HL Deb 06 February 1945 vol 134 cc913-25

2.8 p.m.

THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the need for encouraging the federation of all European democracies; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the question underlying my Motion this afternoon, I submit, is whether we can find some means of preventing a third world war in another five, ten, or fifteen years' time. I further wish to submit to your Lordships' House, that up to the present no means have been discovered of preventing war between nations except that of uniting them in a federation, and if there is one hot-bed from which wars spring it is the Continent of Europe. It is for that reason that I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will not use their influence to try to help in the promotion of a federation of the democracies of Europe, which, one can also hope, will in time lead to a federation of all European countries.

I should like to say that, in moving this Motion, I am speaking for myself, and not for the Labour Party, who have not considered this question yet; and also that I hope it may be treated as a non-Party question. It vitally concerns all of us, and it would be indeed disastrous if it came into the arena of Party politics as a matter of controversy. The chief argument I have heard against this idea is that it is impracticable, that people are not ready for it, and that the idea is still an ideal. But if people are not ready for federation, they are also not ready for peace. I myself cannot take such a pessimistic outlook as that. In regard to its impracticability, if our Prime Minister, during the darkest days which this country perhaps has ever known, offered to France a complete federal union, I cannot believe that the idea is fundamentally so impracticable as people would like to make out. In fact, I suppose any projects for the advancement of mankind have mot with opposition and criticism of all kinds. One has only to remember the tremendous opposition to the proposal for the abolition of slavery, or again the opposition to such accepted things as universal education or universal adult suffrage, to realize that any new idea must invite ridicule, criticism and opposition.

If your Lordships will forgive me for a moment, I will quote a very distinguished Liberal philosopher, a man of letters and a writer, the famous Josiah Tucker, Dean of Gloucester, who was writing at the time when the American States were being formed into a federation or at least when the idea was being hotly disputed both in this country and even more so in America. He said, writing at the time: As for the future grandeur of America and its being a rising empire under one head, whether republican or monarchical, it is one of the idlest and most visionary notions that was ever conceived, even by writers of romance. The mutual antipathies and clashing interests of the Americans, their differences of governments, habitudes and manners, indicate that they will have no centre of union and no common interest. They never can be united into one compact empire under any species of government whatever; a disunited people till the end of time, suspicious and distrustful of each other, they will be divided and sub-divided into little commonwealths or principalities, according to natural boundaries, by great bays of the sea, and by vast rivers, lakes, and ridges of mountains. I quoted that particular passage, because it was not an exceptional opinion, but one universally held at the time in this country and almost universally held among the people of the American States themselves. And yet, in a few years from the writing of this passage, the greatest federation of the world was formed by the genius and the efforts of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.

The problems of Europe are very great indeed which call to be solved in this way; but no greater than those problems which faced the founders of American federation, which met endless criticism and difficulty but which was finally brought about. Unfortunately, however, those great American statesmen did make one fatal compromise in order to get this measure through, and to get the Constitution confirmed: instead of insisting on democracy throughout the union, they allowed slavery to be continued in the south and this brought such disunity and disharmony into the body politic that it was only finally resolved by a bitter civil war. For these reasons I would suggest that this proposed federation of European States should, and must, be founded on democracy. The Central Assembly, and President, if they had one, must be elected by the people; not chosen by different Governments, but elected by the whole people. The armaments, the armed forces, must be exclusively under the control of the Federal Assembly and the Federal Police must have the right of acting against or seizing the individual. Without those safeguards it would always be possible for some group to try and seize power; and the union would never be truly united.

Once one begins to examine the question of this federal union, it is surprising how many of the problems, which up to now have seemed almost insoluble, become quite easy of solution. I want to give you only one example and it concerns perhaps one of the most difficult problems in Europe to-day—that of Germany. Germany, when she has been defeated, as she surely will be and I hope soon, when the country has been occupied and disarmed and when the Nazi Party shall have been obliterated—what then? I am sure that none of the United Nations in practice will be willing indefinitely to keep enormous Armies of Occupation in that country. It is impracticable. No one would consent to it for ever. You cannot do it. On the other hand, if you split Germany up into little States, then you awaken an uncrushable desire for cohesion, for drawing together again, If you parcel Germany out and give bits to other countries, you have that same desire for cohesion and you add the problem of hostile and oppressed minorities. If, on the other hand, you leave Germany as one State, what is to stop her eventually building up her armaments and power again? If, again, you crush and utterly destroy her means of carrying on heavy industry, you not only ruin Germany but you impoverish all Europe. It is a terrible problem. I submit that this scheme of federal union does solve that problem.

By offering eventually—not immediately but eventually—to the German people, the opportunity of becoming part of the Federation of Europe, you give to the young man and young woman of Germany the prospect of a future, of a decent, prosperous, contented life, with their country one of the European comity of nations; at the same time, the prospect of getting rid of Allied control and supervision is the greatest inducement for the Germans to create a democratic State. Once you have Germany in the federation, a part of it, automatically all her armaments, all her armament factories, and her war potential become actually part of the Federal Government, belonging to and controlled by it; and any armed German men, whether soldiers, sailors or airmen, become merely platoons or companies in federal regiments or divisions. In other words, at one blow you destroy Germany's power of making war and yet you do not give her that feeling of inferiority, of being a State permanently subjected to foreign rule. That is just one problem.

I should have thought the chance of eliminating war from this Continent of Europe alone ought to be enough to make us support this notion of federal union. But there are, of course, very many other advantages. We do find in Europe a Continent that, through the accidents of history and of conquest, has been divided arbitrarily into little States, having arbitrary boundaries or frontiers, and each little State having its ruling clique or group of industrialists, controlling the frontiers, stopping goods coming in and going out purely for their own advantage, and disregarding the advantage of the common man. Now the rehabilitation of Europe is again going to be a fantastic problem for us, and I submit that unless we can use all the resources, all the labour, and all the equipment of Europe to the best possible advantage, this problem is going to be insoluble, and the whole European economic system may very easily go down into chaos and disintegration with incalculable disaster to Europe and the whole world.

For that reason alone I think we ought to support the scheme which gets rid of artificial frontiers and boundaries. For instance, if machinery is wanted in the Balkans and agricultural produce is wanted in Central Europe, exchange must take place easily and quickly whatever frontiers are between the different sources of supply. For that reason alone it is expedient that a federation should be formed. But I would not like to suggest for a moment that countries should be forced into federation. That would be fatal. I do suggest, however, that once this union has been effective, with a sufficient number of countries forming it, the advantages will be so great that the countries remaining outside will beg to join; just as North Carolina and Rhode Island refused originally to join the American Union, which they looked on with grave suspicion, yet when they saw the inestimable advantages that came out of that union, begged to be allowed to come in, and they have remained in ever since.

The question that may be in your Lordships mind is: What is the position of Great Britain to such a proposed union? Should we join in? I submit that every advantage, both of security and of trade, would urge this country to become part of such a union, for it has every advantage that one can conceive of, not only to Great Britain but to the Dominions. That may seem a novel idea, but it is not altogether novel to some of the leading statesmen in the Dominions. The Dominions realize that whatever happens in Europe affects England. We cannot escape being affected by what happens on the Continent, divided from it as we are by such a narrow strip of sea. Surely therefore they would prefer to become part of a big powerful union or federation rather than to remain outside and yet be liable to be dragged into a third world war, through a conflict occurring in Europe which England could not prevent but in which she could not help but be involved, at the same time bringing in the Dominions.

What is the alternative to this idea? I think the old idea of a balance of power by which one nation—Britain, for example—tried to keep the balance between two hostile and powerful groups is now so finally discredited that we need no longer argue about it. Ii3ut two other proposals have been made. One is a revival of the League of Nations and the other is a Grand Alliance for Peace. I submit that for the purpose we should have in view both these schemes are useless. They are useless in regard to keeping the peace because of the very nature of their composition and structure. The failure of the League of Nations was not due, I am convinced, entirely to the ill will or the wrong-headedness of the statesmen or the nations concerned, but to the way it was built up. You have in such a League national sovereignty of every State; in fact the primary object of the League must be, not the maintenance of peace but the maintenance of the sovereignty of those States composing it. That is the difficulty. Therefore delegates remain delegates of the different national Governments. You cannot give executive power and you must preserve unanimity. If you part with that, you part with the national sovereignty of the countries, and this they will not stand.

As a result there is no machinery for stopping hostilities or keeping the peace; or such machinery as there is will be cumbersome because all decisions must be referred back to the different Governments. And supposing that you ever get to the stage, which is highly unlikely, that each country in the League committed itself to attack an aggressor immediately such aggression took place, yet if one country in the League attacks another by the time the League has decided which is the aggressor, and that they are going to take steps to stop it, perhaps two small nations will have been completely overwhelmed by the suddenness of the attack. For that reason small nations are very reluctant to commit themselves. The Grand Alliance, which I do not want to go into to-day in any detail, has many of the faults of the League with this one added, that it tends to bring about a counter-alliance and to make nations which are not included in it extremely hostile to it. A famous caricaturist in this country has epitomized it by saying "Who is to police the policemen?" That is the rock on which a league or alliance must founder.

I do not want in this Motion to discuss the structure of the Federation of Europe, whether it should have a President according to the model of the United States or whether it should have a Council according to the model of the Swiss Federation, or whether we should follow closely the Soviet Union, which has been successful in bringing together different nationalities with their different languages and cultures. Those are obviously questions for a Constituent Assembly. What I wish to urge upon His Majesty's Government is, in the first place, that they should lend a friendly ear or give a helping hand to any efforts which are made to build up this federation, and secondly, that this country should commit itself, to saying it might join such a federation; the moral effect of that would be enormous. Finally, I particularly wish to ask the Minister who is replying to this debate whether he would give facilities to any delegates from this country to attend a conference after the cessation of hostilities, if such a conference could be convened.

We are, I think, at a very critical moment of history and unless we take a great stride forward and look at new ideas we shall face very disastrous results. Machines, and particularly the aeroplane, have brought the world closer together as never before and co-operation is needed; yet we still insist on sticking to the old conception of completely independent national sovereign States which was evolved at a time when there was a world of scarcity and when different nations and groups bickered and fought against each other for the various scraps available. Now we have abundance and I suggest that we must use it. The biggest drawback to our making use of co-operation to exploit the machinery to our own ends is the bogy of national sovereignty. This idea has grown enormously in the last few centuries and in consequence the State has become deified, with such disastrous results as we have all seen in Germany, Japan and Italy, where the State has absolutely ignored the welfare of the individual and this abstraction has become a sort of Moloch to which hundreds of thousands of men must be sacrificed.

A curious thing about it is that the more sovereignty is given up by any individual State the greater the freedom to the individual. That may for a moment sound rather like a paradox, but I would like to give an example. If we compare a citizen of, say, France or Czechoslovakia with a citizen of New York State before the war, the citizen of France or whichever country you like to take could not sell goods throughout the Continent; if he wished to sell to Germany or Spain there were tariffs and restrictions, and he probably had to get export licences and goodness knows what else. If he wished to travel, to go and live or to find work elsewhere, in another country, he had to get a visa or permit and he might well have his permit absolutely refused because another nation did not like his race, his nationality, his trade or his politics. On the other hand, he was also liable to enormous taxation. A big part of his income or earnings was taken to support huge national armies against his neighbour and he might have to dedicate many years of his life to military service.

Look at the citizen in America. He can travel throughout the Union with no restrictions, no visas. He can get work where he likes, sell his goods where he likes in any State, and his relative taxation is far less than in any country in Europe. Finally, he was not subject to military service. He did not have to support a horde of officials guarding frontiers and levying Customs Duties, nor to support a huge army against his neighbours. With all these advantages he slept in security knowing he would not be attacked by neighbouring States. These advantages, I submit, come entirely from the federation of the United States and from the fact that the national sovereignty of Maine and Massachusetts was given up to the greater good of the whole, and of the individual man. It seems to me that the case for federation is almost unanswerable. But an answer is made that the people are not ready for it, that it is a new idea and that we cannot suggest such ideas to the people until they realize more about them. I want to end by giving one quotation. During the great days of the Convention in the United States when this issue of federation was being fought out, exactly the same arguments were being used against it. George Washington then used these words, which are as applicable today as then: It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God. I beg to move for Papers.

2.32 p.m.


(Lord Cecil): My Lords, I imagine that every noble Lord in this House is in favour of the main aim of preventing future wars which I understand the noble Earl had in mind in tabling his Motion to-day. But I am bound to say that, even after listening to the extremely eloquent plea he has put forward, his actual proposal for the immediate federation of European democracies seems to me so far from the realm of reality that I find considerable difficulty even in framing a Government reply to it. I could not help being reminded as I listened to him—I hope he will appreciate that I say this in no flippant or irreverent spirit—of those subjects that used to be put down for discussion in college debating societies, in which many of your Lordships must have taken part in your earlier years. You will remember very well those subjects. We used to look them up in the reference books and then we spoke out what we had to say; and we all had an extremely enjoyable evening. In academic debates of that kind, no doubt, it might very will be argued that it would be an admirable thing if all the nations of Europe, or indeed of the world, were combined in one federation, with a single Government and a single Legislature.

It is not impossible, as the noble Earl has shown with great skill to-day, to build up paper arguments in favour of a proposition of that kind; and I would be very ready to agree that at some future date that might provide a solution of the problem of Europe. We should not rule it out as an extremely long-term policy. After all, we in this country, incorporated the seven States of the Heptarchy in a single Kingdom, and later we added the principality of Wales and, later still, by mutual agreement, the Kingdom of Scotland. It is not for us to turn down in principle the incorporation of States into larger units. But that process, to which I have referred in the case of our own country, was an extremely lengthy process which took many centuries to complete. It was in no way analogous to the noble Earl's present proposal. Would anyone who has practical experience of international affairs to-day regard the federation of the democracies of Europe as a practical proposition, at the present stage of the Continent's development? I do submit that that to-day is merely a subject for academic debate and no more. And your Lordships' House is not a debating society. It is a body of very different character. It is a body concerned with the moulding of practical policy, the framing of practical laws. We have here to deal with the events of the present and the near future. We have to be realistic. We have to take account of practical possibilities in the present extremely tangled situation. While therefore I would pay tribute to the high-minded impulses which led the noble Earl to raise this subject to-day, I am hound to say that I hardly think his proposal justifies the very serious consideration of your Lordships' House.

Within the whole of my experience of foreign affairs, which goes back a number of years, I have never heard this proposition ventilated by any responsible statesman in any country large or small, either here in London or in earlier days in Geneva. No doubt, to-day, a very definite move in favour of closer international co-operation has set in and we all welcome it. It was the governing impulse behind the League of Nations. It was the impulse behind the Dumbarton Oaks proposals. But some forms of international co-operation come within the realm of practical possibilities; others do not. I should have thought the present proposal of the noble Earl, if he will allow me to say so, certainly comes in the latter category.

The word "federation" is very loosely used nowadays. But what in fact does it mean? It implies a single Central Government responsible for the whole federal area and responsible to every citizen in that area. It implies a single Legislature elected directly, as the noble Earl himself said, by the citizens of the whole area, a Legislature in which decisions are reached by majority vote. It implies, to give an instance, that the votes of Yugoslavs and Spaniards would regulate the domestic affairs of the Norwegians and the Dutch, Is that a practicable proposition at the present time? Is it to be imagined that it would be acceptable to the peoples themselves—not merely to the Governments, but to the peoples concerned? Federation involves a certain uniformity of standards of life throughout the whole area, if the social and other legislation to be passed by the Central Legislature is to be generally acceptable. It involves even more than that. It involves a common outlook on life which does not I am afraid at present exist in the different parts of Europe. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, referred to the United States of America and quoted an extremely eloquent passage referring to the growth of the federal idea before federation was actually completed. But that was not an analogous situation. In the United States there were certain issues on which there was disagreement. But the solid basis of civilization was the same, or much more nearly the same than is the case in Europe.

I have heard the proposal put forward that there should be federation within the States of the British Commonwealth. There, at any rate, some of the necessary basic conditions prevail. The electors of such a federation would at any rate be people of similar origin, of similar traditions, of similar standards of civilization. But even that proposal, I can assure your Lordships, from my experience at the Dominions Office, is at present entirely academic. The peoples of the Dominions would be quite unwilling to surrender the conduct of their internal affairs to an outside body. And how much more would that be so in the case of the nations of Europe, which are so widely different in their traditions and ways of life. Nor is there any reason that I can see to suppose that continents necessarily constitute the best units for Federal States. On the contrary, as your Lordships know, strategic, economic, even spiritual and cultural interests often cut right across continental boundaries. Arguments can very well be put forward for a Confederation of Europe; but that is a different matter. A confederation is a far more loosely knit institution, based on constituent States, which may differ to a considerable extent in their internal affairs and the internal structure of their Governments. But even a Confederation of Europe is, I am afraid, still a very long way off.

I hope that the House will not feel that I have spoken in any purely negative or captious spirit. I recognize, as much as any one of your Lordships, the need for building machinery for closer international co-operation. That is perhaps the most essential task that faces us at the present time. But the right line of approach, surely, is that represented by the League of Nations, and by the Dumbarton Oaks proposals. The noble Earl, I thought, rather derided the League. He said that it had utterly failed. No doubt, the League was not perfect—I do not think anyone would pretend that it was. But I could not accept the noble Earl's view that such an organization as the League is inherently impracticable, that such a conception as the League could in no circumstances succeed. I would have thought that it was at any rate a great deal more practicable than the proposal which the noble Earl has put forward. He, himself, said—at least I understood him to say—that the League failed because nations were unwilling to agree to any derogation of their sovereignty. How then can he expect them to agree to the abolition of their sovereignty altogether? It seems an extremely illogical conclusion at which he has arrived.

I feel certain that the right line of approach is by means of a world-wide organization with provision for special regional co-operation for special purposes. Of course different functions may need different regional boundaries—that is quite a possibility. I do not think that we ought to tie ourselves down to any rigidly uniform structure. We must be ready to try any experiment that seems likely to promote co-operation in the particular sphere concerned. It may be that the Continent of Europe may prove the most convenient unit for one or more of these special purposes. I would give as an instance, land transport. You might have a regional organization for that purpose, and, in such a case, one might fairly hope that the experimental machinery which was set up would, in time, grow into a permanent institution. And there may very well be other ways in which Europe can be knit more closely together. I would not rule out anything that took account of realities. But do let us use common sense on these questions. Do not let us publicly, either as a Government or as a people, recommend schemes which have no chance of general acceptance at the present time or even, I should have thought, in the near future.

To my mind, the proposition which the noble Earl has put forward might very properly form the subject of a few sentences in a speech in a general foreign affairs debate, indicating the ultimate aims towards which our children and our children's children should work in the future. But it provides, I am afraid, no remedy for our present distresses, and for His Majesty's Government to father this policy, as the noble Earl suggested, would be of no benefit either to ourselves or to others. We must put first things first. We must get on with schemes for the reconstruction of Europe which are likely to be acceptable to the countries concerned, and then, after that, we can consider what further steps may be practicable. Therefore, while I fully recognize that the noble Earl has spoken in all good faith, I feel sure that he and we shall be wise to keep our eyes on the immediate future if we are not to fall into the error of Little Johnny Head-in-Air, of whose lamentable fate your Lordships are well aware.

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House by any further consideration of this subject. I would, however, like to thank the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, for his very full and courteous reply to this Motion of mine. My justification for bringing it forward is that I do think that in these dreadfully difficult days, when we are facing such dreadful issues, any ideas like these are better to be put forward and discussed rather than kept hidden away in some closed box for future use. There are just two points upon which I would like to touch. First, I forgot to mention that there would be this great aid for the federation of Europe: we have, on the whole, one culture. Owing to the Roman conquest and the spread of Christianity throughout all European nations, in one form or another, there are certain fundamental views which we do share in common. The other point relates to what the noble Viscount said with regard to sovereignty. He said that if nations were unwilling to give away their sovereignty under a league, how much less likely would they be to do so under a federation. I think that if we look at the examples afforded us by America, Russia, and Switzerland, we shall find that they realize that there is mere safety in a federation than there could be in a league. I do not wish to keep the House any longer, and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.