Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £108,900, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1936, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs."—[NOTE.—£65,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
The House will be aware that this day was originally given for a Debate on foreign affairs, the intention being to review the European situation in the light of the Conferences that have been held in Rome, Paris and London, and the subsequent meetings at Stresa and Geneva. To-day, however, it is impossible to separate these topics from some general consideration of armaments. I hope, if I may venture to say so, that it will only be general, because another day will be given as soon as possible during this month for the consideration of national armaments in relation to changes that have recently taken place or been announced in Continental quarters.
The result of the Conferences at Rome, Paris and London was the issue of what has come to be known as the London Declaration of 3rd February last. The Declaration is one of rather remarkable significance. In that Declaration it was specifically stated that one of the objects of the negotiations contemplated was to be a freely negotiated armament pact with Germany and other Powers, which would take the place of the military clauses of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles. If that could be done successfully, the greater part of our immediate European dangers would disappear. Clearly the London Declaration indicated that we are moving away from the 570 Versailles régime, and were entering upon a European relationship based upon free negotiation of security and of armed strength. When such changes have begun, however small the beginning may be, they broaden and widen in proportion to the mutual good will and confidence which arise from them.
On 3rd February Governments like our own which had begun patiently to reestablish good will in Europe had good cause for feeling that prospects were improving and when in the course of a day or so Germany accepted the Declaration, at any rate as a basis for discussion, our justification for hope I think was reasonably strengthened. It is greatly to be deplored that at that moment the German Government announced its intention to impose conscription and to take immediate steps to raise its peace strength to 550,000 men as well as to create a military air force. The Council of the League of Nations has dealt with these events. That has been done, and we need not harp upon it. The historian will deal with the trends and the causes; the politician has to face the actual situation, practically and objectively, and I hope with calm common sense. He has to answer the question whether he is now to abandon his attempts to build up, on general confidence, a peace system in Europe or seek refuge in those combinations of sheer force which have never yet saved him from war and never will. When we consider the future, it is well to note that Herr Hitler has said that though he would sign nothing which he thought he could not carry out, yet if he gave an undertaking he would never break it. Be it also noted that Herr Hitler has publicly declared the readiness and determination of the German Government to accept both the spirit and the letter of the Locarno Pact. He made that declaration in the Reichstag on 30th January, 1934.
The declaration of 3rd February gave general satisfaction all over Europe, because it promised the beginning of a sound European settlement. When reporting to the House upon the effects of the Stresa Conference, I informed it that nothing had been done at Stresa which changed that Declaration. Indeed, the text of the Stresa conclusions reaffirmed point after point the London communiqué. It is important that that fact should be emphasised, and I do so once more. The 571 London Declaration made proposals for the ending of certain Central and Eastern European fears and unsettle-meats by a system of non-interference and mutual security pacts. This country is not directly affected by those proposals, but it looks upon them, or any variation of them that may be made in order to secure the desired result, with a friendly eye, and has advised, wherever its advice seemed to be welcome or useful, that the negotiations should be pursued with the idea of producing something really effective.
In regard to Central Europe, the Italian Government propose to convoke a meeting of the Governments concerned, including Germany, to discuss a scheme. His Majesty's Government will not be represented at Rome by a delegation because it is well understood that we are not undertaking any new commitments in this regard. But we shall be represented by an observer, so that we may be kept in the closest touch with the course and movements of the discussion, and contribute to it in any way that we usefully and properly can.
As regards Eastern Europe, it is specially in the power of Germany to make a valuable contribution to the system of security in that region. The German Chancellor during the Foreign Secretary's visit to Berlin declared his willingness, in principle, to negotiate a multilateral non-aggression pact with the countries of Eastern Europe, and, although we had hoped that Germany would be prepared to join in a more comprehensive arrangement, nevertheless the proposal put forward by Herr Hitler ought not to be allowed to drop, and we trust that Germany herself will take immediate steps to promote in more concrete shape the idea which her Chancellor has formulated. There is no reason why such a non-aggression pact should not harmonise with the mutual guarantee pact which France and the Soviet Government are now negotiating. Indeed, in my own opinion the two can very well supplement each other, and thus help towards creating a complete system of collective security in Eastern Europe.
I need not refer further to the various points of the London Declaration, which the Government consider contribute to the building up of peace structures in Europe, but I must make it clear to the 572 House that so far as this Government is concerned we did not and do not consider that the security which they are meant to establish can be complete without German participation. And when the whole Declaration was reviewed at Stresa, the policy pursued by the representatives of this Government was to maintain the possibility of such co-operation. All these activities assume the idea of collective security in seine form or another. No one plan has been devised to effect this, and it would be premature for any of us to commit ourselves to any one formula. The needs of countries vary, and experiements will have to be made. The general attitude of the Government is to approach the problem with a flexible mind in order to obtain so far as possible a realisation of the idea that it is an effective check upon aggression.
It is manifest and indisputable that when these efforts are being made to build up a system of co-operation and good will, in which Germany would take her due and proper part, such unilateral declarations as those just made in Berlin regarding land forces, air forces, and naval forces, must profoundly disturb the peace of mind of the whole of Europe. The Government has taken note of every helpful suggestion that has been made in Berlin and elsewhere, but it must observe that some feeling of mutual confidence has to be re-created before the full beneficial effects of international negotiations on details can be reaped. The instructions which we took with us to Stresa were not to make agreements which excluded any country on account of what has happened from taking part in further negotiations on the lines of the London Declaration. As I have said, nothing done at Stresa annulled that Declaration. We recognise, with great regret, that circumstances have changed, but the general purpose of the Declaration still remains the objective of immediate British foreign policy.
It would be a great calamity if there were any weakening or deterioration in the confidence which exists between France, Italy and ourselves, and we shall take all the care we humanly can that that shall not happen. Our aim is to increase the number of co-operators, to try to prevent, with every device that is at our command, their being separated into different and rival camps. Will not Germany now come forward to show her 573 readiness to help to restore the international confidence so rudely shaken by her recent independent action in regard to armaments? We are looking for a peace system, a peace pact in support of such declarations as the Kellogg, or, as it is sometimes called, the Paris Pact. I need not assure the House that in all these activities our policy is being pursued as loyal members of the League of Nations, and that we are convinced that international co-operation is the only basis upon which the peace of the world can rest.
This brings me to the consideration of the armaments position. As regards this country, we have made it clear from the time that the White Paper was issued that we consider that our responsibilities to the people of this country do not allow us to neglect our powers of defence. Of that Paper, I think, in some quarters rather ill-use has been made. That Paper, I should like to remind the House, Was issued to enable the Government to fulfil its promise to give this House the opportunity of a general discussion on the Service Estimates, and the Paper on which such a discussion could take place had to be issued at practically the same time as the separate Service Votes, so that its publication could not be delayed. But I must observe that I have not noticed—and I think I have been keeping in pretty close touch with what is being published, and with what is being said—that any nation has regarded the contents of that Paper as being a menace to itself. Everyone knew that in our anxiety to advance the prospects of the Disarmament Conference, British Governments—not merely this or any other British Government—but British Governments have for years deliberately allowed the defences to become weakened. Whatever Government was in office during the past 18 months would have had to do what we did, and, fortunately, by our conduct of foreign affairs, we have removed all suspicion of hostile intention.
In relation to the new military circumstances, we propose to put our power of defence into a state which will enable our people to feel that they are protected. We shall continue to accept that responsibility, while not trusting to it alone to preserve the country from trouble. I am happy to say that in that respect we have not roused the suspicion or jealousy of any great foreign State 574 with whom we desire to co-operate in the maintenance of peace. When the Foreign Secretary was at Berlin, he suggested that German representatives should come here, as representatives of other countries had already come, for a preliminary discussion with a view to a naval agreement in the future. That invitation was accepted. The present position in these preliminary conversations is that representatives of the United States of America and of Japan have been here, and the results of the conversations have been communicated both to France and to Italy, with whom we have also had independent conversations. It was contemplated that German representatives should come, too, and the invitation to which I have referred naturally followed. A meeting was proposed for one of these days at the beginning of May, but we are all very much occupied with other and happier thoughts, and the prospects were, and are, that the talks may take place nearer the middle of the month.
I must confess to great surprise that this moment was chosen by Germany to announce a shipbuilding programme, especially including submarines, which it could never have imagined would be of no immediate concern to us. British naval needs and ratios cannot be fixed in relation to home waters alone. We have unique responsibilities of a world-wide character different from other Powers. We are prepared to let every naval Power in the world know what these needs are, and, with the whole of our Imperial requirements in view, come to international agreements which will make expansion beyond rock bottom needs unnecessary, and thus prevent extravagance and sheer waste. The German decision to build submarines is ominous, and I do not intend to minimise its gravity, but we are still prepared, without in any way conceding the right to disregard any treaty provision, to receive German representatives in London for the contemplated preliminary discussions. The conversations would be carried on under precisely the same conditions as those with the United States and Japan. Those two countries, together with France and Italy, will be informed of what takes place, as we have nothing to hide, and have no intention of making any secret or private agreements with anybody.
575 In the Debate last November certain estimates were put forward on the basis of our then estimates as to the strength of the German air force, and the assurance was given by the Lord President, on behalf of the Government, that in no circumstances would we accept any position of inferiority with regard to whatever air force might be raised in Germany in the future. If it were not so, that would put us in an impossible position of which the Government and the Air Ministry are fully aware. In the course of the visit which the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal paid to Berlin at the end of March, the German Chancellor stated, as the House was informed on 3rd April, that Germany had reached parity with Great Britain in the air. Whatever may be the exact interpretation of this phrase in terms of air strength, it undoubtedly indicated that the German force has been expanded to a point considerably in excess of the estimates which we were able to place before the House last year. That is a grave fact, with regard to which both the Government and the Air Ministry have taken immediate notice.
It will not be desirable to use this Debate, I think, as an occasion for the examination of details, as it is intended very shortly to provide a further occasion, when the more technical aspects of this matter will be gone into. The Government take the earliest opportunity at the opening of the present Debate to state publicly that the Lord President's declaration stands, and that His Majesty's Government are already taking steps for the further and accelerated extension of the British Air Force to implement my right hon. Friend's declaration. The Committee will remember that the London Declaration contained a reference to an air pact, and the subject, perhaps the Committee will also remember, was referred to by me in my report on the work done at Stresa. I will quote this Stresa resolution, if I may, because it may turn out to be of great importance. It runs as follows:As regards the proposed air pact for Western Europe, the representatives of the three Governments confirmed the principles and procedure that should be followed as envisaged in the London communiqué of the 3rd February, and agreed to continue actively the study of the question with a view to the drafting of a pact between the five Powers mentioned in the 576 London communiqué and of any bilateral agreements which might accompany it.The resolution is under consideration at this moment by His Majesty's Government, but I wonder if I might interpolate, with no idea whatever of exceeding the intentions of the three Powers represented at Stresa, the thought that in connection with the further consideration of this Pact we might come to an agreement as regards air strengths. The destructive possibilities of air warfare are perfectly appalling, and surely every civilised nation must strive its utmost to reduce the use of this terrible weapon. Moreover, I can imagine no more wasteful expenditure of national wealth than a competition in air forces, in which we will not engage unless it be absolutely forced upon us. As is the case with all forces, their value is relative to each other, and at this moment, before we have gone very far, the British Government urges, with all the influence it can command, that a halt should be called and that the Powers concerned should limit their air arms within well defined bounds to be fixed by free negotiation. If I may venture to do so, and make bold to do so, I recommend this especially to the German Government. Public opinion in this country quite clearly indicated approval of attempts to find practical and politic ways of setting up this instrument of mutual security, and if it were set in an international agreement as to the respective national strengths that opinion would be much, more satisfied.
In this matter, we are moved by no thought of aggressive military alliances. They form no part of our purposes. But we are seeking with the Powers named, including Germany, a defensive combination against attack which will protect our civilian population in particular against the destruction which aerial warfare makes absolutely inevitable. It will thus be seen that our policy combines defence, collective security, international agreements upon armaments, and peace. As I have said, and I repeat, it is not aimed at military alliances but at the widest possible co-operation. The present good understanding between France, Italy, and ourselves we value as a guarantee of peace. It threatens no one. Every other nation which contemplates peace wilt be welcome in this free companionship. 577 In this survey, I have not minimised the sombre aspect of the present situation, but the outlook—and I say this with great conviction and considerable intimacy of knowledge—has chances of appeasement as well as palpable dangers, and it is the constant care of this country to help on the changes that must come by negotiated agreement and without disturbance to the peace of Europe or of the world. I make bold to crave the generous support of Members of all parties in the House for this survey, general as it may be, of the international situation and of the policy of the Government regarding it.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
This afternoon we have had the first statement, not very elaborate or very long, of the Government's proposals in regard both to German re-armament and the European situation generally. I think I ought perhaps to say at the outset that, speaking for myself and my friends, we are extremely disappointed that the statement should, under the prevailing conditions, have been one which has dealt rather largely with an increase of armaments as a preliminary to other conditions that may make for peace. I should like also to say at the outset, because of statements that have appeared in regard to the Labour party, that there is no one on our side who will excuse or palliate the action of the German Government in re-arming and taking up the attitude they have done in face of the fact that negotiations were afoot. Whatever other Governments may have done which, in the judgment of Herr Hitler, may have justified them in taking that action, we think that by so doing they have to some extent alienated a very great deal of sympathy that had been aroused on their behalf.
I think too that I ought to say that, in our judgment, it is a terrible thing indeed that after three years of negotiation, not with a Fascist Government in Germany all the time, but with other Governments, at the end of those three years of talks on disarmament the Prime Minister of our country should feel obliged, on behalf of his Government, to make the statement that has been made here to-day. We cannot help feeling that this business of each Government putting it on to the other as to why the Disarma- 578 ment Conference has not proceeded successfully will not satisfy public opinion anywhere. I do not propose to weary the Committee by giving them, but I have with me here an almost complete statement of the various proposals that have been put before the Disarmament Conference and, so far as I can gather, have never been brought to the real test of discussion and settlement. The American Government have made proposals, the Russian Government have made proposals, the Italian Government have made proposals, and our own Government have made proposals, but for some unknown reason none of these have ever been effectively dealt with.
When one reads the Press of other countries, and especially of Germany, one sees that all kind of reasons are put forward, but always the blame is on someone else. Our own Foreign Secretary and our own Government generally plead that they have done everything possible to bring about a successful issue of the Disarmament Conference. Whether that is so or not, the cold fact is that every other Government say the same thing. It is no use our blinding ourselves to that fact, and I think it is time we had from the Government, if this is possible, a White Paper showing all the proposals that have been put before the Disarmament Conference and the attitude of our own Government towards those proposals. I know that we have had some White Papers, but I think the time has come when we ought to have a clear, comprehensive statement of what is being proposed by the various Governments and of what has been the attitude of His Majesty's Government thereto.
Then I want to refer—and this has special reference to the commencement of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, though be referred to the matter once or twice afterwards—to the question of aerial armaments, air warfare. It is a fact that a proposition has been put before the Disarmament Conference on the question of aerial warfare, and there is no doubt, I think, that some Governments have expressed their willingness for the abolition of bombing from the air. I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary if he will, at the close of the discussion, tell us exactly whether the Government would be willing, in conjunction with other Governments, to abolish all aerial warfare in Europe, in Asia, in 579 Africa, and everywhere else. I am not putting my extreme pacifist view at this minute, but I am asking definitely for the Government to tell us and to tell the world whether we, the British nation, in company with other nations, would be willing, if the other Powers concerned are willing, to scrap aerial warfare for good and for all. Statements are made in the Press that other Governments are willing to do so.
Herr Hitler says that Germany is willing to scrap anything which anybody else will scrap. The answer given to him always is, "Yes, but you are someone whose word we cannot take; you do not mean it." I think that if our Government said it, we would believe that they meant it, and I think that it would cause the German, Italian and French Government to face up to the position. I understand we have said that we are willing that submarines should be abolished, but other Governments say, "No, because submarines are convenient to us." I understand, too, that up to the present our position with regard to aerial warfare is that we want to retain the right to use it in certain places on the borders of the British Empire. If that be so, nobody will be so thankful as me to hear it from the Foreign Secretary. I hope that I have put the question categorically, and I hope for a categorical answer. Are the British Government willing to join with other Governments in abolishing aerial warfare for good and for all? It is a simple question, and I hope that I shall get a satisfactory answer.
I also want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will make a little clearer than the Prime Minister has done whether we are in favour of particular alliances or pacts as an alternative to the Covenant of the League of Nations. Have we gone back on the principle embodied in the Covenant? Do we think that four or five great Powers in Europe, joining together to say what shall be done, are of greater importance and a greater security for peace than the whole of the nations who have joined the League of Nations? We should very much like to know where the League comes in in the Government's policy. Do the Government still stand by the Covenant of the League, and do they believe that through the League we can get real collective security, or are they placing their 580 reliance on the two or three alliances or pacts about which the Prime Minister has spoken? We on this side think that the smaller nations of Europe have equal rights with the great nations and that we cannot get a just and real peace unless they are consulted and are part of it. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us a little more as to the Government's attitude to the League of Nations.
We on this side definitely think that the Government have left out of account something which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees is very urgent and imperative. To-day we talk about pacts of mutual assistance, of armaments, and so on, but, when we have discussed these questions before, the right hon. Gentleman and others in the House have said that the economic condition of Europe and the world was, if anything, of more importance than many of the other questions which, in our view, are subsidiary to them. That is to say, that if there are just economic conditions between nations, we are more likely not to need armaments than if those conditions do not exist. When the World Economic Conference was proposed, it was a matter of agreement in the House and the country that the success or failure of the conference would have considerable bearing on the Disarmament Conference. That has all gone by the board, and we hear nothing about it now.
I do not very often find myself in agreement with what is written in the "Times" newspaper, but I hope I have sufficient tolerance and intelligence to recognise the truth, whether it is written by a political opponent or not. In the "Times" of the 18th April there was an extraordinary leading article dealing with the German situation, and I would recommend every hon. Member who has not read it to go into the Library and read it. The article called attention to what is ultimately, I believe, the crux of the whole situation. It points out that the peace was an imposed peace, not a negotiated peace, and that throwing over such terms is not the same thing as throwing over the terms of an actual agreement. It goes on to say:At the Congress of Paris, which followed the Crimean War, Lord Clarendon found himself threshing out the terms of peace with the Russian envoys; and again at the Congress of Berlin in 1878—when 581 Russia indeed had not lost the war, but had been obliged to renounce the gains of it—Gortschakoff was one of a trio of master diplomatists with Bismarck and Lord Beaconsfield. Even in 1871—when the peace was negotiated between two nations only—Thiers was allowed to struggle with Bismarck over each successive point, and did in fact succeed in saving Belfort for France and in getting the original figure of the war indemnity reduced.This is the conclusion of the "Times" with regard to the present conditions:Far different was the treatment of the Germans in 1919. They were not invited to Paris at all for the first months of the treaty-making, and then it was to receive the Treaty already fully drafted. They were allowed three weeks in which to make written comments—which they did energetically—but oral discussion was barred.…. The facts of the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles, however little they are remembered by most Governments to-day, are not only familiar to Germans—they are burnt into their minds. Hitlerism is largely a revolt against Versailles; and until this fundamental truth is taken fully into account there will be no peace in Europe. For the present, no doubt—I suppose every one will agree that the Government are following this out.—the peace must be kept by a close combination of the Powers which, satisfied by the War, have no temptation to break it. But it will be a mere uneasy truce until their main purpose can be changed from the negative policy of organising security against war into the positive policy of negotiating an agreed peace.On the same day Mr. Edward Brice Bell, a well-known American newspaper proprietor, I believe, certainly a well-known American newspaper man who is highly respected in this country and Europe, wrote a letter to the "Times" in which he said:Within the past year I have had the honour of interviewing at length nearly all the Premiers and Foreign Ministers of the principal countries of the world, European and Asiatic, Herr Hitler among them. (The only exception is M. Stalin…) Every one of these distinguished men, to my thinking, is a peace man, is striving to make actual conditions compatible with peace, and the head of the German State not less than the others. His great desire for a good and abiding understanding with Britain and America is very significant in the right direction, for he knows as well as anyone knows that whoever wants war wastes his time if he seeks friendship with us.And I would say with my own people in this country. He also says:There is no evidence that Herr Hitler would be false to an international obligation into which he entered willingly and which was respected by the other signatories. 582 There is evidence, indeed, that he takes international commitments very seriously.I have read those extracts, because I cannot help feeling that the German Government, whatever reason has compelled them to take the action they have done, have placed themselves relatively in a false position, but I want our country to be generous enough to recognise the difficulties with which the German people have struggled for the last 17 or 18 years. I do not think that we can judge this matter by what has happened during the last two years. We must let our minds go back. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) once saying: "Shall we concede to the Hitler Government what we refuse to Stresemann, Brüning and others?" There may be something in that argument, but it gets us nowhere. I do not want, and my friends would not want me, to do anything to jar with any effort on the part of the Government for real peace, but we have no confidence at all in a proposal to secure peace by pacts based on enormous armaments. We have great faith in peace being brought about through the League of Nations and disarmament. We cannot believe that the piling up of armaments will bring peace, and we think that fundamentally peace between nations in the last resort must be based on a realisation of the interest of each nation in an economic sense and of the fact that they are all part of the human family. The Committee will excuse me for reading two other small extracts. One is from the "Times" of to-day and is a pathetic prayer written by the late General Botha on the 28th June, 1919, at the Versailles Peace Conference:God's justice will be meted out to every nation in His righteousness, under the new Sun. We shall persist in prayer in order that it may be done unto mankind in love, peace and Christian charity.Mr. President Wilson said in 1917:Victor's terms imposed upon the vanquished, leaving a sting of resentment, a bitter memory, upon which the terms of peace would rest not permanently but only as upon a quicksand.I appeal to the Government. Let them go into this Conference—I am glad and congratulate them on the fact that they have left the door wide open for Germany to come in—determined not merely to argue the question of armaments, not 583 merely to argue as to the size of the gun or the size of the aeroplane, but go in definitely to say, "For us no more aerial warfare under any circumstances with the rest of you;" and also to say that this economic fight in Europe is not to continue, must not continue, and that we are willing to do our part to help to solve the difficulties that have been created.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
The Prime Minister, at the end of his important statement to-day, invited the support of all sections of opinion represented in the House for the general lines of policy which he indicated. I think that, in so far as the general lines are concerned, that support will be forthcoming. Certainly the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken on behalf of the Labour party has not said anything in the nature of considered criticism of the principles which the Prime Minister has laid down. Indeed, what the Prime Minister said to-day has been a re-statement of doctrines of policy which have already been frequently formulated and which command general assent here and outside this House. The difficulty, of course, is to translate those general principles into actualities, and the feeling uppermost in the country, and I believe in the House to-day, is one of regret that, instead of Europe and the world marching forward towards the realisation of those principles to which we all give our assent, it would appear as though they were slipping back. The Prime Minister spoke to-day in a spirit of caution and reserve that is dictated by the circumstances of the hour, and, similarly that spirit dominated the British representatives who attended the recent Conference at Stresa. They have been exposed to some criticism on that ground in some countries on the Continent and in some quarters in this country, but to my mind that criticism is ill-founded, and the reserve that was shown there was really wise in the interests of this nation and of Europe.
There are some who say it is quite clear now that Germany has thrown aside all restraints and, regardless of any obligations, is seeking her own aggrandisement and predominance, and that therefore it is essential immediately that the rest of the Powers should align 584 themselves against her, and by entering into close mutual bonds put a stop to a movement which is already threatening and may become exceedingly dangerous. The reason why public opinion in this country would not, I believe, support a whole-hearted co-operation with other Powers in opposition to Germany is twofold. One part of that reason is that we all have an uneasy consciousness that there is substance in part of the German case. Germany asks: "Who is it, after all, that has infringed the Treaty of Versailles? Is it the country who has rearmed or the countries who have refused to disarm? If there is, in fact, a legal infringement on the one side, has not there been a moral infringement on the other?" There is some force in that contention. Again and again, for years past, warning voices have been raised that a moment would come when, if general disarmament was not agreed to at Geneva, the other aspect must become predominant, and that our moral force would be weakened in resisting a rearmament which was a consequence of or which followed upon a refusal to disarm.
The second reason is that we are all conscious of the danger that the words, "collective control," "sanctity of Treaties," "rule of law," and the other phrases to which we all give whole-hearted devotion, may be merely a cover for a mere retention of the status quo, a mere refusal to revise conditions in Europe. That is why we are not prepared to act wholeheartedly with any who do not show a readiness to meet legitimate grievances on the part of certain Powers in Europe. Although we agree that unilateral action is to be condemned, at the same time we cannot abstain from criticism of those who do not in advance take the means to preclude any justifiable case that may be made out in defence of a line of policy which aims at a revision of the Treaties. We fear very greatly that the system of collective control to which we are devoted may gradually and in course of time be found to develop, in fact, into a system of alliances or into a system of balance of power.
I was somewhat disturbed the other day when my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) dropped a phrase in which he said there was more to be said for the old doctrine of balance of power than is 585 usually thought. For centuries this country took part in a system based upon the principle of the balance of power, and whenever the balance tipped one way or the other this country had to intervene, and there was a war. I once made it my business to analyse the history of Great Britain from the time of the Revolution of 1688 up to the Great War of 1914, and I found it could be divided very definitely into two periods. From 1689 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars was a period of 126 years, in which there was constant intervention by this country in the politics of Europe, and in which the balance of power was the predominant guide in politics, and of those 126 years this country was engaged in war for exactly one-half—63 years of war as against 63 years of peace.
In the 19th century there was a change of policy, and the balance of power was repudiated. There was, indeed, what was called the Concert of Europe, but that was somewhat different, and there were large popular forces in this country, what I think would be called to-day the "parties of the left," who were in principle opposed to the doctrine of the balance of power, and from 1815 to the Great War in 1914, which changed everything, there were in Europe only two years of war and 97 years of peace. The difference to the development, economic and social, of this country was immense, and the comparative prosperity that resulted, and the rise in the standard of life and culture of the people, may be very largely traced not merely to economic considerations such as the industrial revolution but also to this change of policy which gave us two years of war, and those unnecessary—the Crimean War ought to have been avoided—against 97 years of peace.
I confess that, looking at the present situation, the world as we have it to-day, I do greatly fear that, unintentionally and really against the desires of the nation, we may be found with a desire to engage in a system of collective control, wholeheartedly desirous of doing that, but find that, in fact, the system of collective control has slipped into a system of alliances, and the system of alliances become a recrudescence of the doctrine of the balance of power. I am sure His Majesty's Government are determined to-day to avoid that, but those who have 586 been pressing us actively to adopt a different course from that which they have been adopting during the last few months are, I fear, not sufficiently alive to the danger which I have suggested, which is, perhaps, one of the greatest that faces this country at the present time.
I believe that public opinion here would not support a policy of what is called "automatic commitments," an obligation to take part in every quarrel everywhere at every time, and that the Government are wise to refuse to adopt any such policy. We would not dream of entering into such a contest as that which has, most unhappily, been waged for a long time between Bolivia and Paraguay, and if any quarrel broke out in the East of Europe or in the North-East of Europe we should use our utmost efforts, as members of the League of Nations, to stop it; but, if the League of Nations did not succeed in stopping it, I do not think this country would be willing to send fleets and air forces and troops in order to intervene in local quarrels of that character. It would seek rather to isolate them should they occur, or secure an ending through the League of Nations.
If we did go more actively into such guarantees as are now suggested, the result would only be to make quarrelling nations more intransigent. Many would feel that they had the British guarantee for the status quo, and that anyone who sought an alteration would have to face Britain as well, and, instead of the ultimate result being a greater measure of pacification and a readiness on all sides to conciliate here and to conciliate there, and to settle quarrels one by one, each country would be more under the influence of the intransigent elements in its population and Parliament and would be less ready to adopt those measures which might effect peaceful solutions of the troubles.
Already we have what may prove an onerous commitment in the Locarno Treaty, and I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he can without disadvantage to the general interest give a reply to one question which greatly troubles some of us. We are engaged under Locarno to intervene at once if there is anything which can be described as aggression as between certain countries of Western Europe. We know that 587 Herr Hitler—he makes no concealment of it—is animated by feelings of strong animosity against Russia. He is apparently almost obsessed with the belief that a Russian Communist aggression is the one great danger against which Europe ought to be on its guard, just as Kaiser Wilhelm II seemed to be obsessed with the hallucination that Europe was in danger from the "Yellow Peril," and that civilisation was likely to be overwhelmed by hordes of tens of millions of Chinese. There is, therefore, a feeling of strain in Eastern Europe between Germany and Russia. France has now entered into a pact of mutual assistance with Russia which, it is understood, is being signed to-day. Suppose some untoward incident in Eastern Europe were to bring Russia and Germany into conflict, and therefore make operative the Clauses of any pact which France may have entered into, so extending the war to Western Europe. Should we be—I use the word "automatically" deliberately—automatically obliged to intervene in such a case in Western Europe? The Prime Minister indicates dissent, and I assume that we should not. I hope for the satisfaction of certain sections of public opinion in this country that when he speaks the Foreign Secretary will, if he thinks there is no disadvantage in doing so, give a satisfactory reply to that question.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir John Simon)
I will do so.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
The nation would not endorse any binding obligation to take part in any war in circumstances not specified, but would insist on reserving its right to act in any circumstances as the conditions required. Unquestionably it would be guided in such eventualities by the state of public opinion, by the merits of the dispute, and by the prior actions of the parties to that dispute. Here in the House of Commons to-day there should be some clear word spoken from all who claim to speak on behalf of any section, large or small, of the public with respect to the recent actions of Germany. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party has just done so, and he has said that the actions of Germany have deprived her of a great deal of the sympathy that was felt among the ranks of his supporters on account 588 of her grievances. I believe the same is true of those in the country who belong to the Liberal party. We do not make it our immediate and direct concern what opinions may be held in any other country. It is not our duty to attack opinions that may be held elsewhere, however much we may individually disapprove of them—whether they are Tsarist opinions, Bolshevist, Fascist or Hitlerite. These matters are their business. But when opinions become not merely a matter of local but of general importance, then other countries must regard them as in some measure their concern. If they give rise to a spirit of militarism and to a very callous attitude to questions of international importance then this is not only their business but the business of everyone.
Europe undoubtedly is, unhappily, at the present time in a state of apprehension to a degree which she was not before, owing to the German revolution and to the events that have taken place in Germany since then. The consequence is seen in fresh movement of opinion in many countries. In the first place, Herr Hitler has succeeded in bringing France and Italy together to a degree which did not prevail before, and in face of what may be a common peril they have disposed of their old sources of friction and are now working in the most cordial harmony. He has brought France and Russia together, and that is a direct outcome of the revolution in Germany. Now it is clear that he is also consolidating British opinion of all sections on account of events in Germany and the unilateral rearmament of Germany to a degree that could not have been foreseen. British opinion was, I believe, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, to a large degree sympathetic to the German case. We understood that case. We thought it was wrong that Germany should be called upon to continue to endure a one-sided disarmament, which we had repudiated for ourselves, and which France and Italy and the other countries had repudiated for themselves.
We agreed that a great and proud nation like the Germans were entitled to a full equality of status. We understood the feeling of resentment in Germany to anything in the nature of encirclement—f claustrophobia which was easy to comprehend—and those who are most opposed to many of the 589 features of Hitlerism were those who were most outspoken in support of international justice for Germany. In this House the spokesmen of the Labour party and the Liberal party on many occasions apparently showed a more pro-German attitude so far as international rights were concerned than was to be found in any other section. This could not be understood on the Continent, and I have heard echoes of our Debate inquiring how it was that here it appeared that the Liberal and the Labour parties were more pro-German than the Conservative party. Of course, it was not, pro-Germanism. It was that we were counting on the collective system of control that we thought had worked to remove grievances and injustices, in order to make that system complete, and that was why we expressed those views.
But now there has been a remarkable change among the rank and file of both parties, and the declaration of conscription in Germany, the creation of a great air force, and now the building of a nnmber of submarines, foreshadowing a considerable naval development, have all appreciably and visibly modified the views that were held. We are, as I have said, and it is true of almost all sections of the House, devotedly attached to the collective system. We regard the establishment of the League of Nations as the mightiest effort ever made in the history of mankind to end the international anarchy which through the centuries of human progress has led to disaster after disaster in the fortunes of men. All this opinion is deeply offended by the withdrawal of Germany from that system. We cannot allow the exercise of the liberum veto, by which any one individual could stop the whole proceedings, and so we cannot allow any one Power to put an end to the activities of the League of Nations, or even to hamper them further than can be avoided. Unquestionably the withdrawal of Germany has struck a great blow at that collective system, and that is why its most earnest defenders in this country are those who resent most the present courses of German policy.
There is one important English newspaper which stands clear to the left of our politics, the "New Statesman," and I venture to quote a few sentences from 590 a recent leading article in that paper. It says:We still hope that Hitler will think again before he forces on an encirclement of Germany. But if he remains intransigant, what are the rest of us to do? The principle of collective security must not be abandoned, but strengthened. That, we are sure, is what public opinion in this country demands.We find so great and constant a friend of peace and of the League of Nations as Lord Cecil clearly indicating in the other House that the course recently taken by Germany must consolidate opinion of all sections in this country into an attitude of disapproval. She is now engaged in increasing armaments to a scale which will lead, not to equality, but to predominance. In the Navy, which is a matter about which this country is peculiarly sensitive, she has embarked upon the construction of submarines, at the very moment when discussions were to take place to arrive at a naval agreement. In the air she has built up with extreme haste an enormous air force, a matter about which this country in these days must be concerned as greatly as on the question of sea power. If we find that there is expenditure forced upon this country as a consequence of these developments in Germany, naturally public opinion which shares the view expressed by the Prime Minister to-day, that no expenditure can be more wasteful than that which is devoted to a competition of armaments, will feel resentful that further burdens are to be placed on our taxpayers, not by our own will but as a direct consequence of a policy adopted there.
It is announced also to-day that the Home Office has established a new department for the guidance of the population in general in measures to be taken in case of an air attack. That, again, will be a great shock to public opinion when all these specific measures are explained to the population throughout our great cities. Here, again, they will note that this is due to no other cause than to the fact that there may some day be an air raid from that same quarter, so that Germany should be given to understand from all quarters of this House to-day that if she pursues this present course and comes to no agreement for the limitation of armaments, she will be compelling all sections of this country, including the most peace-loving, into a 591 unanimity of resentment and of disapproval.
When the White Paper on armaments was published some time ago it was criticised in this House because it was regarded, if I may use the term as inept and inexpedient at the time and because it apparently abandoned all hope of securing a general agreement for the limitation of arms. At the same time some of us who criticised it in this House declared that if a definite case were made out for an increase of arms for the sake of the safety of the nation, we certainly should not take responsibility, as Members of Parliament, of opposing it. We voted against the Motion that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair on the Army and Navy and Air Estimates in order to register in Parliamentary form our protest against the situation that had arisen, and against what we regarded, rightly or wrongly, as the inadequate steps taken by the Government at the Disarmament Conference to secure any effective result there. But we did not vote against the actual increases proposed, and I observe that the labour party also did not vote against the increases proposed in the Air Force, and I should have awaited with interest a statement from the leader of the Opposition to-day as to his view with regard to the further increase which has been indicated by the Prime Minister this afternoon.
For ourselves, we must necessarily await the statement which will be made when the matter comes definitely and specifically before the House, but I may say in advance that if a case is made out, and it is clear that this country is placed in a position of inferiority in the air, we should certainly not take the responsibility of leaving this country in that state, but support such measures as would be, if they were in fact imperatively required. At the same time I believe that in every section of the House there will be a feeling that if it is a necessity it is a profoundly regrettable necessity, and we must all feel that if we must embark upon this competitive race of arms no one can see the end. Russia declares she must have a large air force, because she has to consider not only Germany on her West but Japan on her East. Germany declares she must have an air force comparable to that of Russia, and now we 592 declare we must have an air force comparable to that Germany.
I would ask the Foreign Secretary when he replies whether there is any answer that can be given to the question: "Where can we see an end?" Can we ever see an end to this competition? Is it the case that our own Air Force is not to be determined either by our own desires or even by the strength of the German air force, but rather by that which Germany maintains because of Russia, and Russia maintains because of Japan and Germany? These are very grave considerations, because this year, although we may be asked for only two or three millions for the Air Force, year after year this competition may go on and in five or six years' time we may find that we have to spend £50,00,000 or £100,000,000 on armaments in this manner. It is a game of beggar my-neighbour once more, and beggar my-neighbour is also a game of beggar myself.
I am sure the Prime Minister must be deeply disappointed at the course of events in his Premiership, and that, with his past record and his eager desire for international disarmament and good will, it must be to him almost a tragedy that he should be Prime Minister of a Government which is obliged to present to Parliament such proposals as these. I welcomed one thing he said to-day which was a new suggestion, namely, that an air pact as previously proposed should be proceeded with but it should be coupled with a pact for the limitation of air armaments. That is a very important suggestion—a most important suggestion—of which I think the Committee should take note. I earnestly hope that it will be found possible to proceed with it, because nothing would be more welcome to the country than that there should be an air pact which would be of assistance against aggression coupled with specific limitation of the strength of air fleets such as has already been proposed at Geneva.
The conclusion which one reaches on the whole matter is that that most important suggestion, namely, of limitation coupled with a system of inspection, is absolutely vital. We cannot tolerate a system in which, year after year, each country is arming to the utmost of its capacity, all of them proclaiming that 593 they do so with the sole purpose of defending peace; secondly, and I think this other conclusion should be impressed upon the Government by all of us, we cannot assent to any system which would maintain armaments and refuse revision merely because it is put forward in the name of the sanctity of treaties and collective control. We believe in them, but it must be treaties open to revision when the case requires, and it must be a control which is a collective control which is genuinely and completely collective. Thirdly, the policy of regional pacts is one to which we would all give our adherence. When it is said that Britain has done little in that direction, let us remember that we have our commitments under Locarno. So far as Western Europe is concerned, we have done our full part, and it is for others to do their part, so far as Central and Eastern Europe are concerned. Lastly, wise foreign policy Must do as the Government have been doing, endeavour to deal with each of these grave problems as it arises, one by one, calmly and patiently, through the League, whenever necessary, as we did with our recent comparatively small disputes with Persia and Iraq, as was done in the case of Yugoslavia and Hungary, as was done in the case of the Saar, and as we hope may now be done in the case of Memel. On those lines and only on those lines shall we be able in some degree to relieve the apprehensions which are so widespread, and to restore the world to the tranquillity which it so earnestly needs.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. SANDYS
This is the first time I have had the privilege of speaking in this House, and I venture to hope that I shall be accorded that measure of indulgence which is usually given on such occasions. Having until recently been a member of the Foreign Office, having served at His Majesty's Embassy in Berlin and attended most of the important international conferences of recent years, I would like to say a few words, at this critical moment in our international affairs.
Germany is rearming. She has introduced conscription. She is building up one of the largest and best equipped armies in Europe. Germany has torn up Part V of the Treaty of Versailles and she has thus flagrantly violated her pledged word. The whole of the inter 594 national life and the organised relations between civilised States rests upon the principle of the sanctity of treaties, and therefore we cannot too strongly condemn Germany's one-sided action in repudiating important treaty obligations. Nevertheless, we should do well to bear in mind that there is another side to the question of German rearmament. The Germans have never pretended to recognise the Treaty of Versailles as an international argeement in the ordinary sense of the word. They have never been able to forget that the peace settlement was thrust upon them with little or no discussion, at the point of the bayonet and under the threat of invasion. They regard the Peace Treaties as having been imposed by force, as having been maintained by force, and as resting upon force alone. Therefore, Germany does not see anything dishonourable in having now, by her own action, liberated herself from the Treaty's humiliating terms. However, there is another consideration which weighs even more strongly with Germany, and that is the failure on the part of the ex-Allies to implement their obligations to disarm which are implied in the Preamble to Part V of the Versailles Treaty. May I remind the Committee that that well-known Preamble reads as follows:In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations, Germany undertakes strictly to observe the military, naval and air clauses which follow.Fifteen years have now gone by, and not only have the Allies found it impossible themselves to limit their armaments, but they have been obliged to recognise that the Disarmament Conference has broken down. What is more, they have embarked upon extensive programmes of rearmament. From the moment that the Allies openly abandoned their efforts to carry out their side of the bargain, Germany felt herself not only morally but legally entitled to regard Part V of the Treaty as having virtually lapsed.
It is not our business to be pro-German or pro-French; it is our business to be pro-British. I do not propose to discuss the soundness or the merits of the German action, but I emphasise that if we are to form a correct estimate of the international situation we must, whether we agree with it or not, at any rate understand what the German point of view is. If we appreciate the special circum- 595 stances in which Germany has violated her treaty obligations, we shall realise that it does not by any means follow that Germany cannot be relied upon to respect other treaty obligations which have been freely entered into and duly observed on both sides. In particular, I wish to emphasise my firm conviction, based upon exhaustive inquiries in the highest quarters in Berlin only a fortnight ago, that Germany intends without reservation scrupulously to observe the terms of the Treaty of Locarno. Surely, this marked differentiation in German eyes between Versailles and Locarno should make clear the wisdom and the urgency of replacing an imposed peace by a freely agreed settlement.
Our policy towards Germany ever since the War has been strangely inconsistent and sadly short-sighted. France and Germany have each had a clear policy all the way through; we, on the other hand, so long as Germany was weak, endeavoured to make her strong. As soon as she became strong, we grew frightened of what we had done and rushed into France's outstretched arms, in the hopes of making Germany weak again. But let us not dwell upon the mistakes of the past. The future peace of Europe will probably be decided in the course of the next few months, and the result will largely depend upon the attitude of Great Britain.
Two alternative courses are open to us. On the one hand, we can form a system of alliances between those Powers which are satisfied with the settlement of Versailles, in order to prevent those Powers which are not satisfied with that settlement from disturbing it. The alternative course is for us to recognise that in certain important respects the Peace Treaties require revision, and to endeavour to negotiate a freely agreed settlement of the issues in question. The first alternative involves the formation of an anti-German bloc, pledged to support the status quo. Its object would be to secure the encirclement of Germany and to keep her permanently in a state of comparative weakness and isolation. Apart from any doubts as to its practicability, such a policy would lack all finality and could, at the most, hope to maintain an unhealthy and precarious state of armed peace. The second alternative, the free negotiation of an 596 agreed settlement on the outstanding points of difference is surely the course which must commend itself to us. It involves the recognition that the postwar period is ended and that we are now entering upon a new period of normal peaceful relations, between countries enjoying equal rights and equal responsibilities. It would naturally follow that we would have to recognise to Germany, as also to the other ex-enemy States, complete rights of sovereignty such as we enjoy ourselves, including also the freedom to rearm.
Quite apart from the fact that Germany has already taken the law into her own hands, I do not consider that the repeal of the disarmament provisions of the various Peace Treaties would, in actual fact, lead to an increase in arms. On the contrary, I believe that the announcement of the German rearmament programme brings new hope of a general limitation of arms by all countries. So long as Germany was disarmed, the other Continental Powers had little inducement to disarm in their turn. In fact, it was the obstructive attitude of certain countries which led to the breakdown of the Disarmament Conference. But now the situation is entirely changed. Germany's neighbours no longer have merely to decide whether they intend to maintain their superiority over Germany or whether they feel inclined voluntarily to disarm down to her level. Now they are faced with a graver alternative. They have to decide whether they mean to conclude an agreement with Germany for the limitation of armaments on a basis of equality, or whether they are prepared to enter into a ruinous arms race, with the risk that in a few years' time they may find themselves in a state of strength inferior, perhaps, to that of Germany. These changed circumstances would bring such a new impetus to the negotiations that I firmly believe that, if seized quickly, an unequalled opportunity presents itself now to reach an equitable and a lasting agreement for an all-round limitation of armaments in Europe.
In the course of the Berlin conversations, the German Chancellor informed our Ministers that Germany would not return to Geneva unless all imputations as to her unworthiness to administer Colonial mandates were removed. As long as this is purely a matter of honour, 597 surely a concession of this kind would be in accordance with that spirit of conciliation which we are trying to promote. At the same time, Germany should be clearly asked, once her honour is satisfied, to make a categorical declaration freely renouncing all actual territorial claims and ambitions in the Colonial field. This is the one and only question which is of direct and vital interest to Great Britain and to the British Empire. If Germany once again becomes a Colonial Power, not only will her interests clash with ours in that field, but she will also inevitably be drawn into rivalry with us as a naval Power. Surely, then, it is the first elementary duty of British statesmanship to see to it that the great energies, ambitions and enthusiasms of the new Germany are directed into channels where they will not clash with the essential interests of Great Britain. Therefore, I cannot too strongly urge His Majesty's Government, in directing our foreign policy, to lend a sympathetic ear to Germany's legitimate claims and aspirations in other fields, provided that they can obtain real satisfaction on what to us is the vital issue, namely, the Colonial and naval question.
The German problem, though by far the most important one, cannot be divorced from the problem of Austria, which is threatening to disturb the peace of Europe. A conference of the Danubian Powers and other interested countries is shortly to meet with the object of devising fresh guarantees for Austria's political independence. But surely all these efforts overlook the fundamental fact that Austria's problem is not a political but an economic one? Ever since the War, Austria has been suffering from being cut off by new tariff barriers from her natural markets in the other parts of the dismembered Austro-Hungarian Empire. It should, therefore, surely be the primary duty of the conference to secure the setting up of a special régime of preferential tariffs between the Succession States. This is the only practical means whereby the possibility of healthy economic life can be restored to Austria. Once Austria's economic troubles are remedied, her political independence will look after itself.
Should the conference fail to reach agreement on these lines, it is the duty of the Powers to remember that the 598 present instability in Austria constitutes a potential danger to the peace of Europe. Indefinitely to bolster up the present artificial state of affairs is in the interests neither of Austria nor of Europe. Therefore, should it become clear that there is no reasonable prospect of Austria being afforded an outlet for her economic activity eastwards along the Danube basin, then it would be most unwise forcibly to prevent her from turning northwards towards Germany. The setting up of a Danubian Economic Federation, or possibly a union with Hungary under a restored Hapsburg monarchy, would be the most satisfactory solution to the problem; but, failing this, even a union with Germany would undoubtedly be preferable to the indefinite prolongation of the present dangerous state of uncertainty. In conclusion, let me say that I have endeavoured briefly to outline my views on the present situation. I do not claim that these suggestions are either original or exhaustive, but I do believe, after having studied the situation on the spot in the countries concerned, that these are the lines upon which we can best hope to reach an equitable and a lasting solution of the present international difficulties.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I make my compliments to the hon. Gentleman who has just delivered his maiden speech to the House. He has certainly shown us that he has a wide knowledge of foreign affairs, that he takes a great interest in them, and that he possesses a gift of lucid exposition of the views of the particular school of thought which he has represented to us this afternoon. I cannot pay the same tribute to his matter, reasonably expressed though it was. I do not think that any reproach can be made against this country for the attitude it has pursued, since the peace was signed, towards Germany.
§ Mr. SANDYS
If I may interrupt my right hon. Friend for a moment, I made no suggestion of any reproach against this country; it was against the Continental Powers and the other countries.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. The hon. Gentleman said, what an inconsistent course we had taken—that while Germany was weak we tried to make her strong, and, now that she was getting strong, we were alarmed. That certainly 599 is a reproach against the policy of this country. As a matter of fact, it has been consistent from the time when the peace was signed—an earnest endeavour to make it easy for Germany to resume her full place in the comity of nations. We have been forward, if not foremost, in lending large sums of money to Germany, the repayment of which is extremely doubtful; and was it not upon our initiative that all the economic clauses of the Treaty Which burdened Germany were swept away? I could give a catalogue of a dozen important steps taken, even during the tenure of the present Government, all of a character designed to keep in the most friendly relations with Germany, and designed to help her to reach a position where she will feel at peace with her own dignity without being a danger to other nations.
Neither do I agree with the hon. Gentleman in the doctrine that the Allies have broken the Treaty of Versailles. I do not accept that view. I am not going to argue the question this afternoon, but two years ago a very powerful despatch was written by the present Foreign Secretary upon that subject, with the arguments of which, I think, the hon. Gentleman might refresh his mind. But I should be quite prepared to argue it on a suitable occasion, and to show that there was no breach of the Treaty in what has taken place in France, while certainly, as regards what has taken place in this country, we have seen disarmament carried to extremes which, as I have previously endeavoured to show, have placed us in a position which demands the constant attention of the House. The first step which, as it seems to me, we should take upon this supreme combined issue of foreign affairs and national defence—the first step necessary to the restoration of our affairs—is a proper assignment of responsibility. I am very glad indeed to see the Prime Minister restored in health and able to take a leading part in this Debate. Constitutional usage assigns to the first Minister of the Crown the main direct responsibility for the safety of the country. On the other band, under the present political arrangements, the Lord President of the Council has been accustomed to make the important declarations upon defence matters; and the fact that he is the Leader of the Conservative party, 600 commanding overwhelming majorities in both branches of the Legislature, has invested his words with special responsibility.
There is a danger at the present time, and there has been, I think, for some time, that the responsibility may be confused, that it may fall between two personalities—between the Prime Minister, who is the titular head of the Government, and the Minister who is unquestionably the most powerful politician in the country. I believe that many of the evils of the present situation arise from the fact that one Minister holds the chief office and another holds the chief power. We suffer from the lack of a single commanding mind ranging over the whole field of our affairs; we suffer from the disadvantage of not having a single prime figure who is not merely responsible, but, if I may use a more precise word, accountable, to the nation. However, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been for six years continuously in his present office. He has during that period played a great and a leading part in guiding our foreign policy; and during all that period he has been the Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence. He will not, I am sure, dissociate himself in any way from the statements which have been made on behalf of the Government by the Lord President, and he will not divest himself in any way of the responsibility traditionally associated with his office. It is, therefore, to him that I shall principally address myself in any remarks which I shall venture to make this afternoon.
We have before us in the sphere of foreign policy three new and separate documents of much importance. We have the League of Nations' resolution; we have the declarations of the Stresa Conference; and we have the Prime Minister's article in his own organ, the "News-Letter." I find myself—I think in common with the great majority of the House, not in one party but in all parties—in very general agreement with the Prime Minister and His Majesty's Government upon the measures taken by the Government in these three documents. The sentiments expressed in the "News-Letter" about the dangers of German re-armament are akin to those which I myself have ventured, the Committee may remember, to express several times in the last two or three years, beginning in the 601 autumn of 1932. The Stresa declaration, including the statement that the three Powers, Great Britain, Italy and France, will keep in touch with one another, and are pledged to study the maintenance of peace in common—I am not quoting the actual words—seems to be no more than national safety or national survival requires. There remains the Resolution of the Council of the League of Nations complaining of the growth of German armaments and of the unilateral violation of treaties. I have seen a great deal of criticism in quarters where one would least expect it of France for appealing to the League of Nations against Germany, and of the League of Nations for giving a faithful verdict upon the questions submitted for their judgment.
When I hear extreme pacifists denouncing this act of the League of Nations, I am left wondering what foundation these gentlemen offer to countries to abandon individual national armaments. We are reminded how in a state of savagery every man is armed and is a law unto himself, but that civilisation means that courts are established, that men lay aside their arms and carry their causes to the tribunal. This presupposes a tribunal to which men, when they are in doubt or anxiety, may freely have recourse. It presupposes a tribunal which can deal with great matters as well as small, and it presupposes a tribunal which is not incapable of giving a verdict. Personally, I admire greatly the self-restraint and courage with which France addressed herself to the League of Nations. It was far better surely than that she should have dealt in ultimatums or should have seized territories as hostages, such as would have been the practice in former generations. She appealed to the tribunal which has been set up, and I also admire the spirit of that tribunal and of these different countries, some great and some small, drawn from different parts of the world, who showed themselves according to their lights prepared to give justice though the Heavens fall. If we are to be told that it is very wrong for France to go to the League of Nations, and how foolish and tactless of them to give their opinion, if that view is to be held by those who have hitherto told us to look to this international procedure, then you have absolutely stultified all your arguments, for never again, if it is the case, 602 will nations be prepared to abandon the security which resides in strong national armaments. All that prospect, and the only prospect which opens itself before our eyes, of establishing a reign of law and building up a great international structure to which all nations will accede—that prospect and hope will dwindle and die away. Therefore, I am in general agreement with His Majesty's Government upon all these three steps which have been taken by them in the last few months in company with other nations.
If I criticise these measures, it is not at all because of their character but because of their tardiness. Why was all this not done two or three years ago? If the Prime Minister two years ago had thought what he now thinks in his "News-Letter" about the German danger, he need perhaps never have published his thoughts to the world. Instead of his lectures to a nation now already so heavily armed, he could have imparted them as wise guidance to the Cabinet. If only the French Government two and a half years ago, when the German process of re-armament began, had laid their much talked of dossier before the League of Nations and demanded justice or protection from the concert of Europe, if only Great Britain, France and Italy had pledged themselves two or three years ago to work in association for maintaining peace and collective security, how different might have been our position. Indeed, it is possible that the dangers into which we are steadily penetrating would never have arisen. But the world, and the Parliaments and public opinion would have none of that in those days two or three years ago. When the situation was managable it was neglected, and now that it is thorughly out of hand, we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline books. It falls into that immense dismal category of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.
603 All this leads me to the gravest matter of all, and the only other matter with which I propose to deal, though I must ask for our indulgence from the Committee, namely, the state of our national defences and their reactions upon foreign policy. Things have got much worse, but they have also got much clearer. It used to be said that armaments depend on policy. It is not always true, but I think that at this juncture it is true to say that policy depends, to a large extent, upon armaments. It is true to say that we have reached a position where the choice of policy is dictated by considerations of defence. During the last three years, not only under the government of Herr Hitler but before him, under the government of Chancellor BrÜning, Germany worked unceasingly upon a vast design of rearmament on a scale which would give that mighty, gifted, scientific, valiant race of 60,000,000 or 70,000,000 such a predominance in Europe as would enable it, if it chose—and why should it not choose?—to reverse the results of the Great War. The method should be noted by the Committee. The method has been to acquire mastery in the air, and, under the protection of that mastery in the air, to develop—and it is fortunately a much longer process—the land and sea forces which, when completed would dominate over all Europe. This design is being completed as fast as possible, and the first part of it—German ascendancy in the air—is already a fact. The military part is far advanced, and the naval part is now coming into view.
We are to have a Debate, as we have been promised, in 10 days or so upon the Defence Services and I shall, therefore, enter into no technical details this afternoon, but confine myself solely to the broad, outstanding realities which dictate the course of our foreign policy. For the last two years some of us have been endeavouring to convince His Majesty's Government of the scale and pace at which German aviation was proceeding. We debated it in March, 1933, on the Air Estimates of 1934, in August, 1934, in November, 1934, and quite recently, in March, 1935. On all these occasions the most serious warnings were given by Private Members who spoke on this subject, of whom I was one. The alarm bells were set ringing, and even jangling, in 604 good time if only they had been listened to. This afternoon I am not concerned with what Private Members said in giving their warning, but I am bound to address myself to the main statements and promises which were elicited on these occasions from His Majesty's Government. In. March, 1934, we had the first declaration of the Lord President:Any Government of this country—a National Government more than any, and this Government—will see to it that in air strength and air power this country shall no longer be in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2078, Vol. 286.]That declaration was considered of enormous importance. That was in March, but nothing happened until August, when, under the pressure not indeed of those hon. Gentlemen in this House who were raising this matter, for their pressure could easily have been disdained, but under pressure of events, the Government produced a five-years' programme for increasing the home defence portion of the Royal Air Force to 75 squadrons, comprising 880 machines, by 1939. Anyone could see that that was utterly inadequate, and that it bore no relation whatever to the pace at which German aviation was developing and to the military character which it was assuming. At that time, nine months ago, I urged that without a day's delay measures should be taken, first, to double, and then to re-double the Royal Air Force. My right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) made a speech to-day very different in its note. I am most grateful to him for the change of note from that in the speeches which he delivered a few months ago on the subject, and he indicated that the future measures which may be proposed by the Government would be received in a spirit of most earnest consideration by the party of which he is the spokesman. But when he spoke in August last he spoke very harshly of the proposal that I made and, as the Committee will remember, described me as a "Malay run amok." Anyone can see now, and most of all the Ministers responsible, that the kind of policy of doubling and re-doubling the Air Force which I then proposed was the least which should have been set on foot. If nine months ago these measures had been begun you would to-day have been be- 605 ginning to reap the harvest and beginning to obtain results, and very different would have been the position. In November some of us moved an Amendment to the Address, and I took the responsibility then of making some definite statements, or rather understatements, about the German air menace. In order that the Government should have an opportunity of consulting their expert adviser, I supplied the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President with a précis in advance, and upon this he made a series of strong declarations, the last of which has been endorsed and confirmed by the Prime Minister to-day. I must read these to the House:It is not the case that Germany is rapidly approaching equality with us. … Her real strength is not 50 per cent. of our strength in Europe to-day.As for the position this time next year,"—That is, November of this year—…. so far from the German military air force being at least as strong as and probably stronger than our own, we estimate that we shall still have in Europe alone a margin of nearly 50 per cent.It is quite true that my right hon. Friend in that second statement said:provided that there is no acceleration in Germany.But it is very difficult to know what is acceleration when the original speed at which the German air force has been constructed is not known nor when the final limit at which they are aiming is not known. Then came this declaration, the most important that we have had—the Prime Minister has repeated it to-day—His Majesty's Government are determined in no conditions to accept any position of inferiority with regard to what air force may be raised in Germany in the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1934; cols.882–83, Vol. 295.]Here we have a assertion that the Government, with all its sources of information, was convinced that they had, and would continue to have for many months, a large air superiority over Germany, and that in no case would they fail to maintain what has been called air parity with Germany. These assurances were accepted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) spoke in that debate. I remember his speech well. He declared himself completely reassured. He declared himself in agreement with the principle 606 that we should maintain our parity, and said that he was completely reassured by the fact that we still had this air superiority, and that the Government intended to maintain it unbroken in the future. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who is not here this afternoon, also accepted it on behalf of his party, and he too rapidly decided in his own mind that the Government statement was right and that mine was wrong.
That was in November. Only six weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, on whom I would not lay any responsibilities beyond those which are proper to his position as an Under-Secretary in a Department, was put up to say that at that date, in March, 1935—that is to say, last March—we had a substantial superiority over Germany, and that in November of this year we should still have superiority. Only six weeks have passed since then, and surely we are entitled to ask what has happened to bring about the extraordinary change in the whole colour and configuration of the landscape? We are told that Herr Hitler made a statement to the Foreign Secretary at Berlin in the conversations, which it now seems were most fortunately undertaken, otherwise I suppose we should never have known. We have not always been accustomed to depend for our information upon statements, however frank and friendly, that may be made by Rulers of other States. My point is that all these statements that were made by the Lord President of the Council, and later, on behalf of the Government and under instructions from the Government, by the Under-Secretary for Air, are admitted to be untrue. I do not say that they were made in bad faith, but they were utterly wrong. They were the reverse of the truth, and more than the reverse of the truth. [Laughter.] Certainly. If the Government statement was that we should be 50 per cent. stronger than Germany at a certain date and we find that they are 50 per cent. stronger than we are, it would be the reverse of the truth, and far worse than that. Is there a Member of the Government who will get up now and say that in November next we shall still have a 50 per cent. superiority over Germany? Is there a Member of the Government who will still 607 assert that in March last, six weeks ago, we had a substantial superiority, or that we have a superiority to-day? No, Sir. The whole of these assertions, made in the most sweeping manner and on the highest authority, are now admitted to be entirely wrong. We have had a confession from the Prime Minister to-day that the then estimates have been found to be below what is now understood to be the truth.
Look at the Press which supports the Government, great newspapers like the "Daily Telegraph" and the "Times," which are now making statements much more definite than I ventured to commit myself to six months ago. Let anyone who chooses read the statement in the "Times" to-day—a paper devoted to the cause of peace and particularly friendly to Germany, a strong supporter of the Government. It says:German strength in first-line aircraft is assumed at present to be not less than 1,020, which is double the first-line strength of the Royal Air Force' including 171 aeroplanes of the Fleet Air Arm and 264 in units overseas. The strength of the British home defence force is 500 aeroplanes.That is a very formidable assertion, and, as far as I know, it is quite correct. There is no doubt that to-day—I do not think it will be challenged at all from the Treasury Bench—the strength and scale of the German Air Force, whether judged by military machines or by first-line strength, as the saying goes, is at present already substantially superior in numbers to ours.
There is a second unpleasant chapter in this subject upon which I will merely, as it were, indicate the title and the contents. The German military machines have all been produced within the last 2½ years. Therefore they are of the latest design. An hon. Gentleman has just placed in my hands a telegram which has arrived and is published in one of the evening newspapers, in which General Goering says:We have no old machines. Our planes are the most up-to-date in existence.That statement has been newly printed in the evening Press. Many of our designs, on the other hand, are seven or eight years old. The average of our machines—these facts are perfectly well known; there is nothing in them that is not known, or I would not say it—is 608 certainly double in age to the designs which have been created in Germany. We are to have a debate on defence questions, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain H. Balfour), who takes a great interest in this matter, and who spoke in the last Debate with much authority, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), who has made a study of this question, will illustrate the point, because it is one of very great gravity and interest. But I do not propose to go into it, as it is too technical for our Debate to-day. I do, however, say this to the Committee, and there is no dispute about it, it cannot be disputed, that both in numbers and in quality Germany has already obtained a marked superiority over our home defence Air Force.
But it is the third chapter of this story which is the most grievous. The rate and volume which the output of German military aeroplanes has attained is many times superior to our own. The Under-Secretary told us six weeks ago that the additions that would be made to our first line air strength, which was then thought sufficient, would be 151. There is reason to believe, as I said on that occasion, that the comparable German output of military machines is between, at least, 100 and 150 per month. Many people would put it much higher. The German air industry is therefore turning out military machines at perhaps ten times the rate at which ours are turned out, and those machines are being formed into squadrons for which long-trained, ardent personnel are already assembled, and for which an ample number of aerodromes are already prepared. Therefore, at the end of this year, when we were to have had a 50 per cent. superiority over Germany, they will be, at least, between three and four times as strong as we are.
Behind all this rapid peace time production lies the industry of Germany, fully organised for war manufacture and steadily tending in its character into the condition of war manufacture. This can be drawn upon at any time gradually and to any extent which they may choose. Where, then, is this pledge of air parity and that we would not accept any inferiority to whatever the German Air Force might be? The Prime Minister said 609 to-day that the Lord President's declaration stands. It stands only as a declaration. The facts do not support that assertion. It is absolutely certain that we have lost air parity already both in the number of machines and in their quality. It is certain that at the end of this year we shall be far worse off relatively than we are now. Our home defence force will be for a long period ahead a rapidly diminishing fraction of the German air force. It may reasonably be urged that the units of the German Air Force, having been prepared in conditions of secrecy, have not at the present time acquired the efficiency of our squadrons in air tactics and in formation flying. It is very dangerous to underrate German efficiency in any military matters. All my experience has taught me to think that any such supposition would be most imprudent. Anyhow, now that the Germans are openly marshalling and exercising their squadrons and forming them with great rapidity, we may take it that six months of this summer and autumn will amply give them the combined training which they require, having regard to the long, careful individual preparations which have been made, therefore any superiority which we may at this moment possess in personnel and in formation flying and in air manoeuvring is a wasting asset, and will be gone by the end of the autumn, having regard to the enormously increased German air strength and the superiority of their machines.
The Prime Minister in his article in the "News-Letter" used the word "ambush." The word must have sprung from the anxieties of his heart, for it is an ambush into which, in spite of every warning, we have fallen. I have stated the position in general terms and I have tried to state it not only moderately but quite frigidly. Here I pause to ask the Committee to consider what these facts mean and what their consequence impose. I confess that words fail me. In the year 1708 Mr. Secretary St. John, by a calculated Ministerial indiscretion, revealed to the House the fact that the battle of Almanza had been lost in the previous summer because only 8,000 English troops were actually in Spain out of the 29,000 that had been voted by the House of Commons for this service. When he made that revelation it is recorded that the House sat in silence for half an hour, no Member 610 caring to speak or wishing to make a comment upon so staggering an announcement, and yet how incomparably small that event was to what we have now to face. That was merely a frustration of policy. Nothing that could happen to Spain in that war could possibly have contained in it any form of dangers which were potentially mortal.
But what is our position to-day? For many months, perhaps for several years, most critical for the peace of Europe, we are inexorably condemned to be in a position of frightful weakness. If Germany were the only Power with which we were concerned, if we stood alone compared with Germany, and if there were no other great countries in Europe who share our anxieties and dangers and our point of view, and if air warfare were the only kind of warfare by which the destinies of nations was decided, we should then have to recognise that this country, which seemed so safe and strong a few years ago, which bore with unconquerable strength all the strains and shocks of the great War, which has guarded its homeland and its independence for so many centuries, would lie at the discretion of men now governing a foriegn country. There are, however, friendly nations with whom we may concert our measures of air defence, and there are other factors, military and naval, of which in combination we can dispose. Under the grim panoply which Germany has so rapidly assumed there may be all kinds of stresses and weaknesses, economic, political and social which are not apparent, but upon which we should not rest ourselves.
It seems undoubted that there is an effective policy open to us at the present time by which we may preserve both our safety and our freedom. Never must we despair, never must we give in, but we must face facts and draw true conclusions from them. The policy of detachment or isolation about which we have heard so much and which in many ways is so attractive, is no longer open. If we were to turn our backs upon Europe thereby alienating every friend, we should by disinteresting ourselves in their fate invite them to disinterest themselves in ours. Is it then expected that we can go off with a wallet full of German Colonies gathered in the last war and a world-wide collection of territories and 611 trade interests gathered in the past, when the greatness of our country was being built up, when all the time we should in this vital matter of air defence be condemned to protracted, indefinite and agonising inferiority? Such a plan has only to be stated to be rejected.
There is a wide measure of agreement in the House to-night, and our foreign policy has made it so. We are bound to act in concert with France and Italy and other Powers, great and small, who are anxious to preserve peace. I would not refuse the co-operation of any Government which plainly conformed to that test as long as they were willing to work under the authority and sanction of the League of Nations. Such a policy is not to close the door upon a revision of the Treaty, but it does procure a sense of responsibility and stability, an adequate gathering together of all reasonable Powers for self-defence, which must be assembled before any inquiry of that character can be entered upon. In this august association for collective security we must build up defence forces of all kinds and combine air action with those of friendly Powers, so that we may be allowed to live in quiet ourselves and retrieve the woeful miscalculations of which we are at present the dupes and of which, unless we are warned in time, we may some day be the victims.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is a fitting culmination of the debate which has so far proceeded, a debate which, I think, may convey a wrong impression to the people of Berlin and to the Government of Herr Hitler. The apologists for Germany are really few, and their number will decline. The supporters in this country of collective security are increasing, and will increase still further. Those are the two alternatives before us to-day. Either we must find excuses for the German Government and for ourselves a policy of disinterestedness in what they do, or we must invoke collective security to take the place of our own impotence in the matter of directing events in Europe. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) supports collective security, as, indeed, I think we all do. It was started by the Labour party and has now been adopted by the entire country. How can the 612 right hon. Gentleman or any hon. Member reconcile the idea of collective security with refusal to take responsibility for what happens in Europe? How can we go on supporting the League of Nations unless we are prepared to act as policemen for the League of Nations? That is the dilemma in which we are placed now.
Hitherto we have felt sufficiently strong to wash our hands of any idea of requiring the rest of the world to back us up in carrying out the British policy for peace. That time has gone. We are no longer strong enough to control the situation. We are no longer safe, and therefore there must be a reorientation of our view on the grave question of whether we are going in for collective security, involving the risks of war, or under no account take any action in any circumstances whatever. The issue was brought forward clearly by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen when he referred to the trouble on the eastern boundaries of Germany. Memel is obviously a source of trouble, as is also Lithuania. The conquest of Lithuania by Germany would not matter so very much to Europe or to the Lithuanians, but what would happen if Russia intervened, and then France would have to support Russia? How then can we keep out if France and Russia are beaten? To have to fight because Russia and Germany are squabbling over a territory like Lithuania is abhorrent to everyone, but, on the other side, standing alone also involves risks.
It is no use shutting our eyes to the dire alternatives before the country. The only danger, as I see it, is that the Government may continue to shut their eyes to the dilemma and continue to sit on the fence, not going definitely for collective security or for complete isolation. This is a question which does not divide us on party lines. It is a question of whether peace can best be secured by having an international force for collective security or by standing out and saying that we will not be involved in war to protect peace. A leading Conservative evening newspaper advocates isolation, the "Daily Herald" advocates the same policy and the "Times" also advocates that policy. It is a question which his divided not only this House but the whole country, and it is time we 613 faced the problem before us and made up our minds as to where we stand and made up the mind of the Government as well.
The situation is even more serious than that. I did not realise—I do not think anyone did—the present enormous superiority of the German air force and the rapidity with which it is growing. It is said that we should take £5,000,000 extra for the Air Force. It is not £5,000,000 that will be wanted to put us on a parity with Germany but something like £50,000,000 before we have got security for ourselves and have as big an air force as Germany. The speech of the right hon. Member for Epping will cause anxiety in the minds of the people of this country, but the right hon. Gentleman must realise that we have not the money to spend on building up such an air force as will give security against Germany. We cannot go on spending £100,000,000 a year on our Air Force, and at the same time go on with an antiquated Army and Navy which are of no use. That may be rather too strong; they are of some use, but they are of no use to protect this country against the immediate danger which threatens us at this moment.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
By all means let them go on building up a big navy. Let them waste their money in that way. It is obvious that we cannot add enormously to the expenditure on the Air Force without changing our minds about the role of the Army and the Navy. What is going to be the decisive factor in the next war? It may be a prophecy, but consider the development of the air arm during the last 15 years. The decisive battle will be between 5,000 or 10,000 fighting aeroplanes on each side, and once that battle is decided, once our air force or the German air force, is destroyed, how are the Army and Navy to function? The possibility of being safe on the sea by day will vanish not only for every warship but for all ships, and by day an army on the march will be an easy target—they will be seen. Directly the command of the air has vanished, your Army and Navy are useless. Therefore, if we have to spend sixpence or £300,000,000 it should be spent on that weapon which will preserve the 614 country and the usefulness of these other arms. The right hon. Gentleman urges that we should spend vast millions on the Air Force. I should be much happier and feel much safer if the First Lord of the Admiralty would make his officers learn to fly; if the Navy would get into the air—instead of being slugs crawling on the surface, become hawks ready to pounce. "Crawling" is the word, and there are hawks ready to pounce on the other side.
I would be much more comfortable if the Secretary of State for War realised that it was far more important for his officers to drive aeroplanes than to drive motor cars. What we shall require in war is not merely factories to produce machines, but the men capable of driving those machines. We hear now that in Germany they are turning out 600 aeroplanes a year, or 120 a month and 1,500 a year—we do not really know what the figure is. They are turning out not only aeroplanes but the pilots. What pilots are we turning out, fresh trained and able to fly modern machines? It is the men we want, and the Army and Navy will do more service if instead of merely absorbing £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 a year on obsolete weapons they converted themselves into the efficient arm to secure victory.
I do not pretend to be alarmist, but I happen to be one of the Members who fought in the last War, and I know what we are up against. If you fight Germany you are not fighting a weak nation but the strongest military nation in the world. I do not think there will be war this year or war next year, and if you have your collective security strong enough there will never be war. If there are weak forces opposed to Germany it may be that she will turn on all in turn. If the Germans are going to tear up the whole of the Treaty of Versailles, there will be some point of weakness at which she will strike first.
Therefore I welcome the statement of the right hon. Member for Epping that any form of collective security, if it is to be of any real service, must be combined with the power to revise the Treaty of Versailles. You would have breathing space and time not only to convert your Army and Navy, and to build up a decent Air Force and to train pilots, but time to revise the Treaty and do away with 615 any honest causes of war if such there be. But you may be certain that Germany to-day will certainly seek to go on just as far as she is allowed. The Germans are not yet prepared—they have not got the money, and no dictatorship is prepared to go into a war that may be lost. Whether the Germans lose or win will be a question, in the Germans' eyes, of what Powers there are against them, of what the collective security consists. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister made a profoundly significant remark. He said that our proposal to increase our Air Force had been received with a sigh of relief throughout the world. That is perfectly true. In a world where people are terrified an increase of the police force is always welcome. It is welcome because we have nothing on earth except peace that we desire. We have got everything and there is nothing more we want! We do want peace.
If Russia increases her air force is anyone here going to be frightened by it? Cannot we banish from our minds this idea that every foreign nation is a potential enemy and see a Union policeman. Every time America increases her fleet I welcome the fact, for I think that there is for us one more battleship which has cost us nothing. In the same way I welcome every strengthening of the armed power of every other country which is in the League, and is prepared to use the League as an international law court for international dispute and to implement the decisions of the League by force if necessary. As time goes on we may expect to have more and more pressure from our friends in Europe, from the friends of peace, to increase our forces. We might at least welcome any increase in their forces, in their contribution to the police force of the world. When and if Germany comes to realise that it is impossible to upset the peace of the world, then she too will come in. Then we shall have real security, eliminating the one danger spot, not by war, but by convincing Germany that war will not pay, that it is a better policy to work with the rest of the world, and be engaged in protecting the peace of the world, than to go on terrifying us and terrifying, far more, other nations by exaggerated armaments, inducing greater armaments elsewhere, by creating fear 616 which will lead inevitably to war. Let us have collective security followed definitely, as our policy. We cannot begin better than by having alliance on security together with all those countries, America included, which believe in freedom, and do not believe in driving civilisation back into the 15th century.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
My purpose in rising now is similar to that of the visit of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Berlin: it is exploratory. I do not know whether I ask too much in requesting that the Foreign Secretary might be invited to come into the House. While waiting for his return, I will make a few observations about the speeches to which we have just listened. It has not been my good fortune recently to find myself always in agreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), but I found myself to-day sharing his anxiety, puzzled, as he was puzzled, by the ignorance of our Government as to what has been going on, and gravely concerned about the situation which has been allowed to grow up and the future with which we are confronted.
I think the Government must recognise that public confidence has had a great shock when, after the repeated declarations as to the relative strength in the air of our country and of Germany, so lately renewed and reaffirmed, we now find that our Government have been wholly misinformed throughout. It is not as if the information which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping gave to the House, and those who raised the question with him, was not, in large measure at any rate, capable of investigation. It is not as if there were not indications and signs as to what was going on in Germany, known to many a trader in this country who had business relations with Germany, signs which could not be concealed from visitors to that country, and which surely were not unknown to the intelligence service of other countries, even though it remained a closed book to our own. I frankly confess that I think the Government owe on this matter some greater and clearer explanation than they have yet given, and that the country will not be reassured unless it can receive some explanation—we have had none—of the mistake into which the Government have fallen, and 617 unless when we come to the Debate on the defence forces which is promised for a week hence, the Government show that they have taken seriously to heart the lessons of these events, and that their preparations are now upon a scale and will be pushed forward with a zeal and vigour that bears some relation to the dangers with which we are confronted.
I confess for my part that I think the situation in Europe to-day is graver than it has been at any time since 1914. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), looking a little further ahead, sees all perils, but he assures himself that those perils will not mature rapidly. He thinks we still have plenty of time. I am not so sure. I remember after the outbreak of the Great War two very significant dates which had been in the minds of some of those who were directing the policy of this country before the War broke out. One, which was the earliest date at which Germany would be ready, was 1913, the date fixed for the opening of the Kiel Canal. Another, 1917, was the date when Russia, according to her plan, should have been ready too. I remember being told after the event—I do not pretend that the significance of those dates was known to me before—that those years had been marked as the years of peril in our own Foreign Office, in our own military offices—I use the word to include the defensive forces of the day. Indeed, those years had been marked as years of peril because Germany would have then obtained her maximum relative force compared with possible opponents.
I am not so sure that we are going to be given all the time that the right hon. and gallant Member thinks that we have still before us. I think it will take all the energy of the Government in putting our defences in an adequate position, the kind of concentrated energy which was shown during the War in rising to the height of the great demand which that War made—it will take all that energy and all the wisdom that our Foreign Minister and his colleagues can muster to guide us safely through these difficult and it may be dangerous years. That is all I propose to say upon that aspect of the case.
I said when I rose that my purpose in intervening was like that of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in going to 618 Berlin—that it was exploratory. With what the Prime Minister told us I am, on the whole, satisfied. I make one reservation to which I shall return later. I must remind the Government that when this Debate was first asked for it was not asked for merely in order to learn about Stresa but to learn the results of the visits which Ministers were paying to Berlin, Moscow and Prague. It was postponed because the meeting at Stresa was taking place almost immediately after, but it was understood that it would cover those visits to the foreign capitals which I have named and the conversations there, as well as the conversations at Stresa and Geneva. I want to ask the Foreign Secretary when he speaks to give us the fullest account that he thinks compatible with his duty—that is with the public interest—but the fullest account he can, of the attitude of the German Government as revealed to him in the Berlin conversations. I am sorry, as we are all sorry, that the Lord Privy Seal is not here, but, no doubt, my right hon. Friend could also add something about the attitude which the Lord Privy Seal found in the other capitals. But I think it is of prime importance to us all that we should know, as fully as we can, what is the mind of the German Government. It was for that reason that my right hon. Friend went to Berlin. It was to find out what they really meant. What answer has he brought back to the Cabinet? What answer will he give to that question to this House?
I am not one of those who think that, in all the circumstances, the Versailles Treaty was, in its territorial dispositions, a bad Treaty. I think our notions at that time of reparations or of the amount, whether in the form of payment of debt or payment of reparations, which could be transferred without economic disaster bore no relation to the facts. But those economic provisions of the Treaty were swept away long ago. Other aspects of the Treaty have been modified to Germany's advantage, but there is this recurrent talk in certain circles of this peace having been made under conditions without parallel in history—a dictated peace and not a negotiated peace—and there remains with a great many people the idea that Germany has justifiable and legitimate reclamations to make and that, in a phrase, our hands are not quite clean, when we censure or blame Ger- 619 many for her breach of her Treaty engagements. Very well. As I have said, I think you will find it very difficult to draw the borders of European States more justly than they were drawn by the Treaty of Versailles unless you ignore altogether the principle of nationality which, at that time, by common accord, was taken as the guiding principle and revert to the doctrine of the balance of power or the doctrine of dynastic interest, or one of those older doctrines against which the whole trend of the nineteenth century had been in revolt and for which we and everybody thought we were substituting a better system when we adopted the doctrine of nationality and even carried it to the length of self-determination.
I am not saying that there are not concessions which might still be made. I am not saying that we fulfilled—I will not say our obligations because I think we have fulfilled all our obligations—but the expectations which we had ourselves formed and which we had encouraged the Germans to cherish also. We did not fulfil all of them. If you ask, "Is it reasonable to expect that for all time Germany would be bound by an entirely one-sided disarmament?" I am prepared to say that it is not. That would not be a good basis for the peace of the world. But what to me is significant and grave is the moment which Germany took, not merely to evade, for she never has fulfilled the Disarmament Clauses—we almost had a make-believe and, in fact, when she entered she did not come in with a clean certificate of having kept her Treaty, but we accepted the phrase that she was in course of performing it—the moment she took, not to begin rearmament or reservation, but to declare by her own words alone, that she would be no longer bound by the Treaty, that she had established an air force, that she was establishing a navy. That was the moment, in the case of the air force, when she had been invited by the London communiqué to come and sit down at a table as one free nation in discussion with other equally free nations to settle some new system which would remove her disabilities and subject us all to limitations. In an exactly similar way, the moment she chose to announce her submarines was the moment when she had been invited, and had accepted the 620 invitation, to come and discuss naval limitation.
What is the meaning of it? That is why I ask the Secretary of State for light on the mind of Germany. I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last touched, in the earlier part of his speech, on the great political issue which underlies the present situation. Is there to be a collective system or is there not? The invitation of the London communiqué was an invitation to Germany to take part in a collective system, an invitation to meet and discuss, as we have already discussed with America and Japan and as we have discussed with France and Italy, naval limitations. That is the kind of invitation—to take part in a collective system. Does Germany mean to have any part in it? She withdrew from the Disarmament Conference. I think it was a great mistake that when she withdrew the other Powers did not go on with their work, telling her that her place was vacant, that they would welcome her back gladly, but that they were not going to stop merely because she did not choose to co-operate. I think it would have been difficult for Germany to have refused the result which such a continuation of their work might have produced. It may be that that is still the proper solution if Germany refuses to come back or to take part in these conversations.
But upon what are you going to base the peace of Europe? In what does public faith consist and what meaning has it if, when you are suffering, it may be, under grievances, but when you are invited to come and sit down and discuss with other nations how those grievances may be removed, you say, "Thank you for nothing. We do it by our own strong arm. We wait on no man. We ask no man's agreement." "Force is right," General Goering said the other day. What becomes of public law? What becomes of public faith? What becomes of your collective system? These are questions that are raised, and I want to know whether my right hon. Friend when he went to Berlin invited or received from Herr Hitler, who was, we understand, very communicative, a clear statement of Germany's policy and her claims. She says she wants equality of status. Did he give any definition of what Germany means by that?
621 We are assured in the speeches which are made to be heard outside that country, that Germany's only desire is to be in a position to defend herself. Did the German Government give my right hon. Friend an assurance that, if we agreed to German rearmament on a scale that would put her in as good a position to defend herself as any other nation would be in, that that was the end of the demand; that then Europe could rest in peace and that then she would be one of those forces in the League at Geneva to preserve the peace to which she had consented? Or did she go further? What exactly did the German Government ask about a mandate? Did they ask only that Germany should be eligible for a mandate? If she is a member of the League, I cannot conceive that there is any doubt about the fact that she would be eligible just as Italy is eligible although she does not hold one any more than does Germany. Was that what was meant—is that what is meant—by these allusions to the right of Germany to a mandate? Or when she has rearmed, is the demand going to be for the return of the colonies, and, if so, for which of them and under what conditions?
Similarly, I want to know, if Germany gets this equality in armaments, to what purpose is she going to put it? Is she satisfied to maintain the status quo or is this army, which she asks for in order that she may feel safe at home, going to be used next day to make some neighbour or another feel unsafe just across the border and to extort from that neighbour—I do not think it is wrong to say at the point of the sword because it means under the threat of it—concessions which would never be freely made. Does, in fact, the removal of the dictated Peace of Versailles merely mean that there is to be a new dictated peace of Berlin? I think the time has come when we have to ask ourselves that; and I think the time has come when the Government ought to give us some light upon the answer. We ought to know what is the spirit of the people with whom we are dealing; what it is which would satisfy them; and whether there is a possibility of a permanent, consented peace with them on any terms which are tolerable for those who, after all, were the victors in the great struggle of 1914 to 1918?
622 I said that there was one point in the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about which I made a reservation. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken observed, we all do lip-service to the collective system—and when I say we all do lip-service to it, I think we are perfectly sincere in our lip-service but that we have not thought out what it means. Why are we not to be officially represented at Rome? Why are we only going to send an observer The British Government have declared that Austrian independence is a British interest. I think they were right. I am quite certain that Austrian independence is one of the key pieces in the preservation of European peace. What is a, collective system in which we are only an observer? What is the meaning of membership of the League if we only look on? I hope the Government will reconsider their decision. I am quite sure that the great issue now being tried, raised by the action of Germany, is: Are we going to have a collective system such as it was the hope of those who brought the League of Nations into existence that they would create? Are we going to sit down as friends to settle our differences, not being unreasonable, accepting finally if we accept at all the solution which is made until or unless it is varied by consent; or is some Power, or are some Powers, going to reject it and insist that they will do by and of themselves, in spite of any engagements and any treaties, whatever seems right and just in their own eyes, and that they are the sole judges of the right? That way peril lies.
Germany complained before the War of her encirclement. She forged her own encirclement by hammer blows of her own which she struck against the Anglo-French Entente. When, by an act of singular wisdom, our two countries sat down to settle once and for all a dozen or more questions which for a century had kept them wrangling and bickering and put their peace in peril, Germany took that Entente and that settlement of old differences between two neighbours as a menace to herself. She did her best to break it, and she forged it under her own blows from an Entente into an Alliance. Is she going to do the same thing again? You cannot complain of 623 encirclement or exclusion if you refuse to sit down to discuss these problems when you are invited to sit down and discuss them. If those who have offered to enter into a partnership with you and have had their offer refused, if those who have offered to you all the guarantees that they ask from you for themselves and again have had their offer refused, you cannot complain if countries so treated then ask themselves what is in the mind of the Power which refuses to enter into any collective security, or to come into any European family, and what plans it is secretly nourishing; and upon whose head the sword is presently to fall? You cannot complain if then they get together and provide for their own security in the absence of the one nation that will not join in the common guarantee.
I think it is of vital consequence that this House should be told, not later than to-day, what is the impression gathered by the Foreign Secretary in his conversations in Berlin. Is it a Germany that is really willing and anxious to come to an agreement? Or is it a Germany that is pushing here, seizing there, drilling her own people daily, building up the greatest army of Europe, building this immense air fleet, building a new navy? Is it a nation, I will not say which wants war—for who does want war if he can have his will without it?—but a nation which, instead of being a partner in a collective system, intends to present Europe with a nation so strong that Europe will be at its mercy, and that we shall have nothing to do but obey her commands? That is the question we have got to settle, and that is the question on which we want some light. I am quite certain that if we find Germany really is peacefully intent on entering into a partnership with other nations, that she will be welcomed by us as heartily, and perhaps more heartily, than by any other nation. After all, we have made great efforts to bring Germany really into a partnership, and we have perhaps made more efforts than anybody else. If she is of a partner's mind and of a peaceful intent, she will be welcome. If she will not join the family of nations; if, instead of seeking to persuade, she means to extort or impose her will, then she will find this country in her path again, and with this country 624 those great free Commonwealths which centre round it; and she will have met a force that will once again be her master.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
In a Debate of this importance when so many Members of very great experience are taking part, a younger Member may well feel diffident; and his diffidence will not be decreased by having to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) whose powerful and sincere speeches always so deeply affect us. My only excuse for taking part in the Debate is that it so happens that as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord Privy Seal, I am the only Member of this House who has been to Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Stresa, and Geneva. It occurs to me, therefore, that I might be able to say something with regard to the present situation from a somewhat different angle from that attainable by Members whose duties keep them rather more closely to Westminster. There is one preliminary comment I should like to make. It is always supposed that Parliamentary Private Secretaries are the mouth-pieces of their chiefs, or at least the reflectors of their chiefs. I would say at once that on this occasion that is not so; I am only expressing my own opinion. I say this with some reluctance, because I know perfectly well that it takes away a very great part of the importance of my speech. At the same time, I think it is right that the House should know the worst at once; and, in addition, it is only fair to my right hon. Friend, who has not been consulted, and who might be held responsible for opinions all of which he very possibly might not hold.
So far as Stresa and Geneva are concerned, I will say nothing. The House already has had a very full statement on those two Conferences and there have been references to them in the Prime Minister's speech to-day. In the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) there were references to the past. The Leader of the Opposition took us back as far as 1871; and the right hon. Member for Darwen spoke at length of the events that led up to the Stresa and Geneva Resolutions. I recognise the importance of apportioning the blame for 625 the present situation, but personally I do not think it is of overwhelming importance; for all these events are already past history. However important it may be to know whether Germany was morally or technically justified in tearing up Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, there is something far more important to us here, and that is the effect of German re-armament, on the scale at present contemplated, on the peace of Europe, which must, after all, be to-day, as always, one of the main pre-occupations of British policy.
The German Government, as I understand it, say that there has been no additional threat to peace and that their intentions are entirely peaceful—Herr Hitler repeated it again yesterday—and that these new proposals are dictated by two considerations, the first of which is the need of self-defence, and the other the needs of self-defence and the desire to obtain that equality of status, which is the unalienable right of any sovereign nation. That, of course, it is very comforting to know. At the same time, if that is the case, I think that we in England may very fairly ask the German Government why it is that there has been so great an increase in their demands this year from what they were last year.
Last year I had the opportunity of going with my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal to Berlin, and at that time the German Government put forward a proposal for consideration by the French Government, the Italian Government, and ourselves. It is unnecessary to go into all the details of that proposal, but the Committee will remember that they declared themselves in favour of a 10 years convention for the limitation of armaments and that they said in effect that they would be satisfied, in the matter of effectives, with equality with France, and in another document at about the same time they mentioned the figure of 300,000 men, a number well within the capacity of France to maintain; while in the air they said they would require an air force immediately of a size equal to 30 per cent. of all the neighbouring air forces or 50 per cent. of the air force of France, whichever was the less; and they added that they would only require short-range defensive aircraft. That was their offer last year, which was said by them, or at any rate implied, to be adequate both for the needs of self-defence 626 and for the attainment of equality of status. It was a very good offer, and an offer which, in the opinion of many of us, the French Government were very ill-advised at that time to refuse.
But this year, when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal went to Berlin, they were told a very different story. Now Germany requires 36 divisions—that is, 550,000 men—a number almost double what she asked last year and more, probably, than it is possible for France to maintain on an equality; and in addition, instead of her proposal of last year with regard to aircraft, she now requires, as we know, an equality with ourselves and France and, as we have heard—I have not had the opportunity of seeing all the sources but my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has given figures which show it—she has already an equality with us and very possibly considerably more.
What is the reason for this increased demand? Who is the enemy who was not going to attack Germany last year and is a greater potential danger now? Is it France? Surely that is not possible. For, after all, during the whole of the last 15 years it has been Germany's most constant complaint that France has had an overwhelming superiority of arms. At any time during that period she could have attacked Germany with success, and the reason why she did not is presumably that she was mindful of her obligations as a member of the League of Nations and as a signatory of the Treaty of Locarno, a Treaty which was at that time and is still a great protection and safeguard to Germany. I think we can conclude that if France did not wish to attack her before, there is no reason to think she has changed her mind in the last year. Or is it the smaller nations which surround Germany, nations not so great—Denmark, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Holland, or Belgium that are the danger? Is it of these that Germany is afraid? Surely it is inconceivable.
Or is it Poland? There is no doubt that in the years that followed the War the relations between Germany and Poland were bad, and, as the Committee will remember, the Polish Corridor was for long regarded as perhaps the greatest danger-spot in the whole of Europe. But in the last few years that situation has 627 greatly improved. Since the signing of the agreement between Germany and Poland there is no doubt that their relations have steadily improved and are better to-day than they have been for some years. Moreover, anybody who goes to Poland will realise that the foreign policy of Poland is such as would not be likely to cause a breach with Germany. I do not think there is any secret, certainly among the Poles one talks to, about Polish foreign policy. It is a very simple and a very natural one and one which is dictated by her geographical position. She is a great nation flanked by two even larger nations, and her whole object is to keep on good terms with both; and she is certainly not going to do anything she can help to disturb that very delicate equilibrium.
There remains only Russia. There is no doubt at all that in Germany, among many Germans, there is a real fear of what is known as the Russian peril. You cannot stay a day in Berlin without finding it out. It is one of the staple subjects of conversation in Germany at the present time, and perhaps that is natural, for you could not find two nations whose Governments were further apart. It is true they are both dictatorships, but one is a dictatorship of the Left, and the other is a dictatorship of the Right, one is internationalist, the other is strongly nationalist in policy. Therefore, if it were the infiltration of Russian ideas of which the Germans were afraid, one might understand it. But there seems to be, in addition, in Germany, a genuine fear of a military invasion by Russia. To anyone who goes from Germany to Russia it is very difficult indeed to understand this. One would think it would be apparent to anyone that Russia has quite enough to do within her own borders, without embarking on any foreign adventure.
I am not going to embark to-night on a description of Russian internal politics, partly because it would take one on to very controversial ground, partly because it would take us very far from the subject of our discussion, but I think one can say, without fear of arousing any controversy, that Russia is engaged on a great experiment, an experiment which will take her many, many years to complete. Her whole energies are occupied 628 at present with that experiment, and she will not consider, as I understand it, anything likely to endanger that experiment. The greatest hindrance to her internal experiment would undoubtedly be war, and therefore I believe Russia is at the present time firmly against war. Nor is that the only reason. She really has no incentive to go to war. We are constantly told in this House that modern war is due to two great economic causes: a nation wants an outlet for her population, or a nation wants control of some essential raw material. Neither of those great causes apply to Russia. She has immense, open, undeveloped spaces, and she has within her borders practically all important raw materials. There is really no reason why Russia should go to war.
Finally, there is the elementary geographical reason. She does not at any point on her borders touch Germany. She could not send a single man into German territory without crossing Polish territory or the territory of a Baltic State; she could not send a single aeroplane to bomb German soil without going over Polish land. That would, inevitably, one would think, bring in Poland against her, and to range against her two great nations in that way would be the height of folly, of which, one would think, no Government would be capable. Therefore, the conclusion to which I personally came, and it is the conclusion to which I believe most independent observers come, is that the German idea of a military Russian peril is an absolute myth, and I find the greatest difficulty in believing that the German General Staff really believe it themselves.
If Germany's neighbours have great armaments—and some of them have—one cannot help feeling that the reason is not that they are hostile to, or that they want to go to war with, Germany. It is because they are anxious. That is obvious to anyone who goes through Europe now. The neighbours of Germany are nervous of the present trend of her policy. They see all the young people of Germany brought up in a frame of mind of fanatical militarism and nationalism. They read speeches like that of Dr. Goebbels at Danzig, or General Ludendorf on his 70th birthday. The Committee will remember the latter's speech, in which he put down the failure 629 of Germany in 1918 to Christianity, the degrading effects of Christianity, and said she was now free from Christianity, and implied therefore that she might be expected to win the next war. All Germany's neighbours read these things and hear these things, and it is widely thought in neighbouring countries that she has definitely decided on a policy based on force, a policy of facing Europe with faits accomplis, of holding a pistol to the heads of her neighbours and saying, "Your money or your life."
That conclusion may, of course, be an absolutely wrong one. It may not represent the views of the German Government. But in that case it is perfectly easy for them to prove it. Let Germany come back to the League, let her say she will come again into a convention for the limitation of armaments on a basis which her neighbours could accept, and a sigh of relief would go up over the whole of Europe, and we should have got near to the solution of most of the problems which we are discussing to-night. I am certain that if that is the tenor of Herr Hitler's declaration on foreign affairs, which we understand is coming in a few days, it will be welcomed in England. We shall be quite ready to bury the past, and we shall be ready to welcome Germany back into the comity of nations. But if it is not, if it turns out that she still bases her policy on large armaments, on isolation, on turning away from the League of Nations, then I think it is inevitable that there should be throughout Europe a piling up of armaments and an increase of tension and, that if no way out is found, inevitably, sooner or later, means war.
The question that has to be asked tonight by all of us is: What, in these very grave circumstances, should be the policy of this country? I think there has been in the discussions that have taken place a general unanimity. There is only one thing we can do, and that is, first of all, to reaffirm, with all the power at our command, our adherence to the League of Nations and the principles for which it stands, and, secondly, our firm determination to strengthen, by every means at our command, the forces which can assist collective security. A first step has already been taken—and this is an aspect of the subject which has not yet been mentioned in this Debate—in the setting up in the Geneva Resolution of 630 a Committee to consider economic measures. I believe this Committee may turn out to be of very real importance and that it can be made of immense importance, because, after all, if we face the facts, we all of us know that what has been the greatest weakness of the League system since its inception is the question of economic sanctions and economic measures. They have in fact never been able to be put into force, and the main reason is that the obligations implied in them are so vague and so far reaching. Nations hesitate to undertake these obligations, for they do not know what they will involve and do not know whether they will be effective against a recalcitrant nation. Therefore, they will not operate them. There, therefore, seems to be every reason at the present time for a committee which will re-define and reexamine economic measures. It may turn out that this committee will find that not such very extended measures are necessary, that the complete embargo on the imports of certain essential materials, and that certain economic and financial measures will be adequate to bring a nation to its knees. If that be so, well and good. It may turn out, on the contrary, that no measures of any kind will be of the slightest use unless they involve the co-operation of the United States of America and other nations which are not members of the League. In that case there is every reason why the League should approach non-members to find out whether they are willing to co-operate in the necessary action.
Finally, it may turn out that it is impossible to employ financial and economic measures at all. Even in that case I think that the situation would be better than it is to-day, because at least we should know where we stood, and if we found those measures could not be employed, we could take steps to find other measures by which collective security could be strengthened. The worst position possible is the position that exists to-day. Therefore, I hope that the Government will, when they are considering this committee, do their utmost to make it a success, and to appoint the very best man they can find as their delegate, because I believe that on it may depend very far-reaching issues indeed.
631 The second measure which we can take is to strengthen our own armed forces which can be used in the cause of collective security. This subject has been discussed so much that I will deal with it very briefly. Only two months ago any mention of increased armed forces would have been resented by hon. Gentlemen opposite. But I think that their attitude towards certain necessary increases has changed, and I hope that this is evidence of the fact that they realise that no sections of opinion in this country want war, but peace under the League of Nations. What, after all, is the analogy of the present situation? It is not that of two groups of nations standing opposite each other like boxers and feeding themselves with armaments until from lightweights they become middleweights, and from middleweights heavyweights, yet all the time equally matched but thinking they can beat each other. That conception has very few supporters to-day.
The real conception is the conception of the League, a conception of a national police force whose object is not to provoke or even to quell disturbance, but to have such an overwhelming show of force that disturbance does not occur at all. That is just as true of an international force as it is of a national force. But there is one point which we must not forget in considering Western Europe. We must never forget that no force in aid of the League will be strong enough if we do not take part in it. It is inconceivable that other members of the League without our help could produce a superiority so great that it would deter an aggressor from going to war. They might be able to defeat him in a war, but they would not be able to stop a war taking place. Anybody in this country who blinds his eyes—and there are a great many people who do—to this fact, is not honest to himself or fair to his country or to the League.
I apologise to the Committee for having kept it so long. I wanted to speak today for only one reason. Last year I went on that tour of Europe with the Lord Privy Seal. This year I went again, and I have been appalled at the deterioration in the situation in those short 12 months. Last year there was a real basis for a settlement. This year I very much doubt if there is. There seem to be forces in Europe to-day which are 632 definitely making for war. Those forces will not be deterred by well-meaning sentiments from British statesmen or British newspapers. They will be deterred by one thing, and one thing only—a realisation that a policy of force cannot succeed. In making that clear Great Britain must play an essential part. We are far the richest country in Europe; we are still far the most powerful and respected nation in Europe. If we declare that we are ready to shoulder our responsibilities and to stand four-square for the principles in which we believe, I am confident that even now war will be averted for many years to come. If, however, we begin to shilly-shally, if we begin to hesitate, I see nothing before us but disaster, complete and irrevocable.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
I do not think any Member of the Committee can have failed to be impressed by the extraordinary unanimity with which every Member who has addressed it has expressed a fear as to what is likely to happen in the course of the next 10 years. That fear was expressed most admirably by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) earlier in the Debate, when he said that things were now being done which would shape the course of the next 10 years. Everyone has expressed exceedingly anxious nervousness about the possibility of the next few years. My fear is this—and I should not be doing my duty to the Committee if I did not express it—that with all the nervousness which is felt by hon. Members there should be taken decisions which may be panic decisions, and which may do very much more harm than the possibility of good which they may have in them. The fear, in fact, which I have is that the decisions which may be taken now in this hour of panic will go very far to ensure the happening of those events that they are designed to prevent. Running through almost every speech that we have heard to-day, except the speech of the hon. Member for Norwood, was the feeling that Germany is responsible for this most unfortunate trend in recent events towards rearmament. Everybody has expressed the hope that Germany will come back to the League and behave as a proper member of the community of nations should behave. That seems to be the one thing which is thought necessary, and there has been this 633 insistence upon the fact that Germany is responsible.
Is it not just that feeling which will make Germany an aggressor, keep her out of the League, and make her prepare for a struggle, as she thinks, for justice, which in the end could not but engulf the whole of our civilisation? I feel with great humility that this is not a moment in which one should veil one's feelings in the slightest, but rather that one should express them frankly in the hope that possibly they may have some effect in moulding the policy of our country. We have had speeches from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) which, admirable and forceful though they were, seemed to have the tone of the victor speaking of the vanquished nation and about what that nation must do. I cannot profess to be in the least an expert upon foreign affairs or to have any first-hand knowledge of Germany such as some hon. Members have. I have, however, tried to follow the sequence of events recently by such means as are available to the ordinary man—the very ordinary man, such a man as will be called upon in any calamity in the next 25 years to bear a heavy burden, and perhaps to make a heavy sacrifice.
The way out of the present situation depends very largely upon the answers to four questions: First, are the Germans—I mean the people as distinct from the Government—really bellicose, as some hon. Members seems to think? Second, are their leaders really bellicose and out to have war at any price for their own aggrandizement? Third, have the Germans been treated fairly since the War? Fourth, if the answer to the last question is in the negative, would they now respond to fair treatment or have things gone too far? I do not believe for a minute that the Germans are a bellicose people who cannot in any event be led into the paths of reasonableness and international peace. Militarists they certainly are. No one would deny that, but they had a very bad time in the last War, which many of them can remember, and they are baying at present demonstrations of what war can be and will be in future, 634 which will prevent them from desiring to go to war without some very stinging reason such as might be supplied by national honour.
There is, of course, a tremendous external display of militarism, but I believe it has been exaggerated in certain quarters. All sorts of hysterical conclusions have been drawn, and there has been wild talk about the spirit in which the German youth is being educated. A great deal is going on that must be abhorrent to a liberal mind in Germany. That must be obvious to every citizen in this or any country in Europe; but it would be a tragedy if our statesmen allowed the symptoms to be mistaken for the condition of Germany. I know that German people form fours and squads, and drill themselves and train themselves in arms, very much in the same way and for the same reason that we form ourselves into teams and chase after balls. There is a tremendous desire to have physical regeneration, which is the term they use, behind much of this apparent militarism in Germany; and that feeling is entirely admirable. It is true that it can be abused and made use of by persons of mischievous intentions, but the feeling of the people in itself is admirable. Therefore, I reject completely, on what evidence is available to me, the proposition that the German people are incorrigibly bellicose.
Are their leaders any worse? I confess that I derive very great comfort when considering the nature of the Governments of Italy, Germany and Russia, which are dictatorship governments, from the reflection that a dictator will never willingly go to war if he is not, as was Napoleon, a soldier, for the very good reason that if he does he has to play second fiddle to his generals, a thing in which no dictator would care to follow the example of the late Kaiser. If, therefore, neither the people nor the leaders of Germany are incorrigibly bellicose and out for war for their own aggrandizement, one comes to the third question—"Have the Germans, since the Treaty of Versailles, received substantial justice?" I leave on one side the territorial question. Germany was very substantially dismembered, parts of Europe populated by Germans being taken away from her. But above all there was enforced upon Germany a dis- 635 armament which, in spite of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was, in my submission, definitely conditional, as definitely as anything can be definite in the international legal sphere, where there are no courts of law properly organised to deal with such disputes, definitely conditional upon disarmament by all the other Powers. For 14 long years Germany, through Stresemann and Bruning, implored other people to disarm down to her level, but, as she says, this was not done, and she feels in consequence that she has been humiliated and unable to wield in international councils that influence which she feels to be her due. The Disarmament Conference dragged on. Even when Herr Hitler came to power there was still no demand made for rearmament by Germany, but, rather, she asked that other nations should come down to the German level imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. So far as I know, and this is of frightful importance to the future peace of the world, Germany is still saying that if other nations will come down to her level or to any other level she will agree to that level. If that is really true, and she declared it even so recently as in the Berlin conversations, it is the most revolting hypocrisy for any of us to say that Germany is solely responsible for the present tendency towards rearmament. So recently as March, 1934, at any rate, apart from the Berlin conversations, the German Chancellor said:We will accept any further armaments limitations if such limitations are accepted by the other Powers.And we have the assurance of the Foreign Secretary that in the Berlin conversations Herr Hitler categorically declared that he would submit to any system of supervision, no matter how stringent it might be. I do not for one minute seek to defend Germany in the course she has followed in declaring that she will throw away Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, and still less do I defend her for the moment she has chosen at which to make that renunciation. I think it was most ill-advised, and was a course of action which would not have been followed by a Government more experienced in the conduct of international affairs and less pushed on by hotheads, as most revolutionary Governments are in their earlier stages. In any 636 case, I ask most solemnly, What right has this Government, or any of the other allied Governments, to come down as it were from Olympus, and condemn the Germans for having broken a treaty which we have not even, in these particulars of disarmament, begun to keep ourselves?
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
My hon. Friend is not referring to the Government of this country in saying "we"?
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
Oh yes, most certainly I am. I say that this Government is to blame. I know it is the impression that we have disarmed unilaterally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping is frequently saying so, but he generally omits to say that in the same period when we are supposed to have disarmed unilaterally we have kept the strongest fleet in the world, that we have an army sufficient for our purposes—small, may be, but sufficient for our own purposes—and really efficient in mechanical equipment; and we have heard from the Under-Secretary of State for Air that prior to this German Phoenix there were only two air forces which were substantially larger than our own, and that even in the realm of the air our efficiency was second to none. Therefore, I most emphatically include our own Government in saying "we."
Is it too late to do anything at all? Has the position gone too far? In my submission it has not. There are very few situations, however bad, which are not remediable by justice. The first essential is that we should do a little thinking for ourselves instead of being prepared—and I say this with all sympathy for France—to take our policy wholesale from France, even though it comes through such a respectable channel as the channel provided by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), who espouses the cause of France perhaps more than anybody in this House. We must do a little thinking for ourselves, and be prepared, if necessary, to urge a course which may not be popular in France if it really is going to lead to a settlement, an appeasement, of the present position. The second essential is that Germany must have the square deal of equality which we have promised to her long since. I know that some people will regard the next essential as unpractical, but unless one is born afresh one cannot enter into the kingdom in 637 this case. One has to do something radical, because we have heard from the excellent speech of the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne) how quickly the situation is deteriorating. Therefore, something really radical must be done at once, and here is Germany saying, "If you will disarm down to our level that is all we ask—and have a system of supervision all round." I say that our Government should declare its willingness here and now to say "Yes, we will come down to that or some similar level, and we will have a system of supervision as stringent as anybody can devise which shall be applicable to all nations alike." If only we had the courage to say that I believe that great things could be accomplished.
It is not sufficient to say that Germany must come back to the League before these things happen, and for Germany to say, "No, we will not go back to the League till these things happen." Surely, we can have the statesmanship to say, "You shall have all this. Come back to the League." Let us have our system of supervision and let us spend any amount of money on it, having any number of representatives in every town in Germany if need be—it could not be more expensive than a war. Let us make the supervision as stringent as possible. It may be that some nation would not agree, but at least we should know where we were. To quote again from the Noble Lord, we should know who were the villains in this piece. In my humble submission, and with my inadequate means of judging, I should say that the only nation which finally would stand out would be Japan; and then we should have to face that situation with courage, just as we ought to face Germany with courage if we really believe she has broken the Treaty, and deal with her in concert with all the other Powers with some measures of economic sanctions. The Prime Minister, in his recent article in the "News Letter," said Germany ought not to have left the League merely on the pretext that she thought she would not get justice. That is precisely what I say about Germany's promise to disarm if other people will do the same. We have no right to treat that as so much bluff until it has been tried, and if we do believe it is bluff surely we can devise a system of supervision which will adequately allay fears. I submit that the 638 only possible peace which can be a durable peace is a peace based upon justice, and I believe that even now, if our Government would take the initiative on the lines I have indicated, with all this country's great influence, we could establish such a peace.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Miss GRAVES
The deterioration which the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne) has so rightly deplored has surely marked the importance of the Debate. For the first time since the War I venture to think this House is faced with the responsibility of the future of Europe. That is the meaning of the Debate to-day, and because of that sense of responsibility I should like to be allowed to examine the attitude of mind which this House should take up in regard to that responsibility. That attitude of mind must contain no inverted pacifism, and it must certainly not envisage any possibility of dallying with one country or with another. If I may be frivolous for a moment, the dangers of dalliance were immortalised 200 years ago by Mr. Gay, and it must never be said of the British Government that, like Captain Macheath, they would have been happy with either were "t'other dear charmer away." It should never be said, for instance, of the British Government that they languished for the charms of a darkly dramatic Lucy Lockit and sighed for the feminine attractions of a Polly Peachum. The fate of Captain Macheath was not that of simple hanging, he was landed with everybody else's baby, and that is the fate that overtakes those who dally by the way. That must not be our attitude of mind.
Our attitude of mind must be one where reason is in domination. Something was said to-night about being neither pro-French nor pro-German, but I would say that our reason must here dominate our sympathy. We have the most profound sympathy with France. Perhaps for the first time in the memory of this generation we know fear in the way that France knew fear during the last 50 years of the nineteenth century and during those terrible years which preceded the War. We are threatened from the air. We know fear precisely as France has known it. We are threatened by the submarine menace. I believe that France is watching us awake to the fears which are so 639 constantly in her own mind. Our sympathy with her is practical. It has taken practical form in the statement made by the Prime Minister to-day about the strengthening of the Air Force. That sympathy with France must not control our reason. We have to try as best we may to understand the other great protagonist in Europe. Germany is in all the throes of exaltation following on humiliation. That is the basis of that inferiority complex which is worrying us to-day in its operations. I have practical evidence myself from conversation with Germans who are supposed to be internationally and therefore perhaps more reasonably minded that that inferiority complex is above all things at work in their minds: That mental and moral equality of status is infinitely more important in their minds than equality of armaments. And that German point of view, whether we approve it or not, is the basis of the problem.
Germany has run amok. During the last fortnight since I was there—I was there a little over a fortnight ago—Germany has not contented herself with taking the bit between her teeth, but has kicked over the traces and has pretty well kicked the front axle to pieces. I imagine that in all probability some of this is due to her arraignment before the League of Nations. Some of the publicity given to the laying of the keels of submarines and the swift work which is being put in on them is undoubtedly due to the events at Geneva: first of all the arraignment, and then the Committee on Sanctions. Sanctions have brought submarines. Not that plans for submarines were not prepared before, but the publicity in regard to submarines is a definite answer. All this is due partly to the exaltation to which I have referred which has gone wrong, partly to the economic pressure under which Germany is labouring. Herr Hitler is the first of the rulers in Europe who has discovered that the putting into uniform of the unemployed is a cure for unemployment. The success of the Saar—and I am conscious of the gravity of the statement—kept Germany going for a month or six weeks. There had to be another film to keep the attention of the populace from their troubles. And then came conscription, which meant a tour in Germany by Herr Hitler, a very pronounced reduc- 640 tion in unemployment, and an appeal to a nation in love with soldiering to get into uniform.
We have to face the German point of view. It is the duty of this House not to dwell on the past. We have only to dwell on the past as a warning. We must not dwell on the past in regard to our future view. We have to accept Germany. We are neither pro-French, though we sympathise greatly with France, nor are we pro-German, though we, perhaps, have some understanding of the result of 17 years of post-war conditions in Germany. We have before us the problem of the future. Collective security has been often mentioned this afternoon, and it is quite obvious that collective security contains the only solution for the future. Those Powers who were represented the other day at Stresa believe that a system of regional pacts and mutual assistance is the best means of establishing collective security. I submit that there is a geographical consideration in all that. The position of Great Britain with the Atlantic at her back, of France in very much the same position as that of England, of Italy, sea-washed, and of Russia with Asia at her back, emphasises in the minds of these peoples the importance of a pact of mutual assistance, whereas those nations like Poland and Germany, nations situated in the middle of continents, have other views in regard to the possible results of the march of a neighbour's troops across their territory.
It is natural that Germany should consider—I believe at the moment she is considering—the possibility of a system of pacts of non-aggression. Hon. Members may have noticed in the "Times" yesterday a report which was called semiofficial, which is redundant because all reports, published in Germany at the moment, are official. This report suggests they are returning to the idea of pacts of non-aggression within a collective system. Unless I am wrong and I hope I am not, I believe that it is not too late to expect that Herr Hitler will make a more constructive statement when he speaks on foreign affairs on 17th May. It may be that there will be a restatement of the German view in regard to collective security. Our part to-day is to endorse in our several constituencies and where- 641 ever we may go, the statement made by the Prime Minister, which contained, however guardedly it may have been expressed, an invitation to Germany to think again before she goes definitely into the outer darkness of isolation.
When I have been wandering in Europe, I have found a true estimate of the National Government. It has many detractors in this country, it has many opponents, some of them not avowed, in this House. When I go abroad I find a true estimate of the National Government. I find England on a pinnacle. Even far away in Lithuania, I was told "England only can save the world; when will she speak?" Up in Memel was the belief that England and England's strength would save the situation there. And when the Government have that opportunity for which I expect they are waiting to try once more to further the cause of collective security, I have great hope that it is not beyond the wit of ordinary man—certainly not beyond the great mind of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—to adjust the difference between the point of view, perhaps geographically influenced, that desires regional pacts and pacts of mutual assistance, and the point of view, again governed by geographical considerations, which insists on pacts of non-aggression, with the economic and financial isolation of the aggressor.
This House to-day is not concerned with the past. Memory is a good servant, but an extraordinarily bad master. Let this House beware that it does not let memory dominate it in its transactions and its thoughts to-night. The other day at Geneva I ventured to think that the League of Nations was almost reduced to the level of a piece of machinery. The arraignment of Germany brought that danger into being. It lies with this House of Commons to save the soul of the League of Nations. The League is an organism; it is not a piece of machinery; and there is no reason why that organism should not include and absorb within itself a new system of security. In effect Part V of the Treaty of Versailles was denounced by the Communiqué of 3rd February from London. Just as the word "reparations" was gradually dropped from the French vocabulary, so under God's will will Part V of the Treaty of Versailles sink away out of sight. I do not press for revision; definition is 642 dangerous at such times. But I appeal to this House to remember that the League of Nations is a living organism, is alive and capable of expansion to practically unlimited extent, and lastly that one of the greatest of the French poets declared thatamnesty is the noblest word in human speech.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. PATRICK
I was struck with one suggestion which has occurred in three or four speeches to-night to the effect that the present attitude of Germany and the tense situation in Europe were something unforeseen and unexpected, and in some measure due to inaction on our part. I venture to think that that is an almost total misconception. It is very much nearer the truth to say that the present situation was bound to arise sooner or later, and the only real issue has been how long it would take that situation to arise. I do not believe that the present position arises from the mistakes—certainly there were mistakes—made by this Government or other Governments at Versailles or since. The cause was more intractable than that. Although there is a good deal of loose talk about revision, I think that a great percentage of this House would welcome revision. But the position is really more intractable than can be dealt with by revision of treaties or decisions of conferences; it is the result of the mentality, outlook and aims of the German people themselves. That is only a personal opinion, and I admit that an opinion based on a generalisation about a whole nation of 65,000,000 people must be dangerous.
I submit, however, that one can form a judgment of the present situation which is not altogether flimsy, because there are certain concrete and objective facts to go upon. The first of those facts is the nature of the Nazi creed. I will not weary the Committee with extracts from Herr Hitler's own book, or by generalising about the trend of the Nazi creed. The second and significant fact is that that creed is accepted by the majority of Germans. I do not mean acceptance by only one section, by the Reichswehr, the industrialists, or any other section you like to name, but acceptance in the broadest sense by the man-in-the-street, by no means excluding the working man-in-the-street. That may seem rather a 643 sweeping assertion but, after making allowance for intimidation, for the suppression of counter-propaganda and for the natural desire to be on the winning side, I do not see how any other explanation of the situation is possible. We must not comfort ourselves with the explanation that Germany does not mean what she says. I am convinced that the Germans do mean every word they say, and that they mean it with a passionate intensity. We have no warrant, moreover, for pretending that we do not know what it is the Germans are saying. We know that they have accepted the myth of a Nordic race to an extent which is not known to anthropologists, a race typified by Germany herself, which is destined to the leadership of mankind, and destined to obtain that leadership, not by virtue of the qualities which nobody would deny to Germany, organisation, industry and discipline and which everybody would say entitle the Germans to a place among the nations, but mainly by force.
I do not see how we can shut our eyes to the fact that that is the Nazi creed. If one wants an illuminating illustration of it one has only to look at the current newspaper reports of the new paganism, based exclusively on the idea of force, and which is rapidly gaining ground in Germany at the expense of the German churches. The facts which I have outlined are those to which we cannot close our eyes, and I do not see how any reasonable person can deny that it seems not only inadequate but positively dangerous to expect Germany to rest content with the security which she could get from a Western air pact, from Locarno or from some such arrangement. She will not be satisfied with parity in armaments and security, for the very good reason that they are not what she wants. She feels that she is entitled to superiority, certainly on land and in the air, and possibly also on the sea. We do not yet know precisely what her intentions are in that respect. The sooner this is realised here and by Germany's neighbours in Europe the better.
That is an out line of the position. What are we to do about it? Broadly speaking, there are only two alternatives. The first alternative is isolation. To people who think about that in a way 644 that is more than superficial, there is an element of commonsense in saying that since our efforts to promote peace seem to have failed, we should turn our backs upon Europe and let the Continent work out its own salvation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) demolished that point of view in a few sentences, and I think he has said all that it is necessary to say on the subject of isolation. The alternative to isolation is the collective security system. Unquestionably, so far as one can judge, that is the system which comments itself to the great majority of the people in this country. It commends itself to different people for somewhat different reasons. I think I am right in saying that it commends itself to hon. Members of the Opposition chiefly because it offers the hope of a reign of international law and order, as opposed to what they term international anarchy. But neither hon. Members opposite nor anyone else should forget that there is an altogether different side to collective security, which is nothing less than a system of alliances based upon force. The essence of such a system is that it should possess sufficient force to deter an aggressor.
Let us look for a moment at how the collective security system, that is to say, the League of Nations, stands at the moment in that respect. It is generally admitted that, counting heads, the armed strength of about four-fifths of the nations of the world would not be enough to deter one powerful aggressor, and that the collective system, if it is to function, must necessarily devolve upon the great Powers. By far the strongest Powers, judged from the point of view of man-power, are the United States, Japan, the Soviet Republics, Germany, and ourselves. It would, so to speak, leap to the eye that of those five States, three are outside the League system. Russia has only lately joined, and we are extremely glad that she has done so, but with the adherence of Russia it is obvious that the force available inside the League system is not conspicuously greater than the force outside that system. It must necessarily follow that the League system as it is at present is incomplete and partial, and in my view it would be a mistake to speak or act as if it were already complete, universal and all-embracing. If that be so, what 645 alternative can there be to isolation except to follow in all essentials the course which the present Government are now following? The choice is between isolation and maintaining our connection with the collective system, imperfect though it may be. We have to make the best use that we can of the material that is available to us.
That brings me to a point which was raised by the Leader of the Opposition, and also, in different words, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). Both asked the Government in effect whether they attached greater importance to the League of Nations as a system of collective security, or to the same nations viewed as an alliance. To my mind the answer is simple; it is that at this moment the two things are virtually one and the same. Since the League is not perfect, we cannot do otherwise than make the best we can of the material available, in spite of the fact that two of the most powerful nations have left the League, and he would be a rash man who would forecast their return, while the third has been outside it for many years, and is likely to remain so. That being so, we have to do the best we can with the opportunities that present themselves, and in practice it does not really matter whether you call it a system of alliance or collective security, provided that peace is maintained. What we have to do is to work in the best way we can for peace.
Therefore, there has been a very great measure of inevitability about the policy of the Government, and I would go further and say that, had right hon. Gentlemen opposite been in power during the last five years, they would not in practice have followed a very different course from that which has been followed by the Government. I believe that they would have set out with every intention of following a different road, but I am convinced that forces which neither they nor any other British Government could possibly expect to control would have brought them back to very much the same position in which we find ourselves to-day—that is to say, they would be faced by re-armament on the part of Germany, and with, as far as this country was concerned, the choice between isolation, which everyone rejects, and working the collective security system in the 646 inevitably truncated and partial form in which we find it to-day. That is the policy which any Government in this country, however constituted, must necessarily follow.
In conclusion, I should like to say that, if we have one, sound tradition in politics, it is that we should have as few overt party divisions in matters of foreign policy as possible. It is not possible to exclude them altogether, but it has been our practice in this country so far as possible to reduce them to a minimum. I think also that only those who were deaf or blind could fail to recognise that the coming years are bound to be critical and dangerous years, and, if I may say so without impertinence, I very much welcome the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen this afternoon, and also that of the Leader of the Opposition. I do not know what the intentions of the Opposition are, but I can only hope that they will not start this critical period by forcing a Division to-night, marking a difference of policy, a difference which, I believe, has no basis of reality.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
The hon. Lady who made such an excellent speech just now mentioned one point on which I should like just to comment for a moment. It will be a great consolation to supporters of the National Government to know that, if their merits are not truly appreciated in this country, at any rate in Lithuania they are well understood. I think that the speech in this debate with which I found myself most in agreement was that made by the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne). Almost every word that he said seemed to me to be in accord with the views that I happen to hold. We have had a most important statement from the Prime Minister to-day, and I cannot help feeling that, if the Government really intend to use all their force and energy to drive through a policy of that kind, we may get a real benefit out of it. But, unfortunately, our experience in the past has so often been that that leadership, initiative and drive has been wanting in those who conduct the foreign affairs of this country, and I am afraid lest the same thing may happen on this occasion. The present Government, in foreign as in other affairs, always seem capable of 647 doing the right thing if the crisis is urgent enough, but it seems to require something in the nature of an earthquake to stimulate them to the right amount of activity. Certainly, during the last few months and at the present time, there are and have been a sufficiently continuous series of violent eruptions in Berlin to keep their courage up to the sticking point, and it may be that, as a result of that, we shall have really active leadership in foreign affairs at last.
I should like rapidly to pass over some of the recent events in the record of the Government. First of all, we had the admirable initiative of the 3rd February. That was followed by the deplorable White Paper shortly afterwards. Then we had the admirable arrangements for the visit to Berlin, when so much interesting information was obtained; but that visit was vitiated to some extent by the failure to notify France and Italy that the visit was still going to be made, in spite of the unilateral denunciation by Germany. That was a grave blunder, and it led inevitably to the Stresa Conference, which otherwise need not have taken place, because I feel that the right place for all these conferences is Geneva. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) that there can be no objection to any country bringing a violent dispute or a crisis to Geneva, which is the very place where it can be argued out in the full light of day. While the resolution passed was admirable up to a point, I cannot help feeling that it would have been even more useful if some reference had been made to the fact that the other Great Powers which are members of the Council had not been entirely guiltless in the matter of carrying out their obligations under Article 8 of the Covenant. It was really going too far to suggest that the unilateral denunciation by Germany was in a compartment by itself, and that no contribution whatever had been made by the Great Powers.
I cannot help feeling that the visit to Berlin has made certain things quite clear. To my mind, it is clear that Germany has no intention whatever of coming into a system of collective security. She is perfectly willing to have a system of collective security on the west provided she can have a free 648 hand on the east to do exactly what she thinks fit by force whenever she thinks the moment has come. That is absolutely useless. I believe that the mentality of the people in power in Germany at the present time understands one thing, and one thing only, and that is force, and that they will give way to nothing but force, and only when they find that they have against them the whole of the opinion of mankind in Europe, backed by the physical force acting in a police sense in a collective system. Only under pressure of that kind will they reconsider their position and come in as ordinary, decent members of society. Nothing, I think, shows more clearly the mentality in Germany at the present time than the attempt to stamp out Christianity. That is obviously one of their greatest enemies. It is incompatible with the Nazi system to have a religion based upon peace and good will. It is impossible to imagine that the text "Blessed are the peace makers" would find a place in any genuine Nazi home throughout the whole of Germany.
I feel, and I said so at the time, that when the Nazi Government first came in and made it clear that they were ruled by conceptions of this kind, were going to use force, and were breaking away to, the right and left, that that was the moment to apply collective pressure, not merely military pressure but collective economic pressure, to make them realise that aspirations of that kind were not going to be tolerated. It was obvious that you had to do something of the sort. It was very much easier to do it then. It gets more difficult every day to take action, and the time may come, if we are not careful, when it will not be possible, without the direst danger to the whole world.
I notice that the Government, in referring to what happened at Stresa and Geneva, have been careful to point out, as they always do, that no further commitments have been undertaken by this country. It is unnecessary for this country to undertake any further commitments, because if Article XVI and other articles of the Covenant and of the Treaty of Locarno are carried out to the full, we are committed up to the hilt. It is really a question of how you view your commitments under the Covenant. Do you think of them negatively, as has been the case up to the present time, or do you think 649 of them positively? If it be the latter course towards which the Government are moving now, they are to be very heartily congratulated. I believe that they will have behind them an overwhelming majority of opinion in this country in taking whatever steps are necessary in order to maintain the collective policing system of the world. Nothing shows that more clearly than the recent figures in the Peace Ballot in which up to date some 7,000,000 people have voted. On the final question of all where you would expect the greatest division of opinion as to whether in the ultimate resort military sanctions should be applied against an aggressor State, 70 per cent. of the people who have voted have said that they were willing even to take that course. That shows the very wide sentiment there is in this country which says, "Let us stand together against the aggressor wherever he is and whoever he may be."
The Noble Lord who spoke just now referred to the very important new committee set up at Geneva as a result of the recent Council meeting in order to go into the question of economic sanctions. I rather think that it is intended to act not only against an aggressor but against anyone who goes in for a unilateral renouncement of a Treaty such as has been done in the case of Germany. If that be so, and in any event, I hope that it is clear that we are prepared to stand by that committee and to work whole-heartedly on the committee with the intention of arriving at results and not to be passive spectators as has been the case on so many other committees. If after taking the initiative in the appointment of the committee it is found that we are represented practically by observers there will again be very great disappointment in the action of Great Britain showing herself once more apparently unwilling to shoulder her responsibilities.
The Prime Minister made reference to certain experiments that will have to be made in the organisation of collective security. It will be very interesting to know, as soon as the Government find that it is possible to give us some details, exactly what those experiments are to be. The Government still say that the proposals of 3rd February are interdependent. There is the question of disarmament 650 which has obviously become a very much more difficult matter. I was very glad to learn from the Prime Minister that it is proposed to try and arrange for a limitation of the air forces in connection with the air pact, and I suppose that in present circumstances that is as far as it is possible to go with anything in the nature of disarmament.
The next question was the return of Germany to the League of Nations. It is most undignified and unwise to be continually running after Germany and begging of her to come back to the League of Nations. As soon as she is fit to join the League of Nations and is willing to co-operate as a decent member of society, she will want to join of her own accord, but I do not think that she is prepared, as far as one can judge at the present time, to qualify for membership owing to the fact that she is not willing to co-operate in the organisation of peace. The best test of whether a nation is in favour of peace or not is this. Naturally, all say that they are in favour of peace, and they are up to a point. But you should put this question, Are you so much in favour of peace that you will submit the case of your country to a third party for decision in all circumstances? And you should say, "If you are prepared to do that, then you are in favour of peace without any reservation, but, if you are not, you are not a genuine peace supporter." I venture to say that we are in favour of saying that, but that at the present time Germany is not willing to make any statement of that kind.
The next point was the question of the independence of Austria. It is rather ludicrous that a conference should be held at Rome in the near future to discuss the best means of preserving the independence of Austria under the patronage of a State which is doing its utmost to destroy the independence of Abyssinia. One would have thought that there would be one law for all States, great or small, and that they would all stand together. I very much hope that the question about our being represented there by someone more important than an observer, as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, will be considered by the Government, and that we shall be allowed to be in our true position as full participators in any international 651 conference, and that we shall not go down to the United States level of being represented at different conferences by observers.
Then there was the question of the Eastern Pact. I understand from reports that appeared from the "Times" correspondent while the Lord Privy Seal was in Poland, that it was made quite clear to the British representative that while Poland was not prepared to come into the Eastern Pact as it was, if Great Britain was willing to be one of the guarantors, one of the full members of the Eastern Pact, it would make all the difference, and that possibly Germany might come in, too. I hope that we shall take our full share in all these matters. Unless we do take our full share, we are not going to maintain that system of ordered peace in Europe and the world which is so essential. Our great interest everywhere is peace, and the only way to stop war is by co-operating with others to act by appropriate means in any part of the world—I do not mean necessarily taking military action, which would be most unsuited in many cases—in order to prevent violence breaking out. If we make that clear; if we make it clear that Great Britain, with all the other States in the world, is going to take her share in acting as a policeman against violence, it is perfectly certain that no war is ever going to break out again.
The last point is the Air Pact. I was very glad to learn from the Prime Minister that it is proposed to press forward actively with that Pact. It was intended that there should be five Powers in it. I hope that it will be possible to get five Powers, including Germany, inside it, but if, after every possible effort has been made, by equality of status, equal negotiations and the rest of it, Germany will not come in, then I hope we shall go forward with four Powers in the Pact, with those who are willing to act collectively, and that there will be no limit placed on the number of those who can associate themselves with it. I should like to see the Western and the Eastern Pacts thrown together. I should like to see the region over which the collective system operates in Europe as wide as we can possibly make it. It has been our aim to get disarmament up to the present time by abolishing military air forces altogether, and that seemed for a 652 long time to be the most hopeful avenue of approach, but I am beginning to wonder whether in present circumstances, seeing how difficult it will be to attain that end, the more hopeful way of approach is through organising the national air forces of the various States of Europe into one collective system, first of all as national forces co-operating, and ultimately working, as I believe would be found practicable, as something in the nature of an international aerial police force for the purpose of keeping order in the world.
I believe in going forward along the lines that the Government have presented to us to-day, with the Western Air Pact, with collective armaments, if possible with Germany included, but if that cannot be achieved, then without Germany. Let us clear away any element of doubt in Europe as to whether we can be relied upon to play our part. Something like 60 nations are sitting in the League of Nations at the present time. Let us make it clear to the whole world that in the next war there would be 59 nations on one side and one on the other, and then there will never be any such war.
§ 8.50 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir ARNOLD WILSON
This Debate will best serve its purpose if it voices opinions not generally held in this House but which are widespread in this country. The hon. Member who has just sat down referred to deductions that might reasonably be drawn from the peace ballot. To-day's "Manchester Guardian" gives the view of a Scottish canvasser for the ballot who has been round a suburb of Manchester:The whole thing is a revelation to me I made over 30 calls, all of them villa property. I found a quite definite swing over to the German people and away from France and what can be quite legitimately described as anger and impatience with the French politicians, coupled with the opinion that this country should not cut itself adrift from that particular connection.My own observations in many different parts of the United Kingdom in the last three months lead me to think that these observations are well founded. There is not indeed much sympathy with Germany but a very notable determination not to be carried away by any sentiment which might lead us into direct opposition to that country. A very large body of opinion in this country is inclined to 653 regard Germany not as a potential enemy, but rather as a potential friendly Power. My own visits last year to Germany, which I hope shortly to repeat, certainly gave me the impression that there was almost no country among the great Powers with which we were less likely to become involved in war than Germany.
The Debate has hitherto taken a line by no means helpful to peace. I could indeed have wished that this had been a private Session. We could have heard and said more. I do not want to make things more difficult than they already are. The most foolish phrases are the most likely to be repeated. I believe, as was said in another place, by a man of almost unique experience in treaty making, that unless the League of Nations is converted into an instrument for the revision of treaties, it will itself before long cease to exist. We have to read the League of Nations Covenant as a single document. We cannot place undue reliance on Article 16, as in the Peace Ballot, unless at the same time we undertake to give effect to Article 19, and like the Noble Lord to whose remarks I have been referring, I regret that the Peace Ballot did not contain an inquiry as to whether we were prepared in this country to accept the responsibility attaching to the revision of the Treaty.
It is a little unworthy to be constantly harping on the fact that Germany has been guilty of a unilateral breach of the Treaty though I do not wish in any way to palliate or to condone that offence. The Treaty of Versailles is the public law of Europe, and to break it is just as bad as to break any other Treaty. The fact that is was dictated has no relevance whatever. The object of war is to secure a dictated peace. There is no freely negotiated treaty after a war. A dictated peace treaty is the desired outcome; but I would remind the Committee that there are very few great treaties that have been negotiated as the result of war that have not been broken, and before long. The very existence of Belgium to-day is a direct consequence of a breach of the Treaty of Vienna of 1815. That Treaty in so far as it concerned the Netherlands was found unacceptable. As a result of 654 popular indignation against it, the Belgians threw off the yoke imposed on their shoulders by the great Powers. There was a war of liberation; Belgium was established as an independent country; and the maintenance of her existence has been an essential part of our policy in Europe ever since.
We are told that the independence of Austria is a British interest. If hon. Members will look in the second volume of the Memoirs of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George) they will find at pages 833 and 877 secret State papers written respectively by the late Mr. Arthur Balfour and Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, both of whom independently placed on record in 1916 their conviction that a united German people in Central Europe would be the best guarantee for the ultimate peace of Europe. They envisaged the possible union of Austria and Germany and made it clear that they did not regard it as inimical to peace. Those were the deliberate opinions of a great soldier and a great statesman. I do not regard it as a major British interest. I think that it was unwise to refer the anschluss to a judicial tribunal instead of dealing with it as a political matter.
There is a large and responsible section of the public in this country who are genuinely disturbed at an armaments race, the probability of which is now scarcely denied. I do not think it is necessary. I still believe that if we wish we can negotiate with Germany upon a basis which may well be far more enduring than any of the innumerable pacts which strew the road towards peace. The hon. Member for Dorset South (Viscount Cranbourne) was right when he said that the Germans were passionately insistent upon getting their way but they know that war would ruin everything for which they stand and towards which they are aiming. They have a belief in race. It is not our business to criticise that belief. They know that all their racial hope would be ruined by war. I believe that Hitler is absolutely sincere in his passionate denunciations of bombing from the air. He has more than once declared officially that he is prepared to negotiate for a complete abolition of bombing from the air, although it is exceedingly difficult to know how the negotiations can be successfully carried through. 655 The Prime Minister from the beginning to the end of his speech made no reference to Russia, and Russia must be an integral part and a party to any negotiations which may be undertaken between this country and the rest of European air Powers so far as the air is concerned, because there are few with larger air forces. No one can seriously believe that in the event of some psychological disturbance the buffer State of Poland would effectively prevent Russian aeroplanes from visiting Germany, or vice versa. On the subject of the German Faith Movement I think we should be careful before we make any slighting or heedless references to what is one of the deepest of human feelings. In the French Revolution a religious movement was established in 1793 by the Government of the Republic, the theo-philanthrophic sect, which took over many of the churches. It was the object of the Directory to substitute seasonal festivals for the ancient religious rites and to do for the people through the medium of the State what the churches had hitherto done. The history of the years 1792–1798 have a very close parallel in What is going on in Germany to-day, or what appears to be going on. If imitation is a form of flattery, then the Germans 'are flattering the French revolutionaries. I do not believe for a moment that the German Faith Movement will endure. Christianity is far more strongly based than any human organisation.
The Prime Minister has had an exceedingly heavy responsibility resting on his shoulders, but I feel—and I say it now because it is being widely said outside by many of his countrymen who have a sincere respect for his personality—that he would have done better not to have written in some obscure journal in this country the pious laments and gentle chidings which had the effect of undoing much of the good accomplished at Stresa and Geneva. It would have been better to have reserved these utterances for this House or for State papers. There is every possibility of an air pact being reached between this country and Germany provided that Russian can be brought into it. Appeasement must really example of sacrifice on behalf of Europe. When that tension ceases it will be easier far to hope for a relaxation of tension between Germany and Russia, and thus 656 Westward. As the Prime Minister said, there is much hope in the present situation as well as some forebodings. My own instinctive tendency is towards optimism, and I feel more certain than ever that if the Germans are approached afresh by a real representative delegation, particularly on economic subjects, there may be a rapid change.
The present trouble in Europe and particularly in Germany is the result of tension and pressure. If there is to be any change in conditions we must take steps to relieve the pressure whether by broadening the economic structure so as to make it easier instead of more difficult for Germany to trade, or by making territorial concessions which will allow the greatest nation in Europe the chance to expand, which she is unable to do at the moment. Whatever we do to reduce this pressure and tension will be of far greater value in the long run than piling up armaments. Let us take the risk. We shall have to make sacrifices in order to make the first step but I think we shall find that the sacrifices are far more apparent than real. Only danger can come from equating peace with the status quo, and imagining that we can continue indefinitely to maintain the present status quo in Europe. A static world would be doomed to decay. There is nothing static in Europe to-day. In the words of Lucretius, some nations are rising and others falling, and the light of civilisation is being passed on from hand to hand. Our mediatory position as the impartial mediators has not yet been entirely abandoned. I believe we shall do well, as the Noble Lord the Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Cranborne) said, to look at this problem from the economic point of view, and that we shall then find that the subsidiary diplomatic and military question will fall into their places and will not be found insoluble.
§ 9.6 p.m.
Until my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) intervened there had been the most unusual unanimity in the speeches delivered. I must say that I cannot agree entirely with what my hon. Friend said. First he suggested that it was this country which should make the example of sacrifice on behalf of Europe. It seems to me that it is this country which has been setting the example, particularly in the matter of disarmament, 657 for the last 10 years, and that it has not had the slightest effect upon various nations in Europe. Then again my hon. Friend said that the German people do not want war. I am certain that in 1914 the mass of the German people did not want war, but when war was declared almost to a man they supported that policy. It is because the German Government of the day is pursuing, by propaganda and by action, just that same policy as the German Government pursued in the years before 1914 that some of us to-day are indeed not a little alarmed at what the future may hold.
Then my hon. Friend said that there was a considerable amount of public opinion in this country opposed to our being dragged at the chariot wheels of France. I do not consider that those who support the views that I shall state are being dictated to by France in the least. It simply is that we and France and certain other nations in Europe believe in certain principles. We believe in settling disputes by arbitration, through collective security, and it is that reason which makes us united with them and opposed to those nations which will not accept that particular form of settlement of disputes. If we are to take as an excuse or explanation of the new German religion, to which my hon. Friend referred, the claim that it is either a copy or imitation of the French attitude of mind between 1792 and 1799, I can only reply that that was followed by 17 years of European War, in which the French nation acted the part of the bully of Europe.
In listening to the Debate to-day I was reminded that it is only just over three years ago that every political party in this country was going to the country and trying to rival the other parties in the amount by which it had been able to reduce armaments. To-day I believe it would be the worst service to the peace of Europe for us to continue a policy of disarmament. Why has this change taken place? Almost entirely for one reason—the advent of the Nazi Government to power in Germany. It is only three years ago that we were discussing whether the German Army should be increased to 100,000 or 200,000. To-day Germany possesses the most powerful army and air force of any nation in Europe. But perhaps even worse than the actual increase in armaments is the fact that once 658 again there has been spread abroad in Europe that most potent of all motives in foreign affairs, namely, an atmosphere of fear. It is that which I believe will cause greater trouble and greater difficulties even than the increase of armaments.
But, as hon. Members have said, it is no good going back. There have been faults on both sides. Everyone is prepared to admit that the French have been very unwise, and no doubt we ourselves have pursued a wrong policy in the past. I will go so far as to say that had we in the past been a little more definite in our assurances to France she in her turn would have been prepared to be more reasonable to Germany than she was. But, whatever may be the relevant merits of arguments about the past, it is the present and the immediate future with which we are concerned. There comes a time in the lives of individuals and in the history of nations when a decision has to be taken, and unless it is taken by the nation it will be taken for it by events and circumstances over which the nation has no control. It seems to me that that moment has come in our history: Unless we take a decision to-day we shall in the near future become the sport of circumstances. I believe that we have a golden opportunity, not only of influencing affairs abroad, but also of consolidating and leading public opinion in this country, and that the actions of Germany have made our foreign policy clear, simple and obvious.
It has been said that we stand for the principle of collective security, with the organisation of the League of Nations. We support and accept the full responsibilities that we assumed under the Locarno Treaty. We encourage other nations to make similar local pacts to which we cannot ourselves be party. In other words we believe in settling international disputes by conferences and by collective action, and we invite any other nation that believes in these principles to join with us in supporting them. My own belief is that if we and these nations remain united there is no nation which will dare to challenge such a united peace front. This does not mean putting a ringed fence around Germany. Germany is welcome at any moment to join us around the table as an equal nation, with the whole of the rights and status of a sovereign power.
659 We have had much talk to-day, and we have read much in the papers, of the Treaty of Versailles, its harsh terms and the statement that it was dictated and so on. I do not think anyone can deny that there were objectionable aspects of the Treaty, but I suggest that a great number of them have already gone by the board. The occupied territories, reparations, Clause 5—all these, perhaps the most important, and from Germany's point of view the most objectionable, traits in the Treaty, have either been discarded, or in the case of Part V we and France have just recently sent an invitation to Germany to come and re-discuss it. If it is necessary to re-open the whole question of the territorial settlements under the Treaty of Versailles—a case may be made in reference to Silesia and perhaps elsewhere—there is, under Article 19 of the League, provision by which Germany has the right to come to the League and re-open the question in a manner which I believe will receive the support of every Member of the League.
Perhaps in this connection it is permissible to recall the treaty which Germany imposed upon Rumania and also the treaty which Germany imposed upon Russia at Brest Litovsk and occasionally we have heard something about the terms which Germany was prepared to impose upon us had she been victorious in the last War. One asks onself: "What is the trouble with Germany to-day? Is it a question of status? If so, surely the regime of Herr Hitler during the past two years ought to have cured her of that. Is it that she is really frightened of her neighbours? The Noble Lord who spoke earlier completely demolished that theory as regards Russia. Why is it that we have only just heard about this Russian bogey? The answer is that it was only by putting up the Russian bogey that Germany could possibly justify a demand for an army greater than that of any of her immediate neighbours.
If we look back to 1914 when Germany had everything—an Empire, an army, colonies and an expanding trade—it is, I think, legitimate to ask was she any more satisfied then, was she a better neighbour, was she a more peaceful influence in Europe? I venture to say that 660 the answer to those questions is in the negative. I believe to-day that Herr Hitler is sincere, and that he desires peace, as everyone desires peace. If he can get what he wants without war, of course he desires peace, but I think he has created or is in process of creating a sentiment to-day which it will be difficult for him to check in the future. I believe that by speaking frankly, as hon. Members have done to-day, we are serving the best interests of the German people, because it must show them that their leaders cannot be and shall not be permitted to "put over" this policy on the rest of Europe.
Allusion has already been made to the question of Austria. I believe that this will prove to be a key question in a very few months, or at any rate in the next year or two. Everyone knows that the problem bristles with difficulties, and I only propose to make two short observations upon it. First, I think it would be fatal if we allowed the question of Austria to become a purely Italian affair. In order to prevent that, we have to play our part together with France and Italy in settling the future destiny of that country. Secondly, we must persuade those other nations more immediately concerned, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Rumania to give Austria those economic concessions without which she, as a country, cannot continue to live. I believe if we bear those two facts in mind and play our part at the conference which is soon to take place, we shall go some way towards solving the problem of Austria, and by doing so we shall make a very important move towards preserving the peace of Europe for the next few years.
It appears that the era of disarmament, for the time being, is over. It may be that the present period of rearmament will, and we certainly hope it will, show the nations, both by the expense to which they are put, and by the futility of armies, navies and air forces in the solution of international problems, the need for agreement. The time may be nearer than some of us imagine when it will lead to a real policy of disarmament actively pursued, encouraged and supported by every nation in Europe. But during this period it is essential that this country should play a very definite—it may be a decisive—part in European affairs, and I cannot accept the argument 661 which is sometimes used that public opinion in this country will not follow the Government. I believe that public opinion in this Country is only too anxious to be given a lead by the Government on foreign affairs. The unforgivable thing would be that the Government should not tell the people the whole truth. The greatest crime of the party in power in 1914 was that they allowed themselves to be occupied with home affairs and did not tell the people of the country what they knew to be going on in Europe.
If the Government take the people into their confidence, they will find support, and, even if they should meet with defeat, all I can say is that they will have no reason to be ashamed of their action nor will history condemn them for taking such action. The policy which we ought to pursue has been stated and restated—support of the League of Nations and support of Locarno. We recognise our obligations and responsibilities and we are prepared to face and fulfil them. Last, but by no means least, we have one other duty and that is to maintain our services in that condition of efficiency and strength which will make them a powerful influence in preserving peace and will make them conclusive, should other circumstances arise.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. EMRYS-EVANS
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken said that if we in this country had taken more definite action in Europe we should have been able to exercise more influence over France during the difficult years through which we have been passing. I believe that statement to be profoundly true. I believe that if we had taken a more definite line in Europe, we should have had a great deal more influence than we have been able to exercise. I wish to touch on some of the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). He said he wished that this Debate had taken place in secret session. It seems to me that the hon. Member is thinking of the Nazi government. The whole point of this Debate is that Germany, and the world should know what this House thinks and it is clear from what has happened this afternoon that Germany will know tomorrow morning what this country means to do. The hon. Member also re- 662 ferred to the armaments race which he said was rapidly developing. Let us be perfectly frank about this question which has been mentioned in speech after speech during this Debate. Since it has been raised again, I make no apology for restating the facts. It is clear that the whole position at present turns on the Anglo-French conversations of 3rd February. No one can doubt that a new starting point in European affairs was established on that date. Part V of the Treaty disappeared; an air pact was agreed upon and we were going to enter into a conference with Germany on equal terms.
What has been the reception of that advance in Germany—and it is very important that we should realise in this House that it was an advance? Within a few weeks we had conscription thrown in our faces by Germany and the great countries of Western Europe were definitely snubbed by the German Government. During the difficult weeks and months through which we have been passing there has been a great deal of discussion with regard to the Treaty of Versailles. That, again, has been dealt with to-day, but it seems to me it is necessary to touch on it once again. Nobody to-day would justify—nor would a great many of the people at the time have justified—all the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, but if we are to see the Treaty of Versailles in its true perspective, we must remember that before it was negotiated there was the Great War, and before the Great War there were those ten uncertain and anxious years through which we passed. A great deal of the Treaty, as the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said in the course of his speech, has been abrogated and there has been a clear willingness on the part of all the Powers of Europe to consider the question of further revision. There had, in fact, grown up in this country and in other parts of Europe a definite public opinion in favour of revision and in meeting the claims which Germany was putting forward; but that growth of public opinion was checked when Germany withdrew from the League of Nations and it has been destroyed by the declaration of conscription.
We have been considering what manner of people we are dealing with when we are dealing with the present German 663 Government and German nation. The persecutions, religious, political and racial, do not concern this House in the first place, but they are signs to which we must look if we are to understand the mentality of the people with whom we have to deal. One of the most significant speeches which have been made recently was that made by Herr Hitler yesterday. They may have been two speeches; it may be one remark in one speech and another in another speech. He said, in speaking to the children of Germany, "There are storms ahead" and he said again later that he only wanted peace. The storms, quite clearly to everyone in this country, can only be of his own making, and if he wants peace he can have it. It shows the inconsistency which there is, of course, in all revivalist and revolutionary movements. But we have to consider the question whether Germany is prepared to come into a European system based on security or whether, like some maddened and blinded Samson, she is going to pull down the pillars of western civilisation and involve herself in the ruin. That is the clear issue before us at the present time, and we must go back a little further and see what has been the policy of Germany since she rose to be a Great Power. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, she established herself by what I might describe as a policy of nibbling, in her war with Denmark and with Austria and finally in the Franco-Prussian war. She consolidated herself by these means and she really believes—she did believe, and I think still believes to-day—that that is the kind of policy which, having been so successful in the past, is likely to be successful in the future.
I do not think that when we are faced with a country of this nature it is any use running after them with concessions. We learned over 1,000 years ago that the payment of Danegeld did not keep the gentlemen over the North Sea from coming again and asking for more. We realised then, and we should bear in mind the lesson to-day, that only by a resolute spirit shall we be able to resist these continued demands, and the using of one concession as a stepping stone to another. This position which has arisen is very largely the result of a great deal of uncertainty on the part of His 664 Majesty's Government. It is essential, as a number of Members have urged on the Government during the last 3½ years, that they should make up their minds on these questions. It is essential, and now all can see it, that they should come to some definite decision to-day. What is the nature of collective security, with or without Germany? What do they mean by this collective security? What action are they prepared to take and what obligations are His Majesty's Government prepared to accept? It is no good allowing "collective security" to remain a mere phrase. It is much better to get rid of the idea altogether. Let us have either the reality or nothing. But you cannot have collective security unless you are prepared to pay the price, and the feeling I have had during the last 3½ years, and for a much longer period, under all Governments of recent times, is that we have not been prepared to pay the price. We have expected to get off too cheaply. We felt that we would probably get security on the backs of other nations.
The noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne), in what I think was a most remarkable speech, laid particular stress upon the committee which had been set up at Geneva to deal with the question of sanctions. He again urged upon the Government that they should in this matter clarify the position, and make up their minds whether sanctions could be really made effective or not. If they cannot be, let us be frank and tell the country we can only deal with this question along other lines. If we can deal with them along the lines of sanctions, let us make them effective. The time really has come for an end of this academic discussion, which has gone on year after year with regard to the League of Nations and foreign affairs in general. After all, 3½ years ago we sent back the economists to their railways and lecture rooms. We have got on very well since then without them. It is time that academic gentlemen should disappear and practical men should walk in. British policy must be definite and then it will be decisive.
There is one other aspect on which I would like to touch once again this evening. It has been touched on in the course of the Debate. It is the question of isolation. It comes very much to the fore at a time when all aspects of collective 665 security and of our foreign policy are once again, as it were, in the melting pot. Isolation would make tremendous demands on our capacity as a country. It would mean a two-Power or three-Power standard, but the real danger would come from the possibility of a European Continental coalition against this country. Instead of the bases of the enemy being some distance away, they might be merely across the Channel, and we might be actually faced with a blockade from air and sea which it would be impossible for this country to stand up to. I do not think this aspect has been seriously considered in this country. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) came rather near, I think, to favouring isolation in certain circumstances, but he forgot the peril in which we stood during the Boer War, when there were actually discussions between the French and German Governments, and we were not popular on the Continent.
The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has touched on the question of the air, which must cause grave anxiety on the part of every Member of this Committee, because no foreign policy can be effective unless it is backed up by adequate strength. In this matter I hope the Government are going to tell the country the whole truth, and I hope they are going to hide nothing. It so often happens that the Government, when they are in an indecisive state of mind, hide as it were behind public opinion and say that public opinion will not stand this and public opinion will not stand that. As a matter of fact, public opinion will stand anything provided it is dealt with frankly and led firmly.
There is no country in the world which is more peace-loving than this country. There is nothing of the militarist about it, and this is no new thing. It is not as though we have suddenly become peace-loving. I think we have always been a peace-loving country. My mind goes back to the days of Mr. Pitt and the Napoleonic wars, when his mind was very much set on problems of reform which had to be delayed for 30 years. It was the same in 1914. No one doubted that this country was peace-loving then, and no one doubts it now, but, driven into a corner, we are nevertheless prepared to fight for our liberties and our lives. After all, this country possesses great resources 666 of wealth, and it has the deeper strength inherent in a free people. I believe it is now prepared to make tremendous sacrifices, if necessary, in order to preserve the peace of the world, but it will only make those sacrifices if it is told the whole truth and nothing but the truth and if it is wisely and boldly led. Foreign policy can no longer be dealt with by uncertain and trembling hands, but if this country is strong and resolute, I believe it is possible to maintain peace. The time has come to inspire our own people, to hearten our friends, and to strike terror into the enemies of peace.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I think it will be generally acknowledged that this has been one of the most interesting debates on foreign policy that we have had for many months past, mainly because of the tremendous divergencies of opinion that have been expressed. There is only one speech, however, that I think one must try to criticise. Although one hates to criticise anyone in the evening of his days, nothing can excuse the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) for having permeated his entire speech with the atmosphere that Germany is arming for war. Surely if Germany in 1914, at the very peak of her power and wealth, when she was more than adequately equipped to wage a successful war, failed then, and if we in our turn, with all our allies and all the others who hoped to gain something out of the war and who attached themselves to our cause, were only just able to win, surely it is impossible to visualise a situation in which either the losers or the victors will ever again, at least in our lifetime, embark on such a disastrous conflict.
There were some other points of view, expressed principally by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), with every one of whose statements I totally disagree. He submitted vague and academic platitudes about peace and the need of collective security, but if apparently some countries refuse to play at this ideal game, he has nothing to propose but war—war against those who will not play. I cannot help thinking that that is not the best way to ensure peace. In fact, it has destroyed my confidence in the common sense of many of my hon. Friends in the Liberal party. Members of the Labour party have not given their views on the ques- 667 tion to-day, so I cannot criticise them, but I have been very shocked at some of the points of view expressed by Members of the Liberal party in this very grave and serious turn that the situation in Europe has taken.
Two points of view seem to have been expressed to-day, both completely divergent. One section of speakers criticises the Government for doing their duty and protecting our own country and Empire and for being able to carry out our obligations under the Locarno Treaty, and the other blames Germany for rearming for the protection of her own people. I wonder if it has struck many Members of this Committee as to exactly when Herr Hitler gave his two dramatic disclosures as regards his army of 560,000 men and the building of submarines. The two declarations were made, the first before the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary paid his visit to Berlin; in other words, Herr Hitler, in my opinion, wanted to have something to bargain with. The submarine declaration he made before the Naval Conference; in other words, again he wanted to have something to trade with. That seems to me to be a very legitimate interpretation of the position.
To come down to real facts, what is the position as regards ourselves and as regards Germany? I will not stress the arguments that have been advanced about our 80,000 miles of coastal routes and five days' food supplies constantly on the seas, and the £300,000,000 of raw materials constantly making their way towards our shores that have to be protected. Those are obligations that the Government have to fulfil to their own country, but there are also duties to be observed under the Locarno Treaty. How can either we or Germany carry out our duties under Locarno if we are both unarmed? Yet that is the very thing that some of our pacifist friends refuse to see. It might be of interest for the Committee to learn of a little investigation that I made in the League of Nations disarmament book the other day, which show how our country stands in relation to, say, a group of hostile neighbours on the Continent. We have to remember that Britain to-day has no alliances. Every other country has, but we have none. We stand on our own feet and have to 668 depend upon the Empire coming in with us.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
Yes, according to the Kellogg Pact, but there is no definite alliance under which we have to go to each other's assistance if we are attacked. We have to go to other people's assistance, but they do not have to come to ours.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
We to-day have no country that is obliged to come to our assistance if we are attacked.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
Oh, Article XVI of the Covenant. How often has that been thrown up, and how often in these recent years would it not have used if it had been really a useful proposition? To-day Britain, without alliances and surrounded by France, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia, all within bombing distance or open to other forms of attack, has 130,000 men as against 2,856,000; 540 heavy guns against 5,095; 2,868 aeroplanes against 11,100; and 580 tanks against 2,860. That is the position of Britain to-day, and we ask that the Government should put us in an adequate position to defend ourselves against any hostile group of countries on the Continent.
It has been mentioned in the Debate that there is a movement on foot in this country for isolation. For several years this question has been discussed. The idea of isolation is very attractive, the idea being I presume that if we were to isolate ourselves from Europe, Europe would leave us in tranquil security. I fear that that is rather a foolish hope, and if that great newspaper proprietor who advances that idea, and whose object is entirely good, would really get down to realities, he would find that we could not isolate ourselves from Europe. We are tied to Europe geographically, economically and, most of all, strategically, and nothing can separate us. We are tied geographically because, the advance of science, aeroplanes and numerous other devices have brought 669 Europe within a few minutes of our shores. We are tied economically, because, if there were any upheaval in Europe that brought disaster, we should share in the disaster. We have our balances and finances so mixed up with Europe that we cannot divorce ourselves from the Continent. Strategically we have practically no protection to-day. The First Lord of the Admiralty has said that our Navy has been cut to the bone and that many of our ships are obsolete. We have been told by the Air Minister that we are the fifth or sixth of the air Powers in our race for air protection and we have been warned by the Minister of War that we are below our proper requirements in the Army. Our ports, the very arteries of our trade, would be left exposed to attack by air. Our great cities, the economic centres of our national life, are exposed to poison and destruction from above. I feel, therefore, that, irrespective of what might be the ideal and of what we might wish, we have to recognise that we are European and must take adequate steps to play our part on the European stage.
The argument has been used to-day against our arming. The Government have properly taken a definite line that the time has come to put ourselves in a fit state of defence pending some settlement of the present position in Europe. The other criticism that has been made was against Germany for taking steps for her own protection. I again went into this question through the League of Nations disarmament book to find out how Germany stood. The figures of Germany's armaments are very difficult to get, but however many men, aeroplanes and submarines she may have, what is her position She is surrounded by a very menacing wall of steel and hostile groups of neighbours. She has against her 3,025,000 bayonets, 5,035 heavy guns, 13,268 aeroplanes and 3,440 tanks. We do not know what Germany has got, but, if we take the highest figure of what she has built or threatened to build, she is still in a parlous position in face of those countries that are around her. We must remember that Germany has a population of youth led by a virile and youthful leader, which is largely ignorant of the horrors of war, but bitterly conscious of the humiliations of peace. These are the people with whom we are dealing. These 670 are the people who for 15 years have been receiving promises of various kinds and have very often got stones when they were promised bread.
In my opinion, and I believe the opinion of the large majority of hon. Members, the demand of the German people is for security and for the dignity and honour that an armed status gives. That demand is put forward by the German people as a whole. I do not believe that it comes so much from above as has been indicated. I believe that it comes from below and that it is to satisfy that legitimate demand of the vast bulk of the German people, especially the youthful section, that Herr Hitler has gained so much popularity in the action he has taken. Every country in Europe is armed now, and everyone therefore has something to give and, in giving, something to gain in security, economy and peace. How could we expect a logical and subjective nation like France to disarm when they had no reason to do so, in spite of our pressure and the example which we had given them for 16 years? How could we imagine that an intensely nationalist race like the fascist Italians would give away anything when there was nothing to be gained by giving? Now that Germany is armed and we are assuming adequate protection, these logical latin nations will see that it is better to disarm, because, if they disarm, Germany has given a definite undertaking that she will disarm too. In the Reichstag on 17th May, 1933, Herr Hitler said:Germany would also be perfectly ready to disband her entire military establishment and destroy the small amount of arms remaining to her if the neighbouring countries will do the same thing with equal thoroughness.I have here several similar quotations. Some people may say that this is bluff. If it is, surely it is worth while to call it. If Herr Hitler has given his assurance, and if we believe, as most of us do, that he is honest and sincere, it would be worth the avoidance of war and of the cataclysm which is threatening us now, according to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, to take the apparent risk and to call Germany's bluff, and to say to her, "You have promised to disarm and we will disarm; let us make a convention on the lines of the Prime Minister's draft convention." 671 That draft convention was one of the most constructive and sanest arrangements for peace that has ever been put before the League of Nations. I only wish the Government would push it forward, because it was on that draft convention that we most nearly succeeded in bringing general peace to a distracted Europe. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will not lose sight of it during the many discussions that are taking place.
There is only one point I want to stress again, and that is in regard to the obligations we have taken under Locarno. Suppose France attacked Germany for some reason or other, what good would we be to Germany, or Germany be to us, under Locarno if neither of us was armed? That seems a logical question which we must ask ourselves, if, indeed, that Locarno Treaty means anything, as I believe it does, because I regard it as a wise and good treaty. If it means anything, surely it must mean that if such an unfortunate event were to take place as France attacking Germany then, to be honest to the Treaty and to each other, we must have the wherewithal to meet those obligations. There is a great deal depending on the British Government and on my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council. I believe they have got it in their hands to-day to bring peace to Europe. The British Government and the British people are thought far more of by foreigners than they think of themselves. They have a tremendous weight in the counsels of the world. Almighty Providence and our own people have given my right hon. Friend and his colleagues the ability to lead, and if they will use this great opportunity which still presents itself—I do not believe it is too late—they may well be the means of bringing a lasting and permanent peace to Europe and, through Europe, to the rest of the world.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
We have had an extremely interesting debate and have heard a great variety of opinions expressed on these very important matters. I am bound to say that I could not quite understand where the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) stood. He rejected isolation, he 672 scorned collective security by approving of Locarno, and I do not know whether he stood for some form of alliance, but broadly speaking, this debate has been remarkable for the fact that no suggestion of the possibility of isolation has been put forward. There has been a considerable degree of support for the principle of collective security. I found the Prime Minister's statement profoundly disturbing. He put before us the serious position of the world. I think the world has drifted into its present position through lack of courageous and straight guidance. I do not think it would be useful at this juncture to try to weigh nicely the responsibilities of this country and that country. It would be tempting, perhaps, to go back over past years—but one has already done that—and to point out this omission or that commission. I believe the broad truth is that no one of the great Powers is guiltless of responsibility for the situation into which the world has drifted to-day. It was said some time after the late war by, I think, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that we could not say that one country was responsible for that war but that the nations drifted into it. In the same way I believe we have to realise that responsibility for the present situation belongs to all countries.
The menace of Hitler-Germany has been to a great extent created by the victorious Powers. I say "the menace" because I think it is a menace. One has to face the fact of what Hitler-Germany is. It is not merely a matter of a certain State rearming, it is a certain kind of State, and Hitler-Germany is to my mind a denial of the fundamental principles of western civilisation. We on this side are fully aware of what can be said on behalf of Germany, but we are no defenders of Hitler-Germany. We know what our own friends in Germany have suffered, and are suffering, and therefore it is very difficult for us to speak patiently of the present rulers of Germany, and to resist the impulse to suggest that all the world must join together to crush Germany. That is a temptation to which we on this side of the House are subject. I do not believe that is the way in which we can meet the situation of Hitler-Germany. I do not think we can beat down the kind of movement in Germany by external pressure of that kind. It was tried in the 673 case of Soviet Russia and tried, also, in the French Revolution.
But we must say that for the creation of this Frankenstein the British Government must take its share of responsibility. We on these benches do not talk lightly, in the very least, of breaches of treaties and covenants. I have myself no doubt wearied the House by insisting upon our obligations under covenants, our obligations to the League of Nations. We have insisted over and over Again that there must be an observance of treaties and covenants. A peaceful world can only be built up on mutual trust and confidence. But it is a mistake to make a great outcry now at Germany's breach of the armament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, because what we are making a tremendous difficulty about is not the fact but the avowal. It is a fait accompli. It has been going on for years, this rearmament of Germany, and I think the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was right when he said that the protest ought to have been made earlier if it was going to be made. It has come now, when rearmament is avowed, but everybody knew the kind of rearmament preparations that were going on in Germany, and as a matter of fact every signatory to the Versailles Treaty winked at it.
It may be said that it is a virtuous thing not to insist on the letter of a treaty, but it is not a good thing to wink at treaties. When treaties have outgrown their utility it is better to have them reformed than wink at them, to pass by on the other side and then later raise the question. A protest was not made. I think it should have been made, and it would have been made if the victor Powers, when they came to the Disarmament Conference, had been really in earnest about disarmament, because to allow the rearmament of Germany—and there must have been knowledge of it—to go on while discussing disarmament was to stultify the discussions of the Disarmament Conference. There was occasion after occasion, especially in the earlier months of that Conference, when, if we had closed the proposals that were made, if we had given an energetic lead, the whole question of any rearmament of Germany must have come out and been dealt with. The whole matter would have been brought to the test. We are reaping to-day what has been sown in 674 the last 3½ years by the failure to make a reality of either collective security or disarmament. But I do not want to go back over those years.
I want to face what is the position now and what is the policy of the Government now. We need a much clearer statement from the Government as to that position and as to where the Government stand. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said that it has often been said that armaments were the result of policy, but that, on the other hand, policy was sometimes the result of armaments. I think that Hitler at the present time is playing the game of power politics. I think it is a dangerous thing to start a panic, and to suggest that there is imminent danger of war next week or anything of that kind. I think you can carry that a great deal too far. You have to realise that Hitler is playing the game of power politics, and that is due to the failure to resettle the affairs of Europe on the basis of justice, peace, equality and disarmament. We are paying now for the failure to have dealt fairly with the after-the-war position in the years when Germany was disarmed; and this move back to power politics is the real meaning of Hitler, and it is equally the meaning of Mussolini.
Are we going to follow the same path? If we do, then, in my view, the end is certain to be war sooner or later. You cannot play at rattling the sabre without it coming out of the scabbard sooner or later. The question I ask is: Are we, like other nations, in the words of the Prime Minister in his article in the "News-Letter," to "return for an evanescent comfort to increased military equipment"? That is about all that the right hon. Member for Epping asks, and I do not know that the Prime Minister offers very much more. Both these right hon. Gentlemen paid a tribute of lip-service to collective security, but both of them measured our armament needs on the basis of national security. Both of them, in fact, entered this nation in the new arms race. The Prime Minister, it is true, had a good deal to say about regional pacts. In my view, at the best, these have only a limited utility; and at the worst they may tend to weaken the Covenant and the wider loyalty to the League, and 675 particularly the whole idea of the universality of peace under the League of Nations.
One of the most dangerous drifts we have seen going on in the past few years is this tendency to think that you can separate the world into kinds of zones of peace. I do not think it is possible. I certainly do not think it is possible for this country. At times in this Debate we have tended to concentrate too much on the question of Europe. Europe is not the world, and the British Empire has world-wide interests; and we cannot afford to look just at Europe without considering the whole world. Then, again, there is Russia. It has been said in this Debate, and I entirely agree, that any general system of collective security, and certainly any regional pact, must contain Russia. The adhesion of Russia is absolutely vital to any attempt at collective security in Europe. But Russia has an Eastern frontier as well as a Western frontier, and it is useless to think that you can settle Europe without thinking of the whole world position. Therefore, we must consider not merely the question of regional pacts as put forward by the Prime Minister, but the really big matter of making the Covenant effective.
The Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne), in a very eloquent speech, referred to the importance of really strengthening the Covenant. I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether it is still our policy to make the Covenant effective, and whether we intend to rely on collective security. And this, too, whether we believe not merely that war should not be the instrument of policy, but that policy should not be pursued with arms as a potential instrument. That is to say, do we intend to go in for Power politics, or do we intend to go in for the politics of the new world under the League of Nations? Lastly, do we believe in an organised world where the small States as well as the greater States will have their say? I was a little disturbed by that part of the Prime Minister's statement in which he talked of the need of our standing together with Italy and France. Quite so—as long as it is not exclusive. But I feel there is a danger of building up again a system of alliances and groups and counter- 676 groups until we shift away from collective security and get back to the old idea of alliances.
My complaint about the statement of the Prime Minister was that it was a short-range statement. It did not seem to me to have any vision. It did not seem to offer anything more than an uneasy halting-place on a journey which to my mind, was not travelling necessarily towards peace. I think we must go forward to a more integrated world, and not allow the nations to slip back into a world divided into hostile camps. We do not want to give Germany absolute sovereignty. We would rather see equality by the surrender by other States of a portion of their sovereignty; and I believe that the surrender of a greater degree of sovereignty to the League is the essential line for getting anything like a peaceful world. In exactly the same way we do not believe in granting Germany equality in re-armament; but rather in disarmament. Then I agree with other hon. Members who say that we must not for ever insist on the sacrosanctity of treaties. All treaties need revision from time to time. Indeed, I think that the failure of the League—or at least its limited success—has been because it was based on the sacrosanctity of dictated Peace Treaties.
I agree with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), who made an interesting maiden speech, that there must be new agreements—though I would not agree to hand over either Colonial or any other people to Nazi rule. Our position has, I think, been made abundantly clear. We stand by the collective system and we want the strengthening of the Covenant. Strengthening of the Covenant, to my mind, is infinitely more important than regional pacts, and we welcome the statement in regard to the committee which is to be set up to consider economic and other sanctions. We think it is vital that the sanctions under the Covenant should be strengthened. With regard to air armaments, the Leader of the Opposition said that we believed absolutely in the abolition of air armaments, and he asked whether that is also the Government's view. We ask this because we feel that in a world so closely united we must abolish national air armaments. We also believe in a world police force.
677 I was rather disturbed because the Prime Minister talked of air forces always in relation to national defence, comparing us with the German forces and talking rather of what was needed for our defence as if he were considering the matter in isolation, and not as though our air forces would be a contribution to a collective system. I noticed that he talked of the Government's responsibility to the people of this country; it is quite right that he should. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, but the Government's responsibility extends beyond the people of this country. The Government have a responsibility for the people of Europe. The isolationist doctrine takes account of the Government's responsibility to the people of this country, but we are members of the League of Nations, and we have to be good Europeans and good world citizens as well as good nationals. I would emphasise that we have never been afraid of saying from these benches that the Government ought to take up their wider responsibility. The Government have a tendency at times to say, on the one hand, "We are taking more responsibility" and, on the other hand, "We are not taking more responsibility." That has left the world very much in doubt.
I stress again the point that we made in the course of this debate that economic questions lie behind the political. It is said that the German nation are defending themselves, but a proper outlet is very difficult in the present economic organisation of the world. The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that it was said over and over again at the time of the World Economic Conference that peace and disarmament depended upon the success of that Conference. I believe that our Government ought to give a lead, and to try to get back some kind of economic prosperity to Europe. The economic difficulties exacerbate the political difficulties.
We intend to keep this Vote open and to raise again the important questions which we have been discussing. We must not be taken as agreeing in any way with the proposals of the Government. In our view it is the Government's failure to follow a consistent line of policy which has contributed in no small measure to the drift back to the war atmosphere. This view is not confined to the political opponents of the Government on these 678 benches, but is very widely held. I should like to give a quotation of something which appeared in a French paper called "La Lumière." It is an alleged conversation with a Foreign Office official. I cannot vouch for it, but am merely repeating what appeared in that newspaper. A Foreign Office official is supposed to have said that the British Government were unable to come to a decision in foreign policy because there were at least three different policies. One, that of the Foreign Secretary, was to continue to mediate with Germany indefinitely. The other was the policy of high officials at the Foreign Office who had, for years, been working for a revival of the Anglo-French entente and a military understanding. The third was the policy of the Lord Privy Seal, of collective security based on the Covenant. The first of these policies would, he said, end in another Sedan, the second would end in another Verdun and only the third could give us peace. I am sure we all regret the absence of the Lord Privy Seal from our discussions to-day, and we hope that he will soon be restored to health. If what is stated in that newspaper were the fact, we should plump for the Lord Privy Seal. I hope that this article is wrong and that the Foreign Secretary also is out for collective security and that he will give a strong lead for the strengthening of the Covenant. There is urgent need for security on this point, so that this country and the world may know what the Government's policy is.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Anyone who has attended to this Debate to-day must feel, as we reach its conclusion, how deeply the gravity of the present European situation has sunk into the public mind. I do not propose to occupy a moment of time in retort, or justification, or anything of the sort; what we all wish to do here is to face the facts as they are, to take counsel together as to the attitude and course that we mean to adopt, and to be sure that the course which the Government recommend to the House really responds to the feeling of the country. There is, however, time to deal with two or three specific questions, and I will first take two questions put at the opening of his speech by the Leader of the Opposition. He asked, and to some extent the point was repeated in the 679 speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, whether he was to understand that the policy of this country, and the policy of the Government speaking for this country, was one which went back on the principles of the League, and whether regional pacts were to be regarded as a substitute or an alternative for the Covenant. Let me deal with that question straight away. The answer to it is "No." There is no solid ground whatever for setting up the Covenant on the one side and regional pacts on the other, as though they were two competitive or contradictory methods of mutual assistance.
The Treaty of Locarno, and, as far as I know, it has been approved in quarters opposite, is a regional pact. So far from its being opposed to the principles of the League, one of the first things that happened after my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) had played his notable part, with others, in securing that Treaty, was that the League itself—the Assembly of the whole League—gave its sanction to the Locarno Treaty, recommended it as a model, and urged that in appropriate cases similar arrangements should be sought in other parts of the world. The hon. Gentleman opposite just now descanted on the virtues of universality. I am quite willing to admit that truth is universal, but in this practical world you reach a situation from time to time which, if you want to deal with it effectively according to the practical conditions of the moment, can be much better dealt with by the immediate provision of a regional pact, as long as that regional pact is really fitted into the framework and system of the League. Only the other day the Council of the League passed a resolution, their very latest resolution, carried through at a special meeting on the French appeal in view of the decision which the German Government had announced, inviting the Governments which took the initiative in the plan of the 3rd February, that is to say, the London Declaration, or which gave their approval to it—and I would point out that Germany was one of those countries which approved of the effort made in the London Declaration—inviting those countries to continue the negotiations which were initiated and to permit the conclusion, within the League of 680 Nations, of those regional arrangements, whether in the East of Europe or whether in the South of Europe to which it more particularly referred. There is no ground whatever upon which anybody instructed on this subject could pretend that the effort to bring about a regional agreement for greater mutual assistance in a particular area of the world is a contradiction or a denial of the principles of the Covenant.
The other question I was asked by the Leader of the Opposition is one which permits of an equally simple and definite answer. The right hon. Gentleman inquired at the beginning of the Debate whether he was to understand that the Government were prepared to abolish all aerial warfare if all other Governments would do the same? Why, that is a matter which we have had on record long since. The MacDonald Plan, which is, after all, the one great plan before the Disarmament Conference which has had sustained and close attention and support, contained an article which in terms provided for a scheme to result in the complete abolition of military and naval aircraft. I hear the hon. Gentleman apposite say, "What about police bombing?" I repeat, the complete abolition of military and naval aircraft, and there is only one condition attached to it. I should like to know whether anybody disputes the relevance of the condition. The condition is that there must be, if it is to be abolished, the effective supervision of civil aviation to prevent its misuse for military purposes. That is the unqualified proposition which we put forward, by which we stand, and in which we will take our full part, and have taken our full part, in every practical effort to bring it about. The reference to police bombing made by the hon. Member just now deals with something quite different. That is in connection with a minor proposal if it becomes impossible to abolish all military and naval aircraft. If you can abolish it, you can abolish bombing machines and everything else all over the world. But we did say on the more limited subject of the abolition of bombing from the air that, if that was the only thing which could be accomplished, it was necessary to make provision for police purposes in certain outlying regions. Let me tell the Committee, what I do not 681 think everybody outside always understands, that that exception, that qualification, that reserve has never been any obstacle in the way of progress on this subject from beginning to end. So clear is that that when, some time ago in the House of Commons, there were assertions to the contrary effect, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, in the course of a Debate, on the 5th July, 1933, said from this Box, with the full authority of the Government, that if ever it appeared that that suggested qualification really was putting an obstacle in the way of what would otherwise be accomplished, we would abandon it here and now. In view of the very grave matters which we have to consider in regard to this situation, I hope that in connection with the matters with which I have dealt I have cleared away doubts and that there will be no further misunderstanding.
A very important question was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), a very important question, in the course of a very interesting speech. It is much easier to put that question in a short sentence than to answer it exhaustively, with every possible variation. I will ask the Committee to allow me to answer the question dogmatically in two or three sentences. We shall have other opportunities, no doubt, of considering any conceivable complications or variations that may be suggested. His question was this. He was referring to the Treaty of Locarno, of which he is a supporter, and he said that there was some concern, and he would like to be assured, as to whether the responsibilities of this country—what he called the automatic responsibilities—under the Treaty of Locarno would be extended or affected if there were a Franco-Russian agreement and if thereafter conflict arose between Russia and Germany. The Committee is aware, if the report which reaches me is well founded, that in fact an agreement between France and Soviet Russia has been signed this evening. Therefore, my right hon. Friend's question is a very pertinent one.
Let us consider it. Suppose that Russia and Germany were to get into conflict and that France went to the help of Russia by invading Germany, would that bring this country automatically, as my right hon. Friend says, in on the side of Germany? The answer is, "No." If 682 Germany attacks Russia and in view of a Franco-Russian treaty of mutual assistance France goes to the assistance of Russia by attacking Germany, the Locarno Treaty does not put this country in those circumstances under any obligation to go to the assistance of Germany. That is a general proposition, and I think that I shall be confirmed in it by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). There is, for the purpose of completeness and accuracy, a proviso which should be stated, and it is this. In order that that should be the position, in order that Germany should have no claim under Locarno upon us, then, of course, the assistance of France to Russia must be given in virtue of certain stipulations of the Covenant of the League of Nations, Article XVI and Article XV, paragraph 7, which is referred to in the Treaty of Locarno itself. The terms of the prospective Franco-Russian pact, so far as they were known to us—of course, we shall get this confirmed now—are, we are assured, such that all its provisions will be subordinate to the operation of the Locarno Treaty. It follows, therefore, that British obligations will not be increased any more than they were increased under the Locarno Treaty by the treaties of mutual assistance which France concluded at the same time with Poland and Czechoslovakia. I have endeavoured to state the position in a few orderly sentences, and I hope that hon. Members who take a special interest in the subject, which has its technical side, will be good enough to read my words when they are reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I would rather not indulge in further illustrations or qualifications without more mature consideration.
Now I must turn to another and most important question, which in its general aspect has quite rightly been made prominent in the Debate to-night, though it is agreed that in its more technical and special aspects it will be a topic of debate within a few days time. It will need that debate, for when you are discussing the question of air strength you are dealing with a far more technical subject which involves a great deal more analysis and subdivision than a broad statement itself can convey. At the same time it appears to me that it will be only fair to the Committee and the country if 683 I offer two or three observations in addition to the all important declaration which was made by the Prime Minister at the opening of the Debate. I am not going to spend my time on this serious matter in justification or anything of that kind. Suffice it to say that the information which was put before the House last November by the Government was put forward with candour, without any economy of information, and I would ask the House to realise that the service which is rendered to this country by the experts who consider these complicated questions and who furnish the Government and the country with all the information they can, is a service which is carried on under great conditions of obscurity. Certainly I stand here and speak for and take any responsibility for these faithful servants, who cannot speak for themselves. As a matter of fact, it will be found when the Debate takes place in a few days time that we shall have to draw a pretty clear distinction between the information as to what was in fact the position last autumn in Germany and the calculation or estimate or prognostication as to how rapidly it would be possible or likely for Germany to increase her former provision.
The second is a matter of estimate, and it will be found to be undoubtedly the case that the rate of production of aeroplanes in Germany has increased very much more rapidly than our advisers thought was likely when these calculations as to the future were presented to the House last Autumn. As regards the actual figures of aeroplanes, it was stated as far as information was available to us at the time, and I would warn the House not to assume that the figure then given was very wide of the mark. I will tell the House why. Whereas we here in the House then mentioned a figure which we said might run up to 1,000, the figure that had been given in the French Chamber, where it would not be suggested there was not a very keen watch being kept and where there was certainly no desire to minimise the dangerous facts—the highest estimate given in the French Chamber was 1,100. It is far more difficult to estimate how far the figure, whatever it was, should be regarded as constituting organised squadrons, or how far they were less developed. All those matters will come up in the 684 Debate which will shortly take place. What is certain is, and I warn the House now, that the information which has come to us does go to show that the rate of industrial production in Germany has been increasing lately very rapidly.
It would be only right if I made one other statement of a numerical kind, for it is plain that when the debate takes place very shortly this figure will be one of the figures that will be desired; and therefore, having consulted the Prime Minister, I make the statement now, not for the purpose of further questioning or discussion this evening, but because it is right that Members here should have this figure in their minds before the coming debate. The statement which Herr Hitler made to the Lord Privy Seal and myself when we were in Berlin is a statement that has already been accurately reported to the House. It was made in answer to a question which I myself posed, and it was not made, of course, by technical experts or in the course of an elaborately technical discussion. The statement was a very general one, that Germany has already reached parity with this country. I have the duty of reporting that we have since ascertained with more precision what that statement was intended to imply, and I state the facts now. We have since been informed that that statement which was made to us was intended to imply that Germany's first-line strength was equivalent to a British front-line strength of some 800 or 850 aircraft. That is not including auxiliary or special reserve units, but it is including the British figures of aircraft overseas. I think it right that as that additional piece of information is in our possession it should be stated.
In making a few further remarks, with careful consideration of the words I employ, I want to answer one or two very pertinent questions put to me by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. I wish to remind the House that I have already made the statement—made I need hardly say after full consultation with the Lord Privy Seal—here in the House on 9th April as to a large number of the matters of fact or matters of statement which emerged as a result of our visit to Berlin and the other visits paid by my right hon. Friend. I may say, having regard to the tremendous issues and responsibilities involved, I hesitate extremely to offer any estimates as to the 685 amount of credence to be attached to this or the impression to be attached to that statement. At the same time, I would like to convey to the House, in more general terms, one or two conclusions which I formed in my own mind.
I think it would be fair to say that the German Chancellor throughout emphasised that his attitude was that he wished to state the final requirements of Germany. He conveyed to us very strongly the impression that he considered that it would be wrong to advance certain demands now, in order to increase them later, just as it would be wrong to keep silent now and then start some new topic hereafter. I must say that this was illustrated in the very close discussion which we had on the subject of Germany's return to the League of Nations. I gathered that his view was that it would be an impossible situation if Germany were to return to the League and then put forward new demands hitherto undisclosed; and he claimed that for that reason, among others, he was putting what he had to say, frankly and fully and as I understood finally. In the case of the figures which he mentioned for a future German navy and on which I gave the House information when I made my statement on 9th April, he pointed out that their practical realisation could not take place immediately; that they could only be realised in the course of time. On all that and in connection with the facts which he put up from beginning to end we understood that he was stating frankly, fully and finally the attitude which Germany took up, and that he wished to assure us that this was not the first part of a piecemeal declaration. That, undoubtedly, was the impression which was produced on my right hon. Friend and myself, and I think it right that I should report it to the House.
We pressed most strongly for the return of Germany to the League of Nations, and in regard to that I must confess that I am in some respects very disappointed. Some of his objections one could well follow and understand. His first objection was that the League of Nations in his view was associated with the system set up under the Treaty of Versailles, and that the Covenant was a part of the Treaty—to which the natural answer is "If that be the stumbling block, let us work together to 686 separate the Covenant and make it, with good will all round, a wholly independent document, though its origin inside the Peace Treaty is perfectly natural and absolutely intelligible." That was his main proposition. I am reporting my own impression, and I have not the slightest doubt he was conveying a very deep feeling there is in Germany that Germany was in some way a country of inferior right. I need not tell the House that the representatives of the British Government challenged that proposition. We pointed out that Locarno had been followed by Germany's return to the League, that she was not merely a member of the League but a permanent member of the Council, and that our own experience was that she had played her full part there.
I was asked a question about Colonies. I have already stated to the House precisely what took place. Apart from his objection that the Covenant, in his view, was tied up with the Treaty of Versailles, this further objection was very strongly insisted on. Japan, it was said, had left the League, and yet she has still, though not a member, the administration of a former German colony. If Germany is to be regarded as not fit to administer any colony, where is the equality? To that, as we pointed out, and as I point out here again now, we surely have got a good answer which reasonable men should consider. The distribution of mandates is not a question for any individual member of the League. It is a question for the League itself.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
Surely this is very important. If my right hon. Friend's words stood unqualified as he has spoken them, it would give rise to a wholly false impression, and indicate an entirely new departure on the part of the Government. The mandates were allotted by the Powers at Versailles. Territories mandated were placed under the guardianship of the League. It has never been held or pretended that it was within the power of the League to transfer a mandate from one country to another.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am very much obliged. I do not think, although I am sorry I should have stated the matter not quite accurately, that I have conveyed any false impression, for my right hon. Friend and I made it perfectly plain that the transfer of mandates is a question which is not a discussable question, and that, as far as we were concerned, we left the German Chancellor under no misapprehensions as to our own position in that matter. I was led to make an inaccurate observation, and I am glad to be corrected, because it did appear to me that this view that Germany is in a position of inferiority on this ground is, when you have regard to the structure in which we want her to form a part, surely a contention that cannot be maintained.
I want, in conclusion, to say that the real effect of this Debate, and the real result of the position we have obtained is this: We have undoubtedly, as the result of these recent inquiries, passed from a position in which everybody was feeling for the facts in a fog into a new position in which the facts, pleasant or unpleasant, are at any rate plainer than they were. To that extent, I am convinced that these visits and explorations have served a useful purpose. Whether it be true that the whole facts are now known is quite another matter, but I consider that the case put at the beginning of the Debate by the Prime Minister is unanswerable, and I would venture to repeat it in this form: If it were true that our answer to this situation simply is that everybody must rearm and that is the end of the story, then there is no peace to be got. On the other hand, we may have a situation in which you must face the facts as they are and increase armaments, among other things, for the purpose of securing that there is no possibility of domination where what is wanted is equal treatment.
It is not with any idea that armaments in themselves provide the final solution, but because it is the condition precedent to securing what is wanted now, that we ask for approval of the course we are taking, and we make this observation in all friendliness to Germany. Germany is by way of helping herself to equality by her unilateral act. Aye, but Germany 688 was one of the Powers that signed the Five-Power Declaration which declared for equality in a system of security. What is it that Germany is now prepared, not to say, but to do, in order to restore in some degree that sense of security which she must see has been so seriouly prejudiced if not shattered by recent events? I think the case made by my Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne) put the whole thing in a nutshell. After all, of whom is it that Germany is afraid? We have kept open the door; we have tried to clear the road. We are not engaged in a senseless, endless, hopeless competition, piling armaments upon armaments to the end of time, but we are bound to establish the safety of this country against all for the very purpose of making it possible to pursue that policy of promoting security and peace in Europe and the world, in which we cannot be suspect by anyone, in which we have a great work to do as mediator, and in which we implore Germany to show that she is prepared to take her part, not merely in words, but in deeds.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.