HL Deb 10 May 1932 vol 84 cc355-84

LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE rose to move, That the policy which is being pursued at the Disarmament Conference at Geneva by His Majesty's Government in advocating qualitative disarmament or the prohibition of certain weapons and methods of warfare is not calculated to assist an advance towards the desired aim of complete disarmament and the eventual abolition of international war. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for placing on the Paper the Motion which stands in my name, because, although the Disarmament Conference is still in session, it is not like interfering with any diplomatic negotiations, but it is expressing an opinion while a discussion of enormous public interest is still continued, and it is better, I think, to do that than to indulge in recriminations when the whole thing is over. I want to make it clear that I put down this Motion, and I am speaking to the Motion, on my own responsibility—I am not representing the Opposition; but that, after all, is rather the fashion in these days.

I want to consider the proceedings of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. The League of Nations has done one very great service in insisting on the continued discussion of this question of disarmament. Without the League of Nations insisting year after year, in its sessions and by its Commissions, that the question should be discussed I am afraid that the Governments might have been very much inclined to shelve it. But the League insisted on bringing the matter constantly to the front. But, unfortunately, the League of Nations is not a body which can deal very effectively with a great fundamental, universal question of this sort. The League consists of some sixty nations, and unanimity is necessary. That in itself is extremely difficult. But there is a further difficulty, which is that representatives of the nations when they express an opinion are never perfectly certain that they will be there the following year in order to con- tinue their arguments for their nations. In fact, they are changing and have no certain tenure of office as we see in the case of France. M. Tardieu began the argument, but he has had to break it off because in all probability he will not now be the representative of the French nation. That makes it extremely difficult for unanimity or for anything like binding resolutions to be brought about by a body of this sort.

What is the background for the discussion? First of all, there is Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations; that is to say, the nations have engaged to disarm, to reduce their armaments, and there stands the example of Germany who was disarmed after the War. Germany is now a member of the League of Nations on a footing of exact equality with all other nations. There is a general feeling that one of two things must happen—either the Powers must reduce their armaments to the standard which was imposed upon Germany or Germany must be allowed to arm to the extent to which the other Powers are armed. In addition to that, there is the Pact of Paris, known sometimes as the Kellogg Pact, in which all the nations engaged to reject war as an instrument of national policy. As they all put their signatures to that document, one would think that every penny spent on armaments by the nations was the exact measure of the distrust of one nation for another. The sum total of the mistrust of the nations for one another, or rather of the Governments for one another, amounts to no less than the £900,000,000 which is now being spent on armaments in the world. Still, I very much approve of these discussions because I think, and I always have thought, of the great service the League of Nations does in bringing statesmen round a table to talk. Let them go on talking, because that in itself and their personal contact to some extent mollifies the ascerbities which Governments display towards one another when their Ministers and representatives are back in their Foreign Offices and Chancellories and are dependent upon Despatches and reports.

Still, that is not a very favourable background for the Conference's discussions. We see that the discussions have been essentially not how to abolish war but how to wage war. There have been a number of different proposals. There has been that of quantitative reduction. The Government of the Soviet Union came first of all to the Preparatory Commission and were under the impression that the Preparatory Commission were discussing disarmament, but when they suggested complete disarmament they were told they were out of order. They then were quite ready to conform to the procedure which was being adopted by the representatives and they have in the last proceedings suggested drastic proportional reductions. That proposal was not adopted but was turned down. Then the proposal of France was the formation of an international force, that the large armaments should be pooled and that the League of Nations should have under its command a large international force. I do not think that will find favour anywhere. Apart from any question of desirability, its impracticability is obvious.

Then Signor Grandi, on behalf of Italy, came forward with a suggestion for what is called qualitative disarmament—the abolition of certain weapons of war. This was taken up, after an adjournment, by the United States of America, and Great Britain came along afterwards, never taking any lead in these matters, never making any new suggestions, but coming along after the others and giving qualified support to them.

So, little by little, the discussion of this great Disarmament Conference is now concentrated on qualitative disarmament—the abolition of certain weapons in war. There are capital ships, submarines, mines, aircraft carriers, bombing planes, tanks, heavy mobile guns, and poison gas. Let us take a few of these and see what the prospect is of getting anything like unanimity on any single one of these points. We have to decide whether armaments are aggressive or defensive. We found it very difficult, indeed impossible, to decide the question of the aggressor in the national sense. Now the technical discussion is switched on to the aggressive arm. In regard to capital ships we say that they are not aggressive. Other nations say that they are aggressive. We regard them as defensive, and it depends very much also on the calibre of the guns they carry. There is no doubt at all, as has been pointed out on one side, that any coast invader to be successful must be covered by an adequate complement of capital ships. Therefore on the one side you can argue that they are aggressive.

Submarines we consider aggressive and we want to abolish them, but Italy, Poland, Spain, Japan and France declare that they are not aggressive. We are in favour of their abolition; they are against, and submarines are now being divided up into categories. Up to date there are two—the heavier and the lighter. The First Lord of the Admiralty argued the other day that if submarines remained then mines must be regarded as defensive and not aggressive weapons. Controversy is raging as to whether tanks are defensive or aggressive. I should say it depends very much whether you are inside the tank or outside it; but apparently, there are categories in tanks. There is the 5-ton tank and the 7-ton tank. Then there is going to be a very long discussion about heavy guns, because- if heavy guns are going to be reduced the question at once arises whether the standard imposed upon Germany is to be taken as the standard to which the reduced calibre is to be pushed. I noticed the other day that an expert, a soldier, wrote that heavy guns are not neatly as offensive as others; on the contrary, that it is the lighter calibre weapons, machine guns, which form the indispensable spear-head in successful and sudden attack. I should say he was perfectly right.

As to aeroplanes, there are three categories. There is the light fighting machine, there is the bomber, and there is the whole question of civil aviation. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, who I am sorry is not able to be here to-day, has written a very interesting article on this subject. He wants to see the prohibition of bombing planes, he wants to see the internationalisation of civil aviation, which I think would be a very good thing, but he also wants to see an International Air Force—that is really part of the French proposal—under the authority of the League of Nations. I could go on with the opinions that have been expressed on one side and the other on each of these arms, and it is quite obvious that no final decision can be come to. They have to take into account the relative suffering which is being caused by our modern instruments of torture, and we may expect during the next months a perfect orgy on the part of the experts flocking to Geneva to discuss the various qualities, the capacities, the weights, and the numbers of all these weapons of destruction.

But the distressing thing is that this has been done before. In 1907 The Hague Peace Conference, in its final Act, which was signed by forty-four nations, made regulations and in Chapter III, Article 23, it says: it is particularly forbidden (a) to employ poison or poisoned weapons, (e) to employ arms, projectiles or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. I notice in Article 25 that the attack upon, or bombardment by any means whatsoever of, undefended towns, villages, dwellings and buildings is forbidden. That was in 1907. There is also an elaborate statement about bombing churches, public buildings, scientific institutions and so on. It was also forbidden by the forty-four nations signing the document to lay unanchored automatic contact mines, and there was a special agreement to prohibit the discharge of projectiles and explosives from balloons, or all other new methods of a similar nature. That is The Hague Conference of 1907. The Washington Treaty of 1922 laid it down that the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous and other gases is condemned by the public opinion of the world, and it has been forbidden in the treaties to which the majority of civilised States are contracting parties. In 1925 the League of Nations drew up a Protocol on gas warfare. Again forty-four nations signed, and thirty-two have ratified it. There is no need to go to Geneva to abolish gas. You only have to ratify this Protocol of the League of Nations, although it only forbids the use and not the preparation of gas. Anyhow, here are these documents one after the other which have the signatures of the nations.

The question of gas has advanced enormously since the last war, and there are many people who declare that, if you are settling on what is humane, to be gassed is less bad than other forms of death, but a good many people say that this destructive weapon that science has placed in our hands is so deadly, so useful, so convenient, so easily manufactured and so cheap that it is quite impossible to abolish it. An officer in the Royal Engineers Journal wrote: No investigation of future war can overlook the gas weapon, which cannot be abolished by decrees of Leagues and Conferences. And the Right Hon. H. A. L. Fisher, Warden of New College, who was for some time a Cabinet Minister, wrote in a League of Nation's Report: I do not think it possible to prohibit the use of poison gas in war as was attempted in the Versailles Treaty. It has been found to be too convenient and deadly. It is far deadlier, as your Lordships know, since the conclusion of the last war.

Now there are gases which can penetrate into any cranny, and into any cellar, from which there is no conceivable protection possible, and which can eliminate whole populations in a very short space of time. Such an advance has been made in this respect that we must be prepared for something very different in the next war, if it comes, than what took place in the last war. There are the Treaty of Versailles, the Washington Treaty, the League of Nations Poison Gas Protocol, but they have meant nothing, and why do you suppose the regulations that are going to be drawn up by this Disarmament Conference are going to mean anything? I agree with the Frenchman who said the other day: Assez de pactes, nous voulons des actes. And it is about time.

We know perfectly well that all the regulations in the world drawn up at Geneva by the League of Nations or any other Commission or Committee or Conference are going to he disregarded by a nation in danger. A nation in danger is going to have recourse to every conceivable weapon that science can place at its command in order to save its existence, and it is so much waste of time pretending that by these arrangements you are going to accomplish anything.

As to this idea of humanising war, of waging war in kid gloves, the only effect it would have would be to make war continue a very great deal longer. But what do people really visualise who think they are going to get rid of these weapons of hideous scientific efficacy for the destruction of human life? Do they think there is going to be a little war waged in a sort of stadium, with a civil population looking on, and then at certain stages a sort of referee from the League of Nations is going to come with a document containing pages and paragraphs and so on and say: "Look here, you have broken Article 19, paragraph 42, line 63. You must not do that"? We know that this waging of kid-gloved war is an absolute fallacy. I am inclined to believe that salvation is going to come in the opposite direction. Let the scientists go on, and then the Governments of the world, with a far greater fear than they have now of some hypothetical aggressor, with the fear of the possible destruction of civilisation, may of their own accord call a halt. There is much more probability of results in that direction than in these regulations to humanise and soften the weapon of war.

If the Conference were to take up the proposal such as that of the Soviet Union for a drastic reduction within a limited period with a view to abolition, then I think people would have some confidence and some faith in what they intended. As it is the world is looking on at these deliberations and is not impressed, and many people are laughing.

But as Mr. Henderson—and I am sure we all sympathise with him in the extraordinarily difficult task he has as Chairman of this Conference—said not long ago in a lecture, in every forward policy in the last twelve years the public opinion of the nations has always been ahead of what the Governments were prepared to do. I believe that Mr. Henderson is perfectly right and that the Governments are not aware of the strength of feeling, because it is inarticulate, of the great masses of the people in every country.

I disagree with the method which is being adopted by the Conference, and I believe that there are a great many who agree with me. It is very easy to be destructive, but I do not think in such a very grave question as this that one ought to leave it there. I regret to see such a large body of opinion, among people with whom I have worked and sympathised, being taken in by this method of approach—really believing that a little war can be waged, really believing that we can confine armaments to categories by regulation, really believing that this is an advance in the right direction. I find them discussing proportions and limitations, ratios and percentages, relative destructive values and limits of expenditure, using a sort of jargon invented in the League of Nations, enjoying the discussion ad nauseam of the technicalities of these intricate matters. That is the middle opinion which exists very largely everywhere.

For my own part I believe there are only two defensible, logical, intelligible opinions on this question. The first is that of the man—I do not want to call him a militarist or a war-monger, there are militarist and war-mongers, there are people who gain by warfare, but I hope they are few—I would say rather the man who genuinely knows, or thinks he knows, that war is inevitable, that war cannot be abolished at this stage of history or of civilisation, that force must be used. His argument—and it is irrefutable—is that if you use force at all you should see that it is sufficient and efficient. He deplores the smallness of the Navy; he objects to reductions in the Army; he points to the demonstrable weakness of the Air Force; he says it is very unfair that those on whom the responsibility falls to defend these shores should the occasion arise—and he says it can arise at any moment—should not be furnished with a machine that is adequate. He does not want a second-rate machine, he is against all these limitations, and I think that, like me, he is smiling at the deliberations now going on at Geneva. That is a perfectly defensible and intelligent point of view. I have always thought so. There is nothing to be said against it if once you admit that force must be used in certain circumstances.

I take up my position at the opposite end of the scale, but my position, as has often been admitted, is also absolutely consistent, logical and intelligible. I maintain that war settles nothing; that victors and vanquished alike suffer and nobody really wins; that the loss which is inflicted on nations by the destruction of their youth is so irreparable a loss that no nation ever really recovers from it, but for generations that loss is suffered. I believe that modern warfare has reached a pitch of destruction where civilisation is in danger. I do not believe that we will get international agreement at Geneva on questions of this arm or that arm to any degree sufficient to show that the nations are determined on abolition. I therefore think that a nation—preferably, of course, my own—should act on its own responsibility and renounce the war weapon now. This does not mean, of course, the immediate scrapping of armaments, because that is impossible; it has to be done gradually. The point is that there should be a declaration at Geneva that the war weapon is no longer to be used in any circumstances. I do not want to weary the House or detain your Lordships by elaborating this proposition, but I would like to deal with one point which immediately comes to the mind of the objector to this idea. He asks at once: What would happen if an aggressor came and attacked us?

This question of the aggressor, as is well known, is one which it has not been possible to define, for the very good reason that no nation has ever admitted that it was an aggressor. Every Government has persuaded its people that the enemy was the aggressor, otherwise they would not wage war. That has been the case every time. Even in the recent case in the Far East the Japanese Government has persuaded the Japanese people that they have to fight against the Chinese aggressor; otherwise they would not be fighting. But if a country has declared that it is disarming and has disarmed and intends not to use the war weapon, then if any other country attacks that country it is a self-confessed aggressor, and at this stage in the world's history it would not get its people to support it. Of that I am perfectly sure. If there is a risk, though I deny that there is any risk, I prefer that risk to the certainty of the complete destruction of our great towns, of our great treasures, of our great buildings, of millions of our population, which must inevitably happen if you drift into another war.

I have been often told that what I talk is unpractical idealism. Well, my Lords, I prefer my unpractical idealism to the very practical and positive futility which has been talked at Geneva. We are dealing with a matter of organisation, not an elemental passion. We are not saying there is a combative instinct in mankind so pronounced that we cannot hold people back from going for one another's throats. If that were the case I should not speak on this subject and I should know that centuries must pass before much could be done. But this is nothing to do with elemental passions and combative instincts; it is carefully devised and arranged by Governments and the people are driven into it by all sorts of falsehoods to make them fight. I am perfectly certain, as Mr. Henderson said, that the peoples are much in advance of the Governments in this matter. But they get very little lead. They are not told the truth. The great organisation which might do so much in this matter to stir up the people—the organised Churches—do very little in it at all. If the Churches were to take up this cause, about which there can be no doubt, which is the very main principle on which their creed is founded—if they were to take up this and go through the country they would regain some of the moral authority which in recent years they have so obviously lost. I belong to no organised religion. I do not hold the tenets of any church or chapel; but I believe man is a spiritual being and I think he should behave as such and not as a brute beast.

There are three principles of morality. The first is: You do the right thing, it is no concern of yours what I do. That is pretty common. The second is: I will do the right thing provided you do the right thing. That is still more common and that is the principle on which the League of Nations is founded. The third principle is: I will do the right thing whatever you may decide. That has not yet been tried and I think that it is about time that it was tried, especially nowadays, when the world is in a state of ferment, when nationalism—exaggerated economic nationalism—is raging, and when there seems to be constant and repeated and augmenting causes of international dispute.

It behoves us to do something, my Lords, and we have a great opportunity. This generation has known the dark days of 1914 to 1918. This generation has the vision still before its eyes of the men who fell at that time genuinely believing that they were fighting to end war. This generation, with its eyes open and the knowledge of what the future will bring, has a unique opportunity. I should like to see my nation taking the lead in this matter. It requires courage to turn the old machine into such an entirely new direction. It requires enormous courage to throw over the traditions of the past. It requires courage to scrap gradually the Services that have rendered such assistance to this country in the past. But there is going to be no glory in war in the future. Those days are past for ever. We have decorated our capital with the statues of great Generals and Admirals, but I do not think in the future we are going to put up a statue to the man who successfully presses the buttons—and more and more the human element is going to be eliminated as an agent in war, while the human victim is going to be multiplied by millions. We ought to face that fact and we ought to be doing something instead of twiddling our thumbs and talking about these trivialities and technicalities. I want to see my nation take the lead in the advance towards an object deep down in the hearts of the people of the country. It is a great opportunity and I wish my country would take it because I believe it would receive a rapturous response from every man and woman throughout the nations of the world. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That the policy which is being pursued at the Disarmament Conference at Geneva by His Majesty's Government in advocating qualitative disarmament or the prohibition of certain weapons and methods of warfare is not calculated to assist an advance towards the desired aim of complete disarmament and the eventual abolition of international war.—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)


My Lords, I venture to ask the indulgence of this House for intervening in debate for the first time and I naturally do so with the greatest trepidation. I had not thought it possible that the noble Lord who has just sat down and I should be sitting on opposite sides of the House. The noble Lord and I hold views which are not dissimilar to those held by the Society of Friends and yet I have never listened to a speech in favour of disarmament and peace which has cast upon me, and I believe the whole of the House, a more utter sense of despair than the speech to which we have just listened. It is one thing for Lord Ponsonby to speak about poison gas in war. May I suggest to him that there is also the poison gas of caricature and that that was uttered by the noble Lord in this House this afternoon?

The wording of the Motion is that qualitative disarmament or the prohibition of certain weapons and methods of warfare is not calculated to assist an advance towards the desired aims of complete disarmament and the eventual abolition of international war. The noble Lord does not say that qualitative disarmament should be greater in degree and he does not ask for bolder proposals; he says it will not even assist in the direction of complete abolition of war. The efforts that are being made by the Government at Geneva are not confined to qualitative disarmament. Many lines of approach to disarmament are being followed at Geneva of which qualitative disarmament is only one, and the Foreign Secretary has made it abundantly clear that the line of approach through qualitative disarmament is not to exclude lines of approach in other directions. May I suggest to the noble Lord that he seems to be utterly unaware of what it is the world needs at the present moment? The world is faced by an immense number of problems, economic and international, and requires at this moment a pause in the anxiety from which it is suffering. It requires some opportunity of removing that paralysis of fear which is making it almost impossible for statesmen to know in which direction to turn. The noble Lord says, "I offer no hope for the alleviation of that anxiety." All these efforts that are being made are, he says, useless and offer no hope to a world crying out for a moment of relief in order that it may then proceed to that more fundamental development which the noble Lord and myself and others so ardently desire.

What is the position? Twenty-one nations have placed upon the tables of Geneva concrete proposals for disarmament, not pious resolutions, but concrete proposals. That in itself seems to me to offer more hope than anything that has happened for many years in international conferences. In the Versailles Treaty aggressive weapons were defined. Aggressive weapons were prohibited to the German nation, and ever since that moment the German nation has been suffering under a sense of inequality, and that sense of inequality has been a grievance which has assisted the disturbance of Europe. If now at Geneva aggressive weapons of war could be denied to the other nations, in addition to Germany, that would be one of the most immediate steps to removing that sense of inequality between Germany and the rest of the world at the present moment; and to remove that sense of grievance would be a direct contribution towards relieving the anxiety from which the world is suffering.

For years the League of Nations has been struggling towards this moment of hope which has come in 1932. The Government of which the noble Lord himself was a member contributed notably to the Draft Convention which is now upon the table at Geneva, waiting for the nations to fill in the details and sign that document. The noble Lord has had to explain to the House to-day that he is not speaking on behalf of the Labour Party. Then some one else must speak on behalf of the Labour Party in this House, if the noble Lord cannot do so. That Draft Convention has received the support of Labour; that Draft Convention has received the support of Mr. Arthur Henderson, the leader of the Party to which the noble Lord belongs. The noble Lord has now come to us and has said: "Throw it aside, it is of no value." A distinguished pacifist has written these words with regard to that Draft Convention: We should be making a grave mistake if we sought now to throw the whole text into the melting pot. There it is at last, to be used substantially as it stands as the basis of the first world disarmament treaty. And the noble Lord has nothing more to say to this House to-night than this: "Throw aside all this work of preparation, throw aside all this agreement of the nations, and lead this country and the world back once more into a race of armaments more serious, more devastating, more hopeless than anything we have known hitherto." I do submit to the noble Lord that he has adopted an attitude of despair at a moment of time when the nations are assembled for a deed of hope.

May I now venture before sitting down to ask one or two questions of the Government representative, before a reply is made to this debate? First may I assure the Government that, so far as one can ascertain the state of public opinion, I believe that public opinion is whole-heartedly behind the Government in its genuine attempt to arrive at a conclusion at Geneva which will substantially prepare the way for progressive stages of disarmament? The Foreign Secretary has made it clear, first, that this Conference should be the preliminary to successive ones, that disarmament should be progressive from this moment onwards. The Foreign Secretary has also made it clear that he desires on behalf of this nation that this preliminary jumping-off Conference itself should be of a decisive character. But I do want to beg that the Government will realise that the support which has been given to it in the early stages of this Conference now requires a very definite act of leadership. Very clearly, as I think, until the French and German Elections were over it was impossible for public declarations to be made at Geneva which could be half as hopeful for the world as the declarations that can be made after those Elections are completed. Very wisely, as I venture to think, the Government have taken cognisance of that fact. But those Elections are now over and when the Prime Minister recovers from his unfortunate illness and joins once more in consultations with the Foreign Secretary, I would beg the Government to consider two points which seem at the moment to be a stumbling-block so far as this Conference is concerned.

First, the question of capital ships. I fully realise the controversies which surround the question of the capital ship—technical difficulties and political difficulties. We have asked France to surrender the submarine as an instrument of war. If we desire that France shall believe that we are genuine in that request I believe that we must make some gesture in reply. The question of the capital ship is surrounded with an immense number of technical difficulties. The German nation has, during the last three weeks, informed the Geneva Conference that "pocket battleships," so far as they are concerned, can now be surrendered towards the common stock of agreement; and if "pocket battleships" can now be surrendered it does seem to me to offer an opportunity whereby we ourselves could declare as a nation in our request to the world for other forms of disarmament like the submarine, that, we too will surrender the capital ship as a means of aggressive warfare in the ultimate arrangements to which we come. And I would beg the noble Viscount when he replies to try to give us some hope that the leadership of this Government which has carried us so far in this Conference will not ignore that urgent question of the capital ship.

I would venture to make one other request. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has referred to chemical warfare, and I would agree with him that so far as chemical warfare is concerned it is useless to agree to the abolition of the use of chemical warfare if you do not also agree to the cessation of its preparation. And I would venture to ask the Government whether the lead that has been given by Denmark for some cessation of the preparation of chemical warfare could not also be followed by this nation in addition to the abolition of its use. I am not asking that this country should take isolated action; I am only asking that this country should bring a proposal for common action by all countries simultaneously.

There are many aspects of this question which I might deal with, but I must not detain the House. I would like, however, to refer to the question of budgetary limitation. There is obscurity at Geneva at the present moment with regard to budgetary limitation. The words that were spoken by the Foreign Secretary were listened to and were believed to contain a certain meaning. When they were recorded in writing they seem to have differed from the words as they were spoken and in consequence at Geneva there is doubt as to the exact intention of this country with regard to budgetary limitation. If that obscurity could be cleared up I think it would be doing a great deal to re-establish the prestige of this country so far as this question is concerned.

But my final word would be this. The chief difficulty at the moment is to create in the minds of the people of all nations the attitude of hopefulness on these vital questions. Speeches like the speech of the noble Lord, far from creating a mood of hope in the world create a mood of utter despair. Supposing an impartial observer were to look at the Geneva Conference at the present moment. Supply that impartial observer with the history books of the civilisation to which the noble Lord has referred, the history of great war after great war culminating in the terrible catastrophe of 1914. That impartial observer must take a gloomy view of the history of mankind. Take that same impartial observer to Geneva, where he would find the representatives of 50 nations sitting round a table, attempting with difficulty and with constant setbacks, but always struggling forward, to reach economic sanity and co-operation in regard to security, and that impartial observer inevitably would say: "This is hopeful despite the history which I have read throughout the books of civilisation." It is that mood and that hope which I think the Opposition should cultivate when they are casting their caricature and their despair over the proposition now before the world. I would beg that the Government should continue to extend their leadership. I would beg the noble Lord opposite to beware lest his zeal and hot passion should burn up the chance we have of now adding this nation's signature to the first world disarmament treaty that mankind has ever had before it.


My Lords, I agree with a great deal that has fallen from the last speaker. I also agree with much of the speech uttered by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, regarding the end and aim we all desire, disarmament, but I fear I cannot agree with him in the opinion which I think he expressed that what is taking place and what has taken place at the League of Nations at Geneva is mere futility. May I say two words about the history of this matter? In 1918 your Lordships' House unanimously approved the principle of a League of Nations. It was the first Legislature that ever did so. It may have been forgotten that there was then an adjourned debate, in the course of which many speeches were delivered, two of them very notable—one by the greatest jurist, I think, of modern times, Lord Parker, and the other by a statesman whom I much honour in many respects, Lord Curzon. What was their view? What was the view unanimously adopted by your Lordships' House at that time? Firstly, that a League of Nations should be installed and, secondly, that it was only through the medium and work of a League of Nations that permanent peace and disarmament could possibly be obtained.

I will say a, word about the next step because I was head of the British delegation in Geneva in 1924. I do not want to argue in any way with my noble leader, Lord Ponsonby, beyond saying a few words in defence of the League of Nations. What we found at Geneva then was that the feeling of friction between nations which had brought about a spirit of warfare instead of a spirit of peace was an hereditary tradition owing to the continued warfare in Western Europe either because of industrial competition or dynastic ambition or a desire for territorial national aggrandisement. What we did—and there was unanimous support—was to formulate a. scheme to deal with those admitted facts, which should give sufficient security that a Disarmament Conference could be called, although we never proposed that our scheme should endure if that Disarmament Conference was a failure. From that time to this—I do not think it is a matter of political difference—an enormous advance has been made in the general opinion of the peoples of the world by means of a large number of practical and workable suggestions.

I do not want to go into such affairs as Locarno, the work of Sir Austen Chamberlain, but I will come to the present time to see how conditions are. I happen to have had a communication lately from Mr. Arthur Henderson whom we all admire as one of the great pacifist statesmen of the age and who, in spite of very bad health I am sorry to say, has laboured with wonderful skill and pertinacity to introduce the peace spirit at Geneva. So far from his sending me a message of futility regarding the work of the League of Nations, he sent a message full of hope and inspiration. Unless we have hope and inspiration at Geneva I, who have given the latter part of my life to preaching peace, should feel, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen, has said, reduced to a condition of despair. I will take one or two passages from what Mr. Henderson said and I quote them in answer to the idea that what has been going on at Geneva is a matter of futility. First of all, Mr. Henderson said that "wide agreement already exists on certain fundamental principles that dominate all our work." That is per- fectly true. No one can have followed carefully what has been going on at Geneva without seeing that so far from the discussions being futile they have exercised their influence in making for the acceptance of certain fundamental principles which dominate all our work. There are certain fundamental principles. You cannot disarm in the way that has been suggested unless you introduce a spirit of security and peace. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has said, but I do not agree that any country is in the least likely to take the risks which he indicated.

A second passage is this: The principles of an effective limitation of national armaments and the establishment of an official supervision may be regarded as definitely accepted. Is not that a great testimony to the work of the League and the Disarmament Conference and the influence of its great Chairman, Mr. Henderson? Then he goes to the point which has been made the foundation stone, as I understand it, of my noble friend's speech and he says: The necessity of prohibiting … the use of certain arms which are deemed particularly offensive in character has been generally accepted. Is not that a great step in advance? Is not that the result of the general spirit of peace which has prevailed so largely during recent months at Geneva I will quote one other passage in conclusion. He says: The importance which the various delegations attach to the different limitations of our work varies considerably, as was to be expected.… That would be the result of any discussion on a question of this kind. Then he states in conclusion: But it is now clear that a common will exists for the achievement of practical results. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that the practical side has been neglected in any way at Geneva, and I think it is a great encouragement to hear from Mr. Henderson that it is now clear that a common will exists for the achievement of practical results.

That is exactly the spirit that we want, and we shall never get those practical results without bringing the nations together, introducing amongst them a friendly spirit, putting an end to fric- tion and suspicion, and, in the future, formulating a policy of peace existing apart from a policy of warfare. I was reading M. Blum the other day who states his propositions in a very direct and concrete form. He said that if the lesson now being learned at Geneva was not followed, and if practical results were not obtained die millions of lives lost in the last great War would have been sacrificed in vain. What chance would there have been of those practical results being obtained without the nations meeting together in consultation at Geneva? My whole feeling on the question of world peace was altered when I spent six weeks at Geneva formulating, with Mr. Henderson, Professor Gilbert Murray and Sir Cecil Hurst, one scheme, at any rate, which might bring about disarmament, and not only disarmament but the prohibition of those terrible instruments of death to which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has referred.

May I, as against his view, give not my own view as a pacifist—I have been called a pacifist and I glory in it; I am a pacifist—but the, view of the Women's Peace Crusade, which includes all the great pacifist women who are working and have been working for the cause of peace both here and at Geneva? What do they say? I ask the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, to follow this. They urge His Majesty's Government to announce its support for the general abolition of aggressive armaments, including military and naval Air Forces, heavy land guns and tanks, battleships over 10,000 tons, submarines, and all preparations for chemical warfare. Would it be futile to get all weapons and methods of that character prohibited by international agreement? If we cannot get them prohibited by international agreement we shall do nothing except gradually sink into a fresh war, a war which, I agree with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, means the extermination of Christian civilisation as we know it.

I cannot agree with my noble friend that the definition of an aggressor is impossible or even difficult. I cannot agree with him that these difficulties, which in my opinion have already been overcome, are of a character which should reduce our support of what is going on at Geneva to a negative quality. No, let us give our support as we always have to the League of Nations. I hope the proposals of the Covenant which is a treaty to substitute justice for force will be accepted. Let us hope that our support will be strengthened and increased because we were the first legislative body in the world to bring the scheme forward. Let us not at this moment, when, in my view, at any rate, certain success is not far off, throw any disparagement upon the work which has been done or suggest that the work which is being done is futile or useless.


My Lords, I confess that after listening to this debate I am more puzzled than I was at the beginning to understand the purpose of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I thought when I first read the Motion that it was intended to be a criticism of the method of procedure and the method of seeking to obtain agreement at the League of Nations. As I listened to his speech I confess I felt grave disappointment. I am myself a strong advocate of disarmament, and I doubt very much whether there would be any difference of opinion amongst members of your Lordships' House if we had to consider this question from a practical point of view and if we could see definitely the means of arriving at the abolition of war. We should all agree upon that. We know well that there are difficulties in the discussions that are taking place, but I confess it was amazing to hear the noble Lord's conclusions. As I understood him—I hope I am not wrong; I listened attentively—the whole purport of his argument was: Do away with the League of Nations as regards disarmament; do not trouble to make conventions about disarmament; do not seek in any way to arrive at either qualitative or quantitative disarmament; do nothing to take the lead yourselves, and abandon everything that you may be doing for the protection of your own country in case it is attacked. That, as I understood it, is the noble Lord's argument.

My astonishment arises from this. If he is correct, what is it we are discussing? Is it the Motion which is before us? What has it to do with the League of Nations? I understand the noble Lord's argument to be: Do not go to the League of Nations but make up your own minds that you will abandon war, and that you will, consequently, renounce all instruments of war, even though you may not mean to use them for aggression, even though you may use them only for the purpose of defence. I do not propose to spend much time in arguing that before your Lordships, but I would venture to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition what it would mean if we did give effect to his views? Does he realise that it would take away every possible means of defence against aggression from any source? We are not concerned here with discussing who is the aggressor or who is not. Generally speaking, in a war you will find that very good reasons may be given on both sides. We are not concerned here with discussing that. What this country and other nations are seeking of the League of Nations is, as I understand it, to arrive at a means of settling disputes which must arise between nations without recourse to war, with renunciation of war as an instrument of settling disputes, with a desire that the arbitrament of justice may take the place of that of the sword. Surely, there cannot be any dispute upon that.

When the noble Lord tells us that we must give up any hope of arriving at such an agreement he gives utterance to a thought which I will not say has not occurred to many who have thought upon this subject, but he does a very dangerous thing in expressing the view that it is useless to enter into any convention with other nations who are members of the League of Nations because every nation, apparently including ourselves, would at once break away from any convention if it involved that nation in difficulty. If that is true, of course it is useless to enter into conventions, but I should have thought there was another aspect to consider, because when a number of nations are parties to a convention there may be sanctions if that convention is broken. There certainly would be a strong feeling generated in the minds of those who were parties to the instrument which was broken. I think also that he must remember that it is very difficult indeed to strive to eradicate war from all the human race. It is difficult, and it does not become any easier if you make up your mind that the only means at hand are of no avail.

I have not taken part in actual discussions on disarmament at Geneva, but in the short time when I was in charge of the Foreign Office I naturally had to deal with the subject and to consider it. I would say, in all earnestness, that we have to give every attention to the possibility of getting nations to come to an agreement as that is the only course which is open to us. We must try to get practical steps taken. I am not, myself, very much enamoured of principles which are not followed immediately by, or which do not involve, practical steps. But that may be the only means by which we can arrive eventually at practical steps. We must proceed gradually and although you may sometimes find that you cannot get nations to agree if you propose a convention which seems to them to go too far, you may nevertheless be able to get them to accept something practical once they have agreed on the principle. So far from finding fault with what has taken place I would desire to express the view that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir John Simon, did excellent work at Geneva when he made his proposal and when he changed it, as he did, in order to get that unanimity which is essential and which is far better than having disagreement and a possible consequent breaking up of the Conference. He took a wise course by making a slight change in order to get agreement. For myself I express admiration of the work he has done in that respect.

Equally I would desire to say that a member of your Lordships' House, the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has worked most energetically and enthusiastically in favour of disarmament. I have had opportunity on various occasions of considering all that he has done and I really think that our thanks are due to him, although we may not agree with all that he proposes. I certainly do not think he would agree with what the noble Lord has proposed to-day. Frankly it does seem to me that what the noble Lord has in mind is impossible of acceptance by any one in your Lordships' House. He does not even speak for his own Party. That is obvious, because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, who has experience in these matters, has taken a view quite definitely against him on the actual proposal he made. May I be permitted before I sit down to congratulate the noble Lord who spoke this afternoon for the first time and who made a very useful contribution, to our debate and one full of thought? I felt considerable diffidence in deciding to speak this afternoon in view of the fact that the Disarmament Conference is now proceeding and because I thought that it might entail some discussion of what is happening at Geneva and of the proposal before the Conference. Now, however, that I know what is proposed I have no hesitation in saying not only that the Motion before us is not acceptable, but that the opinion which the noble Lord expressed is one which I should think would find favour with extremely few people in the country, and one which if it did find favour would expose us to risks which no sane or responsible man, no member of the Cabinet, no one who cares for humanity, no one who realises the benefit which we as a British nation can confer as we march forward, would ever care to contemplate.


My Lords, I must confess at the outset that I find myself in some little embarrassment in replying to this debate because, like my noble and learned friend the Marquess of Reading, I had completely misappreciated the purpose of the Motion which appears on the Order Paper. I had received from the Foreign Office, which is the responsible Department in this matter, a very carefully prepared brief dealing with the Motion as they understood it, and as I understood it—a Motion, that is to say, which condemned the policy which His Majesty's Government were pursuing at the Disarmament Conference in the direction of what is generally called qualitative disarmament. But the speech by which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, sought to advocate his Motion put forward quite a different proposition. As has been pointed out to your Lordships, he does not so much condemn the policy of His Majesty's Government in advocating qualitative disarmament as the policy of His Majesty's Government and of every other civilised nation which belongs to the League of Nations in holding a Conference on disarmament at all. That was something that I confess I had not expected to hear raised by any member of any responsible assembly in this country. I am therefore thrown to this extent on my own resources. I have to deal with the argument put forward by the noble Lord without being able to give your Lordships the material which had been so carefully prepared for my instruction.

Before I go further I must first answer the two questions which the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Hurtwood, in his very powerful support of His Majesty's Government put to me. First of all he said he desired to see the abolition of capital ships. Well, I would remind your Lordships that at the London Conference held not long ago, under the presidency of the present Prime Minister, a very large advance was made in the case of three Powers, the United States, Japan and ourselves, in the direction of limiting the number and the size of capital ships and in limiting the armaments which they could carry. Unfortunately it has so far proved impossible to secure the adhesion of the two other great naval Powers, France and Italy, to the terms of the Convention and further progress in the direction he desires is much hampered by the fact that so far those two Powers have not seen their way to come in. Your Lordships will understand that I can say no more than that his observations will be carefully considered and that it is the earnest desire of His Majesty's Government to limit naval armaments, and especially in these days the more expensive forms, as far as is consistent with national safety.

The second question the noble Lord put was with regard to chemical warfare, and he seemed to be under the impression that notwithstanding the various Conventions His Majesty's Government were actively engaged in preparing more and more deadly forms of chemical warfare which they could use in attacking other nations. I would like to correct that misconception at once. There is a Chemical Defence Research Department in connection with the War Office, but, as its name implies, it is a Department which carries out on behalf of the three Service Departments research and experiment relating to defence against gas, and in particular investigates methods for the prevention and alleviation of human and animal suffering which might be caused by gas. It is essentially defensive and not offensive research work which is being carried on, and I am glad to have the opportunity of making that absolutely clear.

I now turn to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and while I sympathise, as we all must, with the sincerity with which he advocated the policy he put forward I am bound to say I find myself in most profound disagreement with his conclusions. He began by reminding us that Germany was to a large extent disarmed under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and I understood him to say that either Germany must re-arm or else other nations must come down to her standard; but having propounded that as being a necessary alternative he proceeds to suggest that we shall disarm and in effect put ourselves in the position of something worse than Germany because we shall have completely, or comparatively completely, disarmed while the rest of the world remains in the present or some more serious state of armaments. He tells us that conventions regulating the use of particular methods of warfare are useless because in case of war nobody will observe them. Really I do not think it is an exaggeration to describe that doctrine as a counsel of despair. Signor Grandi, speaking in the General Commission last month at Geneva, said this: If the Conference [that is the Disarmament Conference] is to start from the assumption of bad faith the entire structure of security and peace will be shattered and with it will be destroyed that mutual confidence which is at the basis not only of international co-operation, but of the community of nations itself. I think, my Lords, that that criticism is not too severe directed to the proposition which the noble Lord really makes the foundation of his whole case.

The noble Lord forgets, I think, that even if it were true that under the stress of prolonged worfare, when the instinct of self-preservation becomes the dominant factor in a nation's conduct, it might by degrees break one or another or more than one of the Conventions to which it has given adhesion, the fact that these Conventions exist in times of peace, the fact that no nation can have any excuse for preparing the sort of weapon which it has solemnly pledged itself not to use while peace still prevails, limits the possibility of what has sometimes been called the knock-out blow—that is to say, it limits the possibility of any nation hoping to make war in its case profitable by winning some overwhelming advantage over its neighbour while that neighbour is still unprepared. Therefore the fact that in times of peace at least these weapons are to be excommunicated from the civilised world is in itself a great gain even if we were to concede that under extremity in time of war the Conventions might not always be observed.

The noble Lord went on to cite, apparently with approval, the proposals of the Soviet Government which provided for a proportional percentage reduction of armaments or for their total abolition within a limited time. I do not want to say anything unpleasant about another Power, but I think I am justified in view of that citation in reminding your Lordships that during the last seven or eight years the Soviet Government has been pre-eminent in increasing its preparation for war. In 1924 its Budget showed an expenditure of 417,000,000 roubles. In 1931 it showed an expenditure of 1,390,000,000 roubles, an increase of nearly 250 per cent., which far exceeds the increase of any other nation I know of during the same period and of course is to be compared with the substantial reduction in our own case. The noble Lord cited, apparently in support of his doctrine, something said by Mr. Arthur Henderson, but he will remember, as he has studied the proceedings at Geneva, that in fact the policy which we are advocating and which the Disarmament Conference is pursuing, the policy of qualitative disarmament, has had the express approval of the President, Mr. Henderson, on two occasions in the last six weeks and therefore the noble Lord can hardly cite Mr. Henderson in support of his view.

The noble Lord says there are two possible views. There is the view which he thinks some people hold, that war is inevitable and that therefore we must have an efficient machine, so that when the time comes we shall be sure of winning, and (he says) there is the alternative view, which he professes, that war is an infinitely horrible thing, a contest in which both sides are losers and that therefore we ought to disarm ourselves without regard to what other people do. To my mind that is a complete non sequitur. And I believe that there is a third view which would find far more general acceptance. I believe that a very large majority of the people of this country are not willing to accept, and do not believe, that war is inevitable; but, since they believe that war is a terrible thing, that war is, as the noble Lord himself says, a contest which brings immeasurable disaster both on victor and on vanquished, they are determined to labour with all their hearts to secure that gradual disarmament, that gradual establishment in the minds of the people of this world of the doctrine of peace and of the peaceful settlement of disputes, which shall in the long result ensure that war shall become a thing of the past and that the nations shall be able with security to trust one another.

The noble Lord said that we ought to set an example in renouncing war as an instrument of our policy. Only a few years ago, in 1928, we joined almost all the civilised nations in the world in signing what is generally called the Kellogg Pact, and the first Article of the Kellogg Pact is in these terms: The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another. There is no need for us to set an example. As an instrument of national policy we have done it some years ago, and we have done it, not alone, as the noble Lord would like us to believe, but with the concurrence and support of almost all the civilised nations of the world.

Then the noble Lord said we ought to disarm regardless, as I understood him, of what the rest of the world does. I think that if one thing has been proved by the history of the last few years more than another it is the fact that unilateral disarmament is not a success in securing universal disarmament. We have, in fact, during the last seven years, between 1924 and 1931, reduced our expenditure by, I think, something like 10 per cent. This year, which of course is an exceptional year, and therefore cannot be taken as a fair measure of what we shall be able to do permanently, we have even for the time being been able to make a reduction of another 10 per cent. on top of that figure. And in the face of that example of disarmament we see that in almost every country the figures for the seven years show a very substantial increase. And all that one can say is that the effect of British disarmament, while the rest of the world remains armed, certainly is not in the direction of increasing the influence of Britain in the councils of the world.

Just let us see what would happen if we were to adopt the policy which the noble Lord advocates. He warns us that war will become infinitely more horrible as time advances, that the resources of science will make it more destructive to the peoples and to the cities of the world. What is more certain than that that tendency would be stimulated if other nations now thought that whatever added horrors they invented we should never be in a position to inflict those horrors on them, and we should be the helpless victims whenever they chose to inflict them on us? The noble Lord has said that one means of preventing war might be to ensure that the Governments of the world would realise that it meant the destruction of civilisation. But you are not going to ensure the abolition of war if you are going to make certain that the Governments of the world with any aggressive tendencies will know that they can develop those aggressive tendencies at our expense, free from any danger of retaliation on our part.

The noble Lord condemns this policy of qualitative disarmament as being our policy. It is our policy, but it is quite a mistake to suggest that it is merely the policy of His Majesty's Government. It is, in fact, the unanimous policy of every member of the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. The resolution which, after it had been modified as the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, reminded your Lordships, to meet the views of those who did not accept it in its original form—the resolution which declared itself in favour of qualitative disarmament was supported by every speaker who spoke in the General Commission, was carried with the unanimous consent of every member of the Commission, and is now being carried out by the experts on the three technical commissions, with the unanimous consent of the whole League of Nations.

The noble Lord purports to be attacking our policy at Geneva. What he is really attacking is the policy which the Government of which he was a member, equally with this Government, has pursued; that is, the policy of attempting by agreement to reach a measure of disarmament, and thereby to promote the peace of the world. For my part I am confident that in agreement lies our only hope in the future. I am not as sure as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, is, that success must be achieved at the Disarmament Conference. I can see grave difficulties in the way. But I am profoundly convinced that if that Conference fails it will be a disaster to the cause of civilisation, and will be a set-back to the cause of peace in the world. I, for my part, am satisfied that, in carrying out the policy of attending that Conference and of doing our utmost to make it a success, we are carrying out a policy which commends itself to the vast majority of the people of this country, and that any other course would be, in truth, a counsel of despair, and would make that war, of which the noble Lord has spoken with so much feeling and with so much horror, a certainty before many years were over.


My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lords who have spoken for not having fallen on me more violently than they did. I should have been very much surprised if anybody in your Lordships' House had expressed agreement with me. But I believe it is a view upon which in time posterity will look back and say that that was the beginning of the path which eventually had to be followed. My view in regard to the League of Nations has been tra- vestied a good deal, and I think, rather unfairly, I was accused of regarding the League as useless. Those who made that insinuation forgot that in the early portions of my speech I commended the fact that the League was opening out all the avenues, and my purpose was to show that we were going into a blind alley, along a false road, and that it was very unlikely, considering what had gone before, that anything could come of it. I was not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Allen, should have been such a firm supporter of everything that the Government does, says, thinks, or feels, but the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, I think, was inclined rather to exaggerate even the proposition that I made at the end of my speech.

I do not want to cover the same ground again. I notice that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is not so optimistic with regard to the difficulties which confront the Conference at the present time. I can only say, after hearing the opinions expressed in this debate, that I sincerely hope that noble Lords who have spoken to-day will prove right and that I shall prove wrong.

On Question, Motion negatived.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before seven o'clock.