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.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
It may be asked why the House should be invited to-day to discuss questions of foreign affairs, and particularly in relation to defence, seeing that it is only nine days ago that we had a full Debate upon similar subjects, but the reason why we venture to invite the House to do so is this. On that occasion the House met on the very day of the publication of the speech of Herr Hitler, the German Chancellor, a speech which by common consent is one of the most important events in present day international politics. The Government stated quite reasonably on that occasion that it would be impossible for them to make any statement based upon the proposals of that speech without due opportunity for full consideration and preparation. Similarly, in this House, the spokesman of each section of opinion here was unable, after such a short interval, to take into account the implications and the consequences of the proposals in that speech when addressing the House upon that occasion.
Now, some interval having elapsed and it being known that communications have passed between the British Government and the German Government on these matters, we consider that, in view of the anxieties felt within this House and in the country with regard to this subject, 1424 the Government may perhaps be in a position to-day to make a statement that was impossible then. But the House is again somewhat unfortunate in the day that happens to be chosen for a Debate on this subject, for this morning there is the announcement of the fall of the French Government, and the attitude of France to these questions of air limitation is one of essential importance. Yet I do hope that it will be possible for His Majesty's Government to make some statement upon these matters which will be of a helpful character, for these are days in which the politics of Europe may be taking their direction which will set the course of events perhaps for years to come. The Lord Privy Seal, in a speech that he made the other day, said that we were living in a period of transition. Of course, we always are living in a period of transition, and mankind always has been so living. I remember that Dean Inge once observed thatIt is believed that when our first parents left Paradise, Adam said to Eve, My dear, we are living in an age of transition'."But perhaps at this present time, and so far as international politics are concerned, these are, in fact, days which may be momentous for the future, and the course taken by the Governments in these months of 1935 may set the course of world events perhaps for a generation to come.
In approaching problems of defence and foreign politics every responsible governing assembly, such as this House of Parliament, must recognise that it has before it a dual task. It was well expressed by Lord Halifax, speaking on behalf of the Government in the House of Lords, a few days ago. On the one hand, Governments and Parliaments have to ensure adequate defences for their own country; on the other hand, they have to ensure that international relations shall be conducted so that the risk of war may be minimised and so that expenditure upon armaments may be kept low. Both those aspects of policy must be considered simultaneously by this Government or by any Government, in this country or in any country, at the present time or at any time. There are, it is true, some who dissent from the necessity of the maintenance of national defences. The most distinguished representative of that 1425 school, and almost the only representative in this House, is the leader of the Opposition, who said some time ago, not very long ago, in words that have often been quoted, that, if he had his way, "he would disband the Army, dismantle the Navy and dismiss the Air Force, and say to the world Do your worst' ", and who on another occasion urged the young men in his constituency to keep out of the Air Force, the Army and the Navy. If that advice were followed, of course, those forces would disappear through inanition. But that, he was careful to explain, did not represent the view of the Labour party; and certainly such doctrines do not represent the view of the Liberal party, which always throughout its long history has insisted upon due heed being paid to the necessities of national defence.
This aspect of the case will be made very clear if we look at the matter not as affecting ourselves, but as affecting some other country, say, France or the United States, great democracies, peace loving. Should we say that in the present state of the world they would be well advised to pay little attention to their national defences or, indeed, to proceed as far as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition? If the United States or if France were completely to disarm while countries with the mentality of Japan and Germany maintained and increased their armaments, would that be a service to the world; would that be a service either to the cause of democracy or to the cause of peace? But we here must realise that what would be wrong for such countries as France and the United States would equally be wrong for us. When we, in full sincerity, urge the supreme importance of the collective system, we must also dwell upon the necessity of the collective system, if the occasion should arise, being in a position and being willing to place in the field, if ever matters should come to the ultimate ordeal, a force which would be so overwhelming as to be an effective deterrent from every form of aggression.
Can we have confidence at the present time that that can effectively be done, seeing that three of the greatest Powers of the world are not now within the collective system from different and, to 1426 some extent, opposite motives—the United States, Japan and Germany—and that another of the great Powers has an attachment to that system which is somewhat lukewarm. We have to realise, as with our responsibilities we must realise, that it is impossible to foresee the future, that the unexpected may happen, that things may not go according to plan, and that the collective system may at some moment of crisis not be made fully available far the purposes that we have in view. It is therefore no insincerity in our devotion to the collective system if we realise at the same time, that the nation must have a care for its own individual defence, particularly in this age when the conquest of the air by man has introduced an entirely new factor with respect to which we can have no possibility of guidance from the history of the past.
This land has always depended for its security mainly upon the fact that it is an island surrounded by the sea. The Lord President of the Council the other day referred to the old phrase of "this moated land," but a moat is little protection if anyone at any time can jump over it, and that is the situation now with the development of air forces. Furthermore, in the late war we suffered the gravest anxieties in this country with regard to our supply of food and raw materials owing to the submarine menace, and if another conflict should unhappily ensue we do not know, and we have as yet no guidance whatever, what will be the effect of air forces upon our sea communications. Submarines were able to sink so many of our supply ships that there were moments when the whole population was gravely anxious for its food and its industry, and it may be that in another war swift sea planes, attacking individual merchant ships with torpedoes, may prove an infinitely greater menace to our sea communications than was experienced in the last great war. That is why we on these benches, intensely reluctant though we are to sanction any increased expenditure on armaments, are compelled by the necessities of the case to recognise that in existing circumstances, as they are, the Government would be doing less than their duty unless they made adequate provision under this head.
1427 In the Debate on the White Paper, speaking on behalf of my hon. Friends, I made it plain that if a case were to be made out showing the clear necessity for art increase we certainly could not take the responsibility of opposing such increase. I do not believe that this nation would ever consent to an avowed inferiority in its defences compared with its neighbours in Europe. In the Debate that took place on the 22nd May that was the narrow issue then before the House. We were not going into the history of the events that have led up to this situation. We were not then discussing the opportunities that may have been missed at the Disarmament Conference. We were not then discussing the general foreign policy of the Government and how far the situation in which we now find ourselves, and which we all greatly deplore, might have been avoided by greater energy or by greater diplomatic skill. There was then the narrow issue whether, conditions being as they are, the Government were right or wrong to propose a strengthening of the Air Force, and we dissented entirely from the action of the Labour party in voting for a reduction in the Estimate then before the House, which was intended as a censure upon the present policy of His Majesty's Government in this particular connection.
If the danger which we foresee as possible did become actual and if the risks which we now have to contemplate as a contingency were realised and if this House had rejected the proposals which were laid before it by the Government, how could any of us have justified to our consciences the votes we would have given on that occasion? I feel sure that the Members of the Labour party would have been glad that when they voted in that way on the 22nd May they had not at that moment a majority in the House of Commons. That is one side of the dual task, to use Lord Halifax's phrase. The Government have made it clear again and again that if an agreement can be reached for a general limitation of air forces or a general limitation of armaments their programme is subject to modification. It has been repeatedly stated that we are prepared at any time to come to an arrangement with other nations that would render unnecessary 1428 this vast expenditure upon an increase in the Air Force or indeed an increase in other armaments. The White Paper which was presented To Parliament a few months ago stated:The Government desire to emphasise that the measures now proposed are elastic. They will not only be subject to frequent review in the light of prevailing conditions but may from time to time be adjusted in either direction if circumstances should in the opinion of His Majesty's Government warrant any change.In the Debate on the 22nd May, the Lord President of the Council repeated that declaration and quoted a sentence used by the Prime Minister in a previous Debate. The Prime Minister had said on the 2nd May:I wonder if I might interpolate the thought that in connection with the further consideration of this Pact"—that is, the Air Pact—we might come to an agreement as regards air strength."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1935; col. 576, Vol. 301.] The Lord President of the Council, after quoting that statement, said:I look upon that last sentence"—That is, the sentence used by Herr Hitler—as a confirmation that that hope, put forward by our Prime Minister on the 2nd May, has received a reply which, I think, shows to us that that hope has now some foundation, and that, by common effort of the countries concerned, some result may be attained."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1935; col. 361, Vol. 302.]In the other House Lord Halifax, speaking on behalf of the Government, made a similar and parallel declaration. He said that the Government would be prepared at any moment to reduce and decelerate and arrive at an agreement on any lower level that might be reached by international concurrence. Even my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who is the most strenuous and uncompromising of the advocates for an expansion of our forces on the sea and in the air, said on the 22nd May:We are bound to realise that we are entering upon a dark and dangerous valley through which we have to march for quite a long time to come unless some blessed relief comes to us from some agreement—for which there is hardly any exertion that we should not make."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1935; col. 421, Vol. 302.]I do not know why my right hon. Friend qualified his statement by using the word "hardly." I should have thought that any and every exertion that 1429 might arrive at an agreement to save the country from this heavy sacrifice, and other countries also, ought undoubtedly to be made. I think that so far the whole of the Committee will be in agreement and that I shall have the assent of the Government and every section of the House in saying that if it were only possible to arrive at an agreement to limit the air forces of the countries of Western Europe that possibility should be eagerly welcomed, and that then the programme laid before Parliament by the Government in respect of the Air Force could and should at once be modified.
The question arises, and this is the main point I wish to put to the Committee to-day, whether the Government are really prepared to put all their energies into the achievement of this object or whether these declarations that have been made by Ministers so often are merely by way of parenthesis. Different minds approach this dual policy of defence on the one hand and peace on the other—to use a phrase stating the situation in the fewest possible words—in different ways. There are some, a large and powerful school in this country, fully represented in this House, who hold the view that the one thing that really matters is to obtain security through armaments; that the League of Nations, collective control, mutual disarmament, are all very well if only they prove to be practicable. They themselves would be quite prepared, in all sincerity, to enter into and take part in efforts directed to make that system practicable, but in their hearts they do not expect that very much will come of it and are convinced that what really matters is to strengthen fully the armaments of this nation in the air, on the sea, and on the land. They derive their inspiration from Milton's eagle "mewing its mighty youth," which Lord Londonderry took as his inspiration.
The other school of thought, also powerful in the country and well represented in this House, is one which agrees that defence is essential, but is convinced that the country will never get security merely through armaments. It regards the League of Nations, collective control, mutual disarmament and the will to peace, as the only things which really matter. They look upon these things not as a parenthesis but as the prime 1430 object of all our endeavours. Those for whom I speak and who claim the name of Liberals regard this as of the essence of their creed, whether they are British Liberals or Liberals in any other country of the world. It is unnecessary for me to emphasise the reasons for this attitude of mind. War is an evil thing in itself. It is wrong that it should be necessary to enrol increasing thousands of young men in order that they should be sent into the air to kill or be killed. Uniforms, displays, the sense of adventure, oratory do not conceal the real essence of the thing, which is that sooner or later young men will be sent into the sky to shoot down young men of other countries at the risk to themselves of being mutilated or killed; and all of them animated by the best and highest of motives. All honour and thanks to those who are willing to accept these perilous tasks; the blame falls on the statesmen, the politicians and the leaders of thought in all countries who set them to it.
Again our civilisation, such as it is in this age, includes a social system which as everyone knows—it is obvious—is full of the gravest faults. Extreme poverty, ignorance and evil environment are rife in so-called civilised countries, and the question arises to what purpose societies may best devote their wealth. We know now that the leading countries in the world, according to the figures of the League of Nations, are spending over £2,500,000 every day upon their armaments, and that this country has spent, according to the figures given by the Government in answer to a Parliamentary question a few days ago, during the last 10 years over £1,000,000,000, nearly £1,100,000,000, upon this purpose. When we come to Budget day the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with an amiable smile, has to tell the House "that it cannot eat its cake and have it," and if the expenditure on armaments goes up by millions and tens of millions of pounds it is impossible to relieve the taxpayer or make greater provision for social purposes. While that is the case in this country it is also the case in all countries. The crisis in France at the present moment is due to unbalanced budgets, and the unbalanced budgets are due largely to the colossal expenditure on armaments which has been forced on the French. Germany, 1431 Italy, the finances of both these countries are in a perilous condition, and largely for the same reason.
There is a close and intimate connection between all these questions—armaments, finance, currency, trade, and the standard of living of the people; they cannot be separated. One fact stands out clear and obvious. This great and increasing expenditure on armaments is a terrible economic evil to the whole world. The situation now is worsening year by year. We have been speaking in terms of a front line Air Force of 500 planes, that was suggested as a basis for agreement. But to-day we are speaking of an agreement on a basis of 1,500 planes in the front line. A few years hence we may be speaking in terms of thousands of planes. In the course of his speech Herr Hitler mentioned that after the War they scrapped in Germany no fewer than 15,000 bombing and fighting planes which they then possessed. Unless some check is placed upon this terrible competition the figures of which we are speaking to-day and the number of millions which the House may be called upon to vote may pale into insignificance.
The question now is: Is there a new opportunity for arriving at an agreement; which is the policy of all of us? Herr Hitler has made a speech, a declaration, under conditions which were intended to, and which did, give it the utmost publicity and authority. He spoke with a definiteness and absence of platitudes and diplomatic vagueness which was most refreshing and helpful. Each of us may have his own personal views with regard to the present regime in Germany and the ideas underlying it, with regard to the Chancellor himself and to his philosophy of life and politics, and perhaps also with regard to the motives which may have underlaid that speech. Our ideas and views may be favourable or unfavourable. But that is not the essence of the situation. Here you have a public offer made by the head of a great European State. These are the proposals of Germany, and it is our duty as Britain to deal with Germany as Germany, and to give these proposals the same consideration that we should expect would be given to proposals on vital questions of international politics publicly and deliberately made by the Prime Minister of Great. Britain.
1432 I know that there are some sections of thought in France who hold that it is a pity that the innocent and guileless British should be deluded by a speech of the character delivered not long ago in Berlin, who view with anxiety the possibility that the common front against German aggression and militarism may be broken, that the British may lose their sense of reality and their power of resolution owing to the oratorical blandishments to which they have been subjected. But most of us hold that it will be time enough to take up an antagonistic attitude towards Herr Hitler's proposals when they have been tested and proved to be insincere, that our duty at the present time is to take them as they are, just as we should expect proposals of our own to be taken, and see whether on that basis agreement can be reached. I know also that there are sections of opinion in Russia which hold a view similar to that of France; and, indeed, it is profoundly to be regretted that in his speeches Herr Hitler again and again emphasises his antagonism to Russia. That antagonism must serve to keep the whole of Europe in a condition of unrest and there cannot be full tranquillity or peace until it is allayed. In the view of many of us the idea that Russia is secretly contemplating and preparing for some great aggressive movement in the interests of Communism in the rest of Europe is a mere hallucination, and the sooner it is discarded the better it will be for the world at large.
Therefore, so far as we are concerned we are not likely to come to the conclusion that we should lose the chance of an agreement with Germany and the settlement of some of the problems of Western Europe because the problems of Eastern Europe may still be left open, and we feel convinced that an appeasement in Western Europe cannot but have a useful and helpful repercussion upon the problems further East. I would venture to remind the House of the actual words used in the speech of the German Chancellor. I quote from a translation which has been provided from German sources and published by the German Association for League of Nations Questions. Herr Hitler said in the course of his 13 points:The German Government is prepared to agree to an Air Convention to supplement 1433 the Lucarno Agreement, and to enter into discussions on the subject…. Its limitation of German air armament to a condition of parity with the other individual great nations of Western Europe makes possible the fixing at any moment of a maximum which Germany will then be ready to bind herself to observe in common with the other parties."Those are the salient parts of the speech. Here is another paragraph of great importance:The German Government believes, in this connection, that just as the use of dum-dum bullets was formerly prohibited, and thereby, generally speaking, eliminated in practice, so the use of other specific weapons can be prohibited and in practice eliminated. The weapons which the German Government has in mind are all such as serve primarily to bring death and destruction, not to combatants, but to non-combatants, women and children. The German Government thinks it is a mistaken and impracticable policy to abolish aircraft while at the same time allowing bombing from the air. It sees, however, a possibility of banning the use of certain weapons between nations as a breach of international law, and outlawing nations which nevertheless make use of such weapons, as outside humanity and all human right and law. Here again the German Government feels that progress step by step is most likely to prove successful, and suggests accordingly the prohibition of the discharge of gas, incendiary or explosive bombs, outside actual areas of combat. Progress can be made with a prohibition pending the complete international outlawry of bombing altogether.So long, however, as bombing is allowed, any limitation of the number of bombing aircraft is of questionable value owing to the possibilities of rapid replacement.If on the other hand bombing as such is branded as a barbarity inconsistent with the law of nations, the construction of bombing aircaft will soon come to an end of itself as useless and superfluous. It was found possible in the past by the Geneva Red Cross Convention gradually to make an end of the practice of killing defenceless wounded and prisoners. It should be equally possible in the present, by a similar convention, to prohibit, and eventually to stop altogether, the making of war by bombing on the equally defenceless civilian populations.We can see how important that declaration is. I am glad to notice that the German Chancellor drew attention to the possibility of prohibiting attacks outside the actual area of military operations. I know it is usually thought in this country that that would prove entirely impracticable, but that view is not taken certainly by the French, who have strongly advocated an attempt to make international laws of that character, and the right hon. Member for Epping on more 1434 than one occasion has drawn attention to the importance of this question.
I do not propose to-day to attempt for a moment to enter into any details. The question whether we should endeavour to abolish all military and naval aviation, together with the control of civil aviation, so as to prevent the conversion of civil planes into military; whether we should take action to limit bombing to what the French call champs de bataille; whether we should abolish bombing altogether in all circumstances—those are questions which are now under consideration. What we desire is that the maximum which can be achieved should be achieved along whatever lines may be found most practicable. Certainly, whatever steps are taken would involve a measure of international inspection and control. That could not possibly be omitted from any effective convention, and that would bring about at once a great clearing of the atmosphere, for the present state of uncertainty and suspicion is largely due to the fact that no one knows precisely how many aeroplanes his neighbour has or what is their character or degree of preparedness.
I trust that the Government in these negotiations will not miss this opportunity by attempting too much. I hope it will concentrate upon two or three particular points at the present time, leaving for later deliberation the other questions which unquestionably are connected with this but are not inseparable from it. For example the naval issue, whether the 35 per cent. of British strength proposed by Herr Hitler is to be global or is to be allocated among the different classes of naval craft, a matter which is of great and perhaps vital importance to this country; the question of armies and the period of service; the whole question of regional pacts; the matter of the return of Germany to the League—these undoubtedly are all most momentous questions. But we have had three years of discussion of these questions taken as a whole, and the result has been nil. Therefore my plea to-day is that we should not lose our opportunity by seeking too much, by saying that everything is worthless unless we get the whole, but rather that we should concentrate on what is immediately practicable.
The situation is therefore this: In respect of air strength Herr Hitler has 1435 declared that he desires parity with any other Western power, and that is important to us, for if he had said, as he might have said, that he demanded parity with Russia, and since Russia has to consider not only her Western front but also her Far Eastern obligations and relations with Japan, he might have claimed an enormous strength in the air for Germany, which would have greatly imperilled the situation for France, Britain and Italy. But he has not done so; he has only asked for parity with a. Western Power. That is an offer which it seems to me should be instantly accepted.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping will remember the days from 1910 to 1914 when he was at the Board of Admiralty and when the Cabinet of that day found itself, very greatly against its will, compelled to build against the increase in the German Fleet. Year by year we had to increase vastly our Estimates and my right hon. Friend proposed to Germany a "naval holiday", an agreement to stop this mutual competitive building which was so great a burden upon both nations and so great a peril to the peace of the world. Lord Haldane went to Berlin in order to attempt to negotiate an agreement of that character. Our initiative was repulsed. The Kaiser refused to make any arrangement of any kind. If the Kaiser then had made precisely the same offer, not with regard to parity on the sea but, say, with regard to parity in the air with France or Britain, how readily should we have welcomed such a speech as that made by Herr Hitler ten days ago and how gladly we should have joined with him to fix a definite limitation upon the expansion of the air forces of the world.
Italy has taken the same view. Italy has said she is willing to agree to any limitation to which any other Power will agree. The position consequently is that we are asked to vote many millions in order to build an air force equal to that of Germany. The Germans say they do not desire any air force greater than that of France and Italy has said the same. Consequently the yardstick to-day is France. I have no doubt His Majesty's Government are in consultation with the French Government in relation to this 1436 aspect of the situation and that when the present unhappy crisis in France is at an end and stable government is reestablished there, that this aspect of the question will be brought into the very forefront. We cannot doubt that in view of the assistance which such a limitation would give to the finances of France, in their present difficult and dangerous situation, the French Government could hardly refuse to come to an accommodation.
As to the procedure to be adopted, it is not for us here to make suggestions. It is for His Majesty's Government to choose the course they think most likely to lead to success. There are some who have said that it is essential that the Disarmament Conference should resume its work and that the Air Commission of the Conference should at once be summoned. But let it be remembered that Germany is not represented at the present time in those bodies and that Herr Hitler protests, and I am sure we should all agree that his protest is reasonable, that proposals should not be agreed to behind the back of Germany and then presented to her for acceptance, but that she herself should, from the outset, take part in the preparation of any programme for any future conference. The urgency of the matter is real and obvious. Day by day recruits are being enlisted into the Air Force now. Land is being bought for aerodromes. The whole cadre of the Air Ministry and the Air Force is being increased so that it should be, after a short interval, treble the strength we have to-day. Yet if these arrangements which are now adumbrated prove successful all this would be unnecessary. Consequently, the matter is one of urgent importance and should be dealt with day by day so that the country should not be forced to embark upon a large expenditure which may prove not be to required.
The opportunity is there. It is opened by Herr Hitler's speech. The urgency is there; and I should not be fulfilling my duty in the observations I am making if I did not dwell upon the fact that there is among a large section of public opinion in this country a grave anxiety lest this opportunity should be missed. There are many who hold that during the three years' sessions of the Disarmament Conference many opportunities have been 1437 missed that should have been grasped. There are, no doubt, Members of the Government who are keen, earnest and active in their endeavours to secure agreements of the character that are now being urged. But there are other, Members of the Government who do not show the same zeal and, taking the Ministry as a whole, I feel bound to say that while their attitude towards these international arrangements has been very correct, it has frequently been lacking in the zeal, the drive and the energy which are needed in order to overcome the most formidable difficulties which face any progress. There is a tombstone in a churchyard, I believe in Buckinghamshire, to a gentleman who died in the 18th century which records that his character was marked by "piety without enthusiasm." I fear that that is the epitaph which may be placed on the tombstone of the present Government with respect to their international policy.
We observe that only the other day the Minister of Air has emphasised the fact that he had resisted and successfully resisted the abolition of all bombing from the air. Although it is true that the surrender of bombing would be detrimental in some ways to the maintenance of order in outlying districts, His Majesty's Government specifically declared that they would be willing to snake that surrender if it were to mean securing general agreement among all countries for the complete abolition of bombing. Yet we find Lord Londonderry in the other House striking quite a. different note. He also used these words—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that he must not repeat speeches delivered in another place in the same Session.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I apologise for having forgotten for the moment that most salutary and necessary rule, but speaking in general terms the Minister of Air on behalf of the Government laid immense emphasis upon the necessity of strengthening our Air Force, cost what it might in money or effort. He did not lay any emphasis upon the parallel duty of coming to an agreement for the mutual limitation and reduction of all air forces which should have been a complementary part of his statement. My right hon. 1438 Friend the Lord Privy Seal in the speech to which I have just referred—a speech too which we all appreciate, as we welcome and applaud the indefatigable efforts which he is making on the lines we so strongly urge—said that we had to deal with this period of transition in a spirit of realism which did not lose sight of the ideal of an agreed limitation of armaments, but kept that ideal constantly before us. I am afraid that is where it may be kept—constantly before us and never attained. It is that fear which we are bound to express to-day.
Let me say, in conclusion, that the country has lately given proof, by a very remarkable expression, of its desires in this regard. The Peace Ballot which has now reached its close, has enlisted no fewer than 9,000,000 votes. I do not think there has even been, under merely unofficial auspices, any expression of public opinion in any country comparable in magnitude to this. Nine million electors have recorded their opinions. The second question which was asked was, "Are you in favour of an all round reduction of armaments by international agreement?" In the affirmative, in answer to that question, there have voted 8,326,000—about as many voters as have ever voted, with the exception of the last abnormal election, for any political party at any General Election. Every hon. Member knows that in his own constituency there is a full contingent of these 8,000,000 electors who attach prime importance to an agreement upon those lines.
If, three months or six months from now, there is to be another debate in this House upon this matter, and if then the Government come forward and say, "Through no fault of our own, but through the perversity of others, there is no agreement and the full development of the Air Force, multiplying it threefold, must go forward to its completion", then I believe there will be throughout the country and in this House a feeling of the gravest disappointment. We plead with the Government to seize the moment, to get something done now. The opportunity is there; let it not be missed. I am not to-day moving any reduction of this Vote. This discussion is not intended to be in any way hostile to His Majesty's Government. All that we are pleading for is that they should use now their 1439 utmost efforts to arrive at an agreed limitation, and if they succeed in that, they will spare the country a vast expense and they will receive in full measure the approval of this House and the thanks of the people.
§ 11.57 a.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
The House has listened to the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and I imagine that a great many Members are in almost complete accord with what he said. He has expressed what I believe to be the opinion of the British people in regard to an increase in the Air Force in particular and in all military forces in general, and I do not believe there is any Member of my own party or of any other party who would like to see our forces increased at the present time unless it was absolutely necessary. We have made it perfectly clear ever since the Armistice that our one object was to promote the cause of peace, and there is no earthly reason why this country should have any other policy. It is usually forgotten, I think—it is very seldom alluded to in debates in this House—that this country has everything to gain by peace and everything to lose by war. In other words, we have got all the things that we want in this world, and we should risk losing them in the event of another war. For our trade, for every purpose that we have at heart, it is clear that we require peace.
I think the right hon. Gentleman was perhaps a little severe upon those who are negotiating these matters for our Government when he suggested that they had not done all that was possible during the last three years to bring about a reduction of armaments in the world. From his own experience in these matters, he must have known that there have been and still are very great difficulties in the way and that, so long as the feeling towards Germany in France remains such as it has been since the War, it is extremely unlikely that we should be able to bring about a reduction in armaments without great difficulty. It is easy to criticise when you are out of office, but it would have been extremely difficult for our representatives to have done more than they have done in the circumstances. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the time does seem 1440 opportune now for once again resuming negotiations on these matters. Herr Hitler's speech was, to my mind, an offer which should not be lightly disregarded. When the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped the German Chancellor's proposals would only be disregarded "when" proved to be insincere, I think he meant to use the word "if"—if proved to be insincere.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL indicated assent.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
There are many people who are sceptical of the desire of Herr Hitler and his Government to bring about better relations in Europe and who believe that Germany is arming and will continue to arm for one purpose alone, and that is a war of aggression. I prefer to believe that the Germans have no such intention. I know they are not satisfied with some of the terms of the Versailles Treaty, and I am not surprised. I do not believe that a Treaty of that kind can be considered to be a Treaty which is to last for ever. As we have been told already this morning, we do not live in a static world—things are always changing, conditions are never the same—but I hope and believe that the policy of this country is to bring about such changes that may be necessary in the peace treaties without recourse to war. That is exactly what Herr Hitler in his speech really promised to the world would be the German policy. He stated that Germany had re-armed, and had done so designedly, but the object of his Government was only to put Germany on a parity of armament with other countries, and his defence was that he was perfectly entitled to do so in view of the fact that hitherto other countries had not disarmed to any extent, and indeed some of them had re-armed, since the Armistice.
I believe, therefore, the time is opportune for bringing Germany back into the Disarmament Conference, and I consider that that opportunity should be taken and will be taken by His Majesty's Government. We are apt to forget that Europe to-day is divided into two great camps, the Haves and the Have-nots, those who want to have the Treaty of Versailles and the other peace treaties revised and those who are perfectly content with the treaties that exist to-day and with the settlements effected by them. I think 1441 that sometimes we, in our debates in this House, forget these facts. In any event we always appear to forget them. We invariably emphasise our own desire for peace, which is right and proper, and we also emphasise the fact that we are ready to have changes in the world if we can get universal consent to them, but we do not bear in mind the fact that there is no real escape from increasing armaments until the causes which make for armaments have been done away with. Those causes, in Europe to-day at any rate, are mainly geographical. So long as we definitely conform to the idea that the territorial adjustments that were made at Versailles and elsewhere are to be for all time, then we cannot avoid a recurrence of war. I am as certain of that as I am certain of any single thing.
We are in a position to-day when some nations at any rate are not capable of continuing as they are. By that I mean that there are nations in the world to-day —and I would cite at once Germany, Japan, and, I think, Italy—which are not economically capable of maintaining their populations without expansion of some kind. We, who have the whole world to draw upon and are not short of any of the products and of the raw materials which are necessary to us, hardly appreciate the position of countries like Germany and Japan, which have enormous populations and have riot the facilities they require for developing their trade and industry. I say therefore, with perfect sincerity and conviction, that unless we make up our minds to be the guiding influence in the world during the next few years, in order to bring about a better solution of these problems, we cannot expect to escape from the dangers of war.
So long as those dangers exist, it is obvious that this country cannot stand alone and we have rightly, I think, agreed to conform to the policy of collective security; but we must not forget that collective security in itself is no security to the world from war. So long as great nations stand out of it, so long as the League of Nations does not embrace several of the greatest Powers in the world, is it posible to suppose that collective security is in itself any real guarantee against war? I maintain that it is not and that collective security on these terms is merely a form of alliance, very 1442 much in the nature of the Holy Alliance that was started after the Napoleonic wars. It represents a combination of Powers which pledge themselves in certain circumstances, if another nation becomes an aggressor, to go to the assistance of the nation attacked. Do we really believe that if that were the case, if a war of that kind really began, we could immediately end it by an alliance of that description against the offending nation?
Anyone, who is at all familiar with military matters, must know that an alliance is always an extremely difficult thing to keep in order and to guide, and that one strong nation can do wonders if it is attacked by a combination of allies unless they control an overwhelming superiority. That is why I regret the attitude of the Labour party in the recent Debate, and more especially the letter which the hon. Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee) wrote to the "Times" a day or two after. He seems entirely to miss the whole purpose of collective security. Collective security has one definite value, and that is that the allied nations will be so strong that their potential strength will have the effect of preventing any nation from risking war with them. Therefore, unless every nation that forms part of such a coalition is equally as strong as any other single nation, the alliance will not have that overwhelming force which is necessary to prevent war. I believe that the policy of collective security may be able to prevent war, but that it will not do so unless it is so strong, or gives the impression of being so strong, that no nation will risk a war.
No nation at the present time is really anxious to go to war and yet war is on everyone's lips. I think that this impression of the possibility of another war is due to unrest among the nations owing to many causes, mainly economic in character. When nations like Germany and Japan, and to a lesser degree, Italy, are in a position in which they are not capable of maintaining their economic development, then war is possible. The House of Commons would be acting very wrongly and mistakenly in the interest of our country if it did not face these facts, if our negotiators did not go to the root of the matter instead of merely trying to devise a plan to limit armaments at the present time. A limitation of armaments is in itself no reason why we should not 1443 have war. It is just as easy to start a war with limited armaments as it is with great armaments. Indeed, there are some cynics who say we should be much more likely to have war if we limited armaments, because then it would be much cheaper to start a war and people would go into it with lighter hearts. Once war has begun, however, I do not believe that any of the rules you can make will really bind the belligerents. The Lord President of the Council, in a memorable speech not very long ago, pointed that out very clearly, and those of us who were in the last war learned that many things that were done in it were not according to rule. We in this House have only one object, and that is to prevent war. We cannot prevent war unless we do away with the causes of it, and those causes are not entirely bound up with the size of armaments.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
The question that dominates these discussions and will dominate many other Foreign Office discussions in the next few weeks will be the problem of Herr Hitler's Reichstag pronouncement, and what next I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) when he said that the pronouncement must be taken at its full face value, with all its ambiguities and obscurities. It does afford a bridge over the chasm that was so rapidly widening between Germany and her neighbours. The supreme problem before British statesmanship to-day is what is the best possible use that we can make of that bridge. There are some who say that the best contribution we could make would be a postponement of our air expansion. I do not agree with that. Although I hate the necessity for rearmament, I do not believe that it is a factor inimical to peace. I do not share the view of the Opposition that our air expansion has created alarm and despondency in Europe—rather the reverse. I do not believe that hon. Members who take that view can produce a tittle of evidence in support of it. Not a line of a foreign statesman's speech, not a sentence in a leading foreign newspaper can be quoted in support of the view that our air expansion has produced an unfavourable situation in Europe.
1444 If any hon. Member of the Labour party thinks that our armaments are regarded as provocative, I suggest that he should pay a personal visit to Geneva and have a talk with the delegates from the foreign Powers. I do not believe that they will find in Geneva one foreign delegate who would question the sincerity of Great Britain's pursuit of peace. After all, they know the facts of the situation, and as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam) has so effectively pointed out, peace is not for us a question merely of idealism; it is a question of elementary self-interest. There is nothing in the world that we want. We have not those bitter memories of defeat in war, that rasping sense of a Britanwia irredenta. I am inclined to agree with what the hon. and gallant Member said about the necessity for revision, but he will agree that it is a most thorny question. When we talk about revision, on whose responsibility should the revision be made? If I may quote a personal reminiscence, I remember when going through Hungary and Rumania hearing in Hungary nothing but the wrongs of that country and the necessity for them to be righted; and, when going through Rumania of hearing Rumanian statesmen say, "Move the Hungarian frontier five miles nearer Bucharest, and it means war." We have to face that question.
Let there be revision by all means, but revision at Geneva. If Germany desires revision, there is one thing that she can do, and she can do it tomorrow; that is, to come back to the League, and revision will once more be on the tapis. It is bitter memories of the war that produce provocative armaments and the temptation to use them. Happily we have no such cause, and our neighbours know we have no such cause. Therefore, they regard our armaments as being purely defensive and only increased by dire necessity. It may well be that our decision to bring up our Air Force to the level of our neighbours, so far from increasing the race in the air, is a contribution to stopping it. It is undeniable that the relatively disarmed condition of Great Britain has not helped at the Disarmament Conference. It has terrified France. Knowing the inadequacy of our own armaments—and it is an open secret that we are in a posi- 1445 tion heavily inferior to what we were in 1914—France has not dared to abandon one aeroplane, or scrap one gun or tank. With parity between Great Britain and Germany in the air will come, I believe, a new sense of security, and with it it may be possible to remove one of the chief obstacles to a real limitation of armaments. I recognise that that is a dangerous argument and might be distorted into justifying wholly unreasonable armaments, but I suggest that as I have tried to state it, it is an argument that does square with the facts as they exist to-day.
With regard to air armaments, I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen when he says that much depends on what basis parity is established. There is no magic in the figure of 1,500 aeroplanes. Why 1,500 7 Why not 5001 Why not carry out the proposals which appear in the British draft memorandum of 1933 7 An air pact in itself would be good, but an air pact coupled with limitation would be infinitely better. I realise that there are immense technical difficulties—it is a question I do not pretend to understand —between what is front line air strength and what is not. There is also the difficulty of the refusal up to now of France to scrap any of her aeroplanes however decrepit. I know that the obstacle to disarmament has over and over again not been so much the ugly temper in Germany as the intransigence of France. It is, therefore, all the more satisfactory in this connection to hear in the Press that there is the greatest accord at the moment between the French Government and the British Government, and that we are pursuing a common object, and one only hopes that, though the French Government have fallen, M. Laval has not fallen with them.
The nature of the Air Pact is, I suppose, obviously one first for conversations rather than open conference. It may be that this is the time that we ought to return to the old-fashioned diplomacy favoured by Lord Hardinge of Penshurst in his letter to the "Times," of negotiations by Ambassadors. Let us explore the ground in secret first before we produce our proposals in the open. The decision must, obviously, be the responsibility of the foreign Ministers themselves in open council, but the calculation of the 1446 material, I imagine, might well be the work of diplomacy. I am all in favour of a meeting of the five-Power conference without any avoidable delay, but I recognise the force of the argument that the time is not yet ripe for it. There is the example of the World Economic Conference before our eyes to warn us of the danger of summoning a conference without thoroughly testing the ground first. That World Economic Conference just trailed away in discursive and unreal debates, and ended in fatuity. The mistake must not be repeated now in the critical condition of world affairs. If such an international conference ended in fiasco, it might pave the way to catastrophe. It is essential that the British Government, when the time comes for this international conference, should come to that conference with a definite plan.
It is, I think, a legitimate criticism of the way in which His Majesty's Government have handled the Disarmament Conference up to now, that they waited too long for the proposals of others, and they were not sufficiently quick in producing proposals of their own. Let the British proposals on this occasion be the first to be discussed, instead of the last. Europe expects us, in our position of isolation and detachment from the main currents of conflict, and from the age-long animosities, to give a lead, and we must not fail. That, too, I believe is what our own people demand of the Government. The recent by-elections have unmistakably shown that the country is not opposed to any and every increase in armaments, but it wants to be convinced, and it remains to be convinced, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen said, that the Government are devoting the same energy that they are now employing in improving defences, to ensuring that they are based on the collective system, and with the single object of securing a limitation of armaments.
The most significant change, I suggest, in this Parliament has been the change in the attitude of hon. Members to the question of collective security. Practically speaking, there are no isolationists now. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has been making speeches on the grandeur of the peace system at Geneva that would really qualify him for an invitation to become a vice-president 1447 of the League of Nations Union—an invitation which, I hope, will be extended to him.
This change in the mind of the House is, perhaps, based not altogether on creditable reasons. When for them security was thought to be a question of giving something, there were many people opposed to it. Now it has become a question of getting something, all the opponents vanish. We realise now that we are as much menaced by France and as much dependent on collective security as she is. Whatever the motive behind the change, it is there, and I do hope His Majesty's Government will take note of it. When the Cabinet is to be reconstructed, let it be reconstructed with men who are of one mind on this dominant question. Let the belief in collective security be the iron test for admission to it. I do not wish to strike any discordant note in this Debate. The situation is far too serious for that. But the Hitler proposals do seem to me to offer a supreme chance, perhaps the last one, of stopping this insane race in armaments, this devil dance with death. A Government which fails to seize it with both hands will receive short shrift at the hands of the British nation, and, what is infinitely more important, it will have brought Europe appreciably nearer the abyss.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir John Simon)
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I interpose now for a short time, and, since we are in Committee, there is nothing to prevent either myself or the Lord Privy Seal, if there is anything further to be said, from speaking at the end of this Debate. I would like, first of all, to express my own admiration for much that was contained in the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down. If an old Member of the House may say so, I think he gave a most admirable example of the sort of penetrating analysis, combined with a frankness in the expression of his views, which is so admirable in a democratic assembly. With a very great deal of what he said I find myself, of course, in very warm agreement. We must, I think, thank the right hon. Gentleman opposite for using the privilege which comes to the different parties in the House for raising this De- 1448 bate to-day. It is a short day, and I will not imitate the length which, quite naturally, he had to occupy, because I think what the Committee will really desire at the moment will be a short statement from me as to the present position of the Act Pact. Let me remind the Committee of two or three facts about it.
The proposal for an Air Pact to be negotiated between the Locarno Powers first saw the light after the conversations between French and British Ministers in London some few months ago. It would not, I think, be correct to say that it is, in origin, either a French proposal or a British proposal. It is one of those ideas which have been simmering in a number of minds on both sides of the Channel, and I think it was a very happy circumstance that the admittedly most important and hopeful meeting between French and British Ministers at that time gave the opportunity for these ideas to come to the front and to gain more definite shape. That, in fact, is the origin of the idea. Some day, when papers come to be published suggestions will be found here and there, but the point is, when did it really see the light?
I remind the Committee that the language used in the London Declaration about an Air Pact was this: Not only did French and British Ministers join in saying they were in favour of this suggestion, but they said further that they were agreed that it should be made an object of prompt negotiation. Prompt negotiation was a leading point, and, in answer to the very natural appeal of my hon. Friend below the Gangway and the right hon. Gentleman opposite to know whether there has been energy and enterprise shown by this country I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that, as a matter of fact, we have been as good as that communiqué required in acting promptly about it. Of course, the Committee must realise that these things are much easier to put in a phrase than to thresh out in detail, and it is just as well to spend a minute in considering the kind of complications that have necessarily to be overcome. First of all, it is of the essence of the matter that the Pact should be between the Locarno Powers and in the nature of a precision —I will not say an addition to but a greater precision—of the obligations of 1449 Locarno. That, of course, means that all five Powers have a very close interest in how it works out; but, beyond that, the proposal which French and British Ministers put forward in the London Declaration is one which, if it could be carried through, would involve a new contribution by certain Powers—by France—which would operate for our own benefit.
Therefore, while it is within the framework of Locarno, it also does involve some new features of great importance which actually, because of their novelty, do present problems of great complication and which have to be considered by those concerned. When people say, very naturally and properly, "Oh, let us carry the thing through; give a lead and that is the end of it," we have to remember that what we are endeavouring to secure by the Air Pact is something not only in which we give a lead but in which other Locarno Powers give us a new protection. It has to be carried through in the very closest collaboration, with clue regard to the interests and difficulties of other partners in the business. Another consideration which I think I mentioned at the time of this first being made public was that whereas, hitherto, this country and Italy have been buttresses to the edifice of Locarno, gaining nothing specially from it, this Air Pact would now inure to our own advantage and to the advantage of Italy. The result of that is that the creation of this structure raises in a very complicated form the question of exactly what the conditions are in which Italy would become liable to do this or that, or this country would become liable to do this or that. And, of course, there has been until recently the further difficulty of the obscurity of the situation as far as Germany was concerned.
What is it we did? We have taken every opportunity of getting into communication with the other Locarno Powers about this, both indicating our views and inviting a contribution from them. When the Lord Privy Seal and I went to Berlin this was one of the subjects which we discussed in some detail with Chancellor Hitler in all its aspects, and I think that was the first time we had the opportunity of learning, at any rate roughly, what the German view about it was, apart from a general de- 1450 claration which the German Government made soon after the London Declaration, which indicated their approval of this particular idea. There is, however, one other complication which the Committee should bear in mind. The London Declaration, put forward as representing a common view of British and French Ministers, dealt with a number of important topics, all of them contributory to the consolidation of peace. Undoubtedly, the general principle of that Declaration was that in order that we might establish this new sense of solid security it was necessary to pursue these different objects as a whole for the purpose of a general settlement.
If the Committee will consider the position of this country under the Air Pact, they will see that, while on the one hand we have to show ourselves, as we do and as we have shown ourselves, zealous and determined to pursue it in every possible way, the others to whom we are addressing ourselves have an equal interest in some other part of the settlement. I have always taken. the view, and I believe it is a view which is accepted by the Foreign Ministers of the other Governments concerned, that that is no reason at all why we should not actively press on the negotiation of the Locarno Air Pact to reduce it to terms and articles, because the question of how it is to be fitted into any more general settlement is a question which arises at a later stage. I will give the Committee a parallel which shows that that is a sound analysis. As the Committee know, it is proposed to hold a meeting at Rome very shortly with Signor Mussolini and others for the discussion of the Central European problem.
Diverting from what I am saying to make these observations, I recall that in an earlier Debate my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made comment on the part we were going to play and thought that the phrase, "We were going to be an observer in the matter" might indicate a certain chilliness or aloofness which he felt was undesirable. I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that observation. It was not the real intent of what was then being said. The contrast that was being drawn with reference to the Rome discussion was a contrast between sending a Ministerial delegation such as we have sent M some other cases—some commentators think it has been rather over- 1451 done—and taking a full part by all the contribution which we could properly make by sending our most experienced Ambassador there. That was really the point. My right hon. Friend was justified in saying that he rather regretted the use of the word "observer," because sometimes the word "observer" is used in a special technical sense which means that you look on but do not talk. I have known observers from various foreign Governments in the last two or three years who have done a great deal of the talking. Our intention was not in the least to be aloof but to make such contribution as we could, and in the fullest way. It has always been understood, so far as the Austrian Pact was concerned, that no one proposes that this country should undertake new and special commitments in that connection.
The Committee will therefore see that when you try to handle this—and we have been working at it constantly with the greatest possible energy in each of the capitals concerned—there are, in fact, a number of very complicated factors which have to be taken into account in order to make progress. I think progress is being made very rapidly. My hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays) said that he hoped we should not be the last to formulate our ideas. We definitely have not been. When the time comes, I shall be very glad for everybody to see when it was that we endeavoured ourselves to formulate and draft what we propose. It is quite true, as was stated the other day in the Press, that we have now received, after Herr Hitler's speech, in some preliminary and tentative form, the proposals which the German Government think would he useful. We are very glad to have them. We have already had an intimation from some other governments, certainly from the French Government and I think from the Italian Government, of the sort of content they think such a pact should have.
The point is very rapidly being reached —it is no good rushing it—when it will undoubtedly be desirable to have a more intimate and connected exchange. I am most grateful to M. Laval, who is passing through very difficult and trying times at the moment, that, in the light of this Debate, when I communicated 1452 with him and told him what it was I should like to say here—I must not, for the purpose of domestic justification, go one step further than is found to be in the general interests of the promotion of the plan, when we think of all the interests concerned—it is with his authority that I make this statement: The Air Pact is engaging the earnest attention of all the States concerned. Various States have produced suggestions, and I hope that we may soon find ourselves in a situation where we can usefully exchange all these suggestions by whatever method may seem most appropriate. I am also very happy to feel that that is also the view of the French Government. A great step will have been taken if we can reach that situation, and can pursue that step to the point of detailed negotiation, without prejudice to the question of whether any more general settlement will be needed before any part of it comes into operation.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL:
In using the term "Air Pact" does the right hon. Gentleman mean a pact for mutual assistance or one that includes provisions for a possible limitation of air forces?
§ Sir J. SIMON:
That is the very next point which I was going to mention. Our conception—I am speaking of ourselves—is that what we call the Air Pact involves three elements. The first is the Locarno Air Pact as referred to in the London Declaration. I believe it is now very readily and generally admitted that such a pact might well itself contribute to rapid agreement about air strengths. The second element which we associate with it, and which Herr Hitler also associates with it, is the negotiation of levels of air strength as among the parties to the Pact.
§ Sir J. SIMON:
That is right. I should take the view that it is not only a natural accompaniment of an Air Pact but an essential part that we should have an agreement as to strengths. The third point is that in entering into an Air Pact —which contemplates in certain events, the use of the deterrent of bombing—we ought to endeavour at the same time to arrive at some agreement among the Powers for the outlawry of in- 1453 discriminate bombing. If you do not do that, you appear almost to be Approving what the conscience of the world universally reprobates and disapproves. On all those three points, Locarno, agreed limitation of strengths and the outlawry of indiscriminate bombing, have our suggestions been put forward and is the discussion in course of proceeding.
I agree entirely with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, and also with my hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol, that time is a tremendously important factor. I did not detect in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) a comment which I think I have seen in some newspapers almost suggesting that we ought to suspend our carrying out of the programme of increased air strength because it would be better to negotiate and settle agreed limitation first. I do not believe that that is a practical or wise policy. I do not wish to raise a controversy at this moment on another subject, but that suggestion is rather like the idea that you can obtain commercial agreement with other countries for limiting tariffs if you have no tariff yourself. It is the fact that you are known not only to be prepared to do a thing but are doing it, which gives you negotiating power to secure agreement. That certainly applies to this subject.
Since we are all speaking here with candour, let us also observe that other people are not suspending their measures, and that we certainly should not be justified, therefore, for those reasons, in suspending ours. Let us further observe this: While we all hope that the result of this will be, and will be speedily, an agreed limitation of air strength—nothing shall be wanting in our efforts to secure it—suppose it did not happen. Then you might find, after a long period of negotiation had passed by, that you were in the position that those with whom you felt it your absolute duty to be on a level of parity had got ahead, and that you would find yourself engaged in a stern chase, which would be a very difficult chase. Therefore, on every ground I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen did not put that point of view forward just now. The Committee will feel grateful to him for the unexceptionable sentiments which 1454 he expressed and for the broad view which he took as to the way in which the situation should be handled. It would indeed, as he said, be a blessed relief, and, quoting I think my right lion. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), would justify every exertion. I hope I have shown the Committee, what certainly is the fact, that every possible exertion is being put into this matter.
I do not for one moment believe that the programme which we have recommended to Parliament, and which has been approved, for the expansion of our Air Force, is inimical to peace. I do not believe that it is the smallest injury to the negotiation of this air agreement. I am, on the contrary, convinced that it is the fact that we are known to be doing this which greatly adds to the prospect of getting such agreement.
It is very easy to descant on a large number of other matters on the Foreign Office Vote. There is the tendency for it to open the door to a flood of topics, but I thought the Committee would prefer at this moment to have a specific statement from me on this subject and later on, if necessary, further observations can be made. I therefore ask the Committee to appreciate that this is a matter which is being pursued with very great energy and without any loss of time, and we have, I am happy to think, been able to handle it in a way which up to the present has produced no controversy and no serious dispute between the different Powers essentially concerned. They have to contribute, they have to give, as well as we, and we ourselves are prepared to take our part. Like other Members of the House, I am very glad indeed to read in Herr Hitler's speech the declaration which has been quoted to-day, and which shows that the German Government is prepared to take its part in discussing and, I hope very much, in successfully negotiating not only an Air Pact but, at the same time, a limitation which would be an immense relief and a tremendous achievement, and that repudiation of indiscriminate bombing which would, I am sure, lead to the effective abolition of one of the most terrible and haunting dangers which threaten the future of the world.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I rise to speak only for a very few minutes, and particularly to thank my right hon. Friend for his reference to the question of Austria and for his explanation—I think a necessary explanation—of what was intended when the Prime Minister spoke about our being represented at the Rome Conference only by an observer. That did seem to me, having regard to what some observers have been and the limitations on their powers in recent conferences, to be a detachment of ourselves from interest in the fate of that country which was incompatible with the statement of policy, made repeatedly by His Majesty's Government, that we were concerned for the maintenance of her independence and integrity. No one of us who watches opinion in Europe from day to day and from week to week can doubt that the future of Austria is intimately bound up with the prospects of peace or war in Europe, and that it would be a mistake to allow anyone to suppose that the British Government could view with indifference an attack on that integrity or independence.
I have refrained from any public comment on the speech made by Chancellor Hitler the other day, and I do not propose to enter into any detailed comment to-day. It seems to me that the immediate reception given to it by the Lord President of the Council in our debate a week or more ago, and repeated in the speech of the Secretary of State to-day, is the only reception that the British Government can accord. It is an offer which on the face of it contains some hopeful features, which this country will desire to treat as having the largest value that can be attached to them; but it is accompanied with some conditions which must give us pause, and surrounded, as such a statement must necessarily be, by a good many ambiguities which must be cleared up before a final judgment can be made. I believe that the House will have heard the statement of the Foreign Secretary to-day with great satisfaction, and that the country will receive it with equal satisfaction to-morrow. We desire to make the most of what appears to be an advance towards general understanding, and we shall give our utmost support to the Government in endeavouring to 1456 bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
I think that, whatever view one may take as to the reliability and genuineness of the offer made by the German Chancellor the other day—and I am bound to say that I have considerably less enthusiasm for it than some others—we are all entirely agreed that the right thing is to test it out to the full at the earliest possible moment, and, if it is real and genuine, make the agreements that will then be possible. If it turns out to be bluff—and there are many who think that it is—let us call the bluff. I think one can feel gratified to-day to learn that, on this occasion at any rate, the Government have really been trying to follow up the agreement on the Anglo-French proposals of the 2nd February and get ahead with a practical plan for a western mutual air security pact. My right hon. Friend, in dealing with this question, referred to the very important point that all the proposals of the 2nd February have up to the present been regarded as indivisible, interdependent, and to be negotiated at the same time. One knows that some Powers, particularly Russia, attach the utmost importance to that. It is obvious that it is no contribution to the peace of the world to make an air pact giving security to Western Europe, making it quite certain that Germany will have no trouble on the west from any other country, if you leave her a free hand on the east; and there are grave suspicions which one can entertain that the real object of Germany may be to obtain exactly such a free hand. That is why I hope that the Foreign Secretary will continue to press that all these different schemes, when they have been worked out, shall form part of one interdependent whole, and that there shall be no loophole anywhere, east or west, north or south, where an aggressor can break out and attempt to use violence without knowing that overwhelming force will be brought against him at the earliest possible moment.
I would remind the Committee, too, that one of the other points of the Anglo-French proposals was disarmament, and I hope, therefore, that the Government in due course will not merely be content with this pact, but will go "all out" for a disarmament programme, hav- 1457 ing as their ultimate objective, not merely this pact, but the ultimate abolition of military aviation altogether, and that they will take the earliest opportunity of bringing before the Air Committee of the Disarmament Convention these proposals, which are still before it and have never been discussed--proposals for the abolition of military aviation, for the internationalisation of civil aviation, and, if necessary, for some form of international aerial police force to prevent the misuse of civil aviation. Those proposals have never had a fair show; they have never been properly investigated by the British Government; and I hope that part of what the Government are doing will be to see that that is now done.
I am going to ask the Foreign Secretary a question which I think he will realise is of the utmost importance, and to which I hope later he will be good enough to reply. It is whether, in these negotiations which are now going on, and in regard to which he mentioned three points, it is proposed to incorporate the vital point of international inspection? Is it proposed, if we come to an agreement for a limitation to 1,500, or 500, or whatever it may be, that there shall be opportunities for an international staff to go to Germany, to go to France, to come to this country, to find out whether the facts as reported really are true or not? If that is not done, there will be no confidence that the pact is really being carried out. I am sure that that question has received my right hon. Friend's attention, and that he will later on be able to give the House information on the subject.
There are in this matter two points of controversy. First of all, what is the size of your contribution to the collective security principle? It was arranged in the British Government Draft Convention that the great Powers should contribute 500 machines each—England, France, Italy and, by assumption, Germany, too. Assuming you are going to use your national forces—to my mind the only possible use for them—in a system of collective security, you must do it effectively, and it is not possible for this country to make a smaller contribution than parity with the other great Powers. I think it is a mistake to suggest, as has been suggested by some people, that we can contract out of 1458 our obligation to contribute towards collective security by giving less than the full—by implication relying on the increased contribution that will be given by France, Italy and other countries. For that reason, however deplorable and regrettable the proposed increases in air strength are, regarded solely as a contribution to collective security they are inevitable in present circumstances.
Then we come to the second point of controversy, which I think is the real point, whether one can rely on His Majesty's present Government using this force for collective security with enthusiasm, energy and devotion and for no other purpose whatsoever. I am sure that there are a great many people in this House and in the country who doubt that very much indeed, and they have good reason for their doubt when one reads, just to mention three points, the speech made not so many months ago by the Lord President of the Council in which he said that collective security in present circumstances was quite impracticable; the White Paper of the Government in which they made it clear that they were falling back to a very large extent on national armament; and the sort of speech made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies not many months ago when he referred to collective security as a kind of collective insecurity. If that be the sort of influence inside the Cabinet, one might have very good reason to doubt if the Government can be relied upon to work for the collective side with the same energy and. enthusiasm with which they are now working for the rearmament side. My hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays), who made such an excellent speech just now, said that when the Cabinet has been reconstructed let us have people in it all of the same mind. If they are all going to be of the same mind in favour of collective security, I could name—I am not going to, for I would not be so indiscreet —half-a-dozen who would have to go. They are not on the Front Bench now. I hope in these mysterious, internal arrangements that are now going on, and about which are told in the Press we may hear something in a week or two's time, that we shall get a new National Government 100 per cent. for collective security. If that be so, no one would be more delighted than those who sit 1459 upon these Benches. I would stress that the whole issue is, what are the Government going to do with their opportunity and the force they have asked for? If they are going to devote the whole of their great energy and influence to the collective system and pay the full price, whatever it may be, they can still render great service to this country and to the peace of the world.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
I only want to intervene for quite a short time in the course of this Debate, because we put our views with regard to this matter clearly before the House a few days ago, and it would be a waste of the time of the House if we were to spend this afternoon repeating those views. So far as the particular negotiations to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred are concerned, we naturally accept his statement that he and the Government are doing all they can, with promptness, to bring them to some conclusion. As I understand it, from what the right hon. Gentleman has stated, it is proposed at as early a date as possible that a Conference of the various Powers should be called in order that this matter may be fully discussed and a decision arrived at upon it. When that Conference takes place, no doubt that will be the time when the sincerity of the proposals that are being put forward by Germany can be truly tested as to whether or not they are to form the basis of some agreement that that country is prepared to implement.
§ Sir J. SIMON
We are not at all ruling that out, but, as I do not want anybody abroad to misunderstand what I have said, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that my actual words did not say that. What I said was that the time was approaching, I am convinced, when we have got to bring into common consideration all our suggestions. There are various ways of doing that. I do not for a moment rule out what he says, but I would not like anyone to suppose that I had gone further than what I have said, because our partners in the matter might think I had gone beyond what has yet been arranged.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I did not in the least intend to imply anything further than I thought the right hon. Gentleman had 1460 said. He talked of the countries coming closely together to consider the whole of the matters that had been proposed, and I imagined that would be in the form of a Conference. I hope that the Government will be prepared to take the initiative in calling such a conference, and not allowing this matter just to drift on, if there is any hope of a solution being brought about as the result of a conference. Everyone appreciates, of course, the difficulties that are being thrown into the settlement of this matter by those people who like to speculate in francs and are making an attack on the French Government and who have brought that Government down—as the attack was made in 1931 on the Government of this country and that Government was brought down. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider, as part of these negotiations, a method by which this attack by speculative financiers upon Governments who may be in the middle of important international negotiations can be stopped by the combined action of the whole of the world. I am quite sure that he would get the warmest support from the French Government—even the next French Government—to do something to stop this combined speculative attack which takes place on currencies with such dire political effect.
When the right hon. Gentleman came to deal with the point which had not been taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), the point as regards cessation of the building programme for the Air Force, in view of the present negotiations, there we join issue with him very substantially and very definitely. I should like to ask him whether he has proposed any standstill agreement as regards the other countries with whom we are negotiating. One of the arguments he puts up is that this country cannot stop this expansion programme because others might go on. Have any steps been taken to get a standstill agreement, so that others will not go on? Surely he will agree that if it be possible to-day to have a standstill agreement it is not worth the while of this country, or other countries, wasting possibly millions of wealth in an increase which it is hoped will be of no effect because the limitation that will follow will wipe out the present increase. Until the Government have done their utmost to bring about some standstill arrange- 1461 ment while these negotiations, which it is hoped will have some effect as regards limitation, are being carried through, we certainly do not think there is any justification for continuing with this programme.
The right hon. Gentleman compared the power of negotiation which was given by this increase with tariffs, but I am sure that his logic must for the moment have lost itself when he made that comparison. Nobody has ever suggested as far as I know that, in order to negotiate a tariff with another country, you must first put your tariff up to the same level of the other country. What has been said is, "You must have a tariff which will go just up and down if the other country will not do what you ask it to do." That is the theory of tariff bargaining. It has never been suggested that, first of all, you must impose a tariff as high as that of the other country before you start bargaining. And so to try by analogy to show that we must first build an air force as big as that of any other country before we can utilise it for bargaining purposes is a complete and absolute fallacy. What you say if you are bargaining, I presume, is: "If you will not reduce your air force, then we shall increase ours." That is the bargaining way in which tariffs are utilised.
When you have a state of affairs in which such a bargain, it is hoped, may be struck, and in which, as the result of striking such a bargain, it is hoped that all the air forces will be brought down to the level of ours or possibly to some lower level even—if that be the objective, and those negotiations are to be carried out promptly within the next few months, surely it is absolutely idle for this country to say that it is essential that we should build up this great paraphernalia for the expansion of the Air Force, with 30 new aerodromes and all the rest of it, a permanent thing, when it may be that, if our negotiations are as happy in their result as we hope, none of these things will be necessary. The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that we are undertaking with this new expansion not merely an increase in personnel., which might perhaps be disbanded very shortly, but a vast increase of aerodromes, hangars, factories, and all the machinery and plant that goes with an enormous air force of this kind, when, I imagine the right hon. 1462 Gentlemen would agree, some decision must be come to on this point within the next two or three months. If it is allowed to hang on and to go on and on as other negotiations have been allowed to do, then it will drift into the area of technical committees and the whole thing will be destroyed, as other proposals have been destroyed. Here then we have an opportunity, admitted by His Majesty's Government, within the next two or three months to come to a decision which they hope may lead to a limitation in armaments.
They have not attempted to get a standstill agreement—at least we have had no suggestion from them that they have—and until they have attempted that standstill agreement, and, even if it be refused, unless they can show that these negotiations cannot be brought to a satisfactory or to some conclusion within a period of two or three months, then we say there is no justification for embarking now upon this expenditure and this expansion as a bargaining factor. If that be all that they want it for, they have it. Here it is—the proposal is hanging over and at any moment may be put into operation. I am not agreeing that it would be necessary, but let me assume that they have it as a bargaining factor. What harm can it do to hold it up for two or three months 2 In fact, it would be an enormous advantage in crystalising the negotiations, if a time limit were fixed by His Majesty's Government to say "we will definitely hold up, let me say, to the 1st October, and, if no agreement. be then made, we go forward." Surely there is no stronger position for any negotiator than that in getting other countries to come to a conclusion. I do beg that even now the right hon. Gentleman—I know his good will in the matter, and I do not doubt it in the least—and his Government will say that, in view of those negotiations, first, we will try and get a standstill agreement which will leave everybody exactly as they are today, and nothing shall be done, say, for three months while those negotiations are being carried out, and secondly, that even if we cannot for the moment get that standstill agreement we ourselves will hold up this vast capital expenditure upon which the country is being launched for a certain specified period of time.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The hon. Gentleman may think that that will be the effect, but he does not seem to think it matters very much after setting up this vast capital plant in this country at enormous cost, that, if the Government achieve what they hope to do, it will all have to be scrapped in three months' time. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Then he does not hope that it will be scrapped in three months' time.
§ Mr. HOWARD
I do not agree that the whole of the expenditure on aerodromes would be an entire waste of money, because the future development of civil aircraft would use most of it.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Really the hon. Gentleman must know that these aerodromes will not be placed as municipal aerodromes with a view to serving great cities and so on. They will be placed for war purposes. They will have little value left over, and substantially the whole scheme will have to be scrapped. Therefore, I hope that the Government will tell us that they are going to take these steps to delay the immediate implementation of this programme as regards the air. I should also like to say a few words about the question of the necessity of parity in a collective security arrangement. The Lord President of the Council picturesquely accused me in the Albert Hall the other night of wanting security on the cheap. Well, I have no shame in saying that the cheaper security can be obtained, the better I shall he pleased. I have no fantastic desire for showy armaments for the sake of showy armaments. Expensive danger, which is what the Government are at present after, I believe, is a much worse thing than cheap security. Really, this conception of parity has no relationship to collective security at all. Let me put to the right hon. Gentleman this very simple question—and I am sure that he will answer it—in order to test this. We shall, I hope, if a collective security arrangement is come to, not only bring the Air Force into it, but the other forces as well. That is absolutely necessary. Does he demand that the German Navy should be on a parity with that of Great Britain in order that we may have collective security on the Teal I know what his answer is going to be now. He does not demand it, and he hopes that it will not ever happen. What con- 1464 ceivable argument can there therefore be that collective security in the air demands parity? No argument at all, except that we happen to have a smaller Air Force and a bigger Navy. Therefore, as regards the Navy, we shall say that 35 per cent. is quite enough for Germany even in a collective security group, but as regards the Air Force, that neither 35 per cent, nor 55 per cent. nor 75 per cent. is enough for this country. Parity is merely a part of the conception of power politics when you are not considering an arrangement of collective security at all.
Think how fantastic it is. One of the countries mentioned as in the group is Russia. Is it going to be said by the Government that if we go into a collective security group with Russia that we must have parity with Russia, and that common honesty, common sense and common fairness demands that we must have as big an Air Force to give to the collective security group as Russia? Is no account to be taken of population, area, frontiers or anything else in deciding this question of the size of the contribution I Surely, the question that has to be decided in any collective security group is what do the different countries think ought to be the contribution. That has to be arranged, like the contributions to any other kind of a collective group, and to demand as an excuse for the creation of a large Air Force the necessity of parity in order to have collective security is to put forward an argument that has no reality whatsoever behind it. Therefore, we say that that alone cannot possibly be any justification for the step which His Majesty's Government are taking as regards our Air Force.
Let me say a few words about the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam). He said something with which I and those on these benches profoundly agree, and that is that you will never get rid of the danger of war merely by arrangements as to armaments but that you have to go to the underlying economic difficulties if you are ever going to have any success. You have not to approach the problem from that sort of point of view from which the Lord President of the Council approached it the other day when he said that his dream 1465 was of a strong England and a strong America, between them strong enough to control the whole world and thereby to stop everybody from fighting. That is a typical Imperialist approach to foreign politics and foreign subjects, and it is because you have that imperialist approach on the one side by the depressed imperialism of Germany and on the other side by the victorious imperialism of this country, France and Italy, that you have the feeling of insecurity and of inequality which the Lord President said were the present reasons for the trouble in the international field.
Until this country and other countries who are running their foreign policy upon the lines of imperialist competition and exploitation give up that basis and substitute for it real co-operation in which, as Lord Lothian said the other day, they are prepared to sacrifice their national sovereignty in the interests of international co-operation; until that fundamental change takes place in the outlook of the great Powers of the world, then, though some temporary alleviation may be brought about by this or that arrangement, there can be no permanent settlement or foundation for the peace movement. Why we always resist the armament votes of this Government is not simply on the point of the quantity or quality of the armaments, but because the underlying foreign policy of the Government is such that we refuse in any circumstances to give our support to any method of defence which is aimed at perpetuating a state of affairs which we believe is inherently incapable of bringing peace or doing away with war.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I think the whole House will have been glad to hear the statement made by the Foreign Secretary, although I noticed that he only touched on one point raised in the speech delivered by Herr Hitler last Wednesday. However, I expect that we shall have from the Lord Privy Seal a further investigation of the various issues raised by Herr Hitler. One thing puzzled me in listening to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) when he referred to the lack of activity on the part of the Government in establishing a standstill arrangement with other countries. surely, we have been establishing or try- 1466 ing to establish a standstill arrangement for the last 16 years, but no other country has responded. One might go further and say that during the last two or three years at the Disarmament Conference we have been making every effort to get some standstill arrangement but the other countries have been rapidly rearming while we were standing still. Therefore, the Government had no policy which they could adopt except to rearm and strengthen their hands in order to give support and moral effect to their arguments with the other countries.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam) and the last speaker referred to a letter which was written by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) to the "Times" as to what should be our position in regard to collective security, and what contribution we should make. Apparently the official policy of the Labour Party is that we should—
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
The question was subsequently developed by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol, and he thought that it was unnecessary for us to subscribe an amount corresponding to our responsibilities, but that so long as other nations had a strong enough force they could do what was necessary.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
Then I must say that the two hon. Members are unable to convey the impressions which they desire to convey. I understood that that is the policy of the Labour party and I must apologise if I have been unable to understand it properly. I should like to know whether Members of the Labour party have consulted their colleagues of the trade union movement in regard to such a policy. If it were followed to its logical; conclusion it would mean, for instance, that if the Miners' Federation were sufficiently strong and powerful it would be unnecessary for other trade unions to be strong in order to deal with, say, the malevolent intentions of the Mining Association.
In considering the question of foreign affairs one is naturally driven to the speech of Herr Hitler, which seemed to 1467 put the whole question of foreign affairs in this country in an entirely different perspective. The Lord President of the Council a few months ago made an appeal to Germany to remove the veil and draw aside the curtain that hid the facts of her rearmament from the world, and Herr Hitler, with great drama and force, responded by disclosing a picture of half-a-million men and an air force equal to, if not stronger than, our own. Appeals were made by the Prime Minister and others to the German Government to make some gesture of appeasement and peace in Europe, and that gesture seems to have come from the speech made last Wednesday. It was one of the most striking speeches yet made to a waiting and sometimes very doubting world. The points of the speech have been summarised very skilfully in the "Times" under three headings: (1) the scrapping of submarines; (2) the restriction of bombing to the zones of battle alone; and (3) the establishment of an Air Pact as part of the Locarno Treaty. There were various other suggestions for nonaggression pacts with countries in the neighbourhood which I suppose will be examined by His Majesty's Government. One remark I hope has percolated into the mind of the Socialist party. Herr Hitler spoke of poisoning of public mind by reckless and exaggerated statements regarding Germany. There is a great danger both to this country and to Germany in the attempts which are made to poison the public mind by exaggerated and inaccurate statements. At the present moment there is a Motion on the Order Paper in the names of hon. Members of the Socialist party which is calculated to do this very thing, that is, poison the minds of this country by inaccurate and exaggerated references to the position in Germany.
Whatever our views may be, and I know that there are many different opinions regarding Herr Hitler and his policy, there is only one response which we can make to his speech, and that is immediate acceptance. Hon. members know the brutality and horrors of war as well as I do, and it is surely unnecessary to ask a National Government to take any risk, even the risk of losing a, little of our national dignity if we are caught by any bluff, in order to avoid 1468 the possibility of this brutality and horror descending on our children. The National Government, I believe, has it in its power to take action to-day in conjunction with Germany which would have greater effect towards bringing about peace than co-operation between any other countries in Europe. Cannot we visualise what effect an acceptance of these proposals would have on the daily lives of the Continent of Europe and on our own. We should first have the sea safe for men, food and goods, and our homes free from the dangers of bombing, which would be restricted to the battle zone, and from poison gas.
It would also probably mean the beginning of a series of other agreements, which in time, by a progressive extension, would bring about a feeling in Europe in which war would become contrary to the international and national conscience of each individual country. One great advantage of such a co-operation would be that in an Air Pact or agreement the lead, the initiative, would be with Germany, instead of Germany having to give an unwilling acceptance to some other proposal by the other countries of Europe. That is a most important point. Germany would feel that whatever treaty or agreement she entered into it was an agreement voluntarily reached between the two high contracting Powers. It may be a waste of time to go into the question of the feeling of resentment there is in Germany as to the way she has been treated. She feels that her rearmament is justified, because she considers that it is not a treaty when one country has to submit to it at the point of the bayonet. There is a lot to be said for that point of view. A treaty is generally accepted as one which is freely entered into by both parties, but in the Versailles Treaty there was not voluntary agreement reached or asked for.
A short time ago the Foreign Secretary made a clear analysis of the German situation and mentality and showed that, while those who were beaten in war were punished, yet punishment need not involve injustice. Germany does think that she has suffered injustice under the Versailles Treaty, and it is most essential that we should remove that feeling from her outlook. She is still deprived of her territories and colonies, of her reserves 1469 of wealth through the collapse of her currency, and. when she was deprived entirely of her armaments she felt that her last equipment as a free nation had been taken from her and she was bowed clown with humiliation from which she has been rescued by Herr Hitler. Now that she has recovered her self-respect and her soul, the first thing she demands is protection so that she will be able to take her place among the nations of the world which her new circumstances justifies.
There are two points, however, in Herr Hitler's speech which have met with a certain amount of criticism. They were the attitude of Germany in excluding Lithuania from any co-operation or pact that she may make, and the somewhat hostile references to Soviet Russia. Any criticism regarding the attitude of Germany towards Lithuania is largely due to an ignorance of the actual facts. Only last week the Foreign Secretary said that neither he nor His Majesty's Government, or the French or Italian Governments, were satisfied with the way in which Lithuania was treating the German minority in Memel. If that be the attitude of detached governments like the Italian Government and our own one can understand the attitude of Herr Hitler and his Government when he sees that Germans are being denied justice in Memel, and that he should be very concerned about the attitude of Lithuania towards the German minority. Memel was seized after the War by an irresponsible group of young Lithuanians, and that was subsequently unhappily confirmed by the Council of Ambassadors. The minority of Germans in Memel do not like the way in which they are being treated and the German people do not like it so there has grown up a feeling of distrust and lack of confidence which is very unfortunate. That is an explanation of the position which I think should be given in justice to the German Government. I feel sure that if Lithuania would observe that justice which every country should show to minorities the existing trouble between Germany and Lithuania would finish in a short time, and both would be able to dwell side by side in peace.
Then there is the question of the obvious hostility with which the German Chancellor regards Russia. That is fairly understandable in some respects. 1470 I am not speaking as a pro- or anti-Russian. Russia is the mother of Communism. Herr Hitler hates and fears Communism, and it is easy to understand why he dislikes and distrusts the latest pact between France and Russia. I share some of his doubts in regard to the attitude of us under Locarno and in view of the two Pacts. There might well develop difficulties which would bring us into direct antagonism with Russia under this Franco-Russian Pact, and force us to utilise our responsibility under the Locarno Treaty in a way which was never visualised by that Treaty. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will later say what the obligation of those members who signed the Locarno Treaty would be in view of this Franco-Russian Treaty.
In conclusion, I repeat what I said earlier, that it seems to me that immediate acceptance of the suggestions towards the peace and pacification of Europe should be undertaken by our Government. I believe, from what the Foreign Secretary has said, that it will be undertaken. I know that the intentions of my right hon. Friend are equally strong and keen that Britain should take a leading part in whatever pacification can be done, and done quickly. If we look around on the other great countries concerned we see that what is almost Fate has put it into our hands to take the leadership. France is involved in great domestic issues of importance. Italy is involved in a great colonial undertaking. America is very seriously pre-occupied with internal and financial problems. It seems to me that we have been faced with the responsibility by Providence or Fate. We have also the external support of our Dominions, and this country has the internal support of the majority in the country. Therefore, with the moral prestige she has in the world and the physical power with which she has now equipped herself, surely it is up to this country to take the earliest and most decisive step in giving a lead, which others should follow and perhaps could be persuaded to follow, in regard to the permanent pacification of Europe.
§ 1.39 p.m.
Captain CU NN I NGHAM-R EI D
In spite of the reassuring pronouncements of Herr Hitler in his speech the other day, and the fact that the Lord President recently asked us not to panic, I notice 1471 that no halt, temporary or otherwise, has been called in the re-arming of Europe, and especially of this country. Some of us are perplexed by this fact. One cannot but help wondering where will this all end? It starts, it seems to me, as a game of bluff between nations, as to which of them can rattle the sabre the most loudly—a somewhat childish game, but a game that may end rather grimly. Instead of the nations spending their time, as they seem to have been doing in the last few weeks, in giving each other Dutch courage by bellicose pronouncements, would it not be better to get down to the root causes of our troubles? I know that it is a rather unpleasant task because it means facing disagreeable facts. It is a platitude but none the less true to say that until one knows the causes one cannot diagnose the remedy. The Prime Minister recently wrote against the assumption that a powerful and proud race, such as the Germans, could be kept subordinate by force, and that the League of Nations could be used by the victors to perpetuate the position on the day of victory. Herr Hitler in his speech made reference to those facts in the same terms. The only unfortunate thing about the Prime Minister's words is not that he wrote them, but the fact that such words to the best of my knowledge had not been written or said or have not apparently been conceived by any British statesman since 1919.
The League of Nations provides machinery for collective action such as the world has never known since the supreme day of the Papacy. It has never been used to the full, it never can be used to the full until that vital truth contained in the Prime Minister's words is recognised at Geneva. I know that this has been mentioned before in other language, but I would again point out that Germany has had the sanctions of Article 16 of the Covenant flourished over her head on innumerable occasions, and I would ask this: Has Great Britain, and still less France, ever mentioned Article 23, that provides for treaty revision? Have they ever mentioned it even in a whisper? Concessions made to Germany, such as those dealing with the reparations clauses of the Treaty, have in the main been grudgingly made long after the physical and the economic impossibility 1472 of enforcing them has become apparent. I believe that this attitude is also a considerable factor in the present deadlock and the present apprehensions. It is not surprising that opinion in Germany has arrived at the conclusion that Germany's return to the League would be ineffective until she had something to bargain with, in other words until she had bargaining counters. What has occurred? She has now snatched these bargaining counters. I somehow feel that their feelings towards the Allies would have been very different to-day if we had gracefully given them to her. We knew that it was inevitable, and I think it would have been a very cheap gift, in view of the fact that sooner or later she was bound to take it. That is a form of recrimination, but, as I have said, until one realises the cause of a complaint it is difficult to diagnose.
What of the future? Germany has indicated in certain respects that she will disarm. But what is the good of that? We know perfectly well that France will not for one moment trust her. Therefore, in that direction we get no further. I suggest that the most important occurrence that has taken place in the international sphere of late did not take place at Stresa, as some people would suppose, but was an incident that was less known. I refer to the appointment of a Committee of the League to work upon the economic and the military penalties of Article 16 that deals with security pacts.
Added importance is given to that Committee by the German announcement that she is ready to join the collective system. Just a digression about Stresa. It is not only cynics who have been forced through the passage of time to regard these successive conferences of varying desirability in different foreign watering places as a nine days' wonder. A lot of men and women of sober judgment feel the same way and it has been noticed that whatever has been the outcome of those conferences two fundamentals have not altered one iota. The first is that the Covenant of the League is the basis of the collective system of security and the second is that Article 16 is the basis of the Covenant. I wonder whether Article 16 can eventually open the door to peace. Incidentally, it is the only door in Europe recently that has not been opened or left open.
1473 It is valuable that the British Commonwealth should have two representatives on this most important Committee. Those two representatives are Great Britain and Canada, and I presume it goes without saying that they will approach this work fully cognisant of the realities of the situation. But they and we must not lose sight of the fact that Article 16 as it stands to-day is merely a blank cheque given by 'all the members of the League and the Governments of the respective countries concerned know perfectly well that if those cheques ever have to be presented their peoples would at once return them marked "R.D." At present to take an extreme example this country is contracted to intervene with all its force if the neutrality of the Aaland Islands is violated. That is obviously absurd. The cry of "The Aaland Islands need you" is not likely to prove a very good recruiting slogan in the future. What it amounts to is that the era of blank cheques is over, and therefore the crux of this vital situation is this. Can this important Committee produce from the Genevean fog of unlimited and, therefore, unacceptable commitment, a real limited and definite commitment that will not only be accepted by Governments—and I sometimes think that Governments are too prone to accept commitments—but what is more important also by their respective peoples. If so, then at last we may be provided with something more than a vague and fluctuating moral authority, something which would really make an intending aggressor pause and something which will give all nations that sense of security which alone can put a stop to this insane race in armaments.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
I am certain that the Foreign Secretary will appreciate the fact that in the few remarks I am about to make I am concerning myself solely with principles and am not in any way considering personalities. I suggest that it would be a good thing if this Government and successive Governments were to turn their faces away from the recent practice of allowing and encouraging Ministers to undertake duties formerly undertaken by diplomats. There are I submit good reasons for this suggestion. In the first place, a Minister vis-a-vis a diplomat must always be an amateur and that there 1474 is no class of work, from bookmaking to breeding canaries in which the professional will not always beat the amateur. Whatever qualities a Foreign Secretary may possess he cannot have been selected primarily as a trained diplomat. Other considerations must have weighed in his selection. The second reason why it would be better to revert to the older practice is because a Secretary of State is au fond a politician and, as a politician, he must think in terms of quick returns. He has to seek quick results which it is not necessary for the professional permanent official taking the long term view to have in mind. Thirdly, I suggest that the present custom makes it more difficult to keep foreign policy out of the cockpit of party politics.
An Opposition has and always has had, not only the right but the constitutional duty to oppose the policy of the Government of the day. But, I submit, it is less easy for them to oppose constitutionally if they are as much concerned with the refutation of their political opponents as with basing their objections on policy, the instrument of that policy being not a politician but a permanent servant of the State. I cannot see that the history of the last few years suggests that the practice of statesmen undertaking the work of diplomats has produced better results than the old methods, and unquestionably, a time might come when you would have a Secretary of State who was more concerned with snatching laurels than with achieving the ultimate fruition of the policy with which he was associated. There is, of course, one exception to the general suggestion which I am making and that is Geneva. Everybody would wish to see Geneva, through the League of Nations, made the most efficient international. clearing-house possible. I accept that argument absolutely but, with all respect, I submit that it would be in the interests of the State if the practice I have described, which has recently grown up, were not encouraged by this or successive Governments.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I regret to say that I do not find myself in agreement with my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken. He usually displays liberal sentiments in his speeches in this 1475 House, but the proposal which he has made to-day is recklessly reactionary. The more we get away from the trained diplomatists, the more we have the Foreign secretary and the Lord Privy Seal travelling around the world and doing our diplomacy, understanding what this House and the people of this country want the better and not the worse.
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
I said in my opening sentence that I was making no reference to the Secretary of State or the Lord Privy Seal in their personal capacity. I was expressing a general opinion, and I was referring to those offices and not to the present holders of them.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I equally generally prefer people who sit in this House rather than people who do not, to do the work of this House, and I regret the very reactionary tendency which we have seen cropping up to-day repeatedly. It is merely lack of experience. But I regret far more the series of speeches which we have had, not exactly pro-German, but finding excuses for the German revolution and for Herr Hitler's actions at the present time. It would not matter if those speeches came from these benches. For the last 15 years we on these benches have tried by every means in our power to get the German democracy in Germany treated decently and to forget the War, but it is only now, when the German democracy has been scrapped and when we have had dictatorships built up all over Europe, that we find Conservative Members of Parliament discovering for the first time something good about Germany, making pathetic pleas in this House for the decent treatment of the German minority in Lithuania.
If there be one country in this world where a minority has no chance at all it is Germany, and just now, when we see what is going on at Danzig and realise what will transpire at Memel as soon as Herr Hitler is strong enough, when we realise that it is the duty of this country more than any other country in the world to stand up for minorities throughout the world, that we have always done so and that it is in our power to do so, it is rather absurd to beg the Foreign Secretary and the National Government of this country to weep tears over the 1476 German minority in Lithuania who are quite capable of taking care of themselves. It is true that Memel is not satisfactory, but I trust that the solution of the Memel difficulty will not be that one more free town is handed over to the tyranny of the Nazis, and I trust the League of Nations may yet save Danzig from the fate of the rest of Germany.
In this Debate every hon. Member who has spoken has urged that collective security is not only the way out of war, but that it is also his policy and the policy that the Government ought definitely to pursue in future. We are all agreed on that, and I think we are all agreed on it, as has been rightly said, because for the first time we need our share of that collective security. This is not pure altruism on our part any longer. We need the support of the other peace-loving nations in order to maintain peace. That is the new realisation which has converted the whole of England to this policy of collective security. But if we are genuinely converted to collective security, it does mean that we take on certain responsibilities and liabilities. We must face the facts. If we are to have the help of the great Powers on the League of Nations, and more particularly the help, that I should desire, of the Northern European nations, which stand by us for democracy and liberty, if we are to have that help when we get into trouble, if we are to have the right allies in preserving peace, then we must take on responsibilities for their peace as well as for our own.
It is no good pretending that we can shut out the question of Austria or even the question of Russia. If we are going in for collective security let us go in with our eyes open. There is only one means of restraining the erratic actions of irresponsible countries, and that is to have sufficient force. In fact, the one guarantee for peace in Europe is that the League of Nations should have at its disposal sufficient force and sufficient unity. All the nations in the League must be equally liable for preserving the peace and equally satisfied that their peace is secured by us just as our peace is secured by them. It is obvious from Herr Hitler's statement the other day that he has, and intends to have, no quarrel if he can help it in the West, but equally certainly he intends to keep 1477 his hands free for dealing with Russia and, of course, with Lithuania.
That is the prospect before us. Are we, in embracing collective security, going to take on the liability for maintaining peace in the East as well as in the West? I do not believe we can keep out of it in the long run in any case, and I am certain that only by a solid union with Russia as well as with France can we provide a force potentially strong enough to prevent a breach of the peace. In those circumstances, do let us welcome collective security with all its responsibilities and with our eyes open as a liablity to defend Russia or even Austria, badly as Austria is governed at present—worse, I think, than Russia. These are the liabilities which we are taking on. Let us take them on with the full intention to carry them out and to stand for peace, even though it involves a squabble over the Aaland Islands, or Southern Denmark, or Schleswig-Holstein, or whatever it may be. We have taken on, or are in process of taking on, a vast new responsibility. We are providing, as I hope, an efficient force to police Europe at any rate. I do not know about the Far East, where things are getting worse and worse, but certainly in Europe we have or shall have, in conjunction with people similarly minded to ourselves, the power to maintain peace.
It is no use thinking that we can pick and choose among the nations of Europe those whom we will support and those whom we will not support. Unless we are prepared to take on the liability for preventing an attack upon Russia, just as much as for preventing an attack on this country, we cannot expect the other countries to view our difficulties in any special light. Your police force, if it is to be of the slightest use or to give the slightest confidence to all the peoples of Europe, must be an impartial body, used impartially, and effectively to stop any peace-breaker from breaking the peace. This is opening up a great new vision of the world. Although all here in this House, and I would say, almost throughout the country, in view of the reply to the peace ballot, are in favour of collective security, it will be no good having this pious vision of a universally coerced peace unless we realise that it will be our duty, almost at any moment, to support that peace by action, and to get, by air 1478 agreements and through the League of Nations, a body which shall lay down the law and which shall have the power to enforce it.
This air agreement on the Western Frontier of Germany, this development of Locarno, is an excellent step in the right direction. It holds out the brightest hope for the future, but it is only one small section of the danger spots of the world that is covered by it. We want to see the western air pact followed, not merely by a limitation of the air armaments of the world, but followed by similar pacts and air pacts protecting the eastern countries of Europe as well, and protecting even those countries, such as Austria, where freedom has gone down, where bad laws and injustices prevail, but where at any rate the status quocan be varied through the League of Nations and can only be varied by consent through that. body.
§ 2.5 p.m.
I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Liberal party for allowing us to have to-day's discussion on foreign policy, following as it does the debate on defence. One thing transcends in importance everything else in the world, the possibility after Herr Hitler's speech of getting on with the idea of an air pact. I do not think that the keenness of this country to get the air pact is due to the rather curious idea that for once we are getting something out of it. I do not like that idea at all. I think that the desire for this pact is due to the fact that nobody knows what a modern air war would be like. It is all some dreadfully hideous thing in the future which everybody throughout Europe wishes to avoid. Here is a chance of getting the Locarno Powers together.
Although in the past Herr Hitler seems to have done everything he can to alienate everybody against him, including ourselves, there was a passage in his speech which was almost pathetic, I thought—an olive branch towards us. It was the passage in which he said that only once in history had Germany fought England, and he hoped they would never do it again. I thought that was quite wise, and almost touching. People do not like to fight us more than once; I can understand that. Herr Hitler seemed in that speech to be quite agreeable to the possibility of this pact, and he wishes 1479 now to get parity with other Powers. 1 do not think that it can be stressed enough that the parity at which he is aiming is the French strength. Consequently, that is pushing us up to the French strength also, and I think that the first step towards universal peace throughout Europe is the establishment of some agreement on what the French strength is to be. Otherwise, we are all going to have exceedingly big air forces, and the results will be the same as if they were smaller.
I do know a little about this question, and I cannot understand what all the figures about first-line machines mean. My right hon. Friend has described a first-line machine as one that has a reserve and an air-craft park behind it. Anyone who has had experience of war from the air point of view must know that a machine in active service does not last more than 40 days. You have to replace and replace, and you cannot determine the strength of air forces by what is called first-line aeroplanes. The countries' potential producing power is the only thing that matters, and where Germany has been so exceedingly clever is that during the last two years she has been organising the industry in order to be able to produce so many machines per day. It will not satisfy anybody who knows anything about it to say that we have so many first-line aeroplanes and that France has so many. The only thing that matters is how many you can produce per day.
I never welcomed any statement from the Government more than the announcement that Lord Weir was coming to our rescue again on the production side. He seems to come like Cincinnatus to pull us out of a nasty hole. Nobody has more confidence in Lord Weir than the aircraft industry. At a critical time in our history he organised it on a productive basis that was most satisfactory, and I do not believe that there is anybody in England who could more reassure me of the thoroughness of the Government's intentions from the point of view of looking into this question of air armament than Lord Weir. That is not because I want a lot of aeroplanes, or because I think they are of any value quanumbers, but because I want this industry, which we have really neglected compared with Germany, reorganised on a sound 1480 basis, not only to produce war machines now, but to be able in time of stress to produce machines at any time. That, really, is the only basis of air power in times of emergency, and even more important in times of peace.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General SPEARS
There are one or two points made by previous speakers with which I should like to deal. One point, in particular, was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore), and it ought not to be allowed to pass. He contended that Germany was entitled to repudiate the Treaty because it was accepted lay her at the end of a War she had lost. That thesis cannot be countenanced, and it has been repudiated, I am glad to say, by the League of Nations. What about the Treaty of Frankfort, whereby Alsace Lorraine was torn from France? I have no doubt that if Germany had not declared War in 19114 that Treaty would be in force today, and I do not think that we should have had the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs saying that it should be repudiated. With regard to the standstill arrangement which is asked for by the Labour party, the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was answered before it was made by the Leader of the Liberal party and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr., Mander). They repudiated the idea that we should be dependent upon other countries for our security and pointed out that it was essential that we should be capable of defending ourselves and contributing our fair share to general security. It is common knowledge that we are so far behind other countries in the matter of armaments that there is no doubt that we shall have to arm a long time before we not only equal them, but achieve a level which will be accepted as the lowest compatible with general assistance.
Allusion has been made several times to the letter to the "Times" by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). His thesis seems to be that if countries A and B each have 50 per cent. of the forces of country C, the sum total of force is equal to that of country C. That may sound all right, but practically it is nonsense, because in case of danger countries A and B will naturally look to their own home basis and to the defence of their home 1481 countries, and country C will smash first the one and then the other. It seems to me that parity between nations is the absolute minimum you can have, and if we did not have the collective system, parity would not be enough, and would not be accepted, because every country would seek an advantage over its neighbour. A great deal has been said about collective security, but nobody so far has said anything about a most tremendous thing that has been done for collective security quite recently by the Government, and that is the settlement of the Abyssinian dispute. We have notoriously short memories, but, really, I do think we might congratulate the Government on the very happy result of the settlement of that dispute. In that settlement the Government took a leading part. A situation endangering the existence of the League of Nations would have arisen if it had not been settled, and it seems to me the moral of it is, that if we and the French are able to pursue a common policy within the framework of the League of Nations, there is almost no situation that cannot find a peaceful solution.
There is one point to which I would venture respectfully to draw the attention of the Foreign Secretary. We have latterly suffered a very great deal from lack of information concerning what is going on in foreign countries. The duty of informing us falls upon the Foreign Office as well as upon other Departments. We all know how absolutely unwillingly the Lord President misled this House as to the facts concerning German rearmament. We know that it was not his fault; we know that he gave us the facts as he believed them to be. Nevertheless, those facts were entirely misleading. It appears to me to be absolutely essential that we should have an assurance that in future we can rely on the information upon which the Government base their conclusions. Many a battle has been lost through faulty intelligence, and it is equally true that some wars can be, and have been, lost before the first shot was fired owing to inadequate information concerning a potential enemy's plans.
I want to say a word about Herr Hitler's speech, which has been referred to by many previous speakers. I am 1482 sure that everybody in this House was very much relieved by its tone, but we cannot forget that we have had other admirable speeches before, and that, while those speeches were being delivered, behind them as if they were smoke-screens, so to speak, the process of German rearmament was going on. We cannot help but observe the spirit of Germany to-day. "Mein Kampf "in its original and unexpurgated form—and it is certainly not a peaceful document—is being issued by the million in Germany. German youth is being brought up upon it as if it were a gospel. New gods are being put up in Germany and they are certainly not peaceful gods. A militaristic spirit is being fostered in that country and we require a good deal more than words before we can feel reassured.
There is one point to which I would draw the attention of this House. Germany says that she requires armaments because she feels insecure. There is no country in the world more secure than Germany to-day. It was not so before the last war, when she possessed provinces torn from other countries which those countries might desire to get back again; but to-day she is in a position of really having nothing which anybody desires. There is no country that has any objective designs upon her. She is entitled to parity for reasons of prestige, but she certainly is not entitled to vast armaments because of security. She has claimed the largest army on the continent—there are rumours that it is very much larger than we think—and a navy within 30 per cent. of our own which, concentrated, as it would be in the North Sea, makes for parity perhaps with ourselves, and would give her an enormous advantage, say, over France, which has a long coastline and a vast colonial Empire to protect. As previous speakers have said, the best proof that Germany can give of her desire to cooperate with other peaceful-minded nations is that she should co-operate in this Air Pact, but if Germany is reluctant to fall in with the views of the other Western Powers, then, in my submission, we should carry on without her. She would be extremely welcome. We would like to see her co-operate with us, but my last word is that we expect from her deeds, and not words.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. SANDYS
The Opposition bench to-day have given us and the country further evidence of the barrenness of their outlook in foreign affairs, and their complete lack of responsibility in this matter.
§ Mr. SANDYS
It is our duty to be pro-British, and not to adopt an attitude for or against any one country. The attitude of the Labour party shows their complete lack of responsibility. They can be thankful that their policy of "disarm to the bone and fight everywhere" has not been adopted by this House, and that they are not in the position of having to carry it through and to take the responsibility towards the country. The meaningless mouthings of phrases about collective security arc not going to prevent war. That is why I strongly welcome the steps the Government are taking towards doing something practical towards achieving the ideal of collective security in the form, of the Air Pact. As long as we stick to generalities we shall get no further, and I am heartily glad the Government are now concentrating, as the Secretary of State has told us, upon achieving this particular objective, which will be a milestone towards the ideal of collective security. One of the reasons why this particular air pact will commend itself to this country is that it is not a new commitment and that it represents British interests. It will always be the interest of this country to maintain those guarantees which are contained in the Treaty of Locarno, and anything which can strengthen that can only be a pact and a guarantee for what is a British interest. The Government have reassured the House time and time again that we are not going to enter into new commitments which are not essential to the vital interests of this country.
The question of disarmament must be closely bound up with the question of the air pact, and I am glad that this is not to be lost sight of. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) said, after an interchange between himself and the Foreign Secretary on the question of tariffs, that if we really were sincere in our intention to disarm we should at once call off the proposed 1484 increase in the Air Force of this country. I think he is greatly mistaken in his attitude. If we do mean to come to any agreement, and we recognise that it is essential that we should have bargaining power if we are to reach such an agreement, surely we should now show that we mean to increase our Air Force and to be second to nobody "within striking distance of our shores." If, after having announced a programme a few days ago, we now call it off, everybody would rightly imagine that it had been merely a matter of bluff.
There has been too much talk about bluff. The French suggest that the German Chancellor's proposals are insincere. In Berlin there is an equally strong feeling that France does not really want an agreement at all. I believe that it is the duty of our Government and of this country, as the only western European Power which is more or less disinterested in this settlement, to give a lead without further dangerous delay, in order to call the bluff on every side, in order to show what is bluff and what is a serious proposal. The only thing to be done is that our Government should immediately arrange not a great conference but just a three-cornered talk between this country, France and Germany—and, if necessary, Italy too. They should say, "We accept the principles underlying the proposals made by the German Chancellor, we accept the spirit of the proposals made by the French Government, now we want you to put your cards on the table, here in Downing Street,"—or wherever the meeting took place. I believe it would redound to the credit of this country that we had at last called a halt to these vague expressions of opinion and these speeches on every side in which we never get to grips with the facts.
The Lord President's pledge of 8th March, 1934, in regard to air defence—for in dealing with foreign affairs we cannot dissociate the discussions from the quesition of defence—was received with widespread approval throughout the country. It was regarded as an indication that Great Britain intended to be strong enough in the air to defend herself against any aggressor and to be independent of foreign countries for her air defence. It was also approved because that declaration showed that Great Britain's arms were defensive arms, and 1485 that they were not directed against any one country more than another. Therefore, I cannot but deplore the tendency on all sides to depart from the spirit of the Lord President's declaration, and now to measure the air strength of Great Britain not in terms of "any country within striking distance of our shores," which was his pledge, but to measure it purely in terms of one country in particular, namely, Germany. In my opinion this departure from the spirit of that pledge must and surely will prejudice the cause of peace and of the proper defence of our country.
In this connection, I should like to be assured that in the natural excitement over German re-armament His Majesty's Government are not losing sight of the formidable strength of the air force of Soviet Russia. It may be argued that Soviet Russia is not within striking distance of our shores, and far be it from me to suggest that the recent Franco-Soviet Pact has in any way altered that situation. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that the territory of the Soviet Union stretches to within a very few miles of the frontiers of India, where for years past the Russian Government—or the Third International, whichever you like—have, with their insidious propaganda, been trying to subvert the Indian people from their allegiance to the King-Emperor. The splendid reception which was accorded to the Lord Privy Seal on the occasion of his recent visit to the Communist capital should not delude us as to the real sentiments of the Russian Government. Moreover, the much-advertised singing of "God save the King" on that occasion by people who recognise neither God nor King should not blind us to Soviet insincerity.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) deplored the fact that democracy had disappeared from Germany, and said that we should therefore go hand-in-glove with Russia, a country where, he said, they were a similarly-minded people to ourselves. I think it is essential for somebody to disclaim the similar-mindedness of Soviet Russia and the regime there and this free country of ours. In this connection it is well to bear in mind the respective attitudes of Germany and of Russia towards this country. The new Germany 1486 where, whether we agree with it or not, racial purity has been raised to the status of a religion, believes firmly—and this cannot be too strongly emphasised—in a natural friendship between Germany and Great Britain based upon a racial affinity of the two countries. In direct contrast to that, Soviet Russia, ever since its inception, has never ceased to direct its special attention to decrying British Imperialism. I do not wish to go into the question of the justification for a fear of attack upon this country by Germany, but I would emphasise that, if there is reason to fear those who have singled us out as their natural friends, how much more should we be on our guard against those who have singled us out as their arch -enemy.
In view of the talk which has emanated from the Labour party as to the attitude of the youth of this country towards fighting or taking part in defending their homes, it is only right that a word should. be said about pacifism. Foreign countries: which may at any time have aggressive designs upon this country would do very well not to reckon too much upon that factor. The young men of to-day are every bit as ready to do their part, and to fight, if necessary, to defend their country, as any generation in the past. They will, however, expect and rightly expect, to be provided with the very best equipment which modern science and invention can devise. What is more, they will want to be very sure that they are fighting the battles of Great Britain and not, as the Socialists would like it, everybody else's battles except our own.
Before leaving this Debate we should have a word from the Government regarding the Imperial aspect of these matters. Some time ago I asked the Prime Minister whether the Government would avail themselves of the presence in London of the Empire Ministers to get some real measures of co-operation in foreign affairs. I noticed yesterday that, in reply to a similar question on the subject of defence, an answer was given that it had been agreed that these matters were to be discussed in a private way. It is of vital importance, not only to us but to our influence in the world, that this country should know whether or not His Majesty's Government have the full concurrence of the governments of the Dominions in the policy which we are pursuing. As this may—you cannot 1487 exactly foresee the result of any commitment—in time bring this country into war, we shall want to know very clearly whether it has really the support of the British Empire. A word to say that we are in the closest consultation with His Majesty's Dominions would have a very reassuring effect at this moment. Finally I submit that a desire for independence and for security, rather than fear of any other power, should be the motive which inspires British foreign defence policy.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. CROSS
One cannot fail to be impressed with the extraordinary degree of unanimity shown by hon. Members on every side of the House in support of the principle of collective security. At the same time, numerous hon. Members tell us how important it is that there should be some degree of treaty revision on many frontiers, and point out that you cannot eliminate war unless you correct just grievances which now exist. Hon. Members very often speak of the two ideas of collective security and treaty revision as though both could be applied to the same frontiers, but surely those ideas are mutually antagonistic and irreconcilable. No country is prepared to come into a scheme of collective security except with the idea of maintaining the integrity of its frontiers and the status quo,and that makes treaty revision entirely impossible. I question how Article 19 of the Covenant can, in fact, be applied to many of these European Frontiers, where revision is likely to take place.
What is going to happen between Germany and Austria? On one side there are very powerful and deeply nationalistic German interests which will be clamouring for some degree of union with Austria on the other side, Austria, weak, economically in a chaotic condition, will also be very anxious to achieve some degree of union. We are told on good authority that if you were to have a plebiscite of Austria, the result would not be very dissimilar from the result of the Saar plebiscite. But Italy will never agree to treaty revision. One day this situation must come to a head, and we shall be faced with an accomplished fact. What will happen then, whether you 1488 have schemes of collective security or not? I think we shall see the leader of the Italian people standing somewhere on a southern point of Italy, gazing across the Mediterranean at the inhabitants of Africa and muttering threats against them, while the rest of Europe acquiesces in the position. And this because the great Powers of Europe will not make war against the sacred principle of self-determination, enshrined in the Treaty of Versailles.
With this precedent, some similar sort of situations are likely to develop on some of the other frontiers of Germany. What may happen on the frontier of Czechslovakia, where a large number of Germans inhabit territories which are contiguous with Germany? Czechoslovakia will, of course, never agree in advance to a treaty revision which would enable a section of her country to be lopped off and joined on to Germany, but if faced with an accomplished fact, Czechoslovakia will not fight against Germany, certainly not without some of her friends, and some of the great Powers of Europe, joining in with her. Whether there is collective security or not the great Powers of Europe will not be prepared to plunge Europe into a, great and terrible war, which most people would regard as an unjust war, against the principle of self-determination, and designed to prevent a few people, and a small territory which considered itself to be German, from joining on to the Fatherland.
Therefore, I would submit to the Committee that we shall get treaty revision, but we shall not get it, as we should like it, by prior arrangement. It will come under the pressure of events; it will come because people will not be prepared to fight against the idea of self-determination particularly when that involves fighting against a great and heavily armed Germany. I think we must make up our minds that sooner or later in the years that lie ahead of us—within the next five, 10 or 15 years—we are going to see Germany gain territory on the Continent of Europe, and that she is going to get it, probably, without a single shot being fired, because none of the great Powers in Europe will be prepared to 1489 engage in hostilities to prevent it from happening.
While I urge that this principle of collective security is not, therefore, applicable universally and indiscriminately to every frontier of Europe, it is a very different thing when we consider it in circumstances such as those of the Treaty of Locarno. There is no great pressure on those frontiers for treaty revision; you are concerned almost solely with great Powers which regard those frontiers and their integrity as of vital concern for their own independence, and which are, therefore, prepared to fight to maintain the integrity of those frontiers, and, as it seems to me, there is consequently less chance of war on the Western Front than on any other front in Europe.
Surely, Herr Hitler's speech really recognises this to be the situation. Has he not gone out of his way to try to reassure us about the Western Front; has he not at the same time obviously made reservations with regard to his other frontiers; and is it not well known that it is one of the ambitions of his life to unite the German-speaking peoples under one flag so far as he possibly can? And so I believe that in time we shall have to acquiesce in this aggrandisement of Germany, and that not only because we shall be dealing with a Germany which will be great, powerful, heavily armed, and intensely nationalistic, with men and boys glorying in war with all the old military spirit that existed in 1914. But I believe further that because we shall be dealing with a Germany that will have gained some great diplomatic successes, and gained them only because she had heavy armaments with which to back up her policy, we shall be dealing with a country that may well be intoxicated with success, and, therefore, only too liable to blunder into conflict with ourselves. For that reason it seems to me to be doubly important, all-important, now and always to make it abundantly clear at what point German action would be intolerable to us, and at what point we should deem it necessary to fight because we should consider that our own independence was threatened.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Until the last speech was made—a speech which, I venture to say, was the evident result of profound 1490 and anxious thought—the atmosphere of this Debate had been entirely genial. Anyone listening to the opening speeches by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), the Foreign Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), would have had the feeling that everything was moving smoothly and with increasing speed towards an ever-improving situation in Europe and throughout the world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen drew a very rosy picture. He spoke of all the hopeful deductions which may be drawn from the German Chancellor's speech; he spoke of the conditions of the proposed air pact; but the speech to which we have just listened showed that there is another side, and a very dark other side, to the rosy picture drawn by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen.
And yet I cannot say that I disagree with my right hon. Friend, to whom we are indebted, as Leader of the Liberal party, for to-day's Debate. I agree with him entirely when he says that it is impossible for us, in the world in which we live, to treat with blank distrust the utterances of the Leader of so vast a State as Germany. To represent everything that has been said by Herr Hitler as containing in it only the purposes of political manoeuvre would be, as it were, to destroy the very means of contact and of parley between one great nation and another. I agree with my right hon. Friend there.
I agree with him also in feeling that the Air Locarno, as it has been called, is in itself an eminently desirable objective towards which we should work, and which, if concluded, will be a matter of real substance and importance. I welcome, with him, any steps which may be taken to secure a limitation in air armaments—air parity being achieved at levels lower than those which are now mentioned, if that can be done. But it is not going to be very easy. I welcome it by all means. I welcome, also, and perhaps most keenly, what has been said by the German Chancellor about correcting the abuses and stigmatising the vile crime of indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations apart from the ordinary measures of war. In all this I am entirely in agreement with the kind of language which was used by the Leader of the 1491 Liberal party, and with the tone which he adopted; and, naturally the Government will be encouraged by all sections in the House to pursue these matters with patience and not without hope. But do not let us under-rate the difficulties which attach to them. There may be many more complications in what is called an Air Locarno than would appear at first sight. Still, for what it is worth,:the union of great countries which put their names to a document pledging them all to bomb the bomber is an event which everyone would hail.
Even more difficulties attend the question of the limitation of air armaments. Air armaments are not expressed merely by the air squadrons in existence, or the aeroplanes which have been made; they cannot be considered apart from the capacity to manufacture. If, for instance, there were two countries which each had 1,000 first-line aeroplanes, but one of which had the power to manufacture at the rate of 100 a month and the other at the rate of 1,000 a month, it is perfectly clear that no kind of air parity would exist between those two countries. All that would happen as the result of an air parity agreement between them would be that the actual superiority of the one with the greater manufacturing power would manifest itself a few months later than would have been the case if that disproportion had existed in first-line aircraft.
My right hon. Friend spoke of inspection and control which he regarded as essential, and indeed it obviously is. When you have first-line air strength which may be limited by agreement, and when you have to consider the relations of that first-line air strength and the manufacturing capacity, on the one hand, and a vast civil aviation, on the other hand, it is clear that the task of reaching an agreed limitation of air armaments will be attended with almost superhuman difficulties in the present state and circumstances of the world. But by all means let us pursue that path. No one can possibly complain if it is pursued with even more hope than a prosaic consideration of the facts would justify. But while I welcome all this agreeable conversation and basis of conversation, I do not think that we ought to overlook at all the real facts which abide with us. One would imagine sitting in this House 1492 to-day that the dangers were over, were in process of abating. I believe that the exact contrary is the truth, that they are steadily advancing upon us, upon Europe and upon peaceful populations of all countries from many points of view; and that no one can be certain that a time may not be reached, or when it will be reached, when events may have passed altogether out of control. We must look at the facts. Nourish your hopes, but do not overlook the realities.
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs dropped out a phrase to-day which really is in keeping with what I call the illusion basis on which much of this discussion has proceeded. It was one of those casual phrases which nevertheless do reveal an altogether unsound presentation of the facts. He referred to countries as those with whom you feel it your absolute duty to remain on terms of air equality. Look at that. To remain on terms of air equality. We have not got air equality. Speeches are made in the country by leading Ministers saying that we have decided that we must have air equality, that we cannot accept anything less. We have not got it. We are already decidedly inferior to Germany, and, if it must be said, of course to France. All that lies before us for many months is that that inferiority becomes more and more pronounced. In the Autumn of this year, in November, when we are supposed to be 50 per cent. stronger, I hazard the melancholy prediction that we shall not be a third, possibly not a quarter, of the German air strength. What is the use of saying "the countries with whom we consider it our absolute duty to remain on terms of air equality." This is one of the terrible facts which lie before us and which will not be swept away merely by following a very natural inclination which we all have to say that it did not exist.
The German Army, already developed to 21 or 22 divisions, is working up to 36 as fast as it can, a division a month or something like that, coming into the full mobilisable capacity, tanks and the whole business. There is the Navy, and submarines have been made. Some are actually, I believe, practising, training their crews in that difficult art. Let me tell the House that submarines can be manufactured very quickly. I remember in November, 1914, arranging for Mr. Schwabb, of Bethlehem, to make 20 sub- 1493 marines in what was then believed to be the incredibly short period of six months. Although these vessels had to be shifted from the United States to a Canadian dockyard for reasons for neutrality, it was possible to put sections on the railway trucks and to deliver them in time. How do you know what progress has been made in making the necessary sections? The whole of this business is proceeding with the utmost rapidity. The arms production has the first claim on the entire industry of Germany. The necessary materials required for the production of armaments are the first charge on the German exchange. The whole of their industry is woven into the immediate readiness for war. You have a state of preparedness in German industry which was not attained by our industry until after the late War had gone on probably for two years.
Besides this, there is tremendous propaganda, beginning with the schools and going right through every grade of youth to manhood, enforced by the most vigorous and harsh sanctions at every stage. All this is taking place. It is a very nice comfortable world that we look out on here in this country. It has found an apt reflection in this Debate to-day, but it has no relation whatever to what is going forward and going steadily forward. Mark you in time of peace, in peace politics, in ordinary matters of domestic affairs and class struggles, things blow over, but in these great matters of defence and still more in the field of actual hostilities the clouds do not roll by. If the necessary measures are not taken, they turn into thunderbolts and fall on your heads. We cannot have a debate on foreign affairs, and let it pass without it being placed definitely in the minds of the Committee and from here being communicated to the country that the whole of this great process of psychological, moral, material and technical mobilisation of German war power is proceeding ceaselessly and with ever-increasing momentum.
The speech of my hon. Friend who has just spoken briefly but with interest was based on a very grim and glum contemplation of realities as he sees them. He was melancholy from many points of view. He spoke of the growing power of Germany, and it is a power based on the growth of armaments. It is the growth of German armaments which has 1494 fascinated and petrified nation after nation throughout Europe. Just look at what has happened throughout the last few weeks since we were last engaged in a serious discussion on foreign affairs. We know perfectly well that Poland continues in the German system. The Czechoslovakia elections have created a new Nazi party in Czechoslovakia, which is I believe the second party in the State. That is a very remarkable fact having regard to the energy which the German people, when inspired by the Nazi spirit, are able to exercise. The Austrian tension increases, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that many people talk about guaranteeing the independence of Austria, but what many mean by that is guaranteeing that Austria will be kept separate from Germany, which is a different thing. You may at any time be faced with a position that the will of the Austrian people will have to be turned in a particular direction, and an adverse direction from that which our policy has hitherto proclaimed. There is the. Danubian tour of General Goering. He has been to Jugoslavia, Bulgaria and to Hungary. He has, in Hungary and Bulgaria, been renewing those old ties of comradeship and confidence which existed between them and Germany in the days of the war. I agree that with regard to Jugoslavia undoubtedly his presence has exercised a very important influence there as a counter-influence to others that may be brought to bear. Everywhere these countries are being made to look to Germany in a special way, and let me say that I read in the "Times" on 30th May a very significant telegram from Vienna dealing with this tour of General Goering, and it finished up with these words:In the circumstances the strength and clarity of German policy gains by contrast "—that is, to the Allied policy—and the waverers among the smaller States are closely watching events.There is the question of what are the relations between Germany and Japan. I know nothing about them but what I read in the papers, but it seems to me that that is a matter which must be in the thoughts of everyone who attempts to make an appreciation of the foreign situation. Then there are the difficulties of Italy's preoccupation with Abyssinia, 1495 with which the Lord Privy Seal has en-endeavoured to cope in a manner which has won him the admiration and respect of all parties in this House. There are the obvious stresses through which France is passing, not indeed in the matter of national defence, but in almost every other aspect of the life of that people. There is our own weakness in the air which is to become worse and worse month after month many months ahead of this critical year and of the critical year which is to follow. All this is going forward.
It is easy then for Herr Hitler and the German Government to pursue a policy which I have heard described, though not in this House, as power diplomacy, which is, for them to shape events in the channels which my hon. Friend has just described to the Committee. What a transformation has taken place in the last two or three years. Two or three years ago it was considered sentimental, intellectual, liberally - minded to speak words of encouragement and compassion, and even to speak patronisingly in respect of the German people, and to seek opportunities to make gestures to raise them up to more and greater equality with other countries. Now, when less than three years have elapsed, we see them with their grievances unredressed, with all their ambitions unsatisfied, these grievances, the redress of which must involve an obstacle to many peoples and raise no hope, with all the dangers attaching to them—now we see them continuing from strength to strength, and the whole world waits from week to week to hear what are the words which will fall from the heads of the German nation. It is a woeful transformation which has taken place, because one cannot conceive a worse situation than that a nation so armed, so animated and so disposed should find itself having to plead with its force for the reversal of many of the most earnestly desired decisions and results which were achieved in the Great War by other countries.
I will not detain the Committee further, but I felt bound to put the other side of the case. I felt that it would be folly for us, in our desire not to use language which was alarming and not to say anything which might injuriously heighten the temperature or exacerbate feelings, 1496 to act as if we were swimming in a halcyon sea, as if nothing but balmy breezes and calm weather were to be expected and everything working in the most agreeable fashion. By all means follow your lines of hope and your paths of peace, but do not close your eyes to the fact that we are entering a corridor of deepening and darkening danger and we shall have to move along it for many months and possibly for years to come. While we are in this position not only have we our own safety to consider but we have to consider also whether the Parliamentary Governments of western Europe, of which there are not many that function in the real sense of the word, are going to be able to afford to their subjects that same measure of physical security, to say nothing of national satisfaction, as is being afforded to the people of Germany by the dictatorship which has been established there. It is not only the supreme question of self-preservation that is involved in the realisation of these dangers, but there is also the human and the world cause of the preservation of free Governments and of western civilisation Against the ever-advancing forces of authority and despotism
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few minutes. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has drawn a very lurid picture of the state of the world after four years of the policy of the National Government. I am grateful to him for having so thoroughly exposed the talk about parity. He pointed out, perfectly rightly, that when you are considering parity between two countries you cannot take only the number of first-line aeroplanes, but you have to consider the whole economic position of the country. You have to consider not only the air but the land forces and the sea forces and the whole of the potentialities of that country. I do not know whether it is the intention that we should work up to the kind of parity for which Germany asks at the present time. If we are to follow the parity idea, we must put ourselves in the same position as the nearest great Power and apparently follow the same line as Herr Hitler, and we shall then all have the fever of war and in a short time we shall be back in 1914 again. The right 1497 hon. Member for Epping has rightly pointed out the danger of paying lip service to one system and following another. The broad fact is that you have a following of power politics within the ambit of the League of Nations. The two things are incompatible.
The whole conception of parity is based on power politics. It is a singularly dishonest argument to use against us to say that the Labour party want security on the cheap. It is only a pretence put forward to say that the Air Force of ours so constantly demanded is for collective security. It is put forward in order that we might be equal to somebody else, and the fact of wanting parity is that you intend to play at power politics. You want an equally powerful force with other nations. If that is the case then put forward your policy and follow it, but do not pretend that it has anything to do with collective security. The right hon. Member for Epping said that where you have enormous rearming in Germany and it came to a stop there was an economic problem to deal with. I should like to ask whether the Government have any policy for dealing with the economic causes which are at the back of so much of this unrest. This power politics, this nationalism, is all based on an economic struggle, and we decline altogether to adopt power politics. We believe that the only way out of the trouble is to have real collective security in which power politics is thrown aside. If you do not agree go right out with your policy and say that you are going to have individual security, that you are going to trust in your own strong arm, but at least have an intelligent policy and not say one thing at one time and another thing at another.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
We have had a most interesting Debate which has ranged over a, wide field. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was the first to carry it into the field of economics, into which he has been followed by the hon. Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee). The right hon. Gentleman made a somewhat rash and for him an unfortunate incursion into that field when he drew an analogy between the policy of using tariffs to get down foreign tariffs and using armaments to get down foreign armaments. No doubt 1498 his preoccupation with matters of high policy has made it difficult for him to follow the answers to Parliamentary questions which have been given by the President of the Board of Trade, or he would have known that in recent years the increases in our tariffs and quotas have been accompanied by a steady increase in the economic armaments of other countries. I hope and believe that there are reasons why this analogy employed by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and which was so unfortunate for his argument, will not apply in the case of armaments. I join with the hon. Member for Limehouse in the hope he expressed that the economic questions which lie at the back of the distress and unrest in Europe, and particularly in Germany, will receive the earnest consideration of the Government and that they will attack these causes of unrest as an urgent matter of policy.
The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) drew us into another field when he referred to high finance and suggested an agreement between governments to prevent their currencies being exposed to the attacks of speculators, and even went on to suggest that there should be some sort of mutual protection against the results of Parliamentary defeats. He referred to the fact that the Government of which he was a distinguished Member was brought down at a time when they were. carrying out policies of great international importance, just as the French Government has been brought down now. But I think it is unnecessary to wait for international agreement on this question, if indeed it is advisable. There is a very simple prescription which all Governments must follow if they wish to avoid these financial failures, and that is to keep their budgets balanced. I think that that homely prescription is a better and more practical one than that which he advanced.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) reproached my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) for what he thought to be his rather too rosy and optimistic view of the international situation. In the last Debate on this subject, the right hon. Gentleman reproached me for failing to make an amende to him for having preferred the figures of German air armaments given 1499 to the House by the Lord President to those which the right hon. Gentleman has given in the course of these Debates. There is no Member of the House to whom I would be more anxious to seize the opportunity of expressing a tribute of real admiration than my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, and indeed I think the whole House and Parliament are indebted to him for his strenuous efforts to pierce the veil of secrecy which has hidden the facts of German air rearmament in the last year or two. But on this question my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping talks as though the Government now accepted his view that we are inferior to Germany at the moment. If the Government had accepted his assertions in the last Debate, I would certainly have taken the opportunity of expressing to him my regret at having been misled. But I hold in my hand the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debate which took place in the House of Lords on the same day as our last, Debate. It is a document which I know I must not quote, but in it there is a speech in which the Secretary of State for Air says that, taking account of all the relevant factors, we are not at the moment in a position of inferiority to Germany.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
My right hon. Friend says we are not to believe it, and that it is not true. That may be, and, if it is so, my right hon. Friend must not merely reproach us for refusing to accept his assertions, but he must attack the Government and press home on the Government the true facts as he believes them to be, and, if he can produce proof of his facts, I shall not hesitate to assure him of my conversion.
But let me say that this afternoon we welcome and accept the statement of the Foreign Secretary that the Government are doing all they can to conclude an Air Pact. I ask the Lord Privy Seal when he replies to carry that declaration one stage further if he can. The Secretary of State reminded us of the terms of the communiqué published after the negotiations in London with representatives of France. That communiqué referred to the prompt negotiation of the proposed air pact and the Secretary of 1500 State said "We have been as good as that communiqué." I think we must ask ourselves have they 7 The right hon. Gentleman drew attention, as he was amply entitled to do, to various difficulties which beset this question and prevent rapid action. There is the fact that all five Locarno Powers have to be consulted. There is the fact that new contributions have to be made to collective security by certain Powers and further that a number of different objects in the East and the South and in the centre of Europe, as well as in the West have to be pursued at the same time. He said that all these objects must be fitted into one comprehensive structure.
But there is one fact to which he did not allude—and I hope the Lord Privy Seal will refer to it when he replies—and which seems to entitle us to say that the air pact should now be pressed forward as a matter of supreme urgency. It is that in some of these other respects definite progress has been made. I refer to the East. It is true that an Eastern Pact has not been concluded in quite the comprehensive form, for which we hoped at the time of the negotiations to which I am referring, but there has been concluded with our good will a pact of mutual assistance embracing France, Russia and Czechoslovakia. I think it is now time that we put forward our policy of the air pact as a matter of the greatest urgency.
I know it is easy to scoff at the necessarily cautious and discreet language which a Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs must use here and I do not want to scoff. But such expressions as "hoping that we shall soon find ourselves in a position to exchange suggestions, by all the methods which may be useful for that. purpose," do not give us that conviction of earnest and urgent action which this Committee would welcome. It rather suggests to us a long drawn-out process. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said there were many complications. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has pointed them out as he was entitled to do and as it is his duty to do. Indeed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said it was a task of almost superhuman difficulty.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
My right hon. Friend wishes to make it clear that his remark about a task of superhuman difficulty was in reference to that limitation of aircraft which the Government has stated will form part and which we all hope will form part of the air pact when it is concluded. But meanwhile, during these protracted negotiations, vast expenditures of public money will be made upon the expansion of the Air Force, and, what causes even greater anxiety to some of us, new vested interests in this expansion will be created. Therefore, I come to the point upon which I hope the Lord Privy Seal will be able to give us some satisfaction. I hope he will be able to assure us that the Government will endeavour to get an agreement on limitation plus inspection as a matter of real urgency. There are the wider objects such as the outlawry of bombing, to which we on these benches attach the utmost importance and all these wider objects must be pursued. The outlawry of bombing and mutual assistance would come later, but let us in the first place try to get limitation plus inspection. Instead of having to build up to a figure of 1,500 aeroplanes while these negotiations are going on, and then scrapping, we hope, a half, or three-quarters, or two-thirds of them, let us get the limitation through quickly and then proceed with the rest of the negotiations.
After all, we know—it has been stated in the Press—that the French Government are now embarking upon a programme of the replacement of obsolete or semi-obsolete machines. If those machines are going to be scrapped, why should they not be scrapped without being replaced? If they can be scrapped without being replaced, then Herr Hitler says he will not build so many machines, and we should not have to build so many or to spend so much money on the purchase of aerodromes. Therefore, I would urge the Government to adopt the policy of getting a limited agreement on the question of limitation, at a low figure, of the air forces of France, Britain, and Germany, plus, of course, inspection, which will be an essential part of such an agreement, as a first step, and then to press on urgently with the other features which we all hope will form part of the eventual air pact.
1502 So far I agree with the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol, who made a similar though not quite. the same suggestion as I have been making, but I do not associate myself with his remark that the Government should in the meantime stop all their programme of air development. Indeed, I cannot help feeling somewhat surprised that he and the hon. Member for Limehouse should be putting forward this proposal at the present time and doing it in the language which they have used to-day. It was only on the 2nd May that the hon. Member for Limehouse said: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 re-arming, it is a certain kind of State, and Hitler-Germany is to my mind a denial of the fundamental principles of Western civilisation."He went on, and here I entirely agree with him:The Government's responsibility extends beyond the people of this country. The Government have a responsibility for the people of Europe."— [OFFICIAL, REPORT, 2nd May, 1935; cols. 676-7, Vol. 301.]I feel that the Government will not be discharging that responsibility at the present time unless they do look to the position in the air. I hope they wilt press on all the time as I have urged with this question of air disarmament, but I cannot think it would be right not at the same time to be building up to a rough numerical parity with Germany. I do not attach, any more than does the last speaker, importance to an actual standard of numerical parity. I spoke on that on the last occasion on which I spoke in this House, some 10 days ago, when I pointed out some of the difficulties of measuring parity, but as a rough measure of our share in a collective system for the maintenance of peace I believe it not to be unjust.
The Lord President of the Council taunted the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol with asking for security on the cheap, and I think the hon. and learned Member gave a very effective answer this afternoon to that taunt; but the real criticism, I think, of the attitude which the hon. and learned Member has adopted in these Debates is that he seems to desire security at other people's expense. He says that if you have parity 1503 in the air, you ought to have parity at sea. But not any more than you ought to have parity on land. The fact remains that we at sea have far greater responsibilities, owing to our geographical position, than have other countries. On land we have far fewer, and therefore our contribution on land will be insignificant, as the world fully realises. In the air, however, there is no country so situated in relation to other powerful air forces, which can in fairness be expected to make a greater contribution than ours to the burden of maintaining the peace of Europe in the air. It seems to me that in fairness we ought to make a contribution. It is very difficult to assess, but we hope it will come out of the air pact negotiations, and it may be roughtly expressed in the term "parity."
It seems to us a very great advance, and one of the most hopeful and essential differences between the situation now and the situation as it was in 1914, that Herr Hitler has accepted parity with this country and with France. If before the War, as my right hon. Friend said, the Germans had been willing to stabilise at the then existing ratio of naval strength, there would have been no naval competition and the whole political tension in Europe at that time would have been relaxed. Now, instead of having a keen aerial rivalry with Germany, as we had before the War in naval matters, we find that Germany accepts with willingness and readiness the measure of parity as being a fair measure of the relative strengths in the air of France, Germany and this country. Therefore, I would ask the Government for a strong and unequivocal declaration that they will attempt at once and as a matter of urgency to get this agreement on limitation plus inspection.
When we come to the other questions there will be very great difficulties. I hope earnestly that bombing will be outlawed absolutely, but I realise that you will come up against the entrenched opposition of every air ministry in the world, including our own. The Secretary of State shakes his head. I would put to him that the bomb is the distinctive feature of the air arm. If there were no bombs, there would not long be a need for an independent air force. The arguments of the hon. and gallant Mem- 1504 ber for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), who argues so cogently for splitting up the Air Force and dividing it between the Army and the Navy, would become almost irresistible. That is the reason why, if you are asking for the abolition of the bomb, you are really asking for the abolition of the Air Force as one of the great fighting services, will all its honourable traditions and its separate existence. You are asking inevitably for that and it will be resisted, but we have to face it.
I hope that we shall get an agreement which will lead ultimately to complete air disarmament, but which will meanwhile leave certain air forces in existence for police purposes, the forces of Germany, France, ourselves and other countries working more and more together in control and supervision of civil aviation and thus becoming the nucleus of an international air force. While I look forward to that development, which I hope and believe may well come out of the negotiations for an air pact, I trust that in the meantime the Government will endeavour as a matter of urgency to get this agreement for limitation and inspection. I believe that on these lines alone, on the lines of international agreement alone, shall we get peace. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr.Churchill) drew a contrast between the hopes which have been expressed on these Benches and some practical policy—he did not tell us what it was—which the Government could put into effect. I do not believe there is such a policy. I do not believe you can get security for this country by building up huge armaments. I believe you are far more likely to precipitate an explosion by a great programme of armaments which would inevitably lead to war, and I believe it is only by pursuing consistently a policy of peace and disarmament that we shall secure the peace of the world and attain real security for our people.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. Eden)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite referred at the outset of his remarks to the value of these debates, and I have no reason to quarrel with his appreciation of the speeches in the discussion we have had, with one possible exception, and I will say a word about 1505 that in a minute. I think we can say that each one of the speeches has been a constructive contribution to the study of the problem before us. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman complained a little that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had been cautious in the phraseology which he had used today. I do not think that had the right hon. and gallant Gentleman considered a little more, perhaps, what he had read in his morning papers, that he would have been altogether surprised at the need for that caution. It is quite possible, however, to be cautious in utterance but active in action, and I would ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to believe that, though the words in which we express our intentions may be carefully measured, the action by which we mean to give expression to those words, and have been giving expression to them, need cause him no anxiety.
He has asked one or two definite questions which I will try to answer. If I understood him aright, he seemed to wish that we should press on at once with an air limitation agreement, apart from what is called the Air Locarno Pact. I do not think that that is a practical procedure. The essence of working under what we might call the Locarno procedure, is that your limitation is applied to a limited number of Powers only. To attempt the negotiation of limitation with virtually the world would, at the present time, be certainly a very dilatory, and probably a hopeless process, and it is essentially on the basis of an air limitation side by side with the Air Pact, that we are striving, and will strive, to secure air limitation, because we believe that those two projects can be pursued side by side, and can only be realised together, and that the security which the Pact gives and the arms reduction which limitation gives, are inseparably connected. But I can add this: It is certainly our view that progress with this Air Pact and air limitation need not wait upon progress with the other subjects in the declaration of 3rd February.
It is quite true that there has been considerable progress with some of those subjects, for instance, the Danube Pact; but whatever the form in which signature comes, if and when it does come, there is no reason for us to delay these pro 1506 posals, in which we are vitally interested, while other negotiations are taking place elsewhere. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) asked that we should take the initiative. These air proposals, the air pact and air limitation together, are, in fact, the outcome of joint Anglo-French initiative, and it is certainly not our intention to allow that initiative to be lost. But when the hon. and learned Member appeals to us—as did also the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair)—for a standstill, if we can get it meanwhile, I say that I think he is asking us to achieve something which is virtually as difficult to negotiate as limitation. I will tell him why. It is the declared intention of the German Goverment to build up to the limit of the present French Air Force. I think it very unlikely that anything, apart from an agreement upon limitation, would alter that intention. Even so, as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), clearly pointed out—and I agree with him—if the scheme, be it limitation or a standstill, is to be of any effect at all, no doubt some form of supervision will have to be devised to accompany it. That, again, is not going to be done in a short while. Therefore, I believe that results will more certainly be achieved if, instead of making two bites at the cherry, we try from the start to achieve an agreement upon limitation and do not attempt to reach a standstill which would be extremely difficult to negotiate.
Then the hon. Member said that if we did not get a standstill why should we not at least hold up our programme for a few months as an example to others, I suppose in the hope that others would do the same. That is just the one thing that, in present conditions, His Majesty's Government cannot do. The hon. Member was good enough to say that he thought I was sincere in these matters of disarmament and so forth, and I can assure him that I am convinced that a risk such as he suggests we should now take, is a risk which no Government worthy of its responsibilities could possibly shoulder at the present time. The truth is we have waited for a very long time, and our expectations have scarcely borne the fruit for which some of us may have hoped; but now we are entering upon a phase of active negotiations 1507 and we cannot take the risk which he suggests.
I should like to say a word or two on collective security. The hon Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), in a brief but somewhat bellicose incursion into the Debate, accused the Government of not being sincere about collective security, maintaining that we did not practise what we preach. I think he ought to appreciate the conditions in which we are trying to practise what we preach. If, in the world to-day, every nation were a member of a system of collective security, the task of those who believe in it would be comparatively simple. But that, as the Committee know, is not the situation at the present time, and our task must be to continue to do all in our power to build up a system of collective security, and to do all in our power to get other nations into it; and even though we do not share the extreme gloom of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) we should be blind indeed if, while concentrating on building up a system of collective security, we ignored the realities which we see elsewhere in the world.
Therefore there is this argument, which was adumbrated by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), about collective security and parity. I think he is showing an anxiety that is superfluous. Our desire and our suggestion that parity is the proper basis for collective security in the air among the Great Powers of Western Europe is not because we want to return to power politics or because we want to be as strong as anyone else; it is because we want to make the same contribution as everyone else. The hon. and learned Gentleman was right in saying that there is parity to-day in the contribution of a land Power and a sea Power. A sea Power's contribution to collective security is naturally in the shape of ships and a land Power's contribution is in the shape of armies. A sea and a land Power may be contributing on a basis of effective parity to a, collective system. There is nothing sinister or of power politics in that. What we have to secure, if we are to get limitation in the air, is some yardstick. It seems that the most obvious task for the four great Powers in Western Europe is the ques- 1508 tion of finding a basis of negotiation upon which the contribution may rest.
Similarly with the hon. and learned Gentleman's criticism about the cheapness of collective security. What is meant? If the hon. and learned Member meant that he would like the level of world limitation of armaments to be as low as possible, I agree with him fully. If that were the position, and if everybody were included, by all means have the limit as low as possible, because we should all be so much the better off. That kind of cheapness appeals to me as much as to the hon. and learned Gentleman. There is another kind of cheapness which does not appeal to me, and that is that, although we have not reached that position in the world, and reduction has not been established and accepted, we should observe a lower level than other Powers who are as great in potential importance as ourselves, and hope that they will take care of us if we get into trouble. That is the kind of cheapness which makes no appeal to me whatever, and which is, I am confident, no contribution to collective security. Our conception of collective security is that each Power should contribute to the system in accordance with its responsibilities and its needs.
One word, before I close, in regard to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys). I confess that I regretted it. In an earlier speech he described himself as pro-British. I can imagine no better defence of foreign policy for this country, but his speech to-day hardly seemed to bear out that description of himself. He showed a violent antipathy against one country and went into ecstatic transports about another. That is very far from being a British characteristic. He said that in the German purity of race there was something which had a special affinity with our own very mixed race. That may be; I do not know. Even though he believes that it is no reason why he should think, because Russia has different views from ourselves in regard to religion, that she is for that reason our arch enemy. I confess that if, at the Foreign Office, of which my hon. Friend was only recently so distinguished an ornament, we occupied ourselves in unfriendly animadversions upon countries whose religious toleration did not rise to our expectations, we should be even busier than we are. 1509 The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked whether the Government all believed in collective security. He seemed particularly anxious to know whether any changes in any Government would bring about the same kind of policy. I can assure him that His Majesty's Government do believe in collective security, if only because collective security is as important a principle for a Government as it is for a nation. We have had of late some experiences of difficulties in another connection. We all remember the tragic consequences of attempting to agree to differ, and the very sad and sorry straits to which was reduced the party that persisted in isolation. Therefore, I would like to assure the House that our belief in collective security continues and grows.
It seemed to me that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), brief as it was, summed up the position as it is to-day. He said that we should endeavour, with Europe as it is now, to make the most of the contribution in the shape of Chancellor Hitler's speech a few days ago. That is the intention and 1510 the determination of the Government—to make the most of that contribution and to see whether, building upon that basis in conjunction with others who have the same anxieties and the same determinations as ourselves, we cannot eventually contribute successfully to bring about that happier state of affairs in Europe for which we are striving, and which, I agree with my right hon. Friend, is at present sadly lacking.
§ Ordered, "That. the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."— [Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.