§ 2.38 p.m.
§ LORD VANSITTART
had on the Order Paper the following Notice: To suggest, seeing that the visit of Marshal Bulganin and Mr. Khruschev will be unwelcome to many people in this country, that wider and more authoritative use should be made of diplomacy to moderate the growing excess of diplomacy by conference and visit; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, six years have gone by since I last troubled you with a Motion, and I therefore hope you will bear with the to-day, because it may be my last chance of serving a Service to which I have been devoted. Moreover, to some of us professionals the issue seems one of national importance, and I shall do my best to put it with scrupulous moderation. To keep a dog and bark oneself may be politic on occasion, but as a practice it is unjustified; or, a little more plainly, Ambassadors were largely intended to deal with régimes of which Governments may do 389 well to be chary; or, more plainly still, diplomacy is a prophylactic and a precaution against unnecessary excursions.
We are all agreed, I think, that diplomacy by conference and visit is not only useful, but sometimes indispensable—we need quite a lot of it. We are all agreed on that, and it is common ground; but it is not the point. The whole question is whether the practice is being overdone. Forty years of close observation and reflection have convinced me that it is being overdone, and many others share my view. I think your Lordships would all be inclined to share my view if you would take the trouble to tot up, trip by trip—and "trip" is perhaps the right word—the excursions of Mr. Dulles, who has already covered 300,000 miles, and there are more to come; and that is a manifest exaggeration. We, too, seem to be getting a little near the one-night stand. I feel that this intending visit also brings matters to a point where the whole procedure may be profitably reconsidered.
Let me set all your Lordships' minds at rest from the start. I am not suggesting that the visit should be cancelled. Since all your Parties are either committed to it, or resigned to it, by all means let us go ahead. But I feel that it will be justified only if the results are substantial; and if other Members of this House really feel that way, too, the effect on the Russians may be salutary and our debate to-day will have served a useful purpose. If, on the other hand, the results are unsubstantial, there will naturally be a considerable reinforcement of the view that such journeys are unnecessary. Negotiate, by all means, but use your Embassy. It is a costly establishment, and there would be no justification for this vast outlay of cash and talent if diplomacy by conference and visit was to become the rule rather than the exception. Yet, for the past three or four decades, there has been a growing tendency to negotiate by camera instead of in camera.
As early as 1933 Sir Winston Churchill was beginning to get a little uneasy. Commenting on the relatively moderate peregrinations of Mr. MacDonald, he said:These statesmen must be getting frightfully bored by continual propinquity.390 I rather wish they were. Then he went on—and I hope your Lordships will listen with the attention that is due to him, if not to me:It is much better"—not just "better," you will note, but "much better"—to use the trained diplomatists more,and he added,men who have made it their life's business to study foreign affairs.I am glad that Sir Winston was so emphatic, because he has made it impossible for any of the three Front Benches lo differ from me materially without refuting the greatest leader that they ever had. That will ensure that our debate to-day will be conducted in the utmost amity, which is just what I desire.
I have never considered Sir Winston to be the most stationary of statesmen, but at the same time he and I are saying much the same thing, and you can resume it in two words: "rehabilitate diplomacy." If you remember, we only broke with it in the heyday of Lloyd George, who liked to travel with excitement, and I was with one of his "circuses," as it was derisively called, though Heaven knows! it was nothing to what goes on now. Round and round we went, to delectable places of his choice: to Paris often, to Brussels, to Spa, to San Remo and Cannes. I enjoyed every minute of it, and of him, and of the masterful company of Sir Maurice Hankey. But truth compels me to add that from many of these gatherings the participants departed in worse humour than when they came. Fewer still remember that prior to Lloyd George the most saintly and respected of our Foreign Secretaries, Edward Grey, practised the doctrine that the proper place for the Foreign Secretary is the Foreign Office. Everybody knows that we cannot apply that doctrine integrally nowadays, but at the same time you simply cannot keep "shinning down" from Olympus with dignity—that is what sank Jupiter.
Though I wish to keep this discussion to-day free front any taint of Party or partisanship, I would just mention fleetingly that that recent excursion to Cairo and beyond seems rather to speak for Grey. I would say that I—I think I may say "we"—should prefer in future that Foreign Secretaries should not expose themselves to crooked Anglophobes like Nasser unless the ground has been par- 391 tiularly well prepared beforehand. After all, we keep a perfectly good Ambassador in Cairo. He should be the proper shock absorber, and if the shocks are carried too far the job can be done by a chargé d'affaires. Similarly, it is a little hard for us old professionals to understand why it was necessary to send General Templer to Amman. There, again, we have a perfectly good Ambassador, and he has a perfectly good military attaché. Surely, they were enough to furnish the Jordanian Government with any explanations necessary in regard to the Baghdad Pact. I wish that we could leave our Ambassadors alone a little more—it is asking very little. Instead, this unnecessary journey stirred up a storm which blew away General Glubb, and perhaps has not blown itself out yet.
The noble Marquess who is to reply will have no difficulty at all in producing a long list of successes for diplomacy by conference and visit. I grant him all that in advance—and more. Indeed, I could draw up much the same list. But, at the same time, out of a long experience, I could also name a good number of cases where the new technique, as I may call it, has ended in calamity. To economise your Lordships' time, I will quote only a couple of instances, partly because they occurred in the same year and partly because that year was twenty-one years ago. I hope, therefore, to ruffle no feelings, and with the same end in view I shall mention no names.
In March, 1935, Hitler tore up the last paper bonds that hindered him in preparing for the Second World War. He proclaimed the illegal introduction of conscription and the illegal possession of a powerful air force. In spite of that, in that same month two of our Ministers were sent out to confer with him. The visit was completely useless. Nothing resulted from it, and no soundings were taken which could not equally well have been taken by our Ambassador. But Europe, and the Anglophiles in Europe, were aghast at our condonation of this defiance. The French, in particular, were so angry and so frightened that they refused to weaken their newly forged—and again "forged" is the right word—bonds between Laval and Mussolini which they had concluded in that January, and, therefore, refused to stand by us 392 in the Abyssinian crisis. Those were grave consequences.
Later in the summer the Government had a really good idea for solving that crisis and avoiding war. The idea roughly was that Abyssinia should cede to Italy a piece of territory, and that we, in return, should cede to Abyssinia a more important piece of territory giving access to the sea. I was convinced that that proposition had quite a fair chance of success—on one condition: that it was handled with the strictest discretion and without the least publicity by our Ambassador in Rome. Instead, the Government sent a Minister on a mission. But when Ministers are moved, it is necessary to find a reason; and the Press found the right one, with the result that there was an immediate outbreak of grumbling here at the idea of conceding even a sliver of British territory, and the French were equally "crusty" because they thought that the concession might interfere with their precious railway. So, what with the grumbling here and in France, Mussolini blew up at the other end; the mission was wrecked before it was started, and we lost our last chance of keeping that fool out of Hitler's arms and preventing the Second World War. One can pay quite a price for the wrong technique.
Those missions were well-meant but ill-advised; and that, as we all know, is what a good many people think of the impending visit. It was conceived in the exuberance of the Geneva spirit. A great part of the world has come to the conclusion that the proper receptacles for that spirit are mugs, and they remain unshaken by Bulganin's recent eulogies of the "Martini Road." Moreover, these fiascos at Geneva were so posted and billed that they produced quite a bad outbreak of the most dangerous malady of the modern world, the disease of impossible expectations. It was felt, too, in many countries, particularly in the enslaved countries, that the West in general was lowering its standards by these fruitless convivialities. I feel quite sincerely that I really speak for millions when I say that I should regret to witness a further descent without an assurance of corresponding rewards. On form, there does not seem very much prospect of that reward. I noticed that at the end of last 393 year, when the Prime Minister was questioned on the subject, he replied:Hope springs eternal",but he did not finish the quotation. What Pope really wrote in his Essay on Man was:Hope springs eternal in the human breast;Man never is, but always to be blest.In other words, he was mocking, not encouraging, human tendency.
When I was young enough to think that I always had something for the 3.30 (I hope the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, is not listening), I used to work on a little book called Form at a Glance. I think that Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries should have a similar compilation, compiled, of course (with all deference to everybody), rather by Ambassadors than by itinerant politicians. We might look at Soviet form at a glance with complete dispassion. All your Lordships know well that the record is a very long one, of hostility, ill-faith and obstruction. I shall not labour it unless challenged—perhaps the less said on that, for the moment, the better. But what I do say is, "By all means have your meeting, but if this time you do not get a good win, lay off until the ground is better prepared, and prepared by the professionals." For we are embarking on an unpromising venture at the cost of our former principles.
I was reared amid Liberal founders against Turkish misdeeds, and they were very small indeed compared with the practices of modern totalitaria, whether of the Nazi or the Communist brand. Everybody then would have been immensely surprised if there had been any proposals to bring Abdul Hamid over here to discuss outstanding differences. Indeed, there would have been absolutely no need, because all the while we had perfectly good and full diplomatic representation at the Sublime Porte—a very picturesque, old-world expression; I wonder when any of us last heard it or used it. Or, again, in the inter-war period there were a number of proposals, which took some part in thwarting, for bringing Goering, or even Hitler, over here. I am not going to elaborate that matter: there is no sense in rubbing on old sores. All those proposals failed, and failed for a very good reason: that was, that at least until the days of Nevile Henderson we were perfectly well represented in Berlin and needed no more.
394 Or, again, in the archives of my mind I have always preserved a vivid memory of the strong protests that were raised on the Left at the time of King Edward VII's visit to the Czar. In fact, the language used was sometimes so strong that at the time I photographed some of it in my mind, and there it has remained ever since. If asked, I could reproduce some of it verbatim, but I sincerely hope that I shall not be asked, as I do not want to embarrass anybody. Maybe that journey was unnecessary. We had at the time an admirable and famous Ambassador in St. Petersburg, Arthur Nicolson, who was later a Member of your Lordships' House. He had already got for us an Anglo-Russian agreement in good time before 1914. There, you may be right.
At the same time, I think it worth while mentioning that if Edward Grey had ever been foolish enough to go out with batteries of cameras and battalions of newspapermen, we should not have gat that agreement. At the time when there was so much outcry on the Left against this business, we calculated that there were just over 32,000 people in penal exile in Siberia—somewhere at the back of my mind I think I have the exact figure, if required. Of those 32,000-odd, some 5,000 were political prisoners, and of those, again, some had only assigned residences where they could even marry—Lenin married there, I think. From those assigned residences they escaped fairly frequently because supervision was so lax. Now, the camps hold at least 10 million slaves, and no footprints in the snow lead from those icy holes. There was so much indignation in 1908 for 5,000 and there is so little nowadays for 10 million. Your Lordships can all measure the extent of the change.
I sometimes wonder whether we are quite sure that the change has been for the better. Anyhow, by no contortion or casuistry can we possibly reconcile our previous and our present attitudes, not even if we overwork Emerson's old saw. I was put in mind of Emerson by a conversation I had with the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, on entering the Chamber. He will doubtless remember this one. He said:A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.I do not think that even that gets us out. I have sometimes wondered whether it 395 has paid us to depart quite so far from our former principles. For instance, nowadays nobody mentions the Atlantic Charter. Why? For the best of reasons: that that shattered instrument conflicts with junketings, but not with full diplomatic representation. So it has been with all our undertakings. How we have changed! Why, in 1914, we went to war because one Treaty, concluded in 1839, had been violated; and now we sign and pass on and pass over the next violation, and the next and the next. With open eyes we have drifted into a position undreamed of when diplomacy really worked. Looking back over the expanse of the century, I ask, has all this really been worth while?
Since, however, in spite of the crowning, and clowning, exhibition in India, we are still going to have these people here, I think we must at least measure the cost—and it is going to be heavy. Consider the enslaved nations. We cannot free them, but surely we need not take the heart out of them. But as surely as civilisation is in danger, that is exactly what we are going to do; and when we have done it we shall have taken a long step towards the Third World War, because the resistance of those people is the second greatest deterrent to Soviet aggression. We have all had our warning—I think everybody here instinctively knows for themselves what I have said; but there was a most explicit warning in The Times on Monday, by way of a letter signed by the representatives of eight of the overrun countries, and in the Daily Telegraph of the same day there was another from a ninth, in which the consequences were most explicitly explained—and they are obviously disastrous. At the same time, there have also been a number of admirably lucid leaders in the Daily Telegraph, beginning with one on February 8, called, I think, "Journeys and their limits." I wish that all wise men would re-read those—they are well worth while.
My Lords, the representatives of the enslaved countries would never have dreamed of objecting to any negotiation conducted by our Ambassador in Moscow. Believe me, we are being beguiled on to a dangerous tack and I wish to goodness we could get out of it a little. Consider the effect on Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, 396 Palestine, or even the United States. All those countries have been insulted, some even threatened, since this invitation was issued. What do we expect them to think? We know quite well what a good many people are thinking already—namely, that you can be pretty rude to a Briton and he will still ask you to dinner. I do not think that that is to our interest either, unless sacrifice is matched by reward. But why should we sacrifice our friends and our credit, when all the normal and legitimate channels of diplomacy are wide open to us?
I dip into my archives again and I pull out another memory—a memory of boyhood in France, and of a French War Minister, a general with the most bristling moustache that man ever tonged or twirled, who was the most ferocious dueller of his day. He had a rich wife who was famous in her own right as being the ugliest woman in Paris. One day, returning prematurely from the Chamber, the general found a young subaltern, avid for promotion, kissing her. The general took one bound into the room and took this subaltern by the scruff, bellowing "Vous!, vous!" And the young man's knees gave way beneath him—"Vous, vous, qui n'y étiez pas obligé!" That is what I venture to say to all your Parties—"You, who are not obliged to."
There is another thing that we were not obliged to do. When I was backing all those losers I was also taught not to back conferences unless the odds were at least even money—we greatly preferred six to four. But now that rule is broken every year and almost, one might say, every month; and for what advantage? Scarcely were the fiascos in Geneva over when the Soviets began to throw out little hints of a conference of seven on the Far East, or another conference of four at the "summit"—an awful expression. Or again, there were suggestions that we might hold a conference on the Middle East, where presumably we should have been asking the Russians to defeat their own ends instead of defeating them ourselves. I beg you, when this is all over, unless you have got a real winner, not to be tempted by any more of these feelers. Refer the Russians to your Ambassador; build him up and strengthen his hands. Tell them that you have every confidence in him and that if they have any constructive proposals to make, we shall count 397 on him to forward them to us and they will be most honestly examined. You need not go further than that.
During the three-quarters of a century that I have been alive, I have watched diplomacy losing not only a part of the instinct of self-preservation but also of its sensitivities for others. Need we also lose respect? With all the humility that befits old age, I suggest that we might make a fresh start by going back a little to the fullest exploitation of legitimate and traditional diplomacy, back to the old prudent limitation of intimacy with those for whom human life and good faith count for nothing, unless, of course, we can show by concrete and unchallengeable evidence—which we never yet have shown—that our human interests are served by contrary courses. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.9 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has, if I may say so, an attractive of gift of making his premises as intriguing, if not as controversial, as his conclusions; and this Motion shows no exception to that rule. With his great experience of diplomacy he has, of course, an advantage in this debate which it would be improper, if not impertinent, to try to undermine. Yet now that the established velocity of transport is in the neighbourhood of 1,000 miles an hour, or more, it may be that the channels of communication have so much altered since his young days and since my young days that the virtue of physical static diplomacy is of diminishing value.
I imagine that it has always been the recognised practice of diplomats, in difficult matters of high political or international importance, to reserve the right to postpone a decision until appropriate consultation at ministerial or Cabinet level has been made. Only 100 years ago the consequential delay could be measured, sometimes no doubt with considerable satisfaction, by the rate of travel of a post-chaise over a mountain road at two miles an hour: but to-day, when the impatient questioner seeks an answer from Her Majesty's Ambassador in Ruritania, he can, as is well known, at once manœuvre a complete change in the international picture in which his original question was framed, by instantaneous 398 radio contact with Moscow, New York or Bangkok. The position to-day is very different; and in these circumstances it seems to me that it is impossible to lay down a law, like a rule of cricket, that conference and visit are not quite playing the game. There must surely be occasions on which the highest level of expert consultation and discussion on interdependent subjects may be urgently required in several places at virtually the same time; and only delegation and travel can meet this peculiar problem.
At the same time, as the noble Lord has indicated, there is danger of undermining the authority and responsibility of any official if the continuity of his procedure is, with or without notice, interrupted and taken out of his hands by a peripatetic senior whose suitability to intervene is perhaps judged only by his own unilateral opinion. It seems to me there are inherent virtues and vices in both the old method and the new, and we can only hope that a satisfactory compromise can be arrived at by trial and error without the spectacle of all missions being contemporaneously headless or of national cabinets spending separate communal week-ends in each other's territories. I should not, therefore, care to follow the noble Lord too closely in his condemnation of diplomacy by conference and visit, though I have sympathy with his point of view.
But his preamble is a different matter. By implication and by its connection with his main suggestion he is, I suggest, voicing a disapproval of the proposed visit of the two Russian gentlemen mentioned in his Motion. There I part company with him. He may maintain that our disapproval of so much that their régime in Russia has done, and wishes to do, puts all communication, save the stark exchange of the diplomatic bag out of the sphere of acceptability or even of decency. But what is this criterion of acceptability? The civilised nations, both young and old, have ways in common and ways individual; and if, like Gulliver, we should discover a section of the world's population very far from our own idea of normality we still have, I submit, an obligation to apply to the essential contacts with them all the methods known to us to achieve further understanding, and perhaps even to educate our opposite numbers in the value of our own standards.
399 The world of the Victorian Age lent itself to the promotion of clubs among nations, and it was normal to make not only alliances but also exclusions in international affairs. But to-day the balance of power, in its old connotation, is completely different. There are no matters of really prime importance which affect exclusively a small number of nations in a world where political and economic repercussion and reaction can, and do, arise both instantaneously and universally. To withhold any likely, or remotely likely, means of increasing potential contact between this country and the 200 million Russians who may or may not be represented by their present r—gime would surely be irresponsible in this world of vanishing exclusiveness. To put it bluntly, my Lords, it seems to me that the only possible reason for deploring the proposed visit of these two Russian gentlemen would be a conviction that they would carry back to Russia a damaging impression of the life and ideals of this country; and that, I consider, is most unlikely to be the case.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, the noble Lord who moved this Motion and I are of the same vintage. I believe that we joined the Foreign Office in the same year, if not on the same examination. Oddly enough, he joined the Diplomatic Service, and I the Foreign Office, which were then separate; later we reversed our positions, though they were always sister services. In the light of that statement your Lordships will not be surprised that I agree with every word spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart. I only wish I could say what I hope to say half as well.
I am not going to touch on the question of the visit of these two Russian gentlemen. We may all have our views upon that, but if we all agree that they are coming then that is that. It may well have arisen out of a sort of "backslapping" or genial atmosphere of an after-dinner conversation at Geneva. We do not know; nor does it matter. They are coming, for better or worse. I propose rather to address a few words to your Lordships on another aspect of the Motion before the House, that concerning modern methods of diplomacy, or the lack of them. I hope that I am not sinking into my anecdotage in saying that when 400 the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, and I joined the Service there were eight Ambassadors; and eight only: but, they were personages who really counted. And that they were people who really counted was proved by the fact that, automatically, they received the high rank of Privy Counsellor.
Nothing is static in this world, of course, and I should not be so foolish as to contest that circumstances do not alter cases; obviously they do. But do your Lordships realise the number of Ambassadors who now hold Her Majesty's Commission? At the time of which I am speaking their total was eight, and it became nine when Tokyo was added to the number. To-day, there are sixty Ambassadors and eleven Legations. One might refer to that as a proliferation of Ambassadors. The increase may have been inevitable, but one is tempted to wonder (and here I make no personal reflection of any kind) whether it is not true that when one gains in quantity one does not necessarily gain in quality. I believe that is true. Perhaps the old standard was too high. In the old days—and it is still the case I believe—an Ambassador was given a Commission by Her Majesty. In that Commission he is—or was—described as "Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary." I put it to your Lordships that nowadays he is becoming more and more "ordinary." There is nothing extraordinary about him at all. He is the rule rather than the exception; and as regards his full powers, he just does not possess any.
If I may carry your Lordships back a little far, there has been a process of gradual evolution and the Ambassador of to-day is entirely different in status from what he was before, for instance, the full development of the telegraph, which made him dependent on the telegraphic line from Whitehall. The invention of the telegraph put Her Majesty's Ambassadors in an entirely different position from what they were earlier. To a large extent they lost their freedom. The days of the great Ambassadors such as Harris (Lord Malmesbury), Stratford, de Redcliffe and Sir Harry Parkes—men at the outposts, almost forming policy—were over. That was inevitable. But—and I emphasise the word "but"—the carrying out of instructions received by tele- 401 gram still remained largely at the Ambassador's discretion. The Foreign Secretary did not personally interfere with the way in which the Ambassador did his work or personally arrive in the middle of his field of action. With the First World War came "aeroplanes for all"; and after the war came the period of diplomacy by conference. Not that Mr. Lloyd George himself pursued his diplomatic vagaries in the air—I do not think he ever did. But he inaugurated the period of ministerial interference in diplomatic work.
At the same time there came another new development, the League of Nations. So another complicating factor came in—the League of Nations technique, if I may so call it, which encouraged Ministers to believe (if I may use what is perhaps a hardly worthy phrase) that "the more we are together, the happier we shall be." But it did not always follow. From 1918 onwards these three new "precipitations"—(1) facilities of air travel, (2) personal interventions of Ministers, and (3) opportunities for international conference—have changed the ways of diplomacy. And they have changed them not wholly, I suspect, for the benefit of peaceful solutions. When all is said and done, the old diplomacy, though it was for a long time a sort of cock-shy, as being a sort of closed shop, a convenient target to use as a kind of Aunt Sally, had a language, a tempo, a personality of its own, which, apart from brief intervals of short wars—and I emphasise the word "short"—did keep the peace of the world for a hundred years, from 1815 to 1914. I admit that there was the Crimean War and some others, but there was no world war., after the days of Napoleon. The new diplomacy of the aeroplane and the personal meeting intensified as the Second World War drew visibly nearer and reached its highest climax at Berchtesgaden and at Munich. It looked terribly like diplomacy by panic rather than diplomacy by reflection.
During the war, these personal visits increased, as was inevitable. The strategic necessities of the great Anglo-American-Soviet Alliance brought the great Chiefs of State into close personal relationship—with eminent advantage. The practice then started of close consultation between the British Prime Minister and the United States President, and that is perhaps the most hopeful sign in the present inter- 402 national outlook, where hopeful signs, alas! are not too frequent. But the sane cannot be said of some other meetings—I mention Teheran, Yalta, Potsdam, all of which have left a trail of woe.
What is the lesson to be learned from these successes and failures? Diplomacy by ministerial intervention is perhaps inevitable in modern circumstances. But it is a method full of pitfalls and dangers; and it is pursued under a floodlight of publicity that is unpropitious for diplomatic work. It succeeds where, as in Anglo-American relations—and thank God for it!—there is close community of thought and interests, and a genuine and prevailing wish for success. In such circumstances, let Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers meet—not too frequently for they have their jobs to do at home—but let them meet from time to time, and great good will come from their meeting. But where there is ma background of confidence, and especially where there is no careful preparation beforehand by experienced diplomats, no community of thought or interests, and no genuine wish to be helpful to the other party—then beware of these ministerial interventions, of these high-powered visitors. Such visits will not improve the prospects of peace; they may well add to the confusion. As Juliet said to Romeo:I have no joy of this contract to-nigh,It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,Too like the lightening that doth cease to beEre one can say, it lightens.My Lords, I have detained you long enough. The long and short of it is that I wholeheartedly support all that my noble friend Lord Vansittart has put before your Lordships' House. If you have someone trained to bark up a tree, do not go and bark up that tree yourself. Why should you? After all, you have trained soldiers, trained sailors, trained lawyers. Like everything else, diplomacy is a profession, and it requires experience and training. Why not use the services of those who have been through the mill? If a number of these seem to be good and some to be bad, take advantage of the good ones you have got instead of, in a sense, undermining their authority.
I have purposely avoided anything in the nature of personal anecdotage, but I should like, if I may, to refer to this one example. Your Lordships will 403 remember some discussions that we had in this House on whether or not to evacuate Egypt. I took a line with which the Government disagreed—no doubt for good reason. My point is this: I am firmly convinced that if the question of treaty revision had been allowed to take its perfectly normal course, through the normal channels of diplomacy, we should probably have secured an Agreement to the mutual satisfaction of Egypt and of ourselves. That is my conviction. Instead of that (all of this is not personal, please believe me), while I was putting the usual soundings to the Egyptian Prime Minister, who was quite responsive, I suddenly realised that something had happened, something of which I was completely ignorant. I soon discovered that the Egyptian Government knew, well ahead of the Embassy and myself, the Ambassador, that the British Government were sending out a Cabinet mission. This completely undermined the authority of the Embassy. Your Lordships know the results. I have no desire to embark on this old story, but things did get on the wrong rails; our troops piled up there, and we had perforce to get out. That was the beginning of the general glissage from which we are now suffering. I apologise for bringing in this personal example, but it is fresh in my mind, and I am convinced that we could have secured a revision of the Treaty and avoided the terrible troubles in which we now find ourselves in that part of the world—the Middle East.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Strang, for kindly permitting me to jump a place ahead of him, thus breaking up the strong combination of three successive ex-diplomats who follow each other in procession. I listened carefully to what my noble friend Lord Vansittart said, and I must say that he was much more reasonable and restrained than in all the circumstances I might have expected him to be, and I am grateful for that. All through that magnificent extempore effort he addressed to your Lordships this afternoon, one well worth study, particularly by would-be speakers, he seemed to have forgotten a statement I remember being made immediately after 404 the First World War by the late Field Marshal Smuts:Do not forget that the whole world is on the march.The world has been on the march ever since, and, I would add, in accordance with what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has said, the world on the march has become a much smaller place, because of the shortening of the time required for communication. We, as the great example of a free Parliament, which we are proud to call the Mother of Parliaments, must remember that the world on the march has meant that most of the countries in the world have become inspired with the desire to come up to our standard of free democracy. We ourselves have grown rapidly since 1832. I gather from the noble Lords who have spoken that the hundred years' freedom from any great world conflict must be attributed largely to the art of diplomacy. I would say that one of the most effective reasons for the peace of the world during that period was the pressure of the democracies. After the great world conflagration of 1914–18, President Wilson produced his famous Fourteen Points. Then people asked why democracies should be put in the situation of having to go to war. They saw that there was so much secret diplomacy in the world that the populations had no real voice in deciding what they were going to do.
I find some difficulty about this visit in which the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, is interested. In the march of events there have been some sad breaks and we have seen the uprising not of free Parliaments but of totalitarian States, such as there was in Germany and have been in other countries as well as in the U.S.S.R. One of the great difficulties we have had is that we cannot get into touch with the common people and their representative institutions behind the walls set up by dictatorship. For the first time in our dealings with Russia, so far as I can recollect, we have two of the most prominent men at the moment in power coming to this country. We never had Lenin or Stalin here. In the extraordinarily difficult stage of world affairs I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea, that it cannot do harm to have these two leaders here for direct talks, so long as the talks are open, frank and sincere. 405 That, of course, is something which has to be looked at especially.
Do not let us think, like the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, that a limited diplomacy, through a reduced number of Ambassadors with more special powers, even though they all were raised to the status of Privy Counsellors, as the Foreign Office has advocated, is going to stop war. Diplomacy might have been very good between 1814 and 1914, but the real power which kept us out of a great world war was the overwhelming superiority in the world of the Royal Navy. There is no question in my mind about that. That was a power which I think was quietly and reasonably wielded throughout the world and used from time to time only against real abuses of man's proper basis of freedom.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, I could not agree more. The fact that we had a very efficient and—I do not like to use the word—dominating Navy definitely strengthened the hands of Her Majesty's representatives abroad. That is without any question whatever.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
It may well be so. We had overwhelming power then to back a right decision. That does not mean that we were always right; but certainly that power kept peace in the world sufficiently to avoid a great world conflict. But consider the change in the position to-day, where there are great forces, far more overpowering than the Royal Navy was then, not in one country but in half-a-dozen countries. People in the world are still on the march, and I should have thought that, because of these circumstances, there was everything to be said for coming face to face, whenever necessary, with the leading Ministers of other countries, so that it could never be said that there was not real understandable exchange of opinions between the men who are responsible for leading the nations of the world.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, would not the noble Viscount agree that such meetings, as and when desirable, should be adequately prepared for in advance through normal diplomatic channels?
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I should think that any Government, of whatever Party or colour, 406 that engaged in a conference without proper preparations would be exceedingly unwise, and I am not assuming at the present stage that the Government have not been preparing for the talks that will happen on this occasion. While I sometimes regret, with the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, that these journeys are undertaken at times not always wisely chosen, I beg those noble Lords who have spoken in support of the noble Lord's Motion not to damp down altogether a conference of this kind, because I think that, unless the world can really come to a state in which large sections of each community can be informed and stand behind the decisions of their country, there is no future for the world but disaster. I hope that the coming visit will, with the aid of Her Majesty's Government and the aid of the attitude of the people of this country, lead to a success greater than anticipated, apparently, by some noble Lords who have spoken.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ LORD STRANG
My Lords, it is for me an honour to follow my old chief and predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, in this debate. It gives me an opportunity to pay a tribute to one to whom the whole Foreign Service owes a deep debt of gratitude and from whom I myself have received much wise instruction and unfailing kindness. I have called him "my old chief," but I think that is a misnomer, for if anyone has preserved the perennial spirit of youth over the years, it is the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart. Like the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, I propose not to touch upon the question of the Russian visit; I have said all I want to say about that on another occasion. I propose to confine myself to the question of high-level conferences and visits.
As some speakers have already said, diplomacy by high-level conference and visit is not new. In days gone by, kings and emperors had personal meetings, not always with happy results; and in the past Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries have attended in person momentous conferences at which peace settlements have been drawn up after great wars. But since the end of the First World War, as the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has strikingly shown, the number of such high-level conferences and visits has grown to vast proportions. I might, as a footnote, quote here from my own 407 experience. I recall that during the five years or so during which I was Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office there were long periods when it was rather unusual for the Foreign Secretary to be continuously in his office for more than three weeks at a time, and sometimes it was a good deal less. The interruptions caused by those journeys abroad varied from a few days to several weeks.
As previous speakers have said, there seem to be two main reasons for the present state of affairs. The first is the growth of the international community, the increase in intimacy in relations between Government and Government, based on freely accepted principles of international behaviour—and that, it seems to me, is a good development. The second reason is akin to the first. It anises from the increase in public interest in international affairs and in the actual course of international negotiations. The hazards of war are now threatening everybody alike. As the author of a review in The Times Literary Supplement said the other day:In a world where war is everybody's tragedy and everybody's nightmare, diplomacy is everybody's business.The more publicity there is for international affairs, the more do the public—and quite understandably so—expect to see their responsible Ministers directly handling international negotiations on their behalf.
I am far from saying that these developments do not bring with them certain benefits—I think they do. But, carried to excess, as I think they have been, the price is high, and perhaps it may be too high. In the first place, the present practice places an intolerable strain upon the Foreign Secretary himself. I say "intolerable" advisedly, because the two Foreign Secretaries whom I served for most of my time as Permanent Under-Secretary both suffered severely in health under the strain. The Foreign Secretary's primary duties seem to be three: first, to work out his policy in concert with his Cabinet colleagues; secondly, to declare his policy on all proper occasions in Parliament; and thirdly, to direct the execution of his policy, through Her Majesty's Ambassadors abroad or through our permanent representatives on international organizations, or through the 408 foreign Ambassadors in London. In order to perform those functions effectively the Foreign Secretary must be at his desk in the Foreign Office; he must be in his seat in the Cabinet, and he must be in his place in the House of Commons.
We are bound to ask: how can he perform those duties effectively if he spends a great part of his time abroad doing the work of Her Majesty's Ambassadors? His work in London is arduous enough, in all conscience. He must evolve his policy, often in conditions of great difficulty. He has to formulate it in precise and accurate terms, so that his thoughts and intentions may be conveyed to foreign Governments through Her Majesty's Ambassadors. Those of us who have spent a good part of our lives drafting instructions for Ambassadors know how severe a test of policy that is. It is small wonder, then, that in the climate of to-day a Minister may sometimes be tempted to take an easier way: to jump into an aircraft with only a general idea of his policy, with no precisely defined formulation of it, and go and talk round a table with his opposite number in the hope that, by a kind of joint improvisation, something useful may come out of the meeting. The temptation is to think that a conference is a substitute for a policy. I do not say that that often happens, but it can, and does sometimes, happen. I admit, if I may say so—and I speak as an ex-civil servant—that Parliamentarians are very skilful and resourceful in that kind of negotiation. But that is not the best kind of diplomacy, nor is it the true kind of diplomacy.
We may well ask the question: what happens to the work of the Foreign Secretary in London when he is away on his travels? Two kinds of thing happen: either he leaves his work behind him, or he takes it with him. If he leaves it behind him it is taken by one or other of his Cabinet colleagues, who may or may not be familiar with foreign problems and who, in any case, would have his own work to do. The junior Foreign Office Ministers and the senior officials will take what decisions they can, but time and time again they will have to go to higher authority for a decision; and, however gifted the substitute Foreign Minister may be, this is at best a makeshift, because the conduct of foreign affairs, with the constantly shifting crosscurrents and sudden crises, requires the 409 continuous play of one mind and one hand.
On the other hand, if the Foreign Secretary takes his work with him when he goes on his travels, the position in London is even more difficult. The Foreign Office system of communications is highly efficient and very flexible, and the Foreign Office staff are well skilled in the art of concise exposition. But the problem of seeking the Minister's personal decisions upon a flow of urgent and complex matters when he is deep in conference in, say, Paris or Washington, or Baghdad or Karachi, is one which makes the life of the Permanent Under-Secretary—and I speak feelingly on this matter—a kind of nightmare.
Is it really necessary for the Foreign Secretary to make all these journeys abroad? I think the answer is, "No." We must, of course, admit that some journeys—I would even say a good number of journeys—are necessary, and some are very desirable. For example, nothing but the personal intervention of Sir Anthony Eden in the Western European capitals in the autumn of 1954, after the rejection of the European Defence Community Treaty could, I think, have saved the situation and made the conclusion of the London and Paris Agreements possible There was a journey which seems to me to have been absolutely indispensable.
In the second place, I think it is right that the Foreign Secretary should show himself sometimes at meetings of established international organisations like the United Nations, N.A.T.O., and so on. For one thing—and this is not the only reason—other Governments might regard it as a slight if he did not. There is one curious exception to the current practice of ministerial attendance at such meetings. In the Security Council, at the very heart of the United Nations, it is our permanent representative who occupies our chair and the Foreign Secretary I think has never attended. I venture to think that our interests have been most adequately, indeed, I might even say, brilliantly, served by our permanent representatives in New York: first, Sir Gladwyn Jebb and after him Sir Pierson Dixon, both members of the Foreign Service. If this can be done even in the Security Council, one might ask why cannot it be done elsewhere.
410 A third kind of visit is, I think, necessary—I will not enlarge upon it, because it has been said better than I could by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn—and that is attendance at high-level Four Power meetings. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Killearn said about the need for adequate preparation. That seems to me to be absolutely necessary, though I would add that I think ministerial attendance at such meetings is essential when the right time arrives. Fourthly, it is sometimes said that Foreign Secretaries get a better insight into the foreign situation by paying visits to foreign capitals—a better insight than they could get by reading any number of telegrams and despatches. May I quote an example? There is little doubt that the personal relationships which the Federal German Chancellor has established both in London and Paris have contributed powerfully to the movement of Western Germany into the Western European Community, a movement which is one of the most hopeful developments of our time.
All this is true enough, but there must be moderation in all things. Mere mobility is no guarantee of profundity. As the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has said, Sir Edward Grey was one of our great Foreign Secretaries and he did not travel abroad. How did he do his work? May I quote an example? In 1912, after the Balkan War, there was an acute international crisis over Albania and an imminent danger of European war. Sir Edward Grey called a meeting of the Great Powers in London. Did the Foreign Secretaries pack their bags and take train to London, giving Press conferences on the way? They did not. One and all, they instructed their Ambassadors in London to confer together with the British Foreign Secretary. To our ears to-day the names of those Ambassadors ring out almost like those of the Knights of the Round Table. Mensdorff of Austria, Imperiali of Italy, Lichnowsky of Germany, Benckendorff of Russia and, last but not least, that pattern of Ambassadors, Paul Cambon, Ambassador of France. They began to meet in December, 1912. Their meetings were informal, as of friends together. They met intermittently when necessary until August, 1913. When they ceased to meet the crisis had faded away.
411 I would quote here some of Grey's own words: He said:There was no formal finish. We were not photographed in a group; we had no votes of thanks; no valedictory speeches; we just left off meeting. We had not settled anything, but we served a useful purpose … When we ceased to meet, the present danger to the peace of Europe was over; the things that we did not settle were not threatening that peace; the things that had threatened the relations between the Great Powers in 1912–13 we had deprived of their dangerous features.I submit that in that short passage there are texts for half a dozen sermons on diplomacy.
Beside that passage I should like to set another passage drawn from a recent address by the historian, Sir Llewellyn Woodward, in which he sets forth some reflections on British policy between 1939 and 1945. He is speaking of the three war-time conferences at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam, to which reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn. This is what he said:Much that has been said and written of these three meetings … seems to overrate their importance as determining or changing the course of events … the atmosphere was overcharged, and the surroundings unfavourable. The meetings brought into the settlement of international questions something like a dynastic or at all events an over-dramatic element. They led too easily to hubble-bubble, verbal compromises and … papering over cracks … It is odd that, with the somewhat dismal record of past conferences of principals a popular legend should have developed that there is something magical about the flowers which bloom in these modern Fields of the Cloth of Gold.The danger is, as I see it, of overestimating and reposing excessive confidence in the effect of personal meetings and of the personal relationships and personal influence of individual statesmen upon the course of international affairs. Mr. Neville Chamberlain thought that he could influence Hitler. President Roosevelt thought that he could manage Stalin. Many people thought that if the noble Earl, Lord Halifax—though I am bound to say the noble Earl was certainly not one of them—had himself gone to Moscow in the summer of 1939 he could somehow have brought off an agreement with the Soviet Government which had eluded the Ambassadors.
The truth is, as I see it, that the relationships between nations are more deeply rooted and more enduringly 412 oriented than the personal impact or influence of the statesman who may from time to time be charged with conduct of them. Three hundred years ago Cardinal de Richelieu laid down a principle of diplomacy which is still, I think, valid. He said that the thing to do was to go on negotiating without ceasing, openly or secretly, everywhere possible, even though there might be no present results to show and even though there might be no clear prospect of future results. The conclusion which I would draw from this is that it would not be wise to rely overmuch on intermittent ministerial efforts in the field of diplomacy to the detriment of the steady, day-to-day preparatory work of the trained professionals which has borne fruit in the past and could, I think, bear fruit to-day. Unfortunately this is the age of the twilight of the Ambassadors. They used to be—as other speakers have said—figures in the world Now, in these levelling days, they have lost caste and status. Their influence has been undermined and they have been shorn of much of their panoply; and yet they could still be a more powerful instrument than they are. We have Ambassadors in service to-day who could stand comparison with any we have had in the past, and it is perhaps a pity that they are not used more.
As for the remedy, I confess that I do not think that anything heroic or drastic is possible. New international custom and new public demand are both very strong indeed in favour of ministerial diplomacy. But, just as our economic situation could, it might seem, be redeemed if only every one of us would for a while work a little harder, consume a little less and save a little more, so also a Secretary of State could, I believe, create a more tolerable situation for himself and forge a more effective instrument for our diplomacy if he could, from now onwards, refrain from unnecessary absence from London and, step by step, increase the responsibility which lies upon the professionals, who are only too ready to serve him to the utmost of their ability. I speak of what I know when I say that there does not exist anywhere a Foreign Service more highly skilled and more deeply devoted to the public cause than the Service which the British Foreign Secretary has at his command.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, picketed, surrounded, hemmed in by a posse of distinguished diplomats, I have a slight feeling of being, perhaps, in the clock, for a great many years ago, in 1920, I had the honour of delivering the first lecture at Chatham House to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, under the chairmanship of the late Lord Balfour, and with a very distinguished audience. My subject was "Diplomacy by conference." Speaking just after the First World War and the Peace Conference—where diplomacy by conference had great successes (both in the Supreme War Council and in other conferences during the war, and then at the Peace Conference itself)—I naturally took rather a bright view of diplomacy by conference. I do not believe that I put the case too high and, if your Lordships will permit me to read a few lines from the summary to that lecture, you will see the reasons:It can hardly be doubted that diplomacy by conference has come to stay. … Modern developments in international communications, the increased dependence of nations upon each other's products, the extension of colonies and the increasing interests of labour organisations in foreign policy all tend to produce international problems of the greatest difficulty. Their solution frequently requires resources beyond those of the most competent and qualified diplomatists. Such questions can only be settled in conference by persons who have their hand on the pulse of political conditions and currents of thought in their respective countries, who have at their immediate disposal all the technical knowledge which Governments possess, who know how far they can persuade their fellow countrymen to go in the direction of compromise and who, in so much as they have to defend their policy before their respective Parliaments, are alone in a position to make real concessions.…But that I did not overlook the importance of diplomacy is shown by the next sentence:This does not mean that the functions or prestige of diplomats are lessened. On the contrary, their responsibilities are increased and they require an even wider perspective than in the past to keep them abreast of the times. Conferences only touch the fringe of their work, and there is an enormous mass of important intermediate business preceding or arising out of, or independent of, conferences which the Diplomatic Service is called upon to transact. Moreover, it is more important than ever that Governments should be well informed as to the developments and tendencies in foreign countries. Even during the conferences, the presence of diplomatists who can advise their chiefs as to local colour 414 and between the meetings can act as intermediaries is invaluable.In that last respect, I should like to mention that, whenever I had to do with a conference, as I often did as Secretary or Secretary-General, I turned usually to the Permanent Under-Secretary of State of the day and asked him to attach to me a distinguished diplomat who would keep me straight so far as my secretarial functions impinged on policy. Those distinguished persons included, at one conference, a gentleman named Miles Lampson, with whom I worked in the very closest intimacy (at the Washington Conference), Sir Eric Phipps, who must be known to many, and Mr. Wigram. Those were not all, but those were the class of people who became my intimate friends in the course of that work.
I do not really believe that there is any difference between my noble friend Lord Vansittart and myself on the question of principle—namely, that we require all three methods in proper balance; but my noble friend Lord Vansittart's case is that the methods have got out of balance, that there is too much diplomacy by conference and by visit and too little normal diplomacy. With that I agree. They have got out of balance, but have all to be retained. It must be admitted that since the Second World War the diplomacy by conference system has achieved very little success, but I am not sure whether that is due only to the system or to the failure to use the right methods. It may be that modern statesmen have something to learn from their predecessors in conference technique. One fundamental mistake is that only too often the parties to a forthcoming conference—I am not speaking only of our own Government but of all Governments concerned—tend to announce beforehand the line that they are going to take. If one party to a conference does that, the other parties have to do the same; and often the result is that there is not sufficient room for manœuvre—for give-and-take, and the flexibility which is essential to the success of a conference is weakened. After reading such pronouncements the newspapers, how often does one say, "I am afraid that that cannot be a success after all."
Among the many conferences with which I myself was associated, I think the most illuminating, possibly even the 415 most successful, was the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. I say this because, meeting within two months of Armistice Day, they had in less than six months completed and signed the Treaty of Versailles. I think that was a most remarkable performance. Of course, I am not defending the Treaty of Versailles as an ideal peace. An ideal peace at that moment was no more possible than an ideal peace was possible immediately after World War II. The world was full of hate; some wanted to scramble for the spoils; there was widespread chaos all over Europe, especially in Russia, but all the same they did complete a Treaty, and peace was maintained for twenty years. I believe that it would have been a much more successful peace had not the Americans, after persuading the Conference to many things which other members had not liked very much, run out of both the Conference and the Covenant of the League of Nations.
I should like now to say a few words about the technical methods by which that success was achieved. I believe the first reason for success was that the "Big Four" of that day—Clemenceau, Wilson, Lloyd George and Orlando—had made up their minds that they must get a peace immediately because they could not see their way to demobilisation or anything until they had got one; so they determined to worry it out and to give the problems of their home Governments second place. They spent the first month of their conference in a body called the Council of Ten, which was really a continuation of the Supreme War Council, and began by sitting as a Supreme War Council because there were so many military problems that kept cropping up all over the place with Europe in such a disturbed state. But their main object in their first month was to lay out the conference, get it organised, set up committees and commissions to go to danger spots and disturbed places all over Europe. At the end of that month, they all went home except M. Clemenceau, who was very nearly the victim of an assassination, being wounded. All the others returned home to clear up domestic problems.
When they came back about the middle of the conference, they found that their deputies, whom they had left in charge, 416 had not been able effectively to hold the conference together and that the conference was going downhill—the commissions and committees were throwing up insoluble problems which there was no one to solve, the Council of Ten had themselves become a leaky body and it was impossible to keep anything secret. Therefore, these four men withdrew themselves into complete obscurity, meeting at first only with a French interpreter. After a short time they sometimes found it difficult to remember what had been their decisions, and an Italian interpreter-secretary for M. Orlando, and myself as a kind of administrative secretary and recorder, were brought in. Between March 26 and June 28, 1918, they held about 147 meetings in 96 days and, so far as they could be settled, they settled all the outstanding questions, and, as I say, signed the Treaty of Versailles. Of course there were disagreements among the four—some fierce, irreconcilable at the time, and they had to stand over. But given the extreme difficulties of the problems, the completion of the Treaty in that short time was a superb accomplishment.
Another reason for their success was the informality and simplicity of their procedure, which gave full play to the human factor. I want to stress that the human factor is most important in a successful conference. These four outstanding and understanding men, meeting together constantly, were enabled by this close contact of minds to reach agreement notwithstanding their difficulties. I am not sure whether the modern system of mechanised conferences is so good as that. You can compare the picture of the Council of Four in a small room, without even a table, with the published photographs of meetings with corresponding councils at Geneva, with masses of earphones and crowds of experts. In such circumstances I do not believe that it is so easy to establish that human touch that is so important. I myself have sometimes sat in committee rooms, watching the Committees of the United Nations, and compared with the old days it seemed to me that there was a great loss of human touch.
Another reason for the comparative success of that Paris Conference, I think, was that right through they always had the same chairman—namely, M. Clemenceau. Conferences suffer terribly from change of chairman. In order to 417 drive the business along one has to have at the top someone who, with the secretary-general, has the task of ensuring that the conference shall drive through to success. For instance, absurd things have happened about agenda papers. Sometimes modern conferences have failed because they never succeeded in reaching agreement on what they were going to discuss; but at Paris that was left to the chairman in the Council of Four in consultation with myself. At a conference it is the business of the chairman and secretary-general to know the exact state of readiness of every question before the conference. That was so at nearly all the conferences with which I was associated until my retirement in 1938, and I do not think there was ever a hitch about a question of that kind.
Your Lordships may think I am talking trivialities, but they are not trivialities. As Bacon put it so well:A long table and a square table, or seats about the walls seem things of form, but they are things of substance.And so are all these other details of which I have spoken. I sometimes wonder whether sufficient attention is being given to-day to the evolution of a skilled international secretariat for conferences outside of the United Nations. One never hears mentioned, in accounts of such conferences, the name of the secretary-general. I may be told that it is thought better to keep his name out of it. I always sought to keep myself out of it, but I feel that if there were such a person one would have heard of him. At N.A.T.O., where the Western Allies meet to co-ordinate their military policies, plans and preparations, we have fortunately a master-mind in the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Is may, who knows every trick of the trade about getting things done and is a great statesman as well; but in the equally important business of peacemaking no comparable figure has emerged, so far as I am aware. It is by no means essential that lie should be a professional diplomat, although it would be an advantage if the right man is there. Otherwise, the Cabinet Office and the Defence Committee secretariat ought to be able to provide a man.
In all this I am sure I shall be told that the Russians are very difficult people to deal with. We did not have them in Paris. We tried very hard to get them, and I believe that one of the great weaknesses of 418 the peace was that we could not get them there. The only conference I had at which the Russians were present was the Genoa Conference in 1922. That was mainly for financial and commercial matters, and they behaved very properly and correctly in all the ordinary work of the conference. Then, at the end, we discovered that, behind our backs, they had concluded the Treaty of Rapallo with the Germans. I want to conclude that part of what I have to say on diplomacy by conference by remarking that I do not believe that this great complex of problems from Korea right the way through the Middle East to the Straits of Gibraltar will ever be settled until a Big Four, after infinite preparation in which the diplomatists will have to play a tremendous part, have succeeded in preparing the ground. After that they can meet and get down to work for six months, or even longer.
Turning for a moment to diplomacy proper, I agree with every single word that has been said by my colleagues on these Benches, especially the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who, being the latest from school, so to speak, seemed to know, and was able to give us, the last word. I believe that the most successful example I have known of treaty-making by Ambassadors was the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, to which my noble friend Lord Killearn referred. I did not know that he was going to mention it and I have not seen him this year; but, by coincidence, I picked that out as the most successful treaty-making by an Ambassador that I have known, because the whole of the work for that Treaty of 1936—as I was in a good position to see—was done by the noble Lord, although the Treaty itself was signed by some of the most distinguished statesmen of the day.
When I visited Cairo again in January, 1946, the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, was still Ambassador, and I had many examples of his extraordinary public and private popularity—I will not give them in detail, as they would take too long. But at that moment he seemed to be well on the way to a new Treaty. He was on the best of terms with the Ministers and was discussing it with them. I had every hope, at that time, that we should see another Treaty of Alliance which, of course, would have been much changed in detail. But for reasons which I have never been able to discover, he was 419 whisked away to Malaya just at that point, in spite of a private telegram which I sent to Mr. Bevin warning him that this action would endanger his Government's policy. Since that day our diplomacy in the Middle East, whether by conference, by visit or by Ambassadors, has had very little success. As I have pointed out once before, I believe that was due to a Government policy which is not the subject of my speech to-day; but as a mere matter of procedure (and I feel this is relevant to the subject of this discussion) I have long been convinced that if Governments had kept in being the old Committee of Imperial Defence and had applied, in 1953 and 1954, the methods of their predecessors—Mr. Balfour, Mr. Asquith, Mr. Lloyd George, and their successors—by appointing a special subcommittee, preferably with the Prime Minister as chairman, to hear the case of their critics who were their friends, critics who wanted to help them and whose forecasts have come so terribly true, then the deterioration mentioned in the motion of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to be taken to-morrow, would not have occurred.
Just to sum up: we need all three systems of diplomacy: first, by occasional conference for top-level policy, after Ambassadors have prepared the way; second, by Embassies, all the time; and, third, by visits on rare occasions, such as, I think, the French Prime Minister's visit to Chequers last Sunday in order to nip in the bud a threatened Anglo-French misunderstanding. Such actions can enormously impress people, provided they are not resorted to too often. As an example, I should like to mention that the success of that conference at Chequers was prayed for in the British Embassy Church at Paris on Sunday evening, which seemed to make a great impression on the congregation.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, I count myself fortunate to be speaking the last of your Lordships before the Minister replies because, following the process of a lifetime in another place, I propose to make some comments on the points that have been made. I should like first, as one who is not an expert, to refer to Lord Hankey's most interesting speech—and may I say, in parenthesis, that perhaps it is just as well 420 that someone who is not an expert should occasionally address your Lordships on these matters; I am not being sarcastic: I am merely making a statement of belief. As to Lord Hankey's speech, delivered with the almost unique authority of one who was Secretary to the Cabinet for so many troubled, difficult and dramatic years, I think all of us would agree with his conclusions. Because I do not think it is strictly relevant to this debate I do not propose to make any comments upon the Versailles Treaty, but I should not have regarded that as a good example of what can be done by statesmen at high level. I take the view, which I know many members of the public share, that it was one of the causes of the Second World War. So I should not have thought that the fact that these four gentlemen, some of them supremely ignorant of foreign affairs—Mr. Lloyd George, in particular—managed to get some sort of agreement in two months was necessarily an argument in favour of high-level conferences.
§ LORD HANKEY
It was six months. In the case of a man of Mr. Lloyd George's intelligence, with all his experience at the Supreme War Councils, in conference; and after six months with these three, as well as daily conferences with the diplomatists in the delegation who coached him for every meeting, I do not think the noble Earl should talk of ignorance.
§ EARL WINTERTON
That is as may be. I think that the public would rather share my view than that of my noble friend about those meetings.
Two arguments against the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, which have been used by Lord Rea and Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, were practically the same. Both said that life has quickened everywhere. Lord Alexander of Hillsborough said that the world was on the march. That does not seem to me by itself (I do not think this is a forensic argument) to justify these conferences which have been termed, so infelicitously, "high-level conferences." I should have thought that the real matter at issue was whether or not, as a result of these conferences that have been held ever since 1919, the world was a safer or more secure place than it was then. I should have thought that that was one of the considerations that must apply. As 421 I understood Lord Alexander of Hillsborough's argument, he said that we had to endeavour to get other nations to follow the standard of our democracy. If so, we have been singularly unfortunate, because a far greater portion of Europe and Asia is under totalitarian rule to-day than before the 1914–1918 war. There was at any rate some liberty in Germany. There is none in East Germany to-day. There was some liberty in Hungary; none to-day. There was some liberty in Roumania. There was even some liberty in Russia and certainly some in China. I am afraid that the noble Viscount—I say this with all respect; he knows the respect that I have for him in private life—is following the fatal delusions of the 'twenties and 'thirties in supposing that everything is improving; that mankind is becoming more reasonable, more tolerant. I am afraid that the exact opposite, taken over the last fifty years, is the case. I agree with what Lord Killearn said in a most admirable speech——and if I may say so without impertinence, there were also admirable speeches from Lord. Strang and Lord Vansittart—that these conferences are desirable when you meet friends, but not when you meet enemies. After all, what can a conference between M. Bulganin and M. Khruschev and the Prime Minister achieve, since neither side wants a hot war because of the mutual destruction which it would involve? Occasional talks at that level may be of value—possibly a meeting such as the Geneva Conference—in doing something to make the chance of a hot war more remote. But how can this conference affect the cold war? Is it not abundantly clear to all of us who keep our eyes and our ears open that the cold war cannot be avoided, for three reasons, at any rate, for the next twenty-five years?
The first reason is that the Soviet believe—and I would refer noble Lords to the last speech made by Stalin; a very remarkable speech—that Western capitalism cannot survive alongside Communism. It believes it can be destroyed, even if it takes a generation to do so, from within or from without. I may say, strictly in parenthesis, that when we have such an unfortunate state of affairs as this misunderstanding at the moment, to put it no higher, between the State Department (I hope it does not apply to Mr. Dulles) and the Government here over what has 422 happened in Cyprus, there is some ground, though I hope a very slender ground, for the Soviet's belief that Western democracy—I would call it Christian democracy—will be destroyed from within. Does not this particular incident immensely strengthen the powerful arguments put by my noble friend who has spoken with such unique knowledge on these matters? And, may I say, one could not find four men who speak with greater knowledge on these matters than the four speakers who have spoken to-day from the Cross Benches.
The argument against these peripatetic Ministers is strengthened by the fact that at this moment the Foreign Secretary is overseas. If ever there was a time when the Foreign Secretary should be in Whitehall, it is when an incident of this kind occurs. Of course the Minister of Stale cannot tell us—it would be improper if he were to do so—but I should be glad to know who is carrying on the Foreign Secretary's duties while he is away. We had an interesting statement from Lord Strang, and I know from my own experience in the past that the system varies. Sometimes another Minister takes over control; sometimes the unfortunate Minister has to deal with things in the aeroplane.
The second reason why the cold war will continue is that the Soviet believes that truth, justice, liberty, individual rights, must be disregarded in the interest of Communism. As to the third reason, there has never been a more anti-Christian doctrine than that which is boldly put forward by the Communist countries. I make no apology for mentioning this; it is too little mentioned Parliament. The Communist countries believe that man is sufficient to himself and that there is no such thing as a God. It is because of the second and third reasons I have given for the continuation of the cold war that the Roman Catholic Church universally tights Communism with all its force. I must say that, compared with the fight which Roman Catholicism puts up against Communism, that of the Church of England and the Free Churches is only a feeble twittering. In fact, the Church of England cannot deal even with its own prominent Communists in the shape of the Dean of Canterbury, who used the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral to make the most 423 monstrous libels against our Allies over the Korean war.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am tremendously interested in this. I would ask the noble Earl if he would be good enough to look at what I said in your Lordships' House on June 15 last year. On both illustrations given in his speech, I would say this to the noble Earl. Last year, on May 1, in instituting the new Feast of St. Joseph the Workman, a statement was issued from the Vatican to the people present that capitalism was not conformable to nature nor in accordance with God's order. That statement came from Roman Catholicism. It is true that much of Russia is exactly as the noble Earl says, with a complete absence of belief in God, but it is also true that the Soviets make overtures to the Roman Catholic Church. If the noble Earl will look up The Times, he will see that mayors from Moscow and other towns have taken High Mass in Florence and other cities in Italy. I do not think he will be able to support entirely the argument he is using.
§ EARL WINTERTON
My Lords, naturally I listen with respect to what the noble Viscount has said, but he is the first person of responsibility and prominence that I have ever heard saying that the Roman Catholic Church is not fighting at any rate political Communism with all the powers at its disposal. As this debate may be widely reported, as I hope it will be, in the Press to-morrow, I think the noble Viscount will have a good many letters of protest at his suggestion that the Roman Catholic Church is not doing so.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, as I said before in your Lordships' House, the majority of letters I received agreed entirely with what I said.
§ EARL WINTERTON
I accept what the noble Viscount says, but I do not think his opinion will be generally shared outside this House in Roman Catholic circles.
I agree that the visit of Messrs. Bulganin and Khruschev must continue. I am prepared to admit, because I have a great respect for the Prime Minister, that he might have had good reasons at 424 the time to give this invitation, and I do not want to embarrass him—though I am an unimportant person and it does not much matter what I say. The offensive remarks that these two gentlemen made in India about us, however, were remarks which before the war would have meant an international crisis, as I am sure the noble Lords on the Cross Benches will agree. If the Tsar had made such statements, that would have led to an international crisis. I well remember the incident to which the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, referred, when Members of another place heard of King Edward VII's visit to Russia. I had seldom seen the House more excited. They could not attack King Edward VII for paying a visit to the Tsar, of course, because the King's name cannot be brought into debate, but they attacked the Government for authorising the visit and for sending Sir Charles Harding with the King. There was vast indignation. The Liberal Back Benchers were almost in revolt. In those days Liberalism felt very strongly about tyranny in countries overseas. After the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I am not quite sure that they feel so strongly to-day. As the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, pointed out, the number of those condemned to a living death or who have been judicially murdered behind the Iron Curtain to-day is infinitely greater than those so treated by the Tsar.
There is something macabre in the idea of the representatives of this system—because that is what they are; they are in it up to their necks—coming to this country and being received by the highest in the land. I assure the Minister of State that there are many people outside your Lordships' House who feel very strongly on this subject. All the clichés common to speeches at Mansion House and Government banquets, such as "the historic friendship between our two countries," and "We salute you, Marshal, as a great war-time ally," will not alter the ugly facts of the people in prison camps, in Siberia and elsewhere. I think we should receive these gentlemen with courtesy, but not with cordiality. I take the opportunity of saying that I hope there will be no demonstrations against them: I think that would be a mistake. But I see no reason why the public should receive them with cordiality. Courtesy and cordiality are two different things.
425 Speaking with all reverence, I suggest that perhaps, not during the time of their visit, but before or after, it would be a good thing if there were a united service of prayer organised by all the Churches of this country on behalf of these unhappy people in the slave camps. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said that prayers were held in the Embassy Church in Paris for the success of the talks between the Prime Minister and Mr. Mollet It is right that the Churches should offer special prayers. I would say that it is their incumbent duty—and I hope the authorities of both the Church of England and the Free Churches will take notice of my observations—to take more regard than they have in the past of this hideous and terrible system. I do not know whether other noble Lords feel as I do. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think how awful it is, as the result of two world wars in which we lost so much that was dear to us in every respect, that there should be more cruelty and horrors in Europe and Asia than there were before those wars began. I wonder whether any of us of my generation can escape some responsibility for this situation.
§ 4.48 p.m.
THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS OF READING)
My Lords, this has been an interesting and I suppose, inevitably, at some moments, slightly nostalgic debate on the part of the highly qualified noble Lords who have taken part in it. I have still in mind the instance that the noble Lord, Lord Strang, gave of the conference over which Sir Edward Grey presided on the subject of Albania. When he recited the names of the speakers, figures who were then the Ambassadors of the countries attending that conference, my mind when back to the reverence with which they were generally regarded and the position which they held in the esteem and respect of the population of this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has spent the whole of his working life in the field of diplomacy. Therefore, I listened, as did the whole House, with the greatest attention and respect to the expression of his views on this subject. As usual, he conveyed to the House his sentiments in language which was elegant, forceful and picturesque. Undoubtedly he has found valuable support in the experience of the 426 other noble Lords who have spoken from the Cross Benches and of the others who have taken part. I do not propose to argue at any length in this debate the case for the forthcoming visit of Mr. Bulganin and Mr. Khruschev. I confess that when I looked at the exact terms of the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord I took it that that particular passage did not really require discussion, for that part of the Motion which referred to the visit seemed to be not one of the component suggestions of the Motion, but rather an absolute assertion. Although, like the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and others who have spoken, I do not at all agree with the attitude to which the noble Lord has referred on this matter, there is evidence, which I could not and do not attempt to seek to controvert, that there is in this country a section of public opinion which is, for various reasons, opposed to the visit. Nevertheless, the invitation has been given and accepted; the dates for the visit have now been made public, and the detailed programme will in due course be announced.
When I listened to some of the speeches in the debate; when it was pointed out how far apart we were; when it was said that we had to look forward to another twenty-five years of cold war, and when other remarks were made on similar lines, I confess that I could not help the reflection in my own mind: "If that is the position and you think that this visit is objectionable on the grounds that we certainly do not share many points of view, how are we going to establish any contact with these people unless we put ourselves in a position to talk to them and exchange views with them when opportunity offers?" It is also, I think, quite legitimate to say that it may be not only interesting, but profitable, to them to see something of this country and its people going about their everyday work. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in Washington in this connection:If we have faith in our own policies and have confidence in our own actions, we should not be afraid to discuss policies, with others.That represents, I think, very aptly, the approach to the discussions which it is hoped to hold with these gentlemen when they come.
The reference in the terms of the Motion to that visit really is largely a peg upon which to hang the much wider 427 contentions which the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has expressed, and the suggestions to which he has given voice this afternoon. Those amount to a plea for fewer conferences and visits between political personages in different countries, and more scope for, and reliance upon, those trained in the art and mystery of diplomacy. The criticism has, I think, taken in two different forms of interchange between persons of different countries: the first, the conference, and the second, the visit. The two are, of course distinct, and each perhaps in its turn is capable of some sub-division: for in conferences there is the regular conference which takes place each year or each half-year at a stated time, as is the case with many of the organs and subordinate bodies of United Nations; and there is, also, what we may call the ad hoc conference, which is, I think, the real subject of the noble Lord's criticism and which is called together to deal with a particular situation as it arises. The conference and the visit are, I think, distinct even though they may be inter-related aspects of the same problem that we have been discussing.
This question of the right number of conferences, the proper principle to apply in judging whether or not a conference shall be held, or whether or not a Minister shall attend a conference which is, in any case, to be held, is a matter which during the past four and a half years I am bound to say I have heard frequently and cogently expounded, not only by Ambassadors but also by some of my ministerial colleagues on the eve of their departure to attend a conference half-way round the world; and I am not at all sure that I have not been guilty of sotto voce murmurings to myself along the same lines. As I said, this debate took on a somewhat nostalgic aspect. There was a craving—maybe a right and proper and well-founded craving—to go back to the old system, to the old diplomacy, to the old conditions which subsisted even before the First World War. To the older amongst us it is not only in the field of what I may call applied diplomacy that one would often like to be able to go back to those days. But with each year that passes we have to recognise that it becomes increasingly impossible. We are living in a different age, which would have been 428 almost unrecognisable to those who lived in the pre-1914 days, just as those years would have been absolutely unrecognisable to the young of the present generation. There are two different worlds and, however much sometimes we may yearn for it, it is no use thinking that we are going to be able to roll back the present world and combine it or in any way bring it into harmony in these respects with the vanished world of the past.
So many things have combined in these last thirty or forty years to give increased impetus to the changes which have taken place. I think the argument has rather been that in the course of time we have changed from what one noble Lord called the twilight of the Ambassadors to the spotlight of the politicians. But that is the development of the modern world. You have a modern world in which great attention—some of us often think excessive attention—has to be paid to the aspect of publicity in the world; you have a world very different from the old days in regard to the interest which the public at large takes in foreign affairs. My recollection is that, when I was young, for the newspapers to devote any considerable space to foreign affairs, except at a moment of real acute crisis, was a very rare thing. And, of course, in those days, what has now come to be called, no doubt rightly, the popular Press, was practically non-existent. Even the most sober and respectable daily newspaper devoted little attention to foreign affairs; and as a result largely of that attitude the great bulk of the public were quite uninstructed and quite uninterested in foreign affairs, except, as I say, when at some moment a threat arose which was likely to have a direct and unpleasant effect upon their own lives.
All that has changed to-day, and although we may not always welcome the exact form or the precise language in which matters of great import in foreign affairs are reproduced for the benefit of the public in the country, at the same time it is right and eminently desirable that the public at large who are, after all, just as interested in the outcome of foreign affairs as those who are trying to administer them in the Foreign Office and elsewhere, should have a proper interest and understanding in all that goes on. It is all very well to look back and contemplate with regret the passing of 429 an era in which the aeroplane, the telephone and the telegraph were unknown, but, at the same time, contemplation of that era is not really going to help us to bring an unprejudiced judgment upon how to conduct the affairs of to-day. We have to face a day in which mechanical devices of increasing complexity largely dominate our lives, and it is no good thinking that we can face our lives in the calm and detached atmosphere which may have prevailed before those inventions were introduced into it.
I have had some research made into the conferences which took place, it is true, after the First World War. Having looked through the list which was produced for me, I am hound to say that I do not feel that Ministers after the Second World War have really to be apologetic for having set a new example, because if you look back at the history of the years, say, from the Paris Treaty, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, referred, to the Locarno Treaty in 1925, you will find a formidable array of international conferences attended by large numbers of countries, as well as the almost perpetual bilateral discussions, especially in regard to German reparations, which were going on between pairs of countries all over the place during the same time. I think it is not unfair to say that the position to-day is not a new phenomenon, but is a continuation, and only to a limited extent, I think, an intensification, of a process which had already firmly established itself as an accepted feature of international life now more than forty years ago.
There is also this to be said, and it is implicit, I think, in what I said a little while ago about public opinion. Whatever may have been the merits of the diplomacy of the pre-1914 era—and undoubtedly its merits were great and its prestige very high—there could not be any greater mistake than to imagine that once the Paris Peace Conference was over there was any movement to go back to the methods of the old diplomacy, because those of us who were in any way of an age to be informed of matters at that time will remember clearly that secret diplomacy became a symbol of all that was supposed to be bad in the past, and to he eliminated from the brave new world which was supposed to be coming. Open diplomacy was supposed to be the 430 equivalent of some sort of Open Sesame—to open men's hands, men's hearts, men's minds and doors. Actually, what happened was that there were all these major conferences to which I have referred.
Perhaps just because there was no major full dress Peace Conference at the end of the Second World War, the politicians found themselves to that extent frustrated, and set about sublimating their frustrations by arranging a number of separate lesser conferences to make up to them for the absence of the one great conference. But there are quite a number of reasons why once the conference habit has taken root it is a matter of extreme difficulty to move it. Perhaps the fact is that the fashion being now in favour of conferences, the habit being the convening of conferences, it is a matter of extreme difficulty for any one country to take the first step in trying to reverse that process. A situation arises which, let us say, calls for international solution, or, at any rate, for international discussion. At once, according to the practice of to-day, somebody suggests a conference, and other countries promptly agree and set about appointing Ministers to lead their respective delegations and to attend the conferences on their behalf. If one recalcitrant Government holds out on those occasions and persists in either sending someone of lower status than the Foreign Secretary, or not sending anybody at all, that Government is at once accused by public opinion in all the other countries concerned of treating the other members of the conference with contempt, and treating the host country in which the Conference is going to be held with a lack of respect. It may be that other people would be just as competent in the particular instance to handle the matter, bat prestige is involved and no one can afford to accept the odium of debasing prestige.
There is a reflection to which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, called attention, as well as others: that methods of transportation are nowadays so rapid that it is almost impossible to refuse to go anywhere at any moment for any length of time, however short it may be. I remember, if I may interject this, that during the short while that my father was at the Foreign Office he was inclined to regard it as something of an imposition that the Secretary of State himself should be 431 required to travel so far afield as Geneva. To-day, he could reach Geneva from London in almost less time than it would have taken him to get to Birmingham. Indeed, to our generation, Geneva has become almost part of Metroland. A generation which has had the experience of lunching in Bangkok one day and London the next is not likely to be much affected by considerations of Geneva as a distant and difficult objective to attain. But, when travel is so easy, what answer is there for not attending a conference in, say, Singapore for a week? The journey by air takes no longer than the journey by train took to such a conference as the San Remo Conference, to which attention has already been called.
§ EARL WINTERTON
Is there not a simple answer to this: that the first duty of Her Majesty's Ministers is towards Parliament and the administration of their office? The argument of the noble Marquess carried to its logical extreme would mean that the Foreign Secretary would never be at home.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
It would not mean that because, fortunately, there are not yet conferences all the year round. But there are a certain number of conferences, and anybody who has the responsibility of being the head of the Foreign Office has to exercise his discretion and judgment in each particular case as to whether or not it is an engagement which he himself or anybody on his behalf ought to keep. All I am pointing out is that, in the ordinary course of events, it has become difficult, to a degree which could not have been contemplated thirty or forty years ago, to say that you will not go to a conference because of the time involved in getting to it and back from it. Nowadays, that argument is torn out of one's hands before one has been in a position to put it forward.
§ LORD KILLEARN
Will the Minister deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strang, that these journeys of Foreign Secretaries involve a severe physical strain upon them and render the 432 administration of their office difficult? So far as I know, the noble Marquess has not yet touched on that point.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
No. Equally, if I may say so to the noble Lord, so far as he knows I have not yet finished my speech. May I reproduce a quotation from my right honourable friend the Prime Minister which has already been used this afternoon—"Hope springs eternal." I will, of course, deal with that point before I sit down. May I reinforce the noble Lord's hopes by saying that I do not propose to be much longer, but certainly I will deal with that matter.
Perhaps it would be not inconvenient if I dealt with it now. I will say this about the position of Ambassadors: I have been long enough in the Foreign Office now, having served under various Secretaries of State, to know how much importance is attached to the position of Ambassadors. The fact that more of them are called "Ambassador" now than used to be the case is beside the point. That, again, is a change in fashion which noble Lords may regret but which, nevertheless, we have to face as being in conformity with the practice of to-day. Ambassadors nowadays have been saddled with a vast multiplicity of tasks which their predecessors of forty years ago would never have contemplated. If they are not charged every day with carrying out exactly the functions which the noble Lord and his friends would like them to discharge, it must not on that account be thought either that their services are regarded as of no account or that they have long periods during which they have no duties to perform. Certainly in all the major posts, and in many of the minor ones, they are extremely hard worked men.
The noble Lord, Lord Strang, speaks with great authority on this matter because it is not so very long since he was in close daily contact with what went on in the Foreign Office. It is a matter of difficulty for a Foreign Secretary to have to decide in any particular case whether or not he will go to a conference. Certainly, the Foreign Secretaries whom I have known have had to consider that question in relation to the tasks which are their proper concern at home, chiefly the administration of their Department and their responsibilities to Parliament. 433 One cannot—and I do not think anybody would suggest that one could—lay down any hard and fast rule in these matters. I would not accept the test which was put forward by one noble Lord, that a conference is only justified if it turns out to be a success. That seems to me to be a quite untenable proposition.
§ LORD VANSITTART
What I said was that I thought that conferences were justified only when there was a reasonable chance of success, and one ought not to go in against the odds.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
Actually, I was not referring to the noble Lord. That point was made and I only wanted to say in that context that I think it must be the case that, if the matter is sufficiently urgent and serious to demand the presence of the Foreign Secretary, then, although necessarily one hopes for a successful result, one is not entitled to say, "I am not going to that conference unless I know beforehand that the outcome is going to be what I want." If that were the position, there would not be much point in either holding or attending a conference. Other means could be adopted.
There are conferences where the presence of an individual may make all the difference. It is that sort of psychological problem, to a large extent, which the Secretary of State seems to me to have to decide in these cases. The sort of conference that I have in mind is the Geneva Conference of 1954 on Indo-China. I have said this in this House before, and I may be allowed to say it again: having, attended that Conference, which lasted, admittedly, for some three months, I do not believe that it would have achieved the success it did if it had not been for the presence of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. That was one of the conferences at which the personal influence of one individual had an enormous and predominating effect. That is the sort of conference which, if the Foreign Secretary conceived that he was in a position to influence it one way or the other, either inside the actual conference chamber or outside in the discussions which inevitably take place at 434 considerable length on these occasions and which do not form the least valuable aspect of a conference of this kind—
§ EARL WINTERTON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Marquess again, but he has just made an interesting statement. I understand that he claims that the results of this Conference were a success. I thought the general opinion of the world was that the results had not been very successful. I should not have thought that the position of that country to-day was a wholly happy one.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
I am not sure that the noble Earl is thinking of the same Conference as I am. I was talking about the Indo-China Conference of 1954. It has always been the view, which I have submitted to the House and which I think the House has accepted, that that Conference at least went this far: that it brought a shooting war to an end, and that shooting war has not broken out since. Although, perhaps, all results of conferences are, to some extent, limited, at least within those limits my view is that that Conference was a success.
§ LORD KILLEARN
Did not that Conference end with 30 million people being left to the tender mercies of the other side?
THE MARQUESS OF READING
I do not think we need start arguing. I know quite well what the noble Lord has in mind about Viet Nam, and I know that there are people who think that the Conference had not a successful result; but, as I said, I have put before your Lordships the contention, which I have always held, that at least it did bring the shooting war to an end. What happens in the future of that country to which the noble, Lord, Lord Killearn referred, is still a matter which has not been decided; but at least it is not the subject at this moment of a war or of the destruction which follows in the train of war.
My Lords, my view of the general position really comes to this: that I think those noble Lords who have said that there may well be too many conferences have probably something quite powerful to support them; but, at the same time, from all that I have seen of the difficulty of breaking away front what has become the prevalent fashion, and although my sympathy may be, perhaps even on per- 435 sonal grounds, with much that the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has said, I do not believe that in these days we are going to be able to put the machine in reverse and to retrace the ground back to the older form of diplomacy.
As I have said, conferences and visits are somewhat different things. Before I finish I should just like to say a word about visits. There was some passing criticism of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary for having undertaken the tour upon which he is now engaged. That comprised both a conference—the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation Conference at Karachi—and also a series of visits. Those visits were designed for him to inquire personally into the position in the Middle East which has been causing considerable anxiety lately, and—this being the first expedition of the kind undertaken by my right honourable friend since he came into his present office—also to give him an opportunity of meeting what I may loosely call his opposite numbers in the various other countries. The timing of his departure was fixed by the date of the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation Conference in Karachi, and on his way back he has taken the opportunity, rightly, to visit the other countries with which at the moment we are closely associated.
Several of us, Ministers at the Foreign Office and also Ministers in other Departments, not only of this Government but of the previous Government, have paid visits of various kinds during the postwar years. Here I think I can speak with some experience, because it has been my good fortune to pay a number of these visits in the course of that time. I can only say that, so far as my own experience goes, I hope the House will see no reason to discourage them. I have found that even if it be a question of only two or three days or even less in a country, it makes an immense and lasting difference to have been there. The picture one derives, even from so transient a contact, is necessarily superficial, but at least one has seen the people in their own setting; one has seen the conditions in which they work, and one meets the people who are concerned in those countries with the same affairs with which one has to deal at home. On that basis one can transform 436 them from mere difficult names in a telegram into definite human beings. That again makes a great difference. I think it is true to say that Governments and countries appreciate visits of good will from representatives of England and other countries. I think it is even true to say that Her Majesty's Ambassadors in these countries are not altogether too displeased with the visit of an itinerant Minister who can give them some idea of what is going on at home.
The debate which your Lordships have had has produced in my mind much the impression with which I started. Indeed, I do not think that fundamentally I am greatly at variance with the noble Lord who moved the Motion in thinking that it may be that conferences have gone rather far in number in these past years, and it might be desirable, if it could be done, to make the effort to reduce their number. But my hesitation in going beyond that is that I realise, for some of the reasons which I have already given to the House, that in the present temper of the world, in the changed conditions which obtain to-day, in the fashion which has grown up in these conferences and the consequent demand for them which goes up at the moment a situation rises, it is not going to be an easy task to reduce the number. I realise the considerations which are in your Lordships' minds about the primary tasks of the Foreign Secretary, and I am perfectly certain that my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary fully realises them too. After all, this was soon after his arrival in office and it was important that he should be in close touch with those actually associated with us in that most important field of our present endeavour. But I have no doubt that he will study the sentiments which your Lordships, from your great experience, have expressed this afternoon, and that in any decision he makes he will not be uninfluenced by the opinions which you have voiced.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ LORD VANSITTART
My Lords, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has said, we have had a most interesting discussion this afternoon, and I am profoundly grateful to him for his reasoned and most interesting contribution to it. It will perhaps not be necessary for me to reply to the debate at any length, as 437 Lord Winterton has already been kind enough to take a little of the burden off my shoulders, and I am profoundly grateful to him. I do not feel that I produced much effect on Lord Rea, but I thank him for having taken part, and I am grateful to all the other noble Lords who have also intervened. I am glad, too, that Lord Alexander of Hillsborough intervened, although when he says that it is useful to get in touch with the people I must interject that one never does get in touch with the people by getting in touch with fuehrers. Recalling his comment that the people were "on the march" I think I ought also to add that in a great many parts of totalitaria ever since 1917, and including all the varieties, millions of them have been "on the march" for something extremely unpleasant, including expansion.
Nor is there anything at all in the argument referred to by two speakers that the more totalitaria sees of us, the better it will understand us. Totalitaria has never wanted to understand us at any time. In all its three branches, it has had only one object—to misrepresent us at every turn; and it has done so ruthlessly and ceaselessly. That links up with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Killearn: that there is not much future in conferences unless there is some community of spirit and interest. I am also much in agreement with what he said about the proliferation of Ambassadors, though I fear the tendency may have gone rather too far to be corrected.
I believe we shall all agree that the most impressive speech of the afternoon was that of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, and I shall always remember with gratitude and affection his kind references to me. He made a number of very good points and I was much impressed by what he said about prolonged absence of Ministers from their desk and its effect on their health. He made a very good point when he said that mobility and profundity are almost incompatible. I believe that is extremely true, and I again refer to the 300,000 miles travelled by Mr. Dulles. In 300,000 miles of travel, by him or by anybody else, one gets exposed to enormous barrages of newspaper questions which one would avoid if one stayed at home; and in such circumstances not 438 everybody is very happy in his replies. I was also very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, for his outspoken comment on the feeling that has been aroused in many quarters by this visit.
I do not want to prolong my speech by referring to every contribution to the debate, for they have all been of interest. The crux of the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, was that the tendency has gone so far that it may be hard to reverse it. I was grateful to him for observing that there was something in what I have been saying this afternoon. What has really been happening in the world is that wherever a spot of limelight flickers about the globe it not only draws the politician to it but is expected to draw him to it. That is splendid for a politician. It is wonderful publicity. It is splendid for the Press, for it gives them heaps of copy, though it is nearly always the same. But it is the death of diplomacy. Another point of supreme importance arose out of the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Strang, to the stature of Ambassadors who used to consort with Edward Grey in conferences here.
Another interesting and unhappy development has occurred in the course of this century. Those of us who proudly joined the public service have gradually come to be considered as servants. But we are not your servants; we are your advisers. You may overlook or override our advice as much as you like. You may even usurp our function—and to some extent that has been going on. But I greatly fear that if the usurpation is pushed too far, the public service which, as the noble Lord, Lord Strang, has said, is more powerful and perhaps more intelligent than it ever was, will gradually be reduced to irremediable mediocrity, because in the course of the years the best minds will withdraw their labour. It is exactly that that I want to avoid, and that is why I brought in this Motion to-day. I do not for a moment expect the present technique to be discontinued. I am only hoping, as I believe I said in my speech, that it may be mitigated; and in that hope, probably, I shall have some sympathy from the noble Marquess who replied. With that, my Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.