§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will make immediate preparation for close international consulta- 226 tion on the underlying causes of complaint and friction between the nations of the world; and with this in view whether they will consider and initiate proposals for the amendment of the Covenant so that the League of Nations may be absolved from any of its present political and military obligations and be established as an all-inclusive permanent body for examining, deliberating on and, if possible, resolving economic, commercial, currency, tariff and Colonial problems which, if neglected, may continue to be the causes of international conflict; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I would at the outset thank the Government for having arranged for this debate to begin at an early hour, as I understand that a good many noble Lords wish to take part in it. I would also say that I noticed in the newspapers that the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, was to begin a well-earned holiday, and if by my Motion I am delaying that at all I regret it, and I beg to thank him for his presence here to-day. I desire to call attention to a definite line of constructive peace-building, the importance of which does not seem to be realised by His Majesty's Government. In a letter I addressed to The Times on October 18 I sketched this idea, and received a surprising amount of support for it from different quarters, irrespective of politics. I was emboldened, therefore, to put this Motion on the Paper of your Lordships' House. I desire to take as my text a quotation from a speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, and one from a speech of the Prime Minister. Lord Halifax said:
But while we try to grapple with both hands at any chance of building the foundations of real peace, do not let any of us be afraid to acknowledge the difficulties which have to be overcome, and face them squarely.
The Prime Minister said:
It is our firm determination that there shall be no sitting still and waiting for peace to come. We must take active and positive steps towards that end.
In the remarks that I have to make, I desire to keep to those two principles.
§ The Munich Conference—starting from there—had certainly a dramatic effect in stopping a war, and the action of the Prime Minister was acclaimed throughout the world as few moves of statesmen 227 have been in the world's history. The cynics declare that there was an outburst of hysteria. I cannot say I saw any signs of that, but there was intense and heartfelt relief that the tragically futile method of massacre had been abandoned in an attempt to settle an international dispute. So we looked forward to the opening of a new chapter, entering on an era of sanity. But since October we are inclined to think that our hopes were placed too high. "Building the foundations," as the noble Viscount expressed it, and "positive steps," as the Prime Minister expressed it, appeared to consist chiefly in accelerating armament production and further elaborating air-raid precautions, so signifying that the mistrust of other nations still exists. This has caused widespread disappointment, especially among those who acclaimed the Prime Minister's move.
§ I myself commended the declaration made at Munich, I have also supported the conclusion of the Italian Treaty, and I note that there is now intended to be a visit to Rome. These are no doubt moves in the right direction, but I would point out that bilateral agreements, though perhaps necessary in a crisis, are a very doubtful method of establishing a lasting peace because of the jealousy and suspicion that each move in this diplomatic game arouses. Perhaps I may put it in this way. You come to an agreement with A, and then you go to B. A becomes suspicious, so you have to go back to A, and then B gets uncomfortable. When you begin on C and D you find that C's relations with B are unsatisfactory, so that you have to be careful that in dealing with C you do not upset B, and visits and conversations become necessary. The factors in the equation keep on changing or, to put it another way, the moves on the chess board have to be thought out afresh. Meanwhile, the other members of the alphabet are kept in the dark as to what precisely is proceeding.
§ I do not believe that you can really settle down to a basis of lasting peace with a diplomatic method of that sort. I think your method in these matters must be international, bringing in as many nations as possible, because I believe that small moves, widely based on careful examination and general consent, removed also from any idea of compulsion, 228 are preferable to more ambitious agreements, mostly of a strategic character, hastily made, but subject to dislocation from changing Governments or from the unaccountable caprices of policies with which we have no sympathy. Outside I see there is a growing demand for what has been termed a world conference dealing with origins at the back of international disputes. That undoubtedly is a desire to tackle the right end of the problem. A world conference is a very easy thing to call. You have only to go to the proper department of the Foreign Office and send out a circular to ail the Governments showing that a conference will be called on such-and-such a date, and the conference arrives, say in London. But that is, as we know by experience from the Economic Conference of some years ago, an absolutely foolish method of endeavouring to settle down to tackling these grave basic questions.
§ The Government would refuse, and would rightly refuse, such an idea, and I am not asking for it. It was not even advocated by M. van Zeeland, in his Report. He, towards the end of the Report, lays down the various stages which he proposed—gradual, by examination and classification and preparation of the ground, then the ascertainment of agreement in principle, perhaps in some cases by bilateral negotiations, then the drafting of the text, and finally a conference for the exchange of signatures. M. van Zeeland enumerated the subjects which he felt ought to be dealt with, such as tariffs, protection, quotas, raw materials, variations in currency, credit facilities, exchange control systems, and I would add to them the future of the Mandate system and also (to put it more specifically) the future of the Continent of Africa from the point of view of the indigenous populations rather than that of the present rulers of the various territories. That idea was laid down in 1885 on the initiative of Prince Bismarck, and was included in the Berlin Act as a new method for the great Powers to undertake their obligations with regard to the development of that great Continent.
§ Therefore, what is wanted to deal with all these subjects is a body that can be broken up into bureaux or sub-commitees, and it should be always in session. There is no finality in human affairs, and the idea of any conference 229 deciding anything for any length of time must be set aside. I do not think an ad hoc body is wanted at all. I think the construction of a body which can be dealing with these questions in season and out of season, quietly, methodically, and fundamentally, is what is wanted. Nothing could be better suited for this than a league of nations. It is the obvious body. And that brings me to the League of Nations as at present constituted. I regard it, especially in present circumstances as a danger to the European peace, because it is an alliance of certain Powers quite ostensibly drawn up in opposition to certain other Powers. I do not want to dwell on the failure of the League, but I would only say that all its political and military, its preventative and punitive Articles must be dropped. The League must be based, not on military obligations to punish or thwart someone else, but on economic advantages to be shared by every one of us.
§ I am not proposing this drastic alteration of the Covenant to suit totalitarian nations, but I desire to amend the constitution of the League in view of the fact that its present powers have proved to be beyond its capacity. The Treaty of Versailles has been torn up, so far as Germany is concerned, Article by Article without so much as "by your leave" on the part of anyone to the League of Nations. Its scope and range, devoid of all compulsion, will then be well within the power of an all-inclusive international body, and its deliberative and advisory functions will receive the general confidence which it now lacks, because it will be a means of easing the differences and obstacles between nations which may be only sores at present but, if left unattended, will become serious wounds. I notice that General Smuts in a speech the other day also referred to a Standing Committee.
Take, for instance, Article 19 of the Covenant which refers to the revision of treaties. I have often in your Lordships' House, I am afraid, reiterated the necessity for the revision of treaties. It is the utter neglect of Article 19 which has been at the bottom of a great deal of our troubles latterly. The revision of treaties must not be on the application of any one Power. The revision of treaties must be automatic and periodic, and done by the appropriate Committee of the League in
such a way as to give anyone the chance of making a complaint or expressing a desire to be released from obligations, and it must be done without any kind of spectacular contests of argument which may arise if it is left too late. If your Lordships will allow me, I will quote the Article in question:
The Assembly may from time to time advise the reconsideration by Members of the League of treaties which have become inapplicable, and the consideration of international conditions whose continuance might endanger the peace of the world.
If that had been done even five or ten years ago we should have been saved from a great deal of the very disastrous events which have taken place recently.
I am not asking for something extraordinary or beyond human power. I take as an example the International Labour Office. Mr. Harold Butler, C.B., who was Director of the International Labour Office from 1932 to 1938, in a speech at Blackpool recently, said:
International co-operation is a real possibility as well as a real necessity, providing that common sense and goodwill are brought to bear.
Of course the activities of this body have been to some extent hampered by the fact that the League is not all-inclusive, and until it is all-inclusive anything I suggest really falls to the ground; but, as a matter of fact, the United States of America have co-operated with the International Labour Office, and what is the result? Forty-eight States have now registered ratifications of Conventions, and the total number of ratifications to date is 821, all directed to raising the standard of the world's workers. Other problems undoubtedly can be handled in this way by the appropriate people—by obscure people who understand the job, not by eminent people who make speeches and do not understand the job. As I advance in years I have a growing preference for obscure people over eminent people. I am not referring to the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, because he has withstood the temptations and snares of his eminence in the most remarkable way.
§ The League, therefore, must become all-inclusive. The military-political Articles of the Covenant must be scrapped. Collective security, as it has been understood, must go by the board. There is no difficulty about that because His Majesty's Government killed it long ago. 231 I want a restriction of the powers of the League, but a great enlargement of its functions. I am afraid, however, His Majesty's Government are not greatly interested in this question. Pressure has been brought to bear in several quarters to say that we ought to get down to the fundamentals, to the origins, that make economic and sometimes political differences between nations serious matters of complaint, but the Government are always more interested in arming this country to the teeth and in preparing for another war.
I should like to emphasize again the disappointment that exists that this should be the atmosphere created now after the hopes that were raised by the Munich Agreement. The noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, in his speech of November 3, addressed a passage to the Labour Party in this House. If he will allow me, I will take that passage and paraphrase it, altering very few words and addressing it to His Majesty's Government:
which I substitute for the Labour Party—
seem to me not infrequently to be torn between two conflicting emotions. On the one side they, as reasonable men, recognise the need of peace through accommodation even with Dictators; and, on the other side, they seem to be urged forward by an imperative impulse to prepare for the decision of future issues by the method of force and violence, thereby declaring to the world their mistrust of totalitarian philosophy, whatever the consequences for international relations and ultimately for international peace. I think that in deciding their line on these matters they must really make up their minds which of these two horses they ultimately prefer to ride, because they cannot ride both.
I would urge that the emphasis should be put on peace-building rather than on war preparation.
§ The new chapter, so successfully opened, led people to believe that the fear of war had been removed, but, far from this, no page has yet been reached on which they may read that they can even sleep peacefully in their own homes. I quite appreciate the fact that this is not a suggestion that is plain sailing or easy. It requires courage and initiative, the very qualities which I applied to the Prime Minister in October last. I fully appreciate that from month to month there are difficulties in the simplest international intercourse, and occurrences arise which 232 inflame public opinion and choke the free channel of ordinary foreign conversations, but indignation and compassion provoked by horror, while they are naturally justifiable and laudable, are sometimes liable to be rather restricted in their aim and vitiated perhaps by political bias. At any rate I am convinced that compassion and indignation are not a wise basis for formulating any foreign policy.
§ But there is one consideration to which I would draw your Lordships' attention because I think it is hopeful and should never be lost sight of. It is that the innocent mass of people in each country have no desire whatever for these quarrels or for the possibility of war. I quite agree that statesmen themselves cannot help being moved by the indignation which is generally felt at certain events, but I am sure if they keep a level head they are more likely to formulate a wise foreign policy. Certain it is that the great mass of people in each country must be taken into account, because it would be grossly unfair to cast any blame on them. They have no quarrels with one another. The millions of common people and humble people have no desire to persecute nor have they any desire to attack their fellow men; therefore, taking into account their inherent innocence, their natural friendliness and their common humanity, we should never relax our efforts to draw together the great human family who will continue and endure while their ever-changing rulers all pass away. I beg to move.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I feel that we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the noble Lord who has just spoken for bringing forward this Motion in your Lordships' House, and I sincerely hope that he will receive full support and will continue to ventilate this all-important question as often as he can possibly do so. The noble Lord has been consistent. He has always propounded the same doctrines in this connection, and he has never ceased to attach great importance to this question. Like the noble Lord, all of us are passionately desirous of averting war and maintaining peace, and, like the noble Lord with whom I find myself in full agreement, I think that that object can only be attained if a League of Nations is in existence in the world. The noble Lord has shown us where he believes the mistakes in the present League of Nations lie, and he has 233 given some indications of the lines on which he desires the future League of Nations to exist. I will go so far as to say that the present uncertainties and dangers which exist all over the world are due to the fact that there is no such League of Nations in existence at the present moment.
One knows quite well that there is a tendency all over the world and also in this country to condemn the League of Nations. People have acquired in their minds a conception that the League of Nations is a danger and that it has failed. Your Lordships, I think, will agree that the great conception which underlies the League of Nations is one to which we must all subscribe. One may perhaps say that such a League is a consequence of the reaction which always appears after war. People then are inclined to catch at straws, and to hope that some suggestion may be forthcoming that will avert in the future such a catastrophe as that through which they have just passed. But it is not the League of Nations that has failed; its failure has been due to the circumstance that the Members of the League of Nations have not really been able to carry out their duties, and also it has been due to the fact that other nations, seemingly mistrustful of the conception, have not thrown their weight into giving support to the magnificent idea of the League of Nations. But I am sure that all of your Lordships here realise the great achievements of the League of Nations. The League of Nations in its early days prevented war. It has been the instrument on many occasions for the repatriation of refugees; it has done an immense work in connection with the white slave traffic; and it has done a very meritorious work in relation to the opium trade. My noble friend also referred to the Labour Office, which, during a great number of years, has done most meritorious service and is certainly deserving well of every country in the world.
The noble Lord in his speech spoke of the peoples of the world, and said that they have no desire for war and that their one idea is to live in peace and happiness and co-operation with their neighbours. No doubt he is right in what he says, but I think we must realise that the Governments in most countries represent the people, and those Governments feel that in their action they are expressing the 234 desires of their people. One knows quite well that at various times people are not altogether actuated by what one might call the best motives; that they feel that prestige is an all-important matter, and that the Governments which represent them must not be in any way lacking in supporting the prestige and the honour of their country. It is because of these mixed ideas in the minds of Governments and peoples that dangerous occasions arise, in which the people expect something of their Government, and the Government, in trying to do their duty to their people, are pressed into situations from which they would gladly be saved.
I would say that it is most important at this time not to attempt to judge the League of Nations by its failures, but to make up our minds that a League of Nations of some sort or description must be established in the future, or all our hopes of maintaining peace and averting war are bound to be brought to naught. Of course, grave mistakes have been made in the past. The main mistake, as I have said, is that we were inclined to expect much too much from the League of Nations, both as to what the League actually could do and what its individual Members could do. One can remember quite well that an Election was fought in this country on the basis of the League of Nations being the sheet-anchor of British policy. I really had no idea what that meant, but the fact that after the Election the policy of the British Government did not appear to be based on the League of Nations as a sheet-anchor has been responsible for many difficulties which have subsequently occurred.
I do not feel we have any need to be discouraged by reason of what one may call the failures which can be put at the door of the League of Nations. There should be no tendency in this country to discourage a movement continuously going forward for establishing a League of Nations on lines which I hope in a few moments to indicate. One feels that all those important events with which we are surrounded at the present moment have a tremendous bearing on the composition of the League of Nations as we want to see it in the future. The noble Viscount who sits on the Front Opposition Bench (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) I am sure has done more than anybody in the pursuit of peace and in support 235 of the League of Nations. My noble friend who moved this Resolution spoke of international gatherings and conferences for the discussion of these matters, although I did not understand from what he said that he was altogether in favour of these international gatherings or that he was in favour of bilateral agreements. I need only ask your Lordships to cast your minds back to the Disarmament Conference. At the outset of that Conference of sixty-four nations, one would have believed, listening to the speeches, that peace was permanent and that there was no possibility of any war in the future. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, took part on that occasion and he will recall the speeches made by the representatives of those nations. I am sorry to say that those speeches, whatever they meant, resulted in nothing whatever.
We find ourselves now in a more difficult and, although I do not like to use the word, in a more dangerous position than we have ever been in before. Your Lordships will perhaps permit me to touch very briefly on history, which I think has a great bearing on the subject before us to-day. I would say that the great turning point, which finally reduced the power of the League of Nations to vanishing point, came in 1933 with the advent of Herr Hitler. Herr Hitler arrived on the scene and was the only man who had appeared during those years who had the power and the desire to rouse the self-respect of the German nation. I think your Lordships will agree with me that the whole basis and progress of a nation can really be said to be concentrated in their self-respect, in their belief in themselves, in their faith in the future and in their desire to cooperate with other nations.
Since 1933 the German achievements have been of the most spectacular character. We have been vaguely able to understand their policy and we have witnessed their ambition. Associated and interwoven with this has been, I suppose, the most detestable persecution of a portion of their people that the world has ever seen, a persecution which we must condemn to the fullest degree. While that persecution continues and unless we can convert them to our way of thinking, and cause them to give up that persecu- 236 tion, one feels that all those desires which are in the minds of everyone of your Lordships of bringing nations closer together, are rendered more and more difficult. But even on that count I would not feel that any of us are justified in feeling that all our efforts at co-operation and at bringing peoples together have been brought to naught and that we should try some other line of policy. As I have said, the progress of the German nation in the last five years has been of a phenomenal description. We fail to see the mentality which seems to drive them onwards along lines which we do not rightly understand, but we cannot feel that there is no plan behind their mentality. One feels that somehow they feel that in the Germanic race there resides the possibility of developing a world along lines which probably, if we heard what those lines were, would coincide with the lines on which we desire the world to progress. But until there is some more definite understanding, until we can reach some method by which we can establish co-operation, we must feel that for the time we are drifting on, making very little progress.
I think I am entitled to say—because the League of Nations is involved in this—that in 1933 there were two definite policies which might have been pursued. The one was to try and establish a friendly understanding with Germany, to pursue that to the fullest extent of our power. If we saw that that policy of friendship was impossible, and that there was no accommodation with the German nation—which I feel is at the present moment in the minds of a great many, though by no means all, of the people in this country—then it would be necessary for us to follow some different line of policy. At that time, when Germany was completely powerless, when she had no Army and no Air Force, we could have restricted her power, and if she would not accept friendship we were in a position to lay down that she should not be allowed to acquire such power as to place her in such a position as to threaten the world and to reach, as at the present moment appears to us, a dominant position. Unfortunately, neither of those policies was pursued. We did not make friends with Germany and we did not curtail her growing power; and that accounts for the position in which we find ourselves at the present moment.
237 If the League of Nations at that time had been subscribed to by more of the great nations of the world, and if they had realised the duties which the world was imposing on them, then there would have been the possibility of arraigning Germany, if you like to use the word, before the League of Nations and informing her that she was infringing the principles of the League of Nations to which she had placed her signature. If that step had been taken, we should have been in a position to know exactly what Germany was going to do at a time when she had not acquired this strength, which has placed her in the difficult position—and I say it is a difficult position for Germany and this country—in which she finds herself at the present moment.
Now let me come to the policy of Great Britain; and I am bound to say that I do not exactly understand what our policy is, nor exactly what our attitude denotes. The noble Lord suggests that the British Government are not taking a very deep interest in the League of Nations. It is not for me to speak for the British Government, but I am inclined to think that that statement is not altogether correct, and I feel that we shall hear from the noble Viscount, when he addresses your Lordships later on, that the British Government as well as ourselves know quite well that there is no peace of any value throughout the world unless it is based on an organisation which exists somewhere in Europe, which collects as its members nearly all—or all, if we can get them—of the nations of the world, established at Geneva, or wherever you like to place it. But in connection with our own attitude and policy there has always seemed to me to be a great fallacy in the minds of a great many people in this country. It is that the foreign policy in Great Britain is what is called a policy of guessing: that is, that we do not propound any definite foreign policy, but wait to see which nation is going to be the strongest, and then throw in our weight with other nations for the purpose of controlling the strength and development of that which is most powerful. That is indeed a negative policy, and I am sure we shall find, if we go into history, that that has not been in the minds of those statesmen who have controlled our policy in the past.
We stand in what I should call an impregnable position. After all, we are 238 the most powerful country in the world. The British Empire extends over a quarter of the globe. We are in friendly communication and understanding with America. We are closely in co-operation with France, which, I am glad to see—and there is no doubt whatsoever—is coming through her difficulties. In material possessions we own the Suez Canal, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, South Africa and Singapore. Yet we feel that throughout this country there is some pusillanimous idea that we have to wait, with gas masks fitted to our faces, for the coming invasion, which no power that we can produce can possibly withstand. I have not purchased a gas mask and do not intend to do so, because I am quite convinced that I shall never be called upon to use one. But I do feel that what we require at the present time, and I hope it will be forthcoming, is an inspiration, to explain to the people of this country who they are and what they are. When we are faced with the policy of truculence and threats, if we cannot overcome it by the policy which we have endeavoured to follow, by friendship, and by holding out the helping hand, we adopt another policy: we adopt one of truculence and vehement protestation against any threats that may be hurled at our head.
We believe in democracy; and we hear from defeatist quarters that democracy is threatened, that the totalitarian States will carry all before them, and that democracy will be swamped and overturned. I do not believe one word of it. Democracy now is as strong as it ever was, although one might say that in many parts of the country a true interpretation of democracy is not in the people's mind. Democracy is not go-as-you-please; it is not a liberty and independence which ends in licence. Democracy is service, which calls upon everyone of his own free will to make his contribution to his country, which it needs for its support, maintenance and protection. I am quite sure that if any call is made to this country—and I hope that, if it is required to be made, it will come in good time—the whole people can be relied upon to be united, to stand behind the Government and assist them in any danger with which we may be confronted.
But let us maintain a real sense of perspective and proportion. Do not let us feel that, because nations seem to transgress this doctrine of peace that we have 239 uppermost, we must take the attitude of what I might call not addressing them in conversation, not speaking to them, and remaining aloof. Because one State is totalitarian and one is democratic, there is no reason whatsoever why we should not propound our policy to them and seek that co-operation which we are determined to achieve. The visit of the Prime Minister in September was a visit of deep significance, and I am glad of the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, approached that subject. I feel that we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Prime Minister for having taken that courageous action and gone out at the last minute, it may be, and averted war. I do not know if there is anyone now who, in the safety in which he may feel himself at the present moment, though he was in trepidation some few weeks ago, will have reason to say that the Prime Minister ought never to have gone, that it was a pusillanimous action, an action which denoted that he was prepared to accept peace at any price—or anything of that description.
What the Prime Minister did was to avert war; and, what is more—and I am bound to say that I can feel a sort of personal satisfaction in it—he has carried out the policy which I have had in my mind for some considerable time, which I have never ceased to put forward on every occasion that I can; but by reason of the power of the Press, which I believe is the only dictation which exists in this country, it is very difficult for those of us whose political stock is not very high to "get anything across," as the saying goes. I have never been able to explain to the people of this country that the real secret of peace is the establishment of personal contact between the leaders of the great nations, and the association at the beginning of the four great Powers of Europe in conference in Europe somewhere. The reason why I have always adopted this policy is that, whether we like it or not, we are in a maze with our politics and the question of peace and war depends on whether the great nations are going to go for peace or for war. So if we can bring together a conference which has as its component parts the four great nations of Europe who will say at once that their policy is against war and for peace, then one feels that the League of Nations, to which my noble friend has 240 devoted his attention in his speech, is certainly in the embryo, and further than the embryo, is in the earliest stages of developing into the organisation which he and I both desire.
My Lords, I hope I shall not embarrass the noble Marquess who has just addressed you when I say that on this side of the House we agree with a very large part of his speech. That part of it where he spoke of our determination not to be bullied and browbeaten might quite suitably have been spoken from a Labour political platform in the country. That is exactly what we have been saying now in the country for quite a long time, though of course not so eloquently or with such effect as the noble Marquess. But I do not quite follow the noble Marquess in what he will allow me to say was a very important part of his speech, in which he said that he did not know what was meant by the policy put forward by His Majesty's Government at the last Election in connection with the League of Nations being the sheet anchor of their foreign policy. This was, of course, put forward by His Majesty's Government, notably by the Prime Minister in his own election address, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was so astonished that I refreshed my memory to see whether the noble Marquess was not then a member of the Cabinet. He was; he held a very high position in His Majesty's Government; and when I hear that they went to the country with a certain policy and that one of the most prominent of their members, indeed the Leader of the Party in this House, did not know what it meant, that explains a very great deal.
If I might make another comment, the noble Marquess—if he will allow me to say so, I entirely agree—thought we ought to have made friends, if possible, with Germany in 1933. He was also then Air Minister in the Cabinet, and the present Foreign Secretary was the Minister for Education, and as your Lordships know wherever they are in counsel they always carry the greatest weight because of their mental and spiritual prowess. Why did not they insist upon this policy being carried out in 1933 and so save us all this tremendous expenditure in armaments and general unrest? I would go further and say that the time to have made friends with Germany was in 1919. If 241 we had followed the example of the Duke of Wellington, who, after the Napoleonic wars, insisted upon France being treated with generosity and chivalry—and France has been our friend ever since—if we had treated Germany in the same way in 1919, the state of the world to-day would have been very different from what it is. The Foreign Secretary nods his head and apparently agrees with me; but he was not in agreement in 1919.
We sat on opposite sides in the House of Commons at a time when the then Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, was wrestling in Paris with M. Clemenceau and others, and an awful rumour reached the House of Commons that he was trying to be generous to Germany and not demanding unreasonable Reparations. What did the Conservative Party do? My noble friends and Lord Cecil know what happened. A large number of Conservative M.Ps.—and they were the predominant Party in the House of Commons—sent a telegram to the Prime Minister in Paris threatening to withdraw their support if he dared to be generous to Germany. Among the signatures to that telegram was that of the Member for Chelsea, Sir Samuel Hoare, now Home Secretary, and another was that of a leading private Member, even then very well known as the Hon. Edward Wood, Member for the Ripon division of Yorkshire, now Viscount Halifax.
May I thank my noble friend Lord Ponsonby for many of his remarks? I hope I shall not embarass him if I state that my noble friends agreed with seventy-five per cent. of his speech—his closely-reasoned speech. At last we are really making progress if there is seventy-five per cent. of agreement between us, and we should like to support his Motion but for one passage in it. The first and last parts of the Motion are in line with the Labour Party official policy, except that I must make one reservation with regard to the last part, and that is where he says that amongst other matters that should be explored now is the Colonial question. I do not know if my noble friend has been quite as active in by-elections recently as I have, but if not may I inform him that all the candidates at all the by-elections recently, whether they managed to hold a seat for the Government or to win it from the Government—candidates of all parties—have declared that this is not the time to approach this question 242 of the Colonies at all. I was present at a very large meeting in the working class district of Walsall, and the only question the candidate was asked, which came from a voter who was apparently a mill hand straight from his work, was a question with regard to Colonies. He demanded that no Colonies be surrendered to Germany. He was cheered and when the candidate declared that this was no time to hand over any Colonies or mandated territories to Germany the whole audience expressed entire approval. The same thing happened at Conservative meetings. This is obviously not the time for that matter to be opened. Our Labour Party policy with regard to the question of Colonies has been to make it part of one general settlement and to extend the Mandate system; and to extend the principle of trusteeship of backward races which was so well laid down by the late Duke of Devonshire in a well-known State document.
Except for that reservation we are agreed with the first and last parts of the Motion, but the middle part, where Lord Ponsonby desires to get rid of all attempts to re-create a system of collective security, is diametrically opposed to our official policy. We think it is imperative to attempt to rebuild the League of Nations and there Lord Londonderry is also in agreement; we think that the system of collective security is more necessary now than ever and among other reasons—perhaps I may respectfully invite the noble Viscount to give us a word about it—because of this new guarantee for the territorial frontiers of Czechoslovakia. We are morally bound, and Sir Thomas Inskip has so told us, to defend these frontiers, and that I think makes it imperative to make an attempt to rebuild the system of collective security.
Now I am going to break a little new ground. There is a comfortable theory held in some quarters that we need not trouble ourselves too much about the results of Munich, and so on, because Germany is attempting or will attempt to resume her march to the East. I am going to suggest to your Lordships that that is not at all certain. Indeed I hope it is not certain that she is going to pursue an aggressive policy at all; but it is not at all certain if she does that she will move eastward. It is just as likely that she will attack to the westward. The 243 following argument comes from an experienced diplomatic quarter and I think the Secretary of State will recognise the quarter from which it comes. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, has spoken of the four great nations of Europe. I do not know quite what he means by the four great nations or what he means by a great nation. If he means a nation which has contributed to the culture and learning of the world you must include many more than four nations. The Swedes take a very high place to begin with. If he means a great Power, I think that needs further examination.
There are what can be called the natural great Powers and the artificial great Powers. The natural great Powers are those which have great compact territory, great populations and great natural resources, and there are only three natural great Powers in the world, to-day, and these three are the United States of America, Russia and China. For this part of my argument we can forget the present troubles in China. The Chinese people will remain as a great Power in spite of Japan's attack. They have the territory, the population and the natural resources; and if we can organise the country as it will be organised one day and modernise it, India could take her place as a fourth great Power. She has the population, the natural resources and the compact territory. That, I know, the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, is attempting to do, and I wish him all success. It is a slow process inevitably. Then there are what are called the artificial great Powers which by their cleverness, their courage, their mercantile sense have created themselves into very powerful and wealthy States. The great historical examples are, of course, Venice in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Genoa in the sixteenth century, and Holland in the seventeenth century.
We have created ourselves into an artificial great Power. We have not the territory in these islands or the population, or the great natural resources, but by our great Empire and our mercantile and financial skill, we have created ourselves into a very formidable Power indeed. We were invulnerable until the air weapon came to challenge sea power. As long as our sea power was the arbitrator and was unchallenged, we were a great Power. 244 But to-day, as your Lordships are well aware, we could be ruined by successful air attack on a sufficiently large scale. For those reasons, if we face facts as they are—and the times call for the facing of facts—we must not hope to maintain ourselves alone by our own efforts. We will try, of course, if we have to, as the noble Marquess said; and it is in our highest interests, it is our duty to our people and the Empire which depends upon us, to re-create a system of collective security. This is not only a selfish policy. We should try to do it for the sake of small nations like Holland, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian States—all highly cultured States, worth preserving, and harming no one.
Unfortunately, there is a new complication. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby, if he will allow me to say so, did not relate his closely reasoned argument to the prevailing conditions, but apparently hopes that the world will simmer down. So do we. There is a new complication which is like the religious feuds of the past. The great teachers of psychology, including Dr. Freud, now driven out of Austria, have taught us that the subconscious mind is more important in our affairs than the conscious mind, and I suggest that the Government do not differ from a human being in that respect, that their subconscious mind is more important in framing their policy than their conscious mind. Dr. Freud draws the analogy of the icebergs with one-eighth of their mass above the surface and seven-eighths below, the seven-eighths being the subconscious mind, and what actuates this Government subconsciously I am afraid is class prejudice. That is what prevents their collaboration to-day with Russia or with Russia last summer. That is what permits the attempted overrunning of Spain by the Nazis and Fascists. It was because they subconsciously, for years past, had not wished to raise the international position of Russia that they did not collaborate with Russia more closely last summer. I know the noble Viscount's explanation for it—that it would have irritated the Germans, and that we could not have had an arrangement with them. But Poland is a neighbour both of Germany and of Russia, and Poland, to her honour and I think her good sense, has just made a new entente with Russia. On that, I 245 think we could begin to rebuild a new system of collective security in the world.
What I am now going to say has nothing to do with my immediately preceding argument, because what I am now going to plead with His Majesty's Government is not based upon a reproach for allowing their policies to be deflected by this appalling class prejudice. I consider that we have for some time been neglecting the United States of America. This is of course no reflection on the exceedingly able American Ambassador presently at the Court of St. James. I cannot understand why no Minister of first rank has been to the United States for many, many years. Not since the late Mr. MacDonald made one of his visits, accompanied by my noble friend Lord Arnold, has a Minister of that standing been to Washington. There will be an opportunity next May when Their Majesties make their historic visit to the United States.
I understand that it would be in order for a British Minister, and probably the Foreign Minister, to accompany them as Minister in waiting when they go to Washington. I was, however, astonished to read in The Times yesterday a doubt on this point. That great organ of opinion and supporter of the Government—an organ of opinion, not necessarily of British opinion—said this:A British Minister might well attend His Majesty during his visit to the United States, and Lord Halifax will be the obvious choice for this duty. That prospect"—mark these words—must naturally depend on the ability of the Foreign Secretary to leave England in May, but with this provision it still holds good.Are we to understand that the suggestion there is that events in Europe may prevent the Foreign Secretary from accompanying Their Majesties on this memorable visit to Washington? Nothing could be more important, I submit with great respect to the Foreign Secretary and the Government, than that he should go to Washington and the more week-end crises there are in Europe, the more important is it that he should go to Washington, and I could think of nobody in the present Government more suitable to go to Washington on such a mission than the noble Viscount who holds the great office of Foreign Secretary. I hope, therefore, that not only will the noble Viscount go, 246 but that he will have the ground very well prepared beforehand.
The history of our American relations is like a British weather chart. They were very warm towards us, very friendly towards us, up to the time of the events at Munich which so pleased the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, and there was then, of course, a very great setback. There was a very great setback after the first visit to Berchtesgadcn and some considerable warming towards us when, at Godesberg, it seemed that we intended to stand by our engagements and refused to be bullied; and afterwards there was a great cooling off. Since then a good deal of ground has been regained because of other events on the Continent of Europe—namely, the extraordinary outburst of minority persecution in Germany; and I should have thought the, time was very suitable now to draw those relations closer together, Do not let anyone among your Lordships suppose that I am for a moment thinking that we can bring back the United States even into a reformed League of Nations such as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby advocates. I am not suggesting that for one moment, nor that there should be any kind of alliance. Those of us who know the United States at all—and I have some little knowledge of it—know that in those matters we have to wait for public opinion in America to form itself. But we have the chance of collaborating with the United States now, for example, on this horrible refugee problem. I believe United States opinion is coming round to the historical and true British point of view once more. I believe that great progress can be made on this important occasion next May, and I suggest that the ground should be very carefully prepared beforehand.
My Lords, I desire only to express a somewhat tentative opinion that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby's Motion seems a very timely one indeed. I say a tentative opinion because it seems to me we are all groping more or less, at the moment, for the proper course of action, trying to think justly as well as to act justly at a time when other nations are combining the process of thinking and acting, and forging ahead in a way that may sometimes command our temporary and instinctive admiration, but in a way which does not 247 even pretend to take into account the development of humanity and the raising of it to some higher level. I suggest that there is, at any rate as far as I can judge from this afternoon's debate, general agreement on one point, and that is that even if the original League of Nations, as far as its work for peace as a whole is concerned, was born under unhappy auspices, was nurtured in an atmosphere of vindictiveness and one-sidedness, grew up to a rather uncertain sort of ripeness, and is now possibly moribund, the mere fact of its having existed at all remains of considerable importance to all of us.
We respect, I am sure, the desire of the Prime Minister for what he calls appeasement. We are still, as the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, said, profoundly grateful to him for having saved us from catastrophe in the nick of time, and I suggest that we appreciate his desire to continue his good work by establishing and maintaining, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has indicated, direct contacts with all nations, even with those that possess Governments with whose régimes we are not in sympathy. But I cannot help feeling that all such methods can but be in the end only palliatives, wise ones, prudent ones, possibly, but palliatives all the same. We are living, as many writers have pointed out in the last ten or fifteen years, in a twentieth century world with nineteenth-and even eighteenth-century minds; and until these notions of sacred national sovereignty, possessing inalienable rights as such, are abandoned we shall just struggle along in the morass we are in. It is for this reason that I welcome the noble Lord's Motion, and indeed any Motion of the sort in these retrograde days. I cannot help feeling that the sub-consciousness, if not open consciousness, of a world that is growing smaller every day is hungering for the bread of a sane internationalism, and instead of that what does it receive? All it receives is the stone of an exacerbated nationalism.
In connection with all this I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to two letters which appeared on the same day in The Times a day or two ago. One was from Sir William Goodchild, and was written on the Colonial question in answer to a letter from Lord Lugard, and it raised the definite proposal that: 248mandated territories classed as incapable of self-government should be placed under international commissions, on which Germany and Italy, in common with other interested Powers, should have a place.The "controlling authority" under the scheme he suggestedwould be a reconstituted League of Nations and I should regard it [he says] as a test of good faith that Germany, for instance, would be prepared to join such a League and co-operate in the execution of the duties incumbent upon it.The other letter was from Sir John Fischer Williams, and I consider it so important that I should like to read a passage of it to your Lordships:In 1919 President Wilson in the Covenant of the League of Nations was more ambitious than Mr. Cordell Hull and President Roosevelt to-day. The Covenant does not create a system merely of international consultation and co-operation; it seeks to constitute an organisation by which economic and eventually military compulsion may be applied under certain conditions to any and every State. It is now clear that the world is not worthy of, or is not ready for, or perhaps even is too good for such a system. Different minds will judge differently. But the most fervent supporters of the Covenant must agree that in so far as it creates a coercive mechanism it has the fatal defect that, as things are, the machine does not work.Must we not therefore—those of us who believe that some form of international action must be evolved if civilisation is to survive—consider whether our effort ought not to begin on the lines followed by the American nations? This will be the beginning of a long work of more than one generation. …Meantime the essential condition of future success is to reduce so far as possible the number of appeals to force in international matters, and, where such an appeal is made, to limit its extent, not to universalise each and every var. America, since 1919, has known international war and civil commotion, but she has at any rate localised her troubles and has been in no danger of a general conflagration.In the world of to-day a central œcumenic organisation cannot be held together by fetters of compulsion; its formal engagements must not be onerous; it must operate by persuasion reinforced by the general popular horror of modern war. Only thus has it any chance of approaching universality. And its strength will be all the greater if individual nations abstain from formal alliances. If one nation is allied by treaty with another it is difficult, if not impossible, for it to possess, or at any rate to be credited with, the impartiality which is the necessary condition for successful consultation and co-operation in the cause of international peace and order and of the good government, however constituted, of the world.I have mentioned these two letters with no great degree of optimism in my heart, since the dice are heavily loaded against 249 us by now, but to show at least that the idea of open international collaboration is still in the air and obviously only demanding to be utilised. I will conclude by reminding your Lordships of the fact, which may possibly be overlooked, that even after all the withdrawals the present League still has fifty Members, and that for a moribund body it shows at least those signs of vitality. I cannot but feel that by something resembling a powerful blood transfusion of the type that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, aims at it ought to be possible to transform the League sooner or later into an organism that may yet be of considerable use to all of us.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I have listened to a great number of debates on the League of Nations in this place, and it is very rare that anybody says anything new. One knows more or less what each speaker will say when he gets up. I do not profess to have anything new to say myself, but I sympathise most strongly with the Motion which has been brought forward by the noble Lord opposite. I have often been struck by the fact, when we are discussing especially the Constitution of the League, that there are two central facts which never seem to dawn on the eminent supporters of the League, who count among them the most eminent men in the country compared with humble individuals like myself. The first is that they do not seem to realise that nations and Governments are not educated or elevated up to the point of making serious sacrifices for causes in which they are not interested, and you are not able at the present time, and probably never will be able, to persuade people to engage in a war in which they are not materially concerned themselves. The other essential for the success of a League which is intended to accomplish the task set before the present League is that it should be universal and it should be unanimous in opinion. There is neither universality nor unanimity with regard to the present League.
Look what has happened. Now, at the present moment, one of the most disgraceful episodes in history is taking place in the shape of persecution of Jews in Germany. You would have thought that that would have aroused the indignation of all right-thinking people all over the globe, but I do not observe any evidence to that effect. It is true we have pro- 250 tested strongly, and we are endeavouring to do what we can to alleviate the sufferings of these people, and one or two other nations are doing the same, but, on the other hand, I observe that other nations which do not even belong to the so-called totalitarian Powers are proposing to imitate their example. This incident of the persecution of the Jews is perhaps not very pertinent to the Motion on the Paper, but the present situation in Europe is extremely pertinent. When Ministers have to speak on an occasion of this kind regarding foreign questions, they naturally have to be very careful what they say, and however disagreeable the situation may be they are obliged to wrap it up by some reassuring phrases which carry a certain amount, though not a great deal, of conviction in the country. It does not matter what independent persons like myself say; it does not make any difference at all; but I have no hesitation whatever in saying that I can define the situation in Europe at the present moment in a couple of sentences.
The position in Europe is this. There are two alternatives before us: one is to let Hitler have his way, and the other is to embark upon a world war. I defy anybody to contradict me on this point. I do not propose at this moment to say anything about what course we ourselves should take, but what I think one may examine, if only for a minute or two, are the causes which have led to this lamentable situation, a situation worse than anything that occurred before the World War. What is the cause of it? If I were to ask noble Lords opposite, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for instance, he would have no hesitation in replying at once. He would say that it is all the fault of the totalitarian Powers and the Dictators. I am not the least disposed to accept that as a satisfactory answer. The blame cannot be confined to those Powers. The blame must be shared by various parties, and I think as much blame attaches to the League of Nations as it is at present as to anybody else. There has never been any pretence even of impartiality on the part of the League. The League ever since it started has acted as an instrument for carrying out the Versailles Treaty and as an instrument of French policy. I do not think anybody can deny that. I will go as far as to say that if it had not been for French policy and the 251 policy of the League, we should never have heard anything of Hitler at all.
What are the facts now? French policy has suffered the most crushing rebuff that I can remember almost within my experience. French foreign policy lies at the present time in ruins. I am not at all sure that the League of Nations is not in the same lamentable position. It is not actually physically in ruins, because I visited its precincts myself quite recently. The edifices are just as magnificent, and there is an enormous number of employees. Eminent men go there several times each year to make speeches to each other, but there seems to be a want of effective management somehow or other. That reminds me, although it is not very pertinent to the question, that I was there quite recently. It so happened that I was in the neighbourhood of Geneva, and I thought I would like for the purpose of improving my mind to go and attend a Session at Geneva. I wrote to my noble friend Viscount Halifax and asked him to give me a letter vouching for my respectability. He complied with my request, and sent me a letter. Armed with this letter I proceeded to Geneva, and to my astonishment I found that they did not know who Lord Halifax was. His name meant nothing at all. I was passed on from one official to another, and eventually I arrived at my destination, where I found myself crowded out. The crowd approached in numbers the numbers of a Derby crowd. All were in quest of a seat like myself. I was so discouraged by the scene that I took myself away, feeling less admiration for that institution even than I had done before I arrived.
Now it is unfair to put the entire blame upon the League for the lamentable condition which it occupies now. The person really more responsible than anybody else for the impotent condition of the League at the present moment is its founder, President Wilson. President Wilson, it will be remembered, was "too proud to fight" at one stage of the War. When the War was over he was too proud to take advice, and the result was that he constructed a perfectly impracticable instrument in the shape of the Covenant which has been the source of much of the trouble. Now we are discussing changes. Obviously what ought to be done is this. You ought to revert to the position which is more or 252 less defined in the Motion of my noble friend opposite. President Wilson, not content with arranging boundaries, thought he was going to regenerate humankind in Europe. He thought he was going to bring about an entire change in their international morality. As a matter of fact, not only did he not succeed, but international morality is probably at a lower ebb at the present moment than it was twenty years ago, or before the War.
The proposal made by my noble friend opposite seems to me an eminently sensible one because it is a very modest one. Obviously the League, such as it is, is unequal to discharging the work which it is expected to do, and no reasonable person would expect it to succeed. When it first started it worked perfectly well, and was of great benefit to the world in general. It was not until it took to dictating to Europe on questions of peace and war that it got into difficulties. What we have got to do now if we can manage it, if we are really in earnest about reestablishing the League, is this. It ought to be carried on on a more modest scale. If the out-and-out supporters of the League would be contented to accept the proposal put forward by my noble friend opposite, then the League might revert to what it was formerly and be a most useful instrument in many directions for the future. On the other hand, if they insist upon maintaining the powers which they are unable to exercise, then you are really only preparing for trouble and the League instead of being a benefit will be a danger to all the European countries.
§ LORD RENNELL
My Lords, the Question which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has addressed to His Majesty's Government really includes two questions, which, although he has connected them, I think may be considered separately as I propose to do in briefly, and I hope pertinently, commenting on them. In the first of these, terminating with the semicolon in line 5, he inquires whether His Majesty's Government would be disposed to promote international consultation on the underlying causes of the prevailing unrest. The Question as drafted did not perhaps make it quite clear that he had in view, as I now gather he has, a body more or less in permanent session for international consultation. If that is really what he contemplates, I think it 253 probably is worthy of every consideration and probable support.
I had thought, however, that the consultation that he envisaged at the moment was one such as the German Chancellor had proposed to the Western Powers some two years ago, when he received what always appeared to me to be a not very gracious reply. I do not contemplate in any way discussing whether or how far acceptance of his proposal might have modified the course of subsequent events. The time was then, apparently, not considered ripe for international discussion. Much has happened since, and were such a proposal to be renewed today, it could only be with due recognition of certain accomplished facts and realisation that Germany would now claim to speak with a much more authoritative voice than she would have claimed when she had only platonic assurances of equality of status. The question is whether the time is ripe now. It may, of course, be urged that individual meetings between responsible statesmen such as have taken place, or are anticipated shortly, might lead to more effective results. None the less, I am disposed to think that when the ground has been prepared these meetings, whether occasional or whether continuous, would be of advantage, and among other reasons for the following.
Since the War foreign affairs have become ever-increasingly a subject of public discussion. Ministries of propaganda serving their own specific aims, competitive journalism on the watch for news values, the radio in every household, and a whole series of things—even, I might add perhaps, the superficial observations and reflections of cheap trippers after their brief visits to the Continent—all tend to the formation of hasty conclusions and of presumptions which may or may not be warranted. An unfortunate result has been that greater facilities of communications have tended rather to stimulate than to diminish prejudice. There would, therefore, seem to be some reason to welcome an international exchange of authoritative views regarding the causes and the possible elimination of a friction which is only likely to be intensified by unintelligent or unenlightened public discussion. It might also help to dispel the mistaken assumption that widely different forms of 254 government—a matter which is purely for each country to decide for itself—should present any obstacle to international approaches. Recent contacts seem to indicate the time as being opportune, particularly for ourselves under the leadership of a statesman who has not suffered preconceptions and sentiment to outweigh the dictates of common sense.
The second part of the Question addressed to His Majesty's Government, which might have been raised quite independently of the first part, also commends itself to me, but here with a reservation. The suggested restriction of future activities of the League to examining and resolving if possible only economic and kindred issues appears to me to go too far. By becoming merely a clearing house for economic problems, the League would lose altogether the character which inspired its institution. As at present constituted, it has lost a great many of its original components and it is threatened with the loss of more. The obligation undertaken in the Covenant to impose in certain eventualities economic or military sanctions, has, up to now, been evaded or at most only partially carried out. Collective security has suffered from a severe miscarriage. In our own experience the League seems really to have resulted rather in the creation of tension with other nations than in removing it.
None the less, I can conceive that, were those obligations, military or economic, to be altogether removed from the Covenant, the League might still play a very important part in investigating the nature of international differences referred to it and in registering a majority opinion denouncing a menace of unjustified aggression or a disregard of the comity of nations. Unanimity would not be necessary, for the value of such a pronouncement, which would serve as an admonition, would depend upon the importance and number of the States supporting it. I could, therefore, have wished that the Question had been slightly expanded, and that after the words "amendment of the Covenant" in line 6, it had continued in something like these terms:by the removal of economic or military obligations on Members, and the establishment of the League as an all-inclusive body for deliberating on the equities of international issues referred to it by any Member, and for, if possible, resolving commercial, 255 currency and generally any economic problem which if neglected might become causes of conflict.My noble friend was, I imagine, apprehensive that it would be difficult to secure general acceptance of a League which contemplated anything more than is included in his Question. I do not think that this need necessarily be so. In any case I should welcome discussion in your Lordships' House of the point which I raised, and I should be very glad if we could have an expression of opinion on the subject from His Majesty's Government.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I desire to support the Motion which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has moved. Especially I do that in the hope that the Government may be moved to accept, if not the Motion as a whole, that part of it which asks that the political and military obligations should be removed from the Covenant. I cannot forget how short a time it is since we were nearly involved in war with Italy—now again our close friend—all because of these clauses in the Covenant. And while this debate has ranged over a wide field, I would beg your Lordships for one minute to remember how nearly we came to a great world tragedy because of those vital and fateful words which were inserted in the Covenant, which we call by the name of sanctions. It really is very wrong to leave them there. If my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Viscount Halifax, when he replies, will tell us that he does intend to ask the nations assembled at Geneva to abandon these words, which now mean nothing, which have so nearly led us to war and may lead us to war again, I, and I think every noble Lord in this House, will be grateful for it.
See what has happened since those words were included in the Covenant, when I was present in Paris. They can really have no good in them, for it was presupposed then that all nations would be in the League and that a practically unanimous sanction would be imposed, one, therefore, instantaneous in its effect. So President Wilson said, so I remember him telling me. "It will be instantaneous" were his words; "instantaneously effective." Now, of course, how can it be? Most of the more powerful nations are either non-members or hostile, and the whole League for the 256 moment would certainly vehemently reject this application. But the words stand there, and the British people—and it is for them that I plead here—are so constituted that if you say to them, "Oh, but your honour is involved," as was said on hundreds of platforms at the time of the sanctions which were imposed on Italy, they say, "Well, I dare say it is very wrong, and I dare say war is very sad, but it is promised in the Covenant and I am going to see it through." If my noble friend the Foreign Secretary does not get these words removed, they will be saying it again for certain before we are many years older and possibly before we are many months older.
Why not get rid of these offending words, which are so stupid and wrong? If in private life you were engaged in some private obligation, legal or otherwise, which ceased to be really operative and might be a danger, and possibly might involve you in a big lawsuit, you would take advice on how to get rid of it. It is high time you got rid of these words. You cannot compel your view by imposing sanctions, military or economic, with the League as it is to-day. I hope they will be abandoned, and perhaps a reformed League, as my noble friend said, set up, part of it perhaps sitting at The Hague, where the atmosphere is better for some of the things described in his Motion, and the main part of it, notably the labour part of it, still sitting at Geneva. I hope for a reformed League to which then, I believe, all would come. Some would come to The Hague and some to Geneva; and I submit to my noble friend that he has made a wonderfully good shot with this Motion of his. Some nations would join one and not another; we might get universality in one place but not in another. Gradually, as part of a joint settlement, wholly abandoning all idea of force, we might get a whole family of nations—call it what you will, probably not "League," perhaps family of nations—trying to avoid war, trying to see justice done.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, in assessing the percentage of support various groups could give to this Motion, put the Labour Party percentage at about 75. In so far as my percentage is somewhat higher than that, I must only claim to be speaking for myself. I think I go to about 90 per cent., and the remaining 10 is really a 257 question of interpretation. I have always felt that sanctions could never succeed. They have never succeeded, and I have always been against them. The reason is that all the nations Members of the League must have, in problems which arise, diversity of interest. They find themselves unable to agree on what is the interest of a State-Member of the League in each successive problem. We find the same diversity of interest even within the British Commonwealth of Nations, where the Dominions are not always by any means in agreement on a common Empire policy. Let me remind the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, who in a slip in his speech said that we owned South Africa, that of course we do not own South Africa. It is an independent autonomous Dominion. The Union of South Africa is not by any means always in agreement. This diversity of interest which prevents sanctions from being possible has been reinforced by a further impracticability—namely, the impossibility of finding a common military power for the latter part of Article 16. Even in the War, with our backs to the wall, it was almost four years before we came to an agreement as to a common command for the forces of the Allies. It is inconceivable that it would be possible to build up any form of common military force for sanctions.
Therefore I agree with those who say that there is really no particular use in keeping in the Covenant of the League something which cannot work and has not worked. One reason why this aspect of the Covenant has been unsuccessful is that it was probably originally included with the idea, to some extent at least, of coercing the beaten Powers. I am inclined to think that that was the original reason, the maintenance of the status quo after the War. That is why Article 19 has perhaps not been used as it should have been. By the elimination of Article 16 and the greater concentration on Article 19 we may possibly secure a much more successful development of the League of Nations. If we analyse what has happened we already see that quite a number of small nations, such as Switzerland and Belgium, have announced that in no case are they going to be bound by Article 16. We know that some nations have resigned from the League for not dissimilar reasons, and we equally know that some nations re- 258 fused to join because they were not prepared to be involved in the obligations of Article 16.
There is another reason why I should like to see Article 16 left out. I put this forward very tentatively, because I am not quite sure how far it might happen. I think, however, that there is a possibility that the League might eventually be used for the furtherance of a common policy against democracy. It might, so to speak, be captured by the growing totalitarian groups in the world, and therefore it would be advisable to eliminate the terms of Article 16 now to avoid a sort of international justification for the use of force subsequently. It might be used against this country, it might be used against the U.S.S.R. In any case, as it has not been used in the past and as it might dangerously be used in the future, I should like to see those clauses which are referred to in my noble friend's Motion taken out of the Covenant.
I am inclined to think that that would provide the possibility of closer co-operation with the United States of America. I was reading in the New York Herald Tribune a few days ago an article by one of the best-known, most intelligent and best-informed of the columnists in America, Miss Dorothy Thompson, and she pointed out in a series of extremely interesting articles that "the new weapon for conquest is revolution. The new weapon is the coup d'état, engineered inside the country that is to be dominated." And in a subsequent article she said that democracy had no defence against this attack, and of course this form of attack is reinforced by matters such as the international radio referred to by Lord Rennell a few moments ago. It is difficult to find any means of combating that line of attack.
Another reason why I think we should remove these Articles from the Covenant is the possibility of universality, which was underlined by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, and I would like to see such universality that there would even be a seat for Lord Newton when he visits Geneva. It seems to me that the League might devote itself not only to the International Labour Organisation, about which we have heard a good deal this afternoon, but also to an economic organisation, a matter which I have already raised in your Lordships' House, and which I believe to be practicable and of 259 vital importance. I do not think The Hague is a very good place for these organisations. I recall with fear the great danger of the bicycles in that interesting City—I was constantly in danger of being run over by them—but I do not really care where it is, so long as we get the possibility of universality. I would bring in Germany. It would be a means by which Germany could regain that self-respect which she has lost by her atrocious treatment of Jewish and other minorities in Germany. I would also bring Italy and Japan into the reconstituted League, and I hope that we may get a new system of collective security based on agreement and discussion, and not on force. I cannot see that collective security necessarily means collective security by force.
Again, if I may be permitted, I will read a brief reference in an editorial in the New York Times of a few weeks ago. It said:We say this, believing profoundly that a system of collective security is indispensable and inevitable; that a new attempt to create such a system on a genuinely substantial basis must and will be made again; that the swiftly marching events of the last few weeks in Europe merely offer further tragic proof that the world will know no real respite from war and from recurrent threats of violence until the full strength of nations which want peace on honourable terms is ranged behind law and order.That is the point upon which I would like to conclude. I believe that the League can be used again to support the forces of law and order. I think, therefore, that universality is the important aim. I do not agree that the only alternative before us is war or surrender. I have never believed that. I believe there is a great deal to be said for discussion, and the League provides a suitable place for the discussion of economic and other differences which are referred to in the Motion. I think, at the same time, that outside the League of Nations the democratic Powers should in fact get together and make a stand against Fascism, military colonisation, and economic monopoly. It should be the task, not of the League of Nations, but of those nations who believe they have a better alternative system of government than that of totalitarianism. Open discussion, rebuilding the League of Nations, are, I believe, the lines we should follow in our policy, and it is for those reasons 260 that I personally shall support the Motion of Lord Ponsonby.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, misery makes men acquainted with strange bedfellow's, and it is certainly the unhappy state of the world to-day that throws me into somewhat unhappy stable companionship with some of the noble Lords opposite, because although I do go a long way with Lord Ponsonby in this Motion, there are one or two of his statements to which I am bound to take exception. If I do not misunderstand the noble Lord, he seemed rather to object to our taking air-raid precautions against future possible air aggression. I do not think I am incorrect in this, that I doubt if the noble Lord will find 2 per cent. of the population to agree with him; nor do I think it can be maintained that other countries can take offence at our endeavouring to protect this metropolis of ours, which lies so open to aerial bombardment. The Government should, I think, be congratulated upon what they have done, and should be urged to carry out still more methods of precaution, because if they were not to do so I think that for the first time in our modern history we might see mobs making their way towards Downing Street and Whitehall, with the intention of seeing that the lamp-posts there bore strange fruit. I cannot agree that our rearmament is provocative. When one sees what is going on in Europe it would seem to be folly, and wicked folly, not to take precautions to defend ourselves, and for counterattack should the necessity arise.
With the main contention of Lord Ponsonby, which is that the present state of the League of Nations should be recognised and admitted to be an ineffectual one, I am in complete agreement. I am one of those who, while believing in the ideals of the League of Nations, have never from its inception believed that those ideals were at the present time practical politics. Indeed, I was one of the very few candidates who in the Parliamentary Election of 1931 made no reference whatever to the League of Nations in his address. It bore the seeds of decay from its birth, inasmuch as America, who was responsible for it, refused to join very quickly, and an unfortunate feature was the way in which the Covenant of the League was inextricably involved in the Treaty of Versailles. That made it unworkable from the very start. And as 261 has been said on several occasions this afternoon, the League cannot be accused of undue impartiality. Too often it has appeared to be a mere tool for unwise French policy, and while I have not the slightest sympathy with the manner in which Germany achieved her objects in Czechoslovakia, it has to be admitted that there has been a very considerable amount of oppression of the Sudeten Deutsch—oppression which had occasioned many appeals to the League of Nations, which, as far as one can see, ignored those appeals time after time.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made reference to the League as the sheet-anchor of our policy, and seems still to cling to some pathetic belief in collective security. Collective security was shown to be a myth at the time when it was sought to impose sanctions upon Italy, and that was the final blow to the authority and prestige of the League of Nations. That blow was dealt actually by the League's illegitimate offspring, the League of Nations Union, sponsored by its godfather, the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, who, I fear, may be well destined to go down to posterity as a pacifist who torpedoed peace, because, had the Hoare-Laval Agreement been put into operation, not only would Abyssinia have remained an independent sovereign State, not very much weakened, but none of the unfortunate circumstances which led to the founding of the Rome-Berlin axis would have taken place, and the state of Central Europe and the world to-day would have been correspondingly better than it is. It is for those reasons, coupled with the impossibility within a reasonable period of time of expecting to get a universal League again, that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, because what reasonable person can anticipate that in a period of time visible to the mental eye we shall see again within the ambit of the League Germany, Italy and Japan, to say nothing of the possibility of drawing America into the League without which it could never be 100 per cent. efficient?
If I may say so, some of your Lordships have not, I think, adhered over closely to the terms of Lord Ponsonby's Motion, and perhaps I may be permitted the same latitude in which to comment on a few of the remarks that have been made. If the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will pardon my saying so, his speech, to 262 me, was distinctly reminiscent of the far-famed curate's egg, because I found in it quite a lot on which I could agree, but a great deal with which I was in total disagreement. I was in agreement with him on the question of Colonies. I do not think that at the present time there can be any possibility of our giving up those mandated territories which we at present administer and I think that 90 per cent. of our people would not be in favour of our so doing. I agree with him also that should Germany show signs of aggression before long, which we hope will not be the case, it is by no means certain to-day that that aggression would be in an easterly direction. It all depends on whether France, as we hope, comes through her present troubles unscathed and as strong as she was before.
But when the noble Lord began to talk about class consciousness on the part of the Government with reference to Spain and to Soviet Russia, then I began to feel that his references to the subconscious were indeed justified, and that although he was here addressing your Lordships in this House, his astral body, his subconsciousness, was back on a soapbox in Central Hull. Because I cannot see anything more ridiculous than to suppose that His Majesty's Government were influenced in any way by class consciousness in their dealing either in the past with Soviet Russia, or in the present with Governmental Spain. Surely it is sufficient for us to realise that the Spanish Government at the beginning of the civil war, whatever it may be to-day, was founded upon murder, openly condoned, if not instigated, by members of the Spanish Government; and when one remembers that the head of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics within the last few months expressed his high opinion of war as a means for bringing about world revolution, I think that the attitude of reserve towards both the Government of Spain and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which has been shown by His Majesty's Government cannot be regarded as other than discreet and praiseworthy.
There is, however, one point on which I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, and that is on the question of the vital necessity for closer co-operation with the United States of America. While on this theme I would urge His Majesty's Government to do something to improve 263 British propaganda in that country. Various European Powers to-day are, I believe, actively subsidising anti-British propaganda throughout the United States, and this is being aided by a journalist who is a renegade Briton and who has a very large public, but who can never find anything better to say about his own country than the very lowest terms of abuse. Our propaganda in the United States of America hardly exists, and we certainly should take steps to put it right. I quite agree that propaganda is at its best a rather beastly thing, but unfortunately to-day we have to face the fact that the majority of Powers, great and small, throughout the world are making use of it, and that if we do not follow suit to some extent, we are certainly going to be misrepresented in a most dangerous fashion throughout the world.
No one, I think, who has not visited the Middle West of America can possibly realise its remoteness, mental as well as physical, from Europe, nor can he understand how completely divorced from all understanding of, or even interest in, European politics are the people in those areas. Until the Munich Agreement public opinion in the United States was more favourable to this country than, I think, it has ever been since the American Revolution. But since the Munich Agreement the action of the Government has been misrepresented on a thousand platforms and at a hundred thousand street corners by agents or persons hostile to this country, whether those agents were conscious of what they were doing or mere unwitting tools. It is absolutely necessary that this impression that we have in any way proved unfaithful to our obligations should be dispelled throughout the United States.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that if we are to have any stability in Europe it is necessary that the Covenant of the League should be modified, if not indeed scrapped and drawn up again. The League has done a very great deal of good work in minor matters, and could still be a means of conciliation which might be of the utmost value; but I submit that to keep in existence to-day the Covenant which has shown itself to be incapable of being put into operation without grave menace to the peace of Europe, and which is entirely out of keeping with the conditions 264 of world politics as they are to-day, is to perpetuate a state of affairs more likely to bring about war than to remove the causes of war.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I trust that the noble Earl will forgive me if I do not follow him through the whole of his arguments because, owing to the infirmities of my age, I was not able to hear the greater part of what he said. My noble friend Lord Marley said one thing which I think rather summarised the discussion. He said he did not believe that the alternative between war and surrender was a real alternative; he thought there was always a third course, the course of discussion. That of course is perfectly true. Evidently, international affairs are not usually settled by a threat of war. Usually they are settled by discussion, and nobody, neither the most bigoted adherent of the League of Nations nor the most bigoted opponent of the League of Nations, would attempt to exclude discussion as by far the most important, at any rate by far the most usual, method of arriving at a conclusion in any difference of opinion between nations. The real point is, what is going to happen if discussion fails. That is the issue you really have to face.
Everybody says that if you can settle an international difference by discussion that is the best way, but if you cannot, if one party or the other says, "No, I am going to insist upon my point of view," then the choice, with all respect to Lord Marley, must eventually be war or surrender. That is the brutal fact. You cannot get over it. You may provide any amount of discussion, but you may be forced, and in some cases you are forced, to face the question: Will you give in or will you fight? It is very important, it seems to me, that we should approach all these discussions with that really before our minds, and when any proposal is made for the reconstitution of international affairs we must ask ourselves: Will it really deal with the final issue or will it not? Will it prevent war when it comes to the point or will it not? That is to my mind the most important aspect of the question.
With regard to the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, like most people who have addressed your Lordships I find myself in agree- 265 ment with a great deal of what he has said. As to the constructive part of his proposal, if I may put it in that way—I shall explain in a moment what I mean—I quite agree with him that it is very desirable to have an international body permanently sitting which shall be capable of discussing and considering such questions. When I say "permanently sitting" I do not mean they are to be there the whole time, and I do not suppose he does; but that the organisation shall always be there and capable of being summoned at any moment to discuss all the questions my noble friend has put down in his Motion. May I very respectfully point out to him that, in point of fact, the League of Nations has discussed all these questions—I think every one of them—in one form or another, and a great many other questions besides, which affect the intercourse between nations? That has been by far the largest part of its activity. I took the trouble to consult a little handbook as to what the League had done in the last eighteen years, and I venture respectfully to recommend it to your Lordships' perusal. It is not very amusing, but it is very instructive, and it sets out at great length the enormous number of different activities in which the League has engaged.
It has dealt with the refugees—an enormous number of cases—with all the financial questions which have been mentioned to-day; in addition, with the reconstruction of Austria and Hungary and, but for the unhappy outbreak of the present war, the reconstruction of China. It has dealt with the whole question of transit. I noted twenty or thirty separate questions of transit which it had considered with a view to facilitating intercourse between nations. It has dealt at enormous length—not with complete success I admit—with the question of disarmament. It certainly has given an immense amount of work to that question, feeling, as many of us have felt, that the only real indisputable grievance, in my judgment, that the Germans had was that we did not carry out our promise of international disarmament as soon as we had satisfied ourselves, as we did satisfy ourselves, that the Germans had carried out their obligations under the Treaty of Versailles in that respect.
At any rate, there was an immense amount of work done, and a very large amount of success achieved, either by the 266 League itself or by activities which, as I think, had their origin in the impulse from the League. In addition to that, there was an immense number of questions of health, prevention of disease, control of opium, the fight against white slave traffic, the protection of children, the carrying still further of the great secular fight against slavery, and a number of miscellaneous matters concerning mandatory provisions, minority provisions, and the dealing with the Saar, which on the whole after a stormy beginning, turned out to be a contribution to international peace. Then there was the dealing with Danzig, not quite so successful, because obviously the Germans and Poles desired to prevent any possible success. Then there has been the matter of intellectual co-operation, which I wish to underline, because it has been carried through under a British chairman with great success and has done an immense amount of good, but as to which we have the rather discreditable record of being the only considerable country which has not given any direct assistance.
Besides that we must not forget it was the League that established the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague. Without the League it never would have been established. It had been tried over and over again, and it was only the machinery of the League that enabled that great and very important international reform to be carried through. That Court has already decided some twenty-five cases, and it has done something which is very often overlooked, but is quite an important part of its work—it has given some twenty-five advisory opinions to the League as to legal points. That is all quite apart from the recognised activity of the International Labour Office with its enormous and very successful efforts, first under M. Albert Thomas, and then under Mr. Harold Butler. An American Director-General takes office on January 1. It has done most remarkable work. All these things have been carried out, and though I entirely agree with Lord Ponsonby that the more of that kind of work done at Geneva the better, you must recollect, in considering the whole question, that you are not starting on a blank page, but are starting on a series of topics which have been dealt with with great persistence and a very large measure of success by the machinery which there exists.
267 I trust your Lordships will allow me to add what I may call a footnote to this part of my argument. It is often said that the League of Nations Union, of which I am proud to be the President, has not taken sufficient interest in the non-contentious parts of the League's activity, and has confined itself merely to the question of sanctions. My noble friend Lord Samuel, who is a friendly critic, committed himself to some such observation a few weeks ago in this House, and many less friendly critics have said so with even more vigour. It really is a most unfair attack, and I interrupt my argument just to make that clear. From the year 1920 to the year 1931 I have examined, as far as I have been able, the records of proceedings at the Annual Council of the Union, which is the occasion on which the policy of the Union is fixed, and I cannot find in those years a single reference to sanctions — not one. They discussed an immense number of other topics, but that of sanctions was not among them.
I notice that in the year 1928 there was a discussion on a memorandum of policy brought forward by my noble friend Lord Lytton, and in the course of his observations he said, referring to the recent acceptance of the Kellogg-Briand Pact:In our opinion, therefore, we are faced with the necessity of studying the science of peace rather than of considering measures for the prevention of war. That being, in our opinion, the change which has come over the situation, we have endeavoured to set that out in the preamble to the memorandum.I will not read any more, but those two sentences indicate the sense of his speech. I observe that the main items in that memorandum were: The improvement of the machinery for the peaceful settlement of international disputes; the avoidance of all alliances; the limitation and reduction of armaments; the elaboration of the machinery required to make Article 19 of the Covenant of the League practically effective; the withdrawal from Germany of foreign troops; the general adoption and application of the recommendations of the International Economic Conference; then, in another section, the Washington Eight Hours Convention; intellectual co-operation; and minor matters concluding with Armenian refugees, the minorities questions and the ratification of the Arms Traffic Convention.
268 I think that really is a complete defence of the League up to 1931. I admit that since that year they have had to consider the question of sanctions. But why? Because of the complete breach of the whole of the rules of the Covenant committed by Japan in the invasion of Manchuria. The point then could no longer be evaded. Up to that time we had always thought that sanctions, very useful in the background, need never be put into operation, and we did not think that it was desirable to discuss them. But from that moment it was necessary for us to discuss the matters which became the burning questions of controversy in foreign affairs, not only in League matters but generally over the whole arena of foreign international questions. That, as I said, is a mere footnote to what I desire to say; only as I had the opportunity of saying it I thought I would take it.
Broadly speaking, I agree with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby in his desire to see the non-contentious work, if I may put it in that way, and the discussion even of contentious subjects, elaborated, improved and fostered in every way by the League of Nations. I entirely agree with him; indeed I have always desired to see the opening discussions of the General Assembly of the League, which takes place as your Lordships know every year, begin with open declarations by the principal Powers—and all the other Powers if they like—as to the main and general aspect of international affairs, contentious and non-contentious, of the general lines on which their countries hope to approach those questions. I have always thought that a discussion of that kind openly, with the whole world looking on, would be of the greatest possible value to clear up misunderstandings and to prevent dangerous states of feeling arising. Beyond that I do not think one can go. In one of Lord Ponsonby's phrases he seemed to contemplate what he regarded as the automatic and periodic consideration by the League of the general situation in the world. Beyond the general discussions such as I have indicated I think that would be a dangerous idea.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
May I interrupt my noble friend for one moment? I only suggested the practical revision of treaties, nothing beyond that.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am much obliged, I had that in mind. No doubt my noble friend is perfectly right. He was only speaking of the automatic revision of treaties. He will not expect me to attack it very violently because I myself proposed it at Paris, but I was convinced that it was an impracticable suggestion. If you say that every five years a treaty is to be brought up for consideration, it would surely be a great temptation to all the disaffected parts of the different countries concerned to pile up grievances and difficulties so that they could do something when the revision took place. I think the League has been well advised not to attempt anything of that kind unless it has been brought before their notice by one of the parties who desired their intervention. I think, at any rate in the present state of international organisation, it is important to confine ourselves to that, but with that one caveat I do entirely agree with that part of my noble friend's speech.
Of course the thing that raised the controversy in this House is a question which no doubt is one which has to be considered more carefully. It is this. He proposed, roughly speaking, and several speakers who followed him agreed with him, the abolition of sanctions. He takes the view that force never settles anything; at least so I understand him. If he said, with the late Mr. Bright, force is no remedy, I should agree with him, but to say that force never does anything at all seems to me to be going much too far. I believe force can prevent things being done. I doubt whether it can ever cause things to be done. I think that is the great distinction between force and other agencies. No one doubts that a riot can be stopped by force. Thousands of instances of its being done can be given. There is no doubt at all that a small and turbulent country can be prevented from invading another country if the other country has the power to do it by the exercise of force. Nobody can doubt that. Therefore, to say that force cannot be of any use to stop things seems to me to be going too far.
In point of fact, in the League force has frequently succeeded. It was not actually exercised because it never became necessary except in the case of Abyssinia, with which I will deal in a moment, but in a whole number of controversies which 270 have arisen and been brought to the League the fact that there were sanctions in the background made it possible for the League to insist on no hostilities between the parties. I have here a list of some twenty questions of that kind which have been brought before the League. I do not say for a moment that all of them have come to that point. Many of them have been settled at a much earlier stage by discussion and by negotiation and by recommendations, but there have been certain questions which the existence of force undoubtedly brought to a successful conclusion.
I will give two instances. No doubt I could give a great many more. Take for instance the dispute over Corfu. I have not the slightest doubt that at that time the Italian Government was very anxious to avoid anything like trouble, and, when it became convinced that the great mass of the countries assembled at Geneva were prepared to take action of some undefined but serious kind in order to prevent the permanent occupation of Corfu by the Italian Government, they became reasonable and the matter was settled, not ideally but settled to the satisfaction of both parties and no ill-feeling was left behind it. That was one case. Another case, even clearer, was the case of the dispute between Greece and Bulgaria, which began, as your Lordships may possibly remember, by the shooting of a soldier—I think it was a Greek soldier by a Bulgarian. Thereupon, the Greek Government mobilised certain forces who prepared to invade Bulgaria. The League, meeting within twenty-four hours, sent a telegram forbidding the Greeks to do so and saying they would take very serious measures if they did. I happen to know, as a matter of fact, that this country was considering what naval measures it would take if the Greeks were recalcitrant. The result was that the matter was completely settled, not by negotiation but by arbitration, and no recrudescence of the trouble has ever occurred.
I apologise to your Lordships for going back on these old stories, but it is essential, if you are going to say that force has never been of any use and ought to be taken out of the Covenant, that we should recollect that apart from one or two spectacular cases in which I quite admit it has failed to prevent aggression, in a very large number of much smaller but very 271 important cases trouble has been stopped, and has been stopped in great part because there was behind the command of the League an irresistible force with which the parties were not prepared to deal. I am ashamed again to quote the Nyon case, but it really is exactly in point. There you had exactly the same thing—what was called piracy by submarines in the Mediterranean, a protest meeting of seven or eight Powers who said "If this goes on we will direct our fleets to shoot at the submarines," and the stopping of the submarine trouble then and there without any reappearance of it from that time to this.
No doubt I shall be told that force failed in Abyssinia, and so it did. I do not wish to go back into that at any length, but I entirely disagree with the account of that given by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. I think that he, and those who took that view, did a very grave injury to the cause of peace in the world. I am satisfied that if this country and France had taken vigorous measures to prevent that invasion merely on the ground that it was a breach of the pledged word of the Italian Government and a destruction of the whole system of peace which was tried to be erected by the Covenant, if they had done what they could easily have done, they would have stopped that by main force, and I am satisfied that the whole history of the world would have been different from that day to this. If you say that was a failure of force, it was a failure because the nations concerned did not exert their whole force or anything like their whole force to carry out the object of the Covenant.
I want just to add this, and to beg my noble friend Lord Ponsonby to consider it. He objects to the existence of force in the Covenant. I understand that point of view. He objects to the existence of force altogether. He objects strongly to the rearmament of this country. He objects to armaments all over the world. He desires to see a world unarmed and at peace. So do I. So does every reasonable person in the world, or at any rate every reasonable person in these islands. No doubt it is a thing we ought to aim at. No doubt real peace is only attainable when no country is threatening another with armaments. But I am quite certain that that consummation is a very 272 long way off. I see no prospect of its being with us—I will not say in my life time, which is a small period, but within the next century. That being so, I do beg my noble friend to consider this. The issue is not whether we shall have force or no force in international affairs. If that were the issue I should be with him entirely. The issue is what kind of force are we going to have in international affairs? There I do find it very difficult to understand why he does not agree with me. He will say that is my natural arrogance of mind, but whatever the cause of it I do find it very difficult to understand why he does not agree that force controlled by international authority is far better than force at the disposition of each individual nation. That seems to be the essential thing, and that is why I still believe in collective security in its crudest and most obvious sense.
I agree that peace is to be sought by discussion and argument and negotiation in the first place, but when you come to the last moment then you must use force in preventing a breach of the peace just as you do in every civilised State amongst individuals and amongst groups of disorderly persons. I am told that is impracticable. That is not the real reason which moves my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield or my noble friend who is not here, Viscount Stonehaven, who have a great desire to maintain the right to use force. That is not my view at all. But others, Lord Newton, I think, but I am not quite sure, and a number of others say the thing is not practicable. They point to the withdrawal of certain nations. Those nations have not withdrawn because force is intended to be used but because force was not successfully used and therefore they thought the League no longer gave them the security relying on which they joined it. We are told—the noble Lord, Lord Newton, said it with very great strength—that you will not get anybody to fight except for their own interests. Of course not, but their interest is peace. Peace is the greatest interest we have, and we have sought it for decades if not for centuries. It is far more important for us that peace should be preserved than that we should maintain every yard or every inch of our territory or even every pound of our trade. The thing that matters is peace, and that is the only thing worth fighting for. If you cannot maintain peace noth- 273 ing else matters. It is because I believe you can do it, and that a large part of the nation is convinced that you can and will, that I still believe you must strive for this system of international co-operation backed up by collective security.
I will not deal with the other arguments that have been advanced on that line, but I want to deal with one other argument which I think was very much at the base of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby's speech and of several other speeches. Those speakers believe that if you abolish force from the Covenant you will find it much more easy to obtain the universal adhesion of all the Powers. I see no ground for that opinion at all. I think it is arguable that you might get the United States to come into the League if there was no force, but I very much doubt it. The United States will not come into the Court of International Justice, where there is no question of force. Though I think they are changing, or may be changing, they will not come into anything at present which involves entanglement, that is to say, mixture in international affairs. But I am quite sure that whatever may be true of the United States, Herr Hitler would not look at it for a moment. His position is quite simple: he does not believe in any international action at all.
Let me just read—because it is really important that this should be realised—what he said only the other day, somewhere or other. On November 6 he said:National-Socialism had demanded 'faith in our own people,' instead of in forces and ideas outside the Reich. Instead of international factors, such as democracy, conscience of the nations, international justice, League of Nations, and so on, they had set up one single factor—their own people.That is his point of view, and it is the point of view very largely of Signor Mussolini also. That is the point of view which is the real issue, if I could only induce my noble friends to see it. That is the real issue that is now dividing the world: Do you believe in pure nationalism, or do you believe in international co-operation? That is the real international issue. I believe that everyone in this room would believe in international co-operation; but do not let them imagine that, by whittling it away in this or in that respect, they will get Hitler or any of these people to come in and help them with a thing which he thinks is not only futile but almost immoral.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I do not know whether the noble Viscount will allow me to point out to him that there was no suggestion of real co-operation with Germany until the Prime Minister went out last September.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I do not think that has anything to do with it, if I may say so with great respect to my noble friend. The point is, what is Hitler's policy? Hitler's policy is not international co-operation. I have read that sentence, but my noble friend the Marquess of Londonderry, who I believe has made a study of these things, must be perfectly well aware that, right through the book Mein Kampf and over and over again in public speeches, the whole issue has been: "We rely on the strength of the German nation; that is all we care about." The defence for all their abominable action with regard to the Jews is the same: it is all the deification of the German nation, and they will not look at any kind of international co-operation. That is my conviction. Let us hope they will, and then you may get them in; but do not ask me to believe that it is a dislike of the use of force which is going to keep Herr Hitler out of any transaction. On the contrary, if he comes in at all he will be for making the use of force stronger than it ever was in the League of Nations.
I only want to say in conclusion—I am sorry to have detained your Lordships so long—that I admit, of course, that the peace machine which we have so laboriously built up has for some reason or other fallen out of gear. I think that is a tremendously serious state of things, because when you come to that ultimate choice, what are you going to do? You cannot surrender every time. You come to a point when you cannot surrender, when you have to fight. But whom are you going to fight, and with what allies are you going to fight? You are not going to try to take on all the totalitarian Powers, or even Germany, single-handed. How are you going to manage? That is what I want my noble friends to consider, if I may be allowed to say so without impertinence.
I see rumours of a triple alliance, offensive and defensive, between the three totalitarian Powers; but that is probably untrue. I see other rumours, of fresh mobilisation of German troops on the borders of Czechoslovakia; that may be 275 true. But in any case there you are, and there you have this great nation, very powerful, led by a man who, whatever his defects may be, has a profound belief in the justice of his own opinion, who is educating, elaborately and deliberately, his people to think that war and death on the battlefield are the greatest things in the world, and is training his children in the schools in that belief. You have to face that position. Your best hope, I think your only hope, is a revival and strengthening of the League of Nations. I earnestly hope that my noble friends will, as I have no doubt they have constantly done, seriously consider this question and that, if they agree with the last words which I have spoken, they will set about this tremendous task—for it is a tremendous task—without delay and with complete energy.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, every one of the speakers in your Lordships' House this afternoon has expressed approval of the general idea of international co-operation. The main cleavage of opinion has been on whether at this moment we should try to increase the number of countries that are prepared to co-operate internationally by removing the coercive clauses from the Covenant; or whether we should stick to those clauses, insist on those powers remaining in the Covenant, and go ahead without the co-operation of the Powers which are now outside. I agree with the noble Lord on his general proposition. As I understand it, he wishes to drop the coercive clauses and to have co-operation in the economic—and I understand he would not exclude the humanitarian—activities of the League; and, thirdly, he would like to have periodical consultations on what I will call for short the political questions. That is, I understand, broadly speaking, the proposition which he put before your Lordships.
As I see it, the fate of the League may be decided one way or the other in the very near future; in the next year or two. One of the reasons why I am glad that we have these periodical discussions, particularly at this moment, is that there is a very real danger of more Powers resigning from the League. Recent events make that a very possible reality, and it would undoubtedly weaken the League. I think therefore that we should make every effort along the line indicated by the noble 276 Lord, Lord Ponsonby; that is, of trying to increase international co-operation. Our first aim should, however, be to find the questions on which an increasing number of countries will co-operate and meet to consult. The usual statement is that the League's prestige was high and continued to be high until 1931, but that since 1931 it has diminished; that since 1931 the National Government have been in office; and that therefore the National Government are responsible for the diminution of the prestige of the League. That appears to me to be a very good illustration of the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. I have spent a considerable amount of time recently in looking up the history of events before 1931, reading books on international activities and the activities of the League. The very firm conclusion I have arrived at is that what happened after 1931 is the inevitable sequel of what happened between 1919 and 1931.
As I see it, there are two causes for the so-called failure of the League. One is the inherent constitutional weakness of the League, and about that I will say something in a moment. The other is that the League was used to try to prop up the Versailles Treaty. On the first point I do not think that the supporters of the League have appreciated sufficiently the fight which took place in the United States over a hundred years ago when the Constitution of the United States was set up. The fight, represented by Alexander Hamilton, succeeded. I believe the League has not succeeded because it is not a federation, it is not an organic union. At the present moment we see that it is proposed to alter the Constitution of Australia. The States have surrendered many powers to the Commonwealth Government, but it is found that the machinery is still creaking, and the Commonwealth Government is proposing, with the consent of the States, to have increased powers. It has been found that the Commonwealth is not enough of a Super-State. Geneva is not a Super-State, and it is because so many people assume that it is a Super-State that they have been continuously disappointed.
Geneva is not a Legislature, and does not make International Laws and cannot amend so-called International Laws. I would like to quote two sentences from a well-known authority in his book The League of Nations and the Rule of Law. There is no one so competent to express 277 an opinion as Professor Zimmern, because he often goes to Geneva and attends all the meetings of the Council. First of all he says:The League is not a central Government but merely a centre of influence.In the second place he says:The notion of law and the notion of change are in fact complementary.'It is because Geneva has had no power or authority to effect change that there has been this constant disappointment, and we have found ourselves faced with the eminently unsatisfactory position before us now. So, as I see it, the first reason for the failure of the League has been the inherent weakness of its constitution as set out in the Covenant. The second reason is that the League has been used far too often by some of the leading Members of the League to prop up the Versailles Treaty. When the United States decided not to join the League or guarantee the security of France, France, perhaps quite understandably, made a series of alliances, and what I will call for short the French bloc formed a bloc at Geneva to preserve the status, quo, and against revision. It is because the League was unable to attempt to rectify some of the chief mistakes connected with the Versailles Treaty that we find ourselves in our present position.
The noble Viscount who preceded me referred to certain failures of the League to use force after 1931. I could quote, and I propose to quote, at least two, and possibly more, instances where the League failed before 1931 to use force because of the inherent difficulties to which I have referred. The first case which I will quote is that of Corfu, and the second Vilna. In the case of Corfu, Italy occupied Corfu. Greece protested to the League, and Italy withdrew ultimately, not because of the strong action of the League but because. Greece was persuaded privately to pay a very heavy indemnity to Italy. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, will agree that Professor Toynbee is a most impartial commentator on international events. In his survey on international affairs he says:The affair cast doubt upon the fundamental prerogatives of the Council of the League.And Professor Carr, another authority on international events, referring to Corfu in his International Relations since Peace Treaties, says: 278The moral appeared to be that the allied Governments were not prepared through the League or otherwise to take action against one of their number in defence of a small Power.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
As my noble friend has continually referred to me I may say that I entirely disagree with the two professors. I was there the whole time, and I do not think that was true at all. I think it is perfectly true that the great Powers did not wish to use force if they could get their way without force, but that the result was so produced is not true. According to my recollection the matter was debated with great frankness in the Council, and after that had gone on for some time we were informed that the Greeks and the Italians had agreed, and would rather transfer the matter to the Council of Ambassadors. The League thereupon said that they were only there to settle the matter if the parties could not agree a settlement.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
I did not think that the noble Viscount would agree to my statement, and therefore I was careful to quote from two authorities. As to Vilna, your Lordships may remember that a Polish general, with an armed force, occupied Vilna, which had been handed over to Lithuania by Russia. Lithuania appealed to the League, and after over two years the plea of fait accompli was accepted.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I remember that case very well. Lord Balfour represented us at the time. There was perhaps too much discussion between the two, and at the end the Belgian Foreign Secretary, M. Hymans, who presided over the Committee, made certain propositions, which were rejected by the Polish Government and also by the Lithuanian Government, and it was because of the complete rejection by both parties that the League felt they could do nothing more. Then, of course, as your Lordships will remember, there was under a certain Polish general, General Zeligowski, an independent and spontaneous movement which occupied Vilna at a critical moment, and I remember an eloquent and scathing speech on this ambiguous general by Lord Balfour.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
Again I have to quote an eminent historian, Professor Toynbee, who periodically brings out a volume about events as he sees them. He says: 279Once again the League found itself unable to execute a decision which could not be realised without the assistance of armed forces.I am not suggesting that what happened at Corfu or Vilna, or even Upper Silesia, was just or equitable. I merely quoted these illustrations and the authorities in support of my point of view to show that before 1931 acts of injustice and of aggression were committed and were not rectified by the use of force by the League.
I have tried to explain why I do not believe it is possible for the League with the present Covenant and its present constitution, so long as it is not a federation, to use coercion in any and every case, and I think it is only a delusion to think that it can. In the pre-1931 period there was absence of war—I prefer that rather than to say peace, because certainly there was not a peaceful attitude over Europe. And there I would venture to challenge the noble Viscount's statement that the greatest interest of this country is peace. I believe the greatest interest of this country is justice, and I believe that the League has lost prestige because it has not been able to remove the sense of injustice which existed in Europe after the War arising out of the Treaty of Versailles. The danger to the League to-day is lest it should become an anti-German military alliance. I think that is a very real danger. As I indicated just now, I think that unless we can increase the number of Powers who are prepared to co-operate internationally, we may find ourselves with an increasing number of resignations from the League, which would tend to weaken it still further.
As regards English public opinion, I think that the whole ideal of the League is endangered by the fact that to a very large extent the critics of the Government's foreign policy use the alleged failures of the League since 1931 with which to belabour the Government. And there is another real danger—the danger arising from the efforts of those who still try to make the public believe that the League can, through collective security, relieve us of the task of defending ourselves.
I speak as one who is whole-heartedly in favour of the principle of international co-operation. I believe it is the one hope for the future. I think that the one hope 280 for keeping that principle alive to-day is that we should, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, suggests, drop the coercive clauses of the League, concentrate on its humanitarian and economic activities, and use the League as what I might call a glorified Whitley Council. In this country we are threatened periodically with industrial strife. We have set up consultative machinery, the Whitley Councils. I believe that if we could look upon Geneva as being an International Whitley Council, where political questions could be dealt with by consultation, without force coming automatically behind it, we should be able to keep the League alive. It may be that at some future time world opinion may be ready for federation. Personally I should welcome that, whether it were along the lines of the United States of Europe, as M. Briand suggested, or whether it were something on a greater scale; but at the present moment what we want to do is to build the foundations for international co-operation. Do not let us attempt to put the roof on until we have got the foundations adequately secure.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, I do not know how far it is true, as my noble friend behind me said, that on the occasion of these periodic debates about the League of Nations everybody knows fairly accurately before they are initiated what line all the several speakers will take. It is certainly not wholly true, but even if it were true I think that we are none the less in the noble Lord's debt for having initiated a debate that has in every quarter of the House produced speeches which, even if they were familiar, are none the worse for that, and have been extremely stimulating and suggestive. I do not flatter myself, if Lord Newton's charge be true, with being able to be more successful than, or as successful as, noble Lords who have addressed you in throwing new light on these topics, but I must make the attempt.
The noble Lord who initiated the debate, following up thereby that most interesting letter that your Lordships remember he addressed to The Times a month or six weeks ago, was more fortunate to-day than he has sometimes been by enjoying the support of 75 or 90 per cent. of the eminent gentlemen who make speeches from his own Front Bench, and 281 we naturally were glad to see some reunion taking place on the Benches opposite. The noble Lord himself, to whose speech we all listened with our usual enjoyment, has a robust faith in human nature and in the compelling power of reason, which I think every member of the House may well envy him. In effect, he asks His Majesty's Government that they should proceed to close international consultation on the underlying causes of complaint and friction between nations, in the belief that once the political and the military obligations are removed from the Covenant, all nations would in fact be ready to join the League, which would then become a body in quasi-permanent session for examining the causes of international conflict.
There are obviously two assumptions there that have already been examined by those who have taken part in the debate. The first assumption is that it is only the necessity of the acceptance of obligations that prevents the League from being universal, and I am bound to say that on that point I am very largely in agreement with what fell from the noble Viscount who spoke just now. If I believed, or if any of your Lordships believed, that a League which laid no obligations on its Members could really bring the whole civilised world into fruitful consultation with the hope of a satisfactory conclusion, then I, and not I alone but I imagine responsible members of Governments in every country, would rapidly go to Geneva prepared to do their best to bring so eminently desirable a consummation into effect. But I ask myself where in fact is the proof, even the reasonable basis for such a supposition?
The second implication of the noble Lord's Motion on the Paper seems to me to be that it is the failure to deal with the economic and financial and Colonial problems that leads to international unrest. I would be far from denying the importance of any of these factors. The founders of the League realised their probable significance, and of course, as we all know, equipped the League with machinery to deal with them. That machinery still functions, and functions to a considerable extent with the support of non-members of the League. But the point surely is that the world which has benefited, and which continues to benefit, from that machinery is still 282 ringing in our ears with the noise of war, the noise of conflict, the thunder of threats and with cries of hatred, in spite of all the work that is being done on these very important topics all the time. Therefore my conclusion is that the noble Lord's suggestion, unhappily, is only partially justified, and the reason is surely this, that in addition to these causes there are, as we know, psychological, moral: and spiritual forces at work, and without a profound spiritual regeneration of the nations of the world—and I do not in any way except our own—I do not know whether we shall in fact succeed in fulfilling what must be the fundamental purpose of the noble Lord, as it is of every one of us—namely, the prevention of war.
The noble Viscount, of course, spoke for us all when he said that that must be the fundamental purpose of every thoughtful man inside and outside your Lordships' House, and it certainly was the passionate ambition of those who founded the League. They thought—I apologise for repeating what are platitudes, but they are not always remembered—that they could achieve it by combining the forces of the overwhelming majority against a hypothetical law-breaker. The argument from national to international life twenty years ago sounded both logical and plausible. It appeared to be practicable because it postulated that everybody, or at least all the great Powers, concurred in the plan, that, therefore, as I have said, the hypothetical law-breaker would be faced with irresistible force, and that the nations would be so united that they would be able to arrive at an agreement on a wide measure of disarmament. Side by side with that plan for the prevention of war were the provisions for revising treaties, and the scheme of international co-operation on other questions of a nonpolitical kind, so that it really was true at that time to think of the League as General Smuts thought of it, and as Mr. Lloyd George says in one of his recent volumes on the Peace Treaties, not as a deus ex machina coming into action now and then on special occasions, but as a constant factor of international life.
That was the conception, and the successful execution of that particular political plan was, as we all know, very early obstructed by an unhappy combination of circumstances and events. First, 283 as my noble friend had in mind, the United States withdrew from it. Then for some time Germany was not allowed to join it, and, thirdly, Russia remained outside it, and for some years indeed, in declared hostility to it. Worse perhaps than any of these things was that the main prerequisite of success was lacking—namely, that there was not a sufficient measure of mutual trust between the nations. The great project, therefore, of preventing and forestalling a return to the terrors of war became too closely identified, as one of your Lordships said this afternoon, with the terms and atmosphere of the Treaty of Versailles. Whatever excuses we may find for it, the fact is that national emotions were powerful to check the development of an international sense. In the result there were countries who were preoccupied with the problem of their own security; there were other countries obsessed with a sense of injustice; and those countries who suffered from neither of these emotions were so vividly conscious of the experience of the years of war, 1914 to 1918, even if they had not directly participated, that they became more and more reluctant to engage in any war which did not seem to be immediately dictated by a regard for what they, rightly or wrongly, considered their vital interests.
All that has a bearing, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, knows very well, on the conception and ideal which we have all shared, and which we all share, of collective security. But when he reproaches me with disloyalty to the ideal of collective security because, forsooth, I am alleged to be a subconscious victim—only one-ninth conscious—of class prejudice against Russia, the only thing I can say to him is that I wish I felt sure that his attitude on international problems was as little affected by his judgment on the internal régime in Germany and Italy as mine is affected by the internal régime in Russia.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, made an observation which has been really answered by my noble friend Lord Astor, but to which none the less I must refer. He addressed himself to some extent to what he alleged to be the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about force being no remedy, and with a great deal of his argument—if I may humbly say so, a well constructed and powerful 284 argument—I find myself in complete agreement, but not altogether, and perhaps not with the most important parts of it. He used a phrase that explains a good deal of the difference between himself and myself as it did the difference between himself and Lord Astor. He used a phrase, in a general commendation of the League of Nations idea, about the importance of what he called force controlled by international authority. With all respect to him that is exactly what the League of Nations cannot and does not give you under its present constitution, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, pointed out with great force. That is what the noble Lord who speaks from those Benches (Lord Davies) is often asking for and what others of your Lordships tell him is impossible for him to get under the present constitution of the League of Nations.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
What I meant was this, that under the conception of the League there is to be no war at all except a League war. That is the conception of the League, that all wars which are not League wars are to be suppressed. I am putting it very crudely, but that is the conception, and in that sense force can only be used subject to the assent of the League.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I should agree at once with my noble friend if it were possible always to adjust facts exactly into the framework of our desires, but that is exactly what makes the world so baffling, because you cannot always do that. When my noble friend speaks about Corfu, on which I am bound to say my recollections largely went with that of the noble Viscount, and Greece and Bulgaria, one is I think bound to make a comment—we are all bound to make it as honest men—that what may have been possible for the League to do in 1923 is not necessarily possible for the League to do in 1938, and you do not do the League any service in trying to blink facts because they are difficult and unaccommodating. Facing the reality of the kind of wars that the world has got to face today, I think it is misleading to talk about force controlled by an international authority because, in fact, the only force that the League of Nations could control, however much nations supported it, would be an international force operating for international ends, and it is just at that 285 point that nations, for the reasons that are extremely familiar to us all, feel difficulty. The noble Viscount I think went so far as to say—he will correct me if I do him injustice—that as we have to make the choice between force used for anti-international ends and force used for international ends we ought to use force for international ends. Would he seriously feel that this country ought to have been committed to war against Italy, or against Japan over Manchukuo, or now against Japan over China? If he is prepared to say that, he is taking a heavy responsibility and one which I do not think he would share with the majority of the people in this country.
There is also this. I think we must remember that during those easier years of ten or fifteen years ago—I think it was a good deal more—it was more simple for people to say and to believe, in the sense in which the noble Viscount I am sure firmly believes to-day, that peace is the greatest interest of us all; that, therefore, at every point you must if necessary be prepared to fight to preserve peace; and that men would fight always for that great ideal. It becomes more difficult if the probability of fighting is at least as great as the probability of preserving peace without fighting, and at once there comes on to the stage, or there may come on to the stage, a conflict, as I see it, between two ideals. I have stated my difficulty in that respect before in this House and I repeat it now only in a sentence. What happens if one ideal is opposed by another of equal validity? On the one hand you have the ideal of justice and law, for which perhaps you ought to make great sacrifices; on the other you have the ideal, not less honourable, of doing your best to secure that the men and women and children of this country are not debarred from opportunities for the development of national life, or indeed from any life at all.
I am bound to say that as I look over the world I see plenty of causes for pain and distress in the contemplation of the international state of affairs to-day, but I think that an impartial and dispassionate review of it suggests that the danger, or the difficulty, very often comes less from the assault of the wrongdoer than from the conflict of opposing conceptions as to where the ideal rightly leads. There are critics of His Majesty's Government who reproach us for not being willing to take 286 all risks in support of what they regard as the cause of right. I respect such critics, but surely even they, or many of them, must admit distinctions, and would not claim that this country could be a kind of Moral High Commissioner of the world irrespective of geography and irrespective of the practical application of these moral principles that we all accept. But if they go as far as that, then surely they are bound to admit that the question does fall to be decided in all these difficult cases by something other than the mere test of right and wrong.
In this dilemma, therefore, what are we to do when the machine that is invoked to prevent war manifestly—I do not think any of us will differ from this—cannot do all in every case that was expected of it? I recognise with my noble friend Lord Londonderry that the League is but the outward expression of the capacities of its individual Members. It is unfair to blame the League for what are the responsibilities, it may be the shortcomings, of its individual Members, and it is quite unnecessary for me to say anything more as to the reasons that, rightly or wrongly, have restricted and do restrict the activities of individual Members in the carrying out of the obligations laid down in the Covenant. The noble Lord, Lord Marley, reminded us of something which is constantly worth remembering, that even the Dominions of the British Empire are not always united upon the method of their interpretation and application.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
Then the noble Lord is even more unprincipled than I ventured to think he was, because he positively rejoices in chaos. I acknowledge chaos, but do not rejoice in it.
What I meant was that I was glad, not when His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom is wrong but when, occasionally, His Majesty's Government in one of the Dominions is right.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
It is always right to feel that there are some righteous men surviving wherever they may live. If I may come back to my argument. I want to commend this to the noble Lords opposite as a personal expression of my own feeling. I must confess to a feeling 287 that it is morally damaging to the League, in the presence of what we all feel to be unjustifiable aggression, to find admirable and persuasive reasons for not taking action to prevent it—action which the Covenant appears to demand and which, if those measures could ever be universally applied, would I have no doubt be powerful enough to prevent the aggression. For that reason I, like the noble Lord who moved the Motion and like the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who supported him, but I fancy for reasons different from the reasons of both of them, am sometimes inclined to think that it would be better to face the facts frankly and cut out from the Covenant all those coercive clauses which we must acknowledge to-day to be, at the best, extremely difficult, if not impossible, of application. That is a feeling to which I am often tempted, but calmer reflection leads me to acknowledge to myself that there are very weighty reasons against so drastic a course. I do not believe it would command the approval of the majority of the people of this country; it would divide the forces of those who should be united in respect of the League of Nations ideal, and, beyond all that it would cause great dissension among the Members of the League, and would, I think, have the effect of still further weakening its organisation, which is the last thing any of us ought to wish to do.
In view of that conflict between the real and the ideal His Majesty's Government sought at Geneva last September to put forward their carefully considered views. Your Lordships will perhaps have had the opportunity of seeing them. We felt obliged to face the fact that developments unforeseen by the founders of the League had in fact made sanctions non-compulsory. To persist in the opposite assertion, in the opposite plan, and to refuse permanently to take account of that development, would in our view have meant, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor fears, not only the indefinite alienation from the League of other non-member States but the more immediate certainty of its abandonment by some of its most loyal Members. His Majesty's Government therefore made a statement to the effect that they recognise that the principles of the Covenant remain unaltered, but that each case for international action under Article 16 must be judged on its 288 merits and that there was no unconditional obligation on Members to take measures under that Article. At the same time they affirmed that that interpretation did not derogate from the principle that a resort to war concerned the whole League, on whom there still remains the obligation to consult in that event.
That initiative on the part of His Majesty's Government at Geneva found considerable approval and support, but it was criticised, as your Lordships may have seen, by a few, and the Assembly thereupon adopted a Report containing all the various declarations made and concluding with the assertion that recourse to war was a matter towards which no Member was entitled to adopt an attitude of indifference. That therefore is the position of His Majesty's Government to-day in regard to the so-called coercive clauses. It is perhaps worth observing in passing that there is nothing in that attitude to preclude arrangements, such for example as the guarantee to Czechoslovakia, to which the noble Lord referred, being made in the spirit of the Covenant and with the explicit or implicit approval of the League under which certain countries can, if they so desire, undertake obligations to support the efforts of one another in protecting the cause of peace. Indeed, of course, such an arrangement was the Treaty of Locarno and the strength of that arrangement was that it did reconcile in fact the obligations of League membership with the protection of vital national interests of individual States.
In all this, we have never lost sight of what has been more than once said, that peace is not the mere absence of war and that the prevention of war must have some positive corollary. We have repeatedly expressed our desire to see greater use made of provisions of the Covenant which appeared to offer the possibility of bringing about peaceful change. If your Lordships have occasion to do so you will perhaps be able to inform yourselves more precisely than I here wish to detain your Lordships to do, as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government, made clear at the Assembly of the League last September, on Article 11, which is important in that regard.
I am glad that some reference has been made this afternoon to the degree to which non-Member States are associated with the non-political organisations of the League. I agree most heartily with the 289 noble Lord who moved the Motion in the desire to see all that maintained and developed, and at the last Assembly, I think I am right in saying, the British Delegation did move a Resolution in that sense which has been sent to all nonmember States. I agree also with my noble friend the Earl of Mansfield, who I know has had to leave the House, as to the importance in this connection of the United States and I was frankly surprised—if it were not that I have almost lost the faculty of surprise when listening to my noble friend Lord Strabolgi—to hear him charge the Government with what I think he called neglect of the United States. He said that no eminent person, if I may use the phrase of the debate, had gone to Washington since the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald went some years ago.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I would not limit the class of eminent persons to the ranks of Ministers. However, that was the charge, that no eminent Minister had been to the United States. But he has, incidentally, overlooked the fact that my noble friend Viscount Runciman went there while still a Cabinet Minister and was able to establish most valuable personal contacts during his visit to the United States, at the end I think of the year 1935. He also may have seen in the Press in the last day or two that Mr. Anthony Eden is going to the United States at the end of the week. While he is not a Minister at the present time, he is going there with the fullest assent and approval of His Majesty's Government, and I have no doubt that his visit to the United States will be extremely valuable for the establishment of the same contacts that my noble friend behind me was able to make.
Will the noble Viscount forgive me interrupting him? I am sorry I had overlooked the visit of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman. It was quite unintentional and there was no sort of reflection on the noble Viscount.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I am quite sure nobody had it in mind to allege anything against the noble Lord opposite except a temporary loss of memory.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
Still on this point of whether the charge of neglect of the United States is at all justifiable, I am bound to point out that many months and much activity on the part of His Majesty's Government have been employed in bringing, I am glad to say, to a successful conclusion, the Trade Agreement with America which the noble Lord has no doubt read and which he will remember was a matter expressly recommended by M. van Zeeland. Therefore, when people suggest that His Majesty's Government are neglectful of America or of the wisdom contained in M. van Zeeland's Report, I hope that the noble Lord, if he hears that outside, will give the answer "Trade Agreement," which is an effective answer to both.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
Not necessarily complete, but effective. Lastly, I would assure the noble Lord opposite that I am quite sure every member of your Lordships' House is fully sensible of the immense benefit that His Majesty is conferring upon international relations by making the highest and best effort, in that the King himself, with Her Majesty the Queen, is going to the United States in June.
I also welcome, but need not I think elaborate, the value of the work done by non-member States at Geneva in all the technical and social and humanitarian activities of the League. I am entirely with all noble Lords who have stressed that. Then there is the work of the International Labour Office, of which I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, it is impossible to speak too highly. It was a great pleasure to His Majesty's Government to have the opportunity only a short time ago of welcoming the Governing Body of the International Labour Office to London. With all that I would associate the economic and financial organisation, and the new High Commission for Refugees, which beginning in January next, is to combine the duties of the Nansen Office and the League Commission on German refugees. I am the more interested in that because that work is to be under the direction of a distinguished public servant in India with whom I had the honour of serving, Sir Herbert Emerson, former Governor of the Punjab.
291 I mention those examples in order to show what flexibility and comprehensiveness there are about the organisation of the League, which, as I think, without any such wholesale revision as the noble Lord demands, does in fact make it readily available for effective use in the direction that he wishes when Governments and peoples have the desire so to use it. His Majesty's Government certainly have that will and that desire. If there are dangers, as I think there are, on the side of laying burdens on the League too heavy for its shoulders to bear, I certainly agree that there is an equally great danger in allowing the machinery of the League to rust and to fall into decay. I hope that we may succeed in avoiding that danger. I certainly do not believe—any more than, I fancy, any of your Lordships believes—in short cuts to the restoration of international good will. I do not think there is any magic wand that anyone can wave of a kind that would produce any such happy and immediate results. But certainly we should not wish to neglect any way of achieving that main purpose, whether by the use of this or that part of the machinery of the Covenant of the League where it could usefully be invoked.
After what we did at Geneva last September we do not feel that it would be possible or advisable for us to make any further proposals at the present time. That is not to say that we are indifferent to any suggestion, from wherever it may come, offering greater efficiency or wider acceptance of the League's activities. I was glad to hear the noble Lord who introduced the Motion, or another of your Lordships, speak of what seemed to me a very notable utterance the other day by General Smuts. General Smuts made two concrete suggestions for reform, on which, while not myself expressing any firm opinion, I would only make the observation that I think they deserve the consideration of all of us. Your Lordships will remember that he suggested giving the United States a special basis of membership and forming a Standing Committee of the great Powers as an essential part of the League machinery. Both of those suggestions, it seemed to me when I read them, should be of particular interest and should deserve close study. They are not immediately, of course, before your Lordships' House, 292 and they do not arise out of the Motion, but as the noble Lord mentioned General Smuts I think I might make that comment.
Perhaps of greater immediate concern was the final passage of the same speech of General Smuts, in which he declared that no alternative to the League as a system of peace had yet been found, and that to scrap it, to leave a vacuum, would be an immense waste of effort and would leave the world, in all probability, without any reasonable means of procedure. That, I think, is profoundly true, and I should certainly be very proud to make General Smuts' words my own. The process of consultation between nations to-day is, or seems to me to be, a condition of international life, an imperative necessity in our civilisation. But what Disraeli said of our national society is, I am afraid, equally applicable to the civilised world at large. He said:It is a community of purpose that constitutes society. Without that, men may be thrown into contiguity, but they still continue virtually isolated.It is that community of purpose, which must rest upon a positive faith in peace and justice between nations, for which His Majesty's Government must constantly seek to work.
But there is, my Lords, one thing that must in that connection be plainly said. Good relations between nations are in the nature of a bridge to span those accidental differences of race and outlook and interest and tradition by which nations are perforce divided. Bridge-builders have to work from both ends, otherwise the structure that they seek to raise will never bear the strain. In the same way and for the same reason, good relations in the international field can never be created on the principle of one-way traffic, but all concerned have to make equal contribution if they sincerely desire the same end. It is no doubt very difficult for one nation fully to understand another, and, through their innate tendencies in some directions to self-depreciation, the British people are particularly at times liable to give an impression of themselves that may be misleading. But I think it would be a complete misunderstanding of the British temper if anyone thought that, because our people to-day regard peace as the greatest interest of the world, they would be any less resolute than they have ever been, should the need arise, to maintain 293 those things on which their national and their Imperial life depends.
I do not, however, think—and this has been suggested by other speakers in the debate—that our people are alone in their appreciation of what is involved for the world in the difference between success and failure in maintaining peace. Unless I am greatly mistaken, this positive faith in peace is more widely spread and more deeply rooted in all the peoples of the world than is sometimes supposed. In spite of much discouragement to-day, I believe with the noble Lord opposite that it is through the instinctive conviction of the common people in every land as to both the necessity and the possibility of all nations living peaceably and orderly together, that we shall succeed in bringing to reality the inspiration which underlies to-day, as twenty years ago, all efforts to lead the world to better things.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary for the very full answer that he has given at the conclusion of this debate. It was certainly less unsatisfactory than I expected that it would be. I do not apologise to your Lordships at all for having put this Motion down, because we have had nine or ten extremely interesting speeches, and really there was quite a lot of new material in a good many of them. I should like to take up the challenge of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. I think he is coming along, but it is taking a long time, and he has the disconcerting way, when you quote a case, of saying "But I was there"; and of course it is impossible to contradict him! But I must say that he nurses certain fallacies with extraordinary eagerness when he says there have got to be only League wars, and in the intervals you have to have wars to suppress wars. The faith he showed in the League as at present 294 constituted is touching, but I think it is waning.
What does surprise me, if I may say so, both in the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and in the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, is the extraordinary lack of confidence they seem to have in the moral forces. I am not speaking about spiritual revivals, and going to church and praying. I simply mean trying to do the decent thing, and avoiding the indecent thing. I want to see Governments and statesmen building foundations, however slowly, with the full intention of building sound foundations for peace, and therefore doing the decent thing, and to avoid piling up the country's wealth with a view eventually to the destruction of human life on an unprecedented scale, which I call doing the indecent thing. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Before the Motion is withdrawn may I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he intends to lay on the Table, as has often been done before, a Report of the proceedings at the Assembly, because I shall be glad to see in print the exact statement to which he referred just now.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
The noble Viscount will perhaps allow me to make inquiries. I shall be very glad to do it if I can.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.