§ LORD SNELL rose to call attention to the situation created by the recent developments in Austria; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have seldom risen to address your Lordships' House with a greater sense of responsibility and uncertainty than on the present occasion when I move the Motion which stands in my name. It is not possible for Parliament to witness in silence the grim tragedy which is even now proceeding in Austria and elsewhere, or to ignore the imminent dangers which may be involved from those proceedings to our own civilisation. On the other hand, even the most careful speaker may well tremble lest any word of his should poison rather than heal the wounds of the world at the present time. The aged, especially, should not risk even a verbal 130 gamble with the lives of younger men. I shall, for my part, try to avoid that danger, while feeling it incumbent upon me to speak frankly on certain aspects of the matter before us.
§ Whatever our views may be, I think we shall have to approach this problem to-day with the feeling that, for good or for ill—and I believe for ill—the fate of Austria has been sealed. We have to accept this situation as it appears before us: we have to accept the inclusion of Austria into the Reich. This has long been contemplated; it was perhaps in the end inevitable, and it appears not to be resented by at least an unascertained proportion of the people of Austria itself. But, be that as it may, we are faced with a situation which we cannot to-day alter. Our affection for the Austrian people is of long standing. It is based upon long, intimate and very friendly experiences and relationships. Speaking for myself, I hate to think of that gay, cultured, kindly people being subdued by and merged into the savage tribalism of the Nazi régime. Whether we have any special responsibility for what has happened is something that I must not to-day pause to consider. My first duty on behalf of those for whom I speak is to assure the Austrian people of our very deep sympathy, and our shame that civilised Europe has remained passive in relation to their fate. My second duty is to express our deep anxiety for the fate of those of Austria's sons who, out of their love for their land and their pride in her traditions, sought to preserve her political independence and her cultural integrity. In most cases of this kind the chivalry of conquerors might be assumed. Austrians, however, have no such hope or assurance, and any words of appeal on their behalf might further endanger rather than help them.
§ Your Lordships may understand that we on these Benches are not particularly concerned to defend the Austrian Government. It was a dictatorship. It had persecuted the workers, destroyed their unions, executed, exiled or imprisoned their leaders. Therefore I have no special favour in my mind for the Austrian Government. We have nothing to thank them for. But whatever their Government was, it was a Government of their own countrymen, and it is no business of ours to say what form of government 131 another nation shall possess. Therefore I ask, very shortly indeed, one or two questions. First, a question of His Majesty's Government: What is the position now? The nation itself is under the greatest perplexity as to where the Government stand and what they intend to do in the present circumstances. I have studied with reasonable care the declaration made by His Majesty's Government both in another place and in this House, and only one clear thought seems to emerge from that declaration. That thought is arms, more arms, and very little else; aims, which are the weapons of despair rather than mere coincidents with helpful developments. There was another thought, and that was sacrifices. The nation would be asked to make sacrifices, and there were, in one form or another, sinister hints as to what those sacrifices might mean.
§ So far as I know, the nation is willing both to provide the arms that are required and to bear whatever sacrifices may be necessary. But the nation also wants to know to what end these sacrifices are to be made, and for what ultimate purpose these arms are to be used. On that point the nation is at present without any clear or adequate assurance. I gather that in these anxieties His Majesty's Government expect the support of the whole of the nation, including ourselves. The rôle in British politics which is more or less assigned to the Labour Party is to bear ourselves humbly before our betters on all occasions, to serve as the targets for the propagandist abuse of Government advocates when all is well, and then, when the policy of the Government brings trouble, immediately to rally to the side of the Government. We do not accept that interpretation of our duty. We shall give whatever support we ought, as Englishmen, to give in the circumstances that are before the nation. But we want to know, if we are to give that support, where the nation is being led.
§ That is not a new position. It has always been a part of our advocacy that we could not indulge in unilateral disarmament. If disarmament was to take place, it should be on an international scale. We have always expressed our wish to give what arms were required to the nation to enable her to take her proper place and fulfil her proper respon- 132 sibilities as a part of a great international undertaking for peace. But if the troubles have arisen because there have not been sufficient armaments, I should like to ask in passing who has the responsibility for that. Except for two short intervals, when the Labour Party was in power in a minority position, the power to provide these instruments of safety, if they are instruments of safety, was in the hands of the Government and their predecessors. On their own avowal they have a monopoly of the wisdom and experience and ability of the nation, and one wonders why, if arms are the only policy, those arms were not provided. I ask that merely in passing and do not intend to press upon His Majesty's Government such a very awkward question for them to answer.
§ But I do wish to say that whatever the answer may be, in our best judgment, with all the responsibility that attaches to us both in the position we have in this House and as English citizens, arms are not enough. If arms are to be provided they should rest upon a moral basis and be attached to a policy for some approved end. What is that policy? What is the goal which His Majesty's Government have in mind? By what methods do they propose to reach it? One wonders, for example, whether the end of the present drift towards anarchy has come. What, for instance, do the Government propose to do about Czechoslovakia? Austria, as I have said, is gone. Czechoslovakia may be a question for the future, but the position of Spain is imminent and some declaration by His Majesty's Government on that point should be made. Surely the possible conversion of Spain into a vassal State of Italy should both have significance in itself and should call for some definite lead on the part of His Majesty's Government at the present time. The German position as I understand it, in regard to Austria, is that "No nation has the right to interfere with us in Austria, but we have the right to interfere in Spain." And that position is not one which is easy to sort out in any terms of international justice.
§ I desire to be brief and I only suggest, in conclusion, a possible policy under present circumstances. It is that the League Assembly should be summoned to examine the whole situation immediately and thoroughly and that we should attempt to rebuild the League of Nations 133 on a basis which is the result of past experience and our present need. We should have a plain declaration of policy from His Majesty's Government. If we are to provide arms, I suppose we must and shall, those should be supplemented by certain other things. Get all the arms you wish for and desire, but the grievances, if they exist, will still be there. Therefore we ought to hear from His Majesty's Government whether they have any proposal for the early consideration, and the possible removal, of any grievances that may be found to exist from which Germany or any other nation may suffer. I feel that the time has come when that aspect of the case cannot be much further delayed. Therefore, although I was scolded by the noble Viscount the late Leader of the House recently, I still believe that if only the non-aggressive nations will join the League of Nations, then let the League be composed of them, and let us as far as we can encourage them to stand together and to build, for themselves and for us, if haply they may do so, a wall of mutual defence against attack and disaster. I beg to move for Papers.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I am going to follow the admirable example, if I may so describe it, of the noble Lord who has moved this Motion and not try to discuss why we have got into the position in which we find ourselves to-day. If we began to bandy arguments as to the reasons, I think we should find ourselves plunged into controversies which at any rate are better postponed. We are confronted with two formidable facts, and the question for your Lordships' House is what attitude we should take in the situation so created. The first of those facts is the alteration in the balance of power in Central Europe which results from the incorporation of Austria in the German Reich, and the other is recent events—events which have only taken place in the last few days—in Spain.
I notice that in many quarters there is the usual demand that His Majesty's Government should rush into a fresh spate of pledges and promises to take strong and stalwart action in this place or that. I venture to think that we should seriously begin to consider, in making pledges, whether we can, and whether e really intend to, honour them. One 134 of the great troubles of the last few years is that we have made pledges, we have entered into what looked like obligations, without having really faced the consequences of having to live up to them, and that when the crisis came for one reason or another we found we had better retreat and leave those who had depended on our pledges in the lurch. I think that the ancient dictum about foreign policy which I have always heard attributed to the late Lord Salisbury, the former Prime Minister of this country, that your foreign policy must be related to your strength and to the strength of those allies on whom you can constantly rely, is the only policy which one can follow in considering what commitments we enter into.
I think it is true to say that after the sufferings of the last War all the democracies in the world, wanting peace, as indeed the mass of the populations of the world wants peace, have believed that they could get peace on the cheap, that they could get it in a world of sovereign States without being willing to face the fact that in a world of sovereign States there are situations which can only be dealt with if it is perfectly clear to other nations that there is a point at which a democracy is willing to fight. And we have buoyed ourselves up in the belief in that world, while retaining our sovereignty and while every nation retained its sovereignty, that by some other expedient we could avoid what all history shows to be the final responsibility in dealing with an international peril, and unfortunately it is proved to-day in a world of sovereign States that preparedness for war and the conviction of other nations that you have the resolution, if necessary, to accept that challenge does contribute to peace. Unpreparedness and the belief that you are unwilling to accept that challenge, or that you do not mean what you say, does contribute to war. That will remain to be a condition in the world until the nations are willing in some way to pool their sovereignty in a common federation. That has been the law of international affairs, and it will continue to be the law of international affairs, until we reach that goal which at the moment is far out of reach.
At this moment I think other nations are only certain of where we stand in that set of obligations which were defined in 135 the speech made by the late Foreign Secretary at Leamington rather more than a year ago. The world knows that at that point the British Empire would undertake the obligations of war, and is therefore not going to challenge the situation in those parts. But it is quite clear we should consider whether there are other fields in the world in which Great Britain and, I may add, the British Commonwealth are willing to say, if certain things are done in other parts of the world, they will accept the challenge of war. I hope pledges of that kind will not be lightly entered into. I am going to make a suggestion as to how that particular question can be considered. If you are going to make a pledge of that kind, if you are going to enter into obligations, if you are going to extend or give more precision to the Leamington speech, two conditions are vital. The first is that there should be a real national unity behind so that the Government of the day, whatever it is, can feel that in taking a decided line it will have, as far as may be, universal national support. One of the great dangers to-day is that a feeling of suspicion has crept abroad, justified or unjustified, which, if allowed to continue, may breed divisions of a fatal kind in this country and give encouragement to those who are convinced that in no circumstances will democracy face the issue of war.
There is another and more important question. If you are going to accept that challenge and say there is a point beyond which we will not agree to yield, have we the power to stand the strain? I am going to illustrate, if I may, one aspect of that question. Everybody knows that if we are going to enter the field of power politics, for whatever righteous end, the main question we have got to face, first of all, is whether a potential enemy is able to deliver a blow against this country and paralyse its capacity for resistance or for prolonged war. I am told —I do not say it is definite—that the German organisation for dealing with air raids contemplates a daily casualty list of not less than 25,000 people. They have got the organisation—hospitals, transport, and so on—or are in course of preparing it, to enable that kind of casualty list to be dealt with in the event of Germany being involved in war. Obviously London is a more serious tar- 136 get than any other that exists in Europe. Nobody can say what the casualty list would be. The problem in London is not merely a question of casualties. It is a question of whether you can keep alive the communications—road and rail—for feeding the country and dealing with casualties; the nervous electrical communications of life, telegrams, telephones, and so on under continuous bombardment.
If I am correctly informed, the essence of the problem of air warfare, if you think of it in terms of what is called the "knock-out blow," is the question of replacement of wastage in war. We may start with an equivalent, equal number of aeroplanes, of what are called first-line aeroplanes, but if in wastage in a 100 per cent. war one-third of the pilots and one-third of the machines are used up every week or every month, that nation which can replace that wastage continuously will establish a complete supremacy over the nation which is unable to make replacement at that pace in a few weeks' time. Therefore, the lay-out of air plans for the training of pilots and the building of aeroplanes, so that you can keep your stream of replacement up to the maximum level of possible wastage, goes to the very core of the problem. The other problem is the number of trips that the bombing aeroplane can make every day or every night to its objective and back again. In that respect obviously London is in a more serious position than anywhere else in the world. Are we quite certain that if we are going to accept the challenge, which I think in certain cases we certainly ought, we can deal with that kind of attack?—because if we are not quite certain, if we have not taken the measures necessary to deal with such an attack before the emergency arises, we shall waver, we shall hesitate, and the decision may go by default, and we may be once more humiliated by making declarations on which we have to default when the crisis comes.
If we are going to convince the rest of the world that there is a point at which we mean to stand, that there is a point beyond which power politics cannot go with success, we have got to adopt some form of national service. I do not think it is possible to deal with the air problem without having, at any rate, a national register. You cannot improvise after the emergency has come; you cannot take the 137 necessary measures, after the emergency, to get the whole of that enormous organisation necessary to enable a City like London to sustain the casualties and destruction involved in continuous bombardment, with the certainty that it can deal with it. Of course, any form of national service has got to be democratically determined. I venture to think that that is one of the final tests of whether democracy is going to survive. We have had a very long period—the classical period if you like—of increasing extension of individual liberty. In no country at any time in history has there been so much individual liberty as there is in this country to-day. But if democracy is going to survive, if individual liberty is going to survive, it must be paralleled by an equivalent willingness on the part of the community, rich and poor, Capital and Labour, to render national service, whatever purpose the nation itself may determine is right. In this case it would be a purpose which is not merely national self-preservation, for the building up in practical form of some limits beyond which the methods of power politics—some methods of which may have been justified in the past—cannot go except to the detriment and destruction of liberty in the world.
I would ask your Lordships why have the so-called dictatorships succeeded in getting such a response from, at any rate, the youth of their own country. Go and live in any of these countries and talk to some of the young people, and you will find it is because the dictatorships, whether rightly or wrongly, as you think, have gone to the youth of the nation and said: "We demand sacrifices from our citizens, we do not only promise them bread and circuses." I believe, to-day, there has never been a time when, if the right appeal is made, there was more willingness on the part of all classes in this country to rise to the level of sacrifice which is the real corrective for the demoralisation which, as I think, has overtaken nearly all the democracies of the world in the last ten or twenty years. I do not think that these questions can be settled by debate across the floor of the House. I see that suggestions have been made that the crisis is so acute that you should create a new National Government. I do not think that situation has yet arisen. I am not sure that National Governments are very good for 138 democracies. I think that Opposition, until overwhelming necessity arises, is a healthy element in every democratic State. But I do venture to ask the Government whether the time has not come for national consultation, whether the time has not come when those who represent the major elements in the country and those who have special experience in this problem, should not be brought into consultation, in the first place with a view of trying to see whether they cannot agree upon a national policy and so prevent that tendency which you see on all sides towards division and recrimination; and secondly of finding out whether we are in a position to honour our pledges or give effect to our policy, and so base our action on what we really can perform, and what those who are going to be associated with us can also perform, when it comes actually to the crisis.
I remember not so very long ago, when Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister, that he did inaugurate a consultation at that time on the subject of defence. He did call into consultation leaders of the Opposition Parties and others with a view, without causing much excitement, to a free exchange of information in order to see whether agreement could not be reached. I venture to suggest that, in the next week or two, you could have consultations, binding nobody as to results unless they were agreed, between the leaders of the Government, two or three of them, and the leaders of the two Oppositions and, I would suggest, leaders of one or two of the great trade unions. Then I think you ought to call into consultation two men who have had more experience of what the problem of war is in its higher direction than anybody else, Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Winston Churchill. Many members of the existing Cabinet have seen war service; but I do not think there are any of them who were closely associated with the higher direction of the late War. You have in those two men, whatever you may think of their political opinions, two men of unequalled experience in what it is practicable to do and what it is not practicable to do in war and in the organisation of national effort, with the whole experience of the late War behind them, and who are, above all, men of action. I venture to think that if the Government are going to formulate a policy which can rally national unity I 139 base it on a correct appreciation of what it is practicable for us to do, a consultation between the elements I have mentioned would lead to national unity, to a more effective effort and to an infinitely greater effect on public opinion abroad than anything else they can do.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, it is a matter of deep regret to me that I should have to venture to trespass again on your indulgence after the debate we had less than a week ago, but I know your Lordships will agree, by reason of the lurid light which has been cast over these matters by the events of last week, that it is very proper that the noble Lord, Lord Snell, should have raised this matter for discussion in your Lordships' House. Public opinion has been startled and shocked by the events of last week, and it is certainly not surprising that this should have been the case. We are witnessing, in an intense form, the rapidity of modern events. One feels that these matters, which we have been accustomed to see dealt with in an orderly manner, are going forward so rapidly, and events are taking place so quickly, that it is quite impossible for us to see any reasonable or rational occasion for them whatsoever. But I do feel that on these occasions it is very important that we should try to arrive at a true perspective of the situation.
At the present moment—I feel sure the Foreign Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—we know little of the events which have succeeded each other with such amazing rapidity in Austria, but one remembers that there was a meeting at Berchtesgaden in which Herr Schuschnigg had a conversation with Herr Hitler. One believed that his object in going to Berchtesgaden was to obtain from Herr Hitler some assurances for a better attitude of mind in Austria from the German-speaking population who were his supporters so as to enable him to carry on his administration with greater efficiency and satisfaction to all concerned. One has to assume that Herr Hitler countered this suggestion by a different one, and complained bitterly that those who supported his policy and opinions were not receiving that fair treatment in Austria which he considered they should receive. We then understood that Herr Schuschnigg went back to Austria with the intention, in a broadcast, of telling 140 the world that he had come to a satisfactory arrangement with Herr Hitler, and that the arrangements which the German Chancellor required would be put into effect. But an entirely different situation developed. We find that, instead of a mild broadcast being delivered to the world, a broadcast of a totally different description was given.
Before I come to that broadcast I should like to repeat what I have said previously, that this is a matter which we must look on as dispassionately as we possibly can. We must condemn and deplore the method by which the change has taken place in Austria, because we know that it is quite impossible that statecraft can be carried on and that diplomatic relations can be understood unless there is agreement between all the Powers of the world. We are flung back into a situation in which the uncertainty of the future will make every nation do what it can to provide, singly and single-handed, for its own security. One does feel that we are entitled—and I am sure this is the feeling of the people of this country—not only to complain bitterly but to condemn the methods which have been employed by the German Chancellor in carrying out what he has in his mind. But it is no good disguising from ourselves that what has happened in Germany has been a foregone conclusion. It has been in the minds of everyone who considered these matters, and it was only a question of time when this change in the situation would take place. We can see by the enthusiasm with which Herr Hitler is received in Austria that his advent is welcomed by the great majority of the population.
We recognise at the same time, of course, that this change has relieved that terrible tension which was in existence in Austria during all these years. But we must also realise another point which is in the German Chancellor's mind, and that is the question of the German-speaking people not only in Austria but in other parts of Europe. That is a matter on which we must very clearly come to an understanding. We can remember our own difficulties some years ago. After all, we fought the South African war for the maintenance of the rights of the British population in South Africa, and I am quite sure we should always rally to the succour and help of those of our nationals who exist in any part of the 141 world. The great majority of the population in Austria are certainly in favour of the change which has come about, but there are other portions of the world in which German-speaking populations exist which will undoubtedly present difficulties which we have got to solve, and which we must understand before we can hope to solve them. Herr Schuschnigg, as Lord Snell has said, deserves our sympathy. After all, he has endeavoured to carry on the tradition of his country as he has seen it and as he has understood it. We know that he has presided over a minority in his own country, but he has endeavoured to the best of his ability to carry out the duties belonging to the office which he filled.
On this occasion we should not forget the Anschluss. A great many people in this country and throughout the world were in favour of that policy, but unfortunately it came to nothing. Had it eventuated, I think your Lordships would agree with me when I say that the events which have occurred in the last few days would have come about long ago, and I am sure in more advantageous circumstances than at the present moment. I am the last person to desire to attach any blame to any one, but I do feel, some how, that we have been somewhat behind-hand in our contemplation of the Anschluss and what it meant and portended, and that we have not extended great sympathy to Austria in her trouble. We have not given her a vast measure of support. We have looked on while she has occupied this very difficult and dangerous position, and now that the last word has been spoken of the chapter, all that we can do is to complain bitterly of the methods which have been used.
To go back to what I said about the broadcast, Herr Schuschnigg in his broadcast, instead of making a peaceful declaration, which I think was anticipated and understood by the German Chancellor, immediately gave notice of a plebiscite, and a plebiscite of a. very dangerous and artificial character. It was a plebiscite which was not going to comprise a large proportion of the population of Austria. It did not include the young people, and one knows that all these young men and young women have been fired by the Nazi doctrine. The plebiscite could in no circumstances have given to the world a verdict which the Austrian nation should have been in a 142 position to give. I think the majority of your Lordships will agree with me when I say that had that plebiscite taken place it would have been followed by riots, by bloodshed, and by a revolution, and we might have seen in Austria the same circumstances as are happening in Spain at the present moment. One must feel that by the drastic action of the German Chancellor, although we are bound to condemn it in the form in which it was brought about, bloodshed has been prevented. A great country, for whom we still feel feelings of the deepest affection and respect, has entirely changed its status. Yet we feel that the circumstances in which it has passed from a country to a province could have been brought about in another way, which would have been of a most terrible character.
The turn that events have taken is very disappointing. It is discouraging and disheartening to all of us. At one time one could feel that there was a wide measure of sympathy for Germany in this country. We can claim to be a very just race, and we had come to realise that the Germans in their aspirations for equality were not receiving that justice to which they were entitled. The events of the past week have given a shock to the feelings of the people of this country, who are convinced that if this is the method on which the Germans, when they reach equality—if they have not done so already—are relying to carry on their future relations with other countries, then the future of the world is indeed black. We must feel that in these tremendous changes, of which this has been the first, the Peace Treaties have been responsible for so many of our difficulties, and yet nothing has been definitely clone as to considering from an international point of view all those differences which those Treaties brought about. One does feel that the time has come when some concrete and definite body of public opinion must consider all these matters, which are the substratum and foundation of the difficulties we are facing, and of the problems which we are called upon to solve.
I think we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for the terms in which they have given us the information of these events. We knew quite well that we could expect from them the moderation in which they invariably make addresses to this House and another place. I think we can also 143 say that the Press has adopted a restrained attitude, which, I am sure, reflects the moderate attitude of mind of the great majority of the population of this country. That is all to the good. But it is quite impossible not to realise that when movements of this description have taken place the mind of all the people of this country is turning in other directions, and wondering what the attitude of the Government will be in relation to these other points of policy which the Germans may think fit to adopt. While I feel that bitter discouragement and disappointment which is in the mind of everyone here, I do not think that we ought to feel dismayed, and I sincerely hope that those conversations to which we were looking forward will be continued.
In my humble capacity I have always pressed for the obtaining of categorical statements from Germany as to her ambitions and as to her desires. I wanted those statements some years ago, when the Germans were not in the position in which they find themselves at the present moment. When the Germans were rising to the position they occupy now, one feels that they might have been more amenable and more in a position to discuss with us these important matters on which so much hangs at the present moment. If these replies are not forthcoming we must realise that we shall be flung back on our own resources. Instead of this policy which is in all our minds of bringing about an understanding and an amelioration of international affairs by understanding, we shall be flung back on that desperate position which, after all, we contemplate in various times of our lives. The noble Lord who raised this question told us, what is absolutely true, that there will be no shortage of arms and that there will be no lack of support for the Government in this country, but what the country will require, in his own words, is the moral basis on which we are standing. One feels that no effort should be relaxed and no steps should be left untaken to induce the Germans to realise that by Anglo-German understanding a platform can be set up as a real moral basis for the future appeasement of the world and the establishment of peace throughout the countries of the world.
There was one passage in the statement which the noble Viscount gave to us en Monday which dealt with the repudiation 144 by Baron von Neurath of our right—I think his words were—to interfere in a matter of this description which he termed a more or less domestic matter between the German and the Austrian peoples. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs properly countered that assertion, because it has no basis in fact. He drew attention to the fact that the independence of Austria was guaranteed by the League of Nations of which this country and Austria and Germany were Members. It was guaranteed by Germany. It is even more regrettable than ever that we cannot count on the League of Nations to assist us in this matter. But there is another point which I should like your Lordships to remember, and that is that we cannot say that Herr Hitler has gone back on his undertaking. I do not believe that there is one case of Herr Hitler going back on any one of his definite undertakings. This undertaking to safeguard the independence of Austria was given by a Government in which he had no part, which he bitterly opposed, and which represented a country which is entirely transformed from what it was at that time. I fully support the noble Viscount in his countering of that assertion by Baron von Neurath. I do not believe there is any question of a geographical or of an ethnological change in any part of the world in which it is not the duty of this country to take an interest.
I am not for the isolationist policy. I do not believe for one moment that it is possible for us to lock ourselves up in this country and in this Empire and to take no notice of those tremendous events which are going to face us in the next few years. We have to take an interest and to take a part. It is impossible for us to say that there is anything in any field which does not touch us in some way. I believe, as I have said on more occasions than one, that on the basis of Anglo-German friendship and understanding, brought about by those conversations which are at the present moment practically in being, we may be able to develop something on which we can base in the future a period of that peace for which we all so long and which we hope can be firmly established.
§ VISCOUNT SANKEY
My Lords, on some occasions it is possible to observe in this House, Conservative members, Labour members and Liberal 145 members. This afternoon we are all British. It is, therefore, permissible for a member who does not belong to any political Party to crave your Lordships' indulgence for only a few minutes. If he can say anything which is helpful on this occasion, so much the better. If, on the other hand, his words are without any value, he compromises nobody except himself. First, therefore, may I address to your Lordships a few general observations, and then endeavour to make some concrete suggestions. Undoubtedly our nation is passing through a crisis. During the last two or three days every member of your Lordships' House must have read many different views and listened to many different opinions. But we are rather in the position of a man who has been near the scene of some great explosion. We are somewhat dazed. It is quite impossible to-day, or for several days, to come to any final opinion. It is even difficult to express one's thoughts this afternoon. But supposing any one of you had to address a great political meeting this evening, what would you be disposed to say? Probably that, although the situation is serious, there is no need to be rattled.
From time to time there have been great convulsions of nature which have spread ruin and destruction in the neighbourhood, but they have subsided gradually and passed away. That is so with human affairs. In places at present the crust of civilisation has worn thin and primeval forces have broken through which have upset old ideas and old conventions. There is no need to be alarmed. Such things have happened before and will happen again. They may be due to one of several causes. They may be due to greed; they may be due to a sense of injustice or oppression; they may even be due to the pursuit of an ideal. In very early days Rome had to reckon with the rise of Christianity. Later Islam swept over Europe. To-day we see Russia overwhelmed with Communism, although its tide seems no longer to be flowing. Their system is entirely different from ours. We believe in a God who became a man; they have elevated a man into a god. It makes it very difficult to deal with such people. In Italy and in Germany you can see a deification of the State that is undoubtedly opposed to our system. It is no use using provocative words, but 146 it makes it very difficult to see their point of view.
Now, how ought we to conduct ourselves in such a pass? There may have been mistakes in the past; there may have been, within the last few weeks, miscalculations. But, first and foremost, there must be no recriminations in Great Britain. For the moment bygones are bygones; it is the present and future which call us to our task. Someone will say, "These are mere words, in which we all agree. Tell us what you advise; make some concrete suggestions." My Lords, with your permission I will endeavour to put forward three. First, whatever else happens, we must be prepared to defend ourselves. This means that we must be ready to make sacrifices—sacrifices of our ease, sacrifices of our time, sacrifices, to some extent, of our personal liberty, and sacrifices which in my view are the least—sacrifices of our financial resources. No man at this juncture should be allowed to make a profit out of the difficulties of his country, either by excessive prices, excessive wages, or reckless speculation. A proud nation like ours, entrusted with the mission of Empire, cannot accept the security of slaves. That mission is not finished, and we owe a duty to ourselves, as well as to those under our protection and to those to whom we have made promises, not to refuse, if it is forced on us, the dangerous battle for the right.
There are moral issues involved here which far transcend all material considerations. But I would rather not promise than fail to perform. I do not think that we are likely to have war. We must pray for peace. But it gives me no satisfaction to think that, if Germans kill 20,000 young Englishmen to-morrow, the day after we should go and kill 40,00o young Germans. Nor is it satisfactory to think that if London bombs Berlin, Berlin should bomb London. I sometimes find myself wishing that the younger generation could make their voice heard. They, at any rate, see more clearly the ideals of justice and freedom, which are still in their minds unencumbered by the mists and clouds of politics.
But there is something far more important than preparing against war. Let us prepare for peace. The first step would be to join hands with those who share with ourselves the desire for peace. The 147 next step is a far more difficult one, especially at a time when tempers are aroused and when passions are inflamed. If you wish to endeavour to make peace with an opponent, it is always wise to try to put yourselves in his position. What is the cause of the present policy in Germany? It may be due to the pursuit of an ideal which we cannot appreciate, which we do not understand and for which it is impossible for us to have sympathy. But it may also be due to a sense of injustice and oppression extending over many years, for which apparently they have found no remedy. I should prefer to leave the details to those who know more about the facts than we do and who therefore are in a better position to enter into negotiations. Of this I would remind them, that no great nation can be expected to give way to arrogant demands, nor can any great nation for long submit to ignominious conditions.
Lastly, my Lords, I am still a believer in the ideals of the League of Nations. We have been told that the ideals which an age of reconstruction sets before itself are never realised and that they end in disillusion and disappointment. But those ideals remain. They have not perished, because they are imperishable. What has failed is the machinery by which the League of Nations sought to attain those ideals. Let us, therefore, work together in order to attain those ideals, in the hope and in the determination that, at any rate before we leave, they will have been accomplished.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, there is one feature in our discussion this afternoon which I am sure must have struck many of your Lordships. That has been the sense of deep responsibiity under which everyone who has addressed your Lordships has spoken. The position seems to me indeed a very grave one. My noble friend Lord Lothian drew a picture which I have often tried to draw in this House of the dangers which may surround us in case of war; I have made it the basis of an earnest plea to your Lordships to strengthen the machinery for the prevention of war. Undoubtedly the danger is very great at this moment. The event in Austria is not an isolated event, nor is it in my view just the effect of a sudden 148 decision brought about by exceptional circumstances suddenly realised. I do not think there is any ground for thinking that that is the true explanation of what has happened. It was a deliberately prepared proceeding. Every professional soldier who has spoken of it has said with great confidence that the kind of operation which was carried out could not be carried out without considerable previous preparation. And I have not any doubt that it is closely connected with the previous grave events which resulted in the dismissal of the chiefs, or some of the chiefs, of the German army.
But the most serious part of it is not its deliberate character, but the principle on which it was carried out. The principle was laid down very clearly indeed by Herr Hitler in the speech which preceded these events by a few weeks. The principle is the principle of the lost Germans, the conception that wherever there is a considerable body of Germans in a foreign country it is part of the German policy to incorporate them in the Reich. That is the principle on which this proceeding has undoubtedly taken place. The whole of the speeches and celebrations of which we read in the newspapers day after day are based on that conception—the reunion of those Germans who hitherto for many centuries have been outside the German Empire. The operation is excused entirely on that doctrine. It is perfectly clear that that doctrine is a very serious one for many countries besides Austria.
I listened with very great attention, as I always do, to my noble friend Lord Londonderry, who put forward some of the well known features of the Germans' defence of their proceedings. Will he allow me to say that I do think it a great pity that there should be any comparison between what has happened in Austria and the South African war? There as one essential difference which people continually forget, which is that we did not declare war, but that the South African Government did. That seems to me to make the whole difference, because I remember very well the circumstances of that outbreak, and I am perfectly clear that but for that declaration of war there was no ground for saying that it was at all certain that that war would have taken place. However, I only desire to put in 149 that caveat because I think it does harm to say that we are hypocrites in objecting to somebody else doing something which we did on a previous occasion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
May I say that what I said was that we should be up in arms to defend our nationals wherever they were?
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
But the question is, who were your nationals? These were Austrian nationals, not German nationals, whom they were defending. It is the doctrine that every German, to whichever nation he belongs, is a person on whose behalf the German Government has a right to interfere. That evidently applies equally to Denmark. It applies probably to Holland, because. certainly according to some German doctrines, wherever a Teutonic language is spoken the people are Germans. That was certainly the doctrine which prevailed in the beginning of last century. I suppose the same is true of Belgium, and unquestionably it is true of Czechoslovakia. There you have a minority who claim to be Germans, and are continually claiming to be Germans. No wonder that this event has caused the utmost consternation, and I am sure your Lordships cannot exaggerate the consternation which it has caused in various countries in Europe. They do not know what is corning next. They see this great force of German troops—some authorities put it as high as 200,000 men, far in excess of what should have been wanted for the Austrian operation—concentrated in Austria. What are they there for? What are they going to do next? That is the question which people on the Continent are asking, and asking with great anxiety. If there is an attack on Czechoslovakia we have no reason to doubt that the allies of Czechoslovakia, France and Russia, will carry out their obligations and go to the assistance of that country. I suppose that the Little Entente will do the same, or may do the same. You have all the elements of a great European convulsion, and that is a situation which I am quite certain the Government must regard with the utmost anxiety, and with the most earnest searchings of heart as to what would happen in that case in this country.
I have touched very briefly and inadequately on the actual circumstances which have been brought into existence 150 by this violent assault on Austria. But we have reluctantly to admit now that there are two great sections of thought. In many respects one must admit that these amount to two groups of nations. There are those on the one hand who believe in the old nationalist system of international policy, that every nation has a perfect right to do what it likes and that there ought to be no international control of anything that is done. That doctrine, subversive as it seems to me of any prospect of permanent settlement, is held by Germany and Italy. Then, on the other hand, there is the doctrine, held more or less explicitly—certainly explicitly, and more or less profoundly—by France, England, Russia and other countries, which is exactly the reverse—namely, that nations are all parts one of another, and all ought to submit to some degree of international control, extending as far as this, that they ought not to resort to war until every other possible method has been tried and failed. There is a frightfully serious position, and I do not wonder that my noble friend Lord Lothian said that in those circumstances it was of the most urgent necessity that the Government should take all the advice they could as to what would happen in certain circumstances, and how far we can carry out our obligations and can secure the peace of the world, which is, as always, the chief object of our foreign policy.
It is a matter of great regret to me that, owing, as I am bound to say—though I wish as far as possible to avoid recrimination to-day—owing, I am afraid it is inevitable to say, in part at any rate, to the past policy of the British Government, we have lost the enthusiastic support for our ideas of international policy of a considerable section of the smaller Powers in Europe. I do not say that they have definitely joined the other view. I expect they still dislike the other view, but they are no longer such enthusiastic supporters as they once were. That is a very serious situation, and I only want to say a few words as to what can be done in this situation, because that is really what the country wants to know. Any light which my noble friends opposite can throw on their future policy—that is what everybody is waiting for at this moment, not only in this country but all over the world. I put aside, because it has not been advocated in this debate, 151 the policy which is described as isolation. As we all know, there are two versions of it—the armed isolation of people like Lord Beaverbrook and the unarmed isolation of people like Lord Ponsonby. I put all that aside, because nobody has advocated it, and I cannot help feeling that even the advocates of that policy must have seen by recent events how quite impossible it is for this country to divest itself of interest and responsibility for events in Europe.
Then we come to the policy which has received—at least so I think; I hope I am wrong—rather weighty support recently. That policy is substantially to say: "We cannot rely on the League of Nations at all. It is no use. We must abandon it for all practical peace-keeping purposes. We may ask it"—though I cannot find, from questions I have addressed to the Government, any conceivable instance in which that course would be recommended by them—"to exert its moral force for peace; but apart from that we do not think the League of Nations is capable of being of any assistance." I hope I have misinterpreted the speech of the Prime Minister on February 21, but I have read it over and over again, and I cannot see how it can be otherwise construed than that. As part of that policy is the policy which is variously described as "concessions," "he removal of injustices," "appeasement," and so on. I do beg the Government to believe I am not trying to make a Party point when I submit to them that that policy has been tried over and over again during the past five or six years and has never succeeded. Every advance we have made, every gesture we have indulged in of a friendly character, has been the signal for fresh aggression, for a fresh act which makes it impossible for us to go on.
That does not mean I am in favour of insisting on injustices if injustices exist. On the contrary. I am sure remedy would be the only right or wise policy, but I do say, do not expect gratitude for any remedy of these injustices, and do not remedy them on the ground that you will diminish hostility. I am sure that is an illusion, and I am sure it is not a very respectable illusion. Remedy them if they are unjust, whatever the consequences. But to remedy them because you hope to get rid of some disagreeable 152 state of mind in some foreign country is a most reckless and almost always a most unsuccessful policy. We have tried it over and over again and it has failed. Do let us now go straight forward with what we think is the right thing to do, doing it as strongly as we can and as courteously as we can, with all the adoucissements, as the French say, you can put into your policy, but do not argue a policy which you conceive to be a method of softening hostility in other countries. I do not think it will succeed, and it leads almost always to a position in which you appear to be granting to force what you have refused to reason. That is what I am afraid has happened, at any rate in the view of other countries, over and over again in the last five or six years.
If these policies are put aside, and if in the end your only hope of achieving peace, having done everything you can to put international relations on a just footing, is to say: "Peace is the greatest of British interests, and if you insist on breaking the peace then you must find as your opponents the whole force of the British Empire," that seems to me the only sound view. That can be done in two ways no doubt. You can have a defensive alliance—that is the old way—against some country or group of countries. If you make that alliance such as anyone can enter, no doubt there is a great deal to be said for it, on paper, on the ground that it is really carrying out what you want—the enforcement of peace—and doing it in a way with which people are familiar. But I confess I do not think it is a good plan. An alliance policy of that kind is necessarily directed against some particular Power or group of Powers. It must be then of a provocative nature. It must therefore lead, as it has led in past times, to the creation of counter groups who will also say they are only there in order to maintain peace, but in fact are knit together by hostility to the first group of which I have spoken.
Therefore I still come back with undiminished belief to the theory on which the League of Nations is based. There you have just the opposite—not an alliance at all in the sense of an alliance against any particular nation; but a general agreement amongst as many nations as you can get to enter into it—the more the better—always open to every nation to come in if willing to do so, the 153 only positive obligation being that they will do their utmost to prevent or repress aggression if it takes place. No other obligation at all. Facilitate the settlement of grievances by all means, have every possible machinery for settlements, but the only positive obligation is that one—the obligation to preserve peace. My noble friend Lord Lothian, repeating what I have heard him say on other occasions, declared that in his judgment no such policy is practicable unless you first got rid of the doctrine of national sovereignty. I beg my noble friend to reconsider that position even now. I agree with him most fully that the doctrine of national sovereignty, carried to the extent it is carried in Germany and in other countries, does make it impossible to have any kind of international co-operation for these purposes. Obviously you must limit the complete rights of each nation if you are to have any kind of international control, but I cannot believe that the right way to get to that position is to say you cannot do anything at all until you have swept away the doctrine of national sovereignty, because that is asking us to take the most difficult course first, as the first step to a course which is far simpler and easier to take. Let us have in our minds by all means, as I think we ought to have, the ultimate possibility of a United States of Europe, but I am sure if you are not going to prevent war by international co-operation until you get a United States of Europe, you are putting in your policy an altogether unpractical condition.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
I hope the noble Viscount will allow me to interrupt. I do not take his representation of what I said as being correct. I do not recognise my speech in what the noble Viscount has said.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
It is not the first time I have been unable to follow fully my noble friend's arguments. The fault, no doubt, is due to me and not to him. I should be delighted to hear on the next occasion when he addresses the House if he will be good enough to explain exactly what he does mean when he says national sovereignty is inconsistent with the idea of anything like forcible prevention of war. It is, of course, true that you cannot forcibly prevent war without the infringement of national sovereignty.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
If the noble Viscount will forgive me, what I said was that until national sovereignty was ended it was impossible to avoid at times having to be willing and ready to go to war. National sovereignty implied that it was impossible to avoid in the last resort being ready to fight for national security or for principle.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am extremely sorry I was so stupid as not to understand my noble friend. There can be no objection to the statement that until you abolish national sovereignty you cannot infringe it without some difficulty. That is obvious. I want to conclude, if I may—I am anxious not to make debating points this afternoon—by making a suggestion, because people are apt to say: "Oh yes, the League, but what do you mean?" I want, if I may, to be allowed just to sketch very briefly the kind of procedure which seems to me possible and at any rate worth considering by His Majesty's Government. Suppose you took this view. Here is a great international event, the absorption of Austria by Germany. It is evident that it raises, as I have tried to indicate, very serious questions as to what may happen elsewhere. Here then is a new doctrine or a new practice more or less justified—forcible action in order to absorb people of another nationality. And we have to concede that, from a different point of view, you have had the same kind of doctrine with regard to the State—namely, that it is legitimate for nations who disapprove of the drift, or alleged drift, of another country towards Bolshevism, to intervene to prevent that drift taking place, just as, after the Napoleonic wars, it was thought legitimate for nations to intervene to prevent a drift towards Jacobinism. All these things are a very serious form of doctrine, and it seems to me they lead directly to very serious danger of a European war.
Why should not the Government ask for a meeting of the Council or Assembly of the League (I do not care which) and instruct their Foreign Secretary, or whoever attends it on their behalf, to go down rind describe to the world—and that, after all, is one of the great opportunities that the constitution of the League of Nations gives you, that you have a platform from which you are really formally addressing the whole civilised world—the dangers 155 which I have very imperfectly and ineffectively tried to describe, point out what this must lead to in the way of destruction if it is not stopped, urge that the nations should take the matter seriously into consideration, and, finally, suggest that they should perform the obligations that are contained in their Covenant in regard to this particular danger that threatens nations? They should say: "Here is our policy defined in this document to which you are all agreed; here is a great emergency in the world's history in which the application of this doctrine may"—must I should say, but may at any rate—"produce safety." Reaffirm your attachment to that doctrine; undertake your responsibility for carrying it through. Say: "We the British Government are prepared to say that to the limit of our power we will support that doctrine provided we have such assistance from other countries as will make that support effective." I cannot help thinking that if the Government went and said that kind of thing, I dare say not in those words, to the assembled nations and the representatives of the assembled nations, it would receive an amount of support which, I am quite sure, would astonish them.
It might be, I dare say, that some countries would say, "We are very sorry, we can do nothing"; but, broadly speaking, I believe they would have the support of all countries except those which have retired from the League. I believe that they would have an echo of immense sympathy from the United States. I do not say the United States would enter into obligations—I 6o not know; I have no means of knowing about that—but I do say that that kind of sentiment, that kind of decision, that kind of policy has a great chord of response open to you in the United States. I am sure that we have got to a point when some—if I may be allowed to use the adjective—very courageous declaration of policy is absolutely essential. Just before I came down to the House I received a telephone message from a friend of mine who happens to be in Paris. He said that he had seen many persons in Paris and that what they were saying was: "Unless the English can come out"—they always talk of us as the English—"and say definitely what they are going to do, for 156 instance, about Czechoslovakia, we shall have to go on, and it may well be a war will take place, but if they come out quite definitely and clearly the war will not take place, because nobody will face the immense danger of an attack from such a formidable body of people." Whether that be so or not. I am quite sure that the one thing that is essential now is that the world should know what is the British policy quite clearly and definitely.
I still deplore the speech of the Prime Minister in which he appeared, at any rate to me, to abandon the League of Nations, or the effective part of it, but even that is better than leaving the world in complete doubt as to what is going to take place. That is just the thing which has led to war in the past. Each nation, and particularly an aggressive nation, translates the doubt as it suits it in accordance with its wishes and proceeds with its policy until it gets to a point when it can no longer withdraw. Then you find yourselves at war. I do beg the Government—I hope I have not said anything unduly offensive to them—to consider carefully whether some such declaration cannot be made, if possible to-clay, or at any rate at the earliest possible moment.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, it was my misfortune to be out of this country when your Lordships last had a debate on foreign affairs. I happened to be in the United States, and one of the observations of the noble Viscount who has just spoken I would like to take up. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, referred to the attitude of the United States of America and its possible misunderstanding of the attitude of this country. I was out there when the late Foreign Secretary resigned, and I was able to judge, as I was travelling about considerably from the West right through to the East, what the public felt in so far as and when it was able to understand the issues before it. I think I should be absolutely correct in saying that public opinion in the United States of America would understand and would approve of a policy of limited commitments possibly involving war as distinct from a policy of unlimited commitments possibly leading to war. I think also there was an increasing understanding of what it was that the Prime Minister was trying to do, that the Prime Minister 157 was in fact trying to remedy some of the mistakes and some of the grievances arising out of the Peace Treaties, with which it had been hoped at one time the machinery of the League might be able to deal but which, unfortunately, the machinery of the League had not been able to rectify. To that extent, so far as public opinion understood that, it was prepared to give a sympathetic support to what the Prime Minister was attempting to do.
The grave and temperate nature of the character of the speeches we have listened to in the debate to-day indicate the seriousness of the world situation. I have read the official record of the debate which took place two or three weeks ago. As I understood it there was then general approval of the principle of conferences with Germany and other countries, so as to try to get out of the way certain points which otherwise, unless dealt with, might precipitate a disturbance and war. There was a difference of opinion as to time and method. I hope that the recent events will not cause His Majesty's Government to break off entirely, though it may be necessary to postpone, the method of conference, in order to see whether in spite of what has happened, and in spite of the bad atmosphere which may have been created, we may yet by the method of conference avoid the tragedy of war, which does not merely affect the young male population but, as we know, the whole female and child population, and in fact the whole civilisation of this country.
Nothing that has been said indicates that any speaker condones the way in which recent events have taken place. It would have been easy to indulge in recrimination, but I think we are justified in saving that by our inaction on certain Occasions, and by our failure to settle certain questions in the past, we must bear a certain measure of responsibility for the way in which things have happened in the last two weeks. Your Lordships will remember how, by the Peace Treaties, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a great free trade unit of over 50,000,000 people, was broken tip and its population divided into five countries. As a result you had economic distress in Austria, as well as in Hungary and other countries. The Weimar Constitution of democratic Germany contemplated a possible union of the Germanic people in 158 Austria, Saxony, Bavaria and the Rhine. In 1931, your Lordships will remember, a proposal was brought forward by the then democratic Governments in Austria and Germany for a Customs union, the Anschluss. We then had a Labour Government, and Mr. Arthur Henderson was the Foreign Secretary. When we look back we see that the Anschluss proposals for a Customs union between Austria and Germany were the last hope of independence for Austria, and of democratic government in Austria and Germany. It was the attitude we took up in smothering that proposal or helping to have it smothered—
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The noble Viscount ought not to say that. Not that I am prepared to defend anything that any Government has done. As a matter of fact the proposal was submitted to the Hague Tribunal, and the Court said that it could not be done without a breach of the Peace Treaties. The presiding judge, who voted for that decision, was the Italian judge. The British Judge voted another way.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
Perhaps I made a mistake in giving the conclusions first. Let me remind the noble Viscount of the sequence of events. On March 21 Austria informed the British Government of the proposal. At once there was opposition. directed in the main by the country which, ever since the Treaty of Versailles, has attempted to keep Germany in a position of subordination, and which has entered into alliances intended to keep Germany in that position. On March 30 there was a debate in the House of Commons, and Mr. Arthur Henderson, the Foreign Minister, dealt with the situation. I have recently read the whole of his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT. It was a very skilful effort at tight-rope walking. Mr. Henderson said that His Majesty's Government proposed to refer the matter to the Council of the League. That was done on May 18, and the Council of the League referred the matter to the Hague Tribunal. The Hague Tribunal reported on September 5, and by a majority of eight against seven decided that the proposal was illegal. It was not an attempt to have a political union, but to have a Customs union, and it was rejected by a majority of one. The British representative and the American representative were in the minority. In 159 their opinion this was not an illegal proposal.
I venture to suggest that if earlier in the day the representative of His Majesty's Government had taken a stronger line, against the line taken by certain other countries, it is possible that the decision of the Hague Tribunal would have been different. Indeed it is rather interesting to see the way in which different countries voted. I venture to say that at all events there might have been a possibility of that very narrow majority of one being changed. Had it been done, we should have had a very different sequence of events. I am as strong a supporter of the principles of the League as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, although perhaps he would not accept that. We differ only about the way in which the principle of international co-operation can be worked out. I only regret that on that occasion the League, by its handling of this very moderate proposal, showed its inability to deal successfully with questions which, unless dealt with peacefully, lead up to such tragedies as we have witnessed in the last few days.
I have myself visited Austria and there I saw some of the representatives of different Parties. I came away from that visit with the conclusion that the crust over the volcano was extraordinarily thin. Your Lordships will remember that when the Social Democratic Government was overthrown on two occasions the Social Democrats were put down with bloodshed. The Schuschnigg Government had alienated the Social Democrats and the Nazis. It was felt to be a weak Government, which was not on a sound basis, and there was a tendency to drift into the ranks of the Nazis or to go over to the Communists. That Government depended largely upon the good will of Italy. As soon as Italy got involved in Abyssinia any hope of help being given by Italy to Austria vanished, and it was evident that the attempt to maintain the status quo in Austria was bound to end. I can only regret that we did not at some earlier date, seeing that some change was inevitable, try to get some measure of agreement that any change of loyalty from one flag to another, any change of frontier, should take place only as a result of what I may call for short a Saar plebiscite, and not be left to chance. I confess that as soon as I saw the pro- 160 posal of the late Austrian Chancellor for that hurried plebiscite my heart sank. It seemed to be a most unwise act, calculated to precipitate some sort of tragedy. Looking back, it seems that that is only one of lost opportunities.
Reference has been made in this debate to the question whether or not this country should join other countries in giving a guarantee—a guarantee to be backed by military force if necessary—to Czechoslovakia. On that point I think there are two alternatives before us. I hope I shall carry your Lordships with me in saying that it is impossible for any Government in this country, of whatever political colour, to embark upon war unless there is a substantial volume of public opinion behind it prepared to support war. I doubt whether there is a sufficient majority in this country to support the status quo in Czechoslovakia. As your Lordships know, there are racial differences in Czechoslovakia. There are 3,000,000 Germans in that country who think—and their opinion is supported by such impartial opinion as Mr. Arnold Toynbee and others; one could quote a good deal of impartial evidence—that the 7,000,000 Czechs who have a majority are not giving fair and equal treatment to the 3,000,000 Germans.
We are told that if we were to suggest to the powers that be in Czechoslovakia that they should give some measure of autonomy or provincial self-government to those provinces or those sections of their recently created country, that somehow or another we should be dealing a blow at democracy. Democracy in Canada does not suffer because the French of Quebec have provincial autonomy. If by any chance it were possible to get the Czech majority Government in Czechoslovakia to grant to this German minority some measure of devolution and self-government, you would then have a situation in Czechoslovakia for which I believe nearly 100 per cent. of the people in this country would be prepared to give a guarantee. I think it would be certainly worth trying that. I imagine it would be consistent on the whole with the speeches of the Fuhrer, Herr Hitler, and that he would be prepared to accept and give a guarantee to preserve some solution along those lines. I should think that a guarantee somewhat along those lines given by this country and the other Members 161 of the League of Nations would be one way of exploring that avenue to see whether we might not thus remove another possible casus belli.
At the present moment I do not believe any country, whether totalitarian or democratic, can possibly face with equanimity a world war. Certainly Germany cannot. In the days when Germany waged war in 1870 and 1914 she was able to contemplate a possibility of waging war on enemy territory. Now the long-range bomber means that the civilian population of Germany will suffer as much as the civilian population in any other country. It may well be that another war would be followed by internal revolution and the growth of Communism in the countries which waged war. Therefore I do not think any country, whether totalitarian or democratic, can possibly contemplate except with horror and a feeling of real uncertainty and repugnance the possibility of another world war. According to Herr Hitler the absorption of Austria has carried out one of the aims closest to his art. The growing daily evidence that all political Parties, all industrial sections in this country, mean to strengthen the weight and power and authority of this country I think is a factor which will be taken into consideration by other countries. I cannot help thinking that the way is still open for negotiation which may with good fortune lead to some all-round settlement, and by that I mean a settlement which will even include the possibility of a limitation, stabilisation and even reduction of armaments, because unless we get that I do not see how we can possibly remove the feeling of uncertainty which now exists in every country. At all events, it is worth exploring.
Your Lordships will remember how in 1914 the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand at the end of June was followed by the first declaration of war at the end of July, I think on July 28. This country entered into war on August 3. There was then only a period of days for conference and negotiation. Your Lordships will remember the strenuous efforts made by Sir Edward Grey by conference to try to postpone the movement towards war. Thank God we now have more than a matter of days. I hope the period which lies ahead will be seized upon by His Majesty's Government with the support of all Parties in 162 the country. There are only two alternatives that I see. One is conference and the other is the refusal to confer and a blind fatalistic drift to war. No one can be too optimistic about the result of conference, but let us leave no stone unturned. At all events, if we try conference and we fail our conscience will be clear. I hope His Majesty's Government will be able to announce either to-day or in the near future that they do not intend to allow recent events, dangerous though they have been, to stop the policy which they have undertaken, with, I believe, the general support of all ranks in this country.
§ LORD NOEL-BUXTON
My Lords, the events of last week in Austria, though I hope they will not terminate the conversations between our Government and the German Government so happily connected with the name of the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary, have aroused great anxiety with regard to many questions. The chief of those questions, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has just pointed out, is the Czechoslovakian question, and therefore it is very appropriate that we should discuss it in this debate. The vital fact which gave rise to the events of last week applies to the case of Czechoslovakia—the hunger which is so strong in the German nation to-day for achieving its unity. It applies in a marked degree to the bloc of German population in Czechoslovakia. I have some personal knowledge of the facts and of the people on both sides on the spot, and so perhaps I may be excused for saying a word about it. The existence of the so-called Henlein Party—the Party sympathetic with Nazi views—proves the desire of an undoubted majority of the Germans in the Sudetenland for close affinity with the Reich. But the trouble is that, as in the case of Austria, there is no means of ascertaining accurately the wishes of those people, and therefore a danger must remain of violent action—which, after all, accords with pre-War standards, and we cannot suppose that post-War standards of international decency have penetrated as widely in Germany as they have here.
There is a real grievance, as we have just heard, suffered by the Germans in Czechoslovakia. It is true that minorities in other countries suffer more, but that 163 is no answer to the fact that a real grievance exists which may provoke the most serious trouble. I have ventured before in your Lordships' House to urge that the influence of our own country be used in all its force with the Czech Government at Prague in favour of the fullest practice of the Minority Treaty and the grant of complete rights of citizenship to the Germans in Czechoslovakia. Now, as a result of the events of last week, we have a demand arising in several quarters for the grant of a pledge that, if violence is used against Czechoslovakia, we shall fight, if called upon to do so by France. Mr. Eden said, not so many weeks ago, a very valuable thing on that score when he remarked that we could not assume an automatic obligation except for a vital interest. But it is urged by many that a vital interest enjoins upon us the obligation to fight unconditionally in the event of German aggression against Czechoslovakia. I want to urge that a blank cheque to France would be especially dangerous, in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case.
Our business is certainly to promote legality by every possible means, and I agreed with the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, when he stated in a recent letter that, now that the major difficulties in regard to Germany are finally removed by the end of the Austrian question, smaller questions, we may hope, can lend themselves to negotiation with greater hope of success than before. I want to suggest going rather further than the noble Viscount suggested just now in regard to the problem of producing a satisfactory situation in Czechoslovakia without disorder. I want to suggest a contribution to the cause of legality, the problem being to learn the wishes of the population. If no way is open, as no way was open to ascertain those wishes in the case of Austria, then it cannot be denied that a certain excuse for drastic action exists, at all events in the German mind.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, said just now that we should pledge ourselves to join in punishing aggression, and that this would prevent war. I do not think it is quite enough to prevent war. You might have disorders in the Sudetenland which would furnish an irresistable temptation to Germany to come to the rescue of people who in German eyes are being oppressed. If we joined in such hostili- 164 ties we might be fighting to prevent self-determination, because the wishes of the people are not actually known. There would be none of the moral basis which, as Mr. Churchill said last Monday in another place, ought to be the basis of any policy that we have. And even if we succeeded in avenging such an invasion, we might only be restoring grievances which are real grievances, and we should at all events have ignored the principle of Article 19 of the Covenant, which provides for revision in necessary cases.
There is a general and vague impression that Czechoslovakia is a model of democracy. But it is a very composite State, and we ought to view fairly the position which is rightly seen from the point of view of the German minority. They are over one-fifth of the total population of the country. The Henlein Party, as it is called, is the largest Party in the Czechoslovak Parliament. An honourable member in another place said on Monday that if war occurred and the Czechoslovak Army were fighting the Germans, a quarter of the Army would run away, because it is German. It is quite true that certainly a quarter of the people, if you take other dissident elements in Czechoslovakia, would have no heart in the war.
Let me state briefly the point of view of the German population, as you see it in that beautiful foothill country in the semi-circle of the Northern Carpathians. The very name of Czechoslovak was never heard before 1916. The idea of the State grew gradually with the increasing hopes of the Czechs during the War, as a result of the leadership of President Masaryk. Masaryk was wiser than the Allies at Paris. Masaryk did not claim that the German districts could be included in the Czechoslovak State. How happy it would be if his advice had been followed! We have as his successor M. Beneš, who was the mouthpiece of the Czechoslovak nation, or composite nation, at Paris, and he there urged that, to use his own words, there should be a State following the principles applied to the Constitution of the Swiss Republic. The Allied delegates were in great doubt whether the German districts ought to be included, and they were greatly impressed, and finally turned, by the principles enunciated by President Beneš. 165 But, of course, no such principles have been enforced in the Czechoslovak State.
Even the minority rights which were to be given by the Minority Treaty are not in full force. For instance, the proportion of officials in public service, M. Beneš admitted a fortnight ago, is far below the percentage that it ought to follow according to population. There is a policy of colonisation, of Czechisation of one district after another—by which the Czech population is increased bit by bit. A strained situation naturally follows. I know of cases where employers have had secret orders from the police to report the names of any employee who was a member of the Henlein Party. That is an illustration of the relations of the two nationalities. At the last elections which were held the Henlein Party polled 70 per cent. of the German vote. In the town of Liberec, where I was last autumn, out of 25,000 German voters 17,000 voted for the National Party (the Henlein Party) and only 1,100 for the other German Parties.
If a policy can be devised for preventing aggression the problem is to make aggression clear, and that can only be done by facilitating a real plebiscite. I want very earnestly to ask the noble Viscount to think over the possibility of our own Government discharging a function of immense importance in this matter—the function of providing that there should be a real plebiscite on the lines of the plebiscite in the Saar and the other plebiscite which, under international supervision, were conducted at an earlier stage. That was not available in the case of Austria because of the great size of the country. If it had been, it might have averted the violences of last week. President Benes gave an interview last Sunday week to a London newspaper, in which he said that his country would not discuss the matter with Germany but Czechoslovakia would be ready, if England and France had a plan of general and peaceful settlement, to make its contribution. It sounded almost like an invitation to the great and powerful to come in and help towards a solution.
Perhaps the Saar plan is the only solution which will in fact avoid violence. If a plebiscite were conducted there might be, for instance, an option for the voter to vote either for autonomy in the Czechoslovak State or for the status quo, and I 166 think it ought to include an option for joining the Reich. No doubt many difficulties will occur to your Lordships. Who should conduct such a plebiscite? Who would be trusted? Undoubtedly of the great States this country is the only one that would be thoroughly trusted by both sides. But it is possible perhaps that the controlling force, on the lines of the Saar plebiscite, might include the forces of small States, several of which would be regarded as trustworthy both by Germany and Czechoslovakia. I do not know whether conceivably some token force of Americans might be brought in. If such a plan were feasible under our leadership it would certainly contribute to our prestige. But, more than that, it would contribute immensely to pacification.
Certain forces in Germany might not welcome it very much, but they would have to admit that it was difficult to resist it. The Czechs would consent if they thought it the way to safety. They would no doubt object on two or three grounds. They would say, Why give a plebiscite any more than to the minorities in Hungary? But it is a feasible thing in Bohemia because they are solid groups, they are contiguous to the German frontier, and it was a policy discussed at Paris whether they should not be annexed to the German State. The most common objection raised by the Czechs is that it would make their frontier very difficult to defend. But most frontiers exist on low ground, and the fact that there is a range of mountains forming a convenient frontier can hardly justify the dismemberment of the German nation. Italy did that when she went to the Brenner. Perhaps she may regret it very deeply in the course of time. The supervising body, as in the case of the Saar, would act on the votes given and decide upon the frontier, as in the case of Silesia. Citizenship of course would have to be made the subject of the right to opt.
I do not know what difficulty may be an objection. I hope there is not any final difficulty, and it seems to me that if any such effort is possible it is worth the utmost activity, because possibly the results might be of superb service to the world. The German excuse for violations would be removed. It would provide the possibility of legal action, such as might have avoided the recent trouble in 167 Austria. If it was refused by Germany and aggression followed, that aggression would be clear. It would indicate quite a different pledge from that of unconditional defence of the Czechoslovak State. I would venture to suggest that His Majesty's Government should point out to those States which may be desirous of giving pledges, that they deprecate any pledge which is without a condition such as a real plebiscite, justifying a pledge by defining aggression. I would ask the noble Viscount to consider whether the suggestion of President Benes cannot be followed up so that a possible crisis may be provided against before it is too late.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, the debate has covered a wide ground, but I think on the actual subject of the Motion that, although there has been more than qualified approval in some quarters, or rather lack of disapproval, of the action taken by Germany in the annexation of Austria, yet there is a general disapproval of the method by which that annexation was brought about. How far the explanation of the German Government describing the causes and methods of their entry into Austria can be regarded as a sign of grace, I am not prepared to say, except that it does not appear to correspond with the facts as they have been ascertained and have already been stated in another place from other and reliable sources. At the same time I am quite prepared to admit that, in some form or other and at some time or other, a closer connection—Anschluss as it is called—between Austria and Germany was bound to occur. It might have been wiser if it had been allowed in the commercial aspect several years ago, though I do not suppose that would have prevented the action which has lately taken place.
To go back to what is now comparatively ancient history for a moment, I thought in the year 1919, and have often thought since, that when the Paris Conference was engaged in putting together the jig-saw puzzle of the new Europe, it might have been a wise solution—a solution which was indeed favoured in some quarters at the time—to insist on the creation of two distinct Germanys: South Germany, with its capital at Vienna, including Bavaria and what used in the 168 old days to be the Rhine Palatinate, with its boundary on some undefined line northwards. That would have been a mainly Catholic community on the one hand and a mainly Protestant community of very different racial origin on the other. It might at the time have been more favoured than it was had it been foreseen that, in the course of years, Northern Germany was to become a purely pagan country prepared to carry out in a modified form the methods of Nero and Diocletian. However, that remains a dream, and all we can do now, without going into recent history, is to consider the immediate future.
The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, who has just sat down, spoke with much knowledge of what he considered to be a definite German grievance in the fact that a considerable number of people of the German race are outside the boundaries of the Reich and some of them, at any rate, are not receiving the treatment which ought to be accorded to minorities. That is, if I may say so, a plausible argument in favour of German action, but we have to consider the terms in which that German action is described by the German Leader. We are told there are 80,000,000 Germans who are under the special care of the Leader of the German race. To digress for a moment, it will be the particular care of all old friends of Austria to consider how far that country can be saved from the sinister system of persecution and confiscation which has existed and still exists in most parts of the German Reich. To go back to the 80,000,000 Germans, where are they? The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, if he will forgive me for saying so, seemed to me to speak rather light-heartedly about Czechoslovakia and the Germans there. But these do not by any means make up the 80,000,000. How many are there in Poland? How many in Switzerland? And, as the noble Lord, with his knowledge of foreign politics, well knows, there has been considerable disquiet felt in Switzerland at the language used about the German Swiss. How many Germans are there in Northern Italy? Are these all to be so far the special care of the German Government that, in course of time, especially if they happen to be near the existing German frontier, they are to be absorbed into the German Reich?
169 Everybody would understand and approve the care taken by the German Government of German minorities in other countries, but that does not appear to be by any means the sole preoccupation of the German Government. If I may make a comparison which I have no doubt the Leader of the German people would resent, he seems to take about his fellows of German race the same view, as an extreme Zionist takes about the Jews, and that, it appears to me, might represent a real danger, for it is quite evident that Herr Hitler is Leader of the German race, holding them, as I see, in what one can only call a fanatical spirit, as a single people. That surely constitutes an element of danger in Europe. I do not add anything further about Czechoslovakia. I pass for a moment to what fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and, I think it was more or less endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, but he will correct me if I am wrong—namely, that it would be advisable to have some immediate recourse either to the Council or the Assembly of the League of Nations.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. It was Lord Snell who made the suggestion. I fully see the attractiveness from one point of view of that suggestion, bat I am quite unable to support it for this reason, that it has so often happened—and this or that Government or this or that statesman may be blamed for it—that there has been talk on behalf of the League of Nations which has not been followed by any positive results, and that I am sure would be the ony consequence of calling in at this moment the League of Nations to express an opinion about what has happened at Vienna. It is quite true that if it were possible to initiate a conference which would cover a far wider ground, and which might tend towards a solution of events still obscure, that might be of advantage; but I fear that the view will have to be taken—and I shall be surprised if His Majesty's Government do not take it—that just at this moment it would not be possible to engage either in an attempt to rally the League of Nations or in a conference of a wider scope.
I think we must all feel that the position of the Foreign Secretary at this moment 170 is one nobody can envy and one in which, so far as possible, he ought to receive the support of all Parties. There is an old story of Prince Metternich, who was engaged in a conversation with some other diplomatic figures, and one of them quoted the old saying that the straight road is the shortest, via recta brevissima, and added that, in diplomacy, it was very often the best way to take. And the Prince said: "Yes, and it has the advantage that you never meet anyone on it." I am very much afraid that when the noble Viscount proceeds in his conversations along the direct road, not I hope without the support of some good companions, that there are various important people in Europe whom he will not meet.
My Lords, I do not want to stand long between your Lordships and the Foreign Secretary, but there are certain things that have to be said in this debate because of its great importance, because of the importance of the occasion that brings us together this afternoon, and because, like my other noble friends on this side of the House, I am trying to voice the views of the Labour movement in the country and, I suppose, of some nine or ten million voters. I shall endeavour to do it as faithfully as I can. I have listened to practically every word of this most interesting debate, and the impression borne upon me more and more during the afternoon is what a curse the modern doctrine of racialism is. May I very respectfully support what has just fallen from the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, on that modern trouble in Europe. This exaggerated racialism and nationalism make me, for one, almost sigh for the days of the feudal system. I am sure that is a sentiment which will find one or two echoes in obscure corners of your Lordships' House. May I also thank the noble Marquess who leads the Liberal Party, if he will allow me to do so, for his plea for the minorities in Austria. The same plea was made by my noble friend Lord Snell. I would like in a sentence to repeat it.
We do feel deeply for the trade unionists and Socialists in Austria, whose only crime is that they were patriotic and loved their country, and we hope that His Majesty's Government will use—why should we be afraid to use?—such in- 171 fluence as they can to prevent excesses against minorities in Austria. We have heard most able speeches from noble Lords in to-day's debate putting the German point of view, and the grievances about the Germans in regard to German minorities in Czechoslovakia. Let the Germans give an example now that they are in control in Austria as a result of the events of these terrific days. Indeed under the Treaties of Peace, which still exist—they can be torn up but they remain—the minorities are under some protection in Austria. That is, at any rate, one piece of humanity that I am sure the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, would wish in his heart to carry out. I am asked by my noble friends in the Party for which I have the honour to speak to press that point. May I also very respectfully congratulate the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey, on his speech. Now that he is back again I hope that he is going to be a constructive critic of the Government. We need such criticism; every Government needs it; and I think this Government needs it. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said that the Foreign Secretary was worthy of every support. I think my noble friends will agree with me when I say that our attitude to the Foreign Secretary is that we do not wish to give colour to the complaint that he is immured in this House in order to be immune from any criticism. We think that where criticism is required we are doing a service in presenting it. For that reason, I am sure, we welcome the help we may hope to receive in the future from Lord Sankey.
The only other point on which I need say anything before I come to the one plea that I shall make with very great earnestness to-night, is this. We think that the time has come—I am speaking of the official Labour policy—when we must make it clear that there must be no more of these acts of aggression. I do not see the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, in his place. I have so often heard him say that the democracies have to reach a point when they say: "Here we fight." We say the time has come now, and we are not afraid of people saying: "You are advocating war. You are war-mongers." We are not. We are advocating peace. Our view is this, that the League of Nations is not the 172 means of simply preserving the status quo in Europe. On the contrary, we look upon the League as the means of removing grievances by peaceful means, and our policy is more determined on this point than ever before as a result of recent events. To do that it must be strengthened, as a means of preserving peace by binding together peaceful nations.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
May I inquire whether the Party of the noble Lord is willing to accept any form of national organisation which may prove to be necessary in order to make our armaments effective and to impress other nations with the conviction that this country was willing, if they decided to resist aggression, to fight and fight successfully?
Yes, we will not be more backward in making sacrifices, if there are to be sacrifices, than any other class in the community, but there must also be conscription of wealth, and of land as well. Of course, I agree with w hat the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, has said about minority grievances, but we feel that an attack now upon Czechoslovakia would have the serious danger of causing French mobilisation. In fact the new French Government have reiterated that pledge, and it is also known that that will bring about a Russian mobilisation under the Franco-Russian Pact. That means a world war, or at least a great European war, and I think it is admitted that in those circumstances isolation would be impossible. We could not hope to keep out of it—we are too close—and surely the way to prevent that war is to make it clear that we do come into it, and, in other words, that there must be no further acts of aggression. I submit that the Government's policy now should be to reverse the Chamberlain policy, as I will call it for short—the Prime Minister is too big a man to be afraid of changing his policy—and that we should do all we can to strengthen resistance. I see no other policy that is possible. Nobody has advocated isolation, and the only other alternative is to try to buy off the aggressors. This country was nearly ruined by trying to buy off the Danes a thousand years ago, and we should have no better fortune to-day.
There is one other matter. I want to give the Foreign Minister an opportunity, 173 if he cares to take it, of dealing with an extraordinary report which appeared in one of the German newspapers, the National Zeitung of Essen, on March 14, which made reference to the noble Viscount's visit last year to Germany. I understand that this is Marshal Goering's organ. Lord Astor, whose speech I very much enjoyed, is a great newspaper proprietor, and perhaps he will confirm if that is the case. There, after the usual apologia for the German invasion of Austria, for which we have heard some excuse in this House to-day, it states:What Lord Halifax was told when he came to Berlin has now been laid down by law.I am sure the Foreign Minister had good reasons for discretion when he returned from his famous visit to Berlin, but I respectfully suggest to him that if the Germans are going to misrepresent the conversations he might find it expedient to give his version. It is of course a matter for himself, but I would suggest that he might like to put right a statement which has attracted great attention.
Might I now very seriously address myself to a matter which I suggest concerns all of us? I have been in one House of Parliament or another for a great number of years, and I have tried, from time to time, on certain occasions, to bend policy—to turn policy. I do not think I have succeeded, but I have seen it clone. I have seen the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, do it. May I remind him that in 1920, when there were very serious troubles in Ireland, he rose from a back bench, as a private Member, and warned the Government of the day—a Government of his own colour—of the errors of their policy. That speech of the noble Viscount made history. I was there. Other noble Lords were in Parliament with me, including Lord Cecil, and I think they will bear me out. That speech was listened to, although the noble Viscount was only on the threshold of the great career on which he has since embarked, and which is by no means over. That speech did turn policy, to the great advantage of the nation, and I wonder if I could just say a few words which might possibly, to a small extent, deflect policy again.
We are faced with a new situation, following on the events of the last weekend. We are faced with the new tech- 174 nique of aggression. We are faced with a Germany which presently will be far stronger, materially and militarily. We are faced with a most dangerous situation in Europe generally, and we have the reactions immediately in the statements made by the noble Viscount in this House, and by the Prime Minister in another place—the reactions of the British Government to increase our already heavy rearmament programme, with, I dare say, the consent of the great majority in both Houses of Parliament. Lord Snell and other noble Lords have already pointed out that arms by themselves are not enough—that you must have moral justice and moral right on your side. There is something more. Arms are not enough if you are badly placed strategically. In the last War one of the facts which contributed to the victory of the Allies was that these islands lay across the ocean—that Germany was penned in by the British Isles, and had no outlet to the sea. That was worth to us many squadrons of battleships. To-day, in Spain, the Republican Government's cause is in danger. We know the reasons, and the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, knows the reasons. I took it upon myself to point out to your Lordships in a debate on foreign affairs initiated by my noble friend Lord Addison a few weeks ago, that munitions, artillery, aeroplanes, were pouring into Spain from foreign ports. I have reason to believe that they are also going in from German ports.
I understand very little. I know what the noble Lord refers to. He is referring to Russian supplies. I believe there have been Russian supplies and probably some smuggling has gone on across the French frontier as well, but that is not the point. It does not really matter.
It is not a question of the volume of munitions. Those that have been poured in to the Nationalist side have, I understand, been colossal. If Spain is overrun by the present rebel Generals, with their Italian and German auxiliaries, it then becomes 175 a fourth partner in what will then be a quadrilateral of four Fascist-Nazi nations. or four nations which pursue a militarist, intensely nationalistic, racial policy. I refer to Japan, Italy, Germany, and, if the worst happens, Spain. From the naval point of view, which means from the British point of view, that will create great danger for us strategically. I do not think that will be denied by anyone who has studied the facts. If your Lordships consider for a moment the map of Spain you will call to mind at once the magnificent harbour of Vigo in the north, which is capable of accommodating the largest fleet of men-of-war, and outflanking Plymouth. With Vigo in enemy hands the security of your trade routes has gone. Further south there is Cadiz and the other Spanish ports on the Atlantic, and further south still not only Spanish Morocco but Rio del Oro and the Canary Islands. I ask your Lordships to consider the position of this country having to fight for its national existence and life. Can you imagine the position if our Navy was threatened from the Canary Islands and from North Africa?
I am glad the noble Lord reminds me of that. The Italians and Germans are in Spain in very large numbers, having supported and sustained the rebellion. That is known. How soon will they go out again? Suppose there is a Franco victory. I understand that General Franco is not a very strong man. He could not have won without support. He is bound to work in with this system. I will give the noble Lord a very good reason. In the last War those who are now supporting the rebellion in Spain were our bitter enemies. They wanted to bring in Spain against us. I speak with knowledge, because I was there in a Staff position with access to information. Our only friends were the democrats: The Anarchists in Spain and the Republicans were on our side.
Then I come to the Mediterranean position. I venture to suggest to your Lordships another source of danger with a hostile Spain. You have the Balearic Islands right on the flank of French communications with North Africa, and, worst of all, another frontier threatening France, and one that is not fortified like 176 the frontier between France and Germany. It will no doubt be said by the Government in reply that we have promises from the Government of Italy that they have no territorial ambitions in Spain and that they intend to maintain the territorial integrity of Spain. Of course they can promise that. It does not make any difference. There they have their allies, and why should they compromise the territorial integrity of their allies? The Italians do not want sovereignty over the Balearic Islands. All they want is to be able to use them as bases against us in time of trouble. This is the most terrible danger facing us in the world to-day. It is more dangerous than anything that can happen in the Eastern Mediterranean. Imagine air and sea power, especially modern air power, exercised in Spanish territory in some future war against our communications. You can build immense fleets of warships and extend your Air Force, but it will be of no avail if that happens. I suggest that this is where we should make a stand, and we should do it now while there is time.
I speak with some heat and some emotion on this matter, and I am not ashamed of it. I feel most desperately for my country in this matter. I speak as one who used to have some knowledge of naval strategy, and I have tried to keep abreast of it. I say that a hostile Spain will make a great difference to us. We are risking that now, and it is absurd, it is grotesque to pretend that a democratic, republican Spain would hold the same danger. I would beg the Government to reconsider the situation and to look at it with different eyes. In the past they have viewed with equanimity the prospect of a rebel victory in Spain. I do not think they can regard it now with the same composure. I do not ask the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary to make a declaration on this point now, but I know he has listened to my words and I beg him to consider them fairly.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, this debate has been conducted with a great sense of responsibility in all quarters, and I need hardly say that such words as have to fall from me will be also inspired by no less a spirit of responsibility than that which has inspired other speakers. I would also say, speaking not so much on behalf of His Majesty's Government, 177 as, if I may for a moment, on behalf of the whole House, that the House has done itself credit in this debate by the total absence of any spirit of Party controversy in its examination of grave issues by which men of all Parties in all parts of the House have been and are profoundly moved. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey, was, I think, right in saying that it was perhaps as yet too soon for final judgment upon the sequence of events that has resulted in the disappearance of Austria during the last few days as an independent State, the sequence of events that has followed since the conclusion of the War. May I, therefore, for a moment or two, because I do not think history is ever quite irrelevant, remind your Lordships of what was the main feature of that postwar history?
The problem of Austria, of course, has been with us always ever since the War ended with the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, leaving a small German Austria stranded in the Danubian plains, with Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia around her as entirely independent countries. I do not dwell upon that problem here and now, but I assert that, faced with it, the attitude of successive British Governments has been quite consistent. They, with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, have never supposed that the status quo in Austria could necessarily be maintained for all time. They have been perfectly willing to recognise the special interest of the German Government in the relations between Germany and Austria. Therefore they have been perfectly willing to contemplate revision of the Peace Treaties. The noble Lord who spoke last drew my attention to a newspaper report which I have seen reproduced in other quarters. I gave a denial to the suggestion made in that report, in the statement I made to the House on Monday last, and I am grateful to him for giving me an opportunity of repeating that denial today. For, whatever may have passed between General Goering and myself, or other German leaders and myself, in Germany—which was and must remain confidential—I have never in any conversation that I have had with German leaders taken any other line but this: that, while I did not suppose that anyone in this country was concerned to maintain the status quo in Europe for all time, what they 178 were concerned to see was that no changes should be made in Europe by violence, or by something approaching violence, that might lead to incalculable consequences.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
It is that against which we have always protested, and that because, whatever may be the merits or the demerits of the issues involved from the point of view of the German Government on the one hand or other Governments on the other hand, or whatever may be said, as was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, earlier in this debate, this at least was certain and quite incontrovertible: that any such action involving violent solution was bound, as has been repeatedly said during these last days, to administer a most rude and a most grave shock to European confidence. It was, indeed, the desire to avoid such sharp disturbance, I suppose, that in part moved the framers of the Treaties to do what they did. They recognised the special position of Austria and the peculiar problem that it represented owing to its purely German character. They foresaw, I imagine, that Austria might at some time wish to join Germany. But they also realised that such a union, involving, as it would, the transfer of something like 32,000 square miles of territory and something like 7,000,000 human beings from one sovereignty to another would cause a serious and, in certain cases, a dangerous shifting of the balance of power in that part of Europe which had been the most unsettled by the War—namely, those territories which had previously constituted the old Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
The framers of the Treaties accordingly stipulated, in effect, that the change, if desired, should only be brought about after the Council of the League had carefully considered the difficulties and the dangers that were involved, and had decided that those could be surmounted without endangering the paramount interest of European peace and European stability. Events have, of course, moved very differently, and if I were tempted to travel over the events of the recent past, I should have to differ in some respects from the version of them given by my noble friend Lord Londonderry, more particularly in regard to his account, as he described it to the House, of what passed in connection with Herr 179 Schuschnigg's efforts to hold a plebiscite during his last days. But I do not think it is necessary now to retravel that ground, and, as I think all your Lordships who have spoken have said, it is a fact that whatever in various quarters may be felt about the actual events themselves, whatever may be your view about what Lord Londonderry said as to whether those events should be judged to have been inevitable or not, it is the ruthless application of power politics that has so profoundly shocked the world and is responsible for the grave apprehension that exists in so many quarters to-day.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, reflected upon the unsatisfactory performance of British policy in the past. I am not going to enter into any controversy with him, but I do not fancy that even he would say that any British policy short of war could have checked the events of the last ten days. The world has been brought, therefore, face to face with the extremely ugly truth that neither treaty texts nor International Law have any influence when dealing with power politics, and that in that sphere, force, and force alone, decides. I say that quite objectively and, I hope, without passion, merely as a statement of a plain fact. It was suggested by Lord Snell that the matter might usefully be referred to the League of Nations. I have, of course, had to give some thought before this debate to that suggestion. The juridical position of Austria as she existed up to a few days ago was, of course, that of an independent State which was bound by treaty not to alienate that independence without the consent of the Council of the League. That independence, in complete disregard of treaty provisions, has disappeared overnight, and the world, therefore, has been presented with a fait accompli in a fashion and in a setting of accompanying circumstance for which I can recall no parallel in history. But none the less the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, I think carries my entire assent when he says that nothing that the League can do can undo what has been done, and, with him, if I followed him correctly, I confess that I can see no good to be gained at this juncture, for the League or for any of the great purposes the League represents, by bringing this matter before the League tribunal. Nothing short of war 180 can put back the clock, and States-Members of the League are not prepared to go to war on this issue.
Those facts, I suggest, must be perfectly squarely faced, and the conclusion that I reach is that the League, though it has a perfect legal right to interest itself in the question, cannot conceivably do anything at this moment which would compel Nazi Germany to turn back from the course on which she has now embarked. His Majesty's Government are therefore bound to recognise that the Austrian State has now been abolished as an international entity and is in process of being entirely absorbed into the German Reich. They do so indeed without waiting for the plebiscite, the result of which, in view of the circumstances in which it is going to be held, is a foregone conclusion.
The noble Lord who spoke last addressed some remarks to the consequences of what has passed upon the lot of many in Austria who are held to be out of sympathy with the new régime. I think there was some report in the public Press this morning of what my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs had said in another place last night, which perhaps I may in substance repeat again to your Lordships. The representations on the subject of the need for moderation in the treatment of Jews and Socialists and of the supporters of Dr. Schuschnigg in Austria, which were referred to by my honourable friend, were made on the personal initiative, with the approval of His Majesty's Government, of our Ambassador in Berlin. That was done, and I think that noble Lords will agree with me that that was on the whole the wisest manner in which such representations could be made, and in view of their nonofficial character there was no question of an official assurance in reply being either expected or given. At the same time instructions were also sent to our Minister in Vienna to take any opportunity that he could to impress on those there in authority the desirability of exercising restraint in dealing with the persons to whom I have referred.
It is not, however, only—or perhaps mainly—Austria on which to-day the minds of many rest. The noble Lord who spoke last concluded a very powerful and passionate speech by a reference to 181 the state of affairs in Spain and to what is happening there. He said that he did not expect that I should be prepared to make any statement containing new policy of His Majesty's Government in reply to what he had to say. He was right, but perhaps I may in a few sentences say something in regard to what fell from him. It has been largely because we foresaw, something like eighteen months or more ago, exactly what has disturbed the noble Lord to-night, that we from the beginning have thrown the full weight of our efforts and influence behind the policy of non-intervention, originally, as the noble Lord will remember, suggested to us by the then French Government under M. Blum. We have as a Government and my noble friend Lord Plymouth in person has worked without intermission, using very effort to bring all the Powers concerned along on that policy of non-intervention, and we have, as the noble Lord will remember, when embarking upon the effort by direct conversations with Italy, made it perfectly plain to the Italian Government that events in Spain are vitally connected in our judgment with the reaching of an agreement which we desire to see through those Anglo-Italian conversations.
But I was in some doubt as to what was the conclusion, on that side of it, of the noble Lord's argument. He would not suggest that we should give up nonintervention, and if he were to suggest that I am afraid I should be unable to suggest, as I think he would, any policy that would take its place that was not fraught with greater dangers than those that he at present foresees. I would ask him to believe me when I say that we in His Majesty's Government are not less fully alive to all the implications of danger that he has so prominently in his mind. I do not think that his political conclusions are necessarily right. I have always been disposed to take the view of my predecessor in this office, that the regard and affection of the victorious side in Spain would not necessarily go to those who had tried to exercise the greatest influence in the Spanish civil war; and I would ask him finally to believe that we are as fully seised of the implications of the strategic considerations that are involved as he is himself.
Passing from Spain, I would like to say something about Czechoslovakia. No one who looks at a map can be blind to the 182 new position that has been created for that country by what has passed, or to the significance that in certain circumstances these events might hold for that country and for Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, directed our attention to certain elements in the problem which are indeed vital elements, whether or not his interpretation of them or his solution for them was one that all parts of the House or all minds in the House could accept. It is true, as I stated in the House on Monday, that certain assurances have been given to the Czechoslovak Government by the German Government. When I learned of those assurances I at once took steps to convey to the German Government that his Majesty's Government took note of them and would be glad of the German Government's permission to communicate them to Parliament. That permission having been accorded, I placed your Lordships, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister placed another place, in possession of the actual term of the assurances so given. By these assurances, solemnly given and more than once repeated, we naturally expect the German Government to abide. And if indeed they desire to see European peace maintained, as I earnestly hope they do, there is no quarter of Europe in which it is more vital that undertakings should be scrupulously respected.
Your Lordships will perhaps have noticed in the public Press the grave words uttered on these anxieties by Mr. Churchill and others. You will have heard the grave words uttered in this place this afternoon by the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Cecil) on the same subject. These words deserve the careful attention of His Majesty's Government, as also do the definite suggestions that have been made as to the methods by which we should deal with the situation with which we are faced. The House will not expect me to-day to say more in regard to these and other suggestions than that His Majesty's Government are giving, and will give, to them their most careful consideration; nor, I fancy, is it necessary to assure the House that we are in close consultation with the French Government on all these questions.
To appraise contemporary events is always difficult, for judgment is affected by many factors which are in their nature more transitory than the events them- 183 selves. And, as I have said, it is the method employed to effect these changes that has so deeply stirred public opinion in all countries outside Germany. However difficult it may be for German thought to understand it, it is the fact that the conscience of a great part of the civilised human race has been made suddenly aware of a naked contradiction between those things which they value and those things of which the methods of these last days seem to be the outward sign and substance. One thing stands out above all else for those who will try to view these events objectively. That is the damage that has been wrought to the stock of international confidence, which even before them was none too great. Many of your Lordships have laboured, as have His Majesty's Government and many in other countries, in the cause of the removal of international misunderstanding and the establishment of conditions in which co-operation and trust might, for the general good of men, replace disunity and that suspicion which is the natural child of fear. Yet there is not one of us who can deny how seriously our hopes have been belied and prejudiced by what has passed.
It is natural that, in these circumstances, there should be expression of opinion from different quarters as to what it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to do. The responsibility for decision in the light of all the facts, known and unknown, so far as they can be brought to judgment, rests, as it must, upon His Majesty's Government. But though there be diversity of counsel, as is inevitable, or even perhaps criticism as to the action taken, I do not believe, and I believe less than ever after this debate, that there is any shadow of disagreement, or any question at all, as to what must be the objectives of British policy, and I do not believe that any one would differ from my statement of them. First, I would say that we must seek, in face of the present situation—and here I agree with what fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian—so to conduct our foreign policy that it may deserve and command the support in this country of a united people and, in the Dominions, of a united Empire. Secondly, while relaxing no 184 exertion in the pursuit of real peace wherever it may be found, it must be our purpose to reassert the claims of International Law as opposed to the exercise of force in the settlement of international disputes. Whether or not the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, is right in believing that great advantage would accrue from myself or some other making at this moment a great speech at Geneva I am not so sure, but I do agree with him that to this end that I have defined, and that he had in mind, it behoves us to do all that lies in our power to strengthen the forces on the side of settling international differences by negotiation rather than by any other method.
Next, we must do everything to bring it about that means should be devised, whether through the machinery of the League or on lines in harmony with League principles, to direct the mind of the nations as much to the removal of injustice as to the maintenance of peace. Lastly, this country must, if our policy fulfils these purposes, show itself prepared not only by way of material and equipment, but in the spirit, determination, and discipline of its people. The Government can, and will, review the programmes for our material preparedness and the pace of the march towards their fulfilment. It is for the people to do their part, and I am satisfied that this general outline of the spirit which will, I hope, inspire the action of His Majesty's Government will command not only the assent of your Lordships' House, but also the approval and active support of the overwhelming majority of those whom Parliament represents.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, when I placed this Motion upon the Order Paper it was not because either I or my noble friends wanted another debate on foreign policy; but it would have been inappropriate that the great events of recent days should not have been considered in your Lordships' House. It was therefore a part of my duty to initiate the discussion that has taken place, and I wish to thank the Foreign Secretary for the reply he has given—a reply that has justified the debate being held at all. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.