§ Debate again resumed (according to Order) on the Motion, moved by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede last Thursday, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to any preparations for proposals to the League of Nations for a thorough revision of the system of collective security in view of recent experiences.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, before dealing with the very broad issue that the noble Lord opposite has placed before your Lordships, I should like to deal quite briefly with one or two minor, though important, issues which have arisen in the course of the debate. It has been suggested that by the course of events this country has suffered some humiliation. If it has, it is humiliation that is shared with about fifty other Powers, and when you get one-fiftieth of the humiliation attributed to yourself it does not cause me, anyhow, any very acute suffering. I should like to mention a general criticism that has been made by the Opposition Party on the action of the Government during most of last year, because much of it seemed to me to proceed on a quite erroneous basis. They are supporters of collectivist action, and it seems to me that the Government also have faithfully followed collectivist action, but most of their criticism seemed to be addressed to the fact that the Government had not acted in their own individual capacity.
For instance, we are told that the Government were very lax in making known to Italy the seriousness of the situation about Abyssinia and that they neglected altogether to press it before Italy at the Stresa Conference, but really all these criticisms seem to me to proceed on the 1008 assumption that the British Government were free to act as they chose. You may attack the Government because they were not sufficiently collectivist, which was the policy that they proclaimed, but you can hardly attack them because they were not sufficiently individualistic, especially when you are a supporter of collectivism yourself. The words of the Prime Minister were: "Not one inch in front and not one inch behind." I dare say it is quite possible that if there had been no League of Nations, and this country had been perfectly free to act by itself, there would have been no Abyssinian war, but that is not a matter into which I can go now. The noble Viscount. Lord Cecil, who spoke on Tuesday, used the words, "If the Government had recommended much more strong action."I do not know what "recommended" means. The point is whether the action was strong, because he seems to think that if the action recommended by the British Government had been much stronger, it would have been accepted by the League and carried out. I do not see any justification for that theory at all, because we were, I think, rather ahead of the League perhaps in most of our actions, and there is no doubt that from the Italian point of view, if they are judges, they seem to think that we were the head and front of most of the offending.
There is another point I should like to comment on, and that is a remarkable statement made by the noble Lord. Lord Snell, in his speech. He said:The black races throughout the whole of Africa are now going through a period of deep resentment and distrust of the Power they have looked to for protection and for strength.That is a very strong statement, that through the whole of Africa these 25,000,000 composing the black races feel that they have been let down. I do not quite know what evidence the noble Lord has for that most sweeping statement. It is quite obvious, I think, that these ill-informed blacks should be told by somebody what is the state of the case. I think if the noble Lord himself would undertake a movement in Central Africa to explain that so far from having let them down, this country, as we all know, incurred the enmity of Italy because it took so strong an action in the case of Abyssinia, it would be a good thing. I hope later on, if the noble Lord has any 1009 evidence to show that 25,000,000 of blacks are still seriously disturbed, he will place it before your Lordships.
There is another point on which I should like to ask a question, and that is whether the sanctions are now to be carried on, whether they are to be reinforced, or whether they are to be lifted? It is quite clear that if they are to be carried on it must be on an entirely different ground from that on which they were started. They were started to prevent war or to check the war from being carried on. The fall of Abyssinia has entirely altered that situation, and the question arises whether sanctions ought now to be continued, and if so, for how long, and whether they are to be carried on in order to procure a particular aim or merely to express our indignation. Is the carrying on of sanctions, in fact, to be a penalty or a procedure to obtain some further end? I would suggest that if the sanctions have been proved to be futile, or nearly futile, already, they are hardly likely, now that Italy is flushed with success, to be more effective. If you ask whether more effective sanctions are likely to be imposed, I think the answer will probably be, in the negative. However, I suppose the question is not pressing, because the Council of the League has adjourned until the middle of June. Sometimes adjournment is more important than decision.
The question then arises whether the aggressor, so proclaimed, is to have his way, and this opens up the whole of the broad question which was started by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, as to whether the League as at present constituted is effective or not. On that very wide and important issue I should like to offer a few comments. Broadly speaking, the answer given by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, is that the League was successful. He is, of course, the great champion of the League—and I do not except noble Lords opposite—in this House, and his view is that with a very few changes the League ought to be maintained in its present position. He reminded us of the facts about certain successes that the League had had in the past. I confess I was rather surprised to hear included among those successes the case of Corfu. If I remember aright, that was a case where the League, I 1010 regret to say, was treated with almost as much flouting contempt as it has been treated lately by Signor Mussolini over again. There was a refusal to have anything to do with the League, and the matter, if my recollection is correct, was referred to a Congress of Ambassadors at Paris, who managed finally, apart from the League, to secure a settlement.
But I know that all our memories are likely to be idealised when we look back upon the past. The wars which were stopped as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has told us, were of the nature of small wars—that is to say, wars between small Powers—and it is very interesting to look back at the statement made by the late Lord Balfour in 1925. He then laid it down in a famous document that small wars—by which I think he meant wars between small Powers—might indeed be prevented by the action of the League, but he spoke of the difficulty of dealing with cases arising from deep-lined causes of hostility that divided great and powerful States. He laid down clearly, I think, at that time the difference between these minor matters, on which no doubt the League can claim certain successes, and the case in which great Powers (or a great Power, as in this case) are roused to certain action: What then will the Covenant of the League be able to do? It is obvious that you cannot have one law for the great Powers and another law for the small Powers. If you are to use and enjoy and insist upon your clauses of coercion they must be applied impartially both to small Powers and great Powers whenever these disputes arise.
With great respect to my noble friend Lord Cecil, I do not think his defence really touched the heart of the question—that is to say, how is the coercive power of the League to be used, or how can it be used, when a great Power is concerned in one of these disputes? He seemed rather to suggest that if this country had been more zealous about the League for the last ten years, if it had not made a series of mistakes, the situation would be different and, therefore, that there is no need to change your policy. But the question I desire to raise is whether this failure is merely incidental or whether it is deep-seated; whether in fact, it arises necessarily out of the present constitution of the League. There is first of all that fear, among a large number of 1011 States, of applying force. I am not condemning that fear, because they must always be beset by the great fear of enlarging the scope of a war.
Again, Members of the League, according to their distance from the scene of dispute, are so very differently affected by the situation that it is very difficult indeed to obtain what I may call a common denominator of interests. Moreover, as we all know, States do consider in these matters their particular interests, and, when the choice comes to be made, they balance their obligations under the Covenant against these particular interests, and their particular interests generally win. I think it has been suggested that the case of France was an incidental case—France divided by its interests, its friendship with Italy, its difficulties with Germany. You will always have those divisions of interest in any matter of importance. You cannot eliminate this conflict of interest, this conflict between the general interest of the League and the individual interests of particular Powers.
The fourth general condition on which I would like to lay stress is that the constitution of the League, with its elaborate procedure, its numerous Committees, though excellent for discussion and conference, is perfectly useless when it comes to a question of force. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, dwelt upon the remarkable success which the League had had in being able to agree upon a particular course of action. That has been remarkable, but it is not enough to agree upon a course of action. You have to follow up that course of action, and that is where the League has hopelessly broken down. When you do get into difficulties the aggressor can always oppose his secrecy of action to the wide publicity of the League. The speed, the directness and the concentration necessary for the use of force is quite impossible to the League.
The inference seems at first sight to be that Articles 10 and 16 should be cut out of the Covenant. I submit that it is very dangerous to maintain these articles in their present form. So long as they were unused they might have had a deterrent and awe-inspiring effect. They carried with them a vague suggestion of authority. But, once challenged effectively, they 1012 become ridiculous, a mere piece of documentary bluster. The truth is that this episode has been on so great a scale, has been so open and patent to all the world, that it is very difficult to believe that in any circumstances any great Power will be deterred in the future by these articles relating to force, however that country may be governed, whatever its economic constitution may be, whether its rulers are dictators or elected Ministers. Worse than that, it is very difficult to see how any small Power can any longer place full confidence in the support and protection of the League. In this respect nothing can be said against Abyssinia. The conduct of Abyssinia of its international business has been most skilful. It has followed most faithfully and correctly all the procedure of the League.
If you are going to strip the League of coercive force you must then consider what its position would be if it was purely a body of conciliation. I agree, of course, that there are serious objections to this. One is that, the League having started as a body combining conciliation and force, it would be rather difficult to change its character and to embark on an entirely new basis of pure conciliation. It might be some time before the League could make clear to the world that it had altered its character. There is also the fear that if it was so constituted many States might leave it on the assumption that it had become a purely academic body, one of gesture rather than of positive action. The question would have to be considered also, if the League was a pure body of conciliation and consultation, examining views and pronouncing opinions, whether its opinions would prevail. I think that very likely, until it had built up a character for fairness and equity, its opinions might not prevail. On the other hand, if the League were free from the suspicion of the use of force, its judgment might have greater weight than if it were suspected that some great Power was using the League to further its own ends. Surely, anything is better than a pretence of force which does not exist. Anything is better than raising false hopes and false expectations. I am not suggesting that we should leave the League, and even if I thought we should leave it I think the change might be too abrupt for public opinion in this country, but we must use our position there, which I am told is so 1013 great—and I believe is great—to insist on a revision of the Covenant.
After the battering of sixteen years that the Covenant has received it is not surprising that it needs some renovation. I think it is an attractive idea to have in the world one representation of States which stands purely for persuasion and arguments and not for force. Probably many Powers that have not already joined the League would be ready to do so if that new basis was made quite definite. Then we come to the difficulty that if you are going to make the League purely advisory and conciliatory you would have to consider where force does come in, because you are not going to banish force from the world and force is going to be used in the last resort. Regional agreements between neighbouring Powers with certain definite liabilities would still be necessary, and no doubt it would be essential to contemplate the ultimate use of force, but I think there would not be the same danger as there is now of a general conflagration and of all the Powers being brought into almost every war. These arrangements could be much more specific and definite and limited than are the general and sometimes indefinite obligations of the Covenant. They would be clearly set out and their objectives would be positive. If force had to be used it could be used far more effectively by the nationals, of each State knowing what they were fighting about.
Therefore we are faced by these two difficulties. We have on the one hand the danger that the League stripped of force would be too academic and indefinite, and on the other hand the risk that these regional agreements might grow into a new version of the old balance of power. Is it possible to reconcile those difficulties? These regional agreements, if recorded with the League, would in fact be declarations of what each State regarded as its obligations, most clearly defined. Each State would then lay down the scope and limitations of its own action, and would be able also to appreciate more clearly the policies and aims of its rivals. If after a breach of an agreement force had to be used, there would be no question of calling upon the League to use force or of mobilising all the forces of the world, and the League, and all the other nations in 1014 the League outside the specific dispute, would not be involved. The League, of course, might be recognised as the interpreter of treaties, and the parties, of course, would always be able, as they are now, to have recourse to the League for the discussion or settlement of a dispute. But some such rearrangement of functions seems to me to be essential if we believe that to impose upon the League these coercive functions is really futile and that further, in certain quarrels, whether we like it or not, nations will resort to war, and that if there is such a resort we should do our best to limit the area of war to the smallest possible dimensions.
I put forward this suggestion very tentatively and with diffidence, but we have, I think, to find some middle way unless we are going to abolish the League altogether and fall back on to reliance on local arrangements and agreements. If we do not want to split the League into three Leagues, as a noble Lord recently suggested, we have to try whether we cannot establish a new relation between the regional agreement and the general view of the League as established at Geneva. We have been spectators of great events, few of which have turned out as we should have shaped them. The men of 1919 and 1920 were still working under the stress of war emotions. Many of their hopes have been unfulfilled, and we can estimate better in this new world the limitations and ambitions of rulers and of States. We must therefore, I submit, without repining, set aside old views which are outworn, and recognise the testing power of time. We have to make a new model instrument, more simple perhaps in contrivance but tougher in manufacture, for the salvage of peace.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, the speech to which we have just listened is one of great weight, but the subject-matter and the proposals put forward by my noble friend are so difficult and raise matters so delicate that he will excuse me if I do not follow him. I want on this occasion to put forward what to many will seem a strange and novel view—namely, that, except for one unhappy episode in December, His Majesty's Government from first to last have been right and consistent in their policy and have steered the ship of State with great skill between, shall we say, the Scylla of 1015 Lord Mottistone and the Charybdis of Lord Strabolgi.
But for the moment I should like to say a word on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, following upon other speeches to which the House has listened with great pleasure. It is always interesting to listen to the noble Lord, because of the contrasts in his speech. In one sentence he will say something sound, wise, humorous, and in the next he will utter a paradox such as "The greater your defence, the greater your danger," from which the judgment of your Lordships must instinctively revolt. Some time ago the noble Lord said that neither the Prime Minister, nor Mr. Eden, nor my noble friend Lord Halifax, nor my noble friend Lord Stanhope, was an especially immoral man, and he and they will be pleased to learn that that view is entirely confirmed by my own diagnosis. But when I say that, I confess that I have the gravest doubts as to the ethics of the noble Lord himself. He has said that he does not base his arguments here and his policy upon morality. I am rather afraid that his arguments are divorced from morality. But when I say that, I willingly give him the benefit of the theological distinction between conscious and unconscious sin, and if the worst comes to the worst I hope he will seek, and obtain, shriving from the Bishop of Durham!
What is the noble Lord's view of a solemn, public, international covenant? Is it the expression of an ideal, to be dropped when found difficult and inconvenient to be carried out, or is it a real pledge, to be seen through as far as is humanly possible? Last year the Covenant of the League of Nations had been unchallenged, except by private criticism, for sixteen years. It had been approved by Government after Government. It was taken as the basis of our international policy. What would have been said of us if, the first time it was sought to be enforced—because for technical reasons it did not arise in the Japanese case—the first time, in the popular phrase, we were really up against it, we had repudiated it and struck out on a policy of our own? What faithless poltroons we should have been thought, and should have been! There are three strange arguments which have been put forward, not by the noble Lord to whom I have referred, but by 1016 others, against that policy. The first is that we have risked a friendship with Italy. Was such a thing never thought of before? Was it supposed that, if we followed out the Covenant of the League we should not make enemies? Had that never been conceived? Have we just drifted on all these fifteen or sixteen years under the supposition that to enforce the Covenant would be a simple and easy thing? Of course we must expect attack and misrepresentation when we carry out an obligation like this. I cannot help thinking sometimes that we are becoming too sensitive to foreign opinion, and that we should be the better for a little more of our good old callous, insular prejudice when we consider the opinion of others. I would say in a matter like this: "Let the Gentiles rage and their prostitute scribblers imagine. Vain things; it will not hurt us if we keep our heads and keep our arms."
Another argument is that the Italians are worthy people and the Abyssinians are not. Does that come into the conception of justice? Are you to found a verdict upon the antecedents of the parties or upon the merits of the case? I believe that the Lollards had a doctrine that bad people had no civic rights, but that has never been accepted in English law. Though you can take character into account in sentence, you cannot take it into account in verdict. Then there is a third argument, that our own record is not spotless. I know of nothing in our record at all comparable to this invasion of Abyssinia, but even if the accusation were true, it is not relevant. Because we did not do our duty in the past, are we not to do it in the present? Is consistency in evil to be regarded as a virtue? Because that is what this strange argument amounts to. Of course, the fact of the League makes the whole difference. It has been said over and over again, but seems to me to have been forgotten, that in this case we have not taken sides with Abyssinia against Italy but we have sought to vindicate the League as we have promised. That makes the whole difference, and any hauling up of the misdeeds of our past is wholly irrelevant.
We are told about our loss of prestige. As far as my experience goes our prestige is lost at least twice a year. I remember that as a small boy in the early 'eighties 1017 my first political conception was that our prestige had been utterly and irretrievably ruined by Mr. Gladstone, and certainly, looking back, I do think his policy, apart from his character, did go a long way to prove it; but we have survived him and have survived a great deal since, and to suppose that we are to change our policy because for the time being an ignorant opinion assumes that we have failed is to accuse us of a lack of statesmanship which I hope we do still possess. After all, our action in the autumn was not quixotic. Many people of great judgment thought that the measures we had taken would be successful, and it was only quite lately that; it appeared to have been a vain hope. Many thought—I will not go into the question of enforcing sanctions now—that the war would have been continued until at least next autumn and that sanctions by that time would have had due effect. And, indeed, I think it might have been the case if the Abyssinians had been able to follow out the tactics of the Russians against Napoleon or of the Boers against ourselves in abandoning their capital and keeping their forces intact. It was not quixotic to think that sanctions as then applied might succeed. Certainly from first to last I think our policy was just, and it was neither rash nor cowardly, and if it did not succeed we have nothing to be ashamed of.
I come now for a moment to the present position. I suggest that it is of no use keeping sanctions on merely for the purpose of annoyance to Italy, and no good keeping them on for the purpose of merely asserting a principle. At least I do not think it is, and of course the unhappy Abyssinians cannot now be helped by them; but I will not say that they have no diplomatic use at the moment. I think it does reduce itself to a question of pure expediency, and as a matter of pure expediency I think we must trust the Foreign Office and its advisers as to how far it is expedient not immediately to change the measures we have already adopted. As to the future, personally, if the League went altogether, I should not despair of Europe. After all, the settlement achieved by Metternich and Castlereagh prevented a general catastrophe for ninety-nine years. I think we may well say—it is a perfectly valid argument; no one can prove or disprove it—that from 1890 to 1914 the peace of Europe was 1018 secured by our Fleet and the German Army, and it is quite conceivable that in some future state those two factors may play the same part.
But I do not wish the League to go. After all, this enormous organisation, thought out with great zeal and great ability, is there, and it would seem a pity if it cannot be put in the future to use in some other form for which it was devised. I confess that I am not very much impressed by the argument as to a round table. That may be of use if the representatives come there with open minds, but if they come there with sealed ears and gramophonic voices it is of not much use. Lord Ponsonby put forward suggestions about the automatic revision of treaties. I was rather attracted by it but I am afraid it might lead to the stirring up of a great deal towards the end of the three years which might otherwise be spared. I do think, however, that anyone who complains of the incidence of existing treaties should have a better right of appeal and security for genuine discussion than some countries think they have at present. It is a highly difficult matter to devise, but I do submit that something of that sort is necessary in the present state of Europe and the world.
I listened with great attention to the speech of my noble friend Lord Lothian, the other day, and I came much nearer to agreement with his views than I usually do, but I think a great part of his speech was really directed against the whole policy of President Wilson. Of course, that is past history and it is of no use going into it now, but I say with great regret that I am rather afraid he proved his point that emergencies might arise under the present constitution of the League in which countries, brought into the position of saying whether they are going to fight for the League or not, might shrink from the ordeal. The issue might not be so simple as is supposed, We know very often that in private disputes a clever solicitor will manoeuvre the natural defendant into the position of plaintiff, and it may be that the League may be forced to give a decision on strictly legal grounds against a country which is not really the aggressor at all. If such a state of things arose, many nations, not excluding ourselves, might shrink from pressing sanctions to the 1019 point of war. And of course in our case and in the case of other nations, whatever decision the Government might come to, they might find that their people would not follow them.
I think that in this there is a special danger if we take the questions troubling Europe at the present day, and I say that the whole system will break down if it is even suspected that the League exists not for guaranteeing universal peace but to support a Franco-Slav hegemony in Europe. I am afraid I am forced to the impotent conclusion that the League could only succeed by an empirical policy, passing judgment on the case before it and enforcing its judgment according to its best powers at the moment, but recognising (and here I agree with Lord Peel) that under the present terms of the Covenant their action might be impotent. I would like to conclude as I began by saying that, whatever the mistakes of the past sixteen years and whatever the difficulties of the future, His Majesty's Ministers have done nothing to forfeit our confidence and trust.
§ LORD DICKINSON
My Lords, whatever may be the differences of opinion displayed on the subject of the League of Nations, I am sure all your Lordships will be unanimous in thanking Lord Ponsonby for having given us an opportunity for the debate which has taken place, and in particular for the intimaation which he made that his solution was the elimination of all force from the Covenant of the League. "Force," he said, "as a factor in the regulation of word affairs is of no use whatever." I wish I could agree with him. All over the world men do resort to force and they have to be met by force. This, I take it, is true not only in relation to international disputes but to industrial disputes and other disagreements where both sides are equally convinced that they are right. In all this the law has to preserve the peace, and how can it succeed in doing this without some exercise of force? I ask my noble friend, if a man were to break into his house bearing a lighted torch and proceed to set fire to the building would he not seize the torch from him by force and so save the lives of his family?
1020 My noble friend has been consistent in his opinions on this question, but I do not think that he has convinced many that he is right. I remember that in 1915, when some of us were at work trying to plan out a League of Nations, this point was discussed by a group of men of whom Lord Bryce was Chairman, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, wrote an able memorandum very much on the lines of the speech the other day, but it did not convince us then, and I doubt if he has convinced your Lordships now. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that if you want to stop fighting you must be ready to use force. When or how it should be used is another question, which can only be decided when the occasion arises and this is the principle on which Article 16 is based. It is very easy to decry Article 16, but it will be wise not to condemn it until we have fully decided what we should put in its place. The principle involved underwent discussion very fully before the Treaty of Versailles was framed. During the Great War various Committees were set up in England, France, America and elsewhere for elaborating schemes for preventing future war. The Committee in France was pre sided over by M. Leon Bourgeois, a former Prime Minister, that in America had at its head no less a politician than ex-President Taft. In England the Committee of the Foreign Office had as its Chairman the late Lord Phillimore, a distinguished international lawyer. The opinion that force must be at the disposal of the League was held by all these men and it was especially insisted upon by the Republican members of the American organisation. Indeed, they would have preferred to designate the League as a "League to Enforce Peace"
It is a sad reflection that, this being the opinion of the leading members of the Republican Party, nevertheless, when President Wilson put his name to the Treaty whereby the United States undertook to assist the rest of the world to preserve world peace, the members of that Party in the Senate refused to stand by him, and the League started on its career without the one Power whose cooperation in the enforcement of peace was the most essential. Article 16 with America in the League would have succeeded, I believe, in preventing this war. Without America, it was almost bound to fail. I mention this because I believe that a moment has arisen when it might 1021 be possible to induce the American people to reconsider their attitude towards the League. I know well the obstacles that lie in the way; but the experiences of the war in Abyssinia, the methods whereby it has been carried on, and the disregard of the laws of warfare and of humanity displayed by a civilised nation have had an immense effect upon public opinion in America. If the election in America gives Mr. Roosevelt a new mandate, he may find it possible to lead his nation to accept its share of responsibility in the international life of the world. If the price of American co-operation were the abolition of Article 16 I would even go so far as to sacrifice that article, because I think it would then have become unnecessary.
If the absence of the United States from the League has made Article 16 ineffective, equally fatal has been the absence of Germany. If German delegates had been at Geneva and had voted for sanctions it is hardly conceivable that Italy would have stood out. France, Germany and England jointly determined to put pressure upon Italy to stop the war, and ready if necessary to resist by joint military measures any armed attack that might be directed against either of them, would have been a force that could not be defied. To anyone who watched the events in Geneva it must have been evident that Germany has held the key of the situation. The doubt as to what Germany would do was the factor that rendered decisive measures impossible. Why was not Germany there? I have no wish to defend or excuse Germany; but no one who has followed the proceedings of the League since 1919 can fail to realise that Germany had some reason for refusing to remain a member of that body.
At the outset Germany was refused a voice in framing the constitution of the League. She was not admitted to the League until 1956, and it is not surprising that the German people should have regarded the League of Nations as a pro-French institution from which justice could not be expected. This view was fortified by the proceedings in the Disarmament Conference, where for five years the German delegates vainly urged that under the terms of the Versailles settlement the disarmament of Germany was to be followed by an equal amount of disarmament on the part of the other 1022 Powers. Since it seemed hopeless to attain this basis of equality, the Germans took the matter into their own hands and left the League. I think it is regrettable that they adopted that course; but I can understand the reasons they had for doing so. In any case we ought to be glad that now they appear willing to reconsider their action, and certainly in my opinion we ought to put no difficulty in the way of their return to Geneva.
For this reason I regret that the Government have thought it necessary to cross-examine the German Government as to their intentions. I doubt whether anything is gained by this process. No method has yet been discovered whereby a State which desires to break its promise can be compelled to observe it. And until this is done we must be content, I think, to accept treaties on their face value and to trust to the growing determination of a civilised world to insist upon their observance. There is, I believe, an international sense of honesty gradually making itself felt throughout the world, and by this alone will this end be attained. Moreover, are we wise in querying everything that Herr Hitler says? I have often heard it said that in view of what he wrote in his book about France his protestations of friendship towards that country cannot be genuine. He has given his own answer to this comment in the interview that he had with M. de Jouvenel on March 29:When I wrote Mein Kampf"—he said—I was in prison. It was the time when the French troops occupied the Ruhr district. It was the moment of greatest tension between our two countries…But to-day there is no reason for conflict…You want me to correct my book…I do my correcting in my foreign policy itself, which is based upon Franco-German understanding.I hold that the wise course on the part of this country is to accept this assurance and so help to bring about that understanding without which it is hopeless to expect any peace in Europe.
"But then," people will say, "even though the German Chancellor may be genuinely anxious for peace, how can you trust the German people, when we see how readily they are absorbing the old pre-War ideas of military grandeur and desire for war?" I wonder how far we are right in this estimate of what is passing in the mind of Germany. The other 1023 day I read a speech delivered before a purely German audience on March 8 of this year. After alluding to the sacrifices of the Great War, the orator said:Those rivers of blood warn all mankind to forget hatred and untruth and to serve a peace of mutual respect and justice…. The world must not forgot the sacrifices and the sufferings of the Great War. We veterans, particularly, have the duty to transmit to coming generations the true picture of war. The young generation above all must beware of the false romantic idea of war as a joyous adventure. There can be no battles which can be compared with the hell of machine-made battles. Modern war arouses all human passions, the noblest and the most sordid; but it destroys the fine flower of a nation's manhood, leaving no gain for victors or vanquished.The speaker then went on to argue that a strong Germany is the safest guardian of peace. He said:The responsibility for the general race in armaments does not lie with us. We have none of those anonymous forces in the new Germany which unleash the dogs of war upon the world. We do not want world revolution, nor war profits for capitalistic wire-pullers. We have only one aim, to be allowed to work in security at the peaceful construction of our new Reich.This reads like the speech of a passive resister. The orator might have been Mr. George Lansbury himself. He was, in fact, General von Blomberg, the War Minister of Germany. People may say that he was speaking with his tongue in his cheek. I do not think so. His audience was purely German. The occasion was the memorial service for those who died in the War. He would not be likely to say anything which might offend his hearers. On the contrary, he was probably voicing their sentiments.
I believe we shall make a great mistake if we base our policy on the idea that the German people are pervaded by a desire for war. By wise diplomacy we ought to be able to bring Germany in as a buttress of a new world peace. The moment is opportune, because the League of Nations is now considering what action it can take in regard to the situation in Abyssinia. It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that the sanctions at present in force shall be forthwith withdrawn. It seems to me that such an act on the part of the League would be an unpardonable confession of defeat when there is, as yet, no real defeat, and it would be followed by a rush of gold into Italy from speculators who 1024 would snatch at any chance of making money out of a temporary boom in Italian securities. On the other hand, I admit it is difficult to see how the existing economic sanctions under Article 16 can be permanent. They were imposed, as my noble friend has just said, for the purpose of putting a stop to fighting. When fighting has ceased, it is doubtful whether these sanctions are legal, and in any case it will be hard to persuade all the States to continue for much longer to put impediments in the way of their own traders.
We have to recognise that the League must devise new methods of action suited to the new situation, and in order to do this, it is, in my opinion, essential that America and Germany shall give their assistance. In any event, both these States will find it necessary to declare their attitude towards the annexation of Abyssinia. They will have to decide whether to regard it as a legal transfer of territory or as the usurpation of power. Under the old law of nations, conquest gave a good title. It cannot be so now. All the nations of the world which have signed the Pact of Paris, including Italy, have renounced war as an instrument of national policy. War itself is now illegal, and I submit to your Lordships that an illegality cannot create legality. The annexation of Abyssinia ought to be denounced by every signatory of the Pact of Paris, amongst whom the first is the United States of America. The conquest has been achieved not only in defiance of the Kellogg Pact, but by ignoring every rule of warfare and dictate of humanity which have hitherto been accepted by civilised States and generally made effective by the acts of neutrals.
The people of America have led the world in the framing of International Law. Is it too much for us to ask them to help us in making that law effective? It is impossible, of course, to drive Italy out of Ethiopia to-day or to-morrow; but this is no reason why the world should acquiesce in an act of criminal violence. Up to now, the Members of the League have striven to do only what was right, and this fact has raised the League in the estimation of honest people all the world over. We must not allow her to lose this reputation; for, sooner or later, the honest people will prevail, and even the Italians will learn that it is a mistake to offend the conscience of mankind.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships only for a very few minutes. I have read and listened to all the speeches on the subject of how to avoid future wars that have been made in your Lordships' House during this year, and, if I may say so, I am really amazed at the amount of time that has been given to discussing what I venture to call impracticable methods. I feel more convinced than ever that not only do we waste time, but we deceive a large number of people in our own country and all over the world. I have listened to proposals that came from the Liberal Benches, to a noble Lord who spoke on an International Police Force. Why, you have not got one Police Force in England! You cannot get agreement on it. How are you going to get agreement on an International Police Force for the whole world? It is not practicable. Again, I heard a suggestion from some noble Lord who talked about a just and equitable settlement. What he might call a just and equitable settlement I might call unjust and inequitable. That is bound to be the case if we talk about peace based on agreement, not only agreement in this nation, but agreement among all the other nations. I ask, with all respect, is it possible? Can you get agreement in a village or in a town? Can you get agreement in a Party? I see that the Labour Party have sometimes changed their Leader because they cannot get agreement.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
I am quite in agreement. The noble Earl who opened the discussion this afternoon referred, I think, to the noble Lord who loads the Opposition as saying that every native in Africa would feel he had been let down. That may or may not be so, but, if it is so, it is due to the large number of speeches made suggesting that these impracticable ideals could be carried out. Only the day before yesterday I listened to the noble Viscount who sits on the Cross Bench in front of me, and who made a very moving speech on ideals with which I thoroughly agree, but which are based on what is not practicable. Are there not a large number of people in this country who, when men with great names and great-positions which carry great weight say 1026 that they will have collective security or an International Police Force, or something else, remark: "Oh there is something in it"? The Government then carry it out, and when the test comes it fails. Are we not deceiving people in that way? I would beg of those whose duty it is to form a policy to prevent war in the future to remember that it does untold harm when great ideals are put forward that are based on impracticable suggestions. Let us be quite certain that we base them on practical suggestions.
§ LORD SANDERSON
My Lords, this is the first time I have spoken in your Lordships' House on foreign affairs, and now, like my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, I can only speak for myself alone and not for my Party. But I feel that I can no longer sit silent and that as an occupant of the Front Opposition Bench I owe it to your Lordships and myself to make my position clear. A great many people are now going about saying that they are humiliated. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, I think, referred to my Leader, Lord Snell, as being humiliated. I think there are a great many reasons for humiliation, quite apart from this Abyssinian war. To me it is humiliating to find how many people there are all over the world and how many nations there are in the world who believe that their safety lies in big armaments. It is to me a humiliation to find that people who call themselves Christians are debating as to whether war is compatible with Christianity, and even whether the Founder of Christianity himself was or was not in favour of war. It is to me humiliating to think that after those four ghastly years of the Great War there are people who are willing to take even the slightest risk of plunging us into another war.
The failure of the League to prevent and stop the Italo-Abyssinian War is a tragedy, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said the other day. But let us see to it that it does not lead us into entirely to blame for the tragedy. Our worse tragedies. This country is not Government might, I think, have done far more to stop the war than they did, but I also think they have been wise in not taking action which might have involved us in a European war. Although I never feel very much inclined to congratulate the Government, I think they ought to be congratulated on having kept 1027 us out of a European war, and I hope that in the forefront of their policy always there will be the determination to keep this country out of war in any part of the world. The first thing I think the Government should do is to take a lead in removing sanctions from Italy. The sanctions can do no good now. They may do great harm and even, if intensified, lead to war. I very much regret that the Government have not already taken a lead in this matter, and that sanctions are going to be kept on for another month. I should have liked to see them removed at once.
What is the effect of these sanctions? They could not stop the war, but they have and they are inflicting real hardship on the men, women and children of Italy, the Italian people. They are making it difficult for these people to get some of the necessaries of life, and they are raising the cost of living for them, most of them, as in the case of all countries, very poor people. Again, sanctions are interfering with and curtailing trade all over Europe. Of course to kill and torture Abyssinians with bombs and gas is an abominable atrocity, but I do not think I shall be exaggerating if I say that to bring suffering upon these poor Italian people is a very cruel act when there is not the slightest chance of sanctions doing what they were intended to do.
What are we to gain by continuing these sanctions? I have heard it said that we must bring about a civilised peace, make a civilised peace instead of a peace made by guns. But sanctions will not do that. The only way you can come to terms with Signor Mussolini is by methods of conciliation. It is the only possible way now. You cannot argue satisfactorily or come to any agreement with a man if you have a bludgeon in your hand and if he knows you have a pistol in your pocket. He may come to an agreement for the moment because of fear of being knocked on the head, but he will not keep to the agreement. He will take the first opportunity of getting out of it and getting his own way, probably with the use of his own bludgeon and pistol. You cannot do it in that way. The only chance of coming to terms with Mussolini is, I am certain, by treating the Italian people decently. Suppose our Government intend to press that sanctions be kept on, or agree with the League 1028 to keep on sanctions, and are not going to give a lead in removing them, which I hope is not the case—I hope they will decide not to go on with sanctions—what is the object of going on with them? What do they hope to accomplish by them? That is the question which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, raised, and I should like to press it still more.
What do they hope to gain? Are they going to try and starve the Italian people, or bring them into such a state of poverty and their country into such a state of financial exhaustion that Signor Mussolini will come crawling on his knees and say: "Make whatever sort of peace you like and do what you like about Abyssinia "? No one can really think that that is going to happen. The Government cannot think that that is going to happen. It never will happen. What then is the object the League has in view of keeping on these sanctions? Do they wish to restore the. Emperor of Abyssinia? Do they wish to set up some sort of Mandate over Abyssinia? Do they wish to divide up Abyssinia among the great Powers? Or is it merely a matter of revenge? I hope very much that the noble Earl, who, I understand, is to reply for the Government, will give us an answer to some of those questions, because I am sure many of your Lordships would like to know what is the object that the Government and the League have in view in suggesting the keeping on and the extension of sanctions.
Now I come to a word or two about the League. So far we have had a League with a bludgeon in its hand and a pistol in its pocket, and the bludgeon and the pistol have done a great deal more harm than good. I want to get rid of the bludgeon and the pistol. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and with the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, that we ought to get rid of Articles 10 and 16, and I hope the Government will take the lead in reforming the League of Nations in that direction as soon as possible. But I think the League must stay. I want the League to stay, but I want it to be what I may call a Round-Table League as sketched out by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby the other day and discussed by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, to-day. But I part company with the noble Earl because I gathered that he wanted some form of force behind the 1029 League. I do not. I want no force behind the League. I should like to send our representatives to the League without their hands being tied by any defensive alliance or any military or naval agreement whatever. I shall be told, I know, that with our representatives in that position our influence at the round table would be nil and we should carry no weight at all, because we should have no force to back our arguments and because no other nation could depend upon our giving them aid with force. I think the position would be absolutely the reverse of that. I believe our influence would be enormously strengthened because we should be the only nation in the world—until others followed our example—whom nobody feared.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, did not think very much, I am afraid, of a Round-Table League. He suggested that there is no alternative between going back to 1913 and pursuing the League policy and collective security. I hope I am not misrepresenting what he said. I do not want to go back to 1913 any more than he does—I think that would be disastrous—but I think it has been clearly shown that the League in its present form has entirely failed. The case of Aybssinia has shown that it has failed and that in its present form it can never deal satisfactorily with aggression by one of the great Powers, except, perhaps, by war. If we had had a World League, as was hoped and intended originally, things might have been very different, but I am afraid this League is more likely to bring us to disaster and war than to collective security. If we cannot go back to 1913—and I hope we cannot—and if the League of Nations as it is is going to bring us to war, if we can only get collective security by wars carried on by the League of Nations, we must, find some other way of securing peace. I think the only way is by a Round-Table League, a council of the nations at which we can work by conciliation, co-operation and understanding, and I think that is really all that can be done in regard to the League.
There is one other suggestion I have to make. It seems to me that at the present time it would be wise to deal with the world situation outside the atmosphere of the League altogether, away from the 1030 many unfortunate associations which have been built up around the League in recent months. I suggest that a world conference should be called at which the causes of war should be really gone into and discussed, a conference where all the nations could meet and lay their cards on the table and where you could get down to the root causes of war and try to deal with them and remove them. In my view the fundamental cause of war is fear. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, is in favour of a measure of international disarmament. So am I. The more disarmament we have the better. But to begin with disarmament is to begin at the wrong point of the circle, if I may put it like that. We have a vicious circle all the time—fear leading to armaments, armaments leading to more fear, more fear leading to more armaments, and so on. We have tried to prick the circle at armaments and we have failed. We have not got the world to disarm. Why not try to prick the circle at fear and see if we cannot remove the causes of fear. Go on with disarmament all the time as much as you can, but I am sure you have got to begin with fear.
Then there are the economic causes of war—questions of barriers against trade, currency questions, the questions of obstacles to migration, unequal distribution, of territory, the control of and access to raw materials. Surely all these questions could be thrashed out at a round table, especially if there was some willingness to make sacrifices and some spirit of good will amongst the peoples. Surely there might be a chance then of getting down to the real roots of the trouble, the fundamental causes of war, and trying to remove them. A conference of that kind would not do any harm and might be productive of immense good. I know that there are other speakers to whom your Lordships want to listen and I will only say in conclusion that in my view peace can never be secured by preparations for war, or by wars to end war, but only by removing the causes of war.
§ LORD STONEHAVEN
My Lords, may I say that I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord who has just sat down when he says peace is the one thing we want to secure above everything. Where we probably part company is about the methods most likely to secure peace. I cannot help thinking that the conference method has been 1031 tried and the one thing that has been proved is that a conference that fails is far worse than no conference at all. I am rather afraid that, contrary to what the noble Lord thinks, if a conference of the world were held and did not result in universal agreement the last state would be worse than the first. But the Motion which we are discussing tonight, and have been discussing for three days, is an attempt to ascertain from the Government whether they are preparing proposals "for a thorough revision of the system of collective security in view of recent experiences." It seems to mo that everybody is agreed that there ought to be some modification of the activities of the League of Nations, but no two people are agreed on the same point. So far from deserving blame, the Government have done everything that they possibly could have done to make the League of Nations work. They were obliged to make it work; it was the basis of our foreign policy, and they have done their utmost to make a success of it. The mistake is not in the Government's action. But I hope that the Government have come to the conclusion that the League does want drastic modification and that they will no longer, in view of its many failures, be content to rely on it as the mainstay of our foreign policy.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, gave us a very interesting account yesterday of the origin of the League, and incidentally cleared the memory of President Wilson of what some people might have thought was rather a cloud. It may have been supposed that the unsuitability of the League for dealing with international affairs might have been due to the unfamiliarity of President Wilson with European affairs. Apparently the League was invented in Whitehall. It was considered repeatedly by the different Cabinets, and so forth, and eventually the proposals were fathered by President Wilson because they appealed to him; but he was in no way responsible for their creation. I suggest that the League is based on fundamentally wrong principles. You may say that it was accepted by the Peace Conference, which is true, but it was not accepted by the United States of America, which was vitally important: and from the moment when the United States did 1032 not belong, it could not exercise that authority which alone would justify the rather arrogant phraseology, as it seems to me, of the Covenant. Further than that, at the time when the Covenant was drawn up we were going through a particularly virulent period of the conference idea. Whatever happened, the one cure for it was to call a conference. Ministers were kept flying about all over Europe attending one conference after another, with very little result. That may account in part for the acceptance of the League.
Its fundamental mistake is that it seems to presuppose that international affairs can be dealt with on Parliamentary lines. I do not think that that would have been agreed to by anybody who had any considerable experience of diplomatic service in practice. Most foreign countries have abandoned their Parliaments for their domestic affairs; it does not seem reasonable to suppose that they will be content to allow their international relations to be controlled by a Parliament in which many people sit who cannot bring any real influence to bear on affairs. It is interesting to look at page 12 of the most recent edition of the Covenant of the League and to notice who exactly are the nations composing it. It would be invidious to mention them, but if your Lordships will look at these nations you will appreciate that half of them cannot by any stretch of imagination bring any influence to bear on international relations. All they can do is to make speeches. A man's value is not always to be measured by his eloquence. We may have the most eloquent speeches at Geneva or elsewhere, and yet no result. As my noble friend on the Cross-Benches (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) said yesterday, in speaking of the mission of my noble friend sitting next to him (the Earl of Lytton), after a vast amount of work there was no result. Things are getting too difficult and too dangerous now to rely upon a system which does not give results. We are bound to get results, it seems to me.
There is a third point which I think we ought to take into account and which is certainly very much in the mind of anyone who has served abroad in the Diplomatic Service: that is, that foreign nations put totally different values on the need for enforcing international 1033 agreements. There are two outstanding examples. One was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Rennell in the debate the other day. That was the enforcement of the anti-slavery agreements, and the difficulty that was experienced in stopping that trade in view of the fact that slaves were carried in dhows flying the flags of European countries who did not attach the same importance as we did to suppressing the traffic which they were obliged by their undertakings to suppress. Another striking instance was the Convention against the traffic in arms. It was perfectly simple to go into the territory of another country, not our own, and buy a rifle and ammunition, perfectly serviceable for the country in which it could be bought, quite contrary to the provisions of the Arms Traffic Convention. Those arms could only have come through as contraband. That being a fundamental point, we have to remember also that, sooner or later, the interests of the League as a whole are bound to conflict with the interests of the particular States which compose it, and in such a case there is obviously a great danger that the interests of the League will take second place to the interests of the individual States.
Those are four reasons which seem to me to indicate that the basis of the League is not a sound one and that therefore it is necessary to ascertain, if we can, from the Government, if they are prepared to tell us, whether they are contemplating any further modifications in the League. And there is a further point about the League which we have to take into account now. The situation has been altered fundamentally by the events in Abyssinia. If your Lordships will pardon me for referring to the matter, it so happens that a quarter of the twelve years during which I was a member of the Diplomatic Service was spent in Abyssinia and in the surrounding countries. My duties carried me all over that country and gave me opportunities for studying it. Two things are very clear in my mind. It is no use and it is a mistake to ignore the fact that, by reaching Addis Ababa in seven months from Asmara on the one hand and from Mogadishu on the other, the Italians have achieved a very great success of engineering, of organisation and of endurance. There they are, and I was rather sorry to hear my noble friend 1034 Lord Cecil indicating that the disappearance of the Emperor is temporary. That presupposes that we, or somebody else, are prepared to fight the Italians to put him back. That is a kind of holding-out of hopes that we are not in a position to fulfil, and is very unfortunate. But there the Italians are, and instead of a very elementary nation, who by no stretch of imagination can be called good neighbours, but whose inroads into our districts could be dealt with quite efficiently by the very capable frontier officers that we have there, we have now got a European nation established there, and that gives us a frontier of 2,000 miles. There is no earthly reason why we should not live on good terms with our Italian neighbours, and indeed I think we have got to; but I do wonder whether we are going to make satisfactory arrangements, to use a set phrase," within the framework of the League and in the spirit of the Covenant." That is one reason why, having to face for the moment a very serious situation, I wonder whether our obligation to act within the League is not going to prove a hindrance.
I fear that Abyssinia has suffered and will suffer through our Membership of the League and this business being handed over to the League to deal with. We all remember very well what is rightly called Sir Samuel Hoare's great speech at Geneva in September, but his great speech at Geneva, which undoubtedly did represent the views which were predominant in this country, could not be reconciled with what I think was his much greater speech when he came back, having made an arrangement with M. Laval, in December. So far as Abyssinia is concerned, if the December policy had been carried out I do not think they would have had so much cause to regret it as they had their adherence to the September policy. It was manifestly impossible for this country to change round so quickly, but if we had dealt with that speech on its merits, as we should have done if we had not been handicapped by the League of Nations, there would probably have been a settlement in Abyssinia which would have been satisfactory to the Abyssinians and to the Italians. Thousands of lives which have been lost would have been saved, and you would not have had the whole of Europe, as we have at the present time, under a cloud of discomfort which wants dispelling. 1035 "Discomfort" is not a strong enough word. You have irritation and misunderstanding, a sort of feeling which does lead to war. If the League of Nations exists for the purpose of stimulating peaceful ideas throughout the world I cannot help feeling that it has failed miserably.
Then there is another thing. The noble Lord who has just sat down referred to fear as being one of the principal sentiments which lead to war, and he very rightly wanted to dispel fear. I do not think that that covers the ground. I believe the whole trouble now arises from the fact that there are two conflicting ideals in Europe. Our ideal, and the ideal of the French and of the smaller nations, is to preserve the existing situation and avoid war. Germany and Italy have made it quite clear that their intention is to expand. They have both said that they have not got room in their countries for their peoples, and they have drilled and equipped their nations for war to a point which makes it quite clear that, if they cannot get the expansion which they want by peaceful methods, they are prepared to go to war. That we have to contemplate and I think you have got to get back to what really amounts to defensive alliances such as we have had before. They have now got to be called regional pacts. But if you have nations banded together in order to deal with specific situations, surely it is wiser than having arrangements designed to prevent war but under conditions that ensure that if war should break out everybody has got to be in it. It has to be universal war, in contradistinction to what I think is a most mischievous phrase used by a Russian statesman, "peace indivisible." Why should it be indivisible any more than war. It is one of those catch phrases which do not mean anything but are most mischievous.
As I have said, we shall have the Italians as neighbours in Africa. I have had opportunities of visiting many parts of Abyssinia, and I was surprised to hear it described as unsuitable for colonisation. There are many thousands of acres of good country, well watered, with a good climate, five or six thousand feet above the sea level, which could be colonised in the way in which I think the Italians intend to colonise it. It is of no use to 1036 us, because our people are not prepared to go out to any part of the world on a peasant basis, but I think the Italians are perfectly suitable people to carry on in those regions. I believe that the Italians are quite capable of establishing a very large colony of their fellow-countrymen, living under precisely the same conditions as those under which they live in Italy, which are quite different from the conditions prevailing in this country.
My suggestion is a very simple one, and that is the resuscitating of the Diplomatic Service. It is not a bad suggestion that the cobbler should stick to his last, and the idea of politicians dashing about Europe, making speeches to audiences who do not know what they are talking about, is not a satisfactory substitution for the Diplomatic Service. The Diplomatic Service has meanwhile been in abeyance. It is not that we have not got suitable men. I have nothing to say against Mr. Eden as a statesman, but a more ghastly failure than his excursion to Rome I cannot imagine. It did not deter Signor Mussolini one hair's breadth from carrying out the policy which he was determined to carry out, but it did very much to injure the relations between this country and Italy. I do not say it was Mr. Eden's fault, but, I do say that it is a mistake for statesmen to go and do the work of Ambassadors, just as much as it would be to call an Ambassador on to the Front Bench and ask him to reply to questions in Parliament. Diplomacy is an art which has to be learned. Success in Parliament develops qualities which are a great asset in Parliament, but it does not follow that those qualities are useful in the Diplomatic Service, any more than they would be useful in the command of a squadron of battleships or a division in the field.
I do not think we shall do any good until we get back to the conditions prevailing in 1913. That was the end of a century of a great deal more peaceful and satisfactory relations than we have been having since the War, and as the present system has failed to the extent it has failed, I suggest that, instead of trying to make this thing work and trying to patch it up, it would be wise to recognise that its foundations are wrong. We have done our best to make it work, but the situation is getting so dangerous that. 1037 we must know where we stand, and. I suggest that we should go back to the old situation. Do not let Ambassadors be merely pillar boxes, and do not let the Foreign Secretary rush off at a moment's notice, whenever another Foreign Secretary asks for him, but let the other Foreign Secretary be told that we have a competent Ambassador ready to represent us.
§ LORD LLOYD
My Lords, the speech which we have just heard from my noble friend provides itself, I think, the best argument for the resuscitation of the Diplomatic Service, of which he was once a distinguished member. I find myself in agreement with almost every word he said, and especially with what he said with regard to the Diplomatic Service itself. Strangely enough, I did not find myself in quite such agreement with my noble friend Lord Rankeillour, with whom I always have hitherto found myself in complete agreement. He argued a little bit, I thought, that there would almost be some immorality in changing our policy from the Covenant.
§ LORD LLOYD
I beg my noble friend's pardon. I am glad he does not hold that view, because if he did it would have been obviously an entirely new doctrine. Change is indeed provided for in the very articles of the Covenant itself, and, considering that many of the main bases on which the Covenant was founded—universality, impartiality, and the like—have since disappeared, in addition to which we have since been comparatively denuded of our armaments which we had at the time we made the Covenant, all these facts seem to me to be reasons for change rather than the reverse. My noble friend Lord Rankeillour ended on the word "expediency" and there, I agree with him. After all, our object is peace, and if it be found that the agency for the procurance of peace has failed in any particular, then obviously it is common sense to try to alter it, if not to abolish it.
But I wanted to address some remarks to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Cecil earlier in this debate. I listened to his speech naturally with the 1038 respect with which we all listen to his eloquence and his knowledge of these questions. He is, after all, the head and front of the League of Nations Union, which is, as I understand it, the protagonist of the creed of the League in this country; and I must confess that I was very much disappointed to find that at so tragic a juncture as this he had no guidance to give us as to how we were to be extricated from—if I may use direct language—the appalling mess into which we have been got now, chiefly as the result, as I and many people think, of the undue importance given by the Government to the results of my noble friend's Peace Ballot just before the Election. Indeed, if that result had been obtained by coloured ballot boxes—the modern system—it could not have been much more unrepresentative of the informed and educated opinion of the people of this country. But alas, it did influence the National Government and its leaders before the Election.
My noble friend may say—I think he would say—that the failure or the partial failure of the policy, which he admits, is due to the fact that the Government so partially pursued the policy; had they, as it were, gone the "whole hog," the result might have been very different. I think it would have been very different! We can all of us see to-day that if the full policy of the League had been carried out, we should probably have been at war with Japan, possibly with Germany, and certainly with Italy. Those are the practical results that must have flowed from the full policy. And all that my noble friend can advise us to-day is obstinately to plunge ourselves still further down the path of accomplished failure, careless of the risks—because he urged fresh risks—to which he will expose our unprepared, untrained and very largely undefended people.
He argued, as if this argument were final, that the only alternative to this programme of ill omen is that we should return to the terrible condition of things in 1913. I have never been able to understand the current dictum that the pre-War system was so very bad. The system of limited alliances has at least had a far finer record in the cause of peace than the League system, which, from the days of Delos to those of Geneva, has been one of unbroken failure. People think and talk to-day as if this 1039 League of Nations policy was some new Evangel of peace. It is nothing of the kind. Almost every hundred years down the long corridor of past history there has been this nobility of thought, I admit, which tried to find some international machinery for putting an end to war. It has failed—that is the point. We are a practical people, and unless we are going to expose our people to these terrible risks again we must realise that it has failed.
The Germans have tried to argue for their own purposes, and the League of Nations Union seems to have adopted their argument, that it was that system, among other things, which led to the Great War. We know now from the written evidence of German leaders themselves that that was not the case at all. It was not the alleged encirclement of Germany that led to the War. If you can attribute it to any one cause it was to the German belief that there was a gap, and a British gap, in that encirclement that led to the War. What, after all, is there so reprehensible in a series of countries pledging themselves and preparing themselves to defend their own territories, conjointly and severally? Where I part company with the League of Nations ideology is with reference to the pernicious teaching, the asphyxiating teaching, which it gives to the people of this country to expect that they can obtain peace without sacrifice. It never was so from the days of Calvary onwards, and it never will be so. And in the domain of arms at any rate, if the sacrifice is made in peace time that sacrifice will probably avoid war, and certainly will prevent defeat; whereas, if they refuse to make that sacrifice in peace time, they will have to make the sacrifice just the same, but to pay a higher and more terrible price.
Therefore, from our point of view it is simply no good my noble friend, or his friends, attempting to argue that the League as at present constituted has not failed, or quoting cases like the case of Corfu, as evidence to the contrary. Supposing indeed that we had blocked the Canal. Supposing we had beaten Italy. Even that would not have proved that the League or the system was a success. It would merely have proved that England, or England and France together, were stronger than Italy, which we all already know. What we 1040 have learned to-day is that Article 16 and the coercive aspects of the League are the destruction of the League system. His Majesty's Government discovered that in 1925. The fact is that the whole policy of coercion, and indeed of collective security, met its Moscow in Japan, and has recently met its Waterloo in Rome, so that one can say of that aspect of the League policy what Talleyrand said of the death of Napoleon: "It is no longer an event—it is barely a piece of news." What is harder to understand is how the Government ever came to believe, if they ever did, in a policy of sanctions. The Prime Minister, who constantly pledges himself to the pursuit of peace, energetically espoused the policy of sanctions, while warning the country that they must inevitably lead to war!
It was the same about collective security. Eighteen months ago, at Glasgow, Mr. Baldwin pronounced solemnly against the principle of collective security. He said that it was curious that there was growing amongst the Socialist Party support for what was called a collective peace system, and he added:A collective peace system, in my view, is perfectly impracticable in view of the fact that the United States…and so on—It is hardly worth considering when these are the facts.And yet in the last few months Mr. Baldwin has founded himself firmly upon a collective peace system, and it has been Mr. Eden's apostolic mission to carry out the changed policy of his chief at Geneva. My Lords, is it not obvious—was it not always obvious—that economic sanctions could not begin to succeed when Italy could derive her every need from her next-door neighbour? Was it not equally clear that military sanctions could not possibly go hand in hand with a policy of unilateral disarmament? The noble Lord, Lord Snell, in his speech the other day blamed France very severely for her hesitancy. But, I put it to the noble Lord, suppose France had joined more fully; suppose the Canal had been blocked; suppose there had been war, as there must have been war, in the Mediterranean, certainly war in North Africa, and probably war in the Alps. Were the Government, and were the Socialist Party, prepared for a 1041 European war over an African conflict? They would probably have had a very serious disaster in the Far East as well. We know perfectly well that the Government could have made war with no one because we were too weak in arms and the Government too infirm of purpose.
Again, if war had not resulted, Italy would have become the bitter enemy of France. Were the Government—I hope the noble Earl who replies will answer this question—ready to send immediately to France not only eighteen divisions to replace the Savoy divisions, but to send troops to Flanders as well? Did the Government never stop to ask themselves why France should have been expected to risk the whole of her security in the south on account of a violation of Abyssinian territory, however brutal, when England would risk nothing, and indeed treated with absolute indulgence an equally brutal violation of security by Germany in the north? It is not reasonable to blame France in that respect. What we have to realise to-day is that sanctions have failed. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, from the Socialist Benches agree with that. They have failed to prevent war, failed to shorten war, and, what is more tragic, failed to save the Abyssinians. It was sanctions that did all this. It was the spirit behind sanctions—no doubt the sincere but misguided spirit behind sanctions—that has caused the destruction of the Abyssinian Empire. Such is the "true humiliation" of which Mr. Baldwin spoke so movingly to a delegation of the League of Nations Union. It is not surprising that Mr. Baldwin was moved, considering that it was his Government that led us down the path of humiliation! What then are the Government going to do? I do hope that the noble Earl who replies will try to give us some enlightenment on Government policy.
Might I just put these two considerations to him as regards sanctions? If the Government are going to maintain sanctions, obviously they must expel Italy from the League. That much is certain. You cannot discuss with Italy how Italy is to be punished. But is the expulsion of Italy going to help you to maintain the League? When Italy's defection is added to those of the United States, Germany, Japan, and South 1042 America, what is left of your League? Again, if you maintain sanctions, all hope of any reformation of the League must go. How can you reform a League that has ceased to be an agent of conciliation and become an instrument of revenge? I hope the Government's policy will be a realistic one, and that they will recognise that their policy has broken down completely. It is the only dignified attitude to take up. After all, what did France do years ago after one of her Governments had led her to Fashoda? She accepted the situation and made the great series of North African agreements with her rival, England, who had just defeated her at Fashoda—agreements that have stood unshaken through the vicissitudes of thirty years and have helped to transform bitter Anglo-French hostility in those regions into cordial co-operation and friendship in all domains, but not least in the important theatre of African affairs. I think we might well bear the example of France in the Fashoda incident in mind in considering our new relations to the new Italy, because I believe there could be born out of these unhappy events something that really would conduce to peace and cordial relations and good will.
I can understand that some noble Lords will say: "Are you really going to condone this act that Italy has committed and put your hand in hers?" It is a difficult problem, admittedly. On the other hand, are you not going to do that with Germany? Are you not trying to get an Air Pact with Germany now? Has she not broken the Treaty of Locarno, and are you therefore going to refuse to have any dealings with her? I believe we shall be wiser in the interests of peace and good will all over the world to act in the manner I have suggested. Above all, let our engagements in future have proper relation to our military resources and our military resources to our engagements. It was an old maxim never to intervene in foreign affairs unless you could intervene decisively, and never to promise more than you could with certainty perform. Our foreign policy lately, probably for the reasons my noble friend Lord Stonehaven has given, has not always acted upon this maxim, but this can be said with certainty that this maxim has never been departed from without compromising 1043 our honour and impairing our interests. After all, our first duty is not to reform the world, but to defend our own peoples in these islands and throughout the Empire. In fitting ourselves to play our proper part for the efficient discharge of that primary duty, we shall at the same time be fitting ourselves for playing our limited but essential part in the maintenance of peace in Northern Europe.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in opening this debate remarked that he did not raise it in order to indulge in recrimination but asked the Government to face the future with a full knowledge of the lessons of the past. I am grateful to him for that, because I think it has undoubtedly set the tone of the debate throughout the three days over which it has extended. With perhaps two exceptions, the speeches which have been made have not been of a Party character in any sort or kind of way, but they have been your Lordships' views, given from a variety of angles, as to what you consider the future of the League should be and what should be the foundation of our foreign policy. The noble Lord did, however, accuse the Government in two comparatively minor ways. He remarked that we had been late in nearly all the steps we had taken, although he went on, I think rather inconsequently, to say we had taken the lead at Geneva somewhat too much, which implied, at any rate to my mind, that we had been rather too forward than too backward.
Then he revived the criticism that we ought to have raised the Abyssinian question at the Stresa Conference in April, 1935. I despair of getting your Lordships to realise that that question had been raised many months before, and I despair all the more when my noble friend Lord Stonehaven, who himself has served in the Diplomatic Service, thinks that the action of the Diplomatic Service appears every morning in the newspapers. As he knows very well, the Diplomatic Service works quietly and secretly, and very few of the communications which pass betwen one country and another ever get into the public Press at all. That has its disadvantage, but may I remind your Lordships once again that this question of the 1044 dangers of a conflict was raised in Rome in connection with a minor incident, the Walwal incident. It was raised in Rome in December, 1934. It was raised again very strongly by the then Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, on, I think, February 21 with the Italian Ambassador in London, and on February 28 it was raised yet again by His Majesty's Minister in Rome. He then not only had an interview with Signor Mussolini himself, but left a memorandum with him stressing the fact that this appeared to be a really dangerous question which would be fraught with difficulties, and would undoubtedly be a matter affecting the League of Nations as a whole. That, in due course, the Italian Government recognised, and thanked our Ambassador for the memorandum.
From that time onward, month after month, this question was raised by our diplomatists either here or in Rome, and to say that the importance of the Diplomatic Service has been set aside and that these things are now always done by Foreign Secretaries or Under-Secretaries travelling throughout the Continent, is really a perfect travesty of the facts. I really do not quite know how often Foreign Ministers have travelled abroad in the past two and a-half years, since I have been at the Foreign Office. I think it is not more than three times, apart from visits to Geneva, but I hope none of your Lordships, certainly not my noble friend, will imagine that all that the Foreign Office has had to do has been to deal with three visits during the past two and a-half years. I can assure him our work is a good deal heavier than that. I do not wish to pursue the matter further now. If your Lordships desire to go into it any more, perhaps I might be allowed to say that I went very fully into it on October 23 last, and your Lordships will see what I had then to say in the OFFICIAL REPORT of that day.
The noble Lord opposite wished me to agree with him that he was almost invariably right. Well, I always attempt to do what the noble Lord opposite wishes, but I am afraid I cannot agree with him in regard to at least two particulars. He remarked that every man, ship, aeroplane, tank or bomb that you have is bringing you nearer to the tragedy of war. Does he really think that if Abyssinia had had more tanks and aeroplanes 1045 and things of that kind and had known how to use them she would be in the position in which she is to-day? Does he really think that if Abyssinia had been a strong country this war would have occurred? I think most of your Lordships agree that what really tempted Italy to undertake this act of aggression was the weakness of the country with which she was faced, and a lesson which I hope to draw in the course of my remarks is that those of us who neglect our defences, so far from taking a peaceful line are actually affording a temptation that war should follow.
The second point on which I am afraid I must disagree with the noble Lord—and several other noble Lords have raised the same point—was his desire that every treaty should come up for automatic review by the League of Nations every two or three years. I wonder if the noble Lord really thinks that would increase the confidence of Europe at the present time. Does he really think that countries look so short a time ahead that they would be satisfied if treaties came up for ratification and possibly alteration or even cancellation every two or three years? Why, many of your Lordships, or at any rate one or two, have in the course of to-day's debate remarked how earnestly they hope some arrangement would be made with Germany, and Germany is offering non-aggression pacts over a period of twenty-five years, while France and some other countries feel that that is too short a time. Surely if we can get satisfactory treaties made in various directions and non-aggression pacts and the like made, the longer the period for which we can get them the more secure will be the foundations of the policy on which each can build. I frankly say that many members of another place were so ignorant that they did not seem to realise anything about the Belgian Treaty in 1913. I wish at any rate to get that ignorance removed, but having these treaties constantly pulled up and their roots examined docs not seem to me to be likely to propagate their growth. This House is in a superior position. I remember myself talking about the Belgian Treaty some time before the War, in 1913 in this place.
The noble Lord, Lord Snell, spoke of capitalist countries making illicit profits 1046 out of supplying war materials to Italy. I imagine he was speaking about oil. We all admire his great sincerity, and I hate to disillusion anybody, particularly anybody who is as sincere as the noble Lord, but I am afraid I must do so on this occasion. Oil from the Anglo-Persian Company which was supplied to Italy or her Colonies—I am quoting these figures from the reports made by the experts to the League of Nations; they are not Government figures but figures supplied by the international authority—from January to September, 1935, amounted to 13 per cent. of Italy's supply, and fell in the period of October to December to 4.4 per cent. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, not a capitalist country I believe at present, although I understand it may become so in course of time, supplied 13.1 per cent. against our 13 before the war broke out, and afterwards it rose to 14.6 per cent. Therefore I am afraid the iniquity of supplying oil to Italy was not confined only to capitalist countries.
§ EARL STANHOPE
The American figures were infinitely worse. What I wanted to point out was that at any rate some capitalist countries can be even better than a country which I always imagined the Party opposite felt could do no wrong. Now I turn to other matters. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, remarked that the decisions of the League must be backed by force if those decisions are to prevail. I was glad to get that expression of opinion from him. He referred to three cases, those of Albania, Bulgaria and Corfu. I am not going into the question of whether Corfu was a good case or a bad one. I just want to say this in regard to all three. The noble Viscount made it perfectly clear that in each case the force that was arrayed against the aggressor country was overwhelming, and that that was why the policy of the League prevailed. I entirely fail to follow him, because he went on from that to say that one of the matters we should therefore press on with was a further attempt at disarmament.
§ EARL STANHOPE
Yes; but I think many of us feel that the more democratic countries of the world require greater strength in order to be able to hold their own against the autocratic countries whose armaments have increased so materially during the past few years.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I only venture to interrupt my noble friend because he says he did not understand my argument. I quite agree that I put it very broadly. What I meant was this. Supposing your object is to coerce, or to have the power to coerce, an aggressor country, you do it at much less expense if the whole standard of armaments is lower, because obviously the relation between the parties is not changed. There is in fact a less expenditure in that case than if you had very large armaments. I do not follow the difficulty that my noble friend feels.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I entirely agree with my noble friend there, but I am afraid it is one of the ideals which are utterly impractical at the moment.
§ EARL STANHOPE
Quite so, but the point is that the three autocratic countries of the world, Russia, Germany and Italy, have increased their armaments very greatly, and in order to get a proper basis of a possible collective system these other countries will have to increase their armaments very greatly unless we can get reduction in those three countries, which I think everybody will agree it is impossible to get at the moment.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am very reluctant to interrupt my noble friend, and I only do it because he repeatedly misunderstands me. I have never argued, either in this House or anywhere else, in favour of unilateral disarmament—never, never, never—nor has anybody else who has been closely associated with me in the work we have been doing in the country. I do beg my noble friend not to think that that is our view. It has never been said.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am thinking about disarmament of the countries with smaller armaments. What my noble friend would like is the reduction of the big armaments of the autocratic Powers.
§ EARL STANHOPE
Yes, but some of us think we have had too much reduction, so that we cannot get overwhelming force against the people we think might be dangerous. I hope I have made my position clear, if not to my noble friend at any rate to the House. He seemed to think that in the Abyssinian dispute this country ought to have taken the lead much more than we actually did, in contradiction to several noble Lords who thought that, on the whole, we had taken the lead too much. I am not prepared to say that we took the lead too much, but I do say that my view of the League in this respect seems to be fundamentally different from his. My view is that the League should not be a Super-State dictating to other nations. All other nations, great and small, have their equal place in the League with equal responsibility and must take also equal risk. For one nation—this or any other—to have to take the lead in regard to every matter that comes before the League means that sooner or later the whole League depends on the action of one country, and, as I remarked the other clay, that puts the League in an utterly unsound position which I feel is certainly contrary to the whole fundamental idea of the Covenant as it was originally drawn.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, remarked that a good many nations had not taken equal action in regard to Abyssinia and he said there would always be nations who would be friends of the aggressor, or who would say that they were in such a position that they could not take action which otherwise they might feel inclined to take. Unfortunately, as regards Abyssinia that is perfectly correct. We have found a good deal of difference, not only in the actual lead taken at Geneva, but in the action afterwards taken. It is common, of course, to name only France in this connection. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lloyd that France had many difficulties in regard to taking drastic action against Italy. Thanks to our lead very largely, she had composed her differences with Italy and got an agreement. But she was by no means the only country. Austria, of course, refused to put on sanctions in any sort or kind of way, and many of us 1049 recognised the very difficult, position of Austria. There was also Hungary, who refused to put on sanctions, and even Switzerland made it perfectly clear that she was not prepared to go the full length of other countries with regard to sanctions, but would balance her trade with Italy and was not prepared to go much further. The result of all this was that the requirements and necessities of Italy poured in across her land frontiers, and sanctions were much less effective than they would have been otherwise. The difficulty, of course, as several noble Lords have pointed out, was that the League was not universal and that several great nations were outside it, or had never actually joined it.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, remarked that in his view the two most important things in the conduct of foreign affairs were courage and tenacity. I agree with him that those are most admirable qualities and undoubtedly very necessary in the conduct of foreign affairs, but I put them lower down the scale. I think the first thing you have to decide in regard to foreign affairs is what your policy ought to be, and the second thing to consider is whether you have power to carry it out either by yourself or in conjunction with other countries, cither through connection with them in the League as we had hoped, or by treaties of the pre-War kind. If you have not got the power with which to carry out your policy, the only thing you can then do is to modify your policy, because if you merely show courage and tenacity and have nothing behind them, you are bound, sooner or later, to come in conflict with equal courage and equal tenacity, your bluff is called, and you are faced certainly with war, and probably with defeat. Therefore, once again I say that it is essential, if you are going to carry out the policy in which you believe, that you should have behind it a backing of adequate force, both of your own and of friends on whom you can rely. That, as I have shown, in the case of Abyssinia did not actually exist.
In the future it will require very grave consideration whether, in a given case, we can be quite certain that the League will act as a whole, with an equal share of responsibility and of action. Personally I can conceive of no clearer case than that of Italy. She attacked another country, she broke, I think, three 1050 treaties by doing it, and she undoubtedly also broke the Gas Protocol by using gas against a country quite unable to defend itself. My noble friend on the Cross Benches suggested there was no difference between the case of Italy and the case of Germany, but I cannot conceive of anything more different. Here was the case of a country attacking another country, having been asked by the League to try to compose its differences, having itself agreed that the original frontier incident should be liquidated, as it was in fact liquidated, and then simply because it did not suit its own policy preparing to attack another country contrary to all signatures and treaties. Germany undoubtedly broke a treaty, but in doing so, all that she was doing was to re-assert her claims over her own territory and, although to do so by unilaterally breaking the terms of the treaty, was, I agree, very wrong, still it was a very different matter from a country making an attack on another, and obviously it was a very different matter with which to deal. The whole essence of all foreign policy, obviously, must be the sanctity of treaties. Therefore I am not suggesting for one moment that we can overlook what Germany did in the Rhineland, but I do maintain that if you call it a crime, it is of a very different character from that which Italy perpetrated in her attack on Abyssinia.
Several noble Lords have asked me whether we ought to keep sanctions on, and if so, why we are doing it. May I remind your Lordships that the announcement in Rome of the annexation of Abyssinia only took place one or two days before the League itself met? The actual document announcing the annexation was, I think, only published yesterday or the day before; certainly after the League had begun its meeting. I think your Lordships will agree that for the League at that moment to rush into a decision on the removal of sanctions would have been rash in the extreme. It was only after very considerable discussion and a great deal of heart-burning felt by many of us that we had to quarrel with an old friend with whom our relations had been of the warmest character for I do not know how many generations, and that at last we felt impelled by our duties under the Covenant to impose sanctions on Italy. To take them off at this moment without any further consideration simply because 1051 Italy has arrived at Addis Ababa is surely an impossible policy to pursue. I feel personally that the League was undoubtedly right in postponing a decision until its next meeting in the middle of June, and I may tell your Lordships that my information is that that view was very strongly held by every nation there present, except two South American States; and particularly was it the view of the smaller nations.
I share with other noble Lords the feeling that to describe the failure of the League—as it has been, and I am not going to mince words about it—as a national humiliation to this country is entirely wrong. I cannot see that it is anything of the kind. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place that if the failure was collective, so also was the humiliation. I think your Lordships will agree that, so far as our action was concerned, we have less cause to feel humiliation than any other country, for the simple reason that we have carried out to the full our obligations under the Covenant. We have, as I think several noble Lords feel, perhaps taken the lead even more than we ought to have taken it in carrying out our contract. Therefore, if the League has failed, it has not failed because of anything we have done or left undone in this country, but because the League, as a collective body, has—in this instance, at any rate—been unable to get its desires fulfilled. England has no special interest in Abyssinia. Such interests as we have were covered by treaties which Italy had repeatedly stated she would observe. England took her action solely as a Member of the League, and her action has been unsuccessful, not because it could not have been made successful against Italy, but because it was limited to action which had to be taken collectively. Unilateral action by this country would have been contrary to the whole spirit of the Covenant and would have only prevented or stopped the war in Abyssinia by transferring it to Europe.
I think I have answered many of the questions which noble Lords have asked. They have wandered over a wide field, because it is a very wide subject. Perhaps I should say a few words in regard to the suggestion which Lord Mottistone made, that this country should always be represented by a diplomat or 1052 by somebody trained in the law and customs of other nations. The same question was partly raised by a noble friend behind me when he was here the other day. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone has written to me to say that he is unable to be present to-day, but perhaps I ought to mention the matter to the House. He seemed to think that the Foreign Secretary was a very excitable person. I have seen Mr. Eden in a good many critical situations during the past two and a-half years, but I do not think I have ever seen anybody who is less excitable than he is. I think the House will probably agree, although I doubt whether I can get Lord Mottistone to realise it, that of course, when a Secretary of State or an Under-Secretary goes out to Geneva or elsewhere, he does not go out and make speeches without any preparation. He acts on the information which he receives from our diplomats all over the world, he is assisted by the skilled advisers at the Foreign Office, and, above all, he carries out the policy of His Majesty's Government, which is the whole Cabinet. Therefore, if that can be described as being excitable at Geneva, I suppose that my right honourable friend is, but in that case my noble friend here is also an excitable person, and so are other members of the Government who sit on this Bench and on the Front Bench in another place. The proposition is ridiculous, and I do not think I need pursue it. Certainly I am not going to give any kind of pledge that this country should never be represented except by trained diplomats, if only because the noble Lord's own leader, Lord Crewe—a very excitable person!—was once His Majesty's Ambassador in Paris, and I am certainly not going to criticise him for the work which he did in that capacity.
I feel sure that no one expects me to lay Papers to-day on the proposals we may be called upon to make at Geneva. The lessons from recent events are being carefully studied, and have for some time been carefully studied, at the Foreign Office. This debate, which has, as I say, not been critical of the Government from the political and Party point of view, will therefore be of great value to us in the examination we are making of this extraordinarily difficult subject. When we have got to the stage of framing tentative 1053 conclusions, we shall of course have to call into consultation the representatives of the self-governing Dominions. It is essential to work with them, as I think every one of your Lordships will agree. At the same time other nations will also have the duty of considering their suggestions for a reform of the League, composed as it is of sovereign States, every one of them equal, every one of them with their responsibilities. It is only then that we shall be able to say what, if any, change should be made in the Covenant and in the obligations which every nation undertakes.
I think that none of your Lordships who have studied the question, or even those who have listened to this debate, will fail to recognise that there are many very different opinions as to the way in which reform should be undertaken. The noble Lord on the Cross Benches wishes to strengthen the Covenant and to make it more water-tight and stronger than it is now. A good many noble Lords would like to abolish Articles 10 and 16 of the Covenant altogether. While His Majesty's Government are not going to try to dodge the very thorny and difficult problem which a change in the Covenant inevitably entails, neither are we going to rush into hasty decisions. We have learned a great deal from the experiences of these past few weeks and, as I say, we are studying these lessons to the full. The one satisfactory point is that I think every single member of your Lordships' House is agreed fully with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that the League must go on. It may be that, in due course of time, good may tend to arise out of the evils that have resulted from this aggression in Abyssinia, by the reform of the League in the future.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, in the few remarks I shall make at the conclusion of this debate I shall not be detaining your Lordships for long, but I should like to thank the Government for having allowed this debate to continue during this afternoon without interruption. I have nothing for which to apologise, I think, for bringing this Motion forward, because it has elicited a series of most interesting speeches, approaching this matter from very varied points of view. Perhaps there has been one omission throughout the whole of this 1054 debate. In our speeches we have deplored the failures, we have deplored the fate of Abyssinia, and we have been very gloomy in our reflections. May I—I am sure with the consent of your Lordships' House—pay one tribute to the bright spot which there was in the action and conduct of Sir Sidney Barton, our Minister? By his courage and coolness, and by his tact, and by the way in which he was ready to give shelter and help to all and sundry, to whatever nation they belonged, he made the British Legation in Addis Ababa a small haven of peace.
I have found myself in agreement with a great many noble Lords who have spoken, and also in disagreement. I get very much tangled up in this part of the House, because the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, says he agrees with me, and Lord Cecil says he agrees with Lord Rennell, but I do not agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. I should like to say a few words about the noble Viscount's speech, because I regard his influence as very great in the country, and therefore I want to correct a few misunderstandings. I must say I was agreeably surprised at his mildness. I think he fired off the strongest parts of—I was going to say fury, but his indignation, in the Albert Hall, which is the proper receptacle for that sort of speech, and therefore I was prepared for him to say: "Sanctions, yes, and more sanctions," but he did not go quite so far as that. I noticed the difference, because I studied the Albert Hall speech very carefully. He referred to me very courteously, and he said, with regard to the Disarmament Conference, that he has never been able to follow what the reason was that I held the opinion I did with regard to that subject. He added: "In his view, I suppose, it is really touching the accursed thing, armaments." Lord Sanderson really gave the explanation, which I have repeated without ceasing, and of which I am beginning to be weary—namely, that it is futile to make arrangements how you are going to conduct the next war. I am practically hoarse repeating that, and I hope the noble Viscount will take it in.
My noble friend said in another passage that a failure had been due to the fact that force was not adequate to stop aggression. Force was amply adequate 1055 but willingness was not, and you are not going to get over that unwillingness in any sort of conflict between nations which is ever likely to arise. It is that unwillingness, determination to take sides, inability to get unanimity, which is always going to make this idea of coercive force for collective security a failure. My noble friend rather derided the idea of a round table, but I was rather glad that I got support for that idea in several quarters in this House. I know it is not a spectacular thing, but at the same time my noble friend was very much in agreement with me with regard to my remarks about Stresa, which was really a small round-table conference. The point was that Stresa was postponing the opportunity to put all the cards on the table and nip the difficulty in the bud. I think Lord Peel saw that opportunity very well in the very good speech which he made.
Lord Rankeillour does not like the whole of my speeches. He only likes them in patches, but I think that really he departed, to-day, from the attitude which he has hitherto taken up. He admits the failure but refuses to face the reason for this failure, and that reason is undeniable now. He said he disapproved in the conferences of sealed ears and gramophonic voices, and may I add that I disapprove of sealed lips on the part of the Prime Minister at this end of the telegraph wires. We have suffered a great deal, and I think it has been expressed in the House several times, from vacillation and a certain amount of concealment. We have never been perfectly certain on which side of the fence the Government would come down. I do not want to go through the various speeches but I will just say a word or two about the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope. He tried to find instances in which I was not right, and he made one very bad shot, which was the case of Abyssinia. He quoted a phrase from my speech about "not a man, not a gun, not a bomb, which would not bring us nearer to war" and he said, what about Abyssinia? He repeated it to-day, and said it was the poor arms of Abyssinia which had made her an easy prey of Italy. It was because Abyssinia was ill armed and very warlike that Mussolini was able to take advantage of her.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I suppose the noble Lord does not mind if a Fascist Government 1056 takes possession of an unarmed country and puts Fascist principles into play?
LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBEEDE
I do not know of any completely disarmed country, or even district, yet, but I have pointed out to the noble Earl that even if Abyssinia had been well armed instead of badly armed she would have been an easy prey, but that if she had been disarmed, even as the world is to-day and with the low morality which exists, no one could have accused her of being the aggressor, and Mussolini could not have persuaded his people that these aggressors in Abyssinia must be put in order. Therefore the noble Earl has not in this matter shown that I was not right.
As to the automatic revision of treaties, that remains to be seen. He is too soon in saying that I am wrong there. I do not want treaties to be brought up and made great questions of international dispute every two years. I want a department of the League of Nations which automatically passes these treaties through, and indicates to the Governments concerned that a treaty is going through and asks if there are any objections. If there are objections then diplomatic discussions take place with a view to seeing if there is any change. Until Governments, countries, peoples are made aware quite precisely every two or five years of the obligations that they are called upon to undertake you will get certain people making their interpretations, and you will get these treaties neglected or infringed, just as Germany has infringed a treaty.
The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, advocated a better personnel, and I agree whole-heartedly, being an old member of the Diplomatic Service, with what Lord Stonehaven said about diplomatists. I think it was Sir Edward Malet, who was Ambassador years ago in Berlin, who said "diplomats were like the unseen buttons on a costume, they held things together." But I do not go so far as Lord Mottistone. He not only wants diplomats, but he wants a class of person that I am very doubtful about, and that is jurists. I do not quite know who they are, so that I need not say anything offensive to anybody personally, but I am very mistrustful of jurists. They are constantly putting fresh interpretations on various treaties and they have a pontifical 1057 air of being the last authority beyond whom nobody can go. I think that is very dangerous. The Government, when in doubt, go to a jurist, they get their policy supported by that jurist, and then they come down to Parliament and tell us that that is the last word, it must be true. No, we must avoid jurists, but I am all for using diplomats far more than they are used at present.
I was glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said what he did about an International Police Force, an International Air Force and an International Army. Really do let us hear the last of that. The Government have got an opportunity next Thursday for really finishing that off. Because when we have not been able to get nations together even to impose mild sanctions, just imagine if it is possible to get fifty nations together to move an International Air Force, with a Brazilian Commander and a Chinese Admiral, and so on. The thing is quite beyond belief futile, and I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Davies, is not here, because I should have liked to say this to his face, except that I have so often said it to him that I do not think he wants to hear it again. But my efforts are no use. I hope the Government will also deal with noble Lords on this side of the House and my noble friend there (Lord Cecil) about the International Air Force. That is another peril that is coming on. It is bad enough to have the big armies of the various nations, but if we are going to have an International Air Force above, too, it will be an intolerable world to live in.
I think the one idea that I do want to impress on the noble Earl is the proper use to be made of this interval. I quite understand that there must be an interval before the League of Nations meets again, if only for the reason that the French Government are not yet properly constituted, and it is necessary that we should have the French Government with its full authority at the League. But I am perfectly certain that the idea of sanctions should be dropped, and any idea of their being intensified should not be entertained for one moment. I am sure that, with a view to future peace and international co-operation, it will be far better to hasten the day for our reconciliation with the Italian people rather than waste our time in a futile attempt to punish the Italian Government 1058 and Signor Mussolini and in endeavouring to enforce a settlement which will justify the action of the League. Moreover—and I would point this out very respectfully to the noble Earl—there is nothing at all in the Covenant of the League of Nations which makes such a demand on the nations who are Members of the League, and an attempt to do it will only be courting another failure.
We all know the man who refuses to leave off losing his temper after all justification for his loss of temper has gone, and we do not respect him. We all know that the terrible fatality, the greatest tragedy of the Great War, was the imposition of the equivalent of sanctions on Germany, the blockade for six months after the Armistice. The morale and the physical condition of the German nation to-day is largely due to what we did then. No, we want conciliation, we want to open a new chapter without recriminations, but with the resolve to strengthen the League in its work of reconciliation, recognising the limits of the League's authority and eliminating threats and coercion from being any part of its procedure. I am grateful to your Lordship? for having allowed me to say these few words at the end of such a very interesting debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.