HL Deb 23 February 1922 vol 49 cc200-13

LORD NEWTON had given Notice to ask if the Supreme Council are still insisting upon the formation of voluntary Armies in Bulgaria and Hungary in spite of the excessive additional expenditure involved and the difficulty of obtaining recruits.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting the Question which stands in my name, it is hardly necessary for me to remind the House that in all the Treaties signed at Paris there is provision that each of the former enemy States shall institute what is known as a voluntary military system in their respective countries. The voluntary military system is an essentially Anglo-American institution which nobody approves of except themselves, and I never heard it more strongly denounced than by my noble friend, Lord Curzon, who, I understand, will reply to me this afternoon.

But notwithstanding its difficulties, this system has been adopted, apparently with some success, in Germany. There they seem to have had no difficulty in getting the number of men required, but it is sufficiently obvious that with a population of over sixty millions, most of whom are accustomed to a military life, the difficulties were not insuperable, and it has also to be borne in mind that in an industrial country like. Germany there must be a certain amount of unemployment. It has also been possible to introduce the voluntary system in Austria. Austria, owing to the action of the statesmen at Paris, consists merely of a huge overgrown city with a barren country around it, and presents every facility for the formation of a voluntary Army, because there must be thousands of men out of work, and only too glad to embrace any opportunity of earning money. I understand, however, that in Austria the expense has been found extremely onerous, and that the Austrian Government is applying for some modification of the Treaty.

When you come to the two countries mentioned in the Question Bulgaria and Hungary—the circumstances are entirely different. These countries are now small agricultural countries, and anyone who has the most elementary knowledge of the European continent knows that there is nothing so difficult as to induce the peasant to serve in the Army; in fact, it is impossible to offer him sufficient inducements to enlist as a volunteer. Bulgaria is a small agricultural country with a population, I think, of something like four millions. It. was at war practically from 1912 till 1918, with few intervals, and it has lost a large portion of its territory, and a large portion of its population. The Government is very heavily in debt. All kinds of demands are made upon it, and, in spite of its obvious bankruptcy, I understand it is expected to pay reparations to the amount of £90,000,000 or £100,000,000 sterling.

I do not think anyone will dispute the fact that Bulgaria needs an Army. I will not elaborate the reasons, for they are obvious. The conditions in a country like Bulgaria are totally different from those in Western Europe. If a country like that does not possess an adequate military force, it is quite plain that the whole political edifice may crumble, and that, at all events, the State would be quite incapable of fulfilling the demands made upon it in connection with the Treaty. Nobody would dispute, I think, the principle that there should be a reduction of the military strength of the Bulgarian Army, which was fixed at Paris at 20,000 men, with the addition of frontier guards, gendarmes and others, making a total allowed of 33,000 men. In spite of the inducement of high pay and other advantages, I understand that up to now of the 33,000 men required only 6,530 have come forward, and that, with the exercise of the greatest economy, this force under the voluntary system will cost 807,000,000 francs, whereas if Bulgaria were allowed to raise the men in her own way it would cost only something like 280,000,000 francs.

The Bulgarian Government is, therefore, placed in this dilemma: either it must contrive to exist without an Army at all. or it must reconcile itself to being plunged more rapidly into bankruptcy than would otherwise be the case. What makes the matter worse is the method by which this provision of the Treaty is being carried out. Bulgaria was disarmed long ago. There is practically nothing in the shape of warlike material left in the country. I can quite understand that during the process of disarmament, and for the purpose of fixing the frontiers of a new country, Military Missions are required, but when once the process of disarmament has been accomplished, I am utterly unable to conceive why it is necessary to send a large number of high military officers, belonging to the different nationalities, accompanied by large retinues.

These Commissions represent a very heavy charge upon these more or less bankrupt countries. In this particular country, for instance, there is a number of inter-Allied Commissions on which England, France, Italy, and, for all I know, other Powers, are represented, and the expenses are, for a poor country like Bulgaria, extremely heavy. I am unable to give the precise figure, but the House will get some impression of the relative cost of Missions of this kind when I explain that whereas it Bulgarian Minister of the highest rank draws only 4,000 francs a month, a typist attached to a Mission of this kind and the typist, I suppose, is the lowest paid of all actually draws 10,000 francs a month, or two and a half times as much as the most highly paid officials in the Government. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the Bulgarian Government have appealed to the Supreme Council at Paris for some modification, but I understand that their claim has been rejected.

I pass from Bulgaria to the other country mentioned in the Question, Hungary. I do not want to say too much about. Hungary. I have enlarged on the subject so frequently in this House that it is unnecessary for me to repeat former arguments, but I may say, quite shortly, that, if anything, Hungary was treated more harshly than Bulgaria in the Peace Treaty. The presence of a disciplined Army in Hungary is, if possible, even more essential for the safety of the country than is the case in Bulgaria. Hungary, as we all know, is not only surrounded by unfriendly Powers, but it is also a prey to internal dissensions. What I have been assured is that if the voluntary principle is insisted upon, not to mention other disadvantages, it will have the effect of attracting all the undesirable elements in the country. In other words, Hungary, which stands in considerable danger of Bolshevism, will, if this particular. Treaty is insisted upon, be liable to become the prey of an Army which might be little better than a Communist machine, and might be utilised for the complete upsetting of all existing institutions. The result might be civil war, and that, of course, would eventually result in war with foreign countries.

The figure of the Hungarian Army is fixed at 35,000 men, and, if my information is correct, up to a short time ago hardly any recruits had been found. Circumstances may possibly have altered since; I have heard a rumour that a number of men have been obtained, but if that is so they can only have been got on very onerous terms. I understand that in order to obtain recruits for this Army you have to offer them the pay of first-class civilian officials. The cost of this Army is estimated at 830,000,000 kronen, whereas, if they were allowed to raise it in their own way, the cost would have been only 130,000,000 kronen. It seems to me that 700,000,000 kronen is an excessive price to pay in order to conform to the crochets of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Lloyd George. I say so advisedly, because I am convinced that it is the British Government which is responsible for this particular demand. No other nation believes in the voluntary principle. When I was in Hungary last autumn I found that all the military representatives of the other Powers were strongly in favour of the Hungarian contention and of their being allowed to recruit their men in their own way. The only obstacle was the British representative, who was tied down by express instructions from his own Government.

Hungary is treated in the same way as Bulgaria with regard to expensive Missions. I am unable to give the exact cost of the Mission which is dealing with this particular question in Hungary, but I know that it is very considerable. As an instance of that let me quote from an experience of my own. I visited one of these Military Missions in the autumn, and I found that the British representative—a Colonel—was drawing no less than sixty times as much as his Hungarian colleague who was doing precisely the same work. And if the British representative was drawing sixty times as much as the Hungarian representative, the Japanese, French, and Italian representatives were being paid in the same proportions. Therefore, Hungary is in very much the same position as Bulgaria, so far as I can ascertain. They also have made application to Paris to be relieved from this extremely onerous obligation, and the only answer they have received is that the Treaty must be carried out in every detail.

It is easy to understand why this answer is made. It is obvious that the Supreme Council are under the impression that if they make any concession to these two small countries they will be obliged to make some concession to Germany. I do not see that the cases are at all analogous. The Germans have had no difficulty in raising the men. I observed a paragraph in the Press this morning to the effect that the Military Mission in Bulgaria is about to terminate its labours. I hope it is true, because it is time that this absolutely unjustifiable expense was ended.

Before I conclude, I desire to point out that what strikes me about this particular insistence on the part of the Supreme Council is the arrogant and gross hypocrisy of the whole proceeding. In each Treaty, at the head of the Military, Naval and Air clauses, you will find a pompous declaration in the following words:— In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations "— the voluntary system is introduced. If the object of the Treaty is to introduce a general limitation of armaments throughout Europe, why in the name of commonsense is it enforced only in the case of these small enemy nations?

I do not think it is realised—I did not realise it myself until a few days ago—that in spite of all these declarations about the necessity of disarmament and so forth, at the present moment, after three and a half years of so-called peace, there are far more min actually under arms in Europe than there were before the war. The French are maintaining an Army of between 800,000 and 900,000 men; there are about 200,000 more men in the French Army than there were in the German Army before the war. Belgium is maintaining a larger Army; Poland an enormous Army; and Greece is also maintaining a larger Army and is engaged in a war of annexation. The Succession States have been encouraged to build up huge Armies, and in the process have been actually assisted by France, and possibly by other nations. It is the literal truth to say that the only Allies who have disarmed have been ourselves, and, to a certain extent, the Italians.

In that connection I should like to draw attention to an extraordinarily interesting book which is published by Signor Nitti, the late Italian Prime Minister. Not only is the book interesting in itself, but it contains a most illuminating and remarkable Memorandum by Mr. Lloyd George, dated March 25, 1919. This Memorandum is so admirably drawn up, its sentiments are so clear, that it amounts almost to an inspired document. It is a thousand pities that, owing to French opposition, the admirable principles in the Memorandum have not been brought into effect. I quote from it a passage which is peculiarly applicable to the subject I am raising to-day. Mr. Lloyd George wrote:— If the small nations are permitted to organis3 and maintain conscript Armies running each to hundreds of thousands, boundary walls will be inevitable and all Europe wi11 be drawn in. Unless we secure this universal limitation we shall achieve neither lasting peace nor the permanent observance of the limitation of German armaments which we now seek to impose.

I do not think anything truer has been written since the war came to an end. As a matter of fact, you can only justify the procedure of the Supreme Council upon the assumption that all the Allies are angels and all who fought against them are the exact opposite.

If the Supreme Council is really in earnest in its desire to limit, armaments it is impossible to understand why they do not enforce the so-called voluntary principle upon the Succession States. It is simply ridiculous to pretend that small States like Bulgaria, Austria and Hungary, can be a danger to anyone. They are small and isolated, surrounded by nations unfriendly to them, with a population, in most cases, two or three times larger than themselves and possessing Armies twenty times as large. The Army of one small State do not care which you take, whether it be JugoSlavia, Czecho-Slovakia or any other you please—is actually very much larger than all the Armies that, ex-enemy States have been authorised to maintain. Germany is allowed 100,000 men, Austria, 30,000, Hungary, 35,000, and Bulgaria, 33,000. The sum total is less than 200,000 and yet, as I say, these States, which ought to have been made models for a world which is supposed to be anxious for peace, are each allowed to maintain an Army infinitely greater than the totals which I have just enumerated.

All these considerations have, no doubt, been placed before the Supreme Council in Paris, and without any success. Where the Bulgarian and Hungarian Governments have failed, I can hardly hope to succeed myself. Nevertheless, I would make an appeal to His Majesty's Government, because I consider that they are primarily responsible, and I would say, in conclusion, that to my mind it is a most deplorable thing that by our action we should create a totally mistaken impression—I am convinced that it is mistaken—that this country desires to act in a vindictive manner towards the small countries who sided against us during the war.


My Lords, we live in clays when propaganda may direct public opinion, and even, in some cases, public action, and anyone who studies the propaganda that is going on at the present moment must discern certain perfectly definite tendencies. At the present moment it is clear that the main currents are divided in three particular directions. In the first place, they are directed to the abolition, or the drastic reduction, of the German reparations; in the second, to the spread of Communism throughout the world, and the recognition of the assassins who have reduced Russia to ruin; and, in the third place, it is quite evident that this propaganda embraces attempts to create ill feeling between ourselves and our late gallant Allies, the French.

As the result of this propaganda too many of the working classes have been led to believe that their prosperity and employment in the future depend on letting down the Germans as easily as possible, and on recognising the Marxian tyrants of Russia. Both of these objects are expected to be promoted at the Conference at Genoa, and the revolutionaries everywhere are consequently doing their utmost to secure that that Conference shall be held.

Besides these main currents of propaganda, there are minor streams which can be turned Oil when they are required, or may perhaps he quiescent for a time. We have seen vicious attacks on Poland, on Hungary, and on Montenegro, and as the result of them, the first two countries have been held up to public dislike and suspicion, while unfortunate Montenegro has been shamefully wiped off the map of Europe. The sources of this propaganda are evident, and Radek, whose real name, of course, is Sobelsohn, is one of the ablest directors of this conspiracy to corrupt public opinion throughout Europe. He has many very capable colleagues who are performing the same task in respect of India. Egypt and other countries.

All this may seem to be absolutely irrelevant, but it hits a direct bearing upon the Question which has been raised by ennoble friend, and on his many previous efforts to draw attention to the cruel position in which Hungary has been placed under the Treaty of Trianon. The influences that were brought to bear to effect the dismemberment of Hungary can clearly be traced in the propaganda to which I have referred. Hungary has had a bad Press wherever this propaganda has been able to penetrate. On the other hand, Jugo-Slavia, Czecho-Slovakia and Rumania are in comparative favour. Hungary has not only been dismembered, but is to be disunited as far as possible. It was only the other day that Hungary was threatened with invasion merely because it was believed that she contemplated the restoration of her ancient Monarchy. If she is denied the power of compulsion, she will, my noble friend has so well explained, be put to expenses which she is quite unable to bear. Why should Hungary be deprived of the means of defending the little country and the few rights which have been left to her? Why should this be, when she is surrounded by aggressive neighbours, some of whom are misgoverning her own nationals, and when she has had the shocking experience of a period of Communist revolution?

Bulgaria is in a somewhat different position. Unfortunately, she lost the sympathies of our country by her action in 1915 but it should always be remembered that that was not the fault of the Bulgarian people, and that the Army showed the greatest reluctance when it was forced to move. Some regiments mutinied when they were ordered to the frontier, and the late King proclaimed Martial Law and, I believe, shot 3,000 men. The Bulgarians are mainly an agricultural people—80 per cent. at least—and they are nearly all peasant proprietors. These are just the conditions in which it is almost impossible to raise an effective voluntary Army.

My noble friend has told you that the forces allotted to Bulgaria under Article 68 of the Treaty amount, in all, to 33,000. The Government, with great difficulty I believe, has been able to raise only 6,350, and of these many are totally unfitted for the purpose for which they are intended, because the work of frontier guards requires special qualities which these enlisted men do not possess. The result will be that smuggling by armed bands across the frontier of Bulgaria will before long become general. We have been told that the cost of these 33,000 enlisted men would be 807,000,000 francs, which is far beyond the resources of Bulgaria. Like Hungary, Bulgaria has aggressive neighbours. JugoSlavia I have not the slightest idea why—maintains a very large Army, which is compulsorily recruited. The Greeks also are very heavily armed, though it is possible that their unfortunate experience in Asia Minor 'nay have tended to cool their military ardour. It is natural that great uneasiness should prevail in Bulgaria at the present time.

As we have been told, there is a large amount of disarmament in the air, and I believe the League of Nations is working as hard as it can in that direction. But hardly anything has been accomplished. We alone are busy in disarming ourselves, and von will have noted that the Commander-in-Chief in India last week gave warning of the danger to which I ventured to draw the attention of the House some time ago. I see no sign of disarmament in many quarters where, quite superfluously large Armies are still being maintained.

The Supreme Conned has regulated the Armies in the ease of ex-enemy countries, and we must assume that they fixed the numbers at the very minimum necessary for the security of those States. Surely it might be permitted to Bulgaria and to Hungary to raise the very limited forces which have been allowed to them in the cheapest and most effective manner. It is this disregard of the special racial and economic conditions of certain countries which has made so much of the work of the Supreme Council dangerous, in my opinion, to the future peace of Europe. It is really a monstrous thing to inflict impossible military expenditure on a country like Hungary, which we have deprived of two-thirds of its original resoures. For these reasons I most strongly support the appeal of my noble friend, and I earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government will give careful and sympathetic attention to these grave matters.


My Lords, in one respect the noble Lord who sits behind me, Lord Newton, was absolutely wrong. This is not a, matter, either as affects Bulgaria or as affects Hungary, in which His Majesty's Government is principally or primarily concerned. My noble friend seems to have got it into his head, in his usual amiable way of speaking, that we art intro carrying out some special crotchet of the late President of the United States or the present Prime Minister of this country, and he spoke as though our representatives at Supreme Councils, or meetings of the Ambassadors' Conference at Paris, act under special instructions, differing from those which are given by the other Powers to their delegates. That is not the case.

The question of carrying out the Treaties—and I will come in a moment to the nature of those Treaties—is, for the time being, in the hands not of the Supreme Council, which has of her, and perhaps in some respects more important, work to do, but in the hands of the Conference of Ambassadors at Paris, which is charged with the task of carrying out the Treaties already signed and ratified, in minor particulars. They act upon their own authority and judgment, and I believe in this matter with absolute unanimity. My noble friend, Lord Newton, accuses them of gross hypocrisy. I was waiting for that phrase. I have never heard any speech from my noble friend in Which he did not accuse those who had the misfortune to disagree with him, and whom he was satirising, of being either hypocrites or humbugs, and I am entirely familiar with the spectacle of my noble friend its the one and only Aristides. But even though he may have a monopoly of the many noble qualities which he is by no means averse front exhibiting to the House, I object to his assumption that those who have the misfortune to disagree with him are stained with the darkest moral attributes. That really is not the case, and in the present instance the Conference of Ambassadors at Paris, and the Foreign Offices in Europe, are carrying out the policy decided upon since the war and expressed in the Treaties, which there is no alternative, unless the Treaties themselves are broken, but to carry out.

Now what was the object of those Treaties? There was no idea of treating with special vindictiveness Bulgaria or Hungary. The object of the Powers was to get rid of the danger of large standing Armies in Europe, and to put a stop to the spirit of militarism, which was the fons et origo of the recent war. In order to carry out that object the first policy was to substitute voluntary enlistment for compulsory service in the future. It was applied not here and there, with an invidious and discriminating hand, but all round. It has been applied to the countries we have been discussing to-day, and it will be applied to Turkey when the fortunes of that country come under discussion a little later on. In the case of those two countries, the policy of which I speak was provided for in the case of Bulgaria by the Treaty of Neuilly, and in the case of Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon. Under both Treaties compulsory service disappeared and voluntary enlistment was substituted in the terms of the Treaty.

Before I come to the actual terms, may I say a word upon the Treaty position. My noble friend seems to think it does not matter at all if a Treaty has been concluded—that you can evade it or alter it, or treat it as of no effect. That is not the, case. These Treaties are part of the International Law of Europe, not only signed but ratified, anti if you ratify a Treaty the only thing you have to do is to carry it out, or, if you do not mean to do that, to declare your intention to abrogate and destroy it and create some new Treaty in its place. When he went on to talk about the special circumstances of Bulgaria and Hungary—and from his expressions of sympathy for those countries I do not desire to dissent he did not pause to remember that those countries are surrounded by other States with populations much larger and with feelings aggravated by long historical and other disputes—feelings by no means alleviated by the circumstances of the war. For instance, the neighbours of Hungary, with populations of forty-two millions, and the neighbours of Bulgaria, with thirty-two millions, would absolutely refuse to accept any modification of the Treaties on the lines suggested by my noble friend. Does he suggest that we are to over-ride those objections and expose the centre of Europe to another conflagration, by giving justification for intervention by the surrounding States to which I refer?

Take the case of Bulgaria by itself. I said I would refer to the Treaty position. It is as follows: By Article 65 of the Treaty of Neuilly compulsory service is abolished in Bulgaria. By Article 66 of the same Treaty Bulgaria is allowed to raise a voluntary Army of 20,000 men. By Article 72 the period of such service is fixed at 12 years. Under Article 69 Bulgaria was allowed 10,000 gendarmes and 3,000 frontier guards. No definite period of enlistment is laid down in the case of these subsidiary forces. It is quite true that in the course of last autumn the Bulgarian Government complained to the Powers that they were unable to raise a volunteer force without raising the scale of pay to a figure out of all proportion to their assets, and that they feared they would be left with a force which was insufficient for the maintenance of order. The Powers at once took this protest, in which they saw some substance, into consideration, and they made a concession in order to meet it. They agreed to allow the Bulgarian Government to enlist on a short time basis a number of gendarmes and frontier guards over and above the number fixed in the Treaty.

The Bulgarian Government wisely recognised that it is no good kicking against the pricks in this matter and at the present moment they are contemplating measures by which both the financial difficulty and the difficulty of securing volunteers may he met. It is proposed to impose a tax upon men of military age who do not volunteer for service, which shows that the Bulgarian Government realise that the Powers are intent upon enforcing the Treaty of Neuilly, and that they cannot expect, and I can assure my noble friend that they will not receive, any modification of the main principles and spirit of the Treaty such as he prayed for this afternoon.

Then we take the case of Hungary. By Article 103 of the Treaty of Trianon compulsory service was equally abolished in Hungary, but there, too, protests have been received, and in some respects a case for more lenient consideration has been made out, and similarly in the case of Hungary concessions have been made by the Conference of Ambassadors sitting at Paris. The Army was to have been placed on a voluntary basis by October 26 last. Hungary has been granted a considerable extension of time beyond that date, so that the transition can be made gradual. An increase in the numbers of police and gendarmes has also been allowed to her.

The noble Lord spoke as if there had been either no recruits or very few recruits—as I think he said—enlisted under this system. The figures are, I admit, small, though they are larger, I think, than my noble friend has any idea of. By the end of January, 8,500 had been recruited, but my information is that they were the result of a not very whole-hearted recruiting campaign. This force, existing under the conditions which I have described, which is being allowed to Hungary, will really be amply sufficient for the maintenance of order in that country. There is no reason why Hungary should now, in her straitened circumstances, require a large regular Army, nor is there any reason why the Powers should allow her to possess it. A conscript Army with a short term of service is a luxury which many of these Powers enjoyed in the past, which they used to the public detriment, and eventually to their own destruction, and which constitutes a menace that they cannot be allowed to exert again in the future.

I hope my noble friends, who have more than once asked me to speak about Hungary and Bulgaria, will believe me when I say that my attitude is never animated by a desire to under-rate the difficulties of those countries; still less have I any feelings of revenge for the misguided course which they pursued in the war. This is not a matter of personal feeling; it is a matter of the Treaty policy of Europe, laid down by a combination of the whole Powers, now being faithfully carried out, and from which, in this case or in that case, it is impossible to allow a deviation.