HL Deb 12 October 1939 vol 114 cc1391-418

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make on the international situation.


My Lords, although the statement on this occasion deals solely with foreign affairs, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has asked me to read it as Leader of the House on behalf of His Majesty's Government. He has also a personal reason in that he is suffering from a bad throat and is glad to be relieved from having to read a somewhat lengthy document. This is the statement the Prime Minister is making this afternoon in another place:

"Last week in speaking of the announcement about the Russo-German pact I observed that it contained a suggestion that some peace proposals were likely to be put forward, and I said that if such proved to be the case we should examine them in consultation with the Governments of the Dominions and of the French Republic in the light of certain relevant considerations. Since then the German Chancellor has made his speech, and the consultations I referred to have taken place. I must now state the position of His Majesty's Government. Before, however, I inform the House of the results of our examination of the speech, I must ask honourable members to recall for a few moments the background against which his proposals appear.

"At the end of August His Majesty's Government were actively engaged in correspondence with the German Government on the subject of Poland. It was evident that the situation was dangerous, but we believed that it should be possible to arrive at a peaceful solution if passions were not deliberately stimulated, and we felt quite certain that the German Government could if they desired influence their friends in Danzig in such a way as to bring about a relaxation of tension and so create conditions favourable to calm and sober negotiation. It will be remembered that in the course of this correspondence the German Chancellor expressed his wish for improved relations between our two countries as soon as the Polish question was settled, to which His Majesty's Government replied that they fully shared the wish, but that everything turned on the nature and method of settlement with Poland. We pointed out that a forcible solution would inevitably involve the fulfilment of our obligations to Poland, and we begged the German Chancellor to enter into direct discussions with the Polish Government, in which the latter Government had already expressed its willingness to take part.

"As everyone knows, these efforts on the part of His Majesty's Government to avoid war and the use of force were in vain. In August last the President of the United States made an appeal to Herr Hitler to settle his differences with Poland by pacific means in order to prevent war breaking out in Europe. At about the same time the King of the Belgians, the Queen of the Netherlands, His Holiness the Pope, and Signor Mussolini all tendered their good offices, but equally in vain. It is evident now that Herr Hitler was determined to make war on Poland, and, whatever sincerity there may have been in his wish to come to an understanding with Great Britain, it was not strong enough to induce him to postpone an attack upon his neighbour. On September 1 Herr Hitler violated the Polish frontier and invaded Poland, beating down by force of arms and machinery the resistance of the Polish nation and Army. As attested by neutral observers, Polish towns and villages were bombed and shelled into ruins, and civilians were slaughtered wholesale, in contravention, at any rate in the later stages, of all the undertakings of which Herr Hitler now speaks with pride as though he had fulfilled them. It is after this wanton act of aggression, which has cost so many Polish and German lives, sacrificed to satisfy his own insistence on the use of force, that the German Chancellor now puts forward his proposals.

"If there existed any expectation that in these proposals would be included some attempt to make amends for this grievous crime against humanity, following so soon upon the violation of the rights of the Czecho-Slovak nation, it has been doomed to disappointment. The Polish State and its leaders are covered with abuse. What the fate of that part of Poland which Herr Hitler describes as the German sphere of interest is to be does not clearly emerge from his speech, but it is evident that he regards it as a matter for the consideration of Germany alone, to be settled solely in accordance with German interests. The final shaping of this territory and the question of the restoration of a Polish State are, in Herr Hitler's view, problems which cannot be settled by war in the west but exclusively by Russia on the one side and Germany on the other. We must take it, then, that the proposals which the German Chancellor puts forward for the establishment of what he calls the certainty of European security' are to be based on recognition of his conquests and his right to do what he pleases with the conquered. It would be impossible for Great Britain to accept any such basis without forfeiting her honour and abandoning her claim that international disputes should be settled by discussion and not by force.

"The passages in the speech designed to give fresh assurances to Herr Hitler's neighbours I pass over, since they will know what value should be attached to them by reference to the similar assurances he has given in the past. It would be easy to quote sentences from his speeches in 1935, 1936 and 1938 stating in the most definite terms his determination not to annex Austria or conclude an Anschluss with her, not to fall upon Czecho-Slovakia, and not to make any further territorial claims in Europe after the Sudetenland question had been settled in September, 1938. Nor can we pass over Herr Hitler's radical departure from the long professed principles of his policy and creed, as instanced by the inclusion in the German Reich of many millions of Poles and Czechs, despite his repeated professions to the contrary, and by the pact with the Soviet Union concluded after his repeated and violent denunciations of Bolshevism. This repeated disregard of his word, and these sudden reversals of policy, bring me to the fundamental difficulty in dealing with the wider proposals in the German Chancellor's speech. The plain truth is that, after our past experience, it is no longer possible to rely upon the unsupported word of the present German Government.

"It is no part of our policy to exclude from her rightful place in Europe a Germany which will live in amity and confidence with other nations. On the contrary, we believe that no effective remedy can be found for the world's ills that does not take account of the just claims and needs of all countries, and whenever the time may come to draw the lines of a new peace settlement, His Majesty's Government would feel that the future would hold little hope unless such a settlement could be reached through the method of negotiation and agreement. It was not therefore with any vindictive purpose that we embarked on war, but simply in defence of freedom. It is not alone the freedom of the small nations that is at stake: there is also in jeopardy the peaceful existence of Great Britain, the Dominions, India, the rest of the British Empire, France, and indeed of all freedom-loving countries. Whatever may be the issue of the present struggle, and in whatever way it may be brought to a conclusion, the world will not be the same world that we have known before. Looking to the future we can see that deep changes will inevitably leave their mark on every field of men's thought and action, and if humanity is to guide aright the new forces that will be in operation all nations will have their part to play.

"His Majesty's Government know all too well that in modern war between great Powers victor and vanquished must alike suffer cruel loss. But surrender to wrong-doing would spell the extinction of all hope, and the annihilation of all those values of life which have through centuries been at once the mark and the inspiration of human progress. We seek no material advantage for ourselves; we desire nothing from the German people which should offend their self respect. We are not aiming only at victory, but rather looking beyond it to the laying of a foundation of a better international system which will mean that war is not to be the inevitable lot of every succeeding generation.

"I am certain that all the peoples of Europe, including the people of Germany, long for peace, a peace which will enable them to live their lives without fear, and to devote their energies and their gifts to the development of their culture, the pursuit of their ideals and the improvement of their material prosperity. The peace which we are determined to secure, however, must be a real and settled peace, not an uneasy truce interrupted by constant alarms and repeated threats. What stands in the way of such a peace? It is the German Government, and the German Government alone, for it is they who by repeated acts of aggression have robbed all Europe of tranquillity and implanted in the hearts of all their neighbours an ever-present sense of insecurity and fear.

"I am glad to think that there is complete agreement between the views of His Majesty's Government and those of the French Government. Honourable members will have read the speech which was broadcast by M. Daladier last Tuesday. We have,' he said, taken up arms against aggression; we shall not lay them down until we have sure guarantees of security—a security which cannot be called in question every six months.' Advantage has also been taken of the presence of the Polish Foreign Minister—whom we have been glad to welcome to this country—to consult with the Polish Government and I am happy to say that we have found entire identity of view to exist between us.

"I would sum up the attitude of His Majesty's Government as follows: Herr Hitler rejected all suggestions for peace until he had overwhelmed Poland, as he had previously overthrown Czecho-Slovakia. Peace conditions cannot be acceptable which begin by condoning aggression. The proposals in the German Chancellor's speech are vague and uncertain and contain no suggestion for righting the wrongs done to Czecho-Slovakia and to Poland. Even if Herr Hitler's proposals were more closely defined and contained suggestions to right these wrongs, it would still be necessary to ask by what practical means the German Government intend to convince the world that aggression will cease and that pledges will be kept. Past experience has shown that no reliance can be placed upon the promises of the present German Government. Accordingly, acts—not words alone—must be forthcoming before we, the British peoples, and France, our gallant and trusted Ally, would be justified in ceasing to wage war to the utmost of our strength. Only when world confidence is restored will it be possible to find—as we would wish to do with the aid of all who show good will—solutions of those questions which disturb the world, which stand in the way of disarmament, retard the restoration of trade and prevent the improvement of the well-being of the peoples.

"There is thus a primary condition to be satisfied. Only the German Government can fulfil it. If they will not, there can as yet be no new or better world order of the kind for which all nations yearn. The issue is therefore plain, Either the German Government must give convincing proof of the sincerity of their desire for peace by definite acts and by the provision of effective guarantees of their intention to fulfil their undertakings or we must persevere in our duty to the end. It is for Germany to make her choice."

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, in moving the Motion for Papers which stands on the Order Paper in my name, I desire first of all to say that the statement that we have just heard is exceptionally important precisely because it deals with the prospect of peace rather than of war. Certain peace proposals have been mentioned. They have not been officially received, but have been the subject of a declaration under conditions which those who address public meetings are well able to understand. Those conditions do not provide the best setting for an orator who was stimulated by the ordered claque who have to agree with what he said. Nor was Herr Hitler the man to refrain from offering the olive branch in one hand and noisy threats in the other. I doubt if the Angel of Peace was ever wooed in more strident or offensive terms.

How does it happen that these proposals of peace have been made? What has caused, in the man who up to September 3 spurned peace, the sudden desire to obtain it? I fear it cannot have been any change of heart, because repentence is rarely revealed in threats. I fear that it cannot have been remorse for the thousands of corpses that Herr Hitler might have seen in the streets of Warsaw, for remorse never either glorifies wrong done nor insults the victims of the error. What then is the reason for this change of face? Is it possible that second thoughts are more prudent than the first, and that the handwriting on the wall has been read? Take the question of the peace conference to which reference has been made. Herr Hitler now pleads for what he loudly and rudely rejected. It was offered him, it was pressed upon him, by Princes, by Parliaments, by Presidents, by peoples and by the Leaders of political Parties. He had an opportunity to serve humanity which saints might have welcomed. There is nothing that Germany is entitled to—peace, freedom, prosperity, equality—that she could not have had by peaceful negotiation. Herr Hitler preferred the more congenial role of butchery and of force. The pages of history are red with the records of such mistaken men, and the evil that they do unhappily lives after them.

But if we are to look at these peace proposals we must go behind the man to the German people. They in the end are responsible, and with them we can deal if they give us the opportunity to do so. If they want peace, and will guarantee that such a peace will be kept, let them say so. They know that as the result of recent events in their country the name of Germany to-day is a hissing in the mouths of men, and they know also—none better—that the Allies are fighting for their freedom as well as for the freedom of Europe, that we are in fact doing for them what they might have been expected to do for themselves. They further know—again none better—that Hitler began this series of errors by sacrificing the soul of Germany itself. He now pleads for the right of the German people to live. No one ever denied that, least of all this country. We all of us have done our best to try to assure the German people that we wanted them to have an honoured place in the world. The German people have the right to live, so they have. But had not the Czech people a right to live, had not the Austrian people a right to live, had not the Polish people a right to live? I want to ask further had not the German trade union leaders, the German Socialists and Liberal statesmen a right to live and to work in their own country? Had not General von Schleicher and General von Fritsch a right to live? I should like to know who made this man the judge of who should live and who should die in the world. If, however, he does not speak for the German people, let them speak for themselves and then we shall know where we are.

I desire to be very brief, but one or two words I must say about the reply that the Government have made that we have just heard. We are at some disadvantage in having to speak without consideration, and one must try to avoid doing harm rather than good. The first thing I note in it is that the occasion has not been taken to say whether His Majesty's Government propose to take any further steps in regard to the difficulties that exist between the Indian Government and the Indian peoples. I hope that the noble Marquess will take an early opportunity of giving us some further information on that point. Dealing with the points in the statement that has just been made, they seem to me to be capable of being boiled down to three or four, or perhaps five points. One is that Hitler proposes that there should be peace based on the recognition of his conquests, and to that His Majesty's Government cannot agree. Secondly, that it is no longer possible to rely upon the unsupported word of the present German Government. Thirdly, that not only Poland and Czecho-Slovakia are involved in this, but that the peaceful existence of Great Britain, the British Empire, France and all free countries, is also involved, and that a real peace must not be an uneasy truce; that if peace is desired there is a prelude to it. There must be acts as well as words; and they must give an effective guarantee of their intention to fulfil their undertakings.

Those seem to me to be the main points in the statement, and I am not disputing any of them or criticising any of them; but I can only hope all the issues have been weighed with great care and all the consequences foreseen and estimated. A vast responsibility must always rest upon a Government that refuses to look at any sort of peace proposal that may be made. I should wish personally to have a somewhat closer definition of peace aims. The Prime Minister recently said: "I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed." What precisely does that mean? What is Hitlerism? Is it a series of ideas or specific acts? I believe that what we are entitled to ask for is not the overthrow of any system of ideas because we may not like them, but that we are entitled to ask for the establishment in Germany of a Government with which we can safely deal. We are not conducting a religious war against other men's opinions. We are conducting a war against organised secular lawlessness, and I cannot help thinking that I like M. Daladier's definition a little better: We have taken up arms against aggression and we shall not lay them down until we have certain guarantees of security, a security which cannot be called into question every six months. That seems to me to be a better description of what I conceive to be our war aims.

We are seeking to establish a world order under which small nations will feel themselves as secure as the great nations feel themselves, a world in which Germany, as well as ourselves, can live contentedly and harmoniously in peace and in freedom. That way of honourable readjustment and development is open to Germany now if she is willing to take it. But she cannot now, and she never will, secure German domination through the practice of the principles of Neitzsche and brutality and aggression. Finally, I would like to see a peace offensive on our own account, which is not indicated in this statement. I think we should take an early opportunity to launch upon the world a constructive idea, the outlines of a plan for an equitable world order. Then, if we have to wage this war to the bitter end, we shall do so fortified by the knowledge that we have offered to a perplexed and grieving world a more excellent way. I beg to move.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, the statement made by His Majesty's Government deals exclusively with the situation as it stands after the speech made by the German Chancellor. I desire to make a few observations on that, but I should like to preface them by saying that I do not think we ought to expect that any points taken by speakers subsequent to the statement in the House need necessarily demand an immediate answer from the Front Bench opposite. We have been told, and we have heard with regret, that the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, has a certain physical disability which makes him unable to speak at great length. But, apart from that, a carefully prepared statement of this kind, prepared indeed in concert with His Majesty's Dominions, who are as much interested as we are, cannot well be added to or developed by later speeches.

With that preliminary remark, I would say a word about Herr Hitler's speech. That speech dealt in the first instance with the past, not in the accurate form employed in the statement of the Government and not going quite so far back into the history there set out. But he devoted part of it to a singular picture of the supposed ambition of the Polish Government which seemed to him to justify the invasion of that country. The Polish Government, he stated, not merely desired to retain the ancient Polish provinces which, according to him, had been so disgracefully snatched from Germany and Austria and Russia by the Paris Treaties, but they also contemplated the seizure of Silesia, East Prussia and Pomerania. I should have thought that was a little stiff, even for the gaping audience who hung on the German Chancellor's words. If that were really the terror of the German Government, one might almost equally expect the French Government to pass sleepless nights fearing that gallant little Belgium have had in mind the seizure of the Northern Departments of France down to the River Somme.

Next Herr Hitler dealt with the present, on one point—namely, the new relations between Germany and Russia. There is one sentence on that which I think deserves careful examination. He said that National Socialist Germany is National Socialist Germany and Soviet Russia is Soviet Russia, implying, of course, thereby, that each country would work out its policy and its prospects in its own way without any question of interference from the other. Well, I wonder. I recall a conversation with Herr von Hoesch, the late Ambassador here, who was an old friend of mine, and a man from whom any statement of fact could be absolutely relied upon. It was after the break up of the Weimar Republic and the advent of the National Socialists, saving, as was supposed, Germany from an invasion of Communism. I remember saying to the Ambassador that some of us here doubted the reality of that extreme menace, as it was described, and thought that the announcement had been the cloak for a mere seizure of power. I was assured that that was mat so and that, on the contrary, the German working men had been so greatly attracted by the Bolshevist creed that there was considerable risk of its extending to Germany. If that were so, it seems unlikely that the faith can altogether have perished from the German working class. It does seem possible that the anxiety which is shown by the German Government to create a bogus Polish State, which would be in no way independent—because we are told that it is to have no possibility of intrigue; that is to say, no relations with any kind of foreign Government—springs from a feeling that the creation of a Poland of that kind might from the National-Socialist point of view be of as great convenience as interposing a neutral buffer between themselves and the territory administered by the Russian Government.

As regards the future, Lord Snell mentioned the supposed olive branch which is being offered. I remember that somewhere Cardinal Newman, when it was mentioned that an olive branch had been proffered, described it as "an olive branch shot out of a catapult." I only hope that we may not have to consider this olive branch as being dropped from a bombing plane. It is supposed to include the calling of a peace conference. It is a bad start for any such conference when one party has to say to the other: "We do not feel that we can believe a word you say, and we are conscious that if you make a promise you will only keep it as long as it suits you." But even supposing a conference could be held in those rather depressing circumstances, as has already been stated both in the statement and in Lord Snell's speech, it is absolutely impossible for us to start with a clean slate, as the German Chancellor asks us to do—that is to say, with an admission of his past action regarding both Czecho-Slovakia and Poland. That belief of his is founded on his conviction that France and we have no concern whatever with what happens in Eastern Europe; and that we altogether refuse to admit. In that cast it seems only possible to say that at this moment there is nothing whatever to confer about—without, of course, in any sense closing the door to future conversations or conferences which may take place on a different platform and with a different set of admissions to begin with.

How can we put the case to the German Government? It seems useless to raise questions of rights and wrongs, of justices and injustices, and of the claims of small nations. That in the eyes of the German Government is merely the jargon of the League of Nations and is of no interest to them. But I think we can say to the German Government: "Can you possibly imagine that two countries like France and ourselves, each with a thousand years of history behind us, can be prepared to sink at once into the position of second- or third-class Powers sitting and watching you redrawing a map of Europe and carving up countries in the way that suits you best?" That is at any rate a proposition which it may be assumed the German Government would understand. In the meantime I am sure that we all regard with interest and some amusement the fact that my right honourable friend the First Lord of the Admiralty is evidently regarded by the German Chancellor as the principal villain of the piece. I yield to nobody in my admiration, not only of Mr. Churchill's energy and determination, but also of his marked administrative capacity and his wonderful power of expression, whether he is dealing with his personal affairs or with public affairs, of which we have had several instances lately. But I think to regard him as a purely dæmonie figure driving a row of passive colleagues and a reluctant country in an unnecessary war is to paint the picture somewhat too vividly.

I—and I should think many of your Lordships would say the same—fully appreciate the great qualities of the German people, setting aside this Aryan nonsense, which is the laughing stock of ethnologists all over the world. But we realise that they are a tough race and, though we may regard them now as being woefully misled, we do not expect them easily to give in. Well, if the choice, in the closing words of the statement, is left to Germany, if they do not chose to walk on the path of peace, there is nothing for it but, to borrow from well known words of the late Lord Goschen: Englishmen will have to make their wills and do their duty. At any rate, they can remember that England has never been beaten in a long war or a great war. Now it is not only England, it is Great Britain and the Dominions who, it must be remembered, would never take the part that they are taking unless they were convinced that they were joining in a just cause. And, that being so, not having lost a war before, we shall not lose this one.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, one cannot but agree with what has been said about our aims and ideals and the fine way it has been expressed to-day. But, all the same, I think there is something omitted. We must all sincerely ask ourselves one great question, however we may hate what has been done, and however violently we require to redress it: Have we got a method now which can do what we want and, if not, is not a new method, and one promising success, absolutely vital for us and for all Europe? It should not be necessary to go again into a subject which has been spoken of so many times, and that is the complete failure of war throughout history to redress grievances. It has been proved absolutely that it always does more harm than good. If we are trying to achieve a good aim with a bad method, is it not perhaps necessary to give it up and find another method which is more suitable to our fine aims and ideals, and really has some chance of being successful?

Now there is only one other method, and that is to concentrate on building instead of destroying—building an international position where neither wars nor treaties between victors and vanquished, nor disagreements, can ever cause such a position again. Common sense and cause and effect tell us that aggressions and wars must have vindictive origins. We do not deny this. Therefore, is it not our duty to start on this new basis and build a tolerant, sympathetic amity which is able to protect human beings from similar crises for many generations? It may be a vague suggestion, but it is a high ideal, and it must be possible. Now how can it be started? Perhaps it has been. There has been very much abuse of Herr Hitler's speech. In boastful words he has roughly said: "I have abolished the Treaty of Versailles by force, and I am now ready for peace." And he has gone on to make proposals for a satisfactory solution according to his ideas. But there are two points which should be noticed. First, that his actions, however bad, were dictated by a patriotic desire to rescue his country from an unfair treaty, which condemns war. And the second is that he has shown some desire to reconstitute European affairs on a constructive basis, though not necessarily on one of which we approve. All the bitterness and rancour that we and his victims may feel cannot deny the truth of those two parts of his speech.

The question at issue to-day is surely not whether we should refuse or accept now what has been proposed, but, if we do honestly aspire to building rather than destruction, whether we should add another step forward to the one that he has made, in order to build up a ladder which may possibly lead to a peace conference. This step could be in many forms. It could be in the form of counterproposals, or a request for elucidation of the nebulous terms offered, perhaps via direct approach. Or it could affirm that anything that showed an assurance of guaranteed peace would be considered in a spirit which was in accordance with our professed desire for a lasting peace. This would be something positive, progressive and constructive, and this is the vital thing that I think has been omitted from the statement made by the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, to-day.

There is a universal dread hanging over everybody's head, the dread of what is called a "bad peace." Why? If a peace conference did assemble, it would be attended by many, or perhaps all, of the great nations, and their guarantees would be available. It would be open to all suggestions and all proposals by every party, which could be accepted or refused as desired. Contact would restore confidence and lessen tension, and would almost certainly give the greatest chance of restoration to Poland. A "bad peace" would be resented as much by neutrals as by belligerents, just as all would be equally benefited by a good and lasting peace. Well-chosen negotiators could surely make a "bad peace" an unnecessary bogy. So that on that score a step towards an ultimate conference could surely be confidently taken. It seems to me that the important thing is this. This step would be more in the nature of an offering, not only to our Allies, but to all the neutrals and the whole of Europe, and judging perhaps from the trend of events to-day, it is a very necessary one. It would show a real willingness to assist every country to prosperity, and a farsighted disdain of resented words and deeds in favour of progress, which would be of high moral worth, and which history would record in terms of the highest praise.

There is undoubtedly at this moment a chance to decide the destiny of the world. It must be one of two things—either build or destroy. We have that fateful choice in front of us. If it is decided to build, we must keep our eyes unfalteringly on this object and abandon completely all feelings of hatred and revenge in the cause of the common good. These negative feelings are not worth the life of the meanest human being. It is always stated that countries are solidly behind their Governments in war. Would it not be more accurate to say that though they all share their Government's idea on their enemies' words and deeds, they do not necessarily think that the only remedy is war? The average person thinks that the world is mad and hopes that someone may come forward and settle matters without death and destruction, which, from their beliefs and ideals, they feel should be avoided. I believe it is our duty to the peoples of Europe to do everything possible now to advance the constructive idea of a just and good peace, and that they would never cease to be grateful that such an opportunity had been given them for using their wonderful patriotism and their wonderful unselfishness for the rebuilding instead of the destruction of the world.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I wish His Majesty's Government had given us the opportunity of a Secret Session in which the statement could be more fully discussed, but we must assume that the Government see good reasons for preferring publicity, and we must take advantage of the generous invitation of the Foreign Secretary to write to him if we are not feeling that our opinions are suitably expressed in public. It seems to me there was great value in the debate in another place last week. Publicity certainly had a great importance then. It helped to furnish the Government with what seemed to me the prime essential of a free hand to select the policy that they think best and on which they alone are the perfect authority. It showed the Government that there is support for a full consideration of any opportunity that, in their judgment, may exist for peace. Mr. Lloyd George appeared to have wide backing for his views, and that is very valuable, because a section of the Press would like to rush the Government into a refusal to discuss peace on any terms. I am very glad His Majesty's Government decline to be hurried. The speech of Herr Hitler certainly provokes opposition. It lays down conditions which we must reject. He asks for direct negotiation with him, and that we must all feel is very unattractive to us. But possibly it is up to us to propose a different plan, to urge on him the plan of a conference, and that of course would have to be based on conditions from which we could not depart and which, on the face of it, would be different from the conditions Herr Hitler has laid down.

The supreme aim to have in view, your Lordships would all agree, is the durability of any peace that may be made. I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, use the expression, "a real and settled peace." Is there, in the present situation, any possible basis for a discussion which might lead to a real and settled peace? Only His Majesty's Government can judge. It is a question of balancing risks. There is no absolute security in any human plan whatever. The proposals of Herr Hitler sound to us repugnant, and incline us to say, "No," but possibly the points in favour of rejecting discussion may be outweighed by points on the other side. As I say, only the Government can judge; but some points are very clear, and may well be debated in your Lordships' House.

One point of great importance seems to be that Herr Hitler himself proposed that disarmament should be discussed—a very great factor, some of us might think the only concrete factor, apart from declarations and words which have no value. Acts, not words, as Lord Stanhope said, are the requisite. Then, perhaps of prime importance, a new situation is created by the action of Russia. Mr. Lloyd George was perfectly correct in saying that the situation is radically changed by that fact. We should not now be negotiating with the German Government and Herr Hitler, but with a combination of Hitler and Stalin, and in that combination, we must see clearly, Herr Hitler is a subordinate factor. The First Lord of the Admiralty in his broadcast the other night seemed to agree with that. German aggression in the Baltic, the Balkans, and the Black Sea is already barred, it seems certain. Russia's game is worth watching very closely as a great new factor. It is undoubtedly the extension of Bolshevisation to the utmost limit. The danger which we saw a month ago is taking a new form. It may be possible that a real Poland would result from a conference if it could be brought about on our terms. The integral restoration of the late Polish State would necessitate the defeat of Russia as well as the defeat of Germany, and we should hardly wish to restore to Poland the Ukrainians and the White Russians, who had no desire to be governed by Poland. But a real Poland might result from a conference.

I hope the Government see in the situation a possible opportunity to learn, no doubt through neutral channels—which we must assume have been employed if the approach of Germany is a real approach at all—what negotiations are possible. It may well be that terms might result, offering more probability of secure peace than would result from a long war. We might get, for instance, a European collaboration in which Germany would be included. Indeed it is a striking thing that Herr Hitler talks of collaboration, which up to now has appeared to be his bugbear. Disarmament, which would involve very strict supervision by an International Commission, if it came to be part of an agreed settlement, would be perhaps the most solid security that could be devised. Perhaps there might result the establishment of a genuine Bohemia as well as a genuine Poland; perhaps both of them part of an East European Federation. The maximum of security obtainable might result from such a conference. It is not impossible, I hope, that with skilful diplomacy it might result in a European system following the lines that the Foreign Secretary sketched in his great speech at Chatham House at the end of June, in which he stressed, as he has often done, that such European collaboration is indeed our chief aim.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, the speeches to-day have been brief and my own speech will conform to that principle, if principle it be. Most of the speeches do not seem to point to peace, and the war seems likely to go on and on until Hitler and Hitlerism are overthrown. I think it may be assumed that nobody in this country holds a brief for Hitler. I think we may start from there. Yes, but when we are told that we must go on until Hitler and Hitlerism have been overthrown, we cannot forget that just the same thing was said twenty-five years ago about the Kaiser and Prussianism. We were then told that it was necessary to go on until the Kaiser had been overthrown, and until Prussian militarism had been crushed, that it was no good stopping before that had been done, that there could be no secure peace—we were told that until we were utterly sick of it—until those aims had been accomplished. Some of us pointed out then that you could not in fact really crush Prussian militarism or any other militarism by militarism. Of course we were looked upon as semi-imbeciles, but as a matter of fact we were perfectly right, as time has shown.

I ask, is the same policy going to be repeated in this war? With the lessons of the last war clear before us it seems almost incredible that we should follow the same disastrous path, leading to the same tragic results. It is now perfectly clear that the peace of 1919 was not a real peace, but was only the beginning, in effect, of another war. We can all see that now, and it seems only too probable that the next peace, the peace at the end of this war, will be no real peace but will be really the beginning of another war. I would like to put this to the noble Viscount on the Government Bench. The Government do not tell us what will happen, or what the position will be when Hitler has been overthrown. Am I not right when I say that they give the ordinary man in the street to understand that when Hitler has been overthrown everything will be all right? Surely, that is a most dangerous illusion. When Hitler is overthrown he will not be succeeded by a nice, good, manageable Government which will do just what the British Government want. Certainly not. And even if he were succeeded by such a Government there is no guarantee whatever that it will last, not the slightest guarantee that it will not itself be very soon overthrown. But in all human probability, when Hitler is overthrown, Germany will go Communist, and the Hitler régime will be succeeded by a Communist Government.

Now this new German Government will at once make a definite alliance with Russia, and we shall at the end of this war, as I have indicated, be in sight of the next war. That will be a war by the Democracies to defeat Communism in Europe, if they can. All that is now being said about the evils of Hitlerism will then be said equally strongly about the evils of Communism, and about the vital necessity of overthrowing the Communist Governments if Europe is going to have any peace. And where will Poland be then? What will then be the position of Poland? How are we going to restore Poland, for which we gave a pledge? Is Russia going to be driven out of Poland? because if so that, of course, means war with Russia. Here I would just like to comment upon some words which the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, used in his statement. If I got them right, he said that the German Government, and the German Government alone, stands in the way of a settled Europe, or words to that effect. What about Russia and her aggression, which does not yet seem to have come to an end? Is Russia to be left out of account in looking to the future of Europe? How can His Majesty's Government categorically say all will be well if the present German Government is overthrown? To say that is opposed to all the probabilities. In fact, if we were consistent in our policy—and I would like to put this to my noble friend Lord Davies, who I believe is to speak—if the League of Nations supporters were consistent and had their way, we should have been at war with Russia now because of her aggression against Poland.

I want to say one further word about Poland, and it is this. When we are told that we must go on at any cost in order, for one thing, to help Poland, I would remind your Lordships that for 123 years—that is from 1795 to 1918—British Governments acquiesced in the extinction of Poland as an independent separate State. That is a matter of history, and it is a little difficult to reconcile it with our new-found love for Poland. Then, apart from Poland, there are the baffling, age-long problems of Central and Eastern Europe. These were in existence long before Hitler came into power. Are they going to be settled? Is everything going to be satisfactorily arranged in regard to these problems when Hitler is overthrown? No, the simple truth is that when Hitler is overthrown you are not at the end of your troubles; you are really only at the beginning of a lot of new troubles. You will not have solved the old ones, and you will have brought into existence a lot of new ones. Europe will be seething with problems. That will be the position, and we shall have new dictators, new Hitlers, new Stalins, new Mussolinis, leading on in due course to, another war in another twenty years or less.

I have quoted before in your Lordships' House the words of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, in which he said that the second European war—the war in which we are now engaged—was likely to end in complete barbarous anarchy from one end of Europe to the other. That may be an exaggeration, though the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, is not a Hyde Park orator. He weighs his words and that is what he says. Let us hope it is an exaggeration. But it is quite certain that the price which will have to be paid for overthrowing Hitler and Hitlerism will be far too heavy even if it is going to lead to peace in the end. But when it is certain that it will lead to a state of things in Europe so terrible that the mind recoils from contemplating it, those who, reject any terms of peace now are taking upon themselves an immeasurable responsibility. I am not saying for a moment that Herr Hitler's speech was a satisfactory one. I am not saying that it had not in it a great many thoroughly bad passages. But I think that we ought to concentrate on that which is in the proposals which might, as has been said by other noble Lords or has been hinted at by them, with the aid and co-operation of neutrals, be a starting point for discussion and negotiation. If that could be done you would not be negotiating with Hitler alone.

The simple truth is we are faced with a choice of evils, whichever way we go or whichever way we look. Supporters of the policy of carrying on the war to an end think that their policy, if it is followed, will have good results. I do not think that is true. We are faced with a choice of evils, but there is at any rate some possibility that Hitler's speech might, in conjunction as I say with neutrals, be made the basis of negotiation which would lead to fruitful results. On the other hand, there is no possibility that the policy of going on and on until Germany is crushed can lead to good results. We are told again and again that we are not fighting the German people, that we are fighting Hitler, and we invite the German people by leaflets to throw over Hitler and become partners in a new Europe. Unfortunately we did that last time. That is what was said last time. The German people were asked to overthrow the Kaiser and were promised all kinds of things if they did so. They did overthrow the Kaiser and they got Versailles. They have not forgotten that. The German people's memories are not so short as those of some of the writers of some of the leaflets.

The cost of this policy of going on and on to the bitter end, of fighting to a finish, ought to be counted again and again, not only because of what we shall suffer in this country but because of what others will suffer, particularly the neutrals. Nobody knows what may happen to them, to Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, the Baltic States. They may be invaded and devastated. It is all very well saying we will restore them, but we cannot restore them. Nothing can restore the lives of millions of men, women and children killed or maimed or wounded, and nothing can make good the material loss. The material loss is inconceivable. There is far too much wishful thinking in these days. People say what they want to think without facing the facts. They live in a world of make-believe because that is the easiest thing to do. I think it is better to face the facts and face the price which will have to be paid for this policy of fighting to a finish.

What is the price, and what will you get for it? The Government say they are preparing for a three years war. It may not last three years, it may last only two years—conceivably only one year—but it may last five years. Nobody knows. But whether it lasts two years, or three years or five years, it will mean, it must mean, inconceivable slaughter and suffering and material loss. And we have been told again and again, not by Hyde Park orators but by men as highly placed as any men can be in this country, that it will mean the end of civilisation as we have known it. What is the price we shall have to pay, and what shall we get for it at the end? There is every prospect that at the end you will see Europe in ruins. Not even my noble friend Lord Davies, in his most optimistic forecast, I imagine, would suppose that on a Europe in ruins you can build up peace and good will and a reign of law. Anybody who thinks that is not an optimist: he is leaving out of account all reasonable probabilities of what the situation will be like. My last word is this. I think it is as certain as anything can be in human affairs that the peace which will be got at the end of a long war will be a much worse peace than the peace which could be got now.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I have no intention of following the noble Lord who has just sat down, because the time at my disposal is brief. I should like, in the first place, to congratulate the Government upon the statement which they have made to your Lordships this afternoon, because so far as it goes I imagine most of your Lordships will find yourselves in agreement with what the noble Earl has told us. I imagine that the statement which was made to us from the Government Bench was the first instalment of the Government's reply to the speech which Herr Hitler delivered last week. In that speech he told us quite definitely that he proposes to extinguish Polish liberty, Polish independence and Polish nationality. He also told us that he proposes the economic subjugation of South-Eastern Europe, so that the countries in that part of the world may look forward to becoming the economic vassals of Germany. Then he demanded, although he said that he was not prepared to use force, the transfer of Colonial territories to Nazi rule, and he finished up, as he always does, with some vague declaration about disarmament.

In view of that speech I cannot conceive that His Majesty's Government or the French Government could give any other reply than the one we have heard this afternoon, but I would like to join the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in suggesting that in the second instalment which we hope will be forthcoming of the reply to the proposals made by Herr Hitler, the Government will pursue a peace offensive and will put forward more positive and more constructive proposals for carrying out the policy which they have already proclaimed. What are the war aims which up to now have been proclaimed by the spokesmen of the Government? Very briefly, they are, first of all, the restitution of Polish liberty and independence, and I think in reply to a request from the Czecho-Slovakian Government the Prime Minister did give a promise that the independence and liberty of Czech o-Slovakia would not be lost sight of at the conclusion of this war. In view of the splendid efforts which are now being made by Dr. Benes and his friends to raise a Czech Legion to help us in the struggle, I think that is the very least that can be said. The second aim, as we understand from the Foreign Secretary, is that international disputes shall not in future be settled by recourse to violence but by recourse to some peaceful procedure which I think he defined as negotiation, although I am sure he did not intend to limit the peaceful procedure merely to a process of negotiation. The third aim, we have been told, is to prevent these ever-recurring crises and threats of war to which we, in common with other countries, have been subjected during the last few years.

The first of these, the restoration of the liberties of these countries, is Article 10 of the Covenant, the maintenance of territorial integrity; the second is Article 19, the provision for the peaceful revision of treaties and the settlement of international disputes; and the last, the prevention of this horrible anarchy which exists in Europe and in the world to-day, is the Covenant in its entirety. Therefore, if that is so, and if we have, as the noble Earl told us, no ambitions and we cherish no desire for any territorial aggrandisement, and we have no idea of endeavouring to secure economic advantages at the expense of Germany, this war, in effect, is a League war. It is being waged to assert the rule of law and therefore, in effect, France and ourselves are acting the role of international policemen. It seems to me that the tragedy of this business is that out of 23 European Members there are only two Members of the League who have gone to the assistance of Poland in order to assert the rule of law and to maintain the provisions of the Covenant to which they had all subscribed their signatures.

I am not going to go into the reasons why the other countries have not come to our assistance, or have not come to the assistance of Poland, and have not observed the responsibilities and the obligations which they entered into when they signed the Covenant. There are, of course, a great many reasons and I have no doubt a number of excuses can be found. But at the same time the fact remains that we are fighting the battles of the small countries; we are fighting the battle of the small powers, and if (which God forbid) we should be defeated in this war, then all these small countries in Europe will be mopped up one by one and they will become vassals of the Reich, just as Czecho-Slovakia and Poland have been dealt with.

Therefore I think the question, to which I am sure His Majesty's Government are alive and which they have been discussing, is how are these war aims, which they have already declared, to be achieved? I submit to your Lordships that slogans and general principles, however idealistic, and whatever good intentions we may have, by themselves are really not enough. They will not suffice. What we want to know, what the country wants to know, and what millions of people all over the world want to know, is how these principles, these good intentions, are going to be translated into practical politics, and how we propose to achieve these idealistic declarations which have already been made. I would venture to suggest that it is our duty to try as far as possible in our humble capacities as private members of this House to make whatever suggestions we can. Both with regard to the restitution of the liberties of Poland and of Czecho-Slovakia, I think the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, suggested that there might have to be some variations of the boundaries of these countries when their liberties and their independence are restored. What I venture to suggest is that that is a duty and a responsibility which might be undertaken by a tribunal nominated by the President of the United States. He, after all, is about the only impartial ruler now left in the world, and if he would undertake to nominate such a tribunal, that might possibly be one way of delimiting the frontiers of the restored Poland and Czecho-Slovakia.

The second problem, of course, is the general problem of restoring law and order in Europe and bringing to an end the anarchical conditions under which we live. The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, said that all these difficulties and troubles with which we are now faced arose out of the fact that we had fought and won the last war. I venture to suggest that that is not the reason at all. We won the war, but unfortunately we lost the peace, and it is the events which have happened during the last twenty years since the conclusion of the war which have brought us to the unfortunate position in which we find ourselves to-day. I venture to suggest that the only durable solution of our difficulties is to adopt the proposals which were made by a great Englishman, William Penn, in the seventeenth century, when he suggested that the only solution was the constitution of what he called a European States Parliament or Diet. That proposal was resuscitated, the noble Lord opposite will remember, some years ago, when M. Briand suggested what he described as a United States of Europe. Therefore I venture to put forward this afternoon, as one of our war aims, some organisation—I do not suggest what its precise power should be—which should be created and which would carry out what William Penn suggested about 250 years ago and what M. Briand suggested about fifteen years ago and what many other publicists and statesmen have suggested during that time.

With regard to the membership of such a Confederation, surely the first proposition to lay down is that all States who are prepared to renounce war as an instrument of policy—that is to say, to carry out the provisions of the Kellogg pact—should be eligible for membership of such a Confederation. As to its powers, would it not be possible, through the medium of an assembly or of a Parliament or whatever you like to call it, that all disputes should be settled and that this body should be assisted by an equity tribunal? Secondly, that this body should be asked to concert measures for economic co-operation. Thirdly, that they should be asked to supervise the administration of non-self-governing Colonial territories. I cannot help feeling that the noble Viscount opposite will sympathise with this proposal, because in the speech which he delivered at Chatham House he said: Can we not look forward to a time when there may be agreement on common methods and aims of Colonial development, which may ensure not only that the universally acknowledged purpose of Colonial administration will be to help their inhabitants steadily to raise their level of life, but also that Colonial territories may make a growing contribution to the world's resources? The fourth function of such a Confederation would, I suggest, be to control a common defensive force.

Then as to the guarantees—because obviously it is not much use entering into any arrangement of this sort unless there are guarantees—the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, suggested that disarmament was one of these guarantees. But I do not think that that would be a very effective guarantee without the transfer of certain categories of weapons to this defensive force. There is a very interesting passage in Herr Hitler's speech last week in which he recognised the distinction between what he called "modern" weapons and other weapons. He went on to say: This requires not only a final sanctioning of the status of Europe, but also the reduction of armaments to a reasonable and economically tolerable extent. It is also necessary to define clearly the applicability and the use of certain modern weapons capable of striking at any time into the heart of any nation and so causing a lasting feeling of insecurity. He recognises a very important principle—namely, the differentiation of weapons. Of course, what we suggest, and what I have ventured to suggest to your Lordships on other occasions in the past, is that these "modern" weapons should be handed over by the National Governments to the custody of a federal authority. When that is done, then I think we may hope that these weapons will, if used at all, at any rate only be used to the smallest extent and for the least destructive purposes for which it is possible to use them. We hear a great deal about the laws of war. Of course we know perfectly well that these laws are only kept so long as it suits the convenience of the belligerents to do so, and the only way in which you can get an effective law of war is to change the character of these weapons until they can only be used for police purposes.

I have very nearly finished, if the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will bear patiently with me for one moment. There are four reasons why I venture to suggest that the Government should give us a clearer and more comprehensive statement of their war aims now and not wait indefinitely. First of all, as the war goes on there will be increasing bitterness, and passion will be aroused, and it will be very difficult for anybody to think sanely at all. That, of course, happened during the last war. The second reason is that we ought to endeavour to do everything we can to maintain the morale of our home front, and I am not at all sure that that morale is as high now as it was three or four weeks ago. Another reason is that we want to influence neutral opinion, especially in America. The fourth reason is that we want to assure the German people that we are not out to impose a new Versailles upon them; that we are not out to dismember their country; but that we are willing that Germany should honourably take its place on a basis of equality with all the other countries in Europe. Therefore I would venture again to plead with the Government to elaborate the aims which they have expounded to us this afternoon in a logical way and endeavour to express the principles which they have enunciated in terms concrete and practical institutions.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I might say just a word or two before the debate closes. My words will only be very brief. I have heard every speech which has been made in the course of this debate and I have listened with great attention to everything that has been said. I hope that I am entitled to claim, from the way in which the statement was received by the noble Lord opposite and the noble Marquess who speaks from the Liberal Benches, and by my noble friends behind me, that the overwhelming feeling of the House was not one of sympathy with the view expressed, if he will allow me to say so, with more sincerity than judgment, by my noble friend Lord Arnold opposite. I have taken note of the various suggestions that have been made in the course of this debate, and I think that when your Lordships are able to give careful study to the statement that was read by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, you will find perhaps that a good many of the points that are in your mind are covered, either explicitly or implicitly, in that statement.

I would ask you to take it from me that those which are not covered were, I think, without exception, all in the mind of His Majesty's Government when they were preparing that statement. They were considered with the utmost care and, I need not add, with almost a dominant sense of the responsibility and the gravity of the responsibility under which those who had to take the decision on the form of the statement lay. But, having considered them, they decided that for convincing reasons, of whatever kind it might be, those points that were omitted should not be included. For the rest I do not think that your Lordships would expect me—and indeed the noble Marquess was good enough to make a reference to this in his speech—nor indeed that it would be right for me, to endeavour to extemporise in regard to a statement every word of which was most carefully weighed and to which I should be very unwilling to add words that were not equally carefully considered.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Viscount for the statement he has made and, with the permission of the House, to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.