§ Debate again resumed (according to Order).1434
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I should like to preface my remarks by saying what an extreme delight it was to many on these Benches that we should have been able to listen to that most eloquent speech from Earl Baldwin yesterday. I am quite sure I am expressing the wish of every member of this House that the noble Earl may see his way to contribute often to our debates. He probably little recognises how valuable his contributions may be to us, and what assistance they may give to your Lordships' House.
As a Quaker I was reared in a belief in peace principles, and the old Liberal watchwords began with "Peace" as the greatest interest. I only hope that that watchword may still be clung to by the whole of the Liberal Party, because I conceive that nothing could be more important in these days than that we should follow peace principles. In 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium and France, I realised as a member of the then Cabinet, with my colleagues, that there was no alternative but to meet force with force if both honour and the interest of our country, which were at stake, were not to be forgotten. I then resigned my position as President of the Peace Society, but I held then a great belief in those principles of peace, and I still hold it. In the few words which I desire to address to your Lordships I want to advocate those principles so far as I possibly can. At the same time I would make it quite clear that certain circumstances may occur, as they did in 1914, to necessitate meeting aggression with force. I realise the importance and the necessity of our military, naval and air forces being properly equipped and ready for any emergency. I do not believe that we can compete in numbers with some of the other nations, but I think we may exceed them in the quality of our services.
Believing as I do that all international disputes ought to be settled by negotiation and, if necessary, by arbitration, and not by war, I ask what is the result of the settlement which has been reached by the Prime Minister with the help of M. Daladier and other potentates in their meeting at Munich. Civilisation has been saved from an overwhelming disaster too terrible to contemplate, and I desire to express my own personal gratitude to the Prime Minister for what he has done. I do not think I am overstating the matter 1435 when I say that future generations will regard the Prime Minister's achievement as one of the most magnificent personal deeds recorded in history. Secondly, I think a situation has been created by that settlement which has opened the door to a lasting peace. It has to be followed up step by step, and many difficulties will have to be overcome; but the attention of the world may now be directed not to continuing ever-increasing armaments in rivalry with one another, but to a different attitude, and to a change of thought, which may direct the efforts of peoples to rely upon reason rather than upon war.
I think that the prospects of the Czechs may be summed up in this statement: that they are now to receive a guarantee, at any rate, for their independence and, as I understand has been said by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence in another place yesterday, if there is actual unprovoked aggression. Before I sit down I will ask the noble Earl who is going to reply, exactly whether that limitation is going to remain in those words of the Minister of Defence, or what other information he may be able to give to your Lordships with regard to the proposed treaty for that guarantee. But the Czech Government, while receiving that guarantee in connection with its diminished area, has been saved from a disaster of an overwhelming character and, in the event of war, perhaps from seizure of a much greater extent of territory, and from devastating slaughter of the Czechoslovak inhabitants. I want, if I may, to pay my humble tribute to the Foreign Secretary in these difficult times. I have always been convinced that he himself believed that war was not really inevitable, and that his efforts would be directed to securing peace alongside those of the Prime Minister. I believe he has contributed in no small measure to the efforts of the Prime Minister in the very difficult task he has undertaken and carried through so successfully.
When I look to the causes of the situation, I cannot help feeling that Geneva and the League of Nations have been partly to blame for the situation which has arisen. So long as the League of Nations could be regarded as a means by which disputes might be settled by representation, by help being given in connection with negotiations, where moral 1436 suasion might be used and conciliatory methods adopted, I believe that the League of Nations would have the support of every nation both in America and in Europe, and would be a virile and very influential body. In my judgment the downfall of the League has been due to a reliance on the use of an international force, which in my opinion could not have been effective in carrying out the decisions of the League. A force of that kind, I think, could never have been properly implemented, and reliance upon force was an objectionable feature in the operations of the League of Nations. I trust that before long, although the path may be difficult, the League of Nations may be recreated on right lines, and that the Government will direct their efforts in that direction.
What are the other outstanding facts which have led to the present situation? The boundaries of Czechoslovakia ought never to have been agreed to at Versailles. The maladministration of the Sudeten area during the last twenty years by the Czechoslovakian Government was to a certain extent oppressive, and although that oppression has been exaggerated in certain quarters, it has become very clear from the Report of Lord Runciman. I do not think, in spite of what the Foreign Secretary said in his opening speech, that his Mission has really been a failure. It has helped to clear the situation, and Lord Runciman has pointed out quite definitely that it was quite impossible for the Sudeten Germans, in the areas where they had a majority, to mix satisfactorily any longer with the Czech population, who were in a minority and who were their oppressors. That seemed to be quite impossible. Therefore something had to be done in order to meet the situation, and the only way to meet it was to secure a rectification of the frontiers. There were two ways of doing that, either by force or by negotiation, and it is a matter of great gratification to this country that through the efforts of the Prime Minister peace has been secured and war has not prevailed. Given these facts, I ask why should the transfer of this territory be regarded as a grave injustice to the Government of Czechoslovakia?
I do not think any good can come by denouncing Herr Hitler as an individual whose policy ought to be in every direction defied. I want the House to realise 1437 what the people of Germany feel in regard to Herr Hitler. They may not all be behind him in connection with his war attitude and his desire in certain circumstances to use force, but they have realised that during the Nazi period a great improvement has occurred in their country. When the Führer started his work there were 6,000,000 unemployed; to-clay there is not an unemployed person in the whole of Germany. The progress and productivity of the country have been remarkable. Roads have been made so that anybody can travel from one end of the country to the other, and arrangements have been made or are being made so that everyone can have a motor car in order to travel about the country on those roads. In Italy we find exactly the same feeling existing towards Signor Mussolini. He has improved the situation in Italy to an extent which was thought after the War to be quite impossible. Crime has diminished, production has increased, and the unity of the people is much greater than it has ever been before.
It is very little good therefore denouncing Herr Hitler. We may, as we do, deplore the oppression of the Jews and the restrictions on religion, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said yesterday, we cannot shoulder all the evils in the world. But when we consider what the settlement has done and is doing and what can be done through that settlement, I have no doubt myself that we ought to accept that settlement with open hands and whole-heartedly. During the periods of the War when I was not in office I spent a good deal of time in France and Italy, where I saw not only the graves of thousands of my countrymen and an enormous number of wounded coming back from the front and in the hospitals, but also the gradual devastation of village and town one after another. I need only allude to those places which occur first to my mind, places like Béthune, La Bassée, Armentières, Bailleul, Albert and many others. It was a gradual devastation but it was complete, and at the end there was not a house left in any of those towns and villages. When you contrast the situation then caused by bomb and shot and shell, and think of what it would be to-day, you have to picture a very different result. Instead of devastation being gradual it would be rapid. A city 1438 like London might within a week perhaps be destroyed; all our sources of supply for water, for gas and for electricity might be destroyed within the first week. We might have 300,000 casualties, and the damage would be instantaneous. And it would not be only in the City of London; similar devastation would take place in many other towns in the country and in many other countries of Europe.
Well, a week ago we were all considering whether we should have trenches in which we could take refuge, whether gas masks would fit us, what we could do to secure the safety of ourselves and those dear to us, how we were to evacuate the children from our populous places. Then the critics of the Government to-day were moved by exactly those fears which were in the minds of us all, and I feel rather apt to lose patience with some of those critics who are prepared to denounce the Government for the present settlement which has been reached. If you are going to consider the sufferings of the evacuated refugee population from the Sudeten areas, those sufferings fade into insignificance compared with the sufferings which our civil population, let alone our Naval and Military and Air Forces, might suffer in the event of a war. Almost millions of innocent souls would be killed or maimed as the result of a war of that kind; and it does seem to me unfortunate that representatives of the Labour Party and Peers like the noble Lords, Lord Strabolgi and Lord Lloyd, should advocate a policy which would inevitably have led to war and have produced the terrible conditions to which I have referred. It rather reminds me of the little incident of a mouse which ran away from a cat under a cellar door. It found in the cellar a little drop of beer. It drank that beer and so it got a little Dutch courage and stood on its hind quarters and said "Where is that cat?"
Is that on March 24 last? I was referring to the Prime Minister's declaration on March 24 as to what we were going to do.
§ LORD GAINFORD
What the noble Lords refers to I do not know, and in any case that was not in my mind. The attitude of these people in condemning this settlement seems to me also very unfair to the French. We have seen that the French are wholeheartedly behind 1439 M. Daladier and in the Chamber yesterday supported him by 535 votes to 75 in a vote of confidence. The French are with us in regarding his settlement as the best that could possibly have been made. I feel that many of those who disagree with the views which I have expressed are biased by a political desire to do something against the Government. I am a supporter of the Government as long as they continue to follow peace principles.
Finally, there are two or three questions I should like to ask the noble Earl with reference to the Czechoslovakian situation. I should like to know if the Government are making any representations to the German Government urging reciprocal exchange of prisoners with the Czechs. The Germans have insisted, I understand, on all prisoners on the Czech side being transferred to Germany, and it does seem to 'me there ought to be reciprocity in that direction. I should also like, as I said earlier in my speech, to ask exactly where the guarantee is going to lead us. Is it going to be exercised only, as was stated by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence yesterday, in cases of unprovoked aggression? It seems to me undesirable that we should have to go to war to save a future Czechoslovak Government if, by their own action and undesirable aggression, they have precipitated complications and want us to help them in a situation of that kind. These are the only questions I want to ask the Government, but I wish to say one more word. Whilst I deplore the exhibition of force that the Germans have found it necessary to make on entering into Czechoslovakia, I do hope that they have learned one great lesson—that they will realise that whilst they have secured what they regard as a most laudable object in securing relief to the Sudeten German population, it has been attained without bloodshed, and that peace, progress, happiness, and the binding of nations together for the common good have been made possible. I also hope that they will realise there is something nobler—to remove misunderstanding and secure the settlement of disputes by peaceable effort rather than by resort to arms and to war.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I participate in this debate because while nearly all foreign 1440 affairs debates are extremely difficult—there are so many sides—I doubt if there has ever been a more difficult situation on which to make up our minds. I very much envy those who are completely certain that they are right in whatever policy they support. I feel myself immensely relieved at the fact that there is to be no war. The picture painted by Lord Gainford of the possible horrors of war in the overcrowded cities of the world still further emphasizes and underlines my feeling of relief at the action that has been taken to avoid an outbreak of war. But that feeling is tempered with very great discomfort and humiliation at the cruelty and injustice inflicted upon the democratic State of Czechoslovakia. I cannot agree with Lord Gainford that we can diminish in our minds the importance of the sufferings inflicted by the sort of terms under which the Czechoslovakians have to surrender the whole of their defensive artillery, so that they are left, after years of sacrifice, with no means of defence against attack. That is a matter which it is very hard to forgive. The sufferings of individuals, which are already being made more serious by the attacks on the Jewish and Czech minorities left in the occupied areas and by the number of suicides which are reported in the newspapers, make me feel extremely unhappy and leave me in a state of great mental discomfort at what has happened.
I cannot help thinking that the Republic of Czechoslovakia has been let down by what has occurred. There is a pathetic sentence in Document No. 7 in the White Paper, in which the Ambassador of Czechoslovakia in London says this:We rely upon the two great Western democracies, whose wishes we have followed much against our own judgment, to stand by us in our hour of trial.Nothing we can say or do can be an exaggeration in the expression of our sympathy with Czechoslovakia or in the expression of the material help which we as a wealthy country can still give to Czechoslovakia in the form of loans, or gifts if possible, to enable reconstruction to take place. Let me say that I cannot put any great military value on the guarantee which has been given to Czechoslovakia, because the very difficulties which prevented assistance to her in her strength will be still greater in her weakness and in the consequent increased strength of Germany.
1441 The quotation from the White Paper leads me to say one word on the admirable documentation of the two White Papers, for which I am perfectly certain the House must feel greatly indebted. I have never known more rapidly produced or more complete documents to enable us to make up our minds as to the rights and wrongs of the situation. Arising out of a study of these documents, I suggest there are two things which are perfectly certain. One is that we are witnessing the victory of force and threats in international affairs. The second is that we are witnessing the misery and the fear of the small nations throughout Europe. They were relying on the democratic Powers to uphold the rule of law in international affairs. I have just returned from several weeks among these small democratic Powers—Holland, Denmark, Latvia, and Lithuania—and everywhere I found an expression, on the one hand, of affection for us and belief in the determination of our country to support International Law and on the other hand, an intense gratitude for the great part which this country plays in the trade of these small democratic or semi-democratic Powers. In many cases we buy more than half of their products, and they do rely on us from an economic as well as a political point of view.
Therefore the debate would be worth while if we can, from these certain facts, as I see them, learn from past mistakes and try to reconstruct the world on somewhat better lines in future. The first lesson I can draw from what has occurred is that it is vitally important that we should attempt to remedy grievances and injustices in times of peace and not wait for the pressure of force in this direction. I think if we analyse what has taken place in the last few years we can see the mistakes that have been made with regard to Germany: for example, the reoccupation of the right bank of the Rhine; the opposition to the Anschluss with Austria. These and other developments might very well have been discussed and arranged for under Article 19 of the Covenant of the League of Nations had we realised the necessity for this sort of action. I supported, for example, the Naval Treaty with Germany, but I felt that it was done in the wrong way by not having a prior consultation with the other democratic Powers when that Treaty 1442 was signed. I say at once that Labour Governments must share the blame for inaction in this matter in the past.
The second lesson that I personally would suggest is worth our learning is the necessity for resisting in the very earliest stages attacks on the rule of law in international affairs. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, on the vital necessity of standing by France in the protection of the rule of law in international affairs. I would also have had a much closer connection with the work that has been done in this direction by the United States of America. I think we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to President Roosevelt for his intervention during the crisis, and for the work of Secretary Cordell Hull in his attempts at economic appeasement as an alternative to this liability to the use of force to remedy injustices. I also think we should have brought into much closer consultation the Soviet Union as one of the most important of the great industrial nations in Europe and in fact in the world. Further, I agree with the suggestion that has been made from a number of quarters in your Lordships' House that it will be far better for us to declare in advance what we are going to do if there is the beginning of an attack on this rule of law in international affairs. I cannot help thinking that there is a great deal to be said for a clear statement beforehand, rather than leaving any doubt in the minds of the potential aggressor nations about what would be our attitude.
A third point that occurs to me is that we should realise the very real danger of the threats of the totalitarian Powers, and the very real danger that these threats of aggression are not in fact finished. I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, in his welcome of the speech which we were privileged to hear yesterday from the late Prime Minister, Lord Baldwin. I think his permanent optimism is a very valuable asset in public life, but I think also it ought to be based upon a realisation that the optimism may be a little overoptimistic and that action should be taken to ensure that it is not misplaced. In this connection I think we must realise that the aggressor Powers have not finished. To-day's news tells the almost indecent haste of Germany still further to dismember Czechoslovakia. A German agitation in support of the demands of 1443 Poland and of Hungary, and a German agitation among the Slovak minority in Czechoslovakia are part of the continued pressure which in the end must result in the elimination of Czechoslovakia as a free State, unless something is done to put a check on this development.
We see the same problem arising in regard to the ultimatum to Lithuania which was the subject of a question in another place yesterday—an ultimatum which, if the report is correct, will end the trade relations that have existed for years between ourselves and Lithuania and which will throw Lithuania into the arms of Germany as another member of the German developments in South-East and Baltic Europe. We had the same report from Yugoslavia of the development of the economic control of South-East Europe, and there are, unhappily, suggestions that we shall see a similar progress in Denmark and in Turkey. I want to say that in my opinion the present crisis is not a crisis only of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia, of course, is underlined in this matter because she is the immediate victim of what has gone on, and because, as has been claimed in a number of quarters, there was an element of real grievance in regard to the frontiers which were drawn by the Treaty of Versailles when the Czechoslovak State was formed. But I think the real issue is the use of force and the threat of war in international affairs.
It requires a moment, I think, to analyse the position which arose between Herr Hitler and our Prime Minister. There have been questions as to whether Herr Hitler really meant a war. We know that a considerable part of the Army in Germany were opposed to any war-like adventure. We know also that the German people want peace and do not want to follow their Leader into any warlike adventure. Moreover, it is, I think, now recognised that Herr Hitler has always based his claim for support in Germany upon his power to get what was wanted by peaceful means and not by war. Once he led the German people into a war he would lose the support of an enormous section of the German public who would feel that they had been let down by his claim to be a leader in the peace direction. And, of course, we do 1444 know that the economic weakness of Germany made any sort of lengthy war almost impossible. There are these good reasons for supposing that Germany was not really anxious for a war.
I find on reading the speech of Mr. Duff Cooper in another place that he rather suggested an opposite point of view. He said that Europe was full of rumours at a time when he was travelling round the Baltic States. Information, he said, had accumulated from all parts of the world andit was quite extraordinary the unanimity with which it pointed to one conclusion and with which all sources suggested that there was one remedy. All information pointed to the fact that Germany was preparing for war at the end of September …That means, therefore, that, however much we may have doubted German intentions to fight, the Prime Minister could not be certain that Germany did not in fact intend to carry out her threats. He could not be certain that they were mere bluff. Therefore he had that difficulty to face. On the other hand, what was the British position? Mr. Duff Cooper threw some light on that by his statement that the head of the German Statehad been assured, reassured, and fortified in the opinion that in no case would Great Britain fight.I cannot help thinking that one of the difficulties facing our Prime Minister was a realisation that the military position of France had been seriously jeopardised by recent developments in Europe. In particular the control which the German and Italian Air Forces were able to maintain along the northern frontier of Spain, the southern frontier of France, must have had a considerable effect on the minds of French Ministers in regard to the safety of the arsenals and military depots which the French had moved to the south in order that they might be free of the danger of attack by German aeroplanes from Germany. Secondly, we know that the agreement reached by M. Laval with Signor Mussolini in 1935, under which the Italians agreed not to hold troops on the Italian frontier, so that more French troops were free to defend the German frontier, had come to an end and there was consequently danger to France from the Italian frontier. Moreover, the German construction of immense fortifications immediately in front of the Maginot line had made it extremely difficult, to say 1445 the least of it, for the French successfully to attack Germany. The French General Staff has, of course, come to the conclusion now that defence is stronger than attack when you have a Maginot line, and therefore they were hardly likely to reverse that decision and throw away the lives of hundreds of thousands of French soldiers in an attack on an equally strong line facing the French Maginot line.
It seems to me that the Prime Minister, knowing this weakness of France and knowing the difficulty of any real action in the defence of Czechoslovakia if she were attacked, should have called into consultation with the French and the British the other great military Power in Europe, the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union had been brought into consultation with the British and the French, it would, I suggest, enormously have strengthened our hands in this game of partial military bluff, or at any rate this game of military threat against military threat. I am inclined to think that Herr Hitler, knowing the Government's dislike of the Soviet Union, used that dislike in order to secure that our Prime Minister should have to open a discussion when he did not know his opponent's hand whereas Herr Hitler had already seen the weakness of the British hand. In those circumstances I believe the Prime Minister had no option but to do what he did, and I think he deserves tremendous gratitude for acting with the energy, with the flexibility and with the determination which he did in these appallingly difficult circumstances. I think his decision to meet face to face Herr Hitler was an admirable and wise decision. I personally hope that that procedure will be used in the future very much more than in the past as an alternative to the rather out-of-date methods of diplomatic procedure, and above all as an alternative to the methods which in the last five years have been used, methods of abuse with headlines in the newspapers and methods of loud-speaker abuse at huge demonstrations by the leaders of the various countries.
Finally I want to suggest something for the future. I hope that we shall try to use the breathing space which we have been granted as a means of rebuilding what I call the defences of democracy in the world. I would like to see an attempt made to settle in advance the grievances 1446 and injustices which exist in so many countries all over the world. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby, in his speech yesterday, said:We have learned the lesson. The points of dispute between nations must not be allowed to drift on but must be dealt with when matters are comparatively calm.I hope that we have learned the lesson. I hope that the sort of action that was taken over the refortification of the Dardanelles may be carried much further and used in other international differences of opinion. I would venture to suggest that political and, above all, economic differences could best be settled—naturally the Government are more aware of the possibilities than I as a mere private person can be—by an enlargement of the Four-Power Conference into something much more nearly a world conference, certainly a conference bringing in other European Powers, in particular the Soviet Union. I would like the possibility considered of the United States being asked to preside over such a Conference to consider in a calm atmosphere these grievances and differences of opinion, so that we should be able to remove the causes of injustice and the causes of war during the time that is available.
I would like to see as the first item on the agenda of that conference the question of putting an end to the Spanish dispute. The Spanish dispute is causing far greater difficulties than are generally realised. Some of them I have endeavoured to indicate in these remarks. I would like to see also included in the agenda the question of access to raw materials for all nations and the question of Colonies, referred to in the two White Papers and referred to in the conversations between the Prime Minister and Herr Hitler, because that question could be far better dealt with as part of a general settlement than as a mere subject of dispute between our country and Germany. If something along these lines is done, then, and then only, I feel, shall we have a real justification for that optimism which was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, yesterday—optimism concerning a better state of affairs in the future.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, I would not intervene in this debate merely to repeat arguments which have been made by other noble Lords who have preceded me, and I would gladly accept the 1447 case so ably stated by my noble friend Viscount Cecil last Monday. If I do intervene it is because, like my noble friend Earl Baldwin yesterday, I feel that there are some things which I am obliged to say at this moment. At a moment when everyone around me is expressing only joy and thankfulness, I feel more profoundly depressed, profoundly distressed, than I have ever been before in my life by any public event. My distress is due in some measure to the fact that I find myself obliged to differ on a matter of right and wrong from men whose standards I have hitherto accepted and whose judgment I have always respected: men like my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, my noble friend Earl Baldwin, and the most reverend Primate. I have often differed from them in matters of politics, but never, I think, before on a matter of conscience.
My noble friend the Foreign Secretary, on the first day in opening this debate, said:The only reproaches that can wound are the reproaches of a man's own conscience, and he alone can know in what language conscience speaks.And he added:I can only know, for myself, that my mind will be at rest for having taken no decision inconsistent with what on all the facts I felt right.I agree. Of course I accept without question that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in the circumstances took the action which they thought right and best for all concerned, including the Government and people of Czechoslovakia. I do not question for a moment either their sincerity or their honesty. But I would ask my noble friend to believe that I and those who work with me are no less sincere in the opinions which we hold. I owe it just as much to my conscience to say why I differ from him as he owed it to us to defend the policy for which he was responsible.
It is distressing enough to differ from men whom I admire, but my distress is increased by the fact that in debate I and those associated with me are represented as advocates of war because we have criticised a Government which secured the blessing of peace at a moment when everyone except the Prime Minister had lost all hope. I have no objection to being compared to a drunken mouse, as 1448 I have been this afternoon, because that is a charge which no one is likely to take seriously. But the other charge I know is made by people who seriously and conscientiously believe it. I ought not, I think, as chairman of perhaps the largest peace organisation in this country, to have to repudiate such a charge, but as it has been made it must be answered, and I feel I must try to explain the ground and the nature of the difference between His Majesty's Government and ourselves. I will do it as briefly as I can. I can assure the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that what I say will be said without anger and, I hope, without bitterness. But as I may have to defend myself and my friends against this charge on other platforms, I feel that I ought to say in this House and in the presence of my noble friends what I shall have to say elsewhere when they are not present.
It is not true, it is simply not true, that, while the Government were working for peace, while the Prime Minister was snatching it, as it were, from the very cannon's mouth, we were urging him to go to war. That was not the difference between my noble friends and myself. The difference between us—and it is fundamental—is a difference on the best method of securing peace. Of course we may be wrong and the Government may be right. That is a matter which, as my noble friend says, must be judged by each man according to his own conscience. But let there be no dispute between us as to the goal towards which we were both working. For the last ten years I have worked with my noble friend Lord Cecil and others for the cause of peace. During those years I have devoted the whole of my life to that cause. I have done everything I could with my friends to try to show to the people of this country the means whereby peace could be secured and maintained. But we always had in our minds a peace which, in the words of Canning, should have a character of dignity, a peace which should be worth preserving, a peace that should be likely to endure.
Before I come to that great issue, there are three questions of detail which I wish to put to the Government. The first relates to the International Commission. We are told that one of the great merits of the Munich settlement was that the limitations of the boundaries of Czecho- 1449 slovakia and the conditions under which the plebiscites were to be taken were to be settled by an International Commission on which would sit representatives of Germany, Italy, Great Britain, France and Czechoslovakia. But before we can decide what value to attach to this machinery, I should like to ask the Government two things. First of all, where is this Commission going to sit? Secondly, by what procedure is it going to act? Will it act by the decisions of the majority, and will the decisions of the majority prevail?
My second question relates to the Anglo-French guarantee. I adopt the argument which has been used by other noble Lords, that we have shown ourselves prepared to-day to guarantee the defence of a country which, with our connivance, has been rendered incapable of defending itself. I only do not repeat the argument because it has already been stated and I accept it. What I want to ask is this. At what date is this guarantee to come into force? Is it, like the German guarantee, only to come into force when all the boundaries and consequences of the plebiscites have been settled, or is it to come into force now? If, under instigation from Germany, some portion of the Slovak people start claiming their independence, their division from the Czechs, I want to know is your guarantee going to apply to the Czechs or to the Slovaks? Lastly, I want to put this question to the Leader of the House. What arrangements have been made for the adjustment of the Czech National Debt when its territories have been taken away? There were other questions, but they have been raised by other noble Lords, and I have no doubt that the Leader of the House will deal with them when he comes to reply.
I come now to the main issue, to what I have called an issue of conscience, which separates me from my noble friend. The Foreign Secretary told us on Monday that it was necessary to put pressure upon Czechoslovakia to save that country and the world from the horrors of war. I confess I was amazed to hear last night, from the Lord Chancellor, that Czechoslovakia had not been forced to do anything. Whether in fact the pressure which has been put upon her was as cruel in its terms as we were assured by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, on Monday, or not, I think there can be no one who 1450 would claim that Czechoslovakia was left quite free to take her decision. It has not been claimed by any other spokesman for the Government. No one has, I think, suggested that pressure was not put upon that country.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD MAUGHAM)
Pressure of advice was put upon her, but no other pressure that I know of.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
It was pressure which the Czech Government themselves described as an intolerable pressure, and I do not think that anybody for a moment imagines that it was anything else. The Foreign Secretary certainly never denied that pressure had been exercised, but he told us that he was faced with the dreadful alternative of putting this pressure or going to war. So stated, the case is simple. If there were nothing else to do than that, it was a case by which nobody's conscience would be troubled, and when last night we listened to the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Baldwin, your Lordships, I am sure, must have felt, under the spell of his oratory, that his case was unanswerable. My Lords, it is not unanswerable, though I am sorry to say that I have not the tongue of the noble Earl with which to answer him. I wish I had.
Lord Baldwin told us that when the Prime Minister took that great decision to fly to Berchtesgaden, there was nothing else he could have done. I agree, and I share with the whole world the admiration which was felt for his action on that day; but I hoped, and I was not alone in hoping, that he was going to Berchtesgaden to get justice for Czechoslovakia as well as for the Germans. I was disappointed, and the Prime Minister has since explained the situation in which he was placed which made that impossible. But the point is, who was responsible for the situation in which he found himself on that day? What had caused him to be faced with that terrible alternative? Our case is that peace should have been sought, and that peace could have been obtained, by pressure made, of course at the right time, upon the aggressor and not upon the victim of aggression. That 1451 is our case and if the Government claim, as they are fully entitled to claim, credit for having secured peace by their methods last Friday, they cannot escape responsibility for having brought us to the brink of war by their neglect, their failure to apply our methods at the right time.
They have been in office for the last six years. They received a new lease of of power three years ago by declaring that the League of Nations was the only hope of peace, and was the sheet-anchor of their policy. Ever since they were returned on those promises they have cut themselves adrift from that sheet-anchor, and they have done everything to undermine the power and the influence of the League, which would have been their support at this moment, a support which would have helped them, here and now, to have secured not only peace but justice. I agree, of course, with my noble friend Lord Baldwin, that there are few elements of justice to be found in treaties of peace which are made at the end of a great war, but the Peace of Munich was not made at the end of a great war, and I, for one, believe that peace can only endure and can only flourish in the soil of justice. There is no other soil in which it can permanently grow.
My noble friend the Foreign Secretary, at the end of his eloquent speech on Monday, compared the Prime Minister to the builder of a Church in 1643 who had "done the best things in the worst times." May I respectfully remind him that the times in which he and his colleagues have done the best things, if indeed they are the best things, were of their own making? We have had many debates on foreign affairs in this House. The Government have had many critics—I have sometimes been one of them myself—but they cannot say that we have created those times. They did not follow the advice given to them by any of us. They cannot blame my noble friend Lord Cecil and myself for these times. They cannot put the blame on the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and his little band of brothers. They cannot say it was the fault of Lord Arnold and those who follow him. They did not follow his advice any more than ours, and I feel much more sympathy with the noble Lord today than I have ever done before. They cannot put the blame upon the Socialist 1452 Party, so stoutly yet so thinly represented in this House.
The Government have had undisputed power for six years and during that time they have deliberately discarded the weapon which would have saved them to-day. In October, 1935, the present Prime Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said this in a speech:old system of alliances and balance of power has gone, and in its place the League is the only instrument"—I beg your Lordships to mark these words—to which we can look to give us security against war. Unless we make a stand"—mark these words again—Unless we make a stand now for the principles of the League we may say goodbye to any hope of freeing ourselves from the horrible thought of the recurrence of war.That speech was made just before the last General Election. If they were unable in these last difficult days to make a stand for the right things, to put pressure in the right direction, it was because they had abandoned, in the Prime Minister's own words, the only instrument which would have enabled them to do so. My Lords, if you yourselves threw away your only weapon you cannot claim that as justification for the necessity of deserting your friends.
The fact is that the pursuit of peace is a very difficult, a very complicated business. It is much more difficult than the conduct of a war. Like war, peace has to be studied. There is a technique of peace as there is a technique of war, and I cannot feel that the Government during these years of their great power have sufficiently studied that technique. They have never made it clear, either to us or to people in other countries, either what they were ready to concede or what they were determined to defend. They have never prepared this country for the sacrifices which are necessary, and must ever be necessary, in the cause of peace. They have not used the League either for the redress of grievances or for resistance to aggression. Although in the words of their own leader it was their only instrument they have used it neither for appeasement nor for defence. And certainly they have never told anyone until last night, through the lips of the Lord Chancellor, that Czechoslovakia was a State which ought never to have 1453 been created. If that is true, if that is the opinion of the Government, if it be true also, as they have so often told us, that they are only prepared to fight for British interests, then I ask for what was this country asked to fight last week?
Now it was this failure to have a clear peace policy, a policy made clear not only to our own but to other people, that created that terrible crisis through which we have recently passed. The Government, I say, are alone responsible for finding themselves confronted with what my noble friend called a hideous choice of evils. The Prime Minister did all that anyone could do, more than anyone else would have done, in the circumstances. But the circumstances need never have arisen and should never have been allowed to arise, and I for one can find no satisfaction, no security, no hope for the future in the methods by which we have been extricated from them. The most reverend Primate said on Monday it was the severance between material and spiritual things in public and private life which is the source of most of our troubles. That is just my trouble. The Government have relieved my physical anxieties, but have left me all my spiritual anxieties. They have even increased them, because if we had been saved from the consequences of our own errors it has only been by the unexampled heroism of the Government of Czechoslovakia, who in their own noble words put the peace of the world before the sufferings of their own people.
Let it be conceded at once that there were grievances to be remedied and that it has been a gain to the cause of peace to remove them. But if it be wise and right, as many noble Lords—Lord Noel-Buxton, Lord Allen, Lord Samuel, Lord Gainford and others—have often pointed out to this House, that the German population of Czechoslovakia should be added to the Reich, can those noble Lords, can anyone, defend the methods by which that has been brought about? That is my second point. My first was that we have sought peace in the wrong way, and my second is that when we felt obliged to ask Czechoslovakia to give up its German population why did we not ask Germany to pay for the territory, the factories, the fortifications, which unquestionably belonged to Czechoslovakia? If she had had to take them by war, even 1454 a war against Czechoslovakia alone, she would have had to pay a heavy price, and a peace with honour should, I think, have required that some compensation should be paid by Germany for the redemption, as she believed, of her German compatriots.
I shall be told no doubt that if we had demanded that, if we had insisted upon it in the name of justice, we could not have secured peace. I do not admit that, if the alternative had been clearly and firmly pointed out. I do not believe that Herr Hitler was any more ready to go to war with Great Britain, France and Russia, in order to do an injustice to Czechoslovakia than we were prepared to go to war with Germany to prevent justice to Czechoslovakian Germans.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
Why did we mobilise our Fleet? I do not believe that Herr Hitler would have gone to war—that is, if he had been threatened and, moreover, if the German people had known that a persistence in injustice to Czechoslovakia would involve them in a war with Great Britain, France, and Russia. I may be wrong. If it be true that it was already too late to secure peace with justice, then I say let those defend the settlement who are satisfied in their own conscience that nothing could be done to prevent that situation arising—a situation in which there was no alternative to war but to purchase peace by the coercion of your friends. I am not one of those.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate I wish to pay my tribute to the almost superhuman courage and persistence of the Prime Minister in these last weeks. Not only has he averted war, but I do not think I exaggerate at all when I say that the Prime Minister has clone more for future peace in fourteen days than the League of Nations and all the Chancelleries of Europe have done in nineteen years. The Prime Minister is a realist. He recognised from the beginning of his Premiership that we must be prepared to negotiate with all nations whether we agree with their form of government or not. Take one point that I do not think has been made in this 1455 debate—and as far as I can I am going to make points which have not been made, though that is not very easy after all the permutations and combinations which have received expression; but I shall do my best.
The Prime Minister, very soon after he came to office, opened up negotiations with Signor Mussolini. As a result of that he led on to the Anglo-Italian Agreement. If that Agreement had not been made, the Munich Conference would never have been held. I do not think that can be denied, and it is a very important consideration. Again the Prime Minister recognises that there can be no permanent peace in Europe—we all know this, but he is acting on it—without a good understanding between Great Britain and Germany. He has already laid the foundations of a good understanding, and if he can continue his policy there is a good prospect that the last War was the last war. But, unfortunately, as has been evidenced in this debate to a degree which distresses me more than I can say, there are still a great many people—I think all the leaders of the Labour Party, but I am happy to think only some of the leaders of the Liberal Party, and also individual members of the Conservative Party like the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and others—continue bitterly to criticise the Prime Minister and add to his difficulties. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was good enough to make kind reference to me, for which I thank him, in his very earnest speech, to which I am sure the House listened with the greatest attention, as it ought to have done. I may therefore appear ungracious if I make my next point, but I must do so. He objected fairly strongly to any suggestion that he or his friends—and he quoted as one of his friends the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil—were not strongly against war. That was what it came to.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I would like to read to him some words of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, in the speech he made in this House on May 18 of this year. He said this:The only addition that the Government have made to this policy is that wretched slogan for which I do not think any noble Lords are personally responsible, 'We have 1456 kept you out of war.' Of all the miserable slogans that the necessities of Party politics have ever invented that is probably the worst—at any rate one of the worst. That is all you can say, 'We have kept you out of war.'And he went on later to say:That has produced most unfortunate results, in my judgment, on different sections of the population who think that the only thing that matters is to keep out of war …If the noble Earl and his friends will say things like that, is it surprising that the ordinary man in the street thinks they are quite willing to go to war? That is the only common-sense conclusion that can be drawn from words like those of the noble Viscount. I could quote from other speeches and statements if I had time, all pointing, in my view, in the same direction, but I leave that.
On Monday the noble Lord, Lord Snell, said that through these times his Party had exercised a responsible restraint for which there is no parallel in the Party controversies of our time. In view of the great respect that I have for the noble Lord all I would say about that is that I do not think that statement can be substantiated. I will, however, further say this, that when I think of the speeches and the conduct of some of the leaders of the Labour Party during this crisis, I am thankful I left the Labour Party.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, spoke in the debate on Monday and made a characteristic speech in many ways, including its length. One of the themes of the noble Viscount, and I gather one of the themes of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was that recent events have proved the value of collective security. The noble Viscount said that in other words. The truth is precisely the opposite. Let us look at it, because this also bears very closely on the concluding argument of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. The noble Viscount and others have told us again and again that if the Government would only make it clear to Germany that in the event of war Great Britain would come in, then Herr Hitler would do nothing. We now know that that contention is wrong. The noble Viscount shakes his head, but I can prove it to him to five places of decimals. The Prime Minister in his speech in another place last week emphahsized that we had again and again told Germany what the 1457 position would be in the event of war. Amongst other steps taken Sir Nevile Henderson was specially sent on a mission to Nuremberg about this matter, and there saw many members of the German Government. As a result the Prime Minister said:Our Ambassador reported that there could be no grounds for any doubt in the minds of the German Government as a result of his efforts.Consider also what the Home Secretary said in another place on Tuesday evening:We made our position, privately, as clear as it was possible to make it to Herr Hitler time after time. The Prime Minister himself made it clear to him in the conversations he had with him, and it was obvious from those conversations that Herr Hitler had taken full account of the danger of a world war and that, no doubt owing to the geographical conditions that surround us, he had discounted that risk and was prepared to undertake it.That was the situation which faced the Prime Minister and the Government. Herr Hitler was determined to help the Sudeten Germans, and declared categorically that rather than wait he would be prepared to risk a world war. What do those words mean? What can they mean? They can only mean one thing and that is this. They mean he was determined to go on, whatever Great Britain or anybody else might do. And that is the reply to the collective security supporters who tell us that if only the democracies would stand firm then there would be no war. Of course the noble Viscount may tell us that he did not believe Herr Hitler would go to war even though, as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, said, there were 1,500,000 under arms and complete mobilisation was to be ordered within twenty-four hours. You may say you do not believe it. Well, the Prime Minister believed it, and M. Daladier believed it, and nearly the whole of the French Chamber to-day believe it. I think it is the only common-sense view that can possibly be taken. I suggest that our Prime Minister and M. Daladier are much more likely to be right in their judgment of this matter than collective security supporters who, unless they go on asserting what they do assert, find their whole doctrine in ruin at their feet. As a matter of fact it is in ruin at their feet.
Personally, I am horrified at the willingness—I had almost said the readiness—of some people in this country to go to war. I am afraid the truth is 1458 that many people in this country hate Dictators, except Russian, more than they love peace. These people forget the tragedy of Abyssinia for which they were largely responsible, or at any rate in part responsible. Nor will they face the fact that war would not have saved Czechoslovakia. As a matter of fact, if we had gone to war so far as this country is concerned, it would not really have been for Czechoslovakia. Nor would it have been, as many League supporters would have the country believe, because we were determined to resist aggression. If we were determined to resist aggression we would have done it in the case of Abyssinia and in that of China, and we did it in neither. Let us be honest with ourselves as to the reasons which would have taken this country into war if that had happened. As far as the Government are concerned, it would have been mainly because of our commitment with France. That would have been the main reason, because the Government still cling to the idea that we cannot run the risk of France being defeated by Germany. The Government still believe that the security of France is essential to the security of this country. In my humble opinion, that view is mistaken. I have argued this before in your Lordships' House, and, if I may say so, my contentions have never really been replied to.
Now combined with this view that we must always defend France, there is also the conviction held by a large number of people in the country—and it was against this conviction that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, argued almost passionately yesterday, in, if I may say so respectfully, that very great speech which he delivered—that war with Germany is bound to come sooner or later and it is better to have it out now. Your Lordships know that if we had gone to war that would have been one of our chief reasons, more especially in view of fear that as time goes on Germany will get bigger and stronger and may, later on, attack Great Britain. Both the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, argued most eloquently against the theory of the preventive war, and, personally, I agree with Dean Inge that this idea about the necessity of fighting Germany to prevent her getting bigger is abominable. Dean Inge said that his prayers for victory would stick in his throat, even if somebody near and dear 1459 to him was forced to fight in such an unholy war.
Leaving morals aside, surely it is wrong to incur present risks of the most appalling nature which might well lead to the end of the British Empire, and, as we have often been told, to the end of civilisation, in order to guard against something which may never happen. For one thing, this theory that war with Germany is bound to come sooner or later assumes that Herr Hitler or someone like him will always be in power in Germany. That is scarcely likely to be the case. In fact, some of the very people who seem to want to go to war have for some time been telling us that Herr Hitler cannot last much longer. This whole theory of the preventive war is not only meeting trouble half way, but is going all the way to meet a trouble which is not likely to materialise.
I think I have shown that Czechoslovakia would not really have been the issue for this country if we had gone into a war, and, similarly, Czechoslovakia would not have been the only issue for Germany if war had come. I think Herr Hitler had made up his mind that unless—and this is most important—Germany was going to get different treatment from what she had had during the last nineteen years, he was prepared to fight for her rights. References have been made in these debates to the injustices done to Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and to the fact that for many years Germany did not have a fair deal. Amongst other grievances, Germany has felt herself encircled with a network of alliances. She looks abroad, and she sees Great Britain with its enormous Empire, she sees France with her enormous Empire, and she finds it intolerable that these two countries, who have got all they want, should seek to cross her path in spheres which she thinks do not really concern them. I am not arguing about the rights or wrongs of that; I am trying to put Germany's attitude, and we really ought to look at things from the point of view of other nations. Now the Prime Minister has done that, and he has met Germany in a different spirit from hitherto, and so there has been no war, though otherwise there would have been war, not only because of Czechoslovakia but because Germany was feeling her general position to be intolerable unless she had different treatment, 1460 which, fortunately, owing to the Prime Minister, she got.
The Prime Minister has made a good start, but if there is to be permanent peace, things will have to be different in many ways. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, yesterday in a part of his speech spoke about economic appeasement, and Great Britain and the British Empire must be prepared to make a contribution to that. It is the great inequality in the distribution of economic wealth and territory throughout the world which is one of the chief causes of international unrest. As a matter of fact six Powers, if I may so call them, the British Empire, France, Russia, the United States, Brazil and China have about two-thirds of the territory of the world, leaving one-third to the other sixty nations, including Italy and Germany, and the British Empire and the United States have about two-thirds of the economic mineral wealth of the world. All I would say further about that to-day is this, that any sacrifices which the "Have" Powers may have to make to the "Have-not" Powers for economic appeasement would be infinitesimal compared with the devastation and horror of another world war. I am afraid that there are some people in this country so prejudiced that they will continue to harass the Government in efforts made for a European settlement. Indeed it is not possible to know what some of these people will be doing next.
Before I sit down—it will only take about two minutes—I wish to call attention, as a matter of public duty—I say that most sincerely—to the extraordinary speech delivered last Saturday by Mr. Harold Nicolson, M.P. That speech, as your Lordships are aware, was commented on by the Parliamentary Correspondent of The Times at considerable length in Monday's issue. Mr. Harold Nicolson is, I believe, the Chairman of the National Labour Party in another place, and he is also well known to wireless audiences. Therefore his speech naturally received some attention. The issue raised by this speech is an important one, because the speech appears—I only say appears—to reflect upon the Civil Service. It may, of course, be that Mr. Nicolson was mistaken in all that he said. If so, the public ought to know. I feel it my duty to raise this matter and to raise it now because this is the only 1461 opportunity before Parliament adjourns. In view of what Mr. Nicolson said in his speech the rule about not discussing civil servants does not apply. Mr. Nicolson has raised the issue and it ought to be cleared up. I am not criticising the civil servants, though Mr. Nicolson in effect did so.
Mr. Nicolson said that Mr. Chamberlain had been constantly advised by Sir Horace Wilson and that Sir Horace Wilson's advice had never been inconvenient. Mr. Nicolson also said that Mr. Chamberlain had been advised by Sir Horace Wilson instead of by Sir Robert Vansittart, the Diplomatic Adviser, who has been—so Mr. Nicolson tells us—consistently right in all that he has said. Mr. Nicolson added that it was only that Sir Robert Vansittart's advice was inconvenient. How does Mr. Nicolson know these things, if he is right in what he says? How does he get his information? How does he know what Sir Robert Vansittart has said and how does he know what Sir Horace Wilson has said? He must have got this information from somewhere, unless he made all this up, and we must presume that did not happen. I do not think I need say very much more to emphasize the importance of this issue. Surely, Ministers at this time have had heavy enough burdens to bear. It seems to me that it would be monstrous if Ministers were also to have the feeling that it they rejected certain advice from a civil servant, that fact might leak out and come to the knowledge of an opponent of the Government's policy and be used against them.
I submit that this matter ought to be probed to the bottom, not only in the public interest but in the interest of the Civil Service. There is a rule, as all your Lordships know, a very salutary rule, that Cabinet Ministers are under a strict oath not to reveal what happens at Cabinet meetings. What is the good of that if important secrets may perhaps leak out in other ways? As I have indicated, it may of course be—it may very well be, and I think probably is the case—that Mr. Nicolson had no real basis for what he said, and that he was merely repeating club gossip, but I think we ought to know. I think the Government owe it to Parliament to make some statement about this matter, to give us the facts one way or the other, so that the public mind may be reassured.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, we have heard stated from the Cross Benches to-day and yesterday certain things on the subject of honour and justice. Twenty odd years ago I was ordered to go to Czechoslovakia. I did not go, but I sent on an advance party and it was my job to try to get to know something about that country and as to the extent to which we could rely on it. We have heard about honour and justice. I would ask the noble Earl, was it worth going to war in order to keep in Czechoslovakia the Sudeten Germans?
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
It is as honourable to give way and let them go back to where they belong. I would like also to refer to a maiden speech made on Monday night. Some noble Lords may not have been present, and I would like to ask them with all respect to read that speech of my noble and gallant friend Lord Chatfield. It deals with an aspect of the question that has not been alluded to very much in this debate, but it has a very important bearing on the matter. I would like them especially to read the paragraph in the OFFICIAL REPORT which begins with "No military action could have saved Czechoslovakia" and ends with "That is all the British Navy could have done." I agree with every word in that speech, which I think should be read by all.
I have no right, nor do I desire, to speak on behalf of the Royal Air Force, but after serving with that Force for many years and knowing the spirit of those who are in it, I think I can say that they would have done their duty whatever the decision of the Government, like those in all the Services. I think I can say further that the vast majority of the pilots and mechanics in that Service, when they heard what the Prime Minister had done and what the Foreign Secretary had done, said, "Well done: that means we have more time for reflection." These pilots know when they go into the air in time of war the appalling devastation they cause, sometimes among noncombatants as well as combatants, even though they have every intention of attacking only combatants. I say that even if the agreement made by the Prime Minister is only temporary it does give time to consider, before the employment 1463 of these air weapons can be brought into play, whether it would not be a good thing to put back the use of these weapons.
I do not want to venture into foreign policy more than to ask, what I feel a large number of people like myself will ask, whether we were really going to war in order to prevent the Sudeten Germans, Hungarians and Poles going over, as one might almost say, to the other side of the street. Another thing I would like to say is that I have never been impressed by the statement that giving up this territory means giving up a strategical frontier. The best frontier surely is found in friendly relations, but from the military point of view the strength of a frontier in these days does not depend on natural obstacles. That was clearly shown in the last War. Fortified lines with no natural obstacles and with every natural disadvantage were held to the end of the war. Nor am I impressed by another criticism made by some people, that it is impossible to maintain economically the Czechoslovak State without holding on to the Sudeten German territory and to the territory demanded by Hungary and Poland. I believe that that argument is not sound.
As I listened yesterday to the speeches made here, and especially to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, who spoke with such passionate eloquence, I could not help feeling that when all is said and done the man who saved Czechoslovakia was the Prime Minister. There would have been no Czechoslovakia if it had not been for the Prime Minister, and from my knowledge of the people of Czechoslovakia I am not certain in my mind that they do not recognise that. I rather think that they do. That has to be remembered by all who say that honour and justice have gone. There would have been no Czechoslovakia at all if it had not been for the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government.
My Lords, I think it is hardly practicable for us to discuss which foreign policy we should prefer and to discuss it by way of giving advice to the Government. There are really only two Parties in the State who can form a Government and we have to choose between the policy of His Majesty's Government and that put forward by the 1464 noble Lords opposite. Last summer we heard everything that noble Lords opposite had to say on this subject. We have heard a great deal of it in the last two days. The impression I have derived is that it consists first in a careless and close union with Russia; and I think the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Strabolgi, does the Government an injustice with regard to Russia. I do not know and I do not care whether Russia is a great democracy, as he thinks, or whether it is a dictatorship on Fascist lines, where the savings of individuals amount to over 5,000,000,000 roubles and are daily increasing. I do not even want to consider whether this great democracy can parallel the horrors with which the noble and gallant Lord has entertained us as happening in Germany, when villages of Red Russians—the most singularly attractive, in my opinion, of all the Russian races—are surrounded by soldiers, their food is confiscated, their identity cards are invalidated, and men, women and children are left to starve amid a ring of wolfish eyes. These things do not concern us at all. It is not our business.
Diplomatically one only feels awkward with Russia when she refuses to respect the integrity of other countries and the personality of the Governments which they wish to represent them. That is precisely my objection to the general foreign policy advocated by noble Lords on the Benches opposite. Time and again they have explained that it consists in holding out hands to what they consider to be cognate elements in other countries with whose Governments they are not in sympathy. This is a policy which certainly must lead to disaster. It is an insult not to the Governments alone but also to the peoples they represent, and history shows how fatal that is. It has not helped the Russian Government to-day, it did not help the revolutionary Government of France, and, to go as far back as the Peloponnesian War, it brought down one of the greatest civilisations of the world to the dust. One word by the Leader of the noble Lords opposite will suffice. On at least one occasion last summer, speaking of Italy and of Germany, the noble Lord, Lord Snell, referred to "our enemies." If he had been on the other side of the House and in power, such a word would almost have amounted to a declaration of war. It would certainly have produced a situation similar to that 1465 of this country in the reign of Queen Elizabeth with the Government of Spain.
We have heard much of the verdict of history, but I really think that the verdict of history would have condemned any Government who were prepared to sacrifice millions of British lives in a kind of Balaclava charge of the nation to prevent an event which had already happened. Quite apart from that, the only weapon we could use against Germany was that of a blockade. When the Berliner Tageblatt announces that the deaths of babies under one year old amount to four hundred a week, our blockade is effective; when the number falls to three hundred and eighty, our blockade is not doing its duty. That is the barometer of war, and I think it is a great thing not to be put in a position where we must do these things to other countries. Lord Snell accuses the British Government of wallowing in our own affairs. What else ought they to wallow in? I wish it were more true. Our Government is not a Sancho Panza, to stretch its arm and say that, after all, it is a fine thing to ride about the world righting wrongs, and to go out and take counsel with its donkey. I agree with Lord Ponsonby: let us right the wrongs at our doors, and learn from the Bible who is our neighbour.
Lord Strabolgi said that it would have been better for the Czechs if we had made it quite clear last summer that we had no interests or commitments in Central Europe. I agree, and I suppose that what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said represents one of the penalties of not having done so. But it does not lie with Lord Strabolgi to say that, because the whole of last summer, at every foreign affairs debate, the noble Lords opposite made it abundantly clear that if the Government had wished to do that—I am not saying they did, but if they had wished to do that—the noble Lords opposite and their Party were prepared to raise such a storm of invective, misrepresentation and obloquy in the country that no Government, probably, could have stood against it. After all, what is the position of noble Lords opposite? No Government did more to weaken the military resources of the nation than they did when they were in power. Out of power, when—too late, I am afraid—the National Government became alive to their duty in this direction, that Party obstructed them. The noble Lord who 1466 speaks for organised Labour—a Party which, by the way, is organised on purely Fascist lines—made it quite clear that, unless their advice were adopted, they would do all in their power to obstruct the Government in fulfilling this essential duty. This is the very course of action which they condemn in Herr Henlein. But Herr Henlein has an excuse which they have not, for the Labour Party, whether they like it or not, are of one blood and are one people with ourselves.
Lord Strabolgi repeated that yesterday, and if we may take it, as I suppose we may, that organised Labour is opposed to the Government in this matter, then I humbly represent to your Lordships that the Government should take steps to ascertain whether that is the case. That is a claim of the Labour Party that no Government should tolerate: that Party leaders, ejected from power by the country, lacking the vast amount of special knowledge which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack indicated to us yesterday, should irresponsibly dictate from behind the scenes the policy of the Government, careless of its success or failure. I have been astonished at the patience of His Majesty's Government in this regard, and I wonder that they have tolerated this pretension. I could say more. The only rational explanation of the conduct of a Party which weakens its country's defences, which inflames the people to war, and which tries to precipitate that war at a moment when we are by no means ready, is that they are willing to face any disaster in order to force a violent revolution. I do not for a moment believe that noble Lords opposite are revolutionaries. I do not for one moment believe that; but that is the only logical explanation of their conduct that I can find.
Now I should like to turn for a moment to the policy of His Majesty's Government, which I support. It is a considered policy. They have more information than I have, and I am quite prepared to follow them. But I do share the distrust expressed in all quarters of the House about the guarantees. The difficulty was put as strongly by the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary as by anybody else. I think it is rather like guaranteeing the boundaries of a biscuit in a dog's throat because you have patted him once. But I am sure that the noble Viscount has nothing to learn from me 1467 on this point, and that he is as passionately interested in the security and honour of the country as I am. Guarantees are nasty things, as I have found myself, and I should be grateful for any elucidation which he can give us. Another point which troubles me, and to which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred, is that of the loans. I do not hold any Czech bonds and I am not interested in any way, but I do not see why a country's credit should be impaired and its good name should suffer through an event of this kind out of which we certainly draw some profit. I should be grateful for anything which the noble Viscount could say on this subject.
In conclusion, I would say this. One thing is clear. A man must be woefully ignorant of what is going on in the world not to realise that whether we approve of it or not—and from every quarter of the House there are indications that sections of the House do approve of it—the Prime Minister's action has given him a position in Europe only exceeded by that of the Duke of Wellington a hundred years ago. With that position has come an opportunity for the settlement of outstanding questions which must be exploited to the fullest possible extent. For this purpose it should be made clear to Europe that he has the unanimous support of his own country. From what has passed here, and in another place, it is clear that certain sections of political thought are not behind him, and I think he should take steps to ascertain whether they are backed by any body of opinion in the country; because if he has the unstinted support of his own country, and uses to the full the great gifts which he possesses, he may be able to secure, for many years in future, not merely peace, but more than peace—that sense of security and opportunity without which no single one of us can get the best out of himself in the tasks which lie before him.
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, "we may have cause for thankfulness, but not for pride." These words caught my eye in one of the many letters written to the Press in these recent anxious days, and it occurred to me that they summed up in the fewest possible words one's own feeling on the situation presented to us to-day. War has been averted, with all its attendant horrors and miseries and 1468 waste of precious lives—for the present. The whole nation responded splendidly, with calm and steadfast resolution, when the call came, in a way in which one knows the nation always will respond if they are assured that the cause is a just one. A great fillip was given to the matter of air raid precautions, plans for evacuation, home defence, and so on; and we have had the outstanding spectacle of real courage, initiative and resource so magnificently displayed by the Prime Minister. Finally, we have had the clear proof of an inherent will and desire for peace among the people of this country and the peoples of the world.
For all this we are profoundly thankful. How about the other side of the picture? A little country is in process of dismemberment—a country that regarded us as their friend—a country in whose beautiful capital I was privileged to walk and with whose people one mingled three short weeks ago. Now, one reads that it is unwise to be an Englishman in Prague to-day. A Czech General returns his British and French decorations because these great countries deserted his people in the hour of their greatest need. Those historic frontiers of Bohemia are no more—frontiers that have stood these thousand years. Was this indeed inevitable? One hears from those who have made a protracted study of those regions that 50 per cent. of Herr Henlein's followers have no desire for union with the Reich, and that tens of thousands of Sudetens look forward with anxiety and fear to their incorporation within the Nazi State. Certain it is that only since the occupation of Austria has this cry for deliverance been heard and the tale of atrocities and torture been told.
Mistakes in administration there may have been, grievous errors of judgment there doubtless were, but can it be doubted whence came the encouragement to these German folk to stir up trouble and manufacture hysterical complaints? The Sudetens and the Czechs have lived side by side, uneasily it may be, through all these hundreds of years. Is it forgotten that before the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire they managed to live together reasonably amicably under a long succession of Czech Kings? It is no new thing, therefore, the Sudetens living under alien rule during these last twenty years. Moreover, we have been told that the treatment of this 1469 particular minority compared very favourably with that of every other minority in Europe. Was dismemberment, therefore, the only course? We have been told that this country had no obligation towards Czechoslovakia. That claim has been categorically denied by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and others, who reminded your Lordships of the fact that as a Member of the League of Nations we are emphatically pledged, by Article 10, to preserve this little country's territorial integrity and political independence. I would wish to add my small voice in upholding that incontrovertible pronouncement of the noble Viscount, and in refuting that other claim.
It is all very well for noble Lords to sneer at and abuse the League of Nations. It is fashionable in these days to pour scorn on Geneva and all its works, but one regrets profoundly such attacks as those we have listened to in the speeches of certain noble Lords. It is so easy to ridicule and point out the many failures; it is so convenient to ignore the few successes. Even if there had been no successes to register on the credit side, I should still strongly disagree with the contention that twenty years is a long enough period fully to test the efficacy and practicability of a new and great ideal. It may well be, and is probably the fact, that the League requires overhauling in some of its machinery and reforming in certain particulars, but I venture to say that it will be a bad day for this country, and the Empire, and for civilisation, when a British Government is to be found that will repudiate the principles and great ideals for which the League stands. Courage is required to rebuild that fabric. Vision and steadfast purpose and unflinching faith are required if the reign of law is to overcome the reign of force. Until that day dawns there can, of course, be no doubt that we must relax no single effort to bring up our defences to the required standard. Until the world recovers from its present madness in thinking that the piling up of armaments is going to avert war, we must continue to spend our substance in this utterly frightful and unprofitable manner. It is the only language, alas! that is really understood by certain leaders in Europe to-day.
I wish I could share the faith that certain noble Lords appear to have in Herr 1470 Hitler's latest assurances. By what process of thought they are enabled to have confidence in those assertions I am quite unable to discover. We have seen just how much his word has really meant, not once, not twice, not thrice. For my part I have no illusions. For the rest, we have got to realise that we have suffered a severe diplomatic defeat and, with it, can anyone doubt, a grievous loss to our moral prestige. Peace has been achieved for the moment, but one looks in vain for the justice that should have accompanied it. I search and search and am unable to find that justice without which in my opinion this peace cannot be said to be peace with honour.
It is painful for me, a very junior member of your Lordships' House, to be it seems the solitary one who sits on these Benches to strike what must appear to be a discordant note. But if one feels strongly and deeply enough about any principle that appears to be at stake and that conflicts with one's conscience I feel it is one's duty to give expression to those feelings in whatever quarter of the House one may be sitting. I should like to end, if I may, with an expression of heartfelt admiration of and sympathy for the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary in all his immense labours and deep anxieties (luring these last weeks and months; and, finally, to Czechoslovakia, with a word of respectful tribute to the calm courage and dignity of President Benes, and to the dauntless discipline and resolution of the people of that little country whose agonising trials and sufferings we are silently witnessing to-day.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, in the few observations which I shall make I shall try to avoid covering the ground and the points which have been so fully dealt with in the three days' debate. But, like others, I do wish to pay a personal tribute to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Secretary—to the Prime Minister for his tenacious determination to save peace, to the Foreign Secretary for his calm judgment and selfless loyalty to the Prime Minister, which he showed in an ever-changing and an extraordinarily difficult situation. We are all grateful that we have escaped war, but I think that the debate of the last three days has shown that few can be entirely satisfied with all the happenings of the past. Listening to the debate—and I think I 1471 have heard most of the speeches—I have been struck by one thing, and that was a certain unreality in the speeches of many noble Lords. Many of the speakers have seemed to think that the only question before the Government and those in a position of authority and responsibility was how to do the right thing in the abstract, as if they were in a Court of Law with pacifist litigants prepared to accept the calm judgment meted out from the bench; whereas in fact the real issue has been how to do the best in the circumstances in which those in responsibility found themselves—circumstances due to happenings not only of the past weeks and months but of the past years, going back even over twenty years.
I noticed that one noble Lord said something to the effect that all countries which loved peace would advance to assist Czechoslovakia. He apparently took it for granted that all were ready for armed advance and that this armed advance on their part would lead to overwhelming success. The basic fact is that recently we have been witnessing power politics, and when you are facing power politics what counts is not heads of population, as some seem to think, because on that basis China would be one of the most powerful countries in the world. What counts when you are in a situation such as this are the numbers of guns and aeroplanes and other forms of arms and armaments which can be mustered; what counts in circumstances such as these are the training and efficiency of man-power and the potential immediate industrial output of the nations that may be at war.
As I say, many of the speakers appear to me to have been speaking in an atmosphere of unreality. The noble and learned Lord who wound up the debate yesterday, when defending the Government and answering some of the Government's critics, said that they, the critics, do not know what the Government have known. I wish it had been possible for us—I am not sure it would not be even a good thing now—to have a secret Session. During the War I was present on more than one occasion in another place when there were secret Sessions. In an emergency such as this information can be given which obviously cannot be given when one is speaking as we are to-day. It is only in a secret Session 1472 that Ministers could give more facts—perhaps not the complete facts, but more facts—than they can in an open debate in Parliament, and facts which, I am convinced, would have enabled them to increase the support for their actions during the past few days. And another point. It is only in a secret Session that the supporters and the critics can discuss steps to increase our preparedness and so be satisfied that in future we shall be in a stronger position to negotiate. We must all have been struck by the wonderful public response and the public spirit displayed by our people during this hour of trial, and it is because of that that it seems to me unfair to a gallant people such as ours to invite them to face the ordeal of modern war, and all the horrors that accompany modern war, unless we can guarantee that they will have the fullest protection and efficiency. We have a testing time ahead of us, as I see it.
We were told some years ago that you must make the world safe for democracy. It seems to me that our task now is to make democracy safe for the world. The danger facing us, as I see it, is not coming to us from Dictators. I see two dangers. One is that we sink back into lethargy saying, "Thank Heaven we have escaped the horrors of war." And the other danger is that we drop into Party politics, with recriminations and misrepresentations and half-truths. Those, I believe are two real dangers which are facing the country to-day. In a democracy such as ours there are always politicians who are bound to have an eye on the next Election. I have no personal knowledge, but I have no doubt that in every Party today there are astute politicians who are considering how to win the next Election. The question before us is not how to win the next Election, the question which is facing the country is how to safeguard peace and improve our defences.
We listened to the speech of the noble Earl, the late Prime Minister, yesterday. He made a strong appeal, with the full weight of his authority, to mobilise industry. It seems to me that that is vital. We have got to redouble our efforts in making our preparations for defence. It seems to me that success in that effort—increasing our industrial output, and by industrial output I mean the output of armaments—is only possible if we obtain 1473 the wholehearted support of trade union leaders. It is only possible if we get the active aid of the best captains of industry, and it is only possible if those with privilege and with wealth are ready to make the necessary sacrifices. The future of this country depends upon all our people, especially the young, appreciating that our form of government and civilisation, with its precious heritage of liberty, can only survive if every one feels he has duties to perform for the nation and that the performance of these duties is as important as claiming individual rights.
During the past weeks we have looked into an abyss. According to the papers, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and various Ministers responsible for Defence have invited leaders of the Opposition, of other political Parties, and of the trade unions to meet them in private confidential conference. They have consulted with each other. I have no doubt that if the tragedy of war had come there would have been the most active and willing co-operation between the leaders of all Parties. Is it too much to hope that during the coming months—months of anxiety and also months of hope—our defence preparations can be removed from the arena of Party politics? Is it too much to urge the leaders of all Parties that they should have an agreed defence programme and unite in carrying out this programme in time? If the leaders of the different political Parties are big enough to do this, I am convinced they will get an overwhelming and wonderful response from the people of this country.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships more than a few minutes. On November 17 of last year I took part in a foreign affairs debate in your Lordships' House. I said then that the time had come to shake hands with Germany and try to get France to do the same, and that we should trust Herr Hitler, who had never broken any treaty he signed with other countries. All this was very coldly received by your Lordships, and I got more than one rap over the knuckles. Since then the turn of the wheel, as instanced by the Prime Minister's splendid stand for peace, has brought an amicable settlement with Germany within sight. And I cannot depart from that without paying the tribute, which has been so ably paid 1474 already by many of your Lordships, to the gallant Czech nation which has sacrificed so much for the peace of Europe.
Whatever settlement we may arrive at with Germany, we have got to recognise that events at this moment are moving rapidly towards a situation in which Germany will become the greatest land Power in the world and the master of Europe. I often wonder whether our leaders, under the present system of Parliamentary institutions and immersed as they must be in the things of the moment, are able to look forward and prepare for the future—whether, in fact, they are able to take the long-term view and take measures beforehand to meet the situations which will arise. If they are, then it must be apparent to them that, as the result of the inability of this country and France to stand by Czechoslovakia, the future outlook in Europe is completely changed. France and ourselves will soon be entirely isolated from the rest of Europe. I am not speaking, of course, of the Scandinavian countries. Germany is losing no time. Already feelers have been put forward to Lithuania and Yugoslavia for an all-in trade agreement with Germany, and that means, of course, that no other country will be allowed to trade with these countries. Czechoslovakia and other countries in the Danube basin will, no doubt, follow suit, and naturally will prefer to go with a strong Germany than against her.
That means that British trade will be excluded from all these countries. We know, as history shows, that any country which succeeds in obtaining economic power in Europe shuts out British trade, and that has been one of the chief incentives to British Governments in the past for the keeping of the balance of power and the prevention of the dominance of one country in Europe. I wonder if the Government have taken these points into consideration. Germany, having realised her ambition to be the greatest and the dominating Power in Europe to-day, may possibly decide to launch out for world power. Whatever trust we may have in Herr Hitler, I am not sure I would put the same trust in his successor, and it is quite possible that he will not continue through, at any rate, our lifetime. Are these possible developments in the mind of the Government? If they are, there is 1475 only one answer and that is to arm and arm. Let us have the greatest Air Force and the greatest Navy in the world. Let us now—for now is the opportunity—register every man and woman in the country in the service of the nation. Then, and only then, can we meet recurring crises with equanimity and command that respect which will ensure us a fair deal and possible security.
My Lords, I must ask your usual kindness for one who is speaking in your Lordships' House for the first time. I wish to put forward my views as one of the younger members who, having left the Army two years ago, was ready at any moment to be called up during those dark hours which are now past. During those hours I thought over the question very strongly, and I had very mixed feelings. What were we going to fight for? To my mind Czechoslovakia could never have been saved, and the only thing I could feel we were going to fight for was the extermination of Germany. None of us wanted that, and how could we have done it? The last twenty years since the Great War have, to my mind, shown us that in modern warfare neither side wins. It is havoc for years, and it takes many years to recover. We have just started to recover, and are we to be plunged back into another Armageddon? These years have also proved that a beaten nation must either be exterminated or must be helped immediately. Germany was not exterminated, but she was surrounded and was not helped, and from that desperate nation arose Herr Hitler. That is history that I need not go into. Let me turn for one moment to Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia is by no means a beaten nation, but she needs help, and I can only say how delighted I am that the Government are sending them money.
I come to the future. There is one thing I feel very, very strongly. One of those nights before the Prime Minister spoke I was walking through Hyde Park. I saw trenches being dug, and I saw the anti-aircraft guns, and the thought came to me, "So much to do and so little time to do it in." Let us go ahead with air-raid precautions as fast as we possibly can. Never let us send out men to fight in a war unless they realise that their loved ones at home have the possibility of safety. May I suggest one 1476 thing? There has always been a great difficulty in peace, as I found when I was in the Army, to get people to be gas-minded. They will never believe in the need of it till the great moment perhaps comes when they will need their respirators. I suggest that the Government should broadcast occasionally from the B.B.C. to let our people know the innermost fact of safety. Let the people know what to do with their respirators. And not only that, add to your air-raid precautions a little first-aid instruction. People will not go to a meeting on a wet night, but they will sit indoors and listen to the radio, and will probably take in what is said to them.
May I finish with my very humble tribute to the Prime Minister and the noble Viscount who stood so firmly by him? They say that Atlas carried the world on his shoulders, but I think one may say that our Prime Minister not only carried the world but he carried the whole future of civilisation too on his shoulders. I look forward to the future with a great trust. I will not say as some people have said that war never can be, but I do say that our Prime Minister has opened the way to a great chance and may he go forward with talks and, not only talks but trade agreements, for the one great thing which I think may come in the future is not a belligerent League of Nations but an economic League of Nations.
§ LORD KENILWORTH
My Lords, in rising to speak, I do so having heard many points of view expressed. Most of those have been personal opinions, and the speakers themselves have touched on the effect of the Prime Minister's and the Government's action in relation to certain classes of the community. Of the speeches the most illuminating and the most important in my view was the wise speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, to whom your Lordships should be greatly indebted. I now venture to put before your Lordships' House the view of the plain man who, in the first instance, is full of deep gratitude to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government for what they have done. This has already been expressed in more eloquent and fitting words than I am capable of using; but your plain man is also thinking of something more. The war to end wars, as he was told, ended nearly twenty years ago. During that period he has noted 1477 that more agreements and treaties have been concluded than ever before in a similar period; conferences and meetings have taken place; and where does he stand to-day? So far as peace is concerned he is worse off than before the war. In an endeavour to trace the effects of these agreements, treaties and conferences, we find hat most of the evils arise from the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. The former is as good as dead. The latter has brought about misunderstandings and has led to serious disputes between great countries of the world. Is it not time, therefore, to scrap many of these things and start afresh? Cannot understandings or an entente be brought about between great nations and thus lead to a better state of affairs, more particularly in Europe? Why, the plain man asks, should States, say, in South America, be called in to enable European countries better to understand each other? Thus the plain roan. May I hope that from this beginning some better method than spectacular meetings may develop for the benefit of the plain man's home and family. Finally, if peace is to be the aim and object of our endeavours, may he have to listen to fewer warlike speeches, and may it even be that, at the end of twenty years after the Armistice, the Services on that day, having outlived their inception and the character of our devotion, will tend not so much to the glorification of the useless sacrifices of war as to earnest prayers for the maintenance of peace.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, this debate has continued for three days, and there is naturally nothing new I can add to it except perhaps to congratulate my noble friend behind me (Lord Grenfell) on his first appearance as a speaker here. I congratulate him all the more because he expressed sentiments with which I agree myself, or at E.11 events with some of them. My real object in rising was to offer a very few observations upon some of the speeches that have been made, more particularly on the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. What I gathered from both those speeches was that underlying their arguments was a convinced belief that Herr Hitler all the time was bluffing. I should describe Herr Hitler as a neurotic enthusiast who is incapable of bluffing. Look what he has done. Months ago he called out something 1478 like 2,500,000 men. I believe that is more or less the correct figure. You do not do that merely for the look of the thing. Those men have been kept at enormous expense for months and months, and when you tell me they were merely for show and self-glorification I absolutely decline to believe it. It is no good noble Lords of the Opposition bringing forward objections to the Government policy unless they can present an alternative. There is only one alternative and that alternative was going to war.
Let us consider for a moment what would have happened if we had gone to war. What would have happened, obviously, would have been this. Hitler with his million and a half men would have occupied and overrun Czechoslovakia. The French would have moved into the Maginot line and there, presumably, they would have remained, for it would have been extremely difficult for them to advance. The Russians, on their side, would have taken the immobility of the French as an excuse to do nothing themselves. What would have happened to us? The real work would have fallen upon us, because the two other Powers would have come to us and said: "Now it is your duty to blockade Germany." Consider what that means. We should presumably have undertaken the task. With extreme good fortune we might have been able to maintain the blockade over a long period, without losing most of our ships, without falling out with other Powers in the Mediterranean and without being attacked in the Far East, and we might eventually have tired the Germans out. But by that time Europe would have been ruined. It would not have been worth while trying to save Czechoslovakia or anything else. That would have been the result if the policy of war had been adopted.
I confess openly that as I stand here I feel deeply the humiliation of the situation, humiliation which is only mitigated by the fact that it is due to the action of the British Prime Minister that the catastrophe of another world war has been avoided. But you cannot get away from the fact that Herr Hitler has achieved about the greatest triumph in modern history. He has successfully defied and browbeaten both this country and France, and if anybody disputes that statement I would like to ask them what particular object for which he asked he 1479 has failed to obtain. It appears to me that he has got everything he wanted, and on the other hand all we have to show—although I admit it is inestimable—is that we have succeeded in temporarily preventing world war.
I have said I feel a considerable amount of humiliation with regard to the position in which we are placed, but there is another feeling which I entertain and which possibly I am the only person here to entertain. My own personal view is that we need never have been mixed up in this dispute at all. I have always thought that the question of Czechoslovakia might well be considered to be outside our scope and there must be many people—though I do not think any of them are here—who hold that opinion. We are fortified in that opinion by what took place, because when Ministers were cross-examined in various ways as to our policy in Czechoslovakia the impression was conveyed—chiefly, I think, by my noble friend Viscount Halifax—that we were not committed. Then the position gradually altered. Under presumably French influence we were drawn more or less into the position of being responsible, and our responsibility has now gone so far that we are undertaking the financial responsibility of relieving Czechoslovakia. Well, I cannot help thinking that we should not have intervened, that we should have said to the French years ago "If you like to make arrangements with your Russian friends, or if you like to make an arrangement with Czechoslovakia in order to complete your iron ring round Germany, do so, but we are not going to take any part in it, and if you get into any trouble at all with Poland or Czechoslovakia you must get out of the difficulty yourselves with the assistance of your Russian friends."
That, I maintain, was the proper position that we ought to have taken up and which apparently we had taken up. But, as I said just now, we have glided into a position of greater responsibility almost than anybody else. I cannot help thinking, looking back at the circumstances, that it would have been better even for Czechoslovakia if we had not intervened at all. I have a certain knowledge of Czechoslovakia. I was in the country, in fact, only a few weeks ago, and every person with whom I talked was under the impression that the question 1480 would be settled eventually by negotiation. I firmly believe that the disorders which broke out in the part where I was staying at the time were quite unexpected. I believe, as I say, that it would have been better for the Czechs themselves if they had not been championed by ourselves and the French and had been left alone to settle their differences with the Sudetens and the Germans. At all events, whatever the result, it could not have been worse than what they are going through now.
I can only repeat that I view the present situation as one of almost humiliation as far as we are concerned. I listened yesterday to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, who I think wound up his eloquent speech by a declaration that he had never been a pessimist. Well, I am afraid I am a pessimist. I cannot look upon the present aspect of things with an optimistic view. It seems to me we have nothing but danger of war and disorders of all kinds in front of us. For my part, the only satisfactory event which has taken place during the momentous two or three weeks which have just elapsed is the fact that a British Prime Minister has been the individual who, by his courage and determination, has saved the world from the unutterable disaster of another world war.
§ LORD ILIFFE
My Lords, I for one am most grateful to the Prime Minister for the steps he took to avoid war. He was courageous, energetic, persevering. He saved Czechoslovakia from the horrors of war in their territory and he saved us from the catastrophe of a world war. The settlement in my opinion is one which all reasonable men should approve. A member of your Lordships' House, the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, was appointed as an independent observer and mediator. What did Lord Runciman advise? He said there could be no permanent settlement unless territory was ceded. If we had proposed that on the recommendation of the noble Viscount, and if the Czechoslovak Government had agreed, no one would have questioned our action. Herr Hitler made the same stipulation and threatened war, but though we may resent his action that does not make the ultimate settlement less just and proper. If that is accepted we may still deplore the method of transfer, but method is of small account compared with 1481 the bigger issue, that is, the actual transfer of territory. The crime of engaging in a world war for so small an issue would never have been forgiven. I personally thank the Prime Minister for his courage. If war had come we should none of us have had a day's happiness for the rest of our lives. Everyone would have been affected, and not least the Czechs and the Sudeten Germans themselves.
As I have said, I believe war was averted because of the action of the Prime Minister. The negotiations which he initiated gave time for the forces of peace to assert themselves. The mobilisation of the Fleet two weeks earlier, in my view, would have brought about war immediately, but during the fortnight's grace which was gained by the Prime Minister the German population became aware of the position. Public opinion amongst the people of Germany began to assert itself. Other peace forces became vocal, and the German Chancellor began to hesitate. He realised that war would be unpopular among the peoples both of Germany and Italy. We mobilised the Fleet at the right moment. It was, in my view, a question of timing. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving the German Chancellor an opportunity for reflection. War with all that that entails was averted entirely by the action of Mr. Neville Chamberlain.
§ LORD REA
My Lords, there have been two points of similarity in practically all the speeches delivered both here and in another place. Firstly, there has been unstinted and thoroughly deserved praise of the Prime Minister for his courage, his initiative and pertinacity in saving us from the imminent danger of war. Secondly, we have had an endless and mostly unprofitable discussion on the events leading up to the crisis, as to which I would only venture to say that history alone, with a knowledge of all the facts, can decide whether recent events amount to a humiliating surrender or to the triumph of common sense. But one thing has been lacking in almost all the speeches, and that is my excuse for troubling your Lordships for a few minutes to-day: that is, a consideration of how we are to meet the new situation that has arisen. There has, of course, been talk—endless talk—of the need for further rearmament and additional preparedness for a future crisis, but these 1482 are the commonplaces of controversy and, necessary though they may be, carry us no farther towards the solution of the problem we have to face.
Let me put it quite bluntly. If we have to face war again, it must almost inevitably be under less favourable conditions than prevailed last week; for not only have we lost a brave and well-equipped ally, able to hold up a German Army which I have heard estimated at anything from 15 to 30 divisions, but inevitably, as things stand, we shall lack the support of those smaller nations who have hitherto looked to us but must now make such terms as they can with a dominant and apparently victorious neighbour. From that point of view the prospect is bleak indeed, leading only through ever increasing armaments to inevitable war. There is, however, another side of the question to which no one seems to have thought it worth while to draw more than the briefest attention, and which yet seems to indicate the way out. The declaration signed by the Prime Minister and Herr Hitler indicates the possibility of the opening of a new era of discussion and mutual understanding. But far more important is the evidence from last week's events of the overwhelming anxiety of the people of all nations for peace. This has led, for the moment at any rate, to a desire to understand the other person's point of view, and has created a mass of international good will which is of the most inestimable value if it can be, to use a colloquialism, "cashed" at once. But it is of the utmost importance that time should not be allowed for it to cool off.
The Prime Minister no doubt has in mind the settlement of outstanding questions with Germany and Italy, and we wish him well in these negotiations, provided he does not give too much away. I am told that these negotiations have failed in the past because intolerable diplomatic delays have thrown doubt on our good faith, and here at any rate the Prime Minister has shown us the better way. What I want to urge is that such negotiations should spread much further afield. The smaller nations view us with some suspicion, but they too have the will to peace to-day, and by prompt action, coupled with a willingness to make some sacrifice on our part, we can heal many sores. Trade and tariffs are at the 1483 bottom of much of the trouble, and the van Zeeland Report indicates a line of advance. A Danubian Convention is not an impossibility with the world in its present frame of mind, and we know that the Low Countries and Scandinavia have made efforts to come together, efforts which, sad to relate, were blocked by the intervention of this country. Can we not take an active part in bringing about such reconciliation, which need imply no hostility to either Germany or Italy, if indeed they could not eventually be brought in? And as to Russia, too, if we can deal with totalitarian Germany and Italy, must we confine our civilities to times when we seek her military aid?
But of far the greatest importance is it that we should put ourselves right with the United States of America. That great sister democracy, having gone far to support us, is now puzzled and hesitating. We need to send all the emissaries possible, official and unofficial, to explain our position; and something more tangible is called for if she is not to relapse into her attitude of aloofness and mistrust. We hear that the negotiations for the Anglo-American Tariff Convention are almost completed. Let us push it forward with the utmost speed. And, further, I would urge that a real effort should be made to bring about a definite settlement of the American Debt question, which, like a running sore, threatens to poison all our relations and yet, I am convinced, could be settled on generous terms to us if we had but the courage to face it.
That is the plea I make: that while armaments to an ever more burdensome degree may be a necessary palliative in our present situation, they offer no permanent solution. But the present moment, when the nations of the world have been brought face to face with the terrible reality of imminent war on a modern scale, offers an opportunity, similar to that of 1919 but without the passions then aroused, for real conciliation if only someone has the courage to give a lead. It is said we have lost prestige, but, whether that be so or not, we still have enough left to give a lead to the world; and the plea I make is that we should use it not only to ensure our military security, but also to bring about that appeasement among the nations for which in these recent weeks the whole 1484 world has shown it is not only ready but eager.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, only a few hours ago there appeared in the Press news of an alleged dispute in the International Commission over the further settlements in Czechoslovakia. If this is so, it is impossible not to foresee further serious disputes in which His Majesty's Government may be engaged. I feel obliged to remember that, as the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, said in his speech two days ago, failing settlement by negotiation the threat of war must on occasion be offered. That threat of war, if it is successful, leads to the forstalling of war and therefore to the maintenance of peace. It is idle to speculate whether or not the threat of war in the hands of the Prime Minister during his recent conversations was as effective as we should like it to have been, but the fact remains that if such a threat is offered and is to be an effective threat, it must be backed by real power to intervene with force of arms at the desired time and place. There must in fact be a continuing security, not to be achieved by tardy or hurried preparations for war and not only to be offered at certain times and places. It must be apparent to those with whom we have occasion to negotiate.
No doubt there will be an opportunity later in the year for a debate on our preparations for national defence, but the pace of events is so hot now that I feel it would be unwise to leave this word unsaid for three weeks or a month. It would be understandable if, in the reaction that was felt by the public on realising that war had been averted, those who had freely given their services felt that the object for which those services had been given had been achieved. It would be likewise understandable if those who are responsible for spending the public funds on preparations for national defence thought they might turn now to economy. I wish I could share those views. I cannot share them. I feel that, much as we should like to relax our preparations now, that relaxation is for the distant future. But the noble Lord who spoke last said that armaments were a commonplace of discussions of this kind, and I agree with him that they are a commonplace, but in the present shape that international negotiations take they are a commonplace which we must never forget. I feel there 1485 is no justification for any slackening in our preparations for national defence, but that on the contrary it is our duty to press forward with those preparations which have already been made in anticipation of such an emergency and to correct such shortcomings as may have been revealed during the crisis. I trust that His Majesty's Government may see fit to give a clear lead to the public, so that there will not be any relaxing until the settlement has been fully implemented in the way that the Government desire. Only thus shall we strengthen the hands of the Prime Minister and of the Foreign Secretary, to whom we are so grateful for their recent efforts, and to whom we offer every good wish in the efforts which I am sure they will have to make for some time to come.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, we have had a very long debate, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I take up a certain amount of your time, although, fortunately, a good many of their Lordships who asked questions have gone away and therefore perhaps I need not weary your Lordships who remain by answering the questions of those who are not present. I think the Government have very little cause to complain of the volume of criticism which has been directed at them by the many speakers who have addressed your Lordships. Indeed I think there were only four or possibly five of whom I might say that they were hostile to the policy of the Government. They were Lords Strabolgi, Cecil, Lloyd and Lytton, and possibly also, I should add, Lord Ailwyn. I do not include Lord Snell as having been an entire opponent of the Government's policy. Indeed he said that he approved of what the Prime Minister had done, although he criticised the settlement, which I am prepared to admit none of us really likes. At any rate, I do not look upon him as an opponent, as I do look upon Lord Strabolgi. Nor do I look upon Lord Marley as an opponent, because I think he agreed with most of the things that the Government have done.
The debate has been remarkable in another direction, in that we have had no fewer than four maiden speeches, one from my old chief, Lord Baldwin, another from one with whom I worked for several happy years at the Admiralty, and yet another from Lord Grenfell, 1486 whom I hope we shall often hear again in this House. I think I was younger than he when I made my maiden speech, and a very trying business it was. Although very often our debates are dull, I think he will find, if he attends our sittings more often, that there is an attraction in them.
Many speakers have expressed deep sympathy with Czechoslovakia and that must be the feeling of all of us. None of us but can feel sympathy for a small and comparatively new nation which finds many miles of territory and many thousands of its citizens passing under the rule of another State. None of us but can admire the dignity, courage and self-control shown by the people and leaders, of that little country; but we must not let sentiment destroy our judgment. The troubles between Germans and Czechs are of no new origin. They were going on many years before the Austro-Hungarian Empire came into existence—
§ EARL STANHOPE
And whoever has been the underdog on those occasions has always had cause, and considerable cause, of complaint about the treatment received from whoever it was who at that time happened to be the ruler. Unfortunately the Peace Treaties of 1919 did nothing to put that right, and no one criticised that fact more severely than did the Labour Party of the day, quite rightly as it has proved. I think all of us, and not least Czechoslovakia, are to blame for not having put that right sooner. It is a matter which we all realised would sooner or later develop into a crisis. Lord Davies yesterday asked why we did not bring the matter before the League of Nations and set up an equity tribunal. I have tried, on several occasions, to deal with Lord Davies, and as he is not here now, I am not going to waste time by trying once more to endeavour to deal with him, except to say that perhaps he and one other in your Lordships' House appear to run in blinkers. Running in blinkers, they only see what is right in front of them and not what is on either side, and therefore, like a horse which runs in blinkers, they are unable to see that there are any other horses on the course. If they would only take the blinkers off, they would realise that we 1487 are not the only nation which attends the proceedings of the League of Nations, and that although we have done our utmost to bring these matters before the League of Nations, unfortunately there is a law of unanimity which prevails, which makes it quite impossible to do anything of the kind. Lord Cecil knows very well that Article 19 cannot be brought into operation unless there is unanimity.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am reluctant to interpose, but as the noble Earl appeals to me I am bound to say that I do not quite agree with that view. It is true that no decision can be arrived at on that or any other matter without unanimity, but there is no reason why Article 19 should not be employed for the purpose of investigation and discussion, and the expression of a strong opinion, which, if strong enough, would probably be of decisive value in any dispute. If I may venture on an autobiographical detail, I urged very strongly that the Chinese unequal treaties should be brought before the League, but the forces of bureaucracy were too strong, I regret to say.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am very glad of the correction. Perhaps I am more of a realist than my noble friend. I like to obtain a decision, and you cannot obtain a decision unless you can obtain unanimity on the matter. That is the difficulty which has always been confronting the League. Over and over again nations have said that it is useless to bring matters forward because other nations would oppose, and therefore you stultify the League by having matters brought forward, discussed, and then left on the table. We had a similar matter arising last week, and when Lord Lytton and other Peers take the view that the Government are doing their best to undermine the League, I would point out that if he would read the newspapers or keep his eyes open, he would have realised that even during the crisis representatives of His Majesty's Government have been out there trying to increase the influence of the League and trying to get an alteration of Article but that that was blocked by the fact that two nations refused to accept any vote of that character. We are doing our very best to strengthen the League and the noble Earl on the Cross 1488 Benches says the Government are doing their best to undermine it. That is the kind of criticism that is made by those who accept any sort of tittle-tattle in the League of Nations Union which they support.
And let me tell them something else which they have accepted which is only tittle-tattle. The noble Viscount opposite quoted a telegram which he said we had sent to the Czechoslovak nation in order to bring pressure to bear on them. It was a telegram which, quite rightly, he described as being such that if we had sent it he would not be prepared to hold up his head. We sent no such telegram. Perhaps your Lordships would like to hear the telegram which we did send. Here it is:You should at once join with your French colleague in pointing out to Czech Government that their reply in no way meets the critical situation which Anglo-French proposals were designed to avert, and if adhered to would, when made, public, in our opinion lead to an immediate German invasion. You should urge the Czech Government to withdraw this reply and urgently consider an alternative that takes account of realities. Anglo-French proposals remain in our view only chance of avoiding immediate German attack. On basis of the reply now under consideration I would have no hope of any useful result ensuing from a second visit to Herr Hitler, and Prime Minister would be obliged to cancel arrangement for it. We therefore beg Czech Government to consider urgently and seriously before producing a situation for which we could take no responsibility.We should of course have been willing to put Czech proposal for arbitration before the German Government if we had thought that at this stage there was any chance of its receiving favourable consideration. But we cannot for a moment believe that it would be acceptable now, nor do we think the German Government would regard the present proposition as one that is capable of being settled by arbitration as Czech Government suggest.If on reconsideration Czech Government feel bound to reject our advice, they must of course be free to take any action that they think appropriate to meet the situation that may thereafter develop.Please act immediately on receipt at whatever hour.Rather a different telegram from that which the noble Viscount accepted as being the one which we had sent ! Is it not obvious that the only pressure that we could bring to bear on the Czech Government was to say that if they took certain action then we should not be prepared to stand behind them? That is 1489 the only pressure that we could bring, and that is what we did say, but we did not bring the kind of pressure that the noble Viscount suggested, nor did we put it into language such as that which he submitted to this House as being that which was used.
He said that we were hound to go to the support of Czechoslovakia, and so also did the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, yesterday. There was no commitment prior to Munich whatever, other than that which is contained under Article 10 of the Covenant, and he knows far better than I do that if that Article had been used by the nations of the world we should have had to intervene at every single crossing of a frontier which has taken place since the Covenant was inaugurated. In every single small dispute which happened in South America this country would have been compelled to take its part. The noble Viscount shakes his head, but you cannot apply it in one direction and not in another. It has either got to be accepted universally or else the thing becomes a total failure. That is in fact what has happened. I am sorry to say that, except that nations have themselves refused to break Article 10 has not meant that nations have accepted the obligations of the Covenant to undertake the protection of everybody else's frontier wherever somebody else might cross it. We have, of course, accepted amendments to Article 16 and various other Articles of the Covenant, which have been interpretations that have been accepted by all the nations of the world, and so far from trying to undermine the League of Nations, the action which we took last week, I have very little doubt, prevented other nations from leaving the League and reducing still further the membership of what should be an international body composed of all the nations of the world.
I want to get back to the question of Czechoslovakia. It is true that the Sudeten Germans have undoubtedly been less ill-treated than minorities in other countries, but it is also true that those Sudeten Germans have had a great deal to complain of. And indeed that is quite clear from Lord Runciman's Report. I think it was four years ago or more when I myself met Herr Henlein in London, and I asked him about the situation in the Sudeten area then, which he described to me. He told me of the extraordinarily 1490 low figure which was given as "dole" to those who were out of employment in that country. I forget what it was, but it was a few shillings a month. When I said, "How often does that enable your people to buy meat?" he told me that they had not had meat for several years. I asked him what was his hope of obtaining some improvement in their conditions. He said, "Unless I can obtain some improvement in their conditions I shall be unable to hold them for more than another six months or a year." Well, he held them a great deal longer than that.
But if your Lordships will turn to the Report of Lord Runciman you will get evidence far stronger than anything I can give you. Many of us have paid a tribute to the work which the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, has done, but no tribute that we can give is, I think, adequate. He took on a thankless job at the request of my noble friend the Secretary of State, who, as I think he then described it, launched him into the Atlantic and left him there to navigate his way alone. And magnificently he has done it. And I at any rate am far more prepared to accept the opinion of Lord Runciman as an independent observer of recent conditions in Czechoslovakia than to accept the opinions of Professor Seton-Watson or anybody else, none of whom, I think, would themselves say that they came in as unprejudiced witnesses.
Let us see what Lord Runciman said. It is on page 6 of the first White Paper:I did my best to promote it"—that is to say, a settlement within the frontiers of the Czechoslovak State—I did my best to promote it, and up to a point with some success, but even so not without misgiving as to whether, when agreement was reached, it could ever be carried out without giving rise to a new crop of suspicions, controversies, accusations and counter-accusations. I felt that any such arrangement would have been temporary, not lasting.Then he goes on to say this:Further, it has become self-evident to me that those frontier districts between Czechoslovakia and Germany where the Sudeten population is in an important majority should be given full right of self-determination at once. If some cession is inevitable, as I believe it to be, it is as well that it should be done promptly and without procrastination. There is real danger, even a danger of civil war, in the continuance of a state of uncertainty. Consequently there are very 1491 real reasons for a policy of immediate and drastic action.The Cabinet had the advantage of the attendance of Lord Runciman at the meeting which took place the day he returned from Czechoslovakia, and on the day also which saw the return of the Prime Minister from his first conversation at Berchtesgaden. He gave us information of that character, and a good deal more besides; and as a result of the guidance that was given us by Lord Runciman and in view of the facts which were placed before us from many directions, we came to the conclusion that the Government had no alternative whatever but to accept a policy of self-determination. We understood that, rather than a plebiscite, a policy of cession would be preferable to Dr. Benes and the other leaders in Czechoslovakia, and therefore the Anglo-French plan came into existence.
We felt impelled to advise the Czechoslovak Government to accept that plan, and we felt impelled also to urge that, as advised by Lord Runciman, it should be carried through with the utmost possible expedition. The Prime Minister returned to Germany, having attained the acceptance of that principle not only by his own Government here at home but also by the French Government and the Czechoslovak Government. But when he arrived at Godesberg, expecting only to have to settle questions of detail as to how that principle was to be carried into effect, he found, as he told members of another place, that Herr Hitler had not expected him to be able to obtain any such acceptance and had drawn up a plan of his own. It was a very different method from that which the Prime Minister had expected. There was no difference in principle, but there was of course a very great difference in method, and, as the Prime Minister described it, it was not a memorandum which he was asked to send to Czechoslovakia but nothing other than an ultimatum. That was therefore not a plan which we felt we could press the Czechoslovak Government to accept.
War then seemed imminent. As the most reverend Primate told your Lordships, when most of us had really given up hope of peaceful settlement, the Prime Minister, waking up one morning, drafted the two personal messages, one to Herr 1492 Hitler and the other to Signor Mussolini. Had it not been for the Anglo-Italian Agreement, with the arrangement of which with the Italian Government he had a great deal to do at an earlier date, any approach of course to Signor Mussolini would have been impossible. When Signor Mussolini received that message he acted with the utmost promptitude and despatch, as one would expect, and I think every one of us owes a real debt of gratitude to him for the great promptitude of the action he took in getting hold of Herr Hitler and getting him to arrange that conference. The Foreign Secretary has already pointed out how great was the difference between the arrangement made at Munich and that put forward in the German Memorandum at Godesberg. It followed, indeed, very closely the proposals put forward in the Anglo-French plan of September 19.
Your Lordships will realise that the strain which was put on the Prime Minister through all these proceedings was one such as it is almost impossible for us to realise, whatever his age, and he is no longer very young. It is a strain which I certainly could not have gone through. He talked on the first occasion with Herr Hitler from half-past five to a quarter past eight with only the interpreter present. When your Lordships realise that not only was the future of Czechoslovakia at stake, but also the future of millions of people in different parts of the world, your Lordships will realise that the strain of carrying on that conversation and following the translation of it at the end and of all the critical work he had to do before his departure, and after a long flight, was very heavy. There is nothing I can say, having been a wholehearted supporter of the Prime Minister's policy throughout all this crisis, which I can find adequate to describe my feelings for him. I can only say that the words of my noble friend Lord Baldwin yesterday were more than fully earned, and there is nothing I can add which is enough to cover the debt we owe to him.
But we also owe a debt to another member of the Government which has not been paid in full. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary has not told your Lordships that he worked out a plan to see what was possible in the way of a timetable to arrange the evacuation of the Czechoslovak people from the area which was to be handed over. It had obviously 1493 to be done in a very quick period, otherwise it would have been rejected by Herr Hitler. That plan, made out in conjunction with the French Government, was the basis of the time-table which formed the foundation of the Munich Agreement. It is thanks to my noble friend here that a practicable proposal was put forward which alone made that Munich Agreement possible. Your Lordships should know that that was due to my noble friend. The agenda was, I believe, largely due to Signor Mussolini, but the time-table that formed the foundation of the plan of retirement was due to my noble friend.
Some of your Lordships have said that if we had only made our position clear very much earlier this crisis would never have arisen. Several others of your Lordships pointed out that, apart from the speech of the Prime Minister in March, repeated again by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in August, the position was made abundantly clear over and over again, not only to Herr Hitler but to the other leading personalities in Germany. Nor is that all. Somewhere about September 12—certainly before the Nuremberg speech—we took certain action with the defensive Forces which we knew was likely to get known in Germany. It did get so known, and it was recognised there as the preliminary steps to mobilisation. It had a very considerable effect, and there can be no question whatever that there was no doubt in the minds of the German people or, at any rate, in the minds of the leaders of the German people that this country would very likely be drawn into a war if Germany chose to invade Czechoslovakia.
The reception which the Prime Minister received from the German people during each of his visits to Germany, increasing each time in intensity, showed that the German people also realised whither they were tending if they were going to go in the direction indicated by their preparations. When the Prime Minister received these tremendous signs of approval—not organised as they are sometimes in that kind of country, including Russia—it was obvious that they welcomed him as a statesman who had come to try to secure peace not only for his own country but for them too. Lord Cecil has said that he is convinced that at the time of the Munich Conference Herr Hitler had no intention of invading Czechoslovakia 1494 and would have given way. Perhaps I am in a better position to have internal knowledge than my noble friend, and I can assure him that that is not my conviction. I have not the smallest doubt whatever that if agreement had not been reached at Munich—and it was by no means easy to reach—Czechoslovakia would forthwith have been invaded. It is quite clear that the moral support of many nations, not least that of the United States of America, was firmly on our side. Moral support does not win battles. Moral support does not win war.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
He said that the imponderables were four-fifths of the cause of victory.
§ EARL STANHOPE
Possibly, but imponderables were not intended to mean only moral support. I am sorry to disagree with my noble friend.
Napoleon said God was on the side of the big battalions, and for that blasphemy he perished. I am trying to assist the noble Earl.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord, but I should not like to accept either his guidance or his strategy on military affairs from what I have heard him say in this House. I wonder what Lord Chatfield was thinking when the noble Lord was associating himself with my noble friend on the Cross Benches as being an expert in these matters and as one who, no doubt, would be able to give such guidance as we hope to receive from Lord Chatfield.
If it had become an accepted principle that cession had to take place, and we agreed with Lord Runciman on the point that it was inevitable, it is obvious that it had to be carried out with the utmost promptitude, and, the Secretary of State's plan having been found to be workable, clearly it would have been nothing else than a mad act to declare war because we did not approve of the method. The noble Viscount, Lord Sankey, has asked, "Who has paid the price for peace?" There can be no doubt that by far the greatest part of the price has been paid by Czechoslovakia. Let 1495 us all acknowledge it; it is a very high price. But when noble Lords say that we sacrificed Czechoslovakia in order to save ourselves, perhaps they would consider what would have happened to Czechoslovakia if in fact we had gone to war.
Lord Mottistone told the House, from his experience at the time of the drawing up of the Versailles Treaty, that these frontiers were fixed because they were necessary for a strategical reason. I think there was another reason. It was that they formed the historical boundaries of Bohemia. Whether Field-Marshal Foch chose them because they were historic or because they were strategic, I do not know, but what I am quite certain of is this. If he had looked at the position Czechoslovakia is in to-day, he would not have chosen those boundaries as the most suitable for them to make their defence upon. It is perfectly true that with the Maginot line made round the western end of Czechoslovakia they had a very strong defence, although I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trenchard, in saying that a boundary of a mountain range is by no means necessarily the best, particularly when it is a boundary that is held against a nation which is armed with a tremendous weight of artillery. Your positions are extremely conspicuous, and a vast weight of artillery can be brought against you, section by section. A frontier which is strongly defended and which lies on flat ground, on which you can get observations for your gunfire only from the air, is in many ways, according to modern military science, a stronger position than one that is sited on a mountain range.
But quite apart from that, let your Lordships look at the map at the end of the White Papers. So long as Austria remained in existence, the whole of that long strip at the southern side of Czechoslovakia was inhabited by a friendly neighbour which they had no reason to fear. That situation has ceased to exist. Austria has become a part of Germany. When you look at the map to-day, you have to realise that the whole of that southern side of Czechoslovakia is now open to Germany and that is where the German divisions were massed. That southern section of the Czechoslovak front had only begun to be defended since the Anschluss. It had no Maginot 1496 line, it had no defences which could keep the Germans from making their great attack. It had nothing to prevent their marching through and up the plain into Prague and to their getting absolutely behind the whole of the Maginot line, however strongly it was fortified with guns and all the other war materials.
Nothing could have saved Czechoslovakia. When you get a small country with a small population, the one thing you ought to try and do is to shorten the length of the line that they have to hold. We ourselves saw that in a very minor way in the Great War. I well remember having fought on the Ypres front for many months at various times, and our having at last managed to get to the top of the Passchendaele heights of the Ypres salient. Does any one think those little hills were not an advantage to us compared to sitting in the mud at the bottom of the valley as we had done for years and having spent heaven knows how many thousands of lives to get to the top of those hills? Yet in 1918, when we were short of men, we found it profitable to go out of the salient and back into the muddy grounds below, and we did so because the bottom was necessarily a shorter length of line and released men to go and fight elsewhere. Therefore, when noble Lords talk about sacrificing the Maginot line and therefore weakening Czechoslovakia let them realise that there is another side to that question. With the south open to a German attack as it is, that Maginot line is useless, and by prolonging that great salient you give the Czechs a longer line to hold and you weaken their man power by lengthening the line they have to defend.
Anybody can realise that the situation being what it is to-day, nothing that we could have done could have saved Czechoslovakia, and it was made perfectly clear to the Prime Minister by Herr Hitler that, unless that territory was ceded to him, he would march in and take it, and that the frontier which he would then take would not be an ethnographic frontier such as he will have now but it would have been a military frontier, probably the Moldavian quadrilateral from the eastern end of what was Austria to the eastern end of Northern Germany, right across Czechoslovakia, cutting off the Czech part from the Slovak part. It would have been the end of 1497 Czechoslovakia. When Lord Newton says we got nothing out of Herr Hitler, I reply that that is what we got out of Herr. Hitler. Had it not been for the Prime Minister and the arrangements he made, Czechoslovakia would have ceased to exist, and so far from losing a frontier fringe around the end of their territory they would have lost at least a third of it, if not more.
I apologise for taking up so much of your Lordships' time. I have said that we had no engagement to defend Czechoslovakia. We undertook the part of a mediator realising full well that whatever settlement was made it would be criticised, but feeling it our duty to do so. I could wish that the support which we received at the beginning of the crisis from the Labour Party opposite would have been still continued. I regret to see that easy criticism of being wise after the event that some members of the Party opposite are now indulging in. There are some, and they are amongst the members of the Labour Party, who think that war with Nazi Germany is inevitable and that if so we had better have it now. I entirely agree with what was said by several noble Lords, particularly, I think, by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, that a war to prevent war is perhaps the greatest crime we can commit. I once met a surgeon who said that if only one would submit to an abdominal operation every third year one could be certain of escaping all the various diseases that man might fall heir to, such as cancer and other vile diseases that kill us. I have yet to find any patient prepared to accept an abdominal operation every third year, and the only person I can conceive who would profit from it would be the surgeon. That is equally true in regard to a preventive war. There is more than a probability that the war which you fear in the future may never take place. Does it not occur to people that if they want to destroy Nazi-ism the worst way to do it is to attack it from outside? After all the German people are a patriotic people; nobody disputes that for a moment. Do you imagine that if you attacked Germany every patriotic German would not at once rally to Nazi-ism and that you would make it stronger than it has ever been before? That is not the way in which you are 1498 going to upset Nazi-ism if that is your desire.
Now I have a number of questions with which I must deal. A good many of them relate to the guarantee which we have given. Frankly I admit that I do not like it. I do not think any of us do. It is a very severe commitment, it is a commitment of a new kind, but it is one we felt we ought to give as being some quid pro quo for the sacrifices we asked Czechoslovakia to make not only for her sake but for ourselves. Of course, as my noble friend the Foreign Secretary said on Monday, a great deal remains to be worked out as to what that actual guarantee shall imply, what it shall contain, with whom it shall be and so on. Therefore I can really add nothing to the statement made last night by my right honourable friend Sir Thomas Inskip in the course of the debate in another place. I will read it to your Lordships if you desire, but you probably already know it. It is an engagement to oppose unprovoked aggression from across the border. Incidentally, as I see it, that does not mean that we shall interfere with what happens inside Czechoslovakia, such as some disagreement between the Czechs and Slovaks, which we earnestly trust may be amicably settled.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I do not know whether the noble Earl will allow me to ask a question now. Would it apply to an invasion from Hungary? I presume it would.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I think it certainly would if it was unprovoked aggression. I understand it is already in operation, and I think I am right in saying that would be the case.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
That is what I thought, but I wanted to be quite clear, because there is a little confusion—perhaps that is not the word—a little uncertainty as to whether the guarantee becomes applicable according to the country involved.
§ EARL STANHOPE
We have no legal liability, but we think we have a moral liability, as was said in another place by my right honourable friend. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, asked whether we were making application to Germany for reciprocity in the release of prisoners. Yes, we have made representations, but so far as I know' no official answer has 1499 been received. I have seen it stated in newspapers that they are being released, but I have no official information. The representations made will no doubt be renewed unless the Government receive an answer. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked where the International Commission will sit. In Berlin. Then he asked how decisions would be reached. I understand that the Commission are arranging their own procedure. Therefore I am not at present in a position to say what they will decide. Their procedure will rest in their own hands. There was nothing laid down in the Agreement.
One noble Lord asked what adjustment would be made of the Czech national debt. That, I understand, is a matter which will come before the International Commission, and so also will questions in regard to any payment for public buildings and so on. Of course, noble Lords are aware that the whole of this Agreement had to be arrived at in a matter of hours, and that these questions require not only knowledge of the situation in Czechoslovakia now but of the history of these various institutions many years ago. For instance, I am not prepared to say what Czechoslovakia paid for these public buildings when they took them over at the end of the Great War. All these are matters which will be considered by the International Commission, and difficult a great many of them will be. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, I think, asked a question about the preservation of the Czech currency. I understand that the offer of an advance of £10,000,000 is intended very largely to help the Czech currency. That, again, is a matter for the Czech Government to consider. If we can assist them in stabilising their currency, of course we shall be very glad to do so, although obviously I am not in a position to commit the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Government to take any action other than advice, apart from the help already given in making that advance.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked if we could not have a secret Session of Parliament in which we should be able to give your Lordships and members of another place a great deal of secret information which we could not give to the public. The noble Viscount reminded us that there were one or two secret Sessions in the course of the Great 1500 War. I remember that very well, because I was able to get leave in order to be here. I do not think we got much information from the Government during the course of those secret Sessions, for the obvious reason that with the very large number of your Lordships and the very large number of members of another place a secret was not likely to be held very long. But it must be remembered that there was then a complete censorship, and therefore we could be fairly certain that no information given would get into enemy hands and be used against us. Now that there is no censorship it is obviously impossible to give secret information.
Now may I turn for a minute or two to the lessons of this crisis? Our understanding or our agreement with France, which some people say has been weakened, has in the opinion of every member of His Majesty's Government, as I am sure my noble friend the Foreign Secretary will agree, been greatly strengthened and solidified by the perils we have both been passing through in the last few weeks. I am quite certain that that is not less the view of the French Ministers who visited this country and of their colleagues in Paris. There is no question that that at any rate is one good side of the crisis. Another good side of the crisis is that we have been able to realise that when a crisis arises or becomes imminent we can count on unanimity in all political Parties. I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord opposite and his friends, who when the crisis was at its height did their utmost to support the Government, as we knew they would, and did their best to make us a united and powerful nation. I wish that could continue. Personally I have always disliked Party attacks over international and foreign questions. I wish we could bring them to an end.
There is one further thing which we expected and yet which it was a great relief to know. That was the splendid courage and the calm common sense of the ordinary man, woman and child. None of us could fail to be filled with wonder at those people who perhaps for the first time understood what war in the air might mean to them when they saw their children being fitted with gas masks and were wondering what to do with the baby and so on. When we see the courage and splendid resolution of the 1501 men and women of this country I think we realise once again that we are very far indeed from being a decadent nation, that, if anything, we are better than we were in 1914. And that lesson has not been lost abroad.
I wish the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and others did not work themselves up into what I hope I shall be forgiven for describing as an ungovernable excitement over any arrangements which we may arrive at with any other nations of Europe and suggest that they are directed against the Comintern or anybody else. We have not the faintest intention of making any arrangement at all with anybody which will be directed against anybody else. What we are endeavouring to do is to effect arrangements with nations in Europe, whatever their form of government, which will enable those nations to live together in peace. We care not at all what the government of some other nations may be, provided that that government is kept to their own people and so long as they do not try to impose that government on others. Therefore my noble friend behind me and the Prime Minister and the whole Government have been working for a very long time to see if we cannot obtain some breaking down of the barriers between the great democracies and the great autocracies. These barriers can only lead to friction, they can only lead to misunderstanding, they may indeed lead, as we saw only a few days ago, to war. Therefore, if we can obtain some agreement and understanding between the different nations of the earth, do not let the noble Lord or anybody else imagine that we are directing it against somebody of whom he may be fond, some nation for which he may have a particular affection. Let him realise that it is in the interest of humanity as a whole, and in the interest of peace as a whole.
A further lesson I should like to mention is that, of course, this crisis has revealed gaps in our defences, both military and civil. Some of those gaps we knew of, some we only discovered when we began to put various machinery to the test—and a great deal of machinery of which your Lordships know very little, and the country outside still less, was actually moving and was ready to come into full use in the course of a very few hours. Well, those gaps and those deficiencies are being put right, and I hope 1502 your Lordships and the public will be prepared to put your hands still deeper into your pockets when you have to pay for those gaps and those deficiencies to be put right. One lesson which I hope we all learned is that unilateral disarmament will never again be accepted by the people of this country as other than a piece of incredible folly which we shall never repeat. Lord Lloyd seemed to think he was the only person who had argued against it. A good many of us have argued against it for a good many years past. Some of us endangered our political careers by being quite prepared to resign if we did not get what we thought was necessary. It is more than twelve years since I did so, and if the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet were here he would certainly corroborate my memory of the occasion when he and I were at the Admiralty and were within twelve hours of going because we did not get all we thought was necessary. That was the time when the defences were cut down.
§ EARL STANHOPE
And we are still trying to make good the deficiencies of the period of what I say was insanity, not only on the part of the Government of this country but also of the people who did not realise the dangers into which the country was drifting. Now as to the future. Some noble Lords have spoken as though we had only obtained a respite. Certainly the sky is not clear, nor is the barometer set fair, and history only can show whether we have obtained a respite or whether, as I believe, we may be approaching a new chapter, or what Lord Ponsonby describes as a new volume, in the history of Europe. It is my belief—indeed, it is more than a hope—that the latter expectation may be the right one. The Prime Minister, when he returned from Munich—and it sounds incredible to those who saw the reception which he received in London, in Whitehall, Downing Street and elsewhere—said that the reception he received in Munich was quite a s great as, if not greater than, that which he received in London. As he came back from that conference, which broke up at, I think, half-past one or two o'clock at night, the streets were full of German citizens, who gave him the most tremendous reception as he returned to his hotel. And why? Did it mean nothing 1503 that the German people vociferously acclaimed the statesman of a foreign country visiting them in the middle of their country? Why did they do it? They did it because they believed that he was the man who had saved them from going into another great world war. That meant that those people had looked over the edge, as we had all looked over the edge, and had heard the sound of the god of war approaching with what seemed a tread which nothing could turn aside. Does it mean nothing that those people cheered the Prime Minister in Germany, realising the danger from which he had saved them?
Does it mean nothing that Herr Hitler, the man who everybody agrees has a knowledge which is almost uncanny of what the German people wish to be told, will have realised that the German people were vociferously acclaiming the man who had won for them peace? Will the leaders of the Nazi régime feel that they are strengthening the hold of that régime on their people if they go, as they have done in the past, from crisis to crisis until eventually a crisis comes to such a stage that no longer can disaster be averted and war must ensue? Will not those leaders feel that there is something still greater than bringing back a certain number of Germans into the German Reich: a claim that they are the first Government in Germany which has been able to establish a great and lasting peace throughout the greater nations of Europe? Do not noble Lords think that, after the experiences of last week, after the acclaim that was given to the Prime Minister, there is a far greater chance of the leaders in Germany and of the people of Germany leading a peaceful life and pursuing a peaceful policy than has been visible, or indeed credible, during the past five, six or seven years?
Is it of no consequence that the Heads of Government of four great nations were able to meet round a table and resolve a question which had been a festering sore in the centre of Europe for many years past, that we were able to resolve that question by discussion and by agreement, and not by the arbitrament of war? Was it of no consequence that, when each of those four statesmen returned to his own country, each one of them was received with acclamation by his people? No one of them could say 1504 that he alone had obtained a victory at the expense of somebody else, but each one of those four was able to be acclaimed by his people as having done something, not only for the common good, but for the good of his nation. I have no doubt that noble Lords will say, "Yes, but Czechoslovakia was not there." That is true, and yet, as I have pointed out, if any other solution had been arrived at than the one which has been agreed, Czechoslovakia would still have remained a festering sore, would still have had to face every sort of difficulty, which, as Lord Runciman has shown, could not have gone on without the possibility of civil war, the worst form of war of all. Therefore she too, although it may take some years before she discovers the fact, had every reason to be grateful for the solution that was found at Munich last week.
I believe that those facts which I have mentioned to your Lordships—the acclamation of our Prime Minister in Germany, the agreement of the Heads of those four States, and various other situations which I have tried to describe—augur well for the future. Believing that, I am not going to carry my head one whit less high than I did before this crisis began. On the contrary, this country has once again given a lead to Europe by being able to obtain agreement by discussion instead of by resort to force. So far from the prestige of this country having been severely lowered by what has happened, I think that in most countries of the world that prestige is as high now as it has ever been since the conclusion of the Great War. And I am quite convinced that when countries have had time to think over the matter somewhat further, there will be no country in Europe where our prestige will not be higher than it was before the crisis began.
The policy of His Majesty's Government during the recent crisis and their efforts to secure lasting peace have, I believe, obtained the overwhelming approval of your Lordships' House, and so far as I know, as I said at the beginning of my speech, only five noble Lords really criticised the policy of His Majesty's Government. Did I think otherwise I should have asked your Lordships to consent to a Motion being put down, which we could have discussed and voted upon involving a vote of confidence in the 1505 Government. If any of those four or five noble Lords that I have named think they have followers, I am quite prepared to put down a Motion on behalf of the Government, and we will discuss and vote upon it to-morrow. Unless I am so challenged, I shall take it that the vast majority of your Lordships' House have approved the policy which His Majesty's Government are pursuing, that you support the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and the other members of the Government in the endeavours that they are making to secure a just and lasting peace between the nations of the world, and that you believe, as we believe, that the lines which are being followed by the Prime Minister are such as to deserve the support not only of your Lordships' House but of the country as a whole.