I should like my first sentence this afternoon to be one expressing to all parties in this House, and to the Press and the people of this country as a whole, the Government's sincere and grateful thanks for the restraint which they have shown during a most anxious international period—a restraint, if I may say so, which is all the more remarkable in that it was assumed and maintained on a purely voluntary basis. Perhaps if the same conditions of liberty of the Press and speech, and the same distinction between liberty and licence, were to-day observed throughout Europe, we should not now be confronted with the problems which unfortunately beset us.
This afternoon I stand here to give an account on my behalf and on that of the Government of our stewardship during the recent critical international situation. If in doing that I should depart somewhat, as I shall, from the usual formal restraint in speeches on international affairs, I shall justify myself in so doing because what I have to say is in the main spoken, not to nations overseas, but to the people of my own country. It is imperative in the present international situation that this country should visualise its problems in a true perspective. We can only do that if I as Foreign Secretary speak frankly.
We must distinguish between what may be national sentiment and what are, for good or ill, our national obligations, Likely enough, there may be many people in this country who say to them selves now, "In our judgment the territories of France and Germany should be treated on exactly equal terms." It may be that people feel that but those are not the terms of the Treaty of Locarno. Those are not the terms of the Treaty of which we are guarantors and which has formed a main element in the security of western EL rope for the last 10 years.
If I put the matter in this way, it is because I believe there is a special responsibility on this country at this time, and I want to begin to try and place matters in their true perspective by giving the House a brief account of the origins of this demilitarised zone, for I do not believe that they are generally appreciated. What happened was this. After the War the original French aim was to guarantee the security of France by the separation of the Rhineland provinces from the rest of Germany. The French Government ere persuaded to abandon that position and, if I may say so, rightly persuaded, by means of an arrangement comprising three things, namely, a 15 years' occupation of the zone itself, the permanent demilitarisation of the zone, and, most important of all, a guarantee of security from ourselves and the United States of America. In actual fact, that guarantee was never forthcoming. The United States failed to ratify, and, since our ratification was dependent upon theirs, that guarantee came to nothing. It is important that it should be realised that that was the most important element in inducing the then French Government to give up the demand for the separation of the Rhineland provinces from Germany.
Then the demilitarised zone was embodied in the Treaty of Versailles. It forms Articles 42 and 43 of that Treaty. There were time limits to certain provisions of that Treaty, notably in respect of the occupation of the Rhineland. That actually came to an end before the time had expired, but there was no time limit for this demilitarised zone. It was, in fact, under the Treaty an enduring undertaking. I say that—and I know the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will believe me—in no spirit of criticism at all. I myself never criticism the Versailles Treaty and our part in it, because I had some appreciation of the difficulties in which it must have been negotiated. All I would say to the House, and more particularly to the right hon. Gentleman, is that he too would appreciate our difficulties in facing a situation for which we are not all of us on this bench responsible. He is one of the few to whom it has been given in history—and we are happy to note it—to have the proud position of being able to criticise his own legacy to history.
I will turn from the place of the zone in the Treaty of Versailles to its place in the Treaty of Locarno. The House may imagine that this zone forms part of the Treaty of Locarno because from the outset France and Belgium clamantly demanded it. That is not the position at all. This demand for the demilitarised zone figured in the original demand put forward by Germany, who herself initiated the conversations which led to the signature of the Locarno Treaty. It figured from the start in the original German proposals, and I do not think it is very difficult, looking back, to see why that was. The Locarno Treaty was signed not very long after the Ruhr, and it would not be astonishing if the German Government of that day reflected that some guarantee from us in those conditions would be of service to her.
What has happened since? Successive governments in Germany, in France and in this country have reaffirmed Locarno. The present Chancellor of the German Reich has reaffirmed it, and other German spokesmen have done the same. We have heard much, more particularly since the advent of the present regime in Germany, about the diktat of Versailles, but nobody has ever heard of the diktat of Locarno. It is hard to conceive how such a phrase could be used of a Treaty which it has been admitted on all sides was freely negotiated and freely signed. Nor is that all. If Germany wished, as she was clearly entitled to wish, to modify any part of this Treaty, negotiations were open to her. Germany has claimed, as she has from her own point of view every right to claim if she believes it to be true, that the Franco-Soviet Pact is inconsistent with the Locarno Treaty, but I would draw the attention of the House in that connection to Article 3 of the Locarno Treaty which specifically provides for just such a contingency. Under that Article
Germany and Belgium and Germany and France undertake to settle by peaceful means and in the manner laid down herein
all questions of every kind which may arise between them.…
Germany was, therefore, clearly bound, under the terms of the Treaty, to settle this question by the methods which the Treaty made available. The French Government made it clear that they were willing to go to the Hague Court. The German Government regard that Court as unsuitable, but if it is not suitable it is only fair to point out that the Franco-German Arbitration Treaty signed between the two countries expressly provides that even legal questions can, by agreement, be submitted to a permanent conciliation commission which that agreement sets up. That might have been—I am not arguing it—the appropriate method for Germany to use. She did not use it. The German Government ignored Article 3 of the Treaty and decided for themselves that the Franco-Soviet Pact was incompatible with the Treaty of Locarno, and decided moreover that that incompatibility entitled Germany to regard the whole of the Locarno Treaty as non-existent.
I would now like to say a word about the position of one country whose relations to the events of the last few weeks have not perhaps been wholly appreciated by the people of this country. I refer to Belgium. Germany's case is that the Franco-Soviet Pact conflicts with Locarno. But Belgium has signed no Pact with Soviet Russia, and more than half this zone runs along the Belgian frontier—the frontier of a country which has suffered more than any other, except perhaps Poland, as the battle-ground of Europe. Is it surprising, in these conditions, that there should be deep anxiety in Belgium to-day? I would like to pay my warmest tribute to the cool courage and constructive statesmanship of M. van Zeeland, the Prime Minister of Belgium. To sum up then this earlier part of what I wish to say to the House: I believe it to be the judgment of this country that even those in this country who think that Germany has a strong case deprecate the fact that she has chosen to present it by force and not by reason.
Now I want to say something about the position of our own country. There are some who may regard us as freely and fortunately placed at this anxious moment in European affairs, some who regard us as arbiters with a fortunate destiny. But we are not arbiters in this
business; that is not so. We are guarantors of this Treaty, and as guarantors, for good or ill—I am not arguing that—we have certain commitments and they are very definite. I will draw the attention of the House to Article 4 of the Locarno Treaty. It runs as follows:
If one of the high contracting parties alleges that a violation of Article 2 of the present Treaty or a breach of Articles 42 or 43 of the Treaty of Versailles has been or is being committed, it shall bring the question at once before the Council of the League of Nations.
That has been done—
As soon as the Council of the League of Nations is satisfied that such violation or breach has been committed, it will notify its findings without delay to the Powers signatory of the present Treaty, who severally agree that in such case they will each of them come immediately to the assistance of the Power against whom the act complained of is directed.
Those words are clear. It cannot be said, in the light of them, that we are uncommitted and free arbiters. Our position is far different, and I want in all bluntness to make this plain to the House—I am not prepared to be the first British Foreign Secretary to go back on a British signature. And yet our objective throughout this difficult period has been to seek a peaceful and an agreed solution. I consider that we are bound to do so by Article 7 of the Locarno Treaty itself, which states:
The present Treaty, which … is in conformity with the Covenant of the League of Nations, shall not be interpreted as restricting the duty of the League to take whatever action may be deemed wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of the world.
It is in the spirit of that Article that we have sought conciliation and attempted to bring about agreement and understanding, and to do that without impairing confidence in our good faith or in our determination to carry out the obligations to which we have set our name. I do not pretend that our task would not have been easier had we been entirely free. That does not arise. We have entered upon our task with the weight of these commitments heavy upon us.
It was under these conditions that the Powers met in Paris a short while ago. There is no secret about the position which the French and Belgian Governments then took up. They stated that it would not be pm Bible for them to negotiate with Germany unless some action were taken to show that the validity of international agreements was being upheld. When we asked, how did they propose that that should be done, the French Government told us that in their view it was necessary that Germany should withdraw her mops from a zone which she had entered contrary to the obligations of a Treaty she had signed. When we asked how that was to be brought about if Germany were to refuse, it was replied to us that if withdrawal could not be otherwise arranged it must be brought about by progressive pressure, beginning with financial and economic sanctions. We did not take that view. We neither denied the gravity of the breach of the Treaty which had been committed nor the consequences to Europe, but we thought it our imperative duty to seek by negotiation to restore confidence. That being our objective from the very first hour of this critical fortnight, we have sought throughout to rebuild. But—we must face this fact—it is not possible to rebuild unless your foundations can be well and truly laid, and your foundations cannot be well and truly laid if some of those engaged in the task believe that the building will ultimately share the fate of its predecessor. It has been our task to create an atmosphere of confidence in which these negotiations could take place. Those, broadly, were the points of view at the outset.
We thought, the Lord Privy Seal and I thought, that in the condition of this present phase of international affairs it would be a wise step to attempt to induce our colleagues to move the scene of negotiations from Paris to London. They concurred, and as a result the meetings of the Council and of the Locarno Powers took place in this city. There were many days of anxious and even critical negotiation. The crux of our problem was always the same, how was international law to be vindicated? How were we to bridge, as we ourselves are most anxious to bridge, this difficult interim period before negotiations could begin? The White Paper contains three proposals to that end. It asks Germany to do three things: To bring the dispute as to the relation of the Franco-Soviet Pact to the Locarno Treaty before the Hague Court; to suspend fortification of the zone; and to agree to an international force for the interim period.
I would say to anyone in this House who considers those requests severe to remember the point from which we started in Paris, to remember the request which was made then, a request which could quite consistently and properly be made within the terms of the Treaty itself. I must make it plain that these proposals have always been proposals. They are not an ultimatum, still less a diktat. If an international force were the difficulty, and if the German Government could offer some other constructive proposals to take its place, His Majesty's Government will be quite ready to go to the other Powers interested and try to secure agreement upon them; but it must be appreciated that without some constructive contribution from the German side the task of those whose sole aim and ambition is to start these negotiations will be an almost impossible one.
Now I would say a word or two about the White Paper itself, and more particularly about our own undertakings as set out in that Paper. Those undertakings relate to three different stages. There are the undertakings which relate to the immediate situation, pending negotiations; there are the undertakings which we are prepared to contribute as part of the general settlement which we hope to bring about in the negotiations; and there are, finally, the undertakings which we are prepared to give in the event of a breakdown of negotiations. I want to take the first and to explain to the House the undertaking given for the interim period, which is in paragraph III of the White Paper. It says:
Declare that nothing that has happened before or since the said breach of the Treaty of Locarno …
and so forth. That undertaking in paragraph III is deliberately designed to compensate for the loss of security suffered by France and Belgium at this time owing to the violation of the demilitarised zone. The first part of that paragraph repeats the statement which I made to this House—the very first statement I made after the breach of the Treaty took place. The undertaking is strictly limited and it is clearly defined. The staff conver-
sations are only for the purpose of obligations under the Locarno Treaty. They are purely technical conversations. They can in no measure increase our political obligations—in no measure. We shall ask, and, indeed, insist, that some such paragraph as this shall be the understanding upon which those conversations take place: "It is understood that this contact does not imply any political undertaking or any obligation as regards defence organisation between the two parties." I do not anticipate any great difficulty in securing this undertaking, because, as it happens, those very words are drawn from an agreement between Belgium and France. I think we must distinguish, and clearly distinguish, between staff conversations for a specific and limited purpose now and those conversations in the years before 1914. Before 1914 we had no political commitments. Consequently the staff conversations inevitably entailed a political commitment, though they might be military. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, that is the fear that many people had.
Whether that be accepted or denied I do not think the House will disagree that it was a general fear, widely shown. My point is that whether that fear was justified or not it cannot arise in the present instance, because our obligations in the present instance are clearly set out by Treaty already, and the only question that can be at issue is whether or not you are prepared to make arrangements to carry out those obligations should the need arise. That is all. I would remind the House in this connection that only in the last few months such conversations have actually taken place, on that occasion at our request, in connection with obligations under the Covenant which we all shared and which had arisen out of a dispute in another part of the world.
So much for the interim period. At this stage I want to say one word to those who would argue that it is our duty at this time to keep free from all entanglements in Europe. With respect, I wonder whether those who say that are quite clear about what they mean. If they mean we must turn a blind eye to all that happens in Europe, I say that is to take no account at all of realities. We have never been able in all our history to dissociate ourselves from events in the Low Countries, neither in the time of Queen Elizabeth, nor in the time of Marlborough, nor in the time of Napoleon, and still less at the present day, when modern developments of science have brought striking force so much nearer to our shores. It is a vital interest of this country that the integrity of France and Belgium should be maintained and that no hostile force should cross their frontiers. The truth is, and I say it with apologies to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), there was nothing very new in Locarno.
It was a new label, but it was an old fact, and that fact has been the underlying purpose of British foreign policy throughout history. To affirm it again is a threat to no one, for its purpose is purely defensive, and in every single Article where these conversations are mentioned it is clearly shown that they only apply in a case of unprovoked aggression. I hope that those conditions will never arise, but I am quite confident that they are much less likely to arise if we make quite clear our own position. What Locarno did was to carry a stage further commitments which we already bore under the Covenant in respect of a much wider area. It was not, of course, inconsistent with the Covenant, but complementary to it, and, in fact, the idea of these regional pacts has been blessed by Geneva.
But it may be that those who urge that we should disentangle ourselves from Europe have something in mind rather different, or very different, from what I have just described. They may be thinking of another situation when, owing to obligations elsewhere, our neighbours may become involved in conflict and may call for help in a quarrel that is not ours. That I believe to be a general apprehension. The people of this country are determined that that shall not happen, and that is the view of the Government. We agree with it entirely. Our obligations are world-wide obligations, are the obligations of the Covenant, and we stand firm in support of them, but we do not add, nor will we add, one jot to those obligations, except in the area already covered by the Locarno Treaty. Let us make our position on that absolutely clear. We accept no obligations beyond those shared by the League except the obligations which devolve on us from Locarno.
Now I come to the second set of undertakings in this Paper. Those are the undertakings we are prepared to enter into with a view to securing, if we can, a final settlement of this troubled European situation. They are to be found in Paragraph VII of this White Paper. Briefly put, the scheme is that there should be, as suggested by the German Chancellor, a number of non aggression pacts, and that in Western Europe these non-aggression pacts should he guaranteed by Britain and Italy. That is the German Chancellor's scheme; but, over and above that, in our own proposals there will be pacts of mutual assistance between the Powers of Western Europe which would differ from Locarno in this, that the guarantees would be reciprocal, and that we should share with others in the guarantees as well as in the risks. Those mutual assistance pacts would, of course, be open to all the signatories of Locarno including Germany. I am talking now of the permanent settlement we wish to reach, not of the temporary arrangement to restore confidence open to all the signatories. They would be supplemented by staff conversations on exactly the same lines and with the same limitations as I have stressed before. The general scheme of this central part of our proposal is very much like the scheme of the Air Pact which has been under discussion for some time past.
Finally, I come to the position with which we should be faced if negotiations were to fail. The House may say, "Why do you want at this stage to visualise failure? Why was it necessary, in trying to start negotiations, to contemplate failure?" The answer is a simple one. If we were to ask the Powers, as we do ask in this document, who enjoy guarantees under Locarno to come into a conference when we should seek to make a new scheme of security for Europe they would surely be entitled to turn round and say: "That is all very well, but what if those negotiations break
down? Are we left without Locarno and without anything at all?" That was a situation which clearly had to be met, and it was to meet it that this draft letter was proposed. This letter contains two undertakings. The first, in paragraph (b) is that the Powers concerned:
Will immediately come to the assistance of your Government, in accordance with the Treaty of Locarno, in respect of any measures which shall be jointly decided upon.
That paragraph adds nothing to the obligations of Locarno except the word "jointly," which is clearly of considerable importance to us. Paragraph (c) contains two most important elements to which I would draw the attention of the House. It only applies to the event of an unprovoked aggression, and the assurances which it gives are strictly reciprocal, that is to say they are dependent upon the receipt of reciprocal assurances from Belgium and from France. The staff conversations visualised in paragraph (d) are again under the same limited conditions as apply in paragraph III of this White Paper.
To sum up, then, the position of our engagements: Except in respect of the parts of Europe covered by our Locarno obligations, our obligations are precisely the same as those of any other member of the League of Nations. Even in respect of the area covered by the Locarno Treaty there is no new commitment, but only arrangements for the more effectual fulfilment of commitments which already exist. We have visualised these not because they necessarily appeal to us, but because we think it imperative to make some contribution to try to secure negotiations to solve our present difficulties. I freely admit that it is not impossible to find faults with this White Paper—I could find a few myself—but I have given the House the reasons for it. In the circumstances of that time, I say deliberately that I regret not one of these proposals, because the House must recall that we were met together in circumstances as grave as those that have faced any Governments since the War. The international position was extremely complicated. Few people in this country yet realise the immense significance to certain parts of Europe of that demilitarised zone. There were latent dangers which are not yet wholly appreciated. Our justification for these proposals lies simply in this, that at a moment of crisis they allayed the immediate prospects of steps being taken which might have led to war. They earned us a breathing space and we have now concluded the first phase of our efforts to preserve peace in a situation of difficulty which we have done nothing ourselves to create. My justification for this White Paper, and the Government's justification, is that no less than peace was in the balance when these meetings took place. If the House will weigh the danger of war against this document, I am convinced that their judgment will be the same as that of the Government—that it was worth while.
Of all these proposals, the one to which we attach most importance is the one which opens up opportunities for new negotiations. That is the phase we want to reach. If we are to reach it, as I said, we must have a contribution from the German Government. So far, despite all our efforts—and they have been many—none has been forthcoming, save the Chancellor's undertaking not to increase the number of troops that originally entered the zone. While admitting the importance of that, quite frankly, in the present international situation it is not enough. If, in addition to that, the German Government would give an undertaking that for the period of negotiations it would not fortify the zone, that would give us something to work upon, but I am informed that it is not possible for the German Government to give even that undertaking.
Our objectives in all this are threefold—first, to avert the danger of war, second, to create conditions in which negotiations can take place and third, to bring about the success of those negotiations so that they may strengthen collective security, further Germany's return to the League and, in a happier atmosphere, allow those larger negotiations on economic matters and on matters of armaments which are indispensable to the appeasement of Europe to take place. I assure the House that it is the appeasement of Europe as a whole that we have constantly before us. It would not be difficult to blame the Government because everything that each one of us would like has not been done. It would not be difficult to blame us because some particular thing has been done that an individual critic might have preferred left undone. But such a criticism is of little value, unless it takes account of the conditions in which we have to work, of our obligations and the fact that France and Belgium on the one side and Germany on the other, view these things from different angles. Some people in this country could quickly produce an agreement that would suit Germany and ourselves. Others could produce an agreement that would suit, France and ourselves. But, if we are to get agreement at all, we have to get them both at a table and our objective is to get them there.
What are the chances of achieving that now? Much, clearly, depends on the proposals which the German Chancellor has been good enough to tell us he is going to make at the beginning of next week. We know that the Chancellor, who has I believe, appreciated the efforts which the British Government have made, will understand with what anxiety Europe awaits those proposals. He can be assured, so far as we are concerned, that those proposals will be received, not only with an open mind, but with a keen desire to make the best use we can of them in order to bring about the permanent pacification of Europe. I say this all the more sincerely because we are conscious of the difficulties of our time. There is another essential condition if these conversations are to start and are to have any chance of success. We need time. We must reduce the present tempo of international exchanges and we need a calmer and quieter atmosphere in which to attempt to study these new proposals when they come next week and to take stock of the general situation as we then find it. When we have those proposals, we shall need an indispensable breathing space, and any action we shall take, will simply be calculated to try to steady the situation to that end.
I am approaching my concluding plea which is addressed not only to this country. We are, I believe, only at the beginning of a period which must be, at best, one of most critical international negotiations. I do not view the future with a light heart, but there are a few general observations which I want to make and which, I think, the Foreign Secretary of this country ought to make without restraint at this time. I do not intend to approach the problem of the immediate future with the idea of being bound to the divergent policies either of France or of Germany. Our policy is the Covenant and our membership of the League. We know our obligations and we are prepared to fulfil them. But what is uppermost in my mind and what, I believe, is uppermost in the min is of the great mass of the people of this country, is that we must persist in our search for peace on an enduring foundation. If we are to achieve that we shall need help from all.
I say, first, to the British public: We cannot secure peace unless you are prepared frankly to recognise the real perplexities of the present international situation. We cannot ensure peace if you refuse to take upon yourselves obligations to assist us at this time. We cannot ensure peace, unless, in this country and elsewhere, we divest ourselves of prejudices about this or that foreign nation and unless in this country we can divest ourselves of prejudices about our own politicians. It is fantastic to suggest that we are tied to the chariot wheels of this or that foreign country. I would like to say to France, that we cannot ensure peace unless the French Government is ready to approach, with an open mind, the problems which still separate it from Germany. I would like to say to Germany: How can we hope to enter on negotiations with any prospect of success, unless you are prepared to do something to allay the anxieties in Europe which you have created?
If we are to bring a happy issue out of all our troubles, the British public, whose one aim is peace, whose one ambition is a European settlement and whose one political objective is support of the League of Nations, will judge other nations by the spirit in which, and the extent to which, they co-operate with us in this task. We are conscious that the country feels deeply upon this issue. I would ask it to think deeply also. I do not believe that, at this time, we shall contribute to a solution of our difficulties by fashioning our foreign policy exclusively on that of any foreign country, but rather by seeking to understand the difficulties that exist in each and attempting to contrive a common meeting-place. That is our whole objective.
Nobody, I think, in this House will envy me my task at this time. He would be an unimaginative being indeed who did not appreciate its burden. But there is always some comfort in approaching a task the fulfilment of which, could it ever be attained, is one's keenest desire. A strengthened League of Nations, an ordered Europe, a greater confidence in which nations would rely less on arms and more on law and order—are these things truly impossible of achievement? They are very difficult at this time, but, out of this unpromising outlook opportunities may be offered. If we are to seize them, it is imperative that as a country we should be united in policy and in purpose. These issues far transcend the ordinary limitations of party politics. When the whole future of our civilisation may be at stake, who cares about party labels? I would ask for the continuance of that support which has been so generously extended to me in the last few weeks and I would ask it because I believe that the purpose for which I am working—with how many errors and through how many discussions—is one which is shared by the great majority of the men and women of this country. It is to maintain peace, to strengthen the League, to uphold the sanctity of treaties, and above all to seek, without respite, to fashion from the troubled present a future which may be freed from the haunting fears that shadow our own time.
I desire, in my first words, to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary for what he said to us regarding the fact that we have left him unharassed in this House for nearly three weeks to discharge his very heavy responsibility—three weeks of very great tension not yet greatly relaxed. There is in this country, widespread, a passion for peace, but there are also, I think, certain emotions, certain thoughts, of which it is well that we should speak frankly. We have in this country, or many of the inhabitants of this country have, an illusion of automatic security in which is still geographically an island. We still cultivate states of mind, many of us, which are immeasurably remote from those of our Continental neighbours just across the narrow seas. The right hon. Gentleman has been in negotiation with representatives of foreign countries. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have also been in contact last week with re- presentatives of the Socialist and trade union movements in foreign lands, and it is only right that I should say here that in those conversations we have found, in every free land neighbouring on Germany, a state of fear, whether it be in Holland, Switzerland, Denmark, or just across the Baltic in civilised Sweden.
In all these countries there is fear of the present régime in Germany, and I desire very briefly and in a sentence or two to recapitulate one of the conversations which I have had in these last days with a distinguished public man and Socialist, from the Netherlands, who said to me that it was well that we in England should understand—he hoped particularly that his fellow Socialists in England would understand—that Holland has not even got the fortifications which Belgium and France have thrown up along their frontiers, that Holland too has a frontier on part of the demilitarised zone, that the people of Holland hear the tramp of marching men beyond the frontier and the whirr of bombing aeroplanes and the echoes of broadcast speeches, and that they are afraid for their children. In Holland they have spent money on public works, on building roads and bridges to employ their unemployed, and they find that other people are building roads and bridges to link up with theirs just across the frontier, and they wonder whether their public works have been for their public benefit. Such is the emotional background of Europe, and we islanders do well to take account of it.
From that I pass to the White Paper. There are several features in the White Paper which are quite unacceptable to the Labour party, and it is important that I should make that plain. For demilitarised zones in general there is no doubt much to be said, and for an international force in general there is much to be said. Indeed, the Labour party is firmly committed to the principle of an international force, particularly an international air force, to keep the peace and to replace as far as possible national air forces. So much in general, but for the particular proposal in the White Paper, which the right hon. Gentleman did not specifically defend, of a mixed British and Italian force stationed exclusively on German soil, there is, in the judgment of my hon. Friends, nothing to be said. It is indeed a fantastic and an absurd proposal, and we are astonished that it should ever have been made, even under the conditions of negotiation which the right hon. Gentleman has described. Imagine British and Italian soldiers stationed together at this time, the Italian soldiers reading the latest declamations of Signor Mussolini in the Italian Chamber of Deputies in which the name of England was hissed. I think the right hon. Gentleman knows his proposal is fantastic.
In the second place, the proposal for military consultations between the staffs of this country, France, Belgium, and Italy—Italy again—is not acceptable to my hon. Friends on these benches. As the Foreign Secretary himself has said, there were consultations only a few weeks ago between the British and French staffs in relation to the situation in the Mediterranean, and now you are bringing Italy in on the other side of the table for consultations about another part of Europe. I submit that this also is a fantastic proposal, which Signor Mussolini appears so far to have treated with silent contempt. I think the right hon. Gentleman has not yet heard from Rome.
Further, this proposal for staff consultations was made at a time when the Council of the League was in session in London, and is it not the attitude of all who support the League that any threat to the peace of the world is a matter that concerns the whole League and not merely a group of Locarno Powers? How comes it that the Council of the League dispersed so quickly, and how comes it that protest was made, with much justification, by the representative of Poland, and perhaps by others, though it has not been reported, that the Locarno Powers appear to have treated this matter as specially a concern of their own? Colonel Beck made a protest.
My point is that Colonel Beck, in the name of Poland, protested that the Locarno Powers were negotiating in a. corner and that the Council of the League was not fully seized of what they were proposing to do, and that they were subsequently confronted with proposals which they had had no time to consider as members of the League Council. The impression created by these proceedings—the right hon. Gentleman has done his best to disabuse the public mind of that impression, and I am glad he has—is that the British Government were trying to manoeuvre this country away from a League of Nations policy into an Anglo-French alliance. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is the impression. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am not saying that I still entertain the impression after the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but I am saying that if hon. Members will read the papers they will find that that is the impression that has been widely created. I do not say that the evidence was sufficient for the Press in all cases to go upon, but the point is that this is the Impression that has been created by the hole and corner operations of a small number of the members of the League Council at a time when the Council as a whole should have been seized of the matter.
I also regret to add—and here again I refer hon. Members opposite to the Press I am basing myself on what has appeared in the Press—that this impression, that we were seeking a narrowly Anglo-French approach to this matter rather than a League of Nations approach, has had the most unfortunate effect of fanning the flickering fires of anti-French prejudice in this country, a prejudice which is ignorant and unworthy and which I deeply deplore, but it has been fanned as a result of the impression created by the proceedings of the right hon. Gentleman And his colleagues. This country will not support—we may take this for granted—an exclusive Anglo-French military alliance. That is what some organs of the Press have been frightening them into believing was in view. They will not support it, but I believe that this country will support, and the Labour party certainly will support, a sturdy organisation of collective security through the League of Nations. Locarno is the child of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain).
So far as this country is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman was Foreign Secretary at the time, and it was in that sense that I intended my allusion. Dr. Stresemann and M. Briand likewise played an important part in the Locarno Treaties, but it was in the preceding year, 1924, that the late Arthur Henderson and M. Herriot contrived at Geneva the Geneva Protocol, as it was called. The Locarno Treaties were a substitute for that, because the Conservative party at that time was not prepared to accept the Geneva Protocol, and I deeply regret that they were not so prepared. Locarno, even if Germany had not now repudiated it, is not enough, in the conditions of modern Europe and the modern world. Its geographical limits, I submit, are far too narrow to be realistic to-day, and I regret the emphasis which the Foreign Secretary placed, if I understood him aright, upon the sharp distinction still to be observed in the foreign policy of this country between the major obligations of Locarno and the minor obligations which might arise under the Covenant of the League, if peace were threatened in any part of the world outside the Locarno area. I regret that distinction. If I have misinterpreted the right hon. Gentleman, he will correct me.
I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I did not say either "major" or "minor"; I did not refer to the obligations of the Covenant as "minor" at all.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will in that case not disagree with me when I say that for the effective organisation of peace to-day, the very smallest possible area which it is realistic to contemplate is the whole of the Continent of Europe, including the Soviet Union especially if, to put it still more realistically, you are thinking of the maximum force which you could mobilise on your side. If we can get an area wider than the whole of Europe, so much the better, but at least we should take in all Europe, including those Slav nations, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as Soviet Russia, which are an integral part of the European community. In 1924 the Labour party stood for the Geneva Protocol, and by its principles we stand to-day. [Interruption.] I do not propose to exchange words with the insignificant faction below the Gangway.
I am speaking of a period of history before that little faction below the Gangway subtracted itself from the Labour party. In 1924 the Labour party stood, and it stands to-day, by the principles of the Geneva Protocol, in which there is no special separation of the West European zone from the general problem of the organisation of security in Europe as a whole. I am not desiring to score a political point, but, looking at the situation now, looking at the relative weight of forces to-day, looking at the potential combination on either side if the horror of war should come now, I say that the wisdom of the Geneva Protocol was greater than the wisdom of Locarno. We are justified to-day in regretting that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) when he was Foreign Secretary thrust aside the structure which the late Mr. Arthur Henderson and M. Herriot had erected and substituted a structure of his own, far less potent in maintaining peace to-day.
Let me return to the immediate situation. It is only right to say bluntly and frankly that public opinion in this country would not support, and certainly the Labour party would not support, the taking of military sanctions or even economic sanctions against Germany at this time, in order to put German troops out of the German Rhineland. Public opinion would not support that. Public opinion, here does, I think, draw a clear distinction between the action of Signor Mussolini in resorting to aggressive war and waging it beyond his frontiers and the actions, up-to-date at any rate, of Herr Hitler which, much as we may regard them as reprehensible, have taken place within the frontiers of the German Reich. The public here draw that distinction, and it is a proper distinction.
The moral arising is a twofold one. The first is that we should proceed vigorously, certainly more vigorously than at present, through the League with economic and financial sanctions against Signor Mussolini, who is still killing Abyssinians, still using British oil. These things are still going on. Let them not pass into the background of our minds. If we desire to vindicate the collective system and to encourage others to take note of it and to profit by the lesson, we should press forward much more vigorously than at the present time with these economic and financial sanctions which, if they were pressed a little harder and a little longer, would bring the aggression of Signor Mussolini to a halt, and would thereby be a tremendous vindication of the collective system. Secondly, we should take immediate steps to organise, through the League of Nations, real collective security against any possible future aggressor, whoever he might be.
Last week there assembled, as I have already mentioned, a conference in London representing many millions of workers not only in this country but in other democratic lands of Europe, and in the course of a manifesto which they issued the following passage occurred:
The peace of the world is threatened. There is only one means by which it can be safeguarded. We must resolutely organise collective security. The principles of the Locarno Pact should be strengthened and extended and be applied through the League of Nations as widely as possible. Peace is indivisible. All must rally unhesitatingly to the support of any State attacked by an aggressor, and an agreement must be made to this end. This agreement must provide for prompt and united support for any victim of aggression.
Not the slow-motion picture that we have had in Abyssinia:
It should be general and open to all, in conformity with the principles of the League of Nations, and consequently it must not include any discrimination against Soviet Russia, such as Herr Hitler's proposals imply.
I believe that is the right line of approach to the organisation of collective security. Let us say to the German people, in all friendship and in all frankness, if our voices can reach them undistorted: "We wish you no ill. We recognise your title to equality, equality in political status, and equality in economic opportunity. We recognise that, but we do not recognise the right of any nation, you or any nation, to an overbearing and brutal predominance in the world. We shall welcome you back to the League of Nations if you will now freely and loyally accept the common obligations of the Covenant to keep the peace and join in an international agreement to limit armaments, subject to international supervision and control, and
co-operate peacefully in seeking to modify, not by brutal force or threats but by friendly discussion, by resort, if need be, to conciliation and arbitration, any treaties of which you make complaint, or any international situations of which you make complaint. Let these matters be brought in a friendly and decent fashion before some tribunal of reasonable, fair-minded people and let the whole thing be examined, with an open mind and in a fair spirit. On these terms we will welcome you back."
Let us also add this assurance to the German people, in order to remove some of the fears which they entertain: "If you come back into the League you will have no need for the over-powering armaments which you are building up now. If you come back into the League we will collectively guarantee the inviolability of your frontiers. We do not know which of your immediate neighbours you most fear, Holland, or Denmark, or Czechoslovakia, but if anyone attacks you we will guarantee, collectively, the inviolability of your frontiers against any State which attacks you. If anyone attacks you we shall all be at your side. Equally, if you attack anyone else we shall all be at their side, not only the Locarno group of Powers, not only the west European Powers, but all the Powers in the League, at any rate in Europe."
If the present rulers of Germany will come in with the rest of us on such terms, well and good. If the right hon. Gentleman can bring them in he will have earned all the credit which will belong to him. If they refuse to come in, what then? Then a slightly different situation will be created. If that happens, to quote again from the manifesto issued by the Socialist and trade union movements of the democratic countries of Europe:
It would then be the duty of Governments and peoples to orgarise peace without Hitlerite Germany and to take all measures of collective security necessary for maintaining peace.
I hope that we shall not be confronted with that position. None the less, if we are, it must surely be agreed that the civilised world cannot allow any one Power to veto the organisation of peace.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the need for clarity. I hope that at this moment British policy will be clear and precise and well understood abroad. I was not very happy with what he said about his sympathy for the "no entanglement" slogan. I understood him to say that although, as far as Locarno was concerned, we stood by it 100 per cent. yet we would not be drawn into quarrels that were not our own. Am I right in saying that—that we would not be drawn into quarrels that were not our own? If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I am misrepresenting him I will give way. The point that I wish to emphasise is that in Europe there are no quarrels which are not our own. If the peace of Europe is disturbed anywhere then it is disturbed everywhere.
Then if so, why Locarno? Either Locarno is more precise and clear than the Covenant or it is not. In the latter case Locarno was unnecessary and in the former case we need not Locarno but the Geneva Protocol, which makes it clear that wherever peace is broken in Europe we are deeply concerned. You are like a person sitting in a field of dry grass and saying that it does not concern him because some fool has thrown down a lighted match in another part of the field. Europe in these days is not a very large field, and the grass is very dry.
Do you think that you will get Poland and the other States of Eastern Europe whole-heartedly to come with you on behalf of collective security, if you go about making speeches suggesting that you are very deeply interested in the peace of Western Europe but that the peace of Eastern and Central Europe is by comparison a secondary concern? As the right hon. Gentleman has not interrupted me, I trust that I have not misrepresented him. I hope that the Government will think again before they underline any sharp distinction between the Western European area of the Locarno Powers and Eastern and Central Europe, which is equally important. To Germany it is important that we should say that we do not draw that sharp distinction, otherwise Germany will think that she has obtained that free hand in Eastern and Central Europe for which Herr Hitler has been playing during these past weeks. Let us make it clear that so far as we are concerned he has no free hand to attack either Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, or Soviet Russia through any convenient door which may be opened for him.
I do not want to do an injustice to the right hon. Gentleman's position, but we regret the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been so cold regarding our obligations to prevent incursions by Germany eastwards, southwards or southeastwards. We regard the preservation of peace within the Locarno area as of no more importance than its preservation elsewhere in Europe. A year ago I happened to be in central Europe and I met there a statesman of great experience and some status at Geneva, who said, "If only England would speak plainly there would be no war in Europe." I believe that to be true. It might have been added that if only Sir Edward Grey had spoken plainly in 1914 there might have been no war in that year. Do not let us repeat this fatal formula of "no entanglement in Europe unless we are very directly concerned." We are concerned, far more directly than is often realised, in any quarrels anywhere on the Continent of Europe.
I return to the White Paper and particularly to page 5 of it. The right hon. Gentleman said very little about the international conference which is referred to on that page. I want to know when this conference is to assemble and what preparation, if any, is to be made. We have recently had two fiascos, in the World Economic Conference convened by this Government and in the Disarmament Conference, which was not convened by this Government but in regard to which this Government has not played a very noble part. When are preparations to be put on foot for dealing with the very important matters referred to on page 5 of the White Paper? I do not merely mean an agreement—and this is the point about which I have been asking—for organising. on an effective basis, arrangements for collective security. I refer to the other problems of the effective limitation of arms and of an international arrangement in the economic field. Perhaps whoever speaks for the Government later will tell us what is being done, because these are very urgent matters. There is not much more time to lose, if we are to check the hideous arms race which is going on at full tilt at the present time, if we are to enter into effective discussions on the armaments and economic problems.
In my view, preparations for the economic side of the conference should start if possible at once. I do not see any reason why we should not bring German and other representatives to join in some committee, which should be constituted in order that we may know as soon as possible what are their grievances. Let them formulate their grievances in some precise form, so that they can be considered by a preparatory committee. Let studies be undertaken in order that we may know how far those grievances can be remedied.
I should hope, of course, that it would be done through the Council of the League. After all, we are in the Council of the League. I want to know what action the Government are taking through the proper channels, and through the Council of the League. The question is extremely urgent and very burning, and the sooner it is tackled the better, particularly by way of preparatory studies, before you assemble your full conference and risk a large defeat before you have made your preparations. On this economic question, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. George Lansbury) was at one time a voice crying in the wilderness. To-day he can begin to see, if not yet the fruits of his labours, at any rate a great and growing reinforcement of the appeal which he made almost alone at one time, an appeal then falling on deaf ears, that economic questions should be thoroughly and systematically studied with a view to large changes if necessary in what I may call the economic and colonial lay-out of the world.
I do not wish to go into detail here about the economic side of the matter, but I only express the hope that His Majesty's Government will be prepared in the economic side of the discussion to examine with an open mind any proposals that may be put up by any of the so-called dissatisfied nations, and that nothing will be ruled out, but that anything that those nations desire to be examined will be examined with sympathy and thoroughness. It may well be, in the course of these discussions, that a number of special British privileges will have to be surrendered for the sake of the peaceful and prosperous future of the world as a whole, and that some of the steps which the Government are taking, and which have the effect of restricting markets through protective tariffs or similar device will have to be retraced as a contribution towards the appeasement and greater prosperity of the world. So far as the colonial aspect of the matter is concerned, it may well be that a further extension of the mandatory system and an intensification, if I may so put it, of the interpretation of the mandatory system will have to be undertaken. If the Government attach importance to the economic side of the matter, I hope that they will not begin by laying down barriers to the consideration of problems of this kind. We may have to experiment boldly in economic justice if we are to get international peace.
We shall get an answer I understand later on, as to this international conference, when it is to be assembled, and what steps are being taken to speed up its assembly and the preparations for its work. That is, in a sense, the most important thing in the White Paper, which for the most part raises questions which are more immediate, whereas this, we know, will be of a permanent nature. I wish to follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman, and the tribute which he paid to the House at large, by not unduly debating with him, and I do not think I have done so, for we all have this common interest. This country is still a very great Power and, if we choose to pull our weight, as I hope we will, the difference between His Majesty's Government making a proposal direct to Germany and making it through the Council of the League of Nations, while, of course, juridically very important, is not, I hope, quite so important practically. If we are determined to seek peace with Germany and with other nations, I am confident that the Council of the League of Nations will not stand in our way in that matter, and will allow the lead to be given. Now is the hour for a lead to be given, and for Britain to bestir herself in a supreme effort of brave and generous statesmanship to remove the causes of ill will between the nations, to banish the hideous fears which gnaw at all our hearts and to do our best to make the world safe for our children.
The last thing I want to do this afternoon is to add to the gravity of the task of the Secretary of State or to the embarrassments by which any course which he may pursue is bound to be beset. Well-deserved tributes have been paid by the Secretary of State this afternoon, and by the Leader of the Opposition last week, to the restraint and moderation with which the case for France and Belgium was presented by their statesmen in London, at the meetings of the Locarno Powers and at the League Council last week, but it is only fair for me, as a political opponent who feels deep forebodings as to some aspects of the Government s policy, to add that the Secretary of State has handled a perilously critical situation, which would have tested the qualities and capacity of the most experienced Foreign Minister, with patience, resource and a sincere and resolute devotion to peace for which we ought all to pay him tribute.
The two main factors in the situation are well known. On the one hand, Herr Hitler has broken a treaty which he himself had undertaken to respect. Respect for treaties is one of the foundations on which alone an enduring structure for peace can be built. Herr Hitler pleads that he ignored the treaty because he regarded the Franco-Soviet Pact as inconsistent, not only with the terms of the Treaty of Locarno but with the spirit of the international understanding which it expresses; yet that pact, although it was only recently ratified, was signed a year ago. The Secretary of State has reminded us that in the interval between signature and ratification it would have been possible for Herr Hitler to have taken his objections to arbitration. It would be unforgiveable blindness not to recognise, and for Herr Hitler not to realise, that his failure to exhaust the peaceful remedies that were available to test the validity of the Franco-Soviet Pact, and his preference for the use of force, have gravely perturbed public opinion, not only in France and Belgium but in this country, even among those of us who are most anxious to see Germany taking her rightful place as an honoured member of the family of nations on terms of complete equality. In such circumstances, it seems to me that France is entitled by the terms of the Treaty of Locarno, to which all parties in this House are committed and to which they have assented, to ask us to concert with her measures of defence against any possible act of unprovoked aggression from Germany during the period of the crisis, just as we asked France, under Article 16 of the Covenant—and France agreed—to concert such measures with us, when we were menaced by aggression from another quarter in the Mediterranean.
The other factor in the situation is no less important. No effort to substitute the rule of law for anarchy in international relationships can possibly succeed unless there is a fundamental basis of consent, unless there is recognition of the equal rights of all nations, unless justice is meted out with an even hand to all who are within the reach of the law and unless constitutional means exist and are used for the peaceful revision of obsolete treaties. There is one other requirement, to which I shall refer later, that the law must be clear, plain and unambiguous. It has been made abundantly clear in the last 10 or 15 years that Germany will refuse that fundamental consent to the rule of law until she obtains equality of rights and treatment from the League. Germany is already breaking the shackles of Versailles, and we ought to have struck them off before now. No system of law can preserve the status quo, or can be immune from the laws of growth and change. The League must prove itself capable of revising obsolete treaties. Germany offered only a year or two ago to limit her army to 200,000 men, and then to 300,000 men. She offered to limit her air force to 50 per cent. of the air force of France. We missed those opportunities of reaching agreement based on consent, and of giving her that equality of rights and treatment which every member of the League is entitled to demand. Now Germany accompanies her brusque and defiant occupation of the Rhineland with another offer of peace. We must not let slip this opportunity for finding a basis for the rule of law, to which, for the first time, Germany with every other nation in Europe would freely consent.
Having said that, I do not mean to suggest that Herr Hitler's offer as it stands should be accepted. That would be wrong, for three reasons. The first is that confidence in Germany's good faith has been profoundly shaken by Herr Hitler's methods of diplomacy. Secondly, he has accompanied it with fulminations against Russia, and if Germany returns to the League she must concede to Russia—I agree with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), also to Austria, Czechoslovakia and all her fellow-members of the League—that equality of status which she so rightly claims for herself. The third reason is that Herr Hitler's offer makes no mention of disarmament except to a Western air pact; and disarmament, coupled with inspection, must be the acid test of its sincerity.
Therefore, in my judgment, the Government are right to reply by making counter-proposals on a more comprehensive basis. Indeed, the course they are proposing, of summoning a world conference to stop the drift to war and the armaments race, is one which my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and other hon. and right hon. Friends of mine, as well as myself, have been urging on the Government for some time past. I only hope that the Government have not delayed too long. Let me say a word about this world conference. The Secretary of State covered a great deal of ground in a very short time, and naturally he was dealing more immediately with the urgent issues of the immediate situation, the full gravity of which, of course, probably only he in this House completely realises; but I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that this world conference is a vital issue, and I hope that the Government will not allow it to be wrecked, as the World Economic Conference was wrecked, by insisting upon maintaining and increasing the economic armaments of the British Empire. If such a conference is set up, preferential tariffs and quotas must be scrapped, and trusteeship for the natives and for civilisation, and the open door for the traders of other nations, must be recognised as essential justification of the possession of Colonial territories.
There are several details of the White Paper on which I should have liked to comment, but I know that many other Members wish to speak. I want, therefore, to come straight to the core of the matter, which I think resides in the draft letter on the last page of the White Paper. Although I listened to the Secretary of State with great interest, and I admit that some of the worst of my apprehensions were to a certain extent allayed by his statement on this subject to-day, I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he is going to reply, will be able to give us some more information about this matter. I said just now that the law of nations, and the same applies to all our international commitments, should be expressed in clear and unambiguous language. It was a shocking thing to find that, when the Treaty of Locarno was called in question, the English text was different in its meaning from the French, and the experts differed as to the meaning of the French text. Let us scrutinise carefully the text of the proposals that we have before us to-day—proposals embodying commitments upon which the lives of men and the safety of nations may depend. This letter enumerates the steps which His Majesty's Government will take—I quote from the White Paper—
if the effort of conciliation attempted in the said arrangement should fail.
Is it quite clear that we are going to be the judges of the failure? Past failures have not been entirely due to Germany; they have hot been entirely Germany's fault. Is it quite clear that these obligations will not come into operation until we are satisfied that the negotiations have failed, and have failed through the fault of Germany? My objection to this letter is that by signing it His Majesty's Government may seem, to opinion in this country and to foreign opinion, to have forfeited their status as mediator. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman has pointed, out that, even under the present obligations of Locarno, our status as mediator is to some extent compromised by our status as guarantor. What we want to be certain about is that our status as mediator has not been forfeited, and that we are not now regarded by France and Belgium as pledge-bound
allies. I hope it will be made abundantly clear that we have retained our freedom of action.
Our obligation under this letter is to consider the "steps to be taken to meet the new situation thus created"—an obligation, again to quote the White Paper, to
take—all practical measures available to His Majesty's Government for the purpose of ensuring the security of your country against unprovoked aggression.
Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer tell the House what meaning the Government attach to these words "unprovoked aggression"? I will put it in this way. If the Government do not wish to give a definition of unprovoked aggression—and I understand that the present Government, like previous Governments, have taken the view that that is a phrase which it is impossible fully and adequately to define—at any rate will they tell us that the terms of this undertaking do not amount to an honourable commitment which would be held, in any future international crisis, to fetter in any degree the judgment of Parliament as to whether any particular action by Germany amounted to unprovoked aggression? Then I would ask the Government to what obligations are the general staffs of our naval, military and air forces going to be authorised to commit us?
I do not mean political obligations, but to what military obligations, in the event of a casus foederis arising, will the general staffs be authorised to commit us? Will they include, for example, the despatch of an expeditionary force to the Continent of Europe? Will they include, therefore, the adoption of conscription? What limits have the Government set to the obligations—I do not mean political obligations, but the naval, military and air force obligations—to which the staffs are authorised to commit us? To what obligations is the Naval Staff authorised to commit us? Speaking at Glasgow in November, 1934, the Prime Minister said:
Never, so long as I have any responsibility in governing this country, will I sanction the British Navy being used for an armed blockade of any country in the world until I know what the United States of America is going to do.
I ask specifically, has the Naval Staff been authorised to enter into any obligations which conflict with that undertaking given by the Prime Minister to the country litte more than a year ago? For my part, I feel convinced that public opinion in this country, as expressed in the Peace Ballot and in its response to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) at Geneva in September, is prepared to make sacrifices to assert the rule of law. In that it will have the support, I believe, of powerful currents of opinion in the United States of America. But support will never be forthcoming from that quarter, and will never be whole-hearted in this country, for a military alliance. It is only for an effort to build peace upon a rule of law that such support will be forthcoming.
But it would be a mockery of the rule of law, when Italy, with armies 300,000 strong, is invading the territory of a fellow-member of the League, when her airmen deliberately bomb and machine-gun British, Swedish and Abyssinian Red Cross units, and use gas and incendiary bombs against open towns many miles behind the front line, that Italy should be designated as the instrument of justice to correct Germany, whose Government has indeed broken a treaty, but only to the extent of sending troops into its own territory. Two offenders against the Covenant of the League and the law of nations stand at the bar of world opinion. Justice demands that the worse and earlier offender should at least be compelled to submit to the law, and to withdraw his troops from the territory he has invaded, before he is employed as a warder to hold the other offender in custody.
I agree with the Secretary of State that—I think this is a paraphrase of what he said—the present situation is at once the Most dangerous and possibly the most hopeful since the War; but, to avert the dangers and fulfil the hopes, we must avoid military alliances, we must stick to the League, and we must bring the German Government to the test of the sincerity of its proposals. If we are to accord full equality to Germany—and on no other basis, in my belief, can European peace be secured—we must treat Herr Hitler's utterances with respect, and give them careful study. There are three of
his utterances to which I want to draw particular attention, because they appear to me to form the basis for a constructive proposal. Take, to begin with, his Munich speech, in which he said:
The German people do not wish to continue waging war to readjust frontiers. Each of them is bought by sacrifices out of proportion to what is gained. The German people know a quicker and more natural way of making up for loss of population.
That rings true. Both he and General Blomberg have made a series of remarkable speeches warning German youth against what they call "the facile romance of a fresh and jolly war." They recognise, as we do, that war would be a catastrophe for every nation engaged in it, and that Germany's position in Europe is now incomparably weaker than it was in 1914. He went on to say at Munich:
We have to bear in mind that in a crisis no State can judge the rights and wrongs of its position for itself.
He made that statement in relation to the allegations of German war guilt, but he can hardly refuse to recognise that it must apply all round, to Germany as to other nations. Germany must realise that, just as the French policy of pacts arouses her suspicion, so her policy of an armed fait accompli must alarm her neighbours. To-day it is the Rhineland; to-morrow it may be Memel, Danzig, Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Corridor, Silesia or Schleswig-Holstein.
Now, hearing in mind these two passages from Herr Hitler's speech, in which he recognises that the State cannot claim to judge the rights and wrongs of its position for itself, and declares that the German people do not wish to continue waging war to readjust frontiers, let us turn to the first point in his memorandum:
The German Government declares itself ready to enter immediately into negotiations with France and Belgium for the establishment of a neutral demilitarised zone, and to give its agreement on the basis of full parity to any suggestion as to the depth and nature thereof.
For obvious reasons the Locarno Powers have refused to discuss it, as it stands. It would mean the utter destruction of scores of millions of pounds worth of defensive fortifications on French and Belgian soil. But why
should not the same principle which Herr Hitler would apply to the Franco-Belgian frontier of Germany be applied to the frontiers of other States which feel alarmed at the increasing armaments of Germany, jest as Germany feels alarmed at the military pacts of France? On these other frontiers there are few important fortifications to hinder the establishment of demilitarised zones, yet such zones would provide a substantial measure of mutual protection and security to Germany and to her neighbours and would banish the fear that the present or any future Government of Germany might extend the policy of the fait accompli to one of frontier rectification at the expense of her neighbours. It would give a new sense of security to Europe and would I meet to the full Herr Hitler's demand for equality of treatment.
Let us, then, make it clear to France and Germany that, while we will support them against any unprovoked aggression across their frontiers, while we will remain loyal to all our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Kellogg Pact, we will enter into no military alliance against anyone. Our foreign policy should be firmly and immovably based on the Covenant—of which there is no more sincere advocate than the Foreign Secretary himself—a policy of military and economic disarmament, of collective security in which all countries, and not merely groups of allies, must participate, and of justice and equality for all nations.
It is with some diffidence that I intrude, as a new and untried Member, in a Debate of such importance. I promise that my time will be very short. There are only certain considerations to which I wish specially to draw attention. The Foreign Secretary, in what I think must have been one of the most telling and effective speeches ever delivered in this House, drew special attention to what to my mind is the greatest anxiety as regards British public opinion, namely, that, whereas the British people were at this moment feeling deeply, they were Lot thinking deeply in the least. We, hear on both sides of the House divisions and contradictions and distinctions between what are called pro-German and what are called pro-French. I have been assured—and I believe it may he true—that there is a great wave of pro-German feeling at this moment sweeping the country. I would suggest that this House should not consider waves. It should consider tides. And, even if it is a wave, it has come very late.
When, on 12th November, 1918, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) suggested that aid should be sent to relieve distressed and starving German women and children, he was told, "We cannot do that. We should be thought pro-German." When a few months later the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), with that energy that he has never lost, tried in Paris to rescue Germany from some of the more galling and crushing consequences of the Treaty then being drafted, he received from 300 Members of the House a telegram urging him not to spare Germany, because he was being pro-German. When later some of us entreated the Treasury not to confiscate the private savings of German citizens in this country we were told, "Be silent; you are being pro-German." When later the French invaded the Ruhr and brought Germany to what was the final disaster of those years, we withdrew ourselves into absolute isolation and looked on with disapproving silence. When later Stresemann came into power and there was a real chance of being able to build up all that is best in German life and character, we did not give that encouragement which we should have tendered. Finally, when Dr. Bruening, that most admirable man, was engaged in a final struggle to save Liberal Germany, we turned our shoulder upon him. Now, when Germany is strong, we fall upon our knees, we bow our foreheads in the dust, and we say "Heil, Hitler." There is a great wave of pro-German feeling.
It would be difficult for any observer noticing these things, remembering these fluctuations, observing that when Germany was weak we paid no attention to her, and now that she is strong we consider her before we consider any other Power, to think otherwise than that British public opinion was following the line of least resistance. That is not the line which I, for one, would ever support or wish this House to follow. But there is in all those fluctuations of opinion another side. There is a desire to get away from unreality to reality. Of that desire I thoroughly approve, but what is reality? What can we count on in all this fluctuation? We cannot count on these waves of pro-German and anti-French feeling. What are the elements in the essence of our policy on which we can always count? I can see only two elements on which we can always count. One is that France, however much she may dislike us, however great the divergence in our temperament, tradition and culture may be, though she may never become our friend, will never become our enemy. The second is the even more unalterable fact that the Channel is only 25 miles wide. There are two other facts that you must add to these. The first is that the French intelligence is greater than the intelligence of any country in this world, and that upon the clear working of that intelligence one can in the end depend. Their emotions and their feelings are more foolish than ours, but their minds are better.
The second point on which we can rely in dealing with France is that the French people are more solid, more peace-loving, more sensible and more thoroughly democratic than any other people in the world. Therefore we know perfectly well that no Government in France could possibly for a minute recommend an aggressive war. Do we know the same about Germany? Is there any Member in the House who believes that Germany is not a danger? The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) has himself assured us, having seen left wing members from every country in Europe, that there is a feeling of persistent and very general panic in regard to the intentions of Germany. I do not advocate a definite practical alliance with France of a durable nature to the exclusion of any other country. But I advocate—I regret that the Secretary of State was not more positive—the closest relationship with France during the critical months that are upon us. It is not what we desire that is so important at this moment. It is what other people abroad believe us to desire. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland referred, I think unwisely, to what happened in 1914. He said that, had Sir Edward Grey spoken out, we might have avoided war. He was right. The vacillation of our policy was such as to allow both sides to the controversy to gamble upon our intentions. The French and Russians had been sufficiently encouraged to believe that we were on their side. The Germans had been sufficiently encouraged to believe that we should abstain. Both sides thought we should be of help to them. Do not let us allow that to happen again.
The hon. Member did not make clear that if there is a similar lack of clarity during this crisis, if we run away from Locarno and repudiate these staff conversations, and, if we just say, "No, we go back to where we were before," if we back out of Locarno or give the impression that we are doing so—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The hon. Member has only to read the French papers. He may not agree with them. I am saying that that expression is conveyed on French public opinion. We can only reassure that opinion and convince opinion in Germany by a precision for greater than we have ever entered into before. For these reasons I feel that opinion in this House ought to express itself less definitely in terms of what we may call fair play to Germany, and more definitely in terms of fair play to Europe generally. I think that fair play boils down to exactly that difficulty to which the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland referred. We must let Europe and the world know exactly what we intend to do. It is no use merely to express virtuous intentions. We must act in such a way that the countries of Europe—Germany above all—must say, "This time they really mean it." We must say, if the frontiers of Holland, Belgium or France are crossed by any country, especially by Germany, we will within such and such a time bring so many forces, ships and aeroplanes in their defence. We must also say to France, "This is an absolute assurance backed by the whole public opinion of this country, but it is given on one condition only, that we are not dragged into your quarrel merely because of your friendship with certain Eastern Powers." We should enter into a precise agreement with France that, pending a final solution, we will without question come to her assistance with all oar forces, but we should say that only applies to the West. It has nothing to do with the East. We should say, thirdly, in order not to alarm and create uncertainly in other Eastern countries, that we will thereafter fortify the League, and that when these other barriers have been created we will destroy this temporary and unpleasant barrier within which for this intervening period we shall keep the peace.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
We have just listened to a very attractive and, I think, very useful contribution to our discussion. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) has taken a. very impartial and independent view of the whole situation. He has a personal acquaintance with the problem and a healthy acquaintance with our foreign policy in Europe which makes any contribution of his on the subject valuable in the Debates in this House. I agree with him in his characterisation of the speech of the Foreign Secretary. If t he right hon. Gentleman will allow an old Member of this House to say so, I was very fascinated by his speech. I did not agree with a good deal of it, but I thought that it was a very powerful contribution, and that he made the best possible defence of what I consider to be rather dangerous proposals. He was good enough to refer to the fact that I had my share in the framing of the Treaty of Versailles, and that I had also very freely criticised some of its provisions. I think it is too often overlooked that the framers of that treaty themselves knew that it was being drafted under conditions which made it very difficult to give final judgment upon some of the most essential problems with which they had to deal.
It was immediately after the War. Feelings were very sore in France, naturally. Some of their richest provinces had been devastated and desolated. They had lost about 1,500,000 in dead, and very naturally there was a tense and poignant feeling there. I have always thought that it was a mistake to negotiate the treaty in Paris for that reason. That is why I think that one of the services rendered by the right hon. Gentleman was to get these negotiations to London rather than to Paris. It would have been far better if that treaty had been negotiated in some neutral place like Geneva. We were living in that atmosphere the whole time. M. Clemenceau himself was a man of very great sagacity and of infinite courage, and, having regard to his career, which began with the siege of Paris, he showed a very considerable power and a certain judicial temperament. But he had to fight very powerful forces in his own country including—one can say so now—the President of the Republic, who every day was pressing him to go very much further. I think that it is well known now. I am not giving away a, secret. Marshal Foch, who was the greatest soldier in the War, often inside the French Cabinet—and they were very bitter with regard to some of the provisions—had to face all kinds of suggestions when he made any concession at all.
For that reason the Treaty was a compromise. It was recognised that a good deal of it would have to be revised, and what is always forgotten is, that there are provisions in the Treaty itself for revision. As regards the Reparations Clauses, France could not have accepted anything more moderate at that moment or the Government would have been thrown out, and it was contemplated that they should be reconsidered from time to time. The same thing applies even to boundaries and to several other provisions, and to mandates. All these things it was contemplated should be revised from time to time, and there is a provision in the Treaty to cover revisions. I only wanted to make that clear in order to show that you cannot treat it as if it were Holy Writ, or as if it were a document which even, at the time, the persons who drafted it and signed it felt that it was a final decision upon the controversies in Europe and in the world.
The right hon. Gentleman has said one or two things at which I rather rejoice. He has made it clear that the. White Paper is not an ultimatum. It is not a dictation, but is more or less, I take it, the position in which we were when we prepared our draft and submitted it to the Germans. We received the German reply. The members of the British Empire Delegation met, considered that reply and came to the conclusion that the Germans had made their case, and we had exactly the same French public opinion as that with which the right hon. Gentleman is confronted now, when they said, "You are going back on something you had agreed to." We simply agreed to that draft as proposals to be submitted to the Germans for examination by them and for their comments, and the members of the British Empire Delegation, including every Dominion and representatives of India, met and discussed the German criticisms and came to the conclusion that two or three of them were completely justified. And they went to the extent of saying—and I have refreshed my memory by looking at the notes—that unless one or two of those things were put right, including Silesia, and one or two things about Reparations, they would not sign the Treaty. The French Press were very angry. They said that we had gone back upon what we had agreed.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has taken exactly the same line, and has come to the House and stated specifically and categorically here to-day, that the White Paper simply represents proposals which are submitted to Germany for their examination and suggestions and that if they have counterproposals they will be examined on their merits; that as far as this country is concerned, we shall come to a final conclusion after we have seen and fully discussed them, and that the White Paper does not represent the final word of the Government in this controversy. That is what I understand. If I am incorrect I have no doubt that I shall be replied to. That is very important.
The second point is: If the German Government make counter-proposals—and I understand that they have undertaken to do so, and that they will be received probably next week—will they be allowed to discuss them with the Powers concerned? It is no use saying when you are inviting people over here to represent a great country, "You are coming here on equal terms with the rest," when all that they are allowed to do, is to read out a statement to a meeting of the Powers. They do not remain to discuss the terms and take part in the discussion point by point. They leave. They see the right hon. Gentleman, and they see the Prime Minister, but they are not permitted to sit with other members of the Council of the League or the other Locarno Powers and discuss these things point by point. I think that that is a. mistake. What possible objection can there be? We always had the difficulty with regard to the Treaty of Versailles, that, if we had discussions on the whole of the Treaty, we might have had to meet for a couple of years, and, therefore, we had to keep huge armies on the frontier at enormous cost. Therefore, it was decided that we should, first, of all, send in our draft and let them discuss it. It is an arguable proposition whether it would have been better or worse if we had met them and taken more time.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that a fair opportunity is given for discussion. It is a difficult thing for a man to come there and read out to a conference a statement which is written carefully and then to leave the room, and the rest of the delegates, all of them more or less of one mind, putting the case from the other side. I press the Government with regard to this matter. It is vital if you are to make peace. It is purely a question at this time to get out of the way certain preliminary difficulties which will enable you to get to the things that matter. I cannot help thinking that even if the Germans and the French were to meet, it is a very different thing from the Germans stating their case and then going away and not being present. There might be some counter-suggestion that might evolve out of a discussion and bring them together. The right hon. Gentleman might even find it to his advantage to leave the Germans and the French to discuss it. I agree that you cannot do that unless you begin the process of their meeting together and discussing things round the table. It is such a long time after the War that we ought to get out of that atmosphere and discuss this on a real equality.
I come to the actual proposals of the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman more or less suggested to us that the proposals with regard to the guaranteeing of the frontiers represented our traditional policy. They do not in the least. He referred to our action in regard to Marlborough, Louis the XIV and Napoleon. He might have referred to what we did in 1870. In all those cases we intervened to protect Belgium and the Low Countries against an actual invasion. It was an act of aggression on the part of the French, and, in the last case, of the Germans—actual invasion. That is not the case here. Look at the present proposition. He may justify it on other grounds, but he cannot justify it on the ground of tradition. There never has been a war with either France or Germany because either France or Germany had occupied certain towns on the frontier of Belgium or even fortified them. There were great fortifications thrown up in all those cases. It is a totally different proposition. The proposition is that now you should have conversations between the military Staffs. That is not sanctions; that is a military operation. You are going to discuss a military operation not upon the basis of an actual act of aggression; of crossing the frontiers—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
I am glad to hear that, but it is very important that it should be cleared up. I have been reading the French Press lately, and I agree that you must take cognisance of the fact that the French are taking an absolutely different view of the proposition, and it ought to be made clear in the course of the Debate what the position is. There are certain words in the White Paper which justify it. Their view is that if these negotiations fail at any stage then you concert measures, and these are measures which you undertake after discussion between the Staffs. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Let us look at it. It should be made quite clear. The view of the French is that for the first time they have a military convention; if they fail to come to agreement in these negotiations the British Government are bound to come to their assistance, and the measures of assistance are to be discussed between the Staffs. That is the view which is undoubtedly taken by the French Press throughout, and there ought to be no ambiguity about something which involves the lives of millions of young people of this country. The words in the proposal are:
undertake forthwith to instruct their General Staffs to enter into contact with a view to arranging the technical conditions in which the obligations which are binding upon them should be carried out in case of unprovoked aggression.
Now I come to letter
At the moment when the representatives of Belgium, France, Great Britain and Italy have just decided, as provided in
to-clay's arrangement, the common line of conduct of their respective Governments, I am authorised to give you the official assurance that, if the effort of conciliation attempted in the said arrangement should fail, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom…will at once consider, in consultation … the steps to be taken to meet the new situation thus created; will immediately come to the assistance of your Government, in accordance with the Treaty of Locarno, in respect of any measures which shall be jointly decided upon.
The Staffs must meet and agree. All I want to do is to make the matter quite clear. I am going to put a specific question to the Government, because the French take a different view of the arrangement which has been come to and it is really very important from the point of view of what is happening in Europe. There must be no misunderstanding between us and the French—no ambiguity. This is my question: Do these measures come into operation merely upon the failure of the negotiations, or do they come into operation when there is an act of unprovoked aggression? That is really very vital, because the country is disturbed in regard to this, and it would be to the advantage of this House and country that France should know exactly where we stand; that you are not going to have, automatically, military measures merely because you have been unable to negotiate these preliminaries. I press my question upon the Government because I can assure them that public opinion is very disturbed. The letters I have had in the last few days are not from Liberals or Labour but are largely from ex-Service men who served in the War, some of whom are bitterly opposed to engaging in another war merely because Germany has broken an arrangement which she herself has signed and has occupied her own territory, and having regard to the fact that there is not a single Power that has not been guilty of breaking one or other of the bargains made.
There is time for reflection, and here I am in entire agreement with the Foreign Secretary about the advantage of not coming to precipitate conclusions. I do not think the time of an election is quite the best time in which to negotiate concessions either to Germany or to France. The German elections will be over in two or three days. The French elections are hotly contested and if a suggestion is made that the Government have given way it will make it difficult for any Government to negotiate a treaty which would involve the slightest digression from the point of view they have taken. Therefore I think there is a great advantage in a little postponement, and I rejoice in the fact that the conference has adjourned for some time. Our own election is over, and the Government are free. We must take care that we do not commit ourselves to something which may land us in war almost without our knowing it, and certainly without the public knowing where they were landed and why they were landed. I am sorry to see the Foreign Secretary standing by one thing and that was—call it a military convention if you like—an arrangement of technical details. Every Government up to the present has avoided that. In 1919 we gave a guarantee—President Wilson on behalf of his country and I on behalf of this country, after consultation with the Cabinet and the British Empire Delegation—to come to the aid of France and Belgium if there was an unprovoked act of aggression against their soil. We refused absolutely to enter into any military arrangements beforehand.
In 1922 America, for reasons into which I need not go, backed out of it, but we offered our own guarantee to M. Briand if there was an unprovoked act of aggression on French soil. We discussed the question of the demilitarised zone, but we did not undertake any military responsibility with regard to that. We refused. M. Briand accepted it. He was a wise, broad-minded man, and he knew that the demilitarised zone, although it was an internal treaty of no limit, could not last. But M. Briand was turned out of office by M. Poincaré and his friends. We made the same offer to M. Poincaré. He refused it unless we entered into a military convention with regard to the contribution we should make, how many divisions, what ships, what aeroplanes and what tanks. I said to him that unless the word of the British Empire was good enough after the experience of 1914 we could not do any more, and he said "If you offered me a treaty of security without a military convention or a military convention without a treaty, I prefer the latter." I have no doubt that in 1925 the same proposition was put to my right hon. Friend with regard to a military convention; but there was no military convention in 1925. We have always opposed it, and I will tell the House why. The moment you give a military convention, power at a time of crisis passes away from the Government to the military.
Moreover, even if you get a military arrangement, it is something which is good to-day, and when it is put into operation—it may be 10 years hence—it is quite inapplicable. That is what happened before the war. It was a thoroughly bad military arrangement. We sent our troops up into the line and they had no support. But let us leave that part of it alone, and let the House consider what happened in 1914. These are not the reminiscences of an antiquated politician; they are the lessons of a past which is not so far away. A military arrangement was made without the knowledge of the Cabinet. I agree with Lord Hailsham that this is not a secret. Nobody knew anything about that arrangement, except two or three members of the Cabinet. There was no commitment that we were to come to the aid of France. I agree with my right hon. Friend there. There was a military arrangement about the number of divisions of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and where they were to go. I shall never forget how this was exposed for the first time by Sir Henry Wilson in the Committee of Imperial Defence, when he said that it was so complete that arrangements had been made even for ten minutes "d'arrêt" for coffee on the way to the front line.
France had made the same military arrangements with Russia. Germany had made the same military arrangements with Austria. We had made the same military arrangements with France. I remember Sir Edward Grey saying that we must not encourage either the French or the Russians to believe that we would rush to their aid unless they did their best to negotiate peace. But it was too late. The military arrangements had been made. Russia being a huge country, with bad transport, had to start mobilisation. Austria had already done it, and Russia followed. Then came the famous correspondence between the two Emperors, the Tsar and the Kaiser, both frightened, and with very good reason. The Kaiser said, "I cannot negotiate unless you stop mobilisation; if you go on mobilising I cannot restrain my staff." The Tsar communicated with his staff, but they said it was too late. The mobilisation had begun, the military arrangements were working, the technical details were in operation, the avalanche had been set in motion.
The thing that strikes everybody, and the thing that struck us who were in it at the time, was that there did not seem to be any negotiations. As soon as negotiations began, they suddenly came to an end. Consider the gigantic nature of what was going to happen—a world war. There was no tine to open negotiations and for statesmen to meet. They wrote a few letters to each other, sent a few telegrams, some of which were not answered—and there was war. Why? The technical details which had been arranged were working. That is why everybody who has been dealing with this problem since 1919 up to the present hour has shrunk from military conventions. When war was declared against France, M. Paul Cambon called at the Foreign Office, and said, "You are going to put your convention into operation?" We said, "No." There was no bargain. Sir Edward Grey gave exactly the same answer as the Foreign Secretary to-day, and they were both witnesses of truth, that this military arrangement does not involve a pact of any sort or kind. What was M. Cambon's point? He said, "There is only one question now, and that is whether the word 'honour' is to be expunged from the English dictionary."
I am appealing to the House, and I am warning the Government, the House and the country about the dangers of a military convention. It thwarted negotiations and it precipitated war in 1914; it will do it yet if you enter into it. France dropped sanctions, and the Paris correspondent of the "Sunday Times" said there was relief throughout France when sanctions were shelved. Why? They had a military convention instead. When M. Flandin announced it to the Chamber of Deputies, they leapt to their feet, and said, "This is the first time this has been offered." The right hon. Gentleman said it is only Locarno. It is not. It is a convention—the same convention which helped to make war in 1914, and I hope that whatever the Government do they will get out of that. If you begin to get your staffs together to make arrangements, to arrange how many divisions are going, where they are going, to what frontier, what part they will take, how they are to attack the Germans, it is the short cut to war. It is the shortest cut that I know of to the ghastly mechanical carnage of modern war, raining fire and destruction upon our cities, raining down from the skies as upon Gomorrah.
At the beginning of his speech the right hon. Gentleman made a great case against Germany for breaking a pact into which she had voluntarily entered. He did not state the whole case. Which of the Powers has not broken a war pact? I am not defending Herr Hitler's action.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
I am not de fending Herr Hitler's action. If the hon. Gentleman will permit me, I will say in a moment or two what I think the case is. I am never afraid of stating frankly what I think the case is. In my judgment Herr Hitler's greatest crime was not the breach of a treaty, because there was provocation. I think his greatest offence was that in the inflammable conditions of Europe he should commit it in so reckless a manner. He organised a torchlight procession through a powder magazine, and there has nearly been a very shattering explosion. But the invasion of the Ruhr by the French came six months after they had agreed to a pact of non-aggression. They invaded their neighbour, and Lord Curzon, who was then Foreign Secretary, gave it as his opinion that it was an illegal act. Where was the meeting of Powers then? Everybody knows the undertaking given by M. Clemenceau on behalf of the Powers that if Germany disarmed, the rest would follow suit. Since the signing of Locarno, there has not been a year in which every one of the signatories, except Britain, has not increased its armaments. We did not, and that is to our eternal honour, and we are entitled to claim it.
But every country, including our own, has found its war bonds of one kind and another too irksome, too burdensome to carry, too tight. They stopped circulation, they stopped trade and business life,
in every country. France signed pledges to us to pay debts. She has not done so. The right hon. Gentleman went to America and signed a Treaty to pay so much a year to America. We are not doing so. Why? What does the right hon. Gentleman think of this, for which he is responsible?:
It is an essential principle of the law of nations that no Power can liberate itself from the engagements of a Treaty nor modify the stipulations thereof, except with the consent of the other contracting parties.
Has America consented to our action? There was a pact, there was a treaty. Has America consented to our breaking it? Here is a breach of a fundamental principle of the law of nations. But every country has found it impossible to carry these bonds. The time has come to consider and to revise. Inside the Treaty of Versailles there are the powers to do so. The best thing that has been said about this business was by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer's own Rector — Mr. Guy Rogers. He said that the text that is applicable under present conditions to all the Powers and not merely to Germany is:
Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.
I hope I may be permitted in my first words to offer my tribute of admiration to the Secretary of State for the speech with which he opened this Debate. It ranks with the finest Parliamentary performances and is worthy of the high office which he fills. I wish I could feel just the same about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I would invite the House to consider for a moment the relevance of his last observation to the case we have to consider. As far as I am aware, His Majesty's Government have never repudiated our obligations to the United States of America. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh‡"] No person and no country can be bound to fulfil the impossible. As long as it was within our means we paid what was due in full. For two or three years afterwards we paid a sum on Account as an acknowledgment of our debt, and we only ceased to make that continuing payment in the midst of all our own troubles when it was no longer acceptable in the only form in which we could make it.
Contrast that action which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs cites as putting us in the same position as Germany with the action which Germany has taken. What happened? Germany, by the admission of everyone, broke a Treaty which she had freely negotiated. Her first excuse for doing so was that the Treaty had already been broken legally by France, in that France had concluded a bilateral pact for defence—and mark that it was for defence only—with Soviet Russia. If there were any basis in that claim, why has not Germany submitted, why does she not now submit her case to The Hague Court? I read a letter in the "Times" the other day by an hon. Friend who generally sits on one of the back benches, in which he threw discredit on the High Court of International Justice at The Hague. It is not unknown in other courts how on difficult and intricate questions judges are divided, and that in the end the decision is a decision by a majority of one. In any case, however, let my hon. Friend and others remember that it was to that Court that we and Germany had bound ourselves to take these questions, not only, as Germany did, by the Treaty of Locarno and the Arbitration Treaty with France, but by the acceptance of the Optional Clause which was renewed since the Nazi Government came into power.
I am not sure whether there is under the Optional Clause, but there is under the Treaty of Locarno. If a question of right were at stake, the agreement was to take it to the suitable tribunal to decide. But what does Germany do? She was not unable physically to maintain the demilitarisation of the zone as we were physically unable to continue payments to America, which could be made only in gold, on the scale demanded by our engagement. There was no such physical compulsion, and it was not impossible for Germany to fulfil her obligations, and if there were a dispute about rights there was a proper tribunal to which it could have been taken and from which a decision could have been obtained.
I am glad to think that this afternoon's discussion will have done something to remove from the public mind the idea that what is at stake now is one of those internal squabbles between France and Germany which disturb the world. It is not that. The engagement which Germany has broken was given not only to France and to Belgium; it was given also to us, and we guaranteed its fulfilment. Was it an unreasonable thing to do? The right hon. Gentleman quarrels with the Secretary of State's history. I think that the Secretary of State has read history to more purpose than the right hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister himself said before these troubles had arisen, "Our frontier is on the Rhine," and in that single sentence he crystallised five centuries of our history. The danger is not only a danger to France or Belgium; it is a danger to this country, for the liberty and independence of those countries is more necessary to our safety today since air war has come to play so large a part, than at any period in our history. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to remember that this obligation which he brushes so lightly aside was the compensation which he himself offered to France for abandoning her claim to annex German territory.
I think that the House and the country, when these present troubles are over, have got to do some hard thinking about the League of Nations, what it implies, what we mean when we say we are making it the basis of our policy, and whether collective security is any more than a pretty phrase to adorn a meaningless speech. It is not merely a question between France and Germany and Belgium. It is not merely a question between ourselves. It is a question of what the future basis of international relations among European States is going to be; whether Germany will allow the countries which surround her to have normal international relations with her; whether she will observe engagements into which she has freely entered, or whether an engagement between her and another Power holds good in her case no longer than suits her convenience, but continues binding only as long as she chooses to respect it because her moment has not yet come. We cannot base European civilisation on a system in which treaties bind the parties only so long as it suits their convenience. We can only found a European peace on confidence, and as long as treaties continue to be broken with impunity time and again by the same Power, how can we have confidence in future in any new treaty that may be made?
The real question that is being tried out in these anxious and critical days is not demilitarisation of the Rhineland. That might well have been a subject for discussion directly between the Locarno Powers, or for discussion at the League of Nations under Clause 19. There was the door wide open for discussion. At the very moment when the Treaty was broken, think what happened. Herr Hitler had taken the unusual course of giving an interview to a French journalist. That is not the way in which governments usually approach each other with serious propositions, but the French Government at once instructed their Ambassador to ascertain what importance they were to attach to this newspaper interview and whether it was authentic, and to ask whether Herr Hitler intended to make proposals. Our own Government, if I am not mistaken, also showed their interest in this interview and suggested that the Air Pact negotiations should at once be taken up again. What was Germany's reply? Herr Hitler replied that he would have proposals to make and he would communicate them to the ambassadors in a few days time. That was on the Wednesday, and on the Saturday he handed his proposals to the ambassadors and informed them that the German forces were already in the Rhineland.
At this present moment the real issue before us and Europe is whether in future the law of force shall prevail or whether there shall be substituted for it the force of law. I am as anxious for negotiations as the right hon. Gentleman, and there is not a man in this House who is not anxious for peace. Do not let us live in a fool's paradise. Do not let us bury our heads in the sand and not see that unless something can be done to restore confidence in treaty faith the new treaty will be as valueless as the old. It is not to humiliate Germany, it is not to insist on this or that particular dose of medicine with a nasty taste, but to secure a firm basis for future negotiations that the Government have put the proposals before the Germans which my right hon.
Friend has defended to-day. I said that it was a question of whether Europe was to be governed by the law of force or the force of law. That is not an empty question. The right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) quoted some reassuring utterances of Herr Hitler. You can find plenty. What we want is reassuring acts. All the acts are forceful; only the words are reassuring. But I invite the right hon. Gentleman to take note of these words, delivered on the 18th of this month:
No Power in the world can deflect Germany from her purpose. She recognises only one supreme authority, the nation itself.
You cannot support the League of Nations on that basis. You cannot have Courts of International Justice on that basis. You cannot have collective security on that basis. You have got to make them the basis before the discussion of new proposals. I hope we shall reach the time when they can be fruitfully undertaken.
The German proposals as laid before us need a great deal of very careful examination. I am not going to attempt to discuss them at this moment, but I venture at this stage to call the attention of the House and of the country to the fact that what Herr Hitler now offers is a pledge to preserve the peace for 25 years. But what Germany is now bound to do under the Kellogg Pact, the Pact of Paris, is never to use war as an instrument of policy. I am not certain that the exchange is good, unless you argue that Germany may possibly keep her promise for 25 years, but that it is certain that she would not keep it much longer. She offers on certain terms to rejoin the League. She does not make it a pre-condition of re-entry that we shall give up our mandated territories, but she indicates in precise and clear language that she enters in the full expectation that that will follow in a short time.
I am trying to avoid language of offence to any one in any country, in what I am saying. But is there any Member of this House who would be prepared to transfer from the protection of British law and British liberty the men for whose safety and happiness we are now responsible and put them under a government which even in its own country distinguishes between citizens and nationals, which even in its own country submits its own subjects to the most cruel racial perse- cution? We have got to recognise that German standards of conduct are not ours, that German ethics are not ours, that while we in countless meetings and in unnumbered schools day after day teach children the horrors of war and their duty to preserve peace, the teaching now going on throughout the length and breadth of Germany is the exact opposite. Every child is being taught that the proudest fate that can overtake it is to die on the field of battle, that war is the noblest of man's ends, and that Germany is to rely rather upon guns than upon collective security.
It is these great issues, not the small matter of the demilitarisation of the zone, which are at stake at this moment, and if there be any division among us, it is not between those who want peace and those who want war; it is between those who take a short view of what lies in front of us and those who, looking further ahead, cannot feel it in their conscience to accept an easy settlement to-day if they know that it will bring disaster to their children a few years ahead. I recall the pre-War era. What happened then is ominously like what has been happening recently—an ultimatum here, an ultimatum there, another ultimatum, each time confronting this country or that with brutal force if it does not surrender each time, diplomacy by force with the mailed fist and the shining armour prevailing over reason, over argument, over treaty obligations in some cases; and then the same procedure tried once too often and a world in arms to resist the aggression. Unless we learn that lesson, unless the world can assert that it is not in this way that our quarrels are to be settled, we are steadily marching back to a new 1914.
I intervene with very great diffidence in this Debate, first because I do not regard myself as one of the experts on the, matter, and, secondly, because we were reminded by the spokesman of the official Opposition that we are only an insignificant section in this House. That I would have thought was too obvious to need reiteration.
…'tis true 'tis pity;
And pity 'tis 'tis true.
We are a very small section in this House. But I believe that the point of
view that we have expressed on these foreign affairs issues of complete antagonism to all these movements making for war is more representative of the majority views of the mass of the common people in this country than anything which is said either from above the Gangway or from the Government Front Bench. And when I express modesty as not being one of the experts, I have listened this afternoon to the experts. I listened to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I listened with very great pleasure to the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), and at other times I have listened to others, such as the Lord President of the Council, who have been Foreign Secretaries, each one of them maintaining the traditional diplomacy of this country and each one of them in turn seeing failure as the result of his efforts. I would aid my word of congratulation to the foreign Secretary on his speech to-day if I did not feel always in connection with these things that it is hail and farewell, because that office is, more than any other, marked down as the place where men come in with high hopes, high ambitions, and probably high ideals, and finish with their reputations gone, their ideals substantially dimmed and their hopes tremendously diminished.
I sat here and wondered whether, after all, we are not allowing ourselves to get into completely wrong processes of thought by continuing to use what are the stock phrases of Foreign Office diplomacy — "sanctity of treaties," "Britain's honour." The Foreign Secretary to-day used it all with the same effect and got the same cheers as has been done time and time again in the past, all the exact kind of phrases which, translated into German, are the phrases which Hitler tries to inflame the passions of the German people. "Mein Kampf": "The honour of the German people"; "Are we to remain for ever in this dishonourable position under the heel of Europe?"—exactly the same kind of phrases. That we have sanctity of treaties is, I think, perhaps one of the most misleading bits of thought in which we can allow ourselves to engage. There is no treaty which has got any sanctity whatever. It may be that for the purposes of honesty and straight-dealing treaties ought to be revised by the combined effort of all the contracting parties, but any person approaching international treaties must, if he is going to recognise human progress and change, recognise that every treaty is in its very essence an ephemeral thing and not try to erect it as something that is going to stand through all the ages and tie us, as I believe the right hon. Gentleman has tied us, to a declaration of war.
I believe that if we give the Foreign Secretary a mandate to proceed on the lines enunciated to-day and declared in the White Paper, he has got all the mandate for war that he or the Government need, and that as far as the House of Commons is concerned we may retire gracefully out of the picture, like the German Reichstag or the Italian Chamber of Deputies. He has got his mandate. The armies, the navies and the air forces are to act together, in circumstances of which the politicians will not be regarded as the best judges but the militarists.
We here are talking ourselves into the mood for war. I am sure that at least my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will agree with me that in the last six or seven years there has been a tremendous deterioration in the attitude of this House towards all these questions. A few years ago war was unthinkable; then it began to be something of a dim possibility but most unlikely; now we are getting to the stage of regarding it as almost a certainty. We have talked and worked ourselves up into the mood for it. The people of this country are as pacific as they were 7, 8, 9 or 10 years ago. To the common people here, as I believe to the common people of Germany, the talking has made no difference, and yet it is they who would have to march out to the slaughter. I have no doubt that in each country they will be told that if they go through that hell once again they will never be asked to do it again, that there will be a new social order and that everything will be all right—just what they were told last time they went through five years' hell, and then they came back and have passed through 17 years' hell since. That is what the workers will get out of it. The diplomatists, the experts in foreign affairs, who have led them into war after war, made them pay the price. They are paying it now. There is £8,000,000,000 of war debt undischarged and £46,000,000 a year still being spent by our Ministry of Pensions to patch up the wreckages of the last war.
To-day's Debate, although one in which no effective vote is permitted, will be taken as an effective expression of the approval of the House of Commons of the military arrangements which have been entered into. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and other spokesmen take the opportunity of making us all have one viewpoint. Periodically in the course- of the speech the phrase is slipped in "On this matter there is no division of opinion in any part of the House." I am quite sure I can find among my hon. Friends above the Gangway any number of individual exceptions, and I know that we on these benches are a complete exception. We say definitely and clearly that we will have nothing to do with these diplomat-made wars. Our appeal is to the working people of our own land and to the working people of Germany, Italy and all other countries. If the tyranny of dictatorship is to be ended in Germany—and I detest it with as deep detestation as anyone in this House—if the brutality which is exercised against people there either on the ground of race or political convictions is to be destroyed, it must be destroyed by the revolutionary uprising of the German people and in no other way. We take our stand by the working people here and in other lands, who have never at any time benefited by any war, and we are going to try to persuade them not to be led into a future war.
I must ask the indulgence of the House for attempting to make a maiden speech on so important an occasion, and I would not dare to do so if I did not feel that the people of my own generation, and the people of this country generally, have on this crisis a strong opinion which is not always voiced. From the first moment of this crisis it has been increasingly apparent that the people of this country did not regard it as an issue which justified talk of a preventive war, or justified talk of sanctions of a character which might provoke a war. As the people of this country examined these proposals further it became clear that they could be looked at in two lights, either as a form of obstacle-race in which every obstacle had to be surmounted before the conclusion was reached, or as a. series of flexible suggestions made to try to get the settlement which the people of this country so ardently desire. The people of this country could not regard the rejection of these preliminary proposals as grounds for giving up all hope of disarmament and collective security and going back to the policy of encirclement.
The proposal that British and Italian troops—the latter, perhaps, brought back from Abyssinia—should be placed in German territory—creates a new inequality. Then there is the proposal that what is essentially a political question should be sent, on the political side, to a juridical tribunal. On that point there is ambiguity in the White Paper. On the first occasion when it is mentioned it is said that both parties are to
undertake to accept as final the decision.
That may be final in a juridical sense, and is a most reasonable proposal, but when the question is again mentioned, in paragraph 2 on page 6, it is stated that the parties
will at once comply with the ruling of the Court.
That means asking in advance for an evacuation which everyone agrees it is not within the sphere of practical politics to demand. I am sure that the House would like enlightenment and authoritative guidance from the Government as to which of those interpretations is the correct one. On that point the White Paper hardly seems to bear the mark of careful and expert drafting.
We realise the difficulty, the risk there is in making an agreement with the German Government at the moment, and we cannot minimise it, but much has been said in this House about taking the risks of peace. The Foreign Secretary some weeks ago made a careful distinction between encirclement and collective security. The distinction was, that with collective security the way is always open for anyone to affix his signature to the document, and we take the risk of accepting that signature. If we take up the attitude that we cannot trust the signature of Germany it means that we give up hope of collective security and go back to encirclement, that we give up all hope of getting disarmament or limitation of armaments by agreement, and all hope of getting Germany back into the League of Nations. So I think that the people of this country, while fully alive to the dangers and difficulties of the future year:, feel that the greatest hope lies in admitting that there are faults on all sides, including our own, and trying to get for Europe a new deal, a fair deal, such as will have public opinion overwhelmingly behind it. If there was such a new deal, which every country could accept honourably, and which public opinion in this country accepted fully, there would be no question of this county being divided in a crisis if that undertaking was in some way broken.
The country feels, too, that France has a contribution to make, which is that if we are to be responsible for defending her north-eastern frontier she must undertake not to indulge in political adventures in Eastern Europe, which might provoke trouble in which we might be involved. Some French circles will admit that the treaty with Russia, although everybody agrees that it is legally compatible with the Locarno Treaty, was clearly not calculated to increase her good relations with her neighbour, and that it was entered into against the best and fervent British advice; because some people in this country feel that there is danger of a predominance in Europe from more than one quarter, and that a war now might bring the forces of Communism into Poland and into Germany. That view is not directed against any political system, but it is the British policy that there should never be an overwhelmingly strong bully nation in Europe. To have a mass extending from Vladivostok to the Rhine would be the greatest danger, an even greater danger than the immediate one to which a previous speaker has referred. Many of us feel that British policy has always had two aspects, its Continental aspect and the aspect of the Empire and of sea power, and many of us were frightened when we saw in the Treaty of Locarno the paragraph which divided the obligations of the British Empire and excluded our Dominions from its scope.
We hope that in any new arrangement which will be made we shall not go into isolation either from our Empire or from Europe, but preserve a sane and cohesive balance between the two. The history of this country shows that we cannot dissociate ourselves from Europe, but it also shows that if we entangle ourselves too deeply with Europe our influence for good in the world is vastly diminished. We have fought Continental wars, but seldom, if ever, have we fought two major Continental wars in a generation. Probably the only time it was ever done was in the case of the Hundred Years War, when England became thoroughly involved in Continental affairs and in trying to maintain an untenable position was reduced to the state of a minor Power for 200 years. We had no influence, either for good or for ill in the world, in the two centuries following the Hundred Years War.
Our influence cannot always be used best by making it felt with arms at the first provocation. Our moral influence is our greatest influence, if we can preserve it and keep our country strong, bring our National Debt again within reasonable proportions and strengthen the bonds of Empire. If we can do that, if we can build up our economic system and repair the ravages of the last War, then we shall be able to exercise our good offices. The people of this country feel, I believe, that if there is a war now, it is possible that England may lose her influence for good, through many years to come, by having her economic and social system crippled if not destroyed. So, we welcome the efforts of His Majesty's Government for peace. I hope I have not said anything beyond the indulgence so kindly given to me, or anything which might cause embarrassment. I have only dared to utter these sentiments because I am convinced that they are the sentiments of nine-tenths of this country and of most of my generation.
It is my privilege to be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) upon what, I am sure, the House will agree was a most successful maiden speech. It is trying enough to make a maiden speech in any circumstance, but to do so in a big Debate of this character is one of the most difficult and harassing experiences that anyone could undergo. Yet the hon. Member interested the House from the moment he rose until he sat down. He made a very thoughtful contribution. His style is startlingly dissimilar from that of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), and perhaps I may say that it is just as good. I am sure we all hope to hear him on many future occasions. I do not find myself in full agreement with everything he said and I should very much like to know who brought fervent pressure, on behalf of the British Government, on the French Government not to sign the Soviet Pact. That was news to me, and if that was done I cannot help thinking that it was rather unnecessary in view of the then existing situation, if indeed it was a wise thing to do in any circumstances.
The speech which interested me most to-day was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I think it showed that, whoever else may be out of date in this House, he certainly is miles out of date. He is living in a different world and in a different generation from most of us, and I never heard him, brilliant speaker as he is, carry less conviction than he did to-day. His speech was an echo from the past, and not a very good past at that. I yield to no one in my admiration for what the right hon. Gentleman has done for the social services of our country, but as an international statesman I never regarded him as anything but a calamity, and I think that is the view of all my generation. He was one of the most powerful members of the Government which, rightly or wrongly, got us into the War. He cannot escape all responsibility for that, although he has frequently tried to do so. When he said that an electoral atmosphere was not one in which to begin negotiations, some of us could not help casting our minds back to 1918. We remember the sort of atmosphere which the right hon. Gentleman took over to Paris with him. We remember how his supporters then were stumping the country saying that we were going to squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeaked. We remember the right hon. Gentleman himself talking about hanging the Kaiser. Why, even the French had to restrain him then. Now he comes down and says that we have been very unfair to the Germans.
The Versailles Treaty is at the bottom of all this trouble, and for Versailles the right hon. Gentleman bears a tremendous responsibility. I take a rather different view, however, from those who would attempt to condone what Herr Hitler has done. I think that, recently, the British public has been not unnaturally suffering from a reaction against Versailles, against the occupation of the Ruhr, against the failure on the part of this country and France to give the Weimar Republic a real chance. There was another occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs lost a great opportunity. At the Genoa Conference it was two days before he would even speak to the Germans, and that was several years after the War. Dr. Rathenau could get nothing then and eventually, it will be remembered, he was assassinated.
Then we had Stresemann, one of the very greatest statesmen of Germany, and here I may say that I have never believed that the policy pursued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) after the signature of the Treaty of Locarno was a wise one. There was an opportunity. That was the time to send the British Foreign Secretary to Berlin—after the Treaty of Locarno, and not after the repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles. But instead of making a real practical gesture to Stresemann by offering one-quarter of what we have now allowed Herr Hitler to take, we kept on the armed occupation which ought to have been removed immediately, if Locarno meant anything; and we kept on those ridiculous reparations which finally had to be paid for by means of loans made to Germany by the City of London. That went on year after year and it was not until the economic crisis, which really swept the Nazis into power, that we began when it was too late to take steps which, earlier, might have stabilised a great political system and created a great country out of the Weimar Republic.
I believe that what is called the wave of pro-German opinion in this country, although I am not sure that it is so strong as has been represented, has been due very largely to a reaction on the part of our people against a foreign policy in which they never believed, and which was carried out in a manner which they thought was grossly unfair to Germany, and which was in fact grossly unfair to Germany. But things have changed. There has been a marked change in Germany. I do not say that it is necessarily a change for the worse, but the conditions are markedly different to-day. Indeed, I do not think that the man-in-the-street realises how completely different is the Germany of to-day from the Germany, which existed before the Nazis came power. After the course of events which I have described, the policy of "repudiation by coups" began. We ought to have begun to resist this repudiation from the beginning, instead of making concession after concession, at a time when we were in a position to make much stronger protest than we did make. Particularly was this the case when it came to rearmament. That is one thing that we need not have countenanced on the part of Germany. We never made a sufficient protest against it at a time when our protest might have been effective.
I feel that this House and the country must not forget the character and the methods of those who are governing Germany. I do not say that we ought to condemn them here, or use strong language about them, but their methods are not ours. Neither the methods by which they attained power, nor the methods by which they now maintain themselves in power are methods of which we can ever approve. They are now using similar methods in the field of foreign affairs. They are following the method of the coup of the fait accompli. They give the greatest assurances, and smooth everybody down, and, when everybody is feeling happy and nobody looking, they pounce. That is what hey have done in Bavaria, and what they did in the Rhineland the other day. They gave specific assurances that nothing was going to happen and then, within a few hours, they made a dramatic move.
There is an interesting passage in "Mein Kampf" which justifies in international affairs a policy of bluff, provided that the bluff is big enough. If a real big bluff can be brought off that is, according to Herr Hitler, the acme of statesmanship in international affairs. I believe that they are. bluffing at this moment, and I think if a resolute line were taken, a British line and not a French line, as indicated in what I take the leave to describe is the magnificent speech of the right hon. Gentleman, we could call that bluff. What were the reasons for what is diplomatically described as a démarche, in Germany? It was done, not for strategical reasons, but from economic weakness. Anybody who has studied the economic -position in Germany can tell you how bad it is, and how necessary it had become to divert attention from it by another coup. In Germany, they have no party warfare of their own. They cannot win victories over each other inside, unfortunately; and if the chief minister wants to bring off a spectacular victory, he has to look outside his own country. That is always the case with these dictatorships, and that is why these coups are undertaken. They are undertaken at the expense of their unfortunate neighbours, and not at their own expense.
The move into the Rhineland bears all the characteristic imprints of Nazi methods. It was planned long ago. It was carried out, according to reliable information, in defiance of some of the weightiest advice that could be given in Germany. I think there is a consensus of opinion that the German general staff were opposed to it. It was a flagrant breach of a treaty freely signed. Those of my hon. Friends—and there are not many, I think, holding their view either in this House or in the country—who are so anxious to see us surrender now to everything that Germany demands, are the very people, in many cases, who, a few years ago, under the slogan of "Hats off to France" were denying everything to Germany, and backing up France when that country was deaf to all appeals for reason.
Even now, when they advocate making every kind of concession to Germany at the expense of Europe, I notice that when the question of colonies comes up for discussion they are curiously reticent. I think those of my hon. Friends who want to make substantial concessions quickly and without reasonable return, had better address their minds to that question. If they do not, the German Government is going to draw their attention to it very soon. They may not make it an immediate condition but the Germans have the colonies not in the background but right in the forefront of their programme and they will bring up the question at the earliest opportunity.
The fundamental fallacy in the arguments of hon. Gentlemen who are out to make unlimited concessions all round to Germany and buy them off at any price, is the idea that a day will come when we shall get the Germans and the Russians fighting each other and everybody else can stand back; and then, somehow or other, these two great menaces of the world will "do in" each other, and we shall be free from Communism and Socialism and everything else of that kind. That is at the back of the minds of a number of people, and on the face of it it is a simple and an alluring proposition, but that sort of thing does not happen and is not going to happen. If you were a member of the German General Staff, why should you choose to follow the hardest military road, when you have stretching out before you the most alluring road, which you have trod before with great success, which begins at Vienna, goes on to Belgrade, and finishes up at Bucharest? [An HON. MEMBER: "And Prague."] Prague would be very early on the line, almost before Vienna. It is far better that the House should face up to the facts; and this is going to happen, it is obvious, unless something totally unexpected occurs, and the question is, Are we at any stage going to take up a line, and say, "We are not going to let this happen"? I am sure that a moment will come when the whole of the people of this country unitedly will say to Germany, sooner or later, "You have got to stop." I agree that the moment has not come now. Nobody feels that we can apply very strong or stringent measures against Germany because she has put troops into the Rhineland, but she must know at what point we intend to say, "Eonugh". This country can never in the long run tolerate a Nazi Germany astride the whole of Europe, omnipotent right across the Continent.
I therefore ask the House to consider the possibilities of the future if we do not take a stand by the League and by France at the present moment. First of all, there would be the break up of the League of Nations. Europe is watching the League very carefully at the present time, especially the smaller Powers and above all Poland and the Little Entente. They are wondering whether the League of Nations is going to be of any use at all. They are getting more doubtful, not only every day, but every hour, but I think they will be very much less doubtful when they read my right hon. Friend's speech to-morrow. I think that will have done more to restore confidence in the League of Nations than anything else. These nations, like Poland and the Little Entente, are not in a position to stand alone, to stand by themselves. They will have to make what terms they can with Germany, and M. Flandin has, in fact, threatened to leave the League and make what terms he can, if the policy of collective security is ineffective.
I think this could only lead to a policy of military alliances in Europe, and inevitably to war in the long run in which sooner or later we should be involved, as we always are involved in any major European war. If our people realise, or when they realise, that the result of the policy adopted by the Government has been the destruction of the League of Nations, there will be a frightful revulsion of public opinion, and they will go right back, They will say, "You did not explain that what you were doing would mean the destruction of the League and of the principle of collective security." I believe you will get, as I say, a great revulsion of opinion. I, therefore, suggest that hon. Members in this House who agree with the Government and with this point of view generally—and they include Members on both sides of the House—might do well to explain to the country that this is not an issue between Germany and France at all. It is really the issue put by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, namely, the issue between international law and the reign of brute force in international affairs, involving military alliances and, in the end, war.
I was very much reassured by the speech of the Secretary of State, and I feel happier about the position than I have done for a long time. I believe that my right hon. Friend meant every word he said. He looked as if he meant it, and he said it as if he meant it, and. I have no reason to suppose he does not. I think that is most satisfactory, but there is a point raised by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) which is important as affecting the future. I think the people of this country are profoundly uneasy about bilateral pacts, and I do not think that a pact with France should be anything more than of a temporary nature. If we really intend to keep the League of Nations going, we shall have to devise a system of covering the League as a whole, and not merely individual nations inside it; because it is obvious that otherwise the implication must be that a bilateral pact between two members of the League is stronger than the Covenant of the League. If that were not so, there would be no need for Locarno; but there is an absolute need for Locarno now. During the period of tension there is a need for the assurance we have given to the French; but I think the Government will have to give their attention to this question, and see whether we cannot build up, as a result of these negotiations, a League strong enough to stand on its own feet, without the necessity for these endless little bilateral agreements, crosscutting it, which tend to diminish the strength of the League as a whole.
With regard to the German position, I feel that if we talk to the Germans under the present duress, without their having made a single gesture at all, force will have won. I do not say it will mean the end of the League now; hut force will have won again, and again the whole principle of collective security and international law will have been endangered. If Hitler is sincere—and those who know him best say there are moments when he is passionately sincere, even on this question of peace—let him make a gesture, a contribution. All that we say is that that contribution, if it is to mean anything at all, must relate to the occupation of the Rhineland, as I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs staked quite clearly in his speech. If he does that, well and good. We can then talk to him, not only on the basis of equality, but on the basis of the complete separation of the Treaty of Versailles from the Covenant of the League. If he will not make any contribution, I feel passionately, and I think most hon. Members of this House will also feel, that we must stand in with the League and that we must stand by the principle of collective security, if we want to save any form of civilisation.
After all, we are a pretty strong and formidable nation still, with an immense influence, not only in Europe, but in Germany. These other countries want, however, to know where we stand, and some think that it is because they were not clear in 1914 where we stood that war came. I think there comes a point when we always make our mind up, and when we do, we are usually, it may be after a long and bloody struggle, irresistible in the end. I think hon. Members would agree that it would not do any harm, and might save the whole cause of peace and civilisation, if we made it plain to France, to Europe, and to Germany where we stand now, what we stand for, and at what point exactly we propose to make that stand. If we do that, I am sure there will be peace, not for 25, but for 100 years.
I listened with much interest to the last speaker, and with nearly everything he said I agree wholeheartedly. There was, however, one point in the early part of his remarks on which I could not take the view that he takes. I wish I could feel that the Treaty of Versailles was the cause of all our troubles. No one detests that Treaty more than I do, but as one who was for five years resident in Germany during the critical time when the Weimar Constitution was being formed, I know this, that early in 1919, when the Liberals, the Democrats, and the Socialist forces of Germany were trying feebly to establish that Constitution, before even the terms were discussed that led up to the Versailles Treaty, the murder gang started to work in Germany. They murdered one after another, and to my certain knowledge within one year 100 leaders of thought in politics and literature were murdered in cold blood in Germany, and not one of those murderers was ever brought to justice.
I am sorry to have to say that if you read German history, too, it is all too clear that the Germans have not won political freedom for themselves, as we have in this country through the last 300 years, from the time of the Stuarts, as the French did in their great revolution, and as the Americans did in their revolution against George III and Lord North. Everything that has ever come to Germany in the nature of political freedom, such as there was before the War, was given to it from above, as a result of violence and force, either in the form of foreign war, as in the Constitution of 1871, or, as we see now, in the form of the Third Reich, which has come as a result of 15 years of gangsterism. This House has been a leader of public opinion in the past, but unfortunately there has been so much sloppy talk in the last few weeks about what Germany is and what has been going on that it is time that someone spoke the bitter truth. I remember too well also, when the late Arthur Henderson arranged for the early evacuation of the Rhineland by the Allied forces in 1929, what happened. Reichswehr troops marched in to the German military tune of "Victoriously we will smash the French."
I feel, therefore, that the time has come when this House should give a lead, and I think that after all that section of opinion in the country which is inclined to be easy with regard to German foreign policy is probably the result of the reaction against the War, as such, and all that came out of it, and is due to some extent to our insular British laziness in regard to studying foreign questions. Still, I believe some of us sometimes think of this country, in the words of Shakespeare, as:
This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall.
Alas, that is certainly not the case now with the discoveries of modern science. Therefore, it is all the more dangerous for those sections of public opinion in this country which are still clinging to the idea of isolation, that we can remain isolated in the world as it is to-day. Therefore, I think the Debate has shown, so far at any rate, that there are very few who really take that view. There may be Press lords in this country. You have two powerful penny newspapers today which are putting their views across the public, but one doubts very much if they have anything like the influence they appear to have, and it is most interesting to see that on all sides in this House there is a modicum of agreement on this important question.
Although I do not wish to embarrass the Government by anything that I might say in regard to this White Paper, I feel that it shows signs of a rather mixed parentage. Obviously there is a compromise between various trends of opinion. It is put forward no doubt as a means for further negotiation. There is a danger, it seems to me, because these conversations seem to be concerned with regions, with only portion of Europe, whereas really the problem is a much bigger one. There is a danger that these regional pacts will be used to supplement and indeed to undermine the one great instrument of peace, namely, the Covenant of the League of Nations, which we all ought to be supporting. I am rather supported in that view as regards the deficiencies of the White Paper in that respect by a remark which the Foreign Secretary made in his most interesting and valuable speech, which I hope will be read not only in this country but abroad, and particularly in Berlin. He said that we had no obligations outside those already undertaken in the Pact of Locarno. If that be the case, it means, I take it, that trouble can come in any other part of Europe except in the Rhineland and that we shall wash our hands. I hope that is not what the Foreign Secretary meant, but certainly I had that impression.
Moreover there is another danger which seems to me to be very serious just now. These military conversations referred to in the White Paper are being interpreted in France in a way which I think we should repudiate in this country. Passing through Germany three days ago on my way back from Vienna I got a copy of the "Frankfurter Zeitung," probably the only newspaper left in Germany that does still manage to retain a certain degree of liberty, at least as far as reporting is concerned. It is true, as far as it can be true, to its old liberal traditions. The "Frankfurter Zeitung," reporting on the state of opinion in Paris as it appears to the Paris correspondent of that newspaper, said this:
Though it may be an exaggeration to say that France is beginning a policy of isolation, one can at least say that the idea of collective security has far less attraction to the French now than it had a few weeks ago, when the military convention with England appeared in the clouds as an unattainable end.
That is a very serious matter and it is supported by the fact that some French newspapers, particularly the "Oeuvre," have been writing that there is no need now to consider bringing Germany into a new pact "because we have got the military pact with England, with Germany left out."
I venture to say that the sooner opinion in France is informed of the real state of opinion in this country the better. I believe that it will not be without effect, because M. Herriot has been already uttering warnings against this interpretation of our supposed military pact with France. The whole thing is dangerous because we are trying to carry on these conversations apparently outside the framework of the League of Nations. There ought to be in the White Paper more reference than there is to the League of Nations and the Covenant. I should have thought that at the end of Section 3, where we undertake to enter into conversations between the general staffs of the two countries in the case of unprovoked aggression, there should be a statement added that the undertaking will be submitted for approval and registration at Geneva, and that the matter will be put in line with any other conversations that may be thought necessary in other parts of Europe.
That would be part and parcel of the collective security to which we all give at least lip service, and I hope in fact do support. In other words, we must try to get back to the principles of the Geneva Protocol of 1924, which, alas, was stillborn, and has been followed by other much less successful and less satisfactory arrangements that may have served for the time being to get Europe where it is now but will not help us any further. We all regard as rather a bad joke the fact that the greatest sinner against the Covenant of the League, namely, Italy is asked to take part in putting things straight in the Rhineland. Whatever we may think about this occupation of the Rhineland it obviously is not on all fours with the invasion of Abyssinia. That was a complete violation of Article 16 of the Covenant of the League an invasion by one country of another, both being members of the League, whereas the occupation of the Rhineland is only a thing which would have to take place some time because the Rhineland is the most obvious German territory with all the traditions of German history attached to it.
It is the way in which it has been done which indicates the state of insecurity in Europe to-day and which, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) quite rightly said, is connected closely with the internal situation in Germany. The truth is, of course, that economic conditions in Germany are getting steadily worse. Germany has lost a very large part of her foreign trade and has repudiated her debts, helped unfortunately in that direction by the City of London, which is making it easier for her to spend on rearmaments money which might be spent on settling commercial debts in this country. Possibly that is a source of some of the pro-German feeling there is in this country at the present time. The real reason for this continual policy of coups d'état and occupation of territory is part and parcel of the whole Nazi policy and theory that they must keep power in their country by foreign diversions.
Up to now the results have not been quite as serious as one might have feared. The occupation of the Rhineland is, of course, nothing which would justify the application of sanctions, although it would certainly justify insistence upon very much greater guarantees by Germany if she enters into some other pact or international agreement. But I am afraid that when the time comes—and it may be quite soon—when Herr Hitler and his friends think they must divert attention in some other direction abroad, that they will then do something which we can no longer wink at or put on one side.
An indication of what is probably in the mind of the Nazi leaders can, I think, be found in a rather interesting document which I have in my possession, an unexpurgated report of the speech of Herr Hitler in the Reichstag, which has not been published, as far as I am aware, in this country, nor in any of the newspapers of Western Europe. I will not waste the time of the House by reading it. I will only say that it is the kind of thing we should expect from that quarter. In consists of three pages of a long tirade against Soviet Russia, ending with the statement that he will not, on behalf of the German people, enter into any engagement or agreement with Russia other than day-to-day arrangements which are necessary.
I am afraid I cannot remember exactly. There has been a reference to Austria in other speeches, and I think that what he said was that he would not enter into any treaty except a bilateral treaty with Austria, because the conditions of the Government there were so unstable. It showed very clearly that that is one of the places in Europe on which Berlin leaders have their eyes. Having just returned from Vienna myself, I have had opportunities of seeing the very unstable condition of that capital. The Government there represents a minority in the country, and unfortunately they have not seen fit to adopt an attitude of reconciliation with the only body which can help to keep Austria free from Nazi influence, namely, the working classes of Vienna and the principal industrial towns. That is where the danger lies.
There are three fairly equally divided parties in Austria—the pro-Italian Government party, the pro-German Nazi party and the Social Democrat and Socialist party. The fact that you have this unstable balance there may lead to an explosion at any time. That is one of the places which might be a cause of trouble, and it is the place where the next move may take place. It will be even more serious if the move that takes place is against the one democratic republic which remains in the sea of Fascist dictatorships, the Republic of Czechoslovakia. There we have a German minority which might easily become the object of attention of the gentlemen in Berlin. Lastly, may I say that while returning through North Bavaria the day before yesterday I kept my eyes open and saw the election literature that was displayed? One declaration, a very important one, stated "We are saving the world from Russian Bolshevism." Taken in conjunction with the speech of Herr Hitler of 7th March, in the Reichstag, that provides us with an indication of the sort of direction in which the next move may take place.
I hope we shall not allow ourselves to confine our interests in Europe only to the Rhineland. There are much bigger issues at stake than that. If we try to retire into isolation it will be our turn next some day. It may not come at once, but it will come sooner or later. Already hints are being dropped that we shall be asked to make some arrangement with the German dictators over the British Crown Colonies. I am not one of those who are prepared to say that everything is so good in our Crown Colonies as not to be capable of amendment or alteration. I should like to see the principle of mandates under the League of Nations extended wherever possible. I should certainly not agree to handing any territory, in which we are now responsible for the state of the natives, to those who treat the Jews in the way they are doing, and who are developing a crazy, unscientific racial theory which every decent German knows to be wrong. Germany has produced great people in her day, scientists, philosophers, and great artists, and the spirit of that old Germany must be crying to Heaven at the business which is going on now and at the terrible things that are being done in her name. I hope that all sections of opinion in this country will be united to do away with this feeling of stupid isolation. We cannot cut ourselves off from the Continent. We are part of Europe and we must stand for international law against national anarchy.
I was very deeply interested in the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. It was a very fine speech in itself, and was perhaps the finest of the many which the right hon. Gentleman has delivered. It gave a lead to the country which the country badly needed. We cannot deny that the White Paper was badly received. I was appalled at its reception. The Government had to uphold international obligations and also our obligations under the Treaty of Locarno, but somehow the country missed the point. With a special public opinion it might have been very difficult indeed to carry out the negotiations which are now coming into force. The reasons why the White Paper was badly received were, in the first place, that there was a genuine sympathy in this country with Germany's claim to equality. When Germany reoccupied the demilitarised zone and violated the Treaty of Locarno, our people remembered what occurred last October, when we were upholding the League in the matter of Abyssinia, and asked France to follow the same line. France seemed to hesitate. It seemed to me that there was some resentment against France on that account, and that our people remembered the veiled anti-British campaign in the French Press.
I was very critical of the attitude of M. Laval at that time. He seemed not to be playing entirely fairly with us. He was running with the care and chasing with the hounds. He had a foot in both camps. It is important to attempt to appreciate as well as we can the mentality of other countries, if we are to solve any of these problems. When French public opinion understood that we were sincere in our support of the League and it was recognised that we were not merely pursuing some colonial ambition, the French rallied to our point of view with very great loyally, and proved it by dismissing M. Laval, who certainly failed on a question o foreign affairs.
I do not think we recognise sufficiently to-day the extraordinary similarity between the events that are now taking place and the events fiat took place last October. Our opinion is alarmed and suspicious concerning the staff talks which are taking place. The Foreign Secretary explained the limited scope of those talks, and I do not think that any alarm will be felt in future. But what I think we ought to bear in mind is that last October we asked the French Government to have staff talks so as to he able to provide for our security in case our forces in the Mediterranean should be subjected to unprovoked attack by Italy; and very extensive conversations did actually take place, unless I am very much mistaken—conversations affecting the air, affecting our naval forces, and affecting our land forces in Egypt and in the Mediterranean. We asked for military guarantees on these heads; we obtained the military guarantees for which we asked; and be it remembered that all these were granted us under Article XVI of the Covenant of the League of Nations. We all know that Article XVI is a very vaguely worded Article, which does r of bind any nation to come to the help of another in any particular way, so that when we are asked to-day to have staff talks under the clauses of the Treaty of Locarno, we are doing rather less than was done for us last October by the French. I think that that fact ought to be borne in mind by our public opinion when judging the French attitude.
It seems to me that in all this we ought to do our very best to divorce ourselves from our likes and dislikes of this nation or of that. I know that our public finds the attacks in the French newspapers and so on very irritating. It is also true that our public opinion has a tendency to be sympathetic to the Germans, because for so long they were the under-dog. We must attempt, it seems to me, in the very great crisis we are facing, to keep much more to the realities of the situation. It seems to me that our people, although blaming the German Chancellor for his method, rather welcomed the re-occupation of the Rhineland by German troops, as a rectification of what seemed to them to be an unjust feature of the Versailles Treaty. On the other hand, our people also see the absurdity of Herr Hitler tearing up a Treaty freely accepted, and offering a new one instead. One of the main differences between the French point of view and our own is that our people have not yet quite made up their minds whether they can trust the German Chancellor or not, but they would like to, whereas the French have made up their minds that they cannot trust him in any circumstances whatsoever. That is one of the real difficulties that we have to face.
It seems to the French that it is absurd to exchange the Treaty of Locarno, which was to run for an indefinite period, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said, for a treaty of 25 years, just because the Germans have chosen to invade the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland. I have heard the argument advanced on the Continent that at that rate, having invaded the Rhineland this year and offered a, treaty of 25 years' duration, next year they will take Austria and offer a, treaty of 50 years; that after that it will be the turn of Memel and the Corridor, when they will offer a treaty of 75 years, and we can look forward to eternal peace once France and England have disappeared. That is the way in which the German offer has struck people on the Continent.
The actual physical importance of the demilitarised zone for the security of France and Belgium was, I am glad to say, emphasised by the Foreign Secretary. It is too often forgotten. To most people in this country the demilitarized zone sounds like a kind of punishment imposed on Germany—an unjust punishment, simply imposed on her to perpetuate the memory of her defeat. It is nothing of the kind. The demilitarised zone really had a very great significance indeed. I must say I sat in amazement to-day listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) belittling its importance and making out that it meant practically nothing at all. I was under his orders at the Peace Conference, and knew the extraordinary importance that was then attached by him and by others to the demilitarised zone. The demilitarised zone, for better or worse, was one of the corner-stones on which the peace of Europe was built after the War, and it stands to reason that, although it is a good thing to change and alter your peace treaties, it is a very unsound thing to attempt to amend them by withdrawing suddenly the very basis on which that peace is built.
There is one question to which I think this House ought to direct its attention, and that is the question of fortifications in the demilitarised zone. I do not believe it would be possible in any circumstances to prevent the Germans from fortifying their own territory. Yet the belief held on the Continent is that it is the intention of Germany to build a very strong line of fortifications in the demilitarised zone, and, when she has done this, to turn her attention eastwards, in the certainty that she could not be effecively attacked by France. It seems to me that, whatever happens, we must safeguard the sanctity of treaties, and from that point of view I think we need have no fear that that is the intention of the Government. The words of the Foreign Secretary could not have been plainer on that subject.
While giving Germany a square deal we must take into full account the legitimate fears of her neighbours. We must never forget that our military frontier is the Rhine. It is to our vital interest to see that no invading army ever penetrates into Holland, Belgium, or Northern France, and to that extent at least our interests are coincident with theirs. That, I think, is the general feeling of the House, for it was stated by the Foreign Secretary and has been repeated by most speakers. Germany must give proof of her sincerity, and the only proof she can give as compensation for the faith that she has broken and as reparation for the Treaty of Locarno which she has broken, would be to enter into non-aggression pacts with all her neighbours, including Russia. That is absolutely essential.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) on this subject. I think his argument was false. He says that you ought not to have bilateral pacts. He is opposed to understandings between two or three countries. He says Article 16 ought to be sufficient to ensure the security of all. I hope the day will come when Article 16 will be sufficient to ensure the security of all, but that day has not come yet. We are not prepared ourselves to march for the safety of distant countries, however just their cause might be. For the time being, at least, we must be content with a series of Locarnos. I feel very much happier this evening than I did this morning, because I am convinced that the Foreign Secretary has proved himself absolutely and completely capable of bearing the very heavy burden that has been imposed upon him.
We have heard speeches to-day on the necessity for upholding the sanctity of treaties. It has been put by no one more forcibly than by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears). In spite of all that may be said on that head, I feel that a very large section of public opinion regards the present crisis as part of the eternal wrangle between France and Germany, and the force of the argument that the whole basis of international law is at stake is, I think, weakened in this country by the feeling that Germany has some valid grievances arising out of the Treaty and of other incidents that have taken place since that Treaty was concluded. The failure to disarm and the invasion of the Ruhr have been mentioned, and I am reminded by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's reference to Memel that Memel was invaded by Lithuania, a member of the League, and the League certainly took no appropriate action at the time. I think it is because of this feeling that Germany has certain grievances of substance that our action is not very clear-cut in this crisis, because we have not got entirely clear-cut convictions, and the Government is reaping the harvest of its long policy of vacillation and half-hearted measures. We all sympathise very deeply indeed with the Foreign Secretary and the Members of the Government in the anxious and arduous times through which they have been passing in the last 10 or 12 days, but I remember a previous distinguished Member of the House, Lord Morley, when discussing the Inferno said that Dante had forgotten one circle. There was an eighth circle of the Inferno inhabited by those who were unable to make up their minds. It is in that circle that the Government Dave been twisting and writhing during the past 10 or 12 days.
Two things emerge quite clearly, that we have not acted upon Clause 7 of the Treaty of Locarno, and that we have been a party to sending proposals in which we ourselves do not wholeheartedly believe. How it can assist at this juncture to send proposals to Germany some of which are absurd I am unable to understand. We all congratulate the Foreign Secretary on securing the transfer of the negotiations to London and upon what I should like to describe as his very high minded and noble speech to-day. It was obvious to all who listened to him that he himself is not at ease about the White Paper proposals and, when he consented to them, no one can have realised more clearly than he did that Germany would not go to the Hague and that the proposals relative to the occupation of the demilitarised zone were quite absurd. I noticed, too, that his speech omitted all reference to Russia, and it was also clear that he was uncomfortable on the subject of the staff conversations.
I put a question to the Prime Minister on that subject to-day, calling attention to the uneasiness felt in this country and to the likelihood of such conversations being misrepresented in France as being something very much more solid than they might in fact be. I was referred to what was to be said by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary during his speech, and I listened to it, but in spite of what I heard, I still feel very far indeed from being reassured on the conversations. I believe that they may con- tain in themselves the seeds of very serious misunderstanding and of future unfortunate results. I should like to return to a point which I made in a supplementary question, that if these conversations between the general staffs have indeed to take place, is it impossible that a Minister who is responsible to this House should be present at the conversations and hear what is said? It would be far more satisfactory to this House and to the country to know that a Minister responsible to Parliament, was present at any such conversations between the general staffs.
If, as the Foreign Secretary said, the prime object of our policy is the Covenant of the League of Nations, I would say, "Do not get entangled in staff conversations which are in themselves inconsistent with our adherence to the League, and do not get entangled in treaties or agreements outside the League of Nations." We have our obvious duty if not our obligation under the Locarno Treaty of endeavouring to meet the French point of view, which is summed up in the one word "security." Since 1918 the French have tried, and have in many ways been assisted by ourselves in trying out, every way of getting security. They were allowed to make a very punitive peace treaty, they went into the Ruhr, and they pursued a policy of encirclement of Germany by concluding alliances with many countries bordering upon Germany. The French have tried out every way of obtaining security, and yet in 1936 they tell us that they feel more insecure than ever. The obvious answer is that security cannot be obtained by France or by other countries by any system of alliances outside the League.
If we were to leave the League out of the question at this moment and disregard the possibilities contained in the Covenant of the League, and were to revert to purely national and Power politics, what system of alliances is open to France which would give her the security against Germany which she requires? It is only by the combined forces which the League represents that France can find that security which she so justly requests. I hope, therefore, that as these negotiations continue, we shall make it most emphatically clear to the Government of France that, in our opinion, the only solution can come through treaties negotiated by the League. That also is of importance to ourselves. It has been said to-day that peace is indivisible, and that we can hardly help being involved in any quarrel that may arise. If that is so, then it is surely clear that the only hope of getting that breathing-space, that interval and that opportunity for negotiations which would enable us to avoid being involved in the consequences of those quarrels is afforded by the League.
I listened with the deepest interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). It is easy to appreciate his feelings about the Treaty of Locarno, with which his whole name and reputation are inseparably associated. I think that one good result of the Locarno Treaty at any rate is that there is now in the Foreign Office a room called the Locarno Room. It will serve to remind all future British Foreign Secretaries of the vanity of human hopes and of how transient are their ambitions.
There is one point that has always occurred to me about the Treaty of Locarno, and I wonder whether it can be answered to-night. It was a war commitment undoubtedly. It was a guarantee which was in itself a war commitment. I often wonder whether we ever took the necessary steps for our Defence Forces to be able to implement that guarantee. I should be interested to know whether the chiefs of staffs of the fighting Services could ever say that since the time that the Treaty of Locarno was signed, our forces have been adequate to implement that Treaty in the event of being called upon to go to the help of one of the signatory Powers. I doubt whether any general staff since the Treaty of Locarno was signed would be prepared to give an affirmative reply to that question. It seemed to me, after listening with the deepest interest and respect to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, that it was a completely barren speech. It led exactly and precisely nowhere. The whole catalogue of German agreements, all the acts of omission and commission were recited, but it led us nowhere at all. It was clear that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that no negotiations are of any use, because it is impossible to trust the German Government. We are bound to admit that there is great force in that argument and very substantial reasons behind it, but admitting that argument, what does it lead to?
The right hon. Gentleman said that we were faced with the alternatives of the law of force or of the force of law, and it was obvious from his speech that he personally thinks that, as far as Germany is concerned, it is hopeless to expect that the force of law will prevail. The only possible conclusion from the arguments which he put forward is that he himself thinks that the law of force alone can avail us and alone is of any practical use to follow in regard to Germany. If that is so then we are forced back to that policy of the encirclement of Germany which the Foreign Secretary has declared in this House to be not the policy of His Majesty's Government. Unless we are to follow the policy of encirclement then there is no conclusion at all to be drawn from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. We are reduced to saying, "We do not like you, and consequently we simply will not have dealings with you at all," and we go on with Power politics and with our policy of rearmament, and just wait until war cracks out, as it undoubtedly will, if we are reduced to such a completely barren, bankrupt and hopeless policy.
I agree most warmly that the Government have succeeded in doing one thing. They have given the opportunity for getting both sides talking in this matter, and it is a very good line to play at the present moment, to try to get both sides talking. But that will not be successful for ever. We shall have to take more definite steps than just getting both sides talking. We really should be realists in this matter. We know all the arguments against Germany, of the treaties they have torn up, and of the broken pledges, but what is your object at the present moment? If your object is to get Germany to negotiate, surely the only successful thing to do is to endeavour to remove all possible obstacles to such negotiations. The hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle very wisely and properly said that it is important at this moment to try and drop our likes and dislikes. The time has come when we should stop making overtures or sending proposals to Germany while accompanying those over- tures and proposals by language or by conditions which make acceptance absolutely impossible. I could produce far more serious charges against Germany than any speaker has made to-day. But what would be the use? What purpose would it serve to do so? If our object is to get Germany to enter into negotiations I suggest that the thing to do is to endeavour to remove all obstacles to negotiations. In making proposals, do not use injudicious language. Endeavour to set in motion machinery for a revision of just grievances from which we know Germany is suffering.
If I might sum up the position in one short phrase I would say, aim at cutting away all the tangle of the old treaties in which these grievances are rooted and which make it almost impossible for Herr Hitler to accept proposals for negotiations. I would say, aim at cutting away all the tangles of the old treaties which lead us nowhere and endeavour, if we can, to get the French to march with us towards negotiations aimed at concluding new treaties and new agreements which would be entirely divorced and separate from the old treaties and the grievances implicit in them. In doing that we must also remember that these negotiations must be carried on, these new treaties and new agreements must be negotiated, under the auspices of the League. If we can get Germany fairly and squarely upon her own ground, negotiate with her at the League on ground to which she takes no exception, and upon ground which admits her grievances, you will arrive at the only form of encirclement of Germany which will give lasting security; an encirclement of Germany or of any aggressor by all the other Powers represented in the League so that Germany or any aggressor will be confronted with the fact that if she breaks a treaty or agreement she will be confronted with encirclement by the League Powers and will feel the full weight of the League, which is ample to deal with any aggressor.
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) has urged the Government to cut away all the dead treaties and sweep away all the obstacles which have grown up since the War. That is not an easy task. I want to point out to the House who it is that has raised obstacles during recent months and years, but before I deal with that matter I should like to say how much I share the views of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) when he said that our troubles arise from the Treaty of Versailles and the election which preceded it. The hopes of a generation lie buried in that election. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Borough (Mr. Lloyd George) always makes me feel that there is one Celtic characteristic which he does not possess, and that is a long memory. He finds it easy to forget. Only the other day in a newspaper he said, "Let us sweep away all the work which I did, let us wipe out the Treaty of Versailles, and everything which came after it, and begin again." You cannot do that easily. The background has been created and it will be a very hard task indeed.
The central fact in Europe to-day is the rearming of Germany. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has estimated that she has spent as much as £1,500,000,000 on armaments during the last two years. Let me translate that sum into the position of this country. It is more than double the annual expenditure on social services, Debt charges, Defence, which is made in any one year. It is far too big clearly to be a mere defensive measure, and it is quite obvious that Germany if she can and if she dares will use these forces against some other nation. There was no question of this country rearming until the day when it was realised that Germany was arming on a vast scale. We did not anticipate any danger from any other source. Germany is solely responsible for this necessary but very unprofitable expenditure into which we are entering at the present moment. As she grows stronger so her policy becomes more ruthless. I have seen several instances during the last few years, and particularly during the last year, showing that she will strike first and talk afterwards. We have to consider where we will draw the line. Is this the last or is it only the latest violation of treaties that she is going to carry out? We must face these unpleasant facts whether we like them or not. When she finds a treaty inconvenient she is going to break it.
During the last few days and weeks there has been an atmosphere in this country as if we were going to be exempt from the chance of suffering from these violations. Why should we be exempt? I have thought many times in regard to the Naval Treaty which was concluded a year ago whether it has any validity in German eyes. Are we sure that the clauses are not being broken at this very minute? I trust that the Government are watching this matter closely. During the course of last year it would have been possible to negotiate with regard to the Rhineland if Germany had chosen to do so. On 3rd February of last year there was an Anglo-French Declaration. I consider that date most important, because the Anglo-French points of view were brought into line. Proposals were made to Germany to negotiate, and the answer was the introduction of conscription. During the course of the year which has gone by effort after effort has been made by the British Government and by the French Government to get into touch with Germany and ascertain on what terms she would enter into a general agreement with regard to outstanding questions. We have had no advance from the other side. It was only a day or two before the re-occupation of the Rhineland that Herr Hitler showed in any way that he was prepared to talk to the French Ambassador. Now we have another accomplished fact.
I do not wish, and I am sure no one in this House wishes, to approach this question either from a pro-French or a pro-German point of view. It is essential that we should approach it from the pro-British standpoint. We cannot have any influence on our neighbours unless we put our own house in order and make up our minds how we are able to play our part from our own particular angle. We have to ask ourselves where the danger really lies. As the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) said, can anyone anticipate any danger from France? If there had been any danger since the War, surely we would have taken precautions and measures with a view to protecting ourselves against France, but as it was, we were able to disarm.
Our position, as far as a possible threat to the Channel ports is concerned, has been intensified rather than diminished by the appearance of aircraft in the world. The policy of isolation is, I think, a discredited one, but the policy of alliances is surely one into which we may very well be forced back unless we are able to make the League of Nations an effective body. We cannot do that unless we play our part. I cannot help feeling that during the years which have passed since the War there has been a feeling in the country that because the League of Nations exists everything is all right, and that it is not necessary to make any further effort. Of course, the position is entirely different. The League of Nations—which, after all, is what it says it is, a League of Nations—can have an effect on the world only if the nations of which it is composed play their full part.
The League of Nations is in the early stages of its development at the present time. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) pointed out, the whole question of collective security requires a great deal of careful thinking now and in the future. If it means anything at all, collective security means that the rich and powerful nations shall put more into the pool than the weak nations, but it will require a great deal of thought and constructive effort if it is to be made effective in the world in which we live to-day. It is not as cheap and easy a method as some people seem to think.
There is one other question which I think ought to be faced in this House at a time when the German proposals will soon be on their way to this country. I refer to the colonial question. This problem, during the last two or three weeks, has been slurred over in the discussions which have taken place in regard to the German proposals. Herr Hitler says that the colonial question will be discussed. It is not in the background, but in the foreground of the German aims. This country has to make up its mind whether it is prepared to give up the mandated territories or whether it will definitely say "No," and the sooner it makes up its mind and gives its answer, the better for all concerned.
There has, I think, been a certain amount of inconsistency in the feeling which has gone through the country. In December a great wave of public feeling swept through the country because of the action of the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. To-day, according to that which the Press tells us, the tide is running in the other direction. It is a dangerous situation to have such a change of feeling within so short a period of time. I think that change has been caused in some degree by the idea which there is in the country that we can act as a mediator in the quarrel. We cannot do that, for we are so involved that we are a party to it. We can restrain and modify, but we cannot and never shall be able to mediate.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has given great hope to all hon. Members in this House, and I am sure it will give great hope to everyone in the country, but we must make up our minds that unless his hands are held up by public opinion in the same way as were the hands of Moses by his friends on a famous occasion, we cannot obtain the victory. We shall not come through these difficulties unless we have a healthy public opinion to bring us through the dangers which are so clearly before us and which all of us wish to overcome.
I listened with very great attention, but with a measure of uneasiness, to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He informed us that the White Paper was dead and done for, that the Germans refused to accept the international force and that he had also learned that they were not prepared to withhold the building of fortifications. He followed that up by placing the initiative in the hands of Hitler and inviting Hitler to make a proposition which, he hoped, would be a constructive one. The right hon. Gentleman said he put that forward for the purpose of bringing Germany and France together.
Several speakers in the Debate have drawn attention to the need of facing realities. I want to ask the Foreign Secretary and other hon. and right hon. Members in this House whether that is facing realities. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) recently gave an estimate of the situation in Germany, and declared that Germany must expand outwards or collapse inwards; and he followed that up by saying that these who know the present rulers of Germany know which course will be taken. That is the reality. To-day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said that there is in Germany a brutal despotism directed towards particular national minorities, that in the schools the infants are having inculcated into their minds that the one desirable thing is to die in war, that the whole of Germany is being utilised as a great centre for the propaganda of the war spirit. That is the reality. On the other side the French people have expressed themselves for peace in the most passionate manner. It was a passionate desire for peace which was responsible for the removal of M. Laval.
Where is the sense of talking about getting them together united and agreed? Let us face realities. Germany must burst out or she will collapse inwards. Which do we want? The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said that he was not defending Hitler. He may not have been, but Dr. Goebbels could not have done a better job than the right hon. Gentleman did. Not only did he make that defence to-night, but he wrote not long ago to the Press directing attention to the fact that Hitler had had to be propped up because if Hitler went Communism would be the menace. The right hon. Member for Epping said that the menace was war, and he is correct. It is war that is the menace to civilisation. Whether in the case of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs his contrite heart has gone so far out of his control that he is prepared to go to any length now to undo the evil for which he was responsible, I do not know, but there is no question about the right hon. Gentleman's position in regard to this matter.
When mention is made of Germany breaking treaties some hon. Members say, "What does that matter? They all break treaties." I am not concerned about the breach of a particular treaty, but about the particular character of the breaking of the treaty. When the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs talks about the non-payment of debts to America, it is neither here nor there. I would not mind this country keeping all the money it owed to America if it were given to the unemployed. It is the particular character of this breach of treaty that is important. It is a deliberate and brutal war provocation. Herr Hitler makes a talk on peace, but whenever he makes a talk on peace there is a new advance towards war; or whenever there is a new advance towards war he makes a nice talk about peace. What are we to do in this situation? How is it possible to get France and Germany to the table and to unite them? In the last discussion the Foreign Secretary said we did not want to make an encirclement of Germany. He should have said that we do not want to make a war encirclement of Germany and that it is very desirable we should make a peace encirclement. What is being suggested now is suspiciously like a war encirclement of Germany. The Foreign Secretary said, in introducing the White Paper on Friday, that they were putting certain proposals before Germany and that if Germany accepted them there would be a series of talks. That is the wrong way to act. The first thing for the Government to say in the situation that exists was not to demand that Germany should put her case before the international court, and to demand this and that; the first thing was to make an open declaration that we believed that France and Soviet Russia were for peace and that the pact they have made was helping towards peace.
Are the Government prepared to say that? If they are, are they prepared to propose that a pact of non-aggression should be carried through immediately by Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, and that all other countries in Europe should be invited to join in a similar pact, Germany included? This would be quite in. keeping with the Covenant and it would be a peace encirclement of Germany. While we are discussing peace pacts—which should come first, not second—we are asking Germany, with the support of the League of Nations, to refrain from this, that and the other in the demilitarised zone and to make such other contributions as we may consider desirable while the preparations for a peace pact are going on. That is the wrong way to deal with this question, for we have to face the question of an encirclement of Germany—not a war encirclement, but a peace encirclement. We have to come out openly for the Franco-Soviet Pact and declare that many of the things that are being said about making peace or understandings in the west might have dangerous consequences.
One of the most effective representations of what has happened was given in the columns of the "Evening Standard" by Low, when he showed Hitler with flowers in one hand and a bludgeon in the other, representing peace in the west and trouble in the east. The Nazis are dexterous enough to change the flowers into weapons at any moment they think suitable, and we may have peace in the east and trouble in the west. I make an appeal to the Foreign Secretary. Let me say, strange as it may seem, that I honestly believe the Foreign Secretary, as distinct from some of his associates, is earnestly and energetically desirous of maintaing peace and of bringing together the circumstances that make for peace. Because of that, I appeal to him to give more attention to associating British foreign policy with the peoples who want peace rather than making any capitulation to Hitler and to the Nazis of Germany.
It is often usual to say what a good Debate we have had, but in this case there has not been much debate. The remarkable fact which emerges to-day is that upon one of the most delicate and one of the most grievous topics that could possibly be discussed, there is an overwhelming consensus of opinion. We owe a good deal of that fact to the speech of the Secretary of State foil Foreign Affairs. It was a great speech and one which required courage of soul, and one which, I venture to think, would inspire with renewed hope all those who believe that my right hon. Friend will signalise his tenure at the Foreign Office in a sane manner. We were with him when he said that he would not be the Foreign Secretary to break the word of Britain. Ministers of the Crown have great problems to settle; often those problems do not admit a satisfactory solution either way; often they make mistakes. But as long as they are prepared to back their policy with faith and with conviction they may rely, if not on the opinion of the House, at any rate upon its sympathy and respect. In this case my right hon. Friend has carried the House with him at a most critical moment, and on a most decisive utterance. I only wish that guidance had been given to the country earlier. Three weeks have passed without those notes which he struck with such resonant clarity and which should have resounded through the country. It is a pity that more active measures have not been taken to place the realities of which he spoke before our public. I hope and trust that now this Debate has taken place leaders of the Government will utilise every channel and every means at their disposal to explain effectively to the country what has been so decisively put before us.
There is an extra ordinary volume of German propaganda in this country, of mis-statements made on the highest authority—which everyone knows could be easily disproved—which obtain currency, and which because they are not contradicted are accepted as part of the regular facts on which the public may rely. Ministers and Members who are in agreement with the policy of the Government must exert themselves to explain these matters to an anxious, but a loyal and courageous public. I feel very much relieved and even exhilarated by the speech to which we have listened, because of two considerations which lay heavy on my mind. What is, after all, the first great fact with which we are confronted? It is this. An enormous triumph has been gained by the Nazi regime. The German Chancellor, perhaps advised against the course he took by his military experts, nevertheless decided on ordering the violation of the Rhineland and the destruction of the Locarno Treaty. He has succeeded—it is no good blinding ourselves to it—his troops are there, and who is to say that they will be removed? He has accomplished this fact, and although the world has been alarmed and shocked, and many protests have been made, the event has occurred. And what an event. Under the brazen surface of the totalitarian State there stir and seethe all the emotions of a great, cultured, educated and once free community. The Protestant, the Catholic, the Jew, the Monarchist, the Communist, the Liberal—all these forces are there, held in suspense, held in a certain grip and vice as it were, but they are there.
Let us suppose that any one of us were a German and living there, and perhaps entirely discontented with many things that we saw around us, but thinking that here is the Fuehrer, the great leader of the country, who has raised his country so high—and I honour him for that—able to bring home once again a trophy. One year it is the Saar, another month the right of Germany to conscription, another month to gain from Britain the right to build submarines, another month the Rhineland. Where will it be next? Austria, Memel, other territories and disturbed areas are already in view. If we were Germans, and discontented with the present regime, nevertheless on patriotic grounds there is many a man who would say "While the Government is bringing home these trophies, I cannot indulge my personal, sectional or party feelings against this regime." This country is in the presence of facts which, apart from the technical consequences of the military occupation of the Rhineland, constitute an immense blow at the League of Nations and the principle of the reign of law, and constitute an immense gain in prestige to the Nazi Government in Germany. I think that a very serious fact at the present time.
There is another reason why I feel that the Foreign Secretary was bound to make the speech that he did. We had something to do with the events which made the conditions under which the Germans acted. From the highest and most benevolent motives—and I do not dissociate myself from the general course which the Government took—we have pressed a policy of sanctions against Italy upon France that is estranging France and Italy. When I was invited to give my opinion on the matter last August, I said that we must do our duty under the Covenant of the League, but that we should not press France unduly, and that we should not go beyond the point where we could carry France. I think we went much further than that in sanctions. As I tried to point out to the House, the friendship between France and Italy was vital to the defence and security of every home in France, and France, out of regard for Britain and out of loyalty for the principles of the League of Nations, went very far; not so far as some enthusiasists would have wished her to go, not so far as those who did not understand how fast she was moving expected her to move; but very far did she move, and considerable injury was inevitable in the relations of France and Italy. That produced a situation in which, it seems to me, all the elements were present which led to the recent outrage upon international law and the Treaties which regulate the peace of Europe.
When we think of the great power and influents which this country exercises we cannot look back with much pleasure on our foreign policy in the last five years. They certainly have been very disastrous years. God forbid that I should lay on the Government of my own country the charge of sole responsibility for the evils which have come upon the world in that period. I would not do such a thing, but certainly in that period we have seen the most depressing and alarming change in the outlook of mankind which has ever taken place in so short a period. Five years ago all felt safe, five years ago all were looking forward to peace, to a period in which mankind would rejoice in the treasures which science can spread to all classes if the conditions of peace and justice prevail. Five years ago to talk of war would have been regarded not only as a folly and a crime but almost as a sign of lunacy. The difference in our position now! We find ourselves compelled once again to face the hateful problems and ordeals which those of us who worked and toiled in the last great struggle hoped were gone for ever.
Some responsibility rests upon the conduct of our own affairs. I do not think that it is very easy to set out over those years the various successive acts of policy and utterances of various British Foreign Secretaries and connect them into one harmonious theme. We have very much baffled the Continent of Europe at times, and we have erred also, I think, in trying to gain the sympathy of sections of our public, seeking to gain transient applause by putting forward platitudes, by putting forward hopes which no one really felt could be realised. In this period we have undoubtedly disturbed the confidence of Europe—from the highest motives. Undoubtedly nothing was more honourable than the disarmament which Britain practised on herself, nothing was more idealistic than the counsels which we gave to others, differently situated. Even upon this question of sanctions we have taken the lead. A very great responsibility rests upon us in that matter.
I feel that in this island—where we are still blessed by being surrounded by a strip of salt water, in spite of the alterations which later developments have made in our situation—we ought to be very careful that in our interventions in the foreign sphere we understand fully the consequences they may bring to those who live upon the Continent and the feelings which they may create there, in contrast with the sentiments which they arouse in us. I do trust that the Government will not seek to win the easy applause of public opinion, but will confront the nation steadily and robustly with the realities of the situation, knowing the comprehension which the nation will give in return to those who deal with it faithfully.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State admittedly dealt in his statements and in his White Paper only with a breathing-space which he has gained for us, and we must not under-rate that. In a way, in a sense, what has occurred is from one point of view a success for the League of Nations. Although on the major issue violence has triumphed, no one can deny that but for the existence of the League of Nations there might have been war at this moment. France and the nations associated with her might have attempted to rectify this situation by the sword. Instead of that they have appealed to a tribunal, and I feel that that involves all of us who are supporters of the League of Nations in the very serious duty of making sure that the tribunal to which they have appealed is one which has authority, that it is not a mere sham which breaks down once it is tested, that once a powerful client, a powerful offender appears, it cannot work because it is a tribunal which can deal only with the minor aggressor and cannot possibly face wrong-doing which is backed by sufficient force. I feel that the League of Nations, although injured in some respects, has in this matter shown once again its vitality and its reality.
The violation of the Rhineland is serious from the point of view of the menace to which it exposes Holland, Belgium and France. It is also serious from the fact that when it is fortified—and I listened with apprehension to what the Secretary of State said about the Germans declining even to refrain from entrenching themselves during the period of negotiations; I listened with sorrow to that—when there is there a line of fortifications, as I suppose there will be in a very short time, it will produce great reactions on I the European situation. It will be a barrier across Germany's front-door, which will leave her free to sally out eastward and southward by the back door.
In spite of the seriousness which I attach to this reoccupation of the Rhineland, I must say that it seems to me the smallest part of the whole problem. What is the real problem, the real peril? It is not the reoccupation of the Rhineland, but this enormous process of the rearmament of Germany. There is the peril. My right hon. Friend opposite says that in the election I seemed to be haunted by this idea. I confess that I have been occupied with this idea of the great wheels revolving and the great hammers descending day and night in Germany, making the whole industry of that country an arsenal, making the whole of that gifted and valiant population into one great disciplined war machine. There is the problem that lies before you. There is what is bringing the war. This Rhineland business is but a step, is but a stage, is but an incident, in this process. I agree very much with the spokesman of the official Labour Opposition when he said there was fear. There is fear, in every country, all round. Even here, in this country, with some protection from distance, there is fear, deep fear. It takes a deep fear to make the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) speak in terms which commend themselves to almost every one who was in the House. What is the fear and what is the question which arises from that fear? It is, "How are we going to stop this war which seems to be moving towards us in so many ways?"
There are, of course, two practical foreign policies for our country. The first is an alliance between Great Britain and France, the two surviving liberal democracies of the West, who, strongly armed, rich, powerful, with the seas at their disposal, with great air forces and great armies, would stand with their backs to the ocean and allow the explosion which may come in Europe to blast its way eastward or southward. There is a practical, foreign policy, but I do hope that we shall not resign ourselves to that, without first an earnest effort to persevere in the other policy, namely, the establishment of real collective security under the League of Nations and of the reign of law and respect for international law throughout Europe. I venture to make a suggestion which I feel will not be entirely repugnant to those who sit opposite, namely, that, apart from this particular emergency and apart from the measures which the Foreign Secretary has taken, we should endeavour now with great resolution to establish effective collective security. In my view, all the nations and States that are alarmed at the growth of German armaments ought to combine for mutual aid, in pacts of mutual assistance, approved by the League of Nations and in accordance with the Covenant of the League.
We hear talk of the encirclement of Germany. I thought that the last speaker quite justly said that war encirclement would be intolerable, but peaceful, defensive encirclement may be inevitable, before the alarms of the nations are allayed. I say we would impose no encirclement on Germany that we would not submit to ourselves. It is not a case of the encirclement of Germany but of the encirclement of the potential aggressor. If we are the aggressors, let us be encircled and brought to reason by the pressure of other countries. If France is the aggressor, let her be restrained in the same way; and if it be Germany, let Germany take the measures meted out to her by countries who submit themselves to the law which they are prepared to take a share in enforcing. The first thing we ought to do is to make these pacts of mutual aid and assistance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who is not here now, spoke grave words of warning about military conventions. But you cannot have effective arrangements for mutual aid in contingencies of peril unless you have conventions. That is the first thing.
In the second place, I agree with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate for the Opposition, that the Powers, once they are woven into this strong confederacy for defence and peace, should give to Germany an absolute guarantee of the inviolability of German soil and a promise that, if anyone invades her, all will turn against the offender and if she strikes at anyone, all will stand by and defend the victim. I am looking for peace. I am looking for a way to stop war, but you will not stop it by pious sentiments and appeals. You will only stop it by making practical arrangements. When you have these two conditions established firmly, when you have linked up the forces at the disposal of the League for defence, and when you have given that guarantee to Germany, then is the first moment, when you should address German collectively, not only upon the minor question of the Rhine but upon the supreme question of German rearmament in relation to other countries—and they must not shirk presenting themselves to that test also. Further, at that moment you must invite Germany to state her grievances, to lay them on the council board and to let us have it out. But do not let us have it out as if we were a rabble flying before forces we dare not resist. Let us have it out on the basis that we are negotiating from strength and not from weakness; that we are negotiating from unity and not from division and isolation; that we are seeking to do justice, because we have power.
The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that when nations are strong they are not always just, and when they wish to be just they are often no longer strong. I desire to see the collective forces of the world invested with overwhelming power. If you are going to run this thing on a narrow margin and to depend on a very slight margin, one way or the other, you are going to have war. But if you get five or ten to one on one side, all bound rigorously by the Covenant and the conventions which they own, then, in my opinion, you have an opportunity of making a settlement which will heal the wounds of the world. Let us have this blessed union of power and of justice:
Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way witch him.
Let us free the world from the approach of a catastrophe, carrying with it calamity and tribulation beyond the tongue of man to tell.
We have all listened with great interest to the very eloquent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). We have heard to-day a number of our most experienced statesmen giving advice to this House. We had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) telling us what happened at the making of the Treaty of Versailles and pointing out what ought to have been done in the past. We have had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping deploring the events of the past five years in foreign policy. We have had Member after Member suggesting what we wanted was certainty and clarity in our foreign policy. Looking back on those past years the words that always come into my mind are "Too late." Every trouble that we see arising now, comes because prudent action was not taken earlier. Wisdom seems to come late and as I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping I thought what a pity it was that the convictions which he now holds so strongly had not been with him during the past five years. When we, on this side, were pleading for a strong League policy and for collective security, how we should have been rejoiced if we had had his eloquence to support us.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not mind if I say that on this question of addressing Germany collectively, the phrases which I used were lifted almost verbatim from a speech which I made nearly three years ago.
I cannot, of course, call to mind all the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, but I had a very clear impression that he was not particularly strong on the League of Nations until comparatively recently. I always understood that he did not think very much of it and that it was only within this last year or so that he swung round. However, far be it from me to quarrel with him now that he has come to our side, because there is always a great deal of joy over any repentant sinner. The right hon. Gentleman has brought before us what are, very possibly, real issues at this time. We have two points to deal with to-day. The first, I think, is what the Foreign Secretary has said with regard to the immediate action taken in this crisis, and the second is as to the policy that has to be pursued in this crisis, to get not merely some temporary peace, but to lay its foundations for the future.
We have had one or two speeches to-day—and I think this applies to the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs—that really partook of the nature of special pleading of one case. I agree with the Foreign Secretary when he said that in this matter we ought not to become just partisans of one nation or another nation. It is perhaps the tendency is this country, because of our habit of playing games, that we are apt to take sides, and we think we cannot back one side without running down the other side. There is a great tendency to draw indictments against whole nations, either against the French or against the Germans. I have frequently had occasion to quarrel with what the French Government have done and still more frequently with what the German Government have done, but it is no use trying to indict a whole nation. I do not think it is possible, however, to take a line which says immediately, "Let us wash out everything and start afresh." You cannot do that in this world. You have to consider the people wits whom you are dealing, and the fact remains that you have this serious breach of a Treaty obligation.
There is a good deal of plea put up that this breach of a Treaty by Germany is not really so serious because she has suffered in the past from the evils of the Treaty of Versailles. It. is true that the German people have suffered, but you cannot run an orderly system on that basis. No one can condone rioting just because there are conditions that lead to rioting. You must stop your rioting, but then you must also deal with the grievance. If you merely yield to the rioters, you may make a worse position than you had to start with. Therefore, while a wise Government will stop the rioting, but will perhaps not seek to punish the rioters, it will seek out and deal with the causes of the rioting; and the big causes at work here are much greater, as the right hon. Gentleman said, I think, than the immediate issue of the Rhineland zone.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said the Rhineland zone was never intended to be continued for all time. As a matter of fact, all experience all over the world shows that such arrangements only last when they are bilateral. If you have a zone on either side of the frontier, as we have practically between ourselves and the United States of America, it can last for years.
There are smaller instances, where you have internationalised rivers and so on; but you cannot keep a one-sided arrangement, and the real indictment of our post-War statesmen is that they had a lack of foresight in not dealing with this matter long before. Now we have had this, what I think they call in Germany, brutal act by Herr Hitler, and I think we must recognise the difficulty of the situation with which the Foreign Secretary has had to deal. Anybody who has mixed much with people from the Continent knows the nervousness and fear that stalk throughout Europe, and it is a mistake to think that that fear is not present also among the Germans. I think that fear runs right throughout Europe in every country, and we must recognise the nervousness of France and of Belgium.
That brings one to the White Paper. The White Paper proposals, as I take it, were an effort to get some kind of a pause for negotiations, to give some kind of reassurance to those people, but I think there is some serious ground for criticism in that White Paper. First of all, the fundamental weakness of these proposals is that their scope is too narrow, that they are based on Locarno and not on the League. In the Locarno Treaty you already had Italy, practically an impossible partner for these pacts, and you had Germany, which had already left the League. Germany, of course, is committing a breach of Locarno, and you are, therefore, driven to trying to carry law and order in the world on the shoulders of practically two countries, and that has driven this Government into entering into various commitments and possible commitments which are, I think, extraordinarily dangerous, and also to certain action which I think is quite indefensible. I think it was quite indefensible even to suggest that Italy should be called in for policing the zone. Such a thing is not only impracticable, but it is a cause of ridicule to everybody. The public opinion of this country, which is very seriously concerned with the aggression of Italy in Abyssinia, cannot understand such a thing being put forward.
The next dangerous point is the staff consultations. I think it is true to say that the country is profoundly disturbed at the idea of these staff consultations.
I am far from saying, as the right hon. Member for Epping indeed suggested, that in a full system of collective security, with a League of all the peoples, there should not be proper consultations as to defence. Indeed, it is quite obvious, if you are going to have a full system of collective security, a full arrangement for mutual support and a proper allocation of armaments, that such consultations are necessary. But here you have consultations with all the possible evils that were pointed out by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us, when he replies, just what our situation is now with regard to these staff consultations, and whether, if these negotiations break down now, there will be staff negotiations, because there is here a terrible danger of our being dragged again into a war.
I think that it will come to a point of considerable substance which involves the whole question of the Locarno agreement. As my hon. Friend who spoke for this side said, the Locarno agreement was introduced after the Protocol had been rejected, and I think that you could trace a good many of our post-war difficulties to that fact, because you had there an attempt to evade the main League position and to limit liability, which inevitably led to some kind of alliance. I was disturbed at a speech I saw made by a French statesman, who said that we were going to restore the Stresa front. There are talks at the present time that Italy must come in for this purpose and stand against Germany. That is not the League principle; that is the old principle of alliances, the old balancing one way and another. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) indicated very clearly that point of view with regard to collective security. He talked about Belgium and Holland and the historic position of the Low Countries, and how this country had always insisted that no Power should get control over those countries that lie so near our shores.
That is historically true, but he was not talking League language there; he was talking the language of national defence. The real League position does not differentiate between frontiers. It does not say that this country is more interested in the frontiers of Holland and Belgium, because of the historic position, than in the frontiers of Czechoslovakia or the frontiers of Poland. The League position is that we are out to defend the rule of law, and not particular territories. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham when he concluded the Locarno Pact took a very big step in giving the League a twist out of its right course. In trying to make a limited liability, he really placed a heavier burden on this country. I hear very often talk of collective security which is not my view of collective security.
Some people talk of collective security very much as Lord Chesterfield talked of religion in that famous letter to his son. It is only a collateral security. People are thinking all the time in terms of national defence. We say that you should seek your full security through the League. We do not think that we should say we are going to make ourselves strong for defence and then as collateral security have the League in the background. We want to see the League developed so that you will get a real reduction of armaments, so that no nation will feel it can stand by its own armaments, but all will have to depend on collective security. I noticed what I thought was a disturbing note in the speech of the Foreign Secretary in that he talked exclusively of agreements in the West. You cannot divide peace in Europe. You must have one peace running right through. I think we ought to give up altogether the old traditional doctrine of the balance of power, that balance of armed strength which we used to support for so many years, when we always joined against anyone who was likely to get power on the Continent of Europe. That is obsolete now. The way to get peace is not through the balance of power but through the League. In the present position we all realise the danger that comes from Germany, but I want to stress the danger of the immediate situation, the danger of what may happen in an attempt to get peace. The thing I am afraid of is the danger of a patched-up peace. In the last five years we have had quite enough of dodging difficulties, of using forms of words to avoid facing up to realities. I am afraid that you may get a patched-up peace and then another crisis next year.
There is another thing I am afraid of, and that is that under cover of the League there may be a building up of alliances which are in effect the old military alliances, so that you really come back under the guise of the League to the same position we were in in 1913. I am afraid also of the kind of atmosphere there is with regard to Italy. I was sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman. the Member for Epping suggest that now was the time to withdraw sanctions. Are you going to sacrifice Abyssinia entirely? I would say that the duty of this country regarding the vindication of the League in the case of Italy is quite as vital as in the case of Germany. It is no good taking action against someone who offends against the League if when the next sinner comes along you give the first sinner absolution and enrol him in your police force if possible.
Then I am afraid of the kind of pressure that may be made to get a. temporary peace more or less by blackmail. I think there is quite a possibility of blackmail being applied now against one side and now against another. I am afraid, too, that we may have suggestions put forward that now is the time for this country and France to provide a little money to enable the dictators to carry on. We have heard a good deal of rumour that financial assistance must be given in order to keep these top-heavy dictators on their throne. The fact is, as everybody knows, that the economic situation in Italy and in Germany is rotten. You have oppressed people, and whether in this present adventure Italy succeeds or fails, she has bankruptcy staring her in the face.
I do not believe you will get real peace in Europe while you have dictators following policies of adventure. I think one of our greatest difficulties to-day is the fact that you have these blind and dumb people, and that you cannot get across to them the force of civilised opinion. I think if our financiers are allowed to give these people support they will be responsible for another war. I have instanced these dangers that I see because we are demanding that our Government should follow a straight, clear League policy. The Government should have learned their lesson, that it is ill-advised to go against the public opinion of this country which has been expressed very clearly. The people of this country have expressed their opinion perfectly clearly in their hatred of war, in their willingness to take part in a real League system and in their desire for disarmament.
We on this side welcome in this White Paper the suggestions that are made for the future. We welcome the suggestion that is made—and we hope it is going to be far more than a suggestion—that under collective security there is to be a new move for disarmament, that under collective security there is to be a world conference and that that world conference will deal not only with political causes but economic causes. We look with eagerness to see what lead is to be given, in that direction.
It is possible to lay a great deal too much stress on the question of colonies. That is only a prestige point put forward by Germany. You can lay too much stress on the difficulty of obtaining raw materials. The substantial point will be that of obtaining markets. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, but upon what does the difficulty of obtaining markets really depend? Not so much upon foreign policy as upon home policy. It is the starved markets of the masses of the people in Europe and all over the world, the denial of purchasing power to the masses of the people that prevents the full utilisation of the economic resources of Germany, Italy, this country and other States. Therefore we feel that a foreign policy of peace must be backed up by a home policy of abundance. We stand for collective security, and we say by all means let us invite Germany to take part in the League. By all means let us say that Germany is welcome to come into the comity of nations, but it is useless to think you can build up a stable collective system if you merely get Germany in on a basis of broken faith with no indication whatever that the next promise will be kept more than the last; or that you will get her in under a promise that if she comes in you will do this or that, without any insistence that she, also, will make her contribution to the security and peace of the world.
As a final word I would say that somehow or other we have to remember that
As the discussion on this matter has proceeded a great many hon. Members must have been struck, and perhaps a little surprised, at the general consensus of opinion in this House upon the main lines of the proposals which we have been discussing. At the beginning of his eloquent and impressive speech the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) attributed this general agreement largely to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. My right hon. Friend must indeed have been gratified by the tributes which have come to him from all sides of the House. After an anxious and exhausting period of time, in which he has had to deal with one of the most delicate and critical situations that any of us have been faced with since the War, he has been able to put before the House considerations which, I think, have enabled hon. Members to realise, a little, more clearly than they did before, what were the governing factors in the situation.
I had the privilege of sitting beside the Foreign Secretary during the course of the negotiations and discussions with the other signatories of the Locarno Treaty, and I think all of us were painfully conscious that we were endeavouring to arrive at proposals, which would give a chance of obtaining a satisfactory outcome of our labours, in an atmosphere of public opinion which was by no means fully informed. There have been times when my right hon. Friend must have wished that he could borrow some of the methods employed in other countries, and that he could have taken care that the public heard only what he desired them to know. But I think that this Debate has cleared the atmosphere, at any rate in this House, and I am very hopeful that from this House that pro- cess of clarification will proceed right through the country.
I am sure the House has realised during the Debate, much more clearly than ever before, two things. The first is the circumstances which led to the existence of the demilitarised zone, and the consequent anxiety and fear which have been aroused in the countries which border on that zone—in France, in Belgium, and in Holland—by the conduct of Germany in breaking the Treaty and in occupying the zone with her troops. Secondly, I hope the House has also been usefully reminded of the vital interests of this country in the independence of the Low Countries. It was to provide additional security for that independence, and for this country's interests in that independence, that the Treaty of Locarno was signed, and, if we are still bound by the Treaty of Locarno, we must remember that that interest in the independence of the Low Countries has not been altered or weakened, and that it will remain, and must remain always a vital consideration in the foreign policy, of this country.
In spite of the general agreement, there have been some criticisms of the proposals in the White Paper, and I think that perhaps I can most usefully occupy the time during which I shall be speaking in endeavouring to remove certain feelings of uneasiness, which I fancy still persist in the minds of some hon. Members, about the possibility of our having entered upon new and dangerous commitments. Let me, however, first say a word about a charge made by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate for the Opposition, and repeated by the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House. The right hon. Gentleman complained that these proposals were based upon Locarno, and not upon the Covenant of the League, and in that he was really repeating what had been said by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who charged my right hon. Friend with putting our obligations under the League behind, and in a less important place than, our obligations under Locarno.
In regard to the charge that we are dealing with the Treaty of Locarno rather than with the Covenant of the League, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is the Treaty of Locarno that has been broken by Germany and not the Covenant of the League Therefore, it follows of necessity that we should address ourselves to the circumstances that have been brought about by that breach of the Treaty of Locarno and to the alteration of the position of the signatories of the Treaty which has been brought about by the breach. Let me say once again—though I am afraid the suspicions of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are as ineradicable as some of the fears on the Continent of Europe on the subject—that we have not in any way abandoned our policy, of which the Covenant of the League still remains the keystone. My right hon. Friend's speech surely made it clear to the majority of the House that that was so. Our aims are exactly the same as those which have just been described by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We also look forward to a world in which peace will be attained by collective action and, when that world comes into existence, there will be no need for Treaties of Locarno or for other local or regional pacts. Once we can be quite certain that the peace of Europe, or the world if you like, is going to be maintained by the collective action of all the members of the League, it will be quite unnecessary for us to enter into any other pacts or to provide ourselves with what the right hon. Gentleman would call collateral security for national defence.
Where I think the Opposition differ from His Majesty's Government is that they appear to regard as having already been achieved what we only seek as an end to which we are working in the future. Surely ever one must recognise, even in the light of the events of the last 12 months, that the collective security towards which we are working has not yet been achieved, hat we have yet a long way to go before we can be certain that we can rely upon the active co-operation of all other members of the League to prevent or to punish aggression on the part of any other member. In the meantime we have to buttress the Leagthe by such arrangements as the Treaty of Locarno. Why did we choose that particular area of Europe for the purposes of this buttress? Because it was an area, in which we were ourselves vitally interested, and it is because of our vital interest in the Low Countries that we signed the Treaty Locarno and that we have not been are not now willing to enter into any similar pact which would impose similar obligations upon us in respect of Eastern Europe. But I say that under the Treaty of Locarno we cannot be drawn into obligations under that Treaty in consequence of arrangements between France and Russia, and we do not intend to add to that commitment; but that does not mean to say that we are not anxious to see similar pacts made by countries which are interested in the integrity of the frontiers of Eastern Europe, and, indeed, if hon. Members will look carefully at the White Paper proposals, they will see that one of the points which we desire to take action upon hereafter is in connection with what are alluded to here as German proposals Nos. 6 and 7, of which No. 6 was a proposal for pacts of non aggression in the East.
An unprovoked aggression by Germany against Czechoslovakia or against any other neighbour on the East would, of course, immediately come under the notice of the League of Nations, and in that case we should be bound by our obligations under the League of Nations, which we are ready to fulfil in company with our fellow members of the League. That is the position we have always taken up, and the difference between that and Locarno is that, in addition to our obligation under the League, we also have obligations under the Treaty of Locarno which is intended to buttress the League in respect of this particular aim. I agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite that you cannot divide peace in Europe. Under the League we are interested just as much in the preservation of peace in the East of Europe as we are in the West, and our obligations under the League will apply equally whether aggression takes place in the Eastern or Western parts of Europe.
I now come to one or two other points in the White Paper. Some suggestions have been made that in places the proposals which are embodied in the White Paper are capable of different interpretations; that they are, in fact, not as well drafted as they might be. Perhaps hon. Members will remember the conditions under which these proposals were drafted. We did not have three months in which to consider all the different forms of words which we might use in order to put our ideas on paper. We were tired men sitting around a table after many hours of work, and under the strain with which conferences of this kind must always he carried on. I must say that after reading this White Paper in the bolder light, after subsequent reflection, I am only astonished that it was not much more obscure and difficult to interpret. I do know, at any rate, what it was that we had in our minds, what it was we were trying to express in this White Paper, and while I freely admit that perhaps now, if I had more time, I could improve the wording here and there, still I have no doubt whatever as to what we had in mind and what we intended when we drafted these words. Our objective all through was, of course, to get a lasting, peaceful and satisfactory settlement, but in order to do that we had, first of all, to try and create conditions under which it might be possible to get France, Germany and Belgium to sit round a table, together with ourselves.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) spoke as though it was the easiest thing in the world to ask the German representatives to come and discuss matters. I quite agree with him that that is what we are trying to do, but before you can do that you have to do something to restore the confidence which has been so completely shattered by violent action on the part of Germany. Let me point out once again that up to the present, in spite of various appeals which we have addressed to Germany, we have not had any contribution from Germany at all towards the provision of those conditions. They have made certain proposals, but these are proposals which will have to be discussed when we get round a table. They are not the contribution that we want at this moment or a contribution which will convince the other countries that she is coming in a real spirit of desire to reach a satisfactory arrangement.
Article 3 has been the subject of some questions and some comments. Let me explain the purpose of Article 3. It says
that the representatives of the four signatories:
Declare that nothing that has happened before or since the said breach of the Treaty of Locarno can be considered as having freed the Signatories of that Treaty from any of their obligations or guarantees and that the latter subsist in their entirety.
Why is it necessary to say that? Hon. Members will recall that Germany has stated that in her view the making of the Pact between France and Soviet Russia has rendered the Treaty of Locarno of no validity. It is already stated that we do not take that view, but in order to create the conditions in which there can be a sufficient sense of confidence and security to enable conversations to take place, we felt that it was necessary to reaffirm what we believe to be the position, that in spite of the fact that Germany declared that in her opinion the Locarno Treaty was no longer valid and that she had chosen to declare herself out of the Treaty, the remaining signatories still considered ourselves as much bound as before.
Bound among ourselves. This was an assurance to Belgium and France, whose security had been seriously diminished by the violation of the demilitarised zone, that we considered ourselves bound to them in the same way as before. The second part of Article 3 follows naturally from the first. It says:
Undertake forthwith to instruct their General Staffs to enter into contact with a view to arranging the technical conditions in which the obligations which are binding upon them should be carried out in case of unprovoked aggression.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was very alarmed at this part of Article 3. He called it a military convention, and suggested that once you enter into a military convention you may find yourselves presently involved in fresh commitments. That is not the position. The position is that we have commitments already, our commitments under Locarno, and the effect of this is to do what several hon. Members have said we ought to do, namely, to make it clear that when we said we were still bound by Locarno we
meant what we said an I were prepared to allow these consultations to take place without which our assurances under Locarno might perhaps be considered of very little worth. What indeed is the value of an assurance to Belgium or to France that we will come to their assistance in the case of unprovoked aggression if they have no idea either of the extent or the nature of the assistance which we can give them?
The House should go back a few months, when we ourselves had some reason to suppose that there was the possibility of unprovoked aggression upon our Fleet, or some places belonging to us, in the Mediterranean. We had assurances from France that in that case they would come to our assistance. We said, "What is the use of those assurances to us unless we know what kind of assistance you are going to give u r in order that we may co-ordinate our plans in conjunction with yours to repel this aggression?" Exactly the same thing applies here, and we gave to France the assurance that we will stand by because, in the first place, it rendered more valuable the assurances which we had given and the obligations by which we were legally committed towards France and Belgium, and, in the second place, we thought it well to make clear not only to France and Belgium, but to all the world, that we meant to stand by our word by taking whatever necessary steps should be taken in order to meet that obligation.
Let me say one other thing about that. The German Chancellor has declared that he has no intentions other than peaceful intentions at the present time. Personally I believe that, and if it be true, then Germany has nothing to fear from consultations between the General Staffs of this country and those of France and Belgium. Surely, alter what has happened, nobody can be surprised if France and Belgium are a little slow to take for granted the value of these peaceful declarations. Once you have shaken confidence and have shown that declarations made only a short time ago can be somehow turned round so that they appear no longer to apply to conditions to which everybody would have said they would apply when the declarations were made, confidence is slow to return, and especially is it slow to return in cases such as those of the countries bordering upon the demilitarised zone, whose whole national existence may depend upon the absence of aggression in the future.
Let me now come to the letter on page 7 of these proposals, the letter which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) described as the core of these proposals. Surely that is a little out of perspective. The letter is only some further assurances which are given to France and Belgium as to what our position will be in case these negotiations fail altogether. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary explained—and I think the House fully appreciated the reasons he gave—why they asked for this letter. I hope the conditions may never arise in which the letter will come into operation, but if the letter is pointed to as being the danger spot in the proposal, then let me examine it a little more closely.
What is to happen if these negotiations should fail? It does not follow that because these particular proposals are rejected by Germany, the negotiations have failed. You have still to have other proposals and you have to consider what is in them. But supposing that when we have tried everything we can, it is still impossible to get any arrangement at all, and the negotiations finally fail and break down, what then have we promised to do? First of all we have promised that we
will at once consider, in consultation with your Government and the French and Belgian Governments, the steps to be taken to meet the new situation thus created.
I can hardly imagine that any one would object to that, or think that that is other than a reasonable and natural procedure to take in view of the situation which would then have arisen. I come to paragraph (b):
Will immediately come to the assistance of your Government, in accordance with the Treaty of Locarno, in respect of any measures which shall be jointly decided upon.
Once again, let me remind the House that we are still bound by Locarno, and in certain events we are bound by Locarno to come to the assistance of these other Powers. What does this passage add to the obligations which are already undertaken by us under the Treaty of Locarno? It adds these words, which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs omitted when he was reading the passage—
…in respect of any measures which shall be jointly decided upon.
What does that mean? It does not mean jointly between the Staffs. There is no mention of Staffs up to this point. It means jointly decided upon by the Governments of the respective countries. Therefore, it means that no measures will be decided upon until this Government agrees to them. Therefore, so far from being an extension of Locarno, it might, in so far as this particular phrase is concerned, rather be called a limitation.
There are other phrases to which I am coming immediately, but as far as this one is concerned, it means just what it says, namely:
Will come to the assistance of your Government … in respect of any measures which shall be jointly decided upon.
Therefore, we will come to the assistance of that Government in such measures as we may at that time agree to. That is what we meant, and that is, I think, what we have expressed in this particular passage. Let me come to the next paragraph:
Will, in return for reciprocal assurances from your Government, take, in consultation with your Government, all practical measures available to His Majesty's Government for the purpose of ensuring the security of your country against unprovoked aggression.
I want to say what we understood it to mean at the time. In the first place, let me point out that the object to be achieved by the practical measures to be taken here is the security of France or Belgium, as the case may be, against unprovoked aggression. That does not necessarily mean military measures at all. It may mean the conclusion of a pact of mutual assistance, because this is a preventive clause and something which is aimed particularly at the prevention of aggression. That is why these words are used:
security of your country against unprovoked aggression.
We are not now discussing conversations between the Staffs. We are only discussing these particular phrases which are the obligations undertaken by the Government. I would point out once again that we cannot get away from our obligations under the Treaty of Locarno. What we have in the particular passage that I am quoting is something which we do not get in the Treaty of Locarno, that is the promise of reciprocal assurances from the other Governments. In the Treaty of Locarno we guaranteed Belgium and France against aggression, but we had no guarantee ourselves. The next paragraph, (d), states:
Will, for this purpose, establish or continuo the contact between the General Staffs of our two countries contemplated in paragraph III (2) of the said arrangement.
The right hon. Gentleman was asking whether these paragraphs involved us in an obligation to undertake, in company with France, the expulsion of German troops from the demilitarised zone.
Most certainly not. All this is a guarantee of security, a guarantee against unprovoked aggression. It does riot mean, and cannot be twisted by anybody into meaning, that we were bound in any circumstances to invade another country in company with other nations.
I think I have made it clear that we have not committed Parliament, or the Government, or the country, to any risks of war which were not already inherent in the Treaty of Locarno. We ought to remember that we are in a situation in which it is impossible to eliminate all risks. You have to take lesser risks, perhaps, to avoid bigger risks hereafter. The House has long been familiar with the Treaty of Locarno; it has received its approval for many years. In the new proposals we have made we have added nothing, but we have got something we had not before, and that is the reciprocal assurances to which I hive alluded. I am afraid that although we have obtained something very valuable in the shape of a breathing space during which further negotiations and discussions can take place, we have still in front of us perhaps a long and certainly an anxious time.
I believe that our objective is, first, to try to get such conditions that it would be possible for France, Belgium, Germany and ourselves to discuss proposals round a table, and subsequently to agree upon such proposals as will remove this nightmare of fear which now hangs over the greater part of Europe. But if and when we get past that time, when we can turn oar attention with a little less anxiety to the future, then we have to enter upon consideration of wider and deeper ideals than those which are concerned merely with the events with which we arc dealing to-day. We have to consider some of the matters which are indicated in the White Paper as those which could be dealt with by international conference. I am sure the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland will realise what little hope there would be for an international conference called in the present circumstances. We must wait for calmer times, and there must be much preparation before any such conference is called. When that time comes we shall have to review the whole conditions, the whole constitution, functions and scope of the League of Nations. In Article VIII, on page 5, the first item which is set down for examination is:
Agreements organising on a precise and effective basis the system of collective security, and paying attention to the definition of the conditions in which Article XVI of the Covenant of the League of Nations should he applied.
We have learned a great deal in the last 12 months as to the possibilities and also the limitations of the League of Nations as it is at present constituted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping drew a vivid picture—for he is an artist in words as well as in paint—of a state of affairs in which there should be the peace encirclement of a potential aggressor. You might have the peaceful encirclement of a lion if half-a-dozen people joined hands and stood all round it, and yet one could not feel quite certain that
they would succeed in keeping that potential aggressor from aggression. When you have a single powerful nation armed with teeth and claws and adding to its armaments every day, then it is not much use counting heads and saying, "There are 10 to one against it." You have also to consider how far the 10 are equal in power to the one and how far they are capable of exercising that pressure and that force which alone, perhaps, will keep the peace. Those are matters which have to be very seriously considered. We have to recognise that if the League of Nations is to function as the keeper of the world's peace it must have far clearer ideas, far more definite arrangements among its members as to what part each is going to take in the arbitrament of force.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed.