HL Deb 24 August 1939 vol 114 cc869-92

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make about the present position in foreign affairs.


My Lords, I am glad to accede to the invitation of the noble Lord opposite, and perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I make a statement of somewhat greater length than is customary in answer to a formal question. It will perhaps be of some usefulness if I sketch in a word or two the background of the international developments which have led to the recall of Parliament. The events of this year are fresh in all our minds, and the cumulative effect of them had been to lead many countries of Europe to feel themselves confronted with an attempt on the part of Germany to dominate and control their destiny, and there were few which had not reason to fear that their liberties were in greater or less degree in danger. As a matter of history, successive British Governments have felt obliged to resist attempts by a single Power to dominate Europe at the expense of others, and the imposition of one country's will by force of arms. This country has stood for the maintenance of the independence of those States who both valued their liberties and were ready to defend them, and have endeavoured to uphold the principle that changes which must inevitably take place in the relations between nations can and should be effected peacefully and by free negotiation between those concerned.

His Majesty's Government accordingly entered into consultation with the countries who felt themselves to be more immediately threatened, for the sole purpose of concerting resistance to further aggression if such should be attempted. His Majesty's Government at the same time endeavoured to make clear their attitude both by word and deed so that no doubt might anywhere exist as to the policy which they were determined to pursue. They introduced compulsory service and made efforts unprecedented in times of peace to expand and equip the armed forces of the Crown and to place both the civil and military defences of the country in a state of full preparedness. The declarations of policy which have been made in this House and in another place have sought to set out both general principles of British policy and also the attitude of His Majesty's Government to particular questions, such as Danzig, which have from time to time held the forefront of the stage. The declarations which were thus made and the action which was taken met, I think, with the general approval both of Parliament and people.

Before the Adjournment early this month my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that the situation, in which the accumulation of the weapons of war was going on at such a pace, was one which could not but be regarded with anxiety. He referred to the bad feeling which was being created by poisonous propaganda, and said that if that could be stopped and if some action could be taken to restore confidence in Europe, there was no question which should not be capable of solution by a peaceful means. Of such action, however, there has unhappily been no sign, and since the House adjourned the international situation has deteriorated, until to-day we are confronted with the imminent peril of war.

At the beginning of August further differences arose between the Polish Government and the Danzig Senate concerning the position and functions of the Polish Customs inspectors in the Free City. These differences were relatively unimportant in themselves and in an atmosphere of less tension would no doubt have been capable of being settled amicably, as similar differences have been settled in the past. Discussion of the questions at issue was in fact proceeding at the end of last week. But while efforts were being made to set the machinery of negotiation in motion, the German Press opened a violent campaign against the Polish Government. This campaign, as noble Lords may have noticed, was not confined solely, or even principally, to the question of Danzig. On this question it was stated that there could be no compromise: Danzig must return unconditionally to the Reich. With it was linked the question of the so-called Corridor, and the attack on Poland has extended to cover the general attitude and policy of the Polish Government, and in particular the position of the German minority in Poland.

In regard to the German minority I would say this. Every country must be concerned to secure just treatment for minorities, and must naturally feel particular interest in minorities allied to it by race. No one in this country, certainly, would wish to defend conditions under which such treatment was denied to any minority section, but if causes of complaint exist let them not be made the ground for such embitterment of the atmosphere as must make any settlement a hundred times more difficult, but let them be fairly and dispassionately brought to examination, so that before the public opinion of the world some ground may be established for their consideration and redress. It is impossible to ignore the fact that the accusations against Poland hear a strong resemblance to the accusations made last year against Czecho-Slovakia, and it is right also to remember that there is a large Polish minority in Germany, of whose treatment the Polish Government also bitterly complain.

Of the general attitude of Poland it must be admitted, I think, that in the face of a campaign which appears to threaten not only their independence of action, but also the existence of Poland as a nation, the declarations of the Polish leaders have been firm but quite unprovocative. I am confident that they have been, and are at all times, ready to discuss the differences between themselves and Germany, if they could be reasonably certain that the discussion would take place under free conditions, without the menace of force, and with assurance that the results of the discussion would be loyally and permanently observed. If at times the Polish newspapers have replied in kind to the onslaught of the German Press, this has not been reflected in the attitude of the Polish Government. Concurrently with the Press campaign there has been much active military preparation in Germany, and that country is being placed on a footing of complete readiness for war. At the beginning of this week there were indications that German troops were moving towards the Polish frontiers, and, in the face of what was obviously becoming a very menacing situation, His Majesty's Government decided that the time had come when they must seek the approval of Parliament for further measures of defence.

That, in outline, was the situation when on August 22, the day before yesterday, it was officially stated in Berlin and Moscow that negotiations had been in progress, and were to be at once continued, for the signature of a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany. I do not conceal the fact that this announcement came as a surprise to His Majesty's Government. For some time past there had been rumours of a change in the relations between the German and Soviet Governments, but no hint of such a change was conveyed by the Soviet Government to His Majesty's Government or the French Government, with whom they were in negotiation; and on July 31 last the Prime Minister remarked in another place that His Majesty's Government were showing a great degree of trust, and a strong desire to bring their negotiations with the Soviet Government to a successful issue, when, before any agreement had been finally reached on political matters, they agreed to send a Military Mission to Moscow to discuss military plans. The Military Missions of France and this country reached Moscow on August 1, and the conversations were proceeding to all appearance on a basis of mutual confidence, and it is, I do not conceal from your Lordships, certainly disturbing to learn that while these conversations were taking place the Soviet Government were secretly negotiating a pact with Germany for purposes which, on the face of it, were inconsistent with the objects, as we had understood them, of their foreign policy.

I would not now pass any final judgment on this matter. That would be premature until we have had time to consult with the French Government as to the meaning and the consequences of the agreement, the actual text of which has been published this morning, but one matter forces itself upon the immediate attention of His Majesty's Government. They had to consider what effect this changed situation should have on their policy. In Berlin the agreement was somewhat cynically welcomed as a great diplomatic victory which removed the danger of war, since, so it was alleged, Great Britain and France would no longer fulfil their obligations to Poland, and His Majesty's Government felt it their first duty to remove this dangerous illusion. It should be recalled, if it is not in mind, that our guarantee to Poland was given before any agreement with Russia was in prospect, and without condition that such agreement should be reached. His Majesty's Government therefore at once issued a statement that their obligations to Poland and other countries remained unaffected; and throughout these days, as noble Lords will imagine, we have been in close and constant contact with the French Government, whose attitude is identical with our own. Our obligations rest on the agreed statements which were made in this House and in another place, and which are binding. Effect is being given to them in treaties, which are in an advanced stage of negotiation, and these treaties will formally define the mutual obligations of the parties, but they neither add to nor subtract from the obligations of mutual assistance which have been already accepted.

Certain necessary measures of precaution have already been taken. Some of these measures have already been announced, and other steps will be taken, as judged necessary, as soon as the legislation is passed which I understand it is proposed to invite your Lordships to consider this afternoon. There is another action which has been taken today in the financial sphere. Your Lordships will have seen the announcement that the bank rate, which has remained for a long time past at 2 per cent., has to-day been raised to 4 per cent. The House will recognise that this is a normal protective measure, which is adopted for the purpose of defending our resources in a period of uncertainty. There is, in this connection, a contribution to be made generally by British citizens. The public can best co-operate by reducing, so far as possible, any demands which involve, directly or indirectly, the purchase of foreign exchange; next, by scrupulously observing the Chancellor of the Ex- chequer's request that capital should not at present be sent or moved out of the country; and, finally, by holding no more foreign assets than are strictly required for the normal purpose of business.

My Lords, I have said that His Majesty's Government have tried to make their position quite clear, but, in order that no possible doubt might exist in the mind of the German Government, His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin was instructed yesterday to seek an interview with Herr Hitler and to give him a message on His Majesty's Government's behalf. The object of this message to the German Chancellor was to restate our position and to make quite sure that there was no misunderstanding. His Majesty's Government, as I have suggested, felt that that was all the more necessary having regard to the reports which we had received as to the military movements in Germany and as to the then projected German-Soviet Agreement. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, therefore, on behalf of His Majesty's Government made it plain, as had indeed been made plain in the statement issued after the meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday last, that if the case should arise His Majesty's Government were resolved and prepared to employ without delay all the forces at their command.

On numerous occasions the Prime Minister has stated his conviction, which is shared, I would suppose, by all people of this country, that war between the British and the German peoples—admitted on all sides to be the greatest calamity that could occur—was not desired either by our people or by the German people. And the Prime Minister further informed the German Chancellor that we did not see that there was anything in the questions arising between Germany and Poland which could not and should not be resolved without the use of force, if only a situation of confidence could be restored. We have expressed our willingness to assist in creating the conditions in which such negotiations could take place. It was obvious that the present state of tension created great difficulties, and the Prime Minister expressed the view that if there could be a truce on all sides to Press polemics and all incitements a suitable condition might be established for direct negotiations between Germany and Poland upon the points between them. The negotiations could, of course, also deal with the complaints made on either side about the treatment of minorities.

The German Chancellor's reply includes what amounts to a restatement of the German thesis that Eastern Europe is a sphere in which Germany seeks to have a free hand; if we or any country having less direct interests choose to interfere, the blame for the ensuing conflict will be ours. The British position is, of course, that we do not in any way seek to claim a special position for ourselves; we do not think of asking Germany to sacrifice her national interests, but we do insist that the interests of other States should be respected. We cannot agree that national interests can only be secured by the shedding of blood or by the destruction of the independence of other States; and unfortunately events such as those of last March make it difficult to accept assurances, even now repeated, about the limitations of German interests. Herr Hitler has often said that he has fought for a better Anglo-German understanding, but it has, as we see it, been the acts of Herr Hitler himself that have time and again destroyed our earnest and sincere endeavours to that end; and as regards relations between Germany and Poland, the German Chancellor has referred again to the situation at Danzig, drawing attention to the position of that City and of the Corridor, and to the offer which he made only this year to settle those questions by methods of negotiation. The allegation that it was our guarantee to Poland that decided the Polish Government to refuse the proposals then made has been repeatedly refuted. That guarantee was not in fact given until after the Polish refusal had been conveyed to the German Government.

My Lords, in view of the delicacy of the situation I would refrain at this time from any further comment upon the communications which have just passed between the two Governments. Catastrophe has not yet come upon Europe, and we must, therefore, still hope that reason and sanity may find means to reassert themselves. As to the military measures that we have taken, it must be remembered that, as I have said, Ger- many has already an immense number of men under arms, and has also made military preparations of all kinds on a vast scale. The measures taken in this country have so far been only of a precautionary and defensive kind, but no threats will affect our determination to do what is necessary to prepare the country for any emergency. I would with emphasis repudiate any suggestion that the measures we are taking imply a contemplated act of menace on our part. Nothing that we have done or propose to do constitutes a threat to any of Germany's legitimate interests. It is no act of menace to prepare oneself to help one's friends to defend themselves against the use of force.

In a speech that I made some six weeks or two months ago to the Royal Institute of International Affairs I tried to set out in terms which were fortunate enough to meet with almost unanimous approval the twin foundations of purpose on which British policy rests. The first was a determination to resist force, and the second was the recognition of the world's desire to get on with the constructive task of building peace. And if we could once, as I said, be satisfied that the intentions of others were the same as our own, and that we all really wanted peaceful solutions, then, I said, we could discuss all the problems that were causing the world anxiety. That definition of the policy of His Majesty's Government stands. Our object is, and has been, to build an international order based on mutual understanding and mutual confidence, but that order can only rest on the basis of certain moral principles which are widely recognised to be essential to the peaceful and the orderly life of nations, and among those principles I place high the renunciation of forcible solutions and the respect for the pledged word in international relationships. And, fundamentally, it is those principles which are to-day as we see it in danger, and it is those principles which we consider it vital to try and protect.

There are some who say that the fate of European nations is no concern of ours, and that we should not look far beyond our own frontiers. But those who thus argue forget, I think, that in failing to uphold the liberties of others we run great risk of betraying the principle of liberty itself, and with it our own freedom and independence. We have built up a society with values which are accepted not only in this country but over vast areas of the world. If we stand by and see these values set at nought the security of all those things on which life itself depends seems, to my judgment, to be undermined, and that is a fundamental matter on which I scarcely think that there will be any difference of opinion. I have no doubt that those with whom rest the issues of peace and war will measure their responsibilities to present and future generations before precipitating a struggle in which many nations of Europe must immediately be involved, of which the duration cannot be foreseen, and by which even those who stand aside from active participation will be vitally and dangerously affected. And I would earnestly hope that in face of all the certain consequences of a resort to force, and before any step is taken which cannot be retraced, reason may yet prevail. His Majesty's Government have noted with warm appreciation the appeal for peace made by King Leopold after the meeting at Brussels yesterday in the name of the heads of the Oslo States. It will be evident from what I have said that His Majesty's Government share the hopes to which that appeal gave such moving expression, and earnestly trust that effect may be given to it.

My Lords, in this moment of anxiety I trust that the ground on which His Majesty's Government have determined to take their stand will meet with the approval of all parties in this House. I believe it will, and I do not doubt that the Government may rely on the support of the whole country in any measures necessary to defend the cause of just dealing between the nations and to preserve secure the place of honourable freedom in the world.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to express a very brief comment upon the most grave statement that has been made to the House by the noble Viscount. This is not the occasion for the use of unnecessary words, and so far as the Labour Party is concerned no word will be used here to-day which will give any sort of comfort to those who are hoping to see in England a disunited country. Crises when they constitute a common danger to the community require that Party controversy should be suspended, and when such crises occur the solid sense of the British people rarely fails. One of these occasions is before us now, and now, as is the habit when danger threatens our people, we close our ranks and stand together as one people prepared, as I believe, if all other ways are indeed closed, to stake all that we are and have for the right as we see it and for the freedom of mankind from ruthless and brutal tyranny. The issue, my Lords, at stake is whether the freedom of Europe's peoples, built up by centuries of trial and of effort and of suffering, shall be preserved, or whether the tyrant shall henceforth rule over the earth. I have never in my life said one word in favour of war and I shall not do so on this occasion. I still hope that peace may be preserved. We believe, speaking for my noble friends on these Benches, that there are no questions which divide Germany and Poland that could not be settled by peaceful means, and we ask the Government to continue to try to secure a solution along those lines.

There is much that I should like to say, but I will confine my remarks to just one or two things. First of all, I feel that it is necessary for me to say, in justice to the record of my own Party, and to say with every kind of emphasis, that we here formally disavow all responsibility for a policy which has brought the nation to the precipice of a great disaster. Advice that we have continuously offered here and elsewhere has not indeed been ignored but it has been continuously derided and rejected. We now appear to be reaping what we have, if not designedly, at least insistently, sown. I prefer on this occasion to say no more than that, just pausing before I close to say a word about the surprise which the noble Viscount expressed in regard to the new Russian Treaty with Germany.

I feel that it is useless to say much in the absence of knowledge. To compute with accuracy and balance how the present situation has arisen is, at least for those of us without official information, quite impossible. We do not know either the mind or the motives of the Russian Government, but it does appear to us that there is a second retreat from Moscow which is almost as tragic as that which took place 127 years ago. I cannot finish without asking how it comes about that His Majesty's Government knew nothing of what was impending. As long ago as February last the Government knew that there were trade conversations going on between Germany and Russia, and they seem to have had no suspicion that behind that facade political talks might be proceeding. It leads one to wonder whether our Intelligence Service is of any value at all. It costs the nation a great deal of money.

In regard to Poland, the noble Viscount has not informed the House how and when support can be given. I thought he said that conversations were still proceeding in that matter. Therefore I will only content myself with expressing the hope, with the fate of Prague in our minds, that whatever promises we have made will at least be honoured. We have received with grave concern the statement which the noble Viscount has made with such calmness and dignity to your Lordships' House. We recognise its tragic significance. We urge the Government to continue until the last moment to try to secure peace by agreement. Then, if all our efforts fail, we shall at least have done our best; we shall have kept faith with our own conceptions of the right, and we can face with hope and with courageous resolution whatever may lie before us.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I desire on behalf of my noble friends to express our thanks to the noble Viscount opposite for the statement he has made in which he was the spokesman, not only of his own Front Bench but, I think, of all the Parties in the House and, as I believe, of the whole country. As his whole speech implied, it would be difficult to exaggerate the gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves and the main subject undoubtedly, as he stated, on which that gravity rests is the situation between Germany and Poland. I think it is just to say that the independence of Poland has now become part of the public law of Europe. Of all the territorial arrangements made at the conclusion of the War, two are outstanding as acts of international reparation for wrongs done in the past—the return of Lorraine to France and the rebirth of Poland. As everybody knows, it was 150 yeas before the Peace Treaty signed at the end of the War that the destruction of Poland began, and about 125 years before it was altogether complete. It is, I think, not uninteresting to note that, although the three great Powers concerned in the partition of Poland were all guilty in their different ways, historians have recorded that for perfidy and mendacity Prussia was the most guilty country of all. Since then the fortunes of Poland have often been reconsidered. Prince Bismarck expressed the opinion that it was impossible to recreate Poland because of the difficulty of Danzig. But in the War, in 1915, Germany, anxious to detach Poland from Russia, made a definite offer for the reconstruction of a new Poland. Now the wheel has come round and we find that the German Government, it is not too much to say, object to the actual existence of Poland and would, quite possibly, be glad to restore the conditions which existed before 1914.

Now we understand that in Herr Hitler's reply to His Majesty's Government it is stated that the vital interests of Germany, especially in that portion of Europe, are no concern of any country except Germany itself. Our view of course is, and the view of His Majesty's Government undoubtedly is, that any question which vitally interests any country is a reasonable subject for international consideration and discussion. But where the German reply went on to say that we here in the West of Europe have no title to concern ourselves with any matters affecting Central Europe or the Eastern portion of the Continent, it would have been open to His Majesty's Government to inquire—not, of course, that they would wish to make a mere debating point—what conceivable interests Germany could have in such a western and southern country as Spain. That merely shows that the German reply is not intended in any sense to represent an argument but merely a downright statement of policy.

The noble Viscount alluded to the Russo-German Pact, of which we have seen an account in the newspapers. It is difficult exactly to comprehend its terms, because we do not know—at least, I do not know—in what language it is couched. There is no more fertile soil for misunderstanding than differences of interpretation in different languages. Indeed, it often happens that words which appear to have an almost identical meaning in two languages have in fact a quite different meaning. We saw in the papers the phrase that if one of the contracting parties became the object of warlike action by a third Power, the other contracting party would not assist the third Power. That may mean two quite different things. "The object of warlike action" may mean the subject of aggression, or alternatively it may be taken to mean engaged in hostilities in any circumstances. Until that is shown one way or the other, I should greatly prefer to think that the object of Russia in con-chiding this agreement is to preserve the peace rather than to encourage a possible outbreak of war.

I will not say anything about the Bill which is about to be introduced later, because my noble friend here will deal with it when it comes before the House. But I should like to join the noble Viscount in expressing satisfaction at the very clear and dignified statement issued on behalf of what are known as the Oslo Powers after the meeting which was held at Brussels. I think we all ought to express our gratitude, not only to the King of the Belgians but also to the other Sovereigns and statesmen concerned, because a demonstration of that kind may have a distinct vale if it is possible, as I fervently trust it may be, to preserve the peace of the world Looking back, as I do, to 1914 at very much the same date, I feel a far greater union of conviction and purpose in the country now than there was then. I also feel that that determination which, I think we all recognise, exists in every part of the country and in every class is to a not inconsiderable extent clue to the careful preparations which have been made to meet emergencies if they should arise. We all trust that Heaven may grant that that determination will not have to translate itself into action, but we know that if it has to do so, the country will not flinch.

4 p.m.


My Lords, speaking as an entirely independent Peer, I trust your Lordships will allow me to say a few words. No noble Lord, to-day, will speak without a full sense of responsibility, but also—and this is also important to consider—a full sense of duty. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Snell, that this is not an occasion for a general discussion on the international situation, nor for a consideration in detail how it is that the present situation has come into being. But it is an occasion for one who, like myself, is a Pacifist, to emphasise that another war if it comes will not settle anything, and will, on the contrary, leave the situation in Europe vastly worse than it is to-day. Another war, as Lord Baldwin has told us, is likely to end in complete barbarous anarchy from one end of Europe to the other. It is indeed scarcely credible that within twenty years of the last War, and with the experiences of that War fresh in the minds of many of us, Europe should seem to be on the eve of another war, which would be vastly more devastating and vastly more horrible. That this should be the case seems to confirm the view that this world is the madhouse of the universe.

It is inconceivable that peace and goodwill, and the rule of law can come from the bombing and mass-murder and wounding of tens of millions of men, women and children, who really have no quarrel with each other. The Government, in their statement on Tuesday, said that every question in Europe should be capable of peaceful solution, but that if force was used force would be resisted. What does that mean? It means that tens of millions of men, women and children will be killed and wounded, and that in the end nothing will be settled. Nobody can really win the war, all the participants will be more or less vanquished, and after the war is over and civilisation has been shattered, there will not be peace but there will be new turmoils, new Hitlers, new Mussolinis, leading on to another war if there are enough people left to fight one. Surely, all this is the bankruptcy of statesmanship, and surely something else can be done.

As I have said, the Government hold that there is no question which is not capable of a peaceful solution. The noble Viscount indicated that in his speech today, with regard to the Polish question, and Lord Snell pressed for further negotiations with regard to it. I would like to ask the Government whether everything possible has been done to effect a peaceful solution with regard to Danzig, which is over 90 per cent. German, and as regards the Corridor, with its difficulties for Germany? How much pressure have Great Britain and France put upon Poland to effect a settlement? We gave the commitment to Poland—most unwisely, as I think, and as I said at the time in your Lordship's House. Surely, in all the circumstances. Great Britain and France have the right to urge that Poland should make a peaceful settlement. Poland is not likely to get better terms in the future than she will get now.

There are apart from Danzig and the Corridor, other questions, and His Majesty's Government should strive for a general European settlement, and should not be deterred by talk of Germany trying to dominate the world. How can Germany or any other country dominate the world? It means dominating the United States, South America, China, Russia, Spain and so on. How can Germany or any other country dominate even Europe, which means dominating Russia, Great Britain, France, Spain and so forth? Of course, no country could possibly do it. I do not think we ought to allow our minds to be influenced, and our policy decided, by talk of this kind, which is far removed from reality or anything which could happen.

I would like finally to stress the vital point indicated by other speakers that no war is inevitable. Last October, in a very important debate in this House, Lord Baldwin and Lord Samuel made eloquent speeches against the view of an inevitable war. Lord Baldwin said that if there was only a 5 per cent. chance of peace he would hold on to that until he died. It has been pressed upon the Government, and I would like to do the same, that they ought to act upon that principle, and in doing so they will undoubtedly be interpreting the will of the people of this country. I am certain that it is their will. If war should come, a war which will shatter European civilisation and settle nothing, it will, I think, be known to history as "the crazy war."

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, also as an independent member I would like to add just a word, because I would not like it to be thought that the speech of the noble Lord who has just spoken expresses the view of the independent members of the House. I agree most fully with everything that has been said by Lord Arnold about the horror of war. No one feels that more strongly than I do, but until you have some efficient international system built up which will take the place of war there is no alternative, in the last resort, except war. That is a plain fact which everybody has recognised for centuries past, and I confess I was amazed to hear my noble friend say just now that this was only a question of Danzig. I thought the German Press and statements had made it abundantly clear that this is not only a question of Danzig. Danzig was the original cause of complaint, just as the Sudeten provinces were the original cause of complaint in the case of Czecho-Slovakia, but it has been made abundantly plain by the German Press that what they aim at is the complete dissolution of Poland, the seizing back of all the provinces which belonged to Germany before the War, which means an immense part of Poland—in fact a new partition of Poland. That is what the German policy means, and I am quite convinced that if you are going to resist it now is the time.

I am passionately in favour of peace, and for that and other reasons I am strongly in favour of the policy which the Government have announced this afternoon. I am absolutely convinced that the only road to peace is that we should take a strong, definite line now, and I am convinced that that is the view of the vast majority of the people of this country. As far as I am concerned I hope my noble friend—if I may so call him—will permit me to say that I was particularly glad that he based the ground of his policy not on this or any particular question but on a broad question of principle. That, I am sure, is what the people of this country desire, and believe in, and it is for that reason, among others, that for what it is worth—I am afraid it is not worth much—I venture to tender to the Government my heartiest support.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, if I had no other reason for rising to occupy your Lordships' attention for a few minutes this afternoon, it would be sufficient for me to say that I wish to express my thanks—and I am sure the thanks of your Lordships' House—for the speech which we have heard from the Foreign Secretary. We must all extend our personal sympathies to him. No man has had a more anxious and a more trying time than my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, and, if he will allow me to say so, he has behaved as an Englishman ought to behave on an occasion like this. First, last, and all the time we are all of us behind the Government, and let those who doubt the wisdom of it remember this, that it is the Government who know the facts of the case, and who are able to form a judgment better than we are. If I am thankful for one other thing, it is to hear that Great Britain is going to keep her word, and is going to stick to her principles. In saying that may I make a few general remarks?

Let us admit that a great nation has a right to exist and to have room in which to exist. It has its own contribution to make to civilisation. But national and international unrest feed on economic difficulties. Accepting this principle the first observation to be made is that the extension of an empire, like civilisation itself, is a slow process. It an empire rapidly acquires great territories it also rapidly loses them. Such empires are unstable and excite enmities. The argument which has been suggested to us this afternoon on behalf of Germany is that every nation is entitled to economic self-sufficiency, but that cannot be supported. Nature has prevented a nation from having sufficient territory from which to obtain all the materials required for its development. No single nation is able to be entirely self-sufficient unless it conquers the world—an event which is not likely to be accomplished. The difficulty, however, need not be remedied by force. A peaceful solution is still possible, and is likely to have a more lasting result in Europe. A peaceful solution, however, is not likely to be achieved by stirring up hatred between the nations or oppressing the smaller nations. No great nation has a right to sow the seeds of hatred and discord. The more we can break down the barriers between the nations the better it will be for the peace of the world, but it is more than ever necessary to ascertain what are the true facts with regard to any question.

Probably the first fact is that 95 per cent. of the population of the world do not want war for war's sake. War is wanted by some because they think it is the only way to remedy an injustice. Then what is the injustice complained of, and is it really an injustice? Are the claims of a nation merely selfish ones, and not a real necessity? But in any event aggression by a nation, whether they are right or whether they are wrong, must, in the interests of civilisation, be resisted, and legitimate grievances, on the other hand, must be faced with a generous spirit, provided the aggrieved nation is willing to respond and to co-operate in a world peace system. This constant menace of war is making it impossible for any individual to return to normal ways of life. We are pouring out not only the world's earnings, but the world's savings, and these are not illimitable. There will come a time when they are exhausted. What is the use of a nation advancing its social and scientific progress, the progress of education, trade or industry, if the result is to be war? The only way to get rid of war, as we all want to do, is to remove the causes of war, and that means international co-operation and international action in all spheres.

Again, it is necessary to ascertain the true facts, and not the propaganda facts. I wonder how many people in Europe know the true facts of this question, and how many there are who only know the propaganda facts. But this will never be accomplished by a war. If a war is indecisive you will have lost millions of lives, and millions of treasure, and you will be no better off. And if a war is decisive and is followed by a dictated peace you will get even worse results. The victors will be judges in their own case, the vanquished will strain every nerve, year after year, to reverse the decision. The treaties of 1871 and of Versailles are evidence. No, my Lords, what we want is a peaceful solution of our difficulties, not a solution by force, and the first step towards its accomplishment is the creation of a proper international opinion and a proper organ for expressing it.

Let the leading nations of Europe meet together, not necessarily to decide the question at first, but to ascertain what the true facts are upon which we can form a correct judgment. If this is done, I have sufficient faith not only in our own nation but in other nations, if they know the facts, to come to a proper deter- mination. Without justice we can have no guarantee of permanent peace. Let us, therefore, after finding the facts, be willing to submit our differences to a peaceful arbitration, in which the rights and wrongs can be discussed and an effort made to remedy them, rather than by an appeal to war, with all its horrors, with all its uncertainties, which will settle nothing. In conclusion, let me again thank the noble Viscount for giving us the lead he has given this afternoon.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I only want to say a very few words. I wish I could support the noble Viscount who made such a well-thought-out and splendidly simple statement of the case, as the Government see it. But I am so forcibly reminded of the debates before the 4th of August, 1914—I am so forcibly reminded, in phrases that noble Lords have brought into their speeches, of the precise attitude which was taken up against the Kaiser and his aggressive designs against the world. These rich platitudes never stir me at all, because I feel that it is a false patriotism to believe that you can thwart the criminal by threats—and that is what is being attempted now.

I want to support my noble friend Lord Arnold, who had the courage to strike a different note in this assembly, where we wish very much that there could be complete unanimity. But it is not only the horrors of war (and we cannot tell what they may be), it is that terrible and worse danger—its futility, and the high-flown phrases that are used now will be lost sight of when the war is begun. The objects will be entirely changed as the massacre continues, and we shall end up perhaps by acquisitions of territory to the British Empire, which is already too large, and we shall think, in defeating Hitler and bringing him to his knees, that we have won the war. No, we did not win the War of 1914–18: nobody wins wars in these days. The massacre of tens of thousands of people in their own homes is not the method of winning any good.

I feel perfectly convinced that the noble Viscount and the Prime Minister have worked, are working, day in day out, with an earnest desire to preserve peace. I frankly say that I do not want the affairs of to-day to be entrusted into any other hands but those; I am convinced of their good intentions. But the situation is tangled. I want to press the question put by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, because this volte face on the part of Russia is not simplifying matters for us. Perhaps the noble Viscount will remember that when I last spoke here a few weeks ago in a short speech, I said that you have to get up very early in order to be able to deal with Russian diplomacy, and I want to ask, what was our Ambassador there doing, or what was our Ambassador in Berlin doing, to have made no suggestion and to have given no warning to us that this very serious change of front on the part of Russia was about to take place? I want to try and think, as the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said in his speech, that perhaps this move does not mean the division of Europe into two large camps, but is an attempt on the part of the Soviet Government to prevent conflict. I do not know. Their methods and their ideas are beyond me; but, if that is so, and I hope it is so, I think that it puts a better complexion on the tangled situation as it is at present. I feel anyhow that we have not been served well in being kept in the dark about it till the day before yesterday. In such a vital matter as this, either from Berlin or from Moscow, we ought to have had some intimation that this was about to take place.

I only want to say those few words because, bad as the horrors of war are, it is the false hopes that war raises as well as the poison that it puts into men's minds which retard civilisation. I know the Foreign Secretary has got this fully in his mind. I doubt the enthusiasm for this war of which I think noble Lords who have preceded me have spoken. The invasion of Belgium, of course, brought this country very much together, but Danzig is not the same thing, and I doubt the enthusiasm in this country on a question so remote from any of our interests or anything that concerns our real honour. We must interpret these matters of international honour rightly. I am very sorry that the Government ever renounced their first policy of negotiation, fail as it might time after time. I believe, in the long run, you can reach success that way and that way only. Around the council table alone is there any hope of a solution of these problems. I think our gratitude—and I feel more really anxious to express this than anything else on a day like this —is due to the King of the Belgians for having initiated a move by the smaller countries in favour of peace—those small countries that are highly civilised and not less important in the world than any of the big Empires. Let us listen to their voice, and, if we speak reason, in time Herr Hitler will listen.

4.24. p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount replies there is a phrase used by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby with which I would like to deal very shortly He will remember that we sat side by side in 1914 and took part in the debate in the House of Commons. I entirely agree with him that all that has happened to-day must remind one—almost in the exact phrases—of what happened then, and I go all the way with the noble Lord and say: "Do not let us be carried away by phrases, which do not lead us very far." But the noble Lord went on also to say something with which I do not agree. My noble friend says that he doubts whether, in the people of this country, there is much enthusiasm for the policy of defying aggression, or words to that effect. That, at all events, is what he implied. In regard to that, I feel bound to say that there I part company from him. One well remembers those days, and the measure of support which the Government of the day, supported as it was by all Parties, could expect to get from the people of the country upon the vital question not so much of who was going to shout about the idea but who was going to enlist and fight for it. There were anxieties then, as we all well knew, but now I will give you a reason for supposing our cause to be just, as I am sure it is.

We may have no anxieties now about the readiness of our young men not only to shout for the idea but to join up and fight for it. Since I last addressed your Lordships wonderful things have been happening throughout the country of which I have knowledge because of my position in one county, and I have ascertained that the same thing is occurring in the other counties of this country. When I last addressed your Lordships, I said that the measure of support in this country then for the policy of resisting aggression was far stronger then than it was in August, 1914. Since I spoke conscription has been enforced with general acquiescence—a formidable fact, which everyone in foreign countries has observed. But there is a still more remarkable thing which I have not seen mentioned either at home or abroad, and it is this, that the response to recruiting has been much larger since the passing of the Military Training Act, although many people thought it would mean a falling off in voluntary enlistment. The exact contrary has occurred.

I have not yet seen it publicly announced, and I think it should be publicly announced, that the young men of this country—who know very well what is happening, who are not led away by statements made in this House or in another place, but have to think it out for themselves and decide whether the idea they are going to fight for is just or unjust—have, since the present trouble arose, come forward to enlist voluntarily to such an extent that in my county—and I believe it is the same in every other county—the numbers raised by voluntary enlistment have actually been multiplied by four. Where you previously had a thousand you now have four thousand; and where you had ten thousand you now have forty thousand. Nothing like this has happened or could indeed happen in any other country. Had it not been for the suggestion of my noble friend, with whom I am always in sympathy, that perhaps the people of this country were not wholly in favour of taking their chances with the rest in this matter, I would not have spoken, but as he made that suggestion I thought it necessary to, tell your Lordships that it is astonishing to see the number who have volunteered and are prepared to do their part to help the country.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, as a very junior member of your Lordships' House, I would like to say that I entirely agree with what my noble friend Lord Ponsonby has so graciously said about the horror and the futility of war, and the horror and slaughter that it involves, but as one who has just come from a very important aerodrome I can tell my noble friend that if he had been there he would have found an atmosphere existing such as has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. We feel that war may be a senseless proceeding, but if a position is forced upon us in which it becomes our duty to fight, in which to fight becomes the only way of saving the liberties of Europe, then I would say that the price to be paid is something that will not be shrunk from but will be earnestly and enthusiastically accepted.

I am one who remembers some of the things that have happened since the War. I say this particularly because I have had a considerable amount of sympathy with Germany. But we are being put in a position where our ways have got to part. I do not believe even yet that Herr Hitler, who has raised Germany from the slough of despond, is going to lead her into the city of destruction. Can it be queried for a moment, when forces of propaganda are already at work now, what would be the result of a conflict? I do not believe that Herr Hitler is going, after having rescued Germany from her position after the Treaty of Versailles, to lead her through horror and slaughter that must be for her infinitely worse.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, may I, with your Lordships' permission, say only one or two words, because I have no intention whatever of asking your leave to make in any way that reply which was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone? I should not indeed have asked your Lordships to allow me to intervene again at all, if it had not been for one matter on which I think I am bound to ask leave to say a word. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pressed me on the point of what I had said in relation to the German-Soviet arrangement, and said that if I spoke correctly that clearly implied that the Ambassadors of His Majesty at Berlin and at Moscow and the Intelligence Service of this country were gravely at fault.

Although I am not often careful to defend myself I am always anxious to defend those for whom I have any degree of responsibility, and I would remind the two noble Lords of what I actually said in the course of my remarks, which was that for some time past there had been rumours of a change in the relations between the German and Soviet Governments. I would ask those noble Lords who particularly pressed the point to take it from me that no cause of reproach whatever attaches either to the Ambassadors or to the Intelligence Service. If any cause of blame there were, which I do not admit, it is to me and to me only that it should be directed. I say I do not admit that that cause of blame exists, for this reason, that I do not think it is extravagant to say, or that it was in any way an unnatural emotion, that His Majesty's Government were surprised, in spite of the rumours that had arisen, when we remember what had been in public and on every occasion the relations between the two Governments and how commonly and constantly each had been the subject of attack by the other. That, however, may be a matter for debate. The point to which I wished to address myself was to clear those whom the two noble Lords, I think unjustly, but also unwittingly, brought under reproach.

May I just say one word of thanks to your Lordships for the general approval that you have, under circumstances of great solemnity and with a full sense of responsibility, extended to that which it was my duty on behalf of His Majesty's Government to say in this House to-day? That approval, I think, has been unanimously given with the exception of two of your Lordships, the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. Perhaps they will allow me to say that all men in this House respect them, but very few agree with them. I thank your Lordships, and I thank thorn for the spirit of their thought. I understand it, but as I have said I do not agree with it. But I would ask them to believe that all the considerations they urged with such deep feeling and emotion are never absent from my own mind, but I have never been able to think they could be adjudged the only considerations of which we have to take account.

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