§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I take the first available opportunity of informing the House regarding what happened whilst the Foreign Secretary and myself were at Geneva and Rome. We were asked by our colleagues here to go to Geneva first of all because every report showed that there was a grave danger of a somewhat immediate collapse of the Disarmament Conference, and we felt very strongly that it might be possible to avert such a collapse. Our first business was to discover how matters actually stood, and for that purpose we interviewed for some two or three days the leading delegates from the various nations. It was perfectly plain that the Conference work had somewhat lost itself in details. In saying that, I am not making any complaint. If any hon. Member had been at Geneva and had had to face the extraordinary difficulties of conducting such a Conference, attended by the representatives of 60 nations, with diverse interests, diverse points of view, and diverse needs in armament, he would not join lightly in those rather superior reflections about the Conference which have been passed by people who had remained at their own fireside, and had nothing to trouble about except what they imagined whilst they sat at the fireside.
Facing that conference and its committees and sub-committees, finding the tremendous differences that separate delegations from delegations and nation from nation, and getting conclusions, is going to be no immediately accomplished job. We have to build long bridges over the differences that separate one from another. But in going along we have to remember that there must be frequent transformations from the expert study of detail to the production of practical plans in order to meet this very obvious difficulty, that when the conference absorbs 512 itself for the time being in detail, then the various nations, asked to give up this or to agree to that, quite naturally say, "But to what plan am I working? I cannot agree to give this unless I know the complete system into which my sacrifice, as I imagine it to be, is to be set. Is it to be all sacrifice, or am I going to receive compensations which I can value as at any rate some measure of security in return for the sacrifices I make?" Moreover, whilst of course we must 134 the very highest respect and regard to what is known as expert advice, we must remember, and we must take upon ourselves the responsibility of remembering, that the last word in these matters is a political word. Both of these things had become very evident to those who had been at Geneva and had become prominent quite steadily and persistently in our investigations on the condition of affairs there.
We therefore decided to assist the Conference by the production of a plan that would cover the whole field and would deal with questions like security, consultative pacts, land armaments, naval armaments and air armaments, that would deal with the use of poison gases, that would embody rules of war, the complete effect of which was disarmament and security. I need not go into the details of the plan. It has been published as a. White Paper. But plans that are to be of any use at Geneva now must not be merely mathematical plans to reduce things by one-third or one-quarter or one-fifth. Geneva has gone far beyond that kind of plan. If plans of any value are to be produced now they must have relation to the differing needs of the nations. I do not know how far our plan was successful in that.
I explained to the Conference that I believed that the first reaction would be that everyone would be opposed to it, but that the second reaction, after some consideration would be that everyone wanted to take it as the basis for further consideration, and immediate consideration, under the belief that on such a basis an agreement could be reached. I was right regarding my first prophecy as to what the first reaction would be. I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and myself have detected in various parts of the Continent that we had a good chance of being right regarding the second part of the forecast. It 513 will take a little time, and we can wait, because every nation has at last been faced with proposals. It knows perfectly well that this Conference cannot go on indefinitely. [An HON. MEMBER: "No hurry!"] There is hurry, and there is no use in making those observations. But in order to do the work well and efficiently it must not be a quack business. Every nation knows that the time is limited, and every nation now is compelled to face up to what is to be the alternative to failure.
There were two essentials in that plan of ours. First of all it contained for the first time figures regarding various arms. I confess that when that was put up to me first of all, I was very doubtful as to whether it was desirable or necessary. On full consideration all doubts were removed from my mind. Until figures had been produced there would be no progress, because the thing that every nation wanted to avoid was the production of figures. Yet, curiously enough, delegate after delegate in the course of interviews begged me to have the courage to produce figures for them. I did not. My colleagues did it. I cannot pretend that I went through the figures myself. I make myself responsible for them certainly, but the figures were produced by two or three of the most admirable servants that a Government has ever had looking after its interests in an international Conference. Theirs were the figures. Some of them had been at almost every meeting of the Conference since it was opened, and at a good many committees and sub-committees. They knew their problem; they had what was desired at their fingers' ends. The figures were produced. When the Conference resumes—I understand it is to be resumed to-morrow—it will be upon those figures, I hope, that the time and hopes and work of the Conference will be concentrated.
There is another point. We are pledged to give equality to Germany. The time has gone by when by a combination of any Powers any European people can be kept down by obligations which it regards as being inconsistent with its self-respect and its honour, and we have now to make it perfectly clear that the obligations that are to be placed upon the nations of Europe are to be obligations of honour and moral re- 514 sponsibility, obligations which will be all the more serious for them, since they have taken them upon themselves in a voluntary way, But, as again I said at Geneva, events have happened recently that have enormously increased the risk of taking a big step like that at the present moment, and our plan presupposes, quite clearly, a transition stage. During that stage of progress towards equality, equality itself will not be carried out, but during it there shall be no re-armament and no question of re-armament.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am sorry to interrupt the Prime Minister, but is he now using the word "equality" without any of the refining definitions which have hitherto been attached to it—qualitative and so forth?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend is on the wrong point. I do not want to make a long statement, and I do not want to be drawn on to a side issue, but he w ill remember that a great claim was put in by Germany for equality of status. Then they left the Conference, and then the Five-Power Conference came, and, as a result, they returned to the Disarmament Conference on a pledge that under conditions we were all in favour of the principle of equality. Events have happened since then which make that more desirable and more necessary than ever.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is so. The immediate result, at any rate, of our intervention has been that the hope of agreement has been restored and the Conference is heartened once more to pursue its work upon a definite sketch plan which it can consider in detail and, I hope, for not too long a time—a plan which it will amend if it likes, but which would be the foundation of further consideration and give form to the final convention when that convention has been drafted. That is the result of our intervention at Geneva. The Conference is going on in the hope of agreement and we have provided the form in which agreement may be reached.
I have already said that at Geneva we were conscious of something outside the absolute business of the Disarmament Conference. I felt day after day whilst 515 there as though I was looking upon a stage with something moving immediately behind the footlights, but as if there was something else there of a different character—an ominous background full of shadows and uncertainties. Europe is not settled. Europe is very unsettled. Europe is in a very nervous condition. Unfortunately, the one thing that can save us all, and that is well-founded confidence in each other, is more lacking to-day than it has been for a very long time. Events have happened and speeches have been made which naturally and properly have added to that sense of insecurity, and it was after we had arrived at Geneva that some of those incidents happened. I hope that this country will not allow those events to divert it from the path which it has mapped out for itself as the only path on which security and peace can be found. I have nothing now to say about those events except in relation to their international effects; but we cannot expect other nations to be indifferent to them. If we did I could report to the House after the last fortnight's experience here and there in Europe and meeting not only European representatives, but representatives of other parts of the world, that the nations outside are not indifferent to those events. Part of the responsibility of any Government which claims to be pursuing peace and making certain moral claims upon the consideration of other nations is to make a contribution to the proper transquility of mind of those nations to enable them to do the right thing. This background, however, must be dealt with and it has given us a great deal of thought for a long time.
I remember a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) some months ago, in which he told us what he thought we ought to do and my remark was that he might have been sitting under the table while we were discussing the troubles that were in our minds. [An HON. MEMBER: "Perhaps he was!"] I would ask my right hon. Friend and those who are with him to remember that they are not the only people who have been aware for months and months that certain actions taken some years ago are now coming to flower and fruit and that it is upon us living in these days that the responsibility of dealing with the ripened event 516 is falling. At Lausanne, not in connection with its financial provisions, but in connection with certain political conversations, and approaches, this matter was foreseen. Even before that—my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will remember the occasion in Paris when the League of Nations constitution was being drafted —Article 19 was put in; and Article 19 provided that the Assembly of the League should advise consideration of international conditions whose continuation might endanger the peace of the world.
It was clearly foreseen. When at Geneva, seeing that background, feeling that background, it came to my knowledge that Signor Mussolini would welcome a meeting as he wished to inform me of some views he held regarding the establishment of peace. On the invitation being received, with the approval of my right hon. Friends I accepted it, and proposed Rome as the place of meeting. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I, therefore, spent the last week-end in Rome, and I would like to add this: Before we replied to Signor Mussolini's invitation, but after we received it, I managed to get an interview with the French Prime Minister at Geneva, and informed him how we proposed to reply to the invitation, and next day, in making some remarks upon the speech which I made before the Disarmament Conference, he was good enough to wish us both bon voyage. I am afraid that I cannot answer without notice any questions that may be put at the present moment, but I shall be very glad indeed to answer questions of which I have received notice. The position is still in a very unformed condition, but it is like this: On our arrival, a short document was handed to us, Which roughly and generally gave Signor Mussolini's views, showing that his mind had been running on an effective policy of collaboration between the four Western Powers to maintain peace in the spirit of the Kellogg Pact and of the No-Force Pact which had been contemplated by the Five-Power Conference as a return for Germany getting a declaration in principle of our willingness to grant her equality of status—a declaration that none of those five Powers should resort to force to try to solve any of their immediate political difficulties. He felt that Article 19 of the Covenant re treaties 517 was not meant to become dormant. His view was that while the Covenant of the League of Nations enforced all respect for treaty obligations, it also contemplated the possibility of a revision of treaties when conditions arise which may lead to a conflict of nations.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes. There are two principles in the Preamble and Article 19. The first is that a treaty made should be observed, and should only be altered by the consent of both parties to the treaty. But Article 19 also says that treaties containing provisions which, in the efflux of time, have raised problems which may result in most undesirable conflicts, ought to be subject to revision. As a very distinguished politician has said. "Every treaty is holy, but no treaty is eternal." The plan laid down that the proposed co-operation should be carried out within the framework of the League of Nations, and 10 years was indicated as the first period for the treaty should it be possible to arrange it. Indications were given that if this conception of understanding and co-operation between the Powers were adopted as an immediate aid to peace, as an immediate contribution to the solution of Europe's difficulties and dangers, the friendship thus engendered would have further beneficial consequences. That would be necessary, and the British Government will work out further details in this respect.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Details of the plan, so that the plan may not merely have as its general purpose peace and its big and almost only detail, revision of treaties. The whole plan I am explaining we discussed with Signor Mussolini on Signor Mussolini's invitation. I hope that that is plain. We received a certain plan from Signor Mussolini. I have been explaining what the idea was. In our working at it what I observed at the moment was that it would be necessary that the plan should be as comprehensive as possible, and not merely relate to one or two points. Some of the suggestions made to us quite plainly could not be accepted as they were, but, in conversation, we found they were very largely 518 verbal differences, and that, by a slight redraft, Signed Mussolini's opinion and ours might coincide.
I am sorry to have to refer to these things, and I am only doing it on account of various statements which have been made, especially in foreign newspapers, about what we did discuss, not one word of which is true. The point, for instance, that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) made the subject of a question to-day about Tanganyika. I know he was disturbed by a statement that we had in some degree or other offered, it was said, Tanganyika as some sort of sop to Herr Hitler. There is not a word of truth in the statement. Tanganyika was never even mentioned, and that is why I say that the conversation was of the most general kind on those points which I have mentioned as having been contained in Signor Mussolini's paper which was presented to us through our Ambassador as soon as we arrived in Ostia on Saturday afternoon, We were not asked to approve or disapprove. We were only asked to say at this stage whether we were ready to study the matter further. We expressed ourselves at once as being very much interested, and we promised to study the matter in relation to all its settings and to get into communication with other friends on the subject.
The idea, we pointed out, required close examination and we indicated some matters of essential detail which had to be provided for—for instance, how the smaller States affected could be consulted. Some of them, I see by the newspapers, are beginning to fear consequences. It is very natural, on account of what has been reported in the newspapers, but I can give them an assurance that, so far as the conversations are concerned, they have no foundation whatever for their fears, and I wish to make it clear that, in our view, these smaller States have a right to be consulted wherever their special interests are concerned, and that that will be done. The motive and the plan are undoubtedly to remove causes of war in Europe, the emphasis in the plan itself being upon the League of Nations taking up the responsibility imposed upon it by Article 19 of the Covenant; but it must not exclude smaller States 519 from playing their proper part in the consideration when it is undertaken. In some respects the smaller States have a greater interest than the larger ones in removing causes of irritation and feelings of injury from the nations of Europe. They should be swift to provide this security and protection for themselves, and they may be sure that every support which can be given should the matter be pursued to that point—the point when the League of Nations is really taking the matter up—every support in that respect shall be given by His Majesty's Government. On the way through Paris we informed the French Ministers of our conversations, and they made public their desire for loyal co-operation in the interests of peace between the four European Powers who are permanent members of the League of Nations.
The Government welcome Signor Mussolini's idea. There is no greater immediate danger to Europe than that, when the inevitable nationalist revival occurs, Peace Treaties may be the subject of a challenge initiated by one only and under conditions which will only renew enmities and ruin the prospects of a friendly accommodation. It might also be that the greater Powers would be driven by circumstances into opposing views. This project, if made to work, if we can get the idea accepted and carried out, will prevent all that. If we fail in courage and be afraid to remember that we all signed the Nineteenth Article of the Covenant of the League of Nations, we shall not evade the difficulty which its provisions sought to avert. It will still approach us, but it will be far more difficult to deal with later on than it is now. Meanwhile, the unsettlement will keep Europe unwilling to disarm.
The conversations at Rome amounted to this, that now, when it is perfectly plain to everybody that national life is being revitalised in Europe, the four Powers should meet, before they may be driven apart, to try to remove by negotiation the dangers which will have to be met in any event. I express no opinion, though I entertain strong hopes of the result, but I do say that were any of the four Powers to reject forthwith, and without full examination and consideration, the idea about which we were informed at Rome, or were they to put 520 obstacles in its way until men's minds have become weary of it and it has passed into the mournful stores of lost opportunities, or if, appearing to accept it to promote peace, they were to use it for their own self-regarding purposes, immeasurable will be the responsibility for what may follow.
The British Government is now working at a plan, trying to fit it for its purpose and to devise a means of handling what is admittedly a problem of the greatest delicacy. The re-consideration of treaties, however, is not enough. The other nations have to make a contribution of their own, and that contribution must be a substantial one. It must be such a contribution, in such form and of such an importance, as will place beyond the shadow of doubt that when these changes are made they are not to pursue anything in Europe but a co-operative and a friendly policy. If the four Powers come together, if a way can be devised for joining with their views those of the smaller nationalities concerned, and for examining the causes of fear leading now to an unwillingness to disarm, who would dare to deny but that the most effective work for peace which has been done since the War will have been accomplished That may well have been begun by the Italian plan.
In any event, in addition to recognising most warmly the generous hospitality of the Italian Prime Minister and his Government while we were in Italy, we pay a hearty tribute to the humanity of the intentions embodied in their project, and hope that the means of co-operation for which they are in search will be found. Co-operation may have as its nucleus the four Powers, but co-operation which is by no means confined to them, this co-operation which may be begun, quite rightly, in Europe ought not to have the intention of ending there. Let it be co-operation in a form and in a spirit which may well draw to it the sympathy and the aid of our powerful friend beyond the Atlantic. I hope that these views will commend themselves to the House.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
I am sure the House will join with me in expressing regret that the wife of the Leader of the Opposition is seriously ill, for which reason he is unable to be present, and I have been asked to fill my right hon. 521 Friend's place on this occasion. We have no advance information and we have no official guide or printed word to help us in the very difficult problems with which we are concerned. Indeed, the Prime Minister gave us to understand that when he went to Geneva he found that a certain amount of hurried improvisation was necessary, and although we have been told the detailed character of the armament proposals which he made at Geneva, the House of Commons has not to-day received the particulars or the explanation which I believe the House desires and requires in order to adjudicate fairly upon the value of his conversations.
The Prime Minister said that when he went to Geneva he found the delegates of the leading countries immersed in details and unable to settle down to any particular aspect of the problem, the details being so confusing and perplexing by their very weight and number, and the right hon. Gentleman said that, although principles and proportions, limitations and restrictions had been suggested, no exact proposals expressed in figures had ever been made, and he came to the conclusion that tangible proposals should be put before the nations. He said he was the more convinced of the necessity of doing that, because no single nation was prepared to submit figures for itself, and he undertook the responsibility of proposing figures not only for Great Britain, but for each of the other countries, in a plan which he thought might be the basis of future discussion and negotiation.
We recognise the dangers in putting figures forward in that way, and those of us who have read the proposals find grave apprehension indeed in those figures, because if figures at this stage are advisable, many of us on this side believe that the figures should be very much smaller than those proposed by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I have gone into those figures, and I find that there is room for considerable reduction before any marked advance is made in the direction of disarmament. The Prime Minister said that give-and-take became impossible unless you knew exactly what plan was to be carried out. I am not satisfied that that give-and-take has been helped very much by the publication of his figures and these proposals and the conditions under which the figures are prescribed. I am rather 522 afraid that the disadvantage of having these figures far outweighs any advantage; I am rather afraid that, these figures having been suggested, there will be considerable reluctance on the part of any of the nations receiving a satisfactory Allocation to reduce those figures, and indeed the authority of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and the great country which they represent will be used in justification of a refusal to make further concessions in, the armaments of any of those countries.
I would like the House to look at those figures with me, and I think we shall find that the best proposals that the Prime Minister could make provide for a personnel of 2,000,000 in land forces serving at home in Europe, with an additional 500,000, or 2,500,000 in all, for service at home and abroad. Those are the figures prescribed in the Prime Minister's plan for disarmament—2,500,000 land forces, making no allowance for the forces by sea or in the air. Those figures, we submit, are much too high and do not register any marked advance towards disarmament. In our case there is no reduction. We are to have, under the plan, 200,000 soldiers for serving at home, and we are to have an additional 200,000 for service at home and abroad.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for 'OREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir John Simon)
What figures is the hon. Member quoting?
§ Mr. GRENFELL
The figures are here, and I am sure they are accurate. I have gone to the trouble of counting up the details in each case, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will find that my total of 2,000,000 land forces for service at home, or 2,500,000 including those for service abroad, is strictly accurate. We find, in addition, that the figures provide for 5,000 military aeroplanes, including 500 reserved for the United States of America. There are limitations as to the calibre of guns, but none regarding the number of guns, and no limitation of the number of naval vessels until 1935, when a further conference may decide either upon a reduction or an increase of naval forces.
My first general criticism of the Prime Minister's proposals is that they start too high, that they more or less stabilise armaments at those high levels, and that 523 under them there is no indication of our reaching any considerable measure of disarmament in the next five years. The Prime Minister went on to say that not only would the figures be of value in further negotiations, but that negotiations regarding the character of war itself were provided for in the plan. While no one on this side objects to any proposals or plans whereby certain lethal weapons can be prohibited altogether, if the Conference has already reached the stage which the Prime Minister has described, there is very little likelihood that, because the Prime Minister has introduced these figures for the several countries and they are published, he will be able to get consent for the abolition of the lethal weapons and the control of arms should war occur. We do not attach very much importance to the possibility or the prospect of controlling the use of gas, for example, or the use of submarines or the use of civil aeroplanes for military purposes. Very little importance can be attached to any such proposals if hostilities once break out. Therefore we have not so much faith in the other proposals as we would have in proposals permanently reducing the personnel and the war material of all the countries involved, and, above all, making provision for a progressive reduction of armaments in all countries of the world on a pre-determined scale.
The Prime Minister said there was a prospect of Germany being brought in. We very much fear that if the indications of the Prime Minister's plan point to anything at all, they point not to a reduction of the armaments of other countries to Germany's comparatively low level but to the possibility of an increase in German armaments to equal the higher levels elsewhere. In the present state of Europe that would be a greater danger than allowing Germany to remain where she is. Germany armed, and armed with the consent of one or two of the larger Powers, might, indeed, be an added menace to the peace of Europe and the peace of the world. The Prime Minister went to Rome and said he found the background darkened with shadows—using his greater gifts of description and diplomacy to say probably the same as I am saying in my much more downright manner. If I am too plain I am sure the House will forgive me. We all appreciate 524 that there are shadows looming everywhere. Mars, the God of War, is throwing his baneful influence all around, and the Prime Minister need not have gone to Geneva or to Rome to ascertain the position. He might have discovered the object casting the shadow if he had gone to certain places which have to remain unnamed in to-day's discussion.
When the Prime Minister went to Italy we were surprised. I am not making a personal attack on the Prime Minister. He went as the representative of a democracy. He himself was at one time the leader of democracy in this country. He went to Rome to meet the one who has looked with contempt upon democracy, the one who has poured scorn upon Parliament, and he went as a suppliant to Rome. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies need not make any of those comments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] The Prime Minister went as the representative of a representative Government to consult and to receive guidance from one who has poured scorn upon representative government for many years. He found that Signor Mussolini had a plan. It was not the Prime Minister's plan but Signor Mussolini's plan. We have not this afternoon been given the details of that plan. Has it been worked out in detail? At what time shall we know the details? I have been compelled to fall back upon information in a French newspaper reporting an interview between the Prime Minister and M. Daladier and M. Paul Boncour which appeared in Le Temps. There we are told that this is what the plan contains:The Convention is to be concluded for 10 years.We were not told that this afternoonand, subject to one year's notice by one of the co-signatories, shall continue automatically for another 10 years.This is a 20 years' plan, unless one of the four contracting parties denounces it or gives notice to terminate it before the first ten years:Secondly, animated by the spirit of the Kellogg Pact, the four great Powers, Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany, engage to co-operate to preserve peace.Third, all other Powers or any other Powers are free to join the Pact.
Fourth, obligations assumed by the four Powers are of two kinds. (a) The said Powers declare, in conformity with the pro- 525 visions of the Covenant of the League of Nations that the question of revision of treaties can be raised. (b) France and Britain and Italy engage to consider Germany's claim to equality of status in military matters.Then comes the fifth paragraph, and this is dangerous:The four Powers in matters outside Europe and in matters of Colonial affairs to follow a line of common conduct.That is the draft, as I understand it, of the four Power pact proposed by Signor Mussolini. In view of the shadows falling upon Europe from all directions one wonders whether this is really a contribution to the future peace of Europe, one wonders whether this is not the greatest of all the shadows over the prospects and peace of co-operation over Europe. I have not been able to make as detailed an examination of the Prime Minister's plan for disarmament as I should have liked, on the ground of lack of time and because we do not know sufficient about the details of his plan, but we do know that there is considerable difference of opinion in European countries regarding the effect of these proposals.
I understand that the Geneva Conference is to meet again to-morrow with these proposals before them. We, on this side of the House, do not wish for the breakdown of the Disarmament Conference; we are anxious that it should succeed, but we must state in this House our own view of what should be the basis of all the discussions on this very important question. We believe that disarmament should be discussed not with a view to maintaining the balance of Europe, not with a view to maintaining the relative strength of the great Powers compared with the small Powers, not with a view of satisfying the ambitions of any one country at the expense of the other, but we believe that disarmament should be discussed as a problem of real disarmament, of doing away with arms. We understand that the House, and the Prime Minister too, at one time, believed that safety was not possible so long as we carry arms in our hands. No safety can be found in that way. The only way to get safety and security is by renouncing war, as it has been done in the Kellogg Pact, the Pact of Paris.
We have said that war is not a proper instrument for the settlement of human affairs, and it is in the spirit of that 526 renunciation that we would like the Conference at Geneva to take up the further consideration of the matter, to take these figures as they have now been offered, but not as figures for give and take. These figures should be regarded simply as a temporary measure of proportions. The figures themselves are too high. Perhaps the proportions might be fixed to give approximate satisfaction, but all the figures are too high. Figures having been introduced we believe that the aim of the Conference should be to work those figures down to the very lowest possible limit, and to make the very closest approach possible to disarmament. This is very important, because the Prime Minister rightly said that Europe is passing through a period of great travail, a period of very great hardship, hardship more due to economic causes than to political causes for the moment, but the political and the economic causes are closely interlinked, and no doubt the economic difficulties are themselves the cause of the military preparations which we fear so much.
While we on this side of the House would like to see disarmament hastened we attach perhaps more importance to the World Economic Conference, which is vitally necessary if the causes of rivalry in arms and the apprehensions which exist at the present time are to be removed. We find new world conditions in which industry has spread to all parts of the world. It is reaching out and gathering raw materials from all directions, passing those raw materials through the machines and producing commodities in over-abundance. We find every country busily building up tariff walls and obstacles to prevent this abundant outpouring of goods from crossing the national frontiers. The fact is that there are no physical boundaries separating countries at the present time. This new industrialism knows no boundaries. There is no room for tariff boundaries, no room for customs posts, no room for the obstacles which prevent humanity from enjoying the hugemeasure of wealth at its disposal, and it is in the World Economic Conference getting down lace to face with these facts and with a mutual desire to improve conditions all round, that we shall find the means by which these shadows to which 527 the Prime Minister has referred can be dispelled and removed from the lives of men.
The battle is a battle for livelihood. It is the fear of hard times and of poverty which causes individuals and nations all over Europe to be so apprehensive. Looking at Europe at the present time, we find sovereign States in large numbers trying to defend themselves from their neighbours, and we find that there is no unity of purpose even within those national States. People are divided by rivalries of political organisation in nearly every country in Europe. Dictatorship and democracy are contending against each other, and everywhere dictatorships are springing up, with the weapons of murder and destruction, with the morality of the thug and the method of the bully, oppressing and coercing people all round. As against that, you will find in every State a body of people who believe in peace at home and abroad, in peaceful development, in progress, liberty and ordered advancement. You will find in Europe those two forces contending against each other, and the contest reflected in every conference, whether the conference be at Geneva, Rome or Paris, and whether it is Prime Ministers who meet each other face to face, or lesser people. You will find the shadow of dictatorship and the threat of it all over Europe, intimidating and coercing the people.
We believe that this country of democracy ought to make its pronouncement in these matters, and that in the World Economic Conference there is an opportunity for removing some of the causes of militarism and dictatorship. I hope that I shall carry the House with me when I say that the principle of dictatorship is not progressive but is retrogressive and reactionary. It is taking the direct way back to the cave and to barbarism and savagery. This country ought certainly to have something to say on that matter. I hope that wherever we can we shall make a generous contribution towards the solution of the question of armaments and shall give a lead, which we are still fortunately free to offer, in the matter of the economic reorganisation of the world, because we have not suffered as severely as have our neighbours on the Continent from the economic confusion which has over- 528 whelmed the world. Every country has its tariff walls, its own national currency and its own banks and banking reserves, which it jealously guards, making no attempt at collaboration or co-operation to share the huge accumulated wealth produced in the world by modern industry. We believe that this country can make proposals to which the world will gladly listen. We are not in so desperate a plight as are some of the other countries which we shall have to meet at the World Economic Conference. I believe that the Prime Minister has gone a very long way indeed in a very short time to compromise the principles, of which he was an original exponent, of international relations based upon identity of purpose and community of aim. I believe that he has gone a long way already, in neglecting to state the case as it should be stated on behalf of this country.
On this side of the House, we shall not lose an opportunity of saying that we are opposed to dictatorships of every form and in every country. We stand here and say that we believe that the world should organise on lines of co-operation and mutuality. We believe that no good can come to the world, even by compromising or co-operating with those who believe in dictatorships. We are very anxious that we shall not, either by the consideration of this Pact, or by any negotiations into which we may enter, or by any compromise with people who do not believe as we do—people who have already repudiated democracy, who are ready to suppress opinion and are ready to persecute. [HON. MEMBERS: "Russia!"] I shall not name anybody. We have gone some distance, but I hope that we shall preserve that freedom and that valuable heritage which we possess still in this country. I believe that we should use that freedom wisely to speak against tyranny and oppression wherever it may show itself. I am very anxious that we shall not lose contact with the machinery and the great asset which is provided for the world by the League of Nations, but I am very much afraid that the Pact, of which the Prime Minister appears to be so proud and in regard to which he has great expectations, may be taken as a substitute for the League of Nations. It may indeed grow to supersede the League of Nations, and the League of Nations may become lost to us. I know 529 that in the object already described that is not intended, but things change by negotiation in the course of time. Knowing the spirit of those who have moved that Pact, I am very much afraid that the democratic principle of the League of Nations may be lost to us.
Lest I miss this opportunity, I want to say a word about Russia, of which some hon. Members have just reminded me. I almost made my speech without reference to it. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has given me the occasion for this reference. We heard him on Monday last answer a question about the arrest of British subjects in Russia. I am sure that neither the hon. Gentleman nor the House had a full realisation of the effect of his words. He is not a rash man, and I know that he chose his words carefully, but he has not yet carried those words and their implication as far as they should be carried in a matter of this kind. The hon. Gentleman said in regard to the Ambassador at Moscow:His Excellency has now reported that he has made urgent representations on behalf of the prisoners emphasising that Anglo-Soviet relations will suffer seriously unless they are liberated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1933; col. 19, Vol. 276.]I want to see where we are to go, with a declaration of that kind. There were a number of British subjects under contract of employment with a British firm doing constructional work in Russia. There were no complaints about their conduct or about their treatment, until a certain date when the Russian police, according to the testimony of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, entered the offices of their employers and took away certain papers. Since then, a number of the employés have been arrested and two of them have been released. Others are detained awaiting trial. There has been a complaint that the charges against these men have not been fully specified, and that there is a doubt as to whether these men can be adequately defended unless they are given due notice of the nature of the charges against them. The hon. Gentleman said that the British Ambassador was urging upon the Russian Government the need for adequate defence.
We all agree. Nobody wants these men in Russia to be apprehended and charged, unless they are to be given the very 530 fullest opportunity of proving their innocence; but see where the hon. Gentleman led the House, and see where the House went. Unless these men have liberty, and not unless these men are properly tried or unless they are given full facilities for their own defence, the Government are taking action harmful to Russia and to ourselves, and very prejudicial to ourselves in the matter of trade. When this matter was being discussed in the House, another equally unfortunate person was in the Tower of London. A man who had sworn to defend his country with his life was confined to the Tower, because, apparently, he had neglected the interests of his country—I shall not put it too high. That is an example of an officer of the British Army who is now charged with having betrayed the interests of his country, and yet right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House were angry, indignant and violent because it is suggested that Englishmen might have done something to the prejudice of Russia. The whole thing is childishly inconsistent, and we become ridiculous in the eyes of the world when these things happen.
I ask that no further action be taken to destroy trade between this country and Russia, or to prejudice the employment of even a small number of our work-people. We shall join with opinion in all parts of the House on every occasion to ask that adequate protection shall be given to a British subject, wherever he goes in any part of the world, but we shall deal equally generously with people who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in difficulties in this country. That is true internationalism. We ask that the House shall not commit itself so deeply, because of this relatively small incident—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—a relatively small incident which can be cleared up.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I hope that there is no hon. Member who would like to see these men liberated without having established their innocence. If I were charged with an offence, either in this country or abroad, I should deem it a great privilege to be allowed to stand a fair trial in order to prove my innocence. I hope that this incident will not be magnified out of its proper proportion. I hope that 531 we shall not add another difficulty to our overwhelming difficulties and that we shall not throw a still darker shadow across our path by quarrelling with a country which has nothing to gain by quarrelling with us at the present time, and which, in my opinion, has no desire to quarrel with us. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have worked assiduously in the matter to which they referred to-day. We believe that they and the Government they represent are working on the wrong lines in regard to the pact but if that pact is to extend friendship to Germany, what is there to stop the Government from including Russia or from entering into the most intimate relationship with all countries, and thus showing our belief and confidence in democracy and in our own political system? We may thus be able to help to rid the world of some of the darkest shadows which are upon it and to which reference has been made to-day.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) in the very eloquent condemnation which he uttered of dictatorships. For my own part, I thrilled to his eloquence. I loath dictatorships, whatever form they take, whether of the right or of the left, but I am convinced that the form of Government in any country is a matter only for the citizens of that country, and I believe that the responsible Government of this country must do all they can to encourage good relations with countries, even though we detest the Governments of those countries. I have always striven for that, whether the country concerned has been ruled by dictatorships of the left or of the right. I am always for good understanding with the peoples of every country, and I therefore applaud the effort that the Government are making now to restore good understanding with all countries irrespective of the form of Government under which they suffer or which they may enjoy, as the case may be. Indeed, looking back upon the situation as it was ten days ago, with disquieting incidents at Dantzig and in the Rhineland, with public opinion in France legitimately apprehensive, and with a background of war in China and in South America, the most despondent pessimist and embittered critic of the Prime 532 Minister must concede that his week of work and travel abroad has wrought a beneficent change and that the outlook is more promising. While I do not think that the Prime Minister would expect us to express a considered judgment on the necessarily vague outline which he has given us of the project upon which he is now engaged, I think that we should welcome him back with grateful recognition of his exertions in the cause of peace.
The draft disarmament convention which he has brought back from Geneva will not please everybody. It does not please the hon. Member for Gower, and for my part I wish that it had been framed on bolder lines and promised a far greater alleviation than it does of the burden of armaments. It falls short in many respects of the demands that have been made on other occasions from these benches. When the hon. Member for Gower talks about the disadvantages of figures, he is obviously making a point with which the Prime Minister has already to some extent agreed. In his opening remarks the right hon. Gentleman said that he had been fully alive to the embarrassment of putting figures down on paper. I can well believe that the situation as it existed at Geneva justified the risk. The dispersion of the Disarmament Conference after 14 months' work with no result except an agreement to meet again would indeed have been a tragic and disastrous end of its labours. As the Prime Minister said, it could not go on indefinitely; the Conference was regarded with despair a fortnight ago, when its best friends in this country were advising its almost indefinite postponement. Therefore, if the Government in the discharge of their responsibilities, and with the knowledge which they alone possessed of the situation at Geneva, with 60 nations there, as the Prime Minister said, with diverse interests, diverse points of view and diverse armament needs—if the Government tell us that this project indicates the lines upon which progress can most swiftly be made at the present time, and if there is a real prospect that a convention of this kind can be concluded, the Government are entitled to the fullest and strongest backing which the House can give them.
The larger question with which the Prime Minister dealt in his speech goes 533 to the very root of the disarmament problem. Armaments will decline as the respect for law in Europe grows, and respect for the public law of Europe, as of the laws of our own country, must be based upon a substantial measure of consent. Not until we can win such a measure of consent for the post-war order in Europe shall we restore confidence and attain the goal of disarmament which the hon. Member for Gower and I equally desire to reach. As long ago as 1870 Mr. Gladstone said:The greatest triumph of our time will be the enthronement of the idea of public right as the governing idea of European politics.To-day it is enshrined in the Covenant of the League of Nations and all the members of the League are pledged to uphold it. We must uphold it firmly against any challenge from any country in Europe, but we must recognise also that the settlement of Versailles was never intended to be stereotyped. There is, on the contrary, Article 19, to which the Prime Minister referred, which provides for its revision by agreement, and that Article is as binding upon the signatories of the Covenant as those which forbid the revision of the Peace Settlement by force. We have heard enough in discussions of foreign affairs during the last 10 or 15 years of that phrase which has for many of us who were alive in 1914, and always will have, a sinister ring—"a war to end war." We want no more wars to end wars. We want a peace to end war, and because I believe that the Prime Minister's efforts have been directed to winning for the public law of Europe a greater measure of consent, and therefore to laying the foundation of a permanent peace, and that the laying of this foundation is a prerequisite of disarmament, I am disposed to welcome the efforts that he has made.
I hope that it will be found that, during the 10 years which the Prime Minister told us is the contemplated currency of this agreement, there will be no rearmament of Germany. I hope that this Disarmament Convention will not involve that. He spoke of the contribution which will be expected from those who will be the beneficiaries of the project of action under Article 19. I hope that one of the contributions which will be made by Germany will be an undertaking not to resort to any form of force for the settlement 534 of disputes which may arise, and that while the right to equality of Status will be conceded, it will be freely conceded on her part that she will not add to her armaments in the meantime any more than other countries will under this convention be able to add to theirs. The Prime Minister then said that the question arose how the smaller countries of Europe were to be brought into this arrangement and how they were to be consulted. I cannot help feeling a little disquiet at that question having been posed because the answer seems to be obvious. Surely it is through the League of Nations. We are told that this project will be within the framework of the League of Nations, and I hope that it will be possible even at this stage, for the Minister who will reply to this Debate to give us the assurance that this project will be worked out within the framework of the League of Nations and that the small nations of Europe will have their rights as equal members of the League to take their part in working it out.
The only other point I would like to make in connection with this project is this. As the Prime Minister said, it is at this moment in a very unformed condition, and it is impossible for us to form a definite judgment on it. I hope that it will be clear that before any commitments are entered into we shall have an opportunity in the House of a discussion of the project with fuller knowledge of its details, or, at any rate, of the main principles upon which it will be framed. It will be useless to have the discussion after the agreement has been come to, once an agreement has been come to with the other powers concerned we may have a discussion in the House, but we cannot alter a line or a comma of the agreement. The honour of the country will have been pledged. I therefore venture to hope that we shall be given an assurance that before any commitments are entered into we shall have a discussion in the House with full knowledge of the lines on which the negotiations are proceeding.
I pass from the main subject of this Debate to some remarks of the hon. Member for Gower about the British subjects who have been imprisoned in Moscow. Public opinion has been deeply and rightly stirred by this imprisonment of six British subjects, of whom four re- 535 main in custody. I will also mention, what the hon. Member did not mention, that there are two British subjects in custody in Berlin, but the same publicity has not been attracted to that fact, and I am sorry that the same interest has not been taken in it in the House. I feel sure that the whole House will agree that a British subject, in whatever land he may be, whatever his colour, race, creed or politics, is entitled to know that, in Lord Palmerston's famous words:The watchful eyes and strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong.In the Moscow case the public is rightly indignant at the refusal of the Bolsheviks to allow these captives to see the British Ambassador in private; at the reported refusal to allow them to discuss their treatment in prison with the British Ambassador; and at the statement that the men who were released were cross-examined for as long as 19 hours on end. I should like to know if that is true, and also as to the apparent reluctance of the Commissar of Foreign Affairs to impart information about the charges, or the trial, or even to give an assurance that the cases will not be summarily disposed of by the Ogpu. With regard to the refusal to allow a British counsel to plead, that would be a mistaken demand for us to make, for we should not allow a Russian counsel to plead in our courts. We should like, however, to know about the reported refusal to allow a British counsel to be present during the trial—a reasonable and, in the circumstances, necessary demand. The Government have done well to press for satisfaction on all these points.
At the same time, it is clear that those who go to a foreign country, as, for instance, to Russia, must subject themselves to the laws of that country. No British Government can accept responsibility for the conduct of its nationals in foreign countries, and Lord Palmerston, in that famous speech from which I have quoted, said that the first redress of any British subject abroad must be from the courts of the country in which he finds himself. I must, therefore, say that I think the Government went too far in asking the House and the country to assume the innocence of these men. I think it is clear that we cannot call 536 upon another country to assume the innocence of a British national just because he happens to be British, and demand that he should be immediately released. The effect of that is, naturally, to excite feelings of national pride in the other country, and to make the settlement of the case far more difficult than it otherwise would be. While, therefore, I approve otherwise of the steps the Government have taken to protect these men, I hope that the case will be conducted firmly but in such a way as not to arouse bitter and hostile feeling in the Russian people. The state of the world to-day is not such that we can afford to rouse feelings of enmity in any quarter; we should look rather in every quarter to increasing peace, to increasing trade, to increasing co-operation between nations, and I believe that in that way we shall be following also the best path to help our nationals abroad.
As regards the German case to which I have referred, we have had much less information. It was the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who asked the first question regarding the protection of the lives of British subjects in Germany, and he was told by the Foreign Secretary that, as regards the safety of British lives and property, it must be assumed that the German Government would continue to discharge their responsibility in reference to British subjects in Germany. That, of course, was before we had any definite information that any British subject had been imprisoned. While I take no exception to the Foreign Secretary's answer, I hope it does not mean that he is not going to do his utmost to extend his protection to those British subjects whom we know to have been imprisoned, and that his confidence in the German Government will not lead him to doubt the necessity for extending that protection. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) asked a further question, about, in particular, Mr. Nambia, and he was told, I must say I think a little casually, by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that the German authorities had some two hundredweight of literature to examine in connection with that case. Then the right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked where the man was in prison and how he was being treated, and the 537 Under-Secretary said that he would try to get the information. I suggest that the Government ought to have moved far more rapidly. They ought to have moved with the same promptness with which they moved in Moscow. The British Ambassador ought to have gone at once to the German authorities and found out in what prison these men were confined, and to what treatment they were being subjected. I applaud the action of the Government in the case of the British subjects who are imprisoned in Moscow, and I only wish that their action had been as prompt in the case of those who are imprisoned in Berlin.
Let me, in conclusion, say a few words on another subject, which was raised by the hon. Member who has just spoken, namely, the subject of the World Economic Conference. We on these benches welcome the recognition that has been accorded in recent speeches by Government spokesmen of the vital importance of that conference, the latest of which was the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night. Abroad, the outlook on that conference is more hopeful than it has been for a very long time. President Roosevelt, Senator Hull, and Mr. Roper, the new Secretary for Commerce in the United States, have recently made most encouraging declarations. "When we play the game, other nations will too," said Mr. Roper. He advocated a tariff policy of common sense and decency to other nations. The United States delegation to the World Economic Conference, he said, should adopt an attitude of real co-operation and sympathetic neighbourliness. Unfortunately, it is rather in Britain—the country which stands most to gain from the new realisation abroad of the importance of international trade—that the Government still speaks with a divided voice. For example, one Minister is permitted to say that quotas are insane, and another to say that quotas have come to stay. The Prime Minister will be chairman of this conference, and upon his power to give a bold and, above all, a consistent lead the success of the conference will very largely depend.
If we come to an agreement in Europe on the question of Disarmament, the next objective must be to reach an agreement with the United States on War Debts and on those general economic questions 538 which will subsequently be brought for final adjustment within the purview of the conference. But even to attempt that will be futile if, simultaneously, we are trying by artificial restrictions and artificial barriers to divert trade from those very countries with whom we are negotiating, to the Dominion countries. The Government's task in making a success of the conference is immense. If it concentrates upon that task, and only if it concentrates upon it, subordinating to it all other considerations of policy, it will be possible, not only to save our country from the evils by which it is now beset, and from the still greater evils by which it is threatened, but to lay the foundations of a civilisation of greater wealth, variety and power than we have ever yet dreamed of.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
While I was listening to the very agreeable speech of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), I could not help feeling how great was the love of comfortable words in his heart, and to how ardent an extent it has become the prevailing mood of the party for whom he spoke. There must be comfortable words. All the phrases must be smoothly turned. Every proposition must be put in such a form that it means all things to all men. At one moment our patriotic "dander" was stirred by his references to Lord Palmerston's ringing phrases about the vigilant eye and strong arm of England; and at the next moment we were to be enthusiastic about the measures of the Disarmament Conference still further to weaken that strong arm. At one moment my right hon. and gallant Friend was complimenting the Government on the vigorous action they had taken in regard to the British prisoners in Russia, and hoping that similar Vigorous action would be taken in regard to British subjects in Germany—with which we all cordially concur—and at the next moment he was warning the Government that in taking this vigorous action, and acting in such a firm manner, they must be very careful not to give any offence to the susceptibilities of the peoples of these great countries. Finally, my right hon. and gallant Friend expressed the very greatest hopes for the World Economic Conference, about which he was good enough to say some very 539 complimentary things; but he indicated that his hopes of the success of the World Economic Conference were contingent upon the immediate abandonment of every form of trade protection or quota, or anything in the nature of attempts to divert trade by this country. If his hopes are based on that foundation, let me tell him that he is on a trap-door. So much for my right hon. and gallant Friend's comfortable words.
I am in agreement with him upon the objects which we all have in view, and which the Prime Minister has in view, in connection with the great question which is before us in debate at the present moment. We all desire to see peace established, good will among the nations, old scores forgotten, old wounds healed, the peoples of Christendom united to rebuild their portion of the world, to solve the problem of their toiling masses, to give a higher standard of life to the harassed populations committed to their care. We all desire to see that, and we can all expatiate upon it. The differences which arise are those of methods. They are the differences which arise when our well-meant sentiments come into contact with extremely baffling and extremely obstinate concrete obstacles. Then there are differences, and one may reasonably doubt whether a right course is being pursued, and one is certainly bound to discuss and debate very carefully issues of that kind, because all the good sentiments in the world, all the high objectives in the world, will not prevent an unwise or imprudent or unskilful course from landing us in a hole—and we are in a pretty good hole at the present time.
I am anxious to develop this afternoon, though not at undue length, the argument which I submitted to the House before Christmas about foreign affairs, and to which the Prime Minister gracefully referred for a moment in the course of his speech. Our first supreme object is not to go to war. To that end we must do our best to prevent others from going to war. But we must be very careful that, in so doing, we do not increase the risk to ourselves of being involved in a war if, unfortunately, our well-meant efforts fail to prevent a quarrel between other Powers. It is by this test that I wish to examine the 540 foreign policy of my right hon. Friend. During the whole of the last four years he has directed, and not only directed, but dominated, our foreign policy, and no one can pretend that the results are satisfactory. On the contrary, the state of Europe, the condition of the Far East, our relations with Japan, the authority and prestige of the League of Nations, the security of this Island—all have in various degrees sensibly deteriorated. It may be that events have been too strong for the Prime Minister. There are tasks beyond the power of mortal man. It may well be so, and his friends will naturally like to adopt that view, but others may think that the course that he has adopted, from the highest motives and with sentiments as soothing and inspiring as those which have just fallen from my right hon. and gallant Friend, has actually aggravated the state of affairs at present. That is what I am going to ask permission of the House to look into for a short time to-day.
The staple of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman has been Disarmament. During the whole of the four years disarmament has been his staple. Of course, it is true that in that respect he was only following the policy to which all parties were committed and to which many nations were committed by treaty. Nevertheless, I submit to the reflection of the House that it is true that the undue insistence upon disarmament, the prolonged attempts at Geneva of one nation to disarm another, and latterly of each nation to put some other nation in the wrong before public opinion—I believe this prolonged process, which began before the Prime Minister was responsible for our affairs, but which he has impelled with all the resources at his disposal, has not had good results at all, or scarcely any good results at all, and that, in fact, it has in some respects worsened the relations between the great Powers. I have held this view for some years, and I see it continually confirmed by events. I am very doubtful whether there is any use in pressing national disarmament to a point where nations think their safety is compromised while the quarrels which divide them and which lead to armaments and lead to their fears are still unadjusted. The elaborate process of measuring swords around the table at Geneva, which has gone on for 541 so many years, stirs all the deepest suspicions and anxieties of the various Powers and forces all the statesmen to consider many hypothetical contingencies which but for this prolonged process perhaps would not have crossed their minds and would only have remained buried in the archives of some general staff.
But this forcing into the minds of all the leading men of Europe these narrow measurings of the relative strength of the different Powers has been a fertile advertisement of all the apparatus of war and of all the ideas and conceptions of war which perhaps, but for this, would have been to a very large extent thrown into eclipse by the gravity of the economic situation. I have always hoped and believed that a continuance of a long peace and the pressure of taxation would lead to a gradual, progressive neglect of armaments in all countries, as was the case after the conclusion of the great Napoleonic wars. I say nothing against private interchanges in secret diplomacy between the Foreign Offices of the different countries of a friendly character—"If you will not do this, we shall not have to do that," "If your programme did not start so early, ours would begin even later," and so on—such as have always gone on, and may perfectly legitimately go on. I believe a greater advance and progress towards a diminution of expenditure on armaments might have been achieved by these methods than by the conferences and schemes of disarmament which have been put forward at Geneva. It is in this mood that I look at the Prime Minister's latest plan as set forth in the "Times" of Friday last. I do not know whether there is a White Paper on the subject. I took it from the "Times" and, if that is wrong, I fall with that high authority. [Interruption.] I read it in the "Times" and I do not think there is any difference. If there is, I am bound to say that I am deceived. I took it from the newspaper, and I was not aware that there had been a publication.
Taking the figures there—I stand to be corrected if by any chance the "Times" is wrong—I do not quarrel with this plan at all from the purely British standpoint. We have already disarmed, alone among the nations, and it is very natural that we should like to see other countries fall- 542 ing neater to our level. Therefore, I have no objection from the British standpoint. It is evidently the Prime Minister's opinion that we should be a one-Power standard in the air, because our quota of aeroplanes is fixed at the highest level permitted to any Power. That is a very significant declaration in so formal a document by His Majesty's Government, because I presume, if others do not reduce to our level, the obligations of national safety would require us to make necessary increases in the Force. The Prime Minister said he did not go through these figures himself. I presume they were all most carefully examined by the Committee of Imperial Defence. Is that so?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Committee of Imperial Defence advice is not disclosed to the House. The Government take full responsibility.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It has frequently been said in this House that matters have been carefully considered by the Committee of Imperial Defence, and, of course, by the naval and military experts. I do not say that Ministers cannot act apart from them. All I say is that they confer a very much greater degree of responsibility if they take measures of this kind, which are highly complicated and technical, without 'having gone through all the careful processes that are necessary.
Taking a layman's view of these facts and figures, I cannot say that they are injurious to our defensive interests, but I doubt very much indeed the wisdom of pressing this plan upon France at the present time. I do not think it is at all likely that the French will agree. They must be greatly concerned at what is taking place in Germany, as well as at the attitude of some others of their neighbours. I daresay that during this anxious month—we seem to have passed through a, very anxious month—there are a good many people who have said to themselves, as I have been saying for several years: "Thank God for the French army." When we read about Germany, when we watch with surprise and distress the tumultuous insurgence of ferocity and war spirit, the pitiless ill-treatment of minorities, the denial of the normal protections of civilised society to large numbers of individuals solely on the ground of race—when we see that occurring in one of the most gifted, 543 learned, scientific and formidable nations in the world, one cannot help feeling glad that the fierce passions that are raging in Germany have not found, as yet, any other outlet but upon themselves. It seems to me that, at a moment like this, to ask France to halve her army while Germany doubles hers—that is the scale of figures—to ask France to halve her air force while the German air force remains whatever it is—I am aware that there is no military air force permitted to remain —such a proposal, it seems to me, is likely to be considered by the French Government at present, at any rate, as somewhat unseasonable. The figures that are given in the plan of the strength of armies and aeroplanes secure to France only as many aeroplanes as would be possessed by Italy, leaving any air power possessed by Germany entirely out of consideration.
We must look at facts in this matter. Others are looking at them. Do not let the House be alarmed that we are doing any harm by looking at the facts. We may as well face realities. Germany and Italy, if united, would immediately have actually larger armies than France, 450,000 to 400,000, even if the whole of the French Colonial force were safely brought back across the Mediterranean, and this disposition of force, it must be remembered, corresponds to populations of 100,000,000 in the two countries I have mentioned as compared with less than 40,000,000 in France. I do not say for a moment that this contingency of a combination of Italy and Germany against France is likely to occur. No one has a right to think such a thing. I absolutely disclaim any such intention of making such a declaration. But there is very great anxiety in Switzerland, as the Prime Minister knows. They fear that some day or other it might be marched through by armies in a state of war, and certainly it seems to me that the French Government would be bound in self-preservation to bear these possibilities in mind when they are examining the figures which the Prime Minister never had time to look through himself, but which he has presented and for which he has made himself responsible to the great Powers of Europe—to all the Powers of Europe, great and small.
It seems to me unlikely, therefore, taking a general view, that these figures will be found acceptable not only to 544 France, but to various other countries concerned. I do not mean for a moment that they will be rejected out of hand. On the contrary, all the nations at Geneva have developed a very elaborate technique in dealing with disarmament proposals which do not suit their needs or which they think are dangerous or inconvenient. They have learned very well to talk the language which is agreeable to the League of Nations Union, which would warm their hearts and wing the eloquence of my right hon. Friend. They think they do it very well there. They have had a lot of practice at it. They never refuse at first sight any proposal, however injurious, visionary or foolish they may think it. On the contrary, they make praiseworthy speeches. They interchange agreeable compliments —"How interesting!" "How hopeful!" "What a meeting of our point of view is embodied in this." "It is the first time we have really had a helping hand in this difficult situation." "What noble sentiments have inspired this theme for which we are indebted to the genius of England." And then, having read it a second time, to use our Parliamentary form, amid prolonged enthusiasm, they adjourn to the banqueting hall and leave it to be killed in committee by a lot of minor objections to detail, or by putting forward counter-proposals which only make confusion worse confounded.
I understand that already—here again I am basing myself only on the newspapers—there are 56 Disarmament plans. Perhaps the Prime Minister has the right figure. It may be more now, because he has been two or three days away from Geneva. Fifty-six well-meaning plans, which certainly suited very well indeed the interests of the country which proposed them, have Already been disposed of by this machinery, and it seems not unlikely that the 57th will share the common fate. But although the plan of the Prime Minister may not be accepted, it cannot, I fear, fail to arouse distrust in the breasts of those from whom it asks the most hazardous sacrifices at the most inopportune time. Here, I say very little of the Prime Minister's oratorical style. We are familiar with it here. We know that he has, more than any other man, the gift of compressing the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought. We have heard him on so many topics, from India to unemployment and 545 many other matters, providing us, apparently, with an inexhaustible flow of vague, well-sounding exhortation, the precise purpose of which is largely wrapped in mystery and which, as far as it can be discerned, can be understood differently in different quarters, according to taste. The only comment I would make upon his eloquent speech at Geneva is that when he said to the assembled nations that if they would not adopt the proposals they would be mannequins—not manikins—the functionaries who, I believe, are employed by French milliners to exhibit their wares to the best advantage. They would be mannequins, and not men. I cannot help thinking that he lapsed a little from those standards of international decorum which we expect in a representative of the British Empire in such circumstances. When I think of the figures which I have just been mentioning—[Laughter]—I am afraid that I was dealing with statistics, and not with fashions—when I think of the statistics which I have been mentioning to the House, I am not at all sure that the French will find such remarks even amusing.
All these considerations lead us ton very grave matter. I think that it is undoubtedly dangerous to press France at the present juncture to disarm because of the effect which that must necessarily have upon our obligations and our liabilities under the Treaty of Locarno. We have serious obligations under the Treaty of Locarno, but they are provided with various important safeguards which ensure our having a wide discretion whether we should or should not engage, on one side or the other, in a European war. I am going to mention those safeguards because they are of the utmost consequence to all of us in this country who wish to be assured that we shall never see our men dragged into another tremendous Continental struggle. The Council of the League of Nations must be unanimous. It would probably not be unanimous. In fact, in the grouping of the Powers, it could hardly be unanimous, apart from the fact that we ourselves would be an indispensable factor in that unanimity.
There is the emergency obligation under Clause IV. This operates in the case of what is called a 546flagrant violation of peace constituting an unprovoked act of aggression, which by reason of crossing the frontier, or the outbreak of hostilities, or the assembly of armed forces in the demilitarised zone requires immediate action."Immediate action" means, before the Council of the League of Nations can be invoked. I know that that is often mentioned, but here, again, I think that a considerable latitude of judgment rests in the conditions of the Treaty. The word "flagrant" in this case embodies not only the idea of a grave breach of law, but it also involves the elements of magnitude, danger and urgency. It is of the utmost importance that those elements should be read into the meaning of the word "flagrant." We should be entitled to consider all these aspects before we felt ourselves bound to join in a European war without even having the opportunity to discuss the matter upon the Council of the League of Nations.
It must always be assumed, of course, that Great Britain will stand by her obligations. Probably she will be better than her legal word, but I do not admit that the Treaty of Locarno deprives us of the right to judge the facts and circumstances, even in an emergency, according to what we think right in our interests and for our duty. All these refinements, which may be of vital consequence to the people of this Island and of the British Empire, will be swept away—I warn the Government—if we press France to disarm and encourage Germany to re-arm to a point where dangerous conditions are created. If you press a country to reduce its defences beyond its better judgment, and it takes your advice, every obligation you have contracted, however carefully it has been expressed, will be multiplied in force, and you will find your position complicated by fresh obligations of comradeship, honour and compassion which will be brought very prominently to the front when a country which has taken your advice falls into grave jeopardy perhaps as a result of what you have pressed upon it.
I remember what happened before the Great War. The growth of the German Navy obliged us to concentrate all our battleships in the North Sea, and we withdrew our squadron of battleships from the Mediterranean. The French moved all their battleships into the 547 Mediterranean. There was no bargain. The two operations took place independently. But although there was no bargain, when the peril of war came and all Europe was seen to be rushing towards catastrophe, the Ministers of the British Government who were the most resolved against participation in the War admitted the force of the argument, that, since the north coasts of France were undefended in consequence of their having moved their battleships, we should be bound to make sure that she did not suffer in that respect, and long before any agreement was reached as to whether we should participate in the War, a united agreement was reached in the Government, as my right hon. Friend well knows, forbidding the Germans from sending any warships into the Channel. That shows the enormous danger of pressing people to disarm beyond their better judgment, or becoming too closely intermingled in their defensive arrangements. What terrible consequences they may have upon your freedom of choice at some future time! I am profoundly anxious that we should preserve and enjoy the full freedom to judge of our obligations under Locarno without any additional complications. Therefore, I urge the very greatest caution upon His Majesty's Government at the present time in pressing the French Government to weaken their strength relatively towards Germany.
There is another and more obvious argument against our trying to weaken the armed power of France at the present juncture. As long as France is strong and Germany is but inadequately armed, there is no chance of France being attacked with success, and, therefore, no obligation under Locarno will arise for us to go to the aid of France. I am sure, on the other hand, that France, which is the most pacific nation in Europe at the present time, as she is, fortunately, the most efficiently armed nation in Europe, would never attempt any violation of the Treaty which exists or commit an overt act against Germany without the sanctions of the Treaty, without reference to the Treaty, and, least of all, in opposition to the country with which she is on such amicable relations—Great Britain.
The Prime Minister spoke of what he has put up to-day as the greatest effort 548 for peace since the Great War, doing, I think, little less than justice to the author of the Locarno Treaty, because certainly on the morrow of that we reached a position of far greater tranquility and security than we have ever been able to obtain since. How glad we should be to go back to that shining morrow of Locarno, and the hopes that were expressed there. It seemed to me at that time that as long as France was armed and Germany was disarmed, we ran no great risks under the Treaty of Locarno. We had an opportunity of bringing these two countries together in friendly intercourse—bringing France and Germany together in friendly intercourse.
Although bringing France and Italy together in friendly intercourse is a most important work, yet the master key of Europe is some understanding and relationship between its two greatest nations, Germany and France. If we are now going to try to establish conditions of equality—the Prime Minister used the word "equality" in a very loose way this afternoon, and I had to press him and make him add the enormously important words "equality of status"—if we are now going to try to create conditions of equality between France and Germany in armaments, or even an approach thereto, because the potential alliances of Germany must be considered, we shall invest the whole situation under Locarno with a far graver, far more imminent and more practical character than it possesses today. If you are going to take this step to reduce the Armies to the levels set out in the White Paper, then I say, that before that result is achieved Parliament ought to review the whole position of our responsibilities under the Treaty of Locarno. It is my sincere belief that if the armies of Europe had been measured during the last month or the last six months, especially the last month, as they are set forth in this White Paper, those very horrors that it is our whole aim to avert from us would have leapt out upon us already. If Europe has enjoyed peace this year, it has been under the shield of France. Be careful not to break that shield. It is perhaps not a broad basis on which we should like to see the harmony of Christendom stand, but it is a shield. Beware that you do not lower it or weaken it by any action in your power before you have, at least, something 549 which gives as good practical security erected behind it to put in its place.
Now I come to the proposals which the Prime Minister laid before us of a pact between the four great Powers—no doubt, technically within the League of Nations—to preserve the peace and to plan a revision of the Treaties of Versailles and Trianon. I have always been attracted by this idea which Signor Mussolini has made so prominent. I have spoken for years of a pyramid of peace, which might be triangular or quadrangular, three or four great Powers shaking hands together and endeavouring to procure a rectification of some of the evils arising from the treaties made in Vile passion of war, which if left unredressed will bring upon us consequences we cannot name. The Prime Minister is, I think, a new convert to this idea. I have not had time to examine all his past utterances, but I had an impression that he had always condemned anything in the nature of a four-Power or a three-Power agreement and had considered that that was, as it were, inconsistent with the general authority of the League of Nations, on which so many Powers are represented. However, let that pass. Whether he was converted by the eloquence of Signor Mussolini, or by the strong personality of Signor Mussolini, or whether he had it in his mind before he went to Rome, are mysteries which are naturally hidden from us.
Although I have always been in favour of something of this character and have thought it the best line of approach to solid peace and to getting rid of the war peril, I am bound to say that the situation has deteriorated to such a point in the last year that such a plan is not nearly so hopeful now as it would have been some years ago or as it might be perhaps at no distant date in the future. I am very doubtful whether the Prime Minister has been wise to launch it in the way in which he has done at the present moment. I should have thought that it was indispensable before this plan of a four-Power pact could have a fair chance, to have got the Disarmament Conference laid to rest, and not to be assailing the nations involved with doubts as to their military strength and anxieties about their security at the same time that you are going to ask them to undertake the appallingly dangerous and difficult duty of endeavouring to get some 550 revision of the peace treaties. I have always tried to urge upon the House that to redress the grievances of the vanquished should precede the disarmament of the victors. This is a new idea and you must revise your other procedure in relation to the new idea, if you are to give it a chance. It is just like when we quitted the Gold Standard and we went on with ideas appropriate to our continued adherence to that standard. So in this field, when the Disarmament Conference has reached a point when it will absolutely conflict with treaty revision, through the desire of the four great Powers, the Prime Minister is still endeavouring to drive both these teams forward at the same moment.
To sum up, I trust that the Government will not press the disarmament proposals upon France unduly at the present time, for certainly the satisfaction of reaching an imposing conclusion of the Disarmament Conference would be far too dearly purchased at the cost of any aggravation of the danger of our being drawn into war, and even if it became an impediment to the progress of this larger and more dynamic idea of the four-power pact. I thank the House for allowing me to unfold a view which is not, I daresay, widely shared, but on which for a good many years I have been poring, as a result of some experience and study of these matters. In conclusion, to end where I began; I must say that the Prime Minister's interventions in Foreign Affairs have been—not through any fault or desire on his part—remarkably unsuccessful. His repeated excursions have not led to any solid, good result. Where anything has been achieved it has nearly always been at British expense and to British disadvantage. On the whole, his four years of control of our Foreign relations have brought us nearer to war and have made us weaker, poorer and more defenceless. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members say "No." You have only to study what is the position of Europe to-day. You have only to listen to what has been said from that Bench to know that we have been brought much nearer to war. [HON. MEMBERS: "No." "By whom?"] I do not wish to place upon one man the responsibility for that, but at the same time when any one man has for four years held the whole power of this country in foreign affairs in his hands, and when he has pursued the lines of policy which I have indicated, you are 551 making a profound mistake if you think the efficiency of our public service will be enhanced by pretending that there is no responsibility to be affixed anywhere. Certainly not.
I withdraw nothing. I repeat what I have said, that, with the best of endear yours, with the most praiseworthy exertions, the right hon. Gentleman's efforts have not been attended at any point with a measure of success. [HON. MEMBERS: "Lausanne."] Lausanne. All right. Under Lausanne we have now accumulated the gold to pay an additional instalment to the United States. Under Lausanne we have already told the French and the Germans that they need not pay us anything. Is that a great success? If eventually you reach good results and all War Debts and Reparations are forgiven and forgotten, then will be the time for these perfervid tributes to the Prime Minister. Then will be the time for hon. Gentlemen to range themselves up on the platforms of railway stations, but that is not the position now. The position now is that we have let everybody off, and we are going to pay everything ourselves.
Then there was the Naval Treaty of London, which I am glad to think the Conservative party voted against. It is cramping and fettering our Naval development, not merely the scale but the actual form and shape of our naval expenditure, in a manner which is certainly detrimental. Then there is the Disarmament Conference at Geneva, a solemn and prolonged farce, which, has undoubtedly lowered the prestige of the League of Nations and irritated many of the countries affected. Then there is the arms embargo, to come to more recent times. So little am I prejudiced that I welcomed it in all the innocence of my heart, carried away by the excellent speech of the Foreign Secretary. I said that I thought it was the best thing to do. What happened to me? I had hardly had time to turn round when the Government themselves had abandoned this policy, which they had put forward not only on the grounds of a policy and expediency but on those higher considerations of honour and avoidance of blood-guiltiness which made such a very great appeal to their audience. Let me say that this treatment of the arms embargo has seriously affected our relations with 552 Japan. We have abandoned the arms embargo now. We have not the advantage of the high morality which the Foreign Secretary preached to us, and we shall have to pay for it very considerably in after years if, as may well be the case, some special intimacy should grow up in trade matters in that part of the world between Japan and Germany. An hon. Member mentioned Lausanne. I have supplied him with other instances and illustrations of my theme.
Lastly, there is the visit to Rome. I do not wish to treat it too seriously. No doubt it was a pleasant expedition. No doubt it gave the right hon. Gentleman a great deal of pleasure to see Mr. Mussolini; the same sort of pleasure that 1,000 years ago was given to a Pope when an Emperor paid a visit to Canossa. It was certainly a striking spectacle to see these two heads of Governments, the master of sentimental word and the greatest master of grim and rugged action, meeting together in such friendly intercourse. I associate myself with my right hon. Friend in welcoming the Prime Minister back. We have got our modern Don Quixote home again, with Sancho Panza at his tail, bearing with them these somewhat dubious trophies which they have collected amid the nervous titterings of Europe. Let us hope that now that the right hon. Gentleman is safely back among us he will, first of all, take a good rest, of which I have no doubt he stands in need, and that afterwards he will devote himself to the urgent domestic tasks which await him here, in this island, and which concern the well-being of millions of his poorer fellow-subjects, and leave the conduct of foreign affairs, at any rate for a little while, to be transacted by competent ambassadors through the normal and regular diplomatic channels.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General SPEARS
I shall not attempt to follow the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who has poured a great deal of criticism upon the visit of the Prime Minister to Rome. That is not the opinion of the overwhelming majority of this House nor is it, I am confident, the opinion of the majority of the people of this country. I am afraid that I did not follow all the implications of the visit to Rome—no 553 doubt it is due to nay own stupidity—but I wish I could feel as happy concerning the disarmament proposals put forward by the right hon. Gentleman at Geneva as I do concerning the visit to Signor Mussolini. The one thing which is particularly needed in connection with disarmament is security. In fact, so important is the question of security that, in my opinion, it is not worth while to deal with any of the other proposals put forward by the Prime Minister at Geneva until the question of security has been settled. They are purely subsidiary points. The one thing that matters is the question of security, and when that has been solved the whole problem of disarmament has been solved. Obviously, there is not enough security, and the proof of that is that the nations of Europe have not disarmed.
What is the basis of the understanding between the nations which is so inadequate that they feel they cannot reduce their arms? We have the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the Kellogg Pact for the outlawry of war. The Kellogg Pact is of extreme importance because it includes the United States and Russia. It has been interpreted by Mr. Stimson, and we now know that the United States, should there be a breach of the peace and should the Council of the League of Nations declare that a nation has broken the peace, will not claim its rights as a neutral. That is very important, it has helped to clear up the whole situation. But knowing that the United States would not claim its rights as a neutral, in spite of the Kellogg Pact, and in spite of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the nations of Europe have not disarmed.
It was at this point that the right hon. Gentleman stepped in. What does he propose to-day? He proposes that in the event of a breach, or a threat of a breach of the Kellogg Pact, there should be a conference, if any five nations, including at least one of the Great Powers, should so request. That is the fundamental proposal, the keystone of the proposals, which we laid before the Disarmament Conference at Geneva. Is that the sort of proposal which is going to lead nations to disarm? Is it going to make them feel secure? I very much doubt it. At the present moment one single nation can lay its case before the Council of the League, but now you must 554 have five nations, one of them being a Great Power, in order to convene a conference of the League. A conference convened by five Powers, according to our proposal,may be summoned through the machinery of the League of Nations.Why the word "may."? By that form of words not only is the League of Nations being cold-shouldered, but it is positively being pushed aside. Look at the proposals a little further:Any conclusions reached at the conference must be concurred in by the representatives of all the great Powers and by a majority of the other governments participating in the conference.Formerly there was to be unanimity of all the Powers, with the exception, of course, of the nations involved in the dispute. Now all that matters, apparently, is that there should be unanimity among the great Powers; the little Powers are left aside. The effect of this seems to me to make the League of Nations completely powerless save as an instrument for enforcing the will of the great Powers on the small Powers. I cannot see how a suggestion of this kind can possibly claim to make a nation feel safe. I agree that the great Powers should have a voice at Geneva proportionate to their responsibility, but there is something very ominous in this "Great Powers" business, which is so constantly insisted upon in the documents we submit at Geneva. We seem to have travelled very far from the spirit of the League. The "Great Powers" mean a group of Powers. I cannot imagine a number of great Powers acting as a block, as one. They are bound to be divided by conflicting interests sooner or later, and will form themselves into groups. Inevitably, you will have a situation very much resembling the situation we had before the War. It would have been much wiser not to submit fresh disarmament proposals at the present time.
There is no need to travel all over Europe to find out what the people are thinking. They are terrified, and, in my view, they have every reason to be terrified. What amounts to a claim to re-arm has been made by Germany. Certain Clauses of the Treaty of Versailles may have been violated. Article 162, which lays down the extent of the police allowed to Germany, most certainly has been violated. Yet instead 555 of protesting we select this very moment to make new disarmament proposals. What possible deduction can people make? There is only one conclusion to which they can come, and that is that we are afraid of declaring ourselves, that we are terrified of being called upon to fulfil our obligations. I hope that that is not true, but it certainly is the impression that we create. Personally I believe one thing to be true of the people of this country, and that is that they are absolutely opposed to unilateral repudiation of international undertakings. If we did not hold that point of view our attitude towards the Irish Free State would be indefensible, and the payment of our debt to the United States last December would have been sheer stupidity.
To my mind, just as a door must be either open or closed, so a Treaty must be observed in every point; otherwise you might just as well tear it up at once and have done with it. If you allow minor violations without protest, you have not got a leg to stand on if you wish later to protest against major violations. To my mind—I know the point of view is shared by many people who think out these problems—there is only one way of avoiding a conflict in Europe to-day, and that is by the greatest display of calmness and even of firmness by this country at the present moment. Have we displayed that firmness? I doubt it. Have we made it clear to Europe that we would not tolerate any attempt to tear up the treaties by armed violence? We have not done those things. All we have done to a distracted Europe was to offer yet one more disarmament plan. What a moment to choose. When there were disturbances outside this House a few months ago the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister did not select that moment to come down to the House and say, "We are very hard up. Let us save some money by doing away with the police who protect this building." If he had done so it would have been said that his suggestion was very oddly timed. Yet in fact that is exactly what we are doing to the people of Europe to-day.
To deny the very dangerous militaristic spirit that is abroad in Germany to-day is to deny the evidence of our senses. I 556 think that we can all feel sympathy for Germany. She wishes to purge herself of the sense of defeat. She is suffering from what is nowadays called an inferiority complex. That feeling is inevitable after a lost war. In fact it is one of the most dangerous aftermaths of war. That feeling was increased tenfold in Germany by the ill-judged and all-advised invasion of the Ruhr. Germany has brooded so long over her wrong, she has been so self-centred and has spent so much time considering her own grievances, that she has entirely failed to perceive the new pacific, friendly spirit that has developed in France. France, on the other hand, witnessing the ghastly outrages that have been taking place in Germany, has been filled with fears and bitter memories, memories which the overwhelming mass of her people would fain have forgotten. I think we can sympathise with the French, because it was at this time of the year 16 years ago, in fact on this very day in March, 1917, that the Germans withdrew to the Hindenberg line, and our armies advanced over country on which not a single house was left standing, where there was not a single fruit-tree but had been cut down.
We, too, have hoped that these evil legacies of the War would have been forgotten by now. We had hoped that the German people were sick of violence. How can we believe that now when we see a whole nation apparently attempting to throw over all restraint? It seems to me that there was a perfectly simple course open to us, and that was to suggest a postponement of the Disarmament Conference, not indefinitely but to a given date, say three months hence, on the ground that it was impossible really to study disarmament and to come to satisfactory conclusions in the present disturbed state of Europe. The Government might have declared that meanwhile it would tolerate no infraction of the Treaties, especially in the matter of re-armament. To that statement should have been added another, and that was that when the Disarmament Conference reassembled we were absolutely determined to find a settlement that was fair to Germany. We can only insure against war in Europe—if it unfortunately broke out it would be certain to involve our vital interests—by extreme firmness a 557 clear policy and a determination to trample on the flames at once, as soon as and whenever they may break out.
My last word is on a point of principle. Personally I should be very glad if the Home Office would see its way to relax the immigration regulations as regards those people who are now compelled to fly from Germany owing to religious persecution. We are very hard up; we can hardly keep ourselves going. But that surely would add value to the gesture. This country has always afforded a refuge to the persecuted. After all we did it in the past, out of the kindness of our hearts, but we have been amply repaid, for some of our greatest industries have been started by foreigners who were flying from religious persecution. I feel certain that many distinguished men who at present are forced to fly from their homes would find ways of repaying such hospitality as we might offer for the time they spent amongst us, until such time, which I hope is not far distant, when they will be able to return to their own country.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Colonel GRETTON
I will begin my few remarks by pointing out to my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken that, whatever may be the faults of commission or omission of the present Government, the Government are not to blame for not seeking to postpone for some period the Disarmament Conference. I understand from the Press that to-day that Motion was moved, but was refused by the Assembly of the League. The Conference is to meet and to go on discussing disarment. I think that is very unfortunate.
I want now to suggest some considerations which perhaps have not been emphasised strongly in this Debate. Hon. Members who are in Opposition are very anxious indeed for international amity, and indeed that feeling pervades every quarter of the House. They try to support it by their principles of internationalism, by a blind support of the principles of the League of Nations on all occasions when they have an opportunity to speak. They should remember the principles upon which the Peace Treaties were established, the principles of self-determination, which were brought to us from the other side 558 of the Atlantic and accepted then by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Consequently strange changes were made in the map of Europe and those who learned their geography in the later days of Queen Victoria or even at a subsequent period were scarcely able to recognise that map after the changes which had been made in it.
Self-determination is a dangerous doctrine for those gentlemen who believe in internationalism, because on that doctrine is founded the nationalism which we see at work all over Europe and throughout the world to-day. Nations are feeling themselves driven more and more to act in their own interests and in their own defence, whether by economic methods or by arms. That is the great difficulty in Europe. We see the smaller nations created by the Peace Treaties troubled and alarmed by the ambitions of their neighbours who suffered mutilation and alienation of territory as a result of the War. I hope that I am an unbiased observer of what is happening in Germany at the present time, and it seems to me that the state of mind of the people in that country is easy to understand. It seems to me that they have not achieved that efficiency and progress which they had hoped for and desired. They have found a national leader; the young men of Germany have rallied to him and quite plainly they are going back to a stronger nationalism. They are claiming equality in armaments and in all other respects with the great Powers of Europe. Who can blame them and who can stop them?
It is all very well to talk about the League of Nations and about disarmament, but how are you going to stop a great people when they are determined upon a course of action of the kind which we see in Germany? You cannot disarm Germany now against her will. If she insists on arming, by what method are you going to enforce your will upon her to prevent her arming? The ambition of the German people to-day is that Germany should recover all that she lost in the War, whether on the Rhine frontier or on the East, whether overseas or at home. That is the declared ambitions of many of the most responsible leaders in Germany and that is naturally a cause of apprehension. How ill-timed it is to expect the nations at this juncture to 559 call upon a great, ambitious and restless Power to disarm? I do not propose to say much about the French attitude beyond referring in passing to the very important statement of M. Daladier as to the suggestions which were made to him. But what are we to get in exchange for further disarmament and what are the other nations to get in exchange for it?
The League of Nations, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has pointed out, in many respects has failed. The League of Nations has been operating with the applause of a great part of the world, but what has it been able to achieve? It is very costly; it gained the adhesion of nearly all the nations of the world except Russia and the United States, and, yet in what respect has it accomplished anything? I would remind hon. Members of the remarkable fact that the League of Nations was imposed upon us at the time of the Peace Treaties by the action of President Wilson. It was the American President's idea and it was taken up and enshrined in the Treaty of Versailles, as one of the means by which peace was to be established, but when President Wilson went back to America his action in that respect was repudiated and America went back to her old traditional policy of keeping herself free from outside entanglements and of strict adhesion to the Munroe Doctrine.
I need scarcely remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of how flagrantly the League has failed in dealing with great questions but let us turn for a moment to other minor matters in which one might have expected the League to have accomplished something. Not so long ago a question was raised about the slavery in Liberia. The League formed a commission or committee to inquire into that question but nothing more was done and the matter dropped out of sight. Recently, I had the curiosity or the interest to inquire what the League had done in the matter of dealing with the white slave traffic. The subject was dealt with, I understand, in their report for 1921. That is 12 years ago and since that time can any hon. or right hon. Gentleman point to anything effective which has been done by the League to root out this great scandal. I see according to the 560 last report that one or two nations have been persuaded to establish women police but the League of Nations dealing with a great international and moral evil of this kind might have been expected to do something more than has been done in regard to this urgent and serious scandal. I do not propose to dilate on that matter any further. I would only ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to investigate for themselves the record of the League in these various respects.
I turn to the question of disarmament and in considering that question, we in this House ought to remember that this country is disarming. We are no longer the country with the strongest sea power and owing to the extent of our Empire the power that we have at present is so disseminated and distributed that we have not the ships to defend our sea routes. I am referring to cruisers and not to battleships. We are dominated in the English Channel; in the matter of submarines, torpedo craft, light cruisers and so forth, we are inferior, and for the first time in two and a half centuries it can be said that we are not secure in the English Channel. The Lord President of the Council made a plea the other day about the horrors of aerial warfare. We know that the Continental nations bordering on the seas which wash our own shores are vastly superior to us in the number of aeroplanes possessed by them and in the number of experts whom they have trained for the manœuvring of those machines in the air. It must be remembered also that in diplomacy we are no longer able to talk in the same tone of equality and even dominance which we were able to employ on occasions in the past when naval power was in our hands. We are now inferior. We are not the great naval Power.
We have complacently disarmed and what are we getting in return? A moral gesture. When I was a younger man in politics a famous phrase was invented about this country and to-day we really seem to be sinking under the obloquy of that phrase which suggested that we British people go about the world with an air of unctuous rectitude and moral superiority. When hon. and right hon. Gentlemen criticise the Government for not being able to accomplish more by diplomacy, we must remember that there is no longer the power to enforce our arguments, in the last resort, however 561 just or right, however far-seeing and statesmanlike those arguments may be. As we are disarming and as the world has not disarmed we no longer have that power in the last resort. With regard to the main outlines of the proposal or arrangement which the Prime Minister has laid before the House, the ordinary people of this country, the men in the street who are not behind the scenes, are greatly alarmed and disquieted at the action of our representatives and of our Government. In late years when our representatives have gone abroad they have generally lost something for this country or given away something. We certainly made a bad arrangement from a naval point of view in the Naval Treaty of London, but as I have several times alluded to that matter in the House I say nothing more about it on this occasion.
We see in the foreign Press, however, statements that this present arrangement is to be a matter of give-and-take and the Prime Minister in his speech today seemed to carry a little further that idea of the Four Power arrangement which he outlined because he said there were to be mutual sacrifices. I, like hon. Members, have noted what foreign observers have to say on that question. We would like to know if mandated territories oversea have been brought into this discussion. The Prime Minister seemed to indicate something of that kind when he said that suggestions had been made which were not acceptable, and when an hon. Member in this House raised the question of whether Tanganyika had been brought into the discussion it was said that Tanganyika had not been mentioned. That does not preclude mention of some arrangement in the mass. Frankly, I am disturbed. Are we once again, in a panic, to buy the peace of the world by further sacrifices? If so, what is our share of the surrender? Going back a long way in history we should remember that this country has had experience of buying off trouble for a little time. In our school days we read of Dane geld. That failed, and such things will always fail. The Danes returned again and again.
We have been told with regard to the World Economic Conference that, at any rate, it is hoped it will settle our trouble with regard to international trade. We hear much about a tariff arrangement. I 562 trust the Government will not go into the Economic Conference speaking about giving away tariffs. We have no tariff, except on a very limited number of articles. We have a general import duty of 10 per cent, and, except in a very few instances, our tariff is a revenue duty, and no more. That is shown by the Advisory Committee being set up to make recommendations where further duties should be charged. They are slow in doing the business, although there are industries which need Protection. On a comparatively small range of articles higher duties are charged, but they have no real limitation on the dealings of foreigners who desire to import goods into this country. On fruit and flowers we have a special range of duties which are intended to be high. The Government, I hope, will not be deluded and go into the Conference to bargain away the little we have got; to shred from the country the little Protection it has. I suggest that we should be more national, and less interfering with the affairs of other people. We shall be far safer if we take that line and trust to our own efforts, and our old Empire, to help us; if we trust to our old good friends in the storms of recent years to stand by us once again, rather than put our faith in the sham structure of the League of Nations.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I used to think we were singularly lucky in this country in having Sir Oswald Mosley to lead the Nazi movement. If he had not had that responsibility it might have been taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and, in that case, the fate of this country might have been different. But we need no longer worry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has shown that he is completely happy, and so felicitous in this House that he will never lead the Fascist Movement. I would like to draw the attention of the House, and the Prime Minister, to the strange revolution that has come over public opinion, and opinion in this House—which is illustrated by the speech the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping had the courage to make to-day. I never thought I should live to hear in this House a frankly pro-French speech made once more, and feel that the sympathy of the House was with that speech.
563 It is remarkable what a revolution has come about in public opinion in the last fortnight, and it is noteworthy that during the last 10 days, at least, the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have been out of this country, and absent from that psychological contact and change which has come over public opinion. They have not read the papers. They have not read the "Daily Telegraph," the "Times," the "Evening Standard," or any of those great organs which have the making of public opinion and, consequently, are a little abashed when they find that their wanderings to Geneva and Rome fall somewhat flat upon a new world. A fortnight ago all our bright young things were passing resolutions that they would never again fight for King and country. Now they are muttering that if these German supermen go much further then "We shall have to tackle them." That is a change which has come about, and I think it is a tribute to the humane, generous feeling of this country.
What has taken place in Germany has completely converted a pro-German England into a pro-French England, and that change has not yet become obvious to the Prime Minister. I feel certain that, if he had realised what we have been feeling, he would have made in his speech some general reference to his friends who are now hunted from refuge to refuge, from one prison to another—Otto Wels whom we both knew as a Socialist of the milder type, Dr. Breitscheid the austere, Von Gerlach who had the superb courage all through the War to publish week by week in Berlin "Die Welt am Montag." All these people are now being hunted and bludgeoned like rats. I would wish that the Prime Minister had remembered that in his speech, and had indicated, as no one but a Prime Minister can indicate, the decent opinion of British gentlemen about the sort of thing going on in Germany.
We listened to the Prime Minister to-day, as we always do, hoping that if we listened as hard as we could, we should be able to discover a policy, that we should be able to find out exactly what is in his mind, and what, exactly, is going to be done—what are the cards that he is playing. It seems to me to-day that just as ever the Prime Minister is 564 obscure—that he does not wish to be understood by the bulk—to be "caviare to the general." His speech reminded me strongly of another great master of words, Robert Browning. The House will remember that Robert Browning, with his great range of language and excellent intentions, was somewhat obscure. His poem "Sordello" was a case in point. Only two lines are said to be intelligible, the first and the last. You will remember that the poem begins:Now all who will may hear Sordello's story told.Then, after several thousand lines, you reach the conclusion:That all who would have heard Sordello's story told.We have heard Sordello's story told, and I am afraid we are just as wise as the ordinary reader of Robert Browning. As my right hon. Friend below the Gangway said, this House is always nervous about what a Prime Minister, or about what any Foreign Secretary, in times past has been doing when out of this country.
It is curious the way in which the old, ancient, popular objection to a. British Prime Minister going abroad is being revived in this 20th century. He goes away, and we do not know what he gives away. We do not know what the bargain is that is being struck, and it is exceptionally difficult to discover when he comes back what has been struck. Perhaps we find it so difficult because he is not quite sure himself what has happened. In the old days I remember saying the same sort of thing about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). He used to be equally dangerous. But he had a notorious, or I might say a beautiful, love of the French, and we generally knew what was likely to happen when he visited Paris. But with the Prime Minister we do not know whom he does love. We cannot guess whether it is Signor Benito Mussolini, M. Daladier, or possibly some new flame across the Atlantic, or beyond the Himalayas. We do not know, in his case, who is the new partner of that ancient firm Britain and somebody else, in which the senior partner always gets the worse of it, and the junior partner is so excessively persuasive. We do not know what we have given away.
So far as the Disarmament Conference is concerned, I think the Prime Minister 565 did absolutely right. In his putting forward our case for disarmament he is right, whether seasonable or not. He was whisked away from Geneva to Rome to a meeting with that dangerous siren II Duce Mussolini, and he has never met him before. There were certain little objections connected with the death of Matteotti which made it difficult to effect a meeting before. Now it has happened, and we have seen all sorts of prognostications in the Press as to what was the great plan that Mussolini passed off, almost at the first moment of the first interview, upon the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, which met so heartily with their approval. It was the revision of the Peace Treaties, and all of us in this House have always been in favour of the revision of the Peace Treaties.
A revision of the Peace Treaties, however, is much easier to support in general than when you come down to details and to the detail of which country has got to give up what. Think of the number of times that we have heard speeches in this House in favour of giving justice to noble little Hungary, for instance. I believe that one Member of this House was once almost offered the throne of Hungary on the strength of some suitable expressions of badly-thought-out views. Hungary is hungry; Rumania is anxious; Jugoslavia, under a dictatorship, is no doubt peculiarly susceptible to squeezing; Czechoslovakia, about the only country in Europe which has really managed to pull through the post-War period with success, is one of those countries, unfortunately, which embraces at present, possessions most coveted by its neighbours; and Poland is more anxious than anyone else. Directly we hear of a four-power plan between England, France, Germany, and Italy, who are going to revise the peace treaties, I think we shall have more anxiety to get inside the charmed circle of the great Powers than will make for the contentment and the amicable discussion of the issues raised by them.
We have had more than that. We have had it shown quite clearly by the Press notices that when Signor Mussolini thinks of revising the peace treaties, he is thinking before all of the Italian grievances. Under the Treaty of London, I think, framed during the War, when we had to do everything to get allies 566 in the War, rash promises were made to Italy that could not be carried out at the end of the War, because we had not got enough spoils to divide; and, when Italy considers a revision of the peace treaties, she thinks of an extension of her control of raw materials and human beings in Africa. I notice that one of the things mentioned was that England, and no doubt France, should reconsider the Mandates and hand over some of their Mandates to either Germany or Italy. Well, I have not the slightest desire to make sacrifices of British interests, but I dislike even more the idea of sacrificing native interests. I should object, and I think every liberal-minded man will object, to handing over the natives of Africa either to the Nazis of Germany or to the Fascists of Italy. The Italians are not beloved in the Eastern Mediterranean—their rule is an inexperienced rule—and I would ask the Government to think, not merely of British interests, but of native interests as well, before any change to the detriment of the natives themselves is made in Tanganyika, or the Cameroons, or any part of Africa or of the black world where we at present are responsible for the natives' well-being.
Another suggestion of interest was that England should go back to the Gold Standard. Really, there are limits to the number of impositions which our dear friends in Europe are willing to attempt to put upon England in order to benefit themselves.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
If it did benefit England, it would be the first occasion on which the countries of Europe have pressed for an English reform to benefit Englishmen. As a rule it has been more money for them; now it is not merely more money, but the ruin of our export trade and, in addition to that, the handing over of territories which are not ours to hand over. The revision of the peace treaties is going to be a matter of the gravest possible difficulty, and the point that I want to emphasise is this: Let us by all means revise these treaties, but before we do so we must have America a partner to the revision, and the master firm in the partition or the redistribution of territory which takes place. To my 567 mind, the guarantee of peace by America is the main thing to establish peace for all time in Europe. It is a very difficult thing, however, to get America to do anything of the sort.
If this question of the reopening of the peace treaties is to come forward, it appears to me to be essential that any such revision should take place with American co-operation, and with the understanding that the Americans as well as ourselves shall in future take the responsibility of trying to keep these revivified nationalisms in Europe from cutting each other's throats. It is a thousand pities that the League of Nations did not have American support. It is impossible to conceal the fact that the League of Nations now has not the support in this country that it had two, or five, or 12 years ago. The League of Nations, under a new name, revising those treaties which no honest man can honestly support, a new union of the great Powers which should take part in that effort, might, if it included an honest Germany, a liberal-minded Germany, as well as America, really be the starting place for an era of peace and good feeling in the world, which would be worth all the troubles we have gone through and sacrifices that we have made during the last 20 years.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. EMRYS-EVANS
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) thought all the troubles of Europe were due to the Prime Minister. I think that was a hard saying, in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The Prime Minister, I think, deserves the gratitude of the country for having gone out, as he did, to save the Disarmament Conference from disaster, and also because he undoubtedly allayed the alarm and the suspicion which had arisen in Europe. There can be no doubt that to-day there is less nervousness in Europe than there was a fortnight ago. The right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) made some observations with regard to the League of Nations. He pointed out that it was a very expensive instrument and that it had not been very successful. I agree that it is not the success that it ought to be, but what institution which has been worth anything 568 in the world has at once attained success? This very House has taken centuries in order to build itself up to the position of authority which it now holds in the country, and within the first few years of its life we cannot expect the League of Nations to exercise the same authority as more experienced and more ancient institutions.
I also fear that the League suffers a great deal from its friends. It is very unfortunate that its constitution should have been embodied in a document which was called the Covenant, which gives the impression that there is something holy about it. It is, after all, merely a human institution, built up in an endeavour, not to prevent wars, but to make them less easy than they have been in the past. It has achieved something so far in its career. But the attitude of the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton illustrates very clearly a point of view which is widely held in this country, a point of view which was justified some time ago. He seemed to think that we stood, as it were, a little apart from Europe, and that we were quite apart from the European system. I think that perhaps in days gone by, when that narrow strip of sea was both a barrier and a defence, that was true, but that has all changed now. The aeroplane has knit us so closely to the Continent that we are definitely a part of the European system, whether we like it or not. Therefore, to talk of glorious isolation, to talk as if we can tear ourselves away from European problems, is, to my mind, futile. Any conflagration which breaks out in Europe is bound to involve us sooner or later, and it is my opinion that it will be sooner rather than later, for the Great War showed how quickly the nations of the world became involved.
There is another aspect of our connections, not only with the Continent, but with the whole world. In every Debate which has taken place on the question of unemployment—and there have been many in the short time that I have been a Member of this House—international affairs have been referred to, perhaps fitfully and in a. few words, but they have always played a small part in those Debates. The key to unemployment is in international affairs, for without a restoration of confidence it will be impossible, we all know, to start the trade of the 569 world going again, and without a revival of trade there is no hope at all of the alleviation of unemployment.
Therefore, when we look towards Europe it is essential that we should, in the first place, look at the central problem, the relationship between Germany and France. France has done a great deal for the cause of peace during the last year. It was inconceivable 18 months ago that she should have agreed to the terms which she did at Lausanne. She has made real efforts to bring about success at the Disarmament Conference, and it is unfortunate that when France was making those endeavours opinion in Germany should have been hardening on the other side. There has been considerable sympathy with Germany's struggles to rehabilitate herself in the eyes of the world, and there is a real desire in Europe even to-day, even after what has happened in the last two or three weeks, to meet Germany's just claims if she will put them forward in a right and proper spirit. But it would be merely deceiving ourselves to believe that the whole history of the last 19 years has been swept away. Europe cannot forget so quickly, especially in the present circumstances. The rearmament of Germany I believe to be absolutely inadmissible, and I think the sooner that is clearly understood the better; and I trust that if occasion arises His Majesty's Government will not fail to make that clear in undoubted terms. The rearmament of Germany would mean the creation of an armed camp in Europe, and we cannot allow that to occur under any circumstances. I believe we have the means of stopping that rearmament, and I trust that we shall not fail to use them.
Last November the Lord President of the Council made a speech which is so often referred to in this House that I am a little diffident about mentioning it again, but undoubtedly it impressed itself on every Member who heard it. During the Debate on the Air Estimates the Government were accused of not really following up that declaration. I do not think that that was quite fair. Between November and to-day the Government have put forward a number of schemes at Geneva in an endeavour to bring about some agreement on air armaments, but no proposals were so bold, so drastic or so far-reaching as those put forward by the Secretary of State for Air at Geneva 570 last month. The programme, as the House will remember, included the Abolition of naval and military aeroplanes and the international control of civil aviation, but in the speech in which he introduced that scheme to the Disarmament Conference there were so many qualifications and he pointed out so many difficulties that the whole boldness of the project was lost in a labyrinth of objections. It seemed to me that the Government were halting between two opinions, their own and that of their technical advisers. The voice was the voice of Jacob, but the hands were the hands of Esau. I trust that in speaking of the technical advisers of the Government I shall not be misunderstood. They have a very grave responsibility, nothing less than the aerial defence of this country and the Empire, and it is their duty to put forward the technical point of view and to put it forward with al] the energy they can command; but there are political, economic and moral considerations which override entirely that technical point of view.
The whole question of aerial disarmament touches every man, woman and child in Europe to-day; it is perhaps the most important question in international affairs, and I regret that the Secretary of State did not, in the course of that speech, pay more attention to those political, economic and moral considerations and less to his technical advisers, for there never was a time in the history of this country when we had a better right to give a lead to the world. It is frequently pointed out in this House, and must be clear to the world, that we have disarmed as no other nation in the world has disarmed. We have disarmed in the Army and the Navy and in what is, to my mind, the most important Arm of all, the Air Force. I regret that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in the speech he made last week, did not make some distinction between his own country and other countries when he blamed the nations of the world for not disarming more than they have done. I believe the day has arrived when this country can and should take a definite lead. The Prim e Minister has done excellent salvage work during the last fortnight, but what I would like to see him do is to make sure that Europe does not 571 again drift into the dangerous and difficult waters from which, I believe, he has rescued her.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I crave the indulgence of the House for a few minutes to deal with one aspect of the international problem which has been presented to the House in the speech of the Prime Minister. I am certain we all regret that there has been any necessity to increase the expenditure of this country upon armaments this year. Whatever view we may take about armaments, it must certainly be a matter of regret that in the critical times through which we are passing the Government have found it necessary to budget for an increased figure for each of the three Services. I want to deal more especially with an aspect which has been referred to by more than one speaker, namely, the revision of treaties. I think I am right when I say that the Treaties of Paris, now 13 and 14 years old, are still, and probably in an increasing degree, like a cloud over the deliberations of every international conference. In a noteworthy speech a few days ago the Prime Minister referred to the pacification of Europe, and if we have followed even very superficially the trend of events during the last few years we must realise that there can be no hope for the pacification of Europe until some attempt has been made to revise those Treaties in various directions. It is only comparatively recently that a demand for the revision of the treaties has become so clamant. There was a time when that demand was confined very largely to certain sections in the vanquished nations.
Perhaps it is not realised that already the Treaties of Paris have been revised in various directions. For instance, the Articles dealing with reparations and war debts are more or less gone; there has been an attempt to modify and revise the Articles dealing with the armaments of the' vanquished Powers. It is just because that has taken place, and there has been a recognition that the Treaties cannot remain in force indefinitely, that the demand for a revision of the Territorial Clauses has become stronger during the past two or three years. May I put this question? Is there any Member of this House who would care to say that 572 half a century hence, a quarter of a century hence, or even 10 years hence, the map of Europe will be what it is to-day and what it was as the outcome of those Treaties? I am certain no one would be bold enough to say there is not going to be a revision of that map in some way or another, and an alteration or modification of the frontiers created by the Peace Treaties. The serious question is, How is that modification going to be brought about? There are only two alternatives. There can be an appeal to armed force, such as we have frequently witnessed in the history of Europe. Boundaries fixed one day by treaties have been the occasion of wars within a few years after the signing of those treaties. We have only to look through history to see what has taken place decade after decade in Europe.
Therefore, we must realise that the suggestion which emanated a few days ago from Signor Mussolini that some attempt should be made to revise the Treaties of Paris is one that must appeal to every lover of peace in Europe. I am certain that the Disarmament Conference can never hope to attain to success unless something is done to approach this question. An Austrian writer, writing a few weeks ago in German, used these words:The conflict between revisionism and anti-revisionism is the most urgent, the most weighty, the greatest and the most far-reaching of Europe's problems to-day. Upon its proper solution depends the real settlement of all the other outstanding problems—disarmament, economic, world reconstruction, settlement of minority problems and the future even of the League of Nations.These very pregnant words must express the opinion of anyone who has even a superficial knowledge of the events that have taken place in Central and Eastern Europe during the past year or two, and particularly during the past few weeks. Reference has been made by one hon. Member to the situation in Hungary. I will use that as an illustration of the position. Does anyone imagine that the present boundaries and frontiers of Hungary are likely for an indefinite period to remain as they have been settled by the Peace Treaties? One has only to visit Hungary to realise the agitation that is going on, and the deep-rooted determination of the people of what has, after all, been a great country which can look back with pride to its past 573 when it stood against the hordes of the East and stood for Christian and civilised Europe.
I believe that the great majority of the Hungarian people are desirous that revision should be settled by pacific means, but that there is a great determination to demand that something should be done is evident to anyone who has recently been following what has taken place in Hungary. On every tramcar and in every public place you will see the Hungarian creed:I believe in one God, in one country; I believe in eternal Divine justice; I believe in the restoration of Hungary. Amen.Imagine a creed of that kind sinking down in to the very life of every Hungarian. What is it going to mean? It is going to mean, unless something is done by the powers of Europe to meet Hungary that we shall one day be facing the danger of war in Eastern Europe. If a war starts in Eastern Europe, we know that the West of Europe and this country of ours might be involved. It is for that reason that I say that Signor Mussolini and the Prime Minister are perfectly justified in suggesting that some steps could be taken to approach this problem of the revision of treaties. I simply refer to Hungary as one example, but there are other cases to which reference might be made.
The Prime Minister referred in his speech to the possibilities that are open under Article 19 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. I have considerable doubt as to whether Article 19 does meet the position which has been referred to, and as to whether it is an Article which can be utilised for the purpose of revision of any treaties which are regarded as inapplicable, or for dealing with international conditions whose continuance might endanger the peace of the world. It is also perfectly clear that, when this Article was introduced into the Covenant of the League, the framers of the Covenant, including President Wilson, thought that they had adopted what was going to be an effective Article which would enable any member of the League of Nations to appeal to the Assembly of the League for redress against anything in the nature of harsh treatment. It is evident from the observations made by M. Clemenceau that it was regarded as a provision for dealing with the modification or revision of the boundaries of any 574 countries that came under the Treaty of Peace.
Without going into the details, I think the House is well aware that only on two occasions has any attempt been made to approach the League of Nations to act upon this Covenant. In both cases the opinions, given by international jurists who were consulted by the League, indicated the serious difficulties that arose in connection with resort to this Article. It demanded, first of all, unanimity on the part of the League, and, in the second place, the League, not being a super-State, could not take any effective action. The only thing that the League could do, if it had been decided that revision was desirable, would be to refer to the nations concerned as to the desirability of carrying out the revision. I would put this question to the Foreign Secretary; If it is found that this Article of the Covenant is not effective to deal with situations such as are contemplated by Signor Mussolini and the Prime Minister, will the British Government entertain the idea of modifying the present article so as to meet the situations to which reference has been made? There are provisions in the Covenant of the League enabling the Assembly of the League to alter articles which require amendment.
There is only one other point, and that is a matter to which reference has been made by the Prime Minister, of the possibility of four great Powers approaching the question of a revision and of coming to some kind of an understanding. It is only in that way that we can hope for a specific revision of any of the Peace Treaties, because it is perfectly obvious to anyone, who has studied the conditions of Europe that there is a serious danger of Europe being divided into two more or less hostile blocks. On the one hand, there is France, with her satellites in the East of Europe, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia, who evidently consider that their interests are largely identical. On the other hand, there is a possibility of some kind of understanding between Fascist Italy and Germany, and of Austria and Hungary being brought into the ambit of those two Powers. If an understanding could be brought about between the four Great Powers of Western Europe, Italy, France, Great Britain and Germany, it is con- 575 ceivable that the influence of the three great Continental Powers on the smaller Powers of Europe would be such to enable those difficult questions of treaty revision—because they are difficult—to be solved to the general satisfaction.
We are face to face with two alternatives: A demand for revision of treaties, not in a peaceful manner, but by an ultimate resort to arms; and an attempt to get treaty revision by pacific means. The suggestion has now come from the Prime Minister that something should and must be done in this connection. I hope that our Government, with the influence that it has as a European Power, may be able to do something to lead ultimately to a reconsideration of the serious difficulties which have been created by the Treaties of Paris, and for the pacific and successful revision of them.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I shall only presume on the patience of the House for a very few minutes. I wish to congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on the initiative that they have taken in the journey that they made to Rome, and in the conversations that they have had with the Prime Minister of Italy. While it is very obvious that the gravest problem in Europe at the present time is due to the tension between France and Germany, hon. Members are not justified in saying that that is a reason why one should wish to maintain unaltered the present balance of military power in Europe. It appears that the warnings which the Governments of this country, regardless of party, have given here in the last few years have proved only too true and only too well justified, and that the policy of no revision or modification of the conditions imposed upon Germany at the end of the War has had its inevitable consequence in the recrudescence, out of the ashes of Imperial Germany, of much the same military spirit which caused the war in 1914.
I assume that the justification for the initiative, which was taken by Signor Mussolini and our Prime Minister in this matter, was that, in spite of slight improvement from time to time, the relations of France and Germany have been going from bad to worse, and finally, 576 a few weeks ago, they reached a point where it is no exaggeration to say Italy and ourselves might have been called upon at any moment to fulfil the obligation which we had undertaken by the Treaty of Locarno. In circumstances of that kind we were clearly justified in coming together in order to try and bring pressure to bear upon those nations in order that there should be no infringement of the frontier between France and Germany which we and Italy have pledged ourselves to preserve.
Scarcely less serious than the friction that there has been between France and Germany has been the increased ill-feeling between France and Italy during the last few months. The causes of that feeling are numerous. There is, in the first place, the question of the political refugees of Italy, who, having gone to France, have done all they can to make relations between the two countries worse than they were. There has been the question of Tunis, and the demand of Italy for equal naval power in the Mediterranean; and also the question of the Dalmatian coast. That is what has been happening since the War. The result has been a rapprochement between Italy and Germany.
What has been our position on the other hand? Ever since the War we have been paying sentimental lip service to the expression Ventente cordiale, and we have ostensibly been running in double harness with France. In spite of that we have really been pulling in opposite directions because we have desired that justice should be done to Germany in the matter both of reparations and the invasion of the Ruhr. We pressed upon France the wisdom of evacuating the Rhineland long before it was necessary under the Treaties, have in the last few months been pressing the need for disarmament. I do not wonder that during the last 14 years we have been rather lacking in friends in Europe. We have been constantly publishing our opinion that we thought that Germany was in the right, and then we have almost equally consistently supported France in her actions. We have neither won the esteem of Germany nor obtained the confidence of France.
Was there no way out of the dilemma of one's natural desire to remain loyal 577 to an old friend and a perfectly proper resolve that there should be no breaking without agreement of the Treaties entered into at the end of the War? Successive Governments have been somewhat to blame that they neglected our old and long standing friendship with Italy. Italy is a country with which we have always had natural affinities. Since the War her attitude on international questions has been very similar to our own. While she fought Germany during the War, she has consistently maintained ever since that it was necessary for the peace of Europe that Germany should be restored to her proper status. Her attitude on disarmament is similar to our own. She is willing to accept any measure of disarmament provided her neighbours are willing to reduce their armaments to art equal extent. She has long advocated the cancellation of debts and the revision of the Treaties. The first we have always done, and the second we have only now had the courage to do. Above all, Italy, like ourselves, gladly and promptly accepted both the sacrifices and the advantages of the Hoover Moratorium, and when that Moratorium came to an end Italy, like ourselves, resumed payment.
Cannot we and Italy act as honest brokers between France and Germany? We still have some influence with. France. Italy has a great deal of influence with Germany. It is for that reason that I specially welcome the initiative which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have taken. I only hope that this pact will be entered into, as I believe it can be, for it is the greatest hope of Europe at the present time. I disagree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton) in thinking that you can get anything worth while in this world in international politics or in tariff reduction unless, in order to obtain some concessions, you are also willing to make some sacrifices on your own side. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) concluded the Locarno Treaty, although it is true, as the right hon. Member for Epping said, that at that time it resulted in a great improvement in international relations in Europe, and although it resulted in the admission of Germany to the League of Nations, I feel that we did not insist as we could have done upon a quid pro quo and therefore its beneficial effect was transient. I hope that the Government 578 are alive to what I believe is the feeling in the country that if we are to give to France that increased sense of security for which she has always asked, it can only be done if she is prepared in return to adopt a less intransigent and more responsive attitude in regard to the Disarmament Conference and the World Economic Conference.
We have since the War frequently set examples on the question of debts and disarmament and in other ways, and we have been to blame that we have not made certain that our example would be followed. I am convinced that any British Government would, of course, loyally and faithfully carry out the obligations which we undertook by the Treaty of Locarno. I must say, however, speaking of my impression of public opinion, certainly of public opinion in my own, constituency, that I think it would be difficult to obtain a whole-hearted response from the people of this country if they were under the impression that France had made use of the Locarno Treaty in order to try to stereotype the treaties which ended the War, and that by the compact we entered into at that time she sought to maintain for ever her existing hegemony in Europe. Therefore, I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary upon the initiative which they took, for it holds out, as I believe, the possibility of reconciling the demands of the defeated Powers in the late War for such a revision of the treaties as may do justice to their aspirations, and at the same time of giving a sense of security to France. That has been the problem of Europe ever since the War, but the League of Nations has not been able to deal with it largely because the Covenant of the League, drafted as it was just after the War, was concerned far more with stereotyping and maintaining the frontiers and possessions of the newly created States rather than with providing machinery for modifications to meet changed conditions.
Under this initiative I believe that there is a great hope of giving security for the legitimate interests of France and a hope of doing justice to the legitimate aspirations of Germany. I rejoice that it should have been a National Government that has taken this great step, a step which neither Conservative nor Socialist Governments have taken in the 579 past. I believe that it may result in a great advance in the pacification of Europe.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. J. JONES
It has been very interesting to hear some of the speeches from hon. Members who call themselves representatives of the National Government. The speech of the Prime Minister reminded me of the days when he was the most prominent Member of the Labour party, when he preached peace almost at any price, and when we used to cheer him to the echo at our national conferences. This afternoon we discover that some of the supporters of the National Government, which is under his leadership, do not agree with him. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) seems to believe that the Prime Minister has been wrong all the time. The only mistake he ever made was that he did not include the right hon. Gentleman in the present Government. The Prime Minister believes in a world of peace. That is the only thing left to him of the previous creed which he professed. The right hon. Member for Epping believes in a world in pieces. He wants to have spheres of influence and Governments so arranged that it will be a case of the big people first and the rest nowhere. If a country wants to live, it will have to go to the big people and ask for permission and say: "Please, Sir, may we breathe?" The right hon. Gentleman came along with his prepared jokes this afternoon to tell us all about the revision of the peace treaties. Some of them ought never to have been made. I am one of those who believe that when a war is over there ought to be no treaties immediately. There should be a period in which the nations can have time to think, and the peace treaty arranged afterwards.
We were supposed to have won the War, but we lost by it and even people who took no part in it are losing by it. We are all in trouble and everybody is discussing how we can get out of it. All we can do is to go about Europe travelling for peace and asking the Prime Ministers of the various countries what they think of the whole situation. We only do just what they like to tell us. So far as some of us are concerned, we believe that war ought to be a thing of the past. The people who really count in 580 this matter are the working people of every country, and, when they make up their minds that they will take no further part in war, either in providing the raw material to fight or the machinery whereby the fight can be carried on, all your statesmen can retire from business. They are the people who make the wars, not the people who fight them; they take good care of that. I was supposed to be pro-British and pro-Ally during the War, and I was denounced by some of my own colleagues because of the attitude that I took up in connection with the War. I believed that it was a war to end war. I believed, like many other Socialists, that we were taking part in a fight which eventually would mean the abolition of warfare between nations. What do I find now?
The proposal made to us this afternoon was that four great Powers in Europe should be called together, namely, France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain. But are there not other great Powers in Europe? Is not Russia in it? No. Austria and Hungary are not in it. They are not asked to come in. I venture to suggest that, if you are going to leave out of your negotiations and your Pact half the population of Europe, you are going to create greater trouble in the future than there has been in the past. On the borders of Russia we have another Power, which will perhaps cut adrift from the League of Nations—Japan. Then there is China. How are you to make these arrangements if you cut off practically 75 per cent. of the population of the East from your arrangements and negotiations? I do not pretend to be clever, but I hope I am plain in this respect. If you are going to have a rearrangement for peace, you have to bring all the peoples into consideration. These private negotiations between one country and another, regardless of the rest, lead us nowhere, because, as soon as you enter into an arrangement with one country, other countries become suspicious of your intentions.
We give the Prime Minister credit for what he has done; we give him more credit than some of his own friends. We are anxious for every approach that can be made between nation and nation. We believe that the world is not going to be made safe by warfare; we want to see an international arrangement; but 581 the unfortunate part of it all is that, while we are talking about disarmament in the military, naval and air sense, we are at the same time carrying on a warfare in the economic sense against the countries with whom we are trying to arrange peace. Germany, of course, is to-day an outlandish country. It is a crime to be a Socialist in Germany now, and I suppose that Herr Hitler will be the next one whom the Prime Minister will visit, just as he visited another gentleman whom we all know, Signor Mussolini, whom we last met in London in 1896, when he was a delegate to the International Socialist Congress. That was in London, at the Queen's Hall. He then threatened the capitalists of Great Britain and the world with dire results—revolution and force. All those who used to be revolutionaries have now become the greatest reactionaries. They have now decided that the policy they used to approve is the policy that ought to be made absolutely outcast, and they are putting their old comrades in prison.
So far as some of us are concerned, we are willing to co-operate as a party, though I am not speaking now for anyone but myself. We believe in peace. We believe in co-operation with every people to try to bring about an understanding, economic and political, for the breaking down of barriers and antagonisms and the establishment of co-operation from one end of the world to the other. But we want that co-operation to be based not merely upon modifications of naval, military and air forces, but to be an economic co-operation and understanding between the nations of the world in regard to the organisation of their powers of production and distribution of wealth for the benefit of the peoples whom they represent. That could be done. While we are trying to bring about disarmament in the ordinary sense of the word, we also want to see economic disarmament and the breaking down of the barriers that now divide nation from nation in the economic as well as in the military and naval sense.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Captain CUNNINGHAM-REID
I find it just a little difficult to talk during the sepulchural zero hour in the House of Commons, and I find it even more difficult when I have to follow some of the very eloquent speeches that we have 582 had earlier this afternoon; but I can offer this consolation to the House for my intervention, that I do not intend, in the ordinary course of events, to take very much more than five and three-quarter minutes of their valuable time. Since international affairs were last discussed in the House, we have heard both from the Prime Minister and from Signor Mussolini of certain pacts and proposals that they have laid before Europe. The Prime Minister has suggested a draft Disarmament Convention, and Signor Mussolini has put forward a plan for a four-power pact. Neither of these, I am afraid, has altered very much the basic difficulty, with which we and Europe, and, consequently, the rest of the world, are faced to-day, and in what I am about to say I shall, I am afraid, have to part company with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood).
I consider that the main difficulty with which we are faced is that a measure of genuine—not unilateral, but general—disarmament is unobtainable unless we are prepared to do away with the graver injustices that exist in certain peace treaties, provisions that affect very seriously the nominal losers of the War. Britain, by her recognition of the German claim for equality of status, has given a lead to the whole of Europe; but, by so accepting the principle that this peace treaty should be revised, she has recognised the fact that others should he revised where they fail to correspond with realities or where they perpetuate injustices. If the Prime Minister would be prepared to give to the world a still clearer lead in that direction, I am convinced that it would do more towards world peace than the constant urging of disarmament upon suspicious nations.
I still hold that the freedom of Britain from entanglements would better serve the best interests of peace than all the pacts that we have had during the last few years, pacts which, if placed end to end, would very nearly reach from here to Geneva. But, as we are committed, let us realise that there are certain provisions in these Treaties which form the greatest obstacle to peace to-day. Just as Governments cannot carry on without the consent of the governed, anyhow not in this country, so international agree- 583 ment cannot be hoped to be reached if certain parties concerned come to the Conference Chamber suffering from a sense of burning injustice. Portions of the Treaties were, at their inception, admittedly experimental. Other portions—though this was not admitted—were merely makeshifts. None of these Treaties have since come under any general review. The working in practice of their ethnographic and economic provisions has up to now been left to chance and to the interested propaganda of the upper dog. Certain injustices, I agree, have received recognition, but I should like to know what is the good of mere recognition when to-day we are as far off as ever from these injustices being remedied. Is it not possible that, instead of playing round the fringe, we should get down to the root of this problem and, since disarmament and world peace depend to such a large extent upon international good-will, and since good-will depends upon the general confidence in the speedy and impartial administration of international justice, I trust that I am able to carry with me a few Members in the House when I state, with all the sincerity that I can command, that the importance of this question of treaty revision cannot possibly be under-estimated or over-exaggerated.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
We have had to-day a characteristic speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). It was a most brilliant speech, but it was one of his periodic attempts to drive a wedge into the National Government and so break it up in order that he might enter by the breach. It took the form this time of a singularly disgraceful personal attack on the head of the Government and an attempt to separate him from the rest of the National Government, all of whom are jointly and together responsible for the policy that is being pursued. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is one of the greatest dangers in the country at the present time. It is, however, unnecessary to consider disarming him, because in this House and in the country he represents a very small body of opinion. It always seems to me that he and his friends are really a lot of miserable little Englanders. Their one 584 idea seems to be to keep out of everything, to stand pat in our island here and let the whole of the rest of the world get into trouble and worry so long as we are not concerned in any way, regardless of any treaties by which we may be bound. It seems to me that that is a very singular view to take. Surely the broader and the more patriotic view is to desire to see our country playing its proper part as the leader of the world, drawing it along, as we so well can do, towards security and peace for all, because, if one thing is certain, it is that no country can remain neutral and isolated and detached from what is going on in any other part of the world, and the surest way to help ourselves is to see that the rest of the world is helped by our influence and our power to a steady and permanent basis of peace.
It is clear from what he said that he does not want Disarmament at all. He has always been entirely opposed to it. He stands for a clear and definite policy which separates him widely from the great mass of Members of this House. He tried to make out that the Prime Minister had been wholly and entirely unsuccessful in all his efforts. I interposed the word "Lausanne." I say that the Lausanne Agreement, although it was only a first step—it only went a certain way, and there is a great deal further to go on the same road—was a, very important step, and it was carried through, I believe, entirely by the personality and power of the Prime Minister himself, the power that he possesses of getting people together at international conferences and persuading them to agree.
I think the Prime Minister deserves the highest credit for the part that he played on that occasion. I congratulate him most warmly on the intervention that he has displayed so actively during the last fortnight, and I would urge him to concentrate his great powers of international persuasion, which he is fitted to do better than anything else, and to realise that the key to our unemployment problem and to all our troubles lies in international pacification and arrangement. He should not allow the initiative which he has started to lapse into other hands, but should follow the thing right through to the end and leave the capable hands of the Lord President of the Council to conduct affairs in this 585 country for the time being until the international situation has resolved itself. It is very easy to criticise and to pick all sorts of holes in the proposals that have been put forward. It seems to me more an occasion to say to the Government, "Good luck to you. Carry on in the bold initiative that you have started." My only regret is that they did not attempt something of the kind 12 months ago, when the situation was not so serious and the results might have been more effective. It always seems that we require a crisis to arise before anything serious or drastic is done, and then very often we find that it is too late to act.
It is true that we did not learn a great deal from the Prime Minister this afternoon. I do not see that be could have told us much, or that it would be reasonable to expect to hear anything in very great detail. I imagine that what is likely to happen is the precedent of Locarno, that the representatives of the four Powers will at some stage—I hope in the near future—gather together in the same town and will not separate until they have come to cut and dried, definite arrangements which they will go back and place before their several Parliaments for their consent and agreement, and I do not think they will have any difficulty in obtaining it. Certainly they will not here. No doubt, one of the matters to be considered will be the use of Article 19 for the revision of the Treaties. It is a very great pity that we have only consented to make use of it when a régime has come into power in Germany which is prepared to use force to get a revision carried out if it is not done by peaceful means. It seems unfortunate that every step that has been taken since the War has gradually driven peaceful, democratic Germany to the state of affairs that we see there to-day. It may well be that the situation which has been created in that country will make it infinitely more difficult to arrive at a peacful revision and resettlement of the affairs of Europe.
This is not the time to criticise the details of the disarmament plan placed before the conference at Geneva the other day. I think the Prime Minister did very well to bring forward a practical plan. It was right to put in definite figures. However wide of the mark they may be, and however much they may need modifying, it was essential that 586 someone should have the courage to say, "Those are the sort of figures which I suggest, and it is up to you to criticise and to alter them in any way you think fit." That is exactly the step which requires to be taken, and I am sorry that it has been delayed for so long.
I would put these two points to the House. It does not seem at all clear from reading the draft scheme that there is not to be a certain amount of German re-armament. Nothing is said about tanks. If there are to be tanks under 16 tons in future, is it contemplated that Germany shall have any? If so, it will constitute a serious element of re-armament. If she does not re-arm; if it is not intended that she shall, there may be some difficulty in getting her to agree to the proposal. On the other hand, there is the question of aerial armament. According to one of the proposals, it is intended, for a time, to allow military aircraft to the present armed Powers. Is it intended that Germany shall have military aircraft? If that is so—and it is not clear—it involves a certain amount of re-armament also.
There is one point to which I would like to call the attention of the Foreign Secretary. It relates to the proposal for setting up a permanent Disarmament Commission. Article 64 says:There shall be set up at tie seat of the Council of the League of Nations a permanent Disarmament Commission composed of representatives of the Governments of the High Contracting Parties.That causes me a certain amount of disquiet. Are they really to be representative? I am only asking for information. It may be that I misunderstand the position. Are they really to be diplomatic representatives of the different Powers? If so, I should think that there will be great danger of a good deal of intrigue and arrangement, and that matters may be looked at more from a bargaining point of view than from a purely disarmament point of view. Surely, what you want is to appoint people of high distinction whom everybody would trust, experts and public men of all nationalities, but they should not be appointed by or responsible to their Governments, but should be appointed by, and responsible to, the Council of the League of Nations on the precedent of the Permanent Mandates Commission, which works with such great success. That may 587 be what is intended, but the phrasing is rather misleading. I very much hope that that is so, because I can see very grave danger if it were not to be the case.
I will pass to the question of the arms embargo in the Far East, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary or whoever is to reply, will be able to say something about it. When the Government brought the matter forward it required a certain amount of courage on their part. No doubt it was a new departure, and, while to many of us it seemed only defensible as a temporary affair, we understood that the Government were going to enter into international negotiations to try and arrange for a general embargo on the aggressor only. It would seem to be extremely difficult to expect that there could be any agreement after the unanimous decision of the Assembly of the League to put an embargo on the aggressor and the victim too. I was, therefore, very surprised by the reply given by the Lord President of the Council the other day when he was asked in what direction the efforts of the Government had been directed. He said:The efforts of His Majesty's Government have not been specifically directed to either one object or the other but to securing consideration of the matter with a view to the formulation of a policy acceptable to the world at large."—[OFFIOIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1933; col. 1953, Vol. 275.]From that reply it looks as if the Government had been asking other Powers whether they would be in favour of one or two things, whichever they liked most—an embargo on Japan alone or an embargo on China and Japan. Is that really the case? Is that the basis of the negotiations? It would relieve some of us very much if we could be told exactly the policy of the Government. I urge upon the Government that, if it is impossible to secure general agreement, they should arrange to have this matter debated in public before the appropriate committee at Geneva. The representatives of the different States, if they are not prepared to play their part, and if we are the only country, as we may be, prepared to take action really to carry out our obligation under international treaties, should get up and say so in public, in order that theirs should be the discredit and not ours, and that ours 588 should be the credit if we were prepared to give a lead and others were not.
Is it a fact that America is standing in the way and is not prepared to come into any arrangement of this kind? If that is so, it ought to be known where the difficulty lies. It is often said that the League has no weapon of any kind at the present time to bring Japan to book. I disagree with that proposition very strongly. The League has powers. It has military powers. It is not suggested by anybody that they would be of the slightest use in this instance, but in the dispute between Greece and Bulgaria the question of a naval blockade was actually under consideration by the Council but it was not necessary to put it into effect. There are other powers at the present time. It has been suggested—I mentioned it the other day and will not therefore go into it again—that the simultaneous withdrawal of representatives from Tokio might have a profound effect upon public opinion in that country, which is so very little acquainted with what the rest of the world thinks.
The question of the withholding of loans or credits to Japan is perhaps not a matter of very much practical importance at the present time because there are so few countries prepared to lend money to any other country and least of all to Japan. There is a further weapon which might be used with certain effect upon Japan if there was unanimity in the use of it. Unfortunately, I do not think that at the moment it could be obtained, but if the nations were of one mind, it is a weapon which the League might use. The weapon is the refusal of the rest of the world to accept exports from Japan. It would only need to be applied to three countries. China, the United States and India, and if you had what in effect would be a blockade operating by regulation at the Customs houses in those three countries it is the opinion of those who know these things far better than I do that it would at once cause an economic, and, in fact, a financial situation in Japan which would make her continuance in her present policy absolutely impossible. So that there, without endangering a single human life, you have an economic weapon which could be used with complete effect.
It is curious to find that in the sort of situation which arises in these days 589 you have a strange alliance between the extreme right and the extreme left, a desire to keep right outside everything and not, in any circumstances, to be drawn into the troubles of the rest of the world. It is an impossible attitude to take up. We are bound to get drawn iii sooner or later, and it is far better, in our own interests, to co-operate, to have collective responsibility and to use collective power to suppress the aggressor. Some day there will be an international force, probably starting with an international Air Force. I am very glad to think that that aspect of the problem is being carefully studied in this country at the present time, but we are a very long way off that. There are, however, opportunities that present themselves of acting in a co-operative spirit with other nations, and I hope the Government will seize them whenever they come. I advocate support of the League of Nations because I think that is the best way of supporting this country. That is the way to give peace and security all the world over. I warmly congratulate the Government on the bold, courageous action they have taken in intervening in Europe, and I wish them the very best of good luck in obtaining substantial results from what they are trying to do.
§ 8.46 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) has so adequately attacked the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that there is little for me to say on that matter, although I want to develop the argument a little further in a moment. Before I turn to the right hon. Member for Epping, I should like to advert to something that was said by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton). He produced the old stock-in-trade of the cynical sceptic and said that the League of Nations was costly. To whom is it costly? It is common knowledge that the League of Nations costs this country annually £130,000. Some astute mathematician has arrived at the conclusion that the League of Nations costs us as much as 4s. 7d. a minute, whereas our expenditure upon armaments, which might conceivably be reduced through the medium of the League of Nations, amounts to £200 a minute. During the eloquent and delightful speech of the 590 right hon. Member for Epping this country incurred an expenditure of not less than £12,000 on armaments. The right hon. and gallant Member for Burton went on generally to attack the League of Nations. He said it was no use at all. I might remind him that our own Government recently referred the Persian dispute to the Tribunal of the League of Nations, with immediate success. The right hon. and gallant Member said that the League of Nations was a creaking, rickety and unstable structure. If he were here I would tell him that just so long as hon. Members in this House and in other Parliaments of countries that are members of the League of Nations continue to use such expressions, so long will the League remain a creaking, rickety, and unstable structure, because it can only exist, persist and maintain itself by the force of public opinion.
I now come to the right hon. Member for Epping, whose speech included, if I may say so without presumption, literally dozers of contradictions. He began by attacking the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) for delivering a speech which he himself might have delivered quite easily 12 years ago. He deprecated disarmament because he said it would weaken further the strong arm of Britain, to which the right hon. Member for Caithness had referred, but a little later in his speech he said that he did not quarrel with the plan from the British point of view. How, I wonder, can he imagine that general disarmament would further weaken our strong arm? Of course it would not, because the relative strength of all the nations would remain the same. In one passage of his speech I thought the right hon. Member for Epping was pleading for peace at any price. That is a position which I should find it very difficult to take, although I must admit that it is very difficult to discover any price that might be too high to pay for peace.
Here is a strange bouleversentent—the right hon. Member for Epping saying that at all costs this country must be kept out of war. I wonder what is his interpretation of Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The right hon. Member once referred to the Prime Minister as "the boneless wonder." Here, in the right 591 hon. Gentleman himself, is a boneless wonder embodied before us. He said that it was useless to insist upon disarmament, that it scarcely ever produced any good results. My right hon. Friend has occupied a very important position on the Treasury Bench, no less a position than that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should imagine that to any past, present or future Chancellor of the Exchequer the prospect of saving tens of millions of pounds per annum would indeed be some useful result which might come from disarmament. He also said that the revision of treaties was most dangerous and that the revision of treaties ought to precede any talk upon disarmament. I cannot accept that view. I believe that the revision of treaties would be most dangerous in a Europe which remained excessively armed, because however generous the new dispensation, the nations that had been aggrieved would say: "This agreement has been got by force, and we do not accept it as it is forcibly imposed by the victors of the 1914 War."
It is difficult to criticise the plan that has been submitted to us in the form of the White Paper, in any detail. In the apt language of the Prime Minister, "the position is still in a very unformed condition" but, if I may say so without presumption, I think that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary are deserving of our very hearty felicitations. Indeed, the "boneless wonder," as the Prime Minister was once described by the right hon. Member for Epping, seems likely to be metamorphosed into a highland, or was it hysterical, wizard, and the result may be that something concrete will come from the mists that crown the crests of Lochnagar. While the Prime Minister, to use his own phrase, was moving here and there in Europe, this House was considering the armaments of our own country. We have lately had submitted to us three Estimates relating to the three Defence Services, which I have always felt ought to be grouped together under one head, for which two Ministers only should be responsible, a Minister of Defence and a Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Were it in order now I might wish to criticise certain details of the Army estimates.
592 I must say as to the Air and Navy Estimates which we recently passed that I was left in a position, on perfectly general grounds, of absolute perplexity. I cannot understand the principle under which our Air Ministry determines its Estimates. It is possible to take two opposite points of view about the problem of air defence, both mutually contradictory. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot sustain both lines of argument. One is, that it is no longer possible to protect civilians. That, I infer, is the official view. If that be the view, all one can say is that the Air Force is excessive by several hundred machines, and the only justification for maintaining it in its present condition is to have a nucleus of efficient civilian pilots. If, on the other hand, the official view be that it is possible by means of fighting aeroplanes and bombers to deter the foreigner from striking a sudden knockout blow at the heart of England, just let us imagine the implication. I cannot imagine that to be the general view, after the remarkable flap that has attended the unscrupulous and malicious attacks upon the notable speech delivered by the Lord President of the Council on the 10th November last.
But suppose that to be a tenable view: I have heard it expressed in the Lobbies and on the Floor of this House. If that were so we ought to proceed on the principle of quadrupling our Air Force, multiplying our aerodromes and darkening the skies with bombing machines, just as before the War when armaments had not reached their present prohibitive expenditure we were able to scatter craft over the seven seas. We ought on that supposition to get back to a two-Power standard in the air, and make ourselves competent to deal with any possible foreign combination. Then, indeed, we should have a splendid instance of arriving at a logical result, starting from false premises to false conclusions. I entirely accept without any reservation or modification what the right hon. Gentleman the leader of my party said in this House on 10th November:I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him the bomber will always get through."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th Noember, 1932; col. 632, Vol. 270.]But this is the kind of obvious defect which is discoverable in our Estimates, 593 when we have not a co-ordinated plan of national defence under one Ministry. I go further. I criticise in retrospect the results of the Naval Estimates, and I should like to say about the White Paper that there is this obvious weakness in these otherwise admirable proposals, that the British taxpayer is apparently to get next to nothing. We may get some relief supposing our air proposals are carried into effect but, unfortunately, the problem of naval disarmament is deferred. On 16th March I made an inquiry in the course of the Debate on Naval Estimates and received a reply from the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. My inquiry was why His Majesty's Government had resolved that 22,000 tons should be the maximum for battleship displacement, and the reply I got from the Civil Lord was:It is a very big subject, but I shall try to answer both hon. Members in the fewest possible words which will suffice. We do want capital ships because we believe that the abolition of the capital ship would make the cruiser the capital ship of the future—the biggest unit—and we believe the result, so far from leading to economy, would be to involve us in considerably increased expense. We do say, however, that we could do with a capital ship of much diminished displacement. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds asked why we had selected the figure of 22,000 tons. I think it fair to say quite briefly that 22,000 tons, in the view of the Board of Admiralty, represents the minimum figure which will give adequate protection, suitable endurance and tolerably decent living conditions for the people who have to pass their lives in the ship."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1932; vol. 2234, Vol. 275.]It was an extraordinary reply to my inquiry. It was indeed brief. I suppose the hon. and gallant Member considered that brevity was the soul of wit, and perhaps his primary intention was to be humorous. But when the argument is advanced that a capital ship must have a displacement of 22,000 tons it is a little difficult to acquit the Board of Admiralty of megalomania. It is just like saying that one prefers the sword to the dagger because the sword is the largest weapon one can wield. The Civil Lord went on to say something about tolerable living conditions. Is the inference that cruisers of 7,000 tons are uninhabitable and intolerable. Supposing that the argument is that cruisers are supremely uncomfortable, why are a pampered minority to be allowed to remain on these vast sea castles, re- 594 presented by the capital ship to-day? I imagine that a hammock slung in a battleship is as uncomfortable as a hammock slung in a cruiser.
But the real question is the aerial danger, and the Admiralty in my submission should not shut its eyes to the fact. What would be the situation in any future war? A battleship would be located and immediately there would swoop upon her quite a relatively small number of bombers. That is perfectly possible because under the draft scheme submitted by the Prime Minister to the Disarmament Conference the possibility of military aeroplanes surviving is still toyed with, and as always happens in war the attack of these pilots would be merciless and dauntless. On the other hand, I believe that the 6-inch anti-aircraft guns of the Nelson would not protect the battleship from that kind of attack. Men do not think of their skins in the heat of a battle, and skilled pilots would hardly fail to hit a target covering thousands of square yards on the face of the ocean: and if you multiply that possibility by 20 you have the kind of plight in which the battleship of the future might find herself. It would be absurd for those of us who hold these views to associate ourselves with the Labour Opposition in this matter. Indeed the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) was so piano in his attack on the Naval Estimates that the Civil Lord was enabled to represent him as having said that there was little fault to find with this year's Naval Estimates. Most of us feel ourselves at the moment to be impotent in the matter. I hope the Government will not think that I resemble Cassandra if I fill the air with warnings, but I may predict that unless they decently inter the battleship they may find her killed from an unexpected quarter.
There are two subjects upon which I desire to say a few words, first, the Irish question and secondly the embargo upon arms. I suppose that since the Irish Treaty Irish questions can be considered within the area of foreign politics, and I should like to say that the Secretary of State for the Dominions seems to have overlooked in all his negotiations with the Irish Free State certain factors that are obvious to anybody familiar with the Irish temperament. These factors may be concentrated in the blind spot pos- 595 sessed by all of us not excepting so astute a politician as the right hon. Gentleman. The first is that the Irish temperament is more fundamentally foreign to our own than the temperament of almost any other foreign nation, and some of them regard us with an enmity which absolutely passes the bounds of reasonable credibility.
I said "some" deliberately. A good many of the Irish people remember Cromwell with much more mental retentiveness than we remember Bethman Hollweg at the beginning of the last War.
May I tell the hon. Member who so persistently interrupts me that only the other day I was speaking to an Irish lady who informed me with the utmost gravity that the Irish Free State ought to have a large army to protect themselves against England. But the way to treat the Irish people is not by way of patronage. It is absolutely impossible to treat them in that way. "Coals of fire" is the only possible policy; not a kick from behind. It is perfectly true that the refusal of the Irish people to accept a tribunal presided over by some member of the British Commonwealth of Nations is a sign of weakness, but they can no less plausibly argue, and they are ready to argue in this way, that our case is also weakened by our refusal, as a "foreign oppressor," to accept some chairman appointed by the League of Nations.
I repeat that we recently and successfully submitted the Persian dispute to the League of Nations, and Irishmen would probably maintain that a panel presided over by a foreigner like Benes or the late Gustav Stresemann should invite the support and loyalty of the English no less than of the Irish. But, of course, I am not so foolish as to imagine that even if you compose the immediate problem of Ireland, you can arrive at a perfect and complete solution of the Irish problem, because always there will remain the question of Ulster, a prosperous and articulate minority living alongside a less prosperous and a 596 good deal less articulated minority—the Irish Free are—within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Indeed, Ulster has a perfect right, as much right as the Irish Free State, after a 300 years' prescriptive habitation of the North of Ireland, to the principle of self-determination. Any Unionist would confess that. On the other hand I hope that the Government will not indefinitely slam the door in the face of the possibility of negotiations under an extra-Imperial chairmanship.
Let me say something on the question of the arms embargo. On 16th March I said in this House something which I shall repeat—that if it was right to impose an arms embargo on 27th February it was right to maintain it on lath March. The reasons for imposing it were perfectly stated, as they would be stated, by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. He said:In those circumstances, it is perfectly natural that a demand should arise which calls for action which would prevent the sustaining, the fostering, the fomenting of the conflict by the supply of arms. I do not think I should be in the least representing the feelings of the vast mass of my fellow-countrymen if I was to speak of that sentiment and attitude in any way but in the way of sincere respect and understanding and sympathy. It would be a great satisfaction to any of us, especially in view of the efforts that we have made and are making to promote disarmament and spread the basis of peace, if we could feel that our own country was taking no part in supplying the means of carrying on the conflict, or if we could secure international action to produce that result more effectively. That is a sentiment which is a deep and sincere sentiment not in the least confined to cranks and queer people. It is the view of many a man who does not otherwise think very deeply of this class of issue. It is a horrible thing in their view that profit should be made out of the supply of the means of provoking fighting which is neither necessary nor just. The Government have started with that very clearly before our minds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1933; col. 55, Vol. 275.]When that great policy was initiated—I thought it was a great policy, and I still think it was in retrospect—I happened to go home after the Debate with an hon. Friend whose identity I must not discover. But we expressed to each other the keenest pleasure at what had happened during the day. It may have been blended with a certain gratification that by some happy accident we had both caught Mr. Speaker's eye. We agreed 597 that this action of the Government was one of the most significant things that had happened since the War. The Government had admitted publicly, as none of its predecessors ever had done before, that right was just as desirable in international relationships as in personal and business relationships, and that even a nation must keep clean hands. But only a fortnight later the policy was reversed, and for my own part I had a feeling of acute and bitter disappointment and depression. One was no longer able to raise one's head proudly and say, "No more blood-money for Great Britain." The primary consideration seemed to be the prosperity of armament factories. There used to be an epithet much beloved of the social agitator, "Blood-sucker." That epithet has recently enjoyed considerably less fashionable currency, because even the social agitator has learned that the electorate are not utter fools. But if anyone were to apply this epithet "bloodsucker" to those interests which seem as though they may prosper upon any future, distant carnage in the Far East, I feel quite sincerely that that critic would achieve a grim and terrible measure of accuracy.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Captain McEWEN
The last time I had the privilege of addressing this House I also enjoyed the privilege of following immediately after my hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams), and now, as then, I shall resist all temptation to follow him down the various primrose paths of argument which he has so temptingly opened up for me. The only reflection that occurs to me—I can assure him I make it without offence—after having listened to his speech, is that it takes all sorts to make a party. Personally, I rejoice to think that that is so. I would like to join with all those hon. Members, and even some right hon. Gentlemen, who this evening have paid tribute to the labours of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in their recent visit to Geneva and Rome, and I trust that it will not be taken amiss from me if, after having said that, which I mean with all sincerity, I use the very few minutes of my time to deal with matters which are open more to criticism than to praise.
598 In the first place I would say, as a general observation, that it does appear to me to be a regrettable fact that ever since the War our grip on foreign policy in this country has been slack. In fact from the time of the Genoa Conference, the time when, to the content of not a few people in this country, it must be confessed, the political life of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was brought to an end, down to the conversations which have taken place in Rome, that has unfortunately been the case. As we are talking of conferences I would make this observation with which I think the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary will probably agree. No conference can possibly succeed unless that success has been fully assured before the conference meets. There has in fact been only one successful conference held since the War, and that was Locarno. In that case the whole success was completed before ever the conference met, and all that the representatives of the countries had to do when they did meet was little more than to hold certain formal conversations and to append their signatures. I think that that is the case with conferences in general, that unless they are fully prepared down to the last detail beforehand, they will not succeed.
Here again, in the case of the conversations in Rome, we had a conference of a kind which was suddenly arranged, and obviously there was very little opportunity of preparing for it beforehand. Therefore for that reason, while I rejoice to know that good results may follow from it, and while I sincerely hope that they will, I cannot help feeling that, owing precisely to the suddenness of the occasion, the conference is unlikely, to say the least of it, to prove as fruitful as one would wish. I can well believe, as we were informed this afternoon, that the French Premier wished "Bon Voyage" to the two right hon. Gentlemen, for he could do so indeed with a. very easy mind. It seems to me rather remarkable that, in spite of all the talk of internationalism which we hear in all circles at the present time, we are, in our foreign policy, Mill extraordinarily insular and Anglo-Saxon in outlook. I admit that there have been times, not so very remote, when precisely that insularity of outlook has proved a boon and has 599 even proved our salvation. But that is not the case now.
I am inclined sometimes to think that the reason for that is the Russian obsession from which we have been suffering for the last 15 years. Certainly our attitude towards Soviet Russia has ranged from hysterical caresses on one side to equally hysterical fear on the other. It is true, as a distinguished journalist wrote not so long ago, that the only thing we know for certain about the Red Army is that it is the proud holder of two world speed records—one for the advance from the Russian frontier to Warsaw in 1919, and the other for the retreat to the Russian frontier from Warsaw six weeks later. Apart from that, this Russian obsession has led us into the capital mistake of thinking in terms of economics instead of in terms of politics, for the European outlook is governed now, as it always has been, by politics rather than economics. We still maintain—and this is one more example of what I have mentioned—that peace can be kept by brotherhood, amity, international friendship and "good-will towards men." It is well to remember that that famous message has two pretty well-authorised translations. There is a translation which puts it "Peace on earth to men of good-will" which is subtly different and is rather to the point in this connection.
There exists a different conception altogether of the maintenance of peace in the world. I mention this with some hesitancy, but it is an illustration of the insularity of our outlook at the present time. There is also the conception that peace can be maintained by the balance of power by force if you will, and that, as it happens, is not only the French conception of the maintenance of peace, but—and here is the rub—it is the general conception of Europe at large. It is precisely on that point that we differ in our conceptions of the maintenance of world peace. I only mention it to show that there i3 another conception, and it is not enough to dismiss it cavalierly, as being immoral or unmoral or foreign. It exists, and it has moreover a considerable tradition behind it. It was upon that principle that the Congress of Vienna created a peace which lasted nearly 50 years. I think that what we want is a little more direction in our foreign 600 policy, or else we are, I fully believe, in grave danger of finding ourselves in a state of isolation which can bode nothing but ultimate disaster both to this country and the Empire.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I was rather surprised at the remarks of the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. Adams) who criticised the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) as being inconsistent. It seemed rather strange that as he has come from the city of Leeds to this House with the help of the votes of my co-religionists and Irishmen, he should have spoken here in the British House of Commons as he did of the characteristics of the Irish. I only pass the remark in order that my hon. Friend from Leeds may be able to take it back to the people of that city and let them understand the mentality of the representative whom they have sent here. In regard to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, I am speaking without having had any consultation with any Member of the Labour party, when I say that if honour is due to those who have endeavoured to bring peace to Europe, in these unsettled times, then that honour ought to be paid to them in the British House of Commons. When one looks abroad one finds pogroms, and the slaughter of Christians, and the uprising of dictatorships; one finds that peace is not yet secured in all the years since the Great War and even here to-day in the House of Commons rumours of war are still in existence. In those circumstances I certainly think that it is mean and contemptible that one like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping should have any personal vendetta against one who, whether we agree with him or not, is a harbinger and a messenger of peace to the whole of Europe.
I recognise the work which the Prime Minister has done, unpalatable as I feel the job to be, but while I believe that he took the wrong turning in leaving this party to lead the National Government, yet I feel that his work on this occasion is in the spirit of peace and that we ought to have regard to the lessons of history. I may tell my hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds that after 30 years in the Irish movement I have learned the value of discretion in speech when pacification is necessary. 601 One learns in the turmoil of a lifetime that when an extremity is reached men must make up their minds. This nation will never be strong again until the vendettas of men against men and nations against nations cease and until we look at these matters in a reasonable way. If we believe in the things that are taught in any faith, we must realise that peace is an essential factor for the benefit of mankind. Yet we have these vendettas; we have Alsace Loraine, the Polish Corridor, the question of the election of an Emperor, and the revival of the Bismarck policy of blood and iron. Surely all these are things of the past which ought to be forgotten. Have we not learned the lesson of history and learned of the dangers that may arise from a repetition of past mistakes.
Let us not forget those who will have to bear the brunt of any mistakes that are made. I remember sitting in my home in 1914 when my lads came to tell me that they were joining-up and going out to fight in the war to end war. I was glad, because then I believed in that travesty of policy which was followed in regard to Belgium. Those lads felt it to be right to go out so that the older men might be left in the workshops. I do not want to see that day again. I do not want to see a living son from that neighbourhood go out again to the fields of France and Flanders to fight in a bloody war. The poppies of Flanders are the indication of those who lie beneath in their graves and is there any man outside a madhouse—and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping ought to be in one—who wants to see a repetition of that slaughter. It is a time when in the British House of Commons maniacs should be kept in their proper place, when the peace of Europe is likely to be disturbed by inflammatory language or by a, full exposé of what Ministers are doing in regard to certain delicate situations, when we know that the British House of Commons is not a place where secrecy can be kept on the delicate matters of negotiation between the Great Powers of Europe. Every man, woman and child in England to-day is hoping for the time when we shall be able to have an England in which we shall be able to live in peace.
We can never have industrial prosperity or that trade revival of the whole world till we are able to settle the question of this terrible curse of war which comes 602 over all the nations of the world. Yet to-day in a world that has been here so long the only thought seems to be the question of armaments and the blowing away of men, women and boys. Take the position of Europe. No wonder dictators are springing up all over the world. Let the British Government show they are a national Government and be solid and united in their strength and show the world they are going to be pioneers. If civilisation is worth fighting for, it is worth the British House of Commons risking all to bring about what every man and woman believes to be the Millennium. Whoever the statesman may be, there must be a man sometimes who will rise and put an end to all this. I would like to see your Government smashed, but certainly in this particular line of action the whole nation will back them up to a man. The men and women in England have suffered the terrible tortures of war. I hope I shall never again see the spectacle of young men wounded and with amputations coming into the military hospitals. It is because I want to see the reign of peace and prosperity that I am sure there is not a man on the benches of the Labour party but wishes God-speed—much as we may like to destroy the Government's power in the country—to all efforts to bring about peace and prosperity for our nation.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN WALLACE
I should like to say how much I appreciate the eloquent speech to which we have just listened. Though the hon. Member and I may take a different view on various matters connected with economics, we are at one in our passionate desire for the peace of the world. I am glad, also, that he showed a tendency to recognise the work which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have attempted to do. I cordially welcome the speech of the Prime Minister to-day, because we realise that in their visits to Europe they have done their very utmost in a sincere desire to promote peace in a distracted Europe as it exists now. I have followed closely the newspaper reports of what has been done since the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary went there, and though I have no special knowledge on the subject and have no title to speak about the strength of armies and matters of that kind, I have at least realised the truth of what the Prime Minister told us 603 this afternoon, that you can have no lasting peace in Europe as long as there is, on the part of any nation in Europe, a sense of rankling injustice. I feel sure that the efforts which have been made have not been without result.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) referred to the visit to Rome as having been a sudden decision and he therefore doubted whether it would be successful. Certain emergencies call for sudden decisions and I am extremely glad that our own Prime Minister and Signor Mussolini met in Rome. If the present conditions are to go on in Europe, then there is another and a more dreadful Armageddon ahead of the Continent of Europe. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) dealt with that matter this afternoon, and said that war was sensibly nearer to-day than it was four years ago. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place. I should have liked to have asked him whether he believed that that was the case, because if he did believe it, what possible justification existed for the speech which he ventured to make this afternoon? Surely if what he said was true, this is no time to throw burning faggots amongst the inflammable materials existing in Europe to-day. He seemed quite indifferent to considerations of that kind. I was amazed at his speech. Parts of it were very humorous, but we are not dealing with humorous situations. This is not the time for him to attire himself in cap and bells. It is no time for the jester. Things are far too serious, and I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman, with his long experience, venturing more or less to insult the intelligence of this House to-day.
He made a most unwarrantable attack on the Prime Minister and, to my mind, quite an unjustifiable one. What is the position? For a week or two the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been in Europe. They have been doing their very utmost to promote the interest of peace, and they have done everything that mortal man could do in order to produce a better atmosphere in Europe. What did the right hon. Gentleman try to do? In less than half an-hour, in an embittered speech, he did his very utmost to poison and vitiate the atmosphere which the Prime Minister and the Foreign 604 Secretary had tried to promote. I have known the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping for many years. I was in the House with him in 1918 and 1922 and I admire his great abilities very much. He has rendered great service to the State, but I suggest that his effort this afternoon was unworthy and unchivalrous, and I am extremely sorry that he made that speech.
I do not wish to say anything harsh about the right hon. Gentleman but he did not hesitate for one moment to attack the Prime Minister with all his power of polemics and arguments. Plain speech is better answered by plain speech and I therefore say, that while this very serious international situation calls for all the highest qualities of statesmanship, and every man who has got ideas which will help and promote the interest of peace should put them into the common pool, I am bound to say, and I say it deliberately, that the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made this afternoon reminded me, not of the speech of a statesman, of a man who was willing to help his country, but of a man who had some personal vendetta against the Prime Minister, and indeed, to my mind, it was the speech, very largely, of a disappointed office-seeker [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I am entitled to my view, and I am extremely disappointed indeed to have to make these asseverations in this House, but I do so quite sincerely and with an intense feeling of disappointment that, when a great issue of this kind is before the House of Commons, the only contribution which the right hon. Gentleman can make is a ribald speech, which I hope, at a later stage and after deeper reflection, he may sincerely regret having made.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
I am sure that everybody who listened to the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) will think he made a thoroughly mischievous speech. His contributions to these Debates generally seem to come from that angle, and do not seem to us to assist international amity at all. We do not desire in any way to belittle any efforts that may have been made by the Government to bring about a more peaceful state in Europe, but we must, of course, examine carefully any suggestions which they put forward in order 605 to try to weigh their merits and to see whether they are proceeding along what we consider the right lines.
There are two matters which the House is considering to-night more particularly—the new Disarmament Convention which the Government produced a short time ago at Geneva, and the new Four-Power Pact which is proposed as a result of the consultations which took place in Rome. It is obvious that these two are intimately connected. They are obviously intended to form part of a new scheme towards bringing about some peaceful settlement of Europe. I suppose that everybody in the House has always realised that disarmament alone could never be any solution of the European difficulty. It is only one part, but it is an important part and one which merits the very closest attention of the House. The sort of idea that the right hon. Member for Epping put forward, that if you pay no attention to disarmament it will come by accident, is not a view which commends itself to us. One of the reasons why disarmament is so vital is that it now forms part of the treaty obligations of the whole of Europe, and Germany's position, so long as the rest of Europe remain armed, is an anomalous position and one which was never contemplated even under the Treaty of Versailles.
The delay which we have witnessed year after year to act in this matter of disarmament, the delay which there has been as regards treaty revision, which everybody now admits is a vital necessity for the future of Europe, and the delay which there has been in the settlement of the matters of reparations and war debts, have all of them, we believe, largely led to the present extreme difficulties in the European situation. We believe that, had the Protocol of 1924 been adopted by this country and by Europe, followed, as it was hoped, by the Disarmament Conference of 1925, matters then would have been far easier to settle, and it is the prolonged friction of the period since that date that has so aggravated the difficulties with which we have to deal now. After the Protocol, there was the Locarno Pact. At that time, when in the House the Labour party approved the Locarno Pact, they expressed their regret that it had not been associated definitely with some 606 active disarmament proposal, because they have always taken the view that any of these pacts or agreements must proceed side by side with disarmament if one is to get a satisfactory solution, but in spite of the protests which have been made time alter time, this matter has been allowed to drag on and drag on until eventually it has landed Europe in the position in which it finds itself to-day.
Then at last the Disarmament Conference was called, and we urged the Government time and again to take really active steps to accomplish something definite at that conference, but time after time there was delay. There was an attitude taken up by this Government, just as by other Governments at Geneva, which resulted in proposals being put forward by which it was always other people who should disarm but not the Government which made the proposals. All the proposals were put forward, very largely at least, from the point of view of preserving the best possible position for the proposer, while for the others a liberal measure of disarmament was proposed; and until this problem can be tackled in world terms, not in national terms, by each individual Government, it is extraordinarily difficult to see how we can ever get any solution of the armaments problem. Now that the Disarmament Conference has been practically shipwrecked by this attitude of the various Powers, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made a sudden incursion into European politics, in a violent effort to bring about a last minute saving of the Disarmament Conference. We only wish that that energy had been shown at a much earlier time, at a time when the atmosphere of Europe was more hopeful than it is now for a settlement of matters of this sort.
It seems to us that a complete change of outlook among European statesmen is required. It is not a question of new figures or new details of a disarmament scheme. Many have been put forward, and we believe that if there was a real, concentrated will to agree, it would not be so difficult to come to an agreement. It is not enough merely to allow an outflow of fine sentiments, saying how willing one is to bring about peace and disarmament. One has really to transform that willingness into action, and it is that willingness that has been so sadly 607 lacking throughout the Disarmament Conference and also throughout the years that have preceded it. If that disarmament is to come about, it can only come about on the basis of mutual self-sacrifice. Everyone has to consider, not how much they can keep and others can give up, but how much they can give up in order to contribute to the common pool of disarmament.
Instead of proceeding, as this and other Governments, I regret to say, have proceeded, upon the basis of putting forward plans which preserve to the individual Government the best position possible in accordance with the advice of their military and naval experts, the negotiations must proceed on the basis of seeing how much we can give up in order to make the biggest common appeal; and we shall never achieve that position if we start from the position that we have already given up so much that it lies with other people to do the giving up. I believe that if that attitude could be adopted it might be possible to arrive at some arrangement for disarmament. The new draft Convention which has been laid before the Conference at, Geneva by the Government seems to us to proceed on the basis of the highest common factor of armament, that is to say, it contains no budgetary limitations at all, it allows unlimited expenditure on the smaller unprohibited arms, it contains practically no naval disarmament, which naturally lays us open to suspicion in that naval armaments are our chief armament, and it contains no abolition of aircraft—I am talking about the total abolition of aircraft, and not their cutting down—and it makes one wonder how many of those young men to whom the Lord President of the Council referred on 10th November took part in the drafting of it.
Another vital thing missing from the Convention is the control of the manufacture of and traffic in armaments. Unless we are going to have, first of all, national and then international control of the manufacture and distribution of armaments, we are never going to be able to get rid of that unseen hand which is always appearing, in order to bring about friction, in the interest of those who are drawing profits, and very often large profits, from the manufacture of armaments. At the time of the 608 embargo on exports of arms to China and Japan the Foreign Secretary stated, quite rightly, that our country would not stand the taking of blood-money in respect of the manufacture of armaments to be sold to the East, and if that was then the right principle it shows how fundamental it must be to any consideration of or working out of a disamament scheme that there should be both national and international control over the manufacture of and traffic in armaments.
It seems to us that this Convention is based upon this sort of principle—"We stand largely where we were as regards our chief armament, other nations are reduced in their chief armaments, and Germany is allowed to re-arm." That does not seem to us to be the conception which lay behind the Treaty of Versailles. The idea behind that Treaty was that the disarmament of Germany was to be a first step, to which others would come later. It was never agreed or understood that Germany was later to come up to the level of the others, and any Convention which proceeds upon the basis of a substantial re-arming of Germany must in our view be following a wrong idea. The most one can say of this Convention is that it is a very meagre step towards disarmament, and, on the whole, if Germany is to be permitted under it to re-arm to the strength indicated, it may well be a worse thing than having the present state of affairs. The Under-Secretary shakes his head when I say "If Germany is to be permitted to re-arm." Under the Convention, Germany will be permitted to re-arm. I know it is hoped that an arrangement will be come to by which Germany will not exercise her rights under the Convention, but that, of course, must depend upon some bargain outside the Convention itself.
So far as the convention is concerned, it proceeds, as I understand it, on the basis of Germany being given the status of other European Powers and being permitted armaments within the limits there laid down, and that, of course, is essential once one has acknowledged Germany as having equal status with other European Powers. All we can then hope to do is to make some bargain with. Germany outside the Disarmament Convention whereby she will not exercise either to the full, or at all if possible, the 609 powers which are given her under the convention. The four-power pact is intended from what we can gather from the Prime Minister's speech, to give a means for starting upon the resettlement of Europe under treaty revisions, and to use those treaty revisions as a bargaining counter with Germany in order to induce her not to re-arm as she would be entitled to do under the Disarmament Convention.
The four-power bloc seems to us to be something which is extraordinarily dangerous, to be a great menace to the League of Nations, because either it will form a small inner cabinet of the League of Nations which will control the League by the concerted action a those four great Powers, or else, if it is made a general treaty to which other States are permitted to adhere if they wish, it will set up substantially outside the League of Nations, though nominally, it may be, within it, a new body consisting of those who adhere to this special pact. An inner bloc in the League itself, working on predetermined lines, will make the smaller States and those who are not in the controlling bloc of very small influence in the League of Nations, and if, on the other hand, it attracts a number of other States to rival institutions which come to be set up, it must inevitably divert power and authority from the League itself. However, when we know the precise terms of this proposed four-power pact, we presume that His Majesty's Government, before committing themselves and committing the country to it, will allow this House to have an opportunity of discussing it in detail, so that we may know exactly what it is to which the Government propose to bind the country. So far as it is a mere reaffirmation of the provisions of the Pact of Paris or the Covenant of the League, as it appears to be at the moment, it seems to be about time the countries of Europe stopped reaffirming things.
The only effect of a re-affirmation is to cast considerable doubt upon the sincerity of the affirmation which preceded it. There are ample covenants and agreements now, in all sorts of documents which bind the various States of Europe to one another to act in a peaceful manner in the settlement of all kinds of disputes. So far as the revision of the Treaties is concerned, that can be and should be done under Article 19 of the 610 Covenant. If the real reason, as one suspects, for this Four-Power Pact is in order to be able to barter something in exchange for Germany's promise not to re-arm, then that is not a desirable basis for any such pact. If the Treaties ought to be reconsidered, it ought to be not on the basis of barter but on the basis of justice. If the Treaties are unjust now, there can be no excuse for making them a pawn in the game of disarmament. There is no need for new machinery to examine that point; that can be examined now by the Council of the League of Nations, under Article 19.
We believe that if you are ever going to remove the unrest from Europe you will only do it if you start upon the basis of justice, and in order to do that, you must remove first of all some of the iniqiutous provisions of the post-War Treaties. At the time that they were settled, and while in the heat of the conflict, many unjust things were done. Long ago it was observed that the injustices, especially as regards the frontiers, were very great, and unless Europe will alter those because it believes that they are wrong, and not because it believes that some advantage can come to one country or another out of the alteration, we shall never get the basis upon which to found a stable Europe.
There is another aspect of this Four-Power Pact which rather fills us with foreboding. Is this to be a sort of super-dictatorship of the world or of Europe? The world is becoming nervous of dictatorships, and a Pact which has its initiation in Rome leads one to suspect that there may be something of the strong arm of dictatorship behind it. It would indeed be the greatest possible tragedy if this Four-Power Pact were to turn out to be an idea and a system under which it was hoped that the four great Powers concerned in it were to obtain dictatorial powers over Europe, or over the rest of the world. On that basis, any resettlement of the Treaties of Europe, as something imposed as the decision of the four great Powers, would never get the consent of the people of Europe, who would not feel that they had been justly dealt with. The alteration must come through the whole body of the League, representing the whole body of the people of Europe, and indeed of the people of the world, except for those who, unfor- 611 tunately, are at present outside the League.
Those reconsiderations should, in our view, have been started on long ago, and we should like to ask His Majesty's Government why it is, if they now believe that these Treaties must be reconsidered and alterations must be made, that it cannot be done under the machinery of the League of Nations Why is it that this new body, this new four-power pact, has to be started, in order that you may initiate something for which the Covenant of the League amply provides? The truth of it is probably that the condition of Europe has become so desperate, owing to recent events, that the Government believe that the League will be unable to cope with it, and that unless this power is set up, virtually outside the League, nothing can be done. It is that very idea that we regard as so extremely dangerous. The long delay in dealing with the festering sores of Europe has brought about the present condition in Germany. Justice delayed is justice withheld. This new move seems to us to be nothing but the death-bed repentence of the old system which is trying at the last moment to extricate itself from the horrors which it has created in Europe. It is because of the sponsors which this system is finding, that we are suspicious of what the result may be.
In the light of all these new considerations, this country must entirely reconsider its position. The Locarno Pact, which is the Pact by which we are bound to come into any embroilment between Germany, France and Belgium, was clearly arrived at upon the basis of a disarmed Europe. It was never intended to apply to a Europe in which all the nations were heavily and substantially armed. The ingenious argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping about the interpretation of the meaning of the word "flagrant" is not the sort of way in which this country is ever going to avoid being embroiled in a European war. That will not save us. We cannot say two things; we cannot both say that we are going to adhere to the Locarno Pact, and that we are not going to fight in any event. Those two things we cannot say; we have to take our choice. If as the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary said the other night, under no conditions are we going 612 to be embroiled in any war, we must frankly say that we no longer adhere to the Locarno Pact. Conditions have altered; disarmament has not taken place as we anticipated, and therefore we must reconsider our position. That would probably be the wisest attitude for this country to take at the moment.
It is no good to try to get out of it, or to try and alter our position, by piling up fresh agreements and fresh pacts. We have, first of all, to decide what our position is under those which we have already signed, and by which we are already bound. If a conflagration comes, the more scraps of paper there are the fiercer it will burn. We believe that a simplification is wanted of the pacts of Europe, and not a building up of fresh agreements and fresh arrangements. Until we have reconsidered our whole position in the light of altered circumstances, that is the circumstances in which Europe is not substantially disarmed, but is substantially an armed Europe, we ought not to enter into any fresh commitments in order that we might be rushed into agreements of any sort by melodramatic methods. It is not necessary, even if matters are serious, that we should commit ourselves to fresh engagements without a thorough consideration of them. There is no doubt that the times are serious. Germany, believed to be one of the most stable countries in Europe, has, temporarily we hope, gone mad. The Jews are being hounded and persecuted as they were in the Middle Ages, and Socialists and Catholics are being treated equally badly.
So long as that state of affairs exists in one of the great countries of Europe, it is idle to hope that we shall be able to arrive at a stable state of affairs. Italy has already seen the complete suppression of political freedom, and is it to be hoped that a Four-Power Pact with these two Governments as members is going to lead Europe to a peaceful and understanding justice? We cannot have a stable Europe until we have the whole peoples of Europe co-operating—not merely dictators of Europe co-operating together, but the peoples of Europe. We must have a truly democratic League of Nations before we can have any hope of justice and a fair settlement, a League that is supported by the great mass of 613 the people, who themselves desperately want peace and are desperately anxious not only that we should arrive at a state of disarmament but at a revision of the Treaty of Versailles and other treaties. If the League is to be converted by the Four-Power Pact or by any other means into the creature of European dictatorships, it will not only fail to bring about peace and disarmament, but will indeed make war and hatred more than likely in Europe. We have to recognise the fact that it is not only great nationalist movements with which we have to deal nowadays, but great international movements—such as the great fight going on in Germany between two completely different economic systems and between two completely different political ideals.
The Government of this still democratic country has a mission. Though democracy may be slightly veiled at the moment by the vast majority of the National Government, we do still believe in democracy in this country, and although we do not believe that everything that a democracy does is wise, those in the minority accept the actions of the majority in this country, and we believe that the Government of this country, one of the last surviving democracies in the world, can and should spend every effort to turn the League into a real democratic body and to get behind the League not merely the powers of a few self-appointed statesmen, but the powers of the whole people of the world. If they can achieve that and not allow the League to become a mere machine for rivetting on the necks of the people of Europe dictatorships of one type or another, all equally bad, then we can perhaps begin to rebuild a stable Europe. But we do not believe that any sudden gesture, that a four-power pact or that a Disarmament Convention is going to do it. We have, first of all, to bring about on a democratic basis a real justice for Europe based on a revision of the treaties and carried through by a democratic assembly at the League of Nations. Until that has been done, we are afraid that any of these stunts which may appear for the moment to offer some hope will inevitably in the end result in nothing but failure.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
614 Before I turn to the main subject of this Debate, I would like, by way of preface, to answer some questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on the subject of the embargo of arms to the Far East. I think that it must have been sufficiently clear to the House, and I am confident that it has been to the public opinion of the world, that His Majesty's Government were eager to do all that lay in their power to promote agreement upon this subject which would result in effective action. We took the lead not only in fact, as announced in this House: we also initiated international efforts at Geneva. None the less, I think that it is now clear that, we cannot hope in the space of any short time to secure such international agreement, if only because for many countries it is necessary before they can take any action to obtain powers which they do not at present possess. If I might frankly tell my hon. Friend what my view of this problem is, I would say that the experience of the last few weeks has clearly shown that if in future any effective action of this kind is to be taken in parallel circumstances, the machinery for that purpose will have to be set up, not at the time when it is needed, but previous to the time when it is called for. That is the lesson which all of us who are interested in international action should bear in mind from recent events.
§ Mr. EDEN
As far as we took the initiative at Geneva, it was to ask for an examination of the problem in relation to the export of arms to the Far East. It is a problem to be considered internationally and to be decided internationally. It is impossible for one nation to say what other nations should do except as the result of international agreement. Our attitude will be made clear when it comes to be discussed, but in spite of our initiative, nothing has yet been done.
I turn now to the main subject of this Debate. I think that the Government have no cause to complain of the general attitude shown by the Members of the House. Indeed, from all parties the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have received to-day messages of encouragement in their work, none more 615 notable than that recently delivered by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan). We have had from all quarters of the House constructive criticism, except, I think, from one quarter, namely, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). No one has a greater admiration than I for his mastery of quips and jests, but I could not help feeling, as I listened to him this afternoon, that, the more mischievous the quip, the more he relished it. I fear that no context could have been more ill chosen for the practice of this art than that which he chose this afternoon. He chose to make a personal attack upon the Prime Minister for his conduct of foreign affairs, which reminded many of us of the attitude of certain sections of our own Press; but he did add to the style of that section of the Press the adornment of rhetoric of which he is the master. I confess I thought that the embellishment only added to the offence.
The right hon. Gentleman accused the Prime Minister of being responsible for a deterioration in international politics, in international relations, during the past four years. I do not believe, myself, that anyone who has examined the course of international affairs during that period could regard that charge as other than a fantastic absurdity, though many of those who listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon might have reckoned it more as a mischievous absurdity. In the light of what is being done, and of what the Prime Minister has sought to do in the last few weeks, I deeply regret it, because it may receive a measure of authority abroad which, frankly, I do not believe this House wished to give to it this afternoon. The view which the right hon. Gentleman expressed is certainly not the view of foreign opinion. I have here an extract from a French newspaper which, commenting upon the Disarmament Convention put before the conference by the Prime Minister, remarks that:Never since the problem of disarmament had been studied at Geneva had a British statesman shown such a comprehension of continental affairs.Even the most superficial study of the Press of Europe shows that, although it is true that that Convention asks sacrifices from all, there has been an almost 616 unanimous appreciation of the impartiality with which that sacrifice has been asked for, and of the courage which moved the Prime Minister of this country to ask for it. Surely, it is true that the deterioration in international affairs of recent years, which of course we all admit, is due to causes that go much deeper than anything that this Government, or even the last two or three Governments, have been responsible for. We have to go back to an earlier date—a date when the right hon. Gentleman who delivered this attack had himself a very considerable measure of responsibility, while the Prime Minister bad none.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping attacked the Government for basing its whole foreign policy upon disarmament. But that is a policy to which we are all parties—to which every signatory, every upholder, of the Covenant of the League of Nations, is a party. It is there in Article VIII. It is a responsibility which we shouldered when the League of Nations began its life. The right hon. Gentleman said: "Your Disarmament Conference is not making much progress it is making things worse, and not better. Why do you not go back to the old practice? Why do you not do as we did before the War—carry on this work by conference and conciliation between embassies through diplomatic channels?" I will give him the answer. The pre-War experiment was not particularly successful. The pre-War experiment was followed by 1914. We do not want to repeat 1914 and, to avoid that repetition, it is surely worth giving this new method a trial. I do not say—no one who has been at Geneva could say—that the new method is going to achieve successful results at once, but I say that any gospel is better than the gospel of despair. We are, therefore, entitled to give this new method a fair trial, and we do very little service to the cause of peace if we seek to torpedo it by partisan criticism. My right hon. Friend warned us not to press France to disarmament.
§ Mr. EDEN
He was rather an advocate, I think, of an armed France and a disarmed Germany. It is, of course, arguable that the maintenance of such a balance, if it could be called a balance, might continue for a period of years, 617 short or long, but is there anyone who sincerely believes that it is possible to provide a basis for a reconstruction of Europe—to ensure the peace of Europe over any long period of time upon such a foundation as that?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
My hon. Friend does not do justice to my argument, which has always been that the removal of the grievances of the vanquished should precede the disarmament of the victors.
§ Mr. EDEN
My right hon. Friend's explanation may explain his thesis, but I do not think it strengthens it. The problem that confronts us at Geneva is unchanged by his explanation. We have to appreciate that the situation is that, unless, as the result of the Disarmament Conference, we can secure a Convention which all the nations will sign, we cannot secure for Europe that period of appeasement which it needs. That is the problem, that confronts us. To secure a solution, he rightly said, we have to bring France and Germany closer together. To do that, what better step could my right hon. Friend have taken than his journey to Rome? What Power in Europe other than ourselves could more usefully and beneficially use its influence to bring about a rapprochement between France and Germany than Italy? If we can secure the co-operation of Italy, frankly and freely given, in that work we shall have taken an important step forward. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who opened the Debate, made rather a strange criticism, if I understood him aright, of my right hon. Friend's action, in going to Italy. He complained of the form of government in Italy and complained that the Prime Minister of Italy believed in forms of government which were quite different from our own and were not democratic. He seemed to imply that we ought not to co-operate with States which had such forms of government. Is that the new policy of the Labour party? Is that the new method of isolation which we are to practice?
§ Mr. EDEN
If the hon. Member suggested that co-operation in international 618 affairs is to be limited to those with whom he agrees politically, we are not likely to get on very fast. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) asked whether the small Powers were to have an opportunity to play their part as the outcome of the proposals put forward at Rome. The answer to that question is simple one. The whole of that scheme, when it comes to be worked out, will be worked out within the framework of the League itself, and there can, therefore, be no more complete guarantee that all nations who all members of the League will have their points of view safeguarded when the scheme comes to be worked out.
I will deal with some of the criticisms of the Draft Convention itself. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping made some criticism which France might perhaps make if she were willing to be as inaccurate in her criticism as my right hon. Friend. Fortunately, France has not made those criticisms, and I cannot help feeling and thinking that if they are to be made it is best that they should be made by the Governments which are responsible. My right hon. Friend said that in the Convention—and this is a point with which I must deal—we are asking France to halve her Army while Germany doubles hers. That is not so. We do not ask for France to halve her Army. The reduction is nothing like that amount.
§ Mr. EDEN
It is 694,000 to 400,000. Still less does Germany double hers. This point is important. We ask Germany to change the system of military organisation which was imposed upon her at Versailles. In this Convention we provide for the progressive abolition of the Reichswehr, and instead of men with a long period of service, instead of an army which we call a professional army, we substitute, in Germany, a short-term militia of eight months' service on the same terms as the other nations in the Continent of Europe. That is a condition for which Germany has not asked. Far from it. It is a condition for which France has repeatedly asked, because she is anxious to see what is called the uniformisation of the armies of Europe, and that all the Continental armies should 619 be on the same short-term militia service as we propose in the Convention.
Perhaps I might be allowed to say a few words to the House as to the policy and various initiatives which ultimately led His Majesty's Government to propose the Draft Convention to the Disarmament Conference. During the course of last year a great many plans—my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping enumerated them; though I did not know that there were as many as that—were put before the Disarmament Conference. There was the French plan, there were the Hoover proposals, and there were our own proposals, to name only the most important. When at the end of 10 months' discussion at the close of last year the Conference adjourned for Christmas, it became evident that, although individual Governments might be willing to accept more or less large sections of each one of these sets of proposals, there was very little hope that a conference composed of more than 60 nations would accept any set of proposals put forward by one country as its own individual disarmament policy. It was for that reason that His Majesty's Government thought it to be their duty to put before the Conference some method of making more rapid progress with its work.
That was the origin of the proposal the British delegation were instructed to put forward in January for a programme of work. That programme of work was in no sense a new plan or a new departure of policy. It was a method by means of which we hoped to facilitate the work of the conference and to enable the conference to pass from the period of discussion to the period of decision. I think we can say that that programme of work, which the conference accepted in its main lines, was justified in its results, because if it did not bring about vital decisions it did bring the conference face to face with the essential realities of our problem. In consequence of the items of work which were set before the conference we found ourselves up against this difficulty: we were each of us struggling in the various committee in high-walled compartments. A country would find itself unable to make a concession on a particular issue until it knew what it was going to be asked to do on some other issue.
620 Essentially, the direct effect of our programme of work was to show to the conference how closely related were each of those items of disarmament which previously had been discussed in an abstract and more academic form. I will give two illustrations. For instance, it might be that one nation would argue: "The duty of a disarmament conference is to disarm. Let us get on with decisions about tanks, guns and such like things." Another nation might reply: "We are quite prepared to disarm, but we cannot say how much we can disarm until we know how much you will give us in security"—two completely walled-off compartments. Or, again, one country might say: "It is simple for the conference now to take a decision to reduce the number of effectives," and another country might reply: "We cannot do that until we know that the organisation of the armies of Continental Europe will be uniform." Those were the difficulties that we found ourselves in, and so our committees went on burrowing forward industriously, and the more we burrowed the less could we see. That is not infrequently, I believe, the experience of those who try that process.
That was the position which we found after two months of work this year. How was the Conference to be lifted out of that difficulty? There seemed to be only one way, and in saying this I am quite confident that I am expressing not merely the view of His Majesty's Government but of all those who have been labouring in recent weeks at Geneva. There was only one way and that was for some delegation, for some Government to come forward and put before the Conference not a plan, not a programme of work but a draft Convention. That is to say, a document embodying in specific articles proposals for disarmament which the Conference could discuss article by article. This document, whatever its limitations, shows to the Conference in a way that it has not yet previously been able to see it the whole scheme, the whole field which it is asked to traverse. Any country which is asked to accept, say, disarmament in guns can turn to another page and discover what is given in return in security, or what is asked, for instance, in air disarmament. That is why the figures had to be inserted. Without the figures no country 621 could know truly what was to be expected of it. Without the figures our draft Convention would be worth little more than was the work of the Preparatory Disarmament Commission a great many years ago.
The hon. Member for Gower complained that these figures are not low enough. If the Conference is willing to consider lower figures, we shall not make any complaint. But if every delegation present at the Conference will, when the Debate is resumed tomorrow—my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is returning there by air—say "We will sign this document as it stands," the world will then have a very considerable measure of disarmament, and the Conference will be saved from failure. When the hon. Member expresses a wish for more he is sanguine indeed, for anyone who has been present in the Conference there many weeks would not expect any more than is embodied in this document. These proposals do not necessarily represent what His Majesty's Government would like to see in this document, but they de represent articles which we think have an even chance of being generally accepted by the 60 nations at the Conference.
It may be asked why His Majesty's Government undertook this task. We did so because we believe that no delegation is quite so placed as we are ourselves to do it. We are confronted by this fact, that the problems which are holding up the Conference are largely, though not exclusively, European; they are problems of continental Europe. We are on the fringe of these problems. We may claim to understand them perhaps as much as any Englishman or any English Government can ever understand Continental problems, and we can also claim that, although we have some understanding of them, our view is not prejudiced, or predetermined or fixed. Perhaps this is the historic explanation of the otherwise inexplicable gibe Perfide Albion. The fact that we are semi-detached enables us to act in some measure as an arbitrator.
A criticism which has been made in this House to-day, and which will no doubt be made again outside, is that while we are asking others to do much we do little ourselves. The first answer to that criticism 622 is that many of these problems are not problems with which we are intimately concerned. Let me give one example. The strength in effectives of European armies has been one of the toughest problems of the Conference, but no one is concerned with the strength of our Army is this island. It is recognised that it is an organisation for work overseas and no one has even asked the figure which we propose to put in. It is not a problem with which to any great extent they are concerned. But there is another reason why we cannot contribute as much as others to this Convention, and it needs to be bluntly stated—it is because we have disarmed already. The two spheres of armaments in respect to which, so far as this country is concerned, the world is interested at all are the Navy, and the Air. In the Navy we not only made a voluntary reduction on a large scale after the War, but we have since signed two treaties, the Treaties o f Washington and London which further limited naval armaments.
There is in this connection only this observation that I should like to make. If the nations whose greatest armaments are land armaments had achieved as much by international agreement as the naval Powers have done, our problem to-day at Geneva would not be as difficult as it is. As to the Air, we have there made drastic reductions voluntarily and brought ourselves down from equal first to fifth. There, again, is the answer to the question, why did we put ourselves equal first among Air Powers in our table of figures? Because owing to the vulnerability of London we have a right to that place, and because we deem it our duty to urge that other Powers of the world should bring their Air armaments down as we have reduced ours. This Convention has to be a fair document, and if it is not fair it is of no use. It had to fulfil three conditions: It had to provide for a generous measure of world disarmament. It had to show a long step towards equality of treatment. It had to provide a just and reasonable five years settlement. Those are the three things which we claim that this document has done.
Perhaps this is the strongest argument of all which we can urge in asking other countries to examine this draft Convention as favourably as they can, and to approve it if they will: We believe that the greatest measure of security a 623 harassed Europe can now achieve, is the signature of a draft Convention such as this, which will remove for a period of years the fears of competition in armaments and all that that spells. It is, therefore, a welcome feature of the criticisms which have been made abroad that there has been general tribute to its impartiality, which encourages us to some hope of its reception in the talks that are to be opened at Geneva.
The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) made certain criticisms to which I will give an answer. He complained that there was no budgetary limitation in this draft convention. That is perfectly true. But this convention is not an exclusive document. Those who are working and have been working for some time at Geneva on budgetary limitation, are, I believe, shortly to produce a report. When we have that report we shall see whether it can be added to the convention. There is nothing whatever to prevent that. But it is not much use our seeking to put anything into this document until the committee, which has been at work for a year, has produced its report. As to air disarmament, the hon. and learned Gentleman asked what has happened to the total abolition of which we heard in the speech of the Lord President of the Council. I am afraid that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not read the convention very carefully. There is not only immediate reduction, but if he will turn to Article 35 he will see that the Permanent Disarmament Commission which is to be set up by this conference is todevote itself to the working out the best possible schemes providing for the complete abolition of military and naval aircraft, which must be dependent on the effective supervision of civil aviation to prevent its misuse for military purposes.I cannot imagine the hon. and learned Gentleman complaining of that condition. It is obviously a condition by which this country must stand.
One other question of that character I must answer. My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton asked whether the Permanent Disarmament Commission here set up would be really representative of all the nations. The answer is "Yes." The commission will be made up of representatives of all the Governments who are signatories to the 624 convention, and in that respect will be as representative, if not as small, as we can conceive.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Before the Under-Secretary passes on, may I remind him of a question that I put and a question which I think the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) repeated, namely, whether, when the project which has been outlined to us to-day reaches a point at which it is possible to make a more precise communication to the House, as to the exact nature of the project, the methods by which it will be worked out, and the principles upon which it will be based—the four power pact—this House will be informed so that we can have a full discussion on those principles before any binding commitment is entered into at Geneva?
§ Mr. EDEN
That is really a question which ought to be addressed to the Prime Minister but my right hon. Friend tells me that I can say that there is certain to be a discussion of that matter when it reaches a later stage, and, in any event, it can always be raised by the Opposition putting down the Foreign Office Vote.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Shall we have notice before any commitment is entered into so that we can raise it before the country is committed?
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
May I intervene to put the question in a rather different form which I think is better—if the hon. and learned Member will allow me? Will the Government undertake that no binding engagement will be entered into by this country except with the assent of Parliament?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is not quite the question put by my right hon. Friend. The point is not that any scheme entered into by the Government would have to be ratified by this House. What I want to know, and what I think my right hon. Friend wants to know is, whether this scheme will come before this House before it is entered into.
§ Mr. MAXTON
As this seems to be rather important, may I ask will there be any permanent commitment on the basis of four Powers to the exclusion of a general armaments agreement?
§ Mr. EDEN
I have already explained that anything which is agreed will be agreed within the framework of the League of Nations and that implies that each country as a member of the League will have its share in whatever is agreed upon. There could be no settlement within the framework of the League unless every signatory to the League was a party. If I may come back to the Convention I would like to try to assess finally to the House the chances of acceptance of this draft Convention. It is, I think, a good augury that its immediate reception internationally has been as good as it has been. I confess, for my part, I did not expect it. I thought that in the first few weeks, when Governments turned to these tables, their sole concern would be to examine their own figures and to reflect that they had not been very generously treated. The passage of time we hope will further reveal the perfections which we believe to be in this document, whereas I hope the passage of time will also soothe those nations who may not be happy at their own figures, when they have time to reflect that others may be unhappier still.
There is this dominating consideration which make me mildly optimistic for the fate of this draft Convention. Every Government which comes to Geneva to-morrow to begin the discussion of this Convention will have to balance these risks. It will have to choose between accepting, not necessarily this document, but something like it, and putting its signature to a draft Convention limiting armaments, or it will have to face the certainty which must be the consequence of a failure of the conference. Nobody who has been at Geneva in recent weeks can believe that we can go back to the methods of work that we have been practising and hope to achieve success. We have to strike out on something new. This is the something new and Governments, when they approach its consideration, will have without doubt in mind the responsibility that weighed with His 626 Majesty's Government when they offered it to the other Governments for their consideration—that the risk of failure is far more important than any risk any nation that puts its name to such a Convention as this would be shouldering.
We have been asked why His Majesty's Government took upon themselves this risk, because it is a risk to offer what amounts to arbitration to nations who have not asked for it. Why has His Majesty's Government taken it? Because they believe that the success of the Disarmament Conference is an indispensable prelude to the economic recovery of the world. We hear often in these days of the injurious effects of this, that or the other form of trade restriction, of quotas and such like, but these barriers owe their existence not only to commercial rivalry, but also to international suspicion and, if we can secure the success of this Disarmament Conference, it will be going some way to meet one of the most difficult economic problems of our time. If, however, the Conference were to fail, at best we should prolong the political unease in Europe and at worst we might intensify it to a danger point. That is why H is Majesty's Government think that they should evade no responsibility, however unwelcome, when by shouldering it they might assist the Conference to a successful conclusion. It is in this spirit that His Majesty's Government placed this draft Convention before the Conference; and it is in this spirit that they will continue to seek to secure its acceptance so that at last this Conference may achieve that measure of success which the world so rightly and so earnestly looks for.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.