HL Deb 12 May 1936 vol 100 cc944-56

Article 16.


I thought rather more, but my noble friend says not. He said, if I understood him—I am sorry if I misunderstood—that the Articles to which he attached importance were Articles 3 and 4. I am not dealing how with questions of Mandates and things of that kind, but what he thought was that for peace making the thing to do was to bring the nations together to talk round a table. That experiment was tried in the Far East and in Ethiopia, because the British Government did everything they could to induce Italy and Abyssinia to meet and talk the matter over at a round table, with the advantage that it was a table at which all other countries would be represented. Italy refused. It was because of that refusal, and because she insisted on making war without leaving an interval in which the matter could be considered, that the whole trouble arose. My noble friend the Marquess of Lothian said he was in favour of delay because delay meant an opportunity for discussion as to what were the real grievances between the two countries. With all deference to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, and with a great deal of sympathy for the underlying ideas he represents, I cannot believe that in the present condition of the world it is really a possible policy to say that we will have no force at all, that we will disband our Army and abolish our Fleet, and that we will rely entirely on talking at a round table. I cannot think that that is right.

I refer for a moment only to his other thesis; that one of the things you should discuss round the table is the reconsideration of all the treaties which bind all the nations together, believing—quite inaccurately, if I may venture to say so—that the grievance of the Italians in this matter was some old musty treaty. Nothing of the kind. The treaties they have broken have all been made within the last twenty years, and I cannot believe that a general throwing into the melting-pot of the whole of the arrangements by which Europe at present exists, the whole of the arrangements by which the boundaries of the various States are framed, and a general rediscussion of them every two or three years, would do anything towards the maintenance of peace. The Covenant goes quite far enough when it says that, when any one objects to a particular arrangement and thinks it is no longer right, that matter should be considered in very much the way which my noble friend suggests.

My noble friend Lord Lothian does not go quite so far. He proposes in regard to the League, as I have said, the abolition of force, and in effect, as I think he would find when he tried to propose it to any international body, the abolition of the League of Nations altogether, and the substitution for it of a defensive alliance with France and the reinstatement—as he said, not in this House, but in another public statement—of the balance of power by increasing the power of Germany so that she would be more on a level with France. That is returning to 1913; it is nothing else. I cannot for a moment believe that that policy is going to succeed. Why should it? It did not succeed in 1913; and according to him, the difficulty which then faced Sir Edward Grey (as he then was) was that he could not get the discussion going to nip the difficulty in the bud—as my noble friend very properly said—and to go straight down to the dispute between Austria and Serbia. The thing which happened then would happen again; I can see nothing to prevent it. We should have the same dispute, and one country joining in after another because they could not afford to let the balance of power—use that phrase as much as you like—be disturbed, until we had the necessity, under which we felt ourselves then, to intervene also. I cannot feel that that situation really holds out the slightest hope of any permanent peace.

Your Lordships will say: "Well, it is easy enough to criticise what other people have proposed; have you any suggestions to make?" My Lords, I have, and I must make them, as briefly as I can. In the first place, I hope my noble friends will not misunderstand me if I say that the two most important things in the conduct of foreign affairs are courage and tenacity. Vacillation, timidity—those are the things which produce war and produce disaster. We have started on this great experiment; I ask your Lordships to say that, because it has not succeeded in one case, that is not sufficient reason for abandoning it. Of course I am delighted to see that apparently they are going to continue sanctions for the time being, but I do not wish to go too much into the details of the present case. I ask your Lordships to support the League, broadly. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby in saying that there were signs, at any rate up to last summer, that though the Government were nominally in favour of the League, they were not so wholeheartedly, and that they entered on this very dangerous and difficult enterprise without counting the cost sufficiently, without having done all that was in their power during their ten years of office to increase the authority and prestige of the League. When it came to be tested in this great way, they did not make it clear, as they ought to have made it clear, that they were going to rely on the League and enforce the system of the League. As my noble friend very properly said, if they had made that clear at Stresa there would have been far more chance of a successful issue from this difficulty.

All I say, therefore, is: Let us proceed with this effort, the only effort that has ever had any prospect of success, that I can see, in the maintenance of peace. There are one or two other things we must do. I am not going to elaborate them now, but we must consider whether the means in the Covenant as it now stands, not only for stopping war when it has broken out but also for preventing the outbreak of war, are sufficient. I will go farther. I am attracted by the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Rennell that it may be right and proper to make more precise and more definite the exact cases in which we, and not we only but all the Members of the League, agree to intervene. I will not go into the details of that suggestion, because I am sure my noble friend will agree with me that this is a matter for great caution and great delicacy and that to say too much would only do more harm than good. Finally, we must press again, for this is the only positive security we can ever get, for some measure of international reduction and limitation of armaments

That is the policy which I venture to recommend to your Lordships. It is, I say quite clearly and plainly, a policy not of whittling away the League, but of strengthening it and making it more effective; least of all is it a policy of abandoning the League. To my mind, when you come to examine these proposals made here or elsewhere, you will find that in effect nothing can be done, or has even been suggested, except something in the nature of collective security under some such system as the League. The machinery of it has not worked badly. You must either have that system or go back to the old system of 1913. I do not believe there is any alternative. I do not believe—I say so with regret—that any provisions merely for talking round a table are of any use. We have seen the Kellogg-Briand Pact, stating the most admirable principles that could be stated. It is most valuable as a statement of principle, but as a practical peace-keeping measure it has had, I am sorry to say, little if any effect.

To my mind that is the case which your Lordships and the people of this country have to decide: either we go back to 1913 or we go forward with this great experiment. I do not know whether the experiment will ultimately succeed or not; no one can tell that. All I can say is that I have not read or heard of any suggestion which seems to me to have a better promise of success. I cannot doubt that if we return to 1913 the same results that took place then will take place again, and the consequences will be even more terrible than they were then. I cannot abandon my hope that possibly, if we show great courage and resolution, if we are prepared to run risks—yes, to run risks—and give a real lead to the world in this great enterprise, it may succeed. I certainly am not prepared, because of one failure, which is not yet complete, to abandon all hope of it, and timidly, as it seems to me—not to my noble friend, because he has always taken a different view—to fly from the difficulty that has met us and abandon the fairest hope of this sort that has ever been accorded to mankind.

LORD MOTTISTONE, who had given notice of a Question to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will undertake that in future the representatives of this country shall be chosen from professional diplomatists or other persons specially qualified by expert knowledge of the law and custom of foreign nations, said: My Lords, everyone has listened to my noble friend Lord Cecil with sympathy, but he has not made any concrete proposal, except to go on as we have been going, and the way we have been going in recent years has been disastrous to the League of Nations. I venture to make a definite proposal to your Lordships, to which I hope your Lordships will agree, for I can build up a case in a few moments which shows that some such reform is really needed if we are not going to drift into war, as we have so nearly done in the past few months. The Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper gives you the purpose which I have in mind in bringing this matter before you. If I may use the language with which I am most familiar, and regard the League of Nations as a ship, I should say, and I think the noble Viscount will agree, that the ship has struck a rock and is nearly sinking.


Badly navigated.


Why is the ship nearly sinking? Is it because it is badly constructed? There is a great deal in that. I agree with Lord Lothian and Lord Ponsonby that if you regard it as an armed merchantman you had better scrap the arms and navigate the ship without them. The reason why the ship is nearly sinking is that the ship is manned almost exclusively by landsmen—men who have no knowledge of the affairs that they are trying to conduct. It really is not a false parallel, because the League of Nations has often been referred to by supporters, of which I am one, as a High Court of Nations. What do you want to compose a High Court? You want men, with judicial minds; men who want to weigh the evidence before they act; men who will not act as your Lordships will remember was the case in the trial of the Knave of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, which I have recently been reading, and which reminded me exactly of recent proceedings of the League, or of those who compose it. Your Lordships will remember that someone said: "Consider your verdict," but they had not heard the evidence. "No, no!" said the Queen, "sentence first, verdict afterwards." So it has been in the last few months.

I will try to show that the personnel of the League is so ill-equipped for its job, and so lacking in judicial sense, that it has taken wrong decisions again and again. It is ill-suited to consider the problems which lie ahead. Let us think of the first case—the imposition of partial sanctions. When that was first proposed I was at pains to ask those whom I thought would know about it—some members of the House who had made a special study of blockade: and the difficulties inherent in it—and I did not find one single man who did not tell me that this proposal was bound to fail. I consulted also people on the Continent, and they all told me the same thing. I suppose that if men with judicial minds had been on the League of Nations they never could have imposed sanctions, because they must have known that they were bound to fail, as they have failed. That is why I venture to bring this question before this House, not because it was my idea, but because I was compelled to come to that conclusion from the opinions of those who were best able to judge.

Take the very vital cases now of the Red Cross and gas. These raise an important question. Are we going to pro scribe Italy for ever as a nation which has done so wicked a thing? There are two sides to that question. The one is that Italy set out to destroy the Abyssinian forces with the use of gas; that that was their intention, and they carried it out with great skill; that is how they won the war. On the other hand the Italian case as stated, and as I under stand it, is that it formed no part of their campaign to employ gas, and they did not employ it until, in the opinion of the Commander-in-Chief, it was the only way in which to stop the atrocities committed by their enemies. When disasters occurred to the Italians it was found that not only were dreadful tortures committed on living people, both combatants and non-combatants, but also that the armed forces opposed to the Italians were using in almost every case soft-nosed bullets. All of us who have been at different wars will know that it is a more cruel thing to employ soft-nosed bullets than it is to employ gas. I have a soft-nosed bullet in my pocket which I picked out from my gun case before I came here, and it reminded me of the kind of wound that these bullets make in the animals that we shoot. There may be a very little hole in front, but I have frequently seen on the other side a hole as big as both palms. That is more cruel than gas, and if the Italian statement be proved gas was only used as a reprisal. When some of the worst things done by the enemy were given up the Italians stopped using gas, the use of which made in fact very little difference, if the statement is true.

I suppose Lord Cecil would say without doubt, because he has said so in this House, that there is no doubt at all that the Italians did employ mustard gas deliberately, and had it in mind at the start, and that that is the way in which they won the war. The Italian case is the exact opposite—namely, that gas was only used by way of reprisal, and I hope it be true; as I am told, that they are more anxious than any nation to join with others in putting an end to poison gas. Which statement is true?


My noble friend does not deny that they imported, I do not know how many, tons of mustard gas through the Suez Canal. What did they want it for?


I was explaining, when the noble Viscount was having his interesting discussion with Lord Rennell, that they only used it for reprisals after the Abyssinians committed those awful atrocities—cutting off both hands of hundreds of people, combatants and non-combatants, white and black impartially, and employing soft-nosed bullets, It is wicked to leave it to a few excited people with no legal training and no knowledge of great affairs, who perhaps have flown over in a hurry from the capital of their country in order to make impassioned speeches and then fly back again the same evening. You want a cool impartial judgment by people accustomed to weigh evidence. That has not been the case, and it causes bitter anger on the part of impartial people, Italians and Germans, with whom we are now having disputes, because they say their case never gets a hearing. Why does it not get a hearing? Because the ship is being run by landsmen with no experience.

Take another case, that of Germany and the Rhineland. Here indeed is a most extraordinary case. The French case was that the Germans had broken the Treaty which they had signed, and therefore they could undoubtedly be condemned. The German case was that the treaty was non-existent because the offensive and defensive alliance with Soviet Russia rendered it null and void, and they were compelled in the interests of their own safety to take the action that they did. Who was right and who was wrong in this matter? Surely some High Court should consider it. It is an affair of fact which could be ascertained. But in this case the excitable gentlemen I referred to, who attend the League of Nations on our behalf, did a still more extraordinary thing. First of all they said: "Germany is at fault; she is rightly to be condemned." Then in the next breath they said: "We refer the question of whether she is right or wrong to an impartial legal tribunal." Well, could folly further go? And when you add to that, that at this same moment the excitable gentlemen turned round to Italy, whom they had condemned as being unfit for the society of decent men, and said, "Will you kindly help us to police the Rhineland?" could folly further go? I make no apology for dwelling upon these facts, unpleasant though they be, bringing the League of Nations into disrepute, because I think they ought to be faced, and if a remedy can be found that remedy should be applied.

We come finally to the question of the future. Shall sanctions be continued? Is it really wise to remit that question to a body of persons with no claim to the judicial mind? On the one hand it is said—the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said—that we ought to go on with them because they very nearly succeeded. On the contrary, they never had the remotest chance of success, as then applied. All who understood the facts of the case knew that they could not succeed, and said so. If that was so then, when Italy was faced with a million well-armed men with modern rifles, and a very real risk of disaster from the big force opposed to them, how could sanctions succeed now, when the task of Italy is made so infinitely easier by the collapse of practically all resistance? That is the case as it presents itself to me. But of course it is conceivable that some fact that nobody here knows may make it possible to get some advantage from the continuance of sanctions. Then let trained legal minds, if you can get them, but above all, men of judicial temper, consider that question before you commit yourselves to the rather extraordinary proceeding which, I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, is probably not within the four corners of the Covenant itself, and certainly may have disastrous results for the future prospects of peace in Europe and the world, without the remotest chance of its having any effect at all upon the future issue, except to anger Italy and to make her less reasonable.

That that has been the effect so far nobody disputes. Why should it not be the same again? Then what is going to happen to the Abyssinians themselves if you continue sanctions and so weaken Italy that she cannot continue the work of restoring order in Abyssinia? "Ah," you say, "you must not mind about that. We are going to end war for ever; we are going to show that aggression does not pay." But we ought to think rather less of our own souls, and rather more of the souls and bodies of the people who are going to be affected; and I do not think anybody in this House will deny that if by any chance we so cripple Italy that she cannot continue to do anything at all in Abyssinia, the chaos that would ensue, the murders, the rapine, the looting would be one of the most horrible things in the history of mankind. Short of the amusing suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—namely, that the only way would be to give a Mandate to Germany and let her expand there-short of that, which would hardly commend itself to your Lordships, there is no choice in Abyssinia now but between Italy and chaos. You must face that, and not go mouthing platitudes about collective security. You must face the world as it is.

I hope I have not detained your Lordships too long, but I do feel strongly on this matter. The: present people who have represented us at Geneva, with the best intentions, and those also who have represented most of the other nations—I understand that twenty-two nations have Foreign Secretaries there—being so ill-equipped for the job, have kept on making a bad shot, and I plead that in future the Government should send men such as I describe. It is difficult to define them, but we know the kind of man. To name two in this House, a man like Lord Ullswater or a man like Lord Hardinge—different in many ways but certainly-possessed of the judicial temper and having wide knowledge. Let us send them; they have no reason to get excited, far from it. I name two, but in your Lordships' House there are many men of that kind. The more often you can find a man really trained in the law of this and other countries, Roman Law and our own law, the better. Let us get people with the judicial mind. The place for the Foreign Secretary of Great Britain is in the Foreign Office in London, and nowhere else, and our representative should be a man who has nothing to do but to bend a judicial mind to these problems on which hang peace and war and very likely the future destinies of mankind.


My Lords, I have listened, as we all have, with the closest attention to all that has been said last week and to-day in your Lordships' House regarding the League of Nations. Much has been stated in support of that institution, but your Lordships will surely agree that the case is weak. It rests partly upon half-articulate hopes and, for the rest, upon self-deception. Of substantial achievement in world affairs there is unfortunately no hint. I submit that your Lordships should at least give a lead in bringing the policy of His Majesty's Government back to the realities of Europe. The time for chasing shadows is past. It is emphatically not our duty to reform the world. It is, on the other hand, our duty to solve in a just and strong way our own problems of country and Empire. Indeed many, in view of our own pressing necessities, are convinced that it might have been better had the League of Nations never existed. The foreign policy pursued by our successive Governments in the last fifteen years whilst that policy has been overshadowed by the League has tragically lacked fine ideas, great initiative and decisive action. It has kept us at peace, but it is not a peace with honour. I could add my reflections as to how that peace might be described, but I forbear.

Were we not unfortunately heavily committed in an international sense I would most strongly urge that your Lordships press on His Majesty's Government the desirability of leaving the League forthwith. As heavy commitments presumably make this impossible, there are two practical courses open for us to follow. Either we may try to persuade all other nations to secede from the League, a course which the smaller will probably not like to follow, even though they do not pay their due subscriptions, or we must arrange that Germany, France, Italy and Russia should join with us forthwith in council and conference to secure the peace of Europe that has been endangered by the futilities of the past incompetent years.

I do not want to suggest to your Lordships that the League has done no useful work whatever. The various Committees that have been set up to deal with matters such as drugs and the white slave traffic have no doubt done valuable work, but the League has completely failed in its main purpose. War threatens almost everywhere, and the rule of law is openly and defiantly flouted. I beg therefore to make the tangible and practical suggestion that the five great Powers that sway the fate of Europe should meet without delay and measure their differences and their respective objects and policies, lest perhaps our whole civilisation flounders in one awful storm whilst the League of Nations is scanning the horizon for a cloud.

I am very conscious of the privilege which falls to me to-day of addressing your Lordships for the first time. I had hoped to make my maiden speech on the subject of aviation, so important from every angle, while that was being debated. Lord Ponsonby did at least touch on this subject last week, when he stated that the Lord Bishop of Durham had all the qualities that would enable him to become an Air Marshal. I wonder if the suggestion came after a discussion with the noble Viscount who controls the destinies of the Royal Air Force with such distinction?


My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.