§ LORD SNELL had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether they are in a position to make a statement as to the foreign relations of this country and the international situation generally; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have placed upon the Order Paper of the House the Question which stands in my name in the belief that before Parliament rises the Government may have some statement to make, and in the hope that what they have to say will send us away comforted and encouraged. A special responsibility falls upon any Opposition in Parliament which has, with a continuous regard for the public good, to subject the policy and the actions of the Government to the closest scrutiny and criticism. There may, however, be occasions when the public good is better served by restraint than by that unfettered and fierce delight which is always associated with Party recrimination. This may be one of those occasions, and as my contribution to the needs of the hour I shall place upon myself an unusual restraint; but I ask the Government not to take advantage of this painful act of self-suppression by withholding from Parliament any information that it has the right to possess.
§ I should like to begin these remarks on a non-controversial note—a note of extreme satisfaction and pleasure which we associate with the visit of Their Majesties to Paris and to the French people. The nation is indebted to Their Majesties for their triumphant participation in a very great event, the importance of which we cannot at the moment measure. It is unusual to bring the name of His 1250 Majesty into any of our discussions, but I hope I may assume that our common obligation to him on this occasion makes it permissible for me to do so. I should like also in this connection to pay a word of sincere tribute to the French people for the way in which the British King was received among them, with that grace and enthusiasm of which they appear to possess the secret, and for the care and comfort with which they surrounded the visit of our King. I hope, in saying that, I have the approval of the whole House. We will not attempt to-day to measure what the diplomatic results of that visit may be.
§ I should like to ask His Majesty's Government some questions about foreign affairs. First of all, in relation to Germany. What is the immediate outlook? Are relations between the German nation and ourselves improving? I should like also, with some hesitation, to ask if any particulars can be given of the visit of Herr Wiedemann. I say "hesitation" because a distinguished German visited the noble Viscount in the privacy of his own home, and no one has any right to inquire what conversation took place between the noble Viscount and his guest. At the same time there is a general belief that Herr Wiedemann did not go to Eaton Square to talk about the weather or to exchange ghost stories with the noble Viscount. Therefore, if he does possess any information that will help us to a proper understanding of the European situation, we should be glad to know. We should like to know whether negotiations are going on with the German nation about better conditions.
§ Your Lordships know that my admiration for the German system of government has never been expressed in language that was extravagant or exaggerated, but whatever misgivings I and my colleagues have in regard to German policy, we are and always have been wholeheartedly in favour of negotiations. We do not want to see the encirclement of Germany; we do not want a world organised without her co-operation; and we do not wish to withhold from her any right which she is entitled to possess. On the contrary, we want her to resume on the basis of equality—not Germany above everybody else in the world but Germany with everybody else in the world—her old place as one of the great creative forces of modern 1251 European culture. In any effort that Germany makes in that direction she will always have the support of the British Labour Party. We feel that she could begin the effort immediately and to her own honour. We do not force our system of government upon her, and we have the right to require that she shall not force hers upon us. Her citizens are always welcome as honoured guests in our midst, but we do not want her Gauleiters using a British visa to spy upon and intimidate law-abiding Germans who live in our own country; and I would venture to ask her, as her contribution towards a real desire for her co-operation and good fortune, to reconsider her anti-Jewish policy, so unworthy in itself and so unworthy of her best traditions.
§ I should like to ask about Czechoslovakia. Can anything be said about the outlook there? Are the signs encouraging or are they depressing? We read day by day in the newspapers suggestions that a one-sided pressure is being brought to bear by our Government on this problem, that pressure is being brought upon Prague to make every possible concession, and we should like to know that equal pressure is being brought upon Berlin to co-operate in equal measure. If this pressure is not equal, I warn His Majesty's Government that they will not carry the country with them. The current propaganda seems to suggest that all the obduracy, all the provocation, lies on the side of the authorities in Czechoslovakia. I personally do not accept that point of view. In recent interviews that I had in Czechoslovakia with people entitled to speak for their nation, I gathered that there was no concession that the Czechoslovakian Government would withhold for peaceful relationships short of doing a real injury to the future safety of their State.
§ Now it is true that speeches have been made by both sides that contain phrases that we could sort out and regret, but there have been very few speeches that are perfect. Speeches are always inclined to bear the colour and temper of the place and the time at which they are uttered. For instance, Kettering is a place to which no future Prime Minister will return, and it may be true that speeches have been made both on the German side and the Czechoslovakian side which we had better 1252 not remember. Our responsibility is to try to get the average temper of these people and to try to use it for the good of both. At the same time, before I leave this field, I would like to express my own doubt as to whether any concession that the Czechs can make will satisfy the Governors of the Reich. With such memories of the philosophy of Sturm und Drang that one has, it is difficult to believe that any pact that Germany may make is more than a temporary suspension of a programme of systematic encroachment. We have no right in this country to require of a Czech Government any concession which we ourselves would not give if we were in their position. I personally do not believe that the Jewish minority in Bohemia will welcome it as a day of deliverance if they are transferred from the Czech Government to that of the Prussian Junker.
§ In this connection, before I pass from it, I would like to ask one or two questions about the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman. It is a most interesting experiment. To attempt to build a bridge over the gap that divides two peoples whose tempers are strained must always be a useful and commendable thing. To approach a problem with a balanced and unbiased mind; to advise, to interpret, to clarify; to encourage people when they are depressed, to calm them when they are impatient, is a task that will require all the faculties that a man possesses. It needs patience, it needs endurance, it needs composure, and above all it needs faith—belief that the thing can be done. Lord Runciman is known to all of us and respected by us. He has great experience; he has proved capacity, great power of lucid exposition, great knowledge of affairs and of the ways of men, and we on these Benches wish him well in his mission. But I should like to ask precisely what is his status. Is he, for instance, under any obligation to report to the Government or to any one what he may say and what he may advise? I feel that it is necessary to safeguard ourselves against any official responsibility for any advice he may feel it right to offer. But if he is to act as a bridgebuilder—and a great Londoner once said, "Blessed are the bridge-builders"—I hope he will build a bridge on which there is traffic both ways, and not merely a one-way traffic of concession from Czechoslovakia to Berlin and no con- 1253 cession on the other side. I hope that Parliament itself will be consulted if any problematical solution is arrived at.
§ I will say almost nothing about China, because of the Motion which stands in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. I would merely ask whether His Majesty's Government's decision respecting the proposed loan is final or whether it may be reconsidered, or whether some alternative help, such as an extension of the export credit facilities, will be granted. I should have liked to ask for information about Palestine, but I will only say that the subject gives to many of us increased anxiety, and the day will come, when the House reassembles, when we shall have to ask His Majesty's Government quite definitely what their record is and what their policy is to be. I should like to ask whether Italian propaganda and bribery have been stopped in Palestine and in the near East; and many other questions relating to that I must pass by.
§ Finally, I want to ask something respecting Spain. What is the present position? Again we view with increasing anxiety the situation in that unhappy land. On the Labour Benches we never feel that His Majesty's Government have treated us with the frankness that this subject demands. We have urged over and over again the right of the Spanish people to obtain the means for their self-defence, and the only reply has been the endless repetition of a formula of words which were intended to enchant but which really increased our distrust. We have learnt in sorrow that words like "intervention" and "non-intervention" are among the most equivocal in the whole vocabulary of diplomacy. We think that our position is about as commendable as that of a strong-bodied man who stands with his hands in his pockets while he sees two bullies beat up a more or less helpless child. The Government look on while this struggle proceeds, seeing this beating-up take place, and at the same time the victim has one arm tied behind his back. We do not consider that to be in accordance with the best traditions of our nation. It is not cricket; it is not even darts; it is altogether, as it seems to us, unworthy of our position.
§ I am aware how difficult the situation is, but it is our business to escape from difficult situations and not merely wait 1254 for things to happen. The other day, in hours of glorious uncertainty, a young American airman was not able to distinguish the difference between the Atlantic Ocean and the Alleghany Mountains, but he at least had this excuse, that he was alone. His Majesty's Government are not alone. They have had advisers and critics in this matter through the years in which this business has been taking place. I should like to ask, in conclusion, how the matter stands to-day. After two years of frequent and joyful prophecies of the early triumph of foreign mechanism over more or less ill-armed men, there is no sign of these poor men being beaten. They have put up a most heroic resistance against the might of two military nations, and to me at least it has been one of the greatest and the most moving things in modern times, destined, as I believe, to be recorded among the great events of history. I offer to them to-day a humble tribute of homage and respectful admiration. On the other hand, whenever victory comes—if it does come—to those who have sold themselves to the purposes of other nations, they will have the shame in history of having placed their once free country in foreign chains. I have dealt very quickly with many things that I wished to say, in order to save your Lordships' time, and I now beg to ask His Majesty's Government the Question which stands in my name, and to move for Papers.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, the Question which has been asked by the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, so briefly and with such conspicuous moderation, covers an amazingly wide field. It almost invites your Lordships, in the well-known line, to "survey man-kind from China to Peru." So far as China is concerned I would like first to recognise the courtesy of the noble Viscount opposite, Lord Elibank, in agreeing to transfer as he did his Motion from the place to which it would ordinarily have been entitled. On that subject I would only just refer to what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Snell, on the question of a possible loan to China, to which reference was made in another place and a reply made by the Prime Minister. It seems to some of us that the mere fact that such a loan could not be regarded as a gilt-edged security by the Exchequer would not necessarily be an overriding consideration if the political 1255 arguments in its favour were strong. In another place the Prime Minister mentioned other possible forms of assistance which were under consideration. I do not know whether the noble Viscount opposite will be disposed to dot the i's of that statement any more forcibly, but if he can I have no doubt it would be a satisfaction to your Lordships' House.
The other country, Peru, is not in the foreground of the landscape at present, but Czechoslovakia, of which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, spoke, is, and I would pause for a moment to say a word about that. We all, I think, recognise the extreme difficulty and complexity of the subject. The creation of Czechoslovakia by the Peace Treaties was the putting together of a very artificial piece of machinery. Like many delicate articles of that kind it does not stand rough handling, and it has been of late receiving very rough handling. I feel sure that M. Benes, as I think would be agreed by everybody who knows him, is too experienced a statesman to suppose that, although the Western Powers are determined that Czechoslovakia shall receive the fullest measure of justice in the sense that its complete independence continues to be secured not only on paper but in fact, the Western Powers would give a blank cheque to any of his more extreme supporters who might desire to go further in purely Czech interests than he would himself think possible.
I feel sure also—and I was glad to note what fell from the noble Lord with regard to this—that the country generally will welcome the selection of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, as a missionary, if that is the proper word, to Czechoslovakia. Perhaps as a senior colleague of Viscount Runciman in very old days, I may be allowed to express the opinion that his experience both in the offices he has filled and in the management of his private affairs may make him in a case like this, where many material as well as moral issues are concerned, a more fitting emissary than could be found by the intervention of a man acting purely on a system of political theory or one merely versed in the ordinary practice of diplomacy. I am sure, therefore, that the country will join in what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in wishing the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, every 1256 possible success in his expedition. Perhaps I might also be allowed to back the question which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, asked, so far as the noble Viscount is able to answer it, as to the precise nature of Viscount Runciman's mission. We understand that he is not invested in any sense with diplomatic powers, but I suppose it may be presumed that his reports made to His Majesty's Government will be of some use to them as an important guide to any action that they are able to take.
That subject brings me to another quite different reflection which I hope may not be altogether inapposite in this debate. It is sometimes, I think, too freely concluded that British diplomacy depends upon the examination and the management of our relations with foreign countries, either taken singly or in the mass, so that not enough attention is paid to the diplomatic possibilities of assisting good relations between different foreign countries. On that I would touch for a moment on France, regarding which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, made such a graceful and acceptable allusion to the shining success which has attended Their Majesties' visit to Paris. I should like to say a word on what I conceive to be the fact about the relations of France with some other countries. So far as the United States are concerned, as we know there is a friendship which almost amounts to romantic attachment, dating from a record of history, between France and the United States, and I am quite certain that our Foreign Office will do all that is possible to foster that. But when you come to Europe the relations between France and Germany, though, as I believe, in every way scrupulously correct, cannot be expected to be altogether cordial. There are too many historical memories for that. Leaving the late War out of the question altogether, there are hundreds and thousands of French men and French women who remember 1870 and 1871; and, on the other hand, Germany has, I am sure, never been able to get rid of the memory of Napoleonic tradition and has, therefore, tended to take an erroneous view of French character and very often of French ambitions.
Then I come to Italy. There is no reason that I can conceive why the relations between France and Italy should not be in every respect friendly. There are none of those memories of hostility which 1257 I mentioned a moment ago. In 1854, in 1859, and in the late War, French and Italian soldiers fought side by side. Nor is there in fact, in a real sense, any Mediterranean problem which ought to keep these two countries apart. So far as Africa is concerned it is quite true that both we and France went ahead of Italy in acquiring influence and territory in Africa. But that is because, although in those days there was a country of Italy, there was no Italian nation which could vie with other Powers. But since then the Italian Government has got a large and important footing in Africa, and therefore in the absence of anything which could be called a Mediterranean question, such as might cause animosity between the two countries, it remains a puzzle to me why their relations are not more amicable than they are. I venture to think that the noble Viscount opposite, and the Foreign Office, could do no greater service to the peace of Europe than by encouraging in every possible way the establishment of better relations between France and Italy.
I pass for one moment to the kindred subject of the Spanish conflict, which also may be taken as a cause of difference between France and Italy, because I think it may be assumed that the great majority of the French people, though by no means all, are inclined to favour the Government's side more than that of the insurgents, whereas, as we know, the Italian Government look in the opposite direction. That is a cause of difference of opinion, but there is no reason why it should be more than that, and before I sit down I want to make only this one observation about the Spanish conflict. I cannot help feeling that in years to come this Spanish revolt or civil war, whatever you desire to call it, will take an infinitely smaller place in history than it occupies in the thoughts, and more particularly in the Press, of the world at this moment. It is probably not unnatural that it should be so, because the horrors of the war there have been accentuated, as they have been in the war in China, by the diabolical use which science has enabled warring nations to make of modern invention, and therefore the newspapers are full of heartrending accounts of massacre and carnage, not only of soldiers but of harmless civilians.
It is, therefore, not astonishing that the minds of men and women all over the world should be directed towards news of the conflict. But I repeat that in my 1258 opinion it will not in itself, in any history written in the future, take at all the same place as it now occupies. I think in one sense it will be like "a mist that rolls away." Spain, as I firmly believe, will emerge from it, and will in some way work out her own destiny—in a way which I for one shall not see, but not, I believe, a destiny which will make her subservient either to the principles of Rome or to the principles of Moscow. I have an intense belief in the firmness and depth of the Spanish character.
As I say, in what form it will emerge I cannot pretend to predict. But I must just say this, that if I am right in thus attempting to reduce the dimensions of the conflict, that does explain and defend the attitude of His Majesty's Government in going very far—sometimes some of us think too far—in taking action to avoid extension of the war. Because we all agree that if the war were to spread and become in any way general, then it would be a war which in the history of the future would obliterate the memories even of 1914. That, as I say, may be, probably is I think, the defence which His Majesty's Government would advance. Whether in carrying out this policy they have always acted either with complete adhesion to principle, or with circumspection, or with complete evidence of that restrained courage which is the highest mark of statesmanship, I do not pretend to say. History will have to write about that. But in closing what I have to say I would put that forward as suggesting that when the end of the Spanish conflict does come the effect of it will pass away far sooner than many observers of to-day appear to dread.
My Lords, I should like to preface the few remarks I have to make by saying that I am not in a position now to move the Motion which stands in my name; I can only speak to it, having postponed it until after Lord Snell's Motion. I propose, however, to pass right to the subject of that Motion, and to speak with regard to the State of British interests in China, a matter which has not been touched upon so far by the noble Lords who have spoken. Since February last when I raised the same issue in your Lordships' House matters there have been going from bad to worse, and it is for that reason that I put down a Motion to-day, in the hope of eliciting from His Majesty's 1259 Government a statement as to what they are doing in order to meet that situation.
Your Lordships will expect that I should give you some facts as to what is happening there. On the last occasion the principal theme of my speech was concerned with Shanghai, and in that place things are still very bad. I should like to give one or two instances of that. The inland waterways and creeks radiating from Shanghai normally carry a very large trade in launches and barges of all nationalities. To-day the foreign vessels have been excluded together, and there are plying on those waterways some 160 commercial vessels of Japanese nationality, which are taking all the trade which is to be had. This applies also on the Yangtze River, where British ships have been prevented from going to Nanking and beyond, although Japanese ships are plying there freely. There is another matter, what is called the Whangpoo Conservancy. The Whangpoo Conservancy is an international service which keeps the River Whangpoo continually dredged. The dredgers and equipment of the Conservancy have been seized by the Japanese, that river is gradually silting up, and large vessels are not able to go alongside many of the wharves.
The Japanese, it is understood, envisage a concession of their own lower down the river, and it is probable that they would like to see the foreign Settlement left high and dry. In Hongkew and Yangtse-Poo, which constitute the northern and eastern districts of the International Settlement and contain the most vital parts of Shanghai, that is, the greater part of the mills, factories, go-downs and wharves, these districts are entirely occupied by Japanese, and they are obstructing in every way they can the foreign industry there. The Municipal Council is not allowed to function, the British Tramways Company is prevented from running its trams, whilst on the other hand a fleet of Japanese motor 'buses has been started and is running regularly. Certain British factories have been closed down altogether, whilst a few hundred yards away Japanese mills are found in full operation. And that is happening inside the International Settlement. Then there is another notorious scandal, and that is the quantity of Japanese goods that are entering Shanghai on the pretext of being military cargo, 1260 whereas at the same time these goods are underselling those of foreign competitors. This shows how wide an interpretation is being placed upon the term "military cargo."
Let me turn to North China. In the wool and sheepskin trade in North China, which was entirely in the hands of British firms in the past, competition is now excluded. Japanese firms have taken control of this, and, with the help of the Japanese military authorities, are doing all the trade that there is. Before the War by far the greater part of Chinese coastal and riverine trade was carried by British ships. What is happening to-day? The Japanese are now planning a Corporation which is to control all coast and riverine shipping on monopolistic lines. We find that at Tsingtao, a very important seaport on the east coast of China, no British ships are allowed to go alongside the extensive wharves at all. No passengers or officers of British ships are allowed to land at that port, and no residents in Tsingtao are allowed to visit British ships. On the other hand, Japanese ships are enjoying all facilities, and if any German vessels visit that port they are granted facilities as well. Surely there is a case here where perhaps one or two of His Majesty's men-of-war might visit that port and obtain fair play for our shipping, as well as for the shipping of other nationalities.
Then there is another very important matter. A Federal Reserve Bank was established by the Japanese in connection with their puppet Government in Peking, with a nominal credit in Japan of 100,000,000 yen. The notes of that Reserve Bank are not convertible into yen for, if they were, an intolerable strain, leading to grave inflation, would ensue. The Japanese evidently hope to buy Chinese banknotes with the Federal banknotes and exchange them for sterling so as to exhaust China's foreign exchange and thus provide the Federal Bank with solid backing. Since June, however, the Japanese have been forcing the Chinese to use the Federal Reserve Bank notes only, thus causing infinite confusion, but it clearly foreshadows an attempt to link North China's currency with the yen, as was done in Manchuria. In Manchuria a recent law has made the purchase of any foreign exchange except the yen practically impossible. The maximum foreign exchange obtainable is 1,000 1261 dollars—about £40—and special permission has to be sought even to obtain that.
The effect on British import trade under these conditions can be imagined, and the British in North China are seriously afraid of a similar attempt to impose the Manchurian law in North China. If the notes of the Federal Reserve Bank can be successfully imposed it will be impossible to save merchants' profits and savings in China. Those who have lived in China and made their lives there, and hope to retire to this country and end their days here, will not be able to leave because they will not be able to withdraw their savings. What do the Japanese say? They say that there is no state of war in China at all, that they are doing all these things in order to protect their own interests, that it is merely because the Chinese are resisting what they regard as a natural act on their part that they are using the means and methods they have adopted in order to get their own way. What has actually happened is that the Japanese have placed nearly one million men in China, that these soldiers are marching through the country, decimating it, destroying it with bombs, and taking possession of it when and how they can, and incidentally, through their Press and other organs, are announcing their intention of not ceasing their efforts until they have subjugated China entirely.
While we may deprecate, as we sincerely do, the ruthless manner in which Japan is waging war upon China, and while we may feel nevertheless that we have no status for direct interference, at least I consider we have a right to protect our own interests wherever they are assailed and to take every legitimate measure to that end. If the Japanese will not listen to reason—and we surely have no desire to fight them in the military sense—then I suggest we should concoct other measures to this end. We have, for instance, an economic instrument which we could use and which could become very crippling to Japan. The Japanese are doing a large export trade with the overseas Dominions, India, and our Colonies as well as with this country. I should like to see the Governments of the British Empire arrange a plan under which, unless Japan respects our interests in China, we will, through import duties and other 1262 means, reduce her export trade within the British Empire to a limit which would make her understand that two can play at that game.
We might, for instance—and I throw this suggestion out to His Majesty's Government—give notice of repeal of the Anglo-Japanese Import Duties Act of 1911. Twelve months' notice is required for repeal of this Act, and perhaps His Majesty's Government might consider giving notice of repeal with a view to further consideration of what might happen at the end of that time. In addition, Japan is expanding her commercial shipping in the Orient enormously at the expense of British shipping and trade. This is a matter we should take very seriously in hand by subsidies to British shipping from India to Japan, from Australia, and so on. All these acts of the Japanese in China against us are done in the name of "military necessity." Some of the points I have mentioned show that no military necessity is there at all. Take the case of the Whangpoo Conservancy, the general conduct of municipal affairs in Shanghai, and the position at the port of Tsingtao. I do not wish to stress this matter, but what I do wish to point out is that, whenever we have stood up to the Japanese, they have given in, such as at Tientsin last December and in the very recent case of the seizure of the British steamer "Tatung."
I have very little more to say, but I submit that I have presented a case which has amply justified my raising this matter to-day. I am fully aware that the Government have an immensely difficult and delicate task, and if they have not achieved as much as many of us would have liked, I attribute little blame to them but rather to a set of circumstances over which they have very little control. I nevertheless would urge His Majesty's Government to continue to use every form of diplomatic and other pressure to induce the Japanese to see our point of view. I observe that there are certain conversations which will be taking place very shortly between our Ambassador in Tokyo and General Ugaki, and I would ask the Foreign Secretary, if these conversations come to a head during the time when Parliament is not sitting, in the next two or three months, that he will convey publicly through the Press, or in some 1263 other way, to those who are interested and affected by Chinese affairs, what is happening in regard to them.
There are two Parties in Japan. There is the military Party which would carry all before it irrespective of international complications or international consequences. There is also another Party, the civilian and moderate Party, which has a wider vision and realises some of the disastrous results of the policy which is being pursued by Japan in China to-day. It is in the ultimate intervention by, and predominance of, this second and moderate Party that I place some hope for the future. As Japan becomes more exhausted through excessive outlet of men and money, this moderate Party will come more and more into ascendancy, and I hope its ideas will prevail. It is to that time that I look forward for a resumption of a better feeling between our two nations and to the possibility of financially assisting China's reconstruction and restoration to normal conditions. I do not believe that this is the time when we can make any loan to China. I believe we might be able to consider something in the nature of export credits or something of that kind, but until we know exactly how things are in China I do not see the practicability of supporting a loan to that country.
British interests in the Far East were not created yesterday. We more than any other nation have helped both China and Japan to grow in power and economic development. Our interests and theirs have been interwoven so long that this connection cannot now without serious injury be suddenly snapped asunder. Business men of all three nations realise this, and I venture to suggest that no stone should be left unturned to recreate the spirit of friendliness which in the past was so fruitful in good will and co-operation.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I do not know whether your Lordships will allow me to say one word, because I was in Paris last Sunday, to add my testimony to what has already been said as to the enormous enthusiasm with which Their Majesties were received in Paris. My French friends were full of it. They assured me that not only was the official and formal reception great, but 1264 what struck them was the immense and spontaneous enthusiasm of the people in the street. We have the advantage among others in this debate of having had recently an expression of the policy of the Government from the Prime Minister. I believe I am not allowed by the customs of this House to say where that was made. The Prime Minister expressed himself as being a moderate optimist. If he meant that he did not think there was likely to be a European war in the near future I respectfully agree with him. I do not think there has been the slightest real danger of a European war at any time in the last ten or fifteen years, and certainly not recently, not because of any particular action of this country or that country, but simply because those countries which were the only countries that were likely to provoke a war were too exhausted to do so. But if the Prime Minister means that there is a general improvement I have my doubts. As long as the race in armaments continues it does not appear to me that there is any solid improvement in the condition of Europe. I believe, whether armaments produce war or not, that they are an excellent indication of the sentiments and feelings of the countries that spend vast sums in providing them.
But it was not on the general aspect of the matter that I wanted to say a few words, but on the Prime Minister's statement about the League of Nations. He said that there had been no effective and active intervention of the League, for which he was very sorry. He went on to explain that in his view the use of force by the League appeared to be impracticable. Well that seems to me a very serious statement, because if it is true, and if it goes on being true, it means assuredly the decay and possibly the destruction of the League. He added that it was quite true to say that the League had a wide usefulness, and it is on that part of his speech that I want to comment. He thinks that if this wide usefulness is exerted there will be a return of those Members that left the League because, as he thinks, they did not agree to the use of force. With great respect to him, I do not think it had anything to do with that at all. They left the League because they did not agree to the use of international co-operation, and for that reason only. Therefore, I am afraid that I am not hopeful that his policy will 1265 produce a return of those who have left the League, and I feel very strongly that if we are to abandon the League it means simply a return to the old pre-War system, with the consequences which that system brought upon us.
May I just run through the most common questions of the day to see whether in point of fact the Government are taking any action to build up the League again by allowing it to exert itself in cases which do not involve the use of force? Some of their actions seem to me to be excellent, except for the fact that they entirely ignore the whole machinery of Geneva. There is, for instance, the mission of Lord Runciman to Czechoslovakia, a new thing, a new and more active form of intervention in European politics. But I see no harm in that if it is going to produce, or assist in producing peace. The only thing I do venture to press upon the Government is that this talk about Lord Runciman going out, as it were, just as a private individual, and the belief that is apparently being spread that his action will not involve in any respect the responsibility of the Government, seems to me an illusion. It is plain that if he takes action and persuades one of the parties to adopt a proposal which is rejected by the other, that will involve a very serious responsibility on the shoulders of the Government.
Though I do not at all regret that, or disapprove of it, I hope that the Government are looking at it from that point of view, and are not buoying themselves up with the idea that they can send out Lord Runciman and that if he succeeds well and good, and that if he does not succeed then their responsibility will not be increased. I am quite sure that is an illusion. Of course, if it had been possible for him to have gone out as a representative of the League of Nations the situation would have been different. As he goes out as a representative of the Government it is the Government, and the Government alone, that must bear the responsibility of what happens.
I want now to touch upon Spain for a moment. I attended a big meeting in Paris, and I was immensely impressed with the vehemence of the feeling about Spain. I think I was not deceived. It was an almost formidable state of feeling, and I want the Government to look into that and consider it. The object 1266 of their policy, as I understand it, is to avoid the Spanish war extending itself beyond Spain. That is all right; but if they produce a state of feeling in some of the countries, and particularly in France, that they are being asked to hear the intolerable weight of what they regard as unjust treatment of the Government of Spain, that will not contribute to the peace of Europe. It will only, on the contrary, create a very grave danger. I know that the Government are very anxious to put an end to the fighting, which is the only real security we can have, but I understand they do not see any prospect of any mediatory action.
I saw a gentleman to-day who had come back from Spain, not an Englishman, not a Frenchman, but one coming from one of the northern States of Europe. He gave me a most terrible description of the sufferings that are being endured, probably on both sides, though he only saw one. It is really terrible. He seemed to think that in the side that he was on not less than 400,000 children were in danger of starvation, apart from the adult population. When I asked him, "How then does the fighting go on?" he said: "Well, of course, the fighting goes on because, under the conditions in which war is there being waged, if they do not fight they will be shot. If they were to give in, there would be a wholesale slaughter." I am interested to observe a passage in a newspaper with which I do not generally agree, the Evening Standard, which rather confirms that view:Truly, the Republican resistance is remarkable, and no doubt it is the resistance of desperation. Those engaged must believe that the fate awaiting them on the day of surrender puts peace proposals out of the question. As for General Franco, his advance is made at heavy cost. Indeed, the question arises, how long can he stand such fearful losses?Those few sentences surely give a picture of the kind of horrors that are going on in Spain.
I cannot think that it is either our interest or our duty not to make some desperate effort to put a stop to this state of things. I do not know if this is part of the wide usefulness in which the League might be asked to take a part. I should have thought it was. I should 1267 have thought that proposals from the League, offering on the one hand some kind of guarantee of safety if peace were made, and on the other hand some promise of the effective financial assistance which would be absolutely essential if Spain were to get on its legs again, might produce some result even on minds which are consumed with the blood-lust which I am afraid exists to a great extent in that unhappy country.
Then there is China. My noble friend Lord Elibank has just made a speech in which he has described how terrible it is that a great deal of money is being lost by British concerns and British interests—which mean British financial and commercial interests. That is a very serious matter, no doubt. Still, I cannot think that is the most serious issue that is involved in the Chinese war. If any of your Lordships happens to have read a description of the way in which the Japanese are making war in China, he well think that a loss of even thousands of pounds is relatively a trifle to the incredible horrors that are being perpetrated in that country. I think there are other and stronger reasons for trying to put a stop to the war than those which my noble friend adduced; yet I agree with him in thinking that we have means of action, particularly if we can take it in common with other countries, which would be very powerful to induce the Japanese to reconsider their enterprise. My noble friend is not here, I am afraid, but I rejoice in, and I would congratulate him on, a step which I hope means that he is going to become an active member of the League of Nations Union. At any rate he has represented the view which I hold, certainly, very strongly: that we have not yet exhausted our powers of putting a stop to the Japanese war.
I cannot think that we have a right to sit quietly. We have promised to do everything we can to help them. We profess at intervals that we desire to do that, and yet we do contribute in fact to Japan the means of carrying on the slaughter of the Chinese. I cannot think that that is right. I venture to hope that the Government will reconsider even now their policy in this matter and that they will go to the League of Nations and suggest a definite policy of excluding or diminishing exports from Japan to this country and to the Dominions so long 1268 as the Japanese continue their war. Something has been said about financial help to the Chinese, and there, too, I hope that the Government will find means of doing something. Personally, however, I would much rather see the war stopped by some kind of measures against the Japanese than by giving the Chinese power to fight more vigorously than they are fighting. Both are right, but it seems to me that the pressure on the Japanese is more right and more likely to be effective than the assistance to the Chinese.
I have only one more topic on which I want to say a word, and that is the question of refugees. I confess that I do not take a very hopeful view of the result at Evian. I hope that I am wrong. I hope that those who see in it a great awakening of good will on these subjects are right. But what is it? We are merely creating a new committee of Government representatives, a very large committee, which is to act, we are told, through a smaller committee. I have seen a good deal of these Governmental committees; indeed, I served on one for a considerable time, and I came to the conclusion that of all the useless human devices they were the most useless. Nothing was done. When any proposal was made, the members of the committee immediately said, "We can come to no decision; we must refer to our Government," and nothing was ever done. Under American chairmanship—we had an American, by the way, as High Commissioner—it may be that you will get more results, but I do not see how you can, from the very nature of a Government committee. I should much rather have seen a committee of experts in this matter—there are numbers of them, admirable people—formed to draw up a really good plan of how the whole refugee question ought to be dealt with, its extent now, and the extent it may be expected to assume in the future, how far it can be dealt with by infiltration—and remember, as my noble friend Lord Allen very properly pointed out, there is great danger in carrying infiltration too far—and how far it can be dealt with by some means of mass settlement in less occupied countries.
I hope that something on those lines may yet be developed. I feel that it is rather reckless, after the immense effort which the Government themselves have 1269 made to secure unification of machinery in order to deal with this refugee question, that we are now, having secured the unification of Geneva, going to set up an entirely fresh organisation outside Geneva. That seems to me a very bad plan. It may be inevitable; I know the difficulties; but it seems to me to be simply going back on everything that we have been trying to do and the Government have been trying to do for the last two months. I hope very much that these fears will turn out to be exaggerated or unfounded. Certainly I fully recognise that our only duty now is to do our very utmost to make this plan a success. I confess that I cannot help feeling that in this matter, too, in spite of the excellent reasons that have been referred to against that course, it would have been better to stick to the League and the League machinery. Anyway, that seems to be the Government policy. It is not only in these contentious matters, not only in the question of sanctions, but inevitably, I think, if you say to the League that they are not going to interfere in the major questions, and if that policy is pursued, it means ultimately the destruction and abandonment of the League, which seems to me, I confess, a very grave and serious result.
I still believe that you can make this great experiment, the greatest experiment of the kind that has ever been tried, a success. I am told I am a wild visionary, guilty of midsummer madness (as I was once told) for holding that view, and yet others far better qualified to judge have held the same view. My noble friend Lord Arnold, the other day, was good enough to cite the late Lord Salisbury on the other side. I am quite sure he did it in absolute good faith, and I have no complaint to make of his having done so, but having looked at the passage I am satisfied that he interpreted it altogether wrongly. The late Lord Salisbury on that occasion was dealing with a proposal for a special alliance between this country and another country which was to be carried out secretly, and he rightly pointed out that that would not be a policy which would be likely to receive the support of the country. I then told my noble friend that I was aware of another passage two or three years earlier in which the late Lord Salisbury took a very different line on the question of some organisation to 1270 maintain peace amongst the Powers in Europe. He was speaking of the Concert of Europe, and since the passage is only one of three or four sentences perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read it.
It is not controversial so far as the Government and I are concerned, except that the Government will not do what they say they do. Referring to the Concert of Europe, the late Lord Salisbury said:Remember this—that the federation of Europe is the only possible structure of Europe which can save civilisation from the desolating effects of a disastrous war.He went on to say—and this might have been written yesterday:You notice that on all sides the instruments of destruction, the piling up of arms, are becoming larger and larger, the powers of concentration are becoming greater, the instruments of death more active and more numerous and are improved with every year, and each nation is bound for its own safety's sake to take part in this competition. These are the things which are done, so to speak, on the side of war. The one hope that we have to prevent this competition from ending in a terrible effort of mutual destruction which will be fatal to Christian civilisation"—which did, in fact, happen less than twenty years later, in 1914—the one hope we have is that the Powers may be gradually brought together to act in a friendly spirit on all questions of difference which may arise until at last they shall be welded in some international constitution which will give to the world as a result of their great strength"—collective security, in fact—a long spell of unfettered and prosperous trade and continued peace.That opinion, no doubt, must have been in my mind, though I was not aware of it when I began to take an interest in these subjects. Of course it has been confirmed by great authorities since then—by the late Lord Grey and many others who have given great attention to these subjects. I still remain of opinion that it is the one hope, and that there is no other. If we go back to the old system, as I am afraid the reasoning of the Prime Minister indicates, we are going to have another desolating war which will be the end of Christian civilisation.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, although the fatal hour has arrived I can assure the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that I do not intend to say more than a very few sen- 1271 tences. I have not had any definite information with regard to a banquet, but I do not imagine that I shall take up very much time. I always want to agree with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, because he puts things so nicely, but I cannot manage it. His criticism of the Government to-day with regard to non-intervention I thought was unfair. It is all very well to say that non-intervention has failed. The Government never expected that it would succeed. The object of continuing the policy of non-intervention was to prevent a European war, and that, anyhow, it has so far succeeded in doing.
I want to join in the congratulations to the Government on the appointment of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman. It is a wise move, an original move, and, judging from my knowledge of Viscount Runciman over many years, I consider the choice is an admirable one. If there is any man with a judicial mind it is Viscount Runciman, and that is what is wanted in this contingency. But I agree with the noble Viscount who has just sat down that we should like to know more of the relationship between Viscount Runciman and His Majesty's Government. I saw that when Viscount Runciman was approached he "gladly accepted." I thought that was wonderful on his part, but I should very much like to know exactly what his position will be, because it is a little bit difficult to think of a private individual intervening in negotiations between two countres. Although it may be successful I do not think that he ought to be placed in too difficult a position. On that question I should like the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to tell us, if he can, whether the Sudeten Germans have agreed to this function that Viscount Runciman is to fulfil, as I understand the Czechoslovakian Government have done, because of course it is a sine qua non that agreement must come from both sides if Viscount Runciman's mission is to be satisfactory.
I must say that I do not consider the Government during the last year or two could have had more difficult situations to deal with. In almost every country difficulties have cropped up in regard to which it is very necessary to keep one's head and to avoid what is so common in the discussion of international affairs, 1272 that is, laying the blame on some particular nation. I think people in discussing foreign affairs are far too apt to do that. My association with foreign affairs may lave been brief and intermittent, but it was sufficient to make me learn the positive lesson that no nation is completely to blame in any situation, especially when you have got a complex situation such as we have to-day when nations are closely drawn to one another. When I hear people inveighing with great violence against His Majesty's Government or any other particular Government, saying they are solely to blame for the situation, I believe that is entirely unfair.
Just one word with regard to Spain. I agree completely with what the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said just now. He very often sums up with the historical view the situation of to-day. When he said that the Spanish situation would not loom so large in the future as it does to-day with all its horrors I am sure he was speaking the truth. These situations arise, and inevitably to-day they arise in a very cruel form. I was reading some correspondence of the early 'seventies—and I really had to rub my eyes—when there was a Spanish Revolution, atrocities in Spain, the autocratic behaviour of Bismarck, his suppression of the Church, troubles in Paris, war in China. It might have been to-day. Spanish Revolutions have taken place two, three, four times in the last century. I do not think it is a good way of managing the affairs of a country to substitute a revolution for a general election, but they do that, and horrible as the time is now that has to pass before the fighting is over, it will pass, and those who want General Franco to win make a very great mistake if they think that the conclusion of the war is going to be the finish. It is not. He has then got to begin to govern Spain, and if he thinks that he makes it easier if he exterminates his fellow countrymen he is in error.
I rose only to put one plea before His Majesty's Government, and I hope the House will be patient if it has heard it before. The nations are arming as they have never armed before in the world's history. The burden laid on the backs of the people in the various countries is borne and accepted because they are deliberately inspired by fear of being attacked with modern weapons of war.
1273 Leading statesmen in all countries know that arms are no remedy and no solution, but leave matters worse than they were; yet the competitive race in armaments continues. His Majesty's Government are honestly anxious for appeasement, conciliation, and negotiation. Do the Government realise that the armaments on which month by month they are learning more strongly to rely, so far from being a help must be a hindrance to any lasting settlement in the long run? Why? Because the extent of your armaments is the exact measure of your mistrust of the people with whom you want to deal. But of course it will be said: "We are not alone; we are doing simply what others are doing." That is the time-honoured excuse for wrongdoing on which the weak always fall back to excuse their vices. Disarmament is not going to come from any simultaneous agreement between the Powers. It is going to come, and it will come some day, from following the example of the nation which first proclaims its distrust and abhorrence of the whole method of warfare, more especially taking into account what that means to-day. Ministers of the Crown here to-day frequently express their distrust and abhorrence of war to us, but they go on just the same. Let them proclaim it to the world, and have the courage to leave off.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord who leads the Opposition for having given to the House an opportunity of taking a general review of foreign affairs before we separate for the Recess, and for having given to me an opportunity of making certain observations in reply to the speeches that have been delivered in the course of the debate. If I am not able to deal with all the points that all your Lordships have raised, it will only be because I am rather conscious that the ground I would have to cover is so wide that I might unduly strain your Lordships' patience.
I will begin, as the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, also began, with the Far East, and say something about the speech which was made by my noble friend Lord Elibank. In the Far East, during the last year, events have been happening that have deceived the hopes of all those who had looked forward to a better era in 1274 the history of the world. Your Lordships are sufficiently familiar with what has been passing. By their acceptance and by their support of the League Resolutions in this matter His Majesty's Government have joined in passing a moral judgment on the conflict in the Far East; but it will also be within your Lordships' recollection that the Conference in Brussels in November last showed fairly clearly that no agreement was to be expected for any proposals which would amount to intervention in the conflict. There is, however, the other aspect of events to which my noble friend alluded, and, although I agree with the noble Viscount opposite that it is truly to be held subsidiary to the main question of the moral right and wrong that is involved, it is nevertheless true that His Majesty's Government have had for more than a century important interests in China. The Japanese Government claim that the action which they are taking is in defence of their interests in China, and we have every right to expect them to recognise that if they have certain interests to protect we have the same, and are not unmindful of our responsibilities, which we have every intention to discharge.
I can assure my noble friend that we are quite ready to consider, and are indeed already considering, the possible action open to us if we do not get that consideration for our interests and rights which we have a right to expect. The noble Viscount spoke of several matters, such as the navigation of the Yangtse and inland waterways, the Whangpoo Conservancy, access to British property in certain districts of Shanghai, and British interests in the railways. All these matters are at the present time under discussion between His Majesty's Ambassador and the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, and pending the outcome of these discussions, which quite obviously touch very closely British rights and interests that the Japanese Government have promised to respect, the noble Viscount will not expect me to go into precise details, but I shall bear in mind the wish which he expressed that at the earliest moment the result of these discussions should be made public. Then he spoke of the position at Tsingtao, and with regard to that His Majesty's Government are satisfied that there has in fact been discrimination at Tsingtao, 1275 and on instructions His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo has made strong representations on that matter to the Japanese Government. From a recent report it appears that the Ambassador at Tokyo hopes for early remedial action, if indeed this has not already been taken.
Then my noble friend raised two other questions, the evasion of Customs Duties by the Japanese, and the question of the North China currency. With regard to the first, up to now it has only been possible to induce the Japanese to agree that regular Customs Duties at Japanese-controlled wharves should be paid on all Japanese commercial cargoes provided the examiners are of Japanese nationality. With regard to the second, His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the difficulties of the situation and of the dangers that they involve for British trade. The introduction of these Federal Reserve bank-notes would appear to have been a very ill-advised decision from every point of view, including that of the Japanese Government themselves. The Japanese Government have frequently stated that it is not their intention to place any unnecessary obstacle in the way of British trade in the parts of China which they at present occupy, and it is not necessary to point out that any attempt to impose in North China the same kind of restrictions as exist in Manchuria would be entirely inconsistent with those assurances. On the larger question it must be the hope of us all that these hostilities, through which such cruel damage is being done to human life and also to Chinese culture and economic life, may soon end.
Several of your Lordships have referred to the question of a loan to China, on which my right honourable friend spoke in another place, and in regard to which he explained that in present circumstances it had not been found possible by His Majesty's Government to meet the wishes of the Chinese Government for such a loan. He pointed out, moreover, that there was no certainty that the loan would in fact achieve its object of maintaining the Chinese currency during the war. Several of your Lordships have also said that you hoped that His Majesty's Government would be prepared to consider other proposals that might be advanced, proposals, for example, on the lines, I think my noble friend said, of export 1276 credits. I can readily assure your Lordships that we shall be entirely ready to consider other proposals of that kind on their merits, as and when they are made to us. At the Brussels Conference there was manifested a general desire to offer good offices if and when those might appear to be helpful; and for their part His Majesty's Government will be entirely ready to contribute their effort in every way whenever they can see a hope—of which I confess I do not see much to-day—of profitable result.
I turn for a moment to make a few observations in regard to what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who is not here to-day but who kindly excused me from answering him yesterday, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, to-day, with regard to the League of Nations. Almost exactly two years ago I had the honour of making a speech in your Lordships' House on the same subject. At that time the League had by its withdrawal of sanctions against Italy acknowledged its incapacity in that instance to stop a war. As a result of political developments since the foundation of the League it has, I venture to suggest, become clear even to the most loyal League supporters that a system which not only provides a code of international behaviour but which also seeks to enforce that code on the world, cannot possibly be expected to function in all cases successfully unless one primary condition be fulfilled. That condition is that all the principal Powers should wholeheartedly be in it, and that all should be subject to a general system of limitation of armaments.
I remember that on that occasion I repeated two or three quite simple platitudes, which I think it is worth while to remember, and the noble Lord who has just spoken indeed referred to one of them. Until you could get a system under which all nations were in fact prepared to forgo an element of their sovereignty and to accept universal arbitration it was impossible for Lord Davies's court of equity securely to be expected to function satisfactorily; and all that could not happen unless all nations were disarmed and therefore my noble friend Lord Davies's International Force had the field to itself. Moreover, if you had those two things happening on paper, you would not have solved your problem unless every nation believed that every other nation was in fact keeping the 1277 rules. It is not necessary for me to point out—it is obvious to all—how the world to-day is not in fact ready to make those things that are the ideals of us all actually real at this present time. The question accordingly arose (which is the one that I think is constantly between the noble Viscount and myself) whether it was better to preserve on paper a general and wide obligation, although you may know that, when the test comes, it might well not be found capable of fulfilment; or frankly to recognise the facts and make the best of them, not laying greater burdens on nations than nations are in fact willing to sustain.
If that was the situation—and I think it was pretty clear—two years ago, I venture with great respect to suggest that it is much clearer to-day, and the League is in fact now faced with the necessity of taking a decision that will affect its whole future. The noble Viscount who spoke last but one spoke very pessimistically of the future of the League, and if I thought the League was done I should also be a pessimist. But in this matter I am disposed to be more optimistic than he is, and for this reason, that I do not believe it is beyond human ingenuity to devise means whereby the ideals of the League are preserved, and while on the one hand its practical limitations are recognised, as you must recognise them, on the other hand the way is left open to make the fullest use that you can, now and in the future, of its immense potentialities as an instrument of peace.
May I in a few sentences lay down, as I see them, the principles that must underlie such a solution as that? The prime object of the League is to prevent war, but that is a negative way of stating it. The positive way of stating it is that the League should provide means of depriving any State of what it may deem legitimate excuse, if legitimate excuse there can be, for resort to force. Therefore, in the second place, we should do all we can for the establishment of the rule of just law, by a strengthening of the machinery for the examination and adjudication of disputes. And, thirdly, we must find means for removing potential causes of disputes and redressing injustice through the ventilation of grievances and the active pressure of public opinion. We all of us have constantly stated, and I hope constantly think, that human affairs can never remain static. But any 1278 change that may be both natural and right must be effected by peaceful means if the cure is not to be 10,000 times worse than the disease. It is to the attempt to make these principles effective that this country stands pledged, and by that obligation we intend to stand to the limit of our power because we know that on the acceptance of that more excellent way which these principles enshrine the future of the world does in fact depend.
From that I pass quickly to a word—and it is only a word—about Spain. The noble Lord opposite who introduced this debate spoke critically of non-intervention. He spoke of victory being imposed on the defeated side by what he called foreign mechanism. Anyone listening to the noble Lord would have supposed that foreign intervention had been on one side, and one side only, and that of course is far from the truth. The other reflection that I made but with which I do not expect the noble Lord to agree any more than he expected me to agree with him, is that the conclusion of his argument on that point really was that the non-intervention plan was bad, it was unworthy of this country, and it ought to be scrapped. Therefore on the whole, so I concluded, he is in favour of intervention. We are not, and that for the reason that was very fairly stated by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, because as I have said over and over again in this House, if you embark on that policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, also recognised, there is no saying where you may not end. So the policy of His Majesty's Government remains to push on with non-intervention. We have received the reply from the Spanish Government, and I hope we shall shortly receive the reply from the authorities at Burgos. We are confident that, with good will on both sides, there need be no great delay in the making of real progress.
I turn from that to say a word or two about a question to which the noble Viscount referred, the question of the possibility of bringing the war to an end. I entirely share the feeling that he has. As one contemplates the Spanish people entering upon a third year of this slaughter, with all the hatred, dissension, and bitterness that it has evoked, there is not one of us who must not hope and pray that in the course, I was going to say of this year, but in the course of early weeks or months, it may be possible for 1279 them to compose their differences and join hands in the building up of the country that, separate, they have so largely shattered. Both sides know that, if at any time it seemed possible for the services of His Majesty's Government to be usefully invoked for the establishment of an armistice, these services are at all times at the disposal of the Spanish people as a whole, and would be most willingly made available to them.
Let me say one word about Anglo-Italian relations, inasmuch as the Anglo-Italian Agreement is, as your Lordships know, closely linked with the Spanish problem. It has been a matter of great regret to His Majesty's Government that the pre-requisite governing the entry of that Agreement into force still remains unfulfilled. It may be arguable that it was a fault in the Agreement itself that its coming into force should have been made dependent on circumstances over which, prima facie, neither Government could exercise full control. The fact, however, remains that this condition, which arose out of the fact that the Agreement was designed as part of a general world appeasement and is a matter on which His Majesty's Government have given definite pledges to Parliament, is not one which His Majesty's Government can abandon. I may point out that, so far as concerns the letters exchanged and the verbal understandings reached at the time of signature, we have carried out our written undertaking to take steps at the League of Nations in regard to the question of Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia. We, on the other hand, have welcomed the good faith of the Italian Government in reducing their garrison in Libya and in abstaining from propaganda. That is a partial answer to a question the noble Lord did not put. We have been gratified, too, by the collaboration of the Italian Government upon the Non-intervention Committee.
On the other hand, we have never concealed our regret—and this is relevant to what fell from the noble Marquess opposite—that the signature of the Anglo-Italian Agreement has not resulted in an improvement in French-Italian relations, for one of the principal objects of our own Agreement was to re-create an atmosphere of international confidence in the Mediterranean, and until French-Italian relations are restored to cordiality this 1280 great purpose obviously cannot be achieved. It may be that there are powerful forces in the world which are unwilling to see the old friendship restored between this country and Italy. Mischievous suggestions have been made that the Agreement is designed to loosen the Berlin-Rome axis. In other quarters it has been hinted that the real object of it is to try and drive a wedge between the French and British Governments. If I may speak quite bluntly, a policy based upon the hope of driving a wedge between Berlin and Rome would be as futile as would be that of attempting to divide Paris and London. I find it very difficult to believe that any serious-minded or responsible person to-day can think in terms of either of these irresponsible hypotheses.
If hostile forces are at work, it is of great importance that neither we nor the Italian Government should be diverted by them from our main object—the bringing into force of our new Agreement. If either of us has doubts or difficulties we can at any time give full and frank expression to them through the normal channels which are available to us. In international as well as in private relations, incalculable harm may be done by the unnatural suppression of suspicions or by reluctance to strain friendship by frank speech. If a friendship is not capable of standing such a strain it is not worthy of the name of friendship. If His Majesty's Government and the Italian Government are able, as we hope, to invoke this spirit of confident patience to bridge the period which must elapse before the Agreement can come into full force, I see no reason why such delay as may be inevitable should at all impair the understanding that it was the principal purpose of the Agreement to restore.
I must turn for a few moments to Czechoslovakia, on which the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, spoke yesterday and in regard to which several of your Lordships have made interesting contributions this afternoon. Through all the developments of recent weeks and months the single purpose of His Majesty's Government has been to impress in all quarters—quite impartially, let me assure Lord Snell—the necessity and urgency of reaching an agreed solution of an issue that might gravely menace the preservation of European peace. The problem is not a 1281 new one, for the historic provinces of Bohemia and Moravia have long been one of the great nerve centres of Europe. It is in these provinces that contact between Slav and German has been most intimate and where the problem of their relationship has been most acute. There was indeed a time in the middle ages when, under the King of Bohemia who became the Emperor Charles IV, a harmonious blending of German and Slav culture and tradition appeared capable of realisation. But that promise was unfulfilled, and to-day the racial sell-consciousness, and the rise of fierce national ideals that our own day has seen, reinforced by the violent clash of philosophies that perplexes the modern world, have now, within the old political frontier of Bohemia, bred the still sharper antagonism which we know.
The problem is, as we all know, to find by peaceful means within the political frontier and without destroying the integrity of the Czechoslovak State, a way to confer substantial rights of self-administration upon the German-speaking population, and with them upon the other populations, such as the Polish and Hungarian, who live within the Czechoslovak borders and possess Czechoslovak citizenship. The problem is a very real one, and of a kind in regard to which we ourselves are not without experience. Accordingly His Majesty's Government, in close accord with the French Government, agreed in response to a request made by the Czechoslovak Government, to take the action that was detailed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister yesterday, and His Majesty's Government, as we all know, have been fortunate in enlisting the assistance of Lord Runciman. The noble Lord who spoke last asked me whether I had information as to the acceptance by the Sudeten leaders of the services of Lord Runciman. I am in a position to assure him that they received the idea favourably, and I hope, therefore, so far as we can at present judge, that the way seems to be clear for Lord Runciman to proceed upon his most public-spirited and patriotic mission. We feel that Lord Runciman does indeed bring to his task of independent investigation and mediation many qualities which those who have had the opportunity of working most closely with him are in the best position to appraise. The noble Marquess opposite 1282 spoke of them, and they are sufficiently well known to his fellow-countrymen to secure for him all the good wishes for which the noble Lord who opened the debate asked.
Several of your Lordships have asked what precisely is his status when he goes to Czechoslovakia. His status is one of complete independence of His Majesty's Government, and, with all respect to the noble Viscount, I think that that is not a very difficult status for either him or us to maintain. I have made it quite plain to him, and quite plain also to all those concerned, that he is in no way acting as a representative of or on behalf of His Majesty's Government, nor do we take any responsibility for the suggestions that he may make. His achievement, as I see it, will be to inform public opinion not only in this country but in a great many other countries, and, more important than that, he can as mediator bring the two sides together and explain perhaps where there is misconstruction and conceivably make new suggestions and the like. Perhaps I might, without breach of confidence with Lord Runciman, tell your Lordships what Lord Runciman said after I had so lucidly explained to him what his functions were to be. He said: "I quite understand; you are setting me adrift in a small boat in mid-Atlantic." I said, "That is exactly the position."
There is one other thing I think that I must say before I leave Lord Runciman and it is this. We cannot but feel that any public man of British race and steeped in British experience and thought may have it in his power for this reason to make a contribution of peculiar value. The British people, both at home and in the Dominions, have repeatedly found themselves confronted with the problem of reconciling the unity of the State with the position of men of a different race included within the body politic. The British Commonwealth itself is the outstanding example of the attainment of single unity through great diversity. It may be, and no doubt is, that the particular problem that faces the Czechoslovak Government is not strictly analogous to those with which the British Government have had to deal, but it is of the same order of difficulty, and requires the same kind of genius for its solution. It, therefore, naturally occurs to British thought that the solution of the problem 1283 created by the position of different nationalities within a single State is most likely to be found through the application in some form appropriate to local conditions of the principle of partnership in self-administration, by which our own problems, not totally dissimilar, have been so happily resolved, and that in a form which has, through the contentment so brought to many different races, been the seed of greater strength to the whole community of which they form part.
It is the earnest hope of His Majesty's Government that through the application of some such principles as these the way may be found at once to strengthen the foundations of contentment within the Czechoslovak State and to relieve Europe of a great anxiety. For reasons with which we are all conversant, upon the handling of this problem depend the interests not merely of Czechoslovakia herself but those of peace, and it is this fact which both entitles and compels this country, with others, to be interested in the treatment of it. We recognise the justice and the necessity of change, but it is none the less our desire to see it effected by peaceful means. The lesson of history must surely be that such an achievement would have greater chances of survival than any settlement imposed by force, which must inevitably create more problems than it solves.
Your Lordships will no doubt have seen the recent speech of M. Daladier in which he defined the position of his country in relation to these questions, and repeated the obligation that in certain events would rest upon it to fulfil its undertakings. Of that obligation the French Government can alone be the interpreter and judge, but your Lordships will have noticed with no less interest that M. Daladier asserted in clear terms his refusal to believe in the inevitability of war. By that opinion I would wish definitely to range my own. During the last few days, as your Lordships are aware, there have been certain contacts between His Majesty's Government and the German Government, which His Majesty's Government have warmly welcomed and which lead them to hope that peaceful means will be found to an agreed solution.
The noble Lord who opened the debate asked me whether I thought that I could 1284 properly tell him the matters that were discussed between Captain Wiedemann and myself last Monday week. I do not know that I can go quite as far as that because, as the noble Lord remarked, those discussions were necessarily confidential, but I can tell him, and am glad to tell him, that it was an opportunity that I think we both welcomed of exchanging views on matters of common interest to both our Governments. The effect of our conversation was to show that, however much we differed on some matters of internal interest to both countries, it was evident that both nations were anxious to lose no opportunity of establishing the better relations between the two countries of which the noble Lord opposite spoke.
I do not believe that those responsible for the Government of any country in Europe to-day want war. Every Government must know the great desire for peace among the people of every nation, and every Government must reflect upon what would be the consequences to all the fairest hopes they cherish for the future of the millions that are entrusted to their charge. His Majesty's Government believe that a just and reasonable settlement is capable of attainment if the problem is handled prudently, with a spirit of restraint and a spirit of accommodation on all sides. Here I should like to express a hope. I think that everyone will agree that it is only reasonable that Lord Runciman should be enabled to carry out his delicate mission in an atmosphere of calm and of confidence. I trust, therefore, that all those concerned, both within and without the frontiers of Czechoslovakia, will do all they can to help to create this atmosphere and thus assist Lord Runciman in the difficult task that he is willing to undertake. Above all, if this work of mediation is to proceed smoothly and successfully, it is clear that the less there can be of recrimination or threats in the Press or elsewhere, the better. Since we are pressing the Czechoslovak Government to be generous and conciliatory, we confidently count on Germany to give similar advice, where she may, with a view to avoiding a deadlock, the consequences of which might be incalculable.
A problem which in one form or another has challenged solution for five hundred years cannot be suddenly resolved, and provided always that those who are seek- 1285 ing for a settlement are animated by sincere intentions, it cannot fairly be made a cause of reproach that matters so closely affecting the structure of the State should be handled with due precaution and, as far as may be, with the assent of all concerned. Given such sincere and honest intentions, His Majesty's Government are anxious, as we have tried to prove, to lend any help within our power, and I feel bound to say plainly that public opinion in this country would quickly declare itself against any action which, whether by obstructing reasonable compromise or by rendering impossible its fair consideration, might imperil a settlement and jeopardise the cause of European peace.
May I refer for one moment to a question of some importance that was raised by my noble friend Lord Davies? He spoke of a defensive agreement recently concluded between His Majesty's Government and the French Republic, and asked His Majesty's Government to include some explanatory statement in regard to it. I think there is in Lord Davies's mind some misapprehension which it is important to dispel. But perhaps your Lordships will pardon my making a digression, for it is impossible to speak of France, and of the relations of this country with France, without first saying something of that which is of necessity uppermost in all our minds, and of which the noble Lord opposite spoke first. The whole country, as he said, and the whole British Commonwealth followed the visit of the King and Queen to France last week. That visit must have left on those who were privileged to accompany Their Majesties an impression that will not easily be forgotten. France seemed to prove once more that great power is not incompatible with gaiety and grace. The links forged by geography and history which bind our two countries are, of course, sufficient to account for the closeness of our relations with France, but the visit of last week seemed to add some new quality to this natural intimacy. The warmth of the welcome that was accorded to Their Majesties, a welcome which began from the moment that they set foot on the soil of France, with the many thousands who waited in the fields to see the passage of the Royal train, and which was taken up, as the noble Viscount has said, by the crowds who thronged the streets of 1286 Paris, must, I know, have touched Their Majesties' hearts, as it will have touched the hearts of millions in every part of His Majesty's Dominions.
What may we think to be the larger meaning of which that outward emotion was symbolic, and what seemed to invest it with particular significance? To me it seemed to speak of the deep conviction felt by the people of France that they are at one with us in regard to the ultimate value of individual human life, and that we share with them a common faith in the abiding forces by which human life is illumined and enriched. But, while the feeling between the two countries has received, as it did, such happy and such notable expression, the obligations of this country to France, apart from any that may result from the Covenant of the League of Nations, remain only those assumed in the Treaty of Locarno of 1925, reaffirmed in the Arrangement drawn up in London in March, 1936. The friendship between our two countries does not, however, depend on bits of paper, but rests, as I said, on a real community of thought and of purpose, and that in turn springs from the determination that we both share to join our efforts for the peaceful adjustment of international differences and for the orderly development of international life. Moreover, when nations are conscious of their strength, their efforts for peace are not likely to be misconstrued. France and Great Britain, therefore, remain at one in the determination so to act and work together that justice and reason may be established among nations and that the nightmare of fear may give place to understanding and content.
I apologise for keeping your Lordships so long. I have attempted to make a fleeting review of the more important of the problems by which the Government and the Foreign Secretary are constantly perplexed. If all the unrest and the discontent with which we are confronted are held to be the legacy of the Great War and of the settlement that followed it, which was necessarily negotiated in the warlike atmosphere, that surely must be sufficient proof of the hopelessness and stupidity of war as a solvent of difficulties. But perhaps it is not right to blame too much the framers of the Peace Settlement, for they at least believed that they had provided a machinery for the constant adjustment of the world as they left it 1287 to the shifting strains and stresses of events. Either that machinery, like most human products, was imperfect and waits to be designed anew, or we must all share some measure of blame for the mishandling of it. At the moment the machine, as I have dared to confess, does not wholly work; but that does not mean that the principles on which it was designed were at fault.
In an earlier passage in my speech I tried to give those principles some definition. The one guiding principle is that there should be accepted and, if possible, elaborated some sure system for the reasonable discussion and remedy of grievances without resort to the stupid and disastrous arbitrament of war. That way madness lies. But if every country prepares itself to get or to keep by force what in its own judgment it considers its due, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that there can be little hope for our civilisation. The attempt to impose a complete system for ensuring observance of the law and maintenance of the peace may not have succeeded. There is another method which, if slower, may be more sure: that of building on precedent and practice. That method happens also, I think, to be more traditionally English and in keeping with our principles. Every effort that we can make, each peaceful settlement of difficulty that can be devised, helps to lay the foundation of a structure of law which we shall strive to maintain and which may, in my judgment, prove a stronghold against the many and great dangers with which the world is beset.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Viscount for his very courteous and most important and interesting reply. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, I did not move my Motion, but I wish to thank the noble Viscount for the very full and satisfactory and courteous reply that he made to my remarks about China.