HL Deb 29 November 1932 vol 86 cc100-43

VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD had given Notice that he would ask whether His Majesty's Government can make any further statement as to their policy on Disarmament and the Sino-Japanese dispute; and move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, you will see in the Question of which I have given notice that there are two subjects referred to, and I have put them together because they seem to me to be so very closely connected with one another. It is obvious that unless international questions can be settled by pacific means there is no alternative to war, and it is clear that if it becomes the opinion of the nations that they cannot rely on the machinery of the League to protect them, they will be less ready certainly, to put it mildly, to reduce their forces. Therefore in Manchuria the issue is not only the issue as to which of the two parties is right, or anything of that kind, it is really the question of the efficiency of the new machinery for peace. I do not say that if it fails there will be nothing further to be done, but it will undoubtedly mean a very serious shock to all that we have been trying to do since the conclusion of the Great War.

I noticed in the daily Press, with great pleasure indeed, that the Japanese Government had officially declared that they were strong supporters of the League of Nations, and that it was entirely untrue to suppose that they were indifferent to the world's efforts for peace. I could not help having running in my mind the old tag: Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love, But—why did you kick me stairs?

I hope that the Japanese Government do intend to support the League, and, if that is so, it will undoubtedly make a very great difference in the seriousness of the crisis. A test, it seems to me, is before both of the parties. The question is whether they will accept as a basis of discussion the proposals of the Lytton Report. I do not think it is suggested that they are bound to accept the whole of those proposals straight away, but what is asked is that they shall now come into conference on the basis of those proposals with the assistance, probably, of some representatives of the League, or, generally, the other nations of the world.

It does not seem a very unreasonable request to make to them, and I think it right to call your Lordships' attention to the fact, which is well known, that this Commission was a Commission proposed by the Government of Japan or the representative of Japan. It was done last autumn when I was in Paris. The reference to the Commission was settled by the Council in consultation with Japan, and fully agreed to by the Japanese representative. Your Lordships will perhaps remember that the Chinese representative wanted to make it obligatory on the Commission to decide the question immediately of the withdrawal of Japanese forces from Manchuria, but after discussion it was settled that the reference should be in the form under which the Commission acted. Further, the composition of the Commission was that for which the Japanese representative asked. The Chinese representative, and some other members of the Council, wished it to be rather larger, but the Japanese representative strongly pressed that it should consist of not more than five members—I think Japan would have preferred even a smaller Commission—one each drawn from the great Powers; in fact, the countries which were represented on the Commission.

Both parties were heard very fully in the Far East while the Commission was there, and they had an opportunity of explaining again their point of view when they got back to Geneva. Some criticisms, of course, have been made of the Commission, but no one has suggested so far as I have seen or heard that it was not absolutely impartial. After hearing all that the parties had to say, the Commissioners were asked whether they had anything to add or to alter in their findings, and they declared that they had not. That certainly does seem to make a very strong case for support for the findings of the Commission, and for every effort being made that they shall be the basis at any rate of the solution which shall ultimately be arrived at. It is very possible that His Majesty's Government are not in a position to give any further information on the subject, but I can only say, if I may be allowed to do so, that if they can give any information it will certainly be very cordially and gratefully received by large numbers of people in the country. I hope I may be allowed to express my hope that the British Government will see their way to offer the strongest possible support to the Commission's Report, and do their utmost to see that it is adopted and accepted by the League. That is all I desire to say about Manchuria.

I pass at once to disarmament. Subject to this difficulty of Manchuria, the possibility of some catastrophe there which might alter the whole situation of affairs, I venture to think that the prospects of disarmament are more encouraging than they have been for some time past. I was, if I may say so, delighted to read the speeches of the Foreign Secretary and the Lord President of the Council at the end of last Session. They seemed to me, particularly the speech of the Lord President, to strike a note fully in harmony with what I believe to be the popular sentiment. in this country, and it is noteworthy that no serious objection, as far as I know, has been raised to that speech in any part of this country. We have also had the White Paper, which I received with rather more tempered enthusiasm, but still, undoubtedly, it does take a point of view which is a very great improvement on any that the British Government have so far felt able to take at Geneva.

If I read the White Paper rightly, it seems to me that the proposals of the British Government are based upon three principles. They accept the doctrine that the German nation and people are entitled to be treated on the same footing in the matter of armaments as other nations. They do not say that they are necessarily to have the same strength, but that they are to be treated on the same general régime, equality of status it is called. I do not propose to weary your Lordships with repeating the arguments for that conclusion. They are probably familiar to your Lordships, and all I will say is that as far as I am concerned I most heartily agree with the conclusion which the Government have arrived at on that point.

The second point, which they seem to me to lay down with equal clearness, is that this equality of status must be reached not by the re-armament of Germany or the other disarmed Powers, but by lowering the armaments, or changing the armaments, of the countries that have not been disarmed; in other words, as it is ordinarily said, there is to be no re-armament. I most heartily agree with that principle also. I think it would be quite fatal to start any new system by increasing armaments. It would be a mere invitation to the countries to resume that competition in armaments from which they suffered so severely before the late War. The third principle is that the alteration of armaments in the armed Powers has to be by way of diminution of their powers of attack, but not diminishing their powers of defence. That also is not a novel principle, but it seems clearly right, so far as it can be carried out. Obviously, if you can diminish the powers of attack of all countries you are not only not increasing the dangers of any of them, but, on the contrary, you are increasing the relative powers of defence of each one of them, and making each one safer than it was before.

I believe those three principles are right. Indeed, I would myself go so far as to say that I believe reliance upon and acceptance of those principles is the only road to a successful issue of the Disarmament Conference. I am strengthened in that belief by a very interesting speech which was delivered elsewhere the other day by Mr. Winston Churchill. It was a striking speech, as all his speeches are, and it came from a man of great ability. It set forward an alternative to the Government's policy as I have ventured to describe it and as it is set out in the White Paper. He simplified the problem with which he had to deal by one very important omission. As far as I can remember, there was no reference from the beginning to the end of the speech to the undertaking which this country and other countries entered into at the time of the Peace Conference—the assurance given by them that if Germany accepted the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, then it would be the first duty (I think that was the actual phrase) of the League of Nations, or one of the first duties of the League of Nations, to set up schemes for similar disarmament by all the other countries. I do not quote the words because they are so familiar to your Lordships, but that assurance, as is well known, was given, first, in the letter signed on behalf of the Allied and Associated Powers when Germany asked whether she alone was to be disarmed, and, secondly, in at least two clauses of the Peace Treaty itself. It has been repeated, as everyone knows, over and over again since then in various forms. The whole of that, which really makes the most important element in the problem, was omitted from the speech to which I am referring. But the right honourable gentleman did say—and this is very important—that in his judgment the failure of the Disarmament Conference would be disastrous.

Since he was unable to accept—at least, so I understood him—the general lines on which the Government were proceeding in this matter, he set forward an alternative principle. I have taken his words in this case. He said that the removal of the just grievances of the vanquished ought to precede the disarmament of the victors. It is very important in weighing that principle to be quite sure what is meant by the phrases used. What, for instance, are "the just grievances" Apparently not the inequality of armaments between Germany and the other countries to which I have already referred. That is not treated by him as one of "the just grievances." I am bound to say that that—it has been commented on in the public Press—is a most surprising state of mind. I should have thought that any one who had made any effort to acquaint himself with what the Germans, at any rate, regard as their "just grievances" would have known that first and foremost, in front of everything else, they put what they regard as the exceedingly humiliating position in which they find themselves of being treated in a different way from all other nations in this respect, and being treated in a different way from some of their neighbours whom they would altogether decline to admit were their superiors in any respect. I am sure that that is a most profound grievance, and if you set to work to try to remove the grievances of Germany and left that grievance undealt with you would unquestionably fail to satisfy German sentiment. As to "the disarmament of the victors"—the other phrase that is used—that, I admit, is not quite so easy to construe. But reading the whole speech, if I understand it rightly, what it means is any substantial lessening of their armed superiority over Germany.

I will not quote all the other phrases that the speaker used, but he did point. out that in his view the peace of the world rested at present on this great superiority and that, he thought, was the great stand-by that we have to rely upon in the maintenance of the peace of the world. If that is what he meant —and I really cannot see that anything else would make sense with the rest of his speech—I cannot understand how he Loped that disaster could be avoided. How could he possibly imagine that any Disarmament Conference result which left all the Powers in substantially the same position as they are now, apart from some trifling alterations which possibly he had in view, could possibly be accepted by the Germans as a satisfactory solution? I agree with him that it would be a disaster if the Disarmament Conference failed, but I am afraid that if we pursue the line he indicates failure is absolutely certain. He appears, as I have just said, not to regard that as very serious because of his doctrine that the overwhelming superiority of France and her allies makes peace secure. Apparently he contemplates that that should continue for ten, twenty or thirty years, and that, he thinks, would give us a breathing time in order to settle the difficulties of Europe. I am afraid that if we were to accept that policy the breathing time would be of an extremely disturbed character and most unlikely to enable us to settle any question at all.

He further seems to think that this country might exert such pressure on other countries, particularly on Poland and Rumania, as to induce them to abandon the Polish Corridor in the case of Poland and Transylvania in the case of Rumania. That is the whole policy as I understand it, and I cannot help asking myself what single country in Europe would accept or be pleased with that policy. Obviously the Poles would not like it, nor would the Rumanians, nor would any of the Little Entente countries, because it would be an assault on the territorial arrangements of the Treaty of Versailles on which their whole existence depends. I do not see how the French would ever accept it, nor do I imagine that—quite apart from the interests of their friends in Europe—they would feel at all certain that if the territorial settlement was upset to that extent and by pressure by this country, other territorial arrangements created by the Treaty would be in any way secure. I am sure Germany would never look at it, and I cannot help feeling that it would create in the minds of many of these countries a profound distrust of our action, particularly in the mind of Germany, who would, I feel confident, regard our abandonment of the policy of disarmament and the substitution of this strange policy of territorial re-arrangement as a mere subterfuge to get out of our obligation, as Ale thinks it is—and perhaps rightly thinks—to give to her the same disarmament as other countries. I cannot help feeling that, brilliantly as this policy was set forth, it would be absolutely disastrous if it were adopted by this country as our policy in this matter.

I have ventured to make a rather extended reference to it because, as far as I have been able to observe, it is the only alternative policy to a policy of genuine disarmament such as I hope and believe the Government have in mind; and therefore we may regard the issue before the country, roughly speaking, as whether we are going to have some such policy as the Government recommend or launch into this strange policy of adventure which has been created for us by my right honourable friend. Therefore I stand here as a supporter, generally speaking, of the policy of the Government and very grateful to them for the great advance, as I think, that they have made in this direction. But there are two or three questions I should like to be allowed to put to the Government.

There is, for instance, the proposal to abolish big tanks and retain small tanks. Well, I dare say there are very good reasons for it, but I confess that I do not follow them in the White Paper. It is said that big tanks are an aggressive weapon and small tanks a defensive one. I cannot quite follow that argument. As I understand the White Paper, big tanks are aggressive because they can be driven through great entrenchments and small tanks cannot, but I understand also from the White Paper that small tanks can be driven through small entrenchments and that that indeed is one of their main purposes. It seems to me rather difficult in that case to say that one is an aggressive weapon and the other is not. I know the answer that is made is that when you get into battle you cannot simply stand on the defensive, sit in your trenches and allow yourselves to be attacked, but that you have to make counter attacks and that if you make counter attacks the small tank is very useful. That is quite true if you look at that matter from the point of view of what would happen once a war began, but I am personally of the same school of thought as the Lord President of the Council. I do not believe that if war has actually broken out you can rely upon countries observing any rules of the game as to how it is to be fought. I think it extremely probable that, whatever they have said before the war, they will use, under the pressure of immense national danger, any weapon they can find.

But what you can do, so it seems to me, by disarmament is to lessen the probability of sudden attack; lessen the probability of a knock-out blow. That is the thing which seems to me the most valuable that you can do, looking at it from the purely technical point of view, by any disarmament scheme. You can alter the peace footing of the various nations in such a way that they will not have this temptation to try to finish off their neighbour, if they have a quarrel, in a moment or even in a few days. This means that you will remove from the arena of international life, or lessen it, this constant fear which is one of the great elements of unrest at the present time, and indeed has been all my lifetime, between the nations of the world. If only they were not afraid of one another the danger of war would be far less than it is.

I shall have to return to that in another connection in a moment, but I want to ask one or two more questions. I am puzzled also about the bit in the White Paper—(Cmd. 4189)—relating to large ships. Perhaps I may be allowed to read the actual phrase on which I am going to base my question. It is: Exhaustive investigation has shown that the arbitrary figure of 10,000 tons as the limit of a capital ship would fail to command general acceptance. As far as I can see that is the only actual reason given in this Paper for not taking the 10,000 tons as the limit of a capital ship. I do not quite see why 10,000 is more arbitrary than any other figure. On the contrary, since it is the figure settled by the Treaty of Versailles as applicable to the defeated Powers, there seems to be prima facie good reason for taking 10,000 tons as the right figure. But that is a small matter. What I confess I feel great difficulty about is the desirability of extending the figure above 10,000 tons as the limit. I am very much afraid that the effect of that will be to create a new competition in ships of some size between 10,000 and 35,000 tons, the present limit, and that those countries which have felt it to be difficult to build as high as 35,000 tons will be ready to enter upon this competition, which would be a disaster from a financial if not from other points of view.

I have another difficulty about it. The Government propose, and rightly, to abolish submarines altogether, but is there any prospect of that being accepted at all except in return for abolition of the big ships above 10,000 tons? That has been made a specific condition in the case of Italy, and I should think it would make a great difference in the case of many other countries as well. Reading this passage I cannot help feeling that the Government are not putting forward the 10,000 tons as the limit because they are not themselves convinced that that is right, but because they think it would be difficult to get it accepted by other countries. They may be right; I do not know, and with the greatest respect to them I do not think they, or any one, can know until it is put forward openly and we hear what other countries have to say on the subject. I cannot help feeling that the ground they have taken up with regard to large mobile guns is far sounder. They say we propose to bring them all down, roughly, to 4-inch guns. They must know there are a good many countries which will object very strongly to bringing them down as low as that, but they have not therefore refrained from putting it forward. It seems to me that is the right way of proceeding and that if we are satisfied that a 10,000-ton limit for our ships would not be unacceptable in itself we ought to put it forward and see what other countries have to say.

Those are two criticisms, as they seem to me, of some importance, but still they do not move me quite so much as the only other criticism of importance that I am going to make. I confess that I have read the statement in the White Paper about aircraft with great disappointment. It seems to me a long way short of the high-water mark of the speech of the Lord President of the Council. I cannot help feeling that it is of a very conditional character. It is quite true it puts forward the abolition of aircraft, but it puts it forward, as the grammarians used to say, in such a way as to expect the answer "No" and not as expecting the answer "Yes." It is a kind of suggestion rather than a definite advocacy of that suggestion. They say that the Government will be prepared to go to every length, in agreement with other Powers, to achieve this object, and then they say that what would be involved if it was done would be a variety of other things. I hope that that does not mean that the Government have weakened in any way from the attitude taken up in another place. My anxiety was a little increased by a speech that I read of a distinguished air officer who. 1 understand, is shortly to become the principal commander of our Air Force. As reported—I hope he has been misreported —it was a vehement protest against what was understood to be the policy of the Government. I think it is unfortunate if such a speech has been made, because, after all, officers, like all other public servants of that description, are there to carry out the policy of the Government and not to advocate their own.

When I come to the rest of the air proposals of the Government I confess that I am still more anxious. There is a kind of alternative proposal. I do not know, and I shall be glad to be told by the Government, exactly what the proposal means. It appears to be a kind of alternative: if we cannot get total abolition—I hope that we are going to try in every way we can for total abolition—then, if we are driven back upon it, we shall ask for this as a first step, at any rate, and press it. I confess that I have great difficulties about this proposal. It is, shortly, that we should ask all other nations to reduce the number of their aeroplanes to our level, and that we should then propose a cut of one-third of that level so reached. I dare say that that is a good proposal from some points of view. What it means is that we are asking the French Government to begin by cutting down their aeroplanes by, I think it is, 700 or 800. Then follow four other Powers, of which we are the last in fact, who are nearly of the same strength, but not quite, so far as numbers go.

I think that is a very difficult proposal to make at an international gathering, for you will be met, as you always are the moment you come to questions of ratios of strength, with a number of arguments as to the relative needs of different countries and the relative values of different forces. I have met French officers who have assured me that it is a great mistake to suppose that the British Air Force is so far inferior to the French Air Force as numbers would appear to show. They say that if you weigh as well as count, and look into the various elements which make for efficiency, then the British Air Force, though smaller in numbers, would not be so very inferior to the French. I do not know if that is so, but obviously that kind of thing will be immediately said the moment you come to this kind of proportionate reductions.

Then there is another consideration which I venture to ask the Government to bear in mind. It is quite obvious from the White Paper that one of the reasons which make them doubtful whether they are able to carry through the total abolition of military aircraft is the familiar difficulty of what is to be done with civil aircraft. We agree that it is a difficulty, and one which has to be dealt with, but I do not think it is an insoluble difficulty, and you do not get rid of that difficulty by the alter- native proposal. You have still got to deal with civil aircraft. If, instead of abolishing military aircraft you make a proportionate reduction, there is still the problem of how you are going to deal with civil aircraft, which may be used as a supplementary air force in time of war. Unless you can deal with this question you will always find it a difficulty when you have to solve the problem set before you. For those reasons I hope to hear a further explanation on that point, because I think it is of a vital character in the estimation of the country.

May I make one further criticism, merely of the language in which it is put forward? It is put forward because it is said to be so essential to get rid of the fearful horrors of bombardment from the air. Of course they are fearful, but all wars produce fearful horrors. A peculiarity of bombardment from the air is that it falls upon the civilian population, but I should never advocate the abolition of bombardment from the air on that ground. I never would. The only ground on which it seems to me that you may reasonably put it forward as part of a disarmament proposal is one to which I have alluded, that the blow which may be struck by a sudden air bombardment would be so serious as possibly to decide the whole future of the struggle, and it is fear of those sudden blows, those sudden knock-out blows, I venture to repeat, which is the great cause of inter. national unrest in the world at the present time.

There is another matter to which I wish to refer, not by way of criticism but as a request for information. I observe that there is no mention of budgetary limitations in the White Paper. I expect I shall be told, as indeed is said in the White Paper, that it does not pretend to be a full statement of the proposals that would be made, but only a statement of certain proposals which it was convenient and indeed important to make at that moment. If that is so it is not necessary to bother any more about budgetary limitations. There is another omission which is rather more unfortunate, and that is the omission to deal with the French claim for security. I agree it is not essential from one point of view, but it is a matter which has got to be dealt with in connection with this question—namely, how are you going to bring France and Germany together sufficiently in order to enable the Conference to go on without further difficulty Although I do not ask for any complete statement on that subject I hope that it does not mean a refusal to examine all the French proposals.

There are certainly some of them which I should have great difficulty in accepting, but I do think that they are honestly meant, and that they are an attempt to meet the difficulties which have been felt about their previous proposals; and I hope that we are going to give them the most impartial and favourable consideration that we can. I have observed, from certain correspondence which has recently appeared in The Times, that there evidently is a considerable feeling amongst serious and important people that something on these lines ought to be considered, that the French have got a real case in the matter, and it ought to be dealt with in some way. That is also my own opinion; but whether that is right or not, all that I am at present asking is that the Government should keep their minds as open as they can upon it.

I am sorry to have detained your Lordships so long, but I have only one other point to which I want to draw your attention. I am a little uneasy, if I may be allowed to say so, about the methods which have been pursued during the past months at Geneva. I cannot help feeling that the attempt to deal with great international questions by the technique which was appropriate in the days of the Congress of Vienna, and was certainly used, appropriate or not, in the days of the Conference of Paris, is very inappropriate, and very unlikely to succeed, at the present time. I do not wish to say a word against the old diplomacy, which had many merits, but we have adopted a different system. We have recognised—at least I think we ought to recognise—that the peoples of the world insist on being consulted, and rightly insist on being consulted, in this matter. Alter all, the conduct of foreign affairs does affect them, does affect their lives and their prosperity, more perhaps than any single activity of the Government, and they ask, and reasonably ask, that they should know what is being done. I believe it to be a great mistake not to realise that, and not to have your formal meetings, whatever they may be, whether they are of many Powers or of few, in public. I do not mean to say that there may not be exceptional cases where you must keep them private, but broadly speaking I believe they must now be in public.

I ought to explain that, because one is so easily misunderstood about this question. I do not mean to say that a private conversation taking place between two negotiators is not sometimes of the greatest possible value. Of course it is; but then it must be really private, and should indeed be disposed to make the test of its value whether it becomes known that it has ever taken place. If it is a really private conversation taking place with the least possible display—merely two gentlemen meeting and talking the matter over—then I am satisfied that it often does a great deal of good, and the less it is like that, the less likely it is to be of service. When I read in the newspapers that it is proposed to have new formal conferences of four or five Powers of a secret character, I confess I have the gravest misgiving as to whether that is going to produce useful results. I believe I could give, if I were not afraid of wearying your Lordships, a great many reasons wily I do not think that is a useful way of proceeding now, but I will confine myself only to this statement, which may or may not be acceptable to your Lordships but I believe is profoundly true: that I do not believe that under modern conditions that particular kind of negotiating device is successful. It does not work; that is my great objection to it.

It is not that I feel that it is wicked to have secrecy, or anything of that kind; I do not think that in the least; I simply do not believe that that is the best way of reaching results. I believe that people in private are much more unreasonable than they are in public, and I believe that in point of fact, under modern conditions, you never get real privacy; you get only partial privacy, which means that each side states to its own Press its own account of what has happened, and instead of smoothing matters it not uncommonly exacerbates them a great deal. I venture to say that because I feel it very strongly, and I venture to make that appeal to my noble friends on the Government Bench. I do hope that they will consider very carefully whether the time has not come now to revert to open discussion. I am confident that if they do not revert to open discussion they will run a very serious risk of imperilling the results of the Conference. I beg to move.


My Lords, I do not suppose that the noble Viscount who put this Motion on the Paper expected that His Majesty's Government would be able to give really any very full answer on either of the subjects, but, if I may he allowed to say so, if it has given the noble Viscount himself an opportunity of stating his views, I think that is all to the good, knowing as I do the very wide range over which his voice can carry and the very great international influence which he can wield. I find myself in substantial agreement with a very great deal of what the noble Viscount said. On the subject of Manchuria and the Sino-Japanese dispute, I entirely agree with him that the main consideration is a strengthening of the authority of the League of Nations at all costs. Firm action may be necessary, and that must never be lost sight of. I do not suppose that on that question the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House, and who will be replying on behalf of the Government, will be able to say anything at this juncture.

Turning to the subject of the Disarmament Conference, I have addressed your Lordships on more than one occasion on the problems which have been raised there, and it is very gratifying to me to find so high an authority as the noble Viscount agreeing with a good many of the views which I have expressed, notably two to which I have referred; because anybody in my position can keep on repeating an argument without it having the very smallest effect, but when somebody in authority, like the noble Viscount or the Lord President of the Council, takes up the argument, then people begin to listen. Perhaps my enthusiasm with regard to the British disarmament statement is even more tempered than that of the noble Viscount. I think it, is of very great importance that this phrase should be kept in mind: it occurs in the third subsection of the opening two pages of the Declaration of the Policy of the Government on Disarmament in connection with Germany's claim to equality of rights: … the object of the Disarmament Conference is to bring about the maximum of positive disarmament that can be generally agreed—not to authorise in the name of equality the increase of armed strength. That being the fundamental principle, there are two ways of carrying it out: not only by adding up totals of tonnage and of costs and of numbers, but by examining the various principles that underlie any possible change in the organisation of armaments in any country.

I should like in that connection to call attention to a point upon which the noble Viscount did not touch, which occurs in Section (B) "Quantitative Disarmament," in which this document says That is to say, if Germany wishes, for instance, to be free from the prohibition against compulsory military service at present incumbent upon her, the numbers of men annually compulsorily given a military training in Germany must be deducted, at a ratio to be agreed on, from the number of her long-service troops. That sentence attaches importance to the actual numerical strength of the German force, and leaves out of account the permission given for Germany once more to have conscription. That I consider to be one of the gravest faults in this document, because if a conscript militia system allows even only a. few months of service it can enable a census of able-bodied men to be made, and all necessary investigations into the manhood of the nation, which are of immense value to a nation when war breaks out. I think the Germans themselves—the really better opinion in Germany itself—would deplore the permission given to the nation to go back to a conscript system. I consider this a very serious question. I think it is a real step backwards. I think it is much more important from the point of view of re-armament than if there were a greater allowance of numbers in men or size of guns.

I was rather surprised that the noble Viscount attached as much importance as he did to Mr. Winston Churchill's speech and, by discussing it so very fully, gave it a significance and an advertisement which I do not think it deserves. After all, His Majesty's Government are not responsible for Mr. Winston Churchill's views, and I really think that we can unanimously dismiss them altogether. I do not regard them even as the alternative to the policy which is being pursued by His Majesty's Government.

The noble Viscount went into the question of tanks. I think I have made it clear that I absolutely refuse to discuss the question of disarmament on this arithmetical basis. I really do not believe that any good is going to come from discussing whether a 10-ton tank is aggressive or defensive, and I was very glad to hear the noble Viscount say—and this is one of the major points in which he expressed agreement with what I have repeated more than once here—that when war breaks out these regulations will not be observed. I rather doubt whether these regulations, if they can be given unanimous agreement by the nations, are even going to lessen the probability of the outbreak of war. But their discussion gives an opportunity to the experts to vie with one another on these particular points—not only to the experts of one Service and another Service, but, of course, to the experts of one country and another country, and the food for discussion is so rich that this sort of controversy can be kept up, not for months but for years.

The noble Viscount said that one of the troubles was that the nations were afraid of one another. I dispute that absolutely. That is not the trouble: it is the Governments who are afraid of one another. And my hope rests in the fact that now for the first time those who fail, those who quarrel, while they are not going to have to do the fighting, are going to be in the front line of danger, and I believe that that is going to act as a deterrent more than anything else, both in this country and every country. The capital city is going to be the bull's eye of the airman's target, and in the capital city the Government, the experts, the leading people who are going to direct the whole operation, will be just as much in danger as anybody else in the country, and perhaps in very much greater danger than those who are sent out to the front or on to the high seas. That, to my mind, gives us some hope that there will be a great hesitation on the part of our governors to risk a catastrophe of this sort, which they know, to begin with, will not solve the particular quarrel in which they have got embroiled.

I should like to support what the noble Viscount said in the concluding remarks of his address—namely, that no good can come from secret meetings, and that no meeting is really secret if it is known to have taken place. I am perfectly certain that he is right in saying that the sectional and secret gatherings engender a great deal of suspicion and animosity, and militate against any agreement which might otherwise be come to. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount who is going to reply for the Government may be able to tell us this much: Sir John Simon's announcement was greeted with satisfaction because it was supposed that, anyhow, it opened the door for Germany to return to the Disarmament Conference. Now, we do not know whether that is so or not, but that, after all, is a very important point, and if the noble and learned Viscount, in replying for the Government, could. tell us what prospects there are of Germany returning to the Conference with a view to joining in the general discussions again, that in itself would be a bit of information which we should welcome very much this afternoon.


My Lords, having regard to the observations made by my noble friend Lord Cecil in opening this debate, I propose to detain your Lordships for a very few moments. I would, however, desire to say that I certainly, and I think those associated with we also, are grateful to my noble friend for the part he has taken in bringing this Motion before your Lordships to-day, and very much more for the fine part he has played throughout all these discussions, and especially for the manner in which he has devoted himself to doing all that was possible to promote general disarmament and the cause of the League of Nations. These are no idle words. I am perfectly sure that none of your Lordships would fail to recognise, even if you do not agree with all that has fallen from the noble Viscount, either to-day or another day, how indebted we are to him for all the labour and efforts he has contributed to the furtherance of this cause.

Having said that, I would make one observation on the Sino-Japanese dispute in relation to Manchuria, for I feel it very difficult to debate that at this moment. I can well conceive that the Government are not in a position to make any answer. Neither can t imagine that there are any Papers which could be laid at this particular moment. I noticed that my noble friend did not press the question very much because he anticipated that it might be—indeed, I think I might go further and say that it would certainly be—extremely difficult for the Government to give any specific answer, when we remember that this is a matter now under discussion, and that obviously we ought not to express a view of any kind, and the Government would not certainly express any view, before the whole case has been thoroughly heard and considered.

I would only desire to associate myself entirely with him in the observations he made as to the importance of the findings of this Commission, the impartiality of the tribunal and the manner in which they have discharged their duties. I think they have done so to the general approval of all who have attempted to form a judicial opinion on the subject. The Commission have given the greatest assistance to the League of Nations and to all of us who are not familiar with events from day to day. I cannot conceive but that their Report will he, indeed must be, regarded not only with the most serious consideration by all who are bound to make inquiry into it, and that in the main, subject to anything that may be said to the contrary either as to the proposals or any changes that may be suggested in the various recommendations that are made, it must be regarded with general approval. I do not suggest for a moment that that means that all the findings must be accepted either by the Government or by the League of Nations. All I do mean is that none of the recommendations that they make can be disregarded, save in the face of very powerful arguments and, it may be, of facts which may be brought to light in order to counteract some of the recommendations or findings of the Commission. There I propose to leave the Manchurian question.

As regards disarmament, I am again in general agreement with what has been said by my noble friend. I will only add to his observations that it was a great relief, certainly to me, and, I believe I may say, to all who are associated with me in your Lordships' House, that the Government did make a definite pronouncement, although no doubt it was somewhat belated. There was a general feeling throughout the country that we were sitting still listening to what was being said by others, not taking sufficient part and, above all, not giving the leadership which was to be expected from this country in the very important questions then under discussion. I am not for a moment suggesting, indeed I would not suggest, that some of those doubts in the minds of the public were well justified. I have no doubt that the Government had these matters under consideration again and again, and I know a little of the difficulties that a Government must encounter in making either a pronouncement or proposals until there has been the fullest opportunity of making investigations. But I would desire to congratulate the Foreign Secretary and the Government heartily upon having come to a conclusion which they announced before resuming their work in Geneva. It enabled our representative to return to the discussions after the line that the Government were about to take had been announced to the world, thus resolving once and for all the doubts as to whether or not we in this country were ready to accept equality of status in the sense of which the term has been used for Germany, and whether we were ready to take any step to support it.

Once that had been done it certainly cleared the air. Although at the present moment we have not proceeded very far, it has brought the discussion within much more specific limits. I would join the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who asked the Government whether they would be able to-day to give us any additional information in relation to the attitude which Germany will take in answer to that. I am not very confident that the Government will be able to say much in answer, but I hope at any rate they will tell us all they possibly can. I quite realise, as all your Lordships must, that there may be difficulty in saying what are the views of the German Government at this moment. I am not quite sure that your Lordships would be able to say who are the German Government at this moment, and I do not propose to press this any further.

I am impressed very much with the doubts that were raised by my noble friend in relation to the Air Force and the aviation proposals. I find it difficult to believe that we shall be able to get foreign countries to adopt the line proposed. It was analysed by my noble friend, and, therefore, I do not wish to repeat anything that he said, but certainly there is a difficulty in saying: "First of all reduce all your Air Forces to the same level as ours; that is, you must bring them down to a similar condition generally; and then, having done that, there must be a reduction of one-third." It may be a very wise proposal if it can be carried out. I am not expressing a doubt as to the sincerity of it, or as to the wisdom of it if it can be accepted, but I have very grave doubts as to whether such a proposal can be accepted. I do not find those doubts either removed or lessened by what is proposed or suggested in regards to civil aviation. I am not an expert in matters of aviation, and I speak with great diffidence, especially before some of your Lordships who are very much more familiar with the Air Force than I am, and with what is requisite in aviation. But with my very elementary knowledge, I find it difficult to believe that, however you reduce your military Air Force, you can be sure that your civil air force could not be so adapted that it could he used in time of war for the very purposes which led to the abolition of your military Air Force. If any light can be thrown upon that it would very much help me.

I will not pursue this subject further, but there is one aspect of it upon which I would desire to make some observations; that is, the budgetary limitation of armaments. It is not dealt with in the White Paper, and I can very well understand the reason for the omission. I would, however, suggest to the Government and to your Lordships that there is real importance in budgetary limitation of armaments from the point of view of reducing armaments, and, consequently, of helping to maintain peace, and also because it would help to solve some other questions which arc exercising all our minds at the present moment. I have no desire to enter into any discussion regarding a matter which is so prominent at this moment, but I would nevertheless ask your Lordships to consider the position in which we should be in the approaches which we are making to the United States of America, and in any discussions which we may have to have with them in future, if we could take the position that we have in fact helped, either by our lead or our co-operation and assistance, in reducing the budgetary expenditure on armaments, and especially so if we had helped to a great degree.

That is a matter which is very much the subject of comment in the United States. We see references to it in our daily newspapers, and I was very much struck during the recent Election in that country to notice how again and again, whenever this question was raised in relation to the War Debts of European nations, invariably came the question: "Will these Governments be prepared to reduce their expenditure on armaments"? That was probably the most ordinary form of argument, I will not say on the part of those in responsible positions, but among the general public and even among newspapers in discussing this matter. The question was always asked whether the result of any approach towards reducing the burden of debts upon the European Powers would be, not only that they would not reduce their expenditure on armaments, but that, being relieved of this expenditure, they would have more money available to spend on armaments. Much time has been spent in trying to explain how absurd that would be from our point of view in this country, and how we have set our faces against increased expenditure and given as strong a lead as we could in reducing the expenditure on armaments. But I would press upon the Government that whenever they see an opportunity, they should press this budgetary limitation of expenditure on armaments as a means—and a really effective means—of reducing armaments, as a means not merely of preventing increasing expenditure but of actually lessening expenditure, and that they should press it not only in relation to the United States but other Powers.

I noticed an observation of my noble friend Viscount Cecil who spoke of the security which France requires. No one can have discussed disarmament with French politicians or Ministers without at once being confronted with this difficult question for them. For myself I have always felt great sympathy with France in this respect. I do understand the French. view on this point, situated as Franco is and with her history, especially in the last fifty years. She does desire at least to know that she will have security in relation to another country coterminous with her, with a largely increasing population and with a capable, industrious, disciplined people. The only comment I would make upon that—a comment I have made at other times—is that really one would think the best means of obtaining security would be such a reconciliation between France and Germany, and generally between European Powers, as would enable them to carry on their relations together without this constant fear of war or of hostility of some character.

What I have in mind at this moment are the observations made—I think in August of this year—by the Secretary of State in the United States in regard to the laws of neutrality, which have a really important bearing on this question of the security of France. One of the difficulties when discussing this question is to know what would happen if war broke out. How far could the League of Nations enforce the Covenant? How far could the League of Nations take any effective steps? What would the United States do? Would she remain neutral or would she take a line such as that taken during the earlier part of the Great War? That is a question which is of real importance in relation to the Kellogg Pact and the Nine-Power Pact to which the United States are parties. It always seems to me that the step taken by the United States in entering into these Treaties—the Pact of Paris and the Pacific Pact—might assist us in getting a further reduction in armaments. But it has to be borne in mind that there is this difference between them, that in the Covenant- of the League of Nations you will find sanctions provided, whereas in the Kellogg and other Treaties none are provided, although there are two express stipulations: one the renunciation of war as an instrument of policy, and the other that no nation signatory to the Pact should attempt to effect the settlement of a dispute except by peaceful means. I venture to suggest to the Government that this ought to be used for the purpose of bringing nations more into a mind to reduce armaments, realising, as I think they should, that in present conditions there is a greater world opinion against war than has ever existed before.


My Lords, I will not detain the House more than a very few minutes, but there are one or two questions which I would like to address to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, before he replies to this debate. I still believe, as I have ventured to state in this House before, that there are certain obscurities, even in the most up-to-date pronouncements of the Government, which are disastrous from the point of view of the defeatist campaign which can be carried on, and is being carried on, to some extent in this country. It seems to me unwise to provide opportunities for such a campaign by leaving obscurities in the pronouncements which are made by the Government. I was talking not very long ago to a very distinguished lover of peace in this country who made this point. He said: "Do you realise how much more prospect there is to-day of a fundamental agreement being reached at Geneva than there was a year ago?" After I had left that friend I met another of the lovers of peace who had just sent me through the post a pamphlet explaining that the Disarmament Conference was a tragic failure. Now I cannot but believe that had an agreement been come to during, say, the first four months of this Conference it would have been far less hopeful for the cause of disarmament than the agreement likely to be come to now after the discussions that have taken place. Nations are much nearer to each other, statesmen understand each other better, and there has been greater opportunity for schemes to be laid upon the Conference table than was the ease in the earlier part of the Conference proceedings.

But there still remain what I believe to be serious obscurities in the position. When we are dealing with armaments we are not only dealing with particular arms but with the effect of those arms upon political policies. When you are dealing with submarines, or with battleships, or with Air Forces, it is not only important that you should do something in respect of the number or weight of those particular weapons, but that you should consider the effect on political policies. The noble Viscount, for whom I have almost a reverence, brought before us the question of two implements of war, the air and the submarine. Now the propositions that His Majesty's Government have put before the Geneva Conference in regard to the air and in regard to submarines can be considered, as I believe, to be good propositions even allowing for the noble Viscount's qualification in regard to the method of reducing Air Forces to an equality and then by one-third. But how are we to get other countries to believe in our bona fides when we submit those propositions to the Conference if we do not, on our side, submit to the Conference some proposal with regard to the particular weapon of war which is considered to be the most important by us? That is where the question of the battleship comes in.

When I addressed the House for the first time I drew attention to this question, and in the reply which was given there was not a considerable amount of information. Now we have the new pronouncement, but I must confess that I still do not know what is the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to battleships. Unless I know, and unless France knows, and other nations know, what is the policy of this country on that particular instrument of war, we cannot expect considered and sympathetic attention to other propositions we have made with regard to other armaments. In 1930 the Prime Minister made clear to this country what he desired should take place with regard to battleships. He said he desired to see an agreement by which battleships would in due time disappear altogether from the fleets of the world. Then arose the point of how to implement that desire. I cannot help believing that I and those who have signed peace memorials have laid too much stress on the 10,000-ton limit. We have laid stress on that because it was the limit drawn by the Versailles Treaty, but it seems Lo me we ought to have taken more care to explain that we were not advocating a 10,000-ton battleship but only wished to draw the line there because of the Versailles Treaty, and we ought to have gone on to explain that Germany had offered to give up that battleship if it would serve the cause of peace.

Now we are faced by a proposal for some other tonnage which, so far as I can understand, is not defined. It does seem to me that here is an opportunity for the Government to make it clear that it stands where the Prime Minister stood in 1930, and that is either for abolition or, at least, for non-replacement. Unless we can make a clear and bold statement that we do not desire to retain these battleships, which as a matter of fact arc considered by many experts to be useless, or that we are prepared not to replace and then to abolish the capital ship, we shall never win the respect that we desire so far as air and submarine proposals are concerned. I beg the noble and learned Viscount to try to explain to the House why it is we cannot have a clear statement at Geneva with regard to the non-replacement of these ships.

Another question which I would venture to put is in regard to security. Just as we desire to win support from other countries with regard to particular categories of armaments, so we must try to enter into the mind of other countries, and particularly of France, in regard to the question of security. I want to deal with the matter for a moment from the point of view of aviation. Mr. Baldwin the other day made a speech which I personally consider was one of the most genuine and moving speeches for peace ever delivered in this country. He pointed out, first, that the next war would not be fought on land or sea but in the air, and, secondly, he drew attention to the fact that if the next war is fought in the air there is no defence known to any expert. The only way you can deal with such an attack is by counter attacks, which involve not so much armies and navies as the civil population—women and children.

If that weapon is the only weapon of the future and if it is so destructive as Mr. Baldwin says, it cannot remain, either from the military or civil point of view, under national control. In response to the appeal by Mr. Baldwin to those who are young, I would say without qualification that aviation including civil aviation must become a matter of international control. It is said that this would be disastrous from the point of view of commercial aviation. Even supposing the objection in regard to civil aviation were true, what is the disadvantage to commercial aviation of international control as compared with the disadvantage to the whole life of the world of leaving that weapon in national hands, if what Mr. Baldwin says is true? I would therefore suggest that when dealing with security we must deal with it not from the point of view of some kind of cosmopolitan force organised at Geneva, but we must say: "Here is a weapon which we know cannot be dealt with by national defence, which we know is the only weapon likely to be used, and we will pass that weapon into international hands." Then if the time should come when another war should unfortunately break out, there is already a most powerful and terrible weapon under international control.

I should like to emphasise the point which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, raised in regard to publicity. I do not quite know how politicians intend to treat democracy in these days, but apparently they will not take democracy into their confidence. The note to America was sent after the Election in America had been fought, and over and over again during this year statements have been withheld of this aspect or that aspect of armaments because an Election was to be held here or held there. If you are to withhold statements from democracy until after democracy has expressed its opinion how are you to maintain the prestige of democracy as an instrument of government? You will cause the world steadily to proceed stage by stage towards dictatorship as the only efficient method of conducting the affairs of nations, and therefore I hope the Government will consider fully the words of Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, that what is done at. Geneva should be increasingly brought before the attention of the world. I desire that because I believe that public opinion now is more in favour of bold measures with regard to disarmament than it has ever been in the history of the world.


My Lords, I do not want to detain you long but there are just two or three points which I should like to mention. First of all about the Far East. I do not want to repeat the remarks that I made a short time ago upon the Lytton Report, but there is one aspect of the Far Eastern situation which is sometimes lost sight of. One of the contributory causes, if not the main contributory cause, of the Manchurian trouble has been the long continued weakness or disintegration of government in China. If the League of Nations, or the nations of the world, wish to bring order out of chaos, and to solve the Manchurian problem on the lines of the Lytton Report, it seems to me that they ought to consider collective support of the Government in China with a view of establishing it as an effective and stable Government. China is suffering from the greatest difficulties now, not the least being the opposition within its own borders of the Communist movement. If we are to solve the problem of the Far East, one of the first conditions must be the creation of a modern and relatively efficient Government in China itself. I think that ought to be borne in mind, and attention should not be exclusively concentrated on the Lytton Report.

As regards the present European situation, the Disarmament Conference of course is dealing in a measure with effects and not causes. Armaments, whatever people may say, spring from fear amongst nations of other nations, or of the consequences of international policy. The question has been raised in this House to-night that if you are going to solve the disarmament problem you must deal with the problem of security for France. I think that there is often an incomplete apprehension of what the French people mean, or have meant in the past, by security. If you go back to what happened at the Paris Peace Conference, the great Powers of the world then undertook to stand sponsor for the maintenance of peace, and not only was there a real measure of security under the Covenant, but under Article 19 it would have been possible to modify without great difficulty such features of the Peace Treaty as might have proved by experience to be inconvenient or unjust. The withdrawal of the United States from the League of Nations, carrying with it the ending of America's guarantee to France, put France in an extraordinarily difficult position. The security on which she had relied, and upon which she had based her acceptance of the Treaty of Peace, had disappeared and by security since 1920 France has really meant the integral maintenance of the Treaty of Versailles. She has not been concerned with the risk of invasion of her own borders, but her fear has been of the disintegration of the rest of European peace under German influence.

The essence of the acceptance of the German claim to equality is that these military guarantees of the Treaty are disappearing, and I think you will find that the predominant feeling in France to-day recognises that that is true. If it is so, then you are inevitably driven to the revision of the Treaties of Eastern Europe. It seems to me that it is an essential element in the disarmament problem that the question of the revision of the Eastern European Treaties should be taken into account. I do not express any opinion as to the exact time or character of the revision, but I do not think you are going to get disarmament in Europe, or that you are going to arrive at anything like stability, unless the Eastern European settlement is based not upon force but upon a reasonable measure of consent. You will, I think, never have a settlement until there has been a reasonable discussion of the Eastern Treaties and a re-arrangement based upon consent, just as the Western European frontiers under Locarno were based on consent. It seems to me to be a delusion to think that without a re-settlement of that whole problem you will get a stable peace in Europe. If you could get an Eastern settlement which commanded as much general support as the Western settlement, you would have a condition in Europe in which these proposed regional pacts of guarantees, backed by great armaments, would cease to be necessary. Therefore I would in conclusion once more repeat that it seems to me that the revision of the Treaties in Eastern Europe is an essential ingredient both of disarmament and of the question of security.


My Lords, the Motion before the House takes the form of a Question: "Whether His Majesty's Government can make any further statement as to their policy on Disarmament and the Sino-Japanese dispute." If that Question had been addressed to His Majesty's Government in another place, I am inclined to think that the answer would have been a very simple one. His Majesty's Government, or whoever was responsible for replying, would have said: "The answer is in the negative." But fortunately the procedure and methods of your Lordships' House are different, and while I feel hound to say at once that I am not in a position to make any further general pronouncement upon the two matters about which my noble friend has asked for a further statement, still the debate which he has initiated has had the very valuable result of enabling His Majesty's Government, as well as your Lordships' House and the far wider public outside, to hear the views of my noble friend himself upon the topics which he has introduced; and I share to the full the recognition that has been expressed by other members of your Lordships' House of the passionate zeal for the cause of peace and enthusiastic devotion to the work of the League of Nations which have characterised the efforts of my noble friend during the last few years.

There is just this other preliminary observation which I should like to make in. extenuation of any shortcomings in my answer. The answer which I give must, of necessity be the answer of His Majesty's Government; I speak for the Government, and the responsibility for what I say must be borne by the Government; but at the same time, the topics about which I am speaking are primarily the concern of a Department which is not my Department, and any mistakes that I might make in handling very delicate subjects might seriously embarrass my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in a task which may well prove sufficient to tax even his abilities to the very highest degree; and therefore your Lordships will appreciate that in giving the answers which I do give, I am rather rigidly confined to the actual terms of the instructions which I have received f min my right, honourable friend with regard to the sort of answer which he would desire to see made.

With those few words of introduction I turn, first, to the Manchurian question, because that is the one to which the noble Viscount first referred. As regards the Sino-Japanese dispute, your Lordships are aware that the debates in various organs of the League—the Council, the Committee of Nineteen, the Assembly itself—are still proceeding. The object of these debates is to try to find a solution of the Manchurian problem through the machinery at the disposal of the. League. The policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter is not an individual policy, but a League policy. All their influence will be exercised in the direction of guiding the deliberations towards a solution, if one can be found, which shall be satisfactory to the League as a whole, to the Powers most closely interested in the problems of the Far East, and to both parties to the dispute themselves. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs observed in another place: We shall continue to act, as we have acted throughout, in loyal co-operation with the League of Nations on the whole matter. It is the greatest possible mistake to suppose that good is done by individual preliminary declarations. …we mean to act with the League of Nations as a whole, and we have a further ground for satisfaction in knowing that, anxious as this situation is, unsatisfactory as it is in many respects, we have in this matter been able to act not only side by side with other members of the League of Nations hut in the closest co-operation and good faith and friendship with the United States of America. I am afraid that that is as far as we can go in dealing with that subject, and my noble friend Lord Lothian will forgive me if I do not pursue the fascinating vista which he opens of a discussion as to the position of China and the Far East generally, a subject in which, as I think he knows, I take a considerable interest, as well as he himself.

I turn from the Manchurian question to the question of disarmament, and I am glad to find that one who has done the service, which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has done at Geneva for so long should have been able to express as high an appreciation as he has been able to show of the general lines. that His Majesty's Government have recently taken in the effort to assist the work of the Disarmament Conference. The noble Viscount referred to the subject of budgetary limitation, and pointed out that that was not specifically mentioned in the White Paper. I think the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, appreciated the reason why it found no place there. The White Paper professes, on the face of it, to be a document which is dealing with the question of the claim of Germany to equality of status, and the attitude which ought to be adopted in relation to that claim. We have set out in our declarations what our answer is to the claim made by Germany.

The noble Viscount himself quoted what he thought were the principles to he found in our answer, and we have proceeded to show how effect can be given to those principles, in our view, in relation to land, naval, and air forces, in such a way as to meet the German claim for equality without departing from the principle of no re-armament. In dealing with that matter it did not seem to us to be relevant to discuss the question of budgetary limitation, but I should like at once to reassure my noble friend, if it be necessary to do so, and to answer the noble Marquess who spoke afterwards, by saying that we have not in the least modified our attitude of accepting the principle of budgetary limitation and of working towards that method of quantitative disarmament. It is in fact, I believe, still under active investigation at Geneva, and we certainly intend to collaborate wholeheartedly in that policy.

I am glad to know from the noble Marquess that the question of why we did not reduce our expenditure on armaments had been raised in his presence in the United States of America, because I am sure that no one would have been more ready to give the answer than he must have been, and that no one would have been listened to with more conviction and acceptance than he must have been if, as I have no doubt was the case, he explained that we had been reducing our armaments and our expenditure on armaments to a degree which I do not think has in the least been realised by the general public on the other side of the Atlantic.

In the same way the noble Viscount asked me about the French proposals, and he was anxious to know whether we were ignoring them or whether we were turning towards them a sympathetic eye. At the time when the declaration of policy was prepared the details of the French proposals were not known to His Majesty's Government—only that general outline that appeared which, as your Lordships will remember and my noble friend knows very well, was the first intimation as to the kind of plans that the French were going to put forward. Since that time the details have been made known at Geneva and have taken the form, I think, of a printed memorandum, and those proposals are being carefully examined and scrutinised in order to see how far we can fall in with them, or what modification we may or may not be able to suggest to make them generally acceptable.

But we feel very strongly that the immediate problem before the Conference is to extract from the whole body of proposals which are now before the nations there represented a scheme which will afford a just and effective solution of the disarmament problem acceptable to all Governments represented at the Conference. We think—and I hope that those who are so much in favour of publicity will not be too hard on us if we take this view—that this difficult problem can best be approached in the first instance by informal exchanges of views among the principal Governments, and during that stage it seems to us that public statements had best be reduced to a minimum. We think so more especially because, whatever the advantages of publicity may be, there is this disadvantage, that when once a nation through its authorised representative has definitely committed itself in public to a particular point of view, it is much more difficult to persuade that nation or that representative to modify their attitude than if no such public declaration has been made and anything that has been said is known only to one or two people, to whom it has been said in a tentative and informal way.

I can assure your Lordships that the French proposals will be examined with that careful attention which I am quite sure they deserve. I will only add this word of warning, that in examining them we also have to bear in mind that it is not fair to the people of this country, and it is misleading to the world at large, if we undertake obligations which we know we are not in a position to carry out. Under those circumstances I think probably what I can most. usefully do is to turn to the specific points with regard to which the noble Viscount found some ambiguity or some cause for dissatisfaction in the statements contained in the White Paper. The first was with regard to tanks, and there perhaps I can speak with just a little more freedom and depart perhaps a little from my brief because I am speaking of a matter which does concern my own Department.

The tank as a weapon of war was peculiarly a British invention during the Great War. Its purpose when it was introduced into warfare was to find an effective means of dealing with the inconceivably intricate and elaborate method of entrenchment and trench systems which had been built up on the German side, in answer of course to the Allied side, on the Western Front, and which threatened to bring the whole situation to a kind of stalemate because neither side was able to make any effective advance. The weapon which was then devised was a machine which weighed from thirty to forty tons, which had to he of a certain weight in order to enable the necessary length to be given to cross the trenches. The idea was that the tank should crush its way through the wire entanglements and then go across these deep trenches which had been dug, and that involved a certain degree of length, and therefore in turn a certain degree of weight in the proper place, to keep the tank level when it was partly suspended in mid-air.

Since the War the kind of tank which is constructed and the purpose for which the tank is being constructed have both been very much changed, and at present the expert view of the usefulness of the tank is not so much as a heavy machine which can crush its way through an elaborate system of fortifications, but as a much lighter machine which will enable the infantry to be conveyed to the suppression of machine guns posts without undue loss of life. The tanks designed for that purpose are very much lighter than the old ones. I do not want to go too much into technical details, but I suppose sixteen to twenty tons would be now as much as most of them are for that kind of work. They are no use against any substantial artillery fire. They have not got a sufficient thickness of armour, and they could not have a sufficient thickness of armour because that would increase the weight. They are intended to be the answer to the machine gun and to the automatic rifle.

It may be said—I think my noble friend suggested it—that the tank is being used for an offensive purpose because it is being used to protect the man who is going to advance towards a machine gun. On the same basis helmets or cuirasses or suits of armour in the old days might have been regarded as offensive weapons because their purpose was to protect their wearers from mortal injury when they were attacking the enemy on the other side. But I do not think it is quite in that sense that the term "peculiarly offensive weapon" is used. What I think is referred to when that expression is employed is what the noble Viscount himself referred to as the "knock-out blow." The idea is to prevent any nation being equipped with weapons which would enable it suddenly to overwhelm any of its neighbours before they had had time to prepare themselves for defence. And from that point of view the tank, of course, is of no use at all, because if it advanced against any prepared fortified positions, such as now exist along the whole eastern frontier of France, it would be annihilated and would be absolutely of no value.

If the tank were abolished altogether, if this lighter form of tank were given up, the effect would not be to disarm, but to increase armament very considerably, because, whereas it may be possible for a nation with an unlimited man-power—let us say, for instance, a nation like Soviet Russia—to employ so many millions of men that if a few thousands are killed there are enough left to go on when the machine gun ammunition has been exhausted and to overcome the opposition, that is not true of a nation which does not employ conscription and which only has a small force. The British Army relies on a very small force, which has been reduced to the very minimum limit consistent with the protection of essential interests—a limit which some people even think may be below that figure—and we could not afford to give up the use of the tank without at once embarking upon a very considerable increase in man power to make up for the mortality which we were thereby inflicting upon our troops. Of course so long as there is no war, no tanks are wanted and no weapons of war are wanted; but unless you are able to persuade people to give up machine guns and automatic rifles you cannot, in our judgment, ask this country, for instance, to give up the use of the tank while at the same time it maintains its figure of establishment at anything like the figure at which it at present stands. I hope I have made clear the distinction to my noble friend. If I have not convinced him that we are right, at any rate I hope I have satisfied him there is reason underlying the attitude which we have there adopted.

The next point was the question of the large ship, a question which was referred to not only by the noble Viscount but also by my noble friend Lord Allen, in his speech a little later on in the debate. As I understand the position with regard to the large ship—and here I am once more reduced to falling back on the instruct- tions which have been furnished to me—His Majesty's Government have been trying to reduce the size of the capital ship for a very long time. We are at present engaged in trying to reach agreement with the leading naval Powers of the world for a substantial reduction not only in the size of the capital ship; that is to say, in the tonnage of the ship; but also in the calibre of the guns which are mounted on that ship, and, further, on the whole aggregate naval tonnage permissible to any one Power. Our view has long been that in the interests alike of peace and economy considerable reductions in the size of capital ships are advisable. As long ago as July last His Majesty's Government made drastic proposals for reductions in the size and the tonnage of capital ships and cruisers, and also in the size of the guns which those ships were to mount. Your Lordships will appreciate that the size of the ship depends to a large extent upon the sort of guns which it is expected to carry. You must have a certain size of ship in order to mount a gun of a certain calibre, and therefore, to some extent, you determine the size of your ship by determining whether you will have a 16-inch or a 12-inch or an 8-inch or a 6-inch gun.

We have in the London Naval Conference succeeded in reaching substantial reductions in the size of capital ships in agreement with the United States and Japan. So far we have been unable to secure the adhesion of the two other principal naval Powers, France and Italy, to that Convention, but we are still trying to do it and we are still sanguine that that may be possible. At the end of July the General Commission of the Conference adopted a resolution inviting the Powers, parties to the Naval Treaties of Washington and London, which have already produced important results, to confer together and to report to the General Commission, if possible before the resumption of its work, as to further measures of naval reduction which might be feasible as a part of the general programme of disarmament. During the past few weeks conversations have been actively pursued with the other leading naval Powers in fulfilment of this resolution. Owing to the complexity of the subject and the necessity of taking into account the varying opinions of the countries concerned, these conversations have not reached the point when anything definite can be said about them. I can only assure your Lordships that His Majesty's Government will do, and are doing, everything in their power to help forward a solution in the way of a reduction of the size of warships as a most important step towards disarmament and towards reduction of expenditure. I would like to add to that, that it has not been through any lack of willingness on the part of His Majesty's Government that a greater measure of reduction has not been reached than has so far proved possible, and if it should turn out that we are able to secure the agreement of other Powers to a further substantial reduction, that will be an object which we have long sought to attain and which will be very welcome to the Government.

Then there came the question of air armament, with regard to which my noble friend expressed some disappointment. The noble Viscount said that the major suggestions which he regarded as alternative to the others were so framed as, in the language of the grammarians, not to expect the answer "Yes." I think it is true to say that this problem of aerial warfare is one of the most difficult and delicate which the nations have to consider. There is a point of view—it is not one which his Majesty's Government take, but it is one which has to be considered—which to some extent was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, when he pointed out that perhaps the best means of securing immunity from war was to make it very certain that those who were responsible for taking the decision to make war were going to incur very considerable risks themselves, and that the capital cities of the world would be in imminent danger of the most dreadful happenings if war broke out. Of course if that argument were right the logical deduction would be that we ought not to attempt to limit aerial warfare, that we ought not to attempt to prohibit the use of any form of bomb, because the more horrible and the more dangerous and more deadly it was the more effective its possibility would be as a deterrent.

I quite see that that argument is a forcible one, but for myself I do not accept it. For myself I think that the horrors, or the possible horrors, of war from the air are so overwhelming that they would threaten the very existence of civilisation if they were allowed to break out unchecked, and I should myself like to see a limitation put upon the use of the air weapon. I should like to see, if it were possible, an effective arrangement made which could protect all nations from the horrors of bombardment. As I understand the White Paper which was issued, and which contains a statement of my right honourable friend, he points out, in dealing with the question of air armaments, that it is a matter of vital urgency to preserve the civilian population from the fearful horrors of bombardment from the air. He goes on to say that the Government of this country have already stated that they would be prepared to go to any length, in agreement with other Powers, to achieve this object. He then proceeds to deal with the proposal that all bombing machines should be abolished. He points out that that has been urged from several quarters, but that it really is not effective because machines not actually designed for bombing may nevertheless be adapted and used for that purpose. The noble Marquess pointed out a little while ago that if there were no military machines civilian machines could be used for bombing purposes. Therefore it would seem that it would not be enough to prohibit bombing from the air. There would have to be some effective international control of civil aviation. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, strongly urged that that should be discussed.


Hear, hear.


I can appreciate very much, and sympathise with the desirability of doing that, but I think any one who has tried to apply his mind carefully to it will see that the difficulties of achieving international control of civil aviation are at any rate very great. If we do nothing until we achieve that international control, it may very well be that for years to come nothing would be done in the direction of aerial disarmament, and I am sure the noble Viscount would deplore that at least as much as I should deplore it. Therefore what we have said in this White Paper is that we are anxious to co-operate with the other chief Air Powers in a further examination into the practicability of so extensive a scheme"— that is, of international control of civil aviation, if we can find a practicable scheme to which assent can be gained.

It is true that we have done a great deal more probably than any other nation in air disarmament. But. supposing we cannot agree, or supposing it takes a very long time—which is not improbable —to reach such an agreement, are we to do nothing meanwhile? The Government answer to that question is: "No, we are not prepared to stand still and wait and do nothing unless we achieve the best possible ideal." Accordingly there comes as our suggestion for a practical and immediate measure of disarmament: (1) the immediate reduction of the Air Forces of the leading Powers to the level of those of the United Kingdom;(2) a cut of 33⅓ per cent. all round on the Air Forces of the world thus reduced, United Kingdom included "— so it can hardly be said that we are not inflicting anything on ourselves and are only proposing limitation for other people— (3) a limitation of the unladen weight of military aircraft to the lowest figure upon which general agreement can be obtained. We suggest that, having started with that, we should go on progressively to apply further and further reductions as time goes on.

It is said that this proposal is unlikely to receive general approval because we are only the fifth Air Power in the world, and that therefore others will have to make greater sacrifices. If this argument be pressed then it is an argument against any approach to unilateral disarmament. We have gone a long way in unilateral disarmament, and I think it is not reasonable or fair to say that because we have voluntarily sacrificed the position we held at the end of the War of being the strongest Air Power, and have reduced ourselves to fifth place, therefore we should now content ourselves and remain in the fifth place and be content to make an equal sacrifice with other stronger Powers. Your Lordships will appreciate that as long as war remains a possibility and as long as the use of aircraft is not forbidden, there is a necessary minimum below which no one can go, and the lower we have got the more difficult it is for us to make further reductions. Therefore, in the view of the Government it is a reasonable proposal to make that everybody should come down to the level we have reached, when, after all, they will not be relatively weaker to us than they were at the end of the War, and from that level at once cut off not less than one-third and then progressively make further cuts as time goes on. I venture to suggest that these proposals are a real contribution. At any rate, they ate proposals which we desire to press.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, raised the question of the reintroduction of conscription in Germany. If I may say so, I recognise the force of what he said—that, however you attempt to limit it, it is to some extent a measure of rearmament. But what is the alternative? We are conceding to Germany equality of status. We have therefore to do ono of two things—either allow her conscription or get conscription abolished in the rest of the world. We would prefer to get conscription abolished in the rest of the world; but if we are going to wait until we have got conscription abolished all through the world before we concede Germany equality of status, if this is to be a condition precedent to Germany taking further part in the Disarmament Conference, which is our immediate objective, surely it means practically giving up hope of having the Disarmament Conforence resumed within any measurable space of time. Although we in this country have never in time of peace adopted a system of conscription, there are a great many nations which look on it very differently from ourselves, and although we have constantly and consistently ever since the War pressed upon other nations the desirability of getting rid of conscription, that view is one which has never commended itself to a great many Powers which have at least as much experience in military matters as we can claim.

Therefore we are faced with this dilemma: Either refuse Germany equality of status, in which case we know beforehand she will not come back to the Disarmament Conference, or else allow her some form of conscription so as to put her on an equality in that regard with her neighbours on her frontiers on both sides. All we could do was to suggest that the terms on which conscription should be permitted should be such as to prevent as far as possible any rearmament or any increase in the military strength of Germany. That we have attempted to do in the passage on page 7 of the White Paper to which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, called attention.

Then I was asked—and I think this is almost the last question—whether I could make any statement on the subject of whether or not Germany was likely to come back to the Disarmament Conference. Since that question was addressed to me, I have not only communicated with the Foreign Office but I have also put myself into communication with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs himself, so that I might be able to give your Lordships' House such information as is in our possession so far as it goes. I am afraid the only answer that I am able to give is that during the last weeks—indeed, ever since the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs went back to Geneva—he has been working very hard there in order to promote a basis upon which the return of Germany might be secured. As a result there is some reason to hope that informal conversations may take place within a few days in which Germany will take part with ourselves and with France, Italy and the United States. Whether or not those conversations will be successful in finding a basis on which the participation of Germany will be resumed we cannot foresee.

Those who object to private consultations may again say that this is not public diplomacy; but at any rate there is no other way. Germany will not come back first and discuss afterwards the terms on which she is willing to come, and we do not believe that disarmament can be effectively and satisfactorily brought about by a conference at which Germany is not represented. In these circumstances all we can do is to take any means open to us to try to find a common basis on which the discussions can be resumed, and the efforts of my right honourable friend have been devoted mainly to that end during the last few weeks and in the discussions he has been able to undertake while at Geneva. I cannot go further than that, but I hope that what I have said will indicate that the importance of this topic is at least as present to the minds of His Majesty's Government as it is, I know, to the minds of many of your Lordships. I can only hope that in what we are doing there we are acting with the support and approval of all Parties in the State in this country. I have taken rather more time than I had intended, but the matter is one of great importance and has to be dealt with with some delicacy. I have tried to give to my noble and learned friend as full as answer as was possible in the circumstances. I am afraid there are no Papers I could usefully offer to lay before the House, but I hope that after the discussion we have had and after the noble Viscount has had an opportunity of snaking any comments he may wish to offer, he may see his way to withdraw his Motion.


My Lords, my first duty is to thank my noble friend for the very courteous and full statement he has made. I quite recognise the immense difficulties of making any statement and I can understand how limited he must be in anything he says. I shall certainly ask leave to withdraw my Motion in accordance with his suggestion, and I only want to say a very few words by way of reply. I am grateful for the explanations of the reasons of the Government which have been given in answer to my questions. I am afraid I am not quite convinced about tanks. I quite see that if you are going to make air attack it is far better to have tanks, but the question is whether you could not go a long way to avoid preparing for making attacks in peace time, as a means of dissipating the anxiety and unrest among the nations. As I understand my noble friend his case is what I believe he and I might call confession and avoidance. He admits that here is an aggressive weapon, but he says that on the whole you must have an aggressive weapon if you are to have modern war. But the whole point is whether you could not by getting rid of tanks altogether make the defence so strong that war, for some weeks at any rate after declaration, would be practically an impossibility. That is the case and I do not think my noble friend has quite met that aspect of it.

In regard to ships we have not been told very much, but I am grateful for what the noble Viscount did tell us. I understand the Government have not closed the door to the possibility of going as far as 10,000 tons—that that is not excluded as a possibility. With regard to the air I want to correct a slight misapprehension into which say noble friend fell. I did not suggest that it was right we should remain in the fifth place; the point is really whether the only solution is not abolition. I do not think this proposal of reduction is any solution. It does not deal with civil aviation and it is not more easy to have reduction than abolition; in some respects indeed it is more difficult because it raises the question of ratio between countries.

The great fundamental difficulty when you have to deal with any question of disarmament is to induce any nation to accept a definite position in relation to any other nation. It induces some of my noble friends of the Opposition to demand the abolition of all armaments—which would be a fine thing, but impracticable. I therefore ask for partial application of the principle of total disarmament by the abolition of certain armaments altogether. It is not that I disagree with the policy of the Government, which is, I understand, that they are in favour of total abolition; but I regret the kind of fatalistic point of view which the White Paper seems to assume—we cannot carry this out and therefore we have to do something else! I believe it is as easy to carry out total abolition as partial abolition and 1 want the Government to go into the Conference with that point of view rather than that of expecting defeat.

I have only one word to say about publicity. My noble friend produced the argument which I have heard so often that it is much better to have a private discussion, because then countries are not committed and can therefore go back on what they have said. With the greatest respect that really is not so. If you arc talking really privately without any one present, without any officials there, then it is true that you can say anything you like and withdraw it the next minute, but if you have four or five Powers there and all their officials, and the knowledge that in point of fact the substance of what you are saying in that semi-private conversation is going to be communicated, probably in perverted form, to the Press of the different countries, it is as difficult to withdraw as if you had made a statement in public; and as long as there is this thin veil of privacy countries are not afraid to be unreasonable.

When I say "countries" I agree I ought to say Governments—that Governments are not afraid to be unreasonable. They can always deny formally that they said a thing or pledged themselves to it and so can take up any unreasonable position. And in fact they do. When they get into that semi-private consultation they are far more unreasonable. When they have to get up with the whole public watching they are extremely careful what they say and do not commit themselves to wholly unreasonable positions. They have the judgment of the world before them all the time they are speaking. It is for those reasons—not for any pedantical, meticulous love of openness as against secrecy, but for the difference in the practical working of the two systems—that I have come to believe that the more delicate the negotiation the more essential it is that it should be in public. I am sorry to have repeated myself, but I do feel very strongly about this, and that it is on the acceptance of this doctrine that very likely the success or failure of the Conference may depend. I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.