Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [7th February],
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament"—[Captain Hacking.]
The Gracious Speech is remarkable in many respects. I suppose it is almost unprecedentedly bare of ail promise of legislation. To my reading, the most remarkable feature of it is the very large space that is given to a discussion of the foreign policy of this country. The House will recollect that not only is the first division of the Speech entirely devoted to that subject, but in the third division a very large part of the Speech is also devoted to the same question. I have no complaint to make about that. On the contrary, I am sure it is right that we should pay attention to the reality and the facts of the present situation. I agree with what was said in the Debate yesterday, on all sides, that the restoration of Europe, and the real peace of the world, is the most vital thing that can be done at the present time, and that until we get something like normal condition of affairs in the world, all domestic questions, all questions of social reform, and all questions of the prosperity and well-being of the people must he held up. I believe that the restoration of the whole of Europe is of vital importance to this country.
There is one topic about which I do not propose to say much, a topic which, although it is not alluded to in the Speech, appears to me to have a very direct bearing upon the prosperity of this country, and that is, the terrible condition of things that prevails in the Valley of the Volga in Russia. I am convinced,
as I have often told the House, that on all grounds of strictest national interest, quite apart from humanitarian considerations, we cannot afford to see a great portion of the richest country in Europe desolated, as it is being desolated at the present time, by famine. I noticed in a very interesting document, the memorandum of the British case presented at Cannes, the following passage occurs:
In the cause of humanity and in the cause of their own welfare, to which the revival of Russia is indispensable, European peoples should strive to find some remedy for Russia's present state: but they have hitherto looked on impotently, not knowing what to do. In the long run the civilisation of Europe must suffer profoundly from such impotence. In the present state it is moving fast towards social and economic catastrophe.
I believe that is profoundly true. You cannot afford to look at the state of things which is going on in Russia, even from the strictest point of view of our own self-interest, without making some effort to assist them. In this respect what may be called the policy of the good Samaritan is not only right, but it would pay. I do not propose to say more on the subject of Russia, for the reason that I have not yet abandoned the hope that the Government may feel able to take some measures to assist in remedying the existing state of things, and I do not want to make it unnecessarily difficult for them to take that course. Therefore, I shall not say anything further about Russia now, but on some future occasion it may be necessary to return to the subject. Russia is not the only part of Europe that is in a very bad state.
Cornwall is very bad, I say, but if my Noble Friend would be good enough to attend one of Dr. Nansen's meetings, and hear the facts, I do not think he would make an interruption of that kind. I know my Noble Friend very well, and I am sure that he would be as horror struck as anyone at hearing the real authentic facts in regard to what is going on in Russia.
The two things are not comparable. Russia is not the only country in Europe in a bad state. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) quoted yesterday a passage from one of the Lord Chancellor's recent speeches about that condition of things. It was a striking passage. It may be said the Lord Chancellor was speaking his own opinion and was not speaking for the Government. I will, therefore, read to the House two short passages from the Memorandum which was presented at Cannes, which represent, not the view of a single Minister, but the considered view of the British Government, presented to an International Conference:
There is a general feeling that some of the fundamental principles of the Peace have not yet been achieved; the recovery of Europe has been delayed beyond expectation; the disappointment of the peoples provokes irritation, and irritation leads to misunderstanding and controversy. These have been reflected throughout Europe and even beyond Europe, with unhappy results.
The Memorandum goes on to point out that that applies to some extent in various countries such as England, France and Italy, and it concludes:
In Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe the collapse and confusion of the normal processes of economic life are even more marked. Millions are living in conditions of bitter privation and misery even where the inflation has given employment and good wages to the working classes. The relief is only temporary, and reaction is certain unless measures are taken in time. Those depending on small fixed incomes are suffering still more. Russia, a fertile source of raw material and food before the War, is now in the grip of famine, and millions are faced with starvation.
It will be admitted on all hands that, with Europe declared to be in that position, it is right that this House should give immediate attention to the question of foreign affairs. One is forced to say that the Ministerial speakers who have spoken recently seem to have made it the burden of their speeches that you must go on supporting the Coalition Government because it is the only possible Government. A very melancholy result if the present Coalition Government is the only possible Government! I should not like to think so badly of my country as to think that there is no Government that could do better. The cause of this state of things is, of course, as we all
admit, fundamentally the War. No one disputes that. The rapid destruction of wealth, still more the complete dislocation of the commercial life of Europe, has been absolutely unprecedented; but it is legitimate for this House to inquire whether, granted all that, the best course has been pursued for dealing with the very difficult and anxious problem which the War has occasioned in foreign affairs. That is the subject to which I hope to ask the attention of the House this afternoon.
It seems to me that there are two schools for dealing with international relations, two methods by which you can adjust international differences with the object of arriving at a national settlement. One is by force, by imposing your will on the nations of the world. That was the traditional policy of Prussia, the policy associated with the great Elector, Frederick the Great, with Bismarck, and with a number of writers, of whom we heard a very great deal during the War, such as Bernhardi, all of whom preached that the hope for Europe was that there should be in the hands of Prussia or Germany an overwhelming force which would compel Europe to adopt the German theory of culture, and the German theory of social life. The other theory is the English or, rather, the Anglo-Saxon theory, that you can reach a settlement of international questions far better by co-operation and agreement between the countries of the world. I believe that has been the theory, consciously or unconsciously, held by a long succession of British statesmen and American statesmen also. They have always striven to get more and more near to the elimination of force, and to reliance solely on co-operation. I do not mean to say that at any stage of the world's history you could entirely do without force. You must use force to repel force, but the utility of force as an agency in international affairs is of a very limited character. I do not think it is of any use for constructive purposes. You may, if you are able, defend yourself by force, but I do not think you are able to carry through any improvement of international relations by that means.
In my judgment, and, I believe, in the judgment of many Members of this House, the line of progress and the line of advance in international affairs must be in the direction of substituting for force international co-operation. I have made these remarks because I have noticed that one of the lines of attack on the League of Nations is that it is an entirely novel experiment and a newfangled theory connected with the names of unpractical idealists, and can never be carried out. What I would impress upon hon. Members who may have any leaning towards that view is that it is an entirely unsound view. The League of Nations is merely the natural development of Anglo-Saxon policy, which has been going on for years, for centuries, and it is seeking to do that which statesmen have tried to do in the past. I would like to say to some of my hon. Friends opposite that I think it a great pity that it should be allowed to be thought for a moment—and I have striven my utmost to avoid such a result—that this conception belongs to one party in the State rather than another. I have done my utmost to prevent that on every occasion. I know that some hon. Gentlemen opposite do not believe that, but it is true, and I say that the old Tory party, the old country party, in years past have as much right to claim for themselves a policy of peace as any other party in this country, and it would be a thousand pities if they so acted that the defence and safeguarding of peace in this country comes to be thought to be the special duty of some other party than themselves. I say that because I am most anxious in criticising the action of the Government, as I must do in discharge of my duty in this House, that it must not be thought that I do so in order to suggest the view that their political errors are due entirely to the errors of the system under which we are at present existing.
The Government have not made any clear determination in their own mind as to which of the two schools of international thought they really belong to, and when they have come to a conclusion, as, of course, they have to from time to time, they have, as often as not, dropped down on the side of force rather than on that of co-operation. I may give one or two instances to exemplify what I have said. Take the proposal, which is alluded to in the speech, of an Anglo-French-Belgian fact. I do not want to be misunderstood. I am as strong as any occupant of the, Treasury Bench, as any earnest student of international affairs must be, that the preservation of a good understanding and a close working between ourselves and France is of vital importance to the peace and good order of Europe and the world, and anyone who thinks about it for a moment will agree that the British Empire and France must be, for some time to come, two of the most, if not the two most, influential powers in Europe. There is now a vast number of international actions to be carried through, things which never get into the papers and of which nothing is generally known. If you have a state of continual friction between those two countries it would make the common business of carrying on the international life of Europe exceedingly difficult. You must have co-operation as far as you can between those two countries in order to make European life work smoothly. There is not, therefore, the slightest doubt as to the desirability of preserving the closest possible understanding between England and France, but yet I am entirely out of sympathy with the propoal for an Anglo-French-Belgian pact.
The position of England and France must never be allowed to degenerate into that of seeking to dominate Europe. That would be absolutely fatal to all hope of peace or progress in Europe. They must stand as friends and close allies in the unity of Europe, not as dominators by the parts of the whole of Europe. That is the only position which they can safely adopt. I confess that some of the views expressed by the Prime Minister on this topic fill me with alarm. I pass to an argument in favour of this pact which was used by more than one speaker yesterday. As I understand, it is something like this. In 1919 an agreement was arranged with France and United States for the protection of France. The United States declined to ratify that agreement, and then in the exercise of what I should have thought a clear right that we said that our consent to this agreement depended on the consent of the United States. I forget whether the terms of the agreement so stated in so many words. I think they did, but if they had not been stated it would have been quite obvious that that would be so as an entirely different state of things would have arisen.
The hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward) said last night that he would like to see no agreement made except with the United States, because he was sure that our policy and that of the United States would be directed fundamentally by the same considerations. Without absolutely accepting that, I do say that it makes the greatest possible difference as to entering into a compact, international or otherwise, if you are clear that whatever policy one ally wishes to carry out the other ally will be certain to carry out. I do not disagree with those who say that for both our honour and our interest the security of France should be maintained. That is obvious. I go much further and say that it is for our honour and interest, and for the honour and interest of everyone who wants peace to do his utmost to secure the territorial integrity and political independence of every country in Europe. We know from our experience of the late War that a sordid dispute in South-Eastern Europe may involve the whole of Europe in a desolating war. With that experience before us it is absurd for us to doubt that it is our interest to preserve the independence and integrity of all countries in Europe, at any rate from attack by war, and we have undertaken to do so. We have not undertaken to make any military action, but we have expressed specifically, in the celebrated Tenth Article of the covenant of the League of Nations, our view that no external aggression should be allowed to interfere with the territorial integrity or independence of any of our colleagues in the League. Therefore I have no doubt at all that we ought to do whatever is necessary to take all steps that are possible for us to maintain the security of France, and I will extend that to other countries.
I should not have anything like the same objection to the idea of a general defensive alliance for all these countries provided one condition was fulfilled. That is that they would agree to limit their armaments to an agreed figure. I am entirely of opinion, with the Government and everybody else, that disarmament, reduction of armaments, is vitally necessary for the whole world. It was the opinion of the celebrated conference at Brussels. It is the opinion of any financial expert of any experience and of every statesman who has studied the conditions of Europe at the present moment. I believe, and I am satisfied, that that is right. There-
fore I would be very glad if the Government were to urge and pursue a policy directed towards general disarmament, and I would regard it as reasonable that those countries whom you ask to reduce their armaments should say, "If we are to reduce our armaments, we must be given some protection in exchange for any armaments which were given up," and therefore I should see no objection to a general alliance, but I see the gravest objection to this alliance of two or three powers against a fourth. I observe that the Prime Minister added a third reason for this alliance, in addition to those which have quoted. He said:
I say you must make Germany feel that that is a policy which will not pay, that a war of revenge is a war that will bring not merely France but will bring other lands in as well. By that means you will discourage that sentiment at the very outset and you will convince every German that that is a policy which is fatal to his own country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1922; col. 42, Vol. 150.]
I ask the House to consider what that means. It means that we are to say to Germany: "There is against you a defensive alliance, and if you venture to attack one of those parties you will have the other two on your hands." I would remind the House that for years past there has been no instance of any alliance in Europe except a defensive alliance, and of all alliances that is the worst and most pernicious that you can think of. What it means is you are going to set up one group of the powers of Europe in opposition or in contradistinction—I will use the mildest phrase I can—to another. I cannot see how that can fail sooner or later to lead back in the old difficulties. After all, you will never induce a peaceful move in Germany by threats of war. That is not the way to deal with a situation of this kind. If you do that the inevitable result must be that Germany will seek a counter alliance with an Eastern people, which will enable her to defend herself against any alliance you may make with a Western people. I am sure that it is a most dangerous policy that is going to be pursued, and I hope earnestly that the Government will think twice about it before going further with it. Surely the right course is to bring Germany into the orbit of the Western Powers at the earliest possible moment. That is the line which the League of
Nations wish to see followed, and it is the only line of safety in the present condition of affairs.
Let me pass to another instance of what I mean—the question of reparation. Here I confess that we are in a very difficult position. As I understand the books that have been written on the subject, we were the principal authors of the actual financial scheme of reparation that was adopted in the Treaty of Versailles. We were the people who insisted on the inclusion of pensions in reparations, an inclusion which certainly required a rather strained construction of the documents that existed. We were the people who insisted on an indeterminate indemnity, an indemnity which should not be of a determined amount, and even to the very end our representatives on the Commission which was settling this question maintained the view that the indemnty should include the whole of the cost of the War. I am bound to say that the policy pursued has been disastrous. It has created a perfectly unreal state of things in Europe. You had this very large demand for a long time, and when actually settled it is settled at a figure which I do not think anyone will regard as real, tied on the finances of Europe and preventing any recovery of Europe. I am sure it has been most unfortunate. Its effect on our relations with France has been notoriously extremely difficult and deplorable.
The French can say with great force, "You were the authors of this scheme of reparation. You assented, and more than assented, to its being put into the Treaty of Versailles. You say"—this seems one of the most unfortunate parts of our post-War development—"that, you are still prepared to maintain the Treaty in every respect. Yes, but at the same time you are perpetually trying to cut down the actual figure of reparation, and you do that on the ground that you say Germany can pay no more." Then the French say, "You say that, but we say that Germany can pay, and why should you impose on us your view of what Germany can pay? Why are you so much better judges than we are?" That really is the fact. I pass by all the occasions of irritation caused by the assertion that we are backing up the Treaty when, to the French, it seems that we are trying to whittle away the provisions most valued by them. Nothing can be more irritating than to tell a man that you are really backing him up when you are doing your best to deprive him of that for which he asks. It would be far better for us to say boldly, "We have come to the conclusion that the actual scheme of the Treaty is unworkable. We think the thing must be revised in that respect." I would say to them, "It is our definite view that this plan cannot be carried out." We recognise that they are not bound to accept our view of what Germany can pay. Why should they? Why should they think we know so much better than they do on the subject?
Surely the wise course is to ask that the matter on which we cannot agree should be referred to some impartial tribunal. I suggested this some months ago, and I was told by the Attorney-General in a most successful speech that we were in the position of having obtained a judgment against Germany, and that the only question was the question of execution. That has no relation to the reality of things. It is no use making speeches merely to obtain cheers. The facts are simply these: We are agreed with our French Allies that their claim for reparation far the devastated districts is unassailable, and that they are entitled to receive payment to the full extent of Germany's power to pay. There is the strongest possible ground for saying to the French, "We are perfectly prepared to submit the question of how much Germany can pay to a tribunal appointed by the League of Nations, or in some other way, to a really impartial tribunal, charged to deal with what, indeed, is the chief financial necessity of the moment, namely, the definite settlement of this reparations arrangements."
I shall be told that I am always putting the League forward too much. Let me remind the House of what seems to me to be an important matter in considering this proposal. The present Prime Minister of France has made a statement of his policy. He has declared that he is not very much in love with the meetings of the Supreme Council and other international conferences which have taken place, and he gave his reasons for that view, but in the same document or in an utterance made contemporaneously he said he was in favour of the League and was prepared to support it by all the means in his power. Quite recently, I am told, a very distinguished member of the French Legislature, M. Viviani, gave an interview in which he strongly advocated the use of the League for international purposes in all reasonable conditions. That seems to me to be a matter which we ought to consider. We ought to take advantage of that and to press the use of the League. With the support of the French we could make it a great instrument of peace.
I notice that not very long ago the Prime Minister, in a speech to what is called the National Liberal party, made a charge against Viscount Grey of Falloden and myself that we used the League of Nations for party purposes. I cannot remember the exact words, but that was the substance of the charge. I say nothing about myself, but to make such a charge against Lord Grey appears to me to be utterly absurd. I should have thought that to charge Lord Grey with excess of party spirit was as ridiculous as to say that the Prime Minister was devoid of a sense of humour or that the Leader of the House was not sufficiently careful of official tradition. I do not understand the advantages of these widespread charges that are being made by Ministers. One of them tells us that those in the Labour movement are either traitors or poltroons. I shall not refer to what the Secretary of State for the Colonies was good enough to say about me, because I have to thank him for the essential service which he rendered me in my constituency. I do not understand the advantage—I suppose Ministers do—of these violent personal and party attacks.
I am sorry that the suggestion that I am honest is so grievous to the right hon. Gentleman. I have accused the Government, I do not say of dishonesty, but of action which it is difficult to reconcile with the ordinary principles of honour. Lord Grey and myself have had this charge made against us. It was founded on the objection that was raised by us or by him to the Genoa Conference because that Conference had not been summoned under the ægis and working of the League. That seems to me to be a perfectly genuine and reasonable criticism. It is said: "The Washington Conference was in the same position and yet you praise that." Certainly I praise it. I agree that the decisions of the Washington Conference were admirable and trustworthy; I rejoice at them and I have always rejoiced with the full strength of which I am capable. I would add now that nothing could have been better than the way in which our interests were represented at Washington. The action of my right hon. Friend the President of the Council was a model for the action of all British representatives at International Conferences.
The reason why all of us who believe in the League of Nations were favourable to the Washington Conference is quite obvious. It was a Conference suggested by a Power which is not yet a member of the League. It was in the direction of the League. It was international co-operation to gain disarmament, to gain a closer understanding between the nations. All these are the objects of the League, and as they were suggested by a country outside the League the Conference could be regarded only as a step towards the objects which the League had in view. But when you come to the Genoa Conference the position is exactly the reverse. There you have countries, already members of the League, suggesting a conference outside the League. That is a step not towards the League, but away from it. That is why we criticise. Our criticism is based, not on party spirit or captiousness, but because of a genuine belief that if members of the League were to ignore it in carrying through great international undertakings by means of such a conference as the Genoa Conference, the inevitable result would be to injure the prestige and authority of the League in the world. That stands to reason, and I should have thought that no one could have failed to see that that was so.
I know the answer is that it was done in order to facilitate the presence of America, Germany, and Russia. Very well. As far as America is concerned I have no reason to know whether it would have facilitated her presence. I do not know whether any inquiry was made of America. As to the others, there is no reason whatever to think that it would have facilitated their presence. Germany would have been quite as ready to attend a Conference summoned by the League. I have no doubt that Russia would have attended as well. At any rate, we could have made some inquiries as to that. I have no doubt that Russia would have attended. There was no reason except the attitude which seems to me to prevail too often in the Government when dealing with the League. They say, and quite truly—I do not dispute, or traverse it in the least—that the great majority of the members of the Government—I will not say all—are in favour of the League. But what do they mean by being in favour of it? They mean a general kind of patronising, toleration—a very good thing in its way—to which inconvenient questions may be assigned if they cannot be dealt with successfully otherwise. They mean something which can be approved generally and the idea of which is quite tight, but something which lies really outside the main current of international affairs. An interesting sideshow! That is the whole idea. The League is a great effort to substitute for the old system some new plan, something which will bring the countries together and will make them feel that it is habitually better to meet and talk over things rather than to quarrel, something which will give to them the opportunity and the means of carrying out great international reforms and great international objects with a settled machine, something which will always be there so that if real danger arises, as in the case of Albania the other day, automatically a meeting of the Powers can be forced as we failed to force it in 1914. If that is to be done, it must be all or nothing. It must be the keystone of the whole of our foreign policy, and where I challenge the Government is not that they are against the League and not that they are not in favour of it generally but that they are not all out to make it a success, and, unless they are all out, a great and difficult experiment of this nature can scarcely be carried through.
I was very interested in the Noble Lord's speech, because I was waiting to hear how he would reconcile what I understood was his objection to the proposed Anglo-French Pact with the statement which was issued the other day by the Noble Lord to whom he referred, and who is known to be in favour of some sort of alliance, which I understood to be a military alliance, with France. It is a little difficult, after having heard his speech, to accept readily his explanation. There seem to me to be two views in this country as to what our proper attitude towards France should be at the present time. There are some people who say that France is a brutal, military, reactionary country with whom we should have no dealings whatever, and there is another class of people who say that France is our natural ally with whom we should work to the exclusion of wider world considerations. I am sure that the Noble Lord will agree with me that the proper line lies somewhere between the two, but the difficulty is that, if you are going to persuade France to take her proper place with us in settling these world problems upon wider lines, you have got to propose something which is acceptable to the French people. Anybody who has any knowledge of the present temper of the French people will not quarrel with me when I say that any and every suggestion of an alternative means of co-operation with them hitherto has not proved acceptable to them. This particular proposal is the thing which they have consistently put forward. They have objected frequently that we were traitors in not agreeing originally to the suggestion of the Tripartite Agreement. I do not labour that because it is quite conceivable that we could get out of such an arrangement without damage to our honour. But I do say that, if at the present moment we are honestly desirous of resuscitating that mutual spirit of toleration which existed between ourselves and the French at the making of the Armistice, there is only one thing which will satisfy French public opinion, and that is to conclude some such arrangement as that which is adumbrated in the Gracious Speech.
I am not to be taken as saying that I disagree with the Noble Lord when he infers that such an agreement should not be entirely one-sided. I think we are entitled to demand from the French in return for making certain agreements a proper and wholesome co-operation with us in the settlement of these world problems. The Noble Lord seemed to infer that, provided such an arrangement was to be made purely in the interests of peace between the two nations with proper guarantees, then he would not so much object to it. May I say that I do think that, in return for concluding this agreement, we should ask the opinion of the French upon certain very important matters of general interest? There is the question of the Angora Agreement which, to my mind, very seriously threatens the relations between the two countries at the present time. There is the question of priority in such reparation payments.as may be obtainable, and, above all, I do think that we should point out to the French people that, if this Pact is to be made a real instrument of peace and not in any sense a threat upon Germany of a future war, there is one point on which agreement between ourselves and the French must be reached without any further delay. Hon. Members may not be aware that ever since the Armistice the French have been pursuing a fiscal policy which is more and more hostile to this country. In point of fact, the duties which are levied upon British goods going into that country are on an average four times as high as they were in 1913. Let the House consider what a contribution would be made to the cause of general European peace and general European economic stability if, as part of this Pact which is to be made, an agreement could be reached with France, that there should be the most complete fiscal freedom between the two countries. I understand that the present position of affairs is that conversations are now taking place as to what shall be the terms of this Pact. I have made certain inquiries in this direction, and let me assure the Government that there does to-day exist in France a party of gentlemen of considerable commercial experience who are as anxious as anyone in this country can be that some such trade arrangement could be concluded between Frence and this country.
When I pass from that to what the Noble Lord said about the use of the League of Nations, I would beg him to extend to me with regard to my attitude towards the League more favourable consideration than he extends towards the Government. I cannot quite see that his attack upon the summoning of the Genoa Conference by a body other than the League is altogether sound. He seemed to imply that the Genoa Conference could be summoned and could be comprehensive if it were summoned by the League of Nations. That argument does not seem to me to be backed up by any documentary evidence which he can produce, and I am quite convinced that at the present moment such a conference will be entirely valueless unless it be all-embracing and unless it deals with these questions from a proper world standpoint which embraces more countries than are at present contained in the League. I quite agree that one of the first essentials is to bring Germany within the ambit of the League and that Russia and America should be persuaded and induced to join it. Let me put it to him in this way. If it can be shown that a universal world conference of this kind can, as he himself said the Washington Conference had done, achieve the ends of the League in a very real and true sense, will not that be a thoroughly sound argument to present to the Governments of America, Russia, and Germany—Germany is anxious to come in—as a reason why they should come in and take their proper part in the League of Nations? Although the Noble Lord objects so very strongly to the Coalition, I do not think that the League itself is anything more than a coalition, although, perhaps, it is a sounder one than the political Coalition to which he takes exception. At any rate, where this political Coalition has failed, it has failed because there are a number of people in this country who would not come in, no doubt for very good reasons, and the League is in danger of failing because there are a certain number of nations in the world who will not come in. There is just one point to which I do not think the Noble Lord has paid quite sufficient attention. He implied that France was in the same position as ourselves with regard to the League of Nations. I do not think that he has made sufficient allowance for the scarcely veiled contempt which exists in many quarters in France for this instrument.
I think my hon. Friend will find that though that state of mind was true it is no longer true. The whole current of opinion in France now is in favour of the League, and they have a most elaborate organisation at their Foreign Office—better than we have—to carry out the League policy. Undoubtedly, it is a striking fact that every Prime Minister of France on taking office always makes the League a part of his programme.
I am much obliged for that interruption. I think it is true, but I cannot help remembering a little story of the first French Prime Minister since the formation of the League, and his somewhat cynical outlook. When someone asked him if he believed in the League of Nations, he said, "Yes, every time I go to bed I say to myself, 'Georges Clemenceau, you believe in the League of Nations,' and then I get into bed and go to sleep." That, I hope, is not typical of the attitude of France.
Nevertheless, that spirit is still alive, and certain conversations which I have had with friends of mine in France induce me to believe that it still exists. Though there is a general assent to the League in official circles there is still much educative work to do among the public. I can only hope that the work of those who believe in the League in France as also the work of the organisation over which the Noble Lord presides in this country will have increasing and consistent success. In examining the Gracious Speech, there is one point which arises directly out of the general consideration of the economic condition of the world. There is one omission from that Speech to which I should like to refer. That is the most disastrous of the Government's legislative experiments—the Safeguarding of Industries Act. I have said enough in my references to the paramount importance of concluding closer commercial relations with the French nation to show that I consider this Act to be a most disastrous mistake. There were a number of us on this side of the House who said so consistently while the Act was going through and who so far presumed on the toleration of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it as to induce him to put in an Amendment which we hoped would prevent that Act doing any irreparable harm. If, as I understand—though I have yet to see figures to support the contention—that Act is doing harm to trade, then the sooner it is out of the way the better, and I hope there will be a determination upon all sides of the House to press that point of view upon the Government.
There is one other omission which I cannot fail to notice. There is no reference in His Majesty's Gracious Speech to any intention of dealing with a very serious domestic problem in this country, that is the position of the agricultural industry. I feel hound to say one or two words about that, not in order to gain any credit with my constituency, but because it is perfectly obvious that this is a matter which does genuinely threaten one of the premier industries in this country. The average wage which is paid in that industry is 31s. a week, but the economic wage is somewhere about 22s. 6d. What agriculturists are asking is, how long that state of things is to continue? I beseech the Government, if they have any concern for this great industry, which, after all, they promised to support, to take the matter into their consideration and produce some policy for dealing with it. What I would endeavour to say thus early in the Session is, that however long or short this sitting of Parliament may be, I do hope that what we are doing here will be governed by sound economic considerations, both with regard to our foreign relations and our policy at home. I do not know that there is any really great divergence of opinion on what should be done in relation to foreign policy, at any rate. I have found myself in very general agreement, both with what the Prime Minister said and also with what the Noble Lord said to-day, and I do not think there is any great divergence between them One thing, to my mind, is quite certain, that the Noble Lord is right when he says the time has come to speak with a decided voice as to the attitude of this country on foreign policy, particularly in relation to reparations. There is a great deal of nonsense talked on both sides about reparations. It is frequently said, for example, that the fact that Germany has supplied this country with a lot of shipping, and that there is great unemployment in the shipping industry, is a proof that we ought not to take reparations at all. I call the attention of those who use that sort of argument to this fact. These ships would be floating upon the sea whether for this country or for Germany, and if they were floating for Germany and doing German business, they would cause just as much unemployment, not necessarily in the shipbuilding yards, but in other allied industries, as they do when they belong to British firms and are used in British service.
That, however, is by the way. It does not alter the fact that these attempts artificially to adjust the economic relations of one country with another in Europe have the most disastrous effects upon currency, and that the disastrous effect upon currency produces a disastrous effect upon trade relations. This problem will have to be considered in that light. Above all, I should like to press upon the Government my view, which I hope is shared in some other quarters, that you will never get out of your present difficulties until you adopt a sound, sane policy, an open policy as to what you think, and what every sound economist is perfectly convinced should he done with regard to the restoration of the financial solvency of Europe. I do not object to conference: I prefer it to the method of exchanging letters between Governments; but conferences have, at least, moved almost as slowly as the old methods of interchanging notes. I hope the time will come, and that it will come at the forthcoming Conference at Genoa, when we shall find ourselves able to persuade those countries which hitherto, for one reason or another—quite possibly they have suffered more than we have—have not seen eye to eye with us upon these economic questions—I say the time will come, I hope, at this approaching Conference when we shall be able to come to a real and proper agreement with them.
I shall not enter into the general discussion which has been raised by the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchen (Lord P. Cecil), but I think all men in this country, however they may differ from him, feel a deep debt of gratitude to the Noble Lord for the persistency and courage with which he has fought for the League of Nations. He has complained, and justly complained, that he has been "ploughing a lonely furrow" on that question, and has not received such assistance as he was entitled to demand from other men in other quarters. I wish to say a few words about France and the proposed Pact. I believe an appeal to the League of Nations is much the safer and wiser method for France, as well as for other countries, than these pacts, and I quite realise the difficulties pointed out by various speakers as to such arrangements. I do, however, pray the House, in discussing all these questions associated with France, to be very patient with France, not merely for her sake, but for our own, though mainly for her sake. I was one of the many Members of this House who visited France during the late War, and went over the devastated regions. I saw whole villages, not a stone of which, except the foundations, had been allowed to stand. I saw once beautiful little towns with every house destroyed; I saw all the industries of these places obliterated, and the comment I made to my comrades who were visiting these devastated regions along with me was that Germany had, of deliberate purpose, inflicted, by this devastation on France, as great an indemnity, or greater, than they would have been entitled to, even if they had won the War. France has lost one-third of her adult manhood. She has incurred a vast amount of debt, and she has been taught, I think, rather undue, expectations. Her financial position is parlous, and if sometimes we see on the part of France things which seem to us a little exaggerated or unreasonable, we must remember what she has gone through. Above all, we must remember that France is in a permanence of danger from her enemy over the frontier, from which we are quite free owing to the sea. Everybody who has studied the statistics of these nations knows that Germany, disarmed though she may be to-day, gains a military superiority against France every year. By the vast difference between the birth rate of Germany and the birth rate of France, Germany adds several divisions, or possible divisions, to her possible army of the future every year. France remains stationary in her military strength. Any arrangement we make ought to take into careful consideration these permanent factors of danger to France from her neighbour over the frontier. Therefore, though I support hon. Members, including the Noble Lord, in their preference for the League of Nations, I implore everybody in considering this question, not to forget the permanent terror and the terrible losses with which France is faced.
I am now going to refer to a subject of a less broad, though I do not think of a less urgent, character, and that is the position of Armenia and Greece since the
Treaty of Sèvres. I cannot miss the opportunity, in referring to Armenia in particular, of saying that I regard with profound sorrow, in which I am sure all the House joins, the fact that the great cause of the Armenians and the Greeks and the other Eastern Christians has suffered a bereavement and loss in the death of Lord Bryce, which cannot be calculated. I am the more compelled to make this observation by the fact that at least 41 years ago I saw my late friend get up from the front Opposition Bench and make a plea for the Armenians, and I remember very well that, although he was not a man who was afraid to express his opinions, he had almost to apologise to the House for uttering so much on the question of the Armenians. Using the words of Tennyson, he said it was regarded by the world generally as
A tale of little meaning, though the words were strong.
He was representative of the old generation, and was one of the oldest followers of Gladstone's policy in the East of Europe. Here am I, forty-one years afterwards, pleading the same cause to, I am afraid, the same world—a world which looks on that cause with something like indifference and, I am sorry to say on recent occasions, with something like hostility. [An HON. MEMBER: "Cheer up!"] If my hon. Friend gives me his valued assistance I shall be more cheerful. What I complain of is that this should be left to a private Member like me. Although the Labour party is entirely sympathetic, I have a right to complain that it should be left to a private Member to plead this cause, which at one time Gladstone was able to bring home to the hearts and consciences of every man, woman, and child in this country. I am, however, compelled to take up the question myself. A friend of mine was present at the last public meeting Gladstone ever addressed. It was in Liverpool, and within a few months of Gladstone's death. My friend has described to me how this poor old man, on the brink of the grave, came in, a huddled-up figure. Then when he got up on his feet and began to plead the cause of the Christians of the East, to which he had given so many years, he became a young man again, and made one of the best speeches of his life. I think Gladstone would turn in his grave if he read the speeches about the Eastern Christians which to-day are
made by some men who call themselves Liberals. What has happened since Gladstone first raised the case of the Armenians? Has opinion in England changed? I do not believe there is any question that makes a greater appeal to the conscience of the vast majority of the decent people of this country than that of Armenia. Has it changed in America? I was in America for 13 months, as everybody knows, during the War, and I never saw any cause receive such sympathy and such generous support as the cause of the Armenians. There is not a little chapel, there is not a Sunday school in America that has not for years had a collection for the Armenians, and the American people have sent the vast sum of £12,000,000 or £13,000,000 for the relief of the Armenians—I think one of the noblest gifts ever given by any nation.
But what has Christian Europe done for the Armenians during all that period? France has been passive, we have been passive, Italy has been passive if not hostile, and, so far as Germany was concerned, under the rule of the Kaiser and of the military party, she had a full share of the responsibility for the massacres during the War. There were some very good Germans on the side of Armenia. There was Leipsius, one of the greatest friends Armenia over had, but, so far as official Germany was concerned, I will not say she inspired, but she condoned, the massacres of the Armenians. What have we done all this time then? In place of improving the condition of the Armenians, their condition has steadily got worse. There were massacres of the Armenians in the days of Gladstone, but those massacres pale into insignificance in comparison with the massacres that have happened within the last five or six years—700,000 at least massacred during the late War. How did we, with the other Allies, treat the Armenians? At the beginning of the War the Turkish Government made a strong appeal to the Armenians to fight as Turkish subjects on the side of Turkey and against the Allies. The Armenians refused to do so, and because of that, 700,000 of their people, men, women, and little children, were butchered. Instead of fighting against the Allies, the Armenians fought for the Allies. France has not been very sympathetic, as I read the Angora Treaty lately, yet France had in her service a battalion—a division, I think it was— known as the Armenian division. A volunteer Armenian army kept back the Turks for five months in the Caucasus, and in that way helped us to conquer Mesopotamia. The Armenians were asked by some of the revolutionary leaders to create a revolution in the middle of the War against Russia—the Armenians, I mean, in the Caucasus—but instead of joining in the rebellion against the Russian rulers, they gave 200,000 conscripts to the Russian army. The Armenians helped to cut off the oil supply in Baku from the Germans.
What was their reward? The promises were great. The French authorities undertook, when they assumed the mandate for Cilicia, to give autonomy to Cilicia. On the promise of that autonomy, a large number of Armenians who had fled from Cilicia returned. I believe that two or three years ago there were nearly 200,000 Armenians, meaning those who had remained and those who had come back, in Cilicia, because anybody who has studied the Armenian character will know that there is no race in the world that is more home-loving than the Armenians. As a matter of fact, I was told by a critic of theirs that in their eagerness to get back to their own soil during the War, they very often interfered with military plans, and lost their own lives and imperilled the lives of other people. These people came back in their anxiety to get back to their homes, and they came back because they were promised autonomy. I will tell presently how that promise has been kept, but I do not want to place all the responsibility with regard to the broken promises to the Armenians on the shoulders of the French Government. I will read some of the pledges made by our own Ministers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), in a speech at the Mansion House on 9th November, 1916, promised an era of liberation and redemption for that ancient people. The Prime Minister, addressing the Trade Union Congress on 5th January, 1918, said:
Arabia, Armenia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine are, in our judgment, entitled to a recognition of their separate national conditions. It will be impossible to restore to their former sovereignty the territories to which I have alluded.
I take the great French statesman who is, rightly or wrongly, regarded as a
most prominent figure, of what may be called strong French spirit, M. Clemenceau. He said on 23rd July, 1918:
The Government of the Republic, like that of the United Kingdom, has not ceased to include the Armenian nation among the peoples whose fate the Allies count on determining according to the supreme laws of humanity and justice.
Not only that, but I will take a higher body even than an individual Minister, namely, the Council of the principal Allied Powers. They were approached in June, 1919, and the Council said:
It cannot admit that among the qualities of the Turkish people is to be counted capacity to rule over alien races"—
I hope my neo-Turcophile friends will accept that statement of the Allied Powers.
—"The experiment has been tried too long and too often for there to be the least doubt as to its result.
I think Lord Curzon was the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1920, but whether it was he or the present Lord President of the Council (Mr. Balfour) I do not know. Anyhow, this is what the Foreign Secretary said in 1920:—
It is true that the French are anxious, not unnaturally, to limit their engagements in that part of Turkey, but let it be remembered that they have entered into definite obligations to protect the Armenians there, and that obligation I am certain they have not the slightest intention of evading.
He added the hope that our main object, namely, the security of those minorities in that part of the world, in future would be undertaken by them. I will give another extract, and again it is from a speech of our Prime Minister. It was a speech he made after the San Remo Conference, on 29th April, 1920, in which he said:
The French are to exercise guardianship over the minority in Cilicia. I believe there are considerable forces in that Province, and there is a struggle going on which I hope will, in the end, achieve the result of securing efficient protection for these poor threatened people. But I assure my hon. Friends that we cannot dissociate ourselves from the responsibility that is cast upon us by our pledges in respect of the Armenians. If the United States of America feel that they cannot take direct responsibility, we shall have to reconsider the whole position, and will undoubtedly take our share in the matter of helping the Armenian community to equip themselves for their very difficult and perilous task."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 29th April, 1920; col. 1520, Vol. 128.]
After these pledges, I go on to the Treaty of Sèvres, and of all the tragically ironical documents I have ever read, I have never read anything so tragically ironical as this document at this moment. I think I am almost textually giving the language of the Treaty itself when I say that it says that the Armenian State shall be recognised as an independent and separate State, and that document, giving to Armenia the stamp of a separate State, was signed by Sir Ronald Graham, and one of the first names to it was the distinguished name of M. Jules Cambon, who, as everybody knows, was the Ambassador of France in Berlin during the years that preceded the War, and was properly regarded as one of the ablest and most disinterested of the statesmen of France. What has happened? A separate State was guaranteed by this Treaty of Sèvres, guaranteed by our signature, and by the signature of France, and by those of all our Dominions and many of the other parties. What has become of the separate and independent existence of Armenia? So far as independence is concerned, Armenia has ceased to exist. There is in the Caucasus a certain amount of Armenian territory that has a certain amount of safety under Russia, and I am bound to say this for Russia, that the Armenians who were taken over to the Caucasus after the Russo-Turkish War of the 'seventies have on the whole been well treated, as far as anybody was well treated under the régime of the Czars. They certainly have not been butchered, and it is something in the existence of an Armenian not to be butchered. That is the first and great claim which the Armenian makes—the claim not to be butchered—and that is the claim that Christian Europe has not paid proper attention to. In this Treaty of Sèvres Turkey gave up her claims, and we made the provision that the frontiers of Armenia should be traced by the hand of President Wilson. The task could not have been given to a better man, for, in spite of the temporary eclipse which President Wilson now suffers, the world of posterity will regard him as one of the greatest humanitarian statesmen this age has seen. He drew this frontier. Look at the frontier he drew to-day, and you will find, I think I may say, most of it taken away from Armenia and restored to Turkey—most of the part immediately above the
Southern frontier—and the decision of Europe, backed by the decision of the President of the United States, has been ignored and destroyed. That is what we have done for the Armenians.
I come to the Angora Treaty. It would be presumptuous on my part to try to acid anything to the admirable despatch, if I may be permitted to say so, just issued by Lord Curzon, the Foreign Secretary, on the receipt of this portentous document. Lord Curzon, in describing his feelings oil the receipt of this document, says:
It was with feelings of astonishment, and almost of dismay, that I had read the provisions of M. Franklin-Bouillon's agreement.
I must speak with tenderness of France, and I admit France was in a very difficult position. She had a mandate, and she accepted it, to look after Cilicia, but it was costing her a great deal of money and life. I ventured to go, with my late friend Lord Bryce, to M. Briand. He said, "Do you realise that the bodies of 5,000 of our soldiers rest in the soil of Cilicia?" And yet, considering that France partly helped, partly induced, all these Armenians to go back to Cilicia on the promise of autonomy, France ought not to have left that place without creating a system of autonomy for the Armenians in that province. I am told that these young Turkish authorities can be trusted to spare the Armenians. My friend M. Franklin-Bouillon described to me the new Turk that had come into existence under Kemal, and he went the length of saying that he would be delighted to transfer from Angora the statesmanship of these Turks to the Treasury Bench in the House of Commons or to the French Chamber. Ever since the departure of the French troops from Armenia began, the Armenians—it is said, under the advice of agitators and that kind of usual talk—have fled in tens of thousands from Cilicia. When you consider their love of their home, and that they had to go out to the ocean in search of an asylum, and leave behind them their homes, trade and business, and even wealthy men there were ready to go into a cockleshell open boat on the open sea rather than remain in Cilicia, you have some proof of what the people think of Turkish rule in Cilicia. It was a case of flight or death, or the control of Cilicia by some
international body, French or English, that could control the Turkish authorities there, and see that the Armenians had the autonomy and the rights which they were promised for their services in the War.
I will say no more about the Angora Treaty, though I might say a good deal more. I must say, however, one thing. In all these provisions with regard to the saving of human life and the fulfilment of our pledges, there manages to creep in something about special economic and financial concessions. It does not sound very nice. I believe a great many of the wars of the world, national and social, have been made by unscrupulous concessionaires. I demand now from the Government that they should use all their influence to substitute for what I regard as the flimsy protection of the Armenians, an international police, or some other control. I demand also that they should find an Armenian home for the Armenian people. I believe it could be done, with good-will and good-feeling on the part of the different powers.
There is only one other question, and that is an equally important one, arising out of the Treaty of Sevres. It is the question of Greece. In discussing the question of Armenia and Greece, I admit it is said by some critics that we must be awfully careful what we do in either Armenia or Greece, because of Mohammedan opinion in India. My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Aubrey Herbert) knows me well enough to know that it would be contrary to every political principle I have to entertain enmity against any race or any creed. I am not making war on the Turks as Turks. They talk of "gentlemanly Turk." I do not think you will find many gentlemanly Turks among the gentlemen. When you come down to the peasant, he is one of the most honest, most decent people in the world. I am attacking the Turkish régime. That is an entirely different thing. I do not call the peasant Turk a man who is given to massacre, because he is often as much the victim of his impossible regime as the Christians themselves, and I know from several sources that among the people who are most anxious to get rid of this incurable regime of Constantinople in the rule over other nations, are a large number of Mohammedans who miss the security they might get under a more enlightened rule. I am told that I must take care of Mohammedan opinion. Let me analyse that for a moment. I am sorry my hon. and gallant. Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) is not here. We had a Debate in this House a year or so ago, and the question at issue was whether General Dyer was justified in shooting down a large number of people. What would be thought of Lord Carson, who led the defence of General Dyer with, of course, his characteristic vigour, if he said to us here in the British House of Commons, most of us members of a Christian religion, most of us citizens of this country, "It is quite true General Dyer shot down 400 people. It is quite true he did it without any justification. It is quite true it might be described, if people wanted to exaggerate, and to be carried away by passion, as a butchery; but I ask you to consider Christian opinion. General Dyer, after all, was a Christian, and it is time for us to respect Christians and stand by our fellow-Christians"? I will not be intimidated from defending the lives and liberties of the Christians of the East because it may happen to offend the opinion of some people who are talking about Mohammedans, and interposing a Mohammedan opinion in India which is not concerned. Whatever may be the case, I think it is an intolerable argument that we should not save the lives of Christians from Mohammedans, because the butchers are Mohammedans and the victims are Christians. I hope we have heard the last of that ridiculous, inhuman argument. The same thing is said about Greece. By the Treaty of Sèvres, Greece was given Smyrna.
I do not know to what the hon. Gentleman, alludes, except very dimly. I am perfectly sure the Prime Minister will stand by these pledges to the Mohammedans. It is rather dim in my memory at the moment, but if the Prime Minister said, "I will have full respect for Mohammedan opinion," I will say I am in agreement with the Prime Minister. But respect for Mohammedan opinion does not mean giving people the right, because they are Mohammedans, to kill.
It is not for me to explain away the Prime Minister. It is for him to do it, and I am sure, if his attention is called to the observations of my hon. Friend, he will, no doubt, give an answer. On 22nd December, 1920, the Prime Minister, alluding to this demand for a modification of the Treaty of Sèvres, said:
What about Thrace? Now we are getting to realise these are not modifications. This will be tearing up the Treaty. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman mean placing a population, the majority of which are undoubtedly Christian and non-Turkish, in Thrace, back under Turkish rule? … When we gave them Constantinople there began the agitation about Thrace and Smyrna. If we restored Smyrna I have not the faintest doubt that the same agitation would begin again about Thrace and Adrianople. …
Is the proposal that we shall, without the consent of the Greeks and over their heads, go to Mustapha Kemal, who is a mutinous general, and say to him: 'Give us peace. At least give peace to Anatolia—because we have no dealings with them; they are not in our territory; and if you give us peace, we will give you Smyrna?' It is not in our power to give them Smyrna. Suppose the Greeks say, 'No, we will not take Smyrna.' Are we to make an attack upon them? Are we to send a fleet and an army? They have a much bigger army there than the Turks have."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 22nd December, 1920; col. 1895, Vol. 136.]
Then he speaks of the Greek soldiers and proceeds:
Are we, without the consent of the Greek people, over their heads, without negotiating with them, because we disapprove of their action at the last election, to say to Mustapha Kemal, 'We give you Smyrna?'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd December, 1920; col. 1897, Vol. 136.]
The Prime Minister repudiates that. He practically repudiates it very strongly, and in the same speech says:
It is no use our purchasing the way out of our own difficulties by betraying
other nations, and we are not going to purchase the good will of this general"—
I think the Prime Minister meant Kemal Pasha—
by having the feeling in the hearts of these people that we have betrayed them for our own convenience. We would not get the 30 pieces of silver. Who is to pay the 30 pieces?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd December, 1920; col. 1899, Vol. 136.]
That is the language the Prime Minister used in regard to the modification of the Treaty of Sèevres, and especially in regard to the proposal to drive the Greeks out of Smyrna.
Let me deal with two objections that have been put forward—and let me my that I appreciate the attention of the House, for this is a question which appeals to me very strongly, especially seeing that, after 40 years' agitation upon it, I see the failure of my poor efforts up to the present, and therefore I am, perhaps, going into more detail than is agreeable to the House—let me, I say, deal with a few arguments about taking from Greece territory given to them by the Treaty of Sèvres. The first is that the Greeks have brought back their King. I freely admit that that was an action on the part of Greece which might very well excite suspicion. I can quite understand the feeling of resentment caused in this country by the return of King Constantine. But I put it to the House: Are we, the citizens of a free nation, to deny the Greek nation the right to choose their own King and their own Government. They may make a wrong or a right choice, it is not my business to discuss it. That would be impertinence on my part. I would, however, say one thing, that the return of King Constantine to Greece was not inspired—I hate to discuss it, but I do not believe there is an Anglophobe from one end of Greece to the other. On the contrary, I think that of all the countries in the world, Greece to-day looks with hope and with affection towards this country, and, therefore, whatever we may think of the choice of the Greek people in the matter of their sovereign, let us put it down to their affection, guided or misguided—I do not say which—to their affection for their Sovereign. Do not let us do an injustice to the Greek people by talking of it as an act of war or of hostility to the people of this country.
The second reason given for the expulsion of the Greeks from Smyrna is that the Greeks have committed some atrocities. I regret to say that I believe that in some instances that charge is well-founded.- There were some ugly, some very brutal, and some horrible things done when the Greek soldiers first landed at Smyrna. It will be remembered that we had a couple of meetings in one of the Committee rooms of this House, at which, as some of my hon. Friends must be aware, M. Venizelos was present, and gave us his answer to the indictment. To me he gave a satisfactory answer. He claimed, all the Greeks claimed, and I do not think it is unlikely, that when the Greek troops began to enter some guns were let off from some of the Turkish offices. It has been represented that the day before they landed a large number of prisoners were released from the Turkish prisons in Smyrna. As I understand it the Greeks shot two of their own soldiers who had taken part in the riot at that time. Let us, however, have a sense of proportion in this matter. Am I to be told, in view of the abnormal times through which the Greeks and the Armenians have been going in the last few years, that some reprisals by the Greeks and the Armenians against the Turks are to be regarded as unqualified murder, or that the killing of one Turk is the wiping out of the murder of 20,000 or 30,000 Armenians? I beg the Government to adhere to the policy they have enunciated up to the present. I am bound to say that though I differ so strongly in many respects from the policy of the Prime Minister, I have never seen him waver in his attitude upon this question. He has stood by his pledges, his solemn pledges for the protection of the Armenians as against the Turks. I ask him and his colleagues now to continue that policy and not to sacrifice all the lives that we have lost and all the victories we have won in this War by the abandonment of these people.
The House will agree with me, I feel, when I say that we have just heard a speech from the hon. Gentleman opposite which is creditable alike to his heart and to his head. For my part, I am pleased to think that a man, after having spent the major portion of a long life in struggling for the freedom of his own people, now that that has been achieved, has turned his attention and his talents to the freedom of other smaller and even more helpless people. It is a sad commentary upon what has been done by this country, and on the speeches, aspirations and hopes that were entertained some forty or fifty years ago in regard to the Turks and their subject peoples that such a speech as we have just heard should be possible in this year of grace 1922.
I can remember when it was almost a commonplace amongst, at all events, advanced politicians that Turkey should be turned "bag-and-baggage" out of Europe; instead of which we find the terrible tale of woe that has been told to the House this afternoon by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) in regard to the atrocities committed upon helpless people under Turkish rule. I agree with most of what he said in regard to the duty of the Government in honouring the signature they have attached to the Treaty of Sèvres. There is one thing only I would add: that is, that the Government might very suitably make proper representations to the Government of the United States of America in regard to their duty in the matter. I remember one speech made by President Wilson about 1917 in which he said that, whatever else might happen as the result of the War, the Armenians and the Jews in Palestine—I think is was—would never again be left to the tender mercies of the Mahommedan Turks. It is a sad commentary upon that speech to hear what we have been told to-day. I take it that the Americans are even under a greater debt of obligation towards these people than are we in this country because we have had heavy burdens to bear during the last year or two, and I think we might have had ease if America had backed up the efforts made.
It is, however, on two topics, and possibly a third, that I rise this afternoon to speak. I was not present yesterday, and I gather that to-morrow and subsequent days are going to be devoted to specific Amendments, and, therefore, speeches not within the ambit of these Amendments will be out of order. For that reason I want to say a word or two, first about Washington, then about the French Pact, and then perhaps a few words about unemployment. In regard to Washington I think that now the Lord President of the Council and his colleagues are on their way home that the Washington Conference decisions might be said to have passed into history. It is true that the decisions have still to be ratified by the United States Senate and the other ratifying authorities, but whatever may happen in regard to that I think that Washington's decisions and recommendations as well as the spirit which has animated the Conference have revived the hopes of real peace and world resettlement.
It is true that many of us would have liked, had the Conference been completed by an all-embracing League of Nations, and many of us still hope that such conferences may be possible in the future. But I think that all of us will welcome the decisions, and hope that they may be ratified. Incidentally one decision or one effect of the Conference has been to remove a cause of much speculation and possibly ill-feeling between ourselves and the United States in the merging of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty into the larger pact subscribed to by the other countries. It seems to me there are three positive achievements in connection with Washington. First, there is the stabilising of surface warship building; second, there is the forbidding the use of the Pacific Islands for purposes of war; third, there is the restoration of Chinese territory to China. In respect to the first, it is true that it relegates this country to a position inferior to that which many had come to regard as her prescriptive right. I think, however, that although this country has policed the seas in times gone by and has done it not only in regard to our own interests, but in the interests of the freedom of the seas for the other nations, that that position had got to be quite inconsistent with the growing wealth, power, and population of the United States. Therefore I think we ought to welcome the co-operation of the United States in carrying out a task which has become—I will not say too heavy for us—but which at all events had become a very heavy task. We shall welcome the co-operation of the United States in future in carrying out that duty, I am sure, with due regard to other people's interests as well as to our own. The forbidding of the use of the Pacific Islands for the purposes of war is one of the most far-reaching decisions ever taken at any Conference, either in America or anywhere else. In future, it will be impossible for warships to operate there, because those islands will not be fortified, and therefore cannot be used as bases for ships. My third point is the handing over of Chinese territory to China, and that is equally satisfactory. It seems to me that that closes a chapter in diplomacy which was not altogether creditable to the Western world.
Passing from these positive achievements, I know that resolutions have been adopted with regard to submarines, forbidding their use against merchantmen in time of war, and also in regard to the use of poison gas. For my part I attach little importance to either of these resolutions, because I believe that when war clouds burst the war lords will always do their worst. As a matter of fact, if they believe in war they would be fools if they did not do their worst. If, unhappily, war breaks out in the future, which God forbid, having regard to the march of science and the more efficient weapons in the hands of mankind, whatever resolutions may be passed about poison gas and submarines will be quite useless. But apart from those resolutions there are three positive achievements. I have mentioned the stabilising of the building of ships, the forbidding of wax-fare in the Pacific, and the handing back of Chinese territory to China. These are all solid gains, not in the way of regulating war, but in the way of preventing war. I thank the President of the United States, the Lord President of the Council, and all those associated with them, for what has been done, and I congratulate them upon having rendered the world a signal service.
My second point is the French Pact. With all due emphasis I want to say that for my part I am not going to vote for any policy which will put us in a special relationship only of obligation to any European State. It may be said that I am pledged to something of the kind because of the Agreement made in Paris in 1919. In this respect two things have to be remembered. One has been dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchen (Lord R. Cecil) this afternoon, who pointed out that the Agreement of 1919 was one which depended not only upon ourselves, but also on the United States of America subscribing to it and ratifying it, and the fact that America did not ratify that Treaty absolved us from any obligations in regard to it. The Noble Lord has dealt fully with that matter, but there is another reason why we are absolved from any obligations under it. The Agreement of 1919 was intended to be of a temporary character. Everybody assumed when it was drawn up that the United States would be in the League of Nations, and therefore the guarantee we were to give to France would only be in the character of a guarantee when the League of Nations was firmly put upon its feet. The League of Nations has been in existence for the last two years, and I think it is growing in strength, and it is time that we were absolved from the Agreement of 1919 on that ground as well as on the ground of the non-acceptance of the League of Nations by the United States. For these reasons I feel no responsibility whatever in regard to the Agreement of 1919, and I feel myself perfectly free to regard any suggested new Pact as a new thing altogether.
Regarded in that light, should we not have some consideration for our experience in these matters during the last few years? Have we not had some experience of the effect of treaties of this kind of a sectional character? Take the Anglo-Japanese Treaty. Are we not aware of the amount of speculation with regard to that Treaty during the last two or three years, and are we not aware of the amount of engendered between ourselves and the United States of America only a year or two ago, when there was great anxiety shown at the Imperial Conference which met in Downing Street in regard to that Treaty? It stands to reason that sectional treaties of this kind must be dangerous, because they must lead to sectional treaties in other places, and you produce again the danger of two rival forces in the world being set up. For that reason I am against anything in the nature of a pact on our part guaranteeing France immunity from oppression on the part of Germany. Unless the pact guarantees us as well as France, and unless it is of such a character that the obligations we come under are specific and leave no room for misunderstanding, I see no reason for such a pact being made, and for my part I am not favourably inclined to side with anything of the kind.
There is a further reason. Our experience of French policy in the past, and our experience with regard to Angora and the Near East problem, is not of such a character as to encourage us in making pacts with France or with any other country. Consider for a moment the Covenant of the League of Nations. We have in Clause 10 of that Covenant a pact to which not only France and ourselves have subscribed, but to which no less than 51 countries have subscribed, and each and every one of those countries comes under the obligation of supporting any country whose territory is aggressively violated by another country. That pact seems to me of the right kind because it brings all those countries in.
It is true that France may feel that Clause 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations is not altogether satisfactory, inasmuch as no adequate force is provided in the sense of being ready to take action in the event of aggression by Germany. I pointed out in Paris that that was the weakness of the Covenant, and I also pointed out that, whilst other countries were making up their minds as to what should be done and where there had been any aggression, the aggression might become an accomplished fact. The proper way out of that difficulty is to supplement the provision of the Covenant of the League of Nations by instituting something in the nature of an international force to be always ready on the spot to take action if action is thought to be necessary.
I come to the question of unemployment. I have touched upon two questions of foreign policy. For my part, I think that it is monstrous that this House should spend so much time on questions of foreign policy and so little time upon matters lying under our very noses. Many speeches have been made since the House met, and up to the present nearly all the time has been taken up in regard to questions of foreign policy. I think it is monstrous that the Prime Minister in his speech yesterday should have attached so much importance to these remote far-off contingencies which he conjured up about possible German aggression in 20 or 30 years time, and devoted so little time and attention to the relief of the terrible problem of unemployment in this country. I am ten times more concerned about the problem of unemployment than about the French Pact, or any other pact. We ought to consider very closely to-morrow whether anything more can be done, not only in the way of relief but in the way of a permanent solution of the unemployment problem. I believe that the main cause of the present abnormal unemployment is the fact that our customers are too poor to buy our goods, and for that reason I attach more importance to the Conference at Genoa than to anything else which is now receiving the attention of the House. I hope and trust that this House will give its undivided support to the Government in removing those difficulties which appear to have cropped up in regard to the Genoa Conference. That is the only way in which he can get rid of this terrible nightmare of unemployment, which is creating such an amount of misery throughout the length and breadth of this country.
When we were experiencing severe and cold weather quite recently, I could not help thinking of the many thousands of homes which were probably without fires during that inclement weather. That subject is the most important problem that could engage the attention of this House. I will not say how I am going to vote in regard to the Amendment put forward by hon. Members opposite. It remains to be seen what is going to be said about it not only by them, but by the Government. I hope the House will take into its most serious consideration this problem of unemployment and decide to give our time and attention and, so far we can, our means to attempting to solve this problem, and to solving it in the sense of doing away with the abnormal unemployment which now exists. I believe the true solution lies in helping our customers in foreign countries and putting them on their legs. The success of a shopkeeper's business depends upon the prosperity of his customers and the same applies to nations. If Russian or German credit is not good, then it is to our own interest that we should try to make it good. I hope something will be said in that direction and that that something will prove contributory to the solution of this problem.
My right hon. Friend who has just spoken said he was not quite sure how he was going to vote to-morrow on the Unemployment Amendment. We can desire nothing better than that he should keep clearly in mind the sentiments to which he has just given utterance, for then we will be quite sure of finding him in the Lobby in favour of the Amendment. At the present moment we are discussing the Speech from the Throne. It is supposed to indicate the policy of the Government for the coming Session; but I venture to suggest that if we want to ascertain the real mind of the Government, we will not find it by looking at the. Speech we heard read yesterday. It is rather to be found in the speeches that have been delivered during recent weeks. It is obvious that so far as the legislation of the Session is concerned, we are really wasting our time, and if any proof of that be needed, it is to be found in the utterances of the right hon. Gentlemen who will be defending the speech from the benches opposite. All the arrangements, apparently, were made for a February election, and that section of the Press which is usually inspired from Downing Street made it perfectly clear that arrangements were in full swing for an election. But the Prime Minister, having of course read what the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) had said, promptly disclaimed any responsibility and asked his supporters, "Who said anything about an election? The thing is far from my mind. Anyone who knows me knows perfectly well that thinking of party advantage would be foreign to my whole political career."
Curiously enough, at the time the right hon. Gentleman was giving utterance to this expression, when he was disclaiming all responsibility, and when he was saying to his enthusiastic supporters, "Who started talking about an election? Not me," the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, was also talking to his supporters, and saying: "It is quite true that, prior to the Prime Minister leaving for Cannes, we, the more responsible Ministers informally talked over the prospects of a general election, and that informal talk resulted in the tip being given for a February election;" but then when the Member for Ayr Burghs burst it, the Prime Minister came back and said, "Whoever talked about a general elec- tion? I never did." I agree with the hon. Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward). I believe that the circumstances under which this House is meeting at the moment render it infinitely better to have an election. It is no good to pretend you are going to get clean legislation and the best attention of the House if Members in all parties have merely got one eye on an election and the other eye on the effect of their vote in the House. We may camouflage it as much as we like, but the fact remains that that state of affairs does not tend to clean government. As far as I am concerned, I welcome the prospect of an election. It is no good to denounce the Government from these Benches; it is no good saying that the country is going to ruin; it is no good pretending that we believe it is in the interest of the country that a change should be made on that Bench, and then running away from an election. I believe it will be in the interests of the country to have a change, and for that reason I, at least, would welcome an opportunity of testing the electorate.
For the moment I am speaking for myself, but incidentally I do not think that what I am saying is at variance with the view expressed by my right hon Friend. It is perfectly true that the Prime Minister, with his characteristic ability, turned my right hon. Friend's phrase into a suggestion that he was afraid of an election, but if hon. Members will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT, they will find that what my right hon. Friend said was, in effect, that in the present state of this country, and of the world, no section of this community, whether it is this party or that, ought merely to seek for party advantage. It is quite true that the Prime Minister turned that phrase into a suggestion that we were afraid to undertake the responsibility, but that is not what my right hon. Friend said. It is not what he intended, and what I say now is the view of the party, i.e., that we would infinitely prefer that the miseries and sufferings of unemployed men and women should be solved by right hon. Gentlemen opposite rather than that we should be in a
position to go to the country and say: "We want some party advantage, because of the misery you are suffering." That is our attitude, and, incidentally, let me again remind the House of the kind of tactics employed by the Prime Minister. In his peroration to his Liberal supporters he said:
If there is one thing more than another that I deplore, it is a resumption of those old party hostilities. We grant a united nation, we want no party advantage.
That was his message to his supporters, and we only had to wait two days to find the interpretation of it. The Colonial Secretary was put up to deliver the first outburst of poison gas. His contribution was this: "Here are we, the embodiment of wisdom, the only people, the only class that can govern, and the working classes are too ignorant and too irresponsible to govern." That was his contribution to national union. That was his definition of a united people. That is what he meant by contributing to the common stock in order to solve our problems. In short, he said: "Although we are a democratic country, the great mass of the people are so ignorant that they are unfit to take part in the government of the country." That was his contribution. But his friend and colleague the Lord Chancellor, whose political record is at least an embodiment of the recognition of law and order in England and, in Ireland, thought that the Colonial Secretary had not gone far enough, and that he had given too mild a description to be applied to the great mass of the people of this country. The Noble Lord thought to himself that he had better improve upon it. He said:
I will define what I mean by national union. I will define what I mean by all working together.
So he first denounced Lord Grey. He raked up the sins of omission and commission of Lord Grey as Foreign Secretary, forgetting incidentally that if his strictures on Lord Grey were correct—and on that I express no opinion—it at least was the strongest condemnation of the Colonial Secretary and of the Prime Minister, who sat in the same Cabinet with Lord Grey when he made those particular mistakes.
Then the Noble Lord passed from Lord Grey to our party. He said that the leaders were poltroons and that our followers were traitors. In short, he made a direct appeal for a class war. There are legitimate differences of opinion with regard to the relationship of trade unionism to the Labour movement in this country. No one is going to pretend there are no such differences of opinion on policy and everything else. Anyone who did so pretend would be a fool. But if in a constitution like ours, and in the times in which we are living, when one in every five of our population are denied the right to work, when hundreds of thousands of ex-soldiers are starving, although they have been taught to believe in the promises that were made that they were to be provided with a land fit for heroes to live in; when all these things are borne in mind, if for mere party advantage a class war is to be proclaimed, then it is not only dangerous but the country must inevitably suffer from any such appeal. I am not going to follow that example. In the organisations with which I am connected, I am opposed to those who believe that a class war is going to solve our problems. But I express my opposition in my own way, and I say we are entitled to express our views equally on the Floor of the House of Commons, because if that is to be a means to obtain a mere party advantage, then it is so much the worse for the country.
Curiously enough, the Colonial Secretary, in the same speech, gave a definition of what he called good Government—a pretty risky thing to do, I admit. He said that good Government is not to be measured merely from a party standpoint, but rather from the standpoint of the comfort of the working-class home. That was the speech of the Colonial Secretary 10 days ago; that was his definition of good Government. I should like to ask whether that is the test upon which he is going to ask for judgment in the coming election. Just imagine that test being applied to the social conditions existing in our country at this moment! Just imagine that test being applied in England, Scotland, and Wales! The answer is that there never was such misery and degradation as exists at this moment. I said, on the last occasion on which I addressed the House, that I did not believe that the mere change of Government, whether it be from this side to that or vice versâ, is going to solve the unemployment problem. I said that quite clearly, and I say so now. It is not so much a change of Government, or of individuals, as a change of policy, that is required. We cannot dissociate both high taxation at this moment and unemployment from the policy, or rather want of policy, that has been pursued by those occupying the Government Benches. The Treaty of Versailles was the result of a mandate obtained by an appeal to passion and prejudice, by promises made by people who knew they could never fulfil them, with placards throughout the length and breadth of the land, "If you return us to power we will hang the Kaiser and make Germany pay." They knew perfectly well that they never intended to give effect to the former, and that, if carried to excess, the latter would mean ruination to this country, as has now been demonstrated. I repeat that not until there is a change of policy can we hope to deal with the problems which now confront us.
Curiously enough this is called an Economy Session. The Government, who for three years have never been denied anything they asked from the House of Commons, who for three years have had an unprecedented majority and unlimited power, say that this, the dying Session of the Parliament, is to be an Economy Session—with economies recommended and brought into existence by a Committee that is not responsible to or elected by the House of Commons. Three years in power, three years in full authority, three years responsible for the administration of the finances of this country, and, in the last Session of Parliament, a Committee not representative, not responsible to the House of Commons, are to be the people who are to say to the Government: "You have failed to discharge your responsibilities; we, at least, will show you what you ought to have done." We may play with it as much as we like, but that, after all, is the net result of this Economy Session. That is the inner meaning of what is called the Geddes Report. We have only had one indication, so far as I can see, of what economy really means. It is a remarkable thing that every speech from the Government Bench yesterday said, "You will be able to judge as to what these economies are at a later stage." We have only had one clear indication as to what some of the economy is likely to be. The Minister of Health has introduced a Bill, and I understand that that Bill is the direct result of a recommendation of the Geddes Committee. The first step in economy, the first step in giving effect to the Geddes Report, is to put a charge on the employers of the country, many of whom are conducting their businesses at a loss at this moment, and are overtaxed, as they are complaining. With 2,000,000 workers out of work, you put a further tax on them, and interfere with an Act of Parliament which at the moment is at least working smoothly. That is the only key that we have got, so far, to the Geddes Economy Committee. In other words, it is an added liability. At all events, we shall know something more about it when we see the Bill.
My right hon. Friend was challenged yesterday with regard to his observations about the pact with France. Considerable lip service is given to the sufferings of France, and everyone recognises her sufferings and the sacrifice that she made. But no greater mistake can be made than to deceive France at this moment; and it is merely deceiving France, and unfair to France, to pretend that the great mass of our people want to be linked up with any such alliance as is contemplated. You have only to go to working-class constituencies, you have only to meet our returned soldiers, you have only to discuss with the people the pact with France, and you will get the very clear and definite answer that we were told that the last War was going to end war. The people believed that the League of Nations was to be a real instrument of peace. They believed that no one nation, or two nations, could guarantee peace, but that it was only by a League of Nations that this could be accomplished, and they not only cannot understand it, but they are very suspicions of the motive of those who say on the one hand, "We will give lip service to the League of Nations," and then proceed to enter into private arrangements that merely mean the old balance of power of former days. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] That, in my judgment, is the view of the great mass-of the working classes of this country. My hon. Friend may take another view, but I repeat that that is the view of the great majority of working people that I meet. My hon. Friend may meet a different section, and I am content to let him have his own opinion.
In the same way, if any evidence is required as to the feeling on this matter, take the views of the masses of the people with regard to Washington. They welcomed Washington, not because they did not think that Washington might have gone farther, for they believed that it would have liked to go farther, but they clearly realised that a practical step was taken; and it is inconsistent to talk about a pact with France and Belgium when at Washington our policy was something aiming at world peace and world understanding. Therefore I say that, so far as the Speech which we heard from the Throne yesterday is concerned, we look upon that Speech as merely words, not adequately expressing the real intentions of the Government. We welcome rather the speeches made in the country, which clearly indicate the preparation for a General Election, and we could welcome no better cry at that General Election than the present position of this country and the world, which is due to the policy of those sitting on the Benches opposite.
It is rather hard to get on to the subject of foreign policy after the eloquent speech we have heard on the unemployment question. I confess that yesterday, on hearing in the speech of the Prime Minister what we are spending on unemployment, I was astounded, and I quite agree that in all history there is no record coming up to that £100,000,000 a year. I should like to say a few words as one who is devoted to France. I have been called friendly to Turkey, but I spent much of my boyhood in France, and, like, I think, everyone else, I admire the bravery of the French and the way in which they stood with us in the War; and I cannot believe that any statesman will dare or attempt to break up that alliance which was cemented on the fields of France and Flanders. That alliance is going to continue, and I say "alliance," because we know what an entente means. The idea of friendship with France, of friendship with America, is very nice, but "Brotherly love is all very well; let some account be kept," as the Persian proverb runs. I am one of those who saw the effect of the Entente before the War. When I came home from South Africa in 1911, I met in Paris, Marshal Foch, who was then head of the Ecole de Guerre, and was a friend of mine in former years. I asked him, "When is this War coming off?"—we all talked of the War, as is well known. Marshal Foch said, "There will be no war if England, France, and Russia show their teeth; but they must be good teeth, and the English teeth are bad. They will not prepare an Army." We know who was in power then. If we had prepared an Army, most of the House will agree with me that there would have been no War at all.
France has been abused for having enormous forces, but France is under the knife now. We are not, and I say, as a soldier, that her army is absolutely at bedrock minimum safety now, and anything less would not be safe for France I have quite lately—not a week ago—discussed this matter with leading French generals, and they say they are at bedrock minimum strength. After all, I do not see what we have to say against them, because I think I am right in saying that we are paying £204,000,000 a year for our land and sea forces, while France, I know, only pays £84,000,000, including all her Colonial troops. After all, therefore, I think Washington might have been a little quiet in attacking France about the strength of her army, and I am sure many will agree with me on that. France is under the knife; the Rhine is our frontier, not the Channel. That is another reason why I hope we shall soon have that Channel tunnel. I hope I have made it clear about the necessity of an alliance, which is what I want rather than this entente. I am tired of these mild platitudes about friendship and then not preparing to help them. How long would it take us at this moment to put 150,000 men on the Rhine alongside the French? We must march hand in hand with France in the Near East as well as in Europe proper. We have got to that stage where we shall never know peace in Egypt or India or anywhere in the Middle East or Near East until we have France and England marching hand in hand and we make peace with Turkey. I am sorry to bring up the subject of Turkey, but I find that is the key of the whole thing. You talk of leaving Egypt. There is one thing you can fix in your mind—I do not care how many strategists can be brought together—you cannot leave Egypt until you have settled that Near Eastern question. Therefore, a strong agreement with France is absolutely necessary.
I, together with certain other Members of the House, placed an Amendment on the Paper dealing with the failure of the Government to allay the anxiety which has been caused in Ulster with reference to the proposal in the Treaty to appoint a Commission to deal with the boundaries between Northern and Southern Ireland. That Amendment will not come before the House because I understand it is now out of order in view of the fact that notice has been given of the introduction of a Bill to convert the Treaty into law. My first complaint against the Government is that I think they might, taking into consideration the widespread interest and anxiety which has been caused by their boundary proposals, have waited for a couple of days or so before they put that notice down. I cannot help accusing them of having deliberately put it down to prevent the Amendment which my Friends and I have put on the Paper from, coming before the House.
Although I cannot discuss the merits and demerits of the Clause dealing with the boundaries, I think it is open to me to draw the attention of the House to the grave consequences which have arisen and which are arising from day to day owing to the indefinite position of this question. The Clause in the Treaty is in itself very indefinite, and every reference which has been made to them by the Government has been both indefinite and contradictory. I will read the words dealing with the boundaries:
Provided that if such an address is so presented a Commission consisting of three persons, one to be appointed by the Government of the Irish Free State, one to be appointed by the Government of Northern Ireland, and one, who shall be Chairman, to be appointed by the British Government, shall determine, in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions, the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland.
I think the House will agree that those words are so indefinite and so wide that it is absolutely impossible to predict what view will be taken of them by the Chairman of the Commission if any such Commission is ever set up. That is a very unsatifactory state of affairs, and the Government should take the very earliest
opportunity of making clear exactly what is meant.
Since we met yesterday several hon. Members have asked me why we are so concerned in this matter. "What we always understood" they said, "is that the Boundary Commission was simply to rectify the present boundary by the exchange of a certain number of Protestants on one side of the line and a certain number of Roman Catholics on the other side of the line." That is a view, undoubtedly, which a great number of people take of the subject at present. What right have people to think that is going to be the result of this Boundary Commission? They have no such right. I will quote a few bits of documents to prove that, very far from that being the view of everyone, most of the Sinn Fein party and people in Southern Ireland are under the impression, rightly or wrongly, that under this Boundary Commission they have a chance, at any rate, of taking a very large portion of our area in Ulster. I will have to read several, but first I need only read the statement issued by Michael Collins and Sir James Craig the other day after their second interview, which the Prime Minister described yesterday as a failure:
The following agreed statement was issued this afternoon by Mr. Michael Collins, Chairman of the Provisional Government, and Sir James Craig. The discussion between Mr. Collins and Sir James Craig was almost entirely confined to the subject of the Boundary Commission. Owing to the fact that Mr. Collins stands on the Boundary Commission and the Irish Delegation's agreement with Mr. Lloyd George that large territories were involved in the Agreement and not merely a boundary line, as Sir James Craig was given to understand privately by several British Ministers, and the statement of Mr. Lloyd George in the House of Commons, no further agreement was reached, and a very serious situation has consequently arisen.
That document in itself proves great doubt in the mind of many people as to what is intended by the Treaty. Some people still believe that the Prime Minister intended to convey to us that there would be nothing more than a mere rectification of the boundary line. I am sorry to say the quotations from speeches which I will read will show that that is not so:
There is no doubt, certainly since the Act of 1920, that the majority of the people of two counties"—
that is Tyrone and Fermanagh—
prefer being with their Southern neighbours to being in the Northern Ireland. Take it either by constituency or by Poor Law Unions, or if you like by counting heads, and you will find that the majority in those two counties prefer to be with their Southern neighbours.
I am not to be taken as agreeing with that for two reasons. First, there are a large number of Roman Catholics in Fermanagh and Tyrone who would much prefer to stay in the Northern Parliament than in the Southern Parliament, and in the second place in many places where there is a small Roman Catholic majority it is due to the fact of a great number of Protestants having been killed in the War, and I think the House will agree that it would be a most disgraceful thing if Ulster was to lose any of her territory by reason of that fact. From that quotation the House will see that the Prime Minister had in his mind at any rate a very much larger rectification of the boundary than the slight alteration in the actual line. In another place he says:
For those reasons we have recommended a Boundary Commission.
He did very much more than recommend a Boundary Commission. If he had only recommended it I should have had some hopes of being able to prove to the House that it was a most unfortunate and unfair thing to suggest. He put it into the Treaty and now he tells the House of Commons that he will stand or fall by that Treaty. He goes on to say:
It is not for me to say what the result will be, whether it will mean that the area of Ulster will be diminished or increased."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1921; col. 41, Vol. 149.]
So whereas on the one side he talks about large areas and large numbers of Roman Catholics desiring to go in the Southern Parliament, the next moment he says, "It is not for me to suggest that it is going to be an increase or a decrease," thereby holding out the hope that it will be merely an exchange. Two days later the Prime Minister said:
I could not say beforehand what result there would be, whether to add to the number of the population of Ulster or diminish it. I only know what is the opinion of a prominent Ulster man, namely, that it might have an effect that would be favourable to the Ulster area. It is not for me to express an opinion upon that, hut for the COITRissiOners."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 16th December, 1921; col. 315, Vol. 149.]
In one place the Prime Minister leads us to believe, by quoting the number of Poor Law Unions etc. in these counties, that there will be a vast number of people from Ulster taken into the Southern Parliament. Here he holds out a sort of semi-hope to the Ulster people that there might even be an addition to the number of the population of Ulster. I quote those two as showing the indefiniteness of the position. The Leader of the House made a contribution to the Debate which did not tend to increase our knowledge on the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill) asked a question to which he answered as follows:
My hon. Friend … wants to know what justification there was for altering the boundary. May I put this question? If, in exchange for men brought reluctantly under the Government of Northern Ireland, you can give them men whom they abandoned with equal reluctance, and only under the compulsion of a desire for a peaceable settlement, if in exchange for those who were unwilling submit to their rule you can give them those who long to be under their rule, what injury have we done? Does not such a solution as that help good government in Ireland, strengthen their hands and make for peace on both sides of the boundary?"—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 16th December, 1921; col. 358, Vol. 149.]
That is a distinct suggestion that anything that takes place in the matter of the alteration of boundaries is to be an exchange from one side to the other. We looked for some light yesterday from the Prime Minister on this subject, because it is a very grave subject. I have only to refer the House to the daily Press, in which they have seen the matter treated with great seriousness. What did we get from the Prime Minister yesterday? The sum total of his advice to us was to tell us, in the words of his late leader, as we have been told on former occasions, to "Wait and see."
We are not to do anything in a hurry. This matter, he says, cannot arise until a month after the 1st April, and that owing to the delay which will probably ensue in drawing up the Constitution of Southern Ireland, it may be even later than that before this matter can be settled. It is a most unfortunate thing that the Prime Minister cannot give us some more hopeful information on the subject, for each day that this matter is left open things will become more serious. The men of Tyrone and Fermanagh, the two counties which are likely to be most affected by the boundary dispute, are already banding themselves together, and are already taking all sorts of oaths that they will never allow one inch of their territory to be taken away from Ulster and given to Southern Ireland.
Do not let the House have any doubt that this matter is going to lead to bloodshed if it is not dealt with in the most delicate way by the Government. It has already led to bloodshed. I gave private notice this afternoon of a question with respect to certain doings in these two counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh. Unfortunately, my information at that time was more meagre than it is now, and Mr. Speaker ruled my question out of order on the ground that the matter of law and order in those counties was a subject for the Ulster Parliament. I do not say that I agreed with, but I had to submit to that ruling. The circumstances are very serious, and I submit that it is a matter of which this House is bound to take cognisance. Information has reached me from the Minister of Home Affairs of the Northern Parliament, and it may be relied upon as correct. I have received the following telegrams:—
1.15. Invasion last night Tyrone and Fermanagh. In Fermanagh Cooper M.P.'s house attacked, Fall's house attacked. House of Maguire, Ex-Inspector, attacked, Major Moore's house in Belleek attacked. Carson, Ex-High Sheriff, wounded and kidnapped. Fifteen armed prisoners and 3 motor cars captured by our police in Tyrone. Anketel Montray, aged 80, and Cummings, of Aughrim, kidnapped.
Derry: Draperstown Tenny Bridge blown up. Those kidnapped believed to have been taken over border.
1.38. Eleven of the prisoners captured are I.R.A. men armed with revolvers and bombs from Longford and Leitrim.
Londford and Leitrim are outside the Ulster area.
2.56. Twenty "B" specials kidnapped at Rosslea, Fermanagh. One platoon ambushed, some killed. Casualties not known. Eight other persons kidnapped Clogher Valley.
All these facts which I have read out are directly attributable to this Boundary Clause in the Treaty. I understand that I am not allowed to argue whether the Government was right or wrong in putting that Clause in the Treaty. It was wrong; there is no question about that, and I submit that I am entitled to press the Government, first and foremost, to make clear what their policy is going to be,
and to warn them, as I would have warned them yesterday if I could, that bloodshed is bound to come out of this business, as has been evidenced by the telegrams I have read. I ask the Government to make their policy clear, and to give a specific statement in regard to the state of affairs which I have disclosed in the telegrams. This is a far bigger matter than we in the Ulster Parliament can possibly tackle. We have only command of the police. This thing amounts almost to a military operation. The Home Secretary of Northern Ireland calls it an invasion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Civil war!"] Civil war! It is invasion from another State, into which we are not allowed to enter, and over which we have no jurisdiction. Surely the Government are not going to stop there and to allow marauders from the Irish Free State to swarm into Ulster at night, to kidnap our Members of Parliament, to blow up bridges, and commit outrages, including the kidnapping of an old man over eighty years of age. Surely that state of things must cease; it cannot go on.
I ask the Government, specifically, what steps they propose to take to put an end to it. I ask them first and foremost to insist with Mr. Michael Collins, or with whatever member of the Irish Provisional Government they negotiate, that the kidnapped men should be released, and that the men who have taken part in these raids should be dealt with by themselves or handed over to us. In the present confusion of affairs in Ireland, a raid like this, at such a time, when the feelings of the people are worked up as they are, is bound to lead to reprisals, and I warn the House that they will happen. I say beforehand that when they do happen you cannot blame the people who take part in them. They are having their liberties and lives deliberately outraged in this way, and you cannot blame them if they get out of hand and indulge in reprisals.
I think I have proved up to the hilt, first of all, the absolute folly of violating the pledged word which the Government gave to Ulster time after time. First of all it was given in a letter on 20th July last from the Prime Minister to Mr. de Valera, when he was negotiating for a settlement of the condition of civil war
which then existed. Speaking of the settlement, which he hoped would be arrived at, he said:
The settlement must allow for full recognition of the existing powers and privileges of the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland, which cannot be abrogated except by their own consent.
Could anything be clearer than that? Yet in spite of it, without our consent, he put into the Treaty a Clause which is going to take away some of our cherished territory. Only seven days before the Treaty was signed, he put his hand to a document in which he said that in seven days either the negotiations with Sinn Fein would be broken off or new proposals would be laid before Sir James Craig, the Prime Minister of Ulster, and that in the meantime, or until then, no act would be taken prejudicial to the interests of Ulster. On the seventh day, in spite of that, the public were informed that a Treaty had been signed, containing a Clause to set up a Commission, of which an Englishman was to be the Chairman, and to have the casting vote, practically to play ducks and drakes with the territory which had been handed to Ulster a few months before by the Act of 1920. I said then, and I think it more and more every day, that that was an act of treachery on the part of the Prime Minister. Yesterday the Prime Minister, in concluding his statement on this question, said:
The position of the Government is this, and I state it with emphasis. My right hon. Friends and I have signed a document, a Treaty between the people of this country and the people of Ireland. That Treaty has been submitted to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We stand by our signatures, whatever happens. We should he dishonoured for ever if we repudiated a document which we entered into in good faith."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1922; col. 52. Vol. 150.]
It was not necessary for him to say that, for he was dishonoured thrice already. He was dishonoured when he broke the pledge which he gave to the world in the letter of 20th July last, when he said that no settlement would be made which would in any way abrogate the rights and privileges of the people of Northern Ireland. He broke a still greater pledge when he tampered with what had been given to Ulster by the Act of 1920, because an Act of Parliament, introduced by the Prime Minister, and passed by his Government, is as solemn a pledge as any Prime
Minister can give. He has broken his pledge a third time in connection with the undertaking which he gave to Sir James Craig that pending the new proposals or the breakdown of negotiations with Sinn Fein, nothing would be done to prejudice the position of Ulster. Are we to understand from the Prime Minister that his proposal for the alteration of these boundaries may not affect adversely the interests of Ulster? He does not admit that. Of course it affects them, and it affects them very seriously. It has begun to affect them already. The Prime Minister was not in his place when I read from the telegram; what happened in Tyrone and Fermanagh yesterday, but no doubt he knows about it. That is one of the first fruits of this horrible business, and I can assure him and the Government that it is only the first, and that there is going to be a long drawn-out warfare over this matter. The Prime Minister has got himself into this trouble, and it is for him to get out of it. The Prime Minister of Ulster took the only course that was open to him, when, having done his best to come to an agreement on this question, both with His Majesty's Government and Mr. Collins, and when he had failed and had been turned down, he realised that there was no course for him to take, but to stand by the Act of 1920, by the declaration by the Prime Minister to Mr. De Valera, and by the guarantees which the. Prime Minister gave only a short time ago.
I believe I have the sympathy of practically every man in this House on this matter. I admit that it is a difficult matter. The, Clause should never have been put into the Treaty. Is the House of Commons going to allow a gross injustice to be done to one particular Government because His Majesty's Government, through inadvertence, they say, but I say through a deliberate desire to placate their enemies at the expense of their friends, inserted this Clause? It is one of the lowest class of motives, and I trust that the House will make the Government realise that that is so, and that the Government will find some way out of the trouble which will leave Ulster in full possession of her territory, and in full possession of all that she possesses. There is no reason why words cannot be devised which will allow an exchange of territory between the two States by consent, but we will never agree that one inch of territory should be taken away from Ulster without our consent.
So many questions, and of so wide a scope and so great importance, have been raised in this Debate that I cannot undertake to deal with them all, but there are some with which I must deal. May I say this to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Antrim (Captain Craig) that if I postpone for a moment replying to the question which he has addressed, it is not to evade it, and certainly not because of any disposition on my part to under-rate its gravity, or of any failure to see the moderation, on the whole the great moderation, with which my hon. and gallant Friend has spoken in circumstances in which he and any man in his position must feel deeply moved. I will come to that later on, if he will allow me; but I must first say a word or two about the speeches delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) and the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchen (Lord H. Cecil).
The right hon. Gentleman was greatly agitated by some criticism directed against the Labour party by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies and by the Lord Chancellor. It is a matter of curious notoriety that the Labour party, which of all the parties in this House is the most free in its criticism, and which of all the parties out of the House is the most free in its choice of language to express its contempt and abhorrence of everybody else not included Within it, and not infrequently of one another, is without exception more sensitive than any party we have ever known to the very slightest criticism of itself. I attribute that in part to a misconception of who they are and what they are, which was evidenced in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman treated the criticism addressed to the Labour party and its leaders by my two right hon. Friends as if it were an attack upon labour in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "So it is!"] Until the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues can get out of their minds the idea that, because they have arrogated to themselves the name of the Labour party—which is an excellent electioneering asset but nothing more—therefore they are Labour, and no other person has the right to speak for Labour, they will never understand their own position and they will never understand the country. I think that that is all that I need say upon the observations of the right hon. Gentleman.
The Noble Lord complained that I and other Gentlemen on these benches had described the present Government as the "only possible Government." My claim for the present Government has been a more restricted one; I do not know whether the Noble Lord will think it a more modest one. My claim for the Government has been that it successfully conducted this country through the crisis of a great war to a victorious peace, and that since that war it has acted in foreign affairs as a steadying and moderating influence, without which the condition of the world at the present time would have been infinitely worse than it is; and that in home affairs we have piloted the country peacefully through dangers and troubles such as, if contemplated beforehand, no man would have been bold enough, or rash enough, to claim that any Government would get through with so little disturbance. I do not say that we are the only possible Government, but I do not see where are the other body of men who can present a superior claim at the present time to the confidence of the country, based upon facts, and not merely upon professions.
The Noble Lord, who was once our colleague, is now among our most persistent and bitterest critics. There is no reason why he should not criticise us, and we should be poor people indeed to object to or to resent criticism. But what I find a little difficult to stomach is the air of moral superiority with which the Noble Lord always speaks, whether he sits among us and is of our number, or whether he is trying how far he can go with the Labour party, or whether he is thrusting himself upon Lord Grey. He was good enough to observe to-day that he did not say that we were dishonest men, but that it was difficult to reconcile our conduct with ordinary ideas of honesty. A little charity would make the Noble Lord a more powerful opponent. A combination of which he is a part is always honourable, however novel and however surprising but the moment he leaves that party, all morality goes with him. The moment he ceases to be a Member of a Government, in which he would not have remained for a day unless up to that date their conduct had been reconcilable with the ordinary rules of morality, he can trace no sign, once his influence is removed, of the great lessons which he had been inculcating, and which he hoped they would have retained even after they had lost his services.
What was the complaint which the Noble Lord made of our policy to-day? He was dealing with foreign affairs. He announced that there were two schools of thought in foreign affairs—a school of force and a school of co-operation. Foreign affairs, and indeed any sort of affairs, are not so simple and so clean cut as that. In almost the next sentence the Noble Lord had to go on to explain that, even if you follow the school of co-operation, in the world as it is, there comes a time when, co-operation having failed, or, in addition to co-operation, you must use force. It is therefore, in any case, a question of degree, whether, if you had used other methods, force is a remedy, and I would add whether it is the only remedy, for it should not be applied unless it is the only remedy.
My Noble Lord and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. G. Barnes) who spoke later, both expressed grave doubts about the suggested alliance or pact with France. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals reserved his final judgment, if I may say so I think wisely, until he could see the terms of the pact, and know exactly to what we were bound, and what might be the obligation of the other party to the pact to us. The Noble Lord does not need to see the pact before his judgment. He is against it whatever it contains. Is he right? He says to us, "Do not start new unions of certain powers. Do not continue to threaten your old enemies. Bring Germany back into the community of nations, receive her at your conferences, and discuss matters with her." I may say, just in passing, that the object of the Genoa Conference, which he thinks the inappropriate method, the wrong way of doing the right thing, was to bring into consultation on equal terms the nations which hitherto had been excluded, and whose recovery, economical and financial, is bound up intimately with the economic and financial recovery, not only of the Allies, but of the whole world. But we cannot forget that only a little time ago we were at war with Germany. We cannot forget the penalty which we had to pay for German aggression. We cannot pretend to feel at once for Germany as we might have felt had peace been maintained. But we recognise that the world wants, and needs, to return from war conditions to peace conditions, and we are steadily pursuing that object in our policy, achieving it very gradually and only step by step, but leaving on our part nothing undone in spirit or in act that will contribute to that great end.
Is this pact a menace to the peace of Europe? Is it practically speaking a threat to Germany? If there is such a pact, it will be a pact for defence against unprovoked aggression. I would beg the Noble Lord to consider what might have been the altered condition of the world to-day had such a pact existed in 1914. No man can speak dogmatically about the might-have-been, but at any rate I think that it is worth the while of the House and of the country to consider a little in what position we did find ourselves, and how it might have been altered had there been such a pact in force then. We found ourselves on a certain Monday listening to a speech by Lord Grey at this box which brought us face to face with war, and upon which followed our declaration.
That was the first public notification to the country, or to anyone by the Government of the day, of the position of the British Government and of the obligations which it had assumed. It is true that Lord Grey, speaking at this box, said that it was for the House of Commons to decide whether they would enter into war or not. Was the House of Commons free to decide? Relying upon the arrangements made between the two Governments the French coasts were undefended—I am not speaking of Belgium, but of France. There had been the closest negotiations and arrangements between our two Governments and our two Staffs. There was not a word on paper binding this country, but in honour it was bound as it had never been bound before—I do not say wrongfully; I think rightly.
I agree. That is my whole point, and I was coming to it. Can we ever be indifferent to the safety of the French frontier or to the fortunes of France? A friendly Power in possession of the Channel ports is a British interest, treaty or no treaty. Conversations or no conversations, it will always be a British interest, as it always has been a British interest which this Parliament and this country would be prepared to defend. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) says that if the facts were as I stated them to have been, and as I believe they were, it ought not to have been secret. So I think. Suppose that engagement had been made publicly in the light of day. Suppose it had been laid before this House, and approved by this House, might not the events of those August days of 1914 have been different? Is it not, at any rate, clear that our intervention came as a great surprise and a great shock to the German Government, that they were wholly unprepared for it, and that some few among them—I claim Admiral Von Tirpitz as an example—saw at once that German ambitions would never be realised in the war in which they had already engaged, and from which they could not escape. If we had had that, if our obligations had been known and definite, it is at least possible, and I think it is probable, that war would have been avoided in 1914.
We had such a Treaty with Belgium. Had it been France only, we could not have stayed out after the conversations which had taken place. It would not have been in our interests to have stayed out, and we could not have stayed out without loss of security and honour. When there are obligations of that kind, it is better for us, and it is in the interests of peace, that they should be public and known, and then it is much less likely that peace will be challenged.
One word more to the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin. I wish he would get out of his mind the delusion, for it is a delusion, that there is anything among Members of the Government but a profound desire to see the League of Nations succeed, to strengthen it, and to develop it. The Noble Lord continually represents us as belittling the League, and slighting it. I think that we alone of all the Governments have been represented at every meeting of the League by important Members of the Government.
I think it is true that no other great Power has been continuously represented by responsible Ministers of the Government of the day. That is not slighting the League. That gives to our Ministers authority to act on behalf of this country that cannot be possessed by men who are not, members of a Government possessing the confidence of the Government. We could have chosen no more distinguished representative to send to the League than the Lord President of the Council (Mr. Balfour), to whose services at Washington all sides of the House and every section of opinion in the country have paid a tribute, and of whom, irrespective of party, we are proud as an ornament and a distinction to our country. We have also been represented by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education (Mr. Fisher), who has given infinitely to the work of the League, and to my knowledge has sacrificed his only chance of holiday in order to perform his duties.
It is true that we thought, and I believe rightly, that the prospects of such a large conference as we suggested at Genoa would be better undertaken under the auspices under which it has been summoned than under the League of Nations. But do not let the Noble Lord suppose that we are not ready, and indeed anxious, to make use of the League whenever it can help to solve any of our difficult problems. What are the three most important questions with which it has dealt? They are Silesia, the Aaland Isles, and Albania. Each one of them was referred to the League on the initiative of this Government. Before the Noble Lord again criticises the Government for disrespect to the League, I beg him to weigh those facts, and to say whether he can find any other Government that has sent men more highly honoured and respected in their own country to represent them at the League, or has shown a greater readiness to invoke the action and judgment of the League on questions of vital importance to the peace of Europe.
I turn to the speech delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for South Antrim (Captain Craig). Before I come to the question of boundaries, I must say something upon the grave event to which he alluded in the concluding portion of his speech. At the time when he put the question at the opening of our proceedings to-day, I had no information; but at 5.30 this afternoon the Secretary of State for War received by telephone from Colonel Spender, on behalf of the Prime Minister of Ulster, a message which I will read:
Large bands crossed the frontier at Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh. They attacked and occupied houses of leading citizens on the Ulster side of the boundary. Numerous leading citizens, including a High Sheriff, were wounded or kidnapped and taken across the border to the South. Bridges were blown up. Twenty Ulster Special Constables at Rosslea, Fermanagh, were kidnapped and taken across the border. Ulster police captured eleven men who were identified as members of the Irish Republican Army from Longford and Leitrim. They were armed with bombs and revolvers and had transport.
Immediately on receipt of that message, the members of the Government met to consider it, and I think that what will be most satisfactory to the House is that I should read the telegrams which have been sent to the General Officer Commanding the troops in Ireland and to
Mr. Collins, as the head of the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland. This telegram has already gone, or may be now on the road:
To the General Officer Commanding in Ireland. Reports received of raiding on an extensive scale in the Northern area. You will, of course, give to the Northern Government all necessary aid in defence of Northern boundaries. You will not hesitate to ask for reinforcements if necessary. We have called upon the Provisional Government to release the prisoners taken across the border.
That will answer the first question of my hon. Friend. The troops in Northern Ireland will be acting in support of the civil power, and in defence of the existing frontier until a new one is established, whenever the Government of Northern Ireland request their assistance. The following is the telegram sent to Mr. Collins:
I repeat to you in the annexed telegram a message received from the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. If anything approximating to this has happened His Majesty's Government take the gravest view of the situation. Such acts are in breach of the truce and gravely imperil the Treaty. They will be glad to hear at once from you that you are taking immediate steps to ensure the release of the prisoners and to provide against any repetition of these grave outrages.
I am afraid it was to be expected that in the troubled condition of things after the fierce, conflict that was waged, we should not even under the happier prospects of the truce and the Treaty, arrive at a permanent solution without regrettable incidents. Such an incident as this, as far as we have information of it—and our information is wholly confined to the telegrams sent by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland—is a grave and most regrettable incident. I have told the House the steps we have felt it immediately necessary to take, and I do not think that at this moment I can usefully say another word, or that it would be in the interests of peace or order that I should go rurther, until our information is more complete. One reason why we want the Bill giving legal authority to the Provisional Government, and why it is necessary that the Provisional Government should have it, is in order that they may control disorderly elements, economic or political, within their own boundaries, and it is a matter of urgency that that Bill should be carried, in order that they may have authority to prevent, and if
need be, to punish any cases where unlawful acts are committed.
I now turn to the question of the boundaries. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Antrim spoke, I think, with great self-control and great moderation in the greater portion of his speech, but there was one passage to which I must take exception, I hope not unfairly. It was the concluding passage in which he said that the Prime Minister was thrice dishonoured. If so, I and my colleagues stand dishonoured beside the Prime Minister, because the action was common, and we are all included in the charge even if my hon. and gallant Friend did not include us. My hon. and gallant Friend says that we are dishonoured, because we have abrogated the rights and privileges of Ulster. We have left her rights and privileges intact. They will not be altered without her consent. To establish a Boundary Commission is not to abrogate the rights and privileges of Northern Ireland. Then my hon. and gallant Friend says that we are dishonoured because we are altering, or amending, the Act of Parliament of 1920. How many Governments must have been dishonoured before this? Was there ever a Government that escaped dishonour of that kind? I do not understand the charge, and I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friend can attach much meaning to it. Lastly, my hon. and gallant Friend complains that we are again dishonoured in that we broke faith with Sir James Craig, and did not fulfil the spirit of the letter which the Prime Minister addressed to him. What was it? It was a letter to say that within seven days—by a certain Tuesday—either the negotiations would be at an end and no proposals would be put before Sir James Craig, or proposals would be submitted to him.
And that in the meantime nothing prejudicial to the interests of Ulster would be done. What happened at that date? We were determined to keep that promise, and we told the representatives of Southern Ireland with whom we were negotiating that they must make up their minds and sign a Treaty with us on the Monday night, or we must send a message to Sir James Craig that we had no proposals to make, and that the negotiations had broken down. The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests that it was a breach of faith, after that letter, to have a Boundary Commission. I do not for a moment admit that a Boundary Commission is prejudicial to the Government or to the people of Northern Ireland. It is well known that representatives of Northern Ireland, trusted spokesmen of Northern Ireland, have expressed the opinion that a Boundary Commission would be favourable to Northern Ireland, and nobody, no Ulsterman pretended in 1920, that he liked the boundary which was embodied in that Act, or that he parted without reluctance, or secured assent from communities outside the area then drawn, communities who longed to remain in it, who signed the covenant with those who are within it, and some of whom, at any rate, will be brought back again, must be brought back, by the revision of boundaries which we now contemplate.
A little time ago the world was astonished, and I think profoundly moved and gratified, to see that Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins had met, and that they had made a Treaty. They met again to go further into the subjects with which they had proposed in their accord to deal. An unfortunate difference of opinion—a difference of opinion profoundly to be regretted—divided them at that meeting, and they separated without having carried the matter any further. Therefore, it must be admitted, with great regret, since they have not carried the hands of the clock forward, that their failure so to do has set the hands of the clock back. But I would earnestly hope and trust, I would fain believe, that is not the last word between these two men, these two men who have borne witness to one another's good faith, and whose first meeting showed how well fitted they were to understand one another, and how much, if they could co-operate, and if they could come to an understanding, they could do for the peace and prosperity of their country and the strength of the British Empire. I am loth to believe, and I would be slow to believe, that with a considerable interval of time before us that second meeting is the last meeting, and that the
last word has been said on this subject between them. But if it be so, then the Treaty provides the procedure. The Treaty provides that
A Commission consisting of three persons, one to be appointed by the Government of the Irish Free State, one to be appointed by the Government of Northern Ireland, and one, who shall be Chairman, to be appointed by the British Government, shall determine, in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions, the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland.
If the matter be not otherwise settled, it will come before that tribunal with a chairman as sagacious and as impartial and of as high authority as we can find to take the position. Both sides will put their arguments, and urge their claims. It is not for me to say what the claim of either side should be, and what the arguments by which they advance or justify their claim should be, and still less is it for me to attempt to say what the decision of the Commission will be on the case or cases so argued and presented to them. But, if my hon. and gallant Friend suggests that we who negotiated on behalf of the British Government have held in private to either of the parties to this Conference language different from that which we held in this House, he is mistaken.
I do not want to have a misunderstanding with my hon. and gallant Friend, and I am sure it is unnecessary. I am not talking of being in conference with the Government of Northern Ireland. We asked them to come, and they declined, for reasons which they gave, and which are well known to the House. I have spoken to Sir James Craig, and the Prime Minister and other of my colleagues have had interviews with Sir James Craig, and I say, if it, be suggested or believed that we in private, either to the representatives of Southern Ireland or to the representatives of Northern Ireland, held language
different from that which we used in this House, it is not so. Our language in private was the same in purport, in effect, and sometimes in words, as the language we held in public. My hon. and gallant Friend read one or two quotations. I should like to supplement them. My hon. and gallant Friend suggested that, the passage in the Prime Minister's speech which he read, and which I will read again to the House, held out hope that Ulster would have counties carved out to her by the Boundaries Commission. The words were:
There is no doubt, certainly since the Act of 1920, that the majority of the people of two counties prefer being with their Southern neighbours to being in the Northern Parliament. Take it either by constituency, or by Poor Law unions, or, if you like, by counting heads, and you will find that the majority in these two counties prefer to be with their Southern neighbours.
Yes, but we refused to have the decision taken by counties or by constituencies, or by counting heads or by votes. We would not accept that solution, and would not embody it in the Treaty.
My right hon. Friend, in another passage in the same speech, said:
What we propose I think is wise for Ulster, namely, that you should have a readjustment of boundaries, not for the six counties, but a readjustment of the boundaries of the North of Ireland which would take into account where there are homogeneous populations of the same kind as that which is in Ulster, and where there are homogeneous populations of the same kind as you have in the South. If you get a homogeneous area, you must, however, take into account geographical and economic considerations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1921; cols. 40–41, Vol. 149.]
And he instanced an area homogeneous with the South in the extreme North-East of Antrim, which under any circumstances must remain with the Government of
Northern Ireland. That is all that I need read from that speech. Then I come to a second speech which my right hon. Friend made to the House, and I quote these speeches because I do not think that I can find better words to express the same meaning, and I have no other meaning to express than that expressed by my right hon. Friend and myself in the explanations which we made to the House in the Debates on the Resolutions in the December Session. In answer to a speech of the right hon. Member for Mid-Antrim (Mr. O'Neill) the Prime Minister said:
I understand my right hon. Friend's argument is that I told the Sinn Feiners that inasmuch as they had a majority in Tyrone and Fermanagh they would get the whole of those counties. I certainly never said anything of the kind. On the contrary, all I have ever suggested is what I have suggested equally to the House of Commons, and, I think, to Sir James Craig, that the character of the population must be taken into account and the economic and geographic conditions. That is a matter which has to be decided upon by the Commission. I could not say beforehand what result there would be, whether to add to the number of the population or Ulster or to diminish it. I only know what is the opinion of a prominent Ulsterman, namely, that it might have an effect that would be favourable to the Ulster area. It is not for me to express an opinion upon it, but for the Commission.
Then, in reply to a further interrogatory by the hon. and gallant Member for Mid Antrim, he said:
As a matter of, fact, I did say to the Sinn Fein representatives that the representatives of Ulster who were at the Buckingham Palace Conference, when there was a discussion of this kind, were under the impression that it would have the effect of increasing the population of Ulster. That was their view of the effect of a Boundaries Commission, and if that is the case, it means that the population desired will be within that area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1921; cols. 314–15, Vol. 149.]
I do not like to trouble the House with long quotations, especially from my own speeches, but if hon. Members will pardon me, these are very serious matters, and having used language which correctly expressed my mind and the intention of my colleagues, I do not wish to vary that language, and I ask leave to read the actual words. When we used these words let me remind the House that we were fresh from the Conference. We had freshly in mind all that had passed across the Conference table, and I am not aware that
we were challenged in any quarter. The first speech of my right hon. Friend which I quoted was made on 14th December. The second, in answer to the hon. Member for Mid Antrim, was made on the 16th, and what I am about to read from my own speech is also in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 16th December. I dealt then with the point raised again to-day by the hon. Member for South Antrim about the fact that we had put this Commission into the Treaty before formally consulting Ulster about it. I said then that my right hon. Friend the late Lord Privy Seal had anticipated my defence, which was that if at the stage at which things had arrived, we had delayed the signature of the Treaty there would have been no Treaty and no peace. I used these words, and the House will see how exactly they tally in sense and feeling with the words used by the Prime Minister—
I recognise that there is a great deal of alarm on the part of my hon. Friends the Members for Belfast"—
I should have said the Members for Northern Ireland
—"as to the setting up of this Boundary Commission. We recognised that it was impossible to settle this question by county option. It was impossible to settle it by constituencies, and what we have proposed and what the Commission is required to do is to revise the boundary between the North and the South so as to include where possible, having regard to economic and geographical considerations, men now excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland who would wish to come under it and to exclude from Northern Ireland men now included in it who would wish to come out of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1921; cols. 357–8, Vol. 149.]
Then I proceeded to refer to the appointment of an acceptable chairman. Both the Prime Minister and I dealt at length with this subject. The Prime Minister dealt with it on two occasions and I dealt with it closely following him, and, with the facts fresh in our minds, we gave the same account of what we had refused to do, and what we conceived to be the results of this Treaty. I believe these will be the results of the Treaty, and I contend that a Boundary Commission set up in that spirit and working upon the facts of Ireland as they are, will do no injury to Ulster, but will restore to her friends and kinsmen from whom she parted with regret and bitter searching of heart and will not weaken her by taking
out of her boundary some of those whom she would find it difficult to rule, and who would be much better included in Southern Ireland, for the peace and comfort both of North and South.
One word more and I have done. My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim says—I do not quote his exact words—that the Government have shamed themselves, and have brought, I think he said, dishonour on their country, by signing a Treaty which deserted their friends and curried favour with their enemies. That is the judgment of my hon. Friend, speaking under great stress and amidst difficulties of a very peculiar character. I will give no expression to a judgment of my own. Is my hon. Friend so free from partiality, so detached in mind from all that is going on at the moment and all that has been going on in these last bitter years, is he so detached and impartial that the judgment of history is to be written by him? I appeal from his judgment—an honest judgment as it may be, but profoundly unjust as I think it—I appeal from his judgment to the judgment of the world, and what I care more for than the world, the judgment of the Empire, which has hailed this Treaty as a great act of statesmanship, a God-send to the Empire, and a new addition to its strength.
Before the right hon. Gentleman ends his speech—I think unofficially I may regard it as not yet ended—may I ask him to say a word upon the question which I raised.
I hope My hon. Friend will excuse me. It is not because I under-rate the importance of the subject he raised, or because I am deficient in sympathy with the unhappy people on whose behalf he spoke, that I have not dealt with it, but he has seen how large a field I have had to cover. It may be possible for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to address the House on that subject.
The right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech by declaring that the judgment of the Empire and the judgment of history would acclaim the settlement made by the Prime Minister in Ireland. I agree with him. I think it will do so. I need hardly say those who have supported such a settlement for many years welcome its
arrival. What will be the judgment of history and of the British Empire on the party of which the right hon. Gentleman is the leader, which for 30 years stood in the way of the settlement that has now come to save the situation. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that he and his followers are the only possible Government. He made this claim, at least, that they won the War. I thought they had cashed that cheque at the last election. They went to the country on the claim that they had won the War and they received an unprecedented majority. As the facts of the War and the history of the War came to be better known it came to be understood that very large credit belonged as well to their predecessors, and that Measures which were designed by their predecessors bore fruit in the time of their own tenure of office. The right hon. Gentleman cannot really go on claiming a perpetual lease of life for himself and his colleagues on the ground that they won the War, and so he proceeds to say that, on the whole, in very difficult circumstances they have done the best that could be done in the government of the country. That may be so, but it is not a very good best. It has been described in most lugubrious terms by the Prime Minister himself in his various public speeches during the last few weeks. What the real responsibility of the Government may be I will not attempt to define, but the facts of the situation are that, after three years of this Government of unexampled prudence and tact, there are 2,000,000 unemployed, the Budget will not balance, the National Debt is heavier by hundreds of millions than it was at the conclusion of the War which the Government won, there is a state of suspicion and dislike which has replaced a condition of firm friendship between ourselves and our chief ally, France, the War criminals are unpunished, reparations are unpaid, and the Peace Treaty, which was the great triumph of the Prime Minister, which he was expressly elected to carry through as plenipotentiary of this Empire, has been so unsuccessful that the King's Speech three years after the conclusion of the War contains these words:
I welcome the arrangements which are now being made for the meeting of an International Conference at Genoa at which,
I trust, it will be possible to establish peace on a fair basis in Europe.
I thought that had been done at Versailles. How comes it that this should be the case if we have a Government of such talent? That it is diverse I will not deny, and that it is brilliant I will not deny, but the question is whether or not it is consistent. How comes it if we have such a Government, that three years after they achieved their great triumph of winning the War and bringing us back to a state of peace, it is necessary to have a Conference at Genoa to establish peace upon a fair basis? The right hon. Gentleman referred to some remarks of my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) on the Anglo-French Pact, and also referred to those dark days in August, 1914, when we first entered the War. I was present on that day in August, 1914, in this House, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is accurate in saying that it was some understanding which had been made between the Government and France which excited that enthusiasm both in this House and in the country. I think what excited the country, and rightly determined it to make the last sacrifice for the end it pursued, was the fact that a small country to which we were pledged by open Treaty was being invaded. The people of this country were more appealed to by the murderous onslaught on Belgium than by any understanding which might have been come to by the Government. Then the right hon. Gentleman pursued a policy not very decent, by which in order to attack Lord Grey, he attacks at the same time his own Prime Minister and other Members of his own Cabinet. He attacks Lord Grey on the ground that his diplomacy is so bad that it led us into difficulties which might otherwise have been avoided—in fact, that had it been better the Germans would never had made war at all. I do not for a moment believe that is true, but if it were true what are we to think of the Leader of the House of Commons who explains that his own Prime Minister's policy was bad, and that he was practically responsible for the War? It is not very decent, and they should refer these differences to discussion in their own private reunions. As I understood the Noble Lord, his point was this—that any general guarantee was a good thing, because it enabled dis-
armament to follow, but that any alliance of a few people against a supposed or real alliance of other people would merely lead us back to the old days of the balance of power and all the evils which followed therefrom. If you have an Anglo-French Pact, it must be for generations, because the Prime Minister says it is not this generaton or the next, but generations to come of Germans who will wish for their revanche, wherefrom it follows that the Pact must continue for 30, 40, or 50 years. If you have that, what is to prevent the Germans when they get the power from making a German-Russian pact in order that, if they are attacked in an unprovoked way, they should have some counter-poise to the Anglo-French Pact? There lies the whole difference between private agreements of a small number of nations and a general agreement, such as is provided for in the League of Nations, of frontiers, enabling disarmament to follow.
I will not follow the right hon. Gentleman in his amusing badinage about the Labour party or about my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin. Why the fact that he is said to be a righteous man should be so offensive to the Government I have never quite been able to understand, and that must be explained by themselves in their own way, but the Noble Lord attacks the Government because he says they do not put substance into the League of Nations. That is absolutely true. The League of Nations to the Government has always been a side-show. The right hon. Gentleman says: Was it not we who remitted to the League of Nations the task of settling Upper Silesia? Yes, but after they had tried every other sort of device, after they had tried international commissions and experts meeting. The League of Nations was the pis aller to which the Government sent this difficult problem, which they solved successfully, as far as can be judged to-day. The Government, as a matter of fact, has cold-shouldered the League of Nations. The Prime Minister goes to Cannes and meets Monsieur Briand and Signor Bonomi and the Italian Chiefs; and the Under-Secretary for the Foreign Office goes to Geneva, or Ministers distinguished and respectable, I have no doubt—I mean respectable in the real sense—but not able to carry weight. I asked the President of the Board of Education in this House not many months ago whether, as emissary from this country, he intended to move for the admission of Germany to the League of Nations, and he was unable to reply. He said he must consider his position when he got there, and when he got there he considered it, but he did not do it, and Germany is not a member of the League of Nations. Now the fact that Germany is not a member of the League of Nations is made the excuse for starting a brand new organisation at Genoa which in fact is to replace the League of Nations. It is useless for the Prime Minister to say he has done everything he can to help the League of Nations. Has he ever attended a meeting? That is the test. If he had attended a meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations, I think it is fair to say he would have altered and raised its whole standard, distinguished as the members of that body may have been. If the Prime Minister had gone to the League of Nations, every other Prime Minister would have been compelled to attend the meetings at the same time, and does anyone say that had the Prime Minister attended the meetings of the League and moved for the admission of Germany, Germany would not to-day be a member of the League, to the infinite advantage of European comity?
The hon. and gallant Member cannot be aware of the inner story, which, as I understand it, is that Germany was willing to enter the League, but would not invite the public rebuff of being refused admission if she demanded it.
That statement is perfectly true, and I do not think anyone would wish to controvert it. We have all something still to learn—perhaps even the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself. I pass from that to ask the Leader of the House one or two questions in reference to Germany, and particularly in reference to reparations—detailed questions. The Prime Minister, in his speech on this Address yesterday, spoke of the arithmetic of peace, and it is on this question of arithmetic that I would like to ask the Leader of the House one or two questions. As I understand it, the position at this moment is that the Reparations Commission has decided that Germany owes £6,600,000,000. Two demands have been made. First, there was a demand, made in Paris, of an annuity extending over 42 years and starting with £100,000,000, rising from year to year, and 12 per cent. on the exports; and then there was the London demand of a similar annuity, slightly different in form, extending over 30 years, and 26 per cent. on the exports. Both of those demands were enforced by ultimatums. The first was actually made operative, but the second ultimatum was never operative at all, because the terms were accepted by the Germans. At the time when these things came before the House, it was considered indecent to ask questions, because it was thought it might encourage the Germans in their refusal to accept the demands, but the time has now come to ask questions.
The demands have been utterly inoperative, and we really should ask, first, whether the Government believe that these demands made in the London ultimatum can actually be met. There is the demand for an annuity of £100,000,000, rising, with 26 per cent. on exports, amounting to about £186,000,000 or £200,000,000 per annum, I believe. Does the Government believe it can be met? It is a very important question for us, and it is a far more important question in reference to our relations with France. We go on pretending that these reparations can be secured, and the French go on believing that they can be secured, and had we been a little more frank from the outset, I think one of the great sources of friction and difference with France would have been avoided. Does the Leader of the House allege that the terms of the ultimatum of London in May, 1921, are capable of being met by Germany? It is not the question which is important, but the answer. If we can judge from the figures published from Germany, even if we took the total exports of Germany for the year 1921 they would not amount to more than barely sufficient to meet the indemnity, whereas as a matter of fact, as we know quite well, an indemnity is paid, not by total exports, but by the surplus of exports over imports. In fact, the German figures for 1921, as far as they are available, show, as we should expect, a surplus of imports over exports. That is natural, but even the total figure of exports amounts to no more than £180,000,000, which is not sufficient, or barely sufficient, to meet the demand of the London ultimatum. The fact is that this demand, solemnly made and endorsed by this House, is incapable of fulfilment.
What are we actually getting to-day? That is a question asked also for information. I understand that every ten days £1,500,000 is being paid. How long is that to go on? What is the figure fixed for this year? I calculate that £1,500,000 every ten days amounts to about £50,000,000 a year, and when far more than this sum was offered by Dr. Simons in March, 1921, the Prime Minister described the offer as a contemptuous defiance of the Treaty. He offered, it will be remembered, for five years an annuity of £50,000,000, and £30,000,000, which was to be interest on a debt of £400,000,000 to be floated. £80,000,000 the Prime Minister described at that time as a contemptuous defiance of the Treaty. The question I wish to ask the Government is, Is the sum which is being received to-day, or will be received, very largely more than this sum which was voluntarily offered, and, if so, in any case, what has been the use during the last two years of keeping the pot seething by these repeated demands for sums which we know cannot possibly be realised? What we want is the capacity of Germany to buy our goods. That is the chief interest of our trade, and what we want is a good understanding with France, based upon a frank statement of facts on both sides. The Colonial Secretary, in one of his numerous and entertaining speeches made recently, explained that the task on which the Prime Minister has been engaged, and is engaged, was making sure that the German people and their Government are given a fair chance to make amends to the best of their power. That is a very reasonable task, but unfortunately the French believe that what the Prime Minister is engaged in is enforcing to the letter the terms of the London demand, and one of the reasons given in that Note which was sent by the Foreign Affairs Commission, of which Monsieur Poincaré was a member, to Monsieur Briand, preceding his fall, was that no modification of the schedule of payments of May, 1921, should be made. It seems to me that, as regards this amount, we have been talking of things that are unreal, and we should have done better to have had a frank statement from the Prime Minister based upon the determination of Germany's capacity to pay, not by an ex parte body, but a determination made by some authority in which Germany herself would have confidence and in which the whole world would have confidence as to its justice; and the third disadvantage has been that, owing to us saying the same things but meaning different things from the French, a most unfortunate state of friction, for these and many other reasons, has arisen between the two countries.
There is one other point. In the course of these debates with the French Premier, our own Prime Minister entered into various engagements on our behalf to enforce what were called sanctions, and I see that Monsieur Briand himself not very long ago said that they were to consider new guarantees. The sanctions which were actually enforced were the occupation of the three towns after the first Paris demands, and then the threat to occupy the Ruhr Valley. I fancy that in the London ultimatum we actually said in terms that we would occupy the Ruhr Valley if the terms were not accepted. I would like to ask the Government this: Do they consider that the enforcement of this sanction was within the terms of the Treaty of Versailles? The Treaty of Versailles says that the sanctions would be economic and financial prohibitions and reprisals, and in general such other measures as may be necessary. It seems to me perfectly clear that these words, "such other measures as may be necessary," if interpreted in a generous and just manner, mean some economic or financial pressure of some kind and cannot possibly be read to mean the invasion of territory in addition to the Rhine territories which were occupied as a definite military sanction for the enforcement of the Treaty. If that really is so, there is another cause of misunderstanding with France. Supposing that as the outcome of this new offer which has been made, this new report by Dr. Wirth's Cabinet, no agreement is come to, and we fall back on the terms of the London ultimatum of May, 1921, are we committed to join the French in an advance on the Ruhr? That is a very important point. Were we ever entitled to promise to do such a thing as signatories to the Treaty? Was the sanction approved by the Treaty? These are points on which it is really necessary that we should have some clear and definite information.
A propos of this, I would like to say a word upon the question of the inclusion of the claims of the civilian population in the indemnity. It is not a matter of very great practical importance, because, although I hope substantial sums will be recovered. I cannot believe the sums recovered will be sufficient to meet the claims. The pre-Armistice terms said that compensation was to be paid for all damage done to the civilian population. Mr. Hughes, the Australian Prime Minister, I understand, objected to that because he said: "No, I want money for pensions, and this will not cover it." However, those were the terms made with regard to the civilian population. The Armistice terms put aside any future claims, and reparation for damage done was unaffected. I understand that President Wilson objected to the terms of the Armistice as not being in accord with the pre-Armistice terms, and Article 232 of the Treaty says:
Damage done to the civilian population,
which was previously formulated in the pre-Armistice terms—
and in general all damage as defined in Annex I.
Annex I refers to pensions and allowances so that damage done to the civilian population was changed in the Treaty from the pre-Armistice terms to pensions and allowances. I have had to rely on such sources of information as are available to the public, but the charge has been made with greater authority than I could make it in Mr. Keynes' book, and I think it desirable to clear up, once for all, whether, in the view of the Government, the Peace Treaty actually carries out the pre-Armistice terms.
There is one practical question which I wish to address to the Leader of the House. We have had, in enforcing our claims against Germany, an Army of Occupation. What, has it cost? We were told in October last by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that up to that date it had cost about £50,000,000. Of course, it is going on from day to day, and if people think they are being fed, clothed and kept at the expense of the Germans, they are not so likely to be careful about pennies as they would be if they were kept at the expense of their own country. It is the inevitable result of such a situation. How much of this money have we had? That is to say, have we really been paid the expense? It is very important that we should know the facts. The Financial Secretary said that we have received £38,000,000, and this is the sum between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000 referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as being the amount which was necessary to balance the Budget, or, at]east, he was in hopes, last October or November, that the Budget would balance if he got a sum between £30,000,000 or £40,000,000, which I understand we are to get from the Reparation Commission, in order to pay for the cost of our Army of Occupation. It was part of the £50,000,000 which was paid in cash by the Germans after the May ultimatum. How do we stand about this question? Have we had the money, or are we to get the money?
I do not think our relations with France are improved by this perpetual squabble. I read in the "Times" that this question was being debated passionately by people at Cannes, that M. Briand said that if we had not got that money, nobody else had got it, and he went on to say: "We will take what are our just rights, and not a centime less." It is not the attitude which should prevail. It led people to believe that you were going to do that which, after a time, you must have known was impossible. I think everybody misunderstood the situation after the Armistice. I certainly did. I did not understand the implications of huge indemnities, but, when it was found out, the Government should have said frankly: "The Treaty is wrong, and must be revised." Do they say that it must not be revised? Does any member of the Government consider that the Versailles Treaty is inspired, and must not be revised? They always say it must not be revised, but that is for British consump- tion. At the same time, they are busy trying to revise it in the interest of the European situation. Then, why not say it? Has Washington left the Shantung Treaty as the Versailles Treaty left it? Everywhere the force of circumstances is rendering the Treaty inoperative. Some writer has said: "Not its least merit is that it is not enforceable." Then why not say it? The Government's statement with regard to reparations is flatly contradicted by their action. They are explaining in the "Lloyd George Magazine" that Mr. Baldwin carried the House with him as he proceeded to show that the real purpose of the Safeguarding of Industries Bill was to protect employment in the country, in the face of a certainty of still fiercer competition on the part of Germany in the near future. Which side are they going to take? Are they going to protect us from the competition of the German manufacturer, or give us Free Trade and have the indemnity? One side or the other should prevail.
My final point is as to the effect of this squabbling upon our relations with America. No one who has read the accounts of the Washington Conference from well-informed writers from America, can fail to see that the military expenditure and the squabble over reparations in Europe are the things which are making it impossible for America to call such a financial conference as might lead to a general adjustment. I could give many quotations, but I will confine myself to two. The financial correspondent of the "Times" in New York said:
Such a Conference will be premature and ineffective if held before the European creditors of Germany have readjusted reparations to a point of manifest practicality.
The Washington correspondent of the "Times" says:
Two things Europe should do, without loss of time. She should end the wearisome and destructive disputes over German reparations, and reduce her land armies.
All these things hang together, and are all connected with the Versailles Treaty, and I think one of the most welcome announcements from the Government Bench would be an announcement that they intend at an early date to revise the economic provisions of that Treaty.
It was peculiarly refreshing to hear from the Leader of the House this evening the Government's opinion as to certain events which took place in 1914. It is still a matter of very serious contention in the country, and there are evidences that there are still differences of opinion in this House; and we have the admission of the right hon. Gentleman that on that very fateful Monday in August, 1914, the decision had to be taken on the pronouncement Lord Grey then made, and that the conversations which had taken place between the British and French representatives would have taken this country into the War, even if Belgium had not been upon the map of Europe. My reason for rising, however, was not to dwell on this aspect of the matter, but to point out that we are now discussing the King's Speech, which is probably without parallel in that it contains no promises of social reform. Every King's Speech with which I have been acquainted has held out some promise to the people of the country that certain ameliorative measures were likely to be undertaken to improve the lot of the people generally. No such announcement is made in the Speech we are discussing. Those of us who either have the privilege or the penalty of knocking about the country a good deal, have come across considerable despondency in the minds of the mass of the people, and that despondency is very largely created by the fact that they believe that something has missed its way. Very extensive promises were made to the people during the War, that a better time would come as the result of it. We heard of a new heaven and a new earth, and of a land fit for heroes to live in; but when all those extravagant statements had been removed, it is quite true to say that there was left in the minds of the people the belief that as a result of the War a better time would come. No good times having arrived, there is a disappointment to that extent in the minds of the general mass of our population, and as we look round and see the industrial conditions prevailing, and the need for social reform which is everywhere apparent, we must be struck by the meagre hopes held out in the King's Speech.
8.0 P.M. Later in the Debate, we shall probably have on the various Amendments some reference to the industrial situation, and I have no intention of referring to that matter now; but I do desire to draw attention to the promises which have been made to the people in the direction of social reconstruction. During the period of the War, we had what. was termed a Reconstruction Department, and they made themselves very active in drawing up a number of publications, and putting them on the market at a cheap rate, probably at a very large cost to the State, to prepare the public mind for the great schemes of social reconstruction after the War. Local authorities in different parts of the country, taking the Government at their word, set to work, but they at once found themselves confronted with very serious obstacles, such as the high price of materials, and being hampered by interest charges. Both these results were believed to be due to the unsound policy which the Government pursued. The Government absolutely declined to meet the rising cost of materials which were necessary to carry out social reconstruction, and the profiteers had the time of their life. Then there has been the Government policy of borrowing at interest up to 6 per cent., and in another respect local authorities have found themselves in very difficult circumstances. The result has been that where some attempt has been made to carry out this policy of social reconstruction, the same financial difficulty in which the Government finds itself in a national sense, is also felt by the various local authorities in their operations. In the great cry for economy that we are now hearing there seems to be little regard to the position of the local authorities having respect to the financial circumstances in which they find themselves. In response to the cry that expenditure has to be curtailed one of the most important schemes of social reform, in respect to which such promises were made, seems to have been put on the shelf. I refer to the housing policy of the Government.
We have had various estimates submitted inside this House and out of it as to the number of houses required in the country. For the purpose of my observations I will take the estimate of the Prime Minister in December, 1920—I think it was—when he stated that 500,000 houses were needed in the country and that that was considered to be a fair and reasonable estimate. The right hon. Gentleman said there were people who put it at 1,000,000, but that 1,000,000 was unreasonable, and that 500,000 would be nearer the mark. During the past year we reached a point in the country when 170,000 houses or thereabouts had been constructed, were in course of construction, or where contracts had been let, the plans having been passed. At this point the housing programme of the country had to be held up. But the need is equally as insistent to-day as it was 5 or 6 years ago. Indeed, it is more necessary to-day to have the houses in view of the various circumstances which are well understood. The houses which have been erected have imposed a tremendous financial responsibility upon the local authorities, which again is due to the circumstances I have mentioned a while ago—high interest on money borrowed, the high cost of materials, etc. We are entitled to ask now, in the absence of any reference to this question in the King's Speech, whether we are to understand that this important question of social reform is definitely hung up, or are any hopes to be held out that in the future, near or distant, this great pressing need which confronts the country is going to be met, that a proper policy is to be pursued, or whether we are to continue to have an overcrowded population by lack of housing accommodation, with all the great evils that arise therefrom?
On the Order Paper for the greater portion of last year we had the title of a Bill set forth. There were expectations, even promises made from the Government Bench, that this Bill was likely to be brought up for discussion. It never was brought forward, and at the end of the Parliamentary year it was thrown over, with others. I refer to the Milk and Dairies Amendment Bill. The Milk and Dairies Act, 1915, was a very imperfect Measure, acting upon the vicious principle which seems to have been incorporated in legislation of putting Acts of Parliament into operation piecemeal, and I believe the Act of 1915 left many important provisions still to be put into operation. The Milk and Dairies Bill, 1920, was the intention of the Government to make good the deficiencies in the 1915 Act. Having regard to the fact that in the King's Speech mention is made of several new Bills, we are entitled, I think, to inquire how is it that this Measure, which was upon the Order Paper last year, is not mentioned in the Government programme for the Session? The milk supply of the country is at present, from the point of view of the health of the community and many other considerations, one of the most important parts of social reforms which it is necessary to put into operation. The people are being overcharged for this particular article, while in many of the industrial areas and other places an inferior article is being purveyed. If this House is out for the protection of the community and the putting into force of those agencies of scial and ameliorative reform there is urgent necessity for restoring this Milk and Dairies Bill which was upon the Order Paper last year.
In this cry for economy that we hear so much about there appeared to be a concentrated attack upon the public health services. It is not so much a question of the economy axe, of which so much is being heard, as it is that, as a matter of fact, so called economy is at present proceeding. Every local authority in the country has in its possession certain intimations and recommendations from the Ministry of Health that it has to curtail expenditure upon this essential service. The local authorities of the country, acting in good faith, instituted the measures which were necessary for dealing with these questions. Maternity centres were set up, infantile departments established, and other things done intended to carry out the reiterated declarations that these things were necessary. It is going to be very difficult for the local authorities to scrap their machinery in these directions, even if it were desirable to do so. The argument put forward from this side of the House is that it is not desirable to scrap these agencies, but rather to extend them, as the need is urgent. The demand is great. The condition of the people whom they serve makes it necessary that they should be continued. Having regard to the fact that there is no mention whatever of social reform in the King's Speech, it is desirable that we should know what is the policy of the Government in respect to what we believe to be essential, ameliorative public health services.
There is the question of tuberculosis and the problem of venereal diseases. These two services are rendered very necessary by the after-effects of the War. The number of cases of tuberculosis owing to the operations of the War, and in the shape of men afflicted who have seen service, is well understood. Then, again, there are a quarter of a million of new cases of venereal disease reported in three years. Surely this is a problem which will cause us to halt to consider what is to be done! Upon this matter I think we ought to have had some pronouncement. In this call for economy, expressed in the King's Speech, and the desire to curtail the activities of the local authorities, it is necessary, if not essential, that we should know what are the intentions of the Government.
It was not my privilege to be present in the House yesterday, but I gather that in the discussion reference was made to the question of education. Here, again, I would say that it is not a question of the intentions of the Government as to what should be done in the future. As a matter of fact it is what is being done now. The educational authorities for months past have been urged by circular from the Board of Education to stop this expenditure or that in the provision of educational facilities. But there is the leeway of the War to make up. The elementary schools of the country are overcrowded. Many are dilapidated and out of repair. Classes are too large. The teachers are overworked and underpaid. The condition of the elementary schools are at the present time such that the public expenditure and the energy that is being put forth is not bringing that result that ought to be the case owing to the abnormal conditions that prevail. The teaching staffs are hampered by large classes, and the children are injured by undesirable school premises. Curtailment is not really possible in this matter of education, nor the imposition of what is suggested upon the local education authorities owing to the economy stunt of the Government.
When we reach the higher branches of education a worse condition of things prevails. The Government has in its possession—for it is public property—a Report of the Departmental Committee on Secondary Schools. That Committee reported in favour of the immediate doubling of secondary school accommodation. They asked for the extension of free places in secondary schools. Scores of thousands of children, certainly thousands, have been subjected to the scholarship examination tests and passed, and have been denied admission to the secondary schools because there is no accommodation. In view of that fact alone, the need there is for secondary education and the demand that is being made for it in the country, the professions of responsible heads of the Government that education in the future is a thing that we have to look to if the country is to hold its own, there should have been some promise in the Government programme for the coming Session that something was to be done in this direction. The demand, I repeat, is insistent in the direction of increasing and improving the educational facilities of the country. On some occasions there has been in the King's Speech references to the possibility of the remission of taxation. There is no such reference in the document before us. Various Members of this House are receiving by post circulars from a newly fledged organisation set up for the protection of Income Tax payers. I am not going to say that Income Tax payers in general have not a grievance. I believe that the rate of Income Tax, now heavier than ever it has been, is a matter which is entitled to consideration. But there is another phase of taxation prevailing now which is exceedingly heavy, and which, I think, is also entitled to some consideration, and it is getting none at all. There are people in this House who have proclaimed out of it their belief in the virtues of a free breakfast table. Our fathers climbed over each other to get to the ballot box to register their vote in that direction. I believe their instincts were sound. At the present time we have in a period of trade depression and the lack of employment, in a period of great difficulty, so far as the working people in the country are concerned, mounting up by leaps and bounds the indirect taxation upon the necessaries of life.
In 1913 we had a Tea Tax of 5d. per lb., which raised the revenue to about £3,000,000. Last year that tax was 1s. per lb., and raised £17,000,000. Cocoa, which in 1913 was taxed at 1d. in a lb. and raised about £500.000, now is taxed about 4½d. in the lb., raising about £3,000,000 in taxation. Sugar was taxed at 1s. 10d. per cwt. in 1913, and now is taxed at 25s. 9d. per cwt., or 2¾d. per lb. The tax on sugar raised something in the region of £6,000,000, whereas at the present time it raises over £30,000,000. Thus, if we take tea, sugar, and cocoa, three essentials of life, we find that the taxes upon the three articles, which in 1913–14 raised about £10,000,000, now raises something like £60,000,000. Whatever grievance Income Tax payers may have, there is here a grievance, I suggest, on the part of the working people of the country, who have to pay such abnormal taxation upon the necessaries of life. If economy is to be effected and there is to be any remission of taxation, where is it going to be, in relief of the Income Tax payer or the breakfast table of the working classes of this country? These, I suggest, are pertinent questions, and it is very necessary that we should ask for some answer. With all these conditions bearing upon our industrial population, no wonder there, is something in the nature of despondency creeping over the, rank and file of the population. Promises have been made to the people that schemes of reconstruction would come their way and that certain advantages would be derived by them from the successful termination of the War. Those advantages have not come, and now we have the Ring's Speech, which suggests that the future cannot be looked to with any degree of hope, and it almost conveys to the rank and file, not a message of hope, but a message of despair.
I am very glad that in His Majesty's Speech the following passage appears:
The problem of securing the payment of reparations by Germany in the manner most conformable to the general interest engages the continuous consideration of My Ministers and of our Allies."
The problem of reparations is indeed complicated and difficult for many of us to understand. Germany is a vast industrial country which in 1914 had two objects. One was commerce and the other was war. We can knock out No. 2 and realise now that Germany's No. 1 aim is commerce. In 1913 Germany bought £40,500,000 sterling of goods from us. She was our second largest customer, and until we get back to some understanding with Germany, so that she may be able to be a prosperous customer with us in the future, I fear that it will be much to the detriment of commercial people in this country.
The problem is economic and not altogether political. Reparations can only be settled in three ways, either by gold or gold securities, services, or goods. We can leave the gold securities and services out of the question, and it comes down to this that reparations can only be economically settled by goods. This means that the exports of Germany must be greater than her imports. What, are the conditions of the last four months? In September last the imports into Germany were three milliard marks greater than her exports. In October there were four milliards of marks greater. In November it was reduced to four million marks, and in December we have a reversal of the situation, and we find the exports greater than the imports to the extent of nine million marks. Up to the end of last year how has Germany met her reparations? She has met them by creating what is called fiat money, and that is paper money without any backing. It is the most dangerous form of finance to issue large quantities of this fiat money. The last return which I saw showed that Germany had created 115 milliard paper marks. In pre-War days Germany only had two milliard of paper marks backed up by 72 per cent. of gold. At the Armistice Germany only had 28 milliard paper marks. This shows an immense increase in the paper marks, showing that Germany has been selling these paper marks all over the world to pay her reparations.
I am very anxious, in putting forward any suggestions, to state that, anyhow, Germany should not pay reparations by competitive goods. Every attempt to settle, reparations in this way by an amount which is more than what is economically sound will result in more unemployment in this country. When the exchange of a country is depreciated below its wages, that country can always compote in international trade with any other country whose exchange is above her wage. My main object in rising to-night is to reply to the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. W. Greenwood), who spoke last night. Many of his statements on the financial situation could be answered in possibly a far stronger way than I can do it, but I must refer to two or three of his arguments. I am sorry the hon. Member is not present on this occasion. One of his statements was that Germany is no nearer bankruptcy on account of her methods of finance. With the figures I have given I leave the House to judge as to the German position. He also said that we were trying to pay off our debt in 25 years. Our national debt in August, 1914, was more or less the same as it was after the Napoleonic Wars, although our wealth had increased by leaps and bounds. The hon. Member said that we ought to take a lesson from Germany, because she is now sacrificing the future for the present, while we are proposing to do just the opposite.
I do not think that argument requires any answer from me. Any man who has been used to finance must realise that inflation only means that the bubble must burst some time. What is our position? The hon. Member for Stockport compares the position of Germany with our own position. What is our currency? Our paper currency has gone down. In December, 1920, our paper currency was £492,000,000, backed by 31.3 per cent. of securities or gold. In 1921 the figure was £450,000,000, showing a decrease of £42,000,000 in paper currency backed by 34.9 of securities or gold. We have heard a good deal about the Genoa Conference. I welcome that Conference, but I hope our representatives will go there with a definite policy. It is very difficult for half-a-dozen foreigners representing various nations to get round a table and discuss economics, but when you get the representatives of 45 different nations attending a conference it is more difficult, and unless we are the dominating country and put forward a definite policy, I fear that this Conference will be the same fiasco as Brussels was. What we want is to discuss and to insist that within a certain period all countries shall balance their budgets and stop the issue of paper currencies, and that subsidies shall cease.
There is one other point they should take up seriously, and that is what is called the emigration of capital. There are wealthy Germans and wealthy Austrians, and we have to watch that the capital which these men and women have exported from their country shall come back for the purposes of Reparations. May I give one instance? The United States Steel Corporation issues monthly particulars of the foreign holders of their securities, and from these I gather that last month Germans had bought more United States steel common and preferred shares than in the previous month. So, too, had Austrians. Why should we not get hold of these securities for the pur- poses of reparation? They are far more valuable than buying competitive goods. The hon. Member for Stockport also referred to the United States of America, complimenting them on their finance. I think we are in the best position, better even than the United States of America. The latter has many difficult problems to face. She has issued tax-free securities, and she has also so much gold that she does not know what to do with it. In the King's Speech economy is mentioned as absolutely necessary. What is far more important is purchasing power. What is needed is some plan which will enable the countries of Europe to stabilise their money in order that commerce may How freely between countries, and thus avert impending disaster which may threaten the world.
The speech we have just listened to has been rather optimistic and has evidenced the desire of the hon. Member that members of the Government should go to Genoa with a definite policy. Anyone who has been in this House during the last three years, anyone who has taken any interest in the politics of this country during that period, will never suspect this Government of going anywhere with any kind of policy. It is the one thing they are devoid of. It is the one thing they do not possess. They possess all the other attributes, including the one which the Prime Minister has time and again urged the Labour movement to possess, namely, audacity. They have, I think, an audacity akin to brazenness. The hon. Member (Mr. Wise) spoke of the emigration of capital and instanced the emigration of capital from Germany and Austria to America. He said nothing, however, about the emigration of capital from this country. He made no reference to the fact that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company a few days ago invited subscriptions for a certain new issue of shares which, with other short loans issued at the same time, brought offers of over £100,000,000 from investors in this country in the short space of one and a half hours. A large proportion of the money thus subscribed is not going to be used in developing any industry in this country. It is going to be spent in sinking or developing oil wells in Persia.
The British Government have a certain interest in the company, but so far as I know they do not own a controlling interest in it. Members on the Front Government Bench will correct me if I am wrong. So much for the emigration of capital. The King's Speech read to this House contains very little that is hopeful for the workers of this country. With the exception of four lines referring to the abnormal condition of employment in this country, and the great distress caused by unemployment, there is practically no reference that can be said to have any bearing on working class conditions or the betterment of them. The curious thing to my mind is that at a time when we have in this country over 2,000,000 unemployed, when we have practically between 6,000,000 and 8,000,000 including the dependants of the unemployed living upon doles from the employment exchanges, or upon grants from parochial authorities or boards of guardians, or upon gifts made by friends who sympathise with them in their hard circumstances, when we have between 7,000,000 and 8,000,000 of our population practically on the verge of or under the verge of starvation, the King's Speech, read to the House by Mr. Speaker and spoken to by the Prime Minister, contains not one single ray of hope to lighten up the future of the workers of the country.
The Prime Minister taunted the Labour party with regard to Russia and said that there you have conditions working on principles which we seek to apply in this country, and as a result you have a condition of starvation. You have, he said, large tracts of Russia under famine because of the principles which Labour is seeking to apply in this country. The Prime Minister is wrong. He does not understand the principles of the Labour party. He does not know what we seek to apply in this country. There is no man in this country, or in Europe, to-day more responsible for the famine in Russia than is the Prime Minister himself with his policy of blockading that country for three years and with his policy of subsidising every Russian adventurer who came to this Government begging for money, spending hundreds of millions which could have been used in this country, but which instead were used in order to subsidise and bolster up men like Koltchak, Denikin, Yudenitch and, lastly, Wrangel. That is the policy of the Government with regard to Russia. The Prime Minister tries to make out that the famine in Russia is due to the principles which the Soviet Government sought to apply. I can remember, and hon. Members in this House will remember, when we had famines in India, and when every individual in this country was appealed to to subscribe in order to assist the starving people in India because of the famine there. Was that due to the principles of government which this country applied to India? The Prime Minister cannot have it in Russia and not have it in India; he cannot say that the famine in Russia is due to the form of government there, and deny that the famine in India is due to the form of government applicable there; and yet the form of government in India has been for many years applied by the Government of this country, has been the policies of the various Governments of this country, and anything that happens in India must be looked upon as resulting from the policy of any Government that we have in this country.
We are also informed that we have Europe in ruins, in bankruptcy. Austria, we were told yesterday by the Prime Minister, is to receive credit to the amount of £2,000,000 from the British Government to save her—from what? From falling into ruin and involving this country in ruin. Why is Austria in that plight to-day? Again it was the policy of the Government of this country that brought her there. Two and a half years ago, speaking in this House upon the Peace Treaties which the Prime Minister brought back from Versailles, I said to the House—and was laughed and jeered at for saying it—that those Peace Treaties could never bring peace to Europe, and that if the Labour party took office as a Government in this House one of its first duties would be to revise those Peace Treaties. Now you are all talking about revising the Peace Treaties. Labour is not fit to govern; yet we have been telling you things for the past three years that you have had to apply in order to get over the difficulties into which you have been brought by your own folly and ignorance of the principles of true government.
The Prime Minister has not been painting the wonderful pictures that he usually paints to us in this House and from the platforms in the country. He had no glowing perorations in his speech yesterday. He has climbed every mountain-top in Wales, and from them has gazed upon the sun rising, and has been inspired to those wonderful perorations which he makes at times upon the platforms throughout the country; but he has exhausted the possibilities of Wales, and last year he had to go to Scotland. He went to Gairloch; he went to Loch Maree, he went to Inverness; but it seems that Scotland has not been able to inspire him in the same way, because his speech yesterday contained none of those wonderful perorations. Or perhaps it is because he is beginning to realise that you cannot feed the starving people of this country upon perorations, that you cannot clothe the people of this country with the words that come from the lips of an orator, no matter how brilliant he may be. They require something more substantial than the windy froth that comes from Members on the Government Bench. We are told about the difficulties in the Near East, the difficulties in Egypt, the difficulties in India—a new mutiny in India and rebellions, almost a revolution, in Egypt. All over the world matters seem to have broken down so far as this country and its connections go; and yet Members who sit on the Government Bench dare to say outside in the country that the Labour party is not fit to govern. Look at the conditions to-day—2,000,000 unemployed in Britain; Austria bankrupt; Germany suspending the reparation payments, suspending the indemnities practically, to enable her to regain her feet; Russia unable to trade with this or other countries because of the policy of the Government; the Near East in trouble; trouble in Egypt and India; and all this the work of a wonderful galaxy of talent which claims for itself a monopoly of the fitness to govern. Surely the whole situation is absurd.
One of the startling questions which this country has to discuss, and which this House is invited to consider, is the reform of the House of Lords. What a wonderful Measure in such terrible circumstances as those through which the country is passing, to bring before this House as a serious or important matter for discussion! We are told that the Lord Chancellor is in favour of reforming the House of Lords; but he was in favour of reforming the House of Lords almost as soon as he became Lord Chancellor. I think hon. Members who were here at the time will remember that he wanted to reform it by building a bath into it; and, having been stopped by the House of Commons, or by some other body which had sufficient power over him to curb his anxieties in that direction, he has used language ever since that convinces me that it would have been a good thing had they put the bath there. The Noble Lord on the Woolsack tells us that it is necessary to reform the House of Lords; the Prime Minister tells us that it is necessary to reform the House of Lords. Is there not some question that is more important for the people of this country than these trivial things about reforming the House of Lords? When the Labour party gets into power—and it may be sooner than some of you think—it will reform it in a proper direction by ending it, or by making it an elective Chamber if the country wishes for a Second Chamber, elected by the people in the same way as this Chamber is, and truly democratic. I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Assistant Postmaster-General nods his head. Apparently we have converted him, and we shall look forward to having him on Labour platforms soon. Reform of the House of Lords cuts no ice with the people of this country when they are looking for employment.
Then we have the question of economy referred to in the Speech—retrenchment and economy, with a Committee looked after by the Government's new George Washington with a little axe to chop down the Whitehall cherry tree. We are all asked to make retrenchment. Is the Government aware—it ought to be at any rate—that the workers of this country have already given retrenchment; that they are suffering at present reductions of wages amounting to £6,000,000 per week and that that works out at over £300,000,000 a year? That is the workers' share already towards retrenchment. What are the other sections of this community prepared to give as their contribution to answer the economy cry that is being put up by Members of the Government? Even today I attended a conference of shipbuilding employers with the representatives of the trade unions connected with shipbuilding, and those employers are actually demanding a further reduction in wages, of the skilled men and the labourers, of 26s. 6d. a week. One of the employers termed it only a nibble. It may be to him, but to many people, if that reduction is brought about, it means a difference of life and death to their children. That £100,000,000 which was subscribed in an hour and a half by the investors of the country when the Anglo-Persian Company asked for new capital represents practically a sum equal to four months' reduction in wages that the workers have had. Then you ask us working men in this country to stand for mote reduction. It is a wonder to me that something desperate does not happen in this country with the amount of misery that takes place.
That the Government should have the nerve to come before this House with a King's Speech of this character, with nothing about a solution of domestic problems, the whole question of the economic reconstruction of this country left entirely on one side, with nothing in it excepting what might be done in Ireland, a vague suggestion about the Near East, some talk about Washington and a few words about disarmament! The great mass of the people in the country are unconcerned about any or all of those questions, but are asking always when is there going to be more food and warmer clothing for themselves and their families. Not a word of it in the King's Speech. I have a quotation from the Prime Minister. I enjoy reading the Prime Minister's speeches. This is from the "Future." The right hon. Gentleman will remember the "Future." In the "Future" the Prime Minister makes the following statement:
The old world was one where unemployment, through the vicissitudes of industry, brought despair to multitudes of humble homes. If we renew the lease of that world we shall betray the heroic dead. The old world must and will come to an end. It there be any who feel inclined to maintain it let them beware less it fall upon them and overwhelm them and their households in ruin.
And yet we are being asked every day by employers of labour and by members of the Government to get back to pre-War conditions, pre-War rates of wages, and pre-War hours of labour, and we are told that unless we do so it will be impossible for this country to capture the trade of the world. What does that mean? There are many employers of labour in
this House, and I make no aspersion upon them or upon their character as family men or even as individuals. What I am criticising now is the position taken up as employers of labour to the workers generally and as representatives and members of the Coalition Government. These men claim to be and, I have no doubt, take some pride in being called captains of industry. The general argument that is put forward to us is that they scan the industrial horizon in order to search out work for the workers. They keep us in employment, they give us wages, they are captains of industry, because they direct industry. Is not the fact that you have in this country at present 2,000,000 men looking for work, willing to work, unable to get work, a complete rebuttal of any claim made by those people to be captains of industry? Does it not show that those men are not captains of industry, that they are failures in their jobs? They ought to be quit of their jobs, and they ought to cease calling themselves captains of industry.
I know that supporters of the Government consider the Labour Members are extremists. I do not apologise for being an extremist. I am not going to make any objection to any hon. Member opposite calling me an extremist. I am an extremist because I have seen and have felt the extremes of poverty, and as long as the people I move amongst have confidence in me, and send me here as their representative, I shall speak in the same manner so that those extremes of poverty that I have seen and lived amongst are wiped out of existence by the work either of this House or of another House of Commons elected to fill the place of this one. What is wanted is for the Government of this country to realise what the conditions are, to go down into some working-class districts and to get to know what life in working-class homes actually amounts to. If they do that they will not insult the intelligence of the people of this country by bringing such a watery King's Speech before the House to be discussed. All our endeavours in this House, whether it live long or short this year, as far as I and those who work with me are concerned, will be to compel the Government to give at least some modicum of assistance to the people of the country, to whom they made appeals to help them in the hour of difficulty and whom they are now thrusting outside when the time of difficulty has passed. The bondholders, the investors, the men with money throughout the world find themselves able to draw what they like from industry. I understand that one of the Prime Minister's ideas of restoring Europe is to have an international trading corporation with something like £20,000,000. He is going to put Europe in pawn for £20,000,000, and I suppose the Prime Minister will 'hold the tickets. To pledge Europe for what? Pledge Europe to a gang of international financiers who hold the world to-day in their power, who are juggling with the exchanges, who are more responsible to-day for the fluctuations in the exchanges than any of the economic questions or ideas which are put before us by various conferences, juggling to make money, to coin wealth, out of the woes and the misery of people who are struggling after the horrors and the anguish of the world's greatest War. It is surely high time that Members of the House put a curb on themselves and went into every question from the point of view of how they are going so to bring up the people of this country that the whole world can look upon Britain not as the workshop of the world but as the nation which can guide the world because we have lifted ourselves out of the morass in which the War has placed us.
I wonder what good the hon. Member for Govan thinks can be done by the kind of speech that he has just delivered. He began by charging the Government for being responsible for all the woes of the world, from China to Peru. There was nothing that was happening in India, in Russia, in Central Europe, or in any part of the globe that was not the fault, directly and personally, of the Prime Minister and his colleagues. A more ridiculous proposition could not possibly be made in this House or in any other place of speech in this country. It is obvious that the whole world is rocking and reeling from tremendous financial trouble and from the tremendous waste of the War. Take the industrial nations of the world. Employment is bad in this country—and nobody is more sorry for it than those who sit upon these Benches—but it is worse in the United States of America; it is bad in Belgium and it is bad in every industrial country. Every industrial country that does not grow its own food for its own people and has to sell goods and import food is plunged in poverty and in a great deal of misery. That poverty and misery deeply affects the hearts of every person who has a human heart, and to say that the sympathy is confined entirely to the Labour Members and the Labour party is to offer a slander upon our common humanity.
We have listened to an appeal to the very worst sort of passion that can exist in this country, the hatred of class against class, and all those passions which ought not to exist. Everybody knows that the people of this country, employers, workers, traders, shopkeepers, are all going through a very bad time, with the exception of a very few favoured people. We are passing through a period of great financial stress. Every person, whether he be a shopkeeper, a trader, a manufacturer, a mine owner, or a miner, is having a bad time, and is bound to have a bad time. Is the hon. Member acquainted with the ordinary balance sheets of industrial companies? He talked as if the industries in this country were piling up enormous capital, sweated out of the working man. Nothing of the sort. Does he know the sort of dividends that are coming from industrial concerns in this country?
He must know that the profits of traders, the profits of industrial concerns, the profits of mines, and everything of that sort have been falling for months. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the banks?"] One knows that the workers are very badly hit, and everybody is deeply sympathetic and sorry; but what more could be said in the King's Speech than that the matter is engaging the earnest attention of the Government. Everybody knows it is engaging the earnest attention of the Government, and of every patriotic party in this country. To say that that is a monopoly of the Labour Benches is a slander upon this House and a slander upon humanity. The hon. Member contrasts the state of things at the present time with the state of things that would happen if the Labour party were in power. I do not think that the hon. Member's policy, or the policy of his colleagues, has contributed much to help the working man in the past two years. In this connection I note the remarkable speech made by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) this afternoon. He assailed the Lord Chancellor, and the hon. Member for Govan has assailed the Lord Chancellor, for what he described as a declaration of class war by saying that the Labour party had been responsible, to some extent, at least, for the industrial trouble and the unemployment that we are having just now. The right hon. Gentleman went on the assumption that the Labour party is to be identified with the working classes, and that any attack upon the Labour party is an attack upon the working classes of this country. That is not the case. It is a ridiculous travesty of the realities of the situation. The Labour party do not represent the working classes of this country. The working classes of this country, very largely, do not look upon the Labour party, or, rather, the political parties that have got a hold on the trade union machine, as the friends of the workers, but as the enemies of the workers. I gathered from the speech of the right hon. Member for Derby that what the Lord Chancellor said was that what was necessary for the reconstruction of this country and for the recovery of this country from the shock of the War was, as a first essential, that there should be harmony and co-operation between the worker and the employer, between the people who are concerned with production in this country. That lesson ought to have been burnt into the hearts of everybody, not only in this country, but throughout the whole world.
If our experience since 1914 has taught us one thing, it is that war of any kind, whether industrial or international, means waste, and that it is fraught with misery and poverty for everybody, both for the victors and the vanquished. In that state of things I understood the Lord Chancellor to have said that what we want in this country is harmony and goodwill between all classes, between all the people who are concerned in the production of goods in this country and in the general trade of this country. The strike weapon is an essential and necessary weapon, just as war is an essential and necessary weapon, but like war, it ought to be used only in the last resort; but the political bosses of the trade unions have turned it not merely into a weapon of the last resort, but into part of the ordinary day to day industrial machinery, and have fermented strike after strike and delivered a most bitter blow at the prosperity of the trade of this country. I do not suppose that any blow for which this Government has been responsible, or for which any Government has been responsible, can be measured or spoken of in the same breath as the miners' strike—[HON. MEMBERS: "Lock-out!"]—in the spring and summer of last year. What was the part which the Labour party played in that? The Government, finding that the Exchequer was being bled at the rate of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 a month to guarantee the mines, at the cost of the general taxpayer, the general worker, the general trader, and the whole community, had to step in and save this money being taken, not out of the employer's pocket or the capitalist's pocket, but out of the pocket of the taxpayers of this country. It was, in my opinion, right to do so. You could not get out of the profit of the coal the money to pay the big wages which existed before. You had got it before out of the pocket of the foreigner. Now you were to take it out of the pocket of the taxpayer. Accordingly, the great stoppage of industry came about, and it came about as an attempted blow at the taxpayers of this country. The strike did no good to the miners or the workers of the country. It turned men out of employment, stopped trade, lost us markets, and delivered the greatest blow which has been delivered in my day by any one set of men to the prosperity of the country, including that of the working class.
The hon. Gentleman had a great deal more to with it than the Government. It would have been better had he and his party applied themselves to stopping the ruinous instinct of class war which has been productive of such a tremendous lot of dislocation and loss of trade and employment. The worst embodiment of that was the miners' strike. [HON. MEMBERS: "Lock-out!"] There was a distinct embodiment of that in the speech of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) to-night. Unless we hold together and make up our minds that we are going through bad times and that we should all help each other we shall not get through. The gospel of hon. Members ought not to be the gospel of class hatred, but the gospel of peace and goodwill. That is the only way to get through. No good will come from making these charges of universal misery caused in every country by the Prime Minister and his colleagues or by saying that the state of unemployment and poverty in this country is to be laid at the door of the Government or is not a matter which the Government and every party in this House feel deeply and are working to remove.
We have listened to a rather extraordinary speech from my hon. Friend. It is difficult to understand why at this time of day, after we had discussions in this House with regard to the coal dispute, my hon. Friend has not yet appreciated the fact that it was not a strike but a look-out on the part of the Government of the men concerned in that particular industry. After all, there is such a thing as keeping faith, and the Government, who were pledged to the hilt to a certain day to maintain a certain standard of wages, for economic reasons which were sufficient to convince them—I say nothing about their strength—withdrew from that pledge. We were dragged into a great war on the question of faith to pledges, and the Government withdrawal from their pledge in an industrial matter precipitated what my hon. Friend calls a strike, but what any competent observer would describe as a lock-out. I do not think that my hon. Friend is serving either his own purpose or the Government which he supports by the kind of speech which he has made.
There is far too much nonsense talked about this class war, this conflict between capitalism and labour. The trouble at present is that we have, beyond everything else, the question of mere sustenance. There are 2,000,000 unemployed people on the books of our employment exchanges and these people represent between 6,000,000 and 8,000,000 people in this country who are subsisting or attempting to subsist at present on a weekly dole, as it is described by many people, which is not sufficient, and has never been sufficient, to maintain anybody in physical efficiency. My hon. Friend, if he had wished to make a valuable contribution to the Debate, instead of indulging in the acrid criticism of the Government which he has given us, might have addressed himself to the question of what he and those who think with him have got to offer to those people who are unemployed. The duty of a Government which faces the problem, as we face it to-day, is to get those 2,000,000 people into active work at the earliest possible moment, and not only to get them to work but to get the larger number of people who are under employed—because this is as big a question as that of unemployment—back to employment.
Our criticism is that the Government has not addressed itself to that problem It has not offered any solution which leads us to believe that those people are to be taken out of the queues which are attending at our Labour Exchanges and put into work, and we contend that the policies that we have urged, particularly the policy of making an end of all this international conflict and having a real and durable peace so that we should have a resumption of trade and that we should get the different communities again under the ordinary economic laws which govern all trade throughout the world, would do infinitely more to reduce the amount of unemployment in this country than any policy which has been advocated by the Government. I am sorry that my hon. Friend has made the speech which he has made because he is a colleague of mine in the representation of Edinburgh, and I am jealous of the reputation of that city, and I have been rather humiliated at the fact that my hon. Friend has seen fit to contribute to this Debate nothing else than the kind of speech which he has been delivering at every street corner in West Edinburgh during the Recess on what he calls the Bolshevist menace to the stability of the State. We have had a fairly long general Debate on the King's Speech. There are one or two things to which I wish to call the attention of the Government before a final reply is given. I noticed in the Press this morning that the King's Speech is described as an anti-waste speech. The first point I want to refer to is the claim urged by the Prime Minister yesterday that when the Geddes Report is placed before the House the House will give whole-hearted support to the proposals of the Committee for reduction of expenditure.
I listened to the Prime Minister's appeal yesterday with considerable surprise and amazement. I am one of those who for the last three years, from this side of the House, have consistently emphasised the fact that the nation must economise. I have not seen the Geddes Report, but without having seen it, I am prepared to say this in general terms straight away—that whatever the suggestions in the Report, those who are associated with me and my party are prepared to accept in the public services any economy which will bring the finances of this country inside what this country can afford to pay for those services. Speaking for myself only, I do not care what the particular subject is, from the Army and the Navy to education and health. I am prepared to support any reasonable reduction in any of those services that will bring the country back to what I might describe as reasonable finance. I want to put this point to the Leader of the House. There is a great virtue in setting an example. My right hon. Friend was Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Mr. Bonar Law) was Chancellor of the Exchequer before him, and another right bon. Member for Glasgow is Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day. I do not know whether it was because they had not time or because they were engaged in other work, but none of the three Chancellors of the Exchequer was able to effect the economies—shall I put it this way?—that they desired.
On this point I do not want to be controversial, for I honestly realise that unless the country does get back to a sane expenditure of money, we are all going to be in the same boat, and there is no party point in that. That is why I say there is virtue in an example. When my right hon. Friend the. Prima Minister or the Leader of the House comes down and says, "We want the support of the House of Commons in approving of the proposals of the Geddes Report, and we do not want that to happen to which reference has been made." We remember what the Prime Minister said. He stated, "I know what happens. The people interested in the Army and Navy will get up and say, 'Do not make cuts there; make them on education or on health.' The people interested in health and education will get up and say, 'Do not make cuts on education and health, but in the Army and Navy.'" The Prime Minister said, "Do not let us do that, let us as a House of Commons support a general scheme of reduction all round." I am prepared to do that, but the Cabinet have not done that. The Cabinet have abandoned the policy of three Chancellors of the Exchequer, who could not make any reduction. I do not know why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House could not do so, because ever since I have been in this House as an ordinary private Member, I have been encouraged to look up to him as a man skilled in finance—
As a matter of fact, I do not say that I made reductions, but during the time that I was Chancellor of the Exchequer many reductions were made. This is a little historical forgetfulness on the part of the hon. Member.
I do not forget that. I will put myself right with my right hon. Friend by saying that I do not mean that he made no reductions, but that he was unable to make the reductions which are now suggested by a Committee which he set up. That is the point, and I think in the House of Commons we are entitled to know why a succession of Coalition Chancellors of the Exchequer were unable to effect the economies which a Committee that they have set up has been able to effect with the approval of this House.
I know. I am going to deal with the right hon. Baronet, because I have read in the "Times" newspaper what he said about this, and I know his point of view. He is one of the economists who believe in cutting down everything but the Army, Navy, and Air Force. He has said so. Let me say this in parenthesis. He is going to be no use to the economists in an all-round cut, because what he says is going to be quoted against us over and over again by the Leader of the House, and the right hon. Baronet is going to encourage all kinds of people in this House to bring forward extra expenditure or the not cutting down of present expenditure on certain services, because the right hon. Baronet has pleaded for no reduction on other services. I am amazed at the lack of common sense by so great a financial expert as the right hon. Baronet, who in season and out of season has always questioned waste in this House, but has now disarmed himself before our Debates take place by saying upon this particular question that he is not prepared to make any concessions. There is something wrong with a Government which through its own Chancellors of the Exchequer is not able to effect the economies which it hopes may be effected by the setting up and the conclusions of a Committee for which it is responsible.
There is another point which many of us view with a certain amount of alarm. The Government submitted this question to a Committee of business men. It is because they were business men that they were going to be able to effect those economies. In the name of common sense, who have they chosen to sit as the head of the Committee discussing the proposals of those business men? Not a business man, not my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He has been presiding over the deliberations of those business men, and it seems to me almost like "Alice in Wonderland." First of all, the Government, not having sufficient ability in their own Chancellors of the Exchequer, hand the matter over to a Committee of business men, and then the revision of that which they suggest is submitted to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who has been absolutely the most extravagant Minister with whom my right hon. Friend has been associated in the Coalition. The money which the Secretary of State for the Colonies has wasted in Mesopotamia, in Russia, and in other directions has been colossal. How can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House come down and plead with the House to give universal assent to the Geddes Report which they have not seen when the Cabinet itself has not given its support. The Cabinet has not supported the Geddes Committee. My right hon. Friend has told us that they are going to show us reasons why they have not done so. Surely no Government can ask the House of Commons to follow an example which they themselves have not set. It is a perfectly ridiculous suggestion.
The hon. Member is proceeding upon the assumption that the Prime Minister asked the House to adopt all the recommendations of the Geddes Report, lock, stock, and barrel. He never did anything of the kind, and, as my hon. Friend says, it would have been absurd had he asked the House to adopt proposals which the Government themselves are not prepared to recommend.
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for what he says. It is quite true that the Prime Minister did not ask us to swallow the whole Report—that would be asking too much—but he did ask us not to press one service against another. The Cabinet have already done that. My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but what is the use of doing that? He knows perfectly well that, as the result of the investigations by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, certain reductions in expenditure on the services have not been agreed by the Government. If the Cabinet have done that with regard to the services, it is no use them coming down to the House of Commons and asking us to treat the matter in a different way. There is another question which is of considerable importance, not so much to my right hon. Friend as to the Prime Minister. We have been promised in the King's Speech the Reform of the House of Lords, and I notice that Lord Curzon, speaking in another place, intimated the method by which the House of Lords Reform would be approached. He said that the Government were going to proceed by Resolutions, and that those Resolutions were to be introduced in the House of Lords. If what the Government intends is a Reform of the Constitution of the House of Lords, it will be perfectly all right, perfectly proper, and perfectly constitutional to introduce the matter in that way in the House of Lords, but, unless I am mistaken, it is not that. It is a question of the relationship of this House to the House of Lords. My right hon. Friend, with all his faults, has this supreme virtue—I mean this quite sincerely—that he is a House of Commons man. He is jealous of the rights of the House of Commons, and he is prepared to defend them. I have heard him defend them even against the wishes of some of his colleagues who sit behind him. It seems to me that it is a breach of the unwritten law of this constitution to attempt to reform the House of Lords by setting about it by the introduction of Resolutions in the House of Lords, and I hope my right hon. Friend, when he considers further the business of the House, will remember that point.
Yesterday we tried to find out from the Prime Minister what was his plan with regard to the House of Lords, and he told us, quite properly, that it was not usual, in reply to an Address from the Throne, to adumbrate the plan by which the Government meant to reform any institution. At any rate, we were told by the Prime Minister, who regretted the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), that it was my right hon. Friend who, as an extremist—I think that was the word used—had brought him into the faith so far as House of Lords Reform was concerned. I want my right hon. Friend to tell me as far as he can, whether one is right in assuming that is so? My right hon. Friend was in those controversies. He will remember many of the speeches that were made. We have it on the word of the Prime Minister that it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley who pledged him to reform of the House of Lords.
If my hon. Friend thinks there is any special point in that he can take it as the whole of the Government. At that time I was supporting the then Government, and he pledged me as much as he pledged the present Prime Minister. At any rate, one of the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that. What was it to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley pledged the Prime Minister? I will read it for the edification of the House and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who knows what is going on behind the scenes, will be able to discuss in his own mind, if he is not able to discuss it on the floor of the House; whether this is the kind of reform that his leader means, when he says he is pledged to the reform of the House of Lords because, mark you, if the Member for Paisley pledged him this is what he
pledged him to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley said:
First, that this House"—(that is the House of Commons)—"must be predominant in legislation. Next, that the functions and the only functions which are appropriate to a Second Chamber are the functions of consultation and revision, and subject to proper safeguards, of delay. Further, that the body which is to perform those functions should be relatively small. Next, that it must be a body which does not rest on a hereditary basis, and, lastly, it must be a body which, as I said here last March, in its composition and attitude is not governed as the present House of Lords is governed by partisanship tempered by panic. It should be a body which will discharge its proper duties with a fair mind and an even hand. That is not a body which is very easy to bring into existence, and will anyone contend that these conditions are satisfied in any of the schemes hitherto put forward or adumbrated by the other side"—
the other side was the side of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in those days—
of perpetuating a Second Chamber in which one side would be permanently predominant.
That is what the present Prime Minister was absolutely pledged to. That is what the Prime Minister himself stated yesterday he was pledged to. We do not want my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House or any member of the Government to get up and adumbrate their plans. I wilt be quite simple. To use a phrase of my right hon. Friend's late distinguished father: "I will put a question which is so simple that any child could answer it." Is the veto of the House of Lords to be restored—yes or no? My right hon. Friend is silent. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) is absent at the present moment, and that may be the determining factor, but it is an easy question to answer, and the Prime Minister could have answered it yesterday had he dared. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House knows that the Prime Minister dare not answer that question at this stage of the proceedings. He knows that the party which he represents in this Coalition are in favour of the restoration of the veto, and he knows that the Prime Minister, if he sheds the question of the veto in the House of Lords, sheds the last fragment of any pledge or promise he ever gave in his political existence. He knows and appreciates the dilemma. We want to know, and we are entitled to know, the answer to the question I have
put. I make no complaint about the Government being unable to go to the extent of adumbrating their plan. There is only one question in which we are interested. The details we are not concerned about. The one question in which we are interested is this. Is the veto of the Lords to be restored or not? An answer can be given in one sentence, but although it is now twenty minutes to ten o'clock at night and we have been engaged here since yesterday afternoon, wild horses would not drag that answer out of the Government..
I am quite content to wait and see. The only point is whether it is not possible for a Government which claims the support of my hon. Friend to do things much quicker. I should not have thought that he would impose this penalty of leisure upon the Government which he supports.
The last point I desire to deal with is that of the French pact. I am sorry the Prime Minister is not present. One of the great losses to this House as a result of war practice is that the Prime Minister is so seldom in this House. The Prime Minister yesterday himself complained about the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, and expressed the hope that when and if he were present, he would speak at such a time that the Prime Minister would be able to reply. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House also said yesterday that if we wanted to raise any question which involved particular Ministers, we should be good enough to give notice to those concerned. I have taken the trouble since 4 o'clock to inform the Prime Minister that I wanted to raise a question of his personal honour so far as the French pact is concerned, a question of whether he is talking that which is true to this House of Commons or not, and so far I have been unable, even at this late hour of the night, to bring the Prime Minister into the House. We all know that the Prime Minister has many duties to perform, but his first duty is to this House of Commons, and it is time that was so over and over again. During the War and for many months since the peace we have been lenient to the Prime Minister. We have allowed him to absent himself from the House of Commons when he should be
here, but it is the duty of the Prime Minister to be in this House on certain occasions, and one of these occasions is when we are discussing things of this sort. I presume that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies is going to deal with this point for the Prime Minister. It is an extraordinarily important point, and I hope he is going to deal with it. In the King's Speech we have this reference with regard to peace:—
For these reasons I welcome the arrangements which are now being made for the meeting of an international conference at Genoa at which I trust"—
I hope the House will mark those words—
it will be possible to establish peace on a fair basis in Europe and to reach a settlement of the many important questions arising out of the pressing need for financial and economic reconstruction.
I was in this House when the Prime Minister came back from Paris in July, 1919, when he advocated in this House, and claimed our support for, the Peace which had been made on the grounds that it was "just, practicable, and equitable." Those were the three adjectives that he used on that occasion in asking our support for this Treaty, and here now in 1922 we find His Majesty the King hoping that the International Conference at Genoa will establish peace on a fair basis in Europe. Is it the case that peace has not been established on a fair basis in Europe that those changes now require to be made? There is a good deal which requires clearing up in this particular direction.
Let us examine for a few moments the meaning of the French pact and exactly where we are in regard to it. The Prime Minister's view was expressed yesterday in the speech which he delivered early in the day. He had come to the third reason for supporting the French pact, which is to be discussed presumably at Genoa, and he said:
I may just glance at the third reason. This undertaking was given by us in the course of negotiations at Versailles in order to counter what is known as the advanced Rhine policy, a policy which proposed that there shall be something it the nature of annexation of territory on the left bank of the Rhine in order to establish the frontier of France. This was given as a guarantee in order to avert what we regarded as a permanent disaster to the whole of Europe. I myself and President Wilson gave the guarantee, and upon it that policy was
abandoned. I think the consideration having been paid by France, we are in honour bound."——[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1922; col. 42, Vol. 150.]
That is the position of the Prime Minister, that the permanent occupation of the left bank of the Rhine would be a permanent disaster to the whole of Europe. What is the present position? Under the Treaty, France has the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine for 15 years if two conditions are fulfilled, and if those two conditions are not fulfilled, then certain other eventualities follow. The first of those two conditions is that at the end of 15 years there shall be an adequate military security for France, and the second of the conditions is that if there has been a default in the reparation provisions of the Treaty France will be entitled to do certain things. If those two conditions are not fulfilled, what is the eventuality? It is that France may occupy the left bank of the Rhine indefinitely thereafter. I hope that I am stating the provisions of the Treaty accurately.
How do those conditions stand at the present moment? The guarantees for military security were originally embodied in the Anglo-American-French Treaty. My right hon. Friend will remember that that was ratified by Great Britain and France, but not by America, and I have in front of me now the OFFICIAL REPORT of a Debate which took place on a night in July, 1919, on the Anglo-French Treaty. I am afraid I find that I took up a large portion of the time of the House on the occasion of that Debate, because I personally was opposed then, as I am now, to the formation of any combination of Powers inside the Allied Powers or inside the world Powers, and I thought it an enormous error that America, Britain, and France should, inside the possible League of Nations, create a new, strong union which really overruled the smaller nations that were coming into the League of Nations. We discussed that Bill under very extraordinary circumstances. Every stage of the Bill was taken in one day, and the Third Reading of the Bill was reached between 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning, and I find that I was the only Member of the House who made a speech on the Third Reading. My speech on the Third Reading was very short. There are about half a dozen
lines of it in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but in the course of that speech I asked the Prime Minister this question:
Will the Prime Minister tell us whether this Bill is necessary because the French wanted to claim the left bank of the Rhine?
What was the Prime Minister's reply? It was this:
So far as the French Prime Minister is concerned, he never made the claim to the left bank of the Rhine—never!"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1919; col. 1127, Vol. 118.]
I remember my right hon. Friend thumping the Box and saying "Never!" He denied then, in July, 1919, that the French Prime Minister had ever made any claim to occupy the left bank of the Rhine, that there was any policy of annexation, and yet yesterday, defending the French pact which it is proposed to make, the Premier states here deliberately that what has encouraged him to agree to the proposal is the fact that by agreeing to it, they will get over this claim made by the French for the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine. The Prime Minister is either right or wrong in July, 1919, or on 7th February, 1922. Which is it? There must be some explanation with regard to the great difference between these two statements, both made in this House of Commons. A few moments ago I reminded the House that the Anglo-American Treaty became inoperative because of the fact that America did not consent to the arrangement. There was this: that the Reparations Commission had reported that Germany had made default, so that the second condition was reached. What conclusion do we reach? On the strict reading of the Treaty as it stands France is entitled at the end of 15 years to continue on the left bank of the Rhine. The Prime Minister yesterday described this as a permanent disaster to the whole of Europe. Consider how the new pact suggested affects this situation. The situation in regard to the new French pact is that it would be for a period of 10 years. What does that mean? It means that at the critical date, which is 15 years from 1918, the pact will not, cannot be, in operation, unless it is extended by this or some other Government before that date. So that France will still be entitled, on the interpretation of the Treaty, to occupy the left bank of the Rhine, which has been described by the Prime Minister in the
terms I have used. If that were not so, France could still claim from the fact that there had been the default in reparations. The question, therefore, I want to ask the Prime Minister, and, in his absence, whoever is speaking on behalf of the Government: Has the Prime Minister or the Government any proposal which will avert the continued occupation of the left hank of the Rhine?
I have tried to point out, perhaps with no very great success, that under the conditions of the Treaty, which runs for 15 years, in view of the Pact suggested lasting for 10, that it is unlikely that at the critical period there will be the peace which my right hon. Friend expects, and which we all desire. I think possibly there is no more serious problem to discuss than the question of what the immediate future holds in regard to the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine. I would like to say to my right hon. Friend before I sit down that the sooner these grave matters are settled the better, that the less misunderstanding there is about them the better, and that if we have, as I think I have indicated, the Prime Minister making one statement on one day and supporting his argument from an entirely different basis on another day—my right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill) shakes his head. I am quite willing to hear the other side of the argument, indeed I shall be very glad to find myself wrong, because it will be much better to find myself wrong with the prospect of peace than right and making a debating point—by a very long way. I hope, therefore, my right hon. Friend will clear that matter up in any reply he makes. The question of peace in Europe is the pivot of industrial resuscitation and resurrection in this country, and unless that issue is settled the wheels of industry in this country will not begin to revolve, at any rate will not revolve with the speed to which we have been accustomed. The sooner, therefore, these high matters of State are put upon a basis that is "understanded by the common people" the better.
Colonel LAMBERT WARD:
The speech made earlier in the evening by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) has caused me to intervene in this Debate. He referred to German indemnities. I think I am right that he admitted that he had obtained his information only from sources which are open to all. As I spent the last four months of last year travelling on the Continent and a fair portion of that time in Germany, and furthermore, as I speak the language tolerably fluently, it is just possible that I may have tapped sources of information which are not at the disposal of the general public. The principal argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was that we should forego the German indemnity, for two reasons; the first being that they cannot pay, and the second that they will buy more of our goods if we let them off paying. Let us take the second argument first. I have Beard it advanced on several occasions by others—consent to forego our indemnity so that the Germans may buy goods of British manufacture, and the trade of this country will at once improve.
Let us consider for a moment what these people are asking us to do. It is suggested that we should forego the in demnity which this year, had it not been whittled down, ought to have amounted to something like £80,000,000, and may now be something like £20,000,000; I doubt if it is more. The suggestion is that we should make Germany a present of that in order that she may buy goods of British manufacture. It is obvious, of course, to anybody that if you frankly make Germany a present of that sum the purchasing power of Germany will be increased by exactly that amount. But is anyone so simple as to imagine that Germany will spend the whole of that sum on British manufactures? You may take it from me they will not. The Germans will buy their goods in Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, and America. They will get manufactured articles from Belgium and America and raw materials from Czecho-Slovakia—anywhere but here. I doubt if they would spend more than a twentieth of that sum in this country, and we are being asked to give up our indemnity in order that the Germans in return may spend one-twentieth of the sum in buying British manufactures. It is not business, to say the least of it.
The present financial situation in Germany has been deliberately engineered—and I say so unhesitatingly—deliberately engineered by the German Government to avoid paying the indemnity. They have deliberately depreciated the exchange value of their currency by refusing to levy adequate taxes, and, by issuing paper money, and now they come and ask, cap in hand, for a revision of the terms, or to pay nothing at all, and say they are ruined. I tell you the German Government do not mean to pay. They have not the least intention of paying if they can possibly help it. If one considers the only attempt they have hitherto made to pay it is to print paper money in unlimited quantities and then sell it abroad for what it will fetch. Germany used to be considered a rich country, and still is, and many people wonder what the Germans have done with their money. Perhaps I can throw a little light on the subject. Immediately after the Armistice, under the lead of the large financial houses in Frankfort and Berlin, the Germans began to sell everything they could, and then to change the proceeds into foreign money. First of all, they bought Dutch or Swiss, and then got a little bolder and bought Czecho-Slovakian or even English, but principally they bought American dollars, which they purchased in enormous quantities. The huge number of American visitors and lavish expenditure at Coblentz made it an easy matter to obtain American dollars in almost unlimited quantities. The rich men of the country went further and opened foreign banking accounts. The small man was content with having changed his money into foreign money, and he hoarded it. But even he has not done so badly, because that money in Germany is worth anything from 15 to 20 times what it was when he bought it, and a return of 1,500 or 2,000 per cent. on your outlay in a couple or three years is not at all bad. But the rich men, the important financiers, invested their money abroad, in Holland first of all, then Switzerland, then South America, and the United States, and even in England.
I am quite convinced there are Germans at this moment actually holding English War Loan and English War Bonds. After all, who is to know whether the name of William Smith, of Balham, standing in the books of the Bank of England, is not really Wilhelm Schmidt, of Berlin? It is very difficult to find out. The interest on that money is paid to the foreign banking agent in London, who, perhaps, sends it out to the owner in a registered letter, and it is free of all taxes, English or German. There is another way of doing it. It may be transmitted to a foreign agent in Amsterdam or Berne, and then to the German owner across the frontier. The high rate of interest makes it worth his while spending a certain amount in commissions, so that he can obtain it free of tax. That is what the Germans have done with their money, and they have done it under the noses of what has been called a good many times their "well-meaning Government." I admit the German Government is a well-meaning Government, but it is not to us that they mean well. It is only to themselves they mean well, and when I say themselves, I do not mean the German nation, but I mean their own individual selves. They know perfectly well that if they tax the people as they ought to be taxed, as we are taxed, they will become unpopular, and at the next German election they will be turned out, with the loss of their snug billets and salaries. The easiest way to make themselves unpopular is to levy taxation in reasonable proportion to the needs and necessities of the country. You have only to sit in a railway carriage or in a restaurant in Germany with your ears open, your mouth shut, and your hat over your eyes behind a newspaper, and listen, and you will find find out how they have invested their money in America, Switzerland and Holland. You find that it is a rise in the value of the dollar which appeals to them. The headings in all the German newspapers, the latest paragraph, instead of giving the winners, gives the latest dollar exchange, which proves better than anything else the interest they have in American money.
That is why I am so opposed to any moratorium being granted, or any serious revision of the terms of the indemnity, because I know, however much that amount is reduced, or however long a moratorium is given, at the end of that time the position will be exactly the same. There are a hundred and one ways of ruining the external financial position of the country without very much affecting the internal prosperity, and the Germans will use all those ways, so that when the time comes for paying the Indemnity, if granted this moratorium, they will still be unable to do it. They can refuse to levy adequate taxes; they can spend an inordinate amount on education, as they are doing; they can indulge in elaborate housing schemes, as they are doing; they can provide cheap railway travel and cheap postal facilities. In the meantime, we in this country are being compelled to cut down on education and housing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members, at any rate, will agree that we have to pay double railway fares and double postal rates. We shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the Germans are enjoying all those things cheaply and amply. Yet when the time comes for paying the Indemnity, down will go the German mark to zero, and once more the German Chancellor of the Exchequer will come to us, hat in hand, "See, we are ruined; we cannot pay." Therefore I ask the Government to remember, and to remind the Reparations Commission, when this question of revision comes up, that hitherto the only attempt that the German. Government have made to meet this Indemnity is to print paper marks in unlimited quantities and sell them abroad for what they will fetch.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down opened his speech with the remark that he has travelled much, and from that premise he proceeded to elaborate an economic survey of Europe. I have only to observe that in some cases more information can be acquired from the study of a penny handbook than from travel abroad. I have not had my hon. and gallant Friend's opportunities, and perhaps he will forgive me if I do not follow him into the very interesting arguments he has used. I would rather devote myself to some of the observations which fell from the Leader of the House, and in particular to a passage from his speech which interested me particularly, namely, his reference to the Noble Lord. The Leader of the House reproduced with remarkable accuracy the speech which was delivered the other day by the right hon. Gentleman who, I am happy to see, will reply for the Government. The chief charge against the Noble Lord appears to be that he is an honest man, or he is so regarded by a great number of people. The irritation of the Government in the contemplation of such a spectacle is quite comprehensible. It is almost traditional. We all know that the spectacle of genuine integrity does always annoy the Pharisee, and I was not the least surprised that the Government were irritated to find the Noble Lord in opposition to themselves. The right hon. Gentleman went on to assert that the Noble Lord was under the impression that when he left the Government all morality departed with him, but that is not my reading of the situation at all. My impression is, rather, that the Noble Lord, like many others, was compelled to put up with a great deal during War-time. The spokesmen for the Government complain that the Noble Lord claims for himself some special virtue. The Leader of the House advanced that claim with great emphasis, and in the next breath the right hon. Gentleman advanced the perennial claim of the Government that they won the War, without even a parenthetical reference to the Military forces. A Government advancing that theory is surely not the body to charge any hon. Member of this House with an arrogant display of superior virtue.
The Leader of the House addressed himself at some length to the rival theories which the Noble Lord had advanced for the conduct of international affairs, the theory of force—the chief protagonist of which now sits on the Treasury Bench opposite—and the theory of co-operation. The Leader of the House seemed to think that a mixture of these two theories was the right course to take, and to pursue them alternately in search of that elasticity which is claimed as the chief advantage of the present Government. It occurs to me, however, that in physical matters, at any rate, it is possible to preserve elasticity without turning somersaults or standing on one's head. I will grant them the virtue of elasticity, but if they are to try these two theories alternately I think they should try co-operation first, whereas they have employed the policy of repression and force first, and when defeated in that policy and beaten to their knees, as the right hon. Gentleman was beaten in Russia, then they try the policy of co-operation.
If the Press reports are to be believed I understand the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Churchill) is now about to repeat the process in another sphere, namely[...] that of Egypt. Mr. Burke once remarked that it is the peculiarity of all oppressors that they never learn from the failure of previous oppression. How appropriate is that remark to-day. What is the situation before us? We find the soldier standing for peace and the civilian standing for war. It would be interesting to know where his followers of the Members of the National Liberal party stand, and what advice they are prepared to tender to the right hon. Gentleman. The National Liberal party is a party of rare promise which borrowed its name from Germany, with a leader who borrowed his principles from Prussia. In ascribing to the right hon. Gentleman Prussian principles, I do not mean to depreciate his great ability, and I am sure he will not think the expression even offensive. I have a complaint, however, which I fear may offend him. My complaint is that he is an inefficient Prussian; he is always beaten. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, whose money is consumed in the maw of his omnivorous ambition, whenever he meets vigorous and determined opponents, such an Lenin and Collins, his vaunted military genius appears impotent to effect a conclusion. And, at the end of an unsatisfactory and fluctuating combat sustained at the expense of English lives and money, upon the sheathing of his ineffective sabre, these enemies of his, whether they have been hailed as monsters on thrones of skulls or merely chiefs of murder gangs, are received into his paternal embraces. We really do not get value for money. It is no good keeping a private Napoleon if he is always defeated. It is altogether too expensive a luxury. The right hon. Gentleman has waded through blood to defeat in many adventures. He has often been compelled to surrender to force what he had previously refused to reason. We want now to appeal to his reason in another sphere, and I hope he will lend his attention to that appeal before it is too late.
We have reached such a position of affairs in Egypt to-day that it seems we have only a choice between the full Milner policy and the policy of repression. Owing to the delay which has unfortunately intervened we are faced with that clear cut alternative and very little else, and I trust that in the forthcoming discussion, before they decide on the alternative of repression, the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters will count the cost both in money and in life. There is a risk in the Milner policy in the present state of Egypt engendered by conditions that have arisen of late months. But the greatest risk of all confronting us to-day is the risk of bankruptcy. There is a very serious financial position in this country to-day. Other risks are of minor importance in comparison with it. I am not, however, going—I worild not be in order in doing so—into the question of national finance to-night. It is to be debated on Monday, when we shall have further opportunities of presenting our side of the case to the right hon. Gentleman. I do trust that at any rate he will not continue on the old road of vacillation between coercion and conciliation, ending with humiliating surrender or the prospect of spending money and lives which we cannot possibly afford. Either policy—and no man hates repression more than I do—is better than vacillation. In the affairs of life vacillation—and the right hon. Gentleman, to give him his due, is as well aware of it as anyone in this House—is the most fatal procedure of all.
To turn to another subject, I should like to say a very few words upon the controversy on foreign affairs which has raged this afternoon. We have discussed at some length the League of Nations and Genoa Conference, etc., and some very remarkable views have been advanced—among others, the view that France is inimical to the idea of this Conference being held under the League of Nations rather than under the auspices of the Supreme Council. In the course of the last few days, as I understand from the Press, M. Poinearé has despatched a Note to this country stating his predilection for the League method rather than the Genoa method; and M. Viviani, who is the Delegate of France at Genoa, has actually given an interview in the Press saying that the League is being shelved in favour of the Council. The fact is that there is a great revulsion of feeling all through France against the method of slipshod conference, against the method of the Supreme Council, and in favour of the League. In fact, France has definitely decreed the death of the Supreme Council, and that, surely, is a matter for congratulation, although we may offer our personal condolences to the Prime Minister that a very pleasant and easy way of conducting foreign affairs has been suddenly taken from him. No longer can the affairs of nations be resolved on the golf course at Cannes, or in the villa of his private secretary; no longer are decisions upon which hang the fate of millions of men to be taken within the sheltered recesses of Lympne. If I may turn to the concomitant advantages of such a method, I might say that no longer are the emotions disturbed by the disputes of the day to be regaled in the evening with the frankincense of admiring friends; no longer are the abrasions of controversy to be soothed by a liberal application of precious ointment from the voluptuous Orient. All such pleasing aids to successful conference are ruled out under the new dispensation of France. M. Briand drove into too many bunkers. Who would not condole with the Prime Minister in such circumstances? Who would not choose as he has chosen, for, after all, any Member of the House would not voluntarily surrender the state of a Roman Emperor for the normal functions of an English Prime Minister. Those of us who honestly and genuinely—[Interruption]—I must, of course, apologise to the Secretary of State for the Colonies for using the word honest. I know it is particularly offensive to him, and I immediately withdraw it.
Those of us who have a feeling for the League of Nations are glad to see the Supreme Council out of the way. We think that too long the League has occupied the wings of the stage while the Supreme Council has strutted its futility in the centre of the stage. The one hope of Europe, as I see it to-day, is that the League of Nations shall completely dominate the stage. That is the only way of giving effective guarantees to those countries which as the Prime Minister said yesterday—and I entirely agree with that passage of his speech—are threatening the peace of Europe, because they fear the aggression of others. Fear is a most potent factor to-day in the disturbance of peace. There are only two ways of alleviating that fear, one by a strong League of Nations which can guarantee the peace of the world and can guarantee countries against aggression, the other way by these entangling alliances to which the right hon. Gentleman is now about to commit this country. I quite agree with the view that has been already advanced that it is possible under the Covenant of the League to give a comprehensive guarantee guaranteeing safety against the aggression not only of one country but of all countries. Such a guarantee as that would be entirely consonant with the spirit of the League of Nations, and it might be well to point out to those who have been so busy misrepresenting and distorting the recent utterances of Lord Grey of Falloden—quite unintentionally the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Captain Coote) did it again to-day—that in the course of this speech, which was so much criticised, it is possible to find the view that any guarantees extended to France should include and embrace other nations in a comprehensive and reciprocal guarantee, which is precisely the proposal advanced by the Noble Lord this afternoon. Therefore the disparity between the two utterances does not exist. I shall be extremely interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman further and more adequate reasons than those advanced by the Leader of the House against the suggestion that a comprehensive guarantee for all the principal Powers in the League of Nations shall be constituted under the Covenant of that League, and the reasons that animate the Government in their decision to return to the old system of the balance of power which was responsible in large part, if not entirely, for the catastrophe of the immediate past, rather than to march on to that new order and conception of the world which originated as the result of so great a sacrifice.
During the brief and occasional periods when Parliament is not in Session the monopoly and direction of public criticism is absorbed by the Press. We have all enjoyed taking it in each morning as we do our—[An HON. MEMBER: "Porridge!"]—our daily bread, and we must, be influenced by the representation of public events and the balance of right and wrong between parties and nations presented to us each day by that powerful organisation. One has been led to believe that Parliament was coming together to strike a final blow at an effete Ministry; to sweep away the only dishonest Coalition which has ever been thought of at the present time; to rupture this evil combination and to pave the way for the arrival in power of the great new administration of the future. Certainly we expected that we should be accused of something somehow by somebody; certainly we expected that there would be some process which remotely and vaguely might be said to represent the grand inquest of the nation; certainly we expected something in the nature of an attack. This is the attack! I do not wish to underrate the admirable performance of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley). It would have graced, adorned, even distinguished any debate in the Oxford Union. He roamed lover a very extensive field, from Russia to Egypt, from Egypt to bankruptcy, from bankruptcy to the Supreme Council, and from the Supreme Council to the League of Nations. What struck me most was the ardent chivalry with which he rushed to the assistance of his leader, the Member for Hitehin (Lord R. Cecil). It is perfectly evident that some help and succour was needed. When the knight is wounded in the struggle, is it not proper that the squire should rush forward to his assistance? I do not know what a party led by the right hon. Member for Hitchin is to be if it is not supported by its follower. I am sure my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not follow him in the wide and extensive peregrinations on which he has conducted the House. He referred in particular to the Supreme Council, and was very sarcastic at the expense of the Prime Minister.
Can any man, can any hon. Member, doubt that with the improved methods of communication which exist at the present time the leading statesmen of countries ought to meet together and ought to confer by word of mouth on great matters of public importance? Can anyone doubt that the old diplomacy of the Member for Hitchin and of his understudy—I do not wish to be offensive, but I understand that the question of leadership is not yet settled—would largely cripple the means of intercourse between nation and nation which are possible now? Certainly it is a very poor and cheap thing to jeer at the Prime Minister or at Ministers who have to travel to these international conferences which have begun now, and which, whatever may be the momentary reactions and criticisms of the time, will continue increasingly until in some way or other there is a universal and perpetual intercourse between the leading men of all the nations of the world animated by the sole desire of preserving it from a repetition of the horrors from which we have just emerged. My hon. Friend was cheered frequently, as he deserved to be, as extreme youth and inexperience often deserve to be, by the chivalrous Members of the Labour party, who have not had much to cheer this Session, and who are very glad to find a young aspirant for their applause, but I must point out that his doctrine, though.the manner and spirit are extremely to be admired, requires very careful consideration at number 33, Eccleston Square, to which I bequeathed my best wishes and my earnest hope that it may become a source and a fountain of wisdom and good guidance to the country, and that hope has not yet faded, though during the last few years I have not seen much fruition of it. May I now turn to the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) who takes a great interest in foreign affairs and has delivered himself of observations covering very important aspects of foreign affairs. With all this political uncertainty, coming events cast their shadows before, and we must endeavour to treat the arguments of my hon. Friend with the gravity which they deserve. My hon. Friend began by reassuring us. He said he wanted to be lenient with the Prime Minister. He has been lenient with the Prime Minister.
Mr. CHURCH ILL:
The hon. Member refuses even that indulgence. Obviously, then, we must defend ourselves. He spoke about the pact with France. I am a very strong and convinced advocate of the limited, the strictly limited, pact with France, defined in the Treaty which has already received the assent of the House, in 1919. It is quite true that the United States were associated with us in that undertaking and that as the United States has not seen fit to ratify the undertaking, we have a perfect legal and technical justification for escaping from our bond. But it seems to me—I have always felt it very strongly—that although it may be a legal, technical justification, it is not a justification in fact It is not a release to us. If the United States is not standing in in the matter, all the more does France need such re-assurances as we can give. After all, it was a promise that this House gave—clear, decided and almost unopposed—apart from a few Members—the great majority of the House gave a promise in relation to certain great real and definite needs—needs of France, needs of Britain, needs of Europe. If you are to have a rebuilding of economic prosperity, of social intercourse in Europe, if you are to have again the re-creation of the great circle of Christendom, the forgiveness or oblivion of past injuries, terrible though they have been—if you are to have that, you must have confidence, you must have a sense of security, and you must have a sense that the events of the past have reached a certain stage of finality, and that we are not to be exposed to some new and violent effort at reversal, overturn, or revenge. The Pact to which the Government have signified their willingness to advise Parliament to give approval is limited to the soil of France. There is no question of the Rhine frontier, of the occupied territories. It is the soil of France, on which the brave French nation we learned to trust and honour in the War has a right to live free from molestation by any neighbour, however great her population may be, however rapid may be her rate of increase. Only the soil of France, only the defence of the soil against aggressive and unprovoked invasion. That is all. There and on that point we have already pledged morally our word, and our main and permanent interest is engaged in standing to that pledge. [Interruption.] That is my faithful opinion. I can see that there may be two opinions about it; that is very natural; but Germany herself stands to benefit by the sense of security which would be imparted to France under such an arrangement. Germany and German statesmen are well aware of the fact that if France felt that she were really safe, and were not going to have her own house invaded, pillaged, and violated, as it has been, an appeasement would come over the whole area of Europe, and the dawn of a day would be lighted which would see some co-operation, some common action, between these two great valiant branches of the European family. It is absurd to pretend for a moment that there is the slightest discrepancy between the words used by the Prime Minister in 1919, when this Treaty was receiving the assent of the House, and the words Used by the Prime Minister yesterday. I will not trouble the House by reading the extracts, but it is perfectly well known that, although in 1919 Monsieur Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, and the principal Ministers of his Government, never countenanced the claim to hold the left bank of the Rhine, it was advanced by great French strategists and by a very powerful party in France, and would have been pressed, not by the Ministry, but by the forces which I have described, into a foremost position in the discussions of the Supreme Council of Peace. It was to ease that dangerous situation that the undertaking of President Wilson and the present Prime Minister was given. It was meant to ease it, and it did ease it. The Ministers obtained control over the military influences that were breaking loose in those days, and, instead of that, there was the guarantee, and France has given up that claim. Are we, now that that claim has been withdrawn definitely, to go back upon the undertaking into which this House solemnly entered, subject to what I have said about the United States, which in no way releases us? Are we to go back upon that undertaking? I feel sure that the people of this country would not wish to be in a position where they would have to stultify, or to watch the overturning of, the long, toilsome achievement which at such terrible cost has been accomplished in the Great War. I cannot imagine it is likely to occur, but, if France were again placed in the same position, it is perfectly certain that in the lifetime of those who have lost brothers and children and parents in the late War the action of this country would not be on a lower plane than it was upon that occasion. [Interruption.] The Labour party have always been wrong about these matters. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" and "Withdraw!"]
I am not speaking of the part which labour plays in any great international struggle, but I say that their forecast of what this nation will do on particular occasions has always been wrong. We regard ourselves as just as good judges of what the nation wants as hon. Gentlemen opposite. As my right hon. Friend has indicated already to-day, they are always supposing they have a monopoly of the people's heart. Not at all. We are just as much Labour Members as they are. We are returned like them by great majorities of Labour votes, and these are the votes of Labour men who take a general and enlightened view, not those who pursue selfish interests.
I have only a minute more, and I have a statement to make to the House upon another and a graver matter. The House has heard the telegram which was read out by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, which has been sent to the Provisional Government in Ireland. This afternoon we have received another telegram from the head of the Provisional Government in Dublin, Mr. Collins, in reply to the Government telegram, which indicates, first of all, that this particular outbreak on the frontier between North-East Ireland and the Southern Irish territory, was not due to any question of the boundary dispute, as has been suggested. It was due to anxiety and apprehension about the fate of prisoners in Derry who were under a sentence of death. This sentence had already yesterday been respited and commuted to penal servitude by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. This apprehension led to violent action on the frontier. Mr. Collins says that he made special efforts to prevent these acts of violence. Although he was quite unaware of the act of clemency to which the Lord Lieutenant had given his assent, he had made every effort in his power, and the Provisional Government assure us they are doing everything they possibly can to ensure the safety of the captured men and their early return to their homes. I do not pretend for a moment that this is a satisfactory incident. I think the House would make a great mistake if it supposed we were going to get through the next few weeks or months nothing but satisfactory incidents to discuss. We are going to have a very anxious and difficult time, and no man can say with certainty that a good result will be achieved, but there is a great hope, and it is the only hope, that with patience and with perseverance we may succeed through all the difficulties of this Irish situation in the same way as, 20 years ago, we found our way through the certainly not less baffling and perplexing difficulties of the South African situation. At any rate, while there is not the slightest ground for optimism or enthusiasm or vain ebullitions of joy and satisfaction, neither is there the slightest ground in anything that presents itself in any portion of this complicated and difficult Irish situation for weakness, disheartenment, or despair.