§ THE EAEL OF OXFORD AND ASQUITH, who had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government if they are prepared to make any statement on Foreign Affairs, and to move for Papers, said: My Lords, the Question which stands in my name was put down some time ago, and it has been postponed from time to time on the understanding that it would be more expedient that it should be raised at a later date. The first inquiry—and I am in an interrogative mood entirely to-day—which I propose to address to His Majesty's Government is to ask them if they can give the House some account of what progress has been actually made, or is in immediate contemplation, in a subsidiary, not unimportant, matter, which I raised in this House as far back in the Session as March 3—namely, the evacuation by British troops of Cologne and its area.
§ I pointed out to your Lordships then that under Articles 428 and 429 of the Treaty of Versailles, which provides, as your Lordships know, as a temporary measure, for the occupation by the Allied Troops of the left, or certain portions of the left, bank of the Rhine, that occupation was, if and so far as Germany observed her obligations—the language of the Treaty is "faithful" to them—to be progressively diminished at intervals of five years, and to cease 1019 entirely at the end of fifteen years. The first five years of the term so prescribed terminated on January 10 in the present year, and, subject to the fulfilment by Germany of her obligations, Cologne ought then to have been evacuated. I pointed out the provisions of the Treaty and the conditions to which the continuance of the occupation was subject, and said—what I think was generally agreed—that unless a case of default, or to use the language of the Treaty of unfaithfulness to the reciprocal obligations undertaken by Germany, could be made out, our right to continue in occupation of that territory had, at that date, terminated.
§ I was answered by the then Leader of the House, Lord Curzon, of whom I may be allowed to say, perhaps, that, as time goes on, we realise more and more the gravity of the loss not only to this Assembly but to the State and the Empire which has been caused by his most untimely death. Lord Curzon described in detail the various stages of the inquiry which had been conducted by the Inter-Allied Commission, which presented first a preliminary and then a final Report, alleging what seemed to the Allies, for the time being at any rate, a sufficient justification for a provisional postponement of the evacuation, and at the end of his speech, he told your Lordships that, the Report having gone through, the intermediate procedure of consideration by a Military Committee and by the Ambassadors' Conference had only passed into their hands that morning. That was on March 3. It was, therefore, obviously necessary as well as proper that we should await the consideration of that Report by the Allied Governments before we prosecuted our inquiries any further.
§ That was four months ago, and I should like to know, and I think the whole of this House and of the country would like to know, by some authoritative declaration from the representatives of the Government, what has since happened, what is the result of the consideration which the various allied Governments have given to the alleged defaults of Germany, and whether they are now in a position to tell us how soon, at what date and under what conditions, this evacuation would actually take place. Until we have heard what explanation, or what justification there 1020 still is for further delay, we shall, of course, suspend our judgment, but subject to that it appears to me that prima facie at any rate our obligation to evacuate is overdue.
§ But I desire to-day, although I think that a very important matter, briefly but in some little detail to enter upon a larger question which has now emerged. After all, the provisional occupation of the Rhineland was a temporary matter and it had no relevance, or only a very remote and incidental relevance, to the far larger and more important question of what I may call general and permanent security. It may be worth while, even though one has to travel over ground which is familiar to most of your Lordships, to state succinctly but in stages how the Powers of Europe stand in that matter and particularly what are the securities created by the Treaty of Versailles. There is one which is contained in Articles 42 and 43 of the Treaty, which is perfectly specific and unambiguous and it is not temporary but permanent; that is to say, the demilitarisation of the left bank of the Rhine and an area of 50 kilometres in depth on the right bank. That is a specific guarantee, but, by implication, there is another which is to be found in the Treaty, because the Covenant of the League of Nations is incorporated in the Treaty and, indeed, is in its forefront.
Perhaps I might remind your Lordships of the exact terms of Article 10 of the Covenant. They are these:—
The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and the existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression"—
that is, external aggression—
or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall he fulfilled.
So far as the Treaty of Versailles is concerned those are the only two provisions which affect what I may call the permanent and general security of France, and indeed of the territorial rearrangements of which that Treaty was an embodiment.
§ But entirely outside the Treaty there was, as I had occasion to remind your 1021 Lordships when I was speaking on March 3, a Tripartite Pact between Great Britain, France, and the United States. As we know, for reasons which it is not necessary now to go into, that Pact never came into effective existence. The dangers arising from the sense of insecurity and the lack of adequate provision against it are, as I have said before and as I repeat to-day, dangers not only to France but to the whole polity of European nations. Attempts have been made in good faith, with a great expenditure of time and labour and thought, to fill that gap. There is what was called a Treaty of Mutual Assurance. There was as lately as the autumn of last year, I think in October of 1924, a Geneva Protocol. But whether for good or for bad reasons—I am not going to discuss that to-day—those two experiments have not received, nor in their present form as far as I can judge have any prospect of receiving, the general assent either of the European Powers or of European public opinion. So far, therefore, the attempt to fill the gap has proved abortive. But the necessity is as urgent as ever, and even more urgent than ever. I do not think I exaggerate when I say that, in my judgment at any rate, it is the first and the governing duty of European statesmanship.
Now before I ask, as I am about to do, for some further light upon the new experiment—the proposed Pact and the documents which are now before us—I will venture to lay down one or two propositions which seem to me to be the conditions of any satisfactory (and by "satisfactory" I mean any enduring and workable) Pact. In the first place, it must be comprehensive in the largest sense, comprehensive both in the ambit of its subject matter and, if I may use the expression, in the composition of the personnel of the parties to it. Upon that latter head it is, of course, all-important that Germany shall become a member of the League of Nations and I hail with complete satisfaction and without any scintilla of criticism the first section of the draft Pact which is now before us in the White Paper, in which it is agreed to by both the French and the British Governments that no agreement could be achieved unless Germany on her side assumes the obligations and enjoys the
rights laid down in the Covenant of the League. The section continues:—
This agreement, then, can only be conceived if Germany herself enters the League of Nations under the conditions laid down in the note from the Council of the League of Nations, dated the 13th March, 1925.
That, I believe, will be common ground to all of us and that is the first, I will not say the most important but an elementary and fundamental condition.
§ The second condition, to which I hope your Lordships will also assent, is that any such Pact must not only not infringe or collide with, but recognise and so far as possible strengthen and enhance, the authority of the League of Nations. Thirdly—and what I am going to suggest now is, in my judgment, equally if not more important than either of the conditions I have already mentioned—it must be unambiguous in its terms. When I say "unambiguous" I mean not only that it should not, in fact, be understood in different, senses by the parties concerned, but it must be so expressed within the limits—nebulous, I agree, to define—of the vocabulary of diplomacy; but within those limits it must be so expressed that it is not capable of being misunderstood. I attach the highest importance to that condition and I think we are justified by experience in doing so.
§ I turn to the Covenant of the League of Nations as an illustration of the dangers of ambiguity. There are Articles in that Covenant which are exposed to the peril of being misunderstood. For instance, the all-important Article 10, which deals with external aggression, and in some though perhaps not in the same degree another Article of very great and grave importance, Article 19, which deals with the reconsideration of Treaties when they have become inapplicable. "External aggression" and "inapplicable" are very vague and elastic terms. But if it were necessary to give a third illustration of the perils of ambiguity in matters of this kind, one might add that it is notorious that when the terms of the proposed Pact now before us were published to the world, some of its provisions were interpreted by responsible organs of the French Press in a sense which seemed to some of us, I believe to most of us, not in any way justified by the declarations of M. Briand and which certainly could not possibly have been accepted by the public of Great Britain. That shows the 1023 importance of definiteness and clarity both of thought and of language in instruments of this kind.
§ Keeping those conditions in mind, I am one of those who approached, and still approach, this proposed Pact in a spirit of complete sympathy with its purpose and with a real desire, a real genuine heartfelt desire, that it should be made effective and adequate for that purpose. Whatever I have to say, I need not assure your Lordships, is dictated in that spirit. It has one very great advantage over preceding attempts to deal with this problem, an advantage which I think is a very hopeful feature. It is this, that the initiative in this case comes from Germany—not from the Allied Powers, but from Germany. The German Memorandum of February 9, published in the White Paper, is the starting point of the whole negotiation. And it contains, apart from its specific references to the Rhineland, much wider and more general propositions.
Let me remind your Lordships of that which appears on page 4 of the White Paper and which concludes paragraph 1. It is in these terms. After speaking of the Pact which had reference only to the Rhine, the German Government goes on to use this language:
A comprehensive arbitration Treaty, such as has been concluded in recent years between different European countries, could be amalgamated with such a Pact. Germany is also prepared to conclude analogous arbitration Treaties providing for the peaceful settlement of juridical and political conflicts with all other States as well.
That, I think, marks a distinct advance in the tangled and thorny and, so far, to a large extent, disappointing road of international negotiation.
§ I should be wasting your Lordships' time if I went through the rest of the intermediate correspondence on this topic. I do not propose to do so, except to say, which I do with complete sincerity, that I think the Foreign Office Memorandum, dated, I think, sometime in May, of criticism on the original French draft is, in my judgment, well founded in its general propositions and, on particular propositions, always to the point. But what we have to consider to-day, or at least the instrument as to which I am going to ask for some further elucidation from the Government, is the 1024 final draft, which appears in pages 48 to 51 of this document, which is a joint work after the interchange of ideas and criticisms between the French and the British Governments, and which is now under consideration. As I have said, I am not going to dwell on this draft in any critical, certainly not in any censorious, spirit. My sole object is to elicit from the Government clearer and fuller explanations than they yet have given of its real scope and significance.
On the first section, which deals with the necessity of the membership of Germany in the League of Nations, I I will say no more than I have already said. The second section is the one as to which I hope the Government will give us some more definite and intelligible explanation than has yet been forthcoming. I will read its terms:—
The search for the guarantees of security which the world demands cannot involve any modification of the Peace Treaties.
The second paragraph runs as follows:
The agreements to be concluded ought not, therefore, either to imply a revision of these Treaties or to result in practice in the modification of the conditions laid down for the application of certain of their clauses.
The final paragraph runs like this:
Thus the Allies cannot in any case give up the right to oppose any failure to observe the stipulations of these Treaties, even if the stipulations in question do not directly concern them.
I have read that paragraph a great many times, and I regret to say my mind is still in a state of general obscurity as to what it means and what it portends.
§ Let me remind your Lordships—I think it is relevant and indeed necessary at this point—what is the position of the signatory Powers, and especially of Great Britain, in regard to the territorial settlements made by the Treaty of Versailles. I take that Treaty as it stands. It is not necessary, although I think it would be expedient at this time, to re-examine its territorial rearrangements, and I am not going to do so; but I must be allowed, in parenthesis, to reiterate an opinion which I have more than once expressed during the last five years in public, that in the reconstruction out of the débris of the Austro-Hungarian Empire of this group of free, autonomous States, it was a grave 1025 and a grievous mistake not to have imposed on the new independent communities geographically contiguous, as a condition of their new status, the maintenance of the economic and fiscal unity which I will not say was the only, but was the main redeeming feature of that otherwise indefensible aggregate, Austria-Hungary. A great many of the troubles which have since arisen, and those which now confront us and those which threaten us in the future in the East of Europe—I am not speaking of the Balkan States—arise from the fact that those States were not compelled to accept, as a condition of their new existence, the old economic unity which the Austro-Hungarian Empire had enjoyed in practice.
§ That by the way. To go back, we must take things as they are. It may have been a mistake, I think it was; but it is now a mistake that cannot be rectified except by the consent and after the experience of those who wore the victims of the experiment. We must take things as they are, and taking things as they are under the Treaty, it is most important to inquire how, apart from any new Pact, we and the other signatories to the Treaty stand in regard to Treaty revision. As your Lordships see, this is not an academic point at all. How do we stand? There are two relevant considerations. The first is that the diplomatists at Paris, whose labours ultimately crystallised in the Treaty of Versailles, were not foolish enough to consider that they were the architects of a fabric, I will not say of inviolable sanctity, but of a permanent duration. If they had thought so they would have been living in a fool's paradise. In the first place, they were all parties to Article 19, to which I have already referred, of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which empowered the Assembly of that League from time to time to advise reconsideration by Members of the League of Treaties that had become inapplicable. As I have already hinted it is not a very felicitous term, but whatever it means it is one which certainly includes the Treaty of Versailles itself. Of that there can be no doubt.
And next there is the letter, which is called a covering letter, sent by M. Clemenceau, on behalf of the Allied and
Associated Powers, when he transmitted the considered draft of the Treaty of Versailles to the representatives of the German Delegation, in which he used these words—
that is to say, the victorious Allies, who were imposing this Treaty upon Germany—
that is, the Treaty—
is not only a just settlement of the great War, but that it provides the basis upon which the peoples of Europe can live together in friendship and equality.
Very good; then observe the sentence which follows:—
At the same time it creates the machinery for the peaceful adjustment of all international problems by discussion and consent, whereby the settlement of l919 itself can be modified from time to time to such new facts and new conditions as they arise.
It is very important to bear in mind, first, the Article in the Covenant of the League of Nations embodied in the Treaty, and next this authoritative declaration of M. Clemenceau, given with the conjoint assent of all the signatories to the Treaty to the German Government.
§ That being so I come back to the Pact and to the Article of the Pact, or the suggested Pact—the second Article—the terms of which I read a few moments ago. If your Lordships will study the language of this Article you must observe that it contains a series of negations. It says what cannot be done, and does not say what can. It is a series of exclusions from the scope of the Pact, and emphasising once again, I hope not with excessive iteration, what I regard to be vital in this matter, the necessity of avoiding ambiguity, it is important to see and understand what these exclusions shut out and as a corollary what they admit. Of course the language of this Article, particularly of the third paragraph, might be so interpreted as stating a mere truism—namely, that the Allies cannot in any case give up the right to oppose any failure to observe the stipulations in the Treaty. That is a mere platitude, and hardly needs to be stated unless it has some real and ulterior significance.
§ I am not canvassing this matter in a captious spirit. I desire simply to realise, if we can, the obligations we are invited to assume. What I desire to know 1027 in regard to the interpretation of that Article is how, in any conceivable and in any probable case, it is going to be applied. I will give one or two specific instances which come to my mind, but my general point can be covered by asking this question: Will the arbitration Treaties which it is contemplated will be concluded under this Pact, as we hope not only in Western but in Eastern Europe, cover the questions which are likely to arise, or which at any rate will not improbably arise, under the Treaty of Versailles itself? Let me give two or three illustrations. Take the question of the evacuations, not of the Rhine area but of the two other zones of the occupied German area. They are due at intervals of five and ten years from the present time. From what has happened in regard to the first zone we know what complicated and difficult questions may arise in that matter, and under these provisions, with their vague and obscure language, will the question arising as to whether or not the date is due for those successive evacuations—will that or will that not be the subject for arbitration?
§ Take again, only by way of illustration, the case of the evacuation of the Saar. It is quite true that under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the plebiscite which is ultimately to determine the will of the inhabitants of the Saar as to their future government is under the supervision of the League of Nations—a very good provision, though I confess that I wish—it is the only criticism I have to make upon the actual conduct of the League of Nations during these years—that they had handled the question of the Saar in a more, I will not say drastic but in a more determined spirit than they have hitherto done. But that is a mere criticism by the way. Suppose questions arise, not as to the actual taking of the plebiscite but as to the conduct of the administration of the Saar and, as there may very well be, there is a serious conflict of opinion and of interest between the German population and the French authorities: Is that, under Section II of this Pact, or is it not, to be a subject for arbitration?
§ If I may, without unduly wearying your Lordships with specific cases—but it is all-important that we should see what the Pact would mean and its actual working—I will take another case. Take the 1028 questions which may arise, and very probably will arise, as to incidents of one kind or another arising out of the administration of areas which are still occupied. There is a serious danger, so far as one can forecast the future, a serious risk at any rate of those incidents becoming more frequent and perhaps more grave than they have been in the past. Suppose they lead to trouble. I do not like to be pessimistic and suggest bloodshed, but suppose they lead to trouble, friction and disturbance: Is that or is it not to fall within the ambit of arbitration under the provisions of this Pact? Lastly—I do not want to multiply illustrations under this head—there is the question of German disarmament in the years to come. Suppose information is given or rumours are spread that the Germans are erecting factories, or enlarging their police force, or doing any of the other things which are now put forward, or have been put forward, as grounds for postponing our evacuation of Cologne. Such questions may, and not improbably will, arise. Are they or are they not to be regarded as within the sphere of the arbitral provisions of this Pact?
§ I say that those are not academic questions. They are very practical questions, and before we commit ourselves to vague and, as it seems to me, somewhat indefinite language, such as that which is contained in Section II of this Pact, I think we ought clearly to understand whether or not, in the contemplation of the Government, they do or do not come within it. I will not—and I purposely will not, for what I think are reasons of public policy—go into what is in some ways a more thorny and difficult area—namely, the frontier between Germany and the States which lie to the east. Everybody knows what the troubles are there. I do not enumerate them, nor do I wish in any degree to summon up conjectural and, as I hope, imaginary cases of friction and of conflict. Our position under the Pact in regard to the Eastern frontier is, I agree, different from our position in regard to the Rhineland.
Under the Fifth Section of the proposed Pact the British and French Governments point out that—
… the German Government added that they wore ready to conclude with all States who were so disposed arbitration Treaties …
and they add, quite properly, at the end of the section—
These arbitration Treaties … would have the same scope as those contemplated in Section IV.
But the Powers, including ourselves, the signatories of the Treaty of Versailles and of the provisions of the Rhineland Pact, would in this case not be under the obligation but would merely have the option, if they so desire, of constituting themselves guarantors of such abitration Treaties. That, I do not hesitate to say, is a very wise provision and a very necessary one, but, as the French Government have often pointed out and as everybody who is conversant with the present state of Europe must know, it is extremely difficult to separate the east from the west. You cannot divide them into watertight compartments. When you think you have settled in a satisfactory way the problem of the Rhineland you may well find that against your will—very much against your will—and from no considerations of your own policy you are being involved, or at any rate others are being involved, in troubles in the east which may be very menacing to the future peace of Europe.
§ As I have said, I have put this Question, not with any desire to embarrass the Government, still less with any desire to discredit or to defeat the proposed Pact. On the contrary, I have a sincere hope that, in an unambiguous and satisfactory form, it may become part of the public law of Europe, and that is not, if I may say so, an afterthought nor a postscript. This conception, not only of a European but, as I hope it may become and develop into, a world-wide Pact, has hovered over our lines, not perhaps of vision nor even of expectation, but of imagination and of hope even in the earliest moments of the War.
§ Your Lordships will perhaps allow me to quote some words which I used, speaking in Dublin in September, 1914, at a time when the War was not yet six weeks old, in a series of addresses which I made in the capital cities of the United Kingdom, because—what is not always the case with one's past utterances—they seem to me to be as true and as pertinent to-day as they were then. I said that we were fighting—this was in the first month of the War—for what Mr. Gladstone, forty years before, had described 1030 as the enthronement of the idea of public right as the governing idea of European politics, and I said—and I think it as strongly to-day and even much more strongly than I did then—that in my view that idea of public right meant the substitution (quoting the language I used) for the clash of competing ambitions, groupings and alliances and a precarious equipoise—the substitution for all that of a real European partnership, based on the recognition of equal rights, established and enforced by a common will.
§ It is, in substance, to give effect to that idea that since the War we have built up the League of Nations. It contemplates, and must contemplate, in my opinion, in the last resort, the enforcement of the common judgment by the common will. But let it be observed that in the long run—this is, at any rate, my deliberate opinion—its enforcement, if such a need should arise, is a better sanction against the recurrence of war than the return of a great Power like ourselves to the old attitude of isolation and aloofness, with, as all experience has shown to be its inevitable accompaniment or consequence, the re-grouping in hostile ranks of the other Powers in the world. I therefore welcome, and welcome without reserve, the spirit which has so far animated, and I hope and believe will continue to animate, the framers and negotiators of this Pact, this first instalment, for it does not pretend to be more, of what we all pray in its perfected and completed form may be a new, a potent, and even a decisive contribution to the permanent peace of the world. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I gather that my noble friend Viscount Grey of Fallodon will presently address some observations to your Lordships. Before he does so there are one or two points on which I wish to touch very briefly as representing the sense of some who sit near me. My noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith began his speech with a Question as to the date when the evacuation by British troops of the Cologne region would really be accomplished. I wish to say this in addition to what he said. It is not such a very easy thing for Germany to fulfil precisely to the letter the obligation which she has undertaken about disarmament. There 1031 are zealous people in Germany who are constantly alarming themselves about the condition of things there, and I dare say there is a certain amount of secret drilling, collecting of arms and matters of that kind, but to my mind the question is not whether that sort of thing goes on to a very small extent—which I believe is the only extent that it does go on—but whether it is encouraged by the Government of Germany and public opinion in Germany.
We know to-day that no war on a great scale can possibly be undertaken unless the Government of the country is behind it and the people are behind it whole-heartedly. It is too big a matter nowadays. But if you are to apply the scrutiny of lawyers, or of Ambassadors only carrying out definite instructions, I venture to doubt whether you will ever get a condition of things in which Germany will have completely, to the letter, fulfilled her undertaking to disarm. It is not that I do not want Germany to disarm. I want her to do so very much, but you have allowed her to be surrounded by a million Allied troops, and have only allowed her 100,000 with which to protect herself. I do not want to increase that Army, but I protest against a lawyer's decision as to whether there has been any departure by Germany from the reduction of armaments which is stipulated for, or not. If in substance Germany has disarmed, and if in substance there is no likelihood of her arming to any increasing extent, then I say evacuate Cologne if you can arrange matters with the French, and let us have done with this disagreeable business, which is a source of entanglement to us all.
That is one point of minor importance, but there is another and larger point. I was very glad that Lord Oxford and Asquith rather protested against the use of the word "Pact" in this connection. There is no Pact as yet. There is no proposal to make a Pact until there has been a very close discussion. Of what does it consist? What I should like to get from the noble Earl opposite, when he comes to deal with this matter, is how far we have got with the substance of things. Not, I think, very far as yet. To my mind the important matter is that these negotiations began with a request from Germany, made in February last, 1032 that they should be undertaken. That is very important. We want to get Germany away from the possibility of treating with other nations, and Germany has made an offer to come in and transact with the Allied Powers on certain terms. On her communication to Paris the French Government followed the matter up by a communication to us, saying in a very satisfactory way that they were ready to go into this, only that they should like to have undertakings for a variety of Treaties, which would cover matters on the Eastern frontier of Germany as well as the Western frontier of Germany, and they would like us to go into these.
Then comes what, to my mind, is the most material declaration on the part of His Majesty's Government. It is contained in the letter of Mr. Austen Chamberlain to Lord Crewe, of May 28, and it is on page 20 of the White Paper. In paragraph 108, after stating these extra arbitration agreements which France suggests as regards the Eastern frontier of Germany, and which France suggests we should go into, Mr. Chamberlain says this—Nevertheless, though His Majesty's Government are not prepared to go so far as the French Government suggest, yet they are prepared in principle (and, of course, subject to a careful examination of the actual terms ultimately proposed) to give a guarantee, flowing logically from the territorial guarantee of the Rhineland, of arbitration treaties which may be concluded between Germany and her western neighbours, signatories of the Pact. The type of guarantee which they have in mind would operate in the event of a failure on the part of one of the parties to refer a dispute to arbitration (using the term in its widest sense to cover both judicial awards and conciliation tribunals) or to carry out an award, if such failure were coupled with a resort to hostilities. The guarantee would be, so to speak, defensive; it would not entail upon His Majesty's Government—as they conceive it—any obligation to resort to force elsewhere than in the areas covered by the proposed Rhineland Pact; and would not operate in any event in favour of the party which bad refused arbitration or had refused to give effect to an arbitral award.Look what that amounts to. It is a very carefully guarded declaration.
It does not in itself embody a Pact; on the contrary, it embodies a proposal for negotiations for a Pact limited to the principle expressed in that paragraph. That seems to me to be the right course to take. Do not let us 1033 enter into any Pact until we see quite clearly what we are going into, but let us remember that, as the price of an arrangement of this kind, we get the advent of Germany into the League of Nations—in itself a matter of great importance—and then, so far as concerns the observation of agreements dealing with matters which are outside, the very gravel matters relating to the Eastern frontiers of Germany, that remains for the League of Nations, which has machinery which, to some extent at any rate, covers all these things. Therefore, speaking for myself, I am in agreement with the spirit of that paragraph. I say the spirit of it, because there is no question of the letter just now. There is no proposal to make a Pact, as I understand this document—
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
—until there has been a great deal of, and a very close, sifting of the ground. But, unless you approach the whole matter with a desire of making some sort of Pact you will get nothing done at all. We have to give the League of Nations a foundation. The Protocol was such an attempt, and the Protocol failed: it was not assented to generally. There may have to be some new Protocol hereafter—not just now, I hope, because you have not got the basis on which you could come to any detailed agreement. But if the Government is going into negotiation with the French Government on the footing of limiting itself to giving a guarantee of what concerns us most vitally, the maintenance of peace on the Western frontier, then not only is France benefited, not only is Germany benefited but we are benefited, for tranquillity in these regions is most important. Moreover, the industrial position of Europe is one which requires an amount of agreement of this kind which is not yet in sight and I for one, speaking for myself, am very anxious that there should be no interruption of this kind of negotiation which, as I say, I do not believe has gone very far but which may lead to something substantial in days that are near at hand.
§ VISCOUNT GREY OF FALLODON
My Lords, I understand it would be for the convenience of the noble Earl opposite 1034 that I should speak before he intervenes in the debate, otherwise I should naturally have waited, because I do not know that I have anything of sufficient importance to interpose between the speech of my noble and learned friend who has just spoken and the noble Earl's reply. I am not going into much detail. I quite agree that in the negotiations, which are, we hope, to come, the points which my noble friends have raised ought to he carefully kept in view and elucidated, and, I should hope, elucidated in the sense in which my noble friend Lord Oxford indicated in his opening speech. But those negotiations have not yet begun. It depends upon the German reply, as I understand, whether they will be begun, and at the present moment whit I am anxious to do is to contribute what I can to such an impulse that out of the negotiations there shall come some real agreement.
I cannot over-state the importance that I attach to the German proposal—because all this has originated from the German proposal. It really points the way to a new start, and upon whether that new start is made, upon whether anything comes of these negotiations, it is hardly too much to say that the future of Europe depends. We have been apt since the War to discuss one thing after another separately, without realising what is going on. What has been going on since the War has been such a decline in the influence, the prestige, and the authority of European civilisation as has never been seen, in the last hundred years at any rate. Look at the signs of it. Look what has happened in Egypt. Look at the Treaty which Europe made with Turkey. Look at what is going on in Morocco. Look at what is going on in China to-day. It all means the decline of European prestige.
We must recognise, as we see the general course of things in the world outside, that to-day Europe stands in the world, compared with what it was, as an enfeebled and discredited Continent, of which we are part, and in whose fortunes we must share. Of course, that is a natural outcome of the exhaustion of the War and of the spectacle which the War presented to the oriental world which was not engaged in it. And the real question before us, as part of Europe, and the other nations of Europe to-day, is not so 1035 much how the individual interests of each nation may be served, but how the prestige of European civilisation is to be recovered. I can only see one way. It is the spectacle of the War, the exhaustion of the War which has lowered the prestige of European civilisation. That prestige can only be recovered if Europe sets an example as regards the prospect of future peace which goes beyond anything which the world has yet seen.
There are two ways—the old way of making separate Alliances in order to make a particular group of nations secure at the expense of some other nation, which was the way pursued before 1914, and which had been so established and was so firmly rooted in Europe that there was no other way possible, and every one had to take part in it. That way was beginning to come up again after the War. France, not unnaturally after the collapse of the Franco-British and the Franco-American Treaties of Guarantee, sought to assure herself for the future by separate Alliances with Poland, Czecho-Slovakia and Belgium. It was quite natural, but the fact that it was natural would not prevent the consequences being what they would be. Assuredly if they had continued, that grouping of Powers would have brought into existence a counter-grouping, Germany and Russia drawing together, and Europe would have been launched again, probably inevitably, towards another war. The German proposals, these proposal for a Pact, open out a new and a better way. If they succeed they put an end to the old thing, which history and experience have so much condemned, of France and Germany each seeking for a separate security at the expense of the other. If something comes of these negotiations it will, for the first time, bring France and Germany into a security in which each of them has an equal interest and an equal share. If we think how often that rivalry between France and Germany has disturbed the peace of Europe, surely something which links them together and puts an end to that is the beginning, and the most notable and auspicious beginning that could be made, of securing future peace.
If the negotiations have an outcome that, at any rate, must be part of their outcome and that will bring Germany into the League of Nations. That, of 1036 course, is a distinct advantage and strengthening for the League. But let us consider that there will be much more strengthening for the League than the mere admission of Germany into it. What the the German proposals for a Pact?—the phrase, I think, is a phrase used in the German proposals themselves. What are the proposals? They are really proposals to give a definite and practical and certain application of the principles of the League of Nations to this very dangerous set of problems on the German frontier. That is what the proposals actually are, as I understand them. They are to remove these questions on the German frontier from the arbitrament of war, whether on the west or the east. They are to provide for the practical application of the principle of arbitration—that is the League of Nations principle—as a settlement. That is a most valuable proposal, and that is why, amongst other things, I hope that these negotiations will produce a definite result.
We have to be careful, I agree, as to our part in them. We have to be very careful as to what obligations we undertake. So far as I can judge public opinion at this moment, this country is very chary of undertaking any foreign obligations. But we shall not help the peace of Europe by standing aside and saying: "We will undertake no obligations." The obligation which I hope we are going to undertake in these various negotiations for a Pact is that of upholding the principle of arbitration. If there be a Treaty under which Germany and France mutually guarantee the Western frontier as it is to-day and we become parties to that, I understand there will also be an arbitration treaty. If we become parties to those, what is our obligation? I should regard our obligation as being that of upholding the principle of arbitration. If one nation violates the frontier by force and refuses to apply the principle of the League of Nations, the obligation that I hope we shall undertake is to stand by the nation which is attacked, not because we have an interest in the particular frontier but because we have an interest in seeing the principle of arbitration upheld. So far as I can see, that is the foundation and governing principle of the German proposals.
1037 If that be so, I hope public opinion will stand behind the Government in authorising them to undertake, and when it is done giving their sanction to, an obligation undertaken by us in specific terms to uphold the principle of arbitration in the event of any nations who are a party to whatever may result from these negotiations breaking their treaty and resorting to force instead of to a method of peaceful settlement. If something like this is the outcome of these negotiations, then I think a great many of these questions which appear so insoluble to-day—the question of German disarmament, the question of the Saar, the question of other matters on the Western frontier, which seem so likely to cause, and do cause, difference—will automatically disappear.
What is really at the root of the troubles between France and Germany since the Armistice? What is at the root of Germany failing to fulfil her obligations under the Treaty? What is at the root of our being so particular to see that those obligations are fulfilled? What is at the root of our finding difficulty in withdrawing from the Cologne area? The real root of it all is that there is mistrust and fear as regards the future. If anything like a Pact on the lines which I understand are contemplated results from these negotiations, a great deal, at any rate, of that mistrust and fear will go, and a good deal of it will go immediately. In the long run I think it will all go, and for it will be substituted confidence and good will. But we shall never get rid of troublesome questions in foreign affairs until there is confidence and good will, and we shall never get that unless there is some such settlement between France and Germany, to which we should be a party, as is now contemplated. If that takes place there is really hope for the future peace of the West and centre of Europe.
It ought to be quite clear, and I presume the course of these negotiations must make it clear, that if anything results from them and a pact, an agreement, or a treaty on the lines laid down results, that it really takes the place of the old policy of separate Alliances. The Franco-Polish, the Franco-Czecho-Slovakian and the Franco-Belgian Treaties will remain, of course. That is true. But there will be a governing principle over them. France will be the Ally of 1038 Poland. But in Treaties of that kind it is generally the case, and I assume in these cases it is so, that the Ally is only bound to give assistance against an aggressor. If Poland were the aggressor I assume that the Franco-Polish Alliance would not entail any obligation on France. Well, if these general treaties of arbitration are signed you have this valuable result—a test in any case of who is the aggressor. The aggressor is the person who refuses arbitration and resorts to force. That governing test of who is the aggressor surely must become the interpretation of the obligations which France or any of us undertakes by treaties which are made within the League itself.
There is one more point I should like to put to the noble Earl opposite. It is frequently said—I think the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has said so—that under this Pact, if it comes into existence, our obligations as regards the Eastern frontier of Germany will not be changed. They will remain the, obligations which we have under the Covenant of the League of Nations. What exactly are the obligations we have under the Covenant of the League of Nations? I think it is very important that the Government should tell the country what, in their view, are the obligations we have under the Covenant of the League Do they amount to much, or do they amount to little, or do they amount to nothing at all? I do not press the noble Earl to be very precise this afternoon, because we have gone on for about six years asking about our obligations under the Covenant of the League without, so far as I know, any Government really defining to the country what they are, or what they consider they are. I can hardly expect the noble Earl, therefore, to enter upon a very precise definition at a moment's notice, but I hope he will recognise that, the Government having rejected the Protocol, some obligation does lie upon them to say what they think are the obligations we have taken under the Covenant.
The Protocol, after all, only came into existence because the obligations of the Covenant are so vague. The Treaty of Mutual Guarantee came into existence for the same reason. They were both of them attempts to make definite and precise the obligations undertaken under 1039 the Covenant—to strengthen them if you like, or make them more definite or precise. If the obligations of the Covenant had been in themselves undoubtedly substantial, there would have been no need for Protocols or Treaties of Mutual Guarantee. There can be no security against the growth of armaments in Europe again unless there be a belief that there is something in the Covenant, or that some interpretation is going to be placed on the Covenant or made out of the League of Nations somehow, which shall guarantee that the nation which does not build up excessive armaments and which is peacefully disposed, is going to have real support from outside. We can do nothing to help the peace of Europe by standing aside from these questions. It is most important that all the influence of His Majesty's Government should be used in these negotiations, and that they should do their utmost to become a party to them, for this reason. What is the main cause of the troubles which have happened in Europe—in French policy, for instance, with which we have been unable to agree—since the Treaty of Versailles was signed? The main cause, in my opinion, has been that the United States withdrew from that Treaty.
Only now, when we have a, proposal like this before us, do we see a prospect of that particular policy which France was pursuing, and from which in all friendliness, but very decidedly, more than one Government of His Majesty have differed—only now do we see a chance of the better way being resumed? If we were to stand aside now surely the effect would be simply the same sort of effect as has come from the United States standing apart from European affairs, which would be a death-blow, I think, to the hopes of future peace. I quite agree that the Dominions should be consulted at every point, that we should do all we can to carry them with us, and that no pressure must be put upon them to undertake obligations they are not prepared to undertake. But I think His Majesty's Government ought to do all they can to make the Dominions understand the full hearing of the point at which we have arrived in European politics.
I have said that the future of Europe depended, I thought, on these negotiations. The future of Britain depends really on the future of Europe. We are 1040 part of the Continent now in a way we never were before. The submarine, the big gun, the aeroplane—all things which are going to develop more and more—have made it impossible for us to pursue the policy of isolation from the Continent, and even if that were not so, I believe that Europe is so knit together that the prestige of European civilisation cannot fall in the world without involving every country which is part of Europe. That is why we are so concerned in European questions. Our future is bound up with the future of Europe, and we are the only possible centre for the British Empire. The Prime Ministers of the Dominions come here, they come here willingly, they meet each other on equal terms, they meet the British Prime Minister on equal terms, information from London is distributed to them about the world's affairs, it is the one centre where they meet, the one centre from which they have information distributed. If we disappear we go under, and there can be no other centre that I can think of, that any one can imagine, for the British Empire. The whole thing falls for lack of a, centre. I hope the Dominions will realise that, though they may not be willing to undertake definite obligations, yet it is essential to the British Empire to interest itself in the affairs of Europe.
I have spoken with the sincere hope, as I think I must have made clear, that these negotiations are going to succeed. It may seem that everything depends upon them. If they fail I do not know how anything is to be started which is likely to succeed, and I hope His Majesty's Government will take part in them cordially with every desire indeed to make it clear that it is the principle of arbitration which is the governing principle of the negotiations, but with every desire to bring them to a successful issue. I hope public opinion in this country will gradually become explicit, and that while it is very emphatic that it will not undertake any foreign obligation except that of upholding the principle of arbitration, it will be equally emphatic that to uphold that principle it is willing to support any British Government in undertaking definite and clear and unmistakable obligations.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE EARL OF BALFOUR)
My Lords, your Lordships' House has now 1041 listened to three speeches from acknowledged leaders in this country, and every one of those speeches might certainly, without any violation of the spirit which animated them, and hardly, I think, with any misunderstanding even of the details and the phrases used by the various speakers, be counted, I think, as a defence of the policy of His Majesty's Government. If I may speak for them I feel most grateful for the support which has been given to the policy of that Government by Lord Oxford and Asquith, Lord Haldane and Lord Grey—all names which carry great weight not merely in the counsels of this country, but in the counsels of Europe and of the world. The speeches have been so much in harmony with all that His Majesty's Government are doing and desire to do that really very little requires to be said on my part.
On the general question something I shall have to say, but not much. Before I come to that, however, I ought, perhaps, to answer a particular question put to me by my noble friend Lord Oxford at the beginning of his speech, which really has no connection, or only a very remote connection, with the broad issue before us, but which relates to a subject in which he has shown interest in your Lordships' House already and on which he certainly is entitled to a reply. He reminded us that on March 3 he raised the question of the evacuation, the first quinquennial evacuation, of German territory. That evacuation, had all things gone as was hoped and anticipated, would have taken place on January 10. It did not take place on January 10 because untoward incidents made it impossible for those responsible for discovering the condition of armaments in Germany to deal adequately with the subject in time for that date to be used for the evacuation.
Everything therefore was postponed and, as my noble friend has reminded your Lordships, when he spoke on March 3, the Report of the experts had only just come in, it had only just become available for detailed consideration. That consideration was given to it, and it necessarily took some time, because among other things it had to consider what the experts dealing with the question in Germany had not to consider—namely, the relative importance of such 1042 omissions to carry out the Treaty as might be discovered. That was not their business, it was the business of the Governments, acting on the advice of their military experts. That advice was finally given, and on it was framed a Note to Germany by France and by this country on June 4. No reply has been received to that communication from the German Government. That is where the matter stands now, and no doubt the noble Earl will ask a further question when the negotiations have gone a step forward. In the meanwhile there is nothing His Majesty's Government can say further with advantage to your Lordships or to the public in general.
I will leave that question, which is relatively speaking a question of detail, and come to the broader questions which each of the noble Lords has raised in turn. Perhaps the speech of widest scope delivered this afternoon is the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon, who, dealing with no details, made his survey of the present condition of the world and drew certain morals from what he there found. He started almost by telling us that the prestige of European civilisation was in hazard, and that it was the bankruptcy, or the apparent bankruptcy, of that civilisation which had caused all the troubles to ourselves and to other nations in Egypt, in India, in Morocco and elsewhere. I am not quite so certain about that diagnosis, but I entirely agree that it was the great War which has produced the general upheaval from which we are now suffering—I will not say the ground swell, but the actual storm in these various centres of disturbance. I sometimes regret that European Civilisation, or what passes for such, retains as much prestige as it does, for so far as I can see most of our troubles arise, or at all events are represented as rising, out of misunderstanding the familiar phrases in the political controversies of the West, applied to cultures, civilisations and races which have little practical acquaintance with them, and are not always endowed with the peculiar gifts required to make those catch-words innocuous. I could have wished that some of the familiar phrases in which we represent the progress of political thought during the past century could be kept current only in the countries of their origin, and were less freely trans- 1043 mitted, not always with good results, to environments and conditions very different in character.
But I am not going to dispute with the noble Viscount upon that theme because my fundamental agreement with him is so profound on almost all that he says. There is, however, a point of difference which I think perhaps touches very nearly the policy of the Government. If I understood my noble friend rightly he looks with suspicion upon any international arrangement which applies to one region rather than another. He would be quite ready to extend and emphasise the duty of every country to throw its last man and its last shilling into the cause of arbitration, but he looks with some suspicion at an arrangement which seems to emphasise the value of arbitration in one region, while doing nothing to minimise its importance in another, yet still emphasises one region and leaves the other entirely to the League of Nations and the Covenant of the League of Nations.
§ VISCOUNT GREY OF FALLODON
I did not mean to imply that. I regard any emphasis of the principle of arbitration, even if it be only in a limited region, as a step to the good.
§ THE EARL OF BALFOUR
If that is so, even the shadow of difference which seemed to separate me and the noble Viscount upon the broad questions at issue vanishes, and I find myself in entire agreement with the speech he made. What then am I asked or expected, not by our critics but by the preceding speakers, to tell them? Evidently it is reduced to this: How much does the proposed arrangement with Germany among the other nations concerned in this Pact support the great principle of arbitration? The noble Earl, Lord Oxford, asked me a series of questions, of which he was good enough to send me notice before this debate came on, as to whether this or that question would come under arbitration. As I understand it, arbitration is complete. There is no question which can arise between Germany, France, Belgium and ourselves and, if Poland comes in, with Poland, which will not be submitted to arbitration, using the term in its widest sense. If arbitration really be observed and carried out, war is impossible; if it is not carried out, 1044 then war undoubtedly may arise, and will arise, directly any of the parties concerned themselves take overt action and attack.
That is the provision. I do not know whether it is clearly enunciated, or so clearly enunciated, in the League of Nations Covenant; but that is the essential part of the arrangement. If, for example, a controversy were to arise upon any subject between France and Germany, and either party refused arbitration, or, having gone to arbitration, refused to carry out arbitration, and on the top of these two refusals resorted to force, then the other parties—namely, ourselves in this case—would be immediately bound to throw their whole strength into defending the nation which was the subject of that outrage against so gross a violation of international morality, of Treaties and of public rights. That, I think, is quite explicit. This relates to the arrangement between France, Belgium, Germany and ourselves.
The noble Viscount who has just sat down seems to desire that our obligation in that respect should extend also to the Eastern frontiers of Germany and to the Treaty of Arbitration between Poland and Germany. The view of His Majesty's Government is that, of course, our obligations with regard to Germany and Poland under the League of Nations remain unaffected and untouched. They have not thrown upon them the additional emphasis which has been thrown upon affairs in the West. There is, therefore, undoubtedly a strengthening of the arbitral position in the West which we leave untouched and unmodified under the Covenant in the East, and I think that this policy is very relevant to some of the last observations made by the noble Viscount. He ended his speech by making an appeal, or asking us to make an appeal, to the great Dominions to make them feel how vital to the peace of the world is the principle of arbitration. I believe that we should preach to the converted and that they, like ourselves, attach the utmost value to the principle of arbitration and are quite prepared to support it. But I am not sure that they would look with the same full measure of satisfaction upon any emphasis being thrown upon the controversies concerning the East of Europe.
1045 After all, you cannot look at these questions purely in an abstract light. It is quite possible to enlist, and I hope that we are approaching a period when we shall succeed in enlisting, the help and sympathy of all the world, and that not merely those who have accepted the League of Nations but all the world will be included in the scheme of the League of Nations and will show their sympathy for that principle of arbitration which lies at the root of its operations. But, as the noble Lord who has just sat down himself observed, the abstention of America has made the position in many respects much more difficult, and the non-adhesion of Russia and the non-adhesion, as yet, of Germany have all made the position more difficult.
The noble Viscount appealed to me to set to work, or to ask my friends to set to work, or to use such influence as I possess to set to work, to re-define the articles of the Covenant. I do not believe that this is a very profitable exercise of legal skill at the present moment. I am convinced that it would be a great mistake in international tactics to do it. The League of Nations is doing admirable work without going into those definitions. It is carrying on beneficent undertakings, it is conciliating differences of opinion, it is doing a work which no other institution is capable of doing, and it is doing it extremely well. Personally I think that, in this period of transition, the League of Nations could not occupy its time more unprofitably than by discussing the obligations which every nation has to every other nation and how far the actual language of the Covenant carries out the particular ideals of the Members of the League. We have the Covenant; let us work it to the best of our ability.
If there are clear places where the principles of the League and the assistance of the League require emphasising, let us emphasise them. In our opinion the position of Western Europe is exactly one of those places. It is one of the places where the principles of the League do require emphasis and reinforcement, and by emphasising and reinforcing them we think that we shall attain that measure of security which, I agree with every speaker to-day in this House, is the absolute, necessary condition of the 1046 appeasement of the ill-effects of that disastrous period which we have all gone through in the last ten or eleven years. That is what we have done. I do not think that I have left any doubt—have I?—in the minds of any one who hears me that there is nothing excluded from arbitration, as I understand the matter—no controversy which can arise between Germany, Belgium and ourselves which will not be dealt with by arbitration, which it will be our duty to see enforced with all our strength. The same strengthening of the principle of arbitration, I conceive, will go on when the Treaty of Arbitration between Germany and Poland is carried out. But we do not think that we are bound to assume, or that it would help us with public opinion or would strengthen us in the counsels of Europe or help in the general progress of the principles of arbitration if we were to assume, any additional responsibilities in the East beyond those which, in common with every other Member of the League of Nations, we have already undertaken.
I do not think that there is any question which I have left unanswered either explicitly or by implication. If there is, I should be grateful to those who preceded me in this debate if they would remind me of it, but I think I have covered the ground. I need therefore only say that, while I entirely agree with the emphasis laid by every speaker this afternoon upon the greatness of the advance made by Germany in its Memorandum of February 9, while we are all agreed upon that, we must not forget, and Germany must not forget, that, while it has had the honour of initiating this scheme, it rests now with Germany itself to see that the scheme comes to full fruition. We have sent forward, not the draft of a Treaty but the document which has sometimes been called the Pact, although there is as yet no Pact. There is no arrangement, no legal document; that has still to be framed, that has still to be discussed between the Powers, and it is in discussing it that small gaps, if they exist, will be filled.
Then the difficulties that the various critics have mentioned—criticism of detail—can be cured, but in the meantime we have sent forward a document which clearly embodies the principle 1047 upon which, so far as I can judge, the whole of this House is agreed. Anybody who reads the two speeches of the Foreign Secretary in the other House, anybody who has done me the honour to listen to the exposition of the Government's policy which I have endeavoured to give, will feel that so far as we are concerned there is really no ambiguity, that we desire nothing which can reflect upon Germany's position, nothing to which German pride or German policy need object, and I therefore confidently hope that the suggestions which we have made, on Germany's initiative, will find in German policy its final consummation. If that be so, if we are fortunate enough to obtain a general agreement upon these broad lines of policy, there is not the slightest doubt that one of the greatest contributions ever made to civilisation and to peace will have been accomplished.
If, through untimely hesitation, doubts, or whatever else they may be, any one of the proposed parties to this Pact withdraws at this stage, I agree with the noble Viscount who last spoke in saying that a more severe blow will have been directed against the happiness and prosperity of mankind, a greater shock will have been given to a world struggling to recover from the terrible misfortunes of the past, than could well have been conceived. That any statesmen can take upon themselves that tremendous responsibility I find it difficult to believe. We seem to be in sight of land. Surely we shall not be wrecked by the criminal folly of any of those upon whom the navigation of the ship of civilisation really fundamentally depends. I know that in expressing that hope, and it gives me great satisfaction to think so, His Majesty's Government have the warm sympathy of every one of those who have spoken in this House, and I believe they not only represent the Parties to which each severally belongs, but that in what they have said to-day they represent all that is best in the political thought of this country, and that they wish the utmost success to the efforts of the Government, made in a cause which is not the cause of any Party or the cause of any country, but is the cause of civilisation itself.
My Lords, you will, I am sure, believe that it is with great diffidence that I venture to intervene in so serious and far-reaching a 1048 debate, but it will, I think, already have occurred to many of your Lordships that wherever you hear this matter discussed it is with one part only, and that the least important part of the whole question, that everybody deals. Those of your Lordships who have spoken have been occupied, up to the present, simply with the question of whether, in the interests of the peace and security of Europe, this country should, or should not, now signify her readiness to discuss with the nations of Europe, in a favourable spirit, her own proposed adherence to some such Pact of security as that foreshadowed in the White Paper.
That is one question, and one of grave importance, but surely behind it there is another question of far greater importance both to this country and to Europe as a whole—namely, in what manner it is proposed that England should use her strength in war for the future, in order to defend and secure the public law of Europe. That appears to me to be a question which will interest the people of this country, and to be a question which must first be answered before the meaning of this Pact can be understood. Everyone will, of course, agree that the great pressing need of the world is some security for peace and order in Europe. Everyone will equally agree that no country in the world has a greater interest in European peace than England. No one can doubt that this country is bound in these circumstances to use her full strength in support of any proposal which seems likely to afford a real security of that sort, but the question is not so much whether England should use her strength for that end, as in what manner her strength may most effectually be used.
Now the strength of this country differs in character from that of all other countries, and I believe that, apart altogether from Leagues of Nations and apart altogether from Pacts of this sort, there is in England alone, to-day, the power to maintain substantial peace in Europe, and that she has therefore a responsibility for the maintenance of that peace far greater than that of any other country. I have said that the strength of England differs in character from that of all other nations. By that I mean that it is not primarily a military but a maritime strength. The last War leaves no 1049 doubt that this distinguishing strength of England—namely, her power at sea—is, more than it ever was, the determining strength of the world. What is the strength of England upon the seas? It consists in her actual power, combined with her lawful right to control, under the rule of law, all commodities upon the high seas.
At the time of the outbreak of War her power to act upon her enemies in that way was greater than it had ever been, but her right to use her power had become overlaid and confused. The results were, firstly, that the sea for over three years remained substantially available to both sides of the struggle; secondly, that the War which could have been stopped by England, from the sea, in a few months, lasted for four years; thirdly, that England, for the first, and it is to be hoped the last, time in her history, was driven to become an ordinary Continental military power. Moreover, it is now known that it was our informal military commitments to France, begun in 1906, which prevented us in 1914 from exercising our full and free discretion and influence. This policy, then, of previous military commitments in Europe, combined with previous agreement not to use our power at sea, has been tried, and it resulted in the destruction of Europe. And the real question to-day, as it seems to me, is simply whether, under another guise, that same general policy is to be, in fact, repeated. If so, this should be made clear. The people should be told that they are still to be debarred from using their strength at sea, and may therefore at any moment find themselves bound again to act in Europe as a military Power on land. They should be told that in addition to the British Navy they may also at any moment be called upon, perhaps at the dictates of foreigners, to provide a Continental Army as well. For my part, I am convinced that if the people of this country are told, they would refuse to accept this or any such arrangement.
On the other hand, if England confines herself to her power at sea she can give to Europe a real security for the observation of Treaties far greater than that afforded by any such Pact as this. The late War made it quite clear that modern fighting on land is impossible without continuous support from the sea. Nor 1050 would any modern Power dare to undertake an aggressive war in Europe with the knowledge that if she did so the sea and with it the whole of the resources of the outer world, would instantly be closed against her, and it is true that the power of the sea can always at last control and contain the warlike efforts on land. Ought not the people of this country, in the interests of Europe herself, to claim the right to use that power in defence of Treaty obligations? In such a matter we surely have no right to be half-hearted, for the peace of the whole world is at stake. Surely the proper course for this country is to make it perfectly plain now—now, in peace time—that she intends to resume her full belligerent rights at sea, denounce the Declaration of Paris of 1856, refuse all military entanglements and Pacts, declare that she will never again bind herself to land forces in Europe, and declare plainly that she intends to uphold the public law of Europe, and that any Power infringing that law will have to deal with her in her full and lawful strength at sea.
The course now proposed is obscure, and involves unknown liabilities. It is unpopular, and will become more so on that account. The alternative course is clear and plain. It involves no unknown liabilities, it commits England to nothing more than the use of her proper strength in defence of the public law of Europe. That strength is so great, and is known to be so great, that it would not only afford to England absolute security against future military adventures in Europe, but would also afford to Europe herself a decisive security against future war. I most earnestly entreat the Government, before it is too late, at least to consider the matter from this point of view.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT CAVE)
My Lords, I regret That for urgent public reasons my noble friend the Lord President of the Council has been compelled to leave the House for the purpose of consultation with colleagues, and therefore is not here to answer the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. In his absence I will only say this. I understand the noble Lord to inquire how, assuming that we are parties to this Pact, we are going to enforce its provisions. I will 1051 ask him to wait until he sees the document when it is submitted to Parliament. As he knows, it is not yet framed, but it is, or will be in a few days, in course of negotiation. The sort of questions he has raised will, of course, not be forgotten when its terms come to be considered, and I hope, therefore, he will dispense me from the necessity of answering his observations.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.