HL Deb 20 March 1939 vol 112 cc298-354

LORD SNELL rose to call attention to the situation in Czecho-Slovakia, to ask His Majesty's Government for a statement of their present and future policy, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name I shall try to compress into the shortest possible time what I feel it is advisable to say on this grave occasion, and I shall also try to impose upon myself a restraint which is appropriate to the circumstances under which we meet. The events of the last week or so are probably, and happily, without parallel in the modern history of nations. The land of a small and worthy people has been invaded, their liberties have been sacrificed by a great European Power, and the Czech Government and people have, in my opinion, done nothing to justify this further attack on their liberties. No people in modern times have made greater sacrifies or have submitted with greater dignity to humiliations imposed upon them by powerful enemies and false friends.

Since the Munich sacrifice their conduct, I submit to your Lordships, has been beyond all praise, and to no nation is modern civilisation more indebted. Because of that, and on other grounds too, I desire on behalf of my own Party here and elsewhere to dissociate ourselves from the characteristically gross Teutonic defamation to which they have been subjected, and to express to them our very deep sympathy. What is the occasion for this new attack on their liberty? Reduced to simple terms, it appears to be that a separatist minority in Slovakia invented or exaggerated a grievance. They made a pre-arranged appeal to Herr Hitler, and he embraced this prepared occasion in order, first, to betray his Munich partner and, secondly, to destroy the Czech nation. They were in this process spared no humiliation that malice could invent or cruelty could impose. The head of that assault thought it becoming to instal himself ostentatiously in the place which had represented the very soul of the Czech nation.

If we search our own consciences, can we say that we have no responsibility for what has happened? The Prime Minister, good, easy man, admitted that he had been shocked, and I do not doubt that he has been shocked. I have to say, however, that what has happened was no surprise to us, because we had taken the unpopular course of hesitating to accept all the splendour that Munich was supposed to offer. We were treated almost as if we were sub-human, and scolded as though we were social lepers in the country. Now, as we see it—we may be wrong, but of course we have not the information that the Government possess—it would appear that these events reveal with a vividness which is terrifying the quality of the bargaining which took place at Munich. On one side there was good will and a confiding innocence, and on the other side hidden motives and a cynical intention, which was followed later by a defiant disregard of promises made.

I personally feel, however much it is to be regretted, that the Prime Minister cannot escape some criticism for the policy which he has pursued. It appeared to be a personal policy, in which he ignored the advice of his friends and rejected the criticism of his opponents. He appeared to depart from diplomatic practice and experience in order to show trained diplomatists how their business should be conducted. One thing should be clear from these events: that henceforth diplomacy should be left to those whose business it is to understand it. I do not rejoice, and I do not suppose any single Englishman rejoices, in the disappointment which that policy has received, and I much regret on all personal grounds that the Prime Minister's birthday was clouded by so grievous a disappointment. I have no reason to believe that the Prime Minister ever thought a generous thing or ever said a fair thing about the Labour Party, but he is a distinguished Englishman whose political courage I have sometimes witnessed and whose administrative capacity is generally admitted. But even now it would appear that the Prime Minister is unshakable in the belief that he was right in that policy and that everybody else was wrong. It is not often that one man is right against the world, though it has happened previously. In any case it seems to me that it is for the Prime Minister himself to decide what the existing circumstances require of him.

I should like to say a word or two about Munich as it appears now—always speaking from the standpoint of the person who has no inside information at all. It would appear that Herr Hitler deliberately set himself to exploit the confidence which a too-simple Englishman had in his word, and in the end to humiliate the British Prime Minister in the eyes of the world. There was never the least chance of converting the Dictators of Europe into good Europeans. The Labour Party ventured to suggest caution in all the enthusiasm that resulted; and if ever a Party policy has been justified by grim events, the caution and criticism of our Party have been justified. Take only a week ago: there was that great outpouring of praise that the golden age had been reached; peace was now for ever assured. Then there came this sudden bitter frost. I should like to ask, with all humility, who was responsible for so deceiving the people? It quite obviously had a common origin. I should like to know whether the Foreign Office was responsible, or what other Department.

I do not want to gloat over the Government's discomfiture, because we are all involved in it, and very deeply. Perhaps in some subtle way we all of us have a personal responsibility. We all have lost our way in the confusion of these times, and perhaps all of us have too much subordinated the eternal values to material and temporary considerations, and we have, both as individuals and as a nation, to rebuild from the depths. What has the reaction to this catastrophe been? It has been in the main a crude retreat upon the gospel of force, and a certain section of the community have seized the occasion for the capitalizing of their campaign to impose conscription on other men's sons. As we did not share in the assurance that peace in our time was secure—was certain—so we do not accept now the policy that force alone is the right thing. Negotiation is still the right way, conducted under proper conditions, if not with the whole world then with that enlightened portion of the world that still believes in both peace and freedom.

I want to be brief in my remarks today, and I am trying to avoid, as much as I can, anything that is likely to be embarrassing to His Majesty's Government; but it would seem, if we look at the future, that our policy now should be to strengthen the ties that already bind us to other friendly nations. We should make a new League of Nations, made up of nations of good will, and it is their right that we should assure them precisely where we stand, and what kind of help, if necessary, we are willing to give. There are rumours—I do not know if they are well based—that henceforth we are to be reasonably polite to the Russian Government and people, and I have seen rumours that even we are to be asked to share in the responsibility of government. After all that you have said about us that is a change indeed. I cannot remember when we have been so touched, but I am sure that that did not represent the view of His Majesty's Government, because the noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, stimulated, and I hope strengthened, by the air of his native northland, the other night told us exactly what the Government's opinion of us was, and the suggestion would frighten the life out of the members of His Majesty's Government.

It is true that he did not appeal, as Balak appealed to the Prophet Balaam in the Old Testament, for help in the matter. He did not say: Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me. The noble Viscount took on that unpleasant duty himself. He did not really make a great success of it. As an expert in cursing the noble Viscount really is not a conspicuous success. Even I could have made a better show. But he did admit that he was afraid of the Labour Party, and as a matter of self-protection he metaphorically consigned us, as "lesser breeds, without the law," to a concentration camp, where we should be regarded as social and spiritual refugees in our own country. So your Lordships will see that any hope we may have had, as a class, of being admitted into respectable society has been ruthlessly dashed. Meanwhile, I should be grateful if the noble Viscount would tell us when we are likely to meet the main road, about which he spoke so assuringly a little time ago, and what we may expect to find on the road when we do meet it.

I have suppressed much that I should have liked to say, but which I do not think it helpful to say. I make no particular request for information on Rumania, or troubled questions of that kind, because His Majesty's Government after all must be the judge of what it is possible for them to say and what it is not. There is, however, the question of the trade agreement that is supposed to be in process of negotiation between ourselves and Germany. In the new circumstances one would like to know how that stands, and especially how it may affect our relations with the United States of America. I hope the Government will be able to tell us something about their future policy. For myself I can only repeat, what I have many times previously said here and elsewhere, that if the nations that are at present both democratic and free do not associate they will, as Burke said in another connection, "fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." I beg to move.


My Lords, it is abundantly clear that what has taken place in Czecho-Slovakia has been condemned by public opinion, not only in this country but practically all over the world, as the greatest negation of public law that Europe has seen since the partition of Poland in 1795 and the subsequent attacks made in later years by Napoleon on many of the free countries. I think I can safely, on behalf of those who sit on these Benches, express my concurrence with the noble Lord who has just spoken in the sympathy he has stated for that brave people. Now when we consider how this has all come about, it might be necessary to go back many years, even for some years before the War, if all the causes that led up to this had to be pondered. But it is sufficient to go back exactly a year, to March, 1938, when, after the seizure by Germany of Austria, the position of Czecho-Slovakia was obviously greatly affected—affected both by a different political neighbourhood and, what is more important, strategically affected by a great diminution of her powers of defence against invasion.

When the position of Czecho-Slovakia was considered, in Sir Robert Peel's famous phrase there were three courses that it was open to this country and to France to take. I do not say it was possible, but it was one of the conceivable courses that France, Russia and ourselves should have said "Hands off Czecho-Slovakia!" and the abruptness of such a statement might have been modified by willingness to confer on the position of the Sudeten-Deutsch, who, it must be remembered, never had anything to do with the German Reich, but with Austria. For reasons which we need not trouble to inquire about, that course was not taken. The second course was to state frankly to the Czecho-Slovakian Government that we were not prepared to intervene by force if she found herself in difficulties with Germany, and that therefore their wisest course would be to try to come to terms and make the best arrangements they could. One reason that might have been given was that it did not seem that the position of the country justified the risk of starting a gigantic European war, and another reason, which I have no doubt weighed with His Majesty's Government, was the fact that even if we were prepared to assist Czecho-Slovakia it was impossible to get there in time to prevent the over-running and the practical destruction of that country. That course also was not taken.

The third course was to watch events and to do what could be done to assist a favourable termination. The noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, as we all know, did his best in acting as a friendly observer in Czecho-Slovakia. That position was clearly expressed by a speech which the Prime Minister made in another place, I think it was on March 24 last year, in which he said that we had no vital interests (I think that was the phrase) in Czecho-Slovakia which justified us in guaranteeing her stability, but at the same time we were not entirely disinterested in the whole matter and were keeping an eye on what was happening. Well, events moved at a greater pace than His Majesty's Government had foreseen so that the Prime Minister had to make his plucky dash to Munich, with the result we all know.

I pause for a moment to express some agreement with what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Snell, on the question of interviews of that kind. I have always entirely mistrusted these conversations at important moments between principals—between Prime Ministers and those who are in a similar position. Ambassadors on the Continent of Europe have their Ministries of Foreign Affairs, to whom they can appeal, and to whom questions have to be referred. Foreign Secretaries in the same way have their Governments and the heads of their Governments, to whom in the last resort they have to refer. But when a Prime Minister finds himself with his opponent, if that is the word, in the same position, he has to come to some precise terms. To do that at short notice is very often very difficult. In following that quite modern custom—I am not, of course, referring to friendly interviews but to that modern custom of chief figures in States meeting to confer on important occasions—I do not believe that any of the Prime Minister's predecessors—Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Bonar Law, or Mr. Ramsay MacDonald—ever profited by occasions of that kind or that the country profited by what they did or said.

Still more difficult is it when the two parties are not speaking in the same language. Of course I do not mean in the linguistic sense. On the contrary, it is generally held, and I think with great force, that there is not one public man in twenty who knows two languages well enough to be able to use the precisely correct phrase at an important point of difficulty, and therefore it is wise, when an agreement has to be reached, to call in the aid of professional interpreters whose business it is to understand the finest shades of meaning and turn them in the respective languages. What I do know is that such words as order and disorder, truth and falsehood, faith and unfaith have had entirely different connotations in the minds of the Prime Minister and of those with whom he was conferring. Therefore no agreement, whether verbal or written, was worth anything because it did not indicate the same thoughts in the minds of those who drew it up.

I can give an instance of the kind of thing I mean. We are told that although the political independence of Bohemia and Moravia has come to an end, yet—I think the phrase was—their cultural autonomy would be preserved. That of course is something. Some people would say that the things comprised in a phrase of that kind are more important to the soul of a nation than the prerogatives and paraphernalia of sovereignty. But our faculty of astonishment at anything that might happen in that part of the world is completely withered away, and we should not be in the least surprised if in a few weeks' time we were told that the public use of the Czech language had been absolutely forbidden both in Bohemia and Moravia. The reason possibly would be that one of the ubiquitous spies upon whom the Nazi Government so greatly depend had overheard in a restaurant two people expressing some criticism of certain aspects of the German Government. Of course, in a country where criticism and high treason are interchangeable terms, that could not possibly be permitted. The speakers would be relegated to a concentration camp, and the use of the language in public would be forbidden. Nor should we be surprised if, a week or two later, we were told that the danger was so great of this kind of public talk that it had been decided also entirely to prohibit the teaching of the Czech language in schools and colleges.

That is the kind of people with whom His Majesty's Government have got to deal. Certainly, therefore, we must not underrate the difficulties of their task. I remember there was once a lady who did not like the Emperor Napoleon III, and who said of him: "He is so subtle that it is not always safe to believe the exact contrary of what he has told you." Whether German statesmanship has reached that point of subtlety I do not know, but in one sense it cannot greatly matter, because I think we can take it as settled that during the lifetime of the present Parliament no conversation—if that is the word—will take place between His Majesty's Government and the German Government on any political subject either affecting Europe or affecting any part of the British Empire or, indeed, any part of the world. I am convinced that public opinion both in this country and all over the Empire would demand that such a complete abstention from communication should be observed.

Then there is also, of course, the question of trade. That is, perhaps, on a somewhat different footing. When you are buying or selling you do not inquire into the moral character either of the possible purchaser or of the vendor. It undoubtedly has been regarded as a most enlightened view to take—a view taken even by those who favour a system of Protection—that the interchange of goods and services between nations is a good thing in itself, and that it is a mistake to suppose the prosperity of one nation is a disadvantage to another. But that is subject to other considerations. We certainly do not say that credits ought to be given or trade encouraged where the country with whom you are dealing is likely to misuse the advantages gained by such trade or such credits. Therefore I find no difficulty in saying that should it be determined either by this country or by other countries who are in sympathy with us to exercise strict economic pressure on Germany, no objection ought to be taken to such a course.

Just one word about the future. We do not, I think, perhaps quite realise what the implications were of the seizure of Austria by Germany and its inclusion in the German Reich. That was not perhaps in itself altogether unnatural, in view of the long association in history between those two peoples in conjunction with identity of language, and the alliance which had lasted since the last quarter of the last century. But it seems to be evident that the position of Vienna has had a remarkable psychological reaction upon the German mentality. Vienna of course stands out as the Kaiserstadt and the historical significance of Vienna is almost as much greater than that of Berlin as the historical significance of Winchester than that of Swindon Junction; and the effect on the German mind has apparently been to regard the present German Empire as the direct heirs of the Austrian Empire which was broken up in 1919. I think I saw a quotation from some German paper which I suppose represents the established German view, that it was a great thing for Bohemia and Moravia to be once more joined up with the German people with whom they had been so affectionately connected for centuries. Therefore perhaps we may assume that any country which formed part of the former Austrian Empire must be looking rather nervously over its shoulder to see how far its future is likely to be endangered. One cannot help thinking that the Italian Government must be feeling a certain degree of nervousness in that regard when we consider that in former days an Austrian squadron in the Adriatic was almost as strong as any Italian squadron there and that some painful memories are connected with the Austrian navy.

I do not know that we know that the ambitions of Germany will stop there. May not they go back to the Empire of Charles V, which, as we know, comprised not only what was known as the German part of the Empire but also Spain and Italy and Burgundy? Where is all this to stop? I am sure most of your Lordships will remember the story of William Pitt when weighed down by news of the battle of Austerlitz and stricken to death by his last illness. He went home a few weeks afterwards and, seeing on the wall of his front hall the map of Europe, said: Roll up that map, it will not be wanted these ten years. We cannot allow the map of Europe to be dealt with in that way. After the map was redrawn in 1919 many of us felt that it would be due for some revision in the course of years but not by such aggression as that which has occurred within these last few days. I trust then that His Majesty's Government will join in every possible way, and if necessary to any forcible extent, with those countries who feel as we do that an outrage has been committed the like of which must not be repeated. If His Majesty's Government do that, I am certain they will receive support not only from every Party in this country but from men and women of every Party all over the Empire.


My Lords, the noble Lord who initiated this debate said that he intended to frame his remarks in a spirit of restraint that was appropriate to the subject with which he proposed to deal, and that he had in his mind no desire to embarrass His Majesty's Government. I readily acknowledge that he did frame his remarks in a spirit of restraint, and although it is so far as I am concerned a matter of comparatively small importance, I also acknowledge that he made no effort to embarrass His Majesty's Government. I say it is a matter of small importance because as compared with the graver issues with which we are concerned really Party differences seem to disappear. The noble Lord went on to say, although he spoke I think in a slightly different context from that to which I translate what he said, that he thought in these matters every Party and every member of your Lordships' House had a share of responsibility. That, of course, is quite true and it is in that sense that I would like to take counsel with your Lordships' House this afternoon and expose as frankly as I may the considerations that are principally present at this time to the minds of His Majesty's Government. I was glad to feel implicit in the spirit of the noble Lord's speech a feeling that he was quite willing to meet me in that kind of attempt. I am interested, incidentally, to correct an impression that the noble Lord may have made in some quarters less well informed than myself or himself, that any observations I may have made elsewhere were to be interpreted in any different sense. With regard to that, I only say that I was naturally flattered by the attention the noble Lord devoted to my observations, and my sense of pleasure at the attention he paid to them was in no sense diminished by my complete inability to recognise the portrait he drew of me.

It is quite true, as both the noble Lord who spoke first and the noble Marquess have said, that recent events have been a profound shock to all thinking people in this country and very far outside it. It may perhaps be of use if with all brevity I give the House a short narrative in order to make sure we have the setting correct of what has actually passed during the last few days. The German military occupation of Bohemia and Moravia began on the morning of March 15, and was completed, as we know, without serious incident. It is to be observed—and the fact is surely not without significance—that the towns of Mahrish-Ostrau and Vitkovice were actually occupied by German S.S. detachments on the evening of March 14, while the President and the Foreign Minister of Czecho-Slovakia were still on their way to Berlin and before any discussion had taken place. On March 16 Herr Hitler issued the decree, to which the noble Marquess has just referred, proclaiming that the former Czecho-Slovak territory occupied by German troops belonged henceforth to the German Reich and came under its protection under the title of "The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia."

It is not necessary to recapitulate the terms of that decree—it has been published—but it should be noted that while the head of the administration now to be set up is said to hold the rank of Head of State, and while the Protectorate is said to be autonomous and self-administering, a Reich protector is resident in Prague with full powers of veto on legislation. Foreign affairs and the protection of nationals abroad devolve on the German Government, which will also maintain military garrisons and establishments in the Protectorate. The Protectorate is, further, in the German Customs Union, and finally the German Government can issue decrees valid in the Protectorate and take any measures for the preservation of security and order. Perhaps I might quote one short article which seems to me to sum up the situation. It says: The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia shall exercise its sovereign rights in consonance with the political, military and economic importance of the Reich. As to Slovakia the independence of Slovakia was proclaimed on March 14, but at the request of Dr. Tiso, the head of the Slovak State, Herr Hitler has undertaken to place Slovakia under German protection and the military occupation of the territory by German troops is now proceeding. As regards Ruthenia, the occupation of Ruthenia by Hungary, which began on March 14, has also proceeded. By March 16 the Hungarian troops had reached the Polish frontier and had virtually completed the occupation of the province. Therefore, as a result of these several actions, the dis- memberment of Czecho-Slovakia may be said now to be complete.

Before I come to one or two of the things that fell from the noble Lord who moved, I would like to say something as to the grounds on which the German Government seek to justify the action that they have taken. The immediate cause of the present crisis in Central Europe originated in Slovakia, and it is claimed that the German Government was entitled to intervene on receiving the request for assistance of the dismissed Slovak Prime Minister. As your Lordships are well aware, there has always been a Party in Slovakia which advocated autonomy. That autonomy was in fact achieved after Munich in agreement between the various Slovak Parties and the Central Government in Prague. The extremist elements in Slovakia, however, were not satisfied with these arrangements, but on all the evidence that is available to me I find it impossible to believe that the sudden decision of certain Slovak leaders to break off from Prague, which was followed so closely by their appeal for protection to the German Reich, was reached independently of outside influence.

It is said that German intervention in Czecho-Slovakia was justified owing to the oppression of the German minority by the Czechs. But, as a matter of fact again, it was only very shortly before Herr Hitler's ultimatum to the Czech President that the German Press began to renew its campaign of last summer about the alleged Czech brutalities against German citizens. Actually the position of the German minority, which is about 250,000, would appear, since the Munich Agreement, to have been one of what might be termed exceptional privilege. Notwithstanding the right of option which had been accorded by Article 7 of that Agreement, the members of the German minority were encouraged to remain in Czecho-Slovakia in order that they might form useful centres of German activity and propaganda; and advice to that effect was given to the minority by its leader.

It was as a result of the German-Czecho-Slovak Agreement for the mutual protection of minorities that the German Government obtained the legal right to take a direct interest in the treatment of their minority in Czecho-Slovakia. That minority at once obtained the right to set up separate organisations, and the Czecho-Slovak Government subsequently agreed that the German National Socialist Party in Czecho-Slovakia should be given full liberty to pursue its activities in Bohemia and Moravia. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the bulk of the incidents which occurred before the German invasion were deliberately provoked and that the effects were greatly magnified. It must be added in fairness that the Czecho-Slovak authorities received orders to act, and did act, with great restraint, in the face of that provocation. It is not necessary, I think, to say much upon the assertion that the Czecho-Slovak President really assented to the subjugation of his people. In view of the circumstances in which he came to Berlin, and of the occupation of Czech territory which had already taken place, I think most sensible people must conclude that there was little pretence of negotiation, and that it is more probable that the Czech representatives were presented with an ultimatum under the threat of violence, and that they capitulated in order to save their people from the horrors of a swift and destructive aerial bombardment.

Finally, it is said that Germany was in some danger from Czecho-Slovakia. But surely the German Government itself can hardly have expected that that contention could be seriously entertained in any quarter. Indeed, if I may sum up my own thought on these various explanations, I could wish that instead of the communications and explanations which have been issued and which carry scant conviction, German superior force had been frankly acknowledged as the supreme arbiter that in fact it was.

In these circumstances, as you are aware, His Majesty's Government thought fit at once to take certain action. Here I touch a point which was touched both by the noble Lord who moved and by the noble Marquess who followed him. His Majesty's Government immediately suspended the visit of the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade to Berlin, by means of which it had been hoped that His Majesty's Government could directly intervene in those unofficial contacts of industrial representatives which were at that very moment taking place. We felt, and feel, as I think I said in my statement a few days ago, that in the circumstances which have arisen any development of our efforts in that direction was, as the noble Marquess said, frankly out of the question, and that that and many other things had to be and must remain indefinitely postponed. His Majesty's Government, as your Lordships also know, have recalled to report His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin, and he reached this country yesterday.

Further than those two practical steps, we have lodged a formal protest with the German Government in the sense of informing them that we cannot but regard the events of the last few days as a complete repudiation of the Munich Agreement and a denial of the spirit in which the negotiators of that Agreement bound themselves to co-operate for a peaceful settlement. We have also taken occasion to protest against the changes effected in Czecho-Slovakia by German military action, and have said that in our view those changes are devoid of any basis of legality. I think, therefore, that we may claim to have left the German Government in no doubt of the attitude of His Majesty's Government, and although I do not cherish any exaggerated hopes of what may be the effect of protests, I think your Lordships will feel it abundantly right that such protests should be registered.

I have from time to time seen efforts made by German apologists to justify the action of their Government by some reference to the past history of the British Empire. It is not necessary to remind you that the principle on which the British Empire is conducted is education in self-government. Wherever we have been in the world, we have left a trail of freedom and of self-government, and our record has nothing in common with the suppression of liberty and independence of people whose political developments had already brought them to the point of enjoyment of those opportunities for self-expression. It has also been objected that what has happened in Czecho-Slovakia is of no interest or concern to this country. It is quite true that we have always recognised that, for reasons of geography if for no other, Germany must from some points of view be more interested in Czecho-Slovakia or South-Eastern Europe than we are ourselves. It was the natural field for the expansion of German trade. But apart from the fact that changes in any part of Europe produce profound effects elsewhere, the position is entirely changed when we are confronted with the arbitrary suppression of an independent sovereign State by force, and by the violation of what I must regard as the elementary rules of international conduct.

It is natural enough that in the light of these events His Majesty's Government should be told, as the noble Lord told them this afternoon, that the policy of Munich was a tragic mistake. I cannot, of course, claim to correct the noble Lord upon an expression of opinion which he sincerely holds, but I can correct him, I think, on one limited observation that fell from him. He referred to the policy pursued by the Prime Minister as a personal policy. If by that he means that it was a policy to which the Prime Minister had given every ounce of energy, imagination and resolution that he possessed, I should not disagree with him, but if he suggests that it was a policy that was pursued without the fullest co-operation of myself as Foreign Secretary, and of every member of His Majesty's Government, then I must take leave to oppose to what he said the most emphatic contradiction.



My Lords, the Munich Settlement, which was approved by this House and in another place, was accepted by His Majesty's Government for two purposes, quite distinct. The first purpose was to effect a settlement, as fair as might be in all the extremely difficult circumstances of that time, of a problem which was a real one, and of which the treatment was an urgent necessity if the peace of Europe was to be preserved. As to that, I would say, as I have said before in this House, that I have no doubt whatever that His Majesty's Government were right, in the light of all the information available to them, to take the course they did. The second purpose of Munich was to build a Europe more secure, upon the basis of freely accepted consultation as the means by which all future differences might be adjusted; and that long-term purpose, my Lords, has been, as we have come to observe, disastrously belied by events. We are charged with having too readily believed the assurances which were given by Herr Hitler—that after Munich he had no further territorial ambitions, and no desire to incorporate non-German elements in the Reich. The noble Lord referred to the Prime Minister as the "too-simple" Prime Minister. I can assure your Lordships that neither the Prime Minister nor I, myself, nor any member of His Majesty's Government, has failed at any moment to be acutely conscious of the difference between beliefs and hope. It was surely legitimate and right to have hopes. But we have always acted—and I challenge any noble Lord to produce any evidence to the contrary—in the knowledge that only with time can hope be converted into sure beliefs.

It is no doubt the case that previous assurances had been broken, whatever justification might have been advanced by Herr Hitler, on the grounds of his mission, as he conceives it, to incorporate ex-German territory and predominately German areas in the Reich. But in his actions until after Munich a case could be made that Herr Hitler had been true to his own principles, the union of Germans in, and the exclusion of non-Germans from, the Reich. Those principles he has now overthrown, and in including 8,000,000 Czechs under German rule he has surely been untrue to his own philosophy. The world will not forget that in September last Herr Hitler appealed to the principle of self-determination in the interests of 2,000,000 Sudeten Germans. That principle is one on which the British Empire itself has been erected, and one to which accordingly, as your Lordships will recollect, we felt obliged to give weight in considering Herr Hitler's claim. That principle has now been rudely contradicted by a sequence of acts which denies the very right on which the German attitude of six months ago was based, and whatever may have been the truth about the treatment of 250,000 Germans, it is impossible for me to believe that it could only be remedied by the subjugation of 8,000,000 Czechs.

What conclusions, as asked the noble Marquess, are we to draw from this conquest of Czecho-Slovakia? Are we to believe that German policy has thus entered upon a new phase? Is German policy any longer to be limited to the consolidation of territory predominantly inhabited by persons of German race? Or is German policy now to be directed towards domination over non-German peoples? These are very grave questions which are being asked in all parts of the world to-day. The German action in Czecho-Slovakia has been furthered by new methods, and the world has lately seen more than one new departure in the field of international technique. Wars without declarations of war. Pressure exercised under threat of immediate employment of force. Intervention in the internal struggles of other States. Countries are now faced with the encouragement of separatism, not in the interest of separatist or minority elements but in the imperial interests of Germany. The alleged ill-treatment of German minorities in foreign countries which, it is true, may sometimes, perhaps often, arise from natural causes, but which may also be the subject and result of provocation from outside, is used as a pretext for intervention.

These methods are simple and, with growing experience, quite unmistakable. Have we any assurance that they will not be employed elsewhere? Every country which is Germany's neighbour is now uncertain of the morrow, and every country which values its national identity and sovereignty stands warned against the danger from within, inspired from without. During the last few days there have been rumours that the German Government were adopting a harsh attitude in their negotiations with the Rumanian Government on economic matters. I am glad to say that the Rumanian Government have themselves denied a report that went so far as to speak of an "ultimatum"; but even if there is no menace to Rumania to-day, or even if that menace has not to-day developed, and even though it may not develop on these lines, it is not surprising if the Government of Bucharest, like other Governments, should view with the gravest misgivings the happenings of these last few days.

I think I must, before I leave the category of the results of the happenings of the last few days, say something about a subject which, although it found no place in the speech of the noble Lord, I have no doubt will be very much in his mind and in the minds of every one of your Lordships who has considered these things. That is the fate of those persons who had taken refuge in Czecho-Slovakia. It is well known that the Czech Government gave the most generous asylum to refugees who had left their country on political, religious, or racial grounds, and their difficulties were further increased by an influx of such persons after the Munich Agreement. During recent weeks the arrangements for the emigration of Sudeten German and many other classes of refugees have been on the whole proceeding smoothly, with the co-operation of the British private organisations concerned, the Refugee Institute in Prague, and the British liaison officer in Prague, Mr. Stopford. I think that by the middle of last month something over 5,000 refugees had already emigrated, and others have since come out.

The conclusion of the arrangements for giving financial assistance to Czecho-Slovakia enabled further plans to be discussed for further emigration, and some of these arrangements were in an advanced stage at the time of the German occupation. In particular, some hundreds of refugees had received permission to enter the United Kingdom, or were actually waiting for such permission to be granted. When these events happened we at once sent urgent instructions to His Majesty's Minister in Prague to do his best to expedite the issue of permits, and to do everything that he could to accelerate the departure of persons on the British lists. At the same time, we instructed His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin to make urgent representations direct to the German Government on this matter, and to ask them to put no obstacles in the way of the departure of refugees on the British lists.

Moreover, as your Lordships know, in the arrangements for financial assistance to Czecho-Slovakia a sum of £4,000,000 had been set aside to be employed for this purpose, and we take the view that if proper safeguards can be established this money should, if possible, still be available for the purpose for which it was intended. But I am not in a position at the present moment to tell your Lordships how, or indeed whether, with due safeguards that end can in fact be achieved. We are placing ourselves in consultation with other Governments also as to what further action is possible to be taken to alleviate the hardships of those unhappy individuals. Of course, to these refugees will now be added the Czech refugees who wish to leave their country. At the moment, as probably most of us are aware, the position is that no person can leave Czecho-Slovakia without a visa given by the German authorities. His Majesty's Government, I need hardly say, are doing and will continue to do whatever they can to mitigate the consequences of recent events, operating as they do in this particularly personal and unhappy fashion upon these unfortunate individuals. But it is, of course, quite plain that the success of anything that we may attempt depends in present circumstances upon the attitude of the German Government.

And that leads me to say this. For years past the British people have steadily desired to be on friendly terms with the German people. There is no stronger national instinct among our people than the instinct that leads them, when they have a fight, to shake hands and try to make it up. Our people were not backward in recognising some of the mistakes of the Versailles Treaty that required remedying, but each time during these last years that there has seemed a chance of making progress in understanding, the German Government has taken action which has made that progress impossible. More especially has that been the case in recent months. Very shortly after Munich certain measures were taken by the German Government that gave a profound shock to world opinion. Quite recently it was to be hoped, although there were many clouds still over and below the horizon, that we could look forward to closer economic collaboration, and it was in the hope of developing that economic collaboration into something wider that, as your Lordships know, we had decided on those visits to which I referred a moment ago. All that initiative has been frustrated by the action of the German Government last week, and it is difficult to see when it can be easily resumed.

These affairs, as I said a moment or two ago, have raised wide issues, and the events in Czecho-Slovakia require His Majesty's Government and require every free people to re-think their attitude towards them. Broadly speaking, there have been, at all events since the War, two conflicting theses as to the best method of avoiding conflicts and creating security for the nations of the world. The first thesis is that which upholds the creation and supports machinery for consolidation, conciliation, and arbitration with, if possible, the sanction of collective force, and involves an invitation to all States, willing to accept a wide degree of obligation to one another, to agree that an attack on one should be treated as an attack on all. That, your Lordships know well enough, has been the thesis expressed in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Perhaps it is true to say that more precise effect was sought to be given to it in the Geneva Protocol, and it has itself given rise to a number of regional agreements for mutual assistance between the several Powers concerned. That is the first thesis.

The second, which has been in conflict, has been upheld by those who consider that systems seeking to provide collective security, as it has been termed, involved dangerously indefinite commitments quite disproportionate to the real security that these commitments gave. Those who took that view were persuaded that States, conscious of their own pacific purposes, would be wise to refrain from such commitments which might draw them into a war in which their own vital interests were not threatened, and that therefore States should not bind themselves to intervene in conflicts unless they themselves were directly attacked.

That is the conflict of philosophy of which your Lordships are very well aware, because in one form or another it has constantly been debated in this House. I have no doubt that in considering these two theses the judgment of many has been influenced by the estimate that they place, rightly or wrongly, upon the probability of direct attack. If it were possible, in their judgment, to rate that probability low, then that low probability of direct attack had to be weighed against what might seem to them the greater risk of States being involved in conflicts that were not necessarily arising out of their own concerns. But if and when it becomes plain to States that there is no apparent guarantee against successive attacks directed in turn on all who might seem to stand in the way of ambitious schemes of domination, then at once the scale tips the other way, and in all quarters there is likely immediately to be found a very much greater readiness to consider whether the acceptance of wider mutual obligations, in the cause of mutual support, is not dictated, if for no other reason than the necessity of self-defence. His Majesty's Government have not failed to draw the moral from these events, and have lost no time in placing themselves in close and practical consultation, not only with the Dominions, but with other Governments concerned upon the issues that have suddenly been made so plain.

It is not possible as yet fully to appraise the consequences of German action. History, to which the noble Marquess always refers us with great profit and enjoyment, records many attempts to impose a domination on Europe, but all these attempts have, sooner or later, terminated in disaster for those who made them. It has never in the long run proved possible to stamp out the spirit of free peoples. If history is any guide, the German people may yet regret the action that has been taken in their name against the people of Czecho-Slovakia. Twenty years ago that people of Czecho-Slovakia recovered their liberties with the support and the encouragement of the greater part of the world. They have now been deprived of them by violence. In the course of their long history this will not be the first time that this tenacious, valiant, and industrious people have lost their independence, but they have never lost that which is the foundation of independence—the love of liberty. Meanwhile, just as after the last War the world watched the emergence of the Czech nation, so it will watch to-day their efforts to preserve intact their cultural identity and, more important, their spiritual freedom under the last and most cruel blow of which they have been the victims.


My Lords, I am sure that I shall have the sympathy of those of your Lordships who remain in attempting to speak after the main interest of the debate has vanished with the speech of the noble Viscount. Indeed, almost any other speech is superfluous because no one can speak with his authority or responsibility. Yet there were one or two things I wished to say this afternoon, and I must pluck up my courage to say them. There is one consolation in the somewhat untoward circumstances, and it is that I can be the first, in the name of your Lordships, to thank the noble Viscount for his speech, for its mingled restraint and force, for the confidence with which he has treated your Lordships' House, and for his unfailing dignity and elevation of tone.

It is surely superfluous at this date to go back to criticisms of the Munich Agreement. I do not propose to do so. I would only say that I have consistently failed to get an answer to the question addressed to those critics: "What else, precisely, would you have done in the given circumstances at that time?" I will only allow myself this observation about the Munich Agreement. I quite admit it was not one which ought to have been hailed as a triumph. There was too much sacrifice demanded of that gallant people about whom the noble Viscount has spoken with such moving eloquence, and brute force played far too large a part in the ultimate Agreement. It seems to me, in the words of the noble Viscount himself, spoken with his usual candour, that we had to make at the best a choice of evils, and I remain convinced that it was the lesser evil which was chosen. But what is the use, in view of this present situation which confronts us, of returning to those controversies of an almost vanished past? The situation which confronts us is sufficiently grave. After Munich at least the independence of Czecho-Slovakia was retained; its frontiers were to be guaranteed; it was promised that in any alterations there would be consultation between the parties to the Agreement. Now its independence has been annihilated and no consultations have taken place with those who were parties to the Agreement. It seems to me, as indeed the noble Marquess when he spoke himself indicated, to have been an undisguised and unashamed assertion that might is right. In the words of Herr Hitler himself, it would appear that what is to the interest—he chooses to call it self-preservation—of the great and glorious Reich is to be regarded as in itself sufficiently right.

It may be said that our interests are not really involved even in these proceedings, but surely a challenge has been flung at all that we look upon as the basis of civilised order among nations. It cannot be a matter of indifference to any nation that there has been this complete proof that good faith and the honour of pledged words cannot be trusted. Moreover, there is an end to all the confidence upon which the future must be built. What nation, as the noble Viscount indicated, can know whether or not some other adventure is not to be undertaken? In any case it means, alas! the continued increase of this piling up of armaments; and what is to be the end thereof? One end most certainly, the frustration of all our hopes that nations might unite in securing a higher standard of life among their peoples. It is for these reasons that this seems to me not merely a political but a moral issue. It is because I consider that all this power politics, asserted in its completest form by the acts and words of the German Chancellor, is flagrantly inconsistent with Christian principles, that I feel justified as a Christian Minister in saying what I have now said. If this be so, then all of us here will agree that some answer must be given to this challenge, and that the only answer that avails is an answer given in the only terms which the German rulers appear to understand. That is to say, that against their claim that might is right there must be the massing of might on the side of right.

All of your Lordships in this House will agree with that, but I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that there are a great many good people outside to whom such language gives the acutest pain. They maintain that in no circumstances can it be right to prepare or use armed force. I am quite unable to take the position of the pacifists. I respect their conscientious convictions; I admire the courage of their faith; but I have never yet been able to believe that they have thought out the consequences of their position. Indeed many of them frankly say that consequences are no concern of theirs, that they leave them to Providence. But, while we must admit that it is hateful indeed at the present time, after the lessons of twenty years ago of the folly and futility of war; that we should contemplate massing more force which may ultimately be used for an indescribably odious purpose, yet we are driven to this because we are convinced that there are some things that are more sacred even than peace, and that these things must be defended It has been well said, and I have often quoted the saying, that peace in itself is not an ideal; it is a state of thing attendant upon the achievement of ideals, and especially the ideals of [...]ce and freedom. Peace in itself might be a more barren desert in which these ideals were lost and buried. I cannot believe that it is against the will of Providence that the nations should, even at the cost of arming themselves, defend things that are so precious to civilisation and to human welfare.

If this be so, then plainly there must be some union on the part of those who value these great ideals of peace and freedom. Something, to use the words of the noble Lord who introduced the discussion, in the nature of a League of Nations for the defence of liberty is required. I am sure we all listened with great satisfaction to the concluding words of the noble Viscount, in which he made it plain to us that consultations and communications have already been begun with all like-minded nations with ourselves. We can only hope that these communications will lead to fuller mutual understanding. No one would wish for any kind of formal alliances, any commitment to acts which would be necessary if certain unspecified circumstances took place, but we should all wish that among these nations there should be such mutual understanding that, if the territory or independence of any one of them was threatened or attacked by unprovoked aggression, all the others would immediately consider together what help they might be able to give.

It is needless to specify what these countries are. We all have them in our mind. The Dominions are on our side. France is assured. What of Russia? I confess there are many, and for many reasons which I need not specify, to whom cooperation with Soviet Russia is difficult, but when supreme issues are concerned we must be ready to accept help from whatever quarter it comes. We may I think remember the words spoken about such circumstances of supreme importance—"He that is not against us is with us." And as to the United States of America, we know where their sympathies are. Their President has proclaimed them in most eloquent terms. I would only say this, that I think we should do well to assume that sympathy and not to make any claims upon it, still less to attempt any kind of exhortation to the people of the United States as to what they ought to do and how their sympathies should be shown. No doubt it is a deep disappointment to many of us that once again in this emphatic way the world should be divided into rival blocs. There are many of us who supported the Prime Minister throughout in his keen desire to prevent such a situation arising, but it is Herr Hitler himself who is to blame if the friendly contacts by which the Prime Minister hoped to prevent that situation have, at least for the present, been rendered futile. This seems to me to be the nearest approach which, in the circumstances, we can get to collective security, and if it be made plain that there are a sufficient number of peoples possessed of sufficient collective resources then I think that even Herr Hitler would be induced to call in and put a leash upon his inordinate ambitions.

But is there any other force that can be brought in for the defence of justice and freedom? I think there is. Not a political force, but a spiritual force. There are multitudes of people in every country, most loyal to their own States and yet members, citizens of another society, the Christian Church, using that term in its widest sense, and through it of the Kingdom of God. Nothing has been more remarkable than the proof in recent years that, in a manner which I think has never hitherto been displayed, Christian people, in spite of differences of doctrine and denomination, are willing to unite together for the setting forward of those principles which are their common heritage and responsibility. May I venture to put before your Lordships a recent experience of my own? At the end of 1935, which was, as some of your Lordships will remember, itself a period of tension and great disappointment at the failure to achieve any reduction of armaments, I invited the heads of the Churches and Christian Communions in Europe to issue simultaneously a declaration appealing for peace. I am glad to say that the result was most impressive. All the Orthodox Churches, all the Protestant Churches in Europe and all the Christian Communions in our own country not only accepted the invitation but in January, 1936, issued those simultaneous declarations. It is true that the Holy See did not join them, but I had communication with the Holy See and received through the present Pope, then Secretary of State, an assurance of the sympathy of His Holiness, but saying, quite rightly and naturally, that he had already given full expression to his solicitude for peace.

Now it occurs to me to ask whether in this present grave situation it may not be possible to give Christendom a voice. I have it in mind to renew once again this invitation to the leaders of all Christian communions throughout Europe, and possibly in the United States. Much, of course, must depend on whether His Holiness the Pope would be willing to give his leadership. His recent election has given rise to the highest hopes. It is possible he may feel that he has come to his spiritual kingdom for such a time as this. Is it inconceivable that under his leadership other leaders would be willing to make a declaration to the effect that the new exaltation of the State at the expense of human personality, the new exaltation of force as a means of adjusting international questions, is inconsistent with Christian principles? It may be so. It is obvious that His Holiness would be entitled to choose his own time and his own way, but, if moved by the present state of the world, he were willing to make some declaration, I think I can safely promise that all the leaders of the Anglican and Orthodox and Protestant Churches would give simultaneous support. If this were so, then there might be a reassertion of those principles upon which hitherto, however inadequately applied, civilisation has been based, and an outlawry of those counter-principles which are now threatening the peace of the world.

These matters, your Lordships will realise, require much thought, careful preparation, many consultations. It may prove that what I have suggested is impracticable, but at least I am willing, so far as I can, to do my best. Meanwhile I am convinced that I am speaking for multitudes, without distinction of Church or political Party, who are certain that now it is the concern not only of statesmen but of all who care for the Christian ordering of society to do their utmost to see that justice and good faith among nations, freedom of thought, of speech, of conscience, of worship, freedom for the full development of human personality, shall not be further imperilled.


My Lords, may I ask the indulgence of your Lordships' House, which is invariably accorded to one who addresses your Lordships for the first time? I echo what has been said by the most reverend P[...]mate about the speech of the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I think he has left most of your Lordships in no doubt as to where His Majesty's Government stand. But before I pass briefly to other matters, may I say how much I feel that your Lordships have been touched by the conclusion of the speech of the most reverend Primate? I am sure that your Lordships will all wish him God speed in this great new task to which he is about to put his hand.

I listened with some regret to some expressions which fell from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. I think the noble Viscount was extremely fair to him, but he left some noble Lords on this side in some doubt as to where he stood in certain matters. His speech seemed to be sugar in manner but rather corrosive acid in content. It was also rather vague in some respects. What, for instance, did the noble Lord mean by saying that there were certain people in your Lordships' House and in another place who were asking for conscription for other men's sons? I think the noble Lord's speech would have been even more effective if he had left out a jibe of that kind, because he cannot be unaware of the large number in both Houses of Parliament who felt that in accordance with their conscience they had to vote for conscription during the Great War but from whose households that decision by no means averted great loss. Various other remarks which the noble Lord made left us in some doubt about what he really would have done had he been placed as the Prime Minister and the noble Viscount were at Munich. I myself not only believe that the Munich policy was right, but I go further and say that, even had this country been armed to the teeth at that time and prepared in every way for a great war, the Munich policy would still have been right.

The experience of twenty years has shown that the departure at Versailles, in respect of the Sudeten Germans, from the principle of self-determination had not been a success, and that the better strategic frontier which the Treaty gave by neglecting that principle in no way compensated for the severe internal weakness involved in the arrangement. We all agree, as the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, has said again to-day, that it is one of the tragedies of the post-War period that the German people have been taught that the use of force was the only way of getting things which the ideals of the Treaty of Versailles seemed to concede, but which in practice have been denied them. But it would be a complete delusion to conclude from that that those who have suffered wrong are always right themselves. The difference between what happened last September and what happened last week is clear in principle. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition cannot, I think, find any fault with those on this side who take so clear a view about it. It was a shock to those of us who had looked forward—and, may I say, who still look forward—to cordial relations with the German people.

Last September the plea was for self-determination, and, as the noble Viscount reminded us, last week the action taken was a complete denial and repudiation of that principle. The inclusion for all practical purposes in the Reich of two populations entirely alien in race and in method of thought from the Germans, one of these populations greater than the whole population of Australia and the other not much less, is a shock from which it will take the world a long time to recover. Now it is argued that what has happened, this wholly unexpected happening, proves in some way the theory which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, put forward to-day: that from the beginning the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been entirely wrong. It is said that in agreeing to the principle of self-determination for the Sudeten Germans they had opened the way for a German march to Prague. I think that is the gravamen of the charge which is made. That charge is wholly illusory. May we suppose for a moment that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary at Munich had refused to admit self-determination for the Sudeten Germans: would such action have prevented what has happened now? Surely it must be perfectly clear that such action would have accelerated what has happened now.

It could not possibly have done anything to prevent it. The attempt to keep, as the noble Viscount said, two or two-and-a-half millions—I thought it was nearer three millions—of Germans under the domination of the Czechs would have been entirely futile, and Prague and the whole of Czecho-Slovakia would have been overrun long ago and would have been occupied. In addition, we ourselves in this country would have now been engaged in a war under the gravest disadvantage which can afflict any democratic people—namely, that we should have been divided among ourselves on the moral sanction of having that war at all. The Prime Minister has saved us from that situation. Yet he is accused still—even, it is curious to notice, after that wonderful speech on Friday—of truckling to Dictators. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition did not use that expression "truckling" or "cringing" to the Dictators, but said rather that the Prime Minister had taken up a humiliating attitude. The expression is, however, so often used outside that it seems to be the accepted term of abuse or criticism. It is said, I think, this morning in the organ of the Press which represents the views of the noble Lord opposite, that we cannot have a really National Government until we have got rid of this Prime Minister who, as their organ has said frequently, has a habit of truckling to Dictators.

Really, this vision of a Prime Minister cringing to Dictators is very difficult to understand. It does, however, undoubtedly affect the minds of some noble Lords opposite. They have a vision of a timorous man leading a great country, and even the noble Lord opposite, who has just left after a particularly robust speech, is apparently frightened at the spectacle of such a man leading Great Britain. But does such a man exist at all, really? It recalls the lines of Mr. Belloc on a certain phantom: The other day upon the stair I met a man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again to-day; I wish to God he'd go away! That man does not exist. On the contrary, if noble Lords would rid themselves of that bogey, then they might form the truer idea that we have, leading the country now, a man of unusual courage who has won the trust of enormous numbers of people not only in this country but all over the world, not excluding the people of Germany and Italy themselves. That is certainly true of the people of Rumania, which suffered so terribly in the Great War as our ally. I venture to think that if an attempt were made to extinguish the liberty of that gallant little State and to drag her by force into the ambit of the Reich and we sat idly by, the small States of Europe would then come to the conclusion that Great Britain had abandoned the cause of freedom in the world. It may well be the case that the freedom of Europe depends on our action in the next step of what might be an onward career of conquest.

While we must take and speed up every precaution, yet the very dark future which we are apt to foresee in these hours is not inevitable. We naturally think of the career of Napoleon. But though history often repeats itself, history very often avoids vain repetition, and we are not the powerless spectators of a foredoomed course of events. We and others who are like-minded have a great deal to do in shaping the future, and it depends largely on the ordinary man and woman everywhere. Grave as was last week's shock to us, we must remember in fairness that it was just as much a surprise to the people of Germany themselves. I submit that it would be a grave mistake to make up our minds here and now and permanently to close down upon all these healing means of communication between the two peoples for the discussion of common problems, such as the trade talks which were about to start in a short time. I quite realise the position which the noble Viscount has enunciated on that point. It may at the moment seem impossible, but I trust that we shall not make up our minds to close down finally on those talks. I have had something to do in the conduct of ships, and in the sphere of shipping during the last few years British shipowners have been in contact with the German shipowners. They have found that on all common problems the Germans have shown a very reasonable, friendly and helpful attitude, and many of these problems have been solved in a spirit of give and take. So with regard to trade negotiations. While we must make it clear that Great Britain stands like a rock against all attempts at world domination by lawless force, we must make it equally clear that we have not changed, and that our policy remains, so far as circumstances make it possible, one of friendly discussion for the mutual benefit of both peoples.

We must all hope that the grave events of the last week will not be misrepresented, so as to impair the fundamental sanity and solidarity of the British outlook. There are welcome signs that the very opposite is taking place. There is growing realisation among the British people that aggression comes quickly in these days to peoples who are divided against themselves, and that democracies to be safe must not only be well armed but may have to impose upon themselves, in an air of freedom, something of the discipline exercised by Totalitarian States. It is easy now to criticise the policy of Munich, and it is tempting to some people to use a grave external emergency for internal partisan ends. I believe that the country is rapidly taking the measure of these people, and that when these grave matters and their sequel, whatever it may be, are summed up, history will condemn, not those like the Prime Minister, and the noble Viscount the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who fought for peace at Munich, but those who carped at them and would not lend a helping hand to carry that great task to its fulfilment.


My Lords, may I on your behalf congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down on delivering such an interesting maiden speech? I only wish he had had a much larger audience. As an old colleague of mine in the House of Commons I may tell him that he will find that there are certain differences in this House, and that an audience rather counts, because we have not got constituents to whom we can send our speeches, and we seldom have anybody in the gallery. Well, we have our own reporters, and anyhow our words of wisdom are recorded somewhere. I am sure your Lordships will remember the noble Lord's distinguished father, who sat on the Liberal Benches here, and was also an old colleague of mine. I hope that on future occasions, when there are more of your Lordships present, the noble Lord will be heard frequently.

I rose only to say that the accusation brought against the Prime Minister, that all this is the result of Munich, is to my mind very unfair. It shows a very great shortness of vision. Munich was an episode. It was a good attempt by the Prime Minister in an emergency to deal with the matter rapidly and effectively. I think he was right. I do not think that what was called the failure of Munich is the reason for the present state in which we find ourselves. You have got to go further back. There can be no question about it, the Treaty of Versailles lies at the back of the trouble which we have had in recent years—the neglect of various Governments, in the last fifteen or twenty years, to take the matter in hand and see to the revision of the Treaty, and to deal with the various sore points, complaints, jealousies and suspicions that have arisen out of the rigid adherence to the Treaty. It is nothing short of a tragedy to think that twenty years after the Great War we should find ourselves in the position that we are in to-day, and I hope the people in this country realise that it is not the events of the last few months, or of the last year or two, but the rigid Treaty of Versailles, which was laid down with the sole purpose of punishing Germany, that is responsible for the position to-day.

People talk about Czecho-Slovakia a great deal. We are indignant at her loss of liberty and sovereignty, but do let us remember that Czecho-Slovakia was not created by the framers of the Treaty of Versailles out of any love for the Czechs. It was created merely to be a strategic outpost to prevent Germany going towards the East, and we are not surprised that these events have happened. We are indignant, but we are not surprised. It was foreseen that that would occur which has occurred. The distressing part of the present situation is the loss of confidence due to Herr Hitler having gone back on his word, which was given so recently. When you get competing imperialisms I am afraid that this sort of declaration is not always strictly adhered to. I am afraid that if we look back into our own history we can find some regrettable changes in opinions that we had laid down as if they were to be observed for ever.

I think the noble Marquess the Leader of the Liberal Party did right to remind us of history. I have been looking through an historical atlas. Going back over the centuries the changes in that part of Europe have been periodic. Several times during a century there have been changes. Always a change after a war. Always changes in the frontiers erected by force. Every time these have been ephemeral. If this country is expected to take up arms because of changes of frontier in Central Europe there will be a certain resentment here, because I can assure noble Lords that only a few people know about Czecho-Slovakia. They do not know, I think, that it was Bohemia and Moravia, and as for Ruthenia, I am afraid I have had to rub up my history to understand about that part of the world. Noble Lords perhaps do not realise that to go into Ruthenia is not like going into another country with another language, but into another century—three or four centuries back. Only one person in five in Ruthenia had heard about Herr Hitler. One of them thought he was a Hungarian general, and another said he was bad for the Jews. But they have no knowledge of what is going on, they have no wireless, they have no information—fortunate people!

I thought that the noble Viscount's speech, which was so informative and covered the whole ground, and gave us the thoughts and intentions of His Majesty's Government so clearly, was unduly depressed in tone. The noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, made, I thought, a very sensible remark when he said that the Germans themselves had been surprised. I would say more than that. I would say that a very large proportion of the German nation are indignant—as indignant as we are. Because one of the disadvantages of a dictatorship is that you never know the size or the measure of your opposition. And that is why they all fall. But I do think that the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary took too depressed a view, because this is not a situation that is going to last. This is not the end of Czecho-Slovakia, this is not a permanent arrangement; and I do not believe that any permanent arrangement of that part of the world will ever be arrived at so long as you depend on arms and force to make your frontier. It is only by consultation, it is only by conference, it is only by laying before each other their grievances and troubles that nations can come together.

I hope that the Government, anyhow, realise that the encouragement of armament competition has not made matters any better, and I cannot say how shocked I was to hear the most reverend Primate lay down as an axiom that we must have massing of might. That is a text for the Christian churches next Sunday! Might has brought Europe where it is, and through the centuries has created these distressing feuds between countries the peoples of which are always ready to make friends. I would ask the Government not to put too much faith in reviving collective security. I think it is really a weapon that cannot be rightly depended upon, for the reasons given in the first part of the remarks of the Foreign Secretary when he referred to that subject. I think it will break down, and those who have confidence in it will find yet again that they cannot depend upon it because of the self-interest of each nation. That the nations should come together in consultation I fully believe is right, but let it not be in such a manner as to divide Europe into two and to prevent a general conference being arrived at.

Tragic as this failure has been, I do not believe that it has roused in the ordinary man in the street a feeling that Great Britain has to go to war and has to increase her armaments. I would beg the Government not to throw away the weapon of appeasement, not to throw away the advances which they have already made. It is a setback, it is a disappointment, it is a tragedy, I admit; but it must not prevent us from following what I conceive to be the right policy undertaken by the Prime Minister recently—not only to get into close touch and to renew trade relations, but to look forward to conferences by which several nations, differing no doubt as they will in their internal government, may come to some sort of real method for dealing with these vexed questions, and renouncing the futile, barbarous, imbecile method of modern war. I have only thought it necessary to say these few words because in moments of clamorous indignation people rather lose their sense of proportion, and wise counsels may become obscured. Impetuous moods may set alight a world-devastating conflagration. I am glad to see yet again that my fellow countrymen are keeping their heads and, as one goes out, one hears no hot words and no violent indignation. And one good sign is that Mr. Churchill has not paid a visit to Downing Street.


My Lords, I never listen to my noble friend who has just spoken without remembering the saying of the White Queen that you should try and believe six impossible things before breakfast. My noble friend's observations are always interesting and attractive, but they never appear to me to have the slightest relation to the facts of the world in which we live. How he can seriously believe that it would be a remedy for our present situation to have a general conference in which we should talk things over, and do nothing else, passes my comprehension. He talks as if the present Government had done nothing but increase armaments. He forgets the fact that those armaments followed the challenge emitted by the Central Powers, particularly by Germany. It is useless to ignore these facts. You have to take them as they are. You have to realise that to try to persuade the present German Government by an appeal to reasonableness is really perfectly fatuous.

The Foreign Secretary began his observations by making an appeal to the House to treat this as a joint consultation rather than as a debate. I will endeavour certainly to do my utmost to comply with that appeal. At the same time, it is necessary to realise the facts that have led up to the present situation. That situation, which I in common with other people think was the direct and inevitable result of what happened during the Munich negotiations, has undoubtedly had the result of making Germany very materially stronger than she was. She has obtained—it was all set out in The Times on Friday morning—1,600 (I think it is) first-rate aeroplanes, many admirable guns, a large sum in actual money, and the possession of some of the best arms factories in the world—and those are the actual gains for the purposes of war. She has also relatively gained because the Czech Army no longer exists as a possible danger to her, and therefore she will be able to free so many more of her troops for any other expedition that she may desire to have.

With all the desire that I have to avoid saying anything provocative, I do not see how, in face of that, one can dispute the fact that what happened at Munich was not a settlement, but a surrender. I do not say that it had no advantages, I think it has had several. Among them I hoped I should be able to say that it dispelled some illusions. It has, I think, dispelled some. It has dispelled that curious illusion that affected so many people, that Herr Hitler was really a great influence for peace, that he had been very much misunderstood, that he was no doubt forced to take certain action to remedy some of the grave injustices from which Germany suffered, and that having done that he was disposed to work for peace if only we treated him with generosity and consideration. I am all for treating everyone with consideration, but before you do that you must make up your mind what is really the purpose of the person whom you are so treating. I have no doubt that the purpose of Herr Hitler—the traditional purpose of the German Government for many years past—has been to obtain the domination of Europe, in the first place, and of the world afterwards.

I had hoped also, until the speech of the noble Lord (Lord Ponsonby), that we had got rid of the doctrine that all this was due to the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles. I was in no respect responsible for the Treaty of Versailles, and I have never defended it. I have always thought it was open to a good deal of criticism, quite frankly, not so much on the ground of its injustice, because I do not know how you are to estimate justice and injustice if you take the view, as I took the view and still take it, that the country that was mainly responsible for the Great War was Germany. From that point of view I do not think she has any right to complain of the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles. But I did think there were certain provisions in it which were very unwise because they were very unlikely to last.

May I in passing enter my earnest protest against the very unfair account of the origin of Czecho-Slovakia given by the noble Lord (Lord Ponsonby)? It came about as the result of very long efforts for freedom by the people of Czecho-Slovakia, and finally by the tremendous self-sacrifices and brilliant exertions of Dr. Masaryk, Dr. Benes, and M. Stefanik. These three men really brought it about, and to say, as the noble Lord suggested, it was an elaborate erection intended to form a bastion against Germany on the east, is absolutely untrue. I remember very well the circumstances under which it came into existence. It came into existence because the Czechs said: "This is a war in which you are trying to set right as many injustices as possible. Here is one that has existed for years, and which we are ready and have the power to correct, and we demand our independence." In order to satisfy that demand, Czecho-Slovakia was created. Personally I do not hesitate to say that there are no two men I have met whom I admired more profoundly and more sincerely than Dr. Masaryk and Dr. Benes.

The final illusion that I hope has been dispelled is the illusion that in international matters it is possible to accept the assurances of the present German Government. I think there is, as I said in the House the other day, a little unfairness there. The Germans have never made any concealment of their view that international assurances are not to be taken as definite obligations. They are to be taken as a statement of what is the intention of the German Government at the time the assurance is given, and nothing more than that. If you look at the history of Germany, you will find that that is the only way in which you can possibly decently explain the conduct of many of her greatest men, starting with Frederick the Great, then Bismarck, Bethmann-Hollwegg with his "scrap of paper," and the autobiography of the Chancellor von Bulow. They all go on the same lines. It seems to me astounding that His Majesty's Government should have thought it possible, even at Munich, to rely on the assurances of the German Government as absolutely to be depended upon, and I am delighted to learn both from the very admirable speech of the Foreign Secretary, if I may say so, and from the speech of the Prime Minister at Birmingham, that that, at any rate, is not going to be the case in future.

There has been another great advantage of the events which took place at Munich and immediately afterwards, and that was the practical demonstration of the immense desire for peace which pervades even the populations of the dictatorship countries. That is a great asset. Many of us profoundly believed it was true before that happened, but it was demonstrated as clearly as it could be demonstrated, and that is one of the essential facts of the situation which must be taken into consideration if we are going to try and get through this very difficult passage in our history.

After the speech of the Foreign Secretary I can put the rest of my observations very much more shortly than I had intended. I was going to try to examine what it is we ought to do, and I can put that very much more shortly now than I intended to put it. I need not discuss, for instance, what seemed to me some unsatisfactory features of the speech of the Prime Minister at Birmingham. I am going to take the speech of the Foreign Secretary as the authentic declaration of policy of the Government, which no doubt it is, after repeated consultations which we learn have taken place with the Cabinet in the last two or three days. Therefore I feel justified in reading such a passage as that which occurred at the end of the Birmingham speech in apparent rejection of what, at any rate, I understand by collective security—I shall have to read that with the commentary of the speech of the Foreign Secretary.

What is it that we ought to do now? That seems to me the important thing for us to consider. We should in the first place, quite definitely—I hope that has been done—abandon the effort—I do not want to use an offensive phrase and call it appeasement or anything else—which seems to me thoroughly unsound both in morals and practical results, of trying to buy off the Dictators by concessions not only of our rights but of the rights of other countries. I always thought that a most disagreeable form of policy. I am now quite convinced that it is a perfectly useless one, and I hope therefore that is gone. That is the first thing I hope we shall definitely make clear. Next of course I welcome most cordially the indication of the Foreign Secretary's opinion that, the circumstances having, as he thinks, completely changed, it is now right again to consider what he describes quite openly as the doctrine of collective security. I do not know exactly what the Government have in view in that respect, but from what he intimated, and other things, I imagine that their idea would be in the first place to get into close touch with, to use the phrase of President Roosevelt, other peace-loving countries, such as France, Russia and others, and come to a quite definite agreement with them to form the nucleus of a new Confederation of Nations, or League of Nations, I care not what you call it, who are prepared to assist one another in the case of aggression on any one of them.

May I say with all respect to the most reverend Primate that I hope we shall not rely merely on understandings? They are the most dangerous things in the world. He will no doubt remember a passage in Dr. Newman which ends up with this: "I have always hated understandings standings ever since." That was written in reference to the result of understandings in his case. I am sure that understandings are of no use in this matter. You must have as precise and specific agreements as possible. Even then your great difficulty will be to get them kept. If you make them understandings you have no probability of success whatever. Having got that, no doubt you are getting very near to the policy which I have had the honour of recommending very often in this House, the policy of the League of Nations, and if that is the kind of way in which the Government's mind is moving I do beg them also to consider whether it is not better to accept the machinery and the principles of the actual working of the League. I do so knowing only too well the great difficulties there may be in the way of such a policy at the moment, but I am sure it has enormous advantages.

I cannot say that I agree with the recent reversion to secret conversations, which were most admirably described by the noble Marquess who leads the Liberal Party. Secret conversations are extremely difficult to carry out by the most highly trained diplomats, and with my humble recollections I would almost agree with what the noble Marquess has said, that we have seen them tried by more than one Prime Minister in the last few years and never with any satisfactory results. I would not go quite as far as that; I would say very seldom with any satisfactory result. There seems to me one great objection to that method of procedure. It seems to me to abandon what is or ought to be your great weapon for peace—namely, public opinion. That really is the thing that you must have. Here I have the support of even my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. You have to get public opinion on your side. Look at any system of law that exists in the world, and in the end, if it has not got the support of public opinion, it is ineffective. If it has got the support of public opinion, it is effective. Therefore the first thing you have to do is to get public opinion on your side. That is why I value more than almost anything the procedure of the League of Nations. It proceeds on the basis of trying to persuade public opinion as to which side it ought to take in any particular controversy.

There is open discussion, debate not in the form of diplomacy but much more in the form of Parliamentary discussion. That idea seems to me to afford a real hope of getting that discussion and consideration which my noble friend Lord Ponsonby wants, and which we all want, under conditions in which you have the best chance of success. If you do not have public opinion you have only one thing to bargain with, and that is your own possibility of coercing the unreasonable person. You must, therefore, rely upon public opinion in the first instance. Personally this is where I depart from the position taken up by Lord Ponsonby. I do not think you can do without some coercion in the background; some military coercion, or certainly some economic coercion. I believe the first thing is to organise publicity and public discussion, and thereby organise the help of public opinion. I believe that is the best hope we have of retrieving what seems to me, with all respect to the Government, the very grave errors that have been committed in the last few years.

I think you must go back to the old conception, which has given rise to so much rather inept and ignorant ridicule, of covenants openly arrived at. The idea was right. You may object to the actual form in which a covenant was framed, but I venture to give my opinion upon this matter for what it is worth. I think that when it has been preceded by open discussion it has had an immense number of successes. When it has been preceded—to please those who have been brought up in the older systems of diplomacy—by secret discussions it has nearly always failed. I therefore venture to say that that is the line upon which we must proceed. I am in entire agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and many other people that you can never go back to the old conceptions of the Treaty of Vienna, where a few distinguished gentlemen sat round a table and settled the affairs of the world. You must base any lasting peace on the consent of the peoples of the world. I believe that the more you appeal to the peoples the more you are likely to get that consent. I venture to make a very strong appeal to the Government in any step they are now taking to make it one of the elementary conditions of their policy that they defer not so much to the interests of this country or that country, or this Government or that Government, but to the general opinion of the peoples of the world.


My Lords, whatever differences of opinion there may be amongst us to-day it will be generally agreed that every noble Lord who speaks should do so with a deep sense of responsibility. We are living in some of the most fateful days of history, and it may be that what is done by the Government at this time will make the difference between peace and war. For my part I think that every speech on international affairs at the present time should be judged and framed by this test: does it make for peace or does it make for war? And it is because I am afraid that some of the speeches delivered even in your Lordships' House this afternoon make more for war than for peace that I regret them. The position has undoubtedly deteriorated very seriously in the last week. Only last Wednesday the Prime Minister, after the seizure of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the determination of the Government to work for peace, and said they must not be deflected from that course. Things have moved a long way since then, and I am afraid the truth must be faced that war has come nearer. I listened very carefully to the speech of the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary; I always do listen most carefully to what he says, but I am afraid the Government are drifting—I do not know whether that word is strong enough—from the policy which they have hitherto adopted into a different policy. They are drifting into the policy supported so long by the noble Viscount who has just spoken, a policy of what is called, as I think wrongly, collective security. I am afraid they are drifting into the policy of dividing Europe into two hostile camps, and that is the policy which up to the present they have opposed.

If I am right in this—and I am afraid I am—I ask this question: Does what has happened in the last week or ten days justify a real change of attitude? What exactly is the position, if it is analysed, and what is the case that will be put before the British people if war should come, as it may come sooner or later? Broadly it is this, that one Power—that is Germany—is out for world domination, and that we must fight to defend our liberties. That broadly is the case which will be put, and it is a case which is being put. But a case put in that way is going a long way in advance of anything which has yet happened. It could have been said throughout history, and it has been said, that such and such a Power was out for domination and that in due course the liberties of Great Britain would be at stake. But long before British liberties were in any way jeopardised, the situation has completely changed. That may well happen again. What you cannot do is to tell the people that the danger of domination can be dealt with and defeated by war, or at least if you do tell them that you are telling them something which the last thirty years has disproved.

What was said last time? Twenty-five years ago we were told that we were fighting to crush German militarism and to make the world safe for democracy. Look to-day at German militarism, and look at the world. As a matter of fact, whatever may be said to justify the taking of this country near the risk of war—and that I am afraid is what is happening, even if it has not happened—no case for that extreme course can be made out on the ground of any attack on France or on Belgium or on any part of the British Empire. Very well, that means that our policy and our war aims are being stretched beyond what has been hitherto understood. I think it is quite clear that Mr. Eden himself had this consideration in mind in an article on the situation which he wrote in the Sunday Times of yesterday. Actually, of course, the case of the Government to justify some change of policy is that Germany has forcibly seized territory and may seize other territory, and that Herr Hitler has gone back on certain declarations and undertakings. All that may be true, and I say at once that I think some of the censorious language which has been used is justified; but in fairness it must be said, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby I think indicated and as in fact the noble Viscount himself said, that other nations have acquired most of their territory by forcible seizure. It should be remembered also that other Powers, including the Allies, after the late War have not kept some of their undertakings. That is not forgotten in Germany. It is always a mistake in private quarrels, if it can possibly be avoided, to take forcible decisions at a time of extreme emotion or panic, and the same principle should be applied to national affairs and to international affairs.

If there is time, and I submit that on this occasion there is time, passions should always be allowed to cool down before there is any great change in a fixed policy or course of action. Despite the happenings of the past week—and I certainly do not defend them, I condemn them—there is in my submission no sufficient reason for any great change in policy, certainly not for a change which makes, as I am afraid, the continued maintenance of peace extremely difficult, if not impossible. The Government may say that they cannot in the present circumstances continue to negotiate with Germany. So be it. But it is a very different policy from that to line up Great Britain with other Powers—that is what the noble Viscount wants—in hostile array against Germany and Italy and by strong (I will not use any other adjective, although I might) speeches to make war sooner or later inevitable. If this war, which may well come the way things are going on, does come, even if there were left enough civilisation at the end of it to make a peace, that peace would almost certainly be in the circumstances worse than Versailles. It would lead on to new problems and new grievances, new Hitters and new Mussolinis, and another war before long if there were enough people left to fight one. In fact, after another European war, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said recently, the remnants of civilisation would hardly be worth picking up. I would like to commend those words to the most reverend Primate. He spoke of the nations joining together against Germany even at the cost of harming themselves. Does the most reverend Primate think that is an adequate description of what would happen as the result of another war?


I said "arming."


If I misunderstood the most reverend Primate I am glad, but I thought it was a most extraordinary way of putting it. But what he did speak of was the massing of might. I did not misunderstand that. All I will say is that I think that the policy commended by him is one which will shock the conscience of a great many people in this country—not only pacifists, but a large number of others. I know it is the custom nowadays to sneer at pacifists The noble Viscount says that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby is entirely out of touch with realities. In my view pacifists are much more in touch with realities than those who are urging the nations on to another war, which, as the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, also said not very long ago, is likely to end in complete barbarous anarchy from one end of Europe to another. Can anything be worse than that? Can pacifism produce anything worse than that?

The Government, I am afraid, are being led into a policy which is likely to end in unimaginable disasters, and they are being urged—I will only say a word about this to-day—by many organs in the Press and by many public men to adopt conscription. If they adopt conscription, that will be another fatal blunder. There will never be any unity in this country on conscription. There was not unity on conscription in the Great War, and the people have learned a great deal about war since then. As a matter of fact conscription almost lost us the last War, and it would almost certainly lose us the next war. We cannot afford such a drain on our man power. Great Britain, with only 46,000,000 people, simply cannot afford to maintain a big Navy, a big Air Force—there was hardly any Air Force last time—and a big Army, and at the same time keep its financial and economic resources at such a level that they will last and wear out the resources of Germany and Italy and other Powers. The economic factor will be of supreme importance in the next war. It will probably, if war comes, be the decisive factor. It is in this way, by production and so forth, that, apart from her own defence, Great Britain would make her main contribution to the war. Our resources must not be depleted by conscription, more particularly as America may not come in another time as she did during the last War.

Before I sit down I want to speak for one minute or two about Germany and Czechoslovakia. As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and other speakers, things like those which happened last week do not happen without any cause. The Prime Minister himself last Wednesday indicated that we are dealing with events resulting from the Treaty of Versailles. Whatever the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, may say, that is the fact. The truth, of course, is that Czecho-Slovakia never ought to have been created. It was a country with no real homogeneity. Moreover, for long years after the Treaty of Versailles, with its wrongs and injustices, Germany was kept down by the Allies. She was kept down, brooding with resentment and anger and feeling bitterly that the undertakings given to her had not been kept. Such conditions are bound to bring a reaction when a country becomes powerful again, as Germany has done.

The pity is that these dangers were not foreseen and guarded against in time by a wiser and more generous policy. As it is, things being what they are, German expansion in Central and South-East Europe is in one way or another inevitable, the more so as Germany has been deprived of all her Colonies and Great Britain and France give no indication that they are prepared to meet her demand for Colonies. Germany, in proportion to her population and industrial efficiency, has nothing like her fair share of the wealth and territory of the world. In economic resources she is poor compared with Great Britain, France and the United States, and if she cannot expand in one way then she will expand in another way where she can, and that is in Central and South-Eastern Europe.

I should like, before I sit down, to commend to your Lordships a memorandum written by Lord Balfour in 1916 and submitted to the Cabinet, dealing with the difficulties of Germany's position in that part of Europe. He concluded with the sentence: There could, it seems to me, be no more powerful incentive to new wars. That is what Lord Balfour said. I do submit that before being hurried, perhaps stampeded, into extreme courses, we should try to get a fuller perspective than some pepole seem to have of what is happening. The position is such that unless very great care is exercised at every stage, and unless language is very much more restrained than it has been in certain quarters, events may take control and the whole situation may get out of hand. So far as I am concerned, I have felt it my duty to do what I can—I do not flatter myself that I can really do anything—to urge the Government to work for peace, to continue to work for peace, as the Prime Minister himself said last week. Holding as I do that war will not settle anything—the last War certainly did not settle anything—it must always be the wisest statesmanship in all circumstances to work for peace.


Of course we all work for peace.


As Earl Baldwin said in a speech last October, if there is only a 5 per cent. chance left of peace, cling to that and work on with that. Surely, my Lords—and this is my last word—nothing could be worse, nothing could be more wrong, than that the common people of Great Britain and Germany, who have no quarrel with each other, who have no desire to fight, whatever Hitler or anybody else may do, should again be brought into conflict and war, and slaughter each other.


My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition missed a great opportunity to-day. He had within his grasp the chance of making a constructive contribution towards re-establishing a better order in Europe. Instead of that he spent a considerable portion of his speech—in admittedly impeccable language—in abusing the Prime Minister for what occurred at Munich, as though the Prime Minister had been responsible not merely for what happened there but also for all the events that led up to it. As several speakers have already said this afternoon, the origins of Munich have to be sought as far back as the Peace Treaties, when a great number of appalling blunders were perpetrated, the greatest of which was the setting-up of a small State containing a number of minorities which were irreconcilable at once with each other and with the governing Czech race, which maintained a form of despotism. By despotism I do not mean an actual physical despotism, but rather that Czech thought to too great an extent dominated those other minorities, and there can be no doubt that a certain intolerance was shown to those minorities which gave an excuse, however inadequate, for subsequent German aggression.

There was also the question of the encirclement of Germany, a fatal mistake on the part of the French; and then at a later period we had the sadly mistaken policy which broke up our traditional friendship with Italy, and, without achieving anything for the unfortunate Abyssinians, brought about the Rome-Berlin Axis without which the events which led to Munich could never have taken place. But to blame the Prime Minister for all this is surely quite absurd. All the Prime Minister has been guilty of is preventing an otherwise inevitable war from breaking out in September. To-day Munich has been criticised by a number of your Lordships from a number of very different angles. But I have noticed one surprising uniformity among all the critics, and that is that not one of them, to the best of my recollection—and I have been here through practically the whole debate—has ever suggested an alternative policy which he would have adopted himself at the time of Munich. I submit to your Lordships that the failure to produce that alternative policy to-day is a sign that what was done then, however unpleasant, was completely unavoidable, save for the still worse alternative of war.

Those of us who supported the Munich policy are accused sometimes of having been blind in putting trust in the word of the German Government. For my own part I never did put very much reliance in that word, but, as the Foreign Secretary said, I did at least venture to hope it would be kept, and the most surprising part of this unfortunate situation has been the abandonment by the Leader of the German people of his policy of not including in the Reich those who are not of German origin. I am afraid I am unable to follow the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, in his dislike of the Government's new attitude or, rather, of what he describes as the Government's new attitude. For my part I cannot see that they have in any way relaxed their willingness to bring about peace nor their efforts to this end, but when the Government are faced with the repudiation of his word by the leader of a foreign country then I think it is only natural that His Majesty's Government should be compelled to reconsider their whole position. I must say that I am afraid that at the present time there is little reason for anyone to expect that Germany in the immediate future will show herself more anxious to be faithful to her solemn engagements than she has been during the last few months.

Lord Ponsonby spoke of the absence of violent indignation in this country. In that I think he was wrong. There is a great deal of indignation in this country but practically every element here has sufficient self-control and sufficient appreciation of the position not to seek to make the Government's task any more difficult or to imperil the already tenuous fabric of European peace by expressing the resentment which is universally felt in words which, although perhaps more suitable than mild phrases, on such an occasion would do far more harm than good. The absence of severe criticism couched in other than moderate language must not be taken as implying that the people of this country have not felt outraged by recent events.

In his magnificent speech to-day the Foreign Secretary, whilst fully describing what has taken place, was very discreetly silent about the future. In that I think he was right. It would I think be premature and disastrous on the part of His Majesty's Government to announce publicly what line of policy they mean to take, when the events of the next few weeks or even of the next few days might make it necessary for them again to reorient that policy. It seems to me that the situation is bound to deteriorate still further unless there appears on the part of Germany a very different attitude towards the ethical conduct of nations than she has shown recently. This country has no quarrel with the German people, but when we see that people being invited by their leaders to invest themselves with a national paranoia that makes them feel themselves indifferent and superior to all the laws of God and man, then I think we have some reason to feel apprehension, and while I have no doubt that the Government will pursue every effort to bring about reconciliation as they have done in the past, unless there are on the other side some signs of willingness at least to co-operate then we must feel grievous anxiety about the future. In these circumstances I cannot understand why anyone can take any other view than that it is a grim and absolutely urgent necessity that we should continue to rearm.

If I may I would in my closing moments make one or two suggestions for the consideration of His Majesty's Government. The first is that it is the country's desire that firmness should be shown in our foreign policy. The second is that if the Government on full consideration come to the conclusion that some form of compulsory service is not yet necessary—and a great proportion, an ever-increasing proportion, of the people of the country is beginning to think it is necessary—they should at least consider seriously the formation of a short-service body of young men up to, say, 25 or 30 years of age, who would be enlisted for a period of six months or a year and given a very intensive training. Due provision should be made for these men to get back afterwards to their jobs if they give them up on enlisting or for their receiving compensation at the end of their service. This would give us a most useful reserve of trained men. In the third place I would insist that greater attention should be given to one very important matter on which we as a nation have been rather unsuccessful except during a short period towards the end of the Great War. I refer to propaganda. We should, particularly by wireless and in as many tongues as possible, inform the nations of the world what we are doing, how strong our moral case is, and how great is the strength of our rearmament. It is indeed unfortunate but it is perfectly true that little attention is paid to the Ten Commandments east of the Rhine to-day, and the knowledge that Britain is strong on land, on sea, and in the air is going to have very much greater effect in influencing certain nations in the right direction than any display of high principles or humanitarian thought.

Lord Snell and Viscount Cecil seem to consider that we should revert to the idea of reviving the League of Nations, as a means of establishing peace. Do they not realise that what they are asking for under present conditions is not a League of Nations but an open alliance against one country? Such an alliance may, unfortunately, become necessary in the long run, but at the moment it would be merely another menace to achieving peace. No, as I have said, at the present time rearmament is not only a grim necessity but also the only sound policy, and I hope His Majesty's Government will push on with it as hard as they can. There is no doubt to my mind that the attitude of the Prime Minister at Munich was the right one despite all the criticism which has been made against him, and although the outlook at the present time is dark in Europe, I am convinced that when the history of the present time comes eventually to be written the Munich policy will be realised to have been a contribution to the effort to bring a permanent peace, which it was well worth making, whether or not in the long run it was successful.


My Lords, I am exceedingly sorry to be at odds with my noble friend, for whom I have great admiration, but in one part of his speech he appeared to deprecate careful consideration by the Government of the future. It is my purpose in rising to urge that very much more care and thought should be given to the future even than is given to the present situation. In the diplomatic history of the last few years we have seen this country again and again taken by surprise. Again and again rapid moves have been taken by the rulers of Germany that have left us apparently gasping. Surely it is now obvious that the German Chancellor owes no small part of his success to his habit of looking two moves ahead of other countries, striking without warning and confronting Europe with a fait accompli. Surely the lesson of this crisis is that we should attempt to think at least as rapidly as the German Chancellor, and that we should frame our policy for the future in accordance with the various moves which he may make. There are, after all, only a limited number of directions in which Germany can be expected to move, and it seems to me of the greatest importance that we should not merely frame a policy but even publish a policy in respect to some of those moves. It may very well be that the next coup which we may see from the German Government will be in a westerly instead of an easterly direction. There might be much to be said for publishing in advance the attitude which we should take up and which France would take up to any similar invasion of the rights of any of the nations that border on Germany's Western frontier, in which we are very much more intimately concerned.

I wish to take the opportunity of reinforcing some words that fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe. We have withdrawn our Ambassador from Berlin, and it seems likely that his absence from Germany will be a prolonged one. Let me express a very strong hope that during his absence there will be no attempt at cultural contact between prominent Englishmen and the German nation. Such contacts would give a profoundly misleading impression at the present moment, and I would include even the sporting contacts between our nation and the Germans. It is surely the duty of every one of us to do everything in his power to impress the German nation with the fact that Great Britain is solidly behind the Government, and it would be a very serious responsibility on anyone in this country to renew contacts which have been broken off by the withdrawal of our Ambassador.


My Lords, this debate is one of many which have taken place in your Lordships' House in recent months directed towards the policy of His Majesty's Government in relation to that unhappy country Czecho-Slovakia. The same old plan of collective security has been unfolded before your Lordships as a means of solving all our difficulties, and we have been told that if that policy had been pursued in the past the developments of the last few days would never have occurred. It has been suggested in various quarters that our immediate policy should be an alliance with all the European democratic States to prevent the expansion of Germany to the East. I would suggest that such a policy could have only one result: it would bring the dread spectre of war nearer, and we should be robbed of our power to control our actions. We should be involved in indefinite commitments, and our foreign policy would be dependent upon a large number of foreign countries.

Like my noble friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, Lord Chatfield, who, in a maiden speech recently in your Lordships' House, pointed out the difficulties of helping Czecho-Slovakia, I too am a realist in these matters. We must ask ourselves two questions. Are we prepared to wage a preventive war against Germany because a Baltic or Central European State may be threatened with invasion? And, even if we come to the conclusion that we may wish to help this State, how can it be done? How could we save such a State from invasion except by sending an army through Germany, which is of course beyond the pale of practical policy? Let us by all means cultivate friendships and alliances with those countries which have a seaboard and which can be supported by our Fleet; but any collective alliance with the European and democratic States, I maintain, would lead us into dangerous commitments, which we should be quite unable to control. I would suggest that a close alliance with Turkey is of paramount importance.

The events in Czecho-Slovakia in the last few days are no doubt one of the most cynical violations of morality that have been reported in history, and it is impossible for Germany to dispute the fact that Herr Hitler gave the Prime Minister an assurance at Munich that Germany had no further territorial claims in Europe. After the repeated violation of Nazi promises it would seem difficult in the future to count upon Herr Hitler's pledges, whatever they might be. I think that perhaps we might look at the whole matter a little deeper beneath the surface. There is an old Chinese proverb which says no man can dismount from the back of a tiger. I think there is little doubt that economic pressure in Germany was the driving force that pushed the Germans into Slovakia. Herr Hitler has stated that Germany must export or die, and it is this inexorable economic factor which has driven Germany to risk calling down upon herself the denunciation of the world. I am not suggesting that the invasion of Czecho-Slovakia can be condoned on account of economic pressure, but I do suggest that it does not necessarily follow that Herr Hitler is pursuing a policy of territorial aggrandisement and world domination.

It may be remembered that the Prime Minister, in his courageous speech at Birmingham, used these words: Is this the end of an old adventure or the beginning of a new, or is it, in fact, a step in the direction of world domination by force? I would suggest that only His Majesty's Government, who are in possession of the full facts, can answer this question. But it behoves us to rearm to the very greatest extent, and every man and woman must ask themselves the question whether they have left anything undone which they should do to help to preserve the liberties of this great country. I am one of those who believe that the policy of the Prime Minister at Munich and afterwards has been absolutely right. If it has not brought appeasement to the Dictators of Europe it has at least given us time to consolidate our defences and means of attack. The noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, has stated that it may be necessary to cut off all trading agreements with Germany. I am not entirely without hope that a great effort of economic appeasement might even now prevent the devastation of war throughout Europe. We have seen recent trade agreements, notably one on coal, made between this country and Germany, and I look forward to the day when it may be possible to have a closer collaboration on matters of finance and trade, which may in the end bring peace to a country racked by economic pressure, and most of whose people abhor war.

Peace can only come by striving for it and exerting all our efforts of diplomacy and understanding. The great Lord Beaconsfield, when writing a Despatch to Her Majesty Queen Victoria during his visit to Germany for the Congress of Berlin, and at a time hardly less critical than the present, used these words: Our objects have been the maintenance of Empire and the maintenance of peace. Peace is not to be secured by drifting, but by unremitting labour and perseverance. I cannot help feeling that economic appeasement is one of the greatest factors that will lead us to the goal of peace, and we should strive to build such foundations as will produce a fairer economic structure, which will in turn produce a better understanding among the peoples of the world and an edifice of a just and lasting peace.

It may be said that such a policy has already received a fair trial; but perhaps in the months to come it may be possible to initiate such a policy on a broader basis. I feel sure that, in spite of the great shock that we have all received by the repudiation of solemn agreements, the fixed resolve of this country to seek peace will not be changed. Let us be sure that we fully realise that European war to-day might see the end of civilisation as we know it, with anarchy and civil strife rising up in its place, and all we hold dear shattered into a thousand pieces. This risk may have to be taken before the year is much older, and there is little doubt that the whole country and Empire will come forward as one man to defend our liberties should His Majesty's Government consider that a stand must now be made. But I urge His Majesty's Government not to lose heart, but to endeavour to the last to explore every means possible to promote peace compatible with the honour and dignity of the greatest Commonwealth of free nations the world has ever seen.


My Lords, the lateness of the hour and doubtless other considerations as well have had their usual effect upon the attendance in your Lordships' House. In any case there would be very little for me to say in winding up this debate on behalf of the Government, but perhaps your Lordships might think it somewhat discourteous if I did not say something very shortly in response to the speeches which have been made. My noble friend the Secretary of State made what I am sure everybody will agree was a very full speech and a very clear statement of the Government's views with regard to the position which has arisen from the recent action of Germany in Czecho-Slovakia. After what he has said it is clearly not possible for me, on the general question, to add anything. At the same time, since he made his speech we have listened to a number of very important and weighty speeches. Obviously I cannot refer to each of them, but I would like to take the opportunity, as representing the Government, to offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, who made his maiden speech to-day. He made a very excellent speech, and I do not say that merely because I agreed very largely with the matter which his speech contained. He has, of course, a great variety of experience, and I sincerely hope that he will bring his great knowledge to our discussions on many occasions in the future.

As usual, the speeches which have been made have given expression to almost every imaginable point of view in regard to the great questions and problems which have been discussed this evening. Every speech was an able speech made by one who has studied a particular aspect of these great international questions, but I would like to say that the Government feel very gratified indeed by the volume of approval which they have received with regard to their policy, and also by the very strong support which has been shown on both sides of the House for the policy of the Prime Minister at Munich and for the courage he at that time displayed. I do not intend to discuss the various aspects of policy which have been raised during the course of these speeches. It is unnecessary and really not possible for me to do so, because the Secretary of State himself has given expression to the Government's views on all the main questions. I would just make this appeal, for I have seen the tendency in some of the speeches that have been made—I would appeal to noble Lords not to jump to too hasty conclusions. This is a time when cool thought is required, and therefore hope that your Lordships will be prepared to await the development of the Government's policy resulting from these events and, as I say, not jump to too hasty and immature conclusions. I can only finish by saying that this debate seems to me to have been, as usual, very much worth while and that all the speeches which have been made will receive the consideration which they deserve.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for the courtesy of his speech and also thank the noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, for his careful, dignified, and comprehensive speech earlier in the day. It is permissible for me also to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, on his maiden speech in the House. If there was one thing in it with which I did not agree it was his criticism of myself, but apart from that his speech was quite excellent, and I hope we shall hear more from him. I shall not attempt to answer any of the criticisms that have been made on the terms of my Motion or of what I proposed, but I would like to say, on the criticism in regard to falling back on collective security, that if there was one main thought I derived from the speech of the Secretary of State it was that the Government are now prepared to return to some form of collective security. That, I think, is very significant and a great gain. If your Lordships will permit me, I will withdraw the Motion which stands in my name.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at eight o'clock.