American offer, which he very rightly conceded subsequently was, 463 on the whole, incorrect. I recognised that statement as a canard of a certain organ of the Press that occurred during the last few days. One way or another, some of the Press have recently made matters very difficult for those desiring disarmament.
The Lord Privy Seal is of too equable a temperament to be disturbed by the inevitable alternation of political bouquets and political bricks, but I should like him to know that there are a great many people who feel that, on account of Press criticism and criticisms in this House, he has not received a square deal. Without appearing to be too presumptuous, I should like to offer him a back bencher's congratulations, on his courage and ability, and upon the singleness of purpose with which he has striven during the last few months for the cause of peace in Europe.
There is only one other matter to which I desire to draw attention, and I shall do so in practically one sentence. It will be of particular interest to learn from the Foreign Secretary whether he can indicate some time limit for the disarmament negotiations. The Lord President of the Council gave a very welcome undertaking last week as to air defence. This afforded general relief, but he was naturally unable to indicate when such relief could be expected. It stands to reason that the Foreign Secretary, with the information at his disposal as Foreign Secretary, and with the advantage of having heard the impressions—though I agree they are incomplete—of the Lord Privy Seal, is in a better position to give some indication of a time limit for our anxieties. Would it be possible for the Foreign Secretary in his reply to relieve those anxieties in a more definite manner than has been possible to other spokesmen of the Government during the last few days?
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I do not think that anybody who has listened to this Debate would be inclined to regret that the subject of foreign affairs was taken to-day. When we put this subject down, we hoped that we should hear some definite replies from foreign countries, and when we found that we should not, we made an eleventh-hour attempt to alter the subject; but that was not possible without inconveniencing the House and would not 464 have been fair to those who wished to take part in the Debate. The speeches to-day have, I think, justified the discussion.
Before dealing with the subject matter, I would like to refer to an incident which occurred during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) when he stated that President Roosevelt had made an offer to join in reducing armaments to the level provided for the defeated Powers. The Foreign Secretary interjected and said that no such offer had been made. I do not know whether President Roosevelt made the offer in exactly those terms, but undoubtedly, in May, 1933, a very remarkable series of statements was made by President Roosevelt, and there was a remarkable speech by Mr. Norman Davis. I will quote the following extract from that speech as reported in the "Times" newspaper of 23rd May:In particular, as emphasised by President Roosevelt, we are prepared to join other nations in abolishing weapons of an aggressive character.Those are to some extent the weapons denied to Germany and to other defeated States by the Treaty of Versailles. Mr. Davis then said:Almost a year ago the American Government submitted a proposal along these lines.Later Mr. Davis said:But we are firmly convinced that in the long run this security can best be achieved through a controlled disarmament by which the military strength of the most heavily armed is progressively reduced to a level such as that provided in the Peace Treaties.In the face of that, the Foreign Secretary's observations to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly might have been couched in rather different language. The impression that the Foreign Secretary gave to me was that no such offer of any sort or kind had been made. In the words which I have quoted I think there is an offer. It may be that everybody was mistaken at that time, but Herr Hitler understood the offer in that light, and in that sense it was very generally discussed. Of course, it may be that we were all wrong. If so, my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly erred in a remarkably large company. It would have been better, if a correction had to be made, to state that an offer was made, though it might not have 465 been exactly and textually in the words used by the hon. Member for Caerphilly.
We have had a series of speeches this evening, and on the whole they were rather gloomy; even that of the Lord Privy Seal, who tried to cheer us all up by suggesting that there were lights in the gloom. I did not think that those lights twinkled with any very great brightness. The Lord Privy Seal conceded that things were not really as simple as that, that the quarrel was not over qualitative or quantitative disarmament, and that the real difficulty was the suspicion and distrust of the nations. I would rather that they were quarrelling about the calibre of guns or the weight of tanks than that they should be filled with distrust and suspicion. What the hon. Gentleman meant, in effect, was that there was no real feeling of security among the nations. That is a point which has been urged by many in this House, including myself, many times—that there can be no disarmament without security.
I gather that, while I was absent from the House for a short time, getting a little refreshment, the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays)—who, I think, is himself now out of the House, probably on the same errand—challenged the attitude of the Opposition on this question, and in particular because he wanted us to reconcile our position with regard to sanctions with our position regarding the Estimates for the Fighting Services. I think that our position is perfectly clear. We believe that no nation should enter into international obligations which it is not prepared to honour; we, believe in a system of pooled security under the League of Nations; we believed that such a system had been built up; we hold that there has been a failure to honour the obligations of the League of Nations to China—I am not going to elaborate that—and we therefore stated that it was not possible to get the kind of security that we have been trying to build up under the League of Nations unless the members of the League felt that those obligations would be honoured to the full. We hold that a great deal of the blame for the failure of the Disarmament Conference must fall upon the member States of the League of Nations, because they did not effectively intervene on behalf of China.
466 It has been suggested to us, "If you say that, you are out for war." We are not out for war, but we say that a position was brought about by successive Governments in which you had to face the possibility of war if you were prepared to carry out your commitments to the League of Nations. That may be a right thing or it may be a wrong thing to do, but it is perfectly clear, I think, to everyone that you cannot build up a system of pooled security unless you are prepared to take certain risks. I am asked, "If you say that, why, then, did you oppose the Estimates?" I stated our attitude very clearly in the Debate on the Air Estimates. I said that we on these benches did not believe in national armaments; that we could only agree to armaments if those armaments were part of a system of pooled security to be used on behalf of the League for keeping the peace of the world; and inasmuch as, owing to past events, we do not believe that there is that system of pooled security to-day, because when the test came the League failed, therefore we are not prepared to Vote for the Estimates.
I have said that the Lord Privy Seal left me in rather a gloomy condition. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) cheered me up very much, although there was a touch of his old imagination and romance. I must say that I cannot very greatly believe in the suggestion put forward by him, and fortified by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and by the hon. and gallant Member who spoke just now, that it is possible to delimit the sphere of action of the air arm. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping suggested that it might be confined to, I think he said, the battlefield; but where does the battlefield begin and end? May you bomb dumps, though you must not trace them back to the railway junction or the munition factory? I think that that all belongs to an out-of-date and romantic idea of war. I have no doubt that you could get agreements to do this and that, but the whole point is, would they as a matter of fact be effective when war came? I must say that I thought the Lord President of the Council dealt with this question most effectively in that famous speech of his. I do not think you can get that. You certainly did not get it in the War, and I 467 think there is really a certain false sentiment in imagining that you can get it. For instance, would you give up the right of blockade, which has been supported by this country for many years? That attacks women and children just as much as the air does. I think you will have to face up to the fact, as the Lord President said, that when nations are engaged in a life-and-death struggle all these paper regulations will be disregarded.
I do not even think that the suggestion that we should have balloons and lights all round the towns would really be very satisfactory. I do not know what the rural Members would say to it. Moreover, it might have just the opposite effect. An hon. Member on these benches has reminded me of a similar case which occurred in ancient Rome. A senator suggested that all slaves should have distinctive costumes, so that they might be recognised as slaves; but it was pointed out that that at the same time would enable the slaves to see how numerous they were, and how few were the free men. It might be that, if the towns were lit up in that way, unless it were possible for the nations to trust one another far more than they do to-day, it would be merely lighting up the objective for a rapid, sudden and unexpected attack. There might be something to be said for lighting up the premises of people who advocated war in any country, if there be any such. I thought that we really had much more reality in the admirable speech of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lumley). He went behind the question of armaments, towards the causes of war and peace.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has an extraordinary power of deflecting Debates. He came down to the discussion on the Air Estimates, and turned it into a discussion on Foreign Affairs. He now comes down to a Foreign Office Debate, and turns it into a discussion on the Air Estimates. For the purposes of the argument that I wish to address to the House I want to assume what we all hope, that the Lord Privy Seal is absolutely successful in his mission; I want to assume that the British Government's draft is accepted by the other Powers, and that we have, therefore, whatever measure of disarmament may be 468 considered to be embodied in that document. After that, I want to ask what is the foreign policy of the Government, because the whole of the foreign policy of the Government is not, as an hon. Member below the Gangway seemed to suggest, embodied in that document which was presented to the Disarmament Conference. We must consider something wider than that. It is no good suggesting that you are going to get peace in the world if you do not look further and consider what are the causes of disturbance.
I should like to hear from the Government of something in the way of a long-term policy for the peace of the world. It seems to me that at best the present effort is designed to get a certain breathing space. We have heard from many speakers of the disturbed condition of the world. We have an irruption of political and economic nationalism, and we have to face the fact that we have a world disordered politically and economically. To my mind, Fascism is essentially the result of an economic disorder, although at present under the guise of a political nationalist movement. Fascism is the organisation of national States by national capitalist groups for the purpose of competition, and our fear is that on that point of economic organisation we are apt to see economic war turning into real war. In this country we have not got as far in the way of organising the nation economically as a separate unit for the purpose of competing with other States. We have not gone sufficiently far to range ourselves with the examples of economic nationalism that you have on the Continent, and indeed I think the Government recognise perfectly well, as every one must, that our interests are bound up with world trade, world society, and world peace. What is our Government going to do now to try to smooth out some of the economic difficulties of the world? Let us carry our minds back a very short time and remember that we were told over and over again that the success of everything depended on the World Economic Conference. The World Economic Conference came and went and nothing resulted. That was then the policy of the Government. What has taken its place?
The next point is the political condition of the world. Does the Government intend to sit down, so to speak, and endeavour 469 to keep the world in the same condition politically that resulted from the Peace Treaties? It is obvious to all of us that, if you are to have a peaceful world, there must be provision for change and for development. I am afraid of the world drifting into international political and economic anarchy, and I believe this country has much the widest interests and much the best prospect of setting a lead to get away from that. I think it can only be done by facing up to the facts of the modern world, and the facts of the modern world seem to me to forbid the extreme assertion of the national sovereign State on the one hand and the supreme assertion of economic nationalism on the other. It seems to me that that merely means the organisation of starvation and of war and that we should be looking forward, as Members in various parts of the House have suggested, to giving a lead to the world towards moving to an international State, to a world linked up by common interests, protected by a common world law and supported by a common world police force. I hope to hear from the Foreign Secretary, if he can tear himself away from the inevitable preoccupation of getting a breathing space, what is the general policy of the country, because I believe the world as a whole is looking to this country for a lead. They want to know where we stand in this modern world. The Foreign Secretary may say, in the words of his leader, "One step enough for me," but most of us in these days are forced to look ahead, and we want to see beyond that step.
I have spoken mainly of Europe. Now I want to say a word about Asia. I think most of us will agree that one of the biggest questions that face the world is the adjustment of the relations between Europe and Asia—Europeans and Asiatics. We are engaged at present in making an effort to come to that kind of agreement within the British Empire. One has to face the kind of dangers which make for war which exist in the Far East. I do not want to reopen the Sino-Japanese question, but I hope, now that we have a trade agreement with Russia, that is going to open a better era in the Far East. I hope we shall make it plain that peace in the Far East is a British interest, and I hope that no British or European capitalists will be so foolish as to advance money to any Power which 470 may be wanting to break the peace in the Far East.
But I cannot help feeling, in, listening to this Debate, that there hangs over us all to-day the feeling of world unrest and world danger. It may be a few years off, but, unless the nations of the world try to look ahead and see the kind of forces that are arising in Asia and the kind of difficulties that we have in Europe and try to work out some way by which the world can settle those difficulties without war, we may find civilisation crashing. We on these benches believe that we must work for an international order. We believe that the day of national armaments should be past and gone and that you have to build up a rule of law supported by sanctions. We realise the enormous difficulties involved in that, but we do not believe that the difficulty of getting nations of different outlooks, different temperaments and different languages to agree together to live in one world is really greater than getting 4,500,000 people to live in the City of London with, on the whole, so extraordinarily little disorder and such a vast amount of co-operation, and we hope it will be this country which will give a lead to the world in a long-distance policy.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), that although it might have seemed that to-day's Debate was rather mistimed, it has in fact been both a most interesting and, I think, a most useful discussion. There have been a large number of speeches made to-day by hon. Member on back benches which all who were here were very glad indeed to listen to, and some of which I shall gladly take the opportunity of studying at leisure. Perhaps I might begin by dealing with two more or less personal points—points dealing with individuals—which were put to me by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones), who opened the Debate. He asked me about the case of a young man named Mr. Richard Clark, and also about the case of Mr. Lenox Simpson. As regards Mr. Clark, who, he said, is only 16 years of age, my information is that his father spends a good deal of time in a yacht off the Spanish coast—the Catalan coast, I think—and this young gentleman, Mr. Richard Clark, was staying at Barcelona in the house of somebody 471 there. The man with whom he was staying was suspected, and had been suspected for some time, of espionage and was, in fact, arrested. As the police found this young man there as well, he also was taken into custody and was searched. My information is that before doing this they notified His Majesty's Consul-General at Barcelona what they thought they would do. Inquiries have been made of the police, and they have said that the reason why this man was detained was because he was found on the premises and was employed by the occupier of the house. Clark has been transferred to Madrid. We have continued to make inquiries concerning his treatment and welfare. The acting-British Consul has visited Clark in his confinement, and arrangements have been made for him to receive any extra comforts he may require. His Majesty's Ambassador is keeping in close touch with the judicial authorities in the matter. We have been informed that no specific charge has so far been brought against Clark, who is detained pending information as to his associations with the other man.
As regards Lenox Simpson, that case has been more than once mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The House will recall that Mr. Simpson was the editor, and, I think, the proprietor of a newspaper published in English and in Russian, and known as the "Harbin Herald," at Harbin, in Manchuria. The Russian section of the paper catered largely for the Soviet employés on the Chinese Eastern Railway, and I gather that the local authorities have for a long time considered that they had complaints against the contents of the paper. Of the merits of that I know nothing at all. At any rate, the newspaper was by the local authorities suspended from publication from March, 1931, and resumed publication in September, 1932, Mr. Simpson giving an undertaking that it would carry no political propaganda and publish no matter discouraging to the present regime in the area. None the less, complaints were made to the paper, and His Majesty's Consul-General was informed that as the "Harbin Herald" continued to publish what was regarded as Soviet propaganda, the authorities had decided to close down the paper, and Mr. Simpson was to leave the country.
472 Protests were made on Mr. Simpson's behalf by the British Consul-General, but, as I understand that this man is entitled to British Treaty rights, there was a long controversy in which the British Consul-General played an active part, and finally there was an arrangement made for the compromise by which Mr. Simpson was to move to Dairen, which was some way off, but also, of course, in Manchuria. He was to continue his bookselling and printing business, but his newspaper has not resumed publication. Mr. Simpson has recently invited the British authorities to assist him in the claim which he is making in respect of the treatment he has received. The claim has been under the examination of the Foreign Office in consultation with our Legation in the Par East. It appears to be a complicated situation, and rather intricate questions of law arise. The examination, I am informed, is very nearly concluded, and it is hoped that it will be possible to communicate the decision, to Mr. Simpson very shortly. I have given the hon. Member all the information that I can in answer to the two matters that he raised.
§ Mr. MANDER
Is it not a fact that the British Consul-General at Harbin never admitted that there was any foundation in fact for the charges made against Mr. Simpson?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am sure my hon. Friend is well informed about that. I should think that it is most improbable that a British Consul-General would admit that somebody was guilty on a matter in which he had no first-hand information. I should expect him to take up that attitude.
I should like to say a few words on some more general matters. First, may I deal particularly with a matter of great importance which was referred to in the opening speech, which led to an intervention from this side, and which was taken up again by the hon. Gentleman in his concluding speech for the Opposition. It has to do with the attitude and proposals of the United States of America in relation to disarmament. I am sure that the Whole House will agree that in matters of this sort it is very necessary for all of us, on whichever side of the House we sit, first of all to inform ourselves accurately, and then to speak with precision on such a matter. It would be 473 no service to the cause of disarmament, but would only lead to confusion and misunderstanding if there were either exaggeration on the one hand or belittlement on the other as to what it is that the United States has declared itself ready to do. I had heard the particular statement, which was made by the hon. Gentleman outside the House before, and I have some reason to think that it has been given considerable currency by whoever was the author or the promoter. There is no truth at all in the statement, and it is very much better that we should say exactly where the matter stands and avoid any possible misconception.
What was the statement? It was in two parts—first, that the President of the United States had declared on behalf of that great country that the United States made the offer of agreeing to abandon all arms except those that were allowed to Germany under the Treaty of Versailles, and, secondly, that in so doing the views thus expressed on behalf of the United States were in sharp contradiction with the proposals and the attitude of His Majesty's Government, who thereby stood exposed to the world as not putting forward proposals adequate from the first. What has been the actual statement of the President of the United States? Anybody can find it at any moment, for it was a message which President Roosevelt sent to the rulers of all the world, and it was very widely published the next day. The date of it was 16th May. The quotation which the hon. Gentleman just made from the speech of Mr. Norman Davis relates to the speech which Mr. Norman Davis made at Geneva—I think that I was present at the time—on 22nd May, 1933, a few days later. Let us see what it was that President Roosevelt said. The last thing I wish to do, or anybody wishes to do, is to belittle the importance of the American proposition. It is a very different thing from allowing the legend to grow that something was said quite contrary to what was said. What President Roosevelt in his well-known message said was:If all nations will agree wholly to eliminate from possession and use the weapons which make possible a successful attack, defences automatically will become impregnable, and the frontiers and independence of every nation will become secure. The ultimate objective of the Disarmament Conference must be the complete elimination of all offensive weapons. The immediate objective is a substantial reduction of 474 some of these weapons and the elimination of many others.Having then set out this quite unexceptionable purpose, he goes on in the clearest way to discuss what can be done. He mentions various steps and says that the first step is:To take at once the first definite steps towards this objective, as broadly outlined in the MacDonald plan.What is the good of pretending that the President of the United States was preaching some new gospel which may be set in violent contradiction to the proposals of the British Government, when, in point of fact, he was laying down a proposition with which all will agree and saying, "If you want to get to business, the first thing to do is to adopt the MacDonald plan"?
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that the British Government accepts as the ultimate objective the reduction in the terms of the President's statement?
§ Sir J. SIMON
If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, I will tell him that we not only accept it, but that, without wishing to claim any pride of authorship, we may perhaps be regarded as the originators of the idea. The date of the President's declaration is 16th May, 1933. I have in my hand the Resolutions which were proposed by myself at Geneva, and were adopted unanimously by the General Commission at Geneva on 22nd July, 1932, very nearly 12 months before. I have heard a great deal of criticism, not always favourable, of the Resolutions, which draw the distinction, as far as I know for the first time, between the effort to abolish offensive weapons and the encouragement of defensive weapons. I will take the liberty of reading to the House what these Resolutions of April, 1932, were:1. Without prejudice to other proposals which fall to be discussed under later heads of the agenda, the Conference declares its approval of the principle of qualitative disarmament"—That very phrase was the phrase which was brought forward by the British Delegation—i.e., the selection of certain classes of descriptions of weapons the possession or use of which should be absolutely prohibited to all States or internationalised by means of a general Convention.4752. In seeking to apply the principle of qualitative disarmament as defined in the previous resolution, the Conference is of the opinion that the range of land, sea and air armaments should be examined by the competent special Commissions with a view to selecting those weapons whose character is the most specifically offensive or those most efficacious against national defence or most threatening to civilians.The British Delegation, 12 months before, had produced this exact proposition: that you had to attack and specially suppress the offensive weapons, because thereby you enormously increased the validity of defence. That is the object of the proposition which is now so exceedingly familiar, and which, I think, having dealt with the matter at a great many meetings, is highly desirable.
I have shown the House, first of all, that there is no justification for representing that the proposals made by the American Government were in the terms which my hon. Friend suggested. They were actually in strong support of the view which we had put forward 12 months before, namely, that it was desirable to try to suppress or, at any rate, to regulate offensive weapons, because that would so greatly improve the prospect of defence as to make an attack or aggression unlikely or unprofitable. I have shown what the United States said 12 months later. So far from putting forward a proposition in contrast with the proposals of the British Government, in the same document President Roosevelt goes on to say what is the first step to take:First, to take, at once, the first definite steps towards this objective, as broadly outlined in the MacDonald plan.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Of course it was accepted. I have said so once before. I can assure my hon. Friend that everything that can be done to make this more effective has our complete good will. It is plain that from the first we have played a prominent part at Geneva. In our view if we are to secure by practical measures real, effective disarmament, the thing to do is to attack offensive weapons—abolish them altogether, or reduce them as far as we can. When the hon. Gentleman asks, "Is that accepted?" he will excuse me if I say once again, "Would 476 you mind reading the British Draft Convention?"
§ Sir J. SIMON
The hon. Gentleman is manifestly informing the House of some information which he has been given from outside. He is not reading any document at all. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to give me the name of the person who gave him that information I should be greatly obliged, because I have already proved to the House, I think quite clearly, that—
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN rose—
§ Mr. JONES
The point I wanted to make was this. The right hon. Gentleman has explained that the Government took a certain line in 1932. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether it is the fact that the British Government accepts as its ultimate objective the objective which the President of the United States said was his.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I must really explain this to the whole House. The hon. Gentleman has been provided in all good faith with a piece of information which I have shown to the House is quite unfounded in fact. It is no good his reading from a piece of paper what somebody else has told him that President Roosevelt has said, when I have before me here—though indeed anybody can find them in the Library—
§ Sir J. SIMON
If the hon. Gentleman can find in President Roosevelt's message any words which justify what he has just been quoting, I should be very glad at once to see what they are, and will see that he has full information. I have not spoken without having informed myself and without knowing something on this particular point. This statement has been made outside the House again and again, and it is a statement without any foundation. Ill our domestic controversies we ought to keep clear of appearing to impute to some foreign State or to the head of a foreign State a declaration about disarmament which he has not made, and which is not any the better because that allegation is really relied upon for the purpose of holding up to obloquy the British Government.
Let me turn now to another interesting and important matter. Reference has been made to the tour of my hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. He is his own justification. I think the whole House will feel that they owe him a debt for the way he presented his account and the way that he endeavoured to discharge his mission. I must be allowed to point out that there is something more than a mere error in anyone speaking as though my hon. Friend's mission had failed. Not only is that not true, but it is a misunderstanding of what he was asked to do. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) put the point correctly. The House has been told again and again that the purpose for which the Government asked the Lord Privy Seal to undertake this very difficult piece of work was not to go and negotiate, but to go to the three Capitals, himself being very fully informed and charged with the whole meaning and purpose of the British Memorandum, and to gather at first hand from the responsible statesmen whom he met in the three countries what were their reactions to our proposals and where the difficulty, if any, arose. It was an extremely important piece of work, and it was a piece of work which could not be done in the same way by Ambassadors, because it is essentially dependent upon a comparison of three different points of view. That is not the same thing as going to negotiate. It is 478 therefore not in the least fair to my hon. Friend even to contemplate the proposition that he has failed in his mission. On the contrary, he conducted his mission with the most admirable skill, and it remains to complete the information by our learning from one of the three countries what they have to say. In the meantime I am speaking for the whole Government when I say that the results he has gathered are of first and great importance for a further immediate study of the question.
The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made the amende honorable, because he had spoken about my hon. Friend's mission as having failed, and he went on to say: "I will say that it has not yet succeeded." Those two propositions are very different. It remains to be seen whether or not something useful cannot be recovered out of this very disturbing and very urgent situation. The right hon. Member for Epping proceeded to do something else, which, frankly, I regret. He took note of the fact that the French Government had not replied as yet to our Memorandum, and then he exercised his ingenuity, very agreeably, but I am afraid a little mischievously, in providing a reply for the French Government. It is best to leave the French Government to answer for themselves. It is just possible that there may have been considerations put before them by the Lord Privy Seal which at the moment are not in the mind of the right hon. Member for Epping. I cannot think that it was a very useful exercise of his immense Parliamentary talent to make up for the fact that this Debate takes place rather earlier than is convenient by anticipating, in a spirit of prophecy, what will be the answer we may ultimately receive from France.
The explanation is this. The right hon. Gentleman has always been perfectly consistent and outspoken on this subject. He is a vehement opponent of disarmament discussions. He does not believe in and therefore he does not want regulated armaments, and he produces, as so brilliant a mind is sure to produce, very plausible reasons to support his view. If he were here I should like to point out to him that those who reject, with the great vehemence and positiveness that he rejects, the idea of disarmament conventions and of regulated armaments 479 doing any good, must be prepared to face the alternative and to declare that the alternative is preferable. What is the alternative? He has sometimes reproached the Government, because they have pursued this subject too long, with too much detail, with wearisome reiteration, and yet we are told that we have no enthusiasm for disarmament.
What is the alternative? The alternative is unregulated competition in armaments throughout the world. No one is entitled to take up the position which my right hon. Friend is disposed to recommend in opposition to disarmament discussions and reject the idea of international regulation, unless he says: "I would prefer to see unregulated competition in armaments throughout the world." That is an appalling prospect. With regard to the agreements that have been made for naval limitation no one can doubt that they have had the effect of removing some of the uncertainties in that particular branch of armaments. Let the House conceive for a moment what would be the actual measure and the full depth and width of the situation we should have to face if all these efforts for disarmament broke up. In the first place, there would begin a scramble in rearmament, perfectly unregulated and unlimited, unchecked by any form of inspection or supervision. It would be not merely a scramble in rearmament, but it would be rearmament in a fog. We should have none of the political consequences which would go with disarmament agreement. The absence of disarmament agreement would mean that suspicion and fear were too great for people to agree, and therefore suspicion and fear would run riot over the world.
What about the League of Nations? My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping always interposes at certain stages of his speeches a statement that he is all for the League of Nations. Could one imagine a more serious blow that could be inflicted on the League than that we should all avow that there has been a complete failure of the efforts at disarmament? It would be more than a failure; it would be a setback—we may have to face it, but at least let us realise what we are coming to—to all efforts at international co-operation. I draw the conclusion, therefore, which has been 480 drawn by several speakers in this Debate, that it would be better, a hundred times better to have a bad agreement on this subject than no agreement at all.
The right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) made a speech this afternoon which I thought was very powerful, in which he referred to the terrible dilemma which is created by the fact that we have Germany in her two aspects. On the one hand, you have a Germany indicating some of the symptoms referred to by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and illustrated by the recent speech of General Goering, very alarming and disturbing, a very menacing outlook, and, on the other hand, a great people who are claiming that they must have the treatment which equality suggests, and are, therefore, exacting by every means in their power full permission to do what they want to do. The right hon. Member for Tamworth went on to say that he had come to the view that it was far better there should be an international agreement which restricts, defines, and limits armaments, even if it includes rearmament rather than that there should be no agreement at all. The same point was made by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. H. Kerr) who said that any agreement was better than no agreement.
A question has been raised as to the suggestion which the Lord President of the Council threw out the other day, that if other efforts fail we should still have to pursue actively and quickly the possibility of a more limited Convention, as, for example, an Air Convention. I should like to relieve the minds of any one who supposes that our idea is that this would be a substitute or merely an excuse for delay, meandering and waste of time. There never was a clearer case that time is running against the friends of disarmament; it is a case of acting quickly in every possible way that we can. As regards quick discussions of such a topic, it has to be borne in mind that an agreement on air deals only with one arm, a very important and complicated arm, but, what is perhaps more important, it is an agreement which would only involve a few countries. It is only those countries with big air forces which really matter. My own experience after Geneva is that one of the reasons for 481 delay and complication is the fact that when you are discussing general disarmament you have 64 nations present, each with their own point of view, and desirous of contributing to the discussion, and there is an enormous extension of the time taken up in debate and analysis. An Air Convention might very well be regarded as one which would involve for practical purposes a limited number of countries dealing with a single subject.
§ Sir J. SIMON
It would deal with one arm and it would make for simplification and speed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping is much attracted to the idea of air regulation and restriction by a method not necessarily of abolishing the forces, or indeed, of reducing them to any great extent, but of making sure that certain areas will not be attacked; that the air arm would only be used for military objectives. That is naturally a matter on which there has been a great deal of examination, technically and politically. The right hon. Member for Darwen was quite right when he said that it was being discussed as long ago as the summer before last when he was at Geneva with us. I have no wish to put up any obstacle, but I must point out that there are considerable difficulties in the way of a practical application of the idea, and this has been found to be the case as soon as it is handled.
What is a military objective? Is the capital city of the country, or that part of the capital city which contains the Government Departments, or the Air, the Navy and the Army Departments which have to deal directly with the conduct of the war—are they a military objective? It is not a very easy matter to answer. Are you to schedule geographically particular and selected areas that are to escape, or is it to be done by a more general definition? These are undoubtedly great difficulties, and when it is said that, after all, you must trust the people to keep to the rules, there is this difference between the two ways of dealing with it. If you are able by international agreement to secure the abolition of particular kinds of instruments in the air and accompany it with supervision and inspection, these things would 482 really be abolished. But the other method, the method of saying we will keep our instruments but we will promise one another by international treaty that we will not use them in particular areas, is, in the nature of things, a promise which we hope will be kept, but a promise which at least it will not be impossible to break because the instruments will be there. Therefore, I think it will be found necessary to examine the pros and cons of the different methods of limitation. The immediate question which I am now answering is, that we have not the slightest intention, if we are thrown back to discussing an Air Convention only, of allowing such discussions to be spread over a great length of time. It is essential to do it quickly, and we have to face it. As and when the hopes of better things disappear we have to face the consequences in our own country, and to prepare what is to be done here accordingly.
Let me reply to one or two questions which have been put. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) asked what was being done in connection with the League of Nations to make other members pay their subscriptions. I think it is desirable to make a short statement on this matter, as this question is constantly arising in all parts of the House. Last year the Financial Secretary to the Treasury went with me to Geneva, and I asked him to take charge of this question. What was happening in Geneva was this. For some years, there has been at Geneva a systematic method of over-budgeting, of over-estimating the amount that would be required in the coming year, which I have no doubt was influenced by the knowledge that some members would pay and others would not. I need hardly say that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury presented the strict Treasury view, and maintained with good effect, before this international audience, that the one sound principle is that all estimates must be honestly made to cover as accurately as possible the estimated expenditure, and that it is not justifiable to swell the figure for which you ask because you are not certain what contributors will pay their subscriptions. He did it so well that he obtained an immediate reduction of 1,000,000 gold francs, and an assurance by the Financial Committee of the League that the point he had made so 483 powerfully and clearly would certainly not be overlooked or forgotten, and that he might expect the estimates in the future to be based on proper British principles. That, I think, was a not altogether unsatisfactory piece of work.
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) mentioned the word "security." On all these subjects we must not, any of us, allow phrases to take the place of well-thought-out and detailed policy, and the subject of security is much too big a subject to be dealt with at the end of a reply such as this. But for myself I must say that I am very deeply impressed by the way in which, on all sides of the House, from different points of view, this aspect of international relations has been emphasised to-day. It was dealt with by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, backed up on this side of the House and below the Gangway opposite, and I do not doubt that the mind of the country is being very seriously preoccupied and concerned with this question. There have been speeches made in this House recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) which have put the argument in the most powerful manner. I think the time may come when the whole House will have to consider this in much greater detail. The question may arise as to whether it makes or does not make a difference to getting an agreement. Manifestly it is the duty of everyone to face it in this House rather than simply pass it by in silence.
As for the general challenge, which I am becoming accustomed to, as to what is the policy of the Government in foreign affairs, really I do not think that the Government deserves the imputation that it has not steered a clearly consistent course. There are two considerations which I would like to mention, which show why it is that this kind of question is much more directly in the public mind than it used to be. In the old days, and not so long ago, we were engaged in this House and outside continually in some sharp-cut, bitter domestic controversy, whatever it was, Home Rule, the Parliament Act, or whatever it may have been. We have our controversies now, but they are nothing like so sharp-cut. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite 484 are mistaken if they think they are so sharp-cut. There is a much more general feeling in this country than there used to be that in domestic questions there is a good deal to be learned and got from different kinds of people. There is a great deal more co-operation than conflict. One result of that is that public controversialists, newspapers and so forth, which took a great part in the cut and thrust of debate, naturally turn to foreign affairs as another topic on which to display their controversial qualities.
There is a second reason, and it is making a profound difference. At six o'clock and nine o'clock every week-day, and at ten minutes to nine every Sunday, pretty well every home in the land is being supplied with a piece of detailed foreign policy information. That is the result of the wireless broadcast. As a rule, I think it is admirably done. But the point is that to-day in England there are hundreds of thousands of people who know that General Gombos is visiting Signor Mussolini at Rome. How many homes would have known that 20 years ago?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I think it does make a difference, and I should have thought that of all the people in the world who would have admitted that it made a difference those who claim that their interests are international and not narrow would be the people. I would state the broad outlines of British policy in very simple terms. I would say first of all, that, as always, the first and main objective of British policy is the maintenance and promotion of peace. It so happens that in our situation, that is not only the British interest in the narrow sense, in the sense that we want to keep out of trouble, but is also an immense British interest in the wider sense, because the peace of Europe and of the world is really essential for our own prosperity, and it may be for our own safety. To secure that, we have shown throughout, and it really is flying in the face of the facts to dispute it, that we desire to do everything we can to support the League of 485 Nations, to maintain its authority, to restore its membership. An hon. Gentleman quoted a passage from the last paragraph of the British Memorandum, calling attention to the fact that the Government had said that they took the view that Germany's return to the League, resuming her seat in this international council, ought to be one of the concomitants of reaching an agreement about armaments with them. Exactly the same view has been taken by Signor Mussolini, who indeed described it as being the fundamental counterpart of meeting Germany's claims.
In the second place, our own policy is directed to realising a disarmament convention if by any possible means that can be done, and to realising it at the lowest level at which armaments can be agreed. When people say it does not matter whether the level is low or high, I profoundly disagree with them, and, if for no other reason, because it makes all the difference to the burden cast upon the people of this country. It is only by agreement that we shall be able to show that in fact the tension has been relaxed. It is not, of course, that disarmament in itself accomplishes that result. It is that if you can secure it and as you secure it you are establishing the fact of an increase of confidence and of good feeling between one State and another.
I make no apology that the British Government's conception of the course which foreign affairs ought to take is expressed in these simple propositions. It is no part of the business of His Majesty's Government or of the Foreign Minister to endeavour to produce some spectacular policy. The fundamental effort that Britain makes in the realm of international affairs is a conception ever directed, perfectly disinterestedly and at the same time in the real interests of the country and the world, to the promotion of peace and the establishment of good relations.
§ Question, "That £153,005,000 stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.