§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH rose to call attention to the forthcoming Conference of the Allies on proposed trade regulations between them after the war, and to move for copies of—
- 1. Invitations addressed to His Majesty's Government to join in such a Conference.
- 2. Replies to such invitations.
- 3. Instructions given to the representatives of the Government appointed to attend the Conference.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, on September 29, 1914, the Prime Minister, in addressing a recruiting meeting at the Mansion House in Dublin, used words of a very remarkable character, of which note was taken at the time and to which I will venture to recall the attention of your Lordships. After relating the immediate objects of the meeting—the procuring of recruits for the struggle which we were then just beginning—he ventured to look
forward to what would be the problem after the war, and spoke of post-bellum cares and considerations. He said, with reference to what Mr. Gladstone's language had been in 1871 on "the enthronement of the idea of public right in European politics," that this was a great and magnificent thing, not Yet wholly realised, but after the war was over it would have an opportunity of being reasserted. Explaining what the recognition of that right meant, he said—
It means finally, or it ought to mean, perhaps by a slow and gradual process, the substitution for force, for the clash of competing ambitions, for groupings and alliances and a precarious equipoise, of a real European partnership, based on the recognition of equal rights and established and enforced by a common will.
I repeat that these were remarkable words. It was a very fine utterance to make on that occasion, and this should be kept before us throughout, the war as a living principle which should govern our thoughts and direct our conduct.
In the actual struggle the passion of fight swallows almost every other feeling. The blind wild beast of force, whose home is in the sinews of a man, absorbs almost every consideration of what is due even to an adversary, and there is nothing left in the combatant but the desire to overcome the enemy with whom he is fighting. But let the fight he over, and those who have the power should bring back saner counsels. It is surely the duty, my Lords, of a governing person, of a real ruler of men, of a shepherd of the people, always to keep before the nation the highest counsels, which are so much in danger of being lost sight of in the struggle of war. Many of us welcomed the Prime Minister's language at Dublin, and often recurred to it. He himself did not for a long time repeat it, and we began to be afraid that these counsels of perfection might be lost sight of. But when challenged so lately as February 23 the Prime Minister declared that he was of precisely the same mind then as he was in the autumn of 1914; and so lately as last night, in the remarkable speech which lie addressed to the French Senators and Deputies, he interwove the sentiments to which I have called attention with the prime necessity of carrying on the war with energy and resolution. So that I am entitled to rejoice that the Prime Minister, although we were anxious about it, has not forgotten his counsels of 1914 and will remember
them in due time. In his Dublin speech of September, 1914, immediately following the passage which I have already quoted, Mr. Asquith said—
A year ago that would have sounded like a Utopian idea. It is probably one that may not or will not be realised, either to-day or to-morrow, but if and when this war is decided in favour of the Allies it will at once come within the range, and before long within the grasp, of European statesmanship.
By slow degrees, he said, with long patience, this was what he would desire should follow. And I venture to say that the policy thus suggested is as wise as it is far-seeing; it is a policy of prudence as well as large-mindedness.
§ If I might venture to quote the action of a man to whom I do not often refer, as I am not one of those who privately or publicly are prone to pay him much worship—I mean Bismarck—I should like to recall to your Lordships his action at the close of the Seven Weeks' War in 1866. At Sadowa the Prussian Army had inflicted a staggering blow on the Austrian Throne. The Emperor of Austria-Hungary had not yet settled—it was in the year after, under the influence of this, that he did settle—his standing quarrel with Hungary. He lay almost at the mercy of the victor; and there was great pressure, it was understood, put upon Count Bismarck—as he then was—to extort great concessions and large indemnities from Austria-Hungary. But he refused. He was content to remove the Emperor of Austria from his position as aspiring to the hegemony of the whole German people, to let the North German Confederation be re-established without the intervention of Austria in any way in it, and to leave Austria-Hungary practically unchanged. It is true that there was associated with the Treaty, or part of it, the cession of Venetia to Italy, but that was due to the intervention of France and was no part of the penalty inflicted upon Austria by the Prussian victor. This was Count Bismarck's policy; and those who look back upon it must surely see that he was plenteously rewarded for the wisdom which he showed on that occasion. In the years that followed, the greatest temptations were addressed over and over again to the Emperor Francis Joseph to try and undo what had been done in 1866. Offers and bribes came from Paris, Grand Dukes and Ministers of State went to and fro, the Emperor Napoleon was active then and subsequently. But, as your Lordships 632 know, down to this day the aged Austrian Emperor has been faithful to his alliance with Prussia and has never allowed himself in any degree to swerve from fidelity to the friendship so established—a great reward for a great exercise of political wisdom.
§ Why do I recall to your Lordships the language of Mr. Asquith in Dublin and the action of Count Bismarck after the battle of Sadowa? I recall them in connection with the subject to which I wish to ask your attention especially this evening—the approaching Conference between the Allies on post-bellum trade relations; because it seems to me that this Conference is full of peril to the realisation of the principle to which I have called attention, and that, instead of helping to the re-establishment of European peace and a partnership based on the recognition of equal rights, it is, as far as I understand it, an attempt to pursue after the war, in a sphere other than that of the battlefield, a similar enmity and antagonism to the German people, German trade, and German prosperity. I am entitled, I think, to ask for an explanation of this apparent discrepancy between the policy of the Conference to which His Majesty's Government is in some measure pledged and the policy which the Prime Minister enunciated at Dublin. The Conference itself one, perhaps, might be disposed to treat somewhat lightly. One can understand that it might have been agreed upon on an invitation addressed to His Majesty's Ministers, who did not see their way to reject it.
§ But, unfortunately, my Lords, this Conference does not stand alone. It must be associated with language used, not merely by irresponsible writers, but by some of the highest and most trusted members of His Majesty's Government. I cannot separate the Conference from the declaration made by Mr. Runciman in the House of Commons when he spoke of bringing down the power of German commerce and never allowing it to rear its head again as it had done before. I am aware that Mr. Runciman has since in some measure, by one of those strange processes resorted to by Ministers of an interview with a newspaper reporter—an American journalist—endeavoured to explain away the apparent force of what he said. He does not question the accuracy of the report. He admits it. It is found too permanently embedded in the unalter 633 able pages of Hansard. But he should like to have said, not that the "head," but that the "helmet" should never be raised again. That is the correction. But I venture to say that if the word "helmet" had occurred in the original speech, it would have been entirely irrelevant. The speech had no reference to military action, to the struggle for military supremacy; it was a speech following upon a discussion initiated in the House of Commons by Mr. Hewins—that consistent, single-minded supporter of Trade Agreements between the Dominions of the Empire—and the debate following his speech was entirely confined to the post-bellum trade relations of the Empire and the Allies. In such a concatenation it is absurd to talk about the helmet not being raised again. The helmet of commerce has no meaning, whereas the head of commerce is a metaphor we all understand.
§ This declaration by Mr. Runciman, though qualified as it has been, coupled with the Conference which is about to assemble, must not only raise anxieties here but provoke unfortunate consequences in Germany itself. What more stimulating address could be delivered to any who in Germany were wavering in their zeal in support of the war than one suggesting that the war in the field would be followed by a war in the market, and that the power of recovery of German industry and German commerce was to be undermined and made perpetually incapable of realisation? There are many in Germany who are more or less weary of the trials and losses of the war and would fain see some possibility of coming to the end of it. They are discouraged by this Conference and this language. On the other hand, those in Germany who are most eager for the continuance of the war rejoice in the declaration and in the fact of the Conference as justifying themselves and as furnishing new causes for continuing the war with more vigour and more energy than ever. Count Reventlow, for example, has addressed language to his countrymen pointing out how absurd it is for them to think that there could be any peace between Germany and England until England was reduced to the dust, on the ground that it had been declared that the policy of England was not a policy of self-defence, not a desire to curb and reduce the over-bearing military authority of Prussia, and of Germany through 634 Prussia, but a desire to crush the growth of Germany, to nullify its progress, to destroy its commerce, to reduce its manufactures. They point to your Conference and to Mr. Runciman's language and say "The truth is revealed. This is the language, the somewhat extraordinary but the candid language, of a British Minister, who declares what is the policy of his colleagues." I hope to obtain from His Majesty's Government some explanation which shall help to clear away this unfortunate situation.
§ We know very little of the proposed Conference, but we have picked up hints about it here and there of a strange and uncertain character. We have seen communications from Paris, communications apparently inspired in the Press; the question has been raised in another place, and the Prime Minister himself has spoken upon it; but all he could say, which was not very encouraging, especially when we remember similar language applied to another sphere of political action, was that our representatives at the Conference would go to take part in it doubtless, but to commit themselves and their Government in no way whatever; that they would come back absolutely unfettered; that the Government would be unfettered; that Parliament would be unfettered; that the nation would be unfettered; and that the action to he taken consequent upon the Conference would in no way depend on what happened at the Conference. That is good as far as it goes. But we all know, when responsible delegates go from a Ministry to take part in a Conference on an international situation and assent to or favour a policy at that particular Conference and bring home favourable reports upon it, that their colleagues are scarcely, if ever, in a position to set aside their counsels and their recommendations. One example occurs to me—an example, I am afraid, which would not be followed even if the circumstances could be reproduced to-day. I remember Lord John Russell, returning from Vienna in the early part of the Crimean War having favoured a certain line of policy at the Austrian capital, being repudiated when he got home. It seems to me, looking back upon that incident, that we lived in more stalwart times then than now, and Ministers were often able to repudiate colleagues where now they would condone or even accept the conclusions arrived at 635 although they might regard them as unfortunate. I have said that we know very little of this Conference. This much, however, I think we do know. The one thing which is put forward as the end of it—different schemes of machinery will be suggested for arriving at that end—is the keeping down of German commerce and German progress and the peaceful development of her manufacturing and industrial resources. If that is true, the situation is infinitely to be regretted.
§ I have assumed in the Question which I have put upon the Paper what I think is conceded as a fact—namely, that the invitation to this Conference did not originate with His Majesty's Government, but was addressed to them. I think that must be so, because before we could have invited the Allies to a Conference on the post-bellum trade relations between them we would have had to arrive at some clear conception between ourselves as to what was our own policy. We could not ask others to come in and consider a policy when we had no unified policy of our own. And it is surely plain—I hope it is still plain—that in the matter of reciprocal trade relations, in the matter and the policy of tariffs, there exists a difference between the policy of the United Kingdom and the policy of the Dominions which is practically unalterable. Many changes may be brought about by the course of this war. I do not wish at all to limit the conception which may be formed of the alterations which are possible. But this much I venture to say, that even if the war were to last two years more, or even ten years more, at the end of that time our Dominions would still be found imposing duties on the imports of British manufactures, and I hope we should still be found not consenting to a reversal of the doctrines of Free Trade.
§ When Lord Salisbury talked of Imperial Federation some years ago and discussed its difficulties, I remember he said that in order to carry through the unity which was then being advocated you must set up a Kriegsverein and a Zollverein. I would not have used those phrases, convenient as they are, had I not his authority, and I apologise for reproducing them now. You may in the course of this war set up a Kriegsverein—that is, you may before it concludes be able to establish some organisation of the military forces of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions 636 so as to make one organisation of the whole. I conceive that to be possible. And it might follow that in order to have that—which means, of course, the reduction of the Government and the Parliament of this country to the occupation of a second place—it will be necessary to have a Kriegs Council working for the Dominions and the Home Government, and it might be possible to have a special revenue for the working action of that Council and the Kriegsverein. But even then you would still have subsisting the difference between the tariff policies of the Dominions and the tariff policy of the Home country, and you would not have any thing approaching to a real Zollverein. You might have something like the combination of Austria and Hungary, each with its own organisation, contributing certain quotas to the cause of the united action.
§ This being so, it would be impossible for us to have convened the Conference. We could not have put before them one policy, and if our representatives go to the Conference they will have to represent to those with whom they are conferring the unchanging conditions and the diversity of policy in regard to trade regulations in the different parts of the Empire. Although I am perhaps dwelling upon a topic which might be dropped, I would add this more. Before we could go into a Conference, before we could sustain any intelligent share in the proceedings of a Conference, we must not only come to some agreement with our Dominions, which has not been reached, but we should have to reconsider the very perplexing but very grave problem of the position of India in respect to such changes. When the minor question of diminutions of tariffs, of allowances for the reduction of tariffs in favour of different parts of the Empire was under consideration, the question was referred to India, and you received an answer from India unfavourable to the entertainment of any such proposition. If you are to go into any new departure from the principles then avowed, you would have to consult India. The position is this, that as at present advised we are not in a position to take any intelligent share in any practical deliberations leading to practical results on the part of any such Conference as is suggested.
§ We were told yesterday that a new representative is to be added to the two already named who are to attend this Conference. Mr. Hughes (Prime Minister 637 of the Commonwealth of Australia) has consented to go, in addition, as I understand, to Mr. Runciman and Mr. Bonar Law. Mr. Hughes will be able to state his views of the policy of the Empire at such a Conference. Mr. Bonar Law may more or less agree with him. Mr. Runciman will have to say his say. But they can scarcely commit the Government at home, they can scarcely represent the Government at home, in any such Conference; and except by supposing that changes much more vast than any of which we have had an inkling have occurred, I am at a loss to understand in what sense Mr. Hughes could be properly said to be a representative of His Majesty's Government at such a Conference. To represent the opinion of the Commonwealth of Australia, he may well be able, and he would do so with great power and great energy; but to represent His Majesty's Government is, I should think, a thing which would tax his ingenuity, and, in fact, be foreign to his desire. For he has independent aims; he has proposals which have not yet been adopted, and, as far as I can see, are not in the way of being adopted. The conclusion to which I have arrived is that this Conference is due to the invitation of some other Power. Whether of one Power or more than one Power, or of some personages not even in the Government of one of our Allies who have moved their Government to bring about the Conference, we know not. But allowing the utmost possible scope to its action, it appears to me that so far as we are concerned the negotiations can only result in a limited tariff, involving great trouble in the working and much loss to ourselves, and threatening finally—indeed, certain in the end—to break down through the impossibility of carrying it through.
§ Though I do not think it likely, I can conceive of the Conference arriving at a conclusion which, as far as regarded ourselves, would involve the establishment of tariff duties to which we have never consented; with a reduction in favour of our Dominions, possibly absolute freedom from duties on some commodities in respect to the Dominions; with a smaller reduction in the case of our Allies; with a still smaller reduction in the case of neutrals; and, finally, with something like prohibitive duties in the case of the enemy against Whom this Conference is directed. But What would be the chance of working out 638 such an agreement as I have sketched, even if it were adopted? How would it commend itself to the Conference, in the first place? You propose a tariff with a reduction of, or absolute freedom from, its duties in the case of our Colonies. What would Russia, for example, say to that? Russia is a member of the Conference—perhaps the leading member, I do not know. Russia is a competitor with our leading Dominions in the matter of raw products. What would Russia say? She would say, "The whole result of this Conference is that, instead of being admitted on equal terms with the United Kingdom, we are to be put behind the Colonies. We have been admitted free from duties hitherto; now we are to have duties imposed upon us." The thing would obviously be repugnant to, if not absolutely impossible of adoption on the part of, Russia.
§ Take another, perhaps a clearer, illustration of the difficulties involved. What would result from a change in the duties on an article which is already in our tariff—wine? Neither Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of his war Budgets has touched wine, and I think wisely. A screw of the Income Tax gets much more out of the same people than could be ever got by any change in the wine duties. It is a cheaper, more expeditious, readier way of getting the money you want, and practically affects the same class of citizens. But it is possible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has refrained from touching this article because of the great interests which our Allies have in wine. What would France say if we placed an extra duty on wine? France would say that it was very unfriendly. But that is not the worst. If you are going on with taxes as suggested, you would admit wine from Australia, and possibly wine from the Cape, at a lower rate of duties than you would admit wine from France. So that you would have France, again, exposed to complaint. She would say, "We are not even as well off as we were before. The duties themselves being unchanged, we are exposed to competition through the wines that come in from the Colonies, which before were taxed in the same way as ours." I need not refer to the feelings of Allies on the point. If you are going on with the graduation of which I have spoken, you would expect the United States, possibly, to complain. The wine 639 industry of the United States is growing, and in the course of a generation or two will be considerable. If you adopted a wine tariff which imposed a low duty on Dominion wines, a higher duty on the wines of our Allies, a third higher duty on neutral wines, and a prohibitive duty on German wines, you can see the confusion that would be caused, the remonstrances that would be excited, and the discontent that would be provoked among our Allies themselves. In addition to the complexity of the machinery for carrying out these changes, the changes would result in a loss to ourselves and in irritation to our Allies.
§ I venture to go further and to say that even the final stroke of policy on which all these proceedings are based—that of keeping under and crushing the power of reinvigoration of German industry—must fail from the nature of things, because even amongst our Allies and the neutrals friendly to us you would find people to whom this as a standing policy would be insupportable. The Prime Minister has dwelt more than once, and rightly, on the necessity of putting back Belgium in its old independent and vigorous condition. As he said last night, he wants the "old Belgium" hack, not a new and changed Belgium. That is what we must all desire. But you cannot have an old Belgium unless you have also an old Germany possible of revival. I desire special attention to this, because I think upon this point you would find that the whole scheme would break down. Speaking physically, as a matter of physical geography— not political—what are Rotterdam and Antwerp bat out-ports of Germany? Some people will at once say that I am calling them German. I am doing nothing of the kind. But Rotterdam and Antwerp, like Bremen and Hamburg, have developed, have flourished, have grown populous and wealthy because there was this hinterland behind them with thriving and active industries—the hinterland of the Westphalian coal mines, of iron works, of the rich cultivated plains of North Germany, of the Rhine and other valleys—this hinterland to which, as I say, Rotterdam and Antwerp are as much out-ports as are Hamburg and Bremen. The Treaty of Westphalia did, indeed, as we know, destroy Antwerp as an out-port; it forbade the access of Antwerp to the sea; it closed the Scheldt. In their un- 640 enlightened selfishness the Hollanders did their best to destroy the river, and Antwerp was practically destroyed, with this curious result, that the great Napoleonic War ended with the establishment of the free access of Antwerp to the sea. That is an illustration of the truth which I wish to impress upon you. Whatever might have been possible in 1648, it would be impossible now to destroy Antwerp or to prevent Antwerp and Rotterdam coming again into their position of energy and growth dependent upon the revival of Germany behind them; and the feeling in Belgium itself would soon become manifest as to the impossibility of maintaining a true line of demarcation between the hinterland and Belgium.
§ It may, perhaps, help if I give an illustration free from the embarrassment attached to the mentioning of Belgium. I will speak of Liverpool and Glasgow. Liverpool and Glasgow might be fairly described, figuratively, as the receiving houses of America—Liverpool with Lancashire behind it, Glasgow with Lanarkshire behind it. Both have thriven because there was a great country at the other side of the Atlantic flourishing and growing, and because there was free intercourse between those ports and that country which poured its supplies into the United Kingdom. As Liverpool and Glasgow have depended upon America, so do Rotterdam and Antwerp depend upon Germany, and the attempt to keep Germany down, and thereby to keep Rotterdam and Antwerp down, would be defeated by the repudiation of your friends the Dutch and your Allies the Belgians. I believe it would be absolutely impossible in the same way to maintain anything like a prohibition of intercourse between Russia and Germany; although I admit that in approaching the question of the Russian frontier of Germany and the views that have been set out, by the German Chancellor on the one side and by the Tsar in his opening proclamation at the beginning of the war on the other, I feel that in respect of Poland one is rather in the realm of phantasy when trying to think about it.
§ But the chief and clear result is that if you adopted a scheme such as I have described you would have great confusion, a machinery liable to the greatest abuse, and a multiplication of certificates of origin, which would defeat the very scheme 641 you had set on foot as well as cause constant irritation to your Allies and friends. And all for the purpose of impoverishing ourselves! Because it is true—surely this war has proved it—that Free Trade in the past has given us the wealth, the resources, the credit without, which the carrying on of the war would have been impossible. It is Free Trade which distinguishes us from our Allies; it is Free Trade which has enabled us to support them and their burdens, and has made possible that which would have been difficult, if not impossible, but for that assistance; and it is to Free Trade that we must look for the power of restoration in the future. Though I am as sure of this as I am of any proposition which I could make to your Lordships, I do not dwell upon it in reference to this Conference as much as upon the fatal objection to which I referred at the first—that the mere institution of such a Conference is a revival of anger, resentment, heat, and determination to carry on the war in Germany itself, and is alienating from us those forces in Germany which are visibly tending towards some possible settlement of the catastrophe which is devastating Europe.
§ Some of your Lordships may have read an article by Professor Delbrück which appeared in the Contemporary Review in 1913. It dwelt upon the obstacles which the United Kingdom had thrown in the way of the expansion of Germany on all hands. It was a painful article to read, an article which appeared to me to be full of misconceptions and of erroneous valuations of the facts mentioned. Too much stress was laid upon some, and too little attention paid elsewhere. It was an article which, with all respect to the professor who wrote it, one would call "wrong-headed." Still it was impossible to dispute that there was some appearance of justification for it. The writer stated that in Africa, in Asia, in Baghdad, in Asia Minor, in South-East Europe, indeed everywhere we were doing our best to swamp the peaceful development of Germany. Professor Delbrück still justifies the war on the German side, but he has also been one of the most energetic and forcible opponents of those who have of late headed a movement for annexation on the part of Germany. I ask you to realise what must be the effect on such a man of the adoption of this policy, which goes to support all the views which he held before the war. Think of Dr. Liebknecht. 642 Many of you must have admired his courage in speaking alone in the German Reichstag, and in having the courage to tell the Kaiser what his views were. His power of argument will be affected by the situation created in the calling of this Conference together.
§ There is one thought which I desire still to press upon your Lordships. Can we turn this Conference to any useful purpose? Is there any flower of safety which we might pluck out of the nettles which seem to be its embodiment? It has been said with a good deal of truth that recent wars have been all trade wars, wars to enable trades to be maintained and commercial enterprises to be carried through; and financiers and concessionnaires have been denounced as the mischievous, secret, unprincipled creatures who move behind statesmen and Governments and bring about wars and complications in every land, and have even brought about the present war. Some of my friends, I think, have financiers and concessionnaires on the brain. I am sure that the majority of financiers, to use the phrase of the late Lord Derby, know that "peace is their highest influence." Still it is true that some financiers and concessionnaires have threatened and are threatening danger and will continue to threaten danger so long as the policy for which they Play is allowed to remain in existence—that is to say, the policy of exclusion from a Dominion or a Possession over which they get an authority of any trader but themselves. I do not think much can be got out of this Conference, but I think that in the course of its meetings somebody might be well advised to drop a hint, to utter a word, to make a suggestion in passing, which might be thought over and might be used at a later Conference to produce some real result, because this Conference in itself is only a preliminary. When peace is established there will be a Conference indeed, a Conference to which you may expect neutrals as well as belligerents to be parties. The subject on which I think a hint might be dropped in respect of such a Conference is this. Might not we come to some agreement about the open door? Might not we see some possibility of preventing dangers in Africa, of preventing dangers — very imminent dangers—in Asia, by the agreement to adopt, as a common policy for all the Powers met together for a regenerated. 643 Europe—or, I would say, for a regenerated civilised humanity—the policy of the open door, and bind ourselves that under all circumstances we will grant and do our best to secure equal treatment to all within these domains which belong to none of us and into which we may seek an entrance for trade and commerce?
§ Here surely is something very pertinent to lay before our Allies. France, for example, has not observed—very much to the contrary—the principle of the open door. When France took over the possession of Madagascar the very flourishing British trade that existed there, important British connections, entirely disappeared. The French commercial régime, the French trade regulations, were so adverse to rivals that the British merchants and the British ships had to disappear. So also when Tunis was taken over; and so it appeared to be possible in the action which was being taken to permeate Morocco. Now if France would only be led to think a little about the adoption of the open door, I will not say in these countries where it has been already closed but in respect of other countries, something might be done. Then there is the question of China; that is one of the great difficulties of the future. And will Japan allow the open door in Manchuria, and will Russia allow the open door in Mongolia? There are pretensions rather inconsistent with the adoption of such a policy in these parts, and I do not expect that in the present Conference the open door could be at all pressed. But, as I suggest, a hint of it should be dropped now. When the real Conference comes we shall have neutrals brought in, especially the United States, and the United States has been foremost in advocating the principle of the open door, especially in reference to China. Mr. John Hay, perhaps, originated it; certainly he was energetic in pursuit of it; and it has been from his time down to the present the policy of every Administration in the United States. It would be a great comfort if one could entertain the thought that out of this Conference, with all its perplexities, with all its evil chances, with its threats of mischief and embroilments with our friends, difficulties with our Allies, and exasperation on the part of neutrals, we could see the way to adopt some rule of inclusion instead of exclusion, of united and friendly forces, of bringing together in the still undeveloped spaces of the world, where there is room for the intro- 644 duction of European industry and capital, of the principle of association instead of the principle of antagonism, the principle of working together instead of the principle of continued and permanent animosity. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That there be laid before the House copies of (1) Invitations addressed to His Majesty's Government to join in the Conference of the Allies on proposed Trade Regulations; (2) Replies to such invitations; (3) Instructions given to the representatives of the Government appointed to attend the Conference.—(Lord Courtney of Penwith.)
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, I shall not venture to follow my noble friend into the very large field which he has covered. I desire only to submit a few considerations which seem to make it very desirable that the greatest possible precaution and prudence should be exercised by His Majesty's Government and by those who represent them at this Conference. My noble friend Lord Courtney has deplored the calling together of a Conference at all. I will not enter into that question, which seems to me to be already past; but I want to suggest a few reasons for the special caution which we ought to exercise at this time.
I do not, and I do not think any of your Lordships will, fail to understand the strength of the feeling which lies behind the proposal that we should make some arrangements which would prevent our present enemies from behaving in the future as they have in the past. Nor do I in the least misunderstand, nor do I think any of your Lordships misunderstand, the source of all this desire for a campaign of permanent hostility to Germany, prolonging the war of arms by a war of commerce. Nobody can deny that the people of this country and the people of France have received the greatest possible provocation, that there has been the strongest cause for indignation on account of the detestable and unheard-of methods which the German Government has pursued and is pursuing. It is very natural that conduct like this should rouse the strongest feelings, and that those feelings should overflow into a sentiment that there should be no friendship again with those who have behaved so badly and that hostility must be maintained even when the war of arms is over. That is the kind of sentiment of 645 which at present we see so many signs in this country, and however much we regret its extreme manifestations we cannot he altogether surprised that it should exist.
We can understand also that there is a very strong feeling based upon what we have learned of the secret and surreptitious methods by which German merchants, at the suggestion and with the support of their Government, have endeavoured to obtain control of certain large and important classes of raw materials and of certain industries, to acquire what would be practically a monopoly of those raw materials and of those industries. One cannot be surprised that this bas put people on their guard lest any policy of the kind should be repeated in the future. There is therefore, I think, no objection in principle to the meditating and considering of any means that may be devised to avert in future the danger which would arise if, for instance, metals of prime necessity for the purposes of war and for some of the industries of peace were to get into the hands of those who would use them as we know that German merchants and traders have been trying to use them for some time past. It is very unfortunate that German finance should have obtained the control that it had obtained in some European countries, and if that were to be attempted to be secured again by improper and surreptitious methods I can fancy a case might be made out for meeting those methods by some exceptional action, action which would never have been suggested had it not been for the disclosure of what the Germans have done. Therefore so far we can quite understand that it is very natural that suspicion should exist now, just as it is natural that passion should exist after the war owing to the methods which we have seen the German Government practising.
But, my Lords, passion is a dangerous counsellor. It. is not wise when you are in a state of passion, however legitimate your indignation may be, to allow your passion to cloud your reason and to prevent your considering with coolness and calmness what the result of your action may be. Let me try in a few words to put before you what I think are some of the features of the situation which ought to be considered with calmness and coolness. It is suggested by many of those who have taken part in the discussions about this 646 approaching Conference that our delegates should go with proposals of a very complicated nature, for, in the first place, a commercial war against Germany and her Allies, and, secondly, commercial arrangements between our Allies, ourselves, and our Doniinions for preferential tariffs. Is not all this, to use a familiar phrase, "too previous"? We are trying to settle before the war ends questions which can only arise when the war is over. We are talking as if things will be the same after the war as they are now. Was there ever a war which made such enormous changes in the commercial as well as in the political relations of the world and of the results of which it was so hard to form any prophecy whatever?
The only thing we can be said to know about the end of the war is that it will leave the world entirely different from what it found it. That at least we can say. We cannot tell what the state of the world will be for merchant purposes, but we know it will be different after such a catastrophe and convulsion as this war has brought about. I do not doubt for a moment that the Allies will succeed. They have, I think, a distinct balance of forces in their favour; and I suppose we all agree that from day to day the prospect of our success grows greater. But it is quite possible, granting success, that that success may come in different ways and in different forms, and we cannot tell what those ways and forms will be. We have every ground for believing that all those who are now our Allies will so continue, but we cannot tell whether other nations may not come into the war. It is only within the last few weeks that another nation did enter the war; and there are other nations, now neutral, of which the same thing, as your Lordships know, is quite possible. And, further, we have really no idea in what condition the enemy nations will be left by the war. Will Germany, for instance, then be anything like as formidable either for commercial or warlike purposes as she was at the beginning of the war? Can she resume that policy of commercial penetration which she carried on with such effect in countries where one of them was hostile and the other at any rate not friendly to her before?
According to all the financial authorities to whom one listens, Germany will have exhausted all her capital at the end of the war. Indeed, it is supposed that the only thing she will then have to go on with is a 647 certain amount of raw material which she has accumulated in some countries ready to be shipped to her as soon as peace arrives; but of her own capital she seems to have been almost entirely depleted. It was less than a year ago, I think, that her Finance Minister admitted that the financial position of Germany will be "practically desperate" after the war, except for one thing—namely, that she expected to receive very large indemnities. During the last few months we have heard no more of those indemnities, and I think we may take it that the hope of obtaining any has now practically died away in Germany. Therefore those conditions which the Finance Minister foresaw of a practically bankrupt Germany seem to us very likely to arrive.
If it be true, as I have tried to suggest to your Lordships, that it is impossible to foresee the commercial conditions at the end of the war, either as regards Germany or as regards other nations, is it not impossible for us now to frame a policy adapted to conditions which we must admit to be unpredictable? Were we to attempt to make a policy now we should have no certainty that it would be one which would be practicable, workable, or useful in the conditions which will arrive at the end of the war. And if we attempted it now, we should have to change it. I wonder whether those who speak so lightly of this system of tariffs, to which my noble friend Lord Courtney briefly referred and which has been much more elaborated in many organs of the Press and by some speakers in this country, realise the prodigious difficulties which the working out of any such system must present. I am not going to follow my noble friend in the arguments which he presented. But your Lordships will remember that some years ago this whole question was before the country. It was debated with great energy and acumen by many powerful minds, and the longer it was considered the greater the difficulties seemed to be, and many of the schemes at first suggested had to be abandoned because their impracticability was demonstrated by discussion. I do not wish to tread upon any controversial ground. I merely ask you to remember what happened then and how great were the difficulties which presented themselves, difficulties which were not overcome in the course of the discussions that then arose. If in a time of peace, when we could devote all our attention to those 648 questions, we were unable to frame a scheme which met the difficulties and satisfied the country, how much less likely is it that we should be able to do so now? Some of the advocates of these proposals may say, "It is no doubt true that there will be many details to be settled and that there are difficulties—not unsurmountable difficulties—which will have to be dealt with, but we shall have time to consider them. The details must be looked into. All we ask is that the matter should be agreed in principle." Is there anything more dangerous than agreeing to a thing in principle before you have considered whether it can be worked out in practice? To my mind nothing has more frequently betrayed people into dangerous courses than an assent, lightly given, to a principle which cannot be applied in practice.
I would like to add one more consideration. The Conference which it is proposed to hold will be secret. It will be one to which the negotiators—if I may so call them—will go with no public opinion to watch them while they are at their work. I hope we may hear from the noble Marquess that the instructions are of a very general kind, and that they are such as will not authorise our representatives to commit His Majesty's Government to anything in particular. At the same time we must remember that the country is looking on with some anxiety at the present situation. It often becomes necessary in diplomatic negotiations to observe complete secrecy. There have been constantly cases arising in Europe in which secrecy was inevitable and invaluable, and where you could not have made the necessary agreements without a secrecy which has prevented the rest of the world from knowing what you were doing. But surely no considerations of that kind can exist in a case like the present. Whatever arrangements are made in this case will have to be carried through by legislation. They would naturally affect the commercial interests of the country very nearly, and there is in the country an immense volume of intelligent and experienced public opinion to which any such proposals ought to be submitted. Is this not, therefore, eminently a case for negotiating publicly? I do not mean that we should ascertain what the other parties to the Conference would like to have or give them any such views as we think can be given without raising expectations. But surely it is a case in which the country 649 ought not to be committed to anything whatever without the fullest opportunity being given for the public canvassing of every proposition that is made. I suppose nobody will deny that the Government are entitled to say that they go to this Conference with an open mind. If it is an open mind in the fullest sense of the word and a mind which is only there for the purpose of receiving suggestions and not making promises, nobody will be entitled to complain. But I submit not only that it is not a case for making promises but that it is not a case for raising expectations or saving anything as to the probable action of this country which could lead to any anticipation that afterwards might not be fulfilled. I venture to believe that it is eminently the duty of those who go to the Conference and negotiate on behalf of His Majesty's Government to do nothing which will in any way affect the absolute freedom of the people of this country to determine their whole fiscal policy. It has been a precious thing for us in the past that, as compared with other nations, we have been with our hands very free in the matter of fiscal policy, and it would be the greatest misfortune to depart from that attitude.
One word in conclusion. It does seem to me very regrettable that so much should be done and said in the impression and belief that after the war of arms is ended another war is to begin. That is based upon the idea that the future state of Europe is to be one of permanent hatred dividing the great peoples of the world. Surely there is no reason for such a despondent view as this. May we not hope that it may be among the results of this war to discredit the whole policy which has brought this war about, to discredit it even in that place where it has had its strength and its seat; and ought we to act now as if we were looking forward to hatred, instead of hoping for the time when, out of the miseries that have been suffered, some good result will come in leading the leaders of nations to guide their steps into the wiser paths of peace?
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, my noble friend on the Cross Benches (Lord Courtney), to whose speech the House, I am sure, listened with interest, recognising as it always does the high plane on which my noble friend speaks, but at the same time I venture to think listened 650 without any full measure of agreement, begins in his Motion on the Paper by moving for copies of the invitations addressed to His Majesty's Government to join in this Conference. On that subject I need only say a very few words. At the end of last year there were some conversations between the French Government and ourselves, not of a formal character, in the course of which the suggestion was made by the French Government that it would be advantageous if we could arrive at some common ground upon economical questions without sacrificing the freedom of the respective countries, and, if possible, also calling into council some others of our Allies. I am not in a position to present any Papers on the subject, because, as I have said, the conversations were not of a formal character. But, speaking generally, it was proposed that a Conference should take place on some current matters arising during the course of the war, and also upon some others which will have to be faced when the war is ended. Among the first was the question of a joint agreement on the subject of the prohibition of trading with the enemy. It was also suggested that we should discuss the scale and character of prohibited exports from this country, in order to inflict as little mutual inconvenience as possible between the different Allies in spite of such a prohibition. Then there were other questions arising after the war. One included suggestions for the reconstitution of trade in and between the countries of our Allies, and there was also—I am now coming on to ground which my noble friend thinks more dangerous—the question of considering the economical independence of the different Allies in the future. No formal reply has been sent to these informal proposals beyond an expression of willingness to send representatives to the Conference.
I am sorry to note that my noble friend regards the Conference in itself as full of peril, and he considers it to be scarcely compatible with the aspirations expressed by the Prime Minister so long ago as the month after the outbreak of the war, and, as Lord Courtney stated, again implied in the words he used to the French delegates last night. The Prime Minister spoke with regret of the competing ambitions of the past, as my noble friend has pointed out, meaning thereby, of course, the competing political and acquisitive aims of different 651 countries, and he expressed the hope that one result of the war might be the creation of a better mind in Europe—that is to say, that we should all have learned, through the tremendous sacrifices that we have made, lessons of wisdom when peace is once declared. We all hope that this may be so; and my noble friend evidently entertains the hope that these beneficial lessons will be as easily and as rightly learned by Germany as by ourselves or by any of the allied countries. I wish I could be as sanguine as my noble friend. He has spoken of a party in Germany who are wavering in their support of the war, and he quoted certain well-known instances of speakers and others in Germany who have not minced matters in speaking of their own Government and countrymen, and who, if one could believe appearances, would be prepared to make peace tomorrow on terms which conceivably the Allies might accept. But I am afraid that my noble friend over-rates, I will not say the strength, but the extent of that feeling in Germany. So far as the Government can ascertain there are small signs of wavering or of a desire for peace among those in Germany who are entitled to speak with any presumed weight of opinion behind them. I fear, therefore, that when my noble friend speaks of the discouragement which is inflicted upon those wellmeaning people in the enemy country by the mere calling together of such a Conference he is suffering under an illusion, a generous one, I am sure, but one which I believe to be in the strictest sense a dream with no reality behind it.
My noble friend used one illustration which, coming from him, I confess caused me a little surprise. He spoke with approval, knowing, of course, all the circumstances as well as any of us, of the lenient attitude displayed by Count Bismarck, as he then was, to Austria after the battle of KÖniggratz, which closed the Seven Weeks War. It is quite true that the Government of Berlin treated the defeated Austrian enemy with almost extraordinary leniency, but the reason, as indeed my noble friend implied in the later sentences of his allusion to the subject, was founded entirely on the wisdom of the serpent. The establishment of German unity under the leadership of Prussia could only be brought about, in the first place, by the defeat of Austria in the field; but it could only be finally brought about by the 652 defeat of France also in the field, the French Government being what it then was. With his customary foresight Count Bismarck, seeing that within a few years he was bound to come to grips with France, was determined to win and to keep Austria quiet when that fateful moment should arrive. That was a very ingenious policy no doubt, but if it is to be held up to us as a moral lesson of the kind of conduct that we ought to adopt after this war, I confess that from the point of view of ethics it seems to me to lack something by way of an example.
On the possibility of a post bellum war directed against commerce, my noble friend looks with dread, and he was not a little concerned at some sentences used by my right hon. colleague the President of the Board of Trade. It is true, no doubt, that language has been used which has been not quite fairly understood on the subject of the crushing of the militarism of Prussia and the crushing of Germany. What is it that Germany has done on the commercial side which has caused a great many people, both in France and this country to determine that she shall not have the power to continue in the same line of action in the years to come? My noble friend Lord Bryce has indicated in clear language what I desire to point out to the House. The fact is that Germany has combined commercial expansion and political intrigue with an audacity, and, one must add, with a success which, so far as I know, has no parallel whatever in the past. Therefore when my noble friend tries altogether to separate German enterprise from German militarism, and the character of the German people from the ambitions of the German General Staff he is, I venture to think, undertaking an impossible task. I do not believe that you can, in fact, separate those military ambitions which have set the world on fire from the general aggressiveness of Germany all over the world. The picture which I gather my noble friend desired to sketch, to borrow the title of a famous novel, of "two nations" in Germany, one highly drilled and ready for every kind of aggression on its neighbour, and the other of peaceful intent, only desirous to spread German civilisation, whatever that may be, all over the world, is a picture in which it is not possible to believe. The poison, as I fear, has within the last two hundred years permeated too deeply the whole of the 653 German people. Therefore to look forward to an epoch when, as though after a riot, shops can be oponed and business can be conducted again exactly on the old lines is, I fear, a hope that cannot be realised.
My noble friend was aware that the President of the Board of Trade and Mr. Bonar Law, and now, as we have found within the last few days, Mr. Hughes, are about to attend this Conference, and he asked whether. Mr. Hughes was able to attend it as in any way representing His Majesty's Government. Mr. Hughes will go, like the two Ministers, as an Imperial representative, and he will, I have no doubt, take a distinguished part in the deliberations of the Conference, not only from his well-known and admired powers of speech, but also from his determination to insist on the realities of the situation as he believes them to be. In reply to my noble friend I may say that our representatives will go from this country with no instructions except the general instructions to keep their eyes and minds open and to assist as far as possible in exploring the subjects which will be brought before the Conference. They will go and they will return without committing His Majesty's Government to any definite course of action. I think my noble friend somewhat over-rated the risk that the Government of this country and even Parliament might find itself committed, almost, one would have thought from his language inveigled, into an undesirable course of action owing to language used by our representatives and by assumed agreement of theirs in future action of which the country would not approve. The three men who are to go are all experienced in political life, and it is not to be supposed—I think it is gratuitous to suppose—that they will be able to exercise so little command over the language they may use as to give impressions to our Allies that they are entitled to commit this country to a certain course. They will be quite well aware that this is not in their power, and I am also certain that they will not desire to do it. The object of this Conference is to study and examine as closely as possible such subjects as I have mentioned as named by our French Allies, in the first instance, and others which no doubt will occur to them in the course of discussion. It is clear that if I were able to answer my noble friend's question and state instructions I should be doing the very thing of which I imagine he would most disapprove, because 654 we should seem then to be encouraging a priori judgments on questions which it is the very object of the Conference to study, many of which, as my noble friend below the Gangway (Lord Bryce) very truly pointed out, cannot by any possibility be filially adjudged at the present stage of the war.
I am anxious not to follow my noble friend into the various details of the difficulties which might arise, and will some time undoubtedly arise, when questions of a closer fiscal union between different parts of the Empire, or to some extent between the Allies—questions of the kind to which my noble friend alluded—come to be considered. How far questions such as those are likely to be considered in detail at the forthcoming Conference I do not know. It does not appear to me likely, because this, as I think my noble friend himself said, can only be a preliminary Conference. But the enumeration by my noble friend of those difficulties seemed to me not so much to enforce his argument as to enforce the desirability of discussing them, at any rate in their preliminary stages. Those difficulties either exist or they do not. At the appropriate time they will either have to be faced or they will have to be ignored. If they cannot be ignored—which seems to be the only reasonable conclusion which it is possible to reach—surely it is impossible to begin to examine them in their broad outlines too soon; although once more I am in complete agreement with my noble friend below the Gangway (Lord Bryce) that there are a great number of questions upon which at this stage it is impossible to express a final opinion.
The term which I feel pretty confident would most arouse the alarm of my noble friend in what I have said of the French proposals is the term "economic independence," to which a number of different meanings might no doubt be ascribed. My noble friend dislikes the idea of a search after independence of other countries. On the other hand, as we all know, there are certain commodities for which every country declines to be dependent upon its neighbours, whether those neighbours be friendly or whether they may be under some kind of suspicion. Material of war of all kinds is, by common consent, not subject to the rules which so staunch a Free Trader as my noble friend would apply to every other commodity in the world. Nobody ever 655 suggested that we should have been wise to depend for cannon upon Krupps, or that the German Government would have been wise to depend entirely on the Clyde or on Barrow for the building of submarines. Therefore when you come to discuss the possibilities of economic independence in the future, your mind may range far or it may only range within the immediate circle of one's vision; but it clearly is possible and legitimate to enter into a discussion on the various subjects and commodities for which we dare not in the future be dependent upon those who have made so evil a use of our dependence upon them in the immediate past.
I entirely agree with what fell from my noble friend Lord Bryce, that it never could be wise for this country to frame its future commercial policy upon a frantic system of revenge, careless whether or not we inflict vast injury upon ourselves and upon the Empire by such a course. That, however, is by no means to say that cases may not arise, parallel to the ordering of guns from Essen, in which it may be necessary to sacrifice some commercial advantage in order to avoid greater possible dangers. All those questions demand, and I have no doubt will receive, a great deal of anxious consideration—consideration, as we all know, and it really did not need my noble friend to point it out, from a number of persons who by the nature of the case cannot look at each proposal from precisely the same point of view. That is all the more reason, I venture to think, for early and preliminary exploration of as much of the ground as it is possible to examine.
I feel myself, and I have no doubt your Lordships all feel, that it is hardly possible to multiply too greatly these opportunities for meeting and the exchange of ideas between representatives of the different Allied countries. We have an instance at this moment in this country in the visit of our Parliamentary friends from France representing the Senate and the Chamber. They do not come with a rigidly laid down programme for discussion, but I have no doubt that their conversations, although they are not, of course, of the same formal character as this forthcoming Economic Conference, will bear fruit in both countries by the influence they will exercise on public opinion. This Economic Conference is of a more regular and formal character, but it will have a parallel good effect, I venture to predict, in making the two countries 656 more thoroughly acquainted, and it will serve, as I hope, as a prelude to those more important and final discussions the date of which it is altogether impossible for us to foresee but the material for which I am convinced cannot be too soon prepared.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.