§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY had the following Notice on the Paper—To call attention to statements that at the forthcoming Conference on Disarmament at Geneva proposals will be brought forward for the international control of civil aviation and for the restriction by international agreement of the numbers of private aircraft; and to move to resolve, that before any such proposals are agreed to on behalf of this country full details should be submitted to both Houses of Parliament for their approval.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I put down this Resolution because I desire to call attention to certain statements that have been made in reference to the forth-coming Disarmament Conference at Geneva. There are two matters to which I desire to call attention. First it is being suggested that there should be inter-1280
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 62; Not-Contents, 5.1279
|Sankey, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Wicklow, E.||Danesfort, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), L.|
|Wellington, D.||Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Darling, L.|
|Chaplin, V.||Dickinson, L.|
|Bath, M.||Churchill, V.||Ernle, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Elibank, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]|
|Hailsham, V.||Greville, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)||Knutsford, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Devon, E.||Abinger, L.||Hutchison of Montrose, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Alvingham, L.||Kilmaine, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Amulree, L.||Leconfield, L.|
|Howe, E.||Annaly, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.)||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Armstrong, L.||Selsdon, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Arundell of Wardour, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Berwick, L.||Southampton, L.|
|Poulett, E.||Biddulph, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Roden, E.||Chesham, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Sandwich, E.||Strickland, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)||Templemore, L.|
|Strange, E. (D. Atholl.)||Cottesloe, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.]||Davies, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Phillimore, L.||Strachie, L. [Teller.]|
§ national control of civil aviation; and, secondly, it is suggested that there should be restriction by international agreement and not by private act. Not only have these statements been made in the public Press but official notice has been taken of them in another place, and so I think there is no doubt that they are matters which have been brought forward as possible suggestions to be made at the next session of the Disarmament Conference, which, as your Lordships know, is to take place in the immediate future. Therefore it is a very urgent question and a very grave question. Those of us who have taken any interest in aviation know that these suggestions raise the very gravest questions which can come up for determination.
§ After I had put my Notice on the Paper there was a debate in another place where the Lord President of the Council, Mr. Baldwin, made a speech last Thursday. I suppose every member of your Lordships' House has read that speech and I expect that most people in the country have read that speech. It is a speech which is well worth perusal. It certainly gave me a great deal to think about. When I made practically the same speech seven years ago to your Lordships I was thought a crank. When I said the same thing in 1917 I was told that I was 1281 a lunatic. It is at least pleasant to realise that at this long last people in first-class positions in the country are beginning to realise the danger that was foretold to them fifteen years ago. Of course there will be an enormous danger from the air in any war that comes in the future. It is the greatest danger that you could possibly have to face. As Mr. Baldwin said quite rightly, the only certain defence against it is total abolition of flying. But if you are going to be logical you would then have to disarm in other matters that are necessary for war on the scale of modern warfare. You must do away with your railways, with your motor cars and with your mercantile marine. I am not at all certain that this world would not be a very much happier and more contented place if we went back to sailing ships and horses and carts; but I learn from the history of England that it is not much good taking an armchair down to the beach and sitting down on it and expecting the tide not to come in.
§ We have to realise that the tide of progress is coming in, that it is not possible to do away with all aviation, that aviation has come to stop. Quite early a lot of the big people in aviation said in terms that they thought the world would have been happier if flying had never been invented, but as it has been invented we have to face it and to say what is going to be done in regard to it when discussing the question of disarmament. There are two proposals put forward with regard to what I am raising at this time. One is the international amalgamation of all air lines throughout the world. All I would say about that with a considerable knowledge is that I think it is wholly impracticable. It would be merely a waste of time to consider whether you could do it or not. If you did it I think it would be a bad thing, but I do not think it could be done. Then we come to a much more important matter and that is the question of private flying—what is known as civil aviation in private aerodromes. Among others I have taken a great deal of interest in that for the last fifteen years and in a moment I will tell you why I think the proposal put forward is so hopeless.
§ Let us see what is going to be suggested. There is to be a restriction in some way in numbers. Why? Because they might 1282 be used for war. Mr. Baldwin in his speech asked what was the good of trying to restrict aeroplanes to small aeroplanes; if you do the result will be that some of these scientists will produce a bomb of about the size of a walnut which will do all the damage you want. Unfortunately I cannot agree with Mr. Baldwin in that statement. It is not a question of what the scientists will do; they have done it. I will tell you of one walnut straight away and that is poison gas. If you realised the tiny amount of poison gas that would completely obliterate a town you would not listen to any nonsense about there being only a small number of small aeroplanes. The smallest would do the work and Mr. Baldwin was right when he said that against aeroplanes attacking a civilian population there is no defence. Every expert will tell you that that is true. The aeroplanes will get through and obliterate your towns. It is true that as they go away you may inflict one or two casualties by pursuing them, but you will not keep them out. London to-day is absolutely indefensible; so is Brussels, Paris, Berlin and every other large industrial town.
§ What is the good of suggesting that you should try to keep down civil aviation? It would have no practical value at all. It is the outcome of some sort of pacific idea that you are going to put down war and that you must have disarmament. There are two branches of armament in regard to which you cannot disarm. One is the air and the other is poison gas. You can disarm in regard to submarines and big battleships. You may say you may not have them and you can tell whether people are having them or not, for you cannot make a battleship in a back yard or construct a submarine in a field. Mr. Baldwin said in his speech that if a nation gets its back against the wall it is going to use any weapon which it has in its possession, and as long as you allow any chemical factory at all, or any air force at all, they can always be used if a nation is fighting with its back against the wall; and you have no defence against either. What are we going to do about it? I will tell your Lordships what I have been preaching ever since the Armistice and what if believe is the only solution. You will have to get a national feeling against war, and that does not mean the feeling of a number of politicians, however able, 1283 at Geneva. The feeling must be national and must pervade every nation. The way to get this feeling among the nations is to make them see that war will be so horrible next time that they will never dare to go to war with each other.
§ Those of us who have studied the matter know that the potentialities of the air and of poison gas from the air are the most horrible that can be imagined. They mean the obliteration of man, woman and child on both sides and there is no defence. I have preached this both here and in other countries. The only people who realise it are those who have studied the matter or those who have flown themselves or known personally the people who fly. You will never get the people of a nation to realise, merely from reading something in the newspapers, how deadly this attack can be, and therefore we want every nation, if we are to keep flying at all, to take to flying, to be air-minded, and to see for themselves that once you have any power in the air at all you cannot go to war again. The whole idea that you should put down civil aviation, or private aviation, is wrong. In order to get this idea against war in the future you want to make every person fly whom you can; you want to increase your civil or private aviation. I am not talking about the Royal Air Force nor about any military aviation. I know quite well, and we all know, that you can turn a civil machine into a war machine. We all know that the only difference between an air liner and a bomber is the cargo. That is perfectly true. I do not want to get it for the purpose of getting an extra war force; I want it for the purpose of getting people to understand what the air means, and consequently to realise the danger they are going to be to each other.
§ I may be wrong, my Lords, but I have this in my view. I have often heard it said in the last few years that science has progressed to such an extent that the next war will be the obliteration of civilisation. It may be, and by the means of which I speak. But the only way to stop that, to my mind, is to get the people, that is to say the nation—not the politicians, not technicians, but the nation as a whole—to realise that it will be the end of civilisation if they ever go to war again. It is that realisation that I want to get, and it is for that 1284 reason that I want to get civil aviation bigger and bigger and bigger, so that people can understand it, so that people can understand that they can get here, there, and everywhere directly before anybody can stop them.
§ The other point is this. That being the proposition which is going to be put forward, we now come to the question as to how it is going to be dealt with at Geneva. That question was put to the Prime Minister in another place, and it was put in this form: Before any agreement is finally made is it to come before both Houses of Parliament? The answer to that was perfectly obvious: it cannot be done otherwise, because it has got to be done by legislation. The suggestion to stop civil aviation in this country or to keep it down to a quota is absolutely a question of legislation, and of course the Prime Minister answered that, certainly, the Houses of Parliament will be able to say "Yea" or "Nay." Of course they will. But under what conditions? That is the difficulty about it. Are we allowing our people to go out to make some agreement and then come back and say: "It is quite true that you in Parliament can say 'Yea' or 'Nay,' but do not forget that if you say 'Nay' it means that we are breaking faith with the people with whom we have agreed," without ever putting it before Parliament at all first?
§ It may be said that that would not happen. After Ottawa? I took down the answer given by the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House, Lord Hailsham, on the first Amendment which was moved, and it was this: "We have made a bargain." What is the good of coining to us after that and saying that we would have a free hand in Parliament in this country as to whether we would say "Aye" or "Nay"? Are we going to agree to have our civil aviation cut down by somebody, however eminent, who thinks proper to make a. bargain in Geneva? I know perfectly well that I am going to be in the difficulty in which the Government can always put one. They will say that this Motion of mine is too early because nothing has been agreed yet, and they are going to continue until some agreement has been made and then they will say that it is too late to alter it. I want a free hand for this Parliament to say 1285 what we are going to do on these two things before a Minister comes back and says that the thing is a fait accompli. It is a vital thing for us and a vital thing for our aviation.
§ This country has not gone ahead as it might have gone ahead and as other countries have gone ahead in the question of air-mindedness. We are not air-minded. It is no good telling me that we have done wonders. We have; we have shown that our pilots are second to none; we have shown that our machines, designed and made in this country, are second to none; but our country as a whole is not as air-minded as other countries have become, and consequently those of us who have taken any interest in this matter feel that we ought not to have our hands bound by this modern method.
§ May I describe to you quite shortly what I conceive the modern method is? You send a man out—a Minister, anybody whom you may think fit, several of them if you like—to some place chosen for its excellent climate or whatever it may be. They have a little conference there. What you do is this: you send him out with what is popularly known as a mandate. He goes out with the mandate. Having gone out with the mandate, he makes a gesture. Having got a mandate and made a gesture, the child of this unholy alliance is almost invariably a quota; and then the result is brought back to us and we are asked to baptise and bless it. My Lords, I ask you to say: No, let us have the proposals before this House and before the other House before we allow ourselves to be bound—to be tied hand and foot—by this method of mandate, gesture, quota, and then a speech by the Leader of the House in either place saying: "You must accept it, although you are entitled to say 'Yea' or 'Nay.' You must accept it; otherwise we shall have betrayed what we have promised to other people."
§ Moved to resolve, That before any proposals for the international control of civil aviation and for the restriction by international agreement of the numbers of private aircraft are agreed to on behalf of this country, full details should be submitted to both Houses of Parliament for their approval.—(The Earl of Halsbury.)1286
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I do not wish to intervene; I would rather have waited to hear what my noble and learned friend the Secretary of State for War had to say on the subject. I want to say only three or four words, really. I listened with the greatest interest to what my noble friend Lord Halsbury has just said, but I cannot help thinking either that he a good deal exaggerates his case or else that the result of such inquiries as I have had the honour to make in this matter has been wholly misleading. I have had the opportunity of hearing a good many gentlemen who at any rate regard themselves as experts in this matter, and like every other member of this House, I have no doubt, I have read a certain amount of literature on the subject. I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, when he says that the danger from the air is a very terrible one, and it is particularly terrible for a great City like this within very easy reach of attack from the Continent. I agree, indeed, with the whole case which was put forward by my right hon. friend the President of the Council in the other House a few days ago in that very impressive and moving speech which he made on the subject; but to go as far as my noble friend Lord Halsbury goes—namely, to say that with a few bombs the size of walnuts you can destroy this City, seems to me to be asking us to believe something of which there is at present no scientific evidence. It may turn out to be true, but I do not think there is any evidence that it can be done at this moment.
However, that is not the point. The real point is the Motion of my noble friend, and the purpose of his Motion is this. He wants your Lordships to say, or at any rate he wants the Government to admit, that they are not to be entitled to put any proposition on this subject before an international conference without having previously obtained the approval of Parliament and of this House to that proposition.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
No; I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. What I said was that they were not to agree to it until Parliament had approved it; not that they were not to put it forward.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
If they put it forward they must agree to it; they do not put forward something 1287 to which they do not agree. Even this Government do not do that. Therefore I think I was not very inaccurate in my reading of my noble friend's Motion. But surely that is an impossible position for Parliament to take up? I quite agree that Parliament is entitled to say, and is indeed by modern practice generally admitted to have the right to say, that before any agreement, at any rate any agreement of importance, is ratified, it shall be submitted to the two Houses of Parliament, or at any rate to the Lower House—I should myself like to say to the two Houses of Parliament—for their opinion on the subject; and that is the constitutional doctrine. To go further than that, and to seek to say, not that we desire that a particular measure should not be taken—that is quite legitimate, of course—but that before they take any measure whatever they are to submit to this House exactly what they are going to produce in an international conference, would seem to me, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, to make international negotiation almost impossible. You would have to come to Parliament and lay the whole of your case, whatever you were going to agree to, before the two Houses of Parliament, before you presented it to the conference at all.
I do not think that that is a practical proposal at all, and I do not see how it could be agreed to. Therefore I hope the Government will not give any encouragement to a doctrine which seems fatal to international negotiation. I do not wish to stand between this House and the Leader of the House any longer. I only wish to add, in one word, that I read with the greatest possible pleasure and agreement the speech made by my right hon. friend the President of the Council. I, personally, have seldom received greater pleasure than when I read the observations which he made and the indication of the policy of the Government in this matter which he gave.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, I would crave the indulgence of the House for a few moments while I make some observations on the speeches to which we have just listened. I think the House is grateful to the noble Earl for having, raised this matter, because we all realise that we are indebted to him for having for so many years drawn the attention of the 1288 people of this country to the great menace which threatens them. I imagine that many of us have read his admirable book on the subject. The description which he gave us in that book, I am sure, must have brought home to many of us the tremendous risks which we are running at the present time. He has alluded to the speech of the Lord President of the Council in another place. I cannot help feeling that that speech, together with the speech which we have listened to from the noble Earl, has impressed us with the extraordinary vulnerability of this country to attack from the air, not only because we have in this country a denser population than any other country, but also because we are an entirely industrialised population, with nerve centres which apparently are most vulnerable to air attack.
The noble Earl has told us, and the President of the Council also told us, that the best thing might be to abolish the air fleets altogether. But we are told that that is an impossibility. Then I think Lord Trenchard also said, some time ago, that if he had the casting vote he would vote in favour of the abolition of the air weapon. Apparently that is impossible, and so we have been driven back upon another species of safeguard—prohibiting certain weapons and abolishing them on paper. The Lord President of the Council stated categorically that he had no faith whatever in the attempts now being made at Geneva, in the Disarmament Conference, to prohibit certain weapons. We all know that when war passions are aroused these agreements and protocols, and so forth, become mere "scraps of paper." Then there is the suggestion that fear of reprisals will frustrate air attack. Lord Thomson, I think, when Minister of Air, pointed out to this House that the only response to attack was reprisal. That means blotting out Paris or Berlin at the same time as this City is being reduced to ruins. Therefore, apparently, there is nothing to be gained from any reply by way of reprisals. It seems to me that the crucial question really is this: What is to be the real and right use of force?
The noble Earl tells us that everybody must agree that there shall be no more war, and we must see to it that there shall not be. We all agree with 1289 that advice, but we all know that war arises from various causes and comes very unexpectedly. If we are to organise in defence we must have some clear conception of the general principles which shall govern our policy. Therefore the question which I should like to ask is this: What is to be the right use of force? Is it to be used as an adjunct to the system of national duelling, or is it to be used merely for carrying out the police function? Are the people of this country, if they want to prevent war from the air, willing to hand over their aeroplanes and poison gas, and all the other things menioned, to the control of some international authority, to be used solely for the purpose of carrying out the police function?
The noble Earl told us that this was a question which had to do with the mentality of the peoples. I entirely agree, but we can only exercise our functions of mentality, we can only secure their practical application if there is some definite organisation in existence to which the peoples can look for security against any attack from outside. Therefore I venture to sugest that we shall really not be able to cope with this question of the air until we are in agreement with the other countries, and especially with France, which has already put forward these proposals at Geneva, that force shall be limited exclusively to the performance of the police function. Last week we had a discussion on the Lytton Report, and I think we all in this House expressed great gratification that this Report had been issued. The House gave it its commendation. That Report, it was pointed out, for the first time represented the award or conclusions of a Commission which had been appointed to discuss not merely questions of law but political issues between two great States. The members of the Commission expressed their conclusions not on grounds of law but on grounds of equity. Consequently if the proposals which are being made by the French Government to constitute an international force under the control of the League are adopted, then it will also be necessary to make the tribunal system, of which the Lytton Commission is a complete instance and precedent, a part of the permanent machinery of the League at Geneva. It seems to me that it is only in that way that we shall in- 1290 duce the kind of mentality which the noble Earl has told us this afternoon is so essential.
I should like to conclude by saying that I think we are all deeply indebted to the Lord President of the Council for having urged the necessity of an investigation into this matter. I think we shall all agree that it needs to be investigated very much more thoroughly than it has been in the past. But before the experts can investigate it I think the Government should give them some indication of the principles and of the general policy upon which the investigation is to take place. Is it to be an investigation merely into the feasibility or the practicability of establishing some kind of international aviation force? Are the Government willing to agree to the formula which underlies the French proposals—namely, that this force should be regarded as a policing agency, and should be under the control of the League in order to enforce the decisions of its Tribunals and its Courts, and to prevent any kind of aggression? If we can subscribe to a formula of that kind then there is a definite lead, and a definite proposal, to the commission of investigation. They will know exactly what they are intended to do, and what lines they are to follow.
The noble Earl has spoken about the necessity for disarmament. May I draw his attention not only to the necessity for disarmament but of something which is very much more important and is included in Article 8 of the Covenant—namely, the enforcement by common action of international obligations. That is a definite undertaking which has been enshrined in the Covenant. I think it comes before disarmament because, once the Members of the League are willing to agree upon an organisation that embraces armed forces, disarmament will follow automatically as a result of the organisation of the collective forces of humanity for the suppression of aggression.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, I cannot agree with the precise form of the Resolution, but I do think that there is an underlying principle in what the noble Earl has said which deserves the attention of your Lordships' House, and that is that whatever agreements may be arrived at at Geneva in international 1291 conferences as to the regulation or limitation of aviation, those agreements should come up before both Houses of Parliament in some form in which Parliament should have an effective control, not merely a nominal one. As my noble friend has strongly urged, very often these Agreements come before Parliament in this form. We are told: "This has been agreed abroad; and you may have a technical right to disagree, but practically you cannot." I think that is a very dangerous position. I think it is a great infringement upon the rights of Parliament, and that is not only true as regards agreements about flying, but would apply with perhaps equal force to any agreement about other forms of disarmament. If, as I hope may be the case, there is some really effective limitation of armaments at Geneva, do not let it be said that when the agreement comes to this House it is merely a matter of form, and do not let us be told that if we dissent from any of the provisions made at Geneva we are breaking faith or destroying the whole effect of these arrangements. I trust that the Government will give us some reassurance on this matter.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Davies on his maiden speech, which was a most thoughtful and interesting contribution to the discussion. I have known for long the special interest he has taken in this subject and the books he has written about it. Although he and I do not see exactly eye to eye, our object is identical, in spite of the slight variation in the methods we propose. I think I am alone in this House in having heard the remarkable speech of the Lord President of the Council on Thursday night, as I happened to be in the gallery of the other House, and I was very deeply impressed by it. I was very glad that a statesman in his position, with the audience which he naturally commands, should make a speech of that kind. I thought it was a speech which I had been making for a good many years past, and the noble Earl opposite thought the same thing, so I feel I am getting on. I agree with the noble Earl in nearly all he says and I do not believe he was exaggerating about the walnut—it was the actual phrase used by the Lord President of the Council. I dare say he saw, as I did, the report of the 1292 air manœuvres. Seven aeroplanes got through and made direct hits on Whitehall, and that was only just manœuvres of a squadron or two—nothing compared to what one would expect with squadron after squadron coming day after day. I do not think he exaggerated the horror.
I do not believe that we are going to regulate this—and there again I agree with the noble Earl. The internationalisation of civil aviation, I think, might be a step in the right direction, because what we have to be on the lookout for, after there has been the abolition of bombing aeroplanes, is to prevent the conversion of civil planes into military planes, and, as the noble Earl pointed out quite correctly, reduction of numbers is of no use, because there are few aeroplanes that cannot drop these deadly poisons and explosives on towns with the greatest possible case without anybody being able to defend themselves against them. I should like to believe in the regulation, the limitation and the abolition of aeroplanes, but I believe Mr. Baldwin is right that in war time people will have recourse to every weapon that science can put at their command in order to defend themselves or to attack the persons pointed to them as the enemy.
The only point in Mr. Baldwin's speech where I did not agree with him, one which I think made his speech as pessimistic as it was, was the point where he said that what we were up against was the fighting instinct. We are not up against the fighting instinct. The fighting instinct, the combative instinct, the elemental passion is not what makes international war. International war is not made by anything of that kind. If it were, then I think we should be in a very bad way. But it is not. It arises from all sorts of other causes into which I do not intend to enter now, but it does not arise from that cause. Therefore I think the curbing of these terrible weapons becomes easier for us than if we were trying to prevent men from flying at one another's throats.
The noble Earl went on to ask the Government to tell us before they made an agreement. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has pointed out that that is not possible. I remember that in the House of Commons many years ago I used to press very strongly for treaties and agreements being laid before Parliament 1293 before they were ratified, and in 1924, during the short period of that year that the Labour Government was in office, that was done. But an agreement, a treaty, cannot be altered; that is perfectly clear. I used to think it was democratic to control in those days, and I do not remember the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, supporting me in the House of Commons in those days when I used to press for democratic and Parliamentary control over treaties. But after further experience I quite understand that when you make an agreement with a foreign country, and it is altered by your Parliament, you have to have a new conference, and start all over again. That is what is being done in the Ottawa Agreements. I could not understand the Division this afternoon, and why noble Lords thought they could alter a comma of the Ottawa Agreements. Of course they cannot. The ratification is a mere form. You have to trust the Government that you put into power to carry out these treaties and agreements as you wish. A great many noble Lords, and a great many members of the House of Commons, and a still greater number of the electorate, are finding that they do not trust the present Government to carry out the agreements in the form in which they think they ought to be carried out, but that is a matter for them to look out for at the next General Election.
So far as the Government are concerned they could not possibly agree to the noble Earl's suggestion to come before Parliament and say what they are going to propose before they meet the foreign representatives, or come back to Parliament with the agreement made and say that they are in a position to alter it. They cannot do it, for it, can only be a form of confidence that comes before Parliament. The major question of members' confidence in the Government of the day really supersedes any of the minor questions of any particular agreements that they may come to. I cannot say how glad I am that the Lord President of the Council has made the whole country feel the reality of the seriousness of this problem. I agree again with what the noble Earl said, that if the people who have not sufficient imagination would themselves take to flying they would understand the enormous potency of this weapon. But I believe that this 1294 speech made in the House of Commons is going to stimulate people's imaginations sufficiently for them to realise that if they do allow the Government of the day, whoever it may be, to lead them towards the path of international warfare, they are destined to have to prepare for their own immediate destruction.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the debate to which we have been listening this evening has been notable in the fact that it has elicited from all quarters of the House a most remarkable consensus of approval of the utterances of my right hon. friend the Lord President of the Council in another place last week. A speech which can at once remind my noble friend Lord Halsbury of his own previous utterances and at the same time be identical with the utterances of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, must indeed show a breadth of view which is very exceptional. It had an additional merit. For the first time, I think, since I have had the honour to lead this House, we have been able to receive the all too rare approval of my noble friend Lord Cecil of the policy of His Majesty's Government. Altogether my right hon. friend the Lord President has achieved a very remarkable success.
Apart from that I desire first of all, in trying to deal seriously of course with the Motion before the House, to express to your Lordships the regret that my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air feels at being unable to be present himself this afternoon. He has already, I know, indicated to the noble Earl that he was unable to be here owing to a public engagement in Northern Ireland, and the noble Earl felt it his duty to bring on the Motion; consequently it falls to me once more to be the spokesman of another Department. I am not competent in the same degree as the noble Earl to express an opinion as to how far the pictures of the horrors of the next war, especially from the air, are exaggerated or not. The noble Earl has been greatly devoted to the subject during many years past, and he has certainly given us a sufficiently vivid and a sufficiently terrifying account of what is going to happen in the event of another war breaking out—that aeroplanes must break through any defence, and that when they break through they are capable of 1295 annihilating any city in the United Kingdom. That is certainly a sufficiently terrible picture. Assuming that the position is as grave as my noble friend represents, I am not quite sure that I agree with the conclusion that he draws from that premise.
The noble Earl says that the Government must not be allowed to make any agreement, however provisional, for restricting civil aviation, because, he says, the only possible means of dealing with the menace of destruction from the air, which will infallibly come about if there is a war, is so to educate our people to the possibilities of flying as to make them and other people unwilling to face the horrors of such an experiment. The noble Earl may be quite right—I am not in the least saying that he is not right—but because he has that plan it does not necessarily follow that there is no other plan. It may be that it is impossible to devise any effective means of restricting all these horrors from coming upon us if war breaks out. It may be that he is right in saying that any form of restriction of civil aviation may be mistaken. I am not in the least combating that. I have no authority to do it, nor indeed have I any inclination to combat that view. But the fact that these horrors are so terrifying surely is a reason why we should not fail, in the modern jargon, to explore every possible avenue, to examine every possible means of averting or even of minimising them.
I am not quite sure that debates where these matters are thrashed out in public are not one of the best means of educating the public. I am not at all sure that debates, especially at Geneva, where not one nation but all the nations are represented, on the subject of allowing unrestricted air arms to go on and of allowing the possibilities of this kind of disaster to come upon the whole of our civilisation—whether debates of that character are not one of the most valuable means of ensuring that the people not only of this country but of other countries may make up their minds that they will not allow such things to happen again.
It does seem to me that the noble Earl is wrong when he suggests, as he does in his Motion, that there is to be no sort of agreement, however provisional, by His Majesty's Government 1296 before both Houses of Parliament have been consulted as to what is going to be agreed. Obviously this Government cannot make an agreement binding this country until Parliament has had the opportunity of accepting or rejecting it. The Prime Minister, in another place, stated this in terms. Speaking on November 2, the Prime Minister said:The House may be assured that the Government will not commit the country to any further commitment without the consent of the House.…The Government must be free to negotiate the abolition or the extension of anything, but the negotiations will be conducted with the full knowledge that final consent remains with this House.Then Captain Guest, who had raised the matter from the point of view of the air arm, put this specific question:I wish to extract one further word from the Prime Minister, that the House will not only be able to register consent but dissent if it feels so inclined.The Prime Minister replied:I said so—either 'Yea' or 'Nay'.That I understand to be the constitutional position.
Anyone who goes to Geneva representing this country goes there with the knowledge that he cannot make an agreement binding this country except subject to the ratification of both Houses of Parliament. But it is quite a different thing to say that on that account he must not come to any tentative agreement even before first of all the proposal has been discussed in both Houses of Parliament. It obviously could not be only this country which would enjoy that privilege, and it would really mean that no agreement could ever be reached in Geneva about anything, because every country would naturally claim the same liberty that we would be then asserting, and every country would say that its representatives were unable to agree about anything until there had first been discussion in the democratic Assembly—whatever form it might take—sovereign in that particular country. That does not seem to me either sound in International Law or politic from the point of the practical conduct of international affairs.
It is certainly true that the last word rests with Parliament. It cannot be true also, as my noble friend would wish, that the first word must rest with Parlia- 1297 ment as well. It is possible, after we have made an agreement subject to Parliament's consent, for either House of Parliament to refuse to give its assent, to refuse its confidence in the Ministry of the day in regard to the particular agreement which has been made. It is quite true that the House cannot alter an agreement, but as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, as it takes two to make a bargain so it must take two to alter a bargain. We cannot unilaterally alter a bargain once made, but the House can refuse assent to a bargain, and it then rests with the Government, knowing the particular form of objection, to see if it can frame another form of agreement satisfactory both to the other party and the Parliament of this country.
But, what my noble friend invites your Lordships to do is not merely to claim the right to express disagreement with a policy which the Government have adopted, not merely to express its lack of confidence in the Government with regard to any agreement which they make, but to anticipate that by passing a vote of no confidence in the Government in advance before even knowing what they are going to do. I respectfully urge upon your Lordships that if we were to do that it would paralyse the authority of any one who went to Geneva to represent this country. You could not go there with all the countries of the world told in advance that, so far as one House of Parliament in the United Kingdom was concerned, so far as the House of Lords was concerned, members could not trust their representatives to do the right thing on behalf of this country, and that those representatives went there tied with an express Resolution saying that the House had no confidence in the reasonableness of those representatives or in any attitude that they were going to adopt.
It seems to me all the more unreasonable to ask your Lordships to adopt that attitude at this moment, when you remember that the last speech on disarmament was the one made by the Lord President of the Council which has met with such universal support and applause from all quarters of the House. In these circumstances I would first ask my noble friend not to press his Resolution, which seems to me one which is so unfair to the 1298 Government, and I would ask your Lordships in the last resort to refuse to accept the Resolution which has been moved, and to rest satisfied with what I believe to be the constitutional position—namely, with the assurance that the Government cannot, and will not, make any agreement except subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament, but that they go to Geneva free to discuss any agreement, free to discuss and thrash out with the representatives of other countries any proposals which may be put forward, and then, if they believe that those proposals will do something towards minimising the dangers if a war breaks out in future, to bring those proposals home for the approval of this country and of this Parliament.
May I, in conclusion, say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, to whose first speech in this House we have all listened with pleasure and interest, that I do not reply to his specific questions because I am not the representative of the Foreign Office, and the matters with regard to which he offered some very interesting suggestions are obviously matters which I could only deal with on the direct instructions of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs? I can assure him that his remarks will receive at the hands of my right hon. friend and those who advise hum the careful attention which I am sure they deserve.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, if I may say a word in reply I do not propose at this hour to answer the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, on any question as to the size of walnuts. I should be delighted to talk about that matter with the noble Viscount outside. I propose to come to one or two other matters. The noble Lord who leads the Opposition was, if I may say so, carried away in a wrong direction and the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House has rather followed him. This is, and has to be, a question of legislation. It is not a question of a ratification of a treaty, but a question of definite legislation regarding the liberty of the subject in this country to deal with his own property. There is no question of a treaty here at all.
We were told that I had suggested that there was no other plan than the one I have put forward. I should like to correct that. There is another plan 1299 which has been put forward most care fully. The reason I did not mention it is that I do not agree with it. It was put forward by a Russian and I think it is the only logical plan I know. He is one of their head people on gas, and he says the only thing to do against such a danger is to demolish entirely your towns and rebuild them immune from gas. He goes on to say that the Soviet country is the only one in which you could do it because it is the only one in which you could appropriate the houses, land and so on, and rebuild with free labour. For that reason I did not mention that plan. Having explored every plan put forward by Russians, Germans, French, Belgians, Italians and Americans, I have found no other that has given any sort of solution. Nor has the present Government at any moment suggested a solution. The other solution is one that I heard when I raised this question some six years ago in this House. Then the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said that the only possible answer was the evacuation of London. When some noble Lords rather suggested that that was going a bit far, he said: "I can only tell you that when you get this attack London will have to be evacuated; it will be evacuated either in chaos or through care being taken beforehand." Those are the only other suggestions I have heard, and therefore I am left a little cold when I am told we are sending out a plenipotentiary to make some sort of arrangement.
When the noble and learned Viscount was speaking, I was rather worried about what he meant. He pointed out that the Prime Minister had said that it was in the power of the two Houses to say "Yea" or "Nay." "Yea" or "Nay" to what—to the whole scheme and nothing but the scheme? Or might they say: "We think you are right about one thing but we will not accept another"? If so, under what mandate is a plenipotentiary sent out? I do not know. It has never come before us that we should send one out to bind us under those conditions. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, says that the Government could not consult the House before agreeing—that international agreements would be impossible under those conditions. But has M. Herriot found any difficulty in stating frankly and fairly what he said he wanted to put before Geneva and asking for 1300 power to do so? Has the present Foreign Secretary ever put up any suggestion before either House of what he proposes to do? He has kept absolutely quiet. He has asked to be sent out with a blank cheque, never saying for what he is going to sign it, and he is coming back to ask us to acknowledge his signature. I think that is utterly wrong, and, if your Lordships reject this Motion, when that blank cheque comes back signed and you are expected to honour it, you are bound to do so without any discussion or else dishonour the cheque altogether. You are putting everything into the hands of one man. I trust that your Lordships will not do so. It is not right to put it into the hands of one man, however able, to say dictatorially: "This is what ought to be done; you must either take what I say or reject the whole thing." I am afraid I must press my Motion.
§ On Question, Motion negatived.