§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, if he can make a statement on the international situation.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, by reason of events which are now part of world history your Lordships had no opportunity of debate last week, and you will perhaps therefore forgive me if I am obliged this afternoon to make a somewhat longer draft upon your patience than in other circumstances I should have done. So quickly have events moved and the situation to-day is so transformed that much that might have fallen to be said last week is now inappropriate. The story of the last days and weeks and months is familiar enough, and there is no need to recapitulate it in any but briefest form.
It is just eight weeks since my noble friend Lord Runciman, with such great public spirit, went cut, in the hope, if not in the expectation, of finding some way of accommodation in Czechoslovakia. His Majesty's Government and the world owe to him and his staff a great debt; and certainly it was through no lack of effort on their part that his mission failed. Lord Runciman himself has given a Report in terms objective and impartial of the main conclusions at which he arrived, and that Report is published in the White Paper laid before Parliament last week. While there recording the impression left on his mind of what might not unfairly be said of Czechoslovak rule in Sudeten areas for the last twenty years, he had no hesitation in placing the responsibility for the final break in negotiations upon the shoulders of the Sudeten leaders and those of their supporters, inside and outside Czechoslovakia, who were urging extreme action. The broad conclusion that he reached was that matters had gone so far that it was necessary to recognise, in his 1298 own words, "the full right of self-determination" over a given area; that there should be immediate cession of those frontier districts where the Sudeten-deutsch population was in an important majority; and that in other districts where the Sudeten-deutsch numbers were not so large arrangements for wide autonomy on the basis of the final Czechoslovak plan should be made.
For some days before Lord Runciman made this report, on September 21, things had, however, been moving with startling speed. On September 12 Herr Hitler had made his speech at Nuremberg, and two days later the Prime Minister had made his proposal to have personal discussion with him on a situation that was rapidly becoming one of open and immediate danger to the peace of Europe. At that meeting the German Chancellor had pressed strongly for the recognition of that principle of self-determination which Lord Runciman himself had judged inevitable; and in doing so had implied that, once the principle was recognised, discussion as to method might be expected not to be too difficult. It was accordingly on that basis that was held the first meeting with the French Ministers on September 18, which resulted in the presentation of the Anglo-French proposals of the following day, which are printed as Document No. 2 in last week's White Paper. These proposals were accepted by the Czechoslovak Government under strong pressure by the French and British Governments, and the Prime Minister accordingly returned to Godesberg for his second consultation with Herr Hitler on September 22.
From that visit emerged, on September 23, the document known generally as the German Memorandum, which is printed as Document No. 6 in last week's White Paper. That document went a great deal further than we had been led to expect at Berchtesgaden, but the Prime Minister, while indicating that in his view the Czechs would be obliged to resist the demands, undertook in his capacity of intermediary to transmit it to the Czechoslovak Government. Two days later, on September 25, we were officially informed by the Czechoslovak Government that "in their present form" the demands of the German Government were "unconditionally unacceptable," and on that day further conversa- 1299 tions were held with the French Ministers in view of the increasing gravity of the situation. The following day, September 26, the Prime Minister sent Sir Horace Wilson to see the German Chancellor with Letter No. 9 in the White Paper, which, however, produced no relief in the extreme tension. On the morning of the 28th, when hope was almost dead, the Prime Minister sent his final message to Herr Hitler in which he asked for an International Conference and simultaneously urged Signor Mussolini to support this request for conference at Berlin. And then the miracle—for such it must have seemed—happened which led to the assembly at Munich, less than twenty-four hours later, of the representatives of the four great Western Powers. The results of their meeting are before us, and on them I want to make a few observations.
From the first, two principles, I think, have been in conflict in the British mind. The first has been the necessity, in the light of what has been the liberal inspiration of every political experiment our own people have made, of somehow meeting the claim preferred on behalf of the German population; and the second has been the feeling that, whatever might be said about this abstract claim, its determination by force was in the long run destructive of European order and of those relationships between nations on which alone security can rest. It has accordingly been the purpose of His Majesty's Government to do their best to distinguish where they must be distinguished, to reconcile where they might be reconciled, these two conflicting claims. We were accordingly prepared to go to unusual lengths in placing pressure upon a friendly and independent Government to accept the Anglo-French proposals for full cession of Czech territory down to the majority German population line. These proposals, as your Lordships will remember, had been based as to the execution of their detail—the adjustment of frontiers, the questions arising out of the exchange of population on the basis of the right to opt—by an international body, including a Czech representative; and it was partly because the Godesberg Memorandum contained no equivalent provisions for these vital purposes that we felt it was impossible to press its acceptance upon the Czech Government.
1300 The Godesberg Memorandum was in fact, though not in form, an ultimatum with a time limit expiring on October 1, and it is important to realise the distinction between it and the plan agreed upon at Munich. The Munich arrangement reverts, though not in express terms, to the Anglo-French plan re, (erred to in its preamble, and charges an international body on which, along with the four great Powers, the Czechoslovak Government is represented, with the execution of its provisions. Under the Godesberg Memorandum the German occupation was to be effected in such fashion as the German Government alone might decide, to be completed in one operation by October 1. Under the Munich arrangement the occupation by German forces is to be carried out in five clearly-defined stages between October 1 and October 10. Moreover, the line up to which the German troops will enter into occupation is no longer the line as laid down in the map attached to the Godesberg Memorandum but is a line to be fixed by an International Commission of the five Powers, including Czechoslovakia. Under the Godesberg Memorandum the areas on the Czech side of the German line which were to be submitted to plebiscite were laid down by Germany in the map, while those on the German side of the line were left undefined. Under the Munich Agreement all plebiscite areas will be defined by the International Commission.
The criterion of the line of occupation by German troops by October 10 is, under Munich, to be the "preponderantly German character" of the areas concerned, the interpretation of which is left to the Commission. The German line, on the other hand, took in some areas which were certainly not of a preponderantly German character. The Godesberg Memorandum provided for the occupation of plebiscite areas by German and Czech forces, as the case might be, up to the plebiscite, and their evacuation by those forces during the plebiscite. Under the Munich Agreement the plebiscite areas are to be occupied at once by an international force. The Godesberg Memorandum did not indicate on what kind of areas the vote would be based and gave rise to fears on the Czech side that large areas might be selected which would operate to the disadvantage of 1301 Czechoslovakia. The Munich arrangement, by stating that the plebiscite is to be based on the conditions of the Saar plebiscite, indicates that the vote is to be taken by small administrative areas. The Czech Government, while bound under the Munich arrangement to carry out the evacuation of the territories without damaging existing installations, is not placed under the objectionable conditions of the Appendix to the Godesberg Memorandum, which provided that no foodstuffs, goods, cattle or raw materials were to be removed. Under the Godesberg Memorandum the detailed arrangements for the evacuation were to be settled between Germans and Czechs alone. Under the Munich Agreement the conditions of evacuation are to be laid down in detail by the International Commission.
Unlike the Godesberg Memorandum, the Munich Agreement has provisions as regards the right of option, facilities for the transfer of population, and other questions arising oat of the transfer of the territory, and gives the Czechs a period of four weeks for the release of Sudeten Germans from the Army and police, and for the release of Sudeten-German political prisoners. The Annex to the Munich Agreement also gives to the Czechoslovak State an assurance of the joint guarantee by the United Kingdom and France of their new boundary against unprovoked aggression. It thus gives the Czechs the essential counterpart which was lacking in the Godesberg Memorandum. Your Lordships will have observed that Germany and Italy also undertook to give a guarantee when the question of Polish and Hungarian minorities has been settled. And, finally, there is a declaration by the Four Powers that, if the problems of the Polish and Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia are not settled within three months by agreement between the respective Governments, another Four-Power meeting will be specially convened to deal with them.
There are two other aspects of what has passed to which y our Lordships will rightly expect me to make some reference. I shall be asked by noble Lords opposite why we consented to the omission of Russia—so closely connected with Czechoslovakia—from these discussions. I would venture, with your Lordships' permission, to repeat here what I said to the Soviet Ambassador a 1302 day or two ago. Five days ago it seemed to us vital, if war was to be avoided, somehow or other to get matters on to a basis of negotiation; but if we were to face the facts—and nothing was to be gained but rather everything was to be lost by not facing them—we were obliged to recognise that in present circumstances the heads of the German and Italian Governments would almost certainly—at least without much preliminary discussion for which there was no time—be reluctant to sit in conference with a Soviet representative. Accordingly, if our principal purpose was to ensure negotiation, we were bound to have regard to the practical conditions within which alone this purpose could be secured. But the fact that it was impossible, if we were to talk to the German and Italian Governments in those clays at all, to include the Soviet Government directly in those conversations, in no way signified any weakening of the desire on our part, any more no doubt than on that of the French Government, to preserve our understanding and relations with the Soviet Government.
The other matter on which I must say something is the guarantee which is referred to in the Annex to the Munich Arrangement and which first found place in the Anglo-French proposals of September 19. There we said that:His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom would be prepared, as a contribution to the pacification of Europe, to join in an international guarantee of the new boundaries of the Czechoslovak State against unprovoked aggression. One of the principal conditions of such a guarantee would be the safeguarding of the independence of Czechoslovakia by the substitution of a general guarantee against unprovoked aggression in place of existing treaties which involve reciprocal obligations of a military character.By that offer they stand under the terms of the Annex to the Munich Agreement which also, as I mentioned just now, includes an assurance thatwhen the question of the Polish and Hungarian minorities has been settled, Germany and Italy for their part will give a guarantee to Czechoslovakia.I understand, and largely share, what will be the feeling of many of your Lordships as to the assumption by this country of a new and difficult commitment, concerned, as it might be held, with something that was not a direct or vital interest of this country. I can anticipate from another quarter the criticism that a guarantee, given at the very moment that 1303 existing treaty and covenant obligations had failed to prevent the quasi-forcible disruption of the Czechoslovak State, proclaimed by inference its own f utility. Both these criticisms are weighty and must be met. As to the first, we felt that if we were, in conjunction with the French Government, to press the Czechoslovak Government to accept proposals so drastic as those which we thought it right to lay before them in the Anglo-French plan, in order to preserve Europe as a whole from war, we were bound ourselves to make a counter contribution to balance the reduction of Czechoslovakia's defensive strength. In no other circumstances, I think, should we have felt morally justified in pressing her Government to go so far.
As to the second, I would say three things. The first is this. Nothing has been more persistently pressed upon me during the last two or three anxious months than this. If only Great Britain would say clearly and unmistakably for all to hear that she would resist any unprovoked aggression on Czechoslovakia, no such unprovoked aggression would be made. We never felt able to use that language; but so far as there was force in the argument—and I do not underrate it—the deterrent value of such a statement will be in full force under such a guarantee as we have expressed our willingness to give. The second thing I would say is this. To guarantee a Czechoslovakia including within her borders restless and dissatisfied minorities was one thing: to guarantee Czechoslovakia when these explosive minority questions have been adjusted is quite another. And lastly, the guarantee itself is reinforced and buttressed by two other vital elements. First, Germany and Italy have expressed their readiness to guarantee Czechoslovakia when the other minority questions have been settled; and secondly, Great Britain and Germany have mutually expressed their desire to resolve any differences arising between them through consultation. In these circumstances I hope that your Lordships will be prepared to take the view that we were right to feel the moral obligation to play our part in stabilising the new situation more weighty than our natural objection to undertake on behalf of this country a new liability. There are, of course, a great many questions 1304 connected with this guarantee that will require more careful consideration than it has yet been possible to give to them. Such will be whether its form should be joint or several, what States should be invited to assume its obligations, and in what circumstances these obligations should be held to arise. These matters, and possibly others, will of necessity be matters for early exchange of view between the several Governments concerned.
No one will deny—even as presented in the Munich Agreement—how bitter has been the sacrifice demanded of the Czechoslovak Government, affecting so vitally the social, political and economic structure of the State. Nor has it been made less bitter by the presentation on the morrow of these demands by further demands from the Polish Government backed by ultimatum, to which the Czechoslovak Government has felt obliged in all the circumstances to accede. There is no one of your Lordships who would not wish at this time to pay his tribute and extend his sympathy to President Benes and his people. No head of a State could have been faced with a more cruel and merciless dilemma. The choice lay between accepting the reduction—some would say the mutilation—of his State and, on the other hand, exposing it to certain conquest and devastation, with the added horror of plunging the whole of Europe, and more than Europe, into war as well. Faced by that grim dilemma, President Benes chose the path of peace, and I cannot believe but that the judgment of history will accord to him a special place for the wisdom of his choice. So far as we ourselves are concerned, let us make no mistake: without his help, it would have been impossible to avoid a European war. Therefore it behoves us all to be grateful to him, and to do what we can to assist the Czechs, once more as they have done through history, to rise superior to the sacrifice that these hours have demanded.
Yesterday His Majesty's Government received a communication from the Czechoslovak Minister in London pointing out that the new Czechoslovakia expects to have to make provision very promptly for assistance to a large total of citizens moving from the ceded territory, and that the loss of these Sudeten areas inevitably calls for heavy outlay in read- 1305 justing the economic life of the nation. Accordingly, the Czechoslovak Government put forward a request for a guaranteed loan of £30,000,000. So far as we have been able to ascertain, the Czechoslovak Government have not as yet addressed any similar request to any other Government, and it is evident that the terms and conditions of a guaranteed loan, and the question of what Governments would participate in it, may raise matters which could not be decided immediately. But this is manifestly a case where the old proverb applies that assistance which is given quickly is of double value. His Majesty's Government are therefore informing the Czechoslovak Government that they are prepared immediately to arrange for an advance of £10,000,000 which will be at that Government's disposal for their urgent needs.
How this advance will be related to the final figure which may be decided upon hereafter is for tune future. All this manifestly depends on many factors, some of which cannot be immediately determined. The precise character of the problem will require expert examination in which His Majesty's Government would be willing to be associated, and during these coming weeks the needs of the resultant situation can be more fully explored. But what we feel to be required and justified now is that the action I have mentioned should be taken without any delay so as to assist the Czechoslovak State in what must be the crisis of its difficulty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer accordingly has addressed, on behalf of the Government, a letter to the Bank of England, requesting the Bank to provide the necessary credit of £10,000,000, and this will be done. When the House resumes in November Parliament will be asked to pass the necessary legislation to reimburse the Bank from the Exchequer.
So much for what has been done, and for some of its immediate consequences. In the doing of it, Dr. Benes, like ourselves, had to face hard realities. Let us not forget that in the event of war, whatever force the French, the Russians and we had been willing to employ, nothing could have saved Czechoslovakia from destruction or protected countless of her sons and daughters from sudden death. We could no doubt have engaged in a 1306 war of indefinite duration with all its consequences knowing before we ever embarked upon it that, after we had won, no body of statesmen drawing the boundaries of a new Czechoslovakia would have redrawn them as they were left by the Treaty of Versailles. And that, my Lords, brings me to say one word about the question of Treaty revision, for which Article 19 of the Covenant purports to make provision. I remember saying to your Lordships—and others of your Lordships have said the same—that unless we could regard the world as set in a mould, rigid and unalterable, we were bound to expect change, change that would often be right, if justice as well as peace is what we seek. Yet if we are to be honest with ourselves we must acknowledge that there are only three ways in which Treaty revision can be secured. One is by consent, the second way is by force, and the third way is by the threat of force. However strongly, therefore, we may condemn resort to the only other methods, we must in fairness admit that the way of consent, laid down in Article 19, has not hitherto in vital matters been made effective. Europe is not free, and the League of Nations is not free, of responsibility in this matter.
I do not underestimate the gravity of the events which in such swift passage have crowded one upon the other during the last three weeks. I am very conscious of all that has to be entered upon the debit side, but if the whole matter is fairly weighed, I cannot doubt in my own mind, for Czechoslovakia herself as for the world, where the balance rests. And, apart from the sheer avoidance of the catastrophe of war, with all that that would have meant for the men, women and children of every nation that would sooner or later have been dragged to take part in that dance of death, there seem to me certain things of which we should be utterly wrong to underestimate the significance. The mutual confidence between the French Government and ourselves, strong as it was before, emerges stronger from this searching test. Beyond this we have surely witnessed the emergence of strong forces, more powerful than we had suspected, to condemn resort to war. From every part of the world, led by the President of the great Republic of the United States of America, and given constructive form through the support extended to the Prime Minister's 1307 last request by Signor Mussolini, the pressure of moral opinion on that point was clear. May it not be a great thing for the future of the world that, when brought to the very edge of disaster, the feeling of all nations—not only of our own—should have drawn back from force and expressed itself so powerfully, as I believe, in favour of negotiation? Is it a small thing that the representatives of the British and German Governments should have publicly proclaimed the desire of their peoples never to permit war between one another, and their own determination to employ the method of consultation in any differences that might arise between them?
No man, of course, can predict the future, and no declaration can absolve a nation like ours from doing whatever is necessary to secure itself against all eventualities. Indeed, one of the principal lessons of these events is that the diplomacy of any nation can only be commensurate with its strength, and that if we desire this country to exercise its full influence in world affairs, the first thing that we have to do is to ensure that it is in all ways fully and rapidly equipped to do so. I have no doubt that at the appropriate time your Lordships will wish to give fuller consideration to the issues involved in the statement of that principle.
I am well aware that there will not be wanting those who will maintain that immediately to attach weight to such declarations as that to which the German Chancellor and the Prime Minister have set their names is merely to lay up for ourselves certain and disastrous disappointment. Time alone will show. I have never felt able to take the view of the inevitability of war, which is perhaps more easily taken by those who are fortunate enough to have no final responsibility; and he is a rash man who would attempt to write history before the time. The rejoicings in all countries have shown how the peoples have acclaimed the success of this method of conference which has brought them all back from the very brink of ruin. There has been in Germany a spontaneous outburst of public feeling. Herr Hitler has had a great triumph, and I for one would grudge him nothing of a triumph which he knows to be accorded, not only for what he has gained, but also for the contribution which 1308 he made to settlement through agreement in preference to the arbitrament of catastrophic war. I see in Munich not only a conference at which hard terms were imposed on Czechoslovakia, but also an occasion on which it was found possible by discussion to effect real abatement in claims made, and at which all the nations taking part contributed to win a real victory for reason and understanding over the forces of unreason, hatred and mistrust. There is not one of your Lordships who will not hope with me that what has been done may prove only a beginning of more promising approach to other problems that may yet stand in the way of friendly and fruitful co-operation.
I am not greatly moved, therefore, for myself or for His Majesty's Government, by the reproaches that may be levelled against us for the action to which your Lordships' attention is now directed. The only reproaches that can wound are the reproaches of a man's own conscience, and he alone can know in what language conscience speaks. As I look back on these anxious weeks, I readily confess that I may have had my share in decisions that can be held by some to be ill-judged. In a time of crisis, with grave questions demanding urgent answer at every moment, no body of men would dare claim to be judged infallible. There was indeed no clear way, but almost always a hideous choice of evils. I can only know, for myself, that my mind will be at rest for having taken no decision inconsistent with what on all the facts I felt right.
Would your Lordships allow me, before I close, to say something of the part that it has fallen to the Prime Minister to play in these events? His courage in taking every political risk, his perseverance and faith in refusing to admit failure, his resource in the invention of new means to snatch success when all seemed to have failed—these are things that the world has understood. They were, indeed, the qualities by which the nations were led back from the great darkness that seemed to be finally descending on them. But what the world can never measure was the almost unbearable weight that rested personally, and alone, upon his shoulders. This no colleague could share, and for the manner in which he bore it no thanks of his fellow-men can be too great. He was engaged all these days in a race 1309 against time, in which the stakes were the lives of millions, and I shall always be grateful for the privilege of having been allowed to work so closely with him.
In one of the country churches of England is set an inscription to its builder, who had had the faith to build it nearly three hundred years ago, during the Civil War. It is, I think, in spirit, not inapt to express some of our deeper thought on what it has been, under God, permitted to the Prime Minister to do. It runs thus:In the year 1643, when all things sacred were either demolished or profaned, this church was built by one, whose singular praise it is to have done the best things in the worst times, and to have hoped them in the most calamitous.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords it would be, I am sure, fitting and entirely in accordance with my own feeling if my first words in your Lordships' House, to-day, were an expression of very sincere sympathy with, and I hope some adequate understanding of, the anxieties and very grave responsibilities which His Majesty's Ministers, and especially the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, and the Prime Minister, were called upon to face. It does not often happen, but I hope that on this occasion, and at this time, I may be speaking for the whole of your Lordships' House. The fact that I do not personally approve of the policy of His Majesty's Government demands from me an expression of the conviction that the peace and honour of our country are not less dear to them than they are to myself and to my colleagues, and that nothing that I may say in these remarks must be held to challenge that in any way. They had to face a responsibility that I am very thankful I had not to bear.
I should like also, if I may, to say that the Labour Party, for whom I speak to-day, had also a vast responsibility in this crisis not to embarrass the Government and not to exacerbate feeling to the point of danger, and I feel that my Party exercised a dignity and a responsible restraint for which there is no parallel in the Party controversies of our time. There is a time for all things. A time for speech, and a time for silence; a time for criticism and a time for restraint; and up to this hour our Party leaders have not 1310 offered considered words of criticism against His Majesty's Government. Yet before we assembled a section of the Party Press that supports His Majesty's Government, ventured to tell us that if we do our duty here, to-day, they will see that punishment is brought upon us by forcing an Election, where we should be submerged under a swelling tide of thankfulness for what has happened. We do not doubt that. The present Government was born in similar circumstances, and others may be born. The duty which appears to be assigned to us in English politics is that we should wag our tails like obedient and petted lap-dogs at the right moment, and submit to scolding whether that scolding is justified or not. But this is the Parliament of England, and we are charged with very solemn duties which we must try to fulfil, even if we lack the approval of the guileless oracles who threaten us with disaster. The Labour Party may have many faults, but at least it never sought to mislead the English people that there would be no war this year or next year or for ever. It never led Germany to believe that the course which she was following was without danger, because all that the English people were concerned about was to wallow in their own affairs.
That is all I desire to say on that aspect of current affairs. I only speak for myself, but the sense of deliverance from a great disaster is as keen in my heart as in that of other men. One feels the first reaction of deep gratitude for all concerned. Running through my mind these recent days has been a beloved phrase which seemed to express all that we feel:How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace.We have to remember, to-day, when immediate danger seems happily to have passed over our heads, that all that we are and have, our liberties, the fate of our Commonwealth, with all our hopes for the future, and the precious lives of our young men, were at stake. Therefore one's only desire, to-day, is rather to express praise and thanksgiving, but the Parliament of England may not ignore its duty in this hour. We are bound to ask whether this apparent gift to us is really peace, or is it, as William Ellery Channing said, an occasion when 1311peace becomes a truce, a feverish repose, a respite to sharpen anew the sword and to prepare for further struggles.That is the problem which the British Parliament is called upon to examine. I should like to remind His Majesty's Government of what I am sure they must know, that behind this sense of deliverance is a deep background of misgiving. When we have allowed for all the blessings of peace the voice of conscience tells us that wrong has once more triumphed. If despotism is an evil, it has been strengthened; if democracy is a blessing it is less able to defend itself now than it was. In plain words, we have obtained peace for ourselves by giving away territory that did not belong to us, and by despoiling a small and helpless people. Therefore in the midst of our rejoicing let us remind ourselves that we are not heroes when judged by our own consciences; and let our rejoicing be tempered with the remembrance of the noble little people to whom the noble Viscount has so generously referred.
I feel that the real heroes on this occasion do not reside in London, or Berlin, or in Paris, but in Prague. The Czechs did not create the frontier which has caused all this trouble. There is some reason to believe that President Benes himself did not wish to have the particular areas included in the State; and I may remind your Lordships that the leaders of my own Party at that time protested against three million Germans being included under the Government of another people. But the argument used to rebut that protest was that this frontier was a necessity for economic reasons, and that it had so to be framed. If that was true then, we should remember that in the days when that frontier has been altered. I agree with the noble Viscount in feeling almost ashamed at human nature that before this little State was dismembered everybody around it was ready to rush in to divide its garments. And President Benes himself stood faithful among the faithless.
I cannot pass over this aspect of our afternoon's consideration without referring to the perfectly odious campaign of slander against his name. Germany was a great nation. She had hundreds of years of history and prestige behind her. She knew what it was to lose territory 1312 that she had had, and so, being great, Germany might have understood and been generous. It is said that Czechoslovakia made mistakes. Of course. Have not we all made mistakes? "All have sinned and fallen short of perfection." The language of defamation used was such as was never used before by the head of one State to another, and language which no gentleman uses to another at any time. It is said that the Government of Prague were "ridiculous pigmies." Well, even a pigmy will try to defend his home; and pigmies have been known to account for giants in the course of human history. I notice that on Wednesday, September 21, at the very hour of the anguish of that country, Dr. Benes uttered these words:You should to-day level no reproaches at those who have forsaken us in our hour of need. History will pass judgment on the events of these last days.These pigmies of Prague showed a rare sense of duty and a dignity which Berlin could neither imitate nor understand. I feel that I should like to pay my personal tribute to Dr. Benes. When I had the privilege of an interview with him in June last I detected none of these bad qualities in him, and I would ask the Czech people to be comforted. If Dr. Benes appeared to sacrifice them, their lands and their substance, in their name he saved the world. And I believe that in some way that I cannot at present see their sacrifice will bring them blessing.
I do not wish to prolong any note of criticism to-day. I should like, in thinking of the noble Viscount's speech, to approve on behalf of my friends the decision to give immediate help to the Czech Republic. I should like to ask, in that connection, are the German Government going to contribute anything to remedy this disaster? Are they to get the property of the Czech people scot free? There was another point of the noble Viscount's speech which interested me. He said that nothing could have saved Czechoslovakia because of its strategical position, and so on. Then, how is the guarantee that we are proposing to give Czechoslovakia to save her in the future?
Let me say that what happened did not surprise us at all. The handwriting had long been visible on the wall for everybody to read, and my Party has nothing to recant in what it has many 1313 times said on this point, and very little to regret. In the seven years that the National Government have been in office there has been a more disastrous decline in the prestige of the British Government than has happened at any previous time. It has prevaricated, it has indulged in precarious accommodations, it has been complacent where Spain and Abyssinia were concerned, and it chose to make a stand on terrain which it admits was utterly indefensible. We have some reason to believe there is not perfect unity among the supporters of His Majesty's Government. Compared with them, we are a little band of brothers in perfect peace.
There is a word I want to say about Russia. We have heard what the noble Viscount has said about that. I cannot help feeling that in such circumstances it was a short-sighted calamity that there was no contact—so I am led to believe—between His Majesty's Government and the Russian Government after the 8th or 9th of this month until the acute stage had been reached. Russia was ignored and snubbed, and I believe our countrymen will feel that it is about time this glacial politeness towards Russia in the name of haughty respectability were stopped, and that we remembered that Russia is a great nation whose help may be vital to us in years which have to come.
Before I close I should like to express my opinion that the hard terms which the German Government put forward were a revelation of what that Government would do in the hour of any victory. No time was allowed to the little people to accommodate themselves to a new state of life. They were to leave all their cattle behind them—everything. One cannot help looking for a parallel to that, and we cannot find it, but we do remember that after the Civil War in America, when Grant met Robert Lee, Grant said, "Let the men take their horses with them—they will need them for the spring ploughing.' These two gallant Americans could do that, and they had never received the benefits of Deutsche Kultur! I should like to ask the noble Viscount what provision had been made for the Czech hostages in the hands of Germany. There has been no word about them, and silence is ominous. There was no word of sympathy with the Czechs themselves until 1314 this hour when it was generously expressed by the noble Viscount.
Finally, I would like to say this. On what does the peace of the future rest? It looks as though the Prime Minister has assumed powers that belong to Parliament. Peace rests, not upon treaties passed by Parliaments, but on the word of two men. The Prime Minister is satisfied that Herr Hitler will keep his word. He left Berchtesgaden under the same impression, and by the time he returned to Godesberg he found new claims being made. To-day we have got a new Europe. The League of Nations has been superseded; our relations with France are at least endangered; Russia feels injured and may wash her hands of the whole situation. The Labour Party, for what it is worth, formally disavows responsibility for that. But what of the future? We cannot alter the past. If we desire to make this peace permanent, we should seek to remedy any just grievances that exist in Europe, and ourselves make some contribution. We should seek to build afresh a new Europe, and let conference become a habit rather than a rare occasion. We should try to unite all, including Germany, who stand and are willing to work for peace. Edmund Burke, in his great speech on conciliation with America, said:When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.So to-day we feel relief—intense relief—with some measure of humiliation. President Wilson, in words which brought his nation into the Great War, said, "Right is more precious than peace." This peace has been purchased at a very high price. If we use it properly it may, and indeed I hope it will, be the dawn of a better world; but if we neglect it, ignore its lessons, it may come as a curse upon our heads.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, the whole House listened with the closest attention to the statement of the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and listened to it with very much sympathy. His concluding observations referring to the Prime Minister were, I am sure, appreciated by us all. It seems to me that the two points in the Prime Minister's intervention which appealed especially to the 1315 imagination of the public were, first, the complete single-mindedness with which he undertook his task without any thought of the effect on his own position or on his political future; and, secondly, the point to which the noble Viscount alluded, of the solitary enterprise that he undertook, helped, of course, by skilled advisers but without the presence of any of his colleagues.
The noble Viscount before that had pointed out, with full detail, what harsh measure the country of Czechoslovakia had received—a harsher measure, I venture to think, than has ever been meted out to any country which had no quarrel outside its own boundaries and no internal disturbance or dissension sufficient to justify interference by its neighbours. We should all, I am sure, have preferred, had it been possible, that the boundaries of Czechoslovakia should have remained intact, and that a sufficient measure of local self-government had been applied to the six different races composing that country. Was that possible? The noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, to whom we all pay tribute, although of course showing no bias against any country, would, I think it is safe to say, have greatly preferred some measure of home rule for the different districts or populations to any other form of settlement; but it is clear from his Memorandum that he abandoned the possibility of any future of that kind. And in that connection it is only fair to state, as the noble Lord, Lord Snell, so frankly admitted, that in 1919 there were many who gravely doubted the expediency of including the Sudeten-Deutsch districts in Czechoslovakia. I may add that when the new State was discussed in the Peace Conference at Paris the American representative issued most strongly worded protests against such an inclusion. But still, as we all know, that arrangement was made, and it is not to be supposed that the Czech Government can regard the abstraction of those districts from their country with anything like equanimity.
It may be said that but for the interference of Germany matters would somehow have settled themselves within the boundaries of Czechoslovakia. That is probably true. Historical parallels are often misleading, but they sometimes can be utilised for purposes of illustration, 1316 and I cannot help recalling that during the second half of the nineteenth century the most sinister and dangerous manifestations of discontent in Ireland were inspired, directed and financed from America, so that it might be argued that had there been no Irish-Americans, whose political influence was infinitely greater than their numbers, the Irish question might have been settled differently. At any rate we have to deal with the fact that Germany did interfere in this instance, and that fact cannot be got over. I am sure your Lordships all heard with pleasure what the noble Viscount said about assistance to Czechoslovakia in dealing with the vast numbers of refugees who will be thrown on her hands. I feel sure that had His Majesty's Government not taken a step of this kind there would have been a strong movement in the country to secure a great national fund for these poor people. Still it is well that His Majesty's Government should recognise the duty which has come upon them through the action which they have taken in this instance.
Then Poland has been mentioned. We should all, I think, have greatly preferred that the Polish attitude should have been more friendly and restrained than apparently it has been. After all, Poland should have some sympathy with Czechoslovakia for, unless I am mistaken, of the population of Poland (some 30,000,000) one-third, or something like 10,000,000, are not Poles and might put in a claim for some form of self-determination. I trust, therefore, that the attitude of Poland will be restrained and moderate in this matter, and that there will be no friction when the question of boundaries has to be considered. It would appear that Hungary is prepared to behave with due restraint in the circumstances.
I feel that it is hardly possible to consider the present situation in all its bearings without looking back for some considerable period, and therefore I do not apologise for saying a few words in that regard. I think it will be generally recognised that there are two methods by which a victorious country can deal with its defeated enemy. One is that of keeping him down for as long a period as can be, without any time limit or any reference to other treatment in the future. That is the attitude which we all thought at the time would have been taken by 1317 Germany if Germany had been victorious. It is the attitude which Napoleon would undoubtedly have taken had he been directing France in 1918, and it is the attitude which he did in fact take with Prussia after his resounding victories of 1806 and 1807 and which he probably would have continued to his life's end had he not been led away by the desire to be the master of all Europe. The other way in which a conquered enemy can be treated, and in which Germany might have been treated, is this. After exacting sufficient penalties, whether by loss of territory or by payment of sums of money—not merely because of victory but because by general agreement the greatest responsibility for the war rested upon Germany—to set to work to restore the self-respect of Germany and as soon as possible to readmit her to the family of nations. Neither of these courses was in fact taken. Political morality appeared to forbid the one but was not strong enough to enforce the other.
For instance, the ill-starred occupation of the Ruhr Valley was not a conqueror's march; it was the action of a disappointed creditor putting in the bailiffs in the hope of securing part of the debt he claimed. On the other hand the Treaty of Locarno, good in itself, dealt only with one single aspect of the question—namely, the possibility of a military attack either on France or on Germany. And notice, please, the reaction of all this upon the League of Nations. The League of Nations has been blamed, and the nations who were supposed to be able to direct the policy of the League of Nations were individually blamed, for not having taken strong action against aggressors on one or two occasions, but I am inclined to think that posterity will be disposed to blame the League of Nations infinitely more for having devoted attention almost exclusively to the penalties it could exact from those that made war rather than giving time and attention to removing the causes for which war is made. That is to say, Article 16, the penalties article, was so to speak perpetually on the Agenda of the League, although as we know it was not brought into play in the way many people wished, whereas Article 19 remained in a dusty pigeonhole. I cannot help feeling that the present situation might have been entirely different if a different course had been 1318 taken. It might even have happened that the name of Herr Hitler would never have been heard, because the occasions which brought him into such prominence as the recreator of his country never need have arisen.
The noble Viscount towards the conclusion of his speech touched upon the future, and on the possibilities of wider arrangements in foreign affairs to which the present Agreement might prove a valuable prelude. I feel sure that nobody will feel more completely than does the noble Viscount what a difficult task lies before him and other members of the Government who have to undertake these discussions. The main difficulty, surely, arises from this, that British statesmen have to deal with men, and with the people who follow the behests of those men, who start from an entirely different standpoint in public affairs from that which our public men here hold. The basic principles on winch discussions of that kind have to be founded are completely different. Therefore it is not possible for the Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, to sit down and say "We are agreed on principle, let us now proceed to consider the details." The basic principles which are held by the noble Viscount and other British statesmen—the respect for liberty, the consciousness that the rights of small nations are of precisely the same kind and value as those of great nations—are in no way admitted by those with whom the discussion will be carried on, and the result is that our statesmen and those with whom they are discussing are speaking a totally different language. Neither of them understands the other, and there is no interpreter to explain to each what the other really means. When these larger questions come to be discussed, we shall all, I am sure, wish His Majesty's Government well and wish them every success. Those conversations will, however, be watched with the closest attention and vigilance not only by the Opposition Parties in this country but also, I feel sure, by a great many of the supporters of His Majesty's Government.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I cannot refrain from adding, on by own behalf and on behalf of the other Spiritual Peers in your Lordships' House, our thankfulness to Almighty God for the deliverance which has been brought. Praise of the 1319 Prime Minister is at this date quite superfluous. The whole world is ringing with it, and indeed, if he were a man other than he is, there might be some danger of his head being turned. I dare say, however, that the cold douche of criticism to which he is at present probably being exposed in another place would restore the balance, if that were necessary! We all feel that for the qualities which he displayed, quite apart from previous lines of policy, no praise can be too great; nor can any praise be too great for the action that he has taken. He regarded himself as having a trust for peace, and he pursued it with marvellous patience and persistence, and proved himself to be, like another Happy Warrior, oneWho comprehends his trust, and to the sameKeeps faithful with a singleness of aim.If I were to single out one instance of his extraordinarily courageous and resourceful initiative when other men might have despaired, it would be the writing of these two letters in the early morning of last Wednesday to Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini. It was, I almost venture to say, an inspiration; it turned the scale between peace and war.
We should also, I am sure, wish to pay, as the noble Lord opposite has paid, our meed of sympathy and gratitude to the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary. We quite realise the immense strain of these last few months, and he has borne it with unbroken fortitude. We may say that this country has been singularly fortunate, at this very critical time in its destiny, in having two men taking care of it whose qualities were so admirably combined: on the one side the alertness, the vigour, the courage to make quick decisions, of the Prime Minister; and on the other the poise, the tranquillity, the calmness and steady judgment of the Foreign Secretary. There is another name which we must mention this afternoon—indeed, it has already been justly mentioned: that of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman. It was with immense courage that he undertook his task. He pursued it with the utmost patience and discretion, which won the confidence and respect of both sides. It was no fault of his that it proved thankless. He did all that any single man could have done, and if he did not succeed it was due to forces over which he had no control. 1320 It may perhaps not be superfluous to add a word to what was said by, I think, the noble Lord opposite about the debt we owe to President Roosevelt. Although clear in insisting that his country was under and would be under no entanglement in Europe, at a very critical moment he brought so far as he could the moral force of perhaps the most powerful nation in the world on the side of negotiation rather than of the arbitrament of force.
I must here say that I wholly agree with the noble Lord opposite in what he has said about the conduct, during the weeks of crisis, of the Party which he represents. I am speaking quite impartially, and I think it was something to which we ought to pay every tribute of gratitude that during that most difficult time there was no discordant note, no voice of angry criticism, and that any criticism that was felt has been reserved for a time and place when it is not only right but a duty on the part of His Majesty's Opposition to voice it—namely, now, when the settlement has been reached and Parliament has met to consider it. It is only due to the noble Lord and his friends that this should be said by someone who is quite impartial.
It is one of the signs of the immeasurable relief of which we are all conscious that it is no longer necessary to consider whether, if in any circumstance so horrible and so futile a thing as war is ever justifiable, it could have been justified in these present circumstances. It would have seemed incredible, as the Prime Minister has frequently said, that the calamity of war should have been inflicted upon many nations merely because of the troubles of three million people in a small district in the centre of Europe. It would have seemed still more incredible that such a thing could have happened when, the questions of principle having been settled, there only remained questions of time and procedure. If Herr Hitler had taken upon himself what I cannot help calling the awful responsibility of invading Czechoslovakian territory on a matter merely of time and procedure, doubtless we should have been justified in regarding his action as a menace to the whole basis of civilised order which could not have been ignored. Even then, my Lords, to some of us at least the torturing perplexity would have remained whether it was right or wise, 1321 even in order to protect the basis of international order, to urge a war which might have destroyed civilisation itself—a question more easily asked than answered. Happily, the need of discussing such a theme is not before us.
I am sure that everyone would agree that almost any price was worth paying to avert that calamity. I stress the word "almost" because, to my mind as to the minds of noble Lords opposite, the haunting question remains, "Is it ever right, can it be right, to base any peace upon an act of injustice?" Is any peace, any settlement, however welcome, morally justifiable if such an act of injustice has been involved? Is there not yet truth in the old words, fiat justitia ruat cœlum? Therefore some of us have been driven to ask ourselves very seriously whether, in point of fact, such an act of injustice had been committed to the people of Czechoslovakia. I have, like all your Lordships, the deepest sympathy with a people identified with the ideals and personality of President Masaryk. I have, as we all have, the greatest admiration of their self-restraint and their willingness, although somewhat belated, to make concessions, and I associate myself entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, I think, that if any man has had some share in preserving peace it is President Benes, who has been willing to make these almost intolerable sacrifices.
But I think the Czech Government and people may be entitled to say that it is not sympathy for which they ask but justice. I do not know that that would be wholly met by the promise which very rightly the noble Viscount has made, in the name of the Government, of financial assistance. Here may I say that if it seems right, and would not be misunderstood, and there was any way by which voluntary contributions could be found necessary or helpful in assisting the financial contributions of His Majesty's Government, as I have already said I personally should be most willing to support any such proposal. But, again, may not those for whom we have this sympathy say that it is not sympathy, not charity, for which they have a right to ask, but justice? So I cannot dismiss from my mind that haunting question: In point of fact, has there been any such act of injustice committed as will tarnish this peace?
1322 I think there are three considerations which it is well to remember. The first is—and it has to be remembered, obvious as it is—that we were under no obligation ourselves to Czechoslovakia. We only undertook friendly mediation. We did our best, and it is not our fault that we failed. In the second place, did it not become clear that the provinces overwhelmingly occupied by the Sudeten Deutsch could not have been permanently part of the Czechoslovak State? It was plain, and circumstances mane it still more plain, that their retention could never be otherwise than a source of disturbance and discontent. It is needless at this hour to amplify the reasons for that belief, because they are most cogently and I am bound to say convincingly set forth in the admirable Report of September 21, written by Lord Runciman, the one man whose accurate knowledge and complete impartiality entitle him to speak. Thirdly, I ask myself what would the State of Czechoslovakia conceivedly have gained by any war? As the noble Viscount said, at the first onslaught, before it could be reached by any allies, it would be certainly paralyzed almost beyond recovery. If Germany had won, beyond question it would have been wiped out as an independent State. On the other hand, if Germans' had lost, then this old situation would have returned, which no one in the abstract can defend, but in an infinitely worse position, because it would have had with it bitter memories and longings for revenge. To these considerations, I think, may be added these modifications of the German Memorandum made by the Munich Agreement, which the noble Viscount has mentioned in detail, and which certainly made an immense difference in the manner in which the transfer of these territories would have taken place. We may add to that the additional guarantee given to the Czechoslovak State for its future frontiers. Whether wisely or unwisely is a matter which I do not pause to argue—certainly it makes an immense difference in the whole situation.
So, my Lords, when I review the matter as calmly as I can I find it difficult to believe that any such injustice has been inflicted as would morally tarnish the peace which we have received, or which in any conceivable way could be remedied by war. I think we must look at things in their true proportion. We must not 1323 allow either our sympathy for the Czech people and their Government, or for their ideals of government, or our dislike of the method of governing in Germany, and its almost brutal reliance upon force, to blind our eyes to the fact that the only alternative to what has been done would have been that at this moment we should have been involved in a war the issue of which no man could have foreseen. It is when one looks at the matter, with that ghastly alternative, that one feels that the time may come when not only this country but even Czechoslovakia may be thankful that at this moment Europe is not plunged into war.
But if we have had this great relief let us not forget that respite brings responsibility. What use are we going to make of this respite? We hope it may be prolonged by the agreement between this country and Germany which the Prime Minister brought back with him. With all our hearts we hope it may prove to be a binding agreement. I hope I shall not be introducing a jarring note if for one moment I say that I trust that among friends, since there is this new friendship, it will be possible without being misunderstood to make remonstrances from time to time against blatant infringements of religious or civil liberty, because what is the worth of friendships if they have no place for candour? Having said that I say that we sincerely hope, with the Prime Minister, that this measure of appeasement may lead to others in its train. This only brings us back to the question of what use are this nation and other nations going to make of this respite? I am not going to be so discourteous as to repeat in this House what I said last night in the air to a much larger number of my fellow countrymen. Let me only baldly and briefly summarise the tasks which we ought, as a mere matter of honour and gratitude, to lay before us. They cannot be hurried, you cannot force the pace, but I think these things must be looked upon as matters to which we have to give our steady determination, thought, and purpose.
Sooner or later the League of Nations must be revived and reconstituted as still the only permanent instrument for preserving international order, justice, and peace. Sooner or later conferences of 1324 nations must be held to consider the economic troubles, barriers, hindrances, which are so potent a cause of discontent, and sometimes even of the danger of war. Sooner or later there must be, by general agreement, first a check, and I should hope a stop, upon what the Prime Minister has over and over again described as the insane race of armaments. Sooner or later—I would hope to God it may be soon—nations which have lived through this present time must come to an agreement that if war anywhere broke out again the use of bombing aircraft would cease, and the heavens, to which mankind has so long looked for calmness and strength, would no longer become a dreaded source of destruction and death. I say these are not tasks that can be achieved in a day, but I think we shall be woefully failing to read the signs of our times unless we set our minds to the steady purpose at least of attempting their achievement.
My Lords, will you forgive me if I venture, at this particular and rather solemn moment in our history, to strike a somewhat more solemn note? Among the Powers which must be taken into conference in these coming days is one which is unseen and sovereign, the Kingdom of God. We all know that ultimately the cause that leads to war and the other evils of mankind is disloyalty to that Kingdom. The ultimate remedy must be to put its claims first, then all those things which we passionately desire will be added unto us. Your Lordships will not think these words are a mere pious peroration, more suitable to a sermon than to a speech in your Lordships' House. It is the severance between material and spiritual things, in our public as well as our private life, which is the source of most of our troubles. I would say that in the last resort the most practical policy is to do the will of God. "Practical policy" means trying to see in given circumstances what can be done to achieve good results. In all circumstances the will of God can be done if men will set themselves to do it; and then and then only we all know in our hearts there would come the reign of settled peace and justice. This is the supreme lesson enforced by the trials we have undergone, the deliverance which we have been given. We shall be judged if we do not learn it.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I am sure it is quite unnecessary for me to repeat or attempt to emphasize what the most reverend Primate said so truly and so forcibly as to the immense relief that every person in this country felt, and naturally felt, when the threat of immediate war was removed. It certainly is a thing for which we have, as he so truly and impressively said, a duty to be most profoundly thankful. Nor do I propose to follow him in the rather elaborate series of congratulations which he paid to a number of persons. Of course, I agree with everything he said. No doubt the burden must be tremendous on the whole of the Government, particularly on the Foreign Secretary. No doubt Lord Runciman did a very fine thing in going out to do a hopeless task, and so on. Still more are we grateful to President Roosevelt for his timely intervention. As for the Prime Minister, no one, I think, can possibly doubt that we all feel a great admiration for the amazing energy which he showed. Considering that he is no longer a very young man, it was really astounding, the continual travelling and the continual responsibility which rested upon him; and certainly any of us who listened to his broadcast could have been in no kind of doubt as to his deeply felt devotion to peace. I am a little sorry that the Lord Archbishop in the list of his recipients of congratulations did not mention, or scarcely mentioned, Dr. Benes.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
I expressly said that I thought that if any man had a share in preserving peace it was President Benes.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am sorry. I did not always hear everything that he said, and I evidently missed that particular sentence. I have had the honour of the acquaintance of Dr. Benes for more than twenty years. I believe him to be one of the most outstanding characters at present alive, a man of very remarkable ability and still more remarkable courage, and, as he has shown on this occasion, he has that quality which is rarer perhaps than ability and courage, complete self-control. I do not think it is any exaggeration to describe him as a heroic character, and I join very heartily in all that 1326 was said so well by the Foreign Secretary in recognition of his services on the present occasion. Dr. Benes is a very remarkable man. He rose from the very bottom. He was, I think, as no doubt many of your Lordships know, the son of an agricultural labourer, and during many years he had the greatest difficulty in finding enough to eat. He has described to me himself the expedients to which he was put during the early years of his life. But he made good, and he devoted himself with absolute self-devotion to the service of his country. He had the fortune to become, I believe, the pupil of Dr. Masaryk, and it was those two who, working together, set themselves the task of establishing the new Czechoslovakia when it was created at the Paris Conference.
I am not going to attempt to give your Lordships an account of all they did, but anyone who knows anything about the subject will agree with me that their achievement was very remarkable. Czechoslovakia was brought into a condition of great prosperity and admirable government; in a time of very great economic pressure, it was a model to many of the countries much larger and much richer that were around it. In addition they professed, and more than professed—established—a system of democratic Government which was second, if it was second at all, only to that which prevails in this country. Throughout, on all occasions, during the War and after the War, Dr. Benes worked wholeheartedly for friendship with us and particularly for peace. He was one of the greatest upholders of the League of Nations. He steered the Little Entente into paths of peace during the whole of the time he was connected with it. I do not think it is easy to exaggerate the services he did not only to his own country but to Europe. I confess that, knowing this and knowing something, though not very much, of the history of Czechoslovakia, I did feel a profound indignation at the utterly ruthless and indefensible aggression that was made by the German Government upon it.
I know the excuse, we all know the excuse. It was said that Czechoslovakia oppressed its minorities. The matter was investigated apparently by Lord Runciman, and he rejected in so many words the charge of oppression, still more 1327 of terrorism. He did say that he thought the Czech Government had been guilty sometimes of tactlessness and other similar defects. But if you consider who it was who was making this charge against the Government of Czechoslovakia, I must say it is difficult to find a parallel in history to the effrontery of that accusation. The German Jews and the German pacifists would be profoundly content if they had no more to complain of than the tactlessness of the German Government. I think of the doing to death of Dr. Litten after four years of imprisonment and every kind of torture and maltreatment; the destruction, mentally and physically, of Dr. Ossietsky, whose only fault was that he was a pacifist and not a very extreme pacifist at that; and though, perhaps, in some minor respects different, the utterly wrongful treatment of Pastor Niemoller. The Government responsible for these and many other similar crimes really must be lost to all sense of shame in bringing the kind of charges they have brought against the Government of Czechoslovakia. It was a trumped-up charge. It had no real basis. It was done merely to cover the national greed, the desire to possess this land or, at any rate, to extinguish its power of independent opposition to Germany. That was the only real motive. Since the day of Naboth, I do not know that there has been any clearer instance of ruthless oppression than that which was displayed on this occasion.
There were no doubt other countries involved. Russia was involved. Of all the countries concerned, it seems to me that Russia has the least to reproach herself with on the present occasion. Then there was France. I am not going to say anything in criticism of the French Government because I always recollect that the fundamental tenet of French Governments is that, whatever happens and whatever be the occasion, they must never do anything which will risk, however remotely, the good understanding between them and ourselves. That shuts my mouth, at any rate, in criticism of France. Now what about our own Government? The Lord Archbishop said just now that we were under no obligations to Czechoslovakia. That is not so. It is quite true we were under no special obligation, but we were under the very precise obligation of the Covenant of the 1328 League of Nations. Let me read the words; they are very short. We solemnly undertook that we would "respect and preserve as against external aggression" the political independence and territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia. That was the position.
What happened? No question was raised about secession for a long time after Lord Runciman went out. He entered upon negotiations. He pressed—I have no doubt quite rightly—the Czech Government to make further and further concessions. Though he admits that there was no very grave defect in their government of the Sudeten Provinces, he still did press them, and I dare say quite rightly press them, to remove altogether any ground of complaint. Then, as your Lordships remember, the time came when the so-called Plan 4 was produced, and Lord Runciman said in so many words that he thought it a favourable and hopeful basis of negotiation. He says quite plainly that in his judgment the Sudeten leaders ought to have gone on negotiating on that basis, that they had obtained almost all they had asked for up to that moment, and surely the relatively small difference between them could be removed. They did not do so. Why? Certain incidents occurred, and Lord Runciman does not conceal his opinion that these incidents were manufactured. He does not say they were manufactured under orders from Berlin, but certainly the general tone of his letter leaves very little doubt that that was his opinion.
Then came the refusal any more to negotiate for improvements in the Government and the demand for secession, so urgently pressed and creating so many difficulties that Lord Runciman came to the conclusion that in view of what happened it was impossible to go back to the old system and some form of secession ought to be granted. But the importance of it was not the question of whether secession was the proper remedy for the difficulties that had arisen, but that it formed the basis, the excuse, for the German threat to invade Czechoslovakia. I do not think I have misstated in any material degree the history so far. That is really what happened. Then came the Prime Minister's interview at Berchtesgaden and his bringing back terms which afterwards were accepted and which, in a moment of candour, Herr Hitler said he never expected would have been con- 1329 sented to. They formed what was called moment the Germans heard that their first the Anglo-French plan. That plan was adopted. It was agreed to by the British and French Governments. It was presented to the Czech Government. They asked for time to consider it, and then, when they really had had no time, they were actually awakened in the middle of the night—at two o'clock in the morning—and told they must immediately agree without any conditions and without any discussion to this plan.
This is what I ant informed was said to them:Britain and France have the duty to prevent an European war, if humanly possible, and thus an invasion of Czechoslovakia. They wish the Czechoslovak Government to realise that if it does not unconditionally and at once accept the Anglo-French plan, it will stand before the world as solely responsible for the ensuing war.I cannot conceive on what grounds that statement was made.By refusing, Czechoslovakia will also be guilty of destroying Anglo-French solidarity, since, in that event, Britain will under no circumstances march, even if France went to the aid of Czechoslovakia. If the refusal should provoke a war, France gives official notice that she will not fulfil her treaty obligations.That is what we said and the French said to the Czech Government. If it had been the conclusion of a war and the Czech Government had been beaten, the demand could scarcely have been put forward in any other terms. But this was to a friendly Government, who had been guilty of no kind of offence of any sort, but they had done one other thing. They had claimed the benefit of their Arbitration Treaty with Germany. That showed perhaps an optimism which was blamable but scarcely a sufficient ground for the way they were treated.
I am quite aware that those terms I have read will not be found in the White Paper, and they were not referred to either by the Secretary of State or by the Prime Minister. They said merely that they had advised the Czech Government to agree. What was the result of that? The Czech Government agreed. They could not do anything else. Instead of finding their two friends supporting them they found their two friends had gone over to the enemy. Whereupon a fresh meeting was arranged at Godesberg, and, in accordance with what I venture to say is the normal German procedure in negotiating, the 1330 moment the Germans heard that their first terms had been granted they asked for a considerable addition to what they had proposed. But here they went too far. All this was known. The British Government said they could not agree; the Czech Government said they could not agree; the French Government said they could not agree; the Russian Government had never made any secret of their intention to go to the assistance of Czechoslovakia if it was attacked. Germany was completely isolated. I doubt whether any of the small countries expressed any intention to assist her. Japan coldly observed that she would give to Germany the moral support against Czechoslovakia which Germany had given to her in her battle with China. Italy was quite evidently very reluctant to do anything. She took no step to prepare for assisting Germany. She remained quiescent. What Italy actually intended to do of course I do not know. All the others were more or less hostile, and at that moment came in the very weighty appeal of President Roosevelt, in effect saying that, though there was no probability of any active intervention by America, if Herr Hitler—for it was addressed only to Herr Hitler—refused, if he insisted on his terms, he could not expect any sympathy from America.
I cannot help feeling that at that moment it was quite certain that Herr Hitler would not invade Czechoslovakia and would give way. It was collective security in actual operation. All the countries who loved peace said that rather than permit this gross breach of the public law of Europe they would advance to the assistance of Czechoslovakia. An arrangement was made at the suggestion of our Prime Minister by Signor Mussolini by which a new Conference was called. No doubt that was in order to let Herr Hitler get out of the position in which he found himself with the least possible loss of reputation. I am entirely in favour of that. I never wish to trample on anyone who is unfortunately beaten, but I confess that I did read with some pain the terms which were agreed upon at Munich. The Foreign Secretary has made the best of them, and no doubt they are an improvement upon the German Memorandum, but the broad fact remains that within a fantastically short time Czechoslovakia is to hand over all the territory which is 1331 clearly inhabited by Germans, and other territory of unknown extent may be demanded from her as the result of the proceedings at the International Commission. And it may be that the German and Italian delegates will be as successful in the International Commission as they have been in their other negotiations.
There are other modifications—I need not go through them because the Foreign Secretary stated them—no doubt of some practical importance; but, broadly speaking, Hitler won. Broadly speaking he got what he wanted. Broadly speaking the demand for secession which he organised was granted. Broadly speaking those who resisted it were defeated. Those seem to me to be the plain facts of the situation. I do not forget the agreement made between Mr. Chamberlain and Herr Hitler professing that they would never again, or hoping that they would never again, take hostile action one against the other, that all would be settled by discussion. I cannot forget, none of us can forget, that somewhat similar assurances were given on several occasions by the German Government which in fact have not been fulfilled. I will not trouble your Lordships with reading them, but anyone who wants to see them set out in a convenient form will find them in an article in the current number of the Spectator by Dr. Seton-Watson. I do not personally and never have personally thought that it was right to make any great charge of perjury against the Germans for this and similar actions in their history. That is their view as to what an international assurance means. It does not mean a promise. It means a statement of the existing intention of the Government that makes it. Look at all their heroes—the great Elector, Frederick the Great, Prince Bismarck. You will always find that has been their attitude down to the celebrated speech of Bethmann-Hollweg, who merely stated what was the general understanding on such matters in his country. It is very striking that when Von Bulow comes to describe that incident in his memoirs he says it was extraordinarily stupid and tactless of Bethmann-Hollweg to make such a statement, but nowhere does he disagree with the statement. And he could not, because it was, in my submission, 1332 quite the normal course in Germany.
There are some questions I should have liked to ask, but I will not trouble your Lordships with them all. The first is as to the exact meaning of this understanding, assuming that it is more valuable and more valid than at present seems to be likely. In particular I wanted to ask how it affects, for instance, the guarantee given to Czechoslovakia. Are we, if Germany disagrees with us, bound to go and talk to Germany before putting that guarantee into force? I do not know whether that guarantee is in force now. I suppose it is, since the document which contains it has been accepted by Czechoslovakia. I do not understand why it did not operate in the case of the demands of Poland. I presume because Czechoslovakia did not ask for it. If they had asked for it, would it have been necessary to have consultation with Germany before anything could be done? And the same thing applies to our agreement with France. I dare say there is a good answer to all these questions, and I hope that answer will be made, and made very clearly, so as to avoid any charge of want of good faith against us if we find it impossible to carry out in the terms there stated the obligation which we seem to have entered into.
The net result of this Agreement has been—as I was very glad indeed to hear the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs admit—to impose very heavy burdens, financial burdens, on the Czechs. They will have to reconstruct their railways. They will have, apparently, to rebuild all their factories, because they are not to be allowed to remove any of their factories from the ceded areas. They will have to provide for certainly not less than one hundred thousand German refugees from the ceded areas who do not wish to come under Nazi government, and they will besides have to provide for not less than four hundred thousand Czechs. I must say I felt profoundly relieved that that fact was frankly and fully acknowledged by the noble Viscount, and to hear that the Government will give—as I understood as a first instalment—£10,000,000, and consider what else they ought to give to help Czechoslovakia. That does make that part of the case very much less bad than I feared it was, but of course it leaves the political side of it untouched.
1333 Let me repeat that to my mind the question is not whether the substance of this transaction was right or wrong. So far I must respectfully differ from the most reverend Primate. It is not a question whether this district should or should not be given over to Germany. That is a small part of the thing. The really important thing, the really outstanding thing for the future of the world, is that we have conceded to threats that which we were not prepared to concede to argument. That is the really fatal precedent established by this transaction. I noticed with somewhat grim amusement that Herr Hitler thought it best to reassure our Prime Minister as to his attitude about Colonial questions. He said they would not mean an ultimatum; they were eminently a matter for discussion. Is not that rather humiliating to us? Herr Hitler evidently thought it would be dangerous to press any demand for territorial adjustment against us. He said "No, I will not do that. I will tell you that is only a question for discussion. England is not Czechoslovakia. I cannot treat her in the way I think it right to treat Czechoslovakia." I confess that seems to me to be an underlining of the evil of this transaction which is very remarkable.
Are there, then, no redeeming features? I should certainly say there may be. There seem to me to be two very important redeeming features about this transaction. The first is one which I think has already been referred to. It has shown an immense desire for peace in the world. That is a very important thing. I do not want to be unfair in anything I am saying. That is a vital matter, if it can be made the basis of further action. Secondly, I think it is important as showing that once you get a real desire to keep the peace going there is no difficulty in applying the principles of collective security. They follow as a matter of course. That bogey, which I have heard trotted out in this House and elsewhere so often, that you would have to face the solid opposition of the three great military countries—Japan, Italy and Germany—I always thought was nonsense, and now the events of the last few days have shown how utterly foolish is any such doctrine. No one can doubt that if we had chosen to use it, as I think it might have been used, we had an overwhelming superiority when the 1334 Munich Conference met, and though opinions may differ as to whether that was used properly or not, the broad fact remains that we had a superiority so great that in my judgment at any rate it was utterly unthinkable that Germany would have resisted.
Now, my Lords, what about the future? I am afraid I cannot doubt that we have lost very considerably in reputation. I do not for a moment question the great personal position which Mr. Chamberlain has achieved. But all the same if you read the Press—it appears even in this morning's newspapers from foreign countries—you will see the note "Well, we shall know we cannot trust the guarantees of any of these Western democratic Powers in the future." That is very serious, and I feel that it is worth more careful consideration than perhaps even the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary has given to it. What is his case? Broadly speaking, and reduced to its very simple terms, it is that we had to choose between war and surrender. That was really what he said, unless I wholly misunderstood him. But if that is true we must always yield whenever Herr Hitler threatens war. The question is surely not that. You had to choose whether in point of fact the probability of war was so great that you were bound to go on with your concessions. It is true that in this case it was an attack on Czechoslovakia, to whom, as I think, we were bound. Certainly the French were bound, and I think we were bound under our general obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations which is after all part of the Treaties of Paris. But supposing it had been not an attack on Czechoslovakia, but an attack on us. Suppose it had been a threat, let us say, to Gibraltar. Are we going to say "We will give up Gibraltar rather than risk the terrors and dangers of war?" It is arguable that you ought to do that. But do you imagine that any British Minister would say it? Of course he would not. He would say, "Certainly not; this is a gross and unjust demand on us for something that belongs to us, and we will not give it up, at any rate until we have done our best to maintain it." But surely, if that argument holds good in regard to our territory, it holds equally good with regard to the territory of a small country whose territorial integrity 1335 we have undertaken to respect and preserve.
At the same time, the broad fact remains that we have yielded to threats. That is the really important matter; it is the great issue that faces us and faces the world: what are to be the international relations between countries? Are they to be governed by law, reason and justice, or are they to be governed by force and nothing else? The Germans state quite plainly, without any concealment: "We think force is the only thing that counts in international relations." That is their case, and has been for many years past; it has been very clearly stated by the present Government of Germany. Our case must be, and ought to be, that we do not believe that, and that we propose to do our utmost to make the rule of law binding in international affairs as it is binding between individuals. That is the great issue, and it seems to me that in this transaction, rightly or wrongly, we have suffered a great victory for the force conception and a great defeat for the law conception.
What of the future? I agree with the most reverend Primate that our best course is to try to reconstruct, improve, strengthen and build up the League of Nations. I think it is our only course; I do not see anything else we can do. But we must be prepared to use it, to use it with courage and decision, and not say, "Well, we have all the cards in our hands, but we are none the less going to give the victory to our opponent." Something was said by my noble friend Lord Crewe about the failure of the League to use Article 19. I respectfully protest against the use of the words "failure of the League." The proper phrase is "the failure of the Members of the League"; and among them Germany. Germany was a Member of the League for several years—two or three years, at any rate. Why did she not, if she thought that she had this intolerable grievance in the Sudetenland, ask for the application of Article 19? Why should it be put down to other countries as their grave fault. The fault, if fault there was, lies principally upon German shoulders. As a matter of fact, I quite agree it is not a perfect piece of machinery, and I should be prepared to see that part of the machinery overhauled and, it may be, improved. But, 1336 broadly speaking, I agree with the most reverend Archbishop that we shall have to revive the League.
I am sure that is also the view of the Foreign Secretary. I wish I could believe that this Government, as constituted at present, were likely to do anything effective in the matter. I will not say any more on that. I can only say that, as far as I have observed, they have never done anything yet to improve or revive the League, and since the coming into power of the National Government, their predecessors and themselves, the position of the League has deteriorated beyond all belief. It is easy enough to say that this is the fault of the French, or of the Germans, or of somebody else, but no one who studies the history of those years will doubt that the British Government has not been free from blame in the matter. It is for that reason that I venture, though, as I say, without very much hope, to plead most earnestly that the Government, with real courage, insight and vigour, shall turn their whole attention to strengthening this only organ of international co-operation and international peace that exists in the world.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I should like to pay my humble tribute to the noble Viscount, the Foreign Secretary, for the very moving and weighty words in which he gave us the narrative of the last few weeks, and at the same time an expression of the sentiments which were in his mind. I am sure that we all owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Government, and also to the Prime Minister, for what has been done in the last few weeks. I think I can tell the noble Lord how deeply we sympathise with him in the tremendous responsibilities which rest on his shoulders, and that we congratulate him on the manner in which those duties have been discharged. It would be difficult—and I do not feel that I could do it adequately—to pay a proper tribute to the Prime Minister. We all feel that no one could have shown greater courage and greater determination; one might say that he alone is responsible for averting the terrible catastrophe with which we were faced in the last few weeks. I am sure that the Prime Minister would pay a similar tribute to his able coadjutors at Munich for the results which have been 1337 hailed with so much joy throughout the world.
The noble Viscount who has just sat down had—I regret to say it—a very bitter tone running through the whole of his speech. I would not think of crossing swords with him, because I always look up to him as one who has done as much in the last few years to work for the establishment of peace as any other person. Although I may not have agreed with everything he has done, still I know that in the years to come he will be in the front rank of those who will do their best to establish what we believe it is possible to establish now: a peace which will exist throughout the world. I always find that the strongest advocates for peace are the most polemical in the council chamber, and therefore, if the noble Viscount will allow me, there I will leave the speech he has made this afternoon.
The noble Lord who leads the Opposition made, as he always does, a very eloquent and, I will say, a moving speech. I feel that I know well the happiness in his mind that this great catastrophe has been averted. I know that he has had misgivings, and that he has misgivings in his mind now. But I would venture to ask him whether, if he had been sitting on this side of the House, he would have deviated by one hair's breadth from the course which was taken by the Prime Minister. I know that uppermost in his mind, as it is uppermost in all our minds, is the maintenance of peace and the averting of the catastrophe with which we were threatened.
In these last few days we nave been aware, in reading the Press, that there are many opinions which will no doubt be ventilated in the course of the next few weeks. Many of them will have the purpose of somewhat destroying the great achievement of the Prime Minister, and I feel that they will take the line first of all on which the noble Viscount has made his speech, that is, that we have surrendered to threats, and what are we going to do in the future if Gibraltar is threatened? That was the analogy which the noble Viscount took, but I am not sure that it was a very good analogy. I think we may say, in looking at what has happened recently, that it is the direct result of the mistakes which we have all made in relation to the pacification of 1338 Europe. I say "we" because I do not think that anyone can claim to be innocent of that charge. There is a further doctrine which we shall hear put forward, and that is that there is an eternal struggle between democracy and dictatorship, and that must eventually end in war. I profoundly differ from that doctrine, and history tells us that it is unsound. After all, we supported Frederick the Great, and I think the noble Viscount will agree with me that there were broad divergencies of opinion between the two Governments then, as now. I have felt that whilst we consider the internal administration which a Government carries on in its own country, it is not our primary concern, and does not preclude our working with them in those international matters by which the government of the world is carried on.
I welcome particularly the events of the last two weeks by reason of a direct contact having been made by our Prime Minister and the Government of Germany. I, in a very humble manner, have been endeavouring for four years to do exactly the same thing. Nearly four years ago, as an ex-Minister, and as an individual whose family is not altogether unconnected with the great events in Europe of a hundred years ago, I endeavoured to make this particular contact. I was received in Germany with great sympathy and great kindness, but I became aware very quickly that I was a solitary contact. Apart from those diplomatic relations which are carried on with great advantage, that direct contact of an ex-Minister was something which the Germans had never experienced and knew nothing about. I have always felt that we did not understand the German point of view, and that we did not realise their difficulties.
In this country there are various schools of thought in relation to Germany. There is a strong school of thought which has a fixed distrust of Germany on all occasions and for all times in the future. They appear to me to have taken up the barren attitude of saying that it is of no use trying to cultivate good relations with Germany, because it is impossible to trust the word of Germany, and that her one policy is to destroy the British Empire. Throughout this country there is also another school of thought, which feels that for a long time the Ger- 1339 mans have never had a fair chance and have never received justice. That school of thought has been continually disturbed by the events which have given us cause to consider very carefully what exactly it is that Germany is intending to do. I should be the last person to deny that we have had many shocks. The march of events in Germany has been rapid and astonishing, and a remarkable record of history has been achieved in Germany in the last five years. At each one of the moves made by the Chancellor we have watched and practically condoned everything done.
First of all Germany began rearming. Next there was the reoccupation of the demilitarised zone, which was followed by the resumption of the control of the rivers. Next there was the occupation of Austria, and lastly what can be called the liberation of the German-speaking people of the Sudetenland. This has all been done in five years, and I would say that they are all direct results of the mistakes and failures of twenty years, during which time the victorious nations of the world had an opportunity of rearranging affairs in Europe and trying to see that justice was done. What did we do in those five years? We did practically nothing. We supported France in her policy, which, to put it quite plainly, was what was known as the encirclement of Germany. We know what the French point of view was at that time—that Germany was the aggressor and France would never be safe unless Germany was kept under the strictest measure of control. That was a policy which could have been pursued, but it would not have been a progressive policy nor a policy which an humble individual like myself could possibly have supported. I have always felt—it was the policy of Castlereagh and Wellington—that the vanquished nation should be encouraged and called upon to take her place among the other nations in the conduct of world affairs. The other policy which could have been pursued was one of friendly association. We followed neither. We tacitly supported the French in their policy in keeping the Germans under, and at the same time we showed no sympathy whatever with Germany in the struggles which she was going through as a nation which had been beaten in the war, which had passed through a revolution, and which, by the efforts and the 1340 determination of one man, was gradually raising itself out of the deplorable conditions in which it found itself.
That was the time to make contacts with Germany. That was the time to give her our sympathy and our assistance. We should then have had a friendly control over Germany and, by our contacts with Germany, we should have been able to realise in those years whether the fears which exist in the minds of people in this country that Germany is incorrigible and cannot be befriended were justified, or whether there were hopes—as I believe there are hopes—that Germany, a great, strong, progressive country, gradually recovering its strength, would join with us in the great task of carrying on the government of the world. And what has happened? We find Germany a strong and powerful nation, with grievances not really considered, with public opinion loud in criticism of everything she has done, and never admitting that she had any difficulties whatsoever, but persuaded that she had a comparatively easy task to conduct her own affairs as we have in this country, who were not beaten in the war, who have not had a revolution for three hundred years, and who have had the opportunity of establishing our system of government on bases of a firm and lasting character. We have been pursuing a policy of negation and preparing for the worst instead of going forward and trying to enlist the sympathies of a great nation in the great work which lies before us.
When we come to the question of Czechoslovakia I fully endorse and subscribe to the words which have fallen from the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary. But we must remember that for fifteen years those treaty obligations have been neglected. We have said that the Germans should be patient and should wait, but they have waited long enough, they have been patient. The noble Viscount told us that Germany had been a Member of the League of Nations and could have brought her case before the League of Nations. The noble Viscount knows perfectly well that every suggestion and every request made by Germany at the League of Nations or the Disarmament Conference was negatived at once, and it was owing to the negation of every suggestion they made that they left the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations. I am not condoning or 1341 accepting the methods by which the Germans carry out their doctrine, and I see a grave danger in the future unless—and my hopes rest in this—this valuable contact, which has been made at the last minute and contrary to all precedent by our great Prime Minister, is followed up and we see a great change in international affairs.
I can say quite honestly that what has happened has been the fulfilment of the hopes which I have had in my mind. I have seen what I have urged and what I have desired—a direct contact with Germany, a contact which they have sadly needed and wanted for some years now—and I feel that what has been done is a basis on which great opportunities rest. I only hope that it will not be prejudiced by divided counsels here, by the idea being conveyed to foreign countries that we differ in our opinions, that we are not quite certain whether what the Prime Minister has done has been right or not, or by the doctrine that war is inevitable and all that sort of dangerous suggestion, which should now be put on one side.
I spent Thursday and Friday in Munich as a private individual, and I went there particularly because I wanted to see the effect on the German people who thronged Munich of the news which I hoped would come out of the conference. I have met the German people before on my many visits to that country, and I have known that in their hearts there is a greater horror of war among the Germans than there is even in this country. I watched those people as they acclaimed the British delegation, and the French delegation, and the Italian delegation, and the look of relief which came into the eyes of those men and women is something which I shall never forget. I know quite well that the message which has gone from Munich throughout the world will bring relief and happiness to millions. When the noble Viscount speaks of the League of Nations I agree with two things that he says. It is not the League of Nations that has failed, it is the Members of the League of Nations who have failed. I do not know whether the noble Viscount agrees with me, but I have always felt that if we could form this basis of the four great Western Powers—and I have put it forward in my humble way on many occasions—joining together and saying that there shall be no war, then out of what will follow from that in the next few 1342 weeks we shall be able to develop that League of Nations which must be established and which must be maintained, or else the future of the world is indeed gloomy.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I rise for a moment only because I am told that I am the only surviving member in this House of those Ministers of the Crown who attended the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Trianon. If I may tell your Lordships the real reasons why the boundaries of Czechoslovakia, which are now being altered, were then drawn as they were, I think I may be able to show that it is quite a mistaken view to say that though we have averted war we have something to be ashamed of, when in point of fact we can act with a clear conscience and hold our heads high. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition in his speech said that he understood that President Benes himself was not particularly keen about having these three and a half million Germans under his sway, but that some of the reasons why it was done were economic. My noble friend Lord Crewe and I simultaneously interjected "strategic," and the fact is that the real reason why the boundaries were drawn as they were was a strategic reason.
I had many consultations throughout that period with Marshal Foch, who, it will be remembered, was the chief military adviser of the Allies. He was positive that it was wise for strategic reasons to draw the boundaries of Czechoslovakia as they were until two days ago. As the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition reminded us, the Labour Party of that day protested strongly at the injustice of what was being done and Mr. Lansing, the United States Secretary of State, protested also. Mr. Balfour as he then was—Lord Balfour afterwards—also was grieved at it, so was Lord Milner, next to whom I sat when these Treaties were signed. But it was Marshal Foch who persuaded us that, although it might appear to be unjust to put three and a half million Germans under the rule of those with whom they had always been at variance, it was for the good of Europe as a whole. His argument was this. I can see him now drawing the map. He said, "You see here is a great bastion. You will not allow me to advise you to have the 1343 frontier on the Rhine, but at least let us have this bastion." He repeated the phrase again and again. The argument ran thus: "The Germans had misused their power, and they ought not to be allowed to rearm. We will all disarm to the same level as they will, and in a short time the fact that the bastion is there will make the three and a half million German accept the mild rule of Dr. Benes and Dr. Masaryk. Then all the world will be happy and Germany will come into line with us." Had that happened it might have been true, and the boundaries might have remained as they were. But we need not go to-day into the question of who was right and who was wrong. Other people did not disarm and Germany determined to arm. Germany, armed, raised the spirits and hopes of the three and a half millions w ho were no longer terrified of the bastion.
So it was on purely military grounds that this frontier was drawn which is now being reversed. It is quite wrong to say that it is an abandonment of anything which we thought right. It is an acknowledgment of a fact that was then acknowledged by everybody to be a wrong but in which we acquiesced for the higher principles of strategy. These principles do not now apply. None of the arguments then used apply to prevent us from doing the right thing. I am sure that if Marshal Foch were here to-day he would say it was madness to insist on maintaining what he called the bastion. All reason for it has gone. Therefore, far from saying, as has been suggested, that we ought in any way to be ashamed of what we have done, we can honestly say, I am pursuaded, speaking with clear recollection of all that took place, that we are now engaged in putting right what we did when it was indeed a wrong, although with the best intentions. I cannot conceive that at the bar of history anyone, least of all His Majesty's present Government or the Prime Minister, will be judged harshly for having righted a wrong and saved from terrible catastrophe the world and the millions of lives which would have been lost in a world war. I am sure that will be the verdict of history. I would appeal to those outside this House who say that we have given way, that we have funked it, that we have allowed a wrong to be perpetrated, 1344 to remember this true fact, that we are righting a wrong and therefore can go forward with thankful hearts and clear consciences.
§ VISCOUNT SANKEY
My Lords, during the last fortnight every one of us has probably been putting to himself the question, "What ought I to do or what ought I to say in the present emergency?" One of the difficulties of to-day is the speed with which policies have to be improvised and decisions have to be taken. It is a difficulty which presses more severely on a country where democracy prevails than on a country which is governed by a dictatorship. It is no longer possible for a democracy in an emergency to reach conclusions by prolonged debate or by the cut-and-thrust of argument. The Executive have to come to decisions and to justify them in Parliament. This makes the conduct of foreign affairs exceptionally difficult, but the Executive act as our agents—they pledge the country and we must support them. In coming to a conclusion the Executive should summon Parliament when there is time, should consider and give attention to the views of a free Press, should watch the course of public opinion, and should see the representative leaders of the Opposition and great national societies. But when rapid decisions have to be taken we must in the end trust to a leader or a small band of leaders, even though to trust in one man, or in a few men only, may seem to be alien to the supposed principles of democracy.
In an emergency all parties must unite. First, last, and all the time we are British. But that does not mean that when the emergency has passed, or our advice is sought, our only attitude should be either flattery or silence. For the sake of the future, we are not only entitled, but it is our duty, to criticise. Before doing so let me express the admiration which we must all feel for the Prime Minister's part in these difficult days. He has had to endure reproach far worse to bear than violence, but nobody can deny his courage, his perseverance, and his devotion to the cause of peace. I should like to couple with him the noble Viscount who has been acting as Foreign Secretary, and who has disproved the idea that the only proper place for the holder of that office is in the House of Commons. It may be doubted whether any two 1345 British statesmen have ever had to face such troublous times. It was indeed a crisis to try men's souls. They must have remembered that you do not judge public and private affairs by the same standard. For speculation on the Stock Exchange, or for the purchase and sale of goods, you look to the fluctuation of prices and to the turn of the market; but in affairs of State, and when great questions of public policy have to be decided, you do not forget the honour and renown and the reputation of your country. When we see who these two men are, we can say something for the principle of heredity.
Let me now turn to a criticism of the recent negotiations. Most of us acquiesce in the settlement, but it is not possible to accord to it unqualified approval. We receive it with some apprehension. By it we have at least secured a breathing space. We have purchased peace, but two questions remain. One, who paid for that peace? Secondly, how long will it last? We are perhaps too near to events to answer the first question, but my fear is that history will say that it was Czechoslovakia who paid for the peace, a gallant nation whose conduct in the last three or four days has saved not only the peace of Europe, but the peace of the world. It must be remembered that we broke no treaty with Czechoslovakia, because there was none to break; but did we not, by our actions, lead them to suppose that we would stand by them? Again, let it be remembered that the politicians of to-day are hampered by the mistakes of the politicians of the past. The Treaty of Versailles had all the marks of the worst side of twentieth-century diplomacy. It transferred peoples and land without any respect of feelings of justice or humanity. That is the tragedy of war. When peace comes, the winners are judges in their own cases, and that at a time when their passions are inflamed and when force has risen triumphant. It is of course easy to be wise after the event. A federation may hold together by ties of race, tradition or self-interest. Czechoslovakia had no such ties. We know now what Czechoslovakia was. It was designed to be a buffer State, and it was a number of minorities put into a strait-jacket.
I pass to the second question. It is the important one. Bygones are bygones 1346 all the world over. It is the present and the future which call us to our task. Will this peace last? If we have only avoided an immediate distress, if we have only gained a little time by a dubious agreement, it is not worth having. We cannot pass from crisis to crisis. I am uneasy not only about treaties which nations make but about treaties which nations break. The present compromise can only be approved if it is the beginning of a larger and more permanent settlement. But someone will say: "But we agree to all this; tell us your proposal." Well, at the end of the last War a pretentious effort was made to provide for international settlements by the League of Nations. It has failed for the moment, to our regret but not to our surprise. It never was the League of Nations it was meant to be. Its object, as it appeared to many, was to maintain the status quo. It tried to do too much at first, and it provided machinery for the settlement of disputes but not a method of enforcing the settlement, for which the time was not yet ripe. Let us try again but in a different way. Let us try to carry out settlements not by sanctions but by the goodwill of those who are affected by them.
The dream of a United States of Europe has fired for long the imagination of statesmen. It is a great design, but it is far from realisation. Let us try and make a beginning. Why cannot the Western States of Europe get together to debate and discuss matters in which they have a common interest? What is going to be our attitude to Germany to-morrow? What is going to be our attitude to Italy to-morrow? If resentment is going to overcome reason, if our anger is to burn like fire for ever, why then this settlement was not well made. The last stage will be worse than the first. The truth is that Germany and Italy have discovered a new technique of government, but the two great democracies and the two great dictatorships have got to live together and times change. Men may come and men may go. Cannot these four States, each with its own outlook and its own ambitions, meet and discuss them without undue rhetoric? Could not they put down for their first agenda the restoration of international trade, the rectification of European boundaries and the reduction of armaments? The reduction of armaments will be the real test of the sincerity of 1347 Munich. I was sorry to read in a paper of repute the other day that had it not been for Mr. Chamberlain's intervention German aeroplanes would have been raining bombs over London. Yes, but it might have added that British aeroplanes would have been raining bombs over Cologne and Berlin. It gives me very little satisfaction to think that if the Germans kill 20,000 young English men and women to-morrow we shall go and kill 40,000 Germans the following day—innocent people who dislike war just as much as we do. Non tali auxilio. From time to time the passions of Europe have been let loose, but it has always been found that the real solution of our difficulties has been a return to those principles and those practices which are still believed in and desired by the God-fearing men of all nations.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, I had thought of not troubling your Lordships after the complete survey of the Foreign Secretary, but there are one or two things, I think largely arising out of the speech of my noble friend Lord Cecil, which I believe it is necessary to say. I was interested in what was said by the Leader of the Opposition (Lord Snell), but neither he nor Lord Cecil, I think, went so far as to say that we should have engaged in a world war for the sake of the Czech boundary. The truth is that if you wish for a fight and it is necessary to have a fight with Germany, that particular matter is the very worst ground physically or morally you could fight on. When all the controversy on principle is over one dominating fact remains, that if the Germans had wished nothing could have saved Czechoslovakia. I do not think it is so with noble Lords here, but there is much talk outside suggesting that if something could have been done it would have saved Czechoslovakia, but any man who looks at the map and then considers the conditions of modern warfare will at once realise, though he need not be a soldier, that that was a vain delusion.
Not only could Prague have been overrun but the whole country could have been overrun before any effective aid could have been given either from west or east, and once let that situation arise do you think that a German army would have stopped where they are stopping 1348 now? There would have been nothing whatever to prevent them overrunning the whole of Bohemia and Moravia, throwing the Slovakian corridor to Hungary, throwing the Teschen area to Poland, and perhaps throwing the Ruthenian bit of Czechoslovakia to Rumania. What could have been done on the Western front? Does anyone suppose that with or without the help of ourselves the French as against the power of modern defences could have done anything effective? Then what would have been the position? The war in all human probability would have become a complete stalemate on the west. I do not think the French would have been in any serious danger of attack, neither do I believe the Germans would have been, but the war would have gone on and what would have been the weapons? A blockade which would take years to be effective, and a system of mutual bombing. Does anybody suppose that the people either of this country or of France would have been content indefinitely to submit to the conditions that we envisaged and prepared for last week for the sake, not of Czech freedom, but of Czech ascendency, which is a very different thing? That must have broken down. But as it is, by the action of the Prime Minister, he has, as far as any public declaration or obligations can go, secured the freedom and liberty of the real Slav Bohemia and Moravia which otherwise would have been lost.
My noble friend Viscount Cecil spoke about what would happen if Gibraltar were attacked. But there is all the difference between doing something that is practicable and something that is not. Of course we should defend Gibraltar, and of course, again, we should defend Belgium. I think I might go further and say that it would be perfectly practicable with French aid to defend Switzerland. But it is not practicable to defend by force, nor indeed is it practicable to defend by argument—especially after what the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said—the present boundaries of Czechoslovakia. When the noble Viscount talks of yielding to threats that is exactly what we did not do, because when the last terms from the Germans were made we definitely risked the worst in order to make a stand against them.
It is rather curious—I dare say it may be justified—that our engagements to 1349 France seem to have gone up as events developed. At first we only said we would come in—that has been our position for years—in case of unprovoked aggression; later we said that we would come in if French security were endangered; and lastly we said we would support her on the first collision between French and German troops. To the Czechs we had no bond, but we have produced results for them. To talk of our being bound under the Covenant of the League of Nations—which has notoriously broken down—in a matter in which no one would help us, is playing with words. We have done a great deal for them. We have stopped their own Slav country being overrun. We have made inevitable concessions possible, and we have made fair play for the plebiscites. We have by our guarantee—though it needs further elucidation later—made, I hope, a future for Czechoslovakia on the footing of Switzerland. I support the Government and the Prime Minister not only because they have succeeded, but because they have been right and because they have not only saved the peace but our and their honour as well.
§ LORD NOEL-BUXTON
My Lords, it goes without saying that we all, to whatever Party we belong, wish to join in praise of the Prime Minister's magnificent energy. Speaking for myself, and not for my Party, I want to join also in praise of the judgment at which he arrived in regard to policy. Equally I would like to render my meed of gratitude to the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary, because after all the policy is one in which his advice was naturally supreme and I think it is of the utmost value that the view was arrived at which they took. The Treaties of Versailles had to be revised. Circumstances, it is true, had made it necessary which in the view of the Labour Party would never have arisen if they had been in office. We should not have been involved in the problem that remains to be settled because the Labour Party strongly supported the claims of the Sudeten Deutsch to be outside Czechoslovakia.
Let us hope that the Prime Minister has snatched a benefit which may be a colossal benefit from the very jaws of disaster. He tells us to be hopeful about a general settlement of quite a new character. He forecasts a drastic change 1350 of mind. That depends on a drastic change of mind on the part of men in high places in more than one country. It is perhaps natural for some people to be sceptical as to whether such a miracle will come about, but I think we should say that if such a miracle is to be fulfilled it does mean a great new contribution of work and of sacrifice on the part of all, of masses of people in many countries. It means, as my noble friend Viscount Sankey has just said, a revision of the frontiers laid down at Versailles, and there I am glad we can take note of the policy announced by His Majesty's Government at Geneva only the other day which laid great stress on revision. It certainly must mean freer international trade. It must mean a dealing with the Colonial problem. The acid test of the new time to which the Prime Minister asks us to look is disarmament. Is it not possible that with a new attitude towards Germany, which has got to be very different from the attitude which led us into friction years ago, we may get back to something like a revival of the offers which Germany made years ago, even under the new régime, in regard to disarmament, such as the offer of 1934 which makes the mouth water now? We cannot hope for conversion to the democratic ideal, but we may hope for conversion to a belief in cordial relations between the great States whose duty it is to secure the peace of Europe.
I think this is hardly the time to pursue the possibilities and implications of this sudden new hope, and I forbear to pursue them at the moment because the actual transfer of territory is in progress and it is a very delicate operation. But I want particularly to urge a practical point. Evacuation involves terrible hardships. The mistake of 1919 was bound in the end to be extremely costly, when it was rectified, to large numbers of people, to whichever party they belonged, in the Sudetenland. The country was, we may say, established in the anti-German spirit of 1919 as a tool to weaken Germany. Now the impossible task that was allotted to Czechoslovakia is bearing bitter fruit for some hundreds of thousands of people. I want to thank His Majesty's Government for what they are doing in the way of financial help, but I would like to suggest that there is even more to do than that. We are, I hope, to send forces to aid in keeping order during the 1351 evacuation and during the plebiscites, but now in these days when masses of people are in extreme material distress we could also make a great contribution if our Consuls are set free from other duties, perhaps even with increased staffs, to help in dealing with refugees. I hope the British Legion's offer will be utilised, because our debt to Czechoslovakia, as has been said by others of your Lordships, can hardly be measured.
The Czechoslovaks could have made war, as many thought perhaps the reckless elements among them would drive them to do, by themselves. Large numbers of them would have been ready to risk all. We must give them credit for the fact that they exercised restraint. They have given up their costly defences. They are bound to sacrifice large sections of national wealth. Some of their factories—I have seen them myself—in the north-eastern part of the Sudetenland belong to Czechs, who will necessarily have left them and gone to Prague. They will lose valuable mines. The whole question of compensation will be very complicated and difficult, and probably it will remain for the Czech Government to do the main part of the work in such compensation as takes place at all. That Government will be called on very heavily, and our help should be as generous as it possibly can be. The British public would feel ashamed if, a sacrifice having been made for our sake, it were not met by sacrifice on the most generous scale on our part.
I especially want to ask His Majesty's Government if they will, in these immediate days, do all they can in connection with the army of refugees w ho at this very moment are making their way out of the Sudetenland. Members of the Party among the Germans of the Sudetenland known as the Activists, who were co-operating with the Czech Government, are marked men, and for few of them will it be safe to stay in their homes. The Jewish population is happily not so large, but the Socialists—very numerous—having dared to vote on the anti-Henlein side in the spring elections, are all in danger. A year ago I met some of them, and I have friends among them. At this moment these people have either left their homes, leaving their valuables behind, or else they are hurriedly packing, if their 1352 zone has not yet been occupied, and they are suffering the most acute distress. It is grievous to think of the sick, the old and the very young who are being crowded into trains which are perhaps inadequate to move them. The peasants in their farm carts are slightly better off, but they perhaps find that the roads are congested or blocked. Something similar occurred in the early days of the War in the Balkans, where I myself saw the pitiable condition of these masses of refugees, suddenly moved to inadequate shelter and needing a high degree of organisation which you cannot expect a Government in straits such as those of the Prague Government must be to effect with anything like adequate success.
Prague is flooded with these masses of sad humanity. Food and shelter must be very scarce. I saw myself three years ago the refugees of the former class who had come from the Reich and were maintained in Prague with the greatest difficulty, because means of shelter were most inadequate, even for them. I cannot imagine how a shelter is found for the vastly greater numbers which are now arriving. There are movements, happily, in London to organise relief funds, but that must be a drop in the bucket. The organisation required may be vastly assisted if His Majesty's Consuls are instructed to supply all the help that they can. There is plenty of precedent for such work. After the War the Government themselves maintained refugees on a large scale for a long time. This is a special case, because these refugees have become so through the avoidance of war which other countries have been spared. I thank the Government for what they are proposing to do, and I would urge that they should add the greatest possible help by personnel; they will certainly find wide support in public opinion for any such aid as they can give. The taxpayer, moved as he is by the events of these days, will not grudge what it costs. The public realise that sacrifices have been made for us and would feel ashamed if no corresponding sacrifice were made in return.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN
My Lords, the ground has been so fully covered that I would not venture to address your Lordships if I did not hope that the Government, when they reply, will be able to 1353 answer a few questions about the future. We have had the experience, have we not, of one of the many mistakes of the Treaty of Versailles coming home to roost; and what we should like to know is what the Government propose to do when some of the rest of the mistakes follow the same example—because they are by no means exhausted. When the noble Viscount, Lord Sankey, said it was necessary to ask several questions—for example, who pays for the peace and how long it will last—it seemed to me that a third question had to be asked, and that is, what are you going to do to see that it does last? Are you going to profit by the experience of the past, so that when the same thing or something of the same sort arises again we shall be in a better position to tackle it? I was rather disconcerted when the noble Viscount, Lord Sankey, echoed the suggestion of my noble friend Viscount Cecil and of the most reverend Primate, that the only thing to do was to resuscitate the League of Nations. The noble Viscount shakes his head, and I agree that he suggested that it should be done on different lines. I think I am fair in saying that.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN
Then I could not help thinking that at this time of the year, in the autumn, when the League of Nations generally has one of its many failures to register, the ingenious members of the public represented by prelates, professors, politicians, professional publicists, and others who engage in the harmless amusement of writing for the newspapers, produce neat little schemes for the reorganisation of the world. I have read something of the sort which was rather like what the noble Viscount has produced. Your Lordships remember a pregnant phrase used by a Minister of Agriculture when he was replying in the House of Commons to a debate on foreign affairs. He said that he always thought that foreign affairs would be a very simple matter if it were not for the foreigners. In reading these ingenious little schemes which are drawn up with so much care by different able gentlemen, I have never in a single one of them seen any suggestion that any foreigner would have anything to do with it. What is the use of carrying on in that way? Surely we have had, unfortunately, enough experience 1354 of that in the League of Nations. What is the use of producing a scheme for dealing with foreign affairs on the understanding that, because it is produced by an Englishman, therefore it is bound to go down; that if it appeals to us it will appeal to foreigners? We have had this unfortunate experience of the League of Nations, because it is all on the same lines.
The noble Viscount referred to the League of Nations as the only organ of international co-operation and international peace which exists in the world. It is fair to ask when it is going to begin to function. Is there any sign that it is going to promote co-operation or to promote peace? Because it has failed to do either, and it has produced not merely friction but intolerable hardship, and on many occasions has exposed us to indignity such as we have never suffered before. I think it is time that the Government ceased to repeat, after all these failures, that the League of Nations is the keystone of their foreign policy—that our foreign policy is based on striving for peace through the League of Nations. Surely they must have had a pretty good eye-opener in the last fortnight, and must now realise that there is something wrong with the League of Nations. The noble Viscount says that it is not the League of Nations which is not right, but it is that people do not use it properly. Is not that the position of a man whose tailor has made him an uncomfortable suit, and who instead of going to another tailor goes into hospital, or to a surgeon, and gets himself operated upon in order that he may fit the suit?
The League of Nations was drawn up by people with a modicum of experience. It has gone from bad to worse, and we are blamed for all its failures. The great protagonists of the League try to put on us all the blame for the failures of the League. It is true that it is our invention, and that we are a conservative people and reluctant to abandon anything which we think is good, but after twenty years of consistent failure is it not time to ask how many more victims there shall be? We have had China, Manchuria, Abyssinia and now Czechoslovakia.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN
Not Spain. The best answer to the case of Spain is that the League kept out of it. I am sorry to see that they are going there, for if the League left Spain alone they might get out of their trouble. Must there be more victims? The noble Viscount, the Secretary of State, in his quite admirable speech reminded us that the diplomacy of any nation can only be commensurate with its strength. I hope it means that we are going to profit by our experience. I do not know that the Government come out of it quite with such flying colours as Lord Rankeillour suggested. I am certain that every word that has been said in sympathy with the Czechs was thoroughly deserved, for that small people has paid an enormous price for the peace of the world. But when you talk of the sufferings of the country why should all the price fall on us? Is it not right that France and the Germans, who have undoubtedly benefited, should pay something towards it? Why should we be looked upon as the milch cow of the world? I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government will suggest that it is not we alone who have benefited by the price which Czechoslovakia has paid for the peace of the world, and that all the other countries who have benefited should contribute something towards the undoubted losses and sufferings which have fallen upon Czechoslovakia.
Lord Londonderry in a very interesting speech, such as he always makes and has made again to-night, congratulated us and himself upon the fact that we have at last established direct contacts with the leader of the Germans and the leader of Italy. I believe he has made in that a good point, and I believe it is one of the few good things which have come out of this terrible business. The noble Marquess said that the Germans complained that we do not understand their point of view or their difficulties. Fortunately, with a very little trouble there is no country whose point of view could be so easily understood as the point of view of the Germans, because their point of view is summarised in one volume, Mein Kampf, and I believe His Majesty's Government would be doing marvellously good work if they had Mein Kampf translated word for word and placed on sale all over the country at not more than a shilling. I see that the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, is making notes. 1356 I hope he has made a note of that, and that if the Government will not do it they will say why they will not do it. I hope that they will also give an answer to the suggestion that by opening the eyes of the people of this country to the true German outlook we shall be doing service to both countries. That was the contention of the noble Marquess and I believe he was absolutely right.
Those who think that so-called collective security, which is collective insecurity, or the League of Nations, or any of the fancy things which have been tried during the last twenty years, is going to take the place of a strong country, are going to mislead the country, as they have, no doubt with the best intentions, misled this country in the past. Another thing which I hope the Government will find time to do is this. This dress rehearsal of an invasion which recent events have presented us with has afforded a wonderful opportunity of finding out weak spots, and I do believe that that opportunity ought to be taken full advantage of. There is grave danger, now that we have emerged from immediate danger, of lapsing again into the spirit of complacency which is our natural frame of mind. A noble Lord opposite wrote a most admirable letter to the Press the other day about national service, not confined to His Majesty's Forces. He rendered a very great service, and coming from him, if he will forgive me for saying so, it indicated a very important change of opinion among those who do not always see eye to eye with us, except in a national emergency. Do not let us imagine that this emergency is by any means over. Let us not adopt the view of my noble friend on the Cross Benches, because any form or sort of Geneva mindedness seems to me not merely dangerous but bound to lead to disaster. It has been tried for twenty years, which is a long time in the life of a politician, and something which has failed after twenty years ought surely to be discarded and make room for something else.
I do not suppose it is possible for international relations to be carried on through the heads of States alone. The strain would be impossible, certainly in a democratic community, where the Prime Minister has got so much more work than anybody else, and therefore it has to be done through the Foreign Secretary. But I believe we maintain something like 130 1357 officials in Geneva, that is, about one-fifth of the staff, and we pay something under £200,000 a year which represents one-eighth of the expenditure on Geneva—and by the way both those figures are characteristic of the exaggerated amount of attention that we pay to Geneva. If that seems an excessive statement, may I remind your Lordships that while these conversations were going on at Munich on the most momentous occasion since the War, dealing with matters affecting every man, woman an and child in the world, the League of Nations was in full session, and there the representatives were saying their little speeches, passing their little resolutions—and all no more effective than the bleating of a flock of sheep on the way to slaughter. I defy anyone to say that that is an exaggeration. But, if that is so, why waste time when it is proved that the League does none of the things that it was expected to do, and on the other hand does produce a great deal of ill-feeling?
I apologise for keeping your Lordships at this time of night, but I did want to try to get out of the Government an answer in particular about what they are going to do in the future. Do let us profit by the lessons of the past and realise the mistakes we have made. I wish I could share the complacency of the noble Lord who leads the Opposition with so much grace and charm, when he said that his Party had nothing to recant and very little to regret. Well, I think I have heard that before from his Party. I only hope that my Party will not take so satisfied a view, because think that we have a great deal to regret and that we must share our responsibility with everybody else for the past. I hope that next time trouble arises we shall not be in the position that we are in now, and that, instead of finding ourselves confronted with an emergency—in which, it is true, the nation to a man and to a woman acted in the most marvellous way—we shall have preparations adequate and sufficiently formidable to discourage anybody who may think that the proper argument to use with us is to threaten to bomb London.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, at this late hour I do not intend to say very much, but we have heard from various noble Lords about the special local problem of Czechoslovakia, and we have heard about the wider problems. There is 1358 one point about the local problem of Czechoslovakia which sometimes is not understood, and that is that the reason why the trouble has arrived only lately is not because the Sudeten Germans were always content to live under the Czechs, but because they have recently been helped, or have known that they had a rich and powerful uncle of theirs across the border. To say one word more about that local problem, I think it is probably true that nothing whatever could have saved the whole of Bohemia and Moravia from being conquered. I therefore agree with those noble Lords who say that these terms of peace have saved a homogeneous area for the Czechs, and I think the Czechs should really be pleased that that has been saved to them.
I want to deal with one other position. I was very fortunate in having a long talk with the German Chancellor on September to. I went with quite an open mind as to how I should react to what he said, and I was told to be perfectly frank with him and he would be frank with me. I said to him that it was not so much the immediate problem of Czechoslovakia which interested this country, but the fact that if he conquered the Czechs he would then, after several more moves, become sufficiently strong to attack us and the British Empire. Like other people who have seen him, I was personally convinced of his sincerity regarding England and France. He said particularly that any thought that he would wish to attack the British Empire was as fantastic as to say that he wished to conquer China. He also said, as he has stated often, Why should he have agreed to a limitation of his fleet to 35 per cent. of ours if he wished to conquer us or the British Empire?
The whole future, in my opinion, depends upon whether his intentions are honourable or not. It may be that he has made announcements and that he has afterwards gone further than those announcements. But, regarding the most important thing for the world in the future, the limitation of armaments, nobody has ever taken him at his word yet. On October 14, 1933, he made a speech in which he said:We are prepared to enter at once such a convention for the limitation of armaments. If the world decides that certain weapons are to be abolished we are ready to renounce them as a matter of course. But if the world allows 1359 certain weapons to every nation, we are not prepared to be excluded therefrom on principle as a nation having inferior rights.He has often said: "We are prepared to limit armaments." Let us now therefore, to use the American term, call his bluff and say: "Come along, let us have an agreement to limit armaments." But we are, of course, in the position of a country with tariffs, in that we can now reduce our armaments if he will reduce his. It is very important that we should have got into that position, and, if we take Herr Hitler at his word, trust what he says about his intentions towards England and France, and get him to limit his armaments, I am quite certain we may have a lasting peace with Germany, and that the peace of the world can only come if Germany and this country are friends together in Europe.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence on the first occasion on which I have had the honour to address you. There is very little that I can say that has not been already said, but perhaps I may be able to express things from a different attitude, mainly owing to the experience that I have had during the last six years when I have been, or should have been, partly responsible for carrying out militarily whatever policies might have arisen from the actions of the European Powers. I think it is inevitable that those in a position such as mine should have to think of what is the moral right and wrong if we have to fight. If your men are asked to sacrifice their lives, then you have to have an inspiration for them. What is the moral right of the present position? Does it lie all with us, and is there no moral right on the other side? That is the question which we have to ask ourselves conscientiously. I think there are many average Englishmen, such as I like to think myself, who think that what has happened in the last twenty years has been the inevitable result of what we inflicted on the defeated Powers twenty years ago. We took away everything. It was not a Peace Treaty so much as a punishment, and we all felt it was well deserved. We were bitter, and we all share in whatever blame there was for the terms of that Treaty. There were many who wished it had been more severe. We can all remember those who 1360 used to say, "Why do we not march into Berlin?"
I think history will record that what has happened has been logical and inevitable from where we started twenty years ago. Since then we have been trying to maintain these Treaty provisions—these punishing terms—and we have seen a new generation growing up in Europe, many of whom are now between thirty and forty and who have no responsibility for the last War, but who feel themselves still penalised on account of what happened then. That is not altogether a new experience in the world, but it is natural that they should try to break out of a net which their fathers were put into when they were weak and emaciated. War has always led to war. You conquer your enemy, and he gets strong again and wants revenge. So our fathers taught that what the sword has won the sword must hold. We have that alternative, or we have the possibility of trying a new line. If our civilisation necessitates our holding our situation in the world by the sword, then it does not appear that it is really such a fine civilisation as we often claim it to be. Our policy in trying to maintain that Treaty has been largely instigated by fear—fear of Germany. The system of collective security was built up to deal with an aggressor, but also to preserve the Versailles status quo. It was inevitable, therefore, that the States who had been conquered and punished should break away from such a scheme.
Collective security may be a very great political ideal, but from the military point of view it involves unlimited commitments. We are a peaceful, unquarrel-some people, but it means we have to join in the quarrels of the world; and the sailors or soldiers who have to see that if collective security is put into force our weapons do not break in our hands, find that no one can tell them who their enemy is going to be, when they have to fight him or where. In the old days, bad as no doubt they were, we at any rate knew what our responsibilities were. We had certain Powers with whom we had some basic danger of conflict, from economic or other reasons. It was our diplomacy's duty to keep the evil day off as long as possible, and therefore those who were charged with our military responsibilities were able to foresee exactly 1361 what they meant and when they had to take action. But now, under collective security, you have none of that. You do not know how to compose your armies and navies. You do not know where to place them, or where they will have to fight. The system led us into a morass, and our enemies accumulated until those who were responsible could only feel that their responsibilities were becoming far greater than they were able to carry out. They knew that they would never be able to obtain the money with which to be able to protect our enormous Empire when we were, inevitably, the principal Power which was to be relied upon to check the aggressor.
How glad therefore were we—though silently—when the Prime Minister's practical English Mind led us on what I considered to be a more sagacious and wiser course. There are those who are opposed to what the Government have done because they feel we are only putting off the evil day. That is a policy of fear. I do not believe in it. I do not believe the average Englishman wants to fight Germany for that reason. There is no reason for the British Empire to be afraid of anybody so long as we keep strong and do not allow ourselves to get into the state of weakness we did, against all the advice of the Services, in the ten or twelve years after the War. Fear is an infection we seem to have caught from the Continent. After all, they have suffered. They have been ravaged and invaded and we have not—so far. If we remain properly protected, then England and France together, in my opinion, have nothing to fear because we shall always be fighting for what we believe to be right and we shall no doubt have the moral support of the world, which, after all, is a very great thing.
Another thing that has been said is that we have lost prestige. In the Abyssinian crisis we were told we had lost prestige. The Navy was told that it was hiding in the Suez Canal. That was not a very pleasant thing for our sailors to be told at a time when they were carrying out Government policy; but I do not think we lost prestige. We fulfilled what we had promised to do. You only lose prestige, I suggest, if you say you will do something and then, either from cowardice or neglect, do not do it. But what has so often happened has been that people have purported to express the will of the 1362 English people, which has not been the intentions of the Government of the day, and then, when these steps which they have propounded and proclaimed are not carried out, there is an inclination to say that the country has lost prestige. I do not believe we have lost prestige. That was not what I learned when I went abroad. We have been led by idealism to an impracticable position which we now have had to abandon. Those who led us there—and there are many who would still do so—have lost some prestige, but not the nation as a whole. If you believe that what you have done is right, that is what really matters and the only thing that counts.
No military action could have saved Czechoslovakia. If Czechoslovakia had been invaded, the only thing the armies of Europe could have done would have been to drive Germany out of Czechoslovakia. How were you to do that? You would have had complete stagnation between the armies. You would have been bombing each other day after day. Your soldiers and sailors would have had no inspiration. What were they fighting for and how long was it to go on? Indefinitely? And for what purpose? The military task that you were to do was one which it was impossible to fulfil. That alone was a reason for taking the steps that we did. What is the good of saying to a man in a tiger's den, "Never mind if he eats you up—I am going to stop his rations in future"? That is all the British Navy could have done.
Now, my Lords, Germany has said that she offers us the hand of friendship. She said it once before, three years ago, when she offered us the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. There were many people at that time who said "Do not touch it." Similarly, when she offered to keep her army at 300,000 men, she was told "You are not allowed any army." Again, when she said she was willing to accept the MacDonald plan of 500 aircraft she was told: "But you are not allowed any aircraft." And so they told us, when the Anglo-German Treaty was offered, "You must not accept that." I am glad that the Admiralty said exactly the opposite. They said: "Accept it with both hands, dot the i's and cross the t's and let us make quite certain that it is a willing and voluntary offer." It is the only offer that has ever been made in history of that nature. One great Power offered 1363 to sign a treaty in which she definitely said that for all time her naval strength is not to be more than 35 per cent. of that of another country. I believe that that treaty has been carried out. I have had many assurances in my late post from my opposite number in Berlin that they had every intention of keeping it. He need not have volunteered that information, but he very kindly did. I suggest that we should accept with both hands the new spirit which the German people and their leader have offered us. We should not cast doubt upon their good word. To do so is the best way to justify a departure from that good word. Let us rather proclaim from the housetops that we believe in it, that we trust the German people, and that we believe that the new spirit engendered at the present time is one on which much can be built in Europe for peace in future.
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, on his very excellent and well-thought-out maiden speech. As a brother naval officer, however junior, I am very pleased to be able to be in a position to congratulate him. At this very late hour I do not propose to occupy more than a few minutes of your Lordships' time. I think so much has already been said that there is very little left now that I can usefully say, but I do not think it has been sufficiently emphasized that our attitude both before and during the diplomatic crisis was neither pro-Czech nor anti-German. If it had been one or the other it would have been impossible for the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, to have commenced his arduous task as mediator. And I should like to add also my humble congratulations to the noble Viscount for his great work and for creating the basis on which the Cabinet were able to build a true picture of the position and to view the claims that were involved in their true perspective. Without the Report of Viscount Runicman no doubt it would have been very difficult to have come to a decision.
At the commencement of the crisis we were definitely under no obligation, legal or moral, to go to the assistance of Czechoslovakia, and I would suggest that all we attempted to do was to find a plan by which the aspirations of the Sudeten German Party could be satisfied and to 1364 lend our assistance as mediators in the peace of Europe. Let us suppose we had not lent assistance and had isolated ourselves from the affairs of Czechoslovakia: I hardly think we should have prevented the storm clouds gathering in Europe, and I think there is little doubt that we should have found ourselves involved in a final catastrophe whether we wished to avoid it or not. I would suggest that the main policy of the Government is and always has been to ensure peace for Britain, and in pursuit of this object the Prime Minister, I would humbly suggest, has an unbounded right to act as a mediator in European disputes if he considers that a policy of isolation would endanger he peace of Britain. In his plans and schemes designed to further the peace of Europe I think he should have the complete allegiance of every section of opinion in the country. I should like to add my humble congratulations to the Prime Minister who has preserved the safety of our own people and also the safety of millions in other countries who would undoubtedly have perished in the flames of war except for his help and guidance.
The young men in the Great War undoubtedly had a feeling, and it was a bitter one, that the old men had allowed this country to drift into war, and that war could have been avoided, but now the old men are vindicated, and we honour to-day a man of three-score years and ten who has delivered us from the horrors of war. There are sections of opinion who cry that peace has been bought at the price of honour. I would suggest that it would have been dishonourable if the Prime Minister had stopped short of any step likely to avert war consistent with the safety of our own land. Our honour was not involved. The only issue at stake was safety not only of our own people but of the millions in Europe. We are hearing the cry of dishonour and the price of peace from those very same people who not so long ago were indignant over a proposal for the settlement of the Italo-Abyssinian question. I feel sure that had that proposed plan been resolutely adhered to Abyssinia would still be a self-governing country. Thanks to the resolute efforts of our Prime Minister Czechoslovakia is still a self-governing nation, and long may she remain so. I cannot help thinking that Czechoslovakia has gained something immensely to her advantage by the 1365 guaranteeing of her new frontiers by the great Powers, and this in a heavily armed. Europe to-day can well be set against her loss of territory. I hope and trust, too, that she has been the means of furthering, however unwittingly, the formation of a Four-Power Pact, which will in turn preserve peace in Europe for a generation.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned till to-morrow.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, I suggest that we should meet to-morrow, as to-day, at three o'clock.
§ House adjourned at half-past seven o'clock.