§ THE EARL OF DARNLEY rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the fact that the proposed offer of mediation by Their Majesties the King of Belgium and the Queen of Holland still remains open, they will now state their willingness to take advantage of this offer with a view to securing a freely negotiated peace.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in bringing this question forward, I feel that your Lordships may have formed two opinions of it in advance. First, that it was superfluous and that it could have been quite easily dealt with in last week's debate. I should like to say, in answer to that, that last week's Motion was in such broad terms and covered so much ground, some of it referring to the technical detail of war making, that I felt I was justified in making a special plea to concentrate on the sole purpose of attacking the main theme from a somewhat different angle. I wish to express my great gratitude to the Foreign Secretary for sparing time from his very arduous duties to come here, after such a short interval, and to ask him to excuse my demand on his time on the ground that my importunity is solely on behalf of those millions who at the present moment may stand doomed to suffer. The second opinion might have been that something weak or defeatist was going to be proposed, but I hope to show that, so far from this being the case, I am trying to oppose another kind of general defeatism, for I am quite sure that to have perforce to be reconciled to the fact that there is no remedy or alternative for 232 the present position but the continually increasing horror of war is a defeatism that everyone would escape, if possible, because there is something surely inside everyone that tells us that there is another way if it could only be found. It is in an attempt to find this that I am speaking to-day.
§ I should like to base my arguments on words in His Majesty's reply to the offer of mediation by the King of the Belgians and the Queen of Holland, when he said that he did not want the war to go on one day longer than was necessary, and also on a statement often made and repeated by the noble Viscount last week, that a change of heart must he shown by Germany before an agreement could he entertained. I would like to try to prove that both these aims might now be made possible. I must ask your Lordships' indulgence for a short time in order to go into back history. It is dull and has often been done, but I want to try to bring it forcibly into my argument. If there is any weakness in the way that nations treat disputes between them it is not in aims or courage or determination, but surely in understanding of the views of the other side. The stage of negotiation gets quickly swamped in anger and resentment, and although the original casus remains the same, it gets obscured in the ferment of public opinion when war starts.
§ Take the deeds of Germany that caused this war. If they are looked at at face value in a human way, with fear, anger, and resentment and without an intimate study of their causes, the only way to deal with them is the way now practised—the abolition of the doer. But is there not another way of looking at them—the understanding or reasoned way—which still demands a purely unprejudiced consideration away from the noisy war machine with which we are continually surrounded? This would show them to be, not the spontaneous actions of a bloodthirsty villain, but the exaggerated patriotic aims of a man who swore an oath to restore his country to greatness and safety after its defeat and consequent misery in the last war. These are not to be condoned or excused, but they should be understood. The system chosen was to have a vast army, and under the shadow of this to force safety outside his immediate frontier, without fighting if 233 possible, and so in turn followed the Saar, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, and Poland. About the rights and wrongs of these it is possible to argue ad infinitum, for, like every other action taken under violent stress, they can probably be attacked and defended strongly by the different sides, and a great deal of local knowledge rather than instinct is required to establish their cases conclusively. But like every other dispute there was probably some right and some wrong on both sides, and now that they have happened they cannot be undone. Our object should be the future and not the past, except inasmuch as it tries to establish the main cause of all hostile incidents in international life.
It is possible that if the realisation that this state of affairs was in progress some years ago had been followed by some attempt to bring Germany into co-operation, instead of watching with anxious eyes successive stages develop, this final stage would have been avoided. I should like to quote some statements made by Sir Nevile Henderson and the Prime Minister in support of this. Sir Nevile, in the White Paper, said:
Herr Hitler and National Socialism are the products of the defeat of a great nation in war and its reaction against the contusion and distress which followed that defeat.
He could have added, perhaps justly, that we did little to alleviate that distress, which was indeed terrible and which might have had some sympathetic treatment at a conqueror's hands. If you do not agree with that, I would like to quote a short extract from the Prime Minister's speech on March 17, in support of it. The Prime Minister said:
I had to deal with no new problem. It was something that had existed ever since the Treaty of Versailles—a problem that ought to have been solved long ago if only the statesmen of the last twenty years had taken broader and more enlightened views of their duty.
It therefore seems that one can assert with some truth that this country did not make the most of its opportunities for conciliating Germany in the past.
§ All this, however, is past history and not worth dwelling on, except to assert that these aggressions have an origin in fact, and that fact is the last war and its results. But it also goes to prove that if this war is to be one of destruction and defeat, something of the same kind will arise again in the future and the 234 sacrifices in life and money will have become again useless. And war cannot be won without defeat. If it is thought to be a necessity and not a remedy, is it not defeatism to accept a barren necessity, so that the understanding or reasoned way demands something newer and more efficient in its result than the old method of revenge producing victory? And that way is surely elimination instead of destruction. It may seem a hopeless task to think of this now when killing is going on and the minds of all are concentrated on finding better methods of so doing and the Press is daily fanning hatred into a fiercer flame. But surely the idea of elimination is supported by true understanding whether of Christian or human origin.
§ It is difficult, perhaps, for a layman to speak on such matters; but I think that the Christian teaching of not resisting evil but overcoming it with good and agreeing with one's adversary quickly are quite straightforward and obvious, and that the teaching in this code was meant to be a code for the conduct of everyday life in this world and not a set of dogmas for Sundays of preparations for a future life. I believe that if spiritual teachers have in fact complained of having lost the confidence of their hearers, it is through not adhering to this teaching but preaching crusades instead. Why cannot it be acted on in this case? I seem to hear the answer that this is unpractical dreaming and that it is now a question of life and death we are dealing with. But who put any limits on the applicability of this teaching or designed the size and shape of the mountains that might be removed by it? So I respectfully suggest to the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary that his contention last Tuesday, that this teaching was only of value if we were exclusively concerned with what is passing in the non-material sphere, could be safely amended to one which asserted that all material evils, however bad, were subject to exorcism by a correct use of spiritual truth and action if we do declare to believe in this teaching. It seems to me also that human understanding, whether derived or not from this teaching, gives the same advice, and that is that, if there is anything evil, oppose it with relaxation and it will disappear.
§ How can this doubly-supported advice be applied now to war, the great evil? I have spoken several times to your Lord- 235 ships while this crisis was approaching, advising negotiations and ventilation of the causes that were bringing it, especially owing to the fact that we were ourselves not entirely blameless. But the course that was followed was threats, and threats failed; and just as surely war will fail whoever wins it. I want to try to prove that you cannot convince people by threats and force that what they think is justifiable is wrong. Is not this proved by events? Herr Hitler thinks himself a regenerator who has saved his country in spite of our hostility, and the various actions he has done of which we complain are probably done, as he has often avowed, partly to make his country more prosperous but mainly to be absolutely free from any possible defeat in the future with a repetition of the misery after 1918. So every lecture and threat we have given him has made him think aggression more necessary, but for safety primarily—call it what you like but admit that it is understandable and therefore removable.
§ Now that the aggressions have led to a major war how can anything be done successfully towards its removal? So far the converse has happened. Since the war began Herr Hitler has offered peace. It was a mixture of boasting over his conquest, constructive statements for Europe and friendship for this country. This was also confirmed by Sir Nevile Henderson. We answered it by telling the Germans in so many words that they were untrustworthy aggressors. But as they do not think so it effectively closed the door. Then their Majesties the King of Belgium and the Queen of Holland proposed mediation. Again we said that the Germans were untrustworthy aggressors and stated our requirements in advance, which not only closed the door again but elicited comments on our own past history which the Germans believe as implicitly as they believe in their necessity to absorb neighbours to make themselves safe. And so at this rate the war must go on till victory produces a forced yielding to the victors' terms and thereby creates vacancies for future revenges.
§ How can elimination enter now into this furnace? Only by one way perhaps, and that is by stating our readiness through Holland and Belgium or another neutral to enter into free and uncompromised negotiations under their œgis, with 236 the belief that in a real give-and-take attitude the fears and hatreds may be relaxed and the constructive desires, which both sides so obviously possess, may be given a chance to develop and increase. For though these fears and hatreds may be rendered impotent by other means, they cannot be forced into disappearance and must reappear at some distant time. Therefore, unless we aim at their disappearance, the whole vast machinery which we are assembling and discussing daily becomes a heavy and useless burden, and all sacrifices and heroism become vain. I realise that the noble Viscount said last Tuesday that a conference was useless unless the Germans were willing to accept terms in advance and would give security for such a settlement, and that, failing this, the war must be seen through. But all the same I would like to press that the free offer would be more likely to procure the change of heart and security now required from Germany. The mere fact that it has shown a readiness to go into and finally settle all grievances and difficulties—and all sides have them—would, I am sure, draw from Germany a desire to participate in all the requirements of European countries, and I assert that the dictation of terms and accusations never will.
§ Is it not worth trying, too, in view of the enormous benefits we can confer now on those who most need them? First take Poland and Czecho-Slovakia. There seem to be two ways of looking at the sufferings of the people in the subject countries—one with pity and admiration and promise of some distant restitution, which, if I may say so, does not help them much now; and the other by determining to aid them at the first possible moment and that moment will only come when the war ends, for subject nations, from their natural resentment, always have a terrible time in war. Take the small neutrals, who from their position are in danger of being drawn into the maelstrom. Should we not be fulfilling an honourable and unselfish duty to them by keeping them from disaster which was none of their seeking? Then take the rest of Europe and the world. This step might save them, if not from war, from the dislocation and strain that war may bring them, and also, which is more important, prevent them following a precedent of settling their disputes by war 237 and making thereby a general conflagration—a danger that seems now in the process of starting.
§ If this change of heart is all that we are waiting for, can we not put our faith and understanding to the practical test and try it? It is not an irrevocable step. If it fails we have at any rate done our utmost, but faith surely can be mightier than the sword, although it is seldom tried. From this start, bit by bit, the constructive future of Europe might be built, and guarantees sufficient for any country's requirements obtained. In the end it is absolutely certain that the only satisfactory guarantee that ever will be obtained is good will; for a country keeps its pledges most faithfully when its relations with its partner bring it peace and prosperity, and conversely, when a country thinks itself in danger, patriotism sometimes becomes stronger than pledges. International feelings, as your Lordships know, change very quickly in times of stress. A country may be a possible ally and a vile aggressor in the same year.
§ I am acutely conscious of the somewhat lonely course I am trying to steer before you, but I have the knowledge that many who do not and cannot make their feelings public are with me, and that encourages me to ask you to give a searching consideration to my plea. As I can confidently feel that what I say is based on the highest of truths, I feel I am right to maintain it before you. There are many objections that may be given to-day, but if it is said that this proposal shows signs of weakness and defeatism, I maintain that to act according to your understanding and to your creed cannot be a sign of anything but strength. Nor can a plan for bringing prosperity at the earliest possible moment not only to victims but to defenceless small nations and other inoffensive peoples, come from anything but the highest and strongest motives. If it encourages the enemy it only encourages them into a state of mind in which they can visualise their country finally secure and prosperous and therefore takes away every aggressive and hostile intention which cannot exist in true prosperity. I quite realise the gravity and danger in all that has occurred. I do not attempt to minimise or condone. I only want to assert that if there is a great truth in our teaching, it could be 238 asserted confidently against the greatest seeming dangers to reach the end we seek.
Our task, as I see it, is not to think we can undo what has been done, but to be sure we are taking the most certain course of restoring the greatest prosperity to the greatest number of people, and to base this not only on who was wrong in the past but chiefly on what is going to be right in the future. The past is dead and finished with, all its wrongs and mistakes, but there is still a future with illimitable possibilities. For this there are two alternatives. The first is that of war, which in 1871 produced 1914 and in 1914 produced 1939—a proven failure. The second, which is untried and unproved, is to endeavour to bring our adversary from a sense of violent frustration into co-operation. I maintain that it is possible if only a start could be made, however hopeless and incredible the task may seem, for it to emerge with guarantees and disarmament into the final mental attitude which ensures peace. For as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester said in his admirable and true letter to The Times on November 27, which he has given me permission to quote:
It is not possible to defeat a mentality except by treating what is a moral and spiritual malady through moral and spiritual means.
This, then, is the choice before us: to render the evil of war innocuous by dissolution, or destroy it by force and scatter its seeds broadcast; to go against our natural instincts in favour of our beliefs, or continue a discredited method which may produce further disaster for those whom we wish to help.
The first method does not ask us to give up anything, surrender anything, gainsay anything, but only to back our case with a different kind of strength and see if this will not gradually achieve for everyone concerned a satisfactory solution. I hope that your Lordships will feel that I am justified in asking for this step to-day. I am heartened by the remark in the broadcast speech of the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary, when he said:
In this, as in all things, it is the spiritual side that counts.
I want to ask him if he could not consider my proposal as being in line with his
dictum and whether the law of good overcoming evil could not with all safety and honour be employed here now. The peacemaker is often accused of weakness in that he is supposed to offer only non-resistance, but I propose that we should offer the strongest thing on earth, and perhaps, as far as we know, in Heaven. Therefore I ask His Majesty's Government if they will not consider whether they cannot, with all dignity, honour and assurance, combine with our Allies now to take this step.
§ 4.7 P.m.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, we have listened to a speech of a kind too seldom heard in Parliament. I will not myself attempt to reach the high moral tone of the noble Earl's appeal, but I will support his proposal on other grounds. First let me say I think it is unfortunate that this proposal cannot be discussed at a secret sitting of your Lordships' House. As it is, much of what noble Lords wish to say, and ought to say, they feel that they cannot say. If in my speech I go beyond what the Government desire, well, it is their responsibility. It is, however, unlikely that any remarks of mine will be more open to criticism than some of the words which were uttered in a recent debate in your Lordships' House. The object of the noble Earl's proposal is to enter into negotiations with a view to bringing the war to an end by an early peace, as opposed of course to the alternative policy which is described in expressive but not classical language as a fight to a finish. This proposal seeks to secure an early peace and a freely-negotiated peace. As the noble Earl truly said, the prospect of that would have the best chance if in the early stages conditions were not laid down. If the two Monarchs, the King of the Belgians and the Queen of Holland, could have got the parties together without conditions in the first instance, there would have been much more hope of a settlement. This laying down of conditions in advance and in public does not help negotiations. It hinders them and it tends to stop them, and indeed in this case it has stopped them, particularly having regard to some of the conditions laid down.
I want, for instance, to raise an important point about the difference between the British reply to the two 240 Monarchs and the French reply. According to the French, there can apparently be no negotiations unless Germany will agree in advance to remove the injustice which force has imposed on Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Poland. Your Lordships will note that Austria is here included, and indeed is put first. This is rather too much even for the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, who last week, speaking in your Lordships' House, said that there might be a difference between the case of Austria and the case of Czecho-Slovakia and Poland. I should like to ask this of the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary: Was Great Britain consulted before this reply of France was given? Did we concur with France that Germany, before there could be any negotiations—because that is what it seemed to amount to—must in advance agree to the terms about Austria? If we did concur, why did we not say that ourselves in our reply? Surely it is very unfortunate that there should be this difference, this divergence between the two replies to the two Monarchs. To my mind it suggests that once again France is pursuing a separate policy from ours, and that once again we shall be obliged to follow in her wake, and once again with disastrous results.
If a satisfactory peace could be secured in other respects, it is, I suggest, unthinkable that the people of this country should wish to continue the war on account of Austria. I say that the more confidently because some of the wisest heads in Great Britain in 1919 thought it was a mistake to treat Austria as she was treated, and later it was certainly a profound mistake to prevent Austria having a fiscal agreement with Germany. This incident about Austria and the French reply raises a fact of very great importance and one which is too often overlooked by some people, and that is that, when we talk about our war aims, we must always remember that France has to be considered. France has her own view about war aims. She will, I suppose, have an equal voice with us, if not a predominant voice, judging from past history. Is it not true that most of the evils and injustices of the Treaty of Versailles were put there at the instance of France?
I am afraid, though, that the truth is that the Government have never really 241 taken this proposed mediation of King Leopold and Queen Wilhelmina very seriously. Even on the very evening that the proposed intervention was announced, they permitted certain words to be used on the wireless which, to say the least, were not encouraging. Then, very shortly afterwards, we heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Simon, speaking at Guildhall in place of the Prime Minister, saying that nothing would come of it because of Germany's attitude; and that was long before the German Government said anything about the matter at all. Next, just before the British reply was given and on a Sunday evening, we had the broadcast of Mr. Winston Churchill, which in its tone and language outraged the feelings of a considerable number of people in this country and was heard both with astonishment and repugnance. After that broadcast any further negotiations seemed almost impossible. I should much like to know if that broadcast, in the form in which it was made, was approved by the Prime Minister, the Government or the Foreign Secretary. Was it approved by them? It is very important to know a little more about these broadcasts, how they come about. How is it, for instance, that Mr. Eden has made one or two broadcasts while other more important members of the Government have not made any broadcasts at all? This whole question, I think, wants a good deal of further probing, because these broadcasts may be very important and much may depend upon them.
I want next to address myself to an important question on which the noble Earl touched and which is very germane to this Motion: What reason is there to suppose that Hitler would agree to terms which Great Britain and France would accept? In my submission there is ground for thinking that Hitler would be prepared to make great concessions to secure peace and that in the end agreement could be reached. Hitler is in a very difficult position. Things have not gone according to plan, as Ministers and others are constantly telling us; and they are quite right, it is so. Russia has completely upset Hitler's calculations and seems likely to do so more and more. In fact, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Hitler is now really subordinate to Stalin. Russia has appropriated a big part of Poland, and she 242 bars the way to any designs which Germany may have, or may have had, in Eastern Europe. That is very important from the point of view of the Allies. Not only so, but although Hitler may wreak incalculable damage in the West, actual victory for Germany seems impossible of attainment. Anybody who reads carefully the speech which Hitler made to the Reichstag on October 6 will realise that he was genuinely anxious for peace and was prepared to go a long way to get it. Events since then will certainly not have made him less desirous, but more desirous, of getting peace. Once peace is established, it is not likely to be broken again by Hitler with the presence of Russia on his Eastern borders. It is scarcely conceivable that he would again run the risk of fighting the Western Powers, which he now knows to be an appalling task. Quite obviously the possibility of Germany again resorting to war is enormously diminished owing to the emergence of Russia as a powerful aggressive country.
Thus, in my view, there is ground for thinking that a settlement could be made—not an ideal settlement; that would not be possible anyhow, but a much better settlement than could be made later on. It cannot be stressed too strongly that we are faced with dangers and difficulties whichever way we look. It is a choice of evils, and we have to take the best course we can. Be it also borne in mind that the pause, so to say, on the Western front has not yet been broken. The land war on the Western front has not yet really begun. Therefore, as the noble Earl said, even if after conference agreement should not be reached, the Allies would not be in a worse position. In fact, so far as morale is concerned—and that is of supreme importance—they would be in a better position. I fear though, as I have said, that the Government have never really meant business in this suggested mediation and are wedded to the opposite policy of a fight to a finish. They have apparently made up their minds that the only thing to do is to go on and on until Germany is so crushed that Hitler will be overthrown by revolution.
I have said before, and I say again, that I think we may start from the point that nobody holds a brief for Hitler; but, of the many dangers of the Government's policy, one which impresses me greatly is 243 that that policy tends to unite the German people behind Hitler, however much many of them dislike him and dislike the Nazi régime. Hitler will tell his people that he offered peace in the Reichstag on October 6 to Great Britain and France, but that they would not have it and insisted on continuing the war against Germany. No doubt it will be said that that is not a fair statement, that that is not a correct way of putting the case; but I do not think that it will be very difficult for Hitler to persuade the German people—in fact, from what I hear, he is doing it—that their homes are in danger, that they are in danger and that as a matter of self-preservation they ought to unite behind him and behind the Government in opposing those who are seeking Germany's downfall.
All this is likely to happen, and it also seems as certain as anything can be that, if we have to go on and on until Hitler is overthrown by revolution, Germany will in the end become Communist and will enter into an alliance with Russia. That is all the more likely because in the long run Germany and Russia will necessarily be thrown closer and closer together. Therefore I say that the Government are misleading the people in giving them to understand that when Hitler is overthrown peace will be secured. As a matter of fact it is inconceivable that peace and good will and the rule of law can come from inflicting such losses and sufferings upon the German people that they will be driven into Communism and into an alliance with Russia. So far from that being an end of the problems which face Europe, it would only be the beginning of still more grave problems than any with which we have yet been confronted.
Obviously many people in the country are not satisfied with the outlook or with the Government. There was an election on Friday of last week at Stretford, and the result of that election must surely have given the Government much food for thought. Out of a total electorate of about 75,000, less than one-third—23,400 odd—voted for the Government candidate, and his poll was down by between 11,000 and 12,000 as compared with 1935. On the other hand, the two "Stop the war" candidates—the two candidates who were opposed to the war—polled no fewer than 5,943 votes, that is, more than 244 one quarter of the number cast for the Government candidate. It is not surprising in those circumstances that this election result was tucked away in the Press on inconspicuous pages. Also perhaps it is not surprising that an attempt appears to have been made on the wireless to wrap up the figures; at any rate they were not given fully; the full poll against the Government was not given when the wireless result was announced. All I will say further about the Stretford election result is that I do not think there was any comparable result in the last war.
Would my noble friend say something about the Camlachie election, where two Labour candidates opposed each other and where the electors therefore had an opportunity of voting for the official Labour Party policy?
§ LORD ARNOLD
I will say a good deal about the Camlachie election if my noble friend wants me to. The Camlachie election was fought in an extremely scattered division, very much more difficult in the conditions of the black-out than Stretford. It was a very difficult time. It is an extremely difficult division to work. There was an absolutely pacifist candidate. At Stretford they were "Stop the war" candidates. That in itself makes a difference. Even the Clack-mannan election compares very favourably with the election results which took place during the last war; but Stretford of course goes very much further; it goes far beyond that. More than one quarter of the electors voted against the Government as compared with the Government poll.
I want to say this, because very little is said about this, or at any rate not nearly enough is said about this. I want to consider the appalling price which Great Britain will have to pay in order so to defeat Germany that she will be driven into revolution and to bring about the end which apparently the Government have in mind. To carry out this policy may well take years; in fact the War Cabinet are preparing for a war of three years. They have said so. By that time the social and economic structure of the country may have been injured beyond recovery. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking only a few days ago, said that before the end of the war it might be that we should be called upon to make sacrifices not yet dreamt of. 245 Bearing in mind that there is already an Income Tax of 7s. 6d. in the pound and that on the largest incomes the combined Income Tax and Surtax amount to 17s. in the pound, these words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer must make thoughtful people think furiously. If, in addition to these unprecedented burdens, there are to be other imposts of a kind so serious apparently that the mind has not even yet visualised them, then on this ground the prospect, the outlook, is indeed hopeless and bleak.
But all this is apart from what is really much more important; that is, the appalling loss of life and suffering which will come from the casualties and the effect of those upon the families here at home. In the last war nearly a million British men were killed, nearly two million were wounded; and now, twenty years after the end of that war, there are still hundreds of thousands of men suffering disablement, and no small number of men who are hopeless lunatics in mental hospitals as a result of the war. Bearing in mind that in this war, if it goes on, we shall have (which we have not yet had) terrible casualties on both sides from air warfare, it seems necessary to assume that the casualties by the end of the war will be very much more numerous than those of the last war. All this is part of the price which will have to be paid for this policy of a fight to a finish instead of an agreed peace by negotiation now. It will be a terrible price, the most appalling price paid in history.
It would indeed be a dreadful prospect, even if, as a result, a good peace were going to be secured in the end. As, however, it is quite certain—I say it deliberately—that no good peace can be secured by this policy of a fight to a finish, it seems impossible to overstate the heavy responsibility of those who are advocating this policy, putting it before the people of this country and giving them to understand that no other course is open to them. That is the point. I was talking to a minister of religion the other night. He said, "What else can we do? Is there any other course possible?" Even an intelligent man like that had been so impressed by this mass propaganda that he asked those questions. Of course another course is possible, the course proposed by the noble Earl in his question. It is no reply to all this to 246 say that we are not fighting the German people but only the Nazi régime, and that, once they are overthrown, then peace will come, and so forth. Exactly the same kind of thing was said in the last war. We were told that it was necessary to go on. We were told that we must go on and on until the Kaiser—not Hitler—was overthrown; we must go on in order to make peace secure for the future. We know what the last twenty years have been! After the dreadful failure of that policy, the Government ought to know better than to be saving exactly the same sort of thing again in this war.
I repeat, they ought to know better, because all that was said from 1914 to 1918 has been disproved. It is true that before 1914 we had had little experience of modern warfare, and there was perhaps some excuse then for thinking that it was necessary to try and crush German militarism, and for saying that when that was done the way would be open to a new and better Europe. We know now that that is all wrong—has been proved wrong before our own eyes—and if the facts are fairly faced there is no reason to suppose that the results following this war, this fight-to-a-finish policy, will be any better than the results following the last war. Indeed, as I have indicated, they may very well be worse, because we have to-day this black shadow of Communism, which may spread right over the whole of Europe. So I say that not only will any peace at the end of a long war be much worse than the peace which could be got now, but that we shall have paid the most terrible price in history in vain.
Nevertheless, despite the experience of the last 25 years, which nearly every member of the Government has lived through and therefore there is no excuse for ignoring it, we have been given to understand that at the end of the war, that is, when the two most cultured and highly disciplined nations in Europe have done their utmost to ruin and massacre each other, then in some mysterious and unexplained way a new and better Europe is going to emerge. To assume that a just peace can be got at the end of a long war is to assume something which is not in the very least likely to happen. A little over a year ago, the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, speaking in your Lordships' House, pointed out that it was 247 extremely difficult ever to get a just peace. He said:Has there ever been a just peace?… Is not peace nearly always unjust to the vanquished? Passions are always high when peace is made after a long war.Those were Lord Baldwin's words, and we saw how true they were in 1919, when all kinds of injustices and wrongs were put into the Treaty of Versailles. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister, only a few days ago, in a letter to the Conservative candidate at the Stretford by-election, said that our objective was to bring into beinga new Europe, animated by the spirit of freedom, good will, mutual tolerance and cooperation between nations.The Prime Minister did not tell us, however, how these results were to be brought about, and he is now saying things about war which are very different from those he said only a short time ago.
A little over a year ago, in one of his appeals to Hitler, the Prime Minister asked him to hold his hand on the ground that war, if it came, might end civilisation. We seem to have forgotten all about that in these last few weeks. Then again, in the summer of last year, he said:In war, whatever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.More recently, in April last, he said in Parliament thatwar wins nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing.It is not only difficult, it is quite impossible to reconcile these statements of the Prime Minister about war one with the other. It is quite impossible to reconcile such statements and statements made by other responsible statesmen, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, with what is now being said about the good results which we may expect to follow from this war. What has happened to make this change in the language of the Prime Minister? This has happened; that he has now to justify a fight to a finish. That is what has happened, nothing else. There is, however, unfortunately, only too much reason to believe that what the Prime Minister said a few months ago about war is much more true than what he is saying now. When he talked about a new Europe and co-operation between nations, does that mean co-operation be- 248 tween Great Britain and France and Communist Russia, and probably Communist Germany as well? Does anybody think such co-operation is going to take place or if it does take place, is going to lead to fruitful results? The whole situation has been transformed by the emergence of Russia as a great Power with aggressive designs.
The Government say practically nothing about all this in public, but the fact is that all predictions and calculations have been profoundly altered by Russia, and your Lordships know that what I say is true. It is all very well to use these grandiloquent phrases about a new Europe and so forth after Germany has been defeated, but, actually, there is no prospect whatever of any such assured peace and security. I say it has been proved, and proved in our own lifetime, almost to the point of mathematical demonstration, that this policy of a fight to a finish is a wrong policy. How is the new Europe going to be born out of the unimaginable sufferings and bitterness and hatred and devastation which a long war will inevitably cause? And over and behind all will be the dark shadow of Communism—Communistic Russia and probably Communistic Germany as well. That is the prospect, and although the Government may not reply to the arguments of those who disagree with their policy, and may at times try to disparage our speeches, yet we are only trying to discharge a very difficult task in what we deem to be the public interest, and we can await events knowing, sad though it be, that we shall be vindicated. In contradistinction to the Government, we have on our side the lessons and teachings of history and of experience, and we know that time will justify us. So I say that we can wait and see who is right. But it will be a melancholy day for us to witness how right we have been when the civilisation of Great Britain has been shattered and no secure peace has been obtained in return.
§ 4.38 p.m.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I have had the privilege of being a member of your Lordships' House now for eighteen years. During that time your Lordships have had many debates on foreign affairs, and I have listened to a great many of them, though I have never yet taken part in one. I have no claim 249 to be an expert in foreign affairs or to have any special knowledge, but I do not think it needs any expert knowledge of foreign affairs to pass judgment on the question which is on your Lordships' Paper to-day. I think it needs a little bit of common sense and a determination to face realities. When I first saw this question on the Paper some weeks ago, I thought it was undesirable. After the debate in your Lordships' House only a week ago, it is quite definitely obnoxious. The Foreign Secretary dealt very fully with every point that has been raised in the debate to-day. He dealt specifically with the point in the question and every point that has been touched upon in the two speeches to which we have just listened; and I cannot imagine that any object whatever wild be served by this debate to-day, except to encourage the King's enemies, and possibly to mislead public opinion in this country.
The noble Earl who asked the question told your Lordships that he was conscious that it might be regarded as being both superfluous and a sign of weakness. I think it is a pity that he was not guided by those reflections to take it off the Paper of your Lordships' House after the debate which took place a week ago. I object in the strongest terms to the travesty of history which the noble Earl gave about the Treaty of Versailles and other things. I object to the glorification of Herr Hitler which he gave. The noble Earl's speech can be summed up in two sentences. He said, "War settles nothing; let us try and get a conference." Does war settle nothing? Has war settled nothing in Poland? What do the Poles think about war settling nothing? Let me substitute the word "force" for "war." It is perhaps plainer in terms of force. Force has settled something up to the present in Poland and in Czecho-Slovakia. When it comes to the argument that we should try for a conference, the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary dealt specifically with that issue. The noble Earl read us a homily on very much the same lines as the speech which we have heard on previous occasions. Both he and Lord Arnold expressed the view that by this effort to get a conference we might find that some change of heart had taken place in Germany. I see no change in the situation during the last week. That was dealt with by the Foreign Secretary, and it is a pity that he should be forced to 250 go over the ground again. What would be accomplished by a conference? Supposing you got every nation to come to a conference, would it be more than a glorified League of Nations at which Germany has snapped her fingers, walked out, and decided to have nothing whatever to do with it?
Lord Arnold's speech can be summed up by saying that the bulk of his argument was that any peace now will be better than a peace after a long war. I object to his definition of the Government's policy as that of a fight to a finish. The Government have not banged the door. The Government have made it clear that the moment the condition precedent is there—and that is a change of heart on the part of Germany—they are ready to negotiate. I object to Lord Arnold's description of the Government's conduct of policy since the offer by the King of the Belgians and the Queen of the Netherlands. What the two noble Lords overlook is that the conditions precedent to negotiation or conference do not exist. It is no use saying that twenty years ago we said we were going to turn out the Kaiser. There is a new factor in the situation to-day. I am going to read to your Lordships one sentence from a book called Germany's Revolution of Destruction, by Rauschning, which I commend to your Lordships. The author was one of the leaders of the Nazi movement until he found it impossible to go on. He has written this book, which is a very illuminating one, and this is the sentence I shall quote:If anything has been gained at all in these years of oppression, it is the recognition they have forced on us of the elementary fact that there is such a thing as impartial justice, and that the doctrine of violence and the exclusive pursuit of power lead inevitably to revolution and destruction.The ideal of impartial justice is what has got to reign in Germany as well as internationally before you can get peace.
It is no use trying to make peace unless the other people want peace. You have got in Germany a reign of violence and terrorism which exactly corresponds to the words in that book, and as long as that persists, any idea that there is a change of heart, giving rise to circumstances in which you will get a freely-negotiated peace, is absolutely illusory. The two noble Lords who have spoken are, I suppose, avowed pacifists and 251 proud of it. Pacificism is all right, if it is pacificism all round. Disarmament is all right, if it is disarmament all round. But we know what unilateral disarmament will do, and it is not difficult to imagine what unilateral pacifism could do. Pacifists in this country have no realisation of what we are up against. At the moment we are fighting for our lives. We are fighting a terrorism, to parallel which we have got to go back to the days of Tiglath-Pileser, the King of the Assyrians. It was he who introduced the technique of deporting whole populations, and I have no doubt that Tiglath-Pileser felt he was being encircled by the Israelites before he made his descent upon Judea. I am going to say that under the conditions in which we are living to-day pacifists, greatly as one may respect their convictions, are a public danger. They divert attention from the matter which we have got in hand, and that is winning the war. If there is a change of heart in Germany, it is for Germany to show it. If we are going to make a move now and suggest something in the way of negotiation, then, if there is such a change of heart in Germany, that will speedily put an end to it. It will infallibly be interpreted as a sign of weakness.
Lastly, I am going to give your Lordships one reason more why I greatly deplore the persistence of this question on the Paper. It is rather a personal one, but it is one that may appeal to your Lordships. We have only one Foreign Secretary. The Foreign Secretary commands our support in an overwhelming degree. He commands our admiration and, I think I am safe in saying, the affection of everybody who knows him. The Foreign Secretary has got exactly twenty-four hours in every day, and to bring him here to re-discuss once more the points which were settled in your Lordships' House only a week ago is, I consider, a monstrous abuse of the time of your Lordships' House.
§ 4.48 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has spoken strongly, and he has obviously received much sympathy from your Lordships' House. I agree that it takes some courage for the noble Earl to put this Question on the Paper. 252 I re-echo what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has said about the demands on the time and patience of the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary. At the same time I personally am grateful to the noble Earl for persisting with his question. I believe that the noble Viscount himself, who in all his speeches in your Lordships' House has shown a willingness to listen to reason, will not be averse from listening if reasons can be advanced, even though it takes some extra measure of his time. I am not a pacifist, nor am I one of those who ask that peace should be made at any price. I admire the courage and the self-sacrifice of our soldiers. I admit the brutality with which the German Government both began and maintains the war, and it is impossible not to condemn the cruel persecution which has disgraced the German Government's treatment of the Jews and others during many years, and not least at this present juncture. But I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord who has just spoken, if he were to be followed by the Government of this country, would be leading them to a desperate goal.
I see in his language not the language of reality but the language of pessimism, the language of a refusal to listen to the possibilities of reason. I suppose that the object with which the King of Belgium and the Queen of Holland have made this offer of mediation is to see whether it is not even now possible to use the resources of reason before more cruelty is wrought upon defenceless victims, whether Poles or Jews, and before more sufferings are called for in other countries. I say that the noble Lord betrays a lack of sense of reality for this reason. There are really two alternatives, and I think it is difficult to deny that there are only two alternatives. One is a fight to the bitter end, and the other is negotiation as soon as negotiation can be made. I think it is well that those who speak with strength, and courage also, of fighting to a finish or fighting to the bitter end, should weigh well what fighting to the bitter end must mean. The longer the war the wider the range of war. Finland now, Scandinavia perhaps in the new year, next Rumania, then Turkey. And can Italy look on unmoved and the other Balkan States remain silent and undisturbed? A fight to the bitter end means something much greater, much more serious than the Great War of 1914–18. All the Powers, except 253 America perhaps, would be involved, with the addition of a much stronger and a much more dangerous Russia, and with the addition of perhaps all Scandinavia.
Apart from the range and the savagery of a prolonged war to the bitter end, however, we have to think, if that is to be the course taken, of the state of minds in the different countries at that bitter end, of the moral, physical and spiritual exhaustion of the belligerents. How unlikely it is that such a soil should produce a peace which the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary has said he desires, a peace that shall right the wrongs of the weaker nations and give lasting security? If we take a long view, and that is the only view worth while, we are bound to ask, about this fighting to the bitter end, Cui bono? No good to the victims whether Poles or Jews, no good to England and France, no good to Germany. The only powers to which it can do good are the powers of atheism and Communism. It is because this offer of mediation opens the door to the other alternative of negotiations that I think we should give it a welcome and should note with the maximum of encouragement that we can the words from the King's reply which have already been quoted.
But I am anxious to give some proof that I am on the basis of reality. I would, therefore, refer to the two conditions which the node Viscount said were necessary before the French and the British nations should lay down arms. He said first, that there must be evidence that the Germans were willing to accept terms corresponding to the purpose for which we took up arms, and next, that there must be some security that any settlement reached would be respected. It so happens that I have many friends in neutral countries with whom I am in correspondence and also in conversation. Those in neutral countries know more of Germany than we can know, and they tell us that Germany has received many shocks since the war, that there are vast numbers in Germany who did not want the war, that Herr Hitler himself knows these facts, and that there is evidence of a willingness to accept terms corresponding to the purpose for which the British and French nations took up arms, such terms as would involve the full autonomy of Bohemia and Moravia, with an independence for Slovakia, an independent 254 Polish State except for the Russian parts, and arrangements by agreement with regard to the Colonies and disarmament. I have no doubt that the noble Viscount himself has such evidence in his possession, and more could be supplied if he desired. To avoid misunderstandings I would add that it would be impossible in any discussion of any such terms for the Allies to agree to arrangements injurious to the inhabitants of the Colonies, or dictated by hatred of the Jews.
But it is the second condition, asking for guarantees, which is far more crucial. It is said that there is no security that any promises made, any terms offered or indeed accepted, will be fulfilled, and I do not wonder after the devastating experience of Munich and after the flagrant breach of pledges. Is it the case that what we are really fighting for is guarantees? What are the guarantees which His Majesty's Government desire? So far they have not been defined, and it is difficult to define guarantees in advance of a settlement. Guarantees are very delicate weapons. If we are victorious we can impose military, naval and economic guarantees which will satisfy the most exacting critic, but such guarantees have a way, after twenty years, of recoiling like a boomerang. Such guarantees may be highly successful at the time, but they may come back in twenty years in the form of a major war.
Guarantees are of different kinds. We are apt to put personal guarantees in the foreground. We say that we cannot deal with Herr Hitler. We ask, perhaps, that the Führer should be removed, and so Herr Hitler becomes a symbol. Suppose, however, that as a result of our insistence or of our requirements, Herr Hitler were removed from the head of the German Government, he would immediately become a martyred Hitler, a martyr Führer; he would become a legend, and his spell upon the nation would be infinitely greater than before. My friends from neutral countries tell me that Herr Hitler is much debated in Germany today. I know from German refugees, Jewish refugees, that before the war the influence of Herr Hitler was waning. While the war lasts all forces rally round the Führer. Peace, in the belief of many wise and well-informed men in neutral countries and amongst German refugees, would hasten the lessening of Herr 255 Hitler's influence. It is a question of time. In any case were peace to be negotiated, certainly there are many signs to show that other influences are more likely to be decisive about the terms of peace than Herr Hitler. We must not forget, what has already been emphasized, the immense moral shock of the Moscow-Berlin Pact.
I suggest that a much better kind of guarantee is to be found in the material guarantee involved in the situation itself. The best material guarantee of stability in a peace settlement is the production of a solution of the problem of frontiers and nationalities which will reduce friction to a minimum. Such a solution, it is obvious surely, can only be obtained through free negotiation. Another material guarantee which can be tested is the agreed reduction of armaments between all the countries, and also an agreement on the reorganisation of international economic relations. All these guarantees are positive, ascertainable, concrete and real guarantees. They can be got now by negotiation. And I hope I may say this without fear of being misunderstood, for I abhor Hitlerism, I have constantly expressed my abhorence of Hitlerism. The Allies are the champions of freedom, and I rejoice that they are. But taking a long view, there can be no guarantee of a permanent stability worthy of the name that is not freely given. This means, I suggest, that we shall never obtain lasting guarantees of security by continuing the war, and that we need to take far more stock of persuasion and education relating to moral and spiritual factors, to which the noble Earl has referred, than has been taken yet.
Nor do I hesitate to say in conclusion that the most binding guarantee—a guarantee which we cannot obtain ourselves, either by negotiation or a fight to the bitter end—is man's acknowledged dependence upon the Supreme Being, the first cause and absolute Master of man and society, a guarantee which is much more possible now perhaps than it would be when the whole world has been overwhelmed with disaster. The character of this guarantee has recently received expression in the noble language of His Holiness the Pope in his recent Encyclical. For this reason I hope that the Government will not adopt the alternative of fighting to the bitter end, with 256 all that it involves, but will act on the other alternative of negotiating as soon as they can, and will therefore take advantage, in consultation with France and all the Dominions, of the offer of mediation which has been endorsed by the Scandinavian countries and by private individuals.
§ 5.7 P.m.
§ LORD NOEL-BUXTON
My Lords, I think it is relevant to this debate to consider the importance of German public opinion. That is an essential factor if we are to reach a situation in which negotiation will be possible. It is a common view that opinion in Germany would turn against Hitler as a result of hunger or military failure. From the first day of the war His Majesty's Government aimed at influencing German public opinion. I hope they are pursuing that policy still. A striking feature of British action in the first days of the war was the dissemination of news regarding our policy by leaflets over Germany in order to give a correct view of our intentions. Obviously that was a sound war diplomacy, all the more so because Germans widely believed that British propaganda in 1917 and 1918 was not implemented in the event. That distribution, I hope, is going on, but it has not been reported lately. Further, it is a fact that Germany has been active in copying our plan and it is on record that leaflets, which had been printed in Moscow, were lately distributed on Paris by a German' plane.
The first leaflets that we distributed urged the importance of throwing over Hitler and they exposed Hitler's broken word, but much more is needed than attacks on Hitler. We must endeavour to remove the German belief which supports Hitler, and the chief factor in regard to that is that Germans think we would dismember Germany at the first opportunity. Public attention has been called to this lately by some very interesting articles written by Mr. Villard, a weighty authority on Germany, an American who is very well known in this country. Mr. Villard said the main thing to-day—he views things very strongly from our side—is to offset Nazi propaganda and to persuade the German people that the English people are neither fiends in human form nor bent on destroying the German people. Mr. Villard suggested that there ought to be a leaflet composed of the Prime Minister's broadcast points, 257 but he regretted that the Prime Minister had stated his points vaguely. The Prime Minister, in fact, said in alluding to a new Europe, "not new in the sense of tearing up all the old frontier posts and redrawing the map according to the ideas of the victors." To defeat the propaganda of Dr. Goebbels something definite is needed. There is certainly no hope of detaching German opinion from support of Hitler unless the Germans believe that the Allies are not bent on dismembering Germany.
It would be very good diplomacy if we could succeed in letting the Germans know, not only that we should not dismember their country, but also that we intend to carry out the Prime Minister's vision of a new Europe and make it a reality. We should define considerably more the economic side of the Prime Minister's plan and the advantages to Germany which would accrue from it, and should state that we are not aiming at an exclusive trade system and, further, that we should share Colonial advantages which have not been fully shared with all exporting countries up to now. The most reverend Prelate the Archbishop of York put the point with force when he wrote in a recent letter:…the Allies would declare their willingness that other wrongs besides those resulting from Nazi aggression…shall be open for settlement.… Partnership in Colonial responsibilities, under an improved and extended mandatory system, would be open to a Germanywhich accepted certain conditions that he set out.
The Labour Party has embodied quite recently in its war and peace aims a set of points which includes the following:…acceptance of the principle that in the government of Colonies and Dependencies where self-government cannot yet be conceded the interests of the natives must be paramount, and that there must be equal access for all nations to markets and raw materials. This can best be achieved by an extended and strengthened mandate system under international authority.The German support of the Nazi Government would be greatly weakened if we could get across to the Germans—and of course there are very considerable means: through present neutral countries, the wireless, leaflets, and other means which we are told are to a great extent reaching opinion in Germany—the reasonableness of our aims. By allowing any misapprehensions which could be removed, we are defeating our own ends. Failure to re- 258 move the fear of a vindictive settlement rallies the German public in support of the Hitler Government and therefore defers the day when a good settlement is possible.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, and I rise now to trouble your Lordships with only a very few observations because I fear that the course of this debate as it has been hitherto may be misunderstood in this country and misrepresented abroad. Hitherto every speaker with one exception has supported the proposition of the noble Earl, Lord Darnley. That does not represent the sense of this House.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
We know that in this House, but it may not be known elsewhere, and it is necessary that the fact should be clearly stated. We all feel deep respect for the noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate who have spoken, and we recognise the loftiness of their principles and the sincerity which did indeed breathe through all their speeches. Nevertheless, at all events on these Benches—and possibly I may be allowed on this occasion to speak for them—there is dissent from the point of view which has been expressed by the noble Earl who opened this debate and by those who supported him. We have expressed the opinion that the answer given by His Majesty's Government and by the Government of France to the intervention of the Sovereigns of Belgium and Holland was the right answer and the only possible answer in the circumstances, and that situation still remains. If Germany were willing to withdraw her troops from Bohemia and Poland, where they have no right to be, and to consent to a temporary occupation by neutral forces, then indeed I have no doubt that we should be open to negotiation; but with the military position as it is now, negotiation is not likely to serve any useful purpose; and to embark upon it would merely appear to show confusion of mind and infirmity of purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, said that the public opinion of this country could be gauged in some degree by a recent by-election at Stretford. I entirely agree with him, and I accept that test. He told us that there were 70,000 259 electors in that constituency and that 5,000 voted for the pacifist candidate—that is to say, five out of seventy, equivalent to about seven in a hundred.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I do not want to bandy words with the noble Viscount. In the first place it was not a pacifist candidate; in the second place the votes were 5,900, practically 6,000. I also pointed out that the supporters of the Government were only 23,400 out of 70,000.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
That is because the vast majority of the electorate knew quite well that the election was not a very serious one. If there had been the slightest possibility of doubt as to the result, they would no doubt have voted in very large numbers.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Let us take what the noble Lord said: he gave 6,000 as the vote in support of the views which he has been expressing. If he objects to the word "pacifist," I will withdraw it and say the candidate representing the views expressed in this House to-day. Those views were supported by 6,000 out of 70,000 possible voters; we will make it about 9 per cent. If the noble Lord thinks that that is an indication of adequate support for his views, I should prefer something greater. If the majority is the only point in question, if that is to be taken as the gauge, I think that the 91 are better entitled to speak than the nine. A proportion of nine in 100 may indeed be really the way in which the nation is divided at this time. But I am quite sure that the members of your Lordships' House who agree with the noble Lords who have spoken would be far fewer than 9 per cent.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, I intensely dislike intervening in this debate, first of all because all my emotions are in favour of trying to stop any war as soon as one possibly can; therefore, when anyone tries to bring forward a plea for conference and stopping the war, everything that I believe in and have tried to do in my life is in his favour. On the other hand, my reason tells me that the suggestion as it stands upon your Lordships' Paper is inadvisable, because of the results that 260 may come from it and the misapprehensions that may arise in other nations as to what it means. I have also found that some of the speeches which have been made have given an idea of an assumption of moral superiority to which I have found it rather difficult to submit. The noble Earl, Lord Darnley, spoke, as he has so often spoken, in a sense that we as moral beings would all approve. It is so easy for detached individuals to appear as though they have righteousness and wisdom on their side, while those of those who have to try to walk in step with organised Parties are at some disadvantage compared with them. But I can say for the Party which I represent that we have published our own plan for peace; we consider that that plan is advisable, for it claims first of all that no peace would be of any value unless it were made with a Government that would keep the peace. We have claimed that, in any peace that should be made, some form of restitution should take place.
I confess I did not follow the noble Earl in what I think was the inadvisable testimony he gave to the virtues of Hitler. Those words will be overworked in Germany during the next few days. But we also have some experiences. We have known—some of us at least—men of honour and capacity, of long service to their country, who in Germany have been brutally sacrificed by Hitler and his associates. We have seen a whole race humiliated for no other reason than that they were of a different race from himself; and we have seen small nations sacrificed, not for any need of Germany's, but to fulfil a desire for power and a lust for domination. So we are not so sure as the noble Earl is that Hitler is this delectable patriot that we have had suggested to us. If he were a patriot in that sense, he could serve his country and the world at the present time in a very exceptional way: he could retire to that obscurity for which his character fits him. But as the matter stands to-day we can just say once more that, so far as our contribution to peace is concerned, we stand ourselves ready to support the German people at any time, not only in trying to see that they have a square deal in the world but in assuring them that we have no desire to destroy their people or to destroy their nation. Our sole desire is that Germany should resume her ancient and her 261 revered place in the world. To that extent the Labour Party is willing to go. I had just to try to differentiate, if I could, the attitude of the Labour Party from the attitude shown by two or three of the speeches which have to-day been made.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, I must confess that, as has been said by one or two of your Lordships, I think this has been an unfortunate debate. In saying that, I would ask even those who differ most sharply from it to acquit me of any discourtesy. I am merely stating what seems to me, from such judgment as I can form, a plain fact. It is not necessary for me to qualify that by saying that of course I recognise, and everybody in the House recognises, the courage and the sincerity of those who take a different view: the noble Earl who initiated the debate, the right reverend Prelate and Lord Arnold, who from their different angles supported him. Of course I recognise all their courage in supporting a cause that is, I suppose, in a large minority; but that does not affect my judgment as to the damage that speeches such as those to which we have listened are capable of imposing upon the cause that is the cause of the nation to-day. It is for that reason that I think the speeches made by my noble friend Lord Balfour, by the noble Viscount opposite and lastly by the noble Lord who leads the Opposition, were of such direct and immediate usefulness in correcting any impression such as I fear this debate might make abroad.
One really does not need much imagination to see how much that has been said in the course of observations that have fallen from some of your Lordships this afternoon is likely to be used by those who have very scant regard for the precise obligations of truth in conducting propaganda in Germany at this moment. I can imagine no more unfortunate impression to be created than that it should go out that this country was not substantially united or that there was evidence to be found in the speeches of those in responsible positions that there was divided counsel and uncertainty of resolution. Having said so much, I will just add this one observation before I leave that subject. Nothing impresses me at the Foreign Office from day to day 262 more than this: Every foreign representative whom I have the honour of receiving tells me how profoundly he is impressed by the national unity and resolution that he meets in all quarters in this country; and those foreign representatives have a great many contacts open to them for judging our feeling and our opinion. I hope, therefore, that when this debate is read as a whole elsewhere, as it will be, that impression at least will not be falsely understood.
I am not going to make, and your Lordships would not expect me to make, another speech in any wider shape than endeavouring in a few sentences to answer some of the points which have been made and which I think ought perhaps to be officially corrected. Some have already been touched on, and those, and indeed others, I must therefore pass by. I may be pardoned, I hope, for saying that anybody who was not familiar with recent history, and who was not able to correct the impression from his knowledge of the general British background of thought that we all share—the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, and the noble Earl who first spoke, as much as I do—anybody who was not familiar with all that, and who had just dropped in to this debate might have been pardoned if, listening to the speeches of the noble Earl and of Lord Arnold, he had thought almost that it was this country which had started the war. We were blamed by the noble Earl, Lord Darnley, for not having made sufficient effort to conciliate Germany. I am not aware that Germany has exhausted herself in efforts to conciliate us; and I entirely decline, with the least intention in the world to be bellicose, to see this country put in the dock in international affairs, and held to blame in any way comparable to Germany for the tragedy into which the world has moved. And another pardonable misunderstanding of those two speeches would have been, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Snell, has remarked, that Herr Hitler is a man greatly to be pitied and greatly misunderstood. Well, we are all misunderstood and we are all to be pitied, but some of us have more ground for advancing the claim than others.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, say what he did about a fight to a finish, and I was rather 263 sorry to hear the right reverend Prelate who spoke repeat the phrase, because, although I suppose I know what he means, a great many people will not, and a great many people will think that the phrase means what it appears to mean—namely, that people are fighting for the sake of fighting; and that is not the position either of His Majesty's Government or of this country. We have always been prepared to negotiate. We were prepared before the war, as I said the other day, and we have never closed the door on negotiation in anything that we have said or done since the war began. We have, indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, I think, perhaps had in mind, emphasized on more than one occasion that, provided the essential conditions of any international order in Europe could be secured, we would be prepared to call Germany into full co-operation with ourselves in trying to build that—so far were we from the desire to crush Germany and to deprive a great nation of its rightful place. Every one of us is perfectly conscious—of course we are—of what are going to be the difficulties about making peace after possibly a long and bitter war, but I am not convinced that those difficulties are any greater than the difficulties that would confront Europe after attempting to make a patched-up peace that, as I said the other day, would be capable of being represented in Germany as the conclusion of a war on the whole not unsuccessful, not too costly, and, therefore, not too discouraging for the German mind in future.
The whole of the argument to which we have listened this afternoon, I venture respectfully to suggest, rests on the premise that there is to-day reasonably possible ground for successful negotiation, and it is precisely that premise that, as I tried to show last week, I, with great regret but not without some knowledge, doubt. Herr Hitler's speech to the Reichstag a month or two ago has been alluded to, and has been quoted as showing that he was very anxious for peace, and was very anxious to get it—as Lord Arnold said. I am quite certain that Herr Hitler is very anxious for peace—on his own terms. I am not so sure yet that he is anxious for peace on terms that would make for the peace of Europe for the next generation. We can all reach 264 without difficulty agreement on general principles in this House. We all feel that it is a good plan, if you can, to settle by negotiation. Nobody can feel more strongly than I do the horror and the tragedy of war; nobody can feel more strongly than any one of your Lordships how criminally wrong it would be to miss any real opportunity for peace.
But, my Lords, do not you come back to the fundamental question: Were you or were you not ready to make a stand for the causes that led you into this war three months ago? If you were—and I can understand the pacifists saying that you were wrong; but if you were right, would it not be wrong to stop until you have done your utmost to secure the causes about which you went to war? Obviously no man here or anywhere can tell to what extent you may be able to succeed. But if you were right to make the attempt, you are, I think, not justified in surrendering the attempt till you are satisfied that you can do no more. Therefore, I ask those who have moved in this debate what ground they have at the present moment for feeling that the conditions on which you could make a peace that you could have any hope of regarding as secure, are in fact present. I do not believe at the present time that that evidence is enough to justify the course that has been recommended by the noble Earl.
I do not want to travel over what I said last week, and I would conclude merely by two observations addressed to the question itself. The right reverend Prelate was good enough to mention the two conditions that I had been able to state last week as being conditions prerequisite, as I thought, for the success of a conference. I do not wish to vary those conditions, because I think they were well founded. The peace appeal of Their Majesties the King of the Belgians and the Queen of the Netherlands was, the House will remember, addressed to three Governments, the French and ourselves and the Germans, and the House will remember the answers that were made. I do not think it can fairly be said that our answer and the answer of the French closed the door to the possibility of further negotiation. Your Lordships will remember, that after stating that the aggression against Poland was only a fresh instance of German policy, we stated in quite general terms (and it is perhaps the differ- 265 ence between the statement in general terms and the statement in terms more precise that led Lord Arnold to ask one or two of the questions that he did):Should Your Majesties be able to communicate to me any proposals from Germany of such a character as to afford real prospect of achieving the purpose I have described above, I can say at once that my Governments would give them their most earnest consideration.The French reply was on lines not dissimilar.
What was the answer of the German Government, because that is extremely relevant to the question that the noble Earl has asked? The German Government gave no written reply, and did not even vouchsafe an official acknowledgment, but I understand that on November 15 the official Netherlands Press Bureau made an announcement, which will be in your Lordships' memory, to the effect that the Ministers of the Netherlands and Belgium had been received at the Wilhelmstrasse where Herr von Ribbentrop had informed them in the name of the Reichs-Chancellor that "after the abrupt rejection by the British and French Governments of the offer, the German Government also considered the subject as closed." In view of that statement, I confess, I find it difficult to attach the same importance as does the noble Earl when he says that the offer still remains open. For that reason and the others I have endeavoured to give, I am afraid I do not think any useful purpose has been served by this debate, and I venture to hope that if, and when, it is read abroad it will be read as a whole.