§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether he wishes to make any statement respecting the resignation of the Foreign Secretary from the Government. As I understand it, the question to-day is not whether the policy for the defence of which Mr. Eden has made so great a personal sacrifice was right or wrong. My noble friends reserve their right to raise that issue in a definite form on another and an early occasion. This afternoon I am only personally concerned to express our sorrow at the sudden arrest of a career in the growing quality of which most of his fellow countrymen have a rightful pride. It is one of the happiest features of our English public life that we rarely allow our differences in respect to questions of public policy to disturb our personal relationships. The Labour Party aim to maintain that fine tradition. We feel, however, certain that Mr. Eden would not have resigned his great office except under the compulsion of a deep conviction and, as we feel, a sense of inconsiderate treatment.
Those of us who were his colleagues in another place at a time when his qualities were appreciated only by a few discerning people hold him in high regard, and I offer him my sincere sympathy in what must be the greatest crisis of his life. May I not in addition add a hope and belief—perhaps I may in that respect speak for all your Lordships—that his separation from public affairs will not be of long duration? I would also like to add a word of sympathy for Viscount Cranborne in the decision which he felt himself called upon to make. I hope I may be permitted to say that what he has done is not unworthy of the traditions of the family to which he belongs. I do not think I can say more at this stage, my Lords, except formally to ask the 797 question which I have put to the noble Viscount.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, before the noble Viscount opposite answers the question which has been put in very moderate and sympathetic terms by the noble Lord who leads the Opposition, I desire to add one or two words on the subject. In the first place I think I can say that it is the last desire of anybody on any side of your Lordships' House to add in any respect to the difficulties which His Majesty's Government have to face in foreign affairs, but I think that far from being an embarrassment it should really be of assistance to them to realise, as they must, that there is a large body of opinion in the country which regards with a certain degree of disquiet the holding of conversations at large with a foreign country with whom various differences of opinion exist.
As regards the two Ministers who have found it necessary to leave His Majesty's Government, it is not necessary, I am sure, to add anything to what the noble Lord, Lord Snell, has said of the personal qualities and character of Mr. Eden. He has two remarkable qualifications for the post which he held: a happy faculty for getting on with people, not merely his own fellow countrymen but also those of foreign minds and foreign nationality; and the power of devoting himself, in a degree shared by few, to hard and continual work, which, as noble Lords well know, the Foreign Office nowadays demands more than ever. To what the noble Lord said about Lord Cranborne I would only add this: that he has, in the third generation, shown those characteristics of statesmanship and obedience to the voice of conscience which we have been accustomed in this House to associate with the name of Cecil for a period as long as can be recalled by the oldest member of your Lordships' House.
I have no doubt that the noble Viscount opposite, if he enters at all into the occasion of the resignation of these Ministers, will explain that the position of the Government is that, in engaging in fresh conversations with the Government of Italy, they desire to have a perfectly clean slate to fill. But, my Lords, as may be developed in some future debate, we do not regard the slate as clean. Many things have already been written on it of which we disapprove and of which 798 I have no doubt the supporters of His Majesty's Government also disapprove. It is not possible to compare the present situation with such conversations as were held with France first when Lord Lansdowne was Foreign Secretary, and which were carried on by the succeeding Government, through which a great number of different questions found a happy solution. Nor can the situation be compared with the conversations which were held with Germany a few years before, and which caused the re-arrangement of the German Empire and of ourselves in Africa and included as a mark of good will our abandonment of the island of Heligoland. Those were entirely different occasions from that which obtains at present, and it is not possible to treat them as having any bearing on the present situation.
For the present situation I think one has to consider what have been the reactions abroad to the crisis caused by the resignation of the Foreign Secretary. We see that it has been hailed with enthusiasm by those Powers in Europe who are totally opposed to the ideals and aspirations connected with the existence of the League of Nations. On the other hand, it cannot be altogether a matter of surprise that more than one French journal has recalled in a rather ominous tone the events of 1905, when M. Delcassé was obliged to resign from the French Government, as was generally believed, at the behest of foreign influence. M. Delcassé afterwards returned to a high post in the French Government, as I very well remember, in the years 1914 and 1915. Mr. Anthony Eden, to echo what Lord Snell said and what I am sure noble Lords opposite equally hope for, will, I am sure, return to a high office in the service of the country. I only trust that it will be under infinitely more propitious conditions than those under which M. Delcassé resumed his office in France.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, I must naturally begin my answer to the noble Lord's question by saying how warmly I appreciate, on behalf of my noble friends who sit beside me on these Benches, what he has been good enough to say in regard to the personality of our late colleague, the late Foreign Secretary. I do not know that there is much that I can at present add, within 799 the limits of an answer to the question of the noble Lord and to the support given to that question by the noble Marquess, to what is already in your Lordships' possession. I think it is probably convenient, as the noble Lord said, that we should reserve debate on this matter for a more convenient opportunity. If, therefore, I do not answer some of the observations made by the noble Marquess on this occasion I hope that neither he nor anybody else outside this House will imply from that silence that I accept them.
There are, of course, already in your Lordships' possession the letters exchanged between the Prime Minister and Mr. Eden, which were published in the newspapers yesterday, as also the statements made in another place by Mr. Eden and the Prime Minister, which appeared in the Press this morning. I think it is clear from these statements that there is no dispute as to the facts, and I will endeavour to give your Lordships, as briefly as I can, a plain and objective summary of them. On the 10th of the present month the Italian Ambassador conveyed to His Majesty's Government the strong wish of the Italian Government to inaugurate conversations which, as your Lordships will remember, had been suggested as long ago as last July. The Government were of opinion that, provided it was made clear that final agreement depended on our side on a satisfactory solution being found of the Spanish question, and that League approval would be sought by this country for any agreement that might be reached with the Italian Government, it was advisable to take action as early as possible in the sense desired by the Italian Government. On this particular issue, however, Mr. Eden took a different view. While not differing from his colleagues as to the desirability of conversations with Italy, he was unwilling to agree to their inception in Rome now. As he himself said yesterday:I do not suggest and I would not advocate that the Government should refuse conversations with the Italian Government or indeed with any other Government which shows any disposition to conversations with us for the betterment of international understandings, yet we must be convinced that the conditions in which these conversations take place are such as to make for the likelihood, if not for the certainty, of their success. I contend that these conditions do not exist to-day.800 That was a frank expression of difference of opinion between himself and the Government.
Your Lordships will also have observed that the late Foreign Secretary spoke not only of those differences arising out of the question of the initiation of Italian conversations, which he calls "immediate differences," but also of other differences of a fundamental character, which he terms "a real difference of outlook and method" between himself and the Prime Minister. Mr. Eden and the Prime Minister alone can be the judges of what was the actual nature of the impact of mind upon mind in a relationship so intimate as that necessarily existing between a Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I can only speak certainly for myself, but in this I have little doubt I speak also for my colleagues in the Government, when I say that during the years through which we have worked together we have at no time been conscious of the existence of any such fundamental divergence of view between the Prime Minister and Mr. Eden as the words of Mr. Eden would suggest. I have tried, my Lords, to make a plain relation of the facts. Let me state once more, within the briefest compass, the immediate difference which, as I understand, has been the occasion of Mr. Eden's resignation. There was no difference whatever on the broad question of the desirability of conversations with the Italian Government. But the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, with the exception of Mr. Eden, thought that these conversations might rightly be initiated with a plain understanding that certain conditions were essential to the conclusion of an agreement. Mr. Eden, on the other hand, wished to attach conditions to the very initiation of the conversations themselves.
There is only one other observation upon this unhappy matter which I would venture to make to your Lordships this afternoon. There is not one of his late colleagues who has not constantly admired the high purpose, the self-sacrificing devotion and the unflinching courage that Mr. Eden brought to the execution of his overwhelming duties. Nor is this less true—and I associate myself with what fell from both noble Lords—of Lord Cranborne, who has felt obliged also to place his resignation in the hands of the Prime Minister, and in whom, both on his own account and for 801 the sake of those closely related to him in this House, your Lordships will feel an especial interest. The regard in which Mr. Eden is rightly held throughout the country and beyond it is only a counter-part of the affection that he inspired among all those with whom he was associated in office. I perhaps have been as close to him on many occasions as any of his colleagues, but I know there is not one of us who have so lately worked with him who does not deplore the fact that he should have felt it necessary now to sever his relations with us.