§ LORD ADDISON rose to call attention to the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government and to the circumstances under which the Foreign Secretary resigned his office; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I express my regret that my right honourable friend Lord Snell is unable to be present to-day; it is on that account that my name is attached to this Motion. We have been exhorted in all quarters in connection with this matter to treat it in a realistic way. We were exhorted by the Prime Minister in another place to get away from the shams and pretences that in his opinion still cling to the Covenant of the League of Nations. We are told that we must deal with this great matter in a strictly businesslike way, and not allow ourselves to be led away by the influence of any ideals we may entertain. I think myself that no apology need be made for entertaining ideals, and that, as a matter of fact, it is not good business to abandon them. I am quite sure that as soon as humanity abandons its ideals it will be on the high road back to the jungle. But I will endeavour in the remarks which I have to make to your Lordships' House to adhere as closely as possible to the advice which was given to us and discuss this matter in terms of various realities that belong to it.
§ The first is that the Prime Minister has felt himself obliged to open conversations with a foreign Power, Italy, in a manner that is against the advice of two colleagues in the Foreign Office, who have in consequence resigned. Without a doubt the Prime Minister clearly is within his rights in so doing, but it is an inauspicious beginning. The second reality is of a more serious character. This happened at a time when the Foreign Secretary was being abused in a singularly virulent way, by broadcasts and otherwise, by the agencies of the very Power with which it is proposed to negotiate. The noble 887 Marquess, Lord Crewe, the other day recalled to us a somewhat similar incident, where a Foreign Secretary had been dispensed with at a time when he had been assailed by a foreign potentate. Well, the sequelæ of that event in 1905 are not at all encouraging for its repetition. I am sure that most of us, to whatever side we belong, when one of our prominent citizens in a position of this kind is attacked, are all disposed to sink our differences and rally together, and to refuse to be dictated to by outsiders. It is a deplorable event, I think. How far-reaching the consequences may be one cannot say, but at all events it is a fact, and it is a reality which attaches to this case which is of an exceedingly unfortunate character.
§ The third reality to which I will invite your attention is that, so far as we can tell, France is not to be a party to these conversations. France has been informed that they may take place, but it is clear that the French Government are not closely in touch with the agenda that is being prepared, nor, so far as is indicated, will it be kept in touch particularly with the negotiations, because we were informed in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber the day before yesterday, in reply to M. Flandin, that if Great Britain reached an agreement, France might consider negotiations in the same spirit, which clearly indicated a distinct separateness from these negotiations. France is clearly very closely concerned in any agreement that may be come to with Italy. It is true that the communications from east to west along the Mediterranean are vitally important to Great Britain, but from north to south they are not less vitally important to France. France, after all, is our close associate—perhaps the word "ally" is not proper—in the arrangements now prevailing in the Mediterranean. I would ask the noble Viscount who will reply whether it is proposed to conclude an agreement, if one can be concluded, without France being a party to it or without the concurrence of France in its main essentials. If he is not able to give a reply in the affirmative to that simple question, it raises a very dangerous situation. At all events, it is an unpleasing reality that these one-sided discussions on matters so closely concerning the life of our chief friends on the Continent are to be 888 separately conducted. It is, I suggest, an innovation of a risky kind.
§ The next reality which I would ask your Lordships to consider is the statement of the ex-Foreign Secretary in another place to the effect that the ground had not been prepared for these negotiations. Those were his words. As an experienced Minister, he very properly deplored negotiations being entered into unless the ground had been properly prepared. It might easily be the case that owing to lack of preparation the negotiators might find themselves in an impasse, in which case it would have been better if they had not been started. It is to be hoped that we shall not have a repetition of the farce of the World Economic Conference, which was called with great acclamation a few years ago and was a failure mainly because the ground had not been well prepared for it. The late Foreign Secretary, I see, went so far as to say that in his opinion, in these circumstances, with this lack of preparation, with this lack of surety as to the character of the agenda that was to be discussed, he was fearful it would undermine the foundations on which international confidence rests. He wanted to have some assurance better than mere words as to what would be likely to happen. He said, in effect, that we had had soft words and good promises before from Italy and had been very disappointed. I hope the noble Viscount will tell us why the Government have embarked on this series of negotiations without adequate preparation. I take it that the noble Viscount will not dispute the accuracy of the statement which Mr. Eden has made.
§ The ex-Foreign Secretary based his case for more detailed preparation upon another reality which I shall ask your Lordships to consider. We have had fifteen or eighteen months of the Non-Intervention Committee. It has been, I am sure, to the late Foreign Secretary and to the noble Viscount a disappointing experience. At all events, it has been a succession of evasions, delays, and subterfuges. All the time, while General Franco has continued to be supplied, the Government of Spain has been denied its right under International Law to supply itself. But Mr. Eden based his demand for something specific in advance by way of surety upon two other realities. He said there had been an Agreement in 889 January, 1937, between ourselves and Italy as to various matters relating to the Mediterranean and Spain, and he added that "within a very few days" of the signature of this Agreement, "indeed almost simultaneously, the first considerable consignment of Italians left for Spain." He said that this consignment was perhaps not actually out of accord with the letter of the Agreement, but it was with its spirit. "Almost simultaneously"—in other words, before the ink was dry on the document, a considerable consignment of Italians was sent to Spain!
§ Then Mr. Eden went on to say that, notwithstanding the promises of friendly behaviour, hostile propaganda against this country was "scarcely dimmed for an instant." When ordinary people conclude a friendly arrangement, it is, so far as I know, unusual for one of the parties to go about abusing the other, and it is something new in international behaviour —let us hope it will not last long—for one party, having concluded a friendly agreement, to try to make all the trouble it can for the other in every part of the world, not by subterfuge, but openly by broadcast in every language in which it can constitute itself a nuisance. However that is what Mr. Eden said happened "almost simultaneously." The second ground of the demand that some material guarantee should be forthcoming before these negotiations were entered upon related to what is described as the "gentleman's agreement" of the summer of 1937. This agreement seems to have been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It was called a "gentleman's agreement" because it does not appear to have been committed to writing like the other one was. At all events, there ensued the incidents in the Mediterranean with which the House is familiar—that is to say, the piracy, the attempted sinking of British ships; and everybody knows that the submarines with which General Franco was equipped had been supplied by Italy. This is the only occasion on which His Majesty's Government have called the "super bluff." They decided to act, and it is the simple and gratifying fact that piracy ceased as if by magic. But at all events, after these experiences, the Foreign Secretary, it seemed to me, very rightly demanded that we must have something better before 890 we entered upon negotiations for another agreement.
§ I now come to another reality of the situation—namely, the present position. I was never able to understand the policy of the Government in promoting the Non-Intervention Committee, except on one hypothesis, and continuing to allow it to drag its weary length along in this futile manner all these months. The hypothesis, I can imagine, would be, that always in the course of history every nation which started meddling in the internal affairs of Spain has sooner or later regretted it. I think that is historical truth. Therefore you might well say that His Majesty's Government may take the view: "Well, give them rope enough and they will regret it." There is some justification for that, and it is the only conceivable reason why this policy should have been allowed to be pursued, because nobody will accept and believe that His Majesty's Government want to hand over the Balearic Islands or the Straits of Gibraltar to anybody else. So it is a conceivable explanation and it has justification in the existing facts.
§ What are the existing facts? Affairs in Abyssinia are not going very well for the Dictator. You can poison these poor people with gas, but you cannot make them grow corn. It appears therefore that the produce of Abyssinia is lagging badly behind, and so far Abyssinia is a bad investment. The enterprise in Spain is apparently very unpopular, too, amongst the Italian people. Then, the other day, we had a later exhibition of difficulty in what has happened with regard to Austria. There is no talk now of men being sent to the Brenner Pass. There is, on the contrary, the fact that the Italian Dictator happened to be away on a ski-ing expedition when Dr. Schuschnigg tried to call him up on the telephone. And what has happened may conceivably happen in the South Tyrol later on. All this has had to be received with acquiescence. It betrays a very weak position. But one thing at all events is certain, and that is that Mussolini is very short of cash. He is evidently in serious difficulties with regard to cash. I understand it is very difficult even to discount some Italian commercial paper in the City, their credit is so poor. I am quite sure that if His Majesty's Government propose, as part of this agreement, to let them have some money, it will be received 891 with a storm of opposition in this country—by a sort of slogan: "We won't lend him a bob for guns instead of butter," or something of that sort. It is very extraordinary, in view of the difficulties in which this Dictator finds himself, that this moment should be chosen, when these are the circumstances that have caused all this upheaval and all this embarrassment, to come to the assistance of this embarrassed Dictator.
§ With regard to the conditions insisted on by the Foreign Secretary I would ask two questions. I do not presume to be a business man myself; I am just an ordinary sensible citizen; but here are two questions which are proper, I think, to this issue. Is it good business to open negotiations without any sort of effective guarantee of good faith with a party who has consistently violated his contracts in the past? It is an appropriate question. There can only be one reply to that—"No." The other question I would like to ask is this. Is it good business to lend money to one whose word is trusted by none and whose credit is nil, and who may use the money for providing armaments to fight against ourselves, or in any case for spreading misrepresentations about us all over the world? There can be only one answer to that, too. I expect it was considerations of this kind that very properly were in the mind of the Foreign Secretary, and he ought to have been supported. It might be magnanimous to lend money to a person under those circumstances. It might be described perhaps as a piece of sanguine idealism to hope that by that action you would help him to reform his character, but it could not by any conceivable stretch of words be described as good business.
However, there is a worse reality attaching to this case than the embarrassments of the Head of the Italian State, and that is what the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons the other day as to his views on the condition of the League of Nations. I will quote the governing sentence to your Lordships:
I believe that if the League would throw off shams and pretences which everyone sees through, if it would come out with the declaration of what it is prepared to do and can do as a moral force to focus public opinion throughout the world, it would justify itself.
§ LORD ADDISON
Well, has the Prime Minister made any effort? His Government is one of the chief Members of the League. He is in a position to make the effort. He is in a better position to make the effort than anybody else. Has he ever made an effort to create the League as a moral force to focus public opinion throughout the world so that it may justify itself? Have the Government made any proposals of any kind to this end? I myself believe, after the experience we had in this kind of organisation during the War, that it would be perfectly practicable and possible for nations like ourselves and France and some others to make arrangements which would make modern war at all events increasingly difficult. But have the Government ever made any suggestion? The Prime Minister deplores the impotency of the League, but it is an impotency which is largely created by the conduct of the British Government. He said later on that he wishes to retain the League, but he treats it with contemptuous disregard, and I think that if the view of the Government is that suggestions can be made to make the League an effective instrument we are entitled to ask that the Government should make them.
There is another reality. There are only two others to which, quite briefly, I will ask your Lordships' attention. Who is pleased about all this? There are only two Powers that are pleased about it, and they are the Dictator Powers. They are very pleased. The only two Powers that are pleased over this business are those that use the prison, the concentration camp and the bludgeon as the way of producing uniformity among their citizens. They are the only two Powers in the whole world, as far as I can see, that are pleased about this business. Who are dismayed? Our friends, evidently, all over the world, and the small nations particularly. They see Great Britain entering into these unilateral conversations likely to bolster up a Dictator, if they have any success at all. They see encouragement, to use the late Foreign Secretary's words, of those who practice the "successive violation of international agreements and attempts to secure political decisions by forcible means." They see the hopes of a better order and of some better safeguard which they had entertained by, if you like, a reformed Covenant shattered—shattered by the 893 leader of a great nation who is in a better position than anybody else to make suggestions hr making the League of Nations Covenant more effective.
I think there is only one conclusion to this matter, my Lords. However it may be stated in words, in practical effect the policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter is to try to placate its enemies by abandoning its friends. That is what it comes to. Well, some of us have known that sort of procedure adopted by individuals, and happily it has usually had unfortunate consequences for its promoters. I have never known that policy to succeed if adopted by a nation. I suggest that this is not a policy of realism. It is not good business. It is short-sighted expediency, grasping at the advantage of a day, to the destruction of confidence amongst its friends and the destruction of hope for a better security for the future. I beg to move.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I think on this occasion it is appropriate to express a personal view rather than to take what may be called a Party view. In what I propose to say I have not endeavoured in any way to consult my noble friends on these Benches. I think your Lordships will agree that the circumstances in which the resignation of the Foreign Secretary took place are almost wholly deplorable. It took place at a moment when Herr Hitler was about to make a very important utterance following on some dramatic and anxiety-raising incidents in connection with Austria. It is not yet time, I think, to assess the responsibility as to why this event which the last speaker described as deplorable took place at that particular moment. But I think your Lordships will agree that it could not have taken place at a more unfortunate moment or have produced more unfortunate effects, both on public opinion in England and on public opinion in the rest of the world.
But I do not share the view which has been expressed by the last speaker that the division of opinion was merely on what you might call the technique as to whether or not it was desirable to open conversations with Italy before receiving assurances. It seems to me that the division of opinion really went much deeper and that that is what is going to appear, more and more in the light of events. The fundamental conflict at issue was 'whether the Foreign Secretary's 894 approach to international affairs or the new approach now initiated by the Prime Minister is more likely to achieve the object which both have in aim, the peace of the world. The Foreign Secretary's approach, I think, may be described, not unjustly, as approximating to the orthodox League view of the situation. The Prime Minister's approach approximates to the view, which has increasingly won ground in this country, that the orthodox League view no longer corresponds to the realities of the world, that so far from promoting peace it is likely to promote war, and that therefore this country has got to face international politics with greater regard to realities and less regard to theories and clichés which once had a meaning when the League had something like universal membership but which have far less meaning to-day.
If I may judge, not so much from my noble friend's speech this afternoon as from the Manifesto which was issued this morning by the Party of which he is so distinguished as ornament, the Labour Party's policy goes a good deal beyond even the orthodox League view. May I just read one critical passage:The British Labour movement reaffirms its uncompromising opposition to any agreement with either Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany on the basis indicated by the Prime Minister in his statement to Parliament. This is not the time for concessions to the dictators. We need a clear declaration that Britain stands for the enforcement of treaties against lawless force and against aggressive interference in the internal affairs of independent States. Czechoslovakia in particular should be assured at once that Great Britain and the other League Powers will fulfil their obligations to maintain her integrity and independence.That declaration, to my mind, is far more an anti-Fascist crusade than the traditional attitude of the League as an instrument for bringing the nations together and for minimising, instead of emphasising, differences. It leads inexorably to the arraying of the world into two great alliances, and it seems to me that it must result in the end in the triumph of either universal Fascism or universal Communism.
The Manifesto says that we, with other League Powers, should assure Czechoslovakia that we mean to stand by her. That seems to me to raise the very issue which, as I think, has humiliated this country so often in the last few years. 895 If we mean to fulfil that promise, are we prepared to take the only means by which it can be fulfilled? That is the question I should like to address to my noble friend. If we mean it, there is no possible way by which it can be fulfilled without the adoption of national service in this country, and a far more serious conscription of labour than has yet been attempted. We made these promises to China, we made them to Abyssinia; we are now, apparently, invited to make them to another nation. But is the Labour Party prepared to go to this country and invite the country to take the only measure by which it can possibly fulfil that promise? It is more than a question of opinion, because, as everybody knows, the Labour Party is the one Party which decides this issue. Nothing of this kind can be done against the opposition of the great trade unions and the Labour Party. Therefore the decision whether this proposed promise means anything or not rests mainly on the Labour Party. To that extent I think the Prime Minister was courageous and honest when he raised that issue about Article 16, and I want to know whether the Labour Party are willing and able to make effective not only these assurances which are slung about so freely on platforms, but the measures for fulfilling them, which are, as I see them, very far from being adequate to-day. The last thing I want to see is damage to Czechoslovakia, though I cannot help feeling that the present President of Czechoslovakia, by his unfaltering refusal during the critical years to make any concession to Republican Germany, is not wholly irresponsible for the dangerous condition in which his country stands to-day.
The real issue—though we shall presumably know better where the late Foreign Secretary really stands on these points after his speech on Friday—is whether we are to go on with what I might call the League orthodoxy, that is the orthodoxy as preached by the League of Nations Union. I ventured only last week to say that the fundamental reason why collective security has failed is that the League has been unable to do collective justice. My own view is that the failure of the League is in large measure a moral 896 failure. It has failed because it has put peace first and justice second, whereas in point of fact justice is the only condition upon which peace can rest. The fundamental reason for the trouble which we are in is the treatment which has been accorded to Germany in the years after the War, especially during the period when she was a Republic, especially since the day when any impartial reading of the evidence, which rapidly accumulated, as to the origins of the War, rendered quite untenable the thesis that Germany was alone responsible for the War.
Begin, if you like, with the Treaty of Versailles, the justification for which is that at any rate we did not know the facts, as we were living in an age of war-time propaganda. But the Treaty of Versailles has become the law, and when people have said that the function of the League has been to maintain the reign of law, they have meant in practice the maintenance of the Treaty of Versailles. I do not think that anybody supposes to-day that that Treaty can be made the base of the reign of law. Yet the League had no means of modifying, or at any rate was quite unable to modify, its essential feature: the unilateral discriminations against Germany in the matter of armaments and the fact that she was obliged to keep her Western frontier unprotected and unarmed. The invasion of the Ruhr was declared by this country to be a violation of the Treaty. We hear a great deal of the violation by Herr Hitler of the Treaty because he returned his own troops to his own frontier. You hear much less to-day of the violation by which the French Army, with the acquiescence of this country, crossed the frontier in order to annihilate German industry and in effect produced the present Nazi Party. I will not expand that thesis, because I have argued it before, and I do not think there are more than a very few people left in the world who do not deplore the failure to come to terms with Germany long ago.
The result is that you have to-day a Totalitarian Germany, very formidable, very dangerous, and it is the existence of that Germany which governs the whole international situation to-day, because without it neither the Far Eastern situation nor the Mediterranean situation would be difficult to handle. That, in my view, is largely due to what may be called the orthodox League view: that peace comes 897 by declaring that no change shall be made anywhere in the law—in the treaty system—except by consent, and that it is the duty of this country to uphold that view by economic sanctions or, in the last resort, by war all over the world. The reason why we failed in Abyssinia was that we were still engaged in trying to deny any measure of justice to Germany. At that time I was in favour of going further than most of your Lordships. I shared the view taken by the noble Viscount who speaks for the League of Nations in this country: I thought we ought to close the Suez Canal at that time, and said so publicly at the elections. But the reason why we were unable to do so was that Europe was more concerned with keeping Germany unilaterally disarmed and with preventing her from defending her own frontier than with anything else. That was what hamstrung the League at that time. Again, it is Totalitarian Germany, which we created, which presents us from dealing with the abominations now going on in the Far East.
Another result of that policy of saying that no change may be made anywhere except by the consent of everybody is that you have produced the Anti-Comintern Pact, which some people regard as directed against Russia and others regard as directed against the British Commonwealth. The final result of that policy is that we stand dedicated to the principle that Europe must remain in perpetuity an anarchy of twenty-six nations until they can agree to form a federation. I think personally that while the ideals of the League, about which the last speaker spoke so eloquently, are as true as ever they were, sooner or later mankind has got to get together in a world organisation; an organisation which is able to do justice as well as to give collective security; an organisation whose members in order to do that must be willing to part with some measure of their national sovereignty, without which it cannot do it. But the reason why we are in our present difficulties is that we have pursued this so-called League orthodoxy in defiance of the realities of the world as it exists to-day.
If there is criticism to be made of the policy of the late Foreign Secretary, it is, I think, that during the last two years he has not made a more serious effort to carry out the policy to which the 898 Prime Minister is now committed: of trying by every means in his power to explore the possibility of arriving at an all-round settlement of Europe and of preventing this alignment of the world into two great alliances which we see increasing every day as we read the newspapers. I therefore support the Prime Minister and the Government—though I have been no very friendly supporter of their policy of the last year or two—in their attempt to break through this miasma which has misled the nation, as I think, and in their endeavour to see whether by a serious attempt, without regard for minor technicalities, an arrangement cannot be made which will save Europe and the world from a repetition in a worse form of what befell it in 1914. That is the real justification. For the last two or three years we have been drifting steadily in the other direction. Let us at any rate try to-day, before it is too late, whether we cannot do better by a frank conversation, frankly facing the difficulties, with all the great Powers of Europe, instead of saying that there are certain untouchables with whom we will not discuss things at all.
But I confess that, because of the delay, I think the task which the Prime Minister and the new Foreign Secretary —whom I am glad to congratulate, as he sits on these Benches—is not going to be an easy one. I remember what was, I think, the dictum of the late Lord Salisbury, that foreign policy must be related to the strength which you can bring to bear in support of it. So long as nations are sovereign nations, policy which does not bear relation to the strength which you can bring in support of it must inevitably lead to humiliation and disaster. And I think that is equally true of the League. If the League is going to succeed, even in collective security, it is going to be because it can mobilise irresistible superiority at the point where it is prepared to act. From that point of view the League has never recovered from the withdrawal of the greatest single Power in the world, the United States, when it rejected the proposal to adhere to the League.
I think the principal difficulty in dealing both with Germany and Italy—and in my view you have to deal with both on an equality; any attempt to separate them will only lead to disaster—the real 899 difficulty is that when you have reached the present stage of relationships there is really no half-way house between friendship and hostility. If you consider the Mediterranean, Italy can do such damage to us, and we can do such damage to Italy, that unless we are agreed, unless we can get back, perhaps on new terms, to the old relationship between Italy and this country, confidence and permanently friendly relations are going to be very difficult. Everything that Italy does is a cause of suspicion to us, and everything that we do is a cause of suspicion to Italy. I do not believe there is a halfway house between genuine confidence and friendship and hostility. Therefore it is not mainly a question of detail, it is a question of the fundamental approach. And I think that is equally true about Germany also. I do not believe that you can solve this European question without taking some steps—I will not attempt to envisage what they are—towards the integration of Europe itself. The idea that Europe with twenty-six sovereignties, economic sovereignties and military sovereignties, can be kept long at peace is fantastic and absurd, and if there is to be integration, that integration, it seems to me, must be created by the main military Powers, the strongest Powers in Europe. It is a very difficult question, but I believe it goes to the root of the problem which confronts us.
There are, I know, two different ideas about the so-called dictatorships—though I notice that my right honourable friend never referred to the third dictatorship, which also practices some of the methods which he so much deplored. One view is that these dictatorships, at any rate the Fascist dictatorships, have in great measure arisen out of the pressure, economic and political, which has rested upon their people. They are the product rather than the cause, and you will not be able to deal with them without removing some of the causes which have produced them. The other view, I know, is that they are dominated by what you often hear referred to as "gangster Imperialists," only concerned with establishing their dominion over the world. Now I frankly take the first view. I believe that Herr Hitler, in particular, genuinely wants peace, but he is going to be a difficult person to deal with as to the terms upon which he is going to 900 agree to peace. I believe that if we can approach the problem in the right way it is not yet too late. We have postponed these discussions far too long, and we are, to-day, pretty nearly at the eleventh hour.
And now a last word. I do agree with the Foreign Secretary—but I do not think there is any difference on this point between him and the Prime Minister—where he said that in these negotiations you must proceed from strength and not from weakness. I do not see any evidence that Mr. Eden resigned for the same reason that M. Delcassé resigned. That is an inference which it was not perhaps wholly unnatural for the foreign Press to draw, because Herr Hitler's minatory speech was made on the same day, though the two events were quite unrelated. But I cannot see any evidence that it is true. The real difference, as I have ventured to point out, is a difference as to the approach to the problem of European pacification. But, having said that, I am convinced that unless we not only are prepared but are morally united and determined, the negotiations will go ill with us. It is negotiation from strength, and not from weakness, which alone will produce peace in Europe.
That is why I support the action of the Government in opening negotiations which, as it seems to me, is following the precedent of a great Foreign Secretary for whom I have great admiration—Sir Edward Grey, who never failed to enter into negotiations on every possible occasion, if only because he was certain that, unless he had explored every avenue, if disaster ensued he would not have a united country behind him. But I hope that this difference of opinion will not be driven too far so as to divide this country and to present the picture of a divided country to other countries, because in my view there is no fundamental division in this country. I think this country wants peace. It is willing to allow those in authority to explore any avenue towards getting it, but I think it is growingly determined that it will fight rather than yield to undue pressure, or give away things which it thinks it improper to give away. And if there is to be a division, it ought to be about the terms of the proposed agreement, and not merely on the technical way 901 in which the discussions take place. For that reason I am prepared to support the Government in the proposal that a new attempt should be made to explore the ground as to whether a basis of peace in Europe can be found, without thinking too much about the technical questions, important as I admit that they are, on which so much stress was laid by the noble Lord who moved this Motion to-day.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, you have listened with satisfaction to the speech which has just been made by the noble Marquess. One feels that, with his knowledge of foreign affairs, he has given us a speech of great value, and one in distinct contrast to the gloomy forebodings of the noble Lord who proposed the Motion. I would ask your Lordships to grant me indulgence for a few moments while I make one or two observations on that Motion. I have not had the honour of addressing your Lordships for some considerable time, although there have been many debates on foreign affairs, but I have somehow felt that I was not altogether in sympathy with the actual position which the Government seemed to be adopting, and I felt it would be much better on those occasions to leave criticism to those who desired to criticise the Government for other reasons perhaps than the actual question of foreign affairs. I do feel, however, that in the speech which the Prime Minister delivered in the House of Commons earlier this week we are approaching to what I would call a realistic review of the whole of our foreign policy. That, I think, is what the country wants, and I am sure that if we go to a Division this evening your Lordships will support that point of view. If I may venture to say so, I have thought that cur foreign policy was rather standing still, if it was not drifting in a dangerous direction. In times past we have believed in this country that it was right and beneficial, one might say, to adopt a policy which had nations guessing, so that no one knew exactly what line Great Britain would take; but it is necessary to have a two-Power-standard Navy if we are to adopt a policy of that kind, and I believe that the sooner we can come down to practical international politics the sooner we shall make progress on the lines that we desire to follow.
I see very little difference in the Motion which the noble Lord has proposed 902 and the Motion which was moved in the House of Commons. An incident has been used for that Motion of Censure—an incident which has had very important consequences. It has had unfortunate consequences in my view, because I feel somehow—although my right honourable friend the late Foreign Secretary must know his own business best—that it was that incident which led him to think it was necessary to sever temporarily his connection with the Government. It is not for me to enter into that matter. We are all masters of our own consciences, and do what we believe to be right. I do not say that I have always found myself in agreement with the late Foreign Secretary, but he is an old personal friend of mine. Moreover, I was associated with him at Geneva on many occasions, and I know his remarkable ability and capacity, and I most sincerely hope that this temporary eclipse, this leaving of active life, will not be of long duration, and that soon he will be able once more to give his admirable talents to a service in which he has achieved so much, and in which I am sure he will achieve a great deal more. But misfortunes are not always solely misfortunes, and I feel that I may congratulate the noble Viscount who has become the Foreign Secretary. No one is more qualified than he to perform these arduous duties, and I can assure him, on my own behalf and also I believe on behalf of most of those sitting here, that he will receive the fullest support in the great task which lies in front of him.
The attack, if I may venture in this House so to call the Motion on the Paper, has been brought forward, if I may say so, by the same people who have attacked the Government on other matters. These attacks come in a different form. I hardly think the merits of the question are uppermost in the mind of the noble Lord. I think he believes that the Party to which he belongs could manage our foreign affairs better than the National Government manage them. No doubt there would be a wide measure of disagreement on that particular point in this House. That is the Party which has attacked us, and I say "us" because I was a colleague of the noble Lord a short time ago. That is the Party which is responsible for the state of unpreparedness in which we found ourselves. It was the continual task of members of that Party to attack the Government because they said the 903 Government were warmongers, and that their policy was war; but when we remember the position which this country had reached, so aptly described by Sir John Simon as the edge of risk, I think your Lordships will consider that the indictment put forward by the Party opposite came from the wrong place, and one feels that one can discount to a large extent the attacks from that quarter.
After all, what is the main object of our foreign policy? The main object is the establishment and the maintenance of peace, and in the speech which the noble Lord opposite delivered I did not hear him state very much about peace—I may have missed it at the beginning—hut he confined himself to matters which in my judgment are of the smallest importance compared with the great question with which we are confronted at the present moment. I feel that the policy in which I believe will be a change from the policy of drift which we may say we have embarked upon at different times, and that we shall go ahead and restore that confidence throughout the world which sometimes we have seemed to lack. I believe that now we may be standing on the threshold of an era in which we shall be able to establish peace throughout the world.
The main object of this Motion which has been brought forward is in connection with Italy and the difference of opinion that there seems to have been as to whether the time was or was not opportune for certain conversations to take place. Is it necessary that we should stand on what I might almost call small points of punctilio? Is it not necessary that we should understand Italy, and that Italy should understand us, if by that understanding we can make some contribution to the maintenance of the peace of the world? I wonder whether the noble Lord would like this simmering difference of opinion to go on. This country is great enough to take action to put an end to the differences of opinion between us. The rulers of other States are in a far more difficult position than the Prime Minister in this country, and I would venture to explain what I mean. After all, they are not resting on systems of government which have stood the test of time, and which will support them and carry them through. They cannot afford to be magnanimous, 904 as we can, as a great country. One therefore feels that if upon this small point of procedure we had refused to enter into conversations, we might be delaying that great movement towards bringing all the nations and peoples together, and particularly those great nations upon whom the peace of the world depends.
As your Lordships are aware, I have endeavoured in the same direction to get a closer and stronger understanding with Germany. This is not the time to go back into past history, although perhaps I may be allowed to say that there have been occasions on which that understanding could, with available contact, in my judgment have been brought about. I think that it could probably have been done some few years go when Germany was emerging from defeat and from privation, both of which we have never suffered, and was endeavouring to the best of her ability to regain her equilibrium. I always think it was due to an act of mistaken policy of this country that we never extended the hand of friendship to Germany. It was due to that European policy that the present Chancellor, Herr Hitler, came into being. He was determined to raise his country to the level which he believed it was right she should reach, and he began feverisly rearming. At that time very little notice was taken of rearmament. No assistance was given to Herr Hitler until we found ourselves confronted, as we do now, by a Germany to a large extent rearmed but probably not so powerful as many people think; faced with innumerable difficulties at this moment, but able to treat, if they desire to treat, on different terms to those on which they would gladly and willingly have treated with us a few years ago.
I am not a pessimist. I do not feel that the moment has been missed. I am quite sure we can come to an understanding with Germany and with all these countries in Europe if we go about it in the proper way, in a realistic way, determined to do what we can, and knowing what we want to do. I welcome the visit which the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, paid to Germany a short time ago. I am not one of those who desire to derogate from the authority of Ambassadors. Our Diplomatic Service is one of which we have every reason to be proud. In different parts of the world it is carrying 905 on the great task of maintaining the prestige and high traditions of this country, but I believe that at this time we want something more definite and more forcible than that. I know how difficult it is to understand other people's point of view, and I do not believe nations can understand the points of view of other nations unless they have these personal contacts by which so much can be clone, so many of the smaller prejudices swept on one side, and the great idea we have in mind can be enlarged upon and methods shown by which it can be arrived at. That is why I have always been in favour of what is called the Four-Power Pact, with Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany coming together with one term of reference—namely, the maintenance of peace. If these four countries could consent to give out to the world that they are in favour of no more war, there will be no more war. I am quite sure that the sooner we can approach the question from this realistic and actual point of view, the sooner will the nations of the world believe in its and realise that that is the moment in which their fears can be removed and their suspicious can disappear.
We had all hoped that this could be achieved by the League of Nations. I am one of those who strongly support the great conception which underlies the League of Nations. It came into being after the War when a lassitude existed throughout the world, when everybody felt that something must be done, that some organisation must be framed so that there would be no more war. One cannot blame the original authors of the Covenant because it was impossible for human capacity to understand and realise the difficulties which were bound to ensue after the War. The League of Nations was formed and, as the Prime Minister emphasised in his speech, it became a phrase, a cliché, and all those great Powers who were the League of Nations, or ought to have been the League of Nations, on whom the strength of the League of Nations depended, one by one left the League, and we still have a collection of phrases and clichés which mean nothing whatever. Out of this Four-Power understanding in Europe I want to see a greater and more powerful League of Nations develop, and I believe that is how it can develop. If we put all 906 our efforts forward and support the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in their policy, knowing these two men as we do, and their desire to maintain peace and their determination to establish it, I believe we can look forward to the future with confidence.
§ LORD ALLEN OF HURTWOOD
My Lords, I shall not occupy your attention for more than a very few moments, but I am most anxious to contribute to the discussion on this subject because I feel each one of us, whatever may be his normal associations, is under an obligation to speak frankly when a situation of this importance occurs. I realise perfectly well that the few words I shall address to your Lordships' House must inevitably cause distress to many of those with whom I normally associate in the discussion of foreign affairs in this House. I do not wish to make any substantial contribution to the wider issues of foreign policy which lie behind this Motion. I wish only to make direct reference to the resignation of Mr. Eden and also—which is more important—to the determination of the Prime Minister to break through the tangle of Europe at this moment with a courage which I should be false if I denied in this House. A great deal has been said with regard to Germany, both by my noble friend Lord Lothian and by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry. I listened to those observations with regard to Germany with the greatest possible interest, but, if I may venture to say so, though partially relevant, they seemed to me somewhat irrelevant to the question of Italy which we ought to be discussing in this House this evening.
When Mr. Eden announced his resignation, it came as a shattering blow to the nation. Mr. Eden had become a symbol to almost every section of opinion of fidelity to the principles of the League and of practical wisdom in putting those principles into operation. His passing from the position of Foreign Secretary at this moment is unquestionably a disaster of the first magnitude. None the less, I am bound to confess that, though I have read with the utmost care every word that has been spoken in the debates in another place, I do not fully appreciate the precise reason, so far as it has yet been expressed, which led to the resignation of Mr. Eden. It may be that within the course of the next few hours Mr. Eden, in addressing his constituents, will 907 make clearer than he has yet made the reasons which have led him to resign, but it does seem to me that the particular point which he has made as to whether we should impose conditions before we enter upon an attempt to reach an appeasement with Italy is an insufficient reason for so serious a step at so critical a moment.
I earnestly hope—and I submit this to the noble Viscount who will reply to this debate—that, as the discussion of this resignation reaches to the four corners of the country, we shall not find that what was given out as a resignation on the subject of British-Italian negotiations is going to turn out to be a resignation due to a decision on the part of His Majesty's Government to give up faith and confidence in the League of Nations. I raise that point with the utmost frankness in the presence of the noble Viscount so that he may reply to it in the debate to-night, because the Prime Minister, when speaking in another place, did make a speech which certainly contains sentences which have led to the greatest apprehension, so far as many sections of the country are concerned, as to whether this change of policy in relation to Italy is going to be followed by a cessation of the belief of His Majesty's Government in the League of Nations. I earnestly hope, therefore, that the noble Viscount will use the opportunity to dispel what I am myself confident is not true.
Now may I make a reference to the position of the Prime Minister who, in my judgment, deserves the support of the whole nation. The Prime Minister looks at Europe, and what does he see? He sees an increasing growth of anger, ambition and danger. He sees an increasing deterioration. Many reasons can be given for that. We can go back, if we so desire, to the Treaty of Versailles itself, and we can point to that Treaty as the source of many of our present troubles. My noble friend Lord Lothian, with whom I always find myself tilting, says that the reason, or one of the reasons, why that Treaty of Versailles was as bad as it was, was that we had not all the evidence before us at the time when that Treaty was made. I venture respectfully to differ from the noble Marquess, as I have done before. It seems to me that the evidence was then available, and men like Mr. Keynes and many others at that 908 time and not twenty years afterwards saw the evidence as it then was and made their protest in the hope that that Treaty might not be made as bad as it became. If my noble friend was not perhaps as watchful as others at that time, and not perhaps able to see the evidence as it might have been seen, well he must take the responsibility for that and not place it upon the evidence itself which existed at that time.
But, quite apart from the Treaty of Versailles, there has since that moment developed deterioration. The League of Nations has failed to revise that Treaty through the various Governments which compose it, as those Governments could have revised it, and there has now come to Europe a neurotic disease of anger and ambition. And then we have had from Italy, not, if I may say so, exclusively from the vanquished Powers, but from Italy, one of the victorious Powers, a series of most disgraceful acts of aggression which we cannot overlook at this particular moment of time. Out of this tragic situation has come recrimination and accusations of bad faith; and into all this Russia has cast a new difficulty which arises from a technique of stirring up revolutionary propaganda across her frontiers inside countries which ought to be co-operating around the League table. That is the situation which the Prime Minister sees in Europe to-day. And what does he say?
He says, as I understand it: "You cannot deal with the situation by continuing stage by stage the long-drawn-out series of normal diplomatic manæuvres which would be suitable to a Europe where that state of tension had not been created." He, therefore, does not desire to stop the operations of the Non-intervention Committee; he does not desire to overturn any of the ordinary efforts that are being made to carry forward the work of the League. What he does say is: "I will try, under these exceptional circumstances, to break through the tangle by direct effort towards appeasement in the belief that if I bring an unconventional attitude to bear upon a condition which is chiefly temperamental I may perhaps secure more immediate results than would be achieved if I continued to work along the normal lines of diplomatic activity." That, as I understand it, is the position to which the Prime Minister has come, and I for my part believe, whatever 909 may be our differences of the past, that we owe it to the Prime Minister to give him our support in trying to discover whether that particular effort may not after all be successful.
May I now narrow this generalised discussion to the particular point at which it would appear the breach between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary occurred? If I understand the situation accurately, it was this. The Foreign Secretary said that, having regard to past experiences, having regard to bad faith in the past, knowing the point of view of the nation that we are dealing with, it was imperative that before we enter upon these new peace discussions there should be certain preliminary conditions agreed to. As I understand the Prime Minister's answer, it was this: not that he does not want any conditions, not that he is prepared to negotiate an agreement which shall have no form of guarantee when it is ultimately constructed, but simply that, having regard to the position of Europe to-day, he would rather enter upon those discussions with a completely free hand and bring in the conditions for guarantee of the agreement at the end rather than attempt to do it at the commencement. If I may venture to say so, I believe that the Prime Minister represents accurately the needs of Europe by taking that line at this present moment.
But that does not mean that there are not to be any conditions when agreement has been discovered. What, on the contrary, we may discover is this, that the mere process of the art of negotiation in a new spirit of friendliness may itself contribute to the concluding of that agreement which could not otherwise be arrived at. If you start upon a discussion of the kind that must now take place with a nation in the mood in which Italy is today, or with Germany in the mood in which she has been allowed to grow up, beginning by the insistence upon some kind of condition which implies from the first that you are in the mood of suspicion, you cannot create the conditions out of which good will may come, and which, if that good will could come, might make agreement possible and the details far more valuable for the ultimate welfare of Europe. Thus, as I understand it, the Prime Minster is under no delusions as to the difficulties of his task. He is under no delusions that it will be 910 necessary, when an agreement has been negotiated, that there shall be some form of guarantee whereby the bona fides both of this nation and Italy can be proved; but he is prepared at this moment to try to break through all these wearisome tangles of suspicion and recrimination and see whether the path to peace may not thereby be advanced. Europe at this moment needs the strength of the peacemaker every bit as much as the strength of the lawmaker, and I would bid the Prime Minister and the noble Viscount God-speed in the efforts they are now making towards that end.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, the events of last week, which meant the resignation of a British Minister, have undoubtedly had repercussions all over the world far more than any event in recent years. I think the circumstances which led to that resignation are important, but it is quite clear that we have not got the whole story, and I do not suppose we shall ever have it. My noble friend on tile Cross Benches (Lord Allen of Hurtwood) just now gave his explanation of it. I do not think that his explanation, which I have seen elsewhere, is sufficient to explain why the Foreign Secretary took such a drastic step as resignation at the present moment. He did not do it lightly; he did not do it frivolously; he did it with great and deep conviction, as everybody realised who heard his speech in another place. He referred in his speech to a former occasion. Mr. Eden said:Within the last few weeks upon one most important decision on foreign policy, which did not concern Italy at all, the difference was fundamental.The noble Viscount the Leader of the House approved a formula last week regarding people acting on parallel lines. He said that parallel lines do not meet and therefore do not clash. May I remind the noble Viscount that Euclid is out of date? In any case, Euclid could never be applied to human affairs. In this case parallel lines with the same object in view did meet and did clash.
It seems to me a most extraordinary thing that the Prime Minister, who ought to have been in the very closest possible contact with so important a colleague as the Foreign Secretary, should have been quite unaware that there was any difference of opinion, and that in his 911 own words he should have been completely taken by surprise. I do feel that that requires some further explanation, because it shows such an amazing relationship between two important Ministers, who should be, day in and day out, acting in the closest possible contact, so that the Prime Minister should have been aware not only of the convictions but of the methods, of the ideals, of the policy of his Foreign Secretary. It appears he was not. I do think that that gives us some idea of the bungling for which the present Government and Cabinet and Prime Minister are responsible, and I hope it will be a lesson for the future. As I listened to the Foreign Secretary making his speech I felt great sympathy with him because I have appreciated—and I have said so in your Lordships' House more than once—the persistent, patient endeavours he has made, the time he has spent in efforts with one object in view, and the great skill shown in his diplomacy. There are no such things as spectacular successes of diplomacy in these days. Let us get that out of our heads. He worked hard, and he deserved well of his country.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
But, my Lords, it was only last week that I ventured to address the members of the Government on the Front Bench opposite and to tell them that they were not in favour of collective security. I asked, why did they not say so? At last the Prime Minister has said so, and shown the views of his Cabinet. I was very glad to see in the Prime Minister's speech a passage of which I very strongly approve. He said:We must not try to delude ourselves, and still more we must not try to delude small, weak nations into thinking they will be protected by the League against aggression and acting accordingly when we know that nothing of the kind can be expected.May I very humbly venture to remind your Lordships that only last week I said, emphasizing a point made by my noble friend Lord Arnold:I am very glad my noble friend emphasized the chief point about collective security … which is that it raises the hopes of the smaller nations. … It is very unfortunate and wrong that hopes of that description should be raised.912 I find it embarrassing when I am right so often.
In embarking on this new approach I think the Prime Minister is absolutely right. It is no good going on cold-shouldering nations who have forms of government differing from ours. It is no good abusing those nations. I think on the whole it would be more correct and better if, in our language in politics over those two countries, we did not talk of Italy or Germany but talked of Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler, because there is a considerable difference. I myself hope very much that that difference will vanish in the future. But so long as we have got Signor Mussolini to deal with we must not be surprised or annoyed when certain actions or expressions are used by him. Only recently it is reported that he said: "Il leone Britannico a perduto i denti," which means that the British lion has lost his teeth. That is very offensive, but on the other hand I do not agree with a policy where the British lion is always snarling at Italy or Germany and showing his teeth. I think that the Prime Minister, by setting aside punctilio, by showing that he is going to initiate a new method, by trying to come to terms with what is at present the most difficult of the countries of Europe we have to deal with, is showing practical common sense.
I think he has driven the last nail into the coffin of collective security. Collective security is not a policy, as the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, said just now, but is a phrase, and it has been a very dangerous phrase. I am glad it is cleared out of the way. Even looking to the distant future, when the League may be reconstituted with all the nations included in it, I do not for a moment think that that will ever be done or that it will ever be effective if force is going to be the basis of the League, because I do not think you are going to maintain peace by war or correct international relationships by diabolical modern machinery of destruction. So long as the policy is cleared out of the way at the moment I am glad. I feel that there is a new hope and a desire for pacification. But we must not throw up our caps too soon. We must have patience. We cannot expect quick changes in the world to-day, and just as we are trying in one quarter to improve matters very often it happens that in another quarter our hopes 913 are shattered and we have to begin all over again. I do riot want to detain your Lordships. I only wanted to express my individual view, different from that of my noble friend who set down this Motion, and very, very different, I can assure your Lordships, from the Manifesto that has been published to-day.
May I in conclusion commit an indiscretion? No appointment has yet been made of a Foreign Secretary. I would say that in the troubled world of to-day I know of nobody who would be more likely to introduce into international intercourse a spirit of conciliation and good will, coupled with a jealous regard for his country's best interests; I know of no one with a more upright attitude, in defence of truth and justice based on his own conspicuous proved integrity, than the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, who leads your Lordships' House. I hope very much that that appointment will be made. The Prime Minister will make a wise move in doing it—and I, my Lords, shall again be right!
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has expressed his embarrassment at being so often right. May I express my embarrassment, not for the first time, that, having regard to our several antecedents, I am ninety per cent. in agreement with him!Happily he said something about the inutility of force which, if recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, will enable me to dissociate myself from him in the future. I cannot say that I remember any occasion on which I ever supported the Government with greater conviction than today. That, I may say, is not from any affinity with Italy, nor from any admiration of the Italian Government. All my natural prejudices, if not exactly Nordic, are at any rate Cisalpine, and I am quite insensible to Italian art and the Italian climate which appear to affect so many. Also I think that in the years 1935 and 1936 it was not only our right but it was our absolute duty to try the policy of sanctions out until its failure became manifest.
But what is the issue to-day? It appears to me that the Opposition to the Government base themselves on the principle that you must not do business with the ungodly. That attitude strikes me as reminiscent of a Puritan mentality; though certainly it was not practised by Crom- 914 well, and if the Independent Clergy of that day had sought to press it upon him he would have given them very short shrift. But consider what, if the Opposition had had their way, the Foreign Office would have had to say to Italy. They would have said: "We wish to talk to you; we realise that we ought to talk to you; but we will not talk to you until we have put you under probation for a period." Such an attitude, such language, might be appropriate to instructions given by the Secretary of State for India to the Viceroy to pass on to some Pathan clan, but it is utterly and wholly inappropriate to use in dealing with any great Power. It is not only inappropriate as a matter of decorum, but perfectly hopeless as a matter of procedure.
I would ask this question also: What of Japan? The time may come when you will want to have talks with Japan. Are their sins less in the opinion of the Opposition than those of Italy? Are you going to use the same language to them? The case has only to he stated, the question has only to be asked, to be answered in the negative. The truth is that an attitude of this sort is impossible in human relations, whether personal or international. It is quite true that there are examples of circumstances in which a protest may be made—such, for instance, as our refusal years back to recognise for a time the regicide Government of Serbia. Sooner or later, however, if you have a Power in being, you must recognise the facts and deal with them in some way. I think that many of my stalwart Conservative friends would not shrink from sitting at the other side of a table with Mr. Stalin—at any rate if he would so far oblige them by coming as far as Warsaw, because it might be a little uncomfortable in the Kremlin!
I see two dangers in the present situation, and one of them is what I may call a Departmental autarchy. It is natural enough in all Departments, but perhaps it is especially to be found in Departments like the Admiralty and the Foreign Office, which by reason of the secrecy of their business or equipment are largely sheltered from the ordinary blasts of popular criticism to which other Departments are subject, that men who thoroughly know their subject should resent supervision by others outside. But it does not follow that the best and the 915 greatest knowledge implies the best judgment, and it may well be that on great issues, apart from detail, the judgment of the outside layman is far better than any other. And, of course, no Prime Minister can rely solely on Departmental advice, even if it is backed by one of his own colleagues. His responsibility cannot be taken away from him. It exists in war. If a Prime Minister sees patent failure by generals in the field, it is not only his right but it is also his duty to intervene. If he sees the ship of State being navigated into dangerous waters in time of peace, equally he cannot shake the responsibility off his own shoulders. I think it is a fine renewal of the ancient doctrine, which, of course, it is physically impossible to carry out fully in the present day, that a Prime Minister's supervision extends to all the Departments of his Government.
Now I think there is a second and a greater danger, and that is what I may call enthusiasm in blinkers. God forbid that ideals should be despised. But the idealist pursuing his ideal must not look only before him; he must also look to the right and to the left. Undoubtedly I agree that the policy, external and internal, employed by certain arbitrary Governments has aroused a great wave of indignation which, if often misdirected, is certainly genuine. But what does it all lead to? There is talk about the formation of a democratic bloc. But it is often said that that will include both America and Russia; America, which notoriously will not come in, and Russia, which is anything but a democracy. But in so far as that policy is pursued at all, we have some lessons from history as to what its results will be. In Greek history every State was divided at one period into oligarchs and democrats, and revolutions were fomented against whatever party was in power with a view to forming a wider alliance. The only consequence of that was the fatal weakening of Greece and the domination, first of Macedon and then of Rome.
I cannot help thinking that the present position has a great similarity to what I remember in 1898. Then Russia had given great and justifiable offence and there were many indignant with the line that Lord Salisbury took in not pressing those differences to a point where he would have risked war. 916 But he took a broader view than merely those differences with Russia. He knew that we were sooner or later to make the conquest of the Sudan, and the clouds were darkening in South Africa. He wisely withstood the turmoil, and he was justified by the strength of the country when it met with the dangers that followed in the years that came after. But at that time, as now, there was a large body of people in this country who, in vulgar terms, were simply spoiling for a war. The charge has been made of want of courage against the Government, and particularly in reference to the Prime Minister. To anybody who knows him a charge of personal want of courage is, of course, quite ridiculous. But it may be said that courage differeth from courage in glory. The risks that may be taken by the motor cyclist may not be taken by the driver of a coach or a train full of human beings, or by the captain of a great liner, still less by those who have to steer the ship of State in troubled waters. To risk life and career an individual is brave; for a ruler to incur great public hazards for a sufficient cause after weighing the cost is braver; but the highest courage is that of a man who does that which is right though it involve him in the charge of acting under fear, and that courage the Prime Minister has shown.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I, like all your Lordships, have listened with great interest to the speech of my noble friend who has just sat down, and he will, I hope, forgive me if I do not attempt to follow him in the details of the argument which he has presented to your Lordships. The main question which has been raised in this discussion has been the resignation of Mr. Eden. I do not propose to say very much on that subject, because it has been discussed with great elaboration in another place, and a great deal has been said about it here. But I do agree with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby that I do not think we have yet realised the full case that has induced Mr. Eden to take the very decided step, and a step that quite clearly was very much against his own personal interest—though I do not suppose that would weigh with him—which he has taken. I am quite sure it is an entire misreading of the situation to suppose that, whatever may have been the actual dispute which immediately pre 917 ceded the resignation, that was the real underlying cause of what has taken place. I regret to say that I can now look back on more than half a century of acquaintance with public life, and during that period a great number of resignations have taken place. I believe it would not be an exaggeration to say that not one of them has been due to the actual cause that was at the moment assigned for them. I believe myself that an observation of the late Duke of Devonshire really sums up the whole psychology of resignation. You will remember that when there was some dispute over the Irish question, the then Lord Hartington said: "I came to the conclusion that Mr. Gladstone and I did not mean the same thing." That is always the cause of resignations.
What the actual differences were between Mr. Eden and his colleagues we shall perhaps know something more about to-morrow or after to-morrow. We do know that he has said in so many words that he was unfortunately conscious that the Prime Minister and he did not look at these problems from the same point of view. That is the real thing which produces resignations. I can only say that, having a very great admiration for Mr. Eden, though I have not always had the extreme honour of agreeing with him, having great confidence in his prudence as well as in his judgment, I am perfectly satisfied that the issue, when we come really to understand it, will be found to be something much larger and much more important than the actual question of the exact conditions under which a negotiation was going to be entered into with Italy.
May I say a word to the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian? He thinks the issue was as to whether there should be negotiations with these Powers or not—an issue between the orthodox League view, as he put it, and the new view which he attributed to the Prime Minister. I wonder whether I could ever convince my noble friend that he wholly misapprehends the League of Nations. It is utterly untrue to say that the League of Nations is against negotiations. On the contrary, the whole conception is that there shall be full negotiations whenever there is a difference of opinion between Powers. That may take any form that is convenient. It may be a negotiation within the Council of the League, or it 918 may be negotiation outside it. It is only in the rare case, as we hope, of its being impossible to settle a difference by negotiation, and consequently of one side or the other resorting to war, that the Articles which occupy so much of the attention of my noble friend come into operation at all. I have no criticism to make on his view that it is desirable that there should be negotiations to settle outstanding differences between us and any Power. The question of whether they should be begun, and under what conditions they should be begun, is a very difficult matter to settle, and personally I should find it extremely difficult to differ on that point from a statesman of the experience and the judgment of the late Foreign Secretary and, I understand, his Under-Secretary also.
I venture to urge upon Lord Lothian that he is shutting his eyes to what is really going on in Germany. It is as plain as it can be. The issue is not at all as to whether you shall settle things by negotiation or not. Nobody disagrees on that point. The issue ultimately, and when you come to look at all Herr Hitler's speeches and Signor Mussolini's speeches, is—Are you to go in for international cooperation, or are you to go in for settlement by armed force by each nation according to what it thinks right? That is the issue. I was very much interested in a telegram to The Times this morning from its correspondent in Berlin. He says that at first the attitude of the Prime Minister was received with great enthusiasm—I have got other evidence about that which I will mention in a moment—but now there is a great deal of disappointment because the Prime Minister has made some kind of obeisance to the League idea, and this is the striking commentary:England deceives herself if she thinks that in German eyes the moral status of the League is any higher than its legal status.That is the real attitude that prevails in Germany, and not only to the League. Herr Hitler has withdrawn not only from the League but from other international organisations in which Germany was engaged. He would not permit the clergy to attend the meetings that took place at Oxford and Edinburgh during the autumn because they were international. That is the attitude of mind, and it is a perfectly well worked out attitude. He says the 919 State is everything: you must not control the State, you must not even criticise the State. And to say that it should be put under any kind of international control or influence—that is the highest form of political heresy.
I think it is really very important to realise the facts of the case, because I agree with my noble friend that we ought to aim at the union of Europe. I think his conception that you have a prospect of anything like the physical or constitutional union of Europe in the near future is baseless. I wish it were true, and I would not cease to work for it, but I see no prospect of it. And particularly I see no approach to any doctrine of that kind from either Germany or Italy. That is not their conception at all. I noticed a rather ominous phrase in my noble friend's speech, in which he said that perhaps the right thing would be to get rid of all these small countries and absorb them in other great countries. I think that is a correct interpretation of what the noble Lord said.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
It is a correct interpretation of what I said on other matters, but not on this point.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am greatly relieved to hear it, because it filled me with the greatest anxiety. I will not say any more about it. I believe you will never get union in Europe except on the basis of peace and the supremacy of law, which can be the only basis of justice and therefore ultimately leading to union.
That is all I desire to say about the actual resignation. It would be impertinent for me to express in any detail my admiration for the late Foreign Secretary, or for his successor, which is certainly not less, but I trust your Lordships will not think, if I omit that duty, it is because I do not feel great admiration in both cases. Where I am really disturbed is over the speech of the Prime Minister. That is the thing which really does alarm me. I thought Lord Ponsonby was perfectly right when he claimed the Prime Minister as the latest of his converts—I think truly. The Prime Minister has adopted almost verbatim what Lord Ponsonby said the other night, although I do not think it is proof that he is right. I have known too many 920 Prime Ministers to think they are always right, but it is perfectly true that that has been done. I cannot be elaborate over this, but here I have his very precise statement:If I am right, as I am confident I am, in saying that the League as constituted to-day is unable to provide collective security for anybody, then I say we must not try to delude ourselves, and, still more, we must not try to delude small weak nations, into thinking that they will be protected by the League against aggression and acting accordingly, when we know that nothing of the kind can he expected.I do think that—if I may be allowed to say so—from so distinguished an official, a most reckless thing to say. Even if I thought it I would not have said it if I had been Prime Minister—at least I hope I would not.
Here are these small nations now threatened. Austria is actually in the grip of her powerful neighbour. I met a gentleman just back from Austria, and he told me that you cannot exaggerate the deep depression which is felt in that country, and the deep indignation against us and France and other countries for having left them in the lurch, alone to face their powerful and aggressive neighbour. We know, for we have read the English translation, which was so very much expurgated, of the recent speech of Herr Hitler. There he speaks of ten million lost Germans, and of three millions in Czechoslovakia, and he made no secret of his intention to have them all in his grip. Yet here comes the Prime Minister and says: "You may make certain that you are not going to be protected by the League or by anything of the kind." It is almost equivalent to an invitation to Herr Hitler to go on, because he may be sure that he will not be interfered with by anybody.
I pass rapidly over the proposal which the Prime Minister makes. It is, in effect, to abandon Article 16, and all the other Articles that provide for coercive action. I know it is said that it is very different from abandoning the League, but that was not the view of Germany when the news first came. I am careful to quote from an absolutely impeccable source. I quote from the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post where it says:Germany's pleasure at Mr. Chamberlain's statement of British foreign policy is reflected in the German Press to-day by such headlines as 'Chamberlain strikes a hammer blow: Geneva is finally smashed,'921 That is the view which has been produced in foreign countries, and not only in Germany but in friendly countries also. I confess there is a smaller matter which I must mention but which rather disturbs me. If I understand the Prime Minister's proposal, it is to leave Article 16 as binding formally upon us, as it is now, but never in fact to act up to it. To ignore it. I think that is a dangerous doctrine and a dangerous way of dealing with treaties. If you are not going to carry out treaties the proper course is to take steps to get rid of them, or to get the assent of other parties to them before you take such action as this; but to say,, because you dislike one provision of a Treaty, that you will not carry it out, but will leave it as it is, is a very unfortunate and dangerous attitude.
There is another point. Here is this proposal to get rid of Article 16 and of the coercive action under the League—not in certain cases but always, and to rely upon moral force, which the Germans have already explained will mean nothing to them. I do venture to submit this to my noble friend. I hope he will not think I am unduly partisan in doing it. This is a complete change of the attitude which the Government adopted when they presented themselves at the last Election. I have here the Manifesto issued by Mr. Baldwin. Of course I remember it, but I have looked it up. He says:We shall therefore continue to do alb in our power to uphold the Covenant and to maintain and increase the efficiency of the League. In the present unhappy dispute between Italy and Abyssinia there will be no wavering in the policy we have hitherto pursued. We shall take no action in isolation, but vie shall be prepared faithfully to take our part in any collective action decided upon by the League and shared in by its Members.That seems to me utterly and entirely inconsistent with the announcement of the policy which the Prime Minister has made on this occasion. If I am wrong, nothing will give me greater pleasure than to be assured that the plain and clear meaning of the Prime Minister is something quite different.
I have already said all I have to say, except to conclude. I am all for peace, of course. We all are. I do not believe you will get peace either by running away from the Dictators or by running after them. Your only hope of getting a peaceful settlement is to formulate what 922 you regard as a just and proper action in accordance with your treaties, whether they be the Covenant of the League of Nations or any other treaty, and press that to the utmost extent, always being ready of course to negotiate with anybody who thinks there are grievances which can be remedied in some other way. I cannot believe that a policy which even appears to be dictated, I will not say by fear, but by something very like fear, will ever succeed. We have this awful Austrian precedent before us. It is quite evident that that precedent, if it is carried, as I have no doubt it will be carried, to the full extent of the absorption of Austria, can be applied not only in Czechoslovakia but in several other countries. There are "lost Germans" in many other countries. Once you admit the doctrine that because a country is big and because it can threaten smaller countries, therefore there is no reason why it should not absorb those smaller countries, there is no limit to what may be done.
I know the suggestion is made by my noble friend [the Marquess of Lothian]—I have heard him make it over and over again—that we have ill-treated Germany in the years after the War. I know there were a great many things done both at Versailles and afterwards which were very unfortunate. I protested strongly against them at the time. To the utmost of my power, which was not much, I urged that they should not be insisted upon, but they were insisted upon. But I do utterly reject the view that Germany has had a number of grievances to which we have paid no attention. I cannot go into the details of that question; I leave that to Government speakers if they desire to do so; but over and over again we have made concessions to Germany. As for disarmament, I agree most fully that if we had pressed much more strongly for disarmament than we did something might have been done. It was not the fault of the League. So far as the League was an entity, it was ready to consider disarmament. Nor was it the fault of that bugbear of my noble friend, the League of Nations Union. It pressed for disarmament over and over again. It drew up a scheme for disarmament which was adopted by the International Assembly of League of Nations Societies, and they pressed it in the strongest way. I was 923 myself sent to Geneva, and was allowed to address the first meeting of the Conference. Some scheme of disarmament, I am confident, could have been adopted if we had not raised all sorts of nonsense about bombing and all the rest of it. That is the great achievement of my noble friend Lord Londonderry, which he described as keeping the British Air Force and all the rest of it. If we had not adopted that kind of attitude, the thing could have been done. I am confident we could have got some preliminary system of disarmament.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I do not know what the noble Viscount is referring to. Could he explain to what he is referring?
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I could not explain without going into considerable detail. But I thought it was generally accepted.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
If the noble Viscount wishes to find the answer to his question, to what I know he is referring, he will find it in the News Chronicle to-day.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am very glad my noble friend reads the News Chronicle. It shows a sign of grace.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Yes, the News Chronicle—a very good paper. But whether that be so or not, I am convinced we could have done more. I am convinced it was not our fault, as far as I may speak for the League of Nations Union, that that was not done. I am most anxious that we should reach settlements on all these questions. I am quite sure that people are right in saying that some, at any rate, of them could be settled. But if it be true, as Mr. Eden has alleged—and I see no reason to doubt it—that without first asking the Italians to carry out existing promises, if, as I am afraid is perfectly plain, unintentionally though it may be, in the face of violent 924 newspaper attacks on Britain and on Mr. Eden personally, both in Italy and in Germany, we took action which involved his resignation, then I am quite sure it was not only the kind of thing I dislike any British Government doing, but it was not in the interests of peace or the settlement of disputes.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, I feel very diffident in following the experts who have spoken and saying very much about foreign affairs, but before I start to give a few of my humble views I would like to say a word or two about the noble Viscount who has just spoken. There is one small point I feel I must make, and that is that the noble Viscount seems to prefer the judgment of Mr. Eden and Lord Cranborne to the judgment of the whole of the rest of the members of the Cabinet. I have always thought the noble Viscount was a great democrat. Apparently he has gone over to the side of the dictators, because he prefers the judgment of one man to the judgment of nineteen or twenty others. That does not seem to me to be in conformity with his usual views.
Regarding his statement that you will not get peace if you run away from dictators, I do not know whether he believes we would get war by running into them, and probably quicker than by running into a country which is not governed by a dictator. He made one other remark about a union of nations in Europe. It is true to say that Herr Hitler's ideal is to a certain extent a union of nations composed of people who are of German stock. Therefore, one of these days, if we can get Herr Hitler and his proposed union of nations into the League of Nations, we shall have increased the number of Members far more considerably than it has been increased in the last few years. I do not want, especially being a very new and humble member, to appear facetious, but I would like to suggest that the League of Nation Union might have a new motto for the future which might be that great poem, "Half a League, half a League onward." It might be said that it is hopeless going on with only half a League, because you will probably end up with no force behind you and you may end up in war. I would like to express the view that half a League is better than no League because you can build up on that 925 half a League. It is, however, hopeless to disregard the unrealities of the moment and call them realities, as the noble Lord who introduced the Motion did.
I have spent, as many of your Lordships have done, considerable time during the last two clays in the rather cramped place permitted to us listening to speeches in the House of Commons, and I have never been so pleased to be a member of your Lordships' House as I was during those two days. Some of the speeches which were made there were not only foolish from the point of view of the makers, but highly dangerous from the point of view of Europe. I was very sorry indeed to hear the late Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Lord Cranborne, call the action of the Government not a contribution to peace but a surrender to blackmail. Coming from one who has recently been in a responsible position in the Foreign Office, if this action is described as a surrender to blackmail, it may be taken outside as knowledge which will be construed very badly all over Europe.
Then we had Mr. Churchill, who said that opportunities had always been missed by every Government, except perhaps the Governments which he was in himself, and he said, therefore, we must miss this present opportunity. I once heard Mr. Gandhi make a statement in a Committee room when I was in the other place. He said: "We want the British Army in India because it no good." This almost seems to me the reasoning of Mr. Churchill. Perhaps both of them have ulterior motives. Perhaps Mr. Churchill wants to remove some members of the present Cabinet, and perhaps Mr. Gandhi wanted to remove the British from India altogether, but their arguments do not seem to me sound. We then had the return of Mr. Lloyd George from the South of France. I am not going into his speech except to say that I think it was very dangerous. As one member of the House of Commons said, he was doing his well-known rogue elephant turn.
I am not going to say any more about the other place except to recall that the Minister for Agriculture said that foreign affairs would be all right if it were not for the foreigners. But I think we have to put ourselves in the position of foreigners I have said these things so 926 as to come to the point of Mr. Eden's resignation. It is absolutely certain that we in this country do not always realise what foreigners think, and during the last few months it has been apparent that there has been a tremendous lot of propaganda against the late Foreign Secretary from Italy. I think it is almost natural that that would be so. I am not going into the question of whether sanctions were right or wrong, but when you have the Foreign Minister of a great country initiating at Geneva all the sanctions and all the other motions against Italy it would be very surprising if Italy did not resent it. I cannot help feeling that the fact of the late Foreign Secretary having resigned will make Italy take an entirely different view of this country. I have heard it stated this afternoon that in order to do what one might call a business deal with Italy you must have conditions first. I have a certain slight experience for my age in business matters, and I find that you can never get good will in any one if you impose such conditions first that they will not talk business at all. I feel quite sure that the judgment of the vast majority of the Cabinet on that point is entirely right.
Reverting to the subject of Mr. Eden's resignation, he said that there was a divergence of outlook and approach. He also said that Italy was not an isolated issue. He said, as was quoted by one noble Lord opposite, that on another subject the difference was fundamental. Now ever since the letter which the Prime Minister wrote to Signor Mussolini last summer, and ever since the noble Viscount the Leader of this House went to Germany for his hunting expedition, I have felt, and a great many people in Great Britain have felt, that something was wrong, and that the views initiated by these two events were not being followed up. To take the quotation in regard to parallel lines, I think it is probably true that the present policy of the Prime Minister and the policy of the late Foreign Secretary were on parallel lines, but going in opposite directions, and having gone a good way in one direction the time had come when it was obviously impossible to carry on with these two divergent policies.
The second thing I would like to say, although I have no knowledge to this effect, is that I think it is probably true that if the Prime Minister and his colleagues 927 laid down a certain policy, that policy was perhaps not being carried out quite in the way that it should have been by the late Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office. I think if a man has a shoot and tells his gamekeeper to go and drive a certain wood a certain way, and that gamekeeper drives the wood so that he sends the pheasants back over the beaters instead of over the guns, he will riot be considered a very successful agent. I am quite certain that to have a policy carried out in this country you must have, as Mr. Eden himself said, a Foreign Secretary who has a similar outlook and wishes to pursue similar methods to those of the Prime Minister. I, therefore, say quite unreluctantly that I welcome, almost as much perhaps as the Stock Exchange did yesterday, this change. I think the unrealities of the League and the non-carrying out of the Prime Minister's policy have made it absolutely necessary to have a change.
From the point of view of Germany and Italy, it is quite true to say that they have welcomed the change. Even those in command of parishes in this country sometimes find that some of their parishioners will not go to the Church in the parish, and when they have been asked why, they have said: "Because we do not like the vicar." It seems to be quite possible that one of the reasons why these countries would not have an agreement was that they did not like our Foreign Secretary. I greatly welcome, therefore, the temporary appointment of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. I do not intend, after the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, to make him blush, but I would like to say that Germans with whom I have conversed have told me that Germany as a whole was very honoured that he visited them. I am quite sure we will find that the relationships with Italy and Germany in the near future, and in the future, will be very different from what they have been in the past. I only wish to say one more thing, and that is that I believe implicitly in the policy of the Prime Minister and in the policy of the majority of the Cabinet, or, if I may say so, of all the Cabinet at present, and I am quite sure that we shall go ahead and get a satisfactory, reasonable and lasting peace in Europe. I believe that we shall look back to this last week with relief and 928 gratitude that the Prime Minister has taken the strong and very excellent and able line which he has taken.
My Lords, it is with some feeling of anxiety and apprehension that I intervene in the debate this evening, but as one who is engaged from day to day in international trade it is possible to feel a little of the pulse of foreign affairs, and I trust your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments. There is no doubt that the foreign policy of this country has been confused not only to ourselves but to the nations of Europe, and I welcome any attempt to consolidate our aims and steer a course that may ultimately lead to a peaceful solution of our difficulties. The Government in their Election Manifesto gave their full support to the League of Nations in its present form, and the Party which the noble Lords opposite support contend that the Government have no mandate from the country to make a new orientation of foreign policy. Surely, in the shifting sands of foreign policy, it is the duty of a Government to lead and make any alterations to their policy that they think fit.
No Foreign Secretary, I suppose, has ever in time of peace had such terrible responsibilities as our late Foreign Secretary, and he has borne them with courageous devotion and loyalty, but all of us realise that it is for the Prime Minister to decide policies on great issues. I am sure we all deplore the circumstances that have arisen to cause the resignation of Mr. Eden, but I cannot help feeling that if a postponement of this crisis had been possible we should in due course have received from Italy all the assurances we required by force of economic circumstances. I trust that we shall make a level deal with Italy, and that the present position will not cause Signor Mussolini to put his price up and perhaps even then default. The Prime Minister has taken a very courageous course, which will be beset by many difficulties, and it behoves all of us to support him to the utmost of our ability. There is no doubt that temporary damage has been done to our prestige abroad, but the ship of State is now set on a new course. Let us repair the breach in her bulwarks and make our policy so strong and direct that no nation can misunderstand us.
929 Already there are welcome signs; trade has been given a new fillip, as any one can see by reading the financial Press yesterday and to-day. I hope that our new policy may lead, as was mentioned by the noble Marquess, to the formation of a Four-Power Pact between the great nations of Europe which perhaps in turn may one day lead to a European Council of State. The old names and dogmas are dead—let us give them a decent burial. It will be remembered that a similar pact was signed in Rome on January 15, 1933, by Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy. The four Powers contracted within the framework of the League and it was owing to this that the juridical value of the pact was lost. Let us see if a new pact can be formed without the old limitations, and build up a new edifice of mutual understanding amongst the great Powers of Europe. I hope we may see the principles of the van Zeeland Report embodied in an economic agreement between the nations, and that Europe may return to its former sanity in trade and outlook. I would, however, make one reservation. The Prime Minister has said that a great and powerful country can afford to be magnanimous. Let us beware of a situation that may come upon us in which this country may be faced with demands that no country in our position could accept. I trust that if and when this situation does arise our policy will not be "Peace at any price" but "Peace with honour."
My Lords, I wish to offer a few remarks in an endeavour to put the point of view of the Party for whom I will speak as briefly as possible. I should like to be allowed in the first place to refer to something which fell just now from the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. The Party to which I belong do not want to see economic collapse in Italy. That will do no good at all. We have no quarrel with the Italian people, and we hope that means may be found to prevent economic collapse. We are so interlocked to-day in trade that disaster of any kind in any country must have wide repercussions. Italy is a good customer of this country, and it is not our wish to pursue any quarrel of that kind with her. The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, if he will allow me to say so, shocked me very much indeed. He seemed to contradict the statement made by his friends 930 in another place that the late Foreign Secretary's resignation had no connection whatever with the fact that he was persona non grata in certain foreign countries. I would venture to remind him that the Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain—I have noted the date for greater accuracy—in the year 411 A.D. Since then we have not taken our orders from Rome, and we have no intention of taking orders from Rome.
§ LORD BROCKET
We have not taken our orders from Rome at all. We have taken our orders from this country, not from Rome. I think it is rather unfortunate, if I may say so, that the Foreign Secretary's resignation should take place at this time. I only said that we have to look at things from the point of view of foreigners occasionally to see what they think about these things.
It was a deplorable thing for the noble Lord to say. We are not going to take orders from Rome, and if this or any other Government attempted to do so I believe people would censure them, whether the noble Viscount or any other of His Majesty's Ministers is Foreign Secretary. One other observation of the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, I think was very typical of the Party to which he belongs. He said that we could not enter negotiations with conditions, and he quoted his important business experience to support that view. But we refused to negotiate with Russia over a trade agreement—my noble friend Lord Ponsonby will remember it, because he was Under-Secretary at the time—until propaganda ceased. I think I am right.
Yes, of course it has. Certainly propaganda has ceased. The noble Viscount who leads the House is for the time being in charge of the Foreign Office, and I should like to offer my personal sympathy with him. It will be our duty here to assist him in every way—I speak for my noble friends on this side of the House—with suggestions and helpful criticism, although of course it will throw a greater responsibility upon the thin line of the Opposition than before. May I try to make clear what is our present quarrel with His Majesty's Government? The seriousness of the situation is not so much the resignation of Mr. Eden—I myself feel that he should 931 have resigned many months ago—but it is the change in policy outlined by the Prime Minister in his recent speech. The General Election of 1935, won by the Party opposite, was fought largely on support for the League of Nations. I do not wish to go over the ground so admirably covered by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. I was at Ipswich in the recent by-election there, and my friends told me that the Conservatives were fighting largely on the cry of Eden. Mr. Eden was their man. He was the man they were quoting as showing that the Government were still faithful to the ideals of the League. If this resignation had occurred before the poll at Ipswich the Labour majority, instead of being over 3,000, would have been one of five figures. Noble Lords opposite occupy those Benches because the 1935 Election was fought on the policy of supporting the League of Nations. Now they have gone back on their pledges. They have made a radical change of direction in British policy, and we think that that is most serious.
Another cause of our quarrel with them is this. During the last year in particular, as no one knows better than the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, the Italian Government have promised again and again to do certain things, or to refrain from doing certain things, in Spain. The Italian Government have not done those things or have not refrained from doing those things. I am informed on good authority that munitions and aeroplanes are pouring into Spain from Italian ports. As the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, is now responsible, for the time being at any rate, for the conduct of foreign affairs, may I ask him if he will allow me to turn his attention to that fact? At this very time, when we are about to enter into negotiations which can only have a meaning if they mean certain concessions to Italy, financial loans or other help to Italy, or favours to Italy, against the promises of the Italian Government, munitions, aeroplanes and heavy artillery are pouring into Spain in support of the rebels. The propaganda has for the time being stopped, but there is no sort of guarantee that it will not begin again and, as has been said, become rife all over the world.
May I also be allowed to say this? It is only a very few days since British 932 merchant seamen in the Mediterranean were murdered on the high seas. By whom? Who supplied those aeroplanes? Who piloted those aeroplanes? They came from Italy. There is no secret about it. The submarine campaign in the Mediterranean which was stopped by Nyon was conducted by Italian submarines. I do not say they were manned by Italian crews; I do not know; but I do say Italian submarines, because the rebels had no submarines and they could only have got them from Italy. Whether they were commanded by Italian officers or manned by Italian crews I do not know, but the submarines responsible for these disgraceful murders on the high seas were Italian, and our complaint is that this breaking of pledges and this false faith have continued. That is what we feel so very strongly about.
We also feel very strongly, of course, on the whole circumstances of this resignation at a time when the Foreign Secretary who has just relinquished his office was being so bitterly and, as we thought, so unfairly attacked in the State-controlled Press of two dictator nations. For the time being the Leader of your Lordships' House holds the great office of Foreign Minister. I do not know if he is persona grata in Berlin and in Rome. I hope he is not. I do not want a Foreign Minister of England who is persona grata in foreign countries. I want a Foreign Minister who is persona grata with the great mass of the people of these islands. I want a Foreign Minister, if I may be allowed to say so with great respect to the noble Viscount opposite, who will not only work for peace but also prevent foreigners from fooling us. I only hope that if he is attacked he will be supported. I can promise him that if he stands up for this country—I can speak for my noble friends on this side of the House—we shall certainly not embarrass him, but we shall support him, and resent any such unfair attacks as have been levelled at his predecessor.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, as being in temporary charge of the Foreign Office, it falls to me to answer a debate that has ranged over a wide field, on the Motion of the noble Lord opposite, and in which fiction and fact have from time to time been blended. It would be less than human on my part if I did not at the outset express the 933 gratification of His Majesty's Government, at a time of sharp and rather painful controversy, at receiving from several different quarters of the House the valued support that has been made evident in the debate this afternoon in weighty and reasoned speeches from the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, my noble friend Lord Londonderry, the noble Lord on the Cross Benches (Lord Allen of Hurtwood) and my noble friend behind me, Lord Rankeillour; and last, but by no means least, the noble Lord opposite, Lord Ponsonby. One of the matters that must no doubt have left its mark upon your Lordships' minds has been the remarkable contrast that has been exhibited in this debate, as it was, I am told—though I believe it is not strictly in order to refer to them in detail in this House—in debates in another place, between the great veneration, almost, displayed now for the person and policy of my right honourable friend Mr. Eden, the late Foreign Secretary, by the noble Lord and those who agree with him, and the opinions that they held about him only a short week or ten days ago, to which they were giving expression on most platforms in the country. I have among my notes endless quotations of what leaders of the Labour Party were saying about Mr. Eden a week or ten days ago, pouring every contumely upon him. I have no doubt that Mr. Eden will have sufficient good sense, as most of your Lordships will, to appraise the value of the new commendations that have so generously come his way.
Although the debate has ranged fairly widely, I should be failing in my duty if I were not to say something in this House, as has been said in another place, about the actual facts of these unhappy events. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that as far as lies in my power he will be getting the whole story. It was, as your Lordships know, on the tenth of this month that the Italian Ambassador conveyed to His Majesty's Government the earnest desire of the Italian Government to inaugurate these conversations that had been suggested in July, 1937. The whole Government, including Mr. Eden, were agreed that the policy of an inauguration of conversations was in itself desirable. As I pass, may I answer a question addressed to me by the noble Lord who moved the Motion? He asked me whether we contemplated 934 the conclusion of an agreement without France being a party to it. I think, if I understood him correctly, that in asking that question he was perhaps under some misapprehension. It has never been in contemplation, either between ourselves and the Italian Government or between ourselves and the French Government, that this agreement with Italy, when we reached it, should be other than an Italo-British agreement. It has never been contemplated that it would be a tripartite agreement. The noble Lord will, of course, readily realise that the result of a real agreement relieving the tension in the Mediterranean would be welcome to no nation more than to France, with whom we have on several occasions freely discussed the policy of this matter and with whom, of course, we shall throughout all our conversations keep in the closest contact and work in the closest co-operation. That is, however, perhaps by way of parenthesis.
In the course of the exploratory conversations that the Foreign Secretary himself was holding, he made it plain that Spain and propaganda—two subjects to which allusion has been made this afternoon—were grave obstacles to the possibility of an agreement, as was, of course, Abyssinia. It was upon that basis that Mr. Eden saw the Italian Ambassador again, with the Prime Minister, on Friday morning last, and it was only after that interview that a sharp difference of view between the Prime Minister and Mr. Eden manifested itself. The difference, I think, has been quite fairly stated this afternoon. Perhaps I may shortly put it as I see it, as indeed I did try to do a day or two ago. Shortly put, what the Prime Minister considered should be vital conditions of any agreement that issued from the conversations, Mr. Eden considered should be conditions precedent to the inauguration of the conversations themselves; and it was, as Lord Allen, I think, said, on that immediate issue that Mr. Eden resigned his office.
Now let me make this observation, from which it will be clear how the matter presented and presents itself to myself and to my colleagues in the Cabinet. Once the policy of conversations had been accepted, as it had been by Mr. Eden, and once the acceptance of such a policy had been made known to the other party—namely, Italy—as it had 935 been made known by Mr. Eden, and provided that what are vital questions to us, such as Spain, were clearly pronounced at the outset to be integral and essential to any settlement, as they have been, then I am bound to say that the other questions arising, which Mr. Eden has declared to be the immediate issue between himself and the Prime Minister, seem to me now, as they have seemed to me throughout, to be secondary. Important, no doubt—and I make all allowance for what Mr. Eden said about the difficulty of deciding where method ends and principle begins—and questions on which persons may properly hold differing views, but not important enough, in my judgment, to outweigh the agreement existing on the larger questions of broad policy which was expressed by a willingness that conversations should in fact take place.
It is a perfectly intelligible argument that was employed by Mr. Eden in another place—and has been, I think employed again here this afternoon—that if previous undertakings have not been observed it is waste of time to include others. But I venture to think that in an atmosphere clouded by misunderstandings and suspicion, such simple logic as that is not necessarily conclusive. We have only to see what happens between individuals differing in outlook and tradition and intellectual processes to realise how easily misunderstandings between nations grow. And however good any of us might have felt those reasons to be, there was some reason to believe that the Italian Government on its side felt that on one pretext or another we were concerned to postpone the conversations. And I would ask your Lordships to mark this—placing yourselves, if you will, in the position of the Italian Government. It is the fact that in July last no conditions were attached to the opening of conversations in the Prime Minister's letter. Subsequently the late Foreign Secretary desired, perfectly reasonably from his point of view, to introduce as prerequisite conditions the cessation of propaganda and the liquidation of the Spanish problem. But may not the other side of the picture have been a disposition in Italy to feel that these were new conditions, that there were other people concerned in Spain besides themselves, and that this business of conditions was a 936 time-consuming device on the part of His Majesty's Government? Now if anything like that was right, whatever judgment you form of a foreign Government—and I must frankly admit that I am amazed at some of the irresponsible talk about foreign Governments by some persons who have held responsible positions—
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
—do you really believe that progress would have been probable if it was made dependent on the acceptance in advance of a period of probationary discipline? I do not. And the Prime Minister, rightly as I think, held that, if it could be achieved, the big thing to go for was to reach an agreement, and that if understanding could be reached and if confidence could be reestablished the conditions that Mr. Eden thought necessary to secure in advance would in fact follow. Indeed he made it perfectly plain that no agreement could be reached unless they did. But it is said—it has been repeated this afternoon with a slight gloss—"But you were not free agents, you were so shaken by fear that at a word from the Dictators you sacrificed the only man among you who had the courage to stand up to them." Two days ago the noble Marquess (Lord Crewe) gently drew the parallel between Mr. Eden and M. Delcassé in 1905. He will forgive me if I say that, except that M. Delcassé was Foreign Secretary and Mr. Eden was Foreign Secretary, and except for the fact that people's nerves were severely strained in 1905, as they are severely strained in 1938, I have been unable to detect any other note of similarity between the two cases.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
What I said was that a certain number of papers in France, not by any means Socialist papers or those at all hostile to the views of His Majesty's Government, had drawn that parallel. I did not say that I drew it.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I am extremely grateful to the noble Marquess for his interruption which, if he will believe me, I do not accept as a correction, because I was not misinterpreting him, but I was referring to the analogy which he said had been drawn elsewhere. And I am of course glad to have his association, as I take it, with myself, in the plain assertion that of course there is no kind of analogy to be found there.
937 The noble Lord opposite who spoke a moment or two ago said he thought it was quite plain that we should never be prepared to take our orders from Rome. I quite agree with him. The noble Viscount said he was anxious or concerned lest we had given an impression of fear. Does it never occur to noble Lords who use such language that there are other elements and qualities in the human mind besides fear? Have they never thought of hope, and have they never realised that it may have been the element of hope in our minds that led us to think that it was worth while trying to cut this vicious circle in which the policy of Europe is surrounded? We thought, as I did, that the present may well be the psychological moment in which action can be taken. I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, as I said the other day, that the great purpose of our foreign policy must constantly be peace, and we were not prepared to allow an opportunity from which peace might spring to slip. We may be disappointed, but if we are disappointed that will not necessarily prove that we are wrong now, or that those who differ from us are right. What it will prove is that the forces of mistrust and misunderstanding have once again been too strong for our efforts. Certainly I have no kind of doubt that the attempt is right to make, and I am glad to have heard those of your Lordships who have concurred in that view say so in this House.
There are those who have said that the totalitarian States are on the edge of collapse, and that therefore it is unreasonable or unprofitable to reach agreement with them. I have no doubt that in some respects conditions in the totalitarian States may be difficult, but I know that I have heard that argument used almost weekly for the last two or three years. It is said that you cannot trust the word of the leaders of the totalitarian States, and that they will be encouraged by your weakness, and will use every concession, even an opportunity for conversations, to trap you. The conclusion of all that argument is really quite clear—namely, do not have conversations at all; but it cannot be an argument, I with great respect suggest, against having conversations at the time which seems, in the judgment of the majority of those on whom responsibility rests, to be the most appropriate.
938 I remember a few years ago when another issue in which I was unhappily, rather by ancient controversy, engaged—namely, the discussion of the Indian problem. Not a dissimilar problem, in one aspect, from that with which we are now occupied. It was asked, your Lordships will remember: Is riot India riddled by communal divisions? The answer was clearly "Yes." Then it was said: Is not that field, therefore, very unfavourable ground for representative institutions? The answer was clearly "Yes." Then one was asked, or one might ask: Have you any reason to suppose that that problem will be any less in ten, twelve or fifteen years? and the answer was obviously "No." Then one realised that the real question that one had to ask oneself was: Because of those unfavourable conditions are you prepared to see the political problem banking up against you for five, ten or twenty years, without making any effort to solve it, because it is going to be more difficult at the end? Exactly the same problem confronts us to-day. Can you go on for months and years refusing to face facts, watching your relations steadily deteriorate, until those who may perhaps be potential enemies become converted into real enemies, and until something happens which launches the whole world into irretrievable disaster?
Now I come to what is perhaps more serious. We are told that the resignation of Mr. Eden has a particular significance, in that it marks a complete change of policy on the part of His Majesty's Government.
Perhaps I might elucidate this. It was upon the statement of the Prime Minister in another place that we relied for our charge, and not the actual resignation.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I am glad the noble Lord has limited the charge, but it has been stated as widely as I have stated it, and I certainly had on my notes a notice to deal with the speech of the Prime Minister to which the noble Lord alludes. In view of what has been said outside this House I must, however, say a word about the general charge of change of policy. My remarks will be short. It fell to me to make a speech on general policy in this House last Thursday, and every word of that speech was approved by the then Foreign Secretary, and I can 939 assure your Lordships—and Lord Allen particularly asked this question—that what was our policy last week remains our policy to-day, and foreign nations would be seriously mistaken who thought that recent events betokened any change. In the course of my speech, which was also approved by the then Foreign Secretary, and which, as I gather from what he said this afternoon, although I did not realise it at the time, also carried with it the approval of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, I said this:Let us not forget that, whatever be the place in our philosophy we give to the League of Nations, the League of Nations itself is only a great means to the greater end of international peace, and if it is possible to reach agreements which really offer international appeasement through machinery other than the League, I can hardly suppose there would be any Member of the League so short-sighted as to grudge their conclusion.That was a plain indication that we desired conversations, and in no quarter was it regarded as disloyalty to the League. On Tuesday last, in another place, the Prime Minister addressed himself to rebut this charge of desertion of the League of Nations, and spoke with great frankness. Lord Cecil has attacked him very sharply for what he has said on that subject in that debate, and he quoted—I imagine as justifying his transgression of the spirit of the Standing Order by the fact that he was dealing with an important declaration of Government policy—he quoted some sentences from the Prime Minister, in which the Prime Minister stated his views very frankly on the question of collective security.
While Lord Cecil was arguing with great vigour and great force upon how terrible a thing it was for the Prime Minister to have used words suggesting to smaller nations that they could no longer rely upon collective security, the thought was constantly in and out of my mind whether he was quite oblivious and careless of the danger of the possibility of deceiving smaller nations into reliance upon support which would not be forthcoming. He quoted, and drew our attention to, the Election Manifesto of Mr. Baldwin, or Lord Baldwin as he now is, which was published, I suppose, in October, 1935. I recognised it as he read it, but I have not had an opportunity of refreshing my mind. Not a word in that Election Manifesto seems to me to 940 be discordant with my own thought as it exists to-day, but I have learned something since that Election. I have seen the history of Abyssinia. I believe that this country tried honestly to do its best, with other Members of the League of Nations, to deal with the case of Abyssinia, and I know that those Members of the League and this country failed. I know that the result of that failure was to deceive the Emperor of Abyssinia into expecting that he was going to get support greater than in fact he did receive, and I do not want to see that experience repeated.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The noble Viscount has wholly misunderstood my argument. My argument was a simple one. Nobody disputes that the Prime Minister and my noble friend have a right to change the opinions which they held in 1935. They may be right to change them. But I do not see myself how, having obtained power by a statement of policy on a first-rate matter, they can change that policy without consulting the electorate again.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
The noble Viscount begs the whole question. I would not admit for one moment that we had changed our policy in any particular. I would go on any platform in this country, and I would undertake to convince any audience not incapable of fair judgment that in the policy I was recommending to them, and which the Prime Minister recommended in another place about the League of Nations, there was nothing inconsistent between that and the statement of policy as submitted by Mr. Baldwin at the Election. But I should like to make it plain, as any honest man would have to make it plain, that the League of Nations could never do more than, in fact, it is capable of doing. The noble Viscount says we have changed our policy, and my reply to him would he to say that the League of Nations perhaps has appreciated the facts, and that he is doing no good service to the League of Nations, as the most reverend Primate pointed out the other night, if he insists on laying on the back of the League of Nations a burden greater than it can bear and which will break the League of Nations down.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
The Prime Minister made it perfectly plain the other night in another place—and, in view of what the noble Viscount has said, I must myself indulge in the transgression of the rule on the same excuse—the Prime Minister said expressly that he would not tear up a single Article of the Covenant, not even Article 16. The noble Viscount said the Prime Minister said he wished to abandon Article 16. He said no such thing.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I said that he proposed to preserve it in form, but abandon it in substance.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I took the noble Viscount's words down. I do not wish to get into controversy with him, but he said the Prime Minister would abandon Article 16.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
The noble Viscount said nothing about substance. The Prime Minister in another place said hewould not tear up a single Article of the Covenant, not even Article 16, in the hope that some day it might be reconstituted in such a term that we might be able to rely on being able to use these powers for the functions for which they were originally intended.That position is exactly the position that was taken by the most reverend Primate in the debate last week, when he concluded a speech that I think impressed your Lordships by saying:The League is obviously encountering very rough weather, but taking in some of its sail may be its best chance of coming through and of resuming its course under clearer skies.I do venture to repeat that those are not the best friends of the League who wish to blindfold it from the real dangers that beset it. The noble Viscount opposite, if he will allow me to say this with great respect and great admiration for everything he is and has done, seems to me somewhat like a doctor who is in charge of a patient and who knows, really knows, that great exertion would be dangerous for that patient and may permanently damage his health, yet out of mistaken kindness of heart has not the heart to tell him what the truth really is.
I do not know that I need say anything about another side of this matter which I had on notes, except perhaps 942 a word or two, and that is the matter that has loomed rather large elsewhere and outside—the charge of moral default for being willing to consider the question of Abyssinia at all. Your Lordships know that we have told the Italian Government that that is a matter that must be, if general agreement is reached, subject to the consent of the League, because that has always been a League matter and not an Italo-British affair and, provided the consent of the League were obtained, we should be willing to consider the recognition of the fact of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia as part, but only as part, of a general settlement of all the matters at issue between us. I have felt, myself, as strongly as anybody else about Italian action in Abyssinia, and nothing can ever make me think differently about what has happened there; but let us face the facts. We cannot ignore them, for that does not get rid of them, and the plain fact is, I suppose, this, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, made reference this afternoon, you could have stopped the conquest of Abyssinia by war. Of those who speak so loudly now, there are very few indeed with any sense of responsibility who were, or who are, prepared to face that hard fact.
I am not the least afraid of Italy or of any other Power I know of in the world. I am not afraid of war in the sense that I fear defeat, because I know the temper of this country. I know that this country would never embark on war unless it thought it both right and inevitable, and I also know that, having embarked on war, it would not let go until, as usual, it had won. All that I know. But I, with everybody else, detest war as any man of memory or imagination or natural affection or even ordinary common-sense must detest it, for the horrors that it brings and the havoc to human lives and human civilisation. I said a few days ago that the world seemed to me to be confused rather than dangerous, but confusion is next door to danger, and no one with any responsibility in these days can fail to see the plain choice that lies before us. In the present state of the world one thing is certain: things will either get better or worse. International relations are not going to re main stationary. Therefore, if you do not want to see them get worse, I agree whole-heartedly with my noble friend Lord Londonderry in feeling that you 943 must take active steps to try to make them better.
Therefore—and this is the end of what I have to say—we refuse to fold our hands and merely drift along on dangerous tides, making warlike noises to encourage the passengers. That is not enough. I ventured to tell your Lordships the other day that I believed time to be on the side of peace, provided the time is well employed. The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said something about it being possible to negotiate from strength and not from weakness. I agree with him. It is just because this country, thanks to rearmament, is now strong that 944 it can, and more easily, do something active and something urgent for peace. I believe that this debate has shown that the preponderance of thinking opinion in many different quarters is, in fact, with the Government in the effort that they are making, and that in that effort we can count upon the best wishes of your Lordships' House.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before eight o'clock.