HL Deb 19 April 1939 vol 112 cc654-705

4.2 p.m.

VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can make any general statement as to the foreign policy of this country and as to what steps they think it possible and desirable to take with a view to the maintenance of an enduring peace; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is now some weeks since I ventured to place on the Order Paper the Motion which stands in my name. Since that date a number of very important events have taken place, beginning with the seizure of Czecho-Slovakia and ending with the recent declarations of President Roosevelt. The second of these declarations, the message of the President to Germany and Italy, has set before public opinion with characteristic clearness and courage the issue whether crude nationalism is to dominate the world, or whether there is still time for the peace-loving Powers to insist that justice and international co-operation shall have the last word. That is a challenge to us all, and accordingly my object this afternoon is not so much to call the attention of your Lordships to current questions of foreign politics—though, of course, some of them must come in—as to ask the House to consider in what general direction our foreign policy should move with the object of securing, as far as possible, permanent peace in the world and especially in Europe.

The broad conditions of the problem seem clear enough. There are three major countries, with one or two smaller countries attached to them, who seem to be determined to object to all forms of international control in foreign affairs and to most forms of international co-operation. These countries, as your Lordships know, are Germany, Italy and Japan. This attitude has not been assumed quite recently. On the contrary, it was perhaps first prominently brought forward during the Japanese adventure in Manchuria in 1931 and 1932, and it became abundantly clear in the years that followed, from the speeches delivered by Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler and especially in the Abyssinian controversy of 1935, that that was the view which they took. It may be possible—I do not know—that there is some sympathy with that attitude in your Lordships' House; but as far as I am concerned I must venture to submit that, in the form in which it is now put forward, it means complete international anarchy. The countries that rely upon this doctrine can only be described as international Nihilists, in spite of the fact that they make a great parade of their opposition to Bolshevist government as an anarchist creed.

As the years have proceeded the position has become more and more clearly defined. The underlying contention is—and this is the contention we must meet—that each sovereign country is a complete law unto itself. No treaty binds it against its own interest; none of the doctrines of International Law is recognised as effective, even though some have been accepted by the civilised world for many years and even for several centuries. A week or two ago Lord Hastings, in a very remarkable speech—I am not sure whether his Lordship is in his place, but I gave him notice that I was going to deal with it—said it was clear that moral obligations did not bind Governments in international affairs. Perhaps your Lordships would allow me to quote exactly what he said, because it is important that I should not misquote him. He said this: But whereas it is perfectly in order that the noble Lord"— that is, Lord Davies— and even so humble an individual as myself"— that is, Lord Hastings— should both preach and practice moral obligation, it is not for those who carry the grave responsibility of controlling the affairs of this country to be animated by any such aspirations. On the contrary, it is their duty to do only that which is best for Britain. And a little later on he repeats it: …while I repeat that questions of moral obligation should not be disregarded by those who hold comparatively irresponsible positions, they are impossible for those who have to steer this country through the difficult times through which we are now passing and which lie ahead. That view, so expressed, is exactly the view which is professed by the totalitarian States.

I need not trouble your Lordships with any elaborate arguments to show that that is so. The two recent instances of the seizure of Czecho-Slovakia and of Albania have been recognised by practically the whole of the civilised world as striking examples of the rejection of all obligations, moral and legal, by the aggressor States, and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria has been similarly condemned. Now whether we accept the view—and I shall say a word about the view itself later on—of Lord Hastings about moral obligations or not, it is plain that in practice the action taken by these States, not less by the Japanese Government than by Germany and Italy, constitutes an extreme danger to all other countries. It is much as if in any country you had bands of brigands going about controlled by chiefs who were either very bad or very mad. That these proceedings injure the victims of aggression is obvious, of course, but I am anxious to press this afternoon that they constitute a grave danger to all other States, particularly and especially perhaps to the British Empire, since its whole prosperity and even its existence are bound up with the maintenance of international peace and order.

I have sometimes seen discussions—we have all seen them—on whether it is right for this country to fight for Czecho-Slovakia or Albania. I venture to think that that is a most misleading way of putting the problem. It is not a question whether we should fight for this or that country which is a victim of aggression. The whole question is whether we are going to fight, if necessary, for the maintenance of law and order in international affairs. The Foreign Secretary, in the very remarkable speech he made about a fortnight ago, intimated—at least I think I am not misunderstanding him in saying that he intimated—that we stand for the cause of law and order, if for no other reason, in the interests of self-defence. The crisis which has arisen has been a matter of anxious consideration not only to the Government but to a great number of other persons in this country, and various solutions have been suggested. I will not deal at length with any of them, and certainly not with one which commonly goes by the name of appeasement, because whatever view you may take about the justification of its original action, I do not think anyone advocates its continuance now.


Oh, yes.


I may say at once to Lord Mottistone that I never speak about him at all. The principle was that you might, by concessions to the anarchist Governments, induce them to take part in a constructive peace effort in Europe. In the last year, two separate efforts in this direction were made—that in connection with Italy and Abyssinia, and that connected with Germany and Czecho-Slovakia. My submission is that in each case it completely failed to produce the result aimed at. In Germany, Munich was followed by the Jewish pogrom, one of the causes of which, I am convinced, was that the German Government had come to the conclusion that the protests of this Government and other Governments were not to be regarded, because they did not count. Then came the seizure of Czecho-Slovakia, the menaces to Poland, with all the immense consequences of agitation and expenditure. Then we had the tragic farce of the concluding phases of nonintervention in Spain, and these were followed by the notorious threats to France and the conquest of Albania. I do not think I need go further into what has happened.

I would just like to say what are the reasons why it seems to me that the failure of this effort, admirable as it was in intention, was bound to occur. In the first place I do not think that anyone can doubt that it produced in the minds of the Dictators the opinion that we were humiliated. However wrong, I have no doubt that that was the effect on their minds. I am convinced of that. Both as a result of the Munich conversations, and as a result of the visit to Rome, I am sure that the Dictators were convinced that we acted not from any high motives, such as a desire to save the world from war, but because of the threats of force which were used. The other objection that I have always felt is that in both of those transactions we were giving away the rights of other countries, in one case of Abyssinia and in the other case of Czecho-Slovakia, in order to secure what may have been admirable objects, but which were our objects because we regarded them as desirable. There might be a good deal to be said for a country which gives away some of its own rights in order to obtain peace and international friendship, but it seems to me that very little is to be said when concessions are made at the expense of somebody else and in disregard of our obligations.

The one fundamental principle on which all international relations must be based is the readiness to fulfil your international undertakings. Of course that does not mean that there should never be any negotiation or concession or discussion in any international difficulty. It merely means that concessions should not be made in such circumstances as will lead to the conclusion that they are the result either of force or of indifference to the rights of others. Putting aside then, this solution, there is another school represented in your Lordships' House by such distinguished speakers as Lord Stonehaven and Lord Newton, and many others, who believe simply that the right plan is to go back to the pre-War condition of affairs, to have no nonsense about international control, but to depend entirely upon the policy of rearmament and alliances in order that we shall be able to enforce our view of what is right in international affairs. I am not going to examine that, because I have a good deal which I desire to say, and I do not want to detain your Lordships long. It seems to me that if you look round the world and see its present condition, and the melancholy approach which it seems to me we have made to the pre-War condition of affairs, we cannot, I think, doubt that the effect of that policy, wherever it has been tried, has been productive of anything but peace and good feeling between the nations.

Next, I must just mention the so-called policy of armed isolation, which is very much the same policy as that which I may call, I hope without offence, the Stonehaven policy, except that there are to be no alliances. I need not trouble your Lordships about this theory, because its chief author, as I understand, has accepted the view that pure isolation will not do, and says that he is now in favour of what he calls "bisolation," which means that he accepts the alliance with France. If it ever comes to an alliance with Russia, I suppose he will call it "trisolation," and so on. I think this means that the whole theory has been abandoned.

Finally, there is the school of pure pacifism, which is represented with great distinction in this House by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. I hope he will believe me when I say that I have much more sympathy with this suggestion than with others which I have mentioned. I think that the object aimed at is right—to remove war altogether, and to substitute for it peaceful discussion. The difficulty, to my mind, is simply that I cannot see any sign whatever that the countries which are at present causing the chief danger to peace are adopting any such policy, and I can only regard a one-sided pacifism as far too dangerous a gamble for any sane person to adopt in international affairs. Nor am I at all encouraged by the fact that in recent cases of aggression the victims were either practically unarmed or so very little armed as to be no danger to the aggressor.

So far, what I have tried to say to your Lordships has been, I recognise, almost entirely destructive criticism and the question remains, if I am right in those criticisms, what steps should be taken in the direction of enduring peace? So far as I am concerned, I admit that at the moment it may well be that there is nothing to be done except to increase our armaments and increase our alliances for peace, though I confess I should very much prefer a general peace alliance rather than these piecemeal declarations. But I do not believe, and I do not think the Government believe, that any such policy can be of permanent value. If it goes on it must end, as far as I can see, in dividing the world more and more into two parts; and though it may be for the moment possible to draw to our side so large a proportion of the strength that the anarchic Powers will not venture to challenge us, yet even that seems to me to be far from certain. If we were to establish it as the permanent solution of our difficulties, I have no doubt that it would sooner or later lead to just such a catastrophe as occurred in 1914, only under circumstances which, owing to the advance of science—if that is the way one must put it—have become very much worse than they were then.

The fundamental fact on which any foreign policy must be based if we are to be, to use a popular phrase, realistic, is the interdependence of nations. That is the reason why even the partial success of the Stonehaven policy in time past is no sufficient reason for thinking it would succeed in present conditions. When this country was really protected by the Channel from all danger of invasion, and besides had an enormous and overwhelming strength at sea, it was possible for us to do many things and to obtain considerable diplomatic successes without seriously endangering our existence or the freedom of our development. Even then the situation was rapidly changing, owing to the invention of steam and things of that kind. It is difficult really to throw one's mind back to the conditions which existed a hundred years ago, the change has been so catastrophic. It has often been pointed out that when Sir Robert Peel was summoned from Rome in 1835 to take part in an unexpected change of Government, he travelled as rapidly as he could and it took him exactly the same time as it would have taken him in the days of the early Roman Empire. Now a journey from Rome, I suppose, could if necessary be achieved in one day. In addition to that, as we know, we can converse with every part of the world, and there are many other circumstances which help to show the extraordinary shrinkage of space which has taken place in recent years.

The result of that and other causes has been that in almost every respect it may be said to be true now that Europe is one entity. It is so in commerce, and in intellectual life, and even in such frivolous details as the fashions in dress. If any of your Lordships were suddenly deposited in any of the foreign capitals of Europe, I doubt very much whether you would know by the look of things that you were not still in London—so completely identical has the superficial side of life become all over Europe. So that you may say broadly that Napoleon's dictum that any war in Europe was of the nature of a civil war is ten times, a hundred times, more true now than it ever was in his day. Now that seems to me the central fact on which our foreign policy must be built, and it is altogether inconsistent with the purely nationalistic point of view, which regards each country as an entirely separate entity which need take no account of any other country.

Much of this, I think, is common ground. Our great objects must be, in the first place, to foster in Europe, and indeed in the world, co-operation for common objects, whether they be humanitarian, or social, or intellectual. Secondly—this, perhaps, is not quite so much common ground, but I think there will be no great dispute about it—we ought to elaborate international machinery for the peaceful settlement of all controversies, open to everyone, and giving as far as possible every guarantee of impartiality. And finally, in the event of all efforts of peaceful settlement of a controversy breaking down, there must be some means of preventing any nation from as it were throwing its sword into the balance, and trying to enforce a settlement by violence according to its own views.

I am not suggesting that the new policy of the Government would differ perhaps at all, certainly not much, from any of these propositions. The only thing that I am not sure about—and I hope the Foreign Secretary will be able to make the position quite clear—is whether they have fully accepted the consequences which seem to me inevitable if such a policy is to be successfully pursued. Granted the principle of national interdependence, and the consequent necessity of settling international disputes without war, it follows that it becomes the supreme interest of every country that it should accept this doctrine of co-operation against an aggressor whoever he may be. It may be said, perhaps with truth, that there must be a limit, for it is impossible to ask far distant countries, such as South America, for instance, to co-operate for peace in Europe; and it may well be therefore that it is essential to break the world up, as it were, into regions, where the full obligation of combining for peace will prevail. To whatever extent that may be true, yet the broad principle remains that peace is indivisible: that is to say that if you propose in any region to have a peace system, let us say for Europe, then, wherever it is broken in that region, it inflicts an injury on all those who are trying to keep the peace. I know that sounds rather like a platitude, but it is a platitude which, like so many other platitudes, is very often ignored.

No one can consider recent history without realising that the whole cause of peace has been affected by such an event as the seizure of Czecho-Slovakia or the invasion of Albania, and it is for that reason no doubt that the Government's policy of alliance has become essential as an emergency measure, but though it is essential as an emergency measure I submit that it is insufficient as a permanent policy. For instance, it is quite obvious that it is exceedingly difficult to collect, one by one, countries that will join our peace alliance. All sorts of local and national difficulties arise. Moreover, it is a great disadvantage that a restricted peace alliance is necessarily and inevitably an alliance against someone—in this case against Germany and Italy. That is in itself a very bad thing and, as I see it, quite unnecessary. You do not want to create two groups, or the old balance of power. That was never, in my humble judgment, a good system, even at its best, because it means a kind of perpetual threat of war, and any attempt to revive it would be disastrous, in view of the immensely increased destructiveness of modern warfare.

Moreover, it is wrong as a permanent policy to have a system which simply aims at preventing aggression and nothing else. That is open to the criticism that you are trying to crystallise the status quo, which is certainly not a good thing. It is probably wrong and certainly impracticable. Things change, and we must change with them. Therefore, machinery for peaceful change is just as necessary as machinery for collective security. In the same way another essential for anything like permanent peace is a reduction and limitation of armaments by international agreement. Nothing will persuade me, as long as competition in armaments goes on in the way it is going on now, that there can be anything like real, permanent, enduring, stable peace. That is a very difficult proposition under any circumstances, but under a system of groups of nations it will become intrinsically impossible. Any system of peace must be based on this—that every nation has a right to come into it, that there is to be no exclusion of any country, and that while, on the one hand, adequate machinery must be provided for settling international disputes without war, by negotiation or arbitration, on the other hand there must be overwhelming force available to peace-loving countries to put a stop to aggression if it takes place. That does not mean, as some people have said, that all nations must be ready to combine for security. It is enough if you have in your peace combination sufficient power to prevent any chance of successful aggression. It is not essential that all should combine for peace. It is essential that all must have an equal right to the justice which you seek to enforce.

It may be said, and with truth, that the ideas which I have been sketching to your Lordships are the foundations of the Covenant of the League of Nations and, as the Foreign Secretary suggested, if I understood him rightly the other day, these ideas are also the foundation—at any rate very largely the foundation—of the new policy of the Government. Where the two conceptions differ is simply in this, that the League contemplates a permanent alliance of peace with subsidiary organisation for ensuring international justice. That really is all it is. The Government policy, so far as it has gone at present, merely provides for the emergency which is before us. On the lines on which they are working at present, as soon as the emergency disappears, if it does disappear, the whole of their organisation, the whole of their hopes for the future, will disappear as well. No one who has lived through the last few weeks can have been insensible to the immense disadvantages of having to manufacture an instrument for peace afresh as each emergency arises. It has meant delay, it has meant misunderstanding, it has meant all sorts of petty jealousies. Had the League of Nations been kept in full vigour and energy it would have been easy, without any disturbance, to have utilised its machinery for doing exactly what the Government are seeking to do at the present moment, only, as I think, with much greater efficiency.

Therefore, as I said, this policy of organising a peace alliance, open to all, with such permanent machinery as will make it always available, is the only possible hope for the future. The League had ten years of remarkable success. Though I am anxious to avoid controversy as far as I can, I cannot conceal from your Lordships that, in my judgment, if the British and French Governments especially had shown more energy and foresight in support of the League, the grave difficulties of which we are all aware might have been avoided. Here we are at present living from hand to mouth without any clear idea, as far as I can see—I may be entirely wrong in this—as to what is to be our ultimate policy. The time has come when we must make up our minds as to what we intend to do. I am asking your Lordships not to strike out on a new policy, not to embark on a line that has never been attempted before, but rather to take the Covenant of the League of Nations as your basis, since that exists, and mould it into an effective machine for peace on the lines which have been urged for very many years by the statesmen of the world.

No doubt some changes in the working of the Covenant would have to be made. As I have suggested already, the obligation to use coercive action against an aggressor might be confined to those Members of the League belonging to the same Continent. So, too, it should be made quite clear that the coercion of an aggressor is an obligation resting on each Member of the League to act in concert, but only in concert, with what other Members are ready to do. That, I believe, is the meaning of the Covenant as it stands, but it ought to be made quite clear. These matters could be dealt with by a resolution of the Assembly. There are some other changes which would have to be made. They are all of a minor character, and they might require an amendment of the Covenant. I am not now attempting to deal in detail with the measures that would be necessary if the policy I am trying to recommend were adopted. It may very well be that the proposals made by President Roosevelt in his very striking message might, very properly, be the first step towards the inauguration of a new order.

That is what I have to say to your Lordships, but before I sit down your Lordships will forgive me if I again refer to Lord Hastings' dictum—because I do not think it was an individual, unique opinion; I am afraid it is shared in a good many quarters—that moral obligations are not binding on Governments. It was indeed on this ground that he was hostile to the League of Nations. If I have been at all right in my exposition, the League of Nations may just as well be described as being founded on self-defence as on any moral obligation. Quite apart from that, I am clear myself that the people of this country demand that our foreign policy should have a basis of morality or, if you prefer it, of idealism. This is especially true if there is any danger of war. Most of your Lordships will remember—I have got one here—the kind of speeches that were made in this country to induce our people to sustain the cause in 1914. They were all based on the highest possible considerations of morality. It was in the spirit of these speeches that our fellow-countrymen sanctioned the War and gave their lives on its battlefields. They would have heard with stupefaction that their Government, in asking them to fight, were not moved by any moral obligation.

I remember in 1920, just after the War, meeting five or six young officers who had so distinguished themselves in the War that, as was the custom at that time, they had been admitted to the Staff College without examination. I am not going to mention their names, but some of them have attained very high positions in the British Army since that time. After dinner we were talking on these subjects, and one of them said, "Well, after all, it was British idealism that won the War." They all agreed with that. Coming back almost within a few months of being in the trenches, the whole impression of the War still vivid in their minds, that was their conclusion. It was just because the Treaty of Versailles did not take sufficient account of this feeling that it was such a tragedy, and unless you can give the young men of this country some assurance that any future treaty will be of a very different character you will find recruiting devoid of enthusiasm. That assurance can best be given if the League of Nations or some such body is in vigorous control of international life. In spite of modern realism, we in this country know that morality is not less important in international than in individual life. I beg to move.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I would not have ventured to intervene in this debate except that it is necessary, I think your Lordships will agree, that the point of view of the Party for whom I speak should be given on this important occasion, and I have to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, for giving us the opportunity of discussing these very serious events and the position in which we find ourselves. I want to be careful of what I say because it is necessary at the present time to do so. Your Lordships will appreciate that it is desirable at the present juncture not to give credence to rumours and at the same time to avoid complacency. We must also, all of us, be aware that propaganda use can be made of statements which we may make in your Lordships' House. Indeed I noticed after a recent debate that the German papers had given far greater prominence to the debate in your Lordships' House than a great many of the large circulation newspapers in this country, but they concentrated on the speech of my noble friend Lord Arnold. Indeed one might have supposed it was an account of the meeting of the Reichstag with a monologue by Herr Hitler, except on this occasion it was Lord Arnold who was singled out for this distinction. It will be agreed, therefore, that there is some need for caution.

At the same time, speaking from this side of the House for the Opposition Peers who are members of the Labour Party, we feel that we have a duty to those for whom we attempt to speak. There is an expression in the City of London for a process known as jobbing backwards, of looking back and wondering what would have happened if you had done different things from what you have done. I am going to avoid all temptation of jobbing backwards and looking at the past and the events which have led up to the present situation. But, dealing with what has happened since a debate took place in another place and in your Lordships' House last week, it is my very agreeable duty, on behalf of the Labour Party, to take this, the first occasion in Parliament, to express our complete support of and agreement with and gratitude to the President of the United States of America for the proposals which were published last Saturday. I have been in communion with my noble friends and with my right honourable and honourable friends in another place. I am authorised to say that we all realise, further, that it came at a most opportune time, and we hope and believe it will have the most advantageous results for humanity as a whole. Indeed, we consider that President Roosevelt now occupies the greatest position of any living man.

With regard to what the noble Viscount has been saying to your Lordships, may I most respectfully agree with him and suggest that while we have to adopt quickly a short-range policy, for reasons which were so lucidly expressed by the Foreign Secretary on an earlier occasion, our long-range policy should be to get back to a League of Nations and to the Covenant as soon as possible? I am going to bring a reinforcement to the noble Viscount by referring to the very important speech made in Moscow by Mr. Stalin on the 10th March last, five days before the German invasion of Czecho-Slovakia. The Foreign Secretary, of course, is familiar with this speech, but in case any of your Lordships have not read it in full may I draw attention to two short passages? The first part of the speech, which is extremely interesting coming from one who is a very influential person in Russia, deals with foreign affairs and the international situation. After giving the reasons why in 1934 Russia joined the League of Nations, Mr. Stalin said: The Soviet Union considers that in alarming times like these even so weak an international organisation as the League of Nations should not be ignored. That was before the invasion of Czecho-Slovakia and before the conquest of Albania. In summarising the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, Mr. Stalin gave a number of accounts of their policy, but the important one of which I venture to remind your Lordships is this. He said: We stand for the support of nations which are the victims of aggression and are fighting for the independence of their countries. That has a very familiar ring when I remember the speeches that have so interested us from the Foreign Secretary. It is very much the language which the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Halifax) has used in your Lordships' House recently, and which my Party supports as a policy for the immediate needs of the present time.

Now the machinery of the League of Nations is existing. It is there. It has been built up over many years, and has remained in being. I should have thought that at the present time it was the obvious policy to try and bring again into use this machinery of the League of Nations. As my right honourable friend Mr. Attlee said in another place quite recently, at present we are getting the disadvantages of a system of collective security and none of the advantages of the Covenant. I think that is obvious, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is the case. It is self-evident. May I ask the noble Viscount when he comes to reply for the Government whether it is not a fact that we are obliged to register with the Secretariat of the League the treaties which we have recently entered into, or are about to enter into, with Poland, Rumania, Greece and so on? I think we have to do that as Members of the League under the Covenant, and I should be very glad if that could be confirmed. I would make this further observation with regard to this League policy. As I see it to-day, since the Statute of Westminster, the independence of the Dominions in foreign policy is such that in many ways the most convenient means of co-ordinating Imperial policy throughout the Empire is through the League of Nations. I do not think that will be disputed.

I mentioned just now the very important speech of Mr. Stalin on March 10. I hope that the Government will be able to give us some further information, if it is possible, with regard to our negotiations with Russia. Representatives of my Party in another place and my noble friend Lord Snell, on the occasion when we last discussed foreign affairs, made clear our apprehension and disturbance at the apparent lack of eagerness on the part of His Majesty's Government to co-ordinate their policy with that of the Soviet Union May I only add this? Do not let us overlook the tremendous importance at the present time of having friends in the Pacific. There the Russian Republic can play a very important part in preserving peace. I venture to ask the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary this question. If it is not possible for him to reply I shall quite understand, and I will not press it. In the negotiations which are proceeding with Moscow through our Ambassador there, and in the negotiations which he has been conducting with the Russian Ambassador in London, is the question of mutual defence in the Pacific being examined, and are reciprocal guarantees being offered and discussed with regard to the preservation of peace in the Pacific?

With regard to the general situation, may I be allowed to make these further observations? The last time I heard the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary speak in your Lordships' House he used a curious phrase. He said, "if the state in which we are living can rightly be described" as peace. Well, legally of course it is peace, but we none of us need deceive ourselves. In fact, a kind of silent undeclared war is going on in Europe to-day. The seriousness of that situation cannot be exaggerated. I would like to take the opportunity, in the presence of the First Lord of the Admiralty and other Cabinet Ministers, to voice an apprehension that there may easily be, if the crisis develops into warfare, a sudden onslaught on our merchant shipping all over the world without a declaration of war. I have reason to believe that there is a possibility of that happening. In that connection I am not satisfied, and my friends in another place are not satisfied, that sufficient precautionary steps are being taken. This is a matter which affects the Foreign Secretary but still more the First Lord of the Admiralty.

I know we cannot do everything at once, but there is a feeling abroad among our citizens that we have over concentrated on air raid precautions, on passive defence, on civil defence at home. Necessary as all that is, the neglect to provide defended harbours of refuge abroad may affect the position of our shipping. I know that it has been announced that the Admiralty has prepared a very full system of convoy, but that must take time to put into operation. Time will be needed for assembling the convoys of ships, sending warships to their appointed stations, arranging routes and so on. In the meantime very much damage may be done. In the last War the Germans learned a lesson and that was not to get bottled up in the North Sea. From evidence that appears it would seem that they have learned their lesson and that they may find themselves much more advantageously placed to attack our ships on the trade routes at the beginning. I think I am justified in mentioning, in the presence of important members of His Majesty's Government, this fear of lack of preparation to meet this threat. I dare say the matter is under examination, but we want to make sure that action is being taken.

Generally speaking, the policy which we have to meet in Europe appears to be something like this: the plan of the Axis Powers is to create alarm, to spread rumours, to build up fears, to keep the peoples of Europe and the world guessing as to the next step, and then to make unexpected demands in unexpected directions backed by force or by threats of force. This has been described by Herr Hitler himself as a competition in nerves. I believe that our nerves will prove to be stronger. For this method of alarm to succeed there must be some basis behind the threatening moves. From our point of view there must also be counter measures and precautions as an antidote to this policy. The first thing to do is to make the people of this country believe that adequate precautions are taken and that full preparations have been made. In this connection I believe that the French precautions are very far advanced and that the French people know that. My friends who have been in France recently all testify to the calmness and composure of the French people. Our people, I am glad to say, are calm and composed, but I believe the French people have far more basis for that sentiment.

Another method, to borrow a phrase from the Spanish war, is that of the Fifth Column. Our possible opponents, wherever they can, get hold of gullible or bribable or ideologically sympathetic people in other countries from which they hope to wring concessions, with the object of soothing the population or of training or influencing these people to soothe and reassure the public between periods of deliberately created alarm. In my opinion—and it is the opinion of most of my friends—the ultimate object is to obtain as much advantage everywhere for as long as possible without actually fighting. The immediate danger is that a mistake will be made, that by accident a foot will be put over the edge, so to speak, and then the peace of the world will be in real jeopardy.

With that preamble may I ask the noble Viscount if it is possible for the Government at all times, and especially now to tell as much as they can of the actual facts of the situation? I think the public in this country are entitled to know. I do not make the suggestion in any critical sense. I believe the Government have given what information they can, but I think all the facts should be put before the people as early as possible. You are asking young men to enlist voluntarily, you are asking that all sorts of sacrifices be made for self defence, you are asking people to key themselves up for the most terrible ordeals. If they know the facts they can face them, and I do not believe anything would be lost in any direction by a policy of frankness with the public. It seems to me, having no Government secrets at my disposal, that the disposition of the Axis forces in Spain, Albania, Libya and Abyssinia and on the borders of Yugoslavia and Poland are very like the taking up of war stations. This may be only part of the technique of creating alarm, and so also may be the fact that there are 1,250,000 Italian soldiers under arms.

Against this threat, or supposed threat, we cannot help observing with regard to preparations to meet this situation what I can only describe as lack of drive on the part of His Majesty's Government. I feel bound to make this criticism. We of the Labour Party feel that the development of the necessary preparations is proceeding too slowly and that there is not enough driving force behind Government policy. For example, the Civil Defence Bill has not yet reached your Lordships' House and yet I know that it was drafted last November. We have lost five or six months by inexcusable delays. I see the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, opposite, and he will, I believe, bear me out in what I am about to say. I have some connection myself with the steel industry. Last November there was a surplus of pig iron and the Government were begged by the leaders of the steel industry—I believe the noble Earl was one of them—to buy up this surplus pig iron and store it for a halfpenny a ton a week at the West Coast ports. The Government would not move in the matter and, instead, a million tons of pig iron went to Germany. It is an absurd and ridiculous situation. Now there is a shortage of pig iron. I cannot help referring to that matter and speaking about it with some emphasis. This Government may be an excellent Government for ordinary normal piping times of peace. It is perhaps the best Government the Conservatives can provide in normal times, but it does not show the qualities required to meet the present situation. I am bound to say these things, or to lack in my duty to those for whom I speak.

If I may end on what is to me a pleasanter note, I would say this. It is the first opportunity I have had of personally congratulating the Government in Parliament on their short-term policy represented by the guarantees to Poland, Rumania and Greece. I want to take this opportunity of saying that I do not see how anything else could have been done in the circumstances, and that the Government's change of policy represented by those guarantees was courageous and justified by all the circumstances. I say that with all the greater pleasure because for long I have felt, with so many of my noble friends, that if all efforts fail, including that magnificent and noble effort of the President of the United States, and the peace of the world is broken, then it is far better for us to be waging war, with all its consequences, in defence of public law—as the noble Viscount stressed in his eloquent speech just now—in defence of justice, indeed of civilisation itself, which depends on public law, rather than to appear to be contesting and struggling for the defence of our own property, our own special interests, to appear to be fighting to maintain the status quo only with regard to our own particular territorial possessions. We will have the great moral forces of the world on our side then, and, as the noble Viscount and as my noble friend Lord Snell have so often reminded your Lordships, these are of tremendous importance at the present time.

I venture to make these remarks on behalf of the Party for whom I speak, and I would only add one other request to the noble Viscount. I mentioned just now Spain, with reference to the apparent grouping of forces for warlike operations. Could we be given as much information as is desirable with regard to Spain? Your Lordships are aware that our people are asking about what is happening in Spain, Morocco and the Balearic Islands, and it is necessary that they should be told—it is not needed here that your Lordships should be reminded of the immense strategical importance of Spain—what our relations are at the present time or likely to be in the future with the new Government of Spain, and be given all possible information on that important subject.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who initiated this debate, with deep knowledge of international affairs and penetrating foresight, put down his Motion weeks ago knowing that it would come at an appropriate moment. I am sure we are indebted to him, because certain considerations must be taken into account to-day. I am grateful to him for his reference to me, but I do not intend to-day to weary your Lordships with the exposition of my views, generally speaking, which I have expressed frequently. I am also aware of a certain sense of responsibility in getting up to-day, because I find myself out of harmony with the chorus of approval of the message of the President of the United States. Let me say quite clearly at the outset that I hold no brief whatever for the Dictators, neither for their policy nor for their performances. The President's message, on the face of it, is a very eloquent exposition of the views of the opponents of the Dictators, issued with an honest desire to prevent war. But it cannot be claimed to be a disinterested move of an impartial arbitrator in an endeavour to bring together two violently antagonistic views of world settlement for the consolidation of peace.

I admit fully that nothing is so difficult as dealing and negotiating with unreasonable people and also with those who think it clever to be abusive and strong to be insulting. But account must be taken of the fact that the Dictators can dominate their peoples and get their support so that the millions they hold under their sway may be made to consider our opinions as wrong and as misguided as we think theirs. The object is—and here I agree with my noble friend who initiated the debate—not merely to stop aggression but also to establish peace on the basis of the nearest approach we can possibly get to justice. Therefore the hearing and consideration of what we may consider the most preposterous demands is indispensable, as well as readiness on our part to make adjustments and even sacrifices.

It appears to me that the President's message was a splendid manifesto to have issued if the object were to put the Dictators in a dilemma. Many approve of it for this very reason. An affirmative reply on their part to the questions asked them alone could satisfy us, while a negative reply must increase the animosity of the world against them. An affirmative would seem to imply a confession on their part of guilt in the past and of nefarious designs in the future, while a negative must mean that they have no intention of altering their present course. So, it seems difficult to see how any form of conciliation can be advanced in this way. It is very doubtful, in my opinion, if this form of diplomacy is a wise one in the existing circumstances. It may quite well further exacerbate the difference between us.

But, it will be said, the President proposes a conference. A very well-signed petition has been sent in to the Prime Minister showing the desire of over a million people in this country that a conference should be held. I did not sign that petition, for reasons which I gave in your Lordships' House. It is very easy to say "Conference," and it is very difficult to hold one that is successful. I think the Government have agreed with the way in which I ventured to put this situation before, because even M. van Zeeland in his Report did not advise the calling of a conference until the grounds had been explored and until bilateral agreements had been reached between various Powers so that, after full preparation and exploration of the ground, you could come together and then, with a conference, ratify what had been arrived at. That is possible. But this calling of a conference to-day, when we know to start with that Herr Hitler is not going to sit beside Mr. Stalin, is really asking for something which we know is going to lead to a refusal.

I stand by the Prime Minister's original method. Because it failed was no reason for abandoning it and for adopting the opposite policy of massing force, which, as we all know, can only end in a disastrous culmination. I regard these military alliances, which have nothing to do with collective security, as most dangerous. The extension of our commitments all over Eastern Europe is going back to the nineteenth century—the mid-nineteenth century—policy. Last Thursday, the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, made what I consider an unexpectedly deplorable speech. It drew great cheers, and you really might have been in the mid-nineteenth century, moving the pieces about on the chess board to make the proper combinations to push the King into the corner. Modern warfare is not going to be like that. International morality has always been low, and it is lower than ever now, and yet we depend on these nations all going to supplement and implement their promises. Just fancy linking up with the Balkans. Could anything be more dangerous than that? Do we not remember that it was the murder of an Archduke which set fire to the powder magazine in 1914, an event, deplorable as it was, in which we were in no way concerned? Do we not know the difficulties in the relationships between the Balkan States? Have we not learned by now that self-interest is the guide of nearly all the nations? I might say all the nations. With that in view, we are allowing ourselves to be bound by commitments which we cannot foresee, and which may land us in all this trouble by events which are simply incalculable.

The latest aggression, Albania, has drawn us into this. I am very sorry about King Zog, but I would remind your Lordships that in 1877 Mr. Gladstone made what was considered at the time to be the most eloquent speech of his career, a speech which Mr. Balfour, afterwards Lord Balfour, said "would be unparalleled in all time." What was it about? Montenegro! He roused the country into a passionate frenzy of indignation about Montenegro. In your present atlases, your Lordships will find it very difficult to discover Montenegro. Montenegro was given away, without "by your leave," to Yugoslavia, after the Great War. Let us get rid of this high horse of moral indignation. It really does not get us anywhere. Our past, if unearthed, may be better than other peoples', but it is nothing to be tremendously proud of, except that in a general way there is an endeavour to do the right thing. On our part I think it is failure, occasionally, but in some other instances I do not know that there is really very much endeavour to do the right thing.

My noble friend Lord Cecil spoke about these separate military alliances, and I must say that with that part of his speech I found myself in complete agreement, but when he went on to say that the League of Nations was ready there in order to help us in this matter, to provide collective security and sanctions and so forth, I parted company with him, and I am sure His Majesty's Government did, too. Do not let us revive the League of Nations at this moment, because it will quite unnecessarily inflame opinion in totalitarian nations. We do not believe in it ourselves. Indeed it has become almost a museum piece. I regard these obligations, which we do not know yet but which are likely to arise unexpectedly with these countries—with Rumania, with Greece, and with Poland, and other places—as a policy of great danger. It means that when the moment comes we shall be called upon to act, and it is very doubtful whether we shall get much action out of anybody else.

Now it is to be feared from this list in President's Roosevelt's message that there is to be a still greater massing of force, based on nothing more than sentimental and almost hysterical agreement, with this declaration of our case and the spectacular lead given by the President. Should the test day come this may prove as little effective as the proposition put before the League of Nations in the Italo-Abyssinian war, when so many held up their hands enthusiastically in favour of a resolution of condemnation, and so few, if any, were ready to implement it by force of arms when the moment came. We have some delay at the moment, and that may be all to the good. Let us hope that this may lead to a discussion, even if there are counter proposals, but I still—I may be old-fashioned—think that diplomacy cannot be well conducted by shouting, not across Europe, but across the world. If we get open discussion, all the better—I only hope so—but I doubt in the present circumstance whether it will arise from this move. I know it is difficult to advocate patience. It is difficult to advise a continuance of bilateral approaches for the improvement of international relations, but I am convinced it is the only way.

I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether our Ambassador is not going to return to Berlin. There is a new diplomatic procedure, which has been invented recently. You bring a man home to report. That is the first stage. The next stage is that he is on holiday. The third stage is that he has a diplomatic indisposition, and then he does not go back. Our Ambassador at Berlin is an extremely able man, and he has conducted affairs out there, I believe, to the entire satisfaction of the Government. It is in difficult times that you want your Ambassador to be there, and I hope I may hear from the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, that our Ambassador is to return to his post. We have really got to face the fact that there is the sharpest contrast and disagreement between the two sides. We call our policy defence; they call that policy encirclement. We call their method aggression; they call it restoration and consolidation. We cannot for a moment accept their ideology; they cannot for a moment accept ours. Therefore I think that nothing in those circumstances can be more unwise than recriminations, however loud spoken and open they may be, and I am afraid this may result from the massing of weapons of destruction on both sides.

President Roosevelt's message is the finest expression of our views, we all admit that. Herr Hitler will give in his reply the most authoritative expression of his; with the result, it is to be feared, that we shall have advanced no nearer a solution, but, let us fervently hope, no nearer to a catastrophe. The Government meanwhile are concentrating all their attention on calculations as to the equations of force between the two sides. No forecast is possible. The greatest possible expert with regard to armies and munitions has no sort of idea what is going to happen if this conflagration is set alight, and the result is that they think they can do no harm but can do nothing but good by a frenzied desire to go on piling up arms and collecting the youth of the nation, the greatest riches that we have, to man those arms. I have no doubt whatever about President Roosevelt's good intentions, but I have very grave misgivings about his method. It appears too much like throwing down a challenge, and I fear that that may mean that it will lead to recriminations. I wanted therefore to sound a note of warning, so that people whose hopes are raised too high may not be disappointed.

My belief is not in any spectacular sudden move. The relief that is to come to us in these dark days will not come from any sudden blaze kindled by moral indignation, but from the modest lights of those who in the mists of the unprecedented circumstances of to-day, undeterred by failure or rebuff, can persist in a determined course to understand antagonistic opinions, disentangle higher motives, carefully examine perplexing problems with a view to healing the wounds and rebuilding the ruins, above all avoiding heated words which can only make things worse. Hot condemnation may seem to many good. Full comprehension I believe to be far better. The first can only lead to eventual war; the second alone can lead to a lasting peace.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to many debates on foreign affairs in this House, but I have only taken part in a few of them, partly because most of our discussions have been concerned with particular international crises, and I have always felt in times of crisis that the fewer speeches made the better, and partly because I share the views of my noble friend who introduced the discussion this afternoon, and I have been quite content to allow my views to be represented by him. But, as the Motion of my noble friend has no reference on this occasion to any particular international crisis, I am anxious to support him in his attempt to secure some elucidation of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government, and I am particularly anxious to hear something on the subject of security.

The Foreign Secretary last week complained of a difficulty occasioned to him by repeated demands for information in this House. Perhaps I ought not to say that he complained—the noble Viscount is far too courteous to complain of actions in your Lordships' House; but he explained how difficult it was to carry on intricate diplomatic negotiations if all the time you may be called upon to give explanations and information about them. If the noble Viscount's Motion had reference to particular negotiations I should not press the Government for any information on those subjects. It is true that some such questions were addressed to the Foreign Secretary by the noble Lord who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench, and it may be that they would be difficult questions to answer. But the information that we seek from the Government is not of that kind. Our object is to give the Government an opportunity of explaining and clarifying their foreign policy in general terms, in order that the country may better understand it and, if possible, support it. If there are, as there are bound to be, some who will still find it necessary to criticise it, at least they will know what they are criticising, and not misrepresent it.

My noble friend and I are both leaders of an organisation which exists to explain to people of this country the work and functions of the League of Nations, and how it may be used as an instrument of peace. We have a Royal Charter for that purpose, and so long as the policy of the Government was based on the principles of the Covenant and support for the League of Nations, we tried to make our work as helpful as we could to the Government. But, as recently the policy of His Majesty's Ministers has moved more and more away from such a policy, it was inevitable that we should have become more critical, not because of any change in our outlook, but merely because support of the League of Nations and support of His Majesty's Government become increasingly difficult. The speech of the Foreign Secretary, however, on March 20 did encourage us to hope that any divergence which may exist between my noble friend and myself and the Government had become less, and that circumstances had forced the Government to seek security by some form of collective defence, to buttress peace by the acceptance of limited obligations to defend it whenever it was threatened. It is on this point that I am seeking enlightenment. If we are right in the view we took of my noble friend's speech on March 20, I hope that the Foreign Secretary in his reply to-day will make this clear, and if we were wrong I hope he will point out in what respect we were in error in accepting the speech in that sense.

If in trying to make clear our own policy I should say anything which is critical of His Majesty's Government I would like to remind my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, for his comfort, that doubts as to the wisdom of the foreign policy of the country are by no means a new feature in our public life, that they are not necessarily confined to irresponsible people or, indeed, solely to the official Opposition Party. In reading recently some old letters written by the late Lord Salisbury to my father, I was interested to find some rather outspoken criticisms of the Government of which Lord Salisbury was then a member in the capacity of Secretary of State for India. In three consecutive letters written in the year 1877, the late Lord Salisbury expressed himself as follows: English policy is to float down stream, occasionally putting out a diplomatic boathook to avoid collisions. The system of never making a plan beyond the next move is bearing its natural fruit. I trust we may avoid any great disaster. In another letter he wrote: Our foreign policy has lacked a bold initiative and a settled plan. Too many different people have pulled successively at the strings. In a letter to the late Lord Carnarvon, about the same time, he said: It seems to me we must give up all hope of any positive action in our foreign policy. We may prevent evil, but we can do no more. The result will be an emasculate, purposeless vacillation which will be very discreditable. But perhaps it is what suits the nation best. Those were the comments of the Secretary of State for India on the foreign policy of his colleague at that time. If such comments were possible in those circumstances, I hope my noble friend will not think any comments of mine are in any way unfriendly to himself or lacking in sympathy with the difficulties inherent in his very responsible post. I have always favoured the policy of a clear and definite plan as opposed to making the best possible makeshift in successively occurring crises, and I was very gratified to find support from so high an authority as the late Lord Salisbury. It certainly has seemed to us that the plan of His Majesty's Government since March 20 has been more definite than it was in the past, but there are still some features of it which are difficult to understand, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary may perhaps make them clearer to-day.

I can understand a plan of securing the co-operation of the greatest possible number of States not only for the maintenance of peace but for the removal of grievances, the correction of injustices, and resistance to aggression. That of course is the policy of the Covenant of the League of Nations. That I believe to have been also the foundation of the remarkable letter recently addressed to the two totalitarian States by President Roosevelt. That is a policy which I and my friends have always advocated, and we believe that if only such a policy had been persistently and courageously followed in recent years by His Majesty's Government the present international situation would not be so complicated and dangerous as it is at this moment. I can also understand, though I do not myself support, the policy which has found many exponents in your Lordships' House, notably Lord Arnold, that we should leave the small States of Europe to make the best possible terms they can with their more powerful neighbours; that our policy should be one of internal strength and complete non-interference externally, and that we should be at all times careful not to antagonise those who may be in a position to hit back.

These policies, I say, I can understand. What I cannot understand is a plan of increasing our liabilities without at the same time in any way increasing our strength—picking up here and there, wherever we may find them, some weak protégés and promising them protection without ensuring at the same time any power to make that protection effective. When I and my friends in the past have advocated what we have called a policy of collective security or which Mr. Churchill has described as a "Grand Alliance" in the interests of peace, we have been told by His Majesty's Ministers and other critics that by advocating a system of unlimited commitments, and commitments in directions where our national interests are not directly concerned, we increased the risk of war. But that plan had at least this advantage that it did secure—at any rate it aimed at securing—the maximum of strength for the forces of resistance.

I feel that the criticisms which were directed against us can be directed with much greater force against the present policy of His Majesty's Government, if I rightly understand it—a policy of commitments limited to those who are most liable to attack and omitting those who are most capable of giving us support in resisting it. I do not often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on these matters, but I find myself in agreement with him to-day in thinking that a defensive alliance with a few highly vulnerable States is a very poor substitute for the policy of general collective security. The noble Lord, of course, as usual referred contemptuously to the League of Nations. He called it a "museum piece," but I would remind the noble Lord that co-operation through the League of Nations, of which Russia is to-day a Member, might avoid all the complications and difficulties which are inherent in an alliance direct with Russia. Yet without Russia this plan of selecting comparatively weak protégés is, I submit, fraught with the greatest possible danger. Now that we have incurred—and everybody admits this—the maximum of risk, it would be madness not at the same time to secure the maximum of security. Therefore I hope that on that point, to which I have made several references, the Foreign Secretary may be able to say something reassuring to-day.

I cannot conclude without some reference to the momentous message of President Roosevelt. I agree with all that my noble friend Lord Cecil said about its immense importance, about the new hope which it offers in a distracted world. I am very sorry that Lord Ponsonby did not find it possible to approve of it himself. What I value most in that declaration is the assurance which was implicit in it, I think, that if attempts to secure a change by force could be abandoned, we could look for the co-operation of the United States of America with the States of Europe in order to secure change by negotiation. That is a feature which I should have expected my noble friend Lord Ponsonby to have welcomed. I certainly hope that no opportunity will be lost of making it abundantly clear that this country at any rate will be prepared to use the whole of its influence, if the opportunity should be given to it of co-operating with other countries, in trying to remedy grievances and removing the causes of fear. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby, I know, never likes any reference to force or any suggestion that force should be met by force, but I submit that if it could be demonstrated not only that we had the determination to resist but that we had the power to resist effectively, then and then only would there be some hope that we might secure what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I know desires, and has often pleaded for eloquently in this House—a new peace settlement based on agreement.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to detain your Lordships for the briefest possible time, because I know that, owing to other engagements, the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs must speak almost immediately. With that reassurance, may I press on him just one point, and that is that the Government should try to give explicit and definite support to that aspect of President Roosevelt's speech which proposed that economic problems should be dealt with as soon as possible? If I might reply for a moment to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I would say that the reason why there has been such a scramble back into the grand alliance is that it has become quite clear that the two or three totalitarian Powers propose to solve their difficulties by the total destruction of national liberty in the most brutal way possible. It is quite clear that if nations accept the principle that the problems of their own nations are to be solved by destroying the liberties of their neighbours, then world war, and continued world war, is inevitable. The whole policy of the Western world for the last twenty or thirty years has been based on acceptance of the principle that every nation is entitled to its own independent autonomy. The real problem which confronts the world is how you are going to introduce law and order into the anarchy which that other principle involves.

I personally think that we cannot do it unless we face the fact that we must abandon much more of our sovereignty than we were asked to do under the Covenant of the League of Nations. After all, taking the British Commonwealth as an example, I believe it is true to say that only about 50,000,000 come under the direct control of Downing Street. In every part of the British Commonwealth, in a complete degree in the Dominions and in an increasing degree in India, Burma and Ceylon, we have reached, or are reaching, a point when every unit will rule its own affairs. The reason why we resist totalitarian methods is that they run counter to every vital instinct of our Western policy, both as regards individual freedom and national freedom. The greatest difficulty which has met all countries since the War has been economic nationalism, because every nation feels that in a world of high tariffs and embargoes and so on, it is impossible for them to solve their own economic problems and find that rising standard of living which they require. That is the most dangerous problem and the one that it is most imperative to meet.

Therefore I think President Roosevelt's initiative is important because he puts that in the forefront, and in effect says, "Let us sit round a table or open negotiations on the principle that some degree of third party judgment shall be brought to bear on this question." If we in the next week, before Herr Hitler replies, could say that on that point we are prepared to go as far as any other nation in the world, I think it would have an effect not only on our own people but on public opinion in the totalitarian States. That is the urgent thing. Therefore, I hope that His Majesty's Government will say something definite and specific on that point, that they are prepared to go as far as any other nation in the world in removing economic barriers to trade, so that nations shall have reasonable access to the markets of the world and to raw materials. I would like them to say also that they would submit to the degree of interference with trade which might be proposed to some kind of international conference before it was enacted, in order to give some security that a nation should not, by a stroke of the pen, find its markets destroyed or its access to raw materials cut off. I do not expect that the noble Viscount will be able to say that to-night, but I hope that in the course of the next week the Government will think very hard as to whether they cannot reciprocate that part of President Roosevelt's message in the most definite and explicit way.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for intervening at this stage, but owing to a public obligation which I cannot avoid I have to ask your Lordships' leave to do so. The Motion on which the noble Viscount has introduced this debate is, of course, as has been pointed out, one that is general in character, and it affords an opportunity to your Lordships of examining general principles of policy more broadly perhaps than has been the case in earlier debates, while at the same time, as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, pointed out, stressing particular subjects. As this is a general debate I am bound to direct the bulk of my observations in that sense, although I shall do my best to answer such of the more particular questions addressed to me as it is in my power to do. Perhaps I might get one or two of them out of the way at once.

The noble Lord who spoke for the Opposition asked me whether it would be our intention to register any agreement that we might reach with other Powers with the League of Nations. I have not had the opportunity of particular examination of that point, but I have no doubt at all that it would be the purpose of His Majesty's Government to take whatever action was incumbent upon them in that regard under the provisions of Article 18 of the Covenant, but it would depend in some degree upon the form of any particular agreement. Then the noble Lord asked me whether I could say anything on what was occupying some place in the public mind at present—namely, questions in regard to the care had for British shipping in certain circumstances, and also regarding rumours running round the world concerning Spain. As regards the first I certainly assure him that the subject is engaging the full attention of His Majesty's Government who have not been at all unmindful of the obligations that rest upon them in regard to it. I do not think he would expect me to say more than that at this moment.

With regard to Spain I can speak with slightly more precision, and I agree with the noble Lord that it is important in these matters that information as full as possible should be given to correct rumours that may possibly not be well founded. Now there have been a great number of rumours regarding troop movements in Spain, and the first observation I would make in regard to that is that it ought to be borne in mind that we are now witnessing the demobilisation of the Spanish armies, and that, therefore, a great deal of troop movement that is going on is perfectly legitimately and naturally to be accounted for by that. I do not think, therefore, that in a great deal of the troop movements that are reported from Spain there is cause for any uneasiness on the part of this country.

There has been a special crop of rumours arising from the continued presence of Italian troops in Spain. Those rumours have been to the effect that large bodies of Italian troops arrived at Cadiz in the first weeks of this month; that these Italian reinforcements proceeded to the Pyrenees frontier, or alternatively to the Portuguese frontier, or alternatively to threaten Gibraltar; and, finally, that the Germans were constructing a network of aerodromes and fortifications along the Pyrenees frontier. I have made careful inquiries through many different sources into these reports and I can assure noble Lords that we are perpetually watching the situation and sifting all information that reaches us, but, with all the research I can make, I can only say that our information does not at the present time indicate that too much credence ought to be paid to these reports. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will use his influence in asking those who convey them also to sift them as carefully as we, with obviously greater facilities, try to do.


I am in no way responsible for the rumours.


I know, but the noble Lord was good enough to mention them, and he might, therefore, hear them again, and if he does hear them again perhaps he will tell those from whom he hears them that, as far as we know with greater information, we are not disposed to attach too much credence to them.


They did not come direct to me.


I have said it and I would ask the noble Lord to repeat it. The only other observation that I would make in regard to Spain is this. The Spanish Government are called upon now to face a large and immense internal problem of reconstruction. I am quite sure that as they set about that task they will have the interest and the sympathy of all people in this country irrespective of what may have been their sympathies during the long struggle which has just terminated, and that all parties in this country will wish well to the Government of Spain in attempting to reconstruct their country and, above all, to heal the wounds that these last two tragic years have left on Spain, so that Spain can again resume her place in the comity of European nations.

I must now come to the Motion of the noble Viscount in rather closer detail. In doing that let me assure my noble friend Lord Lytton that I would be the last person to object to any criticism, least of all from him, and the only impression left on my mind as he quoted the letters of my noble friend Lord Salisbury's father was an occasional flicker of anxiety as to what possibly my noble friend the Secretary of State for India might be saying about me. The principal aims of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government may, I would suppose, be summed up in a very few words. They are the maintenance of peace in the world, and the protection of the persons, the property, and the legitimate interests of British subjects abroad. In the pursuit of these principles His Majesty's Government have, of course, sought to apply certain principles which, in their opinion, and until recently I think in the opinion of all civilised countries, ought to govern the relations between sovereign States; and it is true, with all respect to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, that these principles were the principles contained in the Preamble to the Covenant of the League.

And there are also other principles which are implied in the Covenant itself, such as respect for the territorial integrity and the political independence of sovereign States; the substitution for the use of force in the settlement of international disputes of the methods of conciliation and arbitration; and the reduction and limitation of armaments. Now it is quite evident that the international machinery which was devised to apply these principles has failed of its purpose, and if we were to apply ourselves to finding the reason why it has failed we should I think have to examine at some length all the history of the last twenty years. It was certainly not only the machinery which was at fault, but also, I think we must all admit, the will of States to make it work effectively, and no country I think is entirely free from responsibility.

The noble Viscount has directed certain criticisms against the policy of His Majesty's Government, and the fundamental part of that criticism seemed to me to be something to this effect, that had the League of Nations been kept in full vigour and energy it would have been easy to have utilised its machinery for doing exactly what the Government are now seeking to do. With all respect to my noble friend that seems to me to beg the question. The whole trouble is that it has unfortunately proved impossible to keep the League in full vigour and energy, and I certainly would not admit that it was the fault of His Majesty's Government by any particular action or inaction of theirs that this state of affairs had been reached. After all, three of the most powerful nations in the world have seceded from the League and they have not only seceded from the League but they have flatly abjured the very principles of consultation, co-operation and negotiation on which the League as a structure was based. I do not think that even now there would be more than a very few who would contend that His Majesty's Government ought in these last years to have attempted to play the role of a general moral High Commissioner for the entire world within the limits of a system which was not, and never has been, universal.

It has been claimed, and I think truly claimed, that the international system was both too rigid and not rigid enough. It did not, on the other hand, provide always adequate means of redressing grievances, and at the same time did not provide sufficient guarantees for the security of individual States. It followed that the States with real or imagined grievances broke away from the international community and resorted to force to achieve what they held to be their rights, while other countries were not prepared to take the risks involved in taking action in all cases to uphold the principles of the Covenant on questions in regard to which, rightly or wrongly, they did not consider their own vital interests to be immediately involved.

It has been one of the tragedies arising from that process of disintegration that the dissatisfied countries have come to reject those principles by which inter- national society was intended to be governed, so that to the constant conflict of national interests has now been added a far more dangerous conflict of ideas. And, as I think Lord Ponsonby pointed out, there is now no accepted or common currency in the terms of international intercourse. We do not mean the same thing when we use the same words. The ideas of justice, the ideas of respect for treaties, the value of pledges, for one reason or another are differently interpreted in the interests of national ambition, if you like, and "claims" are held to be identical with "rights." With all that has gone the invention of new doctrines to justify policies of expansion; claims of race or the like are made to cover and justify the application of force, and all the time truth is obscured and darkened by violent propaganda.

So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, they have endeavoured to avoid by all means in their power this debasement, as I term it, of international relations and this conflict of ideologies—to use a word that is hateful to me. They tried to do that both by precept, which is most annoying to the people to whom the precept is addressed and is indignantly resented, and also by example, for instance in the matter of disarmament, which has, of course, merely encouraged the employment of force. We have endeavoured to arrive at a general settlement of international grievances, and, in the face of a great deal of criticism, tried last September to effect by negotiation the solution of an outstanding European problem in the hope that that would lead, on the basis of the understandings then reached, to the settlement of other problems. Well, my Lords, those hopes frankly, as we know, have been disappointed, and one of the difficulties of the present position is that when His Majesty's Government offer negotiation they are accused of weakness, and when they show a disposition to defend their interests or the principles upon which international society, as we think, depends, they are accused of aggressive designs.

Despite those difficulties, and while not neglecting any of the steps that were necessary to make the defensive position of this country secure, His Majesty's Government continued to work for international understanding, and were ready to continue along this path until it became clear, after the German military action against Czecho-Slovakia, that the essential basis of mutuality—I emphasize that—of mutuality for such a policy at this moment did not appear to exist. But I can certainly assure my noble friend Lord Ponsonby that we should never wish to abandon any efforts that could promise any hope of success, if those efforts could win a response from the other side and be mutual in character. Although this is a separate point, I may perhaps deal with it as I pass. The noble Lord asked me about the return of the Ambassador. I can tell him readily in a sentence: the Government's statement that was made, that the Ambassador had been asked to return from Berlin to report, spoke the literal truth. The noble Lord may have seen an announcement in the paper a week or two ago to say that the Ambassador had completed his report and was enjoying a short period of leave. When that period of leave is completed, which I hope will be very soon, he will return to his post in the ordinary way. I only say that by way of parenthesis.

It became apparent that unless our efforts were able to secure support in other quarters, they were only liable to be interpreted as a sign of weakness, which of course brought its own dangers. In the speech that I made on March 20, to which one or two of your Lordships have made kind reference, I tried to set out at some length the circumstances which in my judgment seemed to render necessary new action to meet new facts. The steps which His Majesty's Government have taken to forestall further attempts, if such should be made, to dominate and control Europe have been explained as they have been taken. It is therefore not necessary for me to go into any detail about them to-day, but I wish perhaps, with your Lordships' permission, to make two general observations.

First of all, those steps are purely defensive in their nature, and are defensive of the independence and liberties of States who may feel themselves threatened. It is quite fantastic to suggest that the consultations upon which we have been engaged and the guarantees which we have given cover any aggressive design on our part. The cry of "encirclement," by which I suppose it is intended to suggest that the purpose of His Majesty's Government is to throttle the legitimate aspirations of other peoples or even to engage in a preventive war, has no doubt been raised for obvious purposes. But if my voice should reach so far, I should be prepared, on the authority of His Majesty's Government, now or at any time to give the most solemn undertaking I could that no such idea would ever find place in British policy; for not only would it be the extreme of folly, not only would it lack any colour of morality, but it would be entirely foreign to the whole trend of British thought, which rests essentially upon the desire to live and let live in the world.

We are sometimes asked how we reconcile our professions with the possession of the greatest Empire in the world. My answer is that it is precisely because we have applied our principles of freedom to the various nations which compose the British Commonwealth that that Commonwealth is so flourishing and so widespread to-day. It has been the aim of His Majesty's Government all through, within the British Empire, to give the freest play possible to the conditions and the necessities of individual territories and to their aspiration for self-government. We have not sought to restrain economic or political development in any part of the Empire, but, on the contrary, to foster the gradual growth, as we all know, of self-governing institutions. Therefore it is in the same order of thought that we have no desire to restrain the natural growth or the natural prosperity of any other nation. Whatever may be the effect of the policies of other Governments upon the condition of their own subjects, it is the constant desire of His Majesty's Government, as it should surely be of every other, to promote conditions in the world in which the common man may be able to find means of subsistence and contentment. I listened with great attention to what fell from the noble Marquess on the economic side of the President's message, on which I want to say a word in a moment. While he would not, as he said himself, expect me to answer immediately the question which he propounded, I need not assure him that I am fully alive to the great importance of it and the great bearing that all that side of the problem has upon the particular side with which we are immediately concerned when we look at it from the political angle.

The second general observation that I would make is that the efforts which His Majesty's Government are making to resist further aggressive actions involve no departure from the principles of policy which I have tried to lay down. On the contrary—and this would be part of my answer to my noble friend Lord Lytton—it would be our hope that that policy that we are pursuing will in time lead to a reaffirmation of those principles, and a return from the technique of aggression to methods of friendly discussion and negotiation. In that endeavour His Majesty's Government are anxious to work in close association with all peace-loving countries who, like themselves, are determined to preserve the independence of sovereign States and, so far as they can, to resist attempts by other Powers to impose their will by force of arms.

If a country accepts the same principles of international relationships, and has the same willingness to work for the maintenance of peace, the internal political organisation of that country is not a matter of concern to His Majesty's Government. They are not influenced by the fact that a country is authoritarian, or the reverse, in its political philosophy, but they are influenced by the declared objects of its external policy. In saying that I have not absent from my mind the position of the Soviet Union, which has been the subject of references both in this House and in another place. Lord Strabolgi referred to the speech recently delivered by M. Stalin, which he has read, and which I also have had an opportunity of reading, and he asked if I could give him any information as to the progress of the negotiations in which we had been engaged with Moscow. I do not think there is anything that I can say at the present time beyond the fact that we are engaged in active pursuit of these negotiations, and that I have every hope that recognition of the different points of view of which we each have to take account will enable us to make the progress that we all desire, on the matters to which those negotiations are being directed.


Might I ask the noble Viscount a question on that? If it is convenient to do so, can he answer that part of my question in which I asked him if this only refers to Europe, or whether the Pacific is included?


I can certainly answer it, although not in detail. The particular purpose to which the conversations that have been held have been directed has been the situation and facts in Europe, but I should not, however, exclude the possibility of conversations being more widely extended, although they have not been so up to now. Our attitude in regard to these matters is not, as your Lordships are aware, always shared by other countries, and it is not therefore so easy a problem as Lord Lytton might appear to suggest; but, as I have said, we are not prepared ourselves to reject, on grounds of any abstract ideology, the co-operation which any country is willing to offer, so long as it does not seek to impose its own political conceptions on other countries which do not want them.

The noble Viscount who moved the Motion asked whether that kind of defensive plan to which I have referred is all that His Majesty's Government have in their mind. Beyond the immediate necessities, whether created by obligations or by interest, by which we are bound, is there, he seemed to ask, no more positive programme which His Majesty's Government propose for themselves and the world at large? It is not only the noble Viscount who so earnestly presses that consideration. It is pressed by a great many people, and from a great many points of view. I have thought a great deal about it myself. Shall we be satisfied if we are able to secure a cessation of those sudden and unprovoked attacks on foreign territory which have shocked world opinion? Are we to be satisfied with that? After all, to do that would be no negligible achievement, for it is only when confidence is restored, and security assured, that discussion and negotiation can come back to their own.

The noble Viscount spoke very truly when he said, I think, that it was not possible to cast the world into a permanent mould, or to arrest the peaceful evolution of peoples and States. Therefore, what we all desire to see established, if we can, is a comprehensive system against aggression, but with facilities for peaceful change, excluding no one who wishes to come into it. That is true: but if we are interested in practical achievement, we must first, I submit, apply ourselves with all the strength and determination we can command to the immediate concrete problem before us. Remoter ideals and indefinite commitments must induce, I suggest, no vagueness in our major plans. On that I venture to say that His Majesty's Government can speak with a clear conscience, for no nation and no Government has pledged itself so wholeheartedly—with, indeed, what was on the part of its people a kind of religious fervour—to the system of international relationships which was embodied twenty years ago in the League Covenant. That effort failed, for reasons to which I have already made allusion, and it was indeed quite natural that so long as the aggression seemed remote, or of comparative insignificance, and so long as the collective system seemed to be based on abstract hypotheses or theory, so long nations should hesitate to commit themselves to what they were bound to recognise were ultimately measures of hostility in conditions which it was impossible to determine in advance.

I, unlike some, have never quarrelled with the conception of collective security, but I have quarrelled with the interpretation of it by those who rely upon it as a kind of magic touchstone when the conditions for its practical realisation did not, in the circumstances of the time, exist. I always took the view that to do so was dangerous self-delusion. We cannot tell to-day what the future may hold, but if we are indeed faced with an attempt at what Mr. Gladstone, I think, called "unmeasured aggrandisement," then an immediate and instantaneous reaction on the part of those countries who, feeling themselves menaced, will naturally get together, is inevitable. In that situation, and when the independence of certain smaller States in Europe seemed to be threatened, His Majesty's Government have gone to great lengths in assuring their support for the defence of that independence.

The noble Viscount, I think, stigmatised that policy as a "piecemeal" policy. With all respect to him, I think that is less than just. We have to work with the material at our disposal and to rally, if we may, the forces of those countries which resent, and are prepared to resist, a policy based only on force. If a structure collapses it cannot be rebuilt all in a moment, and it is not helpful to belittle the progress made in the early stages of rebuilding because the whole building does not immediately appear. He expressed anxiety lest the present policy of His Majesty's Government should have the effect of dividing the world more and more into two camps of a bloc alliance against another bloc. Is that really quite a fair presentation of the facts? Is not the world already, by no fault of our own, so divided, and would he not feel that we were therefore right to rally and organise those who think and feel as we do in defence of our beliefs and aspirations?


I think the noble Viscount a little misunderstood me. I did not charge the Government with being responsible in any way for the division of the world into two camps. What I did press on the Government's consideration was whether they were doing all they could to set that right, or whether their present policy was not, so to speak, assuming that, and that therefore, assuming that, it would get worse and worse unless they could set up something to diminish it.


I think, in view of what the noble Viscount has said, I was doing injustice to his argument, and in so far as I was I of course withdraw and apologise. I do not think we really differ greatly in the appraisement of the facts, and I was glad to see that he and the noble Lord who spoke for the Opposition did not greatly differ from His Majesty's Government in feeling that we were right to try to meet an immediate emergency, and that is our first objective. I would hope that our policy might be regarded as an approach to a permanent solution, a necessary first step. That certainly would be the manner in which I would regard it myself. The noble Viscount himself has given some indication of the permanent policy he has in mind, in which the main elements would be machinery for peaceful change based on some system of collective security. With regard to the latter, I have already pointed out both what I believe to be its possibilities and its limitations, and, as things are to-day, the necessary conditions for the full application of such a system simply do not exist. They may be built up again, but I think that the process is likely to be a gradual one, which can only be brought about by a change of outlook in several of the major Powers.

As regards machinery for peaceful change, no one would agree more wholeheartedly than I do with the noble Viscount that that might be the key, could we but find it satisfactorily, to most of our difficulties. But he knows much better than I do that it is a great deal easier to state that objective than it is to find the means of achieving it. During twenty years of the League's existence, a great part of which were more leisured for speculation and thought than these years are, no completely satisfactory solution was found by those who devoted much thought and energy both to the foundation of the League and to examination of that problem. And yet a solution of it is essential, if we are to be realists in the world, and there is no question to which, if only we could get general co-operation of nations, international effort could more profitably and usefully be directed.

I apologise for keeping your Lordships so long, but what I have said will, I hope, show that it has not been from any disbelief in either the ideals of international justice or of collective security that His Majesty's Government have come to a policy, onerous enough but not unlimited, which we believe to be the nucleus round which may be enlisted the support of all peace-loving States. But while that side of our policy has of necessity been forced into prominence by recent events, we are always ready to take our part in more positive endeavour, not only to restrict force, but to promote enduring peace. Our record in that respect, I think, will bear examination by all who complain that we have obstructed the development and expansion of growing nations. I think the facts simply will not support the fantastic notion that the British Empire is a great treasure-house whose bounty is selfishly exploited and jealously locked.

I do not argue that now, because the facts are familiar enough to us. But the vast export of raw materials to industrial countries is there for all to see. There has been no difficulty for any country to get raw materials within the British Empire, except where countries have deliberately rationed themselves in order to provide for war industries. We have, both at Geneva and elsewhere, offered to discuss further concessions should any preferences that might exist be shown to place any due restriction on international trade. By some that offer was accepted, but it received little, if any, response in those quarters where we are charged with hoarding possessions and monopolising markets. Methods other than those of free discussion and negotiations have been unhappily preferred, leaving us with no option but to continue to increase our strength, and make ourselves fit beyond all question, if need be, to carry out our undertakings. Any other course, from the examples before us and as things stand at this moment, might well risk the destruction of the independence of European nations one by one, until at last different races and different cultures were swallowed up in an imposed uniformity alien to the whole spirit of European development.

Therefore that was the danger that we felt bound to resist, and that not because we have any wish to thwart the natural opportunities of other peoples, but because by such means we hope that we may succeed in the creation of conditions by which the voice of reason may be heard once more, calling the great Powers to join hands in reconstruction and forgo course that might lead to disaster. And certainly this country will neglect no approach, no suggestion to this end; for, as well as our defence policy, we have constantly present to our minds the positive desire to extend what I think the noble Viscount's father called "the neighbourly view of foreign politics." Those words naturally lead me to add my word of thanks for the recent initiative of the President of the United States, to which reference has already been made, for he has made his own the ideal of good neighbourly relations between States. As has been already made clear, His Majesty's Government find themselves in essential agreement with the outlook on international relationships which he has expressed with great clarity of language and with the immense authority at his command. I have no doubt at all that millions of people in all countries will trust that his initiative may have a successful outcome.

One word more and I have done. The noble Viscount said that the people of this country demand that our foreign policy should have a basis of morality. I profoundly agree with him. If in the last resort you are to ask people, as he said, to make sacrifices and to hazard their lives, they will never willingly do that for any cause that fails to appeal to the highest elements in their nature. I have endeavoured to make clear that our policy has such a basis as that. It is founded on the principle that the rights of smaller States shall not be set aside by the stronger, that force shall not be the deciding factor in the relations between peoples, and that negotiations shall not be overshadowed or overborne by constraint. And there is something deeper than that. The historian and the philosopher can speak with authority on the diverse strands which are woven into the pattern of our culture. These strands run far back into the past, and derive from many countries and many epochs, but whatever the historian or the philosopher may conclude, I cannot doubt that at the foundation of our civilisation are the moral values which have been gradually set up through the influence of Christianity, and by the observance, however imperfect, of the principles of Christian thought and action which have for centuries been the strongest single element in European life. Nor can I doubt that unless Europe is prepared to return to these principles we are not likely to make much progress either in personal or international relations. I would only add this last sentence, that if war ever came to the world it would, so far as the people of this country are concerned, only be because they would feel that there was no other way of defending causes and values which to them are more important than life itself.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, if I bespeak your patience for a very few minutes, it is because I feel it an obligation, on the one side, to sound a note of warning which I have not heard sounded to-day, and, on the other, to express my great relief to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that they have terminated what appeared to be a much too long period of drift and have taken a firm and decisive stand at a critical moment, whilst still proclaiming their readiness to continue to negotiate for peace by peaceful means. I hoped and believed that after the long phase of disillusion through which Germany has passed, and her realisation of the acceptance by her former antagonists of her repudiation of some of the harsher measures imposed by the Peace Treaties, she would in future be more disposed to pay regard to those rules of conduct with- out the observance of which confidence and good will can never be restored in the family of nations. That hope has been disappointed, and recent events seem to me to have revealed a reversion to the old attitude of German statesmen of disregarding international ethics where they stood in the way of an apparent advantage.

Let me anticipate any one saying that this contention is not warranted, because there is sufficient and obvious proof of it without going back to such episodes in the eighteenth century as the partition of Poland after an undertaking had been given to defend it. In my own living memory I could quote a large number of examples of apparently deliberate deception for the advancement of national aims. There was in 1870 Bismarck's manipulation of the King of Prussia's letter from Ems, recording his interview with the French Ambassador, which was so altered as to make it appear an affront offered to the Sovereign, the consequence of which was the acceleration of the outbreak of war with France. Shortly afterwards there was negotiated the alliance of the three Emperors of Austria, Russia, and Germany. Bismarck had no scruples, while that Treaty was still in force, in concluding a secret agreement with Austria directed against the third party to the Treaty, Russia.

Then, in 1885, I remember a particularly unpalatable diplomatic episode when the Chancellor, after a period of reluctance, felt himself obliged for reasons of internal policy to support the Colonial movement in Germany, the development of which was almost bound to bring him into some conflict of interest with ourselves. He addressed a Despatch to the German Ambassador in London for communication to Her Majesty's Government expressing in the most cordial terms his desire only to work in complete understanding with ourselves. The Despatch was, as it afterwards transpired, duly sent, but almost simultaneously the Ambassador received telegraphic instructions not to communicate it. None the less it was afterwards officially published as the opening document of an official White Book, the other documents in which were calculated to make it appear that we had paid no regard to the Chancellor's advances. The only comment of the German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, when we protested at the time, was, "It must have escaped my father's memory." Then, of course, in 1914 occurred the violation of the neutrality of Belgium which Germany had guaranteed in an instrument cynically dismissed by the Chancellor at the time as "a scrap of paper." These were some of the more notorious revelations of a mentality with which we have to reckon.

The vulnerability entailed by our control of a scattered Empire, developed in its initial stages largely by individual enterprise rather than by deliberate policy, made for a time the preservation of a balance of power our inevitable interest, but it also disposed us to throw our weight on the side of those menaced by a powerful State or combination of States. I have a strong reluctance to see our commitments on the Continent increased, as circumstances have recently made inevitable. But if the alternative be the establishment in Europe of a dominating position by a combination of Powers, and eventually, in logical sequence, by a single Power when the moment is ripe, our present and future course must be clear. I think we must adhere to our traditional policy of supporting weaker nations whose aspirations to develop on their own lines are as dear to them and as legitimate as they would be to us. I have often been haunted by a question asked in that remarkable memorandum drawn up by the late Sir Eyre Crowe in 1906. He asked "Can we be certain that Germany will never desire to destroy and supplant the British Empire?". To judge by the utterances of her State-controlled Press, that ambition does seem to exist. If this estimate is a wrong one it is now easy for Germany to make us revise it by accepting without delay the proposition of the President of the United States.

My long association with Italy, the evidence I have constantly received of the essential friendliness towards us of her people, and the testimony offered by the rare occasions on which their real sentiments have found expression, as they did so emphatically during the visit of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Rome, has induced me to confine my observations to the other member of the Axis. There were two or three questions which I was anxious to put to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but as he has been called away I will not delay your Lordships further. I hope to be able to put them to the noble Viscount on some future occasion, because I believe them to be not without importance.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I feel myself in danger of being accused of practising aggression because I am venturing to address you for the second time within a week, although only for a few minutes. My excuse must be that the things I feel seem to me so vital and so true that it would be wrong for me not to express them. Most of the things I was going to say have been taken from me by previous and more skilful speakers. The only thing I can possibly do that would be of any use would be to try to simplify the matter a little. I want to try and establish what I am going to say in the form of two axioms.

The first is that if something is right in the sense of being advantageous, it must always be right, and conversely if it is wrong in the sense of being disadvantageous, it must always be wrong. If you can agree that the policy of conciliation is the best way to settle quarrels, and if you agree, as I think you must, that the noble venture of the Prime Minister last September was good, then how can you say it should not be practised at this time? The answer will be that promises have been broken and aggressions have been made and that they must be stopped in the only way possible. The European position simplified is that two ambitious and very successful men have repeatedly stated that all the overtures they have made to us and our Allies have been refused and their pleas for justifiable expansion have been summarily dismissed. You will all agree that there is some truth in that. I hold no brief for anybody or anything except the cause of humanity, but I do think that simplifies and puts the position in a few words. Suppose something of this kind happened in England on a small scale: would not the first principle of English justice have demanded that both sides should be heard equally before judgment could be given and sentence pronounced? Does not the axiom of right demand that this should be done to-day? I say that it does, and until there is some meeting when both sides have a chance of stating their grievances equally, there can be no settlement.

Now I come to the second axiom. The remedy now proposed is a threat of war by a coalition of nations. But has it not been decided by now that war is no remedy for anything, and never has been? Is it not, as President Roosevelt said only the other day, only the last desperate refuge of the invaded? Has it not long been proved that war, owing to its utter foulness, can bring no good to protector, protected, or aggressor? Therefore a remedy is being offered us of death, disease and misery, and last but not least a terrible fall of man's desire for uplift and progress, not only to the aggressor but all sides alike. How can it be in any way called a remedy? Even if the plan succeeds and war is avoided by the threat of it, the peace will not be a good peace because the causes of the crisis will not be discovered. It is the causes which are important, and those causes date from years back. People do not go to war in a few days or a few weeks. They are actuated by causes which have been oppressing them for years, and until those causes are removed, the jealousy and bitterness will remain and increase. It is only putting off the evil day. There will still be the money wasted, disorganisation of trade and general check to progress and betterment of human conditions. A peace to be a good peace must depend on friendship and good feeling and not on political doubts and fears, and when it is established every nation must acknowledge that the greatness and prosperity of any other country is to the advantage and prosperity of themselves and of the world.

What has happened since last Thursday? I think two things. On the war threat basis the feelings between the two sides have become harder and more bitter and the circle of strife wider. More possible aggressions have been discussed and envisaged and the general feeling of insecurity is unallayed. On the other side, on the conciliation basis, a vast sigh of relief has gone up from the minds of every ordinary citizen concerned who is able to state his mind, at the hope that the President's appeal may avert the catastrophe they had long been dreading. May I just read a few lines from an issue of a prominent London evening newspaper? On the day of the President's speech that newspaper wrote: Nothing in Mr. Roosevelt's call, in fact, is so remarkable as his appeal from the ordinary machine of diplomacy to the settled will of the common citizen in every land. Governments have failed, he seems to declare, echoing the words of another great democrat, John Bright; let us try the people. Constantly throughout the declaration he seems to remind the statesmen of the world that they are dealing, not in mere frontiers and treaty rights, but in the flesh and blood, the hopes and fears of ordinary men and women. How solid and justified is that faith in humanity is shown in the response which has so quickly come from countless lands. The common citizen, appalled by the march of aggression, mystified by the business of diplomacy, and stricken by the growing fever of rumour and counter-rumour, had reached almost the point of despair. He felt himself locked in the condemned man's cell, with nothing to hope for but the release of calamity. From the Balkans to the Baltic, from the Black Sea to the English Channel, fear had settled on the people. Now comes a message announcing that we need not be 'the prisoners of that destiny.' Humanity can break its chains and batter its way out to a new day of peace. The President of the United States has certainly made a most moving appeal, which we all hope will succeed, though I am afraid I must agree with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby that it is not perhaps a good way to start a conciliation by assuming one side alone to be in the wrong, whether that is true or not. But should it fail, ought we not gravely to consider whether it should not be restarted by the Government of this country if these two axioms are true? The noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary has said several times that the Government are always ready to consider any possible solution by conciliation, but would not this Government of all Governments welcome a change to a rather more unorthodox and a quicker way of dealing with the problem? Would it not be better for all the rulers concerned only just for once to doff for a while their Parliamentary masks, and instead of arguing through diplomatic channels at a distance deal with the question in a simple human way, and be responsible only to their inner feelings of common sense, remembering the joy and relief of the whole world at the Prime Minister's triumphal return from Munich? Could not they call a meeting of all nations concerned in which all grievances, good or bad, in the past or in the future, will be mutually and sympathetically considered with the idea of removing them for the sake of humanity and its progress and ideals, so that humanity may be saved from this great horror? If it fails it will be a right action; if it wins it will be a gallant though bloodless victory.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to make a speech at this hour in asking leave to withdraw the Motion, nor do I propose to answer the speech which has just been delivered. Whether force is a remedy or not I am quite sure it is sometimes essential both to prevent crime and to protect the innocent. As for the other speeches which have been delivered, I have only to express my gratitude that so little has been said in answer to the argument which I endeavoured to develop before your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby did not agree with some part of what I said because he cannot bear the suggestion that anything should be done to revive the League of Nations. That has become an obsession with him, which I deeply regret. As to what he said about the necessity for understanding other people and his insistence on the proposition that you can never hope to come to an agreement until you understand the point of view of your opponent, with all that I entirely agree, but is he quite sure that he understands the point of view of the Germans better than we do? I am not sure that he is right.

I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, said just now. He said exactly what I have ventured to say, on much less information, more than once, that there is nothing peculiar about Herr Hitler. He is merely carrying on in a more brutal fashion the policy and the methods which have always prevailed in Germany, and you have to get that into your minds if you are to come to any terms with him. You have to understand that this is his point of view, and if you find that point of view absolutely irreconcilable with ours then you have to face the fact that one of you has got to give way. That is what it comes to and that is the position which I feel very strongly.

As to what my noble friend Lord Halifax said, this is what I would venture to say to him if he were here now, and what I say to his colleagues who are present. I listened to much of his speech, as we all did, with the greatest admira- tion and sympathy, but I confess I was rather disappointed with his long view. I am sure that you will not do any good until you set up some definite plans to which you are working. The only way of dealing with anyone is to have a constructive alternative. That is what I am not sure the Government have got, and merely to repeat over and over again, as is natural enough since the argument is put on the other side, the old criticisms and difficulties about the League of Nations and so on is really not enough. The question is, what is going to be your alternative? That is what you have to face. I do not think the Government have faced it, and if you do not face that and you do not have your alternative policy, your alternative plan to which you are working, however much you may have to say I doubt whether you will make any headway at all. Merely to say we are going to pile up arms and pile up alliances and leave it at that is not enough. If you are going to get the public opinion of the world firmly behind you, you must have an alternative scheme, an alternative plan, an alternative permanent arrangement to which you are working. I confess, listening to the Foreign Secretary, deeply as I admire him, I was profoundly disappointed with that part of his speech. Unless the Government can bring themselves to have a more definite practical ultimate policy I am sure we are in for a very bad time in the years to come.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.