§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Defence proposals of His Majesty's Government which are outlined in Command Paper No. 5107 (Statement relating to Defence).In moving the Motion which stands in my name and the name of some of my right hon. Friends, I want to remind the House that defence requirements and foreign policy are so closely and so firmly interrelated that one cannot be considered apart from the other. I propose, therefore, to say something about the objective of our foreign policy, something about the means of attaining that objective, and then, and as a consequence, something about our essential defence requirements. The objective of the foreign policy of the United Kingdom and the end to which every endeavour is being steadfastly and continuously directed may be summed up in one sentence: to secure peace for the peoples of the British Empire and for the nations of the world, and the means of obtaining that objective are collective security and friendship. With a view to obtaining collective security we are members of the League of Nations, which seeks to substitute a reign of law in international affairs for a reign of force. Friendship we seek with all the peoples of this world. But the disappointing results of our efforts to secure international disarmament, the growth of armaments in other countries, combined with the development of a number of very disquieting features in the international situation, have left us no alternative, pending disarmament, for which we shall continue to work, but to review the state of our Defence Forces to see what is needed, first, to fulfil our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations, and, secondly, to enable us to safeguard ourselves.
It is for these purposes that His Majesty's Government, after a prolonged and exhaustive examination of the present condition of the Defence Forces, have come to the conclusion that the steps indicated in the White Paper are necessary. These steps represent the minimum of strength which will be required in the present circumstances. The Government of the United Kingdom have 1828 repeatedly affirmed their willingness to work for international agreement upon measures of disarmament. From time to time they have put forward proposals to this end. Notwithstanding the lack of acceptance of such proposals hitherto, His Majesty's Government still hope that it may be possible to find a basis upon which agreements for the limitation of arms may be arranged. They will take advantage of any and every opportunity that may arise. Those words were written before the weekend, but I repeat them in the House to-day as being what the Government will work for.
In his speech in the House of Commons last May the Leader of the Opposition said "Defence depends on foreign policy," and proceeded to discuss what he called the mishandling of foreign affairs during the last few years, and what to-day he calls "the unworthy and ambiguous foreign policy of the Government." It is not necessary for present purposes to follow the right hon. Gentleman in detail in that discussion, but I would say just this. I agree with him that defence depends upon foreign policy, but I think he was inclined to place too narrow a construction upon his term, and to assume that it is only our foreign policy, only the policy of this country, that matters, whereas the truth is, of course, that we have, however reluctantly—and he would have, if he were in our place—to take account of the foreign policies of all the other great Powers. One nation may make a war. It may take 50 to secure a peace.
We shall, of course, as I have said before, continue to use our position, our prestige, our influence to aid in the appeasement of international unrest and to ensure the success of the principles of the Covenant, but no Government in this country can overlook the possible danger of conflict somewhere in the world, despite the most well-meant efforts at appeasement. Nor is it possible to overlook the consequences of our participation in the League of Nations. The party opposite, at their annual conference at Brighton last year, discussed the question of sanctions and their implication, and adopted a resolution similar to that passed by the Trades Union Congress a month earlier at Margate. At the Margate Congress the mover of the resolution said they recognised that it might 1829 mean war, but that was one of the things they had to face. I know sufficient of the minds of the trade union leaders—and some of them are sitting on those benches opposite—to know that they accept the logic of that position, and that while trying, as we shall do, to avoid dispute, they would not shirk the inevitable responsibility, or willingly leave the country weak in defence or ill-equipped to deter an aggressor. I believe that to be true of their movement on the broadest national grounds, and I believe it to be equally true of their desire to retain intact our heritage of freedom, that freedom in which their own trade unionism has developed.
Convinced, therefore, as we are that the steps contained in the White Paper are required of us, I believe there is no part of them for which I cannot fairly ask the support of the whole House and the whole country. If, in matters of defence to-day, there is a choice between lulling the people into a sense of security or guiding them into a realisation of possible dangers, who, with any knowledge of the world position, of the offensive horrors which have been devised, who with responsibility, would dare to choose the former?Any weakness or wavering"—I used these words a few months ago at a, meeting of the Peace Society—or uncertainty, or neglect of our obligations, obligations for peace, doubts of our own safety, give no assurance of peace.I think, at this point, we might devote a few minutes to considering collective security. The House may remember that some months ago I said that I had learned a good deal since last July, and I think that Europe has learned a good deal. I would confine myself at the moment—for it, is impossible to give a close examination of the whole system of collective security—to this: that whatever the reason why collective security in the case of Italy and Abyssinia was not able to prevent the outbreak of war, the whole idea of collective security, to my mind, is that it should be able to prevent war before it begins. I am sure the whole House will agree with that, and I need not waste time. When war has once begun the whole problem becomes infinitely more difficult, but I am convinced of this: you will not prevent war begin- 1830 ning on the part of some aggressor unless that aggressor knows that his advent in the war will be met at once by powerful opposition. He must have that knowledge in his mind. Europe is a long way from being in a position to enforce that, and when these present troubles are over, Europe will have to consider what collective security involves and make up her mind whether she will make herself ready to use it. I hope she will, but it will not be done in a day.
The essence of modern war is surprise, but what gives one Power a great advantage over another in these days is not only the readiness of that Power for war, but the readiness of that Power, having embarked on war, to continue that war with no diminution of her supply of munitions. That means, in other words, that a country that has made its preparations beforehand, with its stores of munitions and its reserves, is incomparably stronger than a country which is not in that position, and which would have to improvise, in a situation that might arise after the outbreak of war. Therefore, you are brought to what is a very terrible conclusion, and that is that if the countries in Europe desire to stop an aggressor, whoever lie may be, by making that aggressor realise that his actions will bring all the other members of the League down upon him at once, the countries in Europe—and, as I say, it is a horrible thing to have to say—will have to be much more ready for war than they are to-day. Otherwise, the aggressor will have his own way. In other words, to secure peace, and in the name of peace, you have to have increased armaments at hand and ready.
I have said that that is a terrible conclusion, but it is a conclusion from which you cannot get away, because there are States which are ready in every way today; there are States which are not, and the free States in Europe, the States in which freedom lives, have much leeway to make up before they would be in a position to deter the States ruled under other systems. I would just remind the House of something that it might be worth while saying again. Collective security is the policy of the Government that we are going to work to try and achieve. I am telling the House only some of the difficulties of it, and the 1831 difficulties with which Europe will be faced. It cannot be administered—that is not the right word—it canot be effectively worked by one nation or by two; that is why Europe and the members of the League will have to consult together, as soon as this present war may come to an end, to realise what is involved in collective security and, if they think fit, as I hope they may, take such steps that collective security may be a reality, and such a reality that the need for the use of it may never arise. Had the League remained a League of all nations in the world, I believe then, in accordance with the ideas of its founders, the situation never would have arisen, because the strength of the members, apart from whoever the aggressor at the moment might happen to be, would be so overwhelming that the fear of that aggression would no longer be a paying proposition.
We have to remember in this country that, since this country is still the greatest naval Power in Europe, it is inevitable that, in the working out of collective security, whether it only means sanctions or whether it means war, a heavy burden must fall on the Navy of this nation, and from what has happened in the last few months it has been obvious to everybody that that must be the case. That is part of the price that we are paying, and part of the price that our people would wish us to pay, to try and get collective security. Similarly, there is still more price that we have to pay, and that is this: Since our world trade is larger than that of any other country in Europe, naturally any form of sanctions that touch trade must hit us in volume harder than any other country. It does not follow, however, that greater actual sacrifices may not be made by smaller countries, where it may be that their trade is affected not so much in volume as ours, but in a greater percentage and in a poorer country. But these are all questions which the countries of Europe, when they seriously have to face up to what they have never faced up to until the last few months—what the Covenant really means—will have to think about and examine thoroughly, and to make up their minds whether what we all so much desire is feasible or not.
1832 I wish to say something here on another branch of the subject, and that is on the way in which, for many years past, we have cut down, as far as possible, expenditure on our defence Services. I need not go into details. It is common knowledge in the House, but there are one or two things I want to point out. The present inadequacy of the defensive Services is not, due to quarrels among the Services as to how much money they should have or as to which Service is the most important, but entirely to financial difficulties. In post-War years we had to choose between, on the one band, a policy of disarmament, social reform and, latterly, financial rehabilitation and, on the other hand, a heavy expenditure on armaments. Under a powerful national impulse for development, every Government, of every party, elected for the former, and it is easy to justify it. I do not think any serious statesman could find fault with a great deal, or with most, of the reforms that were carried out immediately after the War, with regard to unemployment benefit and things of that kind. At that time, we had to conserve our strength and we had to conserve our finances, and there had been a rule applied by successive Governments for many years that, in working out their Estimates, the Services were to assume that for 10 years there would be no major war in Europe. It was during the years of that assumption that most of the present deficiencies accumulated. The Services were held by finance as in a vice, so far as long range defensive preparation was concerned, and that reacted on the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence. They could make plans, and we are now reaping the benefit of that, but they could not make preparations involving expenditure. They could only live from hand to mouth.
The financial difficulties were not the only factors. There was the Disarmament Conference, which opened four years ago. Even before that, His Majesty's Government—when I say that, I would repeat for the second or third time that that was the policy of Governments of all parties—were unwilling to prejudice the chances of a general agreement for the limitation of armaments, and they hoped, in limiting their own preparations, they would, by that 1833 example, help other countries to limit theirs. Those hopes were not fulfilled. While the Conference was sitting we refrained from any increases, and, indeed, we concluded the paring down of the Services, so far as preparation for the future goes, to the very bone. As part of the Geneva negotiations, there was an armaments truce, under which we were bound from the autumn of 1931 until the spring of 1933, to initiate no steps which might prejudice the preparation of the Disarmament Convention, but when the autumn came two years ago, it became evident that no agreement would be reached at Geneva. At that time the finances of this country were getting into a better position, but there were signs abroad that were disquieting. The Far East showed signs of grave disturbance, Germany had given notice of her withdrawal from the League, Japan had already done that, the Nazi Government was in power in Germany and German re-armament had begun.
I must say a word or two here, because it has a bearing on something I wish to say later on, on the failure of the Disarmament Conference. The causes were manifold, and this is not the place, nor is there time, to say much on that subject, but I would like to recall to the House what was perhaps one of the most crucial phases of the Conference. In doing so, I wish to make clear that I will apportion neither praise nor blame to anyone. I will state facts.
The House will remember that, after the departure of Germany from the Conference, diplomatic conversations and negotiations were begun with a view to bridging the gulf. The conversations proved fruitless, and in January two years ago His Majesty's Government made a supreme effort to save the situation by issuing a Memorandum, which in their opinion furnished a basis of compromise in the matter of limitation of armaments, on which they thought that agreement could and should be reached. In an effort to secure acceptance for those proposals, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs visited Berlin, Paris and Rome. As far as Germany was concerned, the Memorandum was accepted subject to certain modifications. These formed a concrete offer of arms limitation by Chancellor Hitler, and were embodied in Command Paper 4559, which was laid 1834 before the House; and on receipt of those views a straight question was put to the French Government. They were asked whether they would be prepared to accept our proposals as modified by Germany, supposing that agreement were reached on the question of guarantees of execution of a disarmament convention, about which His Majesty's Government were prepared to negotiate. The reply of the French Government was in the negative. They explained that the action of the German Government in increasing their military Budget by a very large amount, at the moment when efforts were being made to reach agreement, had destroyed the basis of negotiation. They pointed to the reticence of Germany on the question of return to the League. This phase of the Disarmament Conference illustrates the fundamental divergence of view which has, unfortunately, existed between France and Germany since the beginning of the Conference, and which all previous and subsequent efforts a His Majesty's Government had failed to remove.
It often strikes me that it is very likely that some foreign observers may have been led to think that our oft expressed desire for peace, and our continuous efforts to achieve disarmament, are signs of weakness. To think thus would be completely to misread the British character. It would be wrong to assume to-day, as it has been found wrong in the past, that our striving for peace is an indication of weakness. Neither the British Government nor the British people will ever be intimidated by threats, from whatever quarter they come. Much as we regret the necessity for the proposals we are putting forward, they intend to show that we are seriously in earnest in our determination to put forth our full efforts by way of deterrent to any would-be aggressor. Our preparations are preparations in case that need should arise. We think it folly that it should be so, and, because it is folly, we shall try our utmost to get other nations to agree with us upon measures of disarmament. But, in case there should be any doubt in the minds of anybody, I ought to point out that we as a nation can go on longer than others, and, if driven to it, we shall not hesitate. In our Election Manifesto, as well as in our speeches during the Election, we 1835 made it clear that unhappily we have now no alternative, in our view, but to do what is necessary in the course of the next few years to repair the gaps in our defences which have accumulated over the past decade and a half. At the same time we said that the defence proposals will be strictly confined to what is required to fulfil our obligations towards the League of Nations and, in the possibility of the principle of collective security not being achieved, to make our country and our Empire safe against aggression.
There has been some criticism of the White Paper on the ground that it does not disclose our full plans. The truth of the position is this: In the first place, as we have all along made clear, it is necessary to put in hand the task of repairing the deficiencies in each of the three Defence Forces. That is our bounden duty, for reasons that I have now given several times while I have been speaking. But, on the other hand, we must keep the position flexible, leaving ourselves and any Government which may succeed us free to modify plans according as the international situation may change, for the worse or for the better. For example, we shall continue to work for disarmament, and I pay a tribute here to the extraordinarily good work that has been done during the past few months by my colleague the First Lord of the Admiralty in regard to naval limitation, in circumstances of great difficulty, with the representatives of many nations, including the Italians. Notwithstanding the difficulties, and despite the discouragement experienced, we shall do our best whenever opportunity occurs. Indeed, it was only last Friday, as hon. Members have learned, that we returned to the charge to try once more to secure discussion of that Air Pact of which so many Members on all sides in this House spoke so hopefully when there first seemed a possibility of achieving it. Similarly, notwithstanding the many directions in which the international situation is disquieting, we intend to bend our energies towards the spread of co-operation among the nations, and any success achieved in the near or farther future will render again some modification of plans not only possible 1836 but necessary. On the other hand, should things grow worse, we shall be free to take whatever steps we or the Government in power at the time might consider necessary to play our part.
I do not think that in our country there is or there will be any spirit of panic or of fear, nor any thought of aggression, and these are the reasons why the White Paper deals only with so much of the proposals as are clearly necessary in the light of the circumstances as they exist to-day. No one is threatened by our forces; no one thinks they will be used for aggression; and, apart from these political reasons, there is a very important technical reason why we should not at this moment tie ourselves to a particular detailed programme. The march of science, which affects so many human activities, beneficial or otherwise, affects defence preparations too. Our experience has shown with what rapidity new developments take place, especially in the air, and we must hold ourselves free to take advantage of such developments. The proposals are not a rigid programme; they are flexible and subject to variation according to future circumstances. It is, therefore, not possible to say at this moment what will be required or what will be spent in future years, still less what the total cost may ultimately prove to be; nor would it be possible to give figures distinguishing between non-recurrent and annual expenditure. Let me give a concrete illustration to show the impossibility of giving figures. An important item in the Government's proposals is the replacement of our old battleships. We have announced that we shall be making a start by laying down two new capital ships early next year. It is not necessary to decide now how many may have to be laid down in subsequent years, and the Government have reached the deliberate conclusion not to make a definite decision now. How, then, could the Government say how much this part of their proposals will cost? If this proposal were carried out on an extensive scale, it would form one of the largest single items in the whole programme.
The object of the Paper was to enable the House to discuss defence as a whole, instead of being confined to debating a particular Estimate; and the vote at the end of this Debate is not a vote to 1837 authorise expenditure. If the House approves the general line of the Government's proposals, every item of expenditure, every new service and development, will have to come before this House in due course on Estimates or Supplementary Estimates. This is the normal constitutional procedure, and I am sure the Opposition would be the first to object if the Government asked the House to approve expenditure now for a period of years. And it is the only sensible procedure for a country like ours, in a situation where conditions are rapidly and constantly changing. There are countries where preparations can be made in complete secrecy, and large sums spent outside the published Budget figures—sums of which it is impossible to ascertain correctly the total amount. Democratic countries with a Parliamentary system are handicapped, compared with those other countries, by having to deal with all these matters in public. But, when we have such elaborate safeguards for full Parliamentary discussion and control year by year on the Estimates, it is an abuse of democratic institutions to demand that the Government should announce detailed plans and figures for future years, when in its deliberate judgment it has decided that the future development of our defence arrangements must be flexible.
I am anxious to say something on what to my mind is far the most important part of these proposals, and that is the subject of supply. Supply is all-important in modern conditions. Fortunately we have the benefit of much information which has been collected in the past 10 years and more on the supply side of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Estimates have been made of the needs of the Services and the types and quantities of stores on various hypotheses, and investigations have been carried out to ascertain the capacity of the country to meet these needs. There are now available, for instance, particulars of a large number of firms from which stores and equipment of all kinds can be obtained. This has been the work of the Supply Board and of seven technical committees which are concerned with the different types of material—armaments, aircraft, shipbuilding, marine engineering and so on. But in these past years when stores have been deliberately allowed to run low 1838 the function of the organisation has been confined to planning. It could not proceed further and could not take action that might involve expenditure.
The more immediate contemporary problem, however, to which we must apply our minds is that of industrial production. I would recall to the House a few words I said earlier in my speech on the difference between a country provided with munitions and capable of making munitions quickly as against a country either unprovided or provided with munitions but having no means of renewing supplies when faced with the appalling wastage of modern war. An expansion of output is an immediate necessity in this country. Government factories will need expansion for the supply of their specialised products. Normal Government contractors will be asked to increase their output. These sources, however, are insufficient to meet the present needs of the Services for the reserve of stores and equipment, and equally important is the need for some reserve of industry which could be the basis for any further expansion in time of emergency.
We are considering our state of preparedness, and that, we must all appreciate, is one of the most essential requirements. The method that we shall adopt is indicated in the White Paper. It is to place orders with firms which do not normally make service stores, provided they hold their structure and machinery available for war output in excess of their peace-time production. There is available here, in regard to armament stores, the work of the Armament Sub-Committee and a technical body which has been called the Supply Board Technical Establishment, set up seven years ago to prepare plans for the turnover of industry from peace to war production on an adequate scale when emergency arises. There are, of course, many conditions fundamental to the success of this task. There is the need for co-ordinating the demands of the three Services and there are questions of priority, and throughout, in making these demands upon industry and upon the various classes of skilled personnel, our endeavour will be to reduce to a minimum the interference with the normal course of trade and place no hindrance on its developments. For this task the staff of the Supply Organisation has been 1839 strengthened. A number of whole-time officers have been added and we have one of the ablest of all our civil servants in Sir Arthur Robinson, who has become full-time chairman of the Supply Board.
We are pursuing our method of developing our existing institutions to meet the new circumstances, and it will be a matter to be looked into when more experience has been gained whether it will be necessary on the supply side to have any further Ministerial strength besides the new Minister, about whom a question was asked this afternoon. We are proceeding in confidence that we shall get the good will of industry. Our plans assume contact and collaboration between the Government Departments and industry right up the scale, with firms, branches of industry and overhead organisations. We feel sure that experience will teach us that we must rely on the safeguards combined with the co-operation of industry to perform a national service without the making of undue profits. We have no dictatorial powers. We cannot make our preparations in secret nor can we in time of peace force anyone to participate in them. But we can count upon good will in a way and to an extent not always available to a dictator, and we hope and believe that we shall secure it.
I want to say a word or two about the supply of labour, because there are some observations on that topic in the Amendment. Let me dispel at once the suggestion that has been made in some quarters that the Government have in mind, as the Amendment puts it, some reorganisation of industry on a war basis which will do a great injury to trade union standards. This is completely wide of the mark and it is a very poor compliment to the vast industrial resources of our country. Those members of the Opposition who have practical trade union experience must surely know better than to believe anything of this kind. What is true is that the defence programme will provide for a long period a great amount of additional work for the engineering and shipbuilding trades, the iron and steel trade and other important industries. This in itself, so far as it goes, is a matter for satisfaction. Many of these industries, I am glad to say, have already experienced a growing demand for their products, which I hope will continue and expand still further.
1840 After a long period of depression this has inevitably brought to light what I hope is only a temporary shortage of various classes of skilled operatives. There are obvious reasons for this. Skill has rusted for lack of use, or the skilled man has turned his hand to some other trade. The inflow of apprentices and learners has been reduced. This is the natural result of a revival of trade following on a long period of depression. As the defence scheme comes into being, therefore, problems will certainly arise with regard to the supply of the particular kinds of skilled labour which will be required at various points. I regard these as essentially problems which should be faced and settled by the industries themselves. It is the Government's part so to plan their programme as to fit in with practical considerations, and generally to co-operate with industry in its execution. On this footing, and with a sufficient degree of good will among all concerned, I do not see why the programme should not be carried through without any grave dislocation of our industrial economy, and certainly without any menace to organised labour or to trade union standards.
The House will have heard the statement read by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with mingled feelings, but there is not a man in the House who will not wish him well. As I said earlier in my speech, I wish to make one more observation on a subject to which I drew attention, with reference to the failure of the Disarmament Conference. Again the observations that. I make are made without any apportionment, openly or even in my mind, of blame to either party. There never can be permanent peace in Europe so long as that secular suspicion goes on between France and Germany. The reasons for that suspicion go far back into history. Among the peoples and the nations and the Kingdoms which are now incorporated, on the one hand in the West of Germany and, on the other, in the East of France, we have to remember that they represent a historical cleavage which goes back: to the partition of Charlemagne's Empire. There is nothing in our history which enables us to understand, except in imagination, the roots of these feelings which have caused such havoc in Europe through the centuries. But with those suspicions, with the French desire for security and with the 1841 German desire for equality, our best hopes have been blighted time after time, sometimes by the French, in our view, missing an opportunity of accepting some offer or, on the other side, by Germany doing some act to liberate herself as in the breaking of a treaty which has shocked our conscience. Too often when she has acted in that way—I do not believe deliberately but she has acted in such a way as to touch the most delicate, the most raw susceptibilities of the French.
So it is at this moment. After all these years since the War it looks as though these old evil influences were asserting themselves, and there might be less hope to-day than there has been for long of bringing these countries together. And yet, neither of these old historic feelings touches our country. We have our own difficulties, we have our own problems. In Europe we have no more desire than to keep calm, to keep our heads and to continue to try to bring France and Germany together in a friendship with ourselves.
I repeat what I said five minutes ago. There can be no hope of permanent peace so long as present conditions exist. The only hope of it lies in the achievement of that tripartite friendship, and until that day comes there will be, in a greater or a less degree, times of trouble, times of crisis and times of panic in Europe. In those times, when our influence may be all-powerful—that is the last time when this country should choose to be weak. Once more I go back to the wisdom of the ancients, and I would remind the House of some words spoken by a wise man more than 2,000 years ago, which are true to-day:The rendering a people fit for war that they may enslave their inferiors ought not to be the care of the legislator, but that they may not themselves be reduced to slavery by others. Reason indeed concurs with experience in showing that all the attention which the legislator pays to the business of war should have for its object rest and peace.That is, and will always remain, our aim.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:as the safety of this country and the peace of the world cannot be secured by reliance on armaments but only by the 1842 resolute pursuit of a policy of international understanding, adherence to the Covenant of the League of Nations, general disarmament, the progressive improvement of international labour standards, and economic cooperation so as to remove the causes of war, this House cannot agree to a policy which in fact seeks security in national armaments alone and intensifies the ruinous arms race between the nations, inevitably leading to war; views with alarm proposals for the reorganisation of industry on a war basis which will enormously extend the vested interests in arms manufacture and create a serious menace to organised labour and to trade union standards; and has no confidence in His Majesty's Ministers whose unworthy and ambiguous foreign policy has largely contributed to the present state of world unrest.Our object in moving the Amendment, which has been placed on the Paper by my hon. and right hon. Friends and myself, is to challenge the whole policy that underlies the White Paper. We put the Amendment down before the events of this week-end, but I do not think that the events of the week-end in any way invalidate out arguments. They are a further instance of the difficult situation of which we already knew. The question is, how is that situation to be faced, and how that situation is to be faced accentuates the great difference between us and the Government. We find in the White Paper, and indeed in the speech of the Prime Minister, a failure to deal with realities. We find a short view, and, in his proposal and in his speech, no real hope of genuine security for the people of this country or peace for the world. I do not propose this afternoon to say anything with regard to what has occurred over the week-end, except that we on this side have always stood for the rule of law. We have stood for carrying out the obligations of treaties, and we are not indifferent to the action of rulers who claim the right to disregard any treaty they please.
We realise, and we would have them realise, the difficulty that people of good will all over the world find in taking at their face value, promises which follow immediately upon acts of repudiation. But it is part of our case to-day that there is a widespread disregard for treaties, and it is not our case that treaties are immutable. It is our case that treaties must be changed from time to time with the consent of the signatories—and it is fatal to think that by any system of treaties you can hold the world down in one pact—that we are not living 1843 in a static world, and that it is the task of statesmanship to deal with those big questions that cause these changes. It is a failure of statesmanship not to recognise that these causes must be dealt with, or else there is sure to be friction and outbreaks of one kind or another. We welcome the fact that, while standing firm on the point that we must have obligation of treaties, the Government are prepared to look ahead and see what can be done in the future—as was said by the Foreign Secretary to-day—to build for the future.
The Prime Minister has rightly said that you cannot separate foreign policy from defence, and we do not separate foreign policy from defence. Defence is the result of foreign policy. Very often defence proposals show what is the reality of a foreign policy, and it is so in this case. We on this side of the House are always prepared to consider defence questions on their merits. We do not stand, as a party, for unilateral disarmament. We do not stand for taking up obligations and then refusing to carry out those obligations. We do not stand for assuming obligations without counting the cost. We stated our position at the last Election in these words:Labour will efficiently maintain such defence forces as are necessary and consistent with our membership of the League.We stand by that declaration. It is the task of the Government to show that these proposals are really designed for a system of collective security, that they are necessary, and that they will be efficient. The first point upon which I would challenge the Government is their whole conception of collective security. I listened to the Prime Minister with dismay. It seemed to me that he never realised the implications of collective security until this afternoon. Worse than that, he seemed never to have thought of what collective security meant, much less to have acted upon it. All through I have been puzzled when I have heard the right hon. Gentleman speak, and whenever we have had proposals put forward for defence, by this duality, this separation of national security and collective security. There is always this sort of talk, "Of course, we agree with collective security, but it is no good. We really have to have national security." 1844 I realise why that is now. It is because the Government have taken no steps towards collective security.
The Prime Minister has said quite rightly, that collective security means the bringing to bear of all the forces, all those forces in the League, of collective security against an aggressor, and to deter a would-be aggressor. But the Prime Minister has told us this afternoon that no preparations have been made to do that. He apparently woke up to it for the first time when the sanctions were to be imposed upon Italy. I should have thought that the first thing to think of in engaging in an enterprise such as sanctions was, "Now what is the effect of this going to be on the aggressor?" The right thing at once was to say, "Now, what will the League do in the event of any action by the aggressor?" The Prime Minister did nothing of the sort. The Government did nothing of the sort. It was not until there were certain threats in an Italian newspaper that they even consulted with France, and they never seemed to consult with the League at all.
That is the picture of what has happened all the way through with regard to this Government and the attitude of Members on the other side to the League of Nations. They have never treated it as a reality. They have never tried to make it a reality. They have regarded it as something to which you could pay a lip service, and my complaint against the Government is not that they have a specially bad policy, but that they have never had any policy at all. You can make out a case, I have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) often make out a case, for isolation, for an old-fashioned Imperialist policy. We have often heard the case for collective security made out, but you cannot make out a case for being at the same time in favour of isolation and of collective security, or intermittently following first one course and then the other. There can be no case for ambiguity. You get the worst of both systems all the time. Yet that is exactly what we have had from this Government.
Take the case of dependence upon treaties. We have been trying to build up a rule of law in the world, dependent upon a collective security system, in support of covenants solemnly undertaken by nations. It is no use taking a solemn 1845 oath or a solemn covenant and instantly breaking it. It is no use making a new declaration supposed to reinforce a former one, because it only weakens the previous one. We on this side are entitled to complain of the breaking of treaties. The Government have connived at the breaking of treaties. They connived at German rearmament. They made the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. That may have been a good thing or it may have been a bad thing, but it was denounced in this House by a great authority, the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) as a breach of treaty. We disregarded the Covenant and the Nine-Power Treaty with regard to Japan. Only the other day the Government were ready to betray the whole conception of collective security and the League of Nations in the case of Abyssinia. The result has been that they have dissipated confidence in this country. No one will deny that right throughout the world, particularly in the United States of America, the pitiable events of a month or so ago did so much to kill any confidence in this country.
Throughout the last four and a half years there has been no faith in this Government, because no one ever knew what its policy was at any given time. What about the failure of the Disarmament Conference? The Prime Minister dealt rather fully with one incident at the end of that Conference, but we have dwelt over and over again in this House on the fact that while the Government talked of disarmament, while they were always ready to make sacrifices, so they said, there always seemed to be some reservation for what they called our particular Imperial and special interests. It is that kind of thing that has made this country's policy so weak in the world that we actually let the lead of the world slip into other hands. Then we are faced with this White Paper. What kind of policy do we get out of it? I find in paragraph 19 this candid statement:The proposals for defence outlined in this Paper do not betoken any abandonment of the international policy hitherto pursued.I am afraid that that is the tragic truth. We pay lip service to the League and then we leave the League and collective security, except a reference to what occurred in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, and we get on to nothing but national 1846 defence. There is the plea that we have disarmed. I think that is a complete misrepresentation. We have spent millions and millions on armaments since the War. The amount that we spent was conditioned by the circumstances of the time. Immediately after the War you would not expect an enormous expenditure on the Navy because there were no navies left to compete with it. There has been a great deal of money wasted. If our forces are insufficient to-day, it is not due to Government virtue but it is due to Government incapacity.
As soon as we come to the body of the White Paper we find duality again. We are to protect ourselves against aggression and play our part in collective security. Why the distinction? What is collective security for if it is not to protect ourselves against the aggressor? Naval defence is conceived entirely nationally. There may be no collective security whatever in regard to the Navy. We are told that the Air Force is to be a deterrent to attack on "the vital interests of this country." Why specifically the vital interests of this country? Is not the Air Force to play its part in collective security? Then we talk of our wide Imperial interests. Are our wide Imperial interests protected under collective security or not? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then it is rather futile to belong to a League. The whole point of going into a League is not that you each severally defend your nationals or your country but that you should have collective defence. There is not a kind of schedule attached to each State on which it is set out that this portion is defendable by the League and that portion is left to national security.
The Prime Minister spoke of collective security, but when it comes to the practical point we hear of nothing but Imperial interests. We are in fact in isolation, and I should like to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies a question on this point. Perhaps he will explain it. It is a curious thing that we see nothing whatever in the White Paper and we heard nothing whatever in the Prime Minister's speech with regard to the existence of any other part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, than these islands. It is a most astonishing thing that we discuss defence in complete isolation from the rest of the Empire. We are told that 1847 it is necessary to rearm. Has this necessity been put before our other equal partners in the British Commonwealth of Nations? If so, I should like to know their response. Or have they been disregarded? I do not see where they come in, in the proposals for co-ordination and defence, unless they come in through the right hon. Members who represent alternatively the Dominions and the Colonies. We are not only discussing this matter in terms of isolation in Europe, but we are isolated from the Empire.
Then we come to the core of the document, and that is that we are really engaged in an armaments race again. The White Paper says:It is true that a general raising of levels all round is no guarantee of peace; but in determining our own defence programme it is impossible to disregard the extent of the preparations which have been made by others.It does not bring peace and we have to join in. There, again, comes in this curious position in regard to collective security. The armaments of a number of States are set out, but we are not told whether we have had any consultation with those States to find out what, our contribution should be to collective security. Apparently we are to regard all of them as potential aggressors. It is the vice of the Government that they have not had any consultations whatever.
What is to be the amount of our contribution? We have been charged on this side with not being prepared to make our fair contribution to collective security. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me how he has estimated our proper proportion to collective security? I should like to have a mathematical calculation or any other calculation—it is essential that we should know the amount. Let us grant for a moment that the Government are resolving to pursue a straight, policy in foreign affairs. Even then we should require to know the amount. We are told in the White Paper, first, that these proposals represent the bare essentials. The Prime Minister said they represented the absolute minimum. Yet they are flexible. Does that mean that they can increase but cannot decrease? I do not understand a flexible minimum.
We are given no indication whatever about finance. That is, I think, an insult to the House. I thought that I had never 1848 heard such a lame explanation as that given by the Prime Minister as to why we are told nothing about finance. He said that it is because it is flexible. He must have a. minimum in his mind. He told us that these were necessities. They were to make up certain deficiencies which have been apparent for a long time. Surely, the cost has been apparent for a long time. He says that you cannot give the cost; you cannot make estimates for two or three years. That is not the way that things are done when the Government are giving subsidies to private enterprise. Provision is made for a whole series of years and the interests take good care that they know what they are going to get. We ought to know what we are going to pay. It is not merely that we do not have the total cost, but we do not get the distribution between the various Services. There is no indication of the period over which it is to be spread. We get the Estimates for the fighting Services of this year but they exclude these proposals in the Estimates. The Prime Minister suggested that it would be improper to give any figures. The House ought to be in a position to judge as to the right allocation of expenditure between the three fighting Services. Instead of getting that, we are to have a series of Supplementary Estimates spread over the year.
I turn to look at the proposals for co-ordination. I have read as carefully as I could the statement of the Prime Minister in regard to co-ordination, and I have read the section of the White Paper which deals with the function of the three Services, and I find them equally incoherent. In regard to coordination, the Government seem to me to have no conception of the difference between the function of advice and the function of executive action. I cannot understand the extraordinary method employed by the Government. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies will explain. We find a Defence Policy and Requirements Sub-Committee, which is a special committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence. It appears to be a Ministerial committee, because it consists of Ministers, anti it is presided over by the Prime Minister. It is to advise the Committee of Imperial Defence and also to advise the Cabinet. Then I suppose the members of it go to sit in the Cabinet. What happens when there is a 1849 clash between the advice given by this committee to the Cabinet and the advice given to the Committee of Imperial Defence which has been revised by them and passed on to the Cabinet, I do not know, except that it is going to be revised by the same people.
Then we have the same old committee of the heads of the Services, the three Chiefs of Staff Committee, which is to meet sometimes with the Minister of Defence and sometimes without him. They can ask for him and he can ask to come. His function does not seem to be to take any executive action at all. He has to take the place of the Prime Minister from time to time and much of his time is to be taken up in detailed work of supplies. For the rest he is to be like a little terrier running round barking to encourage everyone to get on with the work. I do not know who is going to get the job or what his status is to be.
There is an utter lack of definition of functions in the section dealing with coordination. You are not going to get co-ordination in this way. Defence is discussed in three water-tight compartments. The naval section has nothing to do with the air section, and the air section has little or nothing to say to the Navy. The Army has very little to say at all except to demand its share of the swag. This is perfectly obvious from the separate insertion of a demand for new barracks, which does not form any part of a great scheme. You will not get co-ordination by the Chiefs of Staff Committee. It has been said that over a period of two years two of the Chiefs of Staff never talked to one another, and yet the White Paper bravely talks about the Chiefs of Staff Committee preparing collective plans. In the White Paper there is no plan for defence whatever. It is mere despair. There is no suggestion as to how you are going to defend the people of this country, except by armed competition which does riot give any defence. I do not believe that the Government have seriously taken into their minds the question of defending the people of these shores from air attacks by scientific methods. I have heard of a committee being in existence, but from all I can gather very little is being done.
The whole tendency is a fatalist acceptance of the position expressed in 1850 the Prime Minister's words "The bomber must always get through." In fact, the only preparation is the Home Office circular, and that deals not with the stopping of attacks but with the victims of attacks. This idea that the Government's main concern is to deal with the victims of an air attack is illustrated by a letter I received from an enterprising firm which makes machinery for rolling bandages and making lint in which they hope to secure a contract to set up factories in the distressed areas. I am surprised that I have not heard anything about an undertaking firm. But there is really no defence plan here whatever. The suggestion that you can get, national defence in these days is nonsense; that you can get safely through it is also nonsense, and the Prime Minister has told us that he has had absolutely no discussions as to how to get collective security. The Government apparently contemplate industry being mobilised. Although they seem to be despairing in many ways, the Government have one great exercise of faith. They believe that profiteers will not profiteer. It is the only real piece of optimism in the whole of the White Paper:They are confident that industry as a whole has no desire to exploit the situation and, indeed, they have already received satisfactory assurances from the Federation of British Industries.This must depend on faith—not on works. The Prime Minister must surely remember the last War. Does he really expect that these people are going to be more patriotic in peace time than they were in war time? In war time you had the shipowners, when this country was at its last gasp, keeping their ships away from this country earning big money in foreign waters, and the shell-makers and munition makers had to be brought to book for their profiteering. The Government show a touching faith, which I cannot understand, that on certain assurances the situation will not be exploited. The Government will take care not to forfeit the good will of industry; and the good will of industry means profits. I am extremely sceptical as to the Government's plans for the mobilisation of industry and extremely sceptical with regard to their attitude towards organised labour. The phraseology of the White Paper does not suggest that any particular plan has been considered by the Government.
1851 The White Paper amounts really to this: The Prime Minister has said that we live in a dangerous world and that we must do as everybody else does; we must arm because others are arming. There has been so consultation about the amount and, therefore, the amount is decided by anybody who, in the circle of the League, arms. There is no suggestion that you can count this or that nation as a potential aggressor or on the side of security. Each State says that they must arm and, therefore, we must arm as well. The whole thing is left to the individual initiative of each State. The picture of what that means has been well painted by the late Lord Grey of Falloden, who was a Minister in the Government which was following up the same process. They were engaged in the same armaments race, piling up more and more armaments. You do not get security, and you do not give a sense of security to your people. The further they go the more nervous do the people become.
We hold that the Prime Minister is responsible as being the effective Prime Minister of this country for the last 4½ years. He is the master of the big battalions in this House, and at any time he could have united this country behind a firm League policy. He found this country in 1931 with a high position in a world looking for peace and disarmament, but he carried through no straight policy whatever. He dissipated the confidence of the country. It got very low indeed, and then he made a great effort because he was presented with a second chance—the Prime Minister has been lucky to get a second chance—when there was a challenge to the League, a perfectly clear case of aggression, in which he could unite all the League members and unite the whole country. He sent to Geneva the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), who made a great speech on the principles and then, instead of using it to build up the strength of the country, the Prime Minister used it to win an election, and immediately after dissipated the confidence of everybody. Can you wonder that we on this side have no faith in these protests and that we have no faith in the Prime Minister's belief in collective security and the League?
1852 We recognise perfectly clearly the dangers of the world situation. We are prepared to work and support collective security. We have said that we are prepared to put up the defence forces necessary for that purpose. But you must go beyond that. You will never get peace by merely trying to keep things as they are. What we have seen in the last four and a-half years is a drift to war. We do not charge our own Government with being alone responsible. [Interruption.] We charge all governments with being responsible. Hon. Members opposite laugh. They say that we put the blame for everything on the Government. We do not. We say that they lost a great opportunity owing to the special position of this country, and we say that this way offers no way out at all. We ask that reality should be faced, and the reality is a world being armed; the rulers of the world arming their peoples and preparing to hurl masses of their people against others; and all the time the people themselves wanting peace.
No Government makes any attempt to deal with the real causes of war. I know that there are dictators and the kind of movements we have on the Continent; but behind these movements are real difficulties which will have to be faced in every country in the world. We ask that the Government should make a new start and try to deal with the causes of war. In 1931 they talked about that and tried for a World Economic Conference, but they soon let the chance slip. Unless you deal with causes you will merely come back to 1914 again. We do not know at the moment whether we are in 1911 or 1912 or 1913; but we are now on that slope which leads down to another world war. We say that you must take your stand for an ordered world, that you cannot stand for a static world. It is the rotten world economic system which makes dictators and gives them their power. It gives them the material to work upon, and we ask that our Government should try to recall the world to sanity.
At the back of this struggle for what are really very small objects, compared with the welfare of human beings, is the fact that we are living to-day in a world of potential abundance in which an infinitely higher standard of life is available for the world if nations will only 1853 co-operate. Instead of our rulers following short-sighted, narrow policies and talking bad history to their followers, as the Prime Minister did this afternoon in suggesting that there was an age-long strife between France and Germany since the days of Charlemagne, whereas Germany was only a geographical expression in the nineteenth century and France a geographical expression only in the fifteenth century—it is that kind of thinking that you find to-day amongst so many public writers and public students, suggesting that whatever you do people will rearm and go to war, Though we stand against that, we reject the philosophy of the White Paper, which is not in our view designed to support collective security, but is really going back to nationalism and isolation, which cannot give us peace or security, but. merely leads us on to world war.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I was glad that the Leader of the Opposition, in the interesting and far-ranging speech which he has just delivered, expressed so frankly his recognition of the dangers of the present situation, and gave the support of himself and his party to the system of collective security, expressing their readiness as he said, "to put up the forces which are necessary for that." In the circumstances in which we meet this afternoon, it seems to me clear that the denunciation of any expenditure upon the modernisation and equipment of the British land, Naval or Air forces could only be justified in principle from the point of view of non-resisting pacifism. I think it is just as well, in view of what the Prime Minister said about foreign misunderstandings of the British will for peace, that it should be realised both in this country and abroad that, apart from a few distinguished and respected individual members of this House, we are united in our willingness to make every sacrifice for the defence of our country against attack and, for that purpose to make an effective contribution, in proportion to our resources and responsibilities, to the system of pooled security, for the maintenance of peace and justice, and to uphold the authority of the League of Nations. Differences of opinion are bound to arise when we come to discuss methods, but on the principle that we must have adequate and efficient defences here will be none.
1854 The Government's policy is embodied in the White Paper which we are this evening asked to approve. Armaments, as the Prime Minister said, depend upon policy, and I shall have a few words to say before I sit down on the subject of foreign policy; but I do not propose to follow the Leader of the Opposition in his criticisms, sound and true as I thought many of them were, of the Government's foreign policy in the past. What we have to face now is the situation in which we find ourselves in the world as it is at present. Therefore, as this Debate is on the White Paper, I will come to the White Paper at once.
In considering it we must, in fairness to the Government, make allowance for the heaviness of their responsibilities and for the delicacy of those responsibilities. Of course, it is quite true that the Government cannot publish all they know, and that much of their information is necessarily secret. But whether that be the explanation or not, we have to judge the White Paper on its merits as we find it; and I must say frankly to the House that this curiously meagre and inchoate document seems to me to be unconvincing in its reasoning, vague in its definition of policy and lacking in any evidence that the new and complex problems of defence have been firmly grasped by fresh minds, unshackled by the respective traditions of the three Services and freely ranging over the whole field of strategy and the organisation of production, labour, transport and supply.
We do not even know the scale upon which the Government propose to conduct their efforts. There was a demand to the Prime Minister for a statement as to what the scheme is to cost, and in that connection let me say that we could overlook some vagueness in detail, but this document is vague in outline. We are not even permitted to see the framework into which the Government's plans are to be fitted. We are only asked to pay, and to pay with a blank cheque, for it is really irrelevant for the Prime Minister to say that we are not asked to vote money this afternoon. If this White Paper is once passed by the House, the Government will say, "Ah, but this is the settled policy of the House and the House must now meet the Bill." Let us face this question of cost, for it is quite obvious that it is to be very serious. £170,000,000, £280,000,000, £300,000,000 and 1855 even more have been mentioned in newspapers which are not usually entirely free from official inspiration. Speaking in this House immediately before the last Election, the Prime Minister, after referring to the necessity of some measure of rearmament, said:One of the weaknesses of a democracy, a system of which I am trying to make the best, is that until it is right up against it it will never face the truth. When a democracy is up against the truth it can form its own judgment, and I have never known a British democracy when it is up against the truth to give a wrong judgment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1935; col. 152, Vol. 305.]Then let us this evening have the truth about the cost and the scale of these proposals. The Prime Minister spoke of the plan as one which might be modified if collective security succeeded, but he also spoke of it as a plan which was to be regarded as an alternative to collective security if the efforts to build up a system of collective security failed. Let the country know what is to be the scale of rearmament and what is to be the cost of that rearmament, if indeed it has to be regarded as the inevitable alternative to the collective system. The country ought to have that information.
I know, of course, that there are gaps in the defences. I knew about that when I was a Member of the Cabinet in 1932. In the present position it is the clear duty of the Government to fill those gaps, and I would support them in filling every gap of which I have any recollection. I would support them in doing that. But what is the armament expenditure in the current year 1935–36? I will omit the Supplementary Estimates, because they contain expenditure involved in the restoration of cuts in pay and special expenditure connected with the Italo-Abyssinian situation, much of which, however, would in fact be available for filling gaps. I omit that special expenditure because I do not want to run any risk of exaggerating the case against the White Paper. Leaving out the Supplementary Estimates, and taking the normal Estimates for expenditure in the current year, the expenditure is £22,500,000 or 20 per cent. higher than in 1932, and next year it is to be £158,000,000, or £56,000,000 higher than in 1932, an increase of more than 50 per cent. In the Estimates for the current 1856 year and next year £78,000,000 more will have been voted than in 1932. Indeed, in the five years before the Great War of 1914, British armament expenditure increased by less than 20 per cent., whereas during the last five years it has been increasing two and a-half times as fast—more than 50 per cent.—and that is no inconsiderable provision for gap-filling. All that money, the whole of that £78,000,000, the whole of that increase in the rate of expenditure—which was two and a-half times faster than in the five years before the War—has to be found before we start on the policy of the White Paper and on any expenditure under its terms.
I am not sure that the country and the House realise the scale upon which this expenditure is proposed. Moreover, the expenditure of £200,000,000 on objects which, however necessary—and I am not for the moment arguing whether or not they are necessary—are economically unproductive, must not only add to the deadweight of our enormous internal debt at a time when heavy claims in respect of our external debt to the United States of America are outstanding, and greatly add to the almost intolerable burden of taxation in this country, but must tend to raise prices, thus stimulating imports and hindering exports, and therefore turning the exchanges against us and lowering the standard of living of the masses of the people. In such circumstances, for the Government to ask for a blank cheque is to derogate from the financial responsibility of this House. We are entitled to know, and it is our duty to ask, what the scale of this programme will be and how much it will cost.
The Government propose to submit the Bill in pieces year by year, Budget by Budget, Supplementary Estimate by Supplementary Estimate, month by month, service by service. Surely it is our duty to resist the tendency of the Executive to encroach on the rights of Parliament and to present this House with faits accomplis. Here is perhaps the grossest example of this tendency—a demand for a blank cheque which may be filled in for two or three or four hundred million pounds by the very people who have already squandered substantially more than £1,000,000,000 of public money during the last.10 years. On what?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The right hon. Gentleman made a very interesting interjection. He says, "On security." On what kind of security? On great fleets, on squadrons of aeroplanes, on the mechanisation of the Army? No, on what is described in this document as unilateral disarmament; and at this moment, when this great expenditure of £300,000,000 is contemplated, we are told not that the Treasury control is to be strengthened, but that it is to be relaxed, and we are warned on page 19 of the White Paperthat the work is not delayed by the over-elaboration of financial safeguards.It is our duty in the exercise of our guardianship of the public purse to demand to know the cost and the method of meeting it before we approve of the programme. I, therefore, urge the Secretary of State for the Colonies who is, I understand, to reply, to give us this information.
It is the widespread recognition of the fact that even after allowing for increases in pay we are spending more on armaments and getting less defence value for our money than before the War, that has found expression in the demand for more effective co-ordination of our defence machinery. At last, after frequent debates in this House and another place and strong pressure from the Government's principal supporters in the Press, backed by the authority of distinguished soldiers, sailors and airmen, the Government have belatedly and, it would appear, reluctantly and grudgingly, yielded some ground. Their proposals seem to be open to two serious and almost fatal criticisms. In the first place, the Minister who is to be charged with the responsibility of integrating the machinery of defence, both military and industrial and combining the principles of naval, military and Air force strategy into one strategic doctrine, to which all three Services will make their appropriate contribution—that Minister who is to carry out the plan, ought to have prepared it. Even now, we do not know who the Minister is to be and we ought to know before we adopt this White Paper. We ought to insist that he shall be a Member of this House. For the effective discharge of our financial responsibilities it is essential that we should be able to call to account the Minister who is to be responsible for this colossal expenditure. Indeed, it is an 1858 arrangement open to the gravest objection that at the present time, when largely increased Estimates for armaments are coming before Parliament, the Ministerial chiefs of the Departments which are principally concerned, namely, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry, should not be in this House. I, therefore, press the Secretary of State for the Colonies to tell us, before the Debate ends, who the new Minister is, or at least to give us an assurance on behalf of the Government that he will be a Member of this House.
In the second place, the fact that the new Minister is to be able to exert the pressure necessary to combine the strategic doctrines of the three Services into one strategic doctrine, whole and round, means that he must be not the occasional but the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and must have a strong staff of his own taken from the Imperial Defence College. It is an extraordinary and disquieting circumstance that the Government do not seem to have made up their own mind on this point, which is the crux of the whole question of defence co-ordination, for in the White Paper it is definitely stated:It is not proposed that the meetings of the Chiefs of Staff Committee should normally take place under the presidency of the Deputy-Chairman.I ask the House to note the word "normally." Yet the Secretary of State for Air, in another place—I cannot quote his words because I should be out of order in doing so—stated equally definitely, that the new Minister would be their Chairman, not necessarily presiding at every meeting but working to them the whole time, and Lord Swinton added that this was the essence of the proposal. Evidence of the importance of this question lies in the opinion expressed by Lord Milne that the Minister should always take the chair at the meetings of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. I would, therefore, ask the Government to clear up the apparent discrepancy between the emphasis which Lord Swinton laid upon the duty of the Minister to take the chair at the meetings of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, though not necessarily always to do so, and the statement in the White Paper that he will not normally take the chair of that Committee. If important and difficult questions of strategy and co- 1859 operation between the Services are no longer to be shelved, but if we are to get full value for our expenditure on defence it is vital that the new Minister should not be merely the functionary of the Prime Minister but a man with an adequate staff and the sole channel of communication between the Chiefs of Staff Committee, as a committee, and the Cabinet, and possessed of real power and initiative. How much need there is of such a unifying force is clearly shown by the proposals made in the White Paper for the extension of each of the Services. Each Service has fought and won its battle with the Treasury. There is small sign of integration and none of the fundamental questions which have been preoccupying our minds in recent months, and the answers to which must determine the scale and character of our expenditure on defence, are answered here in this White Paper.
In the first place I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies to say what part the Army is to play under the Government's scheme. Is it to be equipped for participation in land warfare on the Continent of Europe, or is it recognised that our contribution to pooled security can best be made at sea and in the air, where we share common risks with our fellow-members of the League and where our help could be made most promptly available? As for the Navy, the same demands for the replacement of capital ships and the increase by 40 per cent. of our cruiser strength are put forward now, as they have been put forward at any time in the last 10 years. Yet is it seriously contended by the Government that the growth in the power, speed, range and all-weather qualities of aircraft, aided by wireless, has made no difference in the relative values of ships and aircraft for the protection of trade routes especially in the narrow seas, or that the possession of aeroplanes and catapults does not greatly increase the efficiency in guarding trade routes of a given number of cruisers?
Again, on what reasonable grounds can we be called upon now to approve of the construction of two capital ships, seeing that no such ships are being built or are projected either by Japan or as a matter of fact by the United States—not that I suggest that we should take the building 1860 of the United States into calculation in deciding our own—and seeing also that we shall have an overwhelming superiority in capital ships over any conceivable combination of European navies, even after the ships now building and projected in European yards are finished? If we look back to the old controversies before the War we find that then it was a struggle to get a proportion of eight to five against the most powerful navy, apart from the British Navy, which the world has ever seen. We are now in a position in which we have a superiority as against the German Navy of 100 to 35. Nor is there any evidence in this White Paper that the Government are counting upon the help which we should surely receive in an emergency from our fellow-members of the League, both in contributing to the main fleets and in patrolling trade routes. Again, why should we decide, on this 9th day of March, 1936, to start building capital ships in 1937, whatever the situation may be by then, knowing that they cannot be finished in this decade in any case?
I turn to the air and it is there, I agree, that the threat to the peace of this country, to the homes of the people and indeed to civilisation itself, is most serious. That is why we of the Liberal party supported the Government's plans for the expansion of the Air Force last year. But, do not let us hug the illusion that there is safety in the Government's formula of parity with the strongest Power within striking distance of our shores. Parity in the air is an illusion partly because, as the Prime Minister himself has said, the bomber always gets through, or at any rate an overwhelming force is necessary to stop him, but mainly because of this simple fact: Nowhere can our pilots find a target comparable in strategic sensitiveness to the South-Eastern corner of England, with its congested population, its concentration of factories, dockyards, markets and communications—the nerve-centre of the administration of these islands and of the Empire, the centre of our world-wide system of supply. No comparable target for attack exists in any country in the world. Therefore, there is only one hope of salvation in the air and that lies in pooled security. There is no nation in the world which does not realise the appalling consequences of air bombardment. Let the Government appeal, as a 1861 matter of urgency, to every nation in the world, at least to every nation in Europe, to enter into a pact not to drop bombs from the air and to unite in attacking any nation which breaks the agreement. Even the smaller nations of Europe now have formidable air fleets. Let them all be invited to stamp out air bombardment, which is warfare in its cruellest and most destructive form.
There are no more vital problems of modern warfare, as the Prime Minister said, than those of supply and transport. Time forbids me to deal with them this evening, but there is one question under this heading which I wish to put to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Government's proposals obviously involve an immense extension of what individual Ministers, and notably Lord Halifax in another place, have admitted to be an evil, and one about which public opinion is much exercised, namely, the private manufacture of arms. The Government's proposals involve an immense extension of the private manufacture of arms at a time when that problem is being investigated by a Royal Commission set up by the Government themselves. Have the Government informed the Royal Commission or consulted them about their proposals, or asked the Commission to make suggestions as to guarding against abuses? Are the Government firmly wedded to this idea of asking gramophone manufacturers, bicycle manufacturers and sweet manufacturers to lay down munition plants, or are they still open to persuasion that the establishment of State factories for the manufacture of armaments would give less offence to public opinion as well as more efficiency in production, research and design than the manufacture of arms as a sideline by firms whose main energies are concentrated in other directions?
So much for the definite proposals in the White Paper. There are also some references to collective security which are so indefinite that I do not think it is unfair to say that they give the impression of being intended only to keep the Government right with public opinion. For too long have successive Governments made striking declarations about the League of Nations. It was only in September of last year when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) made that great speech at 1862 Geneva, that this policy of support for the League was lifted from the plane of talk on to the plane of action. What do the Government mean to do now to make collective security a reality and to relate the strength and disposition of our forces to those of our fellow members of the League? The Prime Minister said that the League could not prevent the Abyssinian war from breaking out. I will say that if the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea had been made in July, or in an earlier month or year, and if there had been such plans for collective security worked out with the other Mediterranean Powers as were subsequently worked out in December, then indeed war would not have broken out. The lesson to be drawn from the Prime Minister's example is that these consultations on collective security which took place in December should have taken place earlier, and then that war would have been prevented. I would therefore ask—and my colleagues and I attach importance to this question—whether it is the intention of the Government to carry this principle of collective security further and to consult other States Members of the League about the development of our policy in armaments and strategy and to share with them the burden of maintaining the rule of law under the League of Nations?
I referred at the beginning of my speech to the gravity of the world situation. It is dangerous, but it is far from hopeless. Talk of war as inevitable is foolish and dangerous talk. It creates an atmosphere of panic. The worse atmosphere for calm discussion of measures necessary to preserve peace is an atmosphere of panic. Let me say at once that I find myself in general agreement with the substance of the statement of policy made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs after questions this afternoon, and I warmly welcome its tone. Two features of the statement struck me as particularly important and gratifying. The first was that the Government had definitely decided to examine Herr Hitler's proposals, and the second, that all decisions are to be taken at Geneva. The Secretary of State asked for the support of all sections of the House in his arduous enterprise and for the line which the Government are proposing to take at Geneva, and in this 1863 emergency I readily pledge mine and that of my hon. Friends.
There are also three things I should like to say about Herr Hitler's speech on Saturday and about the occupation by German troops of the demilitarised zone. First, there can be no dispute that the method employed by Herr Hitler is unjustifiable and is certain to touch what the Prime Minister rightly described as the raw susceptibilities of France and to arouse in France and elsewhere a maximum of suspicion of Herr Hitler's good faith. He based his action on the disputed and one-sided assertion that the Franco-Soviet Pact is contrary to the Treaty of Locarno—an issue which France has voluntarily undertaken to submit to the Court of International Justice. Not for the first time he tears up by unilateral action a treaty to which German signatures have been appended. It is, however, for the first time that he tears up a treaty which he himself has undertaken to respect. Nevertheless let us remember that we, the States Members of the League, for too long failed to fulfil one of our obligations, our obligation to disarm. For too long we refused to recognise the equality of Germany. Hitlerism is a revolt against humiliation, an expression of economic despair and a passionate demand for German equality of rights, status and opportunity with other nations. Nor, while we must condemn any violation of treaties, can we regard the occupation of German territory by German troops as so clearly indefensible, as an aggression against the territory of a member of the League. Let us then give calm and dispassionate study to these detailed constructive proposals for the removal of Germany's grievances and for securing European peace which Germany has at last tabled.
In the second place, there can be no lasting peace in Europe without the help of France in making it. There is no greater virtue in a crisis than calmness, but it is easier for us in this country to be calm when German troops are crossing the Rhine than it is for France. I therefore welcome the reassurance—the wise reassurance, as I think it is—of our firm loyalty to our Locarno obligations given to France in the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made after questions this afternoon. If we ask 1864 France to give Herr Hitler this last chance of proving his sincerity it is obvious that we must be prepared to give France binding assurances of support if Herr Hitler's peaceful assurances are not fulfilled.
Lastly the most satisfactory feature of Herr Hitler's speech is his willingness to return to the League—an offer which, as the Secretary of State emphasised, is unconditional. The least satisfactory features are the omission of any proposal for disarmament—apart from a reference which does not necessarily connote disarmament to a Western Pact—and the references to Russia. Let Germany be welcomed back to the comity of nations, but the Germans must concede to others, including Russia, that equality of rights which they have claimed for themselves and must recognise that disarmament by land, by sea and in the air must be general and will be the acid test of the sincerity of peaceful professions.
The Prime Minister ended his speech with an eloquent historical analysis of the political friction between France and Germany; but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea said, in his great speech at Geneva to which I have already alluded, that the dangers that threatened peace were not political or territorial so much as economic. Herr Hitler's speech on Saturday ranged over many subjects, but nowhere did he speak with greater passion and force than when he described "the horrors of unemployment, hunger and misery which are"—I use his own words—"haunting the German people and have already engulfed millions of people in their toils"; or when he was referring to "the high tariff walls which were erected against German goods and plunged Germany into fearful poverty." Again I quote his own words. It is not only a matter of access to raw materials. You must break down these barriers to trade and to the migration of peoples behind which the nations with expanding populations but without colonies or markets are suffocated. The Government are calling upon the people to make great sacrifices in preparation for a war which we all of us dread and which we are striving to avert. Let the Government call the nations into conference and make at least as great an effort and as great a sacrifice to co-operate with them in the restoration of international trade, in the removal of the grievances of the dissatis- 1865 fled nations and in securing peace on the foundations of justice, good will and equality—equality of political rights and economic opportunities for the peoples of all nations.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I do not intend at the outset of my speech to deal with the many detailed criticisms to which we have just listened from the two Leaders of the Opposition. To some of them I will make reference in the course of my later remarks. Let me say at the beginning of my observations that both those speeches seem to suffer from a fundamental error. Both right hon. Gentlemen appear to me to be talking and thinking as if things were normal in the world, as if no great changes had taken place in recent years and recent months. It is strange for the parties of the left to take this static attitude. It is stranger still when the whole cause of democracy is at stake in the world. We believed at the end of the War that a chapter of the world's history had been terminated, and that a new world would begin. Yet many of us, it seems, fail to realise that the old world is already ended and a new world—in many respects a very sinister world—has already begun. In the last few years destiny has been writing the first chapter of this new period of the world's history with frantic and even feverish haste.
Let me, in a sentence or two, suggest to the House the principal events in the records already written. First, five years ago there was the entry of Japan upon the Continent of Asia, pregnant with immense possibilities, and, it may be, dangers to the British Empire and the world. Secondly, there has been the emergence of Russia with its huge population as a great industrial Power. I am glad to say that our relations with Russia have greatly improved. None the less, this is a significant fact in the new chapter of the world's history. Thirdly, and most significant of all, there has been the consolidation of the Nazi power in Germany, a dictatorship far more complete and absolute than Fascism.
In the face of these revolutionary changes, in the face of these new departures in the world's history, we cannot treat this question of defence as if we were proceeding along the old-fashioned paths, as if things were normal, as if we 1866 could still talk as the right hon. Gentleman did talk this afternoon of the old Treasury control, the recourse to Royal Commissions and Conferences and the rest, when before our eyes is this revolution actually taking place. In face of this, I venture to say to the House that re-armament is more than a mere programme of patching up gaps, and remedying deficiencies. If we are to face the formidable threats of the new world, if we, the greatest democratic state in the world, are to meet the challenge of totalitarian autocracy, we must be prepared to make great changes in our system of defence, and to face very heavy expenditure.
Let me suggest to the House, in a very few sentences, what I believe to be some of the main considerations in the problem. First and foremost, the predominant factor in any programme of defence is the factor of speed—speed, speed, speed. It is speed that has revolutionised the world. It is speed that has made the difference between war conditions to-day and war conditions before the War. It is speed that is incumbent upon all of us if in time we are to free this country from the dangerous position of insecurity in which we find ourselves. It was not so before 1914. Before that year there was the British Navy predominant in the world, and with a predominant British Navy and no development of air power, there was no risk of immediate attack. The British Navy gave the country an opportunity for preparation and for remedying defects when the War had actually broken out. The weakness of the Navy and the advent of air power changed the situation appallingly to our detriment. The main factor of speed in making our counter preparations is more urgent than ever, particularly when we remember that it is in the most swift of all the instruments of aggression—air power—that the totalitarian States, and particularly Germany, have chiefly developed.
Let me say a word or two, both short and frank, about the German position. When I was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs I regarded it as my chief duty to do everything in my power to remove causes of friction between Germany, France and ourselves. I did my utmost to bring about an air pact between them. I failed. It is not now a question of assigning the blame to this or that 1867 country, but there is the fact that the air pact in recent months has seemed to recede further and further into the distance. There is the further fact, to which reference has been made in every speech this afternoon, of Germany's recent action in the Rhineland. I believe that action to be a blunder—I was going to say a crime, but I do not wish to use hard words. I believe that that action is a new and disturbing factor in the international situation, and that it shakes the whole foundation of international agreement. On that account I fully agree with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, a statement, as I understood it, that meant that we all with one accord condemn a flagrant breach of a treaty voluntarily accepted by a great Power. At the same time, we will keep our heads cool, we will do our utmost to effect a reconciliation between the contending parties, we will take no rash action, and we will do our utmost to make good results from what I believe to be an unfortunate and indefensible act.
Be that as it may, and whatever investigations may prove as to the possibility of reaching agreement upon the lines of Herr Hitler's proposals, there is the fact that no one can deny, not even the best friend of Germany, that the central factor in the European problem of to-day is German rearmament, that the central problem in our defence programme is German rearmament, and that what every Member in every part of the House is thinking this afternoon is German rearmament. It is significant—referring again to what I said about the speed factor—that Herr Hitler has been able, in the course of so short a period as two years, to re-create Germany into a great military power and practically to start from its very foundation and to develop a great air power as great, it may be, as the air force of any of the great Powers in Europe. That fact shows us that in the field of rearmament we have constantly to keep in mind this time factor. We cannot wait for 10 or 20 years while we are developing a programme of perfection.
We must surely, in view of this overwhelming insistence of the speed factor, deal with first things first; and when I say that I have in mind particularly the 1868 great increase in the strength of the Air Force and the great development of the mobility of the Navy. I hope very much that when, the Government spokesmen reply, they will be able to give us a little further information upon both these points. Let us be satisfied that we are going to spend our utmost efforts in the immediate future to make industry produce the greatest quantity of air force that it can and that the Government will not regard the problem as a static problem. I agreed with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who just spoke when he said that there was no such thing as air parity. That is one of the difficulties with air. A country has superiority of type one day and loses it the next. Let not the Government, then, regard the air problem as a problem that can at any time be solved. It is a problem that is always with us, and what we want to be satisfied upon in this Debate is that industry in the next 12 months is going to produce the greatest amount of machines of which it is capable. So also with the Navy. Here, again, perhaps my right hon. Friend can give us some further information about the cruiser programme. I regard the building of new cruisers as one of the most vital factors in this particular problem, and I should like to think we are determined to build cruisers up to the number that is required with the least possible delay, and without having to wait a period of 10, 12 or 15 years.
If I might make another suggestion—because, after all, I had a long experience of service administration—I would venture to suggest to the Government that they should adopt a bold policy of concrete experiment. Too often it seems to me, looking back over my own experience, that great controversies continue month after month and year after year between one Service Department and another. These controversies have embittered, sometimes, the relations between the Departments. They have obscured counsel and atrophied action. If I may give the House an illustration, there is the controversy between the bomber and the battleship. Is it not possible to make more decisive experiments in a controversy of that kind than have ever been made in the past? There is another direction in which I should greatly like to see a wider development than we have 1869 witnessed in the past. I believe more and more that one of the most urgent problems of the Navy is that of the liquefaction of coal. I know that great advances have already been made, but I am convinced, particularly after the recent Neutrality Act in the United States, that it might conceivably in a war in future stop large portions of our oil supplies. I am convinced that we ought to concentrate on a problem of that kind, and do our utmost to make our own supplies of coal provide at least the amount of oil that is needed for the Navy and the Air Force. I have taken these two illustrations to give point to the suggestion I have made that in this programme full opportunity will be taken to experiment in the directions I have mentioned.
I pass from experiments to the question of reserves, particularly of material reserves. Here there is a difficult dilemma, particularly with the Air Force, of having insufficient reserves, reserves so insufficient that you cannot meet an offensive at the beginning of a war and, what is equally serious, you cannot make an offensive against an aggressor. The other side of the dilemma is having excessive reserves that in an arm like the air arm may be out of date in a very short time. On that account I was glad to hear what the Prime Minister said this afternoon about the creation of a shadow industry for producing munitions of this kind in times of emergency, and for avoiding that long period of delay against which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) fought so steadily and bravely in the first two years of the War. I am not sure that this mobilisation of industry is not really the most important of all the problems we are discussing this afternoon.
I pass for a moment or two to the organisation of the Ministerial Department supervising this programme. Here, again, I was glad to hear from the Prime Minister that the programme is a tentative programme. In matters of this kind there can be no finality. It may well be—indeed, he suggested it in the course of his speech—that in the future some accession of strength will have to be added to the staff of the Minister, or by way of a colleague for the Minister, on the supply side. It may well be that it will be found too great a task for any Minister or Min- 1870 ister's staff to have strategy, material, and personnel all under the same roof. The Germans have always kept these functions separate. We had to differentiate between them as the result of bitter experience in the course of the War. None the less, I am convinced that the Government are wise to advance step by step. I am equally convinced that the Government are wise not to attempt to superimpose on the three Service Departments a Ministry of Defence, or even a Ministry that is really a Ministry of Defence de facto if not de jure. We are not creating a Ministry of Defence. The basis of these proposals, as I understand them, is the basis of the responsibility of the three Service Departments. That being so, particularly after what the Prime Minister has said about flexibility, I think on the whole the Government's programme is a programme that deserves our general support.
There is one point upon which I would like further information. It is a point which has been already referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House—the question of the relations between the Minister and the Chiefs of Staff. I feel myself that some further information is needed on that side of the programme, if for no other reason that that we have had experience more than once since the War of a Minister being appointed for the purposes of co-ordination but, owing to his position not being clearly defined, finding it practically impossible to carry out his task. It seems to me that that was very much what happened in the attempt made by one of the Labour Governments for dealing with the problem of unemployment. I have ventured to make these suggestions. They are not criticisms; they are all of a concrete and, I hope, constructive kind.
I come now to my final observations. Like the final observations of the Prime Minister, they deal with the wider issues that lie behind these defence questions. Let us always remember—and I am glad to say that no speaker has forgotten the fact this afternoon—that this is a problem not only of the three arms, not only of the three arms and industry, but of the three arms and industry and diplomacy as well. Let me say how fully I agree with the weighty observations that the Prime Minister made on the subject of our foreign policy, and particularly upon 1871 what he said as to collective security. Does the House always remember that our policy since 1914 differs in one definite respect from our policy before 1914? Before 1914 it was not publicly concentrated upon a single direction. Since 1914 every Government, and the great majority of the people of the country, and all the Dominions, have accepted a policy publicly expressed of loyalty to the League and support for collective security. I support that policy. It is, however, necessary to point out to the House the fact that a settled and publicly announced policy of that kind gives us less liberty of action than we had before 1914, and imposes therefore on us the greatest need to see that our defences are sufficiently strong to carry out our commitments and obligations.
Take, for instance, the case of collective security. Collective security, if it can be made universal, and if all the countries of the world will take their full part in it, will undoubtedly succeed in eliminating war altogether from the world. Further, collective security on the moral side has this great advantage over the old Gallio-like doctrine of belligerency and neutrality before the War, that it draws a distinction between right and wrong. I, therefore, will give this or any other Government my fullest support in following that ideal and making the system as effective as possible. It is because I wish to see it effective, and because many of its strongest supporters in the country wish to see it effective, that we must constantly look away from the phrase to the actual realities behind it.
Collective security may mean many things. It may mean the whole weight of the civilised world, or it may mean little more than an alliance of a few countries, perhaps the least well-equipped and the least prepared. I welcome, therefore, what the Prime Minister said as to an inquiry at the proper time into any deficiencies that may at present exist. I wish to see those deficiencies removed, and I wish to see collective security so wide and so effective as to achieve the purpose that we all desire. The League itself depends not only on its membership, but upon the efficacy of its members. It may mean much, or it may mean nothing. Even the Covenant may be interpreted two ways. The Covenant may 1872 mean the Old Testament, rigid in its enforcement of the stone tables of the law; imposing for ever a settled system on the world; or it may be interpreted in the spirit of the New Testament that accepts and directs the spirit of change in a world that is bound to change. I stand for the second conception of the Covenant, provided that the change is carried out by agreement and not by unilateral action, which is often the prelude to force.
On the broad lines that I have endeavoured to outline I believe that the Government will find a very wide measure of support for their programme. If the people of the country can be convinced—and I believe that they will be convinced—that simultaneously with this programme we are determined to take every opportunity possible for reducing the general standard of armaments, and, more important even than that, not only for stopping war when it has begun, not only for winning war when we have been drawn into it, but for removing the causes of war; if, as I believe, we can prove to the country that this is not a repetition of the events before 1914, that this is not an attempt to encircle Germany with a ring of armaments, but that it is a genuine attempt to take our part—and to take our full part—in an effective collective system for the elimination of war, I believe that the Government will receive an overwhelming support in the country. Particularly I believe that those of us, the great majority of this House, who are obsessed with the extreme urgency of this problem, that those of us who take this view should give our fullest support to the man who is most likely to have behind him a wide body of support in this country.
The House will excuse me for making this personal reference but I have been long enough in it to have no hesitation in saying frankly what is in my mind. I believe that the Prime Minister has today behind him not only a great body of support in his own party but a great body of support that is attached to no party, and I think it is essential that, in a programme that must needs be a national programme in the national interest, on no account should the support behind it be an exclusive party support, but that the Prime Minister should feel that in carrying it out ire has behind him a great body of support of men and 1873 women not only members of the Conservative party but also members of no party. Upon these broad lines I wish the Prime Minister every success in his task. It is not a question of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst; it is a case of working for the best and preparing for the worst. If the Prime Minister will use his great influence upon these broad lines, if he will impress upon the country the great urgency of the problems that face us, he will find a great body of support in the country, and among his followers there will be none more willing to give him support than a very old friend and former colleague who has just had the privilege of addressing the House this afternoon.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
I am sure the House will congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) on his rehabilitation, and no doubt he will be moving from his present seat below the Gangway to another quarter of the House in the very near future, and no doubt he will have earned his reward. But many of us on this side of the House will strongly disagree with his interpretation of the Covenant of the League of Nations. He asked us not to follow the old rigid interpretation, but to be more elastic in the interpretation we put on the Covenant. May I suggest that there is something even more fundamental and more important than whether your interpretation be rigid or elastic, and that is that you place a just interpretation upon it? We have an example of the right hon. Gentleman's elastic interpretation of the Covenant in his participation in the famous negotiations in Paris which produced terms which are hardly compatible with the Abyssinian conception of security. Their idea of security is exactly the same as our own. It is true that the words of the Covenant are cold and rigid and merely say that the League will safeguard the political and territorial integrity of a particular country, but translated into greater detail that means that the homes and the lives of the men, women and children living in a particular country shall be safeguarded by all the power contained in the Covenant of the League of Nations. I hope that at any rate Members on this side of the House will have nothing to do with the conception which 1874 the right hon. Gentleman has of the Covenant.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that the position had changed from what it was in 1914. He told us, in a very interesting way, how the totalitarian state had developed and that we were probably the only, or the greatest, democracy that remains, but it is true to say that in 1914 two of the most powerful nations of the world were governed by dictatorship, and whether the head of a State is a Fuhrer or an Emperor makes very little difference to the basis of its constitution. But in another way I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a great difference between 1914 and 1936, and the difference is that we had not then experienced the modern methods of aerial warfare. In 1936 we have had experience of it, and the right hon. Gentleman has given us a very graphic description of what aerial warfare means. He has told us:The air arm is almost daily developing as an instrument of destruction. In any war of the future it will not only be a limited number of combatants who will be engaged but it will be the whole body of the population, men, women and children; and speaking from my own experience I shudder to think of the devastation that would be created by the development of the air arm upon our civil population, and particularly upon the civil population of London and of the South and South-East of England.I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member opposite would argue for one moment that the construction of 2,400 aeroplanes, the finest aeroplanes in the world, bombers, fighters, any kind of aeroplanes you can mention, would have any effect in safeguarding the lives and homes of the people of London or of any other part of our island. Hon. Members know perfectly well—the Prime Minister has told us in this House—that there is no way of preventing aeroplanes coming over this or any other city in time of war and dropping their bombs, gas explosives or whatever may be the nature of the bomb, and causing the most tremendous destruction both to life and property, and nothing in the White Paper, nor thousands of aeroplanes, nor the most powerful naval armada that can be constructed, nor the most efficient army, can, so far as we can see at present, safeguard the lives and homes of our 1875 people in the event of another country seeking to attack this country.
§ Sir FRANCIS FREMANTLE
Does the hon. Member recall that the Prime Minister definitely stated also, "Except the fear of retaliation"?
§ Mr. HENDERSON
If you are going to accept the view that the power of retaliation will prevent a nation attacking another nation the whole of history is against you, and present events are against you, because the Abyssinians obviously were going to retaliate in the event of Italy—
Mr. H END ERSON
The fact that Italy has a large number of aeroplanes is one reason why she should take on a half civilised and half armed nation. But in the case of Germany and France the argument does not apply. If the hon. and gallant Member's argument is correct all we require is a force under the League of Nations and if there is fear that any nation which attacks another nation is going to have retaliation, then the existence of the international fleet would be sufficient and that country would never attack. The hon. and gallant Member knows perfectly well that that is not likely to be so unless there is an international force of such overwhelming strength that, any country, such as Germany or Japan, would think twice before it sought to attack another country. That is the fundamental difference between hon. Members one the other side of the House and hon. Members on this side. If you have 2,000 aeroplanes in Germany and 2,000 aeroplanes in Britain you have got the same chance, you are going, may be, to have trouble in Berlin if you bomb London or trouble in London if you bomb Berlin, but if there are international forces with such an overwhelming degree of force on the side of those who are seeking to uphold the Covenant of the League then, while the Prime Minister says you cannot at the present time prevent war, yet, under the sanctions you can impose, you can punish the aggressor.
The Prime Minister said that unfortunately it was not possible at the present time to prevent one country attacking another, and that cannot be disputed, because we have the case of Italy and Abyssinia at the present time, but the 1876 Covenant of the League was not constructed merely in order to prevent one nation attacking another. Obviously the most effective League of Nations would have that effect, but there is such a thing as providing a system under which a nation which attacks another nation shall receive such treatment as to make her think twice before embarking upon such a policy. If at the present time the League of Nations is not in a position effectively to bring economic and armed pressure on Italy that is not the fault of the League of Nations but of those who have been in control of the League. It is no argument against the system, against the conception of collective security as against national security.
I ventured the other day to remind the House of the position in 1924. Then the League of Nations did get to grips with the organising of a system under which nations would not find it paid them to want to attack another nation. The basis of the Geneva Protocol was, first of all, the establishment of a system whereby all disputes of any kind, whether justiciable or nonjusticiable, would be settled by pacific means. That was one of the three props of the Geneva Protocol. The second was that sanctions would be enforced, whether economic or military, by a system of mutual support which was to operate immediately. Under Article 16 of the Covenant the first stage is, of course, the economic sanctions, but there is nothing in Article 16 which requires all the member States of the League immediately to take military action. Under the Geneva Protocol that had to be done immediately. Side by side with the first and second props was a third prop, namely, drastic reduction in national armaments. That, I know, happened in 1924 and it is not applicable in 1936, but it does justify hon. Members on this side in charging the Tory party of this country with merely paying lip service to the League. They have not been prepared to take the risks of peace, about which we hear from time to time. If they had implemented the proposals of the Protocol we would have had the best part of 10 or 12 years in which to operate and gain experience in the working of that particular system. We are told that Germany has been guilty of a breach of faith, and told by the right 1877 hon. Member for Chelsea that the central factor of the White Paper proposals is Germany. But Germany is entitled to look elsewhere when people talk about breaches of faith. The Covenant of the League of Nations itself states:The members of the League recognise that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations.Then, 17 years ago, the Council was to formulate at once plans for the consideration of the particular Governments. At that time the German delegation made some observations on the Treaty so far as it applied to military regulations, and the Allied Powers gave the following answer:The Allied and Associated Powers wish to make it clear that their requirements in regard to German armaments were not made solely with the object of rendering it impossible for her to resume her policy of military aggression. They are also the first step towards the reduction and limitation of armaments which they seek to bring about as one of the most fruitful preventives of war, and which it will be one of the first duties of the League of Nations to promote.That was contained in the Peace Treaty. The next stage was in 1925, when the last Act of the Conference, which drafted the four or five Locarno Treaties, made also the following declaration:The effect of these Treaties would be to hasten so effectively the disarmament provided for in Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations.No one on these benches would seek to justify the action of Germany in repudiating her obligations under the Treaty of Versailles or any of the Treaties of Locarno, yet it will not help matters merely to treat Germany on that basis. If we expect Germany to carry out her obligations, we and the other countries who were associated in the Treaty of Versailles must carry out our obligations in regard to disarmament. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister should refer to the difficulties between France and Germany, because in December, 1932, the British Prime Minister of that time was responsible for a formula which was accepted by both France and Germany, providing that there should be equality of rights for Germany in a system of collective security.
What have the Government done to give equality of rights to Germany? 1878 Germany has had to take her rights. If the Governments of this country and of France, as well as of other nations who were represented at the Disarmament Conference, had given voluntarily one quarter to Dr. Bruening, the then Chancellor of Germany, of what Herr Hitler has taken without asking their leave, the Nazi regime—I think I am not exaggerating when I say—might never have come into existence at all, with all its terrors and brutality.
Let us not make another mistake. We are being asked to sanction the kind of armaments there would be if there were no system of collective security. We are not to have a two-to-one standard such as we had in 1914, so far as the Navy was concerned. We have to relate expenditure on our armaments to the amount of money that we have to pay for them. We cannot afford the two-to-one naval standard, yet we are being asked to provide the same degree of naval strength as though the League of Nations did not exist. On this side of the House we say: "No." If collective security is worth anything, as we were told by the Prime Minister, who said that he pinned all his faith to the collective system and that the object of our foreign policy was the collective system, it is no use building up a naval armada or an air armada, or spending more money on the Army. We should go to Geneva and ask all the countries of the world for a one year, two year or five year armaments truce. Then, around the council table, we could make another attempt to solve the problems of the world, on the economic side as well as on the political side. Once that were done there would be no need for us to try to safeguard our national security by the strength of our own armaments instead of relying on our association with the other nations.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. CARY
I crave the indulgence of the House to exercise for the first time the privilege which you, Mr. Speaker, have so graciously extended to me in this Debate. Although a Government supporter or, more appropriately on this occasion, a Member of the Government troops, I am aware that I make my first contribution to your councils from the Opposition side of the House and in the immediate proximity of the seat usually occupied by the right hon. Gentleman the 1879 Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) who has so often, with eloquence and sincerity, drawn a picture to this House of a world where killing as a mode of conduct is no longer the thing, and where the hary supersedes the bugle and the sandal displaces the jack boot. Such a world President Roosevelt had in mind in his inauguration broadcast of three years ago, when he pleaded the policy of the good neighbour. Partial recovery from the industrial crises of that time seems merely to have enabled certain nations, particularly Germany, Italy and Japan, to take an opposite road, one that sets out to capitalise the art of not only being a bad, but also a mad, neighbour.
In the difficulties of the world at the present time, we must pay due regard to our own resources, not only within the Services themselves but within the fields of industry and man power. In paragraphs 12, 15 and 17 of the White Paper, three offenders against the peace of the world are named. In the case of the first there is at least the excuse that they were of the vanquished in the last War, but in the case of the other two nations, victory seems merely to have provided them with an excuse for further conquest. Two of those three countries are at this moment engaged in open warfare. The newspapers of every country daily print the odds of this return to an armaments race, bringing a suitable excitement to the breakfast table and ending before day is done in a form of war hysteria which prompts most countries, and even so small a country as Holland, to place a bet of no less than £7,000,000 upon her own chances. Fantastic the situation, but deadly the necessity to meet it. Today we Debate the White Paper, which would establish our place in the betting in the hope that all other runners will withdraw.
It is a hard fact of our time that we have to face such a dreadful reality. If we have to face a policy of paving the way to disarmament through Britain's rearmament let us face it well. Let us make a good and sound job of the whole business. I could recall to hon. Members the shocking discrepancies of the years 1914 to 1918. If we cannot save our people from war, at least let us save them from the indignities that they suffered from inefficiency at that time. 1880 Let us see to it that if we give support to collective security we do so primarily with efficiency. The right hon. Gentleman the Yember for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), did he but care to do so, could draw a shocking picture to this House of the struggles and difficulties of that time to obtain the requisite efficiency in support of the Services. That, I have no doubt, as the Prime Minister has said, will be the subject of further Debate, in which I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs will take part and give us the benefit of his experience.
I suggest that the Government should pay regard to the four following factors in considering the problem of defence. Firstly, their policy should be unreservedly an Empire scheme of defence, undertaken with the fullest co-operation with Dominion Governments. Secondly, should Dominion Governments be willing, an Empire scheme of mobilisation should have immediate attention. Thirdly, there should be effective co-operation between the three fighting Services and a fourth service, namely, industry, should be set up, without waiting for the necessary improvisation at the outbreak of war. Fourthly, and above all, no loophole should be left through which, either in the preparation for or the conduct of a war, ultimate control or decision would leave this House of Commons. Let me deal with those factors in that order, and first with the question of Empire defence as between ourselves and the Dominions. I could not do better than to quote a speech made by the Socialist Prime Minister of New Zealand on 27th February, in which he said:When the British Commonwealth accepts the responsibility of filling the present empty spaces, it will at the same time establish its first line of defence.The best way to defend New Zealand is to fill it with prosperous people. There seems to be little or no increase in the population of British territories.That is an invitation to the invader. He went on:If we could as rapidly as possible bring the day when the population will be increased by three or four times, then we would have a claim to have done something to defend New Zealand.However, the Government is going to discuss Empire defences and it will adopt whatever appears to be on commonsense lines. The British Commonwealth cannot afford to be divided, for it is a case of sinking or swimming together.1881 Too true. If we can get that kind of attitude towards this problem on the part of a Socialist Dominion Prime Minister, I have not the slightest doubt that it will be possible to implement the whole of the scheme with full Dominion co-operation. Part and parcel of that scheme is a workable plan of Empire mobilisation. It will be unnecessary to distress hon. Members with stories of 1914 in regard to the horrors of the Canadian encampments on Salisbury Plain, the grossly inadequate supplies of the Australians in the Eastern Mediterranean, the chaos that followed the Indian Army to Mesopotamia, or, worse still, the troops who were landed with topees and khaki drill at Marseilles to fight a winter campaign in Flanders. That is one sort of essential need that must be sought out and prevented in mobilisation, while we give wholehearted support to collective security.
In the case of the third principle, most of it will, I expect, be the subject of further Government inquiry and debate. As an alternative to that inquiry it will be left to industry itself, in conjunction with the trade union leaders, to make their own inquiry, but it is essential that, either by the Government, by industry, or by the trade union leaders, this question of giving adequate and proper support to our fellow men in the Fighting Services should be dealt with now and for all time. Further, an alternative to London as the administrative and business capital must be selected, as the French in 1914 selected Bordeaux; and, as the Pool of London and the valley of the Thames to Gravesend are likely to be our most vulnerable point, on which an aggressor would be most likely to concentrate, I would suggest that every care, in this future planning of industry for the support of the Services, should be exercised in regard to the type of factory that is set up and the sort of manufacture that is undertaken within that zone. I would also ask the Government to see to it that the skilled industrial labour of the country is not pitchforked into the Fighting Services, as it was on the outbreak of the last War, and also that certain selected personnel of the Services should receive industrial training.
Fourthly, I would suggest that the ultimate decision and control should not be allowed to leave the House of Commons. I agree with the right hon. Gen- 1882 tleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) that behind the Prime Minister in this country is an unattached vote of enormous proportions, holding allegiance to no party. It is for the Prime Minister to see that the future Minister of Defence does not degenerate into a dictator of defence, that he does not take for the Prime Minister decisions that could best be taken by the Prime Minister himself, that he does not take an initiative that should be the Prime Minister's initiative, and that he should not attempt to mend matters that can best be mended by the Prime Minister. A Minister of make and mend, which war hysteria would quickly transform into a war lord to whom the whole Cabinet would be compelled to truckle. If the new Minister is to be a Member of this House, that is not likely to happen, but I sincerely suggest that, if the appointment to this great office, an office that will become increasingly responsible as time goes on, is made outside this House, the individual concerned, under the stress of war hysteria, is likely to become too powerful.
I should like to say a few words about the immediate problem of Germany and of France. On the one hand you have Germany, defeated and humiliated by the War, inviting you into open conference; on the other you have France, fearful, trembling, and remembering the years that have gone before. I suggest that, if it is possible, this conference should be brought about; but, if it is not possible to bring it about, I think there is not a citizen of either the United States, of France, or of this country, holding allegiance to the three true democracies of the world, that will not give immediate answer to an aggressor that threatens to establish by dictatorship a form of world order and a form of world peace that we shall much better handle ourselves. The problem we have to face is the old one of the defiance of the dictator against the defence of democracy, and I suggest that, if this House gives a united vote and a united support to the Government for their White Paper, it will not only render this country a great service, but will render an equally great service to mankind.
One more word. I utter it, not for its worth as a contribution to the Debate, but as an attempt to interpret what I still believe to be a surviving tradition. Apart from the privilege I hold of repre- 1883 senting in this great House a section of the Lancashire people, I also represent a generation that in its teens and early twenties bore a part of the brunt of the last great War. If we are again to be called upon to take the field in support of collective security or to resist an aggressor, I beg His Majesty's Government to see to it that our supplies will be adequate and that our weapons will be at least moderately efficient. As to our willingness to serve the Government of the day need have no fears; it would require something rather more than 16 years of bitter recrimination to destroy the traditional character of the British people. His Majesty's Opposition I would ask to extend the hand of co-operation. In sacrificing in part some principle of opposition, they may render a temporary dis-service to their party, but, if it suffices to make Britain strong, surely they will render a greater service to mankind by forestalling the tragic sacrifice that will attend the outbreak of another world war.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. DODD
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Cary) on a maiden speech that was most excellent, both in delivery and in the interesting matter which he put before us. In doing so I feel a little self-conscious, because the last speech I made in this House was my own maiden speech; but I think the House will tender, as I do now, its very sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend.
I wish to deal with one or two aspects of the White Paper, from the point of view of supply and industry, which I consider are extremely important, but, in the first place, I want to say one or two words on the general position. I do not consider that France can afford to stand aloof when overtures of peace are made towards her, and at the same time expect on our side assistance in case of war. I think the time has come when we in this House must realise that we can no longer treat Germany as a second or third-class Power, but must recognise actual facts. I recall that, after the Franco-Prussian war, Victor Hugo said that in the future there would be two nations in Europe that would be formidable, the one because it was victorious, and the other because it was vanquished. The wheel has gone full circle, and we 1884 find that exactly the same thing has happened again in the past 20 years.
While I fully appreciate the necessity for the defence plans of the Government, I venture to suggest that they are in some measure a little obscure. There is not sufficient clarity in regard to the various items, and, while there are many Members of the House who are far more able than myself to deal with the question of the Fighting Forces, there are one or two matters which, from the point of view of the younger generation, I think are important. I agree with the observation of the hon. Member for Eccles that, if there should be a war, at any rate this generation should not be sent into that war totally unprepared and unequipped, as was the case in the last War, when it was not until they had been fighting for two years that that generation had the necessary supplies of equipment with which even to defend themselves. As a young man, and one of the generation whose early years were over-shadowed by the last War, I would say that we, as the generation who would have to fight a war, do not want to fight and do not want war. I do not say that because we are in any way more cowardly than the generations before us, but because we consider that it is unnecessary that there should be war to prove the manhood of the younger generation of a nation. I believe that neither the youth of Germany nor the youth of France desire war any more than we do, and I suppose that the youth of Italy did not desire it either, but, unfortunately, they have found themselves thrown into a condition of war.
From the point of view of supply, and its effect on industry throughout this country, I should like to draw the attention of the House to one or two aspects which are of essential importance. There is in certain industries at the present time a dearth of skilled and semi-skilled labour, and herein lies a problem which is as important to Members on the other side of the House as on this, in connection with the study of the problem and the working out of some method by which we may avoid the disasters of the last war. I see that the Government divide into three sections the types of factory that would cope with war supplies. The first would be the Government factories; the second, those factories which normally deal with Government contracts; and the third, 1885 those which in the normal way do not deal with Government contracts, but which have plant and staff capable of dealing with them. I would go further, and divide the industrial activity of this country into three types, not of concerns, but of districts. In the first place, the Government factories are operating, and have been operating for the last 18 months or two years, at reasonably full capacity, and at the present time they are usually placed in areas where there is no great degree of depression. Secondly, there are the districts in which there are concerns which in normal times deal with Government contracts. We have all seen what has happened during the past 18 months or two years in those areas; there has been a vast increase of production and of employment. The third type of district is the more distressed area—I do not say the special area, but the more depressed area, where firms are not in the ordinary way catering for Government contracts.
There is another problem. It seems to me that, if this matter is to be handled satisfactorily, we have to recognise that there is bound to be a drift of employment from one area to another. There is bound to be some change in the conditions under which the people are employed. I want to recall one or two things that happened during the last War. The hon. Member for Eccles referred to the indiscriminate recruitment of skilled labour. That must never happen again, whether in peace or in war, because to denude industry of skilled labour, which crippled the country once, would do it again. Quite apart from the interest of the country itself and the capital interest of concerns, I should like the House to bear in mind that, wherever there is one skilled man employed in a concern, there are invariably several unskilled and semi-skilled men who depend on that skilled man also for their employment as much as on the employer.
What is likely to happen if we are not very careful? We may repeat what took place during the War. The districts that I have in mind are particular areas of Lancashire and the Midlands and Sheffield. We found that, immediately there was an increase in productivity in those areas, labour flooded into them. In many cases the skilled men had been 1886 recruited and taken away indiscriminately. There was a vast increase in productivity and there was an influx also into the mining districts. When the War terminated it was cut off as with a knife, and those vast areas were left with a huge mass of unemployed which it has taken 14 or 15 years to bring even within measurable bounds of being dealt with, and therein lies the root cause of the greater part of the difficulties of the distressed areas in my opinion. If we are going to increase productivity during the next two or three years, there is a possibility that at the end of that period we may create similar conditions and we may leave certain areas to carry a vast mass of people who are thrown out of work by the termination of the contracts. I am specially interested in the districts which I should put into the third category, the districts which have a great number of concerns capable, if it came to the point, of producing warlike stores. In most cases those districts do not want to go on to Government contract work directly. They are at present employed for industrial requirements and, though they may not be running to the maximum of their capacity, there is still a very considerable degree of hesitancy on their part in even tendering or attempting to obtain Government contracts. I have Lancashire in mind particularly and, if these concerns in Lancashire are not prepared to make some attempt to obtain Government contracts, the areas where the demand is to be created will draw upon these other areas for their labour and the skilled and unskilled labour will move away from those districts and create a condition of further unemployment amongst the vast mass of the totally or partly unskilled community.
Let us turn for a moment to districts and concerns which are more particularly operating on Government contracts at present. What is going to happen to them? I cannot imagine that they are going to stop tendering for work simply because they happen to be at 100 per cent. production. They will continue to tender for work, and if that work becomes available will, as far as possible, make extensions and increase their productivity over a period and thereby draw again on the pool of labour which is available from these several areas. I am as anxious as anyone else to see the depressed areas 1887 recovering to the very utmost and placed once again in normal industry and productivity, but it is not possible to take highly skilled operations into the distressed areas at present where those areas are not fitted and not equipped with the necessary type of labour to handle some of the material that is required. There is in South Wales a very great mass of semi-skilled labour, but there is also a vast mass of skilled labour in a particular trade. You cannot take a man out of a coal mine and put him on to a lathe and expect him to do work of the type required on a Government contract. If factories are to be erected there, it is going to draw again skilled labour from other districts and there is going to be a further movement of labour.
It is said in the White Paper that, as far as possible, there shall be no profiteering. I hope that is not a platitude, because we have before us the examples of the late War. At the same time, I should not like hon. Members to imagine that every firm that happened to be operating on Government contracts in the last War did so for the purpose of profiteering. There are some extremely difficult problems to face. If there was any profiteering on one side, most undoubtedly there was profiteering on the other. There was most definitely profiteering in wages all the way through. While our troops were fighting in France wages were going up, and the cost of living for everyone in the country increased accordingly. Hon. Members may wonder why, if there is so much money in these Government contracts, concerns do not immediately set about obtaining all the work they can. There are very good reasons. There is the very greatest difficulty for the average engineering concern, whose plant is already laid out for certain types of work, to convert at short notice on to munition work of a type requiring a very considerable amount of skill. There is not the available machinery and plant and there are not the available men. In the initial stages of any concern starting to manufacture for Government contracts there is a vast amount of material wasted and destroyed until production has become normal. If concerns have the plant, or the buildings but not the plant, it is said that they may possibly receive 1888 assistance in laying down the necessary plant and machinery for a given output.
It sounds quite good on paper, but concerns are not, even with Government assistance to the fullest extent, going to lay down further plant for the purpose of contracts without some protection on the other side. If Government contracts are only given for a period of three years, on certain numbers and quantities for delivery over a period only, representing production for a certain number of months, not a whole year, the larger the concern the greater the difficulty in laying down the plant to deal with normal industrial requirements and with the necessary requirements of Government contracts. Whilst I fully appreciate the necessity of these defence proposals, I hope full consideration will be given to this very important fact of supply. It is essential that both employers and operatives should co-operate in assisting the Government and guiding them in fulfilling the requirements under the defence scheme, but in such a form that three years from now we are not placed industrially in a worse condition than we are at present.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Although I disagreed with most of what the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Cary) said, it was indeed a brilliant effort by a Member making his maiden speech. He showed that he had a profound knowledge of the subject that he dealt with. If ability and knowledge are the avenue for political advancement, I feel sure that the hon. Member should soon adorn the Front Bench of the National Government. The hon. Member who spoke last said that this generation was not more cowardly than the last. I think that is entirely a misuse of language and proper interpretation. There are men who refuse either to fight or to be conscripted for the purposes of war who are not cowardly but are intelligent and courageous in resisting causes to which they are diametrically and fundamentally opposed. There has been a great deal of talk about the people of the nation playing their part on behalf of the principles of the League or of collective security, or if France should find herself in difficulties. I cannot be as generous with the lives of the workers as many hon. Members are. They talk in terms of placing the workers at the disposal of 1889 the ruling class of this country and of France and of the League of Nations, as if they had the ability and the power to hand them over into the power of the capitalist class in any part of the world.
Make no doubt about it, we are discussing the provision of money for the purposes of war. We are not voting vast sums of money because we are trying to ensure peace. One hon. Member said the road to disarmament was by rearming. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and we have heard all that claptrap from many angles in the past. Statesmen in many countries have laid it down that the votes that they were asking for were not for the purpose of war but for the purpose of ensuring peace. It is about time that the people of the world began to realise that that is the usual stock in trade and clap-trap of the elderly politicians of every country. They say they want money to have a mechaniseed Army, or an up-to-date Navy or an Air Force which will be equal, if not superior, to either one or two great Powers, in order to meet any emergency that may occur. If you are armed, you will discover that in the end these armaments will be used for the purpose of destroying human life in some part of the world.
I listened to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who came down to the House to-night with his tongue in his cheek and attempted to put over from that Box a case in which I felt that he did not believe. We are asked to give the Government a blank cheque. We are like the little boys in the infant class, and are not to be told the amount of money required for the purposes of this so-called national defence. We have to vote a blank cheque, and give to the rulers of this country, and to the generals, colonels, majors, and to the admirals, the power to drag from the nation the vast resources which the nation undoubtedly possesses for the purposes of war but can never find for the purposes of peace or for necessary social reforms. I have heard a good deal about "honest Stanley." I have seen his picture on the hoardings—"The old fellow," "The honest man," "Return him to the House of Commons with a huge majority." I have an impression that that sort of thing is just a little overdone. He comes to broadcast. I listened to him at my own fireside when 1890 he said, "During the election you will be told from many Opposition sources of the vast amount of money that will be required by the Government for rearmement, but no matter what sum you are told, you can disbelieve it, because it will be an exaggeration." He said "Disbelieve the stories you are told," but he was the one man who was in the position to tell the nation the amount of money that would' be required.
It was a cunning effort on the part of the Prime Minister to deprive the nation of the opportunity of knowing what these vast sums would be. Then he takes a step forward and comes to this House, stands on his dignity, and resents any questioning as to what the amount is to be. He says, in terms of the dictator, "You have no right to inquire." Apart from the fact that he has a huge majority in this House, he is only one man and represents a division in this House just the same as every other hon. Member, and he has no right to withhold information from other Members of the House as to the amount of money for which the Government are to ask. For what purpose is the money being asked? The purpose of national defence. What is national defence stripped of all its shibboleths? It is simply the defence of the investments of the ruling class of this country. It is the defence of the investments of the capitalist class, who have brought together within their power and scope a huge Empire by plunder and by murder in every part of the world. Now that they have brought that huge Empire together, they sit back in their own armchairs satisfied that they have made good in the world as successful business men, and believing that no person has the right to ape the methods they adopted in building up their vast Empire.
After the late War they formed the League of Nations, this hoodlum assembly which has got the Labour party into its toils, for the purpose of trying to make the working class believe that it has the power to prevent war. The right hon. Gentleman stands at that Box to-night and takes off the mask. He dons a militarist or admiral's uniform and says in effect, "The League of Nations has failed to carry out that which we intended it should carry out and now it is every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost. We must be prepared to re- 1891 arm to the teeth in order to provide for every emergency that may take place."
I am one of those simple, fundamental Socialists who does not believe in any League of Nations. I said the other week, and I say it again for the benefit of the Government spokesmen who are on that Bench. There is a League of Nations. In the Reichstag, it is Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, three of the greatest scoundrels the world has ever known; in France it is of the same type; and in Japan it is of the type which despatched men to their doom only a few weeks ago. In every country in the world it is the same type. It is the landlord and the capitalist interests which are congregated at Geneva— [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Litvinoff?"] Yes, "Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly." Litvinoff at Geneva may be an honest man, but I would point out that if one honest man goes among 39 rogues there is a greater chance of the one honest man becoming a rogue than of the 39 rogues becoming honest men. I deplore the fact that Litvinoff has gone to Geneva, because he is giving to that assembly a semblance of working-class power which he is not entitled to give, and is assisting in misleading the working class of the world as to the true ability of the League of Nations, which, we are told to-day, has failed.
We have no belief in the League of Nations. After the War it was an attempt to placate the feeling that had been created among people who were told that the late War was a war to end war, a war to end militarism. Yet 21 years afterwards we are being asked in this House, in addition to the annual expenditure on national defence, to give a blank cheque of hundreds of millions of pounds to the Government for the purposes of causing death and desolation in the very near future.
I say to the Labour party that if I placed my faith in the present Prime Minister and his colleagues to represent this House at Geneva, I ought to support them nationally in a National Government in Britain. I could not be expected to entrust the working class to their power internationally and refuse to entrust them to their power nationally. It would be illogical. If they were capable of dealing with working-class problems 1892 at Geneva, they should be capable of dealing with working-class problems in this country and of running the working-class movement. The League of Nations was created for the purpose of fostering the belief among the workers that the League would prevent war. My fundamental knowledge teaches me, as it has taught many hon. Members on this side of the House, that war can never be prevented so long as capitalism reigns. Capitalism produces war just as it produces poverty, and the way to end war and to end poverty is to end capitalism, and thus strike at the fundamental causes of war and poverty. The League of Nations was concocted by the wily men in the capitalist world. They said that in future we could not act individually, or unilaterally, as we are told. They said "Let us get together a League of Nations." John Bull said, "Well, the League of Nations is a grand idea. It suits me. I have got all I want, and I can use this League to repress and to hold back those who are aspiring to territory and trade routes. I can use this instrument." The working-class movement fell into that avenue and began to support the League.
The League has proved itself the failure that it was bound to prove itself from the beginning. What has it done? What about the action of Japan in China, the setting up of Manchukuo, the march of the Japanese Army across the Chinese Wall to steal territory? There was no real protest. With their tongue in their cheek the League may have protested, but in reality they said, "Go on, we have no objection." Then there was Germany's rearmament and the suppression of democratic institutions. There was the burning down of the Reichstag. Everything was done to destroy the fundamental liberties of the working-class movement and democracy. The League refused to protest in any effective way, and allowed the suppression to go on. Then we come to the Abyssinian dispute. The League has tried to make the world believe, with high sounding moral declarations, that they stand by Abyssinia. The Emperor said that he had God, the British Empire and the League of Nations behind him, but his soldiers were left to bear the brunt of the attacks of a great Power. There there was the war in South America. The League, with its fumbling and faltering steps and feeble protests goes on and really does nothing.
1893 To-day, we get the culmination of a series of betrayals. The Government, naked and unashamed, 21 years after the War, come forward on behalf of the National Government and confess that the League has failed and that we have to set about building up a great force of arms to meet every emergency. The talk in the House to-day has been all war talk. Hon. Members opposite have been talking in terms as if we were on the eve of a great conflagration. The War was adjourned in 1918 and it looks as if it were going to restart in a very short space of time. Am I expected to say to the workers of Shettleston: "The League will conduct the war. Get into uniforms, and down with Germany." After that, it will be Japan. "Put on the uniform again, boys, and help to down Japan." Is it to that that the youth of the nation have to look forward—death and destruction? I have seen them in the barrack yards, young boys, 17 to 18 years of age, with rifles and bayonets in their hands. I know something about it because I had practice as a volunteer and also for a short period in the Navy during my callow youth. The boys are taught to run with their bayonets at sacks of sawdust, and they have to plunge in their bayonets as if they were plunging it into a man's stomach, and then to twist the bayonet as if they were performing the process of disembowelling. They are being prepared for that condition of things. Is that to be the outlook for the youth of the nation? Boys who are on the means test are being driven out of their homes and you are going to recruit them for the purpose of defending the illgotten gains of the ruling classes which have been stolen from the fathers, the mothers and the children of the nation.
We oppose the Vote to-night and we lay down in our Amendment a fundamental opposition. The Leader of the Labour party has spoken. I was staggered at the way that party is being led. The Leader of that party is incapable of working-class thought in the slightest degree. He went to the Box and in the most namby-pamby Sunday school speech that I have ever heard, he treated this subject. I sympathise with the members of the Labour party owing to the difficulties in which they find themselves through the outside domination of the old trade union leaders, who themselves are pledged to the Government to carry out this scheme. 1894 [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I know the policy of the trade union leaders. Their policy is to see that the men who construct the scaffold where a person is to be hanged are paid the trade union rate of wages, and that the firing squad who shoot a man are paid trade union rates of wages.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Yes. I will give two quotations. In a speech by Lord Straholgi, a fortnight ago, he said—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
The hon. Member must not quote speeches delivered in another place.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I will only say in passing that commitments have been made by the leaders of the trade union movement in the country that they are prepared to support the Government if the Government are driven to war. They speak on behalf of the Labour movement, industrially and politically, when they say that they are committed to support the Government in war. Here is the statement relating to defence on page 16, para 49:What we have to do is to carry through, in a limited period of time, Measures which will make exceptionally heavy demands upon certain branches of industry and upon certain classes of skilled labour, without impeding the course of normal trade. This will require the most careful organisation and the willing co-operation both of the leaders of industry and of Trade Unions if our task is to be successfully accomplished. But the Government have every confidence that these conditions will be fulfilled.Does any hon. Member dare to tell me that the Government would speak in an authoritative manner like that of the cooperation of a trade union leader unless they had received a promise from the leaders of the trade unions? Moreover, it has been stated by representatives of the Labour party that they stand 1895 to support the Government in every emergency in case of war. Let me give a quotation from a speech made just before the formation of the National Government by a right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Labour Front Bench. It is taken from the "Daily Telegraph" in August, 1931:Brighton., Friday night.Co-operation for national safety on the part of the three political parties of our country was the formular which Mr. J. H. Clynes, the Home Secretary, gave in a speech here to-night as the remedy for the economic dangers that beset us. It was far from being true he said, that this country was down and out or nearly so. Our internal resources were still enormous and we had the means and ability to face the dangers confronting us. But those dangers could only be faced by the development of an essentially national spirit. Parties may act separately in normal times but they must act co-operatively when the nation was faced was a financial crisis or of any other kind. There are many young men growing up who know nothing whatever of what it was like in the later years of the War, but I ask that they should give their closest and undivided attention to what I expect will be the lead given by the unity of political parties in this country in the face of the crisis, which has to be overcome.That was before the National Government was formed. Evidently the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) anticipated joining the National Government. Sir Walter Citrine has declared that the movement will support the Government in the event of it being driven to war in defence of collective security. If it is to be collective security surely it must also be collective rearmament in order to be able to use power in the interest of capitalist collective security, which is the road upon which we are being driven. I have been informed, I hope it is not true, that the man to be in charge of national defence is Sir Walter Citrine. If that is true then I want to press the claims of Ernest Bevin, who I think is a much more capable man. He has greater dictatorial power, which he uses at the Trade Union Congress by holding up cards representing 400,000 trade unionists. If the Government are considering a man as Minister of Defence Ernest Bevan is the man. In the last War the Secretary of State for the Colonies was not in the Coalition Government, but the right hon. Member for Platting was. To-day the positions are reversed, and 1896 if a national emergency takes place, if war ensues, then surely we shall have national unity on behalf of the collective security system and it is not too much to expect the right hon. Member for Platting to join the National Government and thus complete the circle in order to defend the system of collective secuity. If it is right internationally, then logically it is right nationally.
If war comes there is bound to be a tremendous cleavage in the Labour movement, as there was in 1914 when the Independent Labour Party were compelled to take their stand against the War and when over 3,000 of its members went to prison against it. The great trouble, so far as the present position is concerned, is that the working-class forces are so weak that they could not take the stand of refusing to admit those who had gone over to the Coalition during the War. I can see this crisis in the Labour party developing as plain as anything. I can see the Labour party not knowing which way to go. They back the collective security system, the League of Nations, but when the Government say that it is necessary to mechanise our Army, that a more modern Air Force is desirable and that we must re-equip our Navy and lay down larger battleships and destroyers, then the Labour party are afraid to take the plunge and try to evade the logical responsibilities of their policy. Like a drowning man they snatch at any straw and use the Order Paper of this House to put down the Motion for rejection they have to-day. The Labour party is bankrupt of Labour class leadership. It does not know where it stands. No single member of it, if war came, would take a share in the Army, Navy or Air Force, but they will speak on behalf of millions of people down in the gutter who are struggling with adversity and poverty.
My job is to say to the workers in my division and throughout the country that capitalism is leading them to a desperate crisis in which every country is going headlong into national bankruptcy or into war, and that their duty is not to be used by the ruling classes in order to defend the interests of the ruling classes. Their duty is to defend their own country, and if the ruling classes place weapons in their hands it is their duty to use those weapons for winning power 1897 for the working classes in Great Britain; and that it is the duty of the working classes in Germany to remove Hitler and Goering and Goebbels in order to establish working-class power in Germany. The youth of the nation does not need to cross seas or frontiers; their enemy is within their own country, and if the Labour party were true to the principles of the class struggle they would be conducting a clear-cut fight in this House against capitalism and driving capitalism before it.
When the Armaments Bill passes this House no Member of this party is prepared to become a bargaining agent for the Government, no voice will be raised for diabolical instruments of war to be provided in our areas. I would rather see the workers, poor though they may be, without their hands staoned with the blood of millions of human beings. I say to the Government: get on with your armaments and the creation of your forces in this country, with the collaboration of your kept men in the trade unions. The workers in every country, in China, Japan, Germany, Australia, France and Great Britain, are being driven by force of circumstances to revolt and in the end will bring down the capitalist system and establish in its place a civilised system of society. We say that the Government if they did the intelligent thing would call, as we suggest, a world conference representing all countries and would say to them: "Look here, the game is up. In order to establish peace and security in the world we ought to bring the system of capitalism to a close and instead of private ownership and the rule of the gangster establish a system of common ownership of the means of life as the basis of civilisation." The Government are attempting to kidnap the youth of the nation for the purposes of destruction. We shall tell die workers that they have no part or lot in it.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
It means landlords and capitalists who live by profit, interest and rent. I do not disagree with Conservatives and Liberals in this House who come down and co-operate with the National Government—[Interruption.] I resent the insinuation that Conserva- 1898 tives and Liberals are my pals. When hon. Members above the Gangway go to Buckingham Palace they are their pals. I intend to be courteous to all men, and so far as members of the Labour party are concerned what I have said is more in regret than in condemnation, I say frankly that hon. Members on the Labour side of the House are time servers, who are not concerned with principles but with selfish interests. Time will show to the working class of this country that when real crisis develops, the bridge, as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, is created by the bodies of the workers in order to allow their leaders to march over to security. Their leaders will march over to the security of the National Government and the riding class, and the nthe workers will be compelled to follow the lead of the Independent Labour Party and march ahead to the overthrow of capitalism and the kept leaders of the working-class movement.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
In the first place, I want to ask the Colonial Secretary whether, when he replies, he will inform the House whether the Government will consider having, not a special occasion for which private back bench Members on all sides have to press, but a clay annually devoted to the consideration of the Defence Forces as a whole, so that next year the debate comes about, although the stage may be set differently and the circumstances may be different from the present. We should thus have a day on which, as a regular practice, the House of Commons would be able to debate the unification and the co-ordination of the Services, and would be able to hear all the points of view which might be expressed with that liberty which we enjoy in this House, and of which we have just heard an example in the speech of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern).
The hon. Member for Shettleston was, at any rate, original in his ideas as to who should be the Minister for the coordination of the Defence Services, but there were two matters which I could not understand in his speech. He referred to national defences being for the protection of the capitalist classes, and he said that the workers engaged in making munitions have their hands almost dripping with blood. How does he reconcile 1899 that with the fact that the Soviet Government have no capitalist class to defend, and nevertheless have workers engaged in making munitions all the time and have also the largest standing forces of any country in the world? The hon. Member said that he would prefer the men in his own constituency to be out of employment and to be on public assistance rather than make munitions; and presumably he would also prefer Soviet citizens to be unemployed rather than to make munitions for the protection of the Soviet Republic. The hon. Member agrees—then his point of view may be illogical and unsound, but at any rate I respect it as a point of view with which I fundamentally disagree, and as a point of view which I believe will find very little support in the House or in the country.
I wish to draw attention to one point to which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred, and that is the omission in the White Paper of any mention of Dominion support for, and co-operation in, the proposals now before the House; and I am glad that the Colonial Secretary is to reply to-night, for he has a great knowledge of Colonial and Dominion affairs. There was not a word in the Prime Minister's speech concerning this particular matter, and although I am sure there is Dominion cooperation, I think the House is entitled to have some more information concerning it. It is inconceivable that in any future retaliation to aggression or steps to implement collective security this country would take isolated action. Any policy in those directions in the future must essentially be a Dominion policy. That being the case, one would expect to see some mention of a financial contribution from the Dominions, if only to the extent of a small token payment to show their binding assent to the policy of the Government. It is not the Dominions' money we want, but their support. I would like to ask the Government whether the Dominions would give support to that extent.
Nor is there any mention in the White Paper of the Dominions' staff combinging for the promotion of schemes for their defence and for the advance of collective security, which must be one of the outcomes of the augmented defence forces 1900 which have those two purposes. In paragraph 39 of the White Paper, the Government draw attention to the responsibilities in the scheme of Imperial Defence of the Royal Air Force, and it is said that strategically certain units of the Royal Air Force must be placed in the outlying parts of the Empire. I agree that there is a Dominion outlook, but there is no mention of Dominion coperation with regard to this placing of our forces throughout the Dominions.
There is another point which has been raised to a small extent to-day, and will doubtless be raised more in the Debate to-morrow. It concerns the doubts which will be expressed as to the adequacy of the number of first-line aircraft which the White Paper proposes shall be in existence at the end of the period of development. I believe you could put any figure you liked in this White Paper, and it would not very much matter. I do not think it would matter whether the figure were 5,000 or 10,000, because the Government have put the total at about the highest figure which it is possible to obtain within the period of expansion. It might look very well to put 5,000 aeroplanes as the figure, but we should not be able to get them, for the limiting factor against which we have to contend in this country is not the ability of the Air Force to expand or to operate a larger number of aeroplanes, but the capacity of the industry, of which the Prime Minister spoke. The whole of the industries which supply the Army, Navy and Air Force are beset with problems to-day and they have as many difficulties now that they are gorged with orders as they had when they were starved of orders. As the Prime Minister said, we very nearly lost our apprenticeship system during the postwar depression, and to-day there are vital problems of training and dilution which have to be tackled with extra vigour because of that post-war industrial depression.
I think the whole House will join with me in welcoming an industrial survey of the output capacity of this country. I would appeal to hon. and right hon. Members above the Gangway that, when the political demonstrations which their party is making—and is perfectly within its rights in making—are over, and when the proposals are carried, as we all know they will be, the Labour party should then face the inevitable. Could not the 1901 unions then co-operate with the Government, even though they may dislike the policy? After all, it will be the policy of the Government. Could not the unions co-operate with the Government and form an advisory council with it for the purpose of overcoming the common problems which face us; and could they not forget politics in so doing? I do not believe it is the desire of any part of the House to see the status of skilled men lessened. I think that in this Government work there will be a great oppotunity in the industrial field for an upgrading of the men in various skilled trades, and a recognition, particularly in the aircraft section, of the very great responsibilities which rest upon those men, a recognition to which effect should be given both in status and higher rates of pay for the men engaged in that particular work.
There is one matter, I think, on which the Government will be congratulated by all those who are interested in air defence, and I would like to touch on that matter for a few moments. There has been tremendous and almost revolutionary progress during the last 12 months in the performance of aircraft which form the equipment of our Royal Air Force. In the past three or four years we have heard complaints from all sides of the House to the effect that aeroplanes became out of date before they could be put into service. It has taken three or four years from the time the Air Ministry first designed aircraft to the time at which they were put into the squadrons, and they have been completely out of date from the moment they started their service life. My Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air has taken great—I might almost say revolutionary—risks during the past 12 months. He has trusted the designers and he has trusted his Department to order straight from the drawing-board, as it were, almost revolutionary types of aircraft, and the risk has been justified. We in this House and the public have the satisfaction of knowing that the aircraft which are being turned out from our factories to-day are comparable with, and usually exceed in performance and ability to fulfil their functions the aircraft turned out by any other factories in Europe.
I agree with the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Cary) that we who have had anything to do with war do not give 1902 our assent to these proposals in any light-hearted or vainglorious spirit. We do so rather in a sober and determined spirit. Reading pages 6, 7 and 8 of the White Paper we see that Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Russia, Japan and the United States are rearming. If the rearming of those countries were the only result of the last War we should indeed almost despair. But I believe, with the Prime Minister, that a new spirit is growing. It is young yet, but it is there—a desire for a new and a better understanding. Doubtless we shall differ about it and debate about it, but underneath the political differences dividing us at present, there is growing up among the common men and women in this country and other countries the desire for a better understanding. Once the will for a better understanding shows itself no politician and no political party can stand in the way of the fulfilment of that desire. I believe that tendency will enable us to shape a policy in this country which, whatever Governments may come in the future, will eventually bring something good out of the last War, namely, security and a better feeling among men of all nations one to the other.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
We have just heard a very interesting speech from an hon. and gallant Member who played a great part in the last War and who speaks upon these subjects with knowledge and experience. For my own part, I desire to restrict the few comments which I intend to make to the statement of the Prime Minister and the proposals in the White Paper itself. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) that the complete programme of rearmament ought to be placed before the House. Yet I am compelled to admit that there is something in the argument of the Prime Minister that there are advantages in an elastic programme in the present state of affairs. Such a programme can be modified if the international outlook alters and if there is a general lowering of armaments and that, we are told, is the end for which the present Government are striving.
The problem of defence is constantly changing in its aspects. Developments during the week-end have illustrated that fact very strikingly. Germany has now 1903 torn up a treaty into which she freely entered and at the same time she has made far-reaching proposals for new agreements. It is a remarkable concomitance. If by great efforts of diplomacy it is found possible with good fortune to achieve new arrangements on the lines indicated then I hope that some modification of the proposals in the White Paper will also be found possible and that they will be altered in a downward direction as regards the armaments of this country. An agreement between Germany, France and ourselves to reduce armaments would do more at the present stage to make peace secure than anything else could do. If Germany does return to her place in the councils of the European nations and resumes contact with peaceful and freedom-loving nations, I venture to hope that such a development may have powerful reactions on her internal as well as on her external policy. We have seen in the case of Russia how the domestic policy and outlook of that country have been modified as a result of closer contacts with other nations.
I still ask myself, however, whether such a pact as has been suggested would really increase our security since its prologue will have been the repudiation of a treaty. I am led to connect this matter with the proposals in the White Paper because the situation to-day closely resembles the situation in connection with the Anglo-German Naval Treaty to which Herr Hitler referred in his speech. In considering the White Paper and the question of security it is relevant to ask the Minister who is to reply whether he knows anything about Germany's observance of that treaty. Have the Government any information as to whether the 35 per cent. limit is being observed, or whether, as has been stated in several newspapers and in different other quarters, that limit has already been exceeded? Is it the case that a more intensive programme, a concealed programme, of building and reconditioning old battleships is being carried out?
A flexible programme such as that outlined in the White Paper has also strategic advantages which are particularly important for this country which might have to wage war in different parts of the world and under varying conditions. The British Empire is so wide that it would be difficult at the out- 1904 set to decide what sort of arms and what sort of troops would be required for different emergencies. Further, there is no doubt that flexibility makes for some measure of economy and, possibly, for a lower level of total armaments in the combined Services. I venture to think, however, that those reasons, good as they are, are not the reasons which have urged the Government to make this a flexible programme. I suggest that the reason why the Government have been unable to bring forward a rigid programme is because no one has yet been found to accept the responsible position of co-ordination Minister. This I believe to be one more example of the Government's lackadaisical and Rip van Winkle attitude on important questions. Why has the new Minister not been appointed? The Government have been considering repairing deficiencies in the Forces for 12 months. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said so only last Friday. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has also said the same thing in this House.
Did the Government intend to do this, did they intend to repair the deficiencies without a co-ordinating officer in charge, without the co-ordinating machinery being put in the hands of this new Minister? Did they change their mind under the pressure of public opinion, so that up to the present they have had no time to make the appointment, or is the post going to be of small importance? That also has not been made clear as yet. We still do not know whether the new Minister will have a deciding voice in the Chiefs of Staffs Sub-committee. That is one of the most important roles that he can play, but this new post, like a good many other posts, and perhaps more than they, requires personality and capacity. You cannot hunt the fox with a pack of poodles. What is wanted on this occasion, for this very difficult and strenuous job, is a watch-dog of the finest breed you can find, a watch-dog efficient and alert, someone like the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), with his energy, his drive, and his knowledge of these matters. What you want is a good-humoured mastiff, wise, benevolent, wide-awake, experienced, determined, and above all, tactful, so that he will not get athwart three defence Ministers. That is the sort of watch-dog the nation wants to keep our defences strong and inviolable. 1905 But his duty should not be, as has been indicated, simply to fetch and carry, and the nation does not require that we should have come to the point when the Prime Minister should appoint to this office one of those tender-mouthed hon. or right hon. spaniels on the front show bench.
This is all the more important in view of the recent composition of the Government and in view of their present composition. We know that most party Governments give hostages to party. They always do in the appointments that they make, and that accounts, as we all know, for those lethargic and indistinct personalities which we find in so many Ministries throughout the different Governments. But in this Government there is not as great a chance for the other offices to be filled by merit, for preferment to he given by merit, because in this Government hostages to party are multiplied by three, and the number of officers for the men of merits is correspondingly reduced. The people of this country are beginning to realise this. The Prime Minister, as we know, is often blamed for his lack of drive and his lack of familiarity with the questions of the clay. I wonder how far this is due to the composition of the Cabinet.
The safety of these islands may, after all, depend on this new Minister. Will he be another hostage to party? This country does require someone capable of ending this chaos in the directive machinery of our defences, a chaos for which the Prime Minister and his predecessor are largely responsible. Remember what Lord Salisbury said only a few days ago, when he gave the reason for the Committee of Imperial Defence system not working properly. He said it was because the Prime Minister had attended to his duties as chairman in such a perfunctory manner. That was since the Conservative Government of 1924, and his statement has been endorsed by Lord Milne, in the article that he has published in the "Nineteenth Century." The two right hon. Gentlemen who for the last 12 years have played Box and Cox in the office of Prime Minister are both very much responsible for this state of things. Then let us see what Lord Trenchard said. Lord Trenchard confessed that the Chiefs of Staff did so little because the Ministers were not interested in the important questions of defence, especially in those important 1906 questions of sea and air communications. We have seen reports, articles, and letters all pointing to the fact that ex-Chiefs of Staff have intimated, both in public and in private, that there was little coordination between them, that they were seldom in harmony on the problems of defence, and that they agreed only in shelving those problems.
The country looks to the new Minister to end this perfunctory treatment of our defence problems, and to make short work of jealousies, rivalries, and lack of co-ordination between the Services, to end all these gross defects in our directive administration, and to repair our defences. Our defence forces apparently are in a state of dilapidation, in spite of the vast expenditure that has been lavished upon them in the last 10 years. The people are beginning to be perturbed by the revelations to these gross defects, which show that the Government are lacking in grip, as they have been also in many other spheres of action. The people will not be satisfied if the new office is filled by a minion of the Prime Minister's, nor if it is filled by some elder statesman who is anxious to make up the average of his attendances in the chair of the Committee of Imperial Defence, where his attendances may have been perfunctory while he was Prime Minister.
It may be said that a civilian is not the man who is qualified to direct the issues between the Chiefs of Staff, but after all it is a civilian who it ultimately responsible for decisions on defence questions, as on all other questions, and there is a conclusive answer in the speech which was made in this House a few days ago by the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter). On the 14th February the hon. and gallant Member raised the question of the vulnerability of battleships to air attack. This question was again ventilated to-day by the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), and even to-day the layman cannot understand why the experiments have not taken place, and why we do not know whether these big battleships are vulnerable or invulnerable to air attack. We civilians are indeed surprised to learn that the experiments have not been made, especially when we consider that in the White Paper it is proposed that two new battleships should be 1907 laid down. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea said, that can only be laid down to a lack of co-ordination between the Navy and the Naval Air Arm, but may I briefly quote two other instances of a similar type, both referring to deficiencies which have long since been made good?
The first instance happened as long as 12 years ago. The Air Ministry was then asked, I believe, by the Committee of Imperial Defence to construct a wireless-directed aeroplane in order that it might serve as a target for anti-aircraft guns and determine their value. This was evaded for seven or eight years, and at that time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea was Air Minister. Therefore, he who to-day is asking for fresh experiments was responsible for the fact that at that time for seven or eight years, the Committee of Imperial Defence did not know the value of anti-aircraft guns as regards aeroplanes. There is a second instance. This has reference to a document—I believe an official document—which was circulated five years ago and denied the claim of the Air Force to be capable of the defence of the outposts of the Empire. This quarrel between the Air Force and the Army is of old standing, and it is incredible that it should have been ventilated in an official document which was circulated to all the senior officers of the Force. It was stated that the senior officers in the Air Force put forward this policy in order to provide employment for themselves when their flying lives were over. This question now being settled, I can freely allude to it. It is incredible that such differences should be known outside the Chiefs of Staff Committee. If lack of co-ordination has reached such a degree that it prevents problems vital to the Empire being investigated and permits other problems to be freely divulged, then indeed it is a mastiff that is wanted for this job who will be able to bite as well as to bark.
As for the more general aspects of the White Paper, I wish there were more emphasis on special defensive measures, and I hope that the new Minister, whoever he is, will be clothed in sufficient authority and will make these his chief responsibility, especially the protection of the civil population. In this connection, I welcome the proposals to re-equip the Territorial Force as an anti-aircraft force. 1908 Their chief object will be to protect the women and children, and I trust that this will make recruitment easier. On this question of civil defence, although I am delighted by the Prime Minister's assurance that valuable progress has been made in combating air attacks, I am gravely and deeply perturbed by the statement made a fortnight ago by the Under-Secretary to the Home Department, which also has some responsibility for civil defence. The hon. Gentleman said, in answer to a question, that the new gas mask which would be put in use would keep the wearer alive for a whole 15 minutes in a heavy gas concentration. I hope that the new Minister will be less complacent and that he will make every effort to develop a gas-proof and foolproof mask capable of giving adequate protection to the civilians and others who may have to wear them.
Although I fully approve of some of the proposals in the White Paper to the effect that the Government will still strive for a lower level of international armaments and will modify this programme if suitable opportunity occurs, yet I confess that I am gravely perturbed by the recent speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who spoke of re-armament as a partial solution of the unemployment problem, repeating more or less what he said in his Election broadcast, when he said that it would make for better wages in the depressed areas. May I remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was cried down by the Cabinet when on similar grounds he brought forward a scheme for national development. He was told that it would give only temporary work and the Government refused to invite the right hon. Gentleman to come in and carry out his programme. They were afraid, it was said, that he would disrupt the Government, although he was the most likely man to carry out these far-reaching plans.
To-day I find that they are treating in the same way, perhaps with less courtesy, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. It is also true that he is a man who would be able to revitalise air defences and co-ordinate and bring into harmony the chiefs of staffs of the different services. The arguments which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs advanced, however, are used to back up, 1909 the re-armament policy. Do not the same objections apply to-day? Surely, when these re-armament schemes are completed—and some time or other they must reach some sort of completion—the men who will be engaged will find themselves unemployed. I hope that it is not envisaged by the Government that re-armament is going to give permanent employment. Let us bear in mind the experience of other countries, which, after continually piling up armaments, are now in dire economic straits. Further, may I ask whether it is right for the Government to approach the trade unions by offering them the bait of employment to justify re-armament? If re-armament is really needed and the Government make out their case for it, and if the safety of the women and children of the country depend upon it, the Government may well go to the country and ask it to make sacrifices in order to guard against that danger. Let us not obscure the issue. That is neither necessary nor decent in such a vital issue, nor is it worthy of the Government of a great country.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I listened to the hon. Gentleman the Member for the isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) with considerable interest. There were many points in his speech with which, although he put them in a rather more extreme manner than we Oil this side favour, a great number of us are in agreement. Some of us—and we are not confined to one side of the House, because the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is included—have been pressing the last two years for a Debate which should be devoted solely or mainly to the question of defence. I am sorry to say that we have not yet attained that object. Although I have made no complaint on this occasion, it is obvious in the very critical situation of the moment—the European situation with which we are faced—that it is impossible to dissociate a Debate of this kind from the question of foreign policy. At the same time, I would venture to put to the House this point, which I think will not be received with disfavour in any part. We are here considering, rightly or wrongly, a Command Paper which deals with the whole problem of the defence of these islands and of the Empire. Pertinent as the question of foreign policy may be, and strong as previous 1910 circumstances which have made it necessary to produce this Paper may be, they are not nearly so pertinent to the situation in Europe as the contents of the Paper itself.
As an old Member of the House, a Member 10 years before the War, I recollect very vividly the Parliamentary situation immediately previous to the War. Let me point out to the whole House and to the Opposition in particular, with no ill feeling, the intense gravity of the situation with which we are faced to-night. It is possible, though I hope not probable—it is more than a bare possibility—that within the next month actual fighting may break out among Western European Powers. Surely then to-night the main question with which we have to deal is how far we are able and ready to take our part in collective security either at the present or some future time. I for my part commend in general the contents of the White Paper, but I have some criticism to make of them. Once again I would like, speaking as an old Member of the House, jealous for its independence, to enter a caveat against an impression which has grown up in recent years, especially since the National Government have been in office, an impression, cultivated by the Press outside and supported by a section of the supporters of the Government in this House, that any criticism of or comment on the Government's actions, whether it proceeds from the Opposition benches or from supporters of the Government on the back benches, must be motivated—to use an American word—by jealousy, pique or disappointment. That is contrary to the whole spirit of democratic government. It is a. tendency which needs to be fought. Some Member—as happened in the case of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain)—criticises the Prime Minister in his administrative capacity, and the Press and some Government supporters immediately hold up their hands in horror and say that it is a personal attack.
It is quite obvious that in a question of this kind, raising great international issues, there must be room for genuine differences of opinion between the different sides of the House. I believe that I am speaking for more than one of my hon. Friends when I say that although we may not agree with the arguments put for- 1911 ward by the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal party or by several back-bench Members, we realise that they are as genuine and sincere as we are. This is no occasion for dealing with the arguments from either side of the House with jeers or sneers.
My criticisms deal not so much with the present as with the immediate past administration of the three Services. I would invite the attention of Ministers to my comments, because I think that they should be answered. I feel that, without making any criticism of those who are at present holding office in the Service Departments or of any hon. or right hon. Member who has held office in those Departments, there is room for comment on the administration of those Services during the last few years. It is a notorious fact which we have carefully concealed from ourselves in this Debate, because modern Parliaments are such very nice and friendly bodies—the old days of hard hitting are gone, and if anybody criticises anyone else it is said to be a gross personal attack and in bad taste—that the recent practical mobilisation of British forces in the Mediterranean and Egypt disclosed a very serious shortage of essential equipment, particularly in the matter of shells. There is a rather naive reference to that in the White Paper. It says:The development of the situation in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, however, rendered necessary the acceleration of some of the measures contemplated, and involved expenditure which has been provided for in the Supplementary Estimates presented on the 17th February.If I may paraphrase that and. put it in simpler terms it means that when the Navy was practically mobilised in the Mediterranean and when the forces were strengthened it was found that in some branches of the Services there were not enough shells to enable the guns to fire for more than half an hour. That is a question of the past and it does not reflect much credit on those who were in charge of the administration of those Services during the last seven or eight years. It is a partial answer to say, as the Prime Minister said in his speech to-day, that we had for a long time not supposed that European war was possible.
1912 My second point is the complete failure of the Government to realise what Germany was doing in the past in Air Force expansion. That tale has been told by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) and others with more authority than myself. I am going to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the most friendly way for this assurance. We want to know, in so far as it is in the public interest to state this, how we stand to-day in relation to Germany (a) in the production of aircraft in peace time and (b) in the capacity for expansion to produce aircraft in war. These are most essential facts, for, as the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) pointed out, it is a regrettable but essential part of the situation that what we are dealing with to-day is the rearmament of Germany.
My last point—I do not want to indulge in recrimination and I certainly do not blame the present Secretary of State for War—is the continued failure over a series of years to show any effective public concern at the continued drop in the numbers of the Territorial Army and in the recruits for the Regular Army. I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State for War, who is a man of initiative, will do all that he can to influence public opinion in this matter. He needs assistance from other Members of the Government, from Leaders of the Government, from the Prime Minister, in drawing attention to this astonishing and most disquieting state of affairs, when, in a period of the greatest tension since the War, there is a continuous drop in recruiting for the Army and for the Territorial Army. It is a matter of the utmost urgency and importance.
Lastly, there is a distinct impression in service circles that, whereas what may be described as the men in secondary positions in the Army, Navy and Air Force, the men who are just not at the top, are men of progressive mind, of great knowledge of their profession, highly trained in peace and war, some of the heads of these Services are not of the calibre which we had in the days immediately after the War. I cannot help thinking that some of the difficulties with which we are faced would not have arisen had men like Lord Beatty, Lord Cavan 1913 and Lord Trenchard been the heads of the Services in the last three years.
The redress of all these matters depends very largely, in my opinion, on what is in the first place the nature of the functions of the new office to be created—and on that there are still certain lacunae to be filled in—but even more important is the question of who is going to be appointed. I do not propose to indulge in the mild chaff which the hon. Member who preceded me indulged in on that point. In normal circumstances it would be in the highest degree impertinent for any Member of this House, whether on the front or the back benches, to talk about future appointments, but these are not normal circumstances, because the whole success of this office depends upon the appointment. Now, although the remark may be received with jeers, there are undoubtedly two right hon. Gentlemen in this House, both supporters of the Government—I am excluding those like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who is not a supporter of the Government—who by knowledge, experience and position in this House and in the country are fitted to fill that office. I do not propose to pursue that point further except to observe this—[Interruption]. I thought I had mentioned them. The two right hon. Gentlemen are the right hon. Member for Chelsea and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill).
Whatever may be the criticisms of those right hon. Gentlemen on political grounds their ability to fill this office cannot be denied. That is a fact which is known to everybody. I do not propose to pursue that matter further, but I would ask the attention of the Colonial Secretary, who is going to reply, to this point. I think it is reasonable, before this Debate is over, to ask that we should have an assurance, which the public outside is asking for, on two points, firstly, that he who is appointed shall be a man of sufficient authority in the Cabinet and in the House and in the country to be able to carry the grievously heavy burden of the office he will have to fill. The second consideration, though it is hardly necessary to put it to the Government, because I understand that it is accepted by them, is that he should be a Member of this House. There is no question that there is great interest, one might almost say 1914 anxiety, over this matter in the country. It is all very well to say that we ought not to deal with these matters in the House, but leave all this to the Prime Minister, but this is not a normal occasion, and the whole success of the Government's scheme will depend very largely upon the functions and the persons appointed to this new office.
Let me mention in tabloid form one or two matters to which I hope the Colonial Secretary will reply in his speech. Necessarily, and I make no complaint of it, the Prime Minister did not deal with detail, in fact, he told us very little about the contents of the White Paper. He gave an admirable statement on British policy, which was needed at the moment, and which, I think, will get general support, and it is for the other Ministers to supply details. The first thing we ought to know is that the Government are clear in their own mind, as I am sure they are, that a clear line of demarcation of functions can and will be drawn between the Committee of Imperial Defence and the Chiefs of Staffs Sub-Committee on the one hand and the Service Departments on the other. I have privately consulted a great deal of service opinion on these points, and I think other hon. and right hon. Members may reach the same conclusion as I do, that it is the duty of the bodies to which I have referred, as distinct from that of the Service Departments concerned, to assess the problem, for example, of British action, military, naval and air, in the Far East, in the Mediterranean or in Europe, as the case may be, but not in any sense the operations. The carrying out of the work must be left to the Departments, and if you draw the proper line of demarcation the difficulties and dangers of a Ministry of Defence are avoided.
In order to do that I think it is necessary to have a permanent secretary who must be separate from the Cabinet. I do not believe it is possible for the Secretary of the Cabinet to be permanent secretary of this other office as well. Invaluable, beyond assessment in value, as have been the services of Sir Maurice Hankey, I cannot believe it would be in the interests of good administration that the same man should go on year after year holding dual offices. It is quite contrary to the whole spirit of 1915 British administration. If it were not contrary, there would be no reason for taking away a Viceroy from India, or anywhere else, at the end of five years, or having a fresh admiral or general in an important position in the Army or Navy. My third point is that I think it is going to be very difficult—though my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping will develop this point with greater knowledge and at greater length in his speech tomorrow—to have the same Minister acting as deputy chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence and these other Committees and dealing with the question of supply, because I think that eventually, in a time of emergency, the Minister in charge of supply would have to be turned into a Minister of Munitions.
My fourth point is that it is absolutely essential that a nucleus of serving members of all three Services should have practical experience in business organisation. Otherwise, if war breaks out we shall have the same difficulties as we had in the last War, when it was notorious that sailors and soldiers in high positions, through lack of experience of business organisation, business men and of employers and employed, were not able to perform their functions without friction. I think that officers of all three services trained at the Imperial College of Defence should be seconded for a period in order to get experience of industry, which of course would include trade union organisation. Such officers should be brought into the closest touch with employers and employed. Lastly, I say that it is essential—and I hope we shall have it before the end of this Debate, because this is the only occasion under the rules of Order when we can have it—that a full statement should be made regarding the adequacy or otherwise of the defences of London. We cannot have that full statement on the Air or Army Estimates, because both the air and army are concerned in the matter. I view with the greatest alarm, as I think do other hon. Members, that the air defences of London which have been, I think quite rightly, put into the hands of the Territorial Force, are at present suffering from a serious lack of personnel.
There are two points with which I do not propose to deal but on which I hope the Government will speak before the end of the Debate. We had not a word on 1916 them in the Prime Minister's speech, no doubt from lack of time. One is the question of the organisation of food supplies. The Prime Minister spoke about industrial supplies, but what about food supplies? They are equally important. We are in a worse position than at the beginning of 1914, and an infinitely worse position than in 1917, in the matter of a sufficiency of home-grown food. Further, we ought to hear from the Colonial Secretary, who is a most admirable person to deal with it, because he has been Dominions Secretary, of the extent to which the Dominions and India have been brought into consultation in the matter of (a) Empire defence and (b) collective security. All the Dominions apparently, I will not say paid lip service, because that might be offensive, were in favour of the action we took in the Mediterranean, but what we want to know, which is more important, is how far they were prepared to support that action by armed force, and what they would be prepared to do if similar circumstances arose in the future.
One small by-point I wish to make, and that is that there seems to be some difference between what was said in Debate by a certain Noble Lord, whose name I must not quote, on the subject of the position of the Minister vis-a-vis the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon. Although I have spoken at great length, I would venture, before concluding, to make an appeal, which is that I hope that we shall devote the remainder of this evening to the question of these most important technical details in the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman who is to reply for the Opposition is an exceedingly able Parliamentarian and is very well versed in questions of detail. I am sure that he is just as able as I am in discussing certain of the questions which I have been discussing. The Colonial Secretary can also deal with these questions if he chooses. What would be fatal is that we should merely get a battledore and shuttlecock across the Floor of the House and indulge in the kind of badinage which goes down very well on domestic issues. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than that we should indulge in that badinage with hon. Gentlemen opposite, because we generally get the best of it.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Yes, I suppose it is. Let us remember that we are faced with a great menace, that there is no reason for panic, but every reason for this House forming itself into a great council of the nation in order to try both to understand and to relieve public opinion.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
I wish to support the suggestion made in the Debate that we should have an annual debate upon the co-ordination of defence. It would have most valuable results, and I hope that the Government will give it favourable consideration. I wish to refer to a remark which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). He said that the one fact which we had to consider at the present moment was the re-armament of Germany.
I am very largely in agreement with that statement, but I would like to ask him how he considers that fact is to be met. It can be met only in one of two ways. One way is that we should meet it by ourselves alone, but is it seriously contemplated that we ourselves are to build up all three forces, naval, air and military, in order to meet that threat? If we are not to do that, we must rely upon collective action under the League. If we do not do it, and if the League does not do it, the threat can only be met by some system of alliances, which would bring us straight back to that policy of encirclement of Germany which the present Foreign Secretary repudiated, and which, he said, in the first speech which he made in this House, was not the policy of this Government. I am driven to conclude that if the one threat to security at this moment be the rearmament of Germany, that threat can only be met by a policy of collective security under the League of Nations.
I should like also to ask one or two specific questions about the contents of the White Paper. If the Government secure the assent of the House to their Motion, are they prepared to guarantee the security of this country? If they are not prepared to give that guarantee, how much more do they want than is in the White Paper before they are prepared to guarantee our security? If they get the White Paper, are they prepared, for instance, to guarantee Canada in the event of an Anglo-American war? Are they prepared to guarantee Australia and New Zealand in the case of an Anglo- 1918 Japanese war? Would they be prepared to guarantee India in the event of an Anglo-Russian war?
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
If they get their White Paper are they prepared to guarantee the foodstuffs of our people and the raw materials of our industries in the event of war?
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
In the last War those supplies were brought here under the convoy system as a protection against submarines. In the next war our convoys bringing food and raw materials will have to meet air attacks, from which they were immune in the last War. Given what they are asking for in the White Paper, are the Government prepared to guarantee those convoys against enemy air attack? Can we be told against whom the proposals in the White Paper are framed? Who is the aggressor, or what is the combination of aggressors, against which the existing League forces are considered not to be ample? Who is the aggressor against whom these gigantic proposals and this gigantic expense are to be directed? I have already dealt with the case of Germany, which can only be met by League action. The White Paper policy, as far as one can follow it, is simply that every nation is to seek security by being superior to every other nation. That is the policy of the White Paper. It is what Euclid would have called absurd. Everything that the Government have said in the White Paper can be used as an excuse by every other nation for piling up armaments. When we ask them, "Why are you embarking upon this vast expenditure? Why are you piling up armaments?" each nation will each in turn reply, "We are doing so because the British Government have told us that the only way to secure peace is to be superior in armaments to every other nation."
Another plain question which I want to put is, Do the Government really consider that our Empire has the wealth and resources and the man power to meet the whole world in arms? Unless they are prepared to say that, our only security is in the League. I would like to call 1919 the attention of the Government to one statement in the White Paper with which we on these benches are in thorough and complete agreement. The White Paper says:The international situation has deteriorated.We quite agree with that statement. I am also interested to notice that Mr. Garvin agrees, for he says:The international situation has grown steadily worse ever since the National Government came into power. Since 1931 we have gone 80 per cent. of the way towards another world war. This is the result of following the line of least resistance.I will not quote what he said of the National Government in regard to half-heartedness and half-headedness, but he concluded by quoting the statement of Mr. Bonar Law that war is the failure of human wisdom; and it is that failure of human wisdom on the part of the National Government which calls for these proposals in their White Paper. The claims in the White Paper that we have disarmed so much are in my opinion largely illusory. To mention one important particular, naval disarmament has never been unilateral; it has always been multilateral, and the reductions have taken place in accordance with various agreements and treaties. We might remember, too, that America reduced her naval forces more than we did as a result of the Washington Treaty. Again, I know we are repeatedly told that we destroyed a lot of aeroplanes, but I believe there is very general agreement that those aeroplanes which were destroyed were rapidy getting out of date, and in any case would have been useless in a very short time. But the question which emerges in all this discussion on disarmament, whether unilateral or multilateral, is this plain question: When at any time since the War have we, as a result of our disarmament, been inferior to any possible aggressor? Let us remember at the present moment that, if we leave out America, we are still the most heavily armed country in the world, and we still have the largest expenditure on armaments—
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
One last question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Why not ask questions? You put up your White Paper to be shot at, so do not complain when you get a few questions on it. I see that the White Paper says we are in a very different position from all other countries, in that they are able to concentrate their forces at home, while we have these world-wide responsibilities which have just been mentioned. But we might remember that France also has these far-flung responsibilities—in India, in Africa, in America and in the Pacific. Holland, again, has colonial possessions in the East and West Indies. Are they to re-arm on a like scale to ourselves, because of the argument that they, unlike ether nations, cannot concentrate their forces at home? The fact is that throughout the whole of this White Paper there is one fatal assumption, and that is that running all through it is lip service to collective security while the Government really believe that armed forces are solely a national responsibility. It is on that issue that we challenge the Government; it is on that specific issue that our Amendment to this Motion is framed. Although, as previous speakers have pointed out, we shall be beaten here in the Division which is to follow, there is another court than this House, and, while we may be beaten here, we shall take the issue to the country, and sooner or later our view will prevail.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Mr. DALTON
This Debate has run very wide. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), in a speech with which, if I may be allowed to say so, I was in a considerable measure of agreement, painted the situation very black; he said that it was very grave, and we should all agree with him that that is so. He went on to say that it might, indeed, be that within a month there would be war between the nations of Western Europe. If that be indeed a possibility which we must entertain, then I say that this White Paper is neither here nor there; these new armaments will not be in the picture; and, if that situation is to be prevented between now and any such date, it must be prevented by a change of foreign policy and not by an addition to armaments, for it will not be possible to produce the armaments in time for any such catastrophe as the Noble Lord imagines.
§ Mr. DALTON
I agree; I am not wanting to score points, because, as I have said, I agree with a good deal of what the Noble Lord said; but I say that his argument illustrates the very great importance of foreign policy, and of a change in foreign policy, as against the mere automatic piling up of armaments with the foreign policy unchanged. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has already quoted a terrifying sentence from the White Paper, in which it is stated that the proposals outlined in the White Paper do not imply any abandonment of the national policy hitherto pursued in this country by His Majesty's Government. I submit that far more urgent than any new armaments is a new orientation and a new angle of approach in foreign policy. I did not know that it was Mr. Garvin who was the author of the sentence quoted by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher). On Sundays I take one day's rest in seven from the printed word, if I can. I do not read Mr Garvin, and I did not know that it was he who had written what I have seen quoted elsewhere, that since 1931 we have already drifted more than 80 per cent. of the way towards another world war. I cannot say that I dissent from that judgment.
In our Amendment we indict the foreign policy of the Government as having been unworthy and ambiguous, and for a few moments I think it is desirable to place the present controversy over armaments against the historical background of the last five years. There has been at many critical points terrible indecision on the part of the Government which has borne its fatal fruits. I pass over, as not very directly germane to this discussion, the indecision in the Far East, with the consequences that it had; I pass over even, for the purpose of this Debate, the indecision in relation to Signor Mussolini, the failure to warn him in good time of what might come to him if he broke the peace, and the visit of the Home Secretary and the Lord President of the Council of Stresa in April, 1935, when a wonderful opportunity of discussing matters on a frank and realistic basis was missed; and I come, because this is the point that I want here to emphasise, 1922 to the indecision at the Disarmament Conference from 1932 onwards.
The Prime Minister this afternoon said that, in order to establish collective security, the European States—I think I am quoting him correctly—will have to consult together as soon as the present war is over, and the question which has tormented many of us is, why is it that this consultation has not yet taken place to turn into concrete form our treaty obligations regarding collective security? The Disarmament Conference was intended for just this purpose because, under Article VIII of the Covenant of the League of Nations, it is laid down as one of the duties of all the States Members of the League that they should join together in determining what contributions they shall make towards collective security through a convention for regulating and reducing their separate armaments. That was an occasion surely, at the Disarmament Conference at the beginning of 1932, when those effective consultations should have been pushed through to a proper conclusion. The Prime Minister spoke of the disappointing results of our efforts to secure international disarmament. The results have, indeed, been very disappointing. When we hear of the growth of the German Air Force, when, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) quite truly said, every one in the House today is thinking, even if he is not speaking, of German rearmament, when we know that the question against whom are these weapons intended to be used is in fact a rhetorical question to which we all know the answer, it is surely pertinent to remember that it is the Government that has created the German Air Force of to-day. [Interruption.] I will give the reason why. I will quote from a statement the authority for which I will give if challenged:In 1932 the Disarmament Conference assembled and almost its earliest discussions were centred around the possibility of the total abolition of air forces, or at least the abolition of bombing aeroplanes. I had the utmost difficulty at that time, amid the public outcry, in preserving the use of the bombing aeroplane even on the frontiers of the Middle East and India.That is an authoritative account of the proceedings of the Disarmament Conference. If the author is not known to the hon. Member who asked me the question, he was at that time Secretary of State 1923 for Air. That incident occurred a full year before Hitler had clawed power with bloody fingers. There was a full year during which it was possible, with a democratic Germany, to do business and I need call no higher authority into the witness box than him whose words I have just quoted, because he was in charge of the air policy of the Government at that Conference. Germany then had no air force, none worth mentioning. [Interruption.] Is the hon. Member clear as to the date at which Lord Londonderry was speaking? It was at the beginning of 1932. Germany then had no air force worth speaking of. The complaint is of Hitler rearming. In 1932, when the Conference met, there was a full year to go before Hitler was seated in power in the German Reich, and it may be—I put it no higher than that—that, if the British Government had played up at the beginning of that Conference and given something to democratic Germany by way of concession to their claim to equality, then either Hitler would not have come later, or would have come more quietly, or would have come, if at all, not as a dictator, with a one-party government and a one-party State, but as part of a parliamentary coalition.
These are speculations. But what is not a speculation is this question of the dates and the action of the representatives of His Majesty's Government at that time. They threw away an opportunity in which, if they had taken it, they would have had the full support of practically every other country represented at the Conference, of putting into operation a convention for the complete abolition within a comparatively short time of all bombing aircraft in every country and the establishment of a comparatively small international air police force. This plan was strongly supported by the Government of France and a number of other Governments, but was blocked and obstructed with ingenuity and persistence by the representatives of His Majesty's Government. In view of this record, on the high authority which I have quoted, it cannot be denied that the Government are responsible for the fact that to-day there is a deadly menace from the present German air force. I do not wish to do more here than thank the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham for the service that he and others rendered in bringing 1924 out in previous debates the fact that the Government, having allowed this danger to be created, remained in gross ignorance of its magnitude, until such time as the Home Secretary, when he visited Berlin last year, was politely informed by Herr Hitler, that already the German air force was larger than ours—the greatest failure of "intelligence," as it is technically called, since the Great War.
What is the present position as set forth in this White Paper? We are to plunge into an armament race in the air and we are concentrating upon counterattack and upon heavy, fast, long-distance bombers. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to follow me whether it is still the opinion of the Government that there is no defence against air attack except in counter attack. I wish to ask whether the Prime Minister's speech of 10th November, 1932, still holds the field as the expression of the Government's view in this matter. He said:The only defence is offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourself.I am quoting textually from a speech that we all remember. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney (Mr. Watkins) put certain questions last week which the Prime Minister declined to answer, but which he led us to hope would be answered in the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman said:That is a matter much more easily discussed in debate than by question and answer. I would rather defer any remarks that I have to make till I have the opportunity of making them in debate."— OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1936; col. 1384, Vol. 309.]In view of the fact that these words were spoken only a day or two ago, I was looking forward to the Prime Minister making some reference to that subject to-day. He did not do so, and I am asking the right hon. Gentleman whether he will tell us, when he replies, what is now the view of the Government on this matter. Statements have appeared in the Press and scientists have been quoted by name. The hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sir R. Keyes) has made reference to the names of scientists and their opinions, from which it appears that there is by no means unanimity on this subject among scientists and other people with technical knowledge. If 1925 there is any doubt at all on the subject, we need to be assured that the Government is doing its very utmost in the exploration of definite means of defence against air attack other than counterattack. The Prime Minister's speech was made at the end of 1932, and it is rather disquieting to read—I quote from the Air Estimates Memorandum—that not until January of 1935 was a committee of scientists set up under the auspices of the Air Ministry and the Committee of Imperial Defence in order to investigate this problem.
I am told that foreign countries do not take the same defeatist attitude as the Prime Minister with regard to defence against air attack. I am informed that many foreign countries do not hold the view that you cannot defend your great populations effectively against air attack. They do not accept the doctrine that the bomber can always get through, and they are spending large sums of money and undertaking much research in order to defend their populations by other means—by placing obstacles in the sky, wires, kite balloons and so on. I will not go into technical details, as this may be embarrassing, but I ask, and we are entitled to know, Are the Government bending all their energies to a consideration of the defence of the population of London and of the populations of other great cities otherwise than by the threat and the execution of reprisals and counter-attacks upon centres of population or even aerodromes and aero-engine factories in other lands? Is that being done? If the Government take the view still that there is no defence except counter-attack, then I submit that they should already be evacuating London in view of the tenseness of the situation which has developed in the international world. They should already be taking steps and building factories and houses on the West Coast. They should, in view even of the degree of danger now existing, if they still take that defeatist attitude, be evacuating London and other great centres of population. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
May I take the other and more hopeful line? If, on the other hand, they believe that no longer; if they believe that is possible to develop effectively these other methods of defence, then they should be spending money like water upon research and preparation for the defence of these populations, where they 1926 are massed together as they are in what, if they cannot be defended, will be deathtraps on a gigantic scale. What are the Government doing? We are entitled to a reply. If we do not get a satisfactory reply to-night this will not be the last time the question will be raised in this House, I warn the Government. Whatever claptrap may go down outside, it will not go down outside that, on the one hand, the Government take the view that you cannot protect these great populations except by counter attack, and, on the other hand, that no effective steps are being taken to remove the population from what is admitted to be an indefensible geographical position.
May I pass for a few moments to the situation which developed last week-end, which was referred to earlier on in this Debate, and seek to relate it to the question we are discussing here. The action of the German Government in sending troops into the Rhineland illustrates afresh the strain from which international relations and all attempts at international co-operation are to-day suffering. It illustrates it with a lurid light. This strain has been increasing for years past, and the way in which this incident has been received, not unnaturally in France, and the amount of excitement it created here, illustrates how strained and how frayed this relationship between great nations now is. Whatever one thinks of the Hitler regime, however much one hates that regime, however much one may mistrust the man and all those who are nearest to him and influential upon him, and however much one may reprobate this unilateral repudiation of a treaty, which he himself admitted was freely signed, however all this may be, none the less, it is indispensable that one should talk with this man, frankly and bluntly, and bring up to the surface all the grievances which he may still entertain and all the motives which may lie behind this action. For this reason, neither I, nor, I think, any of my hon. Friends behind me, make complaint of the intention of the Government to urge a frank discussion of the practical proposals put forward in Herr Hitler's latest speech.
I trust that we may persuade the French Government to join, without too much legalistic difficulty, in such a discussion. It is true that Herr Hitler has broken treaty after treaty. It is also true that the French Government 1927 have thrown away opportunity after opportunity of corning to terms with him at any rate provisionally and for a time. French governments have run involuntarily tremendous risks because they were not willing voluntarily to run small risks. I hope that we may be able to persuade the French Government, particularly after the very definite and unequivocal undertaking which has again been given to them to-day that the Locarno Treaty still stands so far as our relations with them are concerned in the event of an aggressive attack upon them, to see our point of view and that we may be able to bring the French and the Germans together in a discussion of these matters.
Having said that, it is only right to say that many of us on these benches view with grave mistrust the very limited character of Herr Hitler's proposals. We notice the absence of certain States from the proposal for pacts, and we notice also certain geographical limitations. I hope that it will be made perfectly clear by our Government in any discussions that may be pursued with Herr Hitler that he cannot purchase from us freedom, while we stand idly by, to attack any of his neighbours nor any of those who are not immediately his geographical neighbours but to whom, as someone has said, some neighbouring Power might be willing to lend a frontier in case of need. Our view on these benches is that we are not much in love with these limited regional pacts, covering small areas only, whether in the west of Europe or elsewhere. If war breaks out the danger of it spreading is so great that we must seek, not as Herr Hitler has said, in a phrase often used by him, "to localise war," but to prevent war from breaking out anywhere. For this reason we must treat as a unit at least the whole of Europe, though certain other parts of the world outside Europe which seem to have gone out of control in recent years. So far as Europe is concerned, I hope that it will be laid down that Herr Hitler cannot purchase by any arrangement made specifically with us, the Belgians and the French, freedom to attack any of these States which immediately border him in on the South, or the East, or any of the States which border them.
1928 We must work towards a true collective security in which as large as possible a number of States must come in. If your collective security in terms of potential military force is to be great you must bring in a large number of States who will resist any possibly aggressive member. So far as the incident of the weekend is concerned it has, so to speak, come as the culmination of a long series of warning incidents which have been accumulating in recent years, showing that the danger of war is real, that the possibility of it is very grim and that we may almost at any moment find ourselves launched into it unless we can reorganise the life of the community of States and reorganise it fundamentally. For that reason, as far as the Government's foreign policy arising out of the incident of the week-end goes, I trust that the Government will press forward with perfectly frank, if necessary, brutally frank, discussions with Herr Hitler, with the French and with the rest, bringing them together into a common talk out of which we hope that something good may come. If it is to be good, we shall have to take very wide terms of reference and we shall have to bring up to the light not merely political questions in the narrower sense but also economic questions, questions of the division of raw materials and markets to which the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) paid some attention before he left the Foreign Office, and to which I hope and believe his successor has paid some attention. We have to bring up these economic questions and see that whatever steps we take to safeguard the peace and repress aggression, and best of all to remove the incentive to aggression, also provide for an orderly and peaceful system of change in our economic as well as in our political relations.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
Listening to the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) I wondered whether he had forgotten that there was an Amendment on the Paper upon which a vote will be taken. I am quite sure that there is no one on this side of the House who will disagree in the least with the sentiments in the latter part of his speech, when he said that he hoped the Government will not only take note of 1929 but use the opportunity provided by the events of the week-end to discuss, review and examine in a fresh light the whole world situation to-day. That, in substance, was the answer which the Foreign Secretary gave to-day. That exactly is the intention, and that is what the Foreign Secretary on behalf of the Government intended to convey to the House and to the world as a whole. But how inconsistent with the latter part of his speech was his indictment for the first 20 minutes when he did nothing but put the Government in the dock? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] That is an obvious query. But if you put someone in the dock you ought to be always certain that it is the right person, and that you do not make the mistake of putting an innocent person in the dock.
I want to ask the hon. Member and the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) whether either of them was wise in saying that there was a possibility of war within a month. The hon. Member seized on the phrase of the Noble Lord and thanked him for it. I like to speak of war in the sense which the man-in-the-street understands it, the working classes, the people who in the end will be most affected and who pay the biggest price. I have no hesitation in saying that there are no people in the world more desirous of peace, no people of whom it can be claimed that they want peace and will make sacrifices for it, than the working classes of this country. What right have we to talk glibly of war, so that men and women who have sons and daughters, who will be called upon to bear the burden, will read in to-morrow's newspapers that there is a possibility of war within a month?
§ Earl WINTERTON
May I recall to my right hon. Friend the words which I used? I referred to there being a possibility—I hoped not a probability—of war in Western Europe. Will he deal with those words, and not with his interpretation of them?
§ Mr. THOMAS
The Noble Lord will remember that the first thing upon which the previous speaker seized was the utterance of the Noble Lord, to which he gave an interpretation that I want to clear up straight away. I think there is nothing more fatal in these delicate and critical times than to convey to the mind of the people that war is imminent. I do 1930 not believe it. And while the Noble Lord was perfectly clear in his statement, it will be remembered by the House that the hon. Gentleman who followed him immediately interpreted that statement in precise and definite terms and intimated to the world, through this House, that according to his interpretation the Noble Lord meant "war within a month." Consequently, I am merely taking the first opportunity presented me by that interpretation of the speech in order to make my correction. My hon. Friend did emphasise, and rightly so, that he hoped war would not take place, and that an opportunity would be taken in the present situation rather to deal with peace than with war. It was merely in order to correct the impression to which I have referred that I said immediately that, in my judgment, we ought not to create a war atmosphere.
In dealing with the broad and general situation, the substance of my hon. Friend's speech was that the indictment of the Labour Opposition against the Government was, in the first place, that all the defence proposals contained in the White Paper are unnecessary, are unjustified, and are exclusively due to the action of the National Government since 1931. I think my hon. Friend would agree that that is a very fair summary of his speech. I would like to put the following argument to the Opposition. They admit quite frankly that in the Sino-Japanese dispute they would not have hesitated to take extreme action. In his indictment of the Government, my hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that he considered that the first sin of the Government was not to have taken stronger action against Japan. He followed that by saying that, so far as Mussolini was concerned, we ought again to have taken a stronger line than we did take. Now I would ask the Opposition, if they really believe in collective security and if they really believe that the right course is immediately to attack, is it honest and fair, and are they right when they go to their constituents and say deliberately that they would have gone to war with Japan and with Mussolini, but that the Government are too weak to do so. Their attitude is that although they would send other people to fight their battles, they are not prepared to provide them with the ways and means of doing so. However much may be said against the policy of the 1931 Government that undoubtedly is the position which those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen occupy to-day. I would remind many of my hon. Friends that in 1924 when an attack was made upon the Labour Government who were then defending their Estimates for defence, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are now sitting on the other side of the House, did not hesitate to say, "However much we desire disarmament, however much we would like to reduce our forces we have to take the world as it is and treat it accordingly." If that was the position in 1924, is not the same abundantly true to-day?
My hon. Friend said that the Government were responsible for the failure of the Disarmament Conference. I suppose he would agree that the late Mr. Arthur Henderson worked as hard for peace as any man in this country. I am sure he would agree that Mr. Arthur Henderson was seriously concerned about the failure of the Conference, and my hon. Friend knows perfectly well that the statement which he has made that the Government were responsible for that failure does not represent the opinion which Mr. Henderson held. I think it will be accepted by all sections of the House that Mr. Henderson, as President of the Conference, as a sympathiser with and ardent supporter of peace, was in a position to judge. What right, then, has my hon. Friend to make the statement that it was the British Government which was responsible? A telegram was sent personally by Mr. Henderson to Herr Hitler in which he said:I regret that this grave decision should have been taken by your Government, for reasons which I am unable to accept as valid.The House should, at least, observe the clear and specific indictment made by the hon. Gentleman opposite that this Government and this Government alone were responsible for the failure of the Disarmament Conference and compare it with the telegram sent by Mr. Henderson to Herr Hitler. Therefore I want to ask my hon. Friend also whether he is justified, or whether he would like a jury of his own fellow countrymen to pass a verdict on his own statement, his airy assumption, that in 1931 everything was all right. Does he forget that on the Christmas adjournment in 1930 the present Foreign Secretary put a question 1932 to him, and he answered for the Foreign Office and said he was gravely disturbed by the European situation? If he was gravely disturbed in 1930, he has no right to assume that since 1930 everything that has gone wrong is due to the British Government. Is he going to hold the British Government responsible for the assassination of Herr Dolfuss? Is he going to hold the British Government responsible for the situation in Yugoslavia? I ask him to remember that when he brings this kind of indictment he must clearly keep in mind that, however anxious he was, as indicated in the answer which he gave in 1930, all the troubles and difficulties that have followed since are not due exclusively to the National Government. I ask the House, in considering the situation and in judging the White Paper—
§ Mr. THOMAS
—to keep clearly in mind that the difference between the policy of the Opposition and the policy of the Government is that the Opposition, so far as one can judge, merely indicate to the world defiance without defence. There were, in the course of the Debate, a number of questions put. The first and most important was with regard to the position of the Dominions and Colonies. When, at the Jubilee celebrations last year, the whole of the Dominion Premiers were in England, the Government took the opportunity of consulting them frankly and freely on the situation. They explained to the whole of the Dominions the defence position, since which the full content of the White Paper has been communicated to them, and without a solitary exception every Dominion not only acquiesced but felt that this was a policy that ought to be supported.
§ Earl WINTERTON
That was not quite my question. I ask whether the Dominions had expressed any intention of taking part both in collective security and in the defence of the Empire in the situation necessitated by the circumstances of the moment.
§ Mr. THOMAS
As far as collective security is concerned, the whole of the Dominions are members of the League of Nations. They have given their support to the League. They are parties to 1933 every step taken by the Government and, in addition, a number of them are taking steps for their own internal defence. As far as the Colonies are concerned, here we are trustees, but the House will be pleased to know that a number of the Colonies themselves, without any pressure of any sort or kind from the Government, have also intimated a readiness to contribute to the general defence of the Empire. A question was put with reference to the Prime Minister's statement about events so far as bombing was concerned. The Prime Minister adheres absolutely to his statement, namely, that there is no complete defence against bombing, but every step is being taken to investigate and to provide the most adequate means for the protection of the population. There was a further question put by the hon Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) asking what was the Government's intention with regard to mobilising an officer for industrial purposes. He intimated that from information he had obtained. Sir Walter Citrine had been appointed, but he said that, if he had any preference, it would be given to Mr. Bevin. I answer on both these points that neither Sir Walter Citrine nor Mr. Bevin has been under any consideration. The Government's position on this matter is clear and definite. It is that on all these difficulties with regard to trade union negotiations the right bodies to consult are the employers and the trade unions concerned. The Government have no intention whatever of interfering with the existing machinery which enables representatives of trade unions and employers to deal with their own difficulties.
There have been a number of questions on the technical side of the Air Force, the Army and the Navy. The Government intend before the Debate ends to answer those questions. I would emphasise again that there is no need for alarm or panic. I do not believe that war is imminent, but I do believe that the great mass of the people of this country, while they want peace, while they want 1934 law and order, while they are against dictators from either the left or the right, are prepared to defend their interests and to make sacrifices for that purpose.
§ Captain BALFOUR
Would the right hon. Gentleman answer one question that I put to him, whether the Government would consider having a day each year, not on a special occasion, so that defence as a whole could be debated?
§ Mr. THOMAS
I have consulted with the Prime Minister on that point, and the very fact of the appointment of this Minister will give that opportunity.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is not going to answer any other questions?
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir C. Edwards.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.