§ LORD THOMSON had given Notice to move to resolve, That the negotiations disclosed in the White Paper, Cmd. 3211, regarding limitation of naval armaments, constitute a grave setback to the cause of disarmament. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think I may say that the Resolution standing in my name on the Order Paper expresses a widely-held opinion. It has been suggested to me that I should introduce 48 into the terms of that Resolution some expression of regret. I am perfectly certain that a great many noble Lords who are present feel regret at the result of the recent negotiations, though they might not be willing to declare it in the terms of a Resolution. The publication of the White Paper was expected to allay anxiety on this question; but I am afraid it has only confirmed the worst fears of those who consider that disarmament is not only a moral obligation but an economic necessity.
§ It is very difficult to say anything new about this matter, so much has been said and written about it already. There is general anxiety to express views on the subject not only on the part of individuals but of Parties. I noticed, yesterday, that the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, was so anxious to fire the first shot in your Lordships' House that he mentioned it in his remarks on the Address. My justification for bringing it to your Lordships' notice to-day is that there are in this House a great many noble Lords who can speak with very special authority on questions of foreign policy. We are also fortunate in having as a member of your Lordships' House the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, who is for the moment the head of the great Department principally concerned in this matter and who has had to handle some of the most difficult parts of the negotiations. In that respect, if I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, has all my sympathy. He has really been put into the position of the horse which was put into the shafts while the waggon was in mid-stream. He was not responsible, as I understand it, for the initiation of these negotiations, but had to carry them to the best conclusion in his power. So if I venture to bother your Lordships to-day with this matter it is as one who may be considered a fool for rushing in where so many angels have feared to tread, but also with a view of getting an authoritative expression of opinion on this matter and a statement from the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun.
The Press, generally speaking, has not been favourable to the Government. I am not referring only to the Opposition papers, nor to those other organs of the Press whose political allegiance may be somewhat uncertain: even the loyal Times laid the whitewash on so thin that
it was almost transparent, and its leading articles on this subject have been masterpieces of mild rebuke. I tremble to think what the fulminations would have been in the pages of that great newspaper had a Labour Government put the country into a similar predicament. I can imagine columns devoted to condemnation, if not abuse. All round the Press has condemned these negotiations as a grave blunder. In these circumstances the attitude of some of the spokesmen of this one and indivisible Government, as it was described by the noble Marquess in his speech yesterday, is all the more bewildering. Take, for example, the speech delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his constituency at the end of last month. What does he say about this vital matter? He is reported to have said this:—
The discussions of the last two years had tended to bring naval, military and air matters into a position of international consequence and prominence which was not at all warranted by anything in the present peaceable state of the world.
Does that represent the view of His Majesty's Government? Is His Majesty's Government entirely oblivious of Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, under the terms of which we are committed solemnly by the most explicit pledges to do our best to expedite the reduction of armaments? Does His Majesty's Government regard the Covenant of the League of Nations as a "scrap of paper"?
§ If the Chancellor of the Exchequer really represents the views of His Majesty's Government it is not at all surprising to my mind that these negotiations terminated as they did. Nothing is more calculated to make experts dilatory and idle in their task than this sort of attitude on the part of the Government that is behind them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking presumably for the Government, talks about the peaceable state of the world to-day. At this moment there is a peace in Europe, but it is a peace of exhaustion. Europe to-day is an armed camp. There are more armies and more soldiers under arms to-day in Europe than there were before the War. Europe is seething to-day with questions in dispute, with points of friction. It is perfectly true, and I agree with those who say that we have a breathing space, for this 50 peace of exhaustion may last for ten or it may be twenty years. But unless that breathing space is utilised to the best advantage, unless the leading countries of the world, like our own—the leading country in the councils of Geneva some few years back—take an energetic lead in this question of disarmament, it is certain that we shall drift into a position exactly similar to that which existed during the first decade of this century and that we shall be plunged in due time into another war. The peaceable state of Europe is not, unfortunately, due to statesmanship. It certainly is not due to the sort of statesmanship that is indicated in that speech. It is due, unfortunately, to exhaustion. But thank Heaven we have a breathing space and I sincerely trust it will be utilised to the best advantage. We have to find some new method of settling international disputes during the breathing space, or else be faced with a still more appalling calamity than that of 1914.
§ Several conclusions may be drawn from a study of the White Paper. I do not want to trouble your Lordships with past history. This ground has been trodden time and again, but there are certain points that I do want to bring out because they lead up to the main points of my remarks this afternoon. What are our commitments? I think it is fair to say to the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, that these negotiations resulted in something which is a great deal more than a compromise between ourselves and the French, something which may be described as a deal. The bargain, as I understand it from the White Paper, began on March 9 of this year, when the Foreign Secretaries of Great Britain and France had an interview. They were at once confronted with the difficulty which is expressed in the White Paper in this language: "Diametrical opposition in crucial matters." I never attribute evil motives to the Government, especially in foreign policy, and I believe that in all innocence we began to drift into this deal; in fact it is the innocence of the whole transaction which fills me with dismay. It seems to me a terrible thing that people with the best intention should find themselves dragged into such a dilemma.
What was the deal? It is a vulgar word, but what was it? "Diametrical
opposition in crucial matters." And the way out? We were to concede to the French on the point of trained reservists and small submarines in return for their conceding to us a certain formula in regard to naval classification. It seems to me that we gave away a very great deal and we got very little in return. What were the effects of that deal? First and foremost I think the effect was to excite suspicion in the United States and Italy. To my mind that suspicion was most natural. That deal strengthened the British on the high seas by giving us unlimited power to construct light cruisers. It strengthened the French on both land and sea, more especially in the latter case in narrow waters and in that most powerful weapon, in modern warfare, of blockade. It gave to us, acting together, undertaking a concerted and common action, a position which was almost irresistible in Europe if not throughout the world. May I read to your Lordships in this connection a small extract from a document with which you are probably all familiar, the remarks of the Ambassador of the United States? Speaking of his Government he says:—
It would be happy to continue such efforts, but it cannot consent to proposals which would leave the door wide open to unlimited building of certain types of ships of a highly efficient combatant value and would impose restrictions only on types peculiarly suitable to American needs.
Then take the Italian comment, which is more subtle. This is what the Italian Government replied:—
They believe that they can detect an indication in this sense in the Anglo-French project, in the connection which it—in fact—introduces between the naval proposals and the question of the trained reserves of the army and for mobilisation.
A connection between naval and military proposals. They believed they could detect what really amounts in that connection to a deal.
§ I will go further. I am putting myself in the position of the naval experts from the Admiralty—the British naval experts. I find it difficult to believe that those experts would have accepted the unlimited construction of small submarines by the French, our nearest neighbour, separated from us by very narrow waters, a neighbour with many ports upon the Channel—that naval experts, whose first thought is naval security, would have accepted the unlimited 52 construction of small submarines as the basis of an arrangement for the reduction of armaments, for the advantage of so near a neighbour, unless they also had imagined that there was some arrangement. The noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, said in his remarks at Blackpool that there was no new Entente, and he corrected that at Dartford by saying that there was no need for a new Entente, the old Entente existed always. But what he meant by an Entente was a sort of general affability, world-wide affability all round, general agreement which included Germany. I doubt if a more unfortunate expression than "old Entente" could have been employed, with due respect to the noble Lord, because that old Entente has an ill-omened and unfortunate connotation, and it certainly led to common and concerted action with the French. The noble Lord has changed his attitude very remarkably since 1924. To my mind that is one of the most hopeful features of our time. In those days he referred to the Germans as fraudulent defaulters; to-day he talks, and I believe quite sincerely, of an Entente applying to the Germans and meaning general agreement all round, affability with all people. If the noble Lord can change his point of view so fundamentally I do trust that he will also change his nomenclature.
The second effect of this Anglo-French compromise, I think, as it appears from the White Paper, would have been, not to decrease armaments, but to increase them all round, especially naval armaments. The American Ambassador and the Italian Government are both at pains to point out what they feel upon that subject. The American Ambassador says so in terms. He says:—
The American Government feels, furthermore, that the terms of the Anglo-French Draft Agreement, in leaving unlimited so large a tonnage and so many types of vessels, would actually tend to defeat the primary objective of any disarmament conference for the reduction or the limitation of armament …
The Italian Government is more explicit. What the Italian Government says on that point is this:—
The adoption, in fact, of a measure of this character would render it necessary for each country to present and carry out as largo a naval programme as possible …
Could there be more emphatic condemnation of this compromise? How the noble Lord ever expected that compromise to be accepted by the United States and Italy puzzles me. I can hardly believe that the French Government expected acceptance by Italy and the United States. Indeed, this proposal, so far from effecting disarmament, would not only have increased armaments, but would also have brought about competition in armaments.
§ Take the case of large cruisers. That, according to the American experts, is a type of vessel indispensable to their requirements, and, according to the proposal, there was to be a maximum tonnage allowed to all nations in that matter—a maximum applicable to all. In view of the well-known attitude of the American Government, there is no doubt that they would have set the pace in this matter, and, as far as I can make out, that pace was likely to be pretty speedy. So there were left small cruisers and small submarines unlimited: capital ships and aircraft carriers already limited by the Washington Conference; large cruisers to be subject to a form of competition in which the richest nation in the world, with its back rather up as the result of these revelations, to set the pace. The only economy that I can see that could have resulted from these proposals would have been in large submarines. To that economy the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, referred with tempered satisfaction, at Blackpool, I think, as a case of half a loaf being better than no bread. My only comment on that observation is that I believe the British taxpayers, when they studied these proposals in their entirety, would infinitely prefer no bread. And this is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who of all people ought to consider economy at this juncture, describes as a step forward to a larger measure of agreement.
§ Now I pass to the question of trained reservists. Here we have one of the most complicated questions that one can well imagine, a question involving a very large principle and a mass of detail. I notice that both the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, made the concession on this point with extreme 54 and natural reluctance. It does involve an immense question of principle. We are in a new era, an era of mechanised armed forces. The infantry soldier and the cavalryman are about to start down that long vista in which they have been preceded by the knight in armour, the bowman, and the musketeer. If their day is not yet done, it is nearly done. For purposes of war and for calculations of trained reservists, the mechanic is at least as important as the man with the rifle in his hand, or the soldier with the sabre. And I admit straight away, as an old soldier, that there are immense difficulties in setting limits to the number of such trained reservists. In a sense every mechanic up to the age of sixty years is a trained reservist. He is at least as useful as a man with a rifle.
§ So much for the difficulties of the computation. I will admit further that it is impossible probably to estimate what those trained reserves would amount to. We are up against a proposition, enunciated I think by Clausewitz many years ago, of the nation in arms. Now, France proposes to be a nation in arms. There is no getting away from that. Their declarations on the subject have been published. Where do we stand in the matter? Where do we stand when we admit this principle of the nation in arms? We have to go back to the time when we imposed on Germany, on Bulgaria, and other conquered States the provision that they were not to have conscripted armies, that there was to be no compulsory service. We have now got this position, that the countries which desire conscription, which maintain it and which practise it, desire no limit to be set to the number of their trained reservists. We are producing the most top[...]-sided and unfair state of affairs. When we imposed those conditions on the conquered States after the World War we might have foreseen our responsibilities in the matter. In any case, we cannot evade them now.
§ I believe myself that in conscript armies the limit that will be set to the number of trained mechanics will be the limit of cost. Where large establishments are concerned the cost of training military mechanics will be enormous, but the unfortunate fact remains that a lack of money never seems to stop modern States 55 from embarking on military preparations, and though that limit may exist it is such a very large and wide one that doubt if it will have much effect. Here, if I may say so, it seems to me that the noble Lords, Lord Cecil and Lord Cushendun, might have insisted on the question of principle and left some formula to be devised by experts. I believe that there are at least half a dozen experts in the service of the British Government to-day who could have worked out a formula, and I believe that the formula would be based on some such conception as this: that if we conceded conscription then there must be a limit to the size of the conscripted armies. This has been done. It is possible to impose limits on conscripted armies. There is such a thing as the ballot under cover of the principle of conscription. We have abandoned a vital principle, we have committed ourselves to the thesis that a nation in arms is a recognised fact in Europe to-day, and it seems to me that we have imposed on our enemies in the last War conditions which put them at a grave disadvantage with reference to their late enemies. It is small wonder that in these conditions the Germans are perturbed.
Now I come to my main point. It is this: What are our commitments in this matter? The most pregnant sentence in the White Paper occurs on page 25. It has already been referred to in another place, and it will be referred to by everyone who devotes attention to this matter. It is the last sentence in the French reply to the Foreign Office, and I may call it the climax of the French argument. It runs:—
Whatever the result, and even should this hope prove illusory"—
the hope being that the other nations would agree to the Anglo-French naval compromise—
the two Governments would, none the less, be under the urgent obligation to concert either to ensure success by other means or to adopt a common policy so as to deal with the difficulties which would inevitably arise from a check to the work of the Preparatory Commission.
That request or that suggestion, from the French, so far as I can see from the White Paper, has never been replied to by His Majesty's Government. The Government sent a reply to that particular Note, but they did not refer to
this part of it. They certainly mentioned it in Notes to other countries, such as the United States and Italy, but here is a suggestion in writing from the French to which no answer has been given by His Majesty's Government. And yet one would have said that it was the most important part of that Note, the climax, I repeat, of the French argument.
§ We are taught that when a diplomatist says "Yes" he means "Perhaps"; when he says "Perhaps" he means "No"; and if he says "No" he is no diplomatist. What does he mean when he says nothing? Does silence mean consent? It certainly seems to me that this is a question to which some answer should have been given, and I am curious to know whether or not an answer has been given, because it seems to me to be one of those questions to which an answer is imperative. It is like the postscript to a lady's letter; you have to answer it. It is one of those leading questions such as I cannot imagine that the noble Lord, who is so courteous in his dealings, would overlook. He must have answered it in some form or other. I should imagine that if he had not answered it the French Government would have written again and insisted upon a reply. While this question remains unanswered, while there is an ambiguity in this situation, I submit that very serious consequences are liable to ensue. The first and most serious is that neither the United States nor Italy is likely to co-operate wholeheartedly in any further conferences on disarmament. They are both suspicious and they are both a little angry. The whole position, so far as they are concerned, has been queered. While there is the least ambiguity about that important question their position will be, if not hostile, at any rate cold. It seems to me that we have to clear this up.
§ I accept whole-heartedly that which the noble Marquess said in yesterday afternoon's debate as to there being no such thing as a Pact, and that the naval compromise is dead. But what about trained reserves, what about small submarines, what about no limitation to the number of small cruisers, what about all the other things which have crept into the negotiations and to which, so far 57 as I understand, we are more or less committed to the French? Are these commitments dead also? It is quite obvious that the thing called the naval compromise is dead, but what about our commitments to the French? The mere silence of the Government on that vital sentence seems to me to throw some doubt upon their attitude. While that doubt remains it is a fact that Italy and the United States will not and, indeed, cannot co-operate in any further conferences on disarmament.
§ I have read, and I think I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, say in reply to critics, that we as a country cannot dictate to other countries. Of course we cannot dictate, but it has been our pride, if not our boast, that we occupy a commanding position in the councils of Europe. We certainly did so in 1924. We were respected at Geneva, we were respected throughout the world. And why? Because we were prepared to give an energetic lead in this vital question of disarmament and because we were anxious to keep our pledges in this matter. I am not saving that the noble Lord is not so keen, but all I can say is that he does not show that he is. If we are known to be really sincere and keen in regard to this question of our pledge—I must insist upon the pledge because it is ever present to my mind as a solemn pledge, entered into when we signed those Treaties—if we are really keen and show it, I am convinced that in the United States public opinion, which is extremely powerful there, and perhaps more powerful than in any other State, would overcome the Big Navy Party. I doubt if anyone can deny that it has already done so. When there was a discussion some time back about cruisers and 75, I think, were proposed by the Big Navy Party, that proposition was allowed to lapse. Public opinion was the cause. We have only to prove to the United States, and indeed to France, to judge from recent happenings there, that we are in earnest in this matter, and I believe our problems with regard to disarmament will be greatly simplified, although not wholly solved, because no doubt it is one of the thorniest subjects to be dealt with.
§ We do not need any secret diplomacy to effect that. I am not accusing Lord Cushendun of secret diplomacy during the last few months. On the contrary, I 58 am afraid that our diplomacy has been neither secret nor successful. Secret diplomacy is at all times a gamble for a Government. There are occasions when a man or a body of men may think that nothing else will achieve the purpose they have in view, but then secrecy is all important, so that if the negotiations break down no great harm is done, and if they are successful the result can be announced at the time and in the manner to give it the best effect. There was no real secret diplomacy on this occasion. It is perfectly true that in London it was almost impossible to get any information. There was the loyalty of the noble Lord and his subordinates. It was impossible to get information in London, but in Paris the cat was continually emerging from the bag, and what a circumstantial cat. Every word in the White Paper had appeared in the Parisian newspapers. The tragic failure of these negotiations—this sort of demi-semi-secret diplomacy should be a lesson to us all. It certainly is an incident to be remembered. Believe me, I am not criticising my noble friend Lord Cushendun in this matter. I do not think he has been at all well treated.
§ It seems quite clear that there will be no practical advantage in renewing these disarmament conferences before the year 1931. Between now and then a great deal may have happened. It is greatly to be feared that the cruiser programme will have been embarked upon in the United States. These are evils which we have to face. It is to be hoped that when 1931 comes somewhat different methods will be practised. It appears, from reading that White Paper, very clearly to me that the experts had a very considerable, if not excessive, say in the matter. Experts are good servants, but bad masters. No one who has had any connection with our civil servants and subordinates in our fighting Departments but knows how loyal they can be, but I do not think it is fair to an Admiral to ask him to initiate a policy with regard to naval disarmament. These men are very loyal, and will carry out a policy, however distasteful, and when they meet together afterwards in their clubs they will say: "I could not help it, I had to do it, that cursed politician told me to." But to ask them to initiate a policy of naval disarmament is to ask them to 59 do something which they would naturally consider as letting down their Service.
§ I submit, with all respect, that some of these Admirals at Geneva were given an impossible task. I think my late leader, a man whose loss I regret more than I can say, for he was guide, counsellor and friend—when I think of how that man, that philosopher and clever lawyer, came to the War Office and made the Generals think his way—because that is what Lord Haldane did—I cannot conceive why any statesman, any member of any Government should not expect, and could not expect, from Admirals an equal loyalty and an equal adaptability of view. I do not believe that these men will ever interfere with the execution of a policy. I believe that they will work loyally for a policy, even although they detest it, but you cannot expect them to initiate it. And what do we read about the proceedings of the Preparatory Commission? There they were, these unfortunate Delegates, and according to an article in The Times, which I have every reason to believe is quite correct, they were terribly bored. Some read, some wrote letters, many slept, and some may have wept from sheer boredom and languor. They were only aroused to interest in the proceedings when a Latvian Delegate got up with some new and absurd proposal. They had no guidance, and they just sat there in dilatory, languid boredom with their surroundings. They were a sort of lotus eaters at Geneva. There was nothing to stir them or even to guide them, and yet, to quote the article in The Times this was the time when "the idea of the naval compromise first arose." Apparently, a French Admiral said to a British Admiral: "By the way, why cannot we agree upon this?" and the British Admiral, seized with enthusiasm, telegraphs to London and says what a bright idea it is. And actually the British Government approached the French Government, imagining that it was the policy of the French Government, an assumption which proved to be incorrect.
§ I can well imagine that such was the attitude of those Delegates if the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer represents the views of His Majesty's Government and of the Foreign Office towards this question of disarmament. If His Majesty's Government considered 60 it a question of no international consequence, can one wonder if the Delegates got languid? You cannot blame the Delegates if that state of affairs goes on. When they see a prominent and responsible member of the Cabinet deal with this matter as though it were a mere addition to Æsop's Fables this policy of drift and dilatoriness is bound to continue in the Preparatory Commission. I believe that that spirit was the real cause of failure at Geneva. I believe that His Majesty's Government had the best intentions but that they were very vague, that they had no ardour or conviction in the matter, that they treated it in an academic spirit and left it to the experts, that they regarded our solemn pledges as a disagreeable heritage from a period of transient idealism and that they also considered them to be impracticable of fulfilment.
§ We contrast that with what some of us imagined was the policy of the British Government after the War as indicated by our signing not one but several Treaties embodying the Covenant of the League, the policy of all-round disarmament by international agreement in which we would take an energetic lead. We make that contrast and get food for reflection, and we are inclined to put the blame where it should lie. We are pledged solemnly to this question of disarmament, not only to our own people, but to the world. We cannot shirk the task without dishonour. We cannot be dilatory in it without losing our good name, and now we are involved, as I see it, in a horrible dilemma. We are committed vaguely, so far as I can see, to various propositions with which I am certain the vast majority of people in this country would not agree. We are running the risk of a race in armaments with the richest country in the world. There is a cynical attitude produced by these revelations, a cynical attitude throughout Europe which, to quote The Times, is most disheartening. It is so. The least conscientious observer must notice that. Millions of people are disheartened. Those who scoffed at the League are chuckling. They say: "We told you so, there is no substitute in international affairs for force." I submit that this attitude of mind has been largely caused by the publication of the White Paper and that the negotiations 61 conducted at Geneva during the past twenty-four months have constituted a grave setback to the cause of disarmament. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That the negotiations disclosed in the White Paper, Cmd. 3211, regarding limitation of Naval Armaments, constitute a grave setback to the cause of disarmament.—(Lord Thomson.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (LORD CUSHENDUN)
My Lords, I am sure that I may safely acquit the noble Lord opposite of any desire or intention to perform an act of benevolence towards the Government, but nevertheless I am very grateful to him for giving me this early opportunity in the present Session of Parliament to say something in your Lordships' House with regard to the immense amount of misunderstanding and, I am afraid, a good deal of misrepresentation, of which, of course, I entirely acquit the noble Lord, with regard to the matter which he has brought before your Lordships this afternoon. The various charges that have been made against the Government may be divided under several heads. I shall show your Lordships presently that my difficulty after listening to the noble Lord is to know precisely what the charge is against the Government. It is quite true that he has given a general belabouring to the Government, as many people outside have done during the last few weeks, but I have some difficulty in knowing exactly what he thinks we ought to have done and I will particularise that in a moment.
He referred to the charge of secrecy. He was good enough to say that he did not charge me personally with any secret diplomacy during the last few months, but he went on to show that he fully endorsed the very strong observations that have been made in the Press and on the platform with regard to the alleged concealment, or attempted concealment, of these negotiations. With reference to that I should like to point out that as a matter of fact—you may hold this opinion or that as to the merits or demerits of secret diplomacy—you could hardly imagine any transaction more free than this from concealment, or attempted concealment, or observation of secrecy. In this connection I will presently make on a minor point an admission which the noble Lord 62 and the other critics of the Government are quite welcome to exploit so far as they can, but with that exception, to which I will come in a moment, I maintain absolutely that there has been from first to last no sort of secrecy or attempted secrecy with regard to this transaction.
What are the facts? First of all, before any agreement was reached, at the earliest possible moment it was announced in the most public way possible that conversations were going on with a view to arriving at an agreement on a matter which was perfectly well known to all those who were at that time engaged at Geneva. Suggestions had been made by various people that the best way of disposing of the differences that had arisen would be to have private conversations between the Governments concerned. That course was adopted, but so far from observing secrecy it was publicly announced at once. The compromise itself was reached on July 28, the fact, as I say, having been advertised that the conversations with a view to a compromise had been going on. It was reached on July 28. Two days later, on July 30, the terms of it were telegraphed to the Japanese, the Italian, and the United States Governments—two days after it was arrived at. On the same day, July 30, the Foreign Secretary announced in the House of Commons what had been done. I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the terms of that speech of my right hon. friend, because any ordinary person who listened to or read that speech must have seen the whole nature of the transaction and its limitations—a very important matter in view of what subsequently happened.
I ask leave to read to your Lordships an extract from my right hon. friend's speech. He was asked what was going on at the Preparatory Commission, and he said:—At the moment the Preparatory Commission on Disarmament is not in session, and no definite date has been fixed for its session, but, as has been publicly announced, conversations have been proceeding between ourselves and the French with the hope"—I call your Lordships' attention to these words—of reducing the difference between us, indeed, in the hope of finding some compromise upon which we could both agree, and which we might then submit to other Powers and perhaps, by our proposals, facilitate pro- 63 gress in the Committee. Those conversations have been successful between the French and ourselves, and I am about to communicate to the other principal naval Powers the compromise at which we have arrived"—incidentally I may say that the communication was made on the same day on that speech was made—with the hope that it may be acceptable to them also, and that thus a great obstacle to progress will have been removed and a step made in advance. Until those proposals have been communicated to the other Governments, I do not like to say more about them.And he finishes by saying:—I imagine the first serious discussion on them will probably take place in the Disarmament Committee itself.From that it will be seen that clearly the conversations which had been going on and the compromise which had been arrived at were simply for the purpose of removing the differences which had arisen between ourselves and the French regarding the Draft Convention for prescribing the principle upon which naval disarmament might proceed.
When that speech was delivered, no demand, no request was made in the House of Commons by any member of the Party to which the noble Lord belongs for further information. One small point was raised I believe by Commander Kenworthy, but no dissatisfaction was expressed by the Leaders of the noble Lord's Party on the ground that there had been insufficient information, nor was there any demand for further information; because it was probably understood at that time that the Foreign Secretary's explanation was a perfectly reasonable one—that until the proposals were communicated to the other Governments he did not like to say more about them.
I come now to the admission which I said I was ready to make in regard to the question of secrecy. It is true, of course, that Sir Austen Chamberlain did not give in the House of Commons the actual terms of the compromise, and I am free to admit that had it been possible for him or for anyone else at that time to foresee the extraordinarily wild and in many cases, I am afraid, malicious rumours and innuendoes that sprang up, not immediately but after a short time—if anybody could have foreseen that I have very little doubt that my right hon. 64 friend would in that case have published the terms of the compromise and would have explained to foreign Governments that this departure from the ordinary courtesies of international intercourse was for a good reason which it would have been possible to make them understand. But, as I say, no one could possibly have foreseen that. I would like to insist upon this point in that connection. Supposing that he had at that time published the exact text of the compromise, it would not, in point of fact, have silenced in any way the innuendoes that were being publicly expressed because, as I shall show in a moment, many of the most mischievous things that were said would have been quite as compatible with the actual text of the compromise as they were with the announcement which he had made without giving the text. Unfortunately, as your Lordships will remember, very shortly after the speech of my right hon. friend in the House of Commons from which I have just quoted, he had a very unfortunate breakdown in health, and therefore from that time he at all events has no responsibility for anything that took place, and from that moment the whole and exclusive responsibility in regard to this matter rests upon myself. I wish that to be clearly understood.
As far as I can trace it, the mischief, because there has been mischief, I admit, began with perfectly unauthenticated statements in certain French newspapers in the month of August. I was not immediately aware of what they were saying, though of course it was brought to my attention after a short time. Those statements in the French Press vesting on absolutely no evidence, which were none the less believed in a very widespread way although they had no evidence or even any pretence of evidence in support of them, represented that the compromise which had been spoken of by the British Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons really covered something very much more than it pretended to do. Those French newspapers no doubt constituted a particular political movement to which they were in allegiance; they were Party newspapers. At all events that is what they did. They made the statement that this really was a secret alliance or something of the sort with arrangements for pooling the two navies. It was not unnatural that a statement of 65 that sort caused misgiving in Germany, in Italy and in the United States of America, because, unfortunately, the public do not require their newspapers to be documented. They do not ask on what authority such a statement as that rests, and public opinion is very much misled.
As I say, it was a little time before I became aware of what was being said, and your Lordships, I am sure, will agree with me in this, that it is a very difficult matter to decide at what particular moment it is wise to contradict wild rumours that happen to be published in the Press, and especially in the Press of a foreign country. I must say when I first became aware of the things that were being said in the foreign Press, it appeared to me that they were so utterly wild, without any shadow of foundation for them, that I could not believe they would not very quickly be forgotten and pass away. I thought it was wiser not to issue a denial in the Press; but I was disappointed in that. I found that gale almost of misrepresentation and innuendo was growing. I was extremely occupied at the moment, as I was just going to Paris to sign the Kellogg Pact on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and was to go on from there to Geneva, which, as your Lordships know, is no light task. It was only when I got to Geneva that I came to the conclusion that I ought to do something to stop the false reports that were being spread, and thereupon I made a statement on the 30th August at Geneva, which gave really all the circumstances, so far as I was able to give them at that time, with regard to the negotiations that had been going on.
But I want to refer for a moment to the point I was pressing upon your Lordships just now—that the publication of the actual text of the three Notes in which the compromise was embodied would have done nothing to prevent those rumours. If people make the statement that concealed underneath the agreement there was an unavowed military alliance, that there was an arrangement that the two navies should concert action and so forth—all those rumours would have gone on just the same, because it was just, as easy to say that behind the text of the compromise there was a secret agreement. I myself was sanguine enough 66 to hope, when I made a statement, which was published in all the Press, on August 30, that a definite categorical statement made by a member of your Lordships' House and a Minister of the Crown, would at all events have been believed, but I am not at all sure that the statement that I made had that effect, as I think the noble Lord himself said. I do not think that it had that effect at all, and I am afraid, if I may say so, that even my noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood was not quite ready to accept my word in that regard.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
What I was referring to was this. My noble friend gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph a short time ago. It was published in the Daily Telegraph of October 23—that was after the White Paper was published. In that interview my noble friend—of course, it may have been forgetfulness, perhaps it was, on his part, but the very first words of an interview which he stated to be in relation to the Anglo-French naval compromise, as disclosed by the official documents were:It is a very good thing to have a definite assurance that there are no secret clauses in the Anglo-French agreement.There was nothing new in that, unless my noble friend had forgotten it, if he accepted the statement which I had made six weeks or two months earlier. On August 30 I had made this statement, a portion of which perhaps your Lordships would allow me to read. The final paragraph in my statement—I do not think it could be more precise or categorical—on August 30 was in these words:—Speculations as to secret clauses and so forth have no foundation whatever. I see it suggested, for instance, that we were going to arrange for pooling our navy with the French. There is absolutely nothing in any such suggestion, nor is there anything at all in the shape of an agreed policy between ourselves and the French.I will come back to that in a moment, because the noble Lord has put again to me the question whether or not that is true.It is not a question of policy. That has never been discussed. There are no secret clauses nor any arrangement as to an 67 alliance or co-operation of navies. All that is absolutely beside the mark; nothing of the sort has ever been suggested.I do not think that it would be easy to deny more emphatically the sort of reports that were at that time going about, and doing, as I freely admit, a great deal of mischief. I do not think it, would be possible to have issued a more emphatic denial.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to say that I do not see how he reads into my interview any suggestion of disbelief in his former statement. Certainly, that was very far from my intention.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
I am very glad indeed to have that assurance from my noble friend. I only wanted to bring out that what he on October 23 seemed to think was a new—
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
It appeared to me to be so, but of course I accept my noble friend's statement. It is not worth arguing. What is the precise charge against us? I think I have succeeded in showing your Lordships at all events that there was no secrecy or any attempt at secrecy from first to last. What is the precise charge? I want to know whether the view of the critics of the Government—the noble Lord (Lord Thomson) and others—is that we ought not to have tried to compose our differences with the French. Is that what is suggested? I want to find out what the charge is. We are constantly being exhorted to proceed with disarmament. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, repeated it time after time in the course of his speech. We are always being exhorted, though I may say, incidentally, we do not require any exhortation, because we are quite as anxious as the noble Lord or as my noble friend (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) or any other member in this House. No one is more anxious, if my assurance may be accepted, than this Government to proceed with, to encourage and push on, with the policy of disarmament in any way that may be practicable.
As I say, we are constantly being exhorted to do that by international agreement, and it is only by international agreement, of course, that you can get 68 disarmament. It is by international agreement that we are bound to do it under Article 8 of the Covenant to which the noble Lord referred in the early part of his speech. The noble Lord says we were not wrong to try to compose our differences with the French. By what conceivable method could we do that except by the method we adopted? A number of different States met together at Geneva endeavouring to arrive at an agreement among the whole lot. There was an emphatic difference, especially between two of them. May I remind the noble Lord, and any of your Lordships who are not familiar with the procedure at Geneva, that the whole of this matter arose from the fact that we had started the proceedings by tabling a Draft Convention. The French tabled a rival Draft Convention: therefore France was obviously the nation with whom we had to compose the difference. We were the two Governments which had put in the drafts upon which the discussion was taking place. Very well, you have to try to get an agreement among a number of different States, all with their different points of view, all with their own prejudices, their own principles, their own ideas. Between ourselves and France was the chief disagreement. How does anybody suggest, except by talking together, except by consultation, except by seeing whether by give-and-take it was possible to arrive at an agreement, that we could carry out what we are all agreed we want to get—namely, international agreement. But you cannot—though I think many of the critics of the Government, perhaps not in this House, are always trying it—you cannot at one and the same time exhort us to base international relations upon agreement and in the same breath denounce us when we adopt the only method for arriving at agreement.
There was another innuendo which came up and was doing a great deal of mischief in this connection, though I must say that I do not think the noble Lord himself said anything on those lines. But one of the most pernicious and mischievous suggestions which have been made is that because we arrived at an agreement with one nation it must necessarily imply hostility to some other nation. It was said in some quarters that this agreement, in all its simple and inno- 69 cent form, which Sir Austen Chamberlain described in the House of Commons, involved an Anglo-French combination against Germany; at another time it was said it involved an Anglo-French combination against America; and I am not sure that we were not even accused of combining against Italy. Of course, there was not, as I say again for the hundredth time, the smallest shadow of foundation for, or evidence to support, such an innuendo as that.
And here, incidentally, may I be allowed to refer to something which the noble Lord said? I could not see its relevance to his own case, and I did not think that it was distinguished at any rate by any generosity towards myself. He thought it necessary to remind your Lordships of certain expressions of opinion which I used some years ago, which I quite admit were very strongly hostile to Germany. I was not the only one at that time who was using very strong expressions about Germany. Certainly nothing I said could rival the expressions that were used by no less distinguished a person than Mr. Lloyd George at that time; and I think that everybody knows it was very common throughout this country to be expressing very strong hostile feelings towards Germany. I quite admit that I did. But I am not ashamed to admit that, with the passage of time, the animosities of the War period have died down—it is a blessing that they have died down—and I am very free to confess that I have been subject to that process as well as other greater and better men than myself. I do not quite see what the purpose of the noble Lord was in dragging up from oblivion those particular expressions of which I was then guilty.
I have shown, I hope, that there was no concealment in the negotiations. I have shown, I hope, that owing to the circumstances of the time it was with France that it was necessary for us to come to some arrangement. I now come to a third head, and perhaps the most important, as the noble Lord admits that we ought to have tried to compose our differences with France. I now ask myself, were the actual terms of the compromise bad in themselves? Of course, there have been all sorts of criticism on this head, some of it very violent indeed, some of it more measured, and I should 70 like to say I welcome the measured and moderate criticism of two such distinguished authorities on a matter of this kind as my noble friend Lord Cecil and my noble friend Lord Grey, both of whom have criticised the Government, fairly and moderately. But I do wish to point out that I think that even those criticisms of Lord Cecil and Lord Grey did not quite appreciate the true facts of this case.
Take the attitude of my noble friend Lord Cecil—and my reply to what he said applies equally and more strongly to the speech of the noble Lord—the criticism, put in various ways, was that we allowed the French to have unlimited small submarines, unlimited small cruisers, and that by their being unlimited we have apparently, in the minds of the critics, conferred some immunity upon the French Government which they do not possess at present. All that line of criticism rests upon this fallacy, that, the critic is comparing what was proposed to be done in the compromise with some ideal which has not been attained. The only fair comparison is with the existing state of things. Now, when your Lordships bear that in mind the whole of this criticism about allowing the French to have an unlimited number of small cruisers and an unlimited number of small submarines absolutely goes by the board. They have that now. We cannot prevent them having it. They can build as many submarines, both big and small, and as many cruisers, both big and small, as they choose. The only question that we had to consider was whether we could make some arrangement that would put some limitation upon this unlimited building. I quite agree with my noble friend that we would very much have preferred to limit those classes as well. It is hardly necessary to say this, because it is well known to everybody who has followed the matter at all, that our original proposal was to have nine categories of warships, which would have covered every class of combatant vessel, and that they should all be subjected to limitation. Naturally, therefore, we would have preferred to get what we originally proposed. But, when you are trying to arrange matters between a conflict of views, surely it is a commonplace that you must give and take. I notice that Mr. MacDonald yesterday in another 71 place spoke as if the very fact of giving way from some position that you had once taken up was in itself a wrong thing to do. You cannot begin to compromise unless you are prepared to give up something that you would gladly have, and we did give up something in order to get some limitation. We were willing to give up that which we would certainly have desired to have.
The whole question is whether the limitation arranged in the compromise would or would not have been better than nothing. The noble Lord quoted a remark of mine made at Blackpool, I think, which I emphatically repeat. I think that in this, as in other matters, half a loaf is better than no bread. We have to realise, as I do not think that the critics of the Government have done, that the only alternatives were either to have some such arrangement as this or to confess that you could not do anything at all in the direction of disarmament. We have to remember that the Washington Agreement of 1921 was itself only partial and covered only two classes, and that our compromise, if it had been acceptable, would have extended the Washington Agreement a little further—I will not put it higher than that—and would have added to the two classes limited at Washington two further classes—namely, cruisers carrying the heaviest guns, of which I shall have a word to say in a moment, and the largest submarines. The Government perfectly realise that, from the point of view of national security, if we could imagine a time when we should be, as we have been in past times, at war with France, an unlimited number of small coasting submarines infesting the Channel would undoubtedly be a very great danger to us, so much so that it is really very much more to our interest than to that of the United States to have a limitation of these small submarines. As your Lordships know, we have more than once proposed to go a great deal further. We have been anxious to abolish submarines altogether, and we agreed with the United States Government in that proposal; but the simple fact is you cannot do it. The noble Lord said, and quite truly, that we cannot dictate, and, if the noble Lord has his way, apparently we cannot even persuade. How we are 72 ever to arrive at any decision in a matter of this sort when first of all it is considered wrong to try to persuade each other by friendly talk and when it is admitted that we cannot dictate, I do not know.
Now I want to say something about the criticism of my noble friend, Viscount Grey of Fallodon. In the course of his speech at a luncheon the other day—a most moderate speech, if I may say so, and one of which I have no right, with one exception, to make the smallest complaint—he referred, as others have done, to the proposal regarding cruisers made in the compromise, and said that what we were proposing to do was simply to arrange with the French something that the United States Government had already rejected; and he added that to do this was very simple. He left no room for doubt that when he said "simple" he meant "imbecile." If I may say so, he was not strictly accurate. The proposal that was made in the compromise is not exactly that which the United States Government rejected. I do not want to go at length or in any detail into this side of the question. Nothing is further from my desire, and I do not think it would serve any useful purpose to plunge again into controversy which might possibly be misrepresented or misunderstood in the United States, but, as that point has been taken, I am bound to point out that the proposal regarding cruisers that was supported by the United States was that cruisers of 10,000 tons would meet their needs, and for this two reasons were given: (1), that cruisers of that size could be armed with 8-inch guns; and (2), that they were wanted—and on this the American representative laid most stress—because they were vessels of large cruising range.
It was pointed out that the Americans had not an unlimited supply of naval bases all over the world and that they wanted for their needs cruisers of a large cruising range. The proposal in the compromise that we arranged with the French for the first time did not propose to limit vessels on account of their tonnage. It proposed to limit them on account of the size of their guns. Consequently, supposing the Americans had seen their way to accept it, they would have had no limitation whatever of these very large cruisers, provided that they 73 were not armed with 8-inch guns. In other words, one of the conditions that they laid down, and the one upon which they laid most emphasis, would have been satisfied, while the other one admittedly would not, and to that extent, and to that extent alone, the proposal in the compromise was at variance with that which the United States had previously accepted.
But even supposing that it had been true that what was proposed had already been rejected by the United States Government, does my noble friend Lord Grey really suggest that in a matter of this sort, when a great number of nations are trying to hammer out an agreement with great difficulty, it is imbecility to entertain a position which is put forward because it has been on a former occasion rejected by one of the Governments concerned? Is it imbecility to make such a suggestion as that? I respectfully submit that it is nothing of the sort, because, remember, we ourselves, and the French Government, were in this very compromise making large concessions from the attitude which we had previously adopted. We were each, for the sake of agreement, giving up something to which we undoubtedly attached a great deal of importance, and I cannot see that in those circumstances it is monstrous to suggest that some other nation might reconsider a position which it had previously taken up. If that cannot be done, if everybody, having once stated their position, is to take up an immovable attitude with regard to it, then what is the good of going to Geneva and discussing these matters at all? We can all sit at home and put down on paper what our attitude is towards all these matters, and nothing is to be gained by meeting together for friendly consultation, if you start with the idea that once an attitude is taken up there must be no deviation.
That, I am glad to say, is not the view of the American Government. The noble Lord spoke a great deal of what I think he called the half-suspicion, half-anger of these other nations. All I can say is that I see no trace of it. I think the communications which we have had from other nations have been perfectly friendly and perfectly courteous, and 74 with reference to the point that I am now on, I wish to point out to my noble friend that in the last paragraph of the American reply, they even make a suggestion for keeping the door open for further discussion, and the suggestion which they put before us there is a suggestion which they must be, perfectly well aware we have already considered and rejected. I do not complain of that in the least. On the contrary, I can only assure your Lordships that the suggestion by the American Government will be carefully considered and examined by His Majesty's Government to see whether, either with or without amendment, it opens a way for further consideration of the question of disarmament. When we are doing that I do not think it would be at all fair to apply, and I am sure that Lord Grey would not apply, his epithet to the American Government. That sort of criticism is undoubtedly, and rightly, reserved for your own Government; you do not apply it to others.
What I want to point out in conclusion is in reply to the actual terms of the Motion which the noble Lord has put down for your consideration. The Motion says that these negotiations constitute an actual setback. I entirely deny it. They have done nothing of the sort. I do not wish to minimise the regret which I feel with regard to all that has clustered round them, but what has happened is that we are now hack in exactly the same position as if we had not made this proposal for a compromise at all. It means that we have to find some other way, and in that connection I feel that T am bound to answer the very specific question that was put to me by the noble Lord when he said that his main point was what are our commitments. I really do not know whether I can find more emphatic language than that which I have used already. If I could, I would use it. There are no commitments, and never have been.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
I say definitely that there are no commitments of any sort or kind. None. The noble Lord especially asked me with regard to the last paragraph in the French Note, which is as follows:— 75Whatever the result, and even should this hope prove illusory, the two Governments would, none the less, he under the urgent obligation to concert either to ensure success by other means or to adopt a common policy so as to deal with the difficulties which would inevitably arise from a check to the work of the Preparatory Commission.The noble Lord said that it was impossible that that paragraph should remain unanswered. He asked me first whether it had been answered. It is hardly necessary to assure him, I should have thought, that if an answer had been sent it would have appeared in the White Paper. No answer has been sent to it, and for a very good reason. The noble Lord compared it to the postcript to a lady's letter, and I accept the analogy. It is a very disagreeable thing among friends, whether nations or ladies, to be obliged to repel an advance, and what we felt was that that particular paragraph, which, as the noble Lord says, is vaguely expressed, does not make any specific proposal, but it did appear to us that it might bear the suggestion of something in the nature of a closer, formal, political alliance, rather than the mere friendliness, which I call the Entente, which exists between the two countries. We do not like to repel an advance, and we thought that our silence would be perfectly understood, and I have not the least doubt that it has been. We have not been asked for any further elucidation of our views about that, and I do not think our silence—I hope not—has done anything to disturb the warm and friendly feeling which we continue to entertain towards France, and which I hope we always shall continue to entertain towards France, although the particular attempt to agree upon the principle of disarmament has unfortunately not been successful.
There is only one other thing upon which I must say a word, because otherwise my silence might be misunderstood. It is with regard to the question of military reservists. There, again, we are undoubtedly in exactly the position we were in when my noble friend Lord Cecil made the speech which 'appears in the White Paper. This was before there was any sort of conversation or conference. I need not go fully into the circumstances, but he pointed out that His Majesty's Government, which he was so ably representing at Geneva, probably 76 —he did not put it higher than that if I recollect rightly—would not insist upon their view with regard to military reservists. That is the position we are in to-day.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
You must put in the condition. The condition was that we had our way on naval matters.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
The position we are in now is that it will be necessary before very long for the Government to give instructions to their representatives at the next meeting at Geneva. Those instructions have not yet been either drafted or even considered, but this is one of the points on which instructions will be necessary. But we are under no obligation.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
We can, if we like, alter our attitude and insist upon our own view with regard to military reservists. I do not encourage the noble Lord to think that we are likely to do so, because I believe it would be an absolutely futile thing to do. We know quite well, as my noble friend knew eighteen months ago, that whether we like it or not we should not get our view to prevail. We have not altered our view. We are still, of course, opposed, as this country has been always opposed, to conscription and compulsory military service. To all that we are opposed, and our view is that limitation of lard armaments must be very partial and probably ineffective to a large extent unless you bring into the limitation the trained reservists. But that is not the view not only of France but of practically all the military nations on the Continent.
Let me remind your Lordships that this is not merely a question of armaments. This is a matter which I have discussed with many Frenchmen, some of them of great eminence, and what I have learned—and I confess it surprised me—is that they regard this matter of universal military service not merely as a military question. They regard it as a social question and a political question. It is part and parcel of democracy in their view. They think that the liability of everybody to serve with the 77 Colours is essential to the principle of equality. Therefore, I think, altogether apart from the question of disarmament, we should find it perfectly hopeless to try to move France and the other military nations on the Continent to take our view of it. As I said, I cannot encourage the noble Lord to think that we shall do what would be mere obstruction of disarmament. If we did so the noble Lord would be the first to condemn us the first time we had a debate on disarmament in this House. We have to get agreement one way or another. If we said we will not consent to any limitation of land forces which does not include the trained reservists, the only result of that would be that there would be no agreement at all and there would be no form of disarmament with regard to land forces.
Finally, let me point out to the noble Lord, and to your Lordships, that although our view is that without including the reservists disarmament must be ineffective, the Continental nations believe that they do carry out and are carrying out a large measure of disarmament by a totally different method. They contend—I am not pretending that I agree with them—that by cutting down the length of service with the Colours, although it does not disarm them in the sense of reducing their man power, it does by another road reduce their offensive strength. From that point of view they contend that they are not really neglecting disarmament when they adopt that view which we do not share. In this, as in the other matters which we have been discussing, I do not believe there is any good in going to Geneva at all, or in attempting to do any of these things by international agreement, unless you are willing for sufficiently good cause to surrender your own point of view and consent to give as well as take. That is my view of the whole matter.
I repeat that, although this particular failure has not given any definite setback to the cause of disarmament, I agree that it is very disappointing that it has not given it a very large fillip. If it had succeeded it would have given a very considerable fillip to disarmament. It would have carried it further than it has gone yet with good hopes of carrying another instalment later on. But we do 78 not despair merely because we have had that discouragement. I repeat that His Majesty's Government are absolutely convinced, and I personally (which is a less important matter) am absolutely convinced of the supreme importance of promoting disarmament both from the national and the international points of view. I say we must not be discouraged but we must try to find, difficult as it may be, some other road of approach to a general agreement. But I do ask the noble Lord to bear in mind that unless we do get general agreement it impossible to do anything.
§ VISCOUNT GREY OF FALLODON
My Lords, I would first of all deal with the criticism which the noble Lord has made directed to something which I said the other day. He implied, if he did not say it directly, that I had applied the word "imbecile" to the Government. Well, I did say something which entitled people to search for alternatives to the epithet which I actually used. I think the epithet which I actually used was "simple" in the least favourable sense of the word.
§ VISCOUNT GREY OF FALLODON
The noble Lord says: "Is not that the same thing?" I have already made him a present of the admission that it leads to a possible search for alternatives, but I would like to assure him that the epithet "imbecile" was not the alternative which was in my mind. I had in mind a much shorter and more colloquial alternative if I used one at all, but I chose to use the epithet "simple" in that way, and I do not think it is quite right for the noble Lord to speak as if I had deliberately said "imbecile." He took the point that we do not apply that sort of term, not even the epithet "simple," to foreign Governments but we apply it to our own Government. Of course, that is so. This country is carried on by the Party system and an Opposition speaks about the Government in this country very much more freely, naturally, than it would speak about the Governments of foreign countries.
§ VISCOUNT GREY OF FALLODON
Then I will not labour the point if that 79 is so, but of course it is impossible as between nations. I think the noble Marquess said last night—I am sorry I could not be here, I had to be elsewhere—that we could not always speak out, and, of course, we cannot as regards foreign Governments.
Now let me come to the substance of the noble Lord's remarks. My point which he criticised was that the Government ought to have known that the proposal in the naval compromise about cruisers would be unacceptable to the United States. I followed the proceedings of the Three-Power Naval Conference at Geneva. I even wrote a letter to The Times after the compromise broke down, and it seemed to me in reading this White Paper that those who were negotiating the compromise at Paris were thinking entirely of what had taken place in the Preparatory Commission for Disarmament and had forgotten altogether what took place in the Three-Power Naval Conference. When I read the proposals which were made in the Anglo-French compromise it seemed to me absolutely certain that the United States would reject them. They were not on a minor point. They were on the very point which broke down the Three-Power Naval Conference and caused its failure, because the United States attached so much importance to it.
It is not really worth while to labour the point as to whether the noble Lord is in the right or I am in the right about this matter. This is a matter in which we have to take the view which the United States Government themselves considered—as to whether these proposals would be acceptable. The actual language used by the United States Government is this:—This proposal is obviously incompatible with the American position at the Three-Power Conference. It is even more unacceptable than the proposal put forward by the British Delegation at that Conference …Though my knowledge of what happened at the Three-Power Conference is confined to what has appeared in the Press, I must say that it seemed obvious to me that the British and French Governments would get that reply from the United States. I do not think they could reasonably have expected anything else.
80 In regard to the method, I have not criticised the method of discussing this matter separately at Paris or anywhere else. If deadlocks occur in the Preparatory Commission for Disarmament between two particular Powers, it is obviously a proper method to adopt that they should discuss that deadlock between them with a view of getting rid of it before the Preparatory Commission for Disarmament meets again. Through the whole of this White Paper this thread runs, and I think the point ought to be emphasised, that the whole discussions with the French Government were not devoted to a separate agreement between the two Powers but to arriving at something between themselves which should be preliminary and lead to a general agreement. If the object of one Power is to make an agreement with another Power without reference to other Powers of course the two Powers may do as they please. But if, as in this case, the method chosen of a separate discussion at Paris was to lead to a general agreement, it was obviously futile to begin by taking as a principle of agreement something which the two Governments ought to have known that the most important factor in naval limitation, the United States, was sure to object to. I do not quarrel with the method adopted by the Government. What seemed to me so unfortunate was that, adopting the method, they came to a conclusion with each other which was certain not to further the cause of naval disarmament. That is the point I really wish to make. The noble Lord opposite has criticised it, and I think, with the White Paper before us, it was not fortunate; that in fact it has been, perhaps, the greatest factor in causing the failure of the whole Anglo-French naval compromise.
In my speech the other day I admit that I spoke very strongly of the mischief which I thought this Anglo-French naval compromise had done. But the view I took and the view I take now is that the more untoward the consequences have been the more anxious we ought to be to get over those consequences. The point I made was that to get over those consequences we must have help from the Government in order to enable us to co-operate in getting over them. The two things which I asked were, firstly, that the naval compromise should be declared at an end, and secondly, that it should be 81 made clear that we were not competing in naval building with the United States, as the Prime Minister himself said a few days ago. I do not want to deal tonight with the second point, which has not yet come into debate. I welcomed most sincerely the statement of the noble Marquess opposite that the agreement was at an end. The statement of the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, on August 30, is borne out entirely, I think, by the contents of the White Paper. There was no agreement. There was no treaty. It was a preliminary compromise between the two Governments which would depend upon whether other nations accepted it. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, said that it was so far from being a treaty that the so-called agreement—that was the phrase he used about it—would fall to the ground unless other Powers accepted it. After that I was sure that the Government would feel that the statement made on their behalf by Lord Cushendun would be stultified if, after the replies received from the Governments of the United States and Italy, the agreement was not declared at an end.
One point not covered by the statement of the noble Marquess yesterday was the point of the naval reservists. It has been made very plain in the White Paper that the naval reservists were not part of the text of the naval agreement; so much so that the question of the naval reservists was not mentioned at first to the other Powers to whom the purport of the compromise was communicated. I refer, of course, to the trained reservists. The noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, has dealt with that point this evening and has made it clear that we are under no obligations. He does not think it likely that we should change our minds but we are free to change our minds. The worst of the way in which this matter of the trained reserves has been dealt with in the White Paper and in negotiations is that it makes it so exceedingly difficult for us to deal with the question as if nothing had passed. It undoubtedly appears in the early part as a bargain. It appears quite clearly in the views exchanged between the British and French Governments that it is a bargain standing or falling with the naval agreement. Later on the Government say, I think in a Despatch to Washington, that it was really no bargain and no concession to the French Government because the Government 82 had come to the conclusion that it would serve no good purpose to persist in it. It is very unfortunate that the thing should have got into the position of having appeared to be a bargain, because undoubtedly there will always be the impression that if we, do withdraw our objection to the trained reservists there is, something in the nature of a bargain still subsisting.
I do not know that the Government can go much further than the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, has gone to-day in saying that we are under no commitments. It is absurd, of course, to suppose that because something was part of this Anglo-French compromise we are, therefore, bound to give it up and take another course because the Anglo-French compromise is at an end. I consider that what is meant by the Anglo-French compromise being at an end is that we are perfectly free to press for the particular form of naval limitations which suit our interests, but the French are free from any obligation to support us if our views do not agree with their views. In the same way, with regard to the trained reservists, the French are free to adhere to their views, but it ought to be clearly understood that they must not necessarily receive our support for those views, and the utmost that we contemplated before the Anglo-French naval compromise—perhaps Lord Cecil of Chelwood can speak on this with more authority—was not that we were going to support it, but that we might not persist in an objection which we had previously raised.
I take the Anglo-French compromise, the whole thing military and naval, as being at an end. I accept the assurance of the Government. Although that assurance comes after all that has passed, I think it is necessary. After the suspicion which has been engendered it was not enough merely to make another speech such as the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, made on August 30. It was all he could do at that time, I admit, because the replies of the United States and Italy had not been received then, but it wanted some definite striking statement, something which was a fact rather than words, and the statement that the compromise is at an end is, I think, the most that we can get at the present moment. I hope that that statement will be corroborated in Paris also. I have only one suggestion to make. I do not think 83 any reply has been made to the United States and Italy. I think that the two Governments, the British and French, might agree each to send a communication to the United States Government and to Italy, and to Japan also, of course, saying what they have said in this House, that in view of the replies which have been received, the Anglo-French compromise is at an end, and will no longer be put forward as a basis for discussion. That, I think, might be worth doing as a matter of courtesy and also to emphasise the fact that the thing is really at an end.
Now, if the Anglo-French naval compromise is really at an end, if it is cleared out of the way, I would make a further suggestion to those of us who have felt most strongly about the misfortune of it, about the unhappy way in which it was handled—a criticism which applies to the French Government as much as to our own. I would apply the same epithet to both, because it was a joint matter between them. Some of us feel most strongly about it, feel that it has really given a check to discussions about armament. It has not brought the meeting of another naval conference upon the limitations of navies nearer; on the contrary, I think it has a little chilled the prospects for the time being, but I think even those of us who feel this most strongly ought to think it is only logical for us, if the agreement is declared at an end, not to keep it alive ourselves by continuing to discuss it in this country. Let us treat it as at an end. Do not let us go on talking as if it were alive. What we want to do is to get over the bad consequences abroad. I would myself, at any rate, like to take the line of impressing this point, that the Anglo-French naval compromise being at an end, other Governments ought to regard the matter as now one in which an entirely fresh start has been made, that they ought to regard the slate as being cleaned; that whatever they have felt about the Anglo-French naval compromise, they ought to recognise that there was really no intention in it except that of promoting general agreement, and that there was not intended to be any secrecy about it because other Governments were informed at once of the fact that an agreement had been come to, and it was announced immediately.
84 What would be much worse than a thing like the Anglo-French compromise would be that any two Governments should come into a Preparatory Commission on disarmament with an understanding between themselves which had not been made public, and which only appeared when they were working together in the Preparatory Commission on disarmament. I think other Governments might take note of the fact, whatever they may think about the wisdom of this Anglo-French naval compromise, whatever they may think about the manner in which it has been handled, that it is something of which a clean breast has been made. I hope they will feel, especially the United States Government and Italy, that as they have rejected what has been proposed, it is even more incumbent upon them, knowing now the views of the British and French Governments, to do what they can to make us acquainted with any possible thing which they conceive will produce a general agreement.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, after the weighty speech to which we have just listened, I hope we may assume that this will be the last occasion on which this unhappy subject will have to be discussed, and that being so, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a very few words upon it. I was, if I may say so, a little surprised and puzzled by some parts of the speech of the noble Lord who introduced this Motion. He seemed to think that the setback to disarmament had been so serious that nothing could be done at all for several years. That seems to be very excessive pessimism. I should be very sorry to believe that. I think that if this agreement is definitely and entirely dropped and abandoned, it would not be right for this House to express an opinion that it had been a grave setback to the policy of disarmament. After the very definite abandonment of the agreement altogether, and the statement that we are not bound by any pact, whether on land or sea, I do not myself see why it should be a serious and a grave setback to the cause of disarmament.
I read, as most of your Lordships no doubt did, the speech of my noble friend Viscount Grey of Fallodon on this sub- 85 ject the other day. He asked this House, and indeed the country, to accept the view, which I do accept, that it was, as he put it, an isolated blunder. I am not surprised that the Government are a little restive under the particular form of my noble friend's defence of their action. I remember a case I had when I was at the Bar. I was defending a gentleman who was accused of corruption in a municipal election. There was no doubt about the corruption and the only defence we could think of was that he was really so very stupid that he did not know what he was doing. While I spoke he was just below me and I enlarged on that topic. I have often wondered what his genuine feelings towards me were, for we got him off.
That has been rather the attitude of my noble friend towards the Government. I am ready to admit that this is an isolated blunder. I believe it was. Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will not think I am unduly critical if I venture to say that these isolated blunders are becoming rather too frequent. This is one. There was—I think it was only a matter of wording perhaps—the method in which the Kellogg Pact proposals were received—I am not going into the details of it—the celebrated reservations and so on. I think that was a very unfortunate way of dealing with that question. It produced unfortunate results and, personally, I read with great pleasure the passage in the gracious Speech in which it was said:—My Government have been happy to accept the Treaty for the Renunciation of War in the form proposed by the Government of the United States.That is exactly the state of things now, and I do not know that we need go back on the question of what was said when the Government were making up their minds in what form they would accept the Treaty. It has been accepted in the form proposed by the United States Government, and we, of course, are bound by the words of the form. Still, as I repeat, I think there was some misfortune in the way in which that question was handled.
I do not want to go back to the controversy in which I was personally concerned, the question of the Three-Power Conference last year. But I hope your 86 Lordships will forgive the rather human inclination to say: "I told you so." It is a very silly thing to say, I know, but we all of us have a desire to say it when the opportunity occurs; and when I reflect that I was told from the Front Bench in effect that my resignation was quite causeless, and it was very courteously hinted that it was due to a fit of temper, I cannot help feeling that subsequent events may perhaps have induced the Government to see that there was really a very serious ground of dispute between us, and that perhaps I was not wholly wrong in the view that I took of it at that time.
I cannot help feeling—and I want to say this as strongly and as courteously as I can—that there was at that time, and that there still is to some extent, not an error of policy, not a determined desire to do what seems to me and others to be wrong, but rather a wrong way of approaching these questions. I cannot help feeling—I thought so at the time—that the result of the failure of the Conference was greatly to hamper disarmament and the progress of disarmament. That view was not accepted, but I note now that in many of those organs of public opinion which thought I was most wrong it is now treated as a matter of course that the failure of the Conference at Geneva has been a very serious blow to the cause of disarmament. And what I am a little anxious about, I confess, when I read the Papers in this Anglo-French correspondence, is to feel quite sure that the lessons which were taught by that failure have been really learned by His Majesty's advisers. I am sure they are in favour of disarmament—I do not question that for a moment. Of course I accept most fully what my noble friend Lord Cushendun has just said on the subject. They are very much in favour of it. But are they in favour of it to the extent that they will do what is necessary in order to secure it? That is the point, and that is what I am a little doubtful about.
I need not paint the lily by elaborating what Lord Grey has just said about the simplicity, as he regards it, of expecting that this agreement would be accepted by the United States. But may I point out how much worse it was even than my noble friend Lord Cushendun was prepared to admit just now? What 87 was the issue upon which we found ourselves in a difficulty with the French last year? It was this, and simply this, as far as naval matters were concerned. They wanted to limit the fleets by total tonnage; we wanted to limit them, not only by total tonnage, but by tonnage in categories as well. That was the whole point. Under this proposed agreement both have gone. There is no limitation by total tonnage nor is there any limitation by categories. All that has been put in its place is that certain vessels are to be limited by categories. But, as for the rest, it is left completely at large, so that it is worse from my point of view than even the French or the English proposition at the Preparatory Commission last year.
And when my noble friend complains that it is wrong to say that we allowed small cruisers, I think he must recollect what had taken place at the Three-Power Conference. There undoubtedly the issue between us—not the issue between us and France, but the issue between us and the United States—was the extent to which these small cruisers should be limited. That was one of the great issues. I do not say it was the only one. There was the issue of the 8-inch guns as well, which was the actual point upon which we broke off; but the greater part of the discussion, as everyone can see who studies the documents, was as to the question of how many small cruisers should be allowed, and what should be the total, particularly of the British small cruisers. The Americans proposed a very drastic limitation, and the question was whether we could go sufficiently near to them to reach an agreement. I confess, I think, that but for the 8-inch gun question we might have reached that agreement. But that was the issue. Now you come and say we are going to put the whole thing aside; we are not going to limit the small cruisers at all; we are going to propose something which is very much worse than anything we proposed at the Three-Power Conference.
It really is not quite fair for my noble friend to say that it is absurd to talk about allowing small cruisers because the French are, apart from agreement, entitled to build them. The question is: Was it, or is it, or is it not, a reasonable proposition to say in this last proposal that there should be no limitation 88 on small cruisers, and in that sense we were to allow complete liberty to build small cruisers? I confess that I share the opinion of my noble friend Lord Grey, that it was not reasonable to expect that the United States would accept such a proposal as that. And I do very respectfully urge upon my noble friends these propositions, which seem to me to go to the root of the disarmament question. You cannot expect any agreement on disarmament which does not include naval disarmament. That has been made quite abundantly clear by several of the Powers. You cannot have military disarmament without naval disarmament. It is reasonable from their point of view, and you must regard that as one of the fundamental factors of the situation. And I think this is also a fundamental factor—that you cannot have naval disarmament except by agreement among the great naval Powers, including, of course, Japan and the United States; and therefore it is no use making a proposition which goes to the very root of the objection which underlay the breakdown of the Three-Power Conference.
Why is it that the American attitude was so critical of our desire to have a large number of these small cruisers? It was because they thought that on those terms they could not reach, and that we did not intend them to reach (though we assured them to the contrary) what they called parity—equality, numerical, mathematical equality. Well, personally, I believe you have got to concede that principle absolutely. I thought so at the time, I said so at the time, I say so again; and what undoubtedly really disquieted American opinion was that they thought they saw in this new agreement an attempt to make it difficult for them to assert this doctrine of equality in fleets as between the United States and ourselves. That is really the fundamental matter, and I feel bound to press this upon the Government because I believe it lies at the very root of the whole difficulty. I do not want to dig up past controversies more than is necessary, but I do recollect a speech made at Haslemere by a distinguished member of the Government in which he said in so many words—I have the words here if they are challenged—that he was not prepared in a formal agreement to agree to what he called mathematical parity. I am sure 89 that this is a fatal attitude. I feel bound to say quite plainly that if that distinguished gentleman is to guide the policy of the Government in these matters I see nothing but the gravest misfortune ahead of us and, what is much more important, I am suite sure that a very large body of my fellow-countrymen are of the same opinion. That is the first grave observation that I feel it right to make on this subject.
The second concerns a point that has already been touched upon. The proposals for this compromise arose from a conversation between two distinguished sailors. I am sure that they are admirable and competent in every way in their profession, but it is quite wrong to leave the negotiation of this question in the hands of sailors, however distinguished and patriotic they may be. It cannot be done safely. I need not point out to your Lordships some of the results that flowed from it. Unquestionably the treatment of the question of trained reserves, though not perhaps so important as some of the other aspects of this agreement, was dealt with in an unfortunate way. A great deal has been said about the attitude which, representing the Government of the day, I took last year at Geneva. What really was the question that arose? It was this. Admitting conscription—because we early came to the conclusion that it was hopeless to get any Continental country at this stage and moment to abandon conscription—ought you to limit trained reserves in numbers? There is great difficulty in doing this. I believe, indeed, it is almost impossible to do it, if by trained reserves you mean those who have passed through the army and been trained there. Evidently, if you have conscription, you pass so many people out of each class through the army and they become trained reserves automatically. You may, of course, make regulations as to the amount of renewed training in subsequent years, but I was assured that this would not really be a satisfactory way of dealing with the matter. Accordingly, if you are going to limit trained reserves, you must limit, not the trained reserves themselves, but the number of men who are called to the Colours by conscription.
On that point there was some discussion, but there was never anything like a concession one way or another. So far as my memory serves me, I do not think that my noble friends will find that I 90 made any statement at all as to the possibility or impossibility of limiting the numbers called to the Colours in any particular year. One point that I did—I will not say concede, but about which I made a statement quoted in the White Paper, was, strictly speaking, concerned with trained reserves, and the statement was made because it appeared to me impracticable to limit trained reserves except in the sense of limiting the number of those called to the Colours. I do feel very strongly that there is a great deal to be said for limiting the period of service and, if you could get the service sufficiently limited so that all the armies were really brought down to a militia basis, you would do a great deal for the peaceful condition of Europe. On that point, certainly, no concession was hinted at or made by myself. More than that, there are many signs on the Continent that several nations are moving in that direction. I see that the Belgians have already announced that they are going to revise their period of service to eight months for ordinary soldiers and twelve or thirteen months for the more highly-trained soldiers, and I think that this might be a very fair way out of the difficulty. Observe that, when we left the thing in the hands of these two admirable sailors, they made no observation of that kind at all and no conditions as to the withdrawal of opposition to the trained reserves. Apparently they accepted the withdrawal without any conditions at all.
I do beg the Government not to treat this matter of disarmament as a question for their technical advisers, military, naval or even aerial, though I have a great respect for the Air Force. It is not so. It is not a question merely for technical advice, but a question of great national policy, the principles of which must be laid down by the civilian advisers of the Crown who occupy the chief posts of responsibility, acting on their responsibility, but, no doubt, collecting all the information that they require from their technical advisers. That is essential and vital to the whole proposal. I feel very strongly that, unless this principle is fully accepted, it is nonsense to talk about the question of small cruisers or anything of that kind being a question for naval advisers. Unless that principle is adopted 91 we shall never advance and we shall never succeed in obtaining disarmament. It is not right to leave these things to technical men. It is not fair to them and it is not fair to the country.
My Lords, in view of what has already been said and of the course that the debate has taken, I think that I need detain your Lordships only for a very few moments. The origin of this matter was, I think, unfortunate for the Government through no fault of their own. A statement was made by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons to which the ordinary person in the country did not attach any very great importance at the time, but supposed that it meant that we had succeeded in making some agreement and to that extent was glad. Then, of course, as the noble Lord said, from the Press, and particularly from the Press of other countries, there began to come mysterious hints, and this simple announcement was blown up and invested with the most mysterious and sinister character. For that, of course, the Government are not altogether to blame, and no doubt the accidental and unfortunate illness of the Foreign Secretary himself was partly responsible. We recognise that the noble Lord opposite was in a very difficult position personally at the time as to what it was best to do.
I do not want to press too many of the accusations that have been made or of the points that have been urged, but I should like to say one word about the question of secrecy. The noble Lord says that nothing could have been less secret than the arrangement that was made. I am not sure that I could go quite so far as that. After all, the statement of Sir Austen Chamberlain was rather a bald one. There was not much disclosed then as to what the arrangement was, and there was, I think, a modicum, not of misrepresentation, but perhaps of suppressio veri at various stages. For instance, so far as I can ascertain, in the communications of the agreement made to foreign Powers no mention is made of the question of trained reservists which we had agreed with the French, and when I look carefully at the statement on August 30 of the noble Lord, to which he referred us, and which he made to re- 92 assure the world at large, in that statement I find no mention of the agreement with regard to trained reservists. That, of course, is not a full and frank disclosure, and the disadvantage of a disclosure which is not full and frank is that if somebody, or if the Press of some other country, for mischief-making or other reasons, hints at disclosures which are still possible, you are in a worse state than you were in before. So the matter is really unfortunate in many respects. Your Lordships know very well that you cannot control the irresponsible Press of our own country, and still less that of any other country.
To that extent the Government are entitled to some sympathy, but I do not think they are entitled to any sympathy for the blunder which they made in entering into this agreement at all, because it seems to be admitted by everybody, except by the noble Lord, that it must have been known, or ought to have been known, that the naval part of the agreement would be necessarily unacceptable to the United States. If that be so, what was the good of two people-trying to make an agreement which would only lead to disaster? I think myself—I do not wish to be quite as pessimistic as my noble friend behind me—that it is the case that the cause of disarmament has received a definite setback from this unfortunate incident, and I read with great interest the speech of Lord Grey last Monday, and was very glad to hear him again to-day. I think he was kind to the Government in calling it an isolated blunder. Their more candid friend on the other side said there had been a succession of these isolated blunders, and that is really our charge against them. It is not a charge of bad faith, it is not a charge of anything dishonest, or dishonourable, but it is a charge of having made a mess of affairs of this sort, which is of the very greatest importance, and, by one method or another, of having succeeded in the end in doing injury to the very cause which we are prepared to believe and hope they have at heart.
In one thing that I was going to say I have been entirely anticipated by the noble Viscount, Lord Grey. I was going to make some such suggestion as he made—namely, that the best way of getting 93 rid of the matter, now that we are definitely assured that it is dead and buried, and the agreement is at an end, is to say no more about it. We want to try and start afresh. The blunder is not one which affects one particular Party in this country, but also national interests, and therefore we want, if possible, to forget it, except perhaps at the polls. It may be remembered there Against the Government, but I was going to make the same suggestion, that having received this very definite assurance we might pass away from the matter and let it lie, in the hope that we shall recover from the had effects it has had. I would like to endorse the suggestion of the noble Viscount who, with his great experience, would not make a suggestion which was impracticable, that the reply of the noble Lord might in some way be embodied in a Note to other Governments, so that the world at large might see what is the present attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the matter, and know that the whole thing has been swept out of the way.
If that can be done, the noble Lord, whose honesty none of us doubts, would be allowed on this occasion to leave the dock without conviction, and stand remanded 94 until next June for judgment. That, I think, would be the best way of disposing of the matter. It has been a great misfortune, and I should like to end by calling your Lordships' attention to what I regard as an extremely favourable sign, which has not been mentioned in this debate to-night—namely, the speech of Mr. Baldwin at the Albert Hall on the question of the League of Nations—a speech with which lovers of peace will associate themselves almost entirely. If that is the spirit which animates His Majesty's Government, and they translate it into action rather more successfully than hitherto, then I think we shall all have reason to be satisfied. That is the note upon which I, personally, should like to dispose of this matter, and I hope that the assurances which the Government have given may be accepted, and may be believed, and above all, I hope, if one can hope, that they will be fruitful of action.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before seven o'clock.