House Of Lords
Tuesday, 4th October, 1938.
The House met at three of the clock, The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.
Debate resumed (according to Order).
My Lords, I want to preface the observations I propose to offer to your Lordships by reminding you, as I am sure has been well realised, that the peril which called this House together last week is by no means over. Therefore there are certain things which will be said later but which I am precluded from saying now. I am endeavouring to make the case for a very large body of opinion in the country. There were at the last General Election eight million Labour voters, including of course the great majority of organised and skilled labour, and at this time we have with us, we know, a very large body of non-party and indeed all-party opinion. Particularly the Labour ranks for whom I am endeavouring to make a case are essential to the forces at the present time for many reasons. The Prime Minister yesterday, having declared his faith and belief in Herr Hitler, in the next sentence said it was necessary for us to go on rearming. The Home Secretary has declared that the air-raid precautions remain in force. We need men. If we do not come out of this unhappy predicament successfully we may be faced with war after all, we will need men just as much as munitions, and we haw, got to satisfy the masses of the workers what we want them for. In the most solemn way we want to inform the noble Earl the Leader of the House and other members of the Cabinet present—and I speak here with authority—that if you are going to ask us to help in your rearmament, or to give up many of our liberties to provide the men, we will not do it if you are going to take this country into a new Holy Alliance which in effect is an enlarged anti-Comintern pact.These people for whom I am trying to speak were ready a week ago and a month ago to run all risks and make all sacrifices for the honour and safety of their country. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, said in his speech yesterday—and I compliment him upon it—you have got to convince them that they are fighting for high principles. I have referred to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, and perhaps I may be allowed to add my congratulations to those of other speakers last night on his maiden speech. I welcome his presence here for another reason. We may need his advice in the future. He has a reputation as a great master of strategy. I look forward to hearing his views on the strategical situation if in future we are threatened, not by an axis, but by a quadrilateral, the other two corners being Japan, having got out of her present mess in China, and a Fascist Spain. The noble and gallant Lord said—and if he will allow me to say so I second him—that if the worst comes to the worst the British Empire will take on any combination of hostile Powers if you lead the people properly. But the strategical situation will be rather a difficult one in the circumstances I have envisaged. I am sorry that that part of his speech about Great Britain and the British Empire was not heard earlier in this crisis. I would have liked to have heard it made a week ago. I made a speech like it—though not so eloquently and not with such authority—on Sunday of last week at Dartford. The noble Earl the Minister of Education knows Dartford. It is a very poor district, right on the Thames, and there are important military objectives near it. I would like to describe that meeting. It was summoned as one of the two thousand meetings we held after the Berchtesgaden pilgrimage, to rouse our people to the danger that we knew was surrounding us. It was held in the town hall, but not in the main body of the town hall, because when we got there that was given over to the distribution of gas masks. It was what has come to be called Gas Mask Sunday. Long queues of people, including women with babies, were waiting for their gas masks to be fitted. Our meeting was packed, but we had to be sent to the upper rooms. I warned those people, and I warned them very solemnly, of what you were asking them to stake, of what it would mean. They were unanimous in their determination to resist threats and blackmail. The time had come, as the Prime Minister said in his speech the following Tuesday evening, when a great principle was at stake and we should have to make a stand. They knew what it meant. I wish I had had the retiring First Sea Lord with me then, and may I, before I leave my comments on his speech, say that from all I have heard the smoothness and the efficiency of the mobilisation of the Fleet left nothing to be desired. He held the great office of First Sea Lord for five years and, if I may without impertinence say so, the country owes him a great debt of gratitude—and it also owes a great debt of gratitude to his political chief, Mr. Duff Cooper, who insisted, as we know from his speech, on mobilising the Fleet. Yes, he insisted on mobilising the Fleet and that was one of the two events which I believe saved the situation. I want to deal with one other matter to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, and other Government apologists have referred. The Government apologists declared that whatever happened Czechoslovakia would have been overrun and that no help could have been brought to the Czechs. I want, if I may, in a few moments to examine that argument. I was particularly interested in what Lord Chatfield said about that. Apparently the only help that the Czechs could have expected from us was naval action, a blockade. Well, he and I have had to study the doctrines of war, and he will remember the distinction, drawn by Clausewitz and other great masters of strategy, between limited and unlimited war. It is surely not suggested that if a war had come, or if a war should come in the future, in the circumstances we know, it would be a limited war. Of course it cannot be; it must be an unlimited war. In that case Czechoslovakia would have been assisted in many ways. I believe the best military opinion maintains that the Czechs could have held out on those magnificent fortifications which they are now surrendering as part of this "peace with honour" for about four months. I believe that is the opinion of the Russian General Staff. I do not ask for any confirmation of that estimate, because apparently the only people who have not been consulted in the matter are the Russian General Staff. I believe that is also the opinion of the French General Staff. The Czechs would have had immediate assistance from Russia in aeroplanes and, long before the end of the four months, very heavy assistance by land. There had been many evidences of weakness in Germany. I see the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, in his place. The correspondents of The Times abroad, in their accounts of conditions in Germany, put a very different complexion on the events there a fortnight ago from that put by the leader writers in that great organ. There were undoubtedly evidences of serious weakness in Germany. I have myself seen men of repute and substance—Englishmen—who saw the rioting and heard and saw the shooting in some of the German towns. When the German troops marched, they marched through silent and gloomy crowds, without a cheer. The Nuremberg speech was rapturously acclaimed—some of it I thought rather disciplined acclamation—by a hand-picked audience, but the rest of it, compulsorily listened in to in restaurants, beer-gardens and houses, was heard in dead silence. This is the evidence of the newspaper correspondents of The Times.
It has nothing to do with me.
I most humbly apologise to the noble Viscount on the Cross-Benches; I apologise as deeply and as completely as I can. I thought he or his relations had something to do with it. I immediately withdraw that suggestion, and I hope he has not taken offence. I acquit him of signalling to the enemy at the critical moment! Now, the fact is that the Nazi Party, or the Nazi extremists—I do not know if there is any difference—were losing ground. Lord Chatfield judges Germany by the gentlemen of his own rank he meets in the German Navy. I have met these men too; they are fine fellows, and if they were the Government of Germany I should agree with him. But they are not, unfortunately, and the extremists in the Nazi Party were undoubtedly losing ground. They are reestablished now, of course; their horn is exalted, they are in the ascendant; but for that you have to thank the framers of the "peace with honour." So I do not think it can be said with certainty—at any rate with the certainty that has been expressed in your Lordships' House—that nothing would have saved Czecho- slovakia. In any case the Czechs are the best judges of that, and they would have been far better off, as my noble friend Lord Snell said yesterday, if they had been left alone by England and France to make their own terms and do what they liked, if we had not led them on and buoyed them up with hope that we really, for once, would stand by our friends instead of what has actually happened.I want, if I may, to draw attention to what I think is one of the most remarkable developments of these last extraordinary weeks. I speak with great diffidence in the presence of an ex-Prime Minister, and I am hoping that your Lordships may hear something from the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, on this point. We have been living for a fortnight under a dictatorship. I do not go so far as some of my friends who already talk of the Prime Minister as "Der Führer." I think that is going a little too far. But it has been an actual dictatorship. We were, we were told, very near war last week, and as far as Parliament was concerned we should have been in war if things had moved a little more quickly. The Leader of my Party, my right honourable friend Major Attlee, again and again asked for Parliament to be called together, and the Liberal Party did the same. It was not done. In August, 1914, Parliament was sitting. There are those who were in that Parliament listening to me now. Was it a good thing or a bad thing that Parliament was sitting? We entered the war unitedly in August, 1914. Was it a good thing or a bad thing that Parliament was taken into the confidence of the Government, and that through Parliament the people were informed of the tremendous issues at stake? This time—oh, no, not at all! Furthermore, the Cabinet has not been properly consulted, as far as I know. I speak subject to correction. I can only go by what has appeared in the newspapers. At the most critical meeting of all, after the Prime Minister returned from Godesberg—the second meeting; the mischief had been done at Berchtesgaden; I will come to that presently—the newspapers informed us that the Inner Circle met for two hours before the Cabinet met. The Inner Circle! They have another name for it in Fleet Street, which I will not use. The principle of Cabinet responsibility seems to have been put to one side, and the only compliment I am going to pay to noble Lords opposite who adorn His Majesty's Government is one of surprise that they are still on that Bench. Now, if I may, I wish to press this point home. My noble friends Lord Ponsonby and Lord Arnold are also exalted to-day; they are very pleased at the turn of events.
But suppose it had gone the other way. Suppose Lord Arnold and Lord Ponsonby had been digging themselves in at their country houses and the guns had begun to shoot. They would not have been consulted. They are members of your Lordships' House, they represent a certain section of Christian Pacifists, or Gandhists, or whoever they are, in the country. They would not have had a chance to protest, and this awful cataclysm would have come upon the world without the advice of Lord Ponsonby or Lord Arnold, or anybody else. It cuts both ways, this dictatorship, and I can only repeat to my noble friends that we are not out of the wood yet, and that the danger is not past. One word with regard to this Inner Circle. It consisted, or consists—I do not know whether it still exists—of the Prime Minister and three ex-Foreign Secretaries.
VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Not yet—of two ex-Foreign Secretaries and one Foreign Secretary.
Is he still Foreign Secretary? I thought that the Foreign Office had ceased to function. I did not believe the stories going around about the Foreign Secretary having so little to do that with his colleague in France he was drafting a note to the Vatican, praying for the canonisation of Judas Iscariot; but I understood that the Prime Minister was doing everything, and was carrying the whole burden on his shoulders. I am very glad that the noble Viscount is still in a position of responsibility.Now let me analyse the records of these four statesmen. Sir John Simon, as Foreign Secretary, had a theory that if the Japanese were allowed to take Manchuria that would satisfy them. I believe the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, was Prime Minister at the time, and he will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that was the theory. Your Lordships now see what has happened, and how far the Japanese were satisfied by taking the three huge provinces of Manchuria. Now we come to the second member of the triumvirate, Sir Samuel Hoare. His theory was that if Abyssinia were handed over to the Italians, or if the Italians were allowed to work their will in Abyssinia, that would satisfy Italy, she would be our friend for ever, and we could rely upon her in any future trouble. It does not satisfy Italy. Italy has a large army in Spain at the present time. Now I come to the noble Viscount. If I understood rightly his very lucid and eloquent speeches, to which I have listened with such pleasure in this House, where we have so often debated the Spanish question, the theory there was that if the Italians and Germany could have their way in Spain that would satisfy them. Has it? Now the Prime Minister apparently, if I understood his arguments and those of his supporters in this House, puts forward the theory that having got Bohemia and the former Sudeten-Austria, Germany is going to be satisfied. Well, we shall see. I am very sorry that for once in a way the Secretary of State for India is not here. I wanted to address some remarks to the noble Marquess, but I would ask as another favour, if I may, of the Leader of the House, that he will draw the attention of the noble Marquess to my remarks when they appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT. India is a vast and complicated country. I speak now in the presence of ex-Viceroys and other Pro-Consuls, ex-Governors, and others. We hold India in theory by the prowess of 60,000 white soldiers. I think that is the figure; anyhow it is a very small army. But that is not really the way that we hold India. We hold India because the people of India rely on our word—on an Englishman's word—as they do in many other parts of the world; they believe we are people who stand by our friends. In the vernacular, we are good people with whom to go tiger-shooting. When things looked very black we had, as was to be expected, immediate offers of assistance from great Indian Princes, representatives of the fighting races of India; and the Congress leaders declared themselves on our side in this matter if we were prepared to oppose bullying and force in Europe, and attempt to save a democratic nation like Czechoslovakia. What are we going to say to them now? What are we going to say to the Rajputs and Mahrattas and the Moslems? Is our prestige as high as it was a fortnight ago, in India or anywhere else? This is a bad period in which we find ourselves, but we will recover, and our prestige will stand higher than ever one day. It has had a blow, a very serious blow, and your Lordships know quite well that every word of this part of my speech is true.
SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS
All right. There are some who dissent. I want to remind the Foreign Secretary, if I may, of an episode nineteen years ago, when Mr. Lloyd George, then Prime Minister, returned from Paris with the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles has been very heavily criticised in this debate. It was very heavily criticised yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who was one of the members of the Government then. He was in the House of Commons in those memorable days. The whole House with only three exceptions stood up and cheered and waved their Order Papers in an emotional scene for this man who had brought back the Treaty of Versailles which is now so attacked. I understand that the Foreign Secretary was in the Peers' Gallery in another place on Wednesday of last week, and that he also rose and cheered this second time for the Treaty of Munich which had been brought back.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
No. The Prime Minister had not gone to Munich when I cheered.
I am much obliged. Well, he was going. I made a slip, I am sorry. I am trying to compress the argument in a very serious case. At any rate, he cheered the Prime Minister's policy, and I suppose he would cheer it again to-day. Well, I would not. I did not cheer Mr. Lloyd George in 1919—I was one of the three. I would not cheer it now, and I would not cheer Mr. Chamberlain's policy at the present time.The argument that will of course be used—it has been used by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby in the Press already—is that the Labour Party rather wanted a war this time, and that we are so jealous for liberty and freedom and the things that our ancestors fought for that we are actually prepared to defend them. That is the sort of argument we hear. The answer to that is, however, clear. We believe—and all the information that we have had goes to strengthen this—that this situation ought never to have arisen at all. We believe that Czechoslovakia would have been reformed if you like, but saved, but for the weakness and défaitisme, and even worse, in high places in this country and in France. When the Prime Minister went the first time to Berchtesgaden—I am not talking now about differences between the Godesberg and the Munich proposals; the vital event was the visit of the Prime Minister to Berchtesgaden on the first occasion—we were told that he had gone there because we were not certain that the Chancellor, Herr Hitler, knew the dangers he was running, that he was surrounded by a camarilla, that we were not certain that he was informed that we meant what we said when the Prime Minister made that solemn statement, on March 24 I think it was, which was repeated last month by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Simon, in his Lanark speech. That is what we were told, and we were profoundly shocked, and I believe the whole world was profoundly shocked, knowing such facts as were put before us, that as the result of that visit Mr. Chamberlain should have put forward what is known as the Anglo-French plan. And from that moment when the plan was published the situation was very seriously damaged. At the time of the Nuremberg speech the position of Herr Hitler and his Party was difficult. The brutal extravagance of the demands, the tone of the speeches of the responsible leaders in Germany, had alienated world opinion. Germany really was isolated. The Italians now are of course talking about what they would have done, but at that time the Italian situation was not a good one. Their strategical situation was extremely weak, with a big army in Abyssinia and a big army in Spain. Both would have been cut off. At that time the extremists, the forward Party in Germany, were in a very weak position. Immediately after the Nuremberg speech there was an attempt at an insurrection in the Sudeten districts, which was a failure. The Observer says it was a failure—the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches will support me now; and the Observer right through has been of the same way of thinking apparently as those who control the policy of The Times. There was a very large section of Sudeten Germans who had no desire whatever to go into Nazi Germany, and they began to negotiate with the Czechs. I am only reminding your Lordships of facts that all of you know. If at that time we had stood a little firmer, if then we had mobilised the Fleet, if then we had somehow got it across to the public in Germany what their leaders were endangering, I believe an honourable settlement could have been reached. But if anyone snatched defeat from the jaws of victory it was the Prime Minister in his visit to Berchtesgaden. Not the visit itself—we of the Labour Party who were privy to it approved of the visit. There were some differences, but we could not believe that what happened afterwards could possibly have happened as the result of it. I have been told: "It is all very well criticising. What would you have done if you had been faced with the situation which the Prime Minister found at Berchtesgaden?" I answer immediately. What I would have done—and I speak only figuratively of course—is this. I would have said, "I must not prolong these discussions. I have another appointment in Moscow"; and I would have got into the same aeroplane and have flown to see Mr. Stalin. It did not matter what I would have said to Mr. Stalin. But that would have set the Germans thinking. I now come to the second event which I believe was decisive. That was on last Friday week when the Russians made it clear to the Poles after Berchtesgaden, when the jackals had begun to hover round the corpse killed by the tiger, that if the Poles invaded Teschen they, the Russians, would attack the Poles. I believe that was the decisive event, and after that the situation could even then have been saved. I want to refer to another argument that has been used in this debate, and which we shall hear again. The Czechs are blamed in this House and in another place—we heard it from the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, yesterday—for not having given up these Sudeten districts earlier.
I acquit the noble Lord. He blamed himself for having agreed to the Treaty of Versailles. But the Czechs have been blamed for not having moved more quickly with reforms. I do not know whether we really have the right to blame them for hesitating to give up the keys of Bohemia, those fortified lines on which they have spent some £40,000,000—a poor country. They are next door to Austria. They know what happened in Austria when the Germans went in there.May I be forgiven if I remind your Lordships of just two illustrations of what Nazi rule means to-day. We had a very moving call to religion from the most reverend Primate yesterday. He touched us all by his references to the Divine Will. Your Lordships know that the Foreign Secretary believes that a man's religion should be sacred to him. Devout Jews in Vienna are made to clean the lavatories of the Storm Troopers wearing the sacred vestment known as the Talit. The Talit, I believe I am right in saying, is the sacred cloth which the Jews wear in their synagogues. They are made to wear these. This is what the most reverend Primate described as the bloodless invasion of Austria when he discussed it in the spring. One other example. Some of your Lordships, including the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, have been friendly with Prince Starhemberg, now a refugee. He may have made mistakes, and he is now a fugitive. His mother, a delicately nurtured lady, a member of one of the oldest houses in Europe, is being made to sweep the streets in Vienna. Why? Because she was a Monarchist, she was a member of the Monarchist Party. That is what Nazi domination means. It is to that that you have handed over these unfortunate Czechs, Social Democrat German Sudetens, and Jews in the occupied districts. Can you wonder that Benes and the Czech leaders hesitated to hand over the keys of their country to a Power that does these things? That sort of thing could have been stopped by Herr Hitler with a word. When the Marquess of Londonderry spoke to the Führer in Germany, did he mention these matters to him? I have not been in Germany for some years myself, but I met some important Nazi leaders then and protested to them. They pretended to listen to me, because I was one of the half-dozen men in the House of Commons who opposed the Treaty of Versailles and they thought I had a right to be heard. Has the Foreign Secretary put it to his colleague, Herr von Ribbentrop, or to the present German Ambassador? Have these matters been mentioned at all by us? Or would it annoy Herr Hitler as, we were told by Mr. Duff Cooper yesterday, the mobilisation of the Fleet would annoy him? On the day after the Munich Agreement, or whatever it is called, an edict was issued that all the certificates of all Jewish doctors in Vienna—four thousand of them—were to be cancelled. The Austrian medical profession was in a position of great eminence in the world of medicine. That happened the very day after Munich. Furthermore, according to the newspapers—perhaps I may ask the Leader of the House to address himself to this when he comes to reply—the German wireless stations are still pouring out their attacks and abuse on the Czech Government, calling upon Slovaks and Ruthenians to throw off the yoke of Czech tyranny. That is still going on. What change has there been since this love-feast at Munich? Peace with honour! I wonder if the maffickers—there were not too many of them—last week in London gave a thought to the stream of refugees, innocent people, German trade unionists, Czech loyalists, Jews, peasants, fleeing in panic and anguish from the Nazi terror in Czechoslovakia. I wonder if they thought of that. I want to choose my words rather carefully in what I am going to say now. I believe that the English reached a moment of great grandeur only a few days ago, on September 27, when the Prime Minister, who could rely on a united nation behind him, made that broadcast. May I just remind your Lordships of a few lines:
That was the man who sent the 2 a.m. message to President Benes to surrender—our friend, our ally, the man we begged to stand firm, to strengthen his defences, to overtax his poor people in order to build up his armaments. Yes, peace with honour. We are paying, I am glad to say, £10,000,000 of conscience money. It is something. A great many people want to subscribe money to a memorial to the Prime Minister. I hope it will be sent intact to Czechoslovakia. We imposed on these people terms much harsher than those of Versailles without giving them a chance, without giving them a hope, except—what? A guarantee by England and France who, according to the former First Sea Lord, Lord Chatfield yesterday, could not have gone to their help. Now, when they have surrendered their forts and their artillery, now when they are weakened, we have got to guarantee them. We, England and France. I hope we shall hear more about the guarantee. As things are I shall resist it and I believe my Party will resist it. It will only lead to more anguish, more humiliation. Terms more harsh than the Treaty of Versailles imposed by us! We were the souteneurs for Herr Hitler. There is no compensation apparently for State property seized, no assumption of the proportion of the debt represented by the secession of territories. The noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, advocated a preferential commercial treaty between Germany and Czechoslovakia. There is no word of that. We are the people who stand by our friends, who say our word can be trusted. We have held our Empire in the past not so much by our martial qualities; our Empire was held by our prestige. We were very abusive and very contemptuous of the unfortunate Bethmann-Hollweg in 1914, when he talked about treaties being scraps of paper. The Franco-Czech alliance has been treated as a scrap of paper; so has the Covenant of the League of Nations. Yet we were bound by the Covenant. The Government fought the 1935 Election on what they called the principles of the League of Nations. We are bound by it and it has been treated as a scrap of paper. Now you propose a new guarantee. May I ask this about the guarantee that we and the French are offering to Czechoslovakia —when will it become operative? I should have thought it would have been operative as soon as the Czechs surrendered. I should have thought it was operative as soon as they gave way. It did not even stop the Poles. If it was operative then it did not stop the Poles. The jackals, as I said, gathered round the carcass killed by the tiger; the hyena could not interfere with the jackal. Just one other reflection. Those fortified lines in Bohemia contain £20,000,000 of the very finest artillery and munitions in the world that have become a prize for Germany. Peace with honour! May I address another question to the Leader of the House or whoever is to wind up for His Majesty's Government. Out of all this are we to get a settlement in Spain and if so on what lines? The first Sea Lord who has taken over the heavy burden from the noble and gallant Lord on the Cross Benches (Lord Chatfield) would not have been quite so comfortable if Spain had been wholly Fascist to-day, if the Prime Minister's policy of last spring had succeeded. Yes, there was then the expectation of a Franco victory. We would not have been quite so happy in the Navy if there had been a Fascist Spanish Government friendly, as it would have been, to Berlin and Rome, with its magnificent harbours to be used against our ships. What is going to happen about Spain? I would like if I may to make one or two suggestions for the future. The immediate policy should be to keep mobilised. I hear—I hope it is not true—that one of the ideas canvassed during those hectic days of communications before Munich was that the British Fleet was to be demobilised again as a gesture. I hope it will not be. I hope it will be kept mobilised until we see that the situation is absolutely secure and all the other safety measures continue. And while we are mobilised let us ask here and now of the German leaders and Herr Hitler in particular what are his remaining grievances. Let us know them and see if it is possible to remedy them. While we are mobilised and while the German people are, according to the Prime Minister, in a pacifist mood is the time to talk; that is, if the German people really are in a pacifist mood. The next suggestion I have to make is this. The Four-Power Pact we regard rightly or wrongly—I hope wrongly, and I hope it will never come into being—as a new Holy Alliance for the suppression of liberty everywhere in which we shall be the very junior partners, as my noble friend reminded your Lordships yesterday. The alternative is the immediate calling of a world conference, and if you could get the President of the United States to preside that would be, I believe, a wonderful thing—a world conference to seek out those political and economic grievances which so disturb the peace of the world. Then there must be a long-range policy. The only way that the Party for which I have the honour of speaking thinks you can bring about permanent peace is to abolish the causes of war. One of the great causes of war is poverty. There is plenty of wealth for all in the world if the spectre of war is removed; but we do not believe the spectre of war or the threat of war will be removed by surrending to threats and blackmail or by paying danegelt whether in the form of Colonies or anything else. On the question of Colonies my Party has declared itself many years ago. We believe there should be a Colonial settlement with Germany, but as part of a general settlement; not one more sop, not one more payment of danegelt, not one more truckling to the bully, not one more surrender to threats. We believe that the surrender we have already made will bring us dishonour without peace."Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me, but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination the life of people who believe in liberty would not be worth living."
My Lords, I often find myself in more or less agreement with speeches that are ma de from the Labour Bench by my side, but not to-day. Hardly anything in my noble friend's speech to-day, except the admirable sentiments in the concluding passages, commanded my agreement. I agree indeed that this nation must be ready to make a stand against dictatorships, that we must not be willing to hand over the affairs of the world to the control of militarism, that we must be armed and be prepared if occasion absolutely requires to make great sacrifices, but when we do that we must be perfectly sure that the occasion is one on which we have absolute moral justification on our side. And in the early stages of the dispute with regard to the Sudeten Germans in my view that was not the case. The Labour Party in two at the time of the Treaty of Versailles issued a pronouncement of policy in a pamphlet which was called Labour and the Peace Treaty and in the pamphlet this passage appeared:
That was still the case this year, and if the Prime Minister had not gone to Berchtesgaden, and if, as would certainly have been the case, a general European war had broken out before the submission of the Anglo-French plan, unquestionably the immediate cause of the war in the eyes of the whole world would have been the question whether or not the Sudeten area should be separated from Czechoslovakia and should revert to the Reich. I believe that the mind and conscience of the whole British people would have been torn two ways. On the one hand there would have been the idea of resisting aggression, resisting militarism, resisting diplomacy backed up by constant threats; and on the other hand the feeling that if these millions of Germans wished to go to the Reich, if they did not wish to be liable to conscription in Czechoslovakia, they should not be forced in the case of a dispute to fight against their own people, the Germans. The whole nation would have been torn by these two conflicting sentiments. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, yesterday made an exceedingly interesting maiden speech to which we all listened with close attention. There were passages in it from which I myself dissented, but when he spoke for the men in the ships and said that if we were called upon to fight we wanted to be sure that our cause was right, that we must have an inspiration, those were words that impressed the whole House. If the issue had been as I have said, if we had gone to war with that immediate purpose the man in the street, and what is more important the man in the trenches, the man in the ship and the man in the 'plane; the people throughout the Dominions and India, would have had doubt whether after all the Germans had not got some right in their case. But it is said, and was said yesterday by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that that would not have been the real cause of war. He even used the words that this would have been only a small part of the matter. I do not think it would have been a small part of the matter. It would have been a very important element. But still it is the fact that there would speedily have emerged a large issue bringing to the front the main issues of world politics. It would have been said that we were fighting to prevent Europe being dominated by force, that if we yielded to these demands now they would be followed by even greater demands afterwards, that war in such circumstances would ultimately be certain and would then be fought under worse conditions and without a nation which now would be a strongly armed ally, that in any case it was intolerable to bring further areas of Europe under a domination, an intolerable oppression such as that of the Nazi régime. Well, my Lords, those are very powerful pleas which are being actively urged now, and have been urged for some time past, by Mr. Winston Churchill and many others; but are they really sound? Are they the ultimate argument? To my mind any doctrine that speaks of an inevitable war is always wrong. You must not base your diplomatic action upon the assumption that war is certainly coming and that you must forestall it before your opponent gets too strong. If we can learn anything from the history of mankind it is that again and again wars have been declared by many sections of public opinion to be inevitable but have proved not to be so. In the nineteenth century people were continually saying that war with France under Napoleon III was inevitable; that war with Russia, who was reaching out towards India, was inevitable. In earlier times we heard that war with Spain was inevitable, that war with the American Colonists must come and come speedily. In some cases war did occur; sometimes it did not. In any case to my mind the doctrine of preventive war is always a criminal doctrine. When it is said that we are sure to be met by further demands and that we had better resist now, I would reply that possibly we may be met by further demands but if the demands that are made to-day are justifiable in themselves it is wholly inadmissible to say that we must refuse them because we shall be faced by unjustifiable demands to-morrow. My Lords, the world has escaped a terrible catastrophe. There are in this House at the present time four men who were in the Cabinet in July and August, 1914—my noble friend beside me, the Marquess of Crewe, the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, and myself. Perhaps we more than any other men in this House can appreciate the emotions and the feelings of those to whom to-day falls a similar responsibility, and particularly of the Prime Minister, whose magnificent efforts demand the admiration of the whole nation, irrespective of Party, and of the whole world. We are profoundly thankful that the efforts of the men of to-day have achieved a happier ending than that which was vouchsafed to us. For my own part, in spite of my detestation of many of the leading features of the Nazi réegime, its tyranny, its oppression of political opponents, Catholics and Protestants, its cruel persecution of my own Jewish co-religionists, in spite of the abominations that go on in many concentration camps, in spite of all those things of which some clay when the German people realise them they will be bitterly ashamed, I think our prime duty is to struggle on for peace. We cannot forget that the present situation is the outcome of the history of twenty years, of many actions and, not less important, of many inactions, of which Germany has good ground to complain. Many of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, the financial reparations that were exacted, the occupation of the Ruhr, the refusal to allow even a Customs union between Austria and Germany, the one-sided disarmament of Germany and the refusal of the Allied Powers to fulfil their pledge to disarm, the successive blows struck at the principle of collective security culminating in the Hoare-Laval Agreement—for all these things this country must bear a share of responsibility, and the present Government also. For twenty years Article 19 of the Treaty of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which contemplated revision and peaceful change, was never once employed. A great statesman once said: "I will concede everything to reason, I will yield nothing to pressure." That is a very sound and noble doctrine, but if you do not concede in advance things to reason the day will come when you will be compelled to concede things to pressure. Our aim should be not to permit the division of Europe into two blocs which will unquestionably lead sooner or later to war more surely than any other cause. For that reason, I for one did not demur to the Naval Agreement that was signed between the present Government and Germany. On the contrary, I cordially welcomed it, and the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, yesterday, showed how welcome that was also, not unnaturally, to the Admiralty. In the House of Commons, in the last Parliament, I was one of those who did not take part in the movement that was pressing the Government to give a formal and definite guarantee to Czechoslovakia that we should come to her assistance in the event of any attack being made upon her. I was against that because I could see how difficult and delicate the internal question of Czechoslovakia was, and because, once that guarantee was given, Czechoslovakia would be incapacitated from making concessions adequate to meet reasonable demands from Germany. Very naturally there would be a strong feeling within Czechoslovakia against making any concession to the minorities if that country felt that she had behind her an absolute guarantee from this country, France and Russia. There would have been practically no hope of a peaceful solution of that problem. Such a guarantee, I believe, would not have deterred Germany from sooner or later pressing her claim, but would perhaps have encouraged in Germany an intensive and embittered militarism which would certainly have divided Europe into the two blocs. Therefore I think that, in the circumstances of the moment and at the time, the Anglo-French plan pressed upon Czechoslovakia was inevitable. This policy of trying to reach an agreement with Germany may, of course, fail. There are grave grounds for foreboding. Herr Hitler says that he is now satisfied and will make no other territorial claim in Europe; but he has said that two or three times before at other stages in the recent history of Europe: after the annexation of the Rhineland and again at the time of the annexation of Austria. In the conversations reported by the Prime Minister and printed in the White Paper there is one very significant and, one might almost say, sinister sentence. Herr Hitler said to the Prime Minister that he had offered in his proposal to Czechoslovakia—that is the ultimatum proposal—a frontier very different from the one which he would have taken as a result of military conquest. Now, Herr Hitler always said that he only wished to take in the predominantly German districts, that he did not want to annex other people or their territory. Who would have been the inhabitants of that strip of country between the line which he put on his map and what he would have demanded as a result of conquest? They could not have been predominantly German areas, because those were already included in his demands. They must obviously have been predominantly Czech areas which he would have seized for strategic, economic or political reasons. Therefore the mere inclusion of that confession, that if he had taken military action he would have demanded more even than the line he had placed on the map, is a reason for doubting the sincerity of his claim that his motive was only to bring within the Reich his fellow-Germans. For all these reasons we cannot rest assured that agreement is at hand, however much we may strive for it. Therefore it appears to me quite clear that, unless we can secure some general measure of disarmament, this country cannot yet be relieved of the enormous expense and cannot yet relax the tremendous efforts which it is making for its own protection. The events of recent weeks have made the general position clearer in certain respects. They have evoked from the whole of Europe a vehement, passionate sentiment in favour of peace. Herr Hitler's prestige has undoubtedly risen greatly, but it has risen greatly because he has achieved his object without a war. If he had gone to war the people of Germany would have quickly been disillusioned and his popularity would have descended rapidly to a much lower ebb. So also, Signor Mussolini's prestige has increased with his own people in Italy, not because he has been playing the part once more of the prancing warmonger, but because he has been a peacemaker and has played a most honourable and effective part in avoiding the perils of a European war. The German and Italian peoples have made it abundantly clear that, above all, they would detest and resent being taken by their leaders into warfare. The noble Lord who has just spoken said that our prestige had fallen, and asked what the peoples of India would think of this surrender. I believe, on the contrary, that the fact that war has been avoided is almost wholeheartedly welcomed by the peoples of India, as well as of all the other Dominions, and that they have never felt more confidence in and gratitude towards the Empire of which they are a part than they feel to-day, and for that reason. There is a point—that has been made clear—at which Great Britain will stand. That is another matter in which the situation has been clarified. The mobilisation of the Fleet, the fact that the whole nation and Empire had braced themselves up to immediate warfare—that will be an indication to the dictators that there is in fact a line which they must not overpass. Mr. Duff Cooper and many others think that if that mobilisation of the Fleet had taken place earlier, some of the concessions, or surrenders, that have had to be made might have been avoided. Perhaps that is so, perhaps not. I think no one can express a view on that point with certainty. At all events, the fact is that the mobilisation having taken place at one point is an indication for the future that the British people are prepared to make the greatest sacrifices for the sake of any goal which they are resolved to achieve. Often Signor Mussolini and others have expressed or hinted at the view that this is a decadent people, that the British of to-day are unworthy of the great Empire which their ancestors of sterner stuff acquired. That is a profound error. It is a great error to imagine that restraint is the same thing as timidity. On the contrary, restraint coupled with strength is the surest mark of national greatness. What are to be the consequences of the events that have taken place? By far the most important consequence for this country of the Agreement that has been reached is the guarantee to Czechoslovakia. That is a tremendous commitment. I think that it was necessary. We called upon them to abandon their fortresses and to surrender almost all the strategic advantages that they possessed, and that could only have been done if we on our side, and the French also, had pledged ourselves to do our utmost to supply them with the alternative defence of our assistance. How far that can be effective it is impossible to foresee. It must be accompanied by the complete neutralisation of Czechoslovakia. We cannot give a pledge of that sort and at the same time have Czechoslovakia engaged in European politics in a way of which we might not approve and which might compel us to go to war for objects from which we dissented. Therefore the future status of Czechoslovakia must be made as nearly analogous as possible to that of Switzerland. I should be very glad to know if the Government could see their way to make any statement on that—what is the nature of this proposed guarantee, and how it is likely to be fulfilled. The word of this country, once given, must be observed, and I have no doubt that either this generation or the next generation would consider themselves as fully bound to Czechoslovakia by any pledge of that sort, as we found ourselves in 1914 bound by the treaty which guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium. But this pledge has been given without any discussion in Parliament. It had to be, from the circumstances of the case. From the constitutional point of view this, if it became a precedent, would be an exceedingly grave and unhappy one. It had to be done, and the fact that it was shows that democracy can act in times of peril swiftly and decisively, and without fumbling; but I hope it will be placed on record for posterity that the two Houses of Parliament assented to such a pledge being given as was given in the Munich Agreement, without consultation with the representative assembly and with this House, only because in the first place the matter was one of extreme urgency, and secondly because no important section of opinion in this country is really opposed to that guarantee in those circumstances. I am not aware that anyone in Parliament, when Parliament met and heard the Prime Minister's statement a few days ago, demurred at that stage to a proposal of that nature. A second consequence is that we are called upon in honour to give economic assistance to Czechoslovakia. The Czechs have played their part with wisdom, dignity and restraint, and we are under an obligation to do all we can to ease their present unhappy position. I would put in a word particularly for the refugees from Sudetenland, who will not be able to find a new home and livelihood in other parts of Czechoslovakia, and will have to leave that country and emigrate alto- gether. I ask that their case shall not be forgotten, and that some financial assistance shall, if necessary, be given to them. Now we have the prospect open for consideration of some general settlement in Europe. From that I believe that the Colonial question cannot be excluded. I have addressed speeches to this House in that sense on more than one occasion. The question cannot be excluded, and this country and this Empire must be prepared to make some sacrifice for the appeasement of the world."The German districts of Czechoslovakia are (by arrangements to which Germany is compelled to agree beforehand) refused the right of self-determination. … Permission to the predominantly German areas of Czechoslovakia to determine their political future should be granted."
VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Furthermore, I ask whether it is not possible now to seize the more favourable atmosphere for the settlement of the question of intervention in Spain. Whether Spain be governed by General Franco or Dr. Negrin is a matter only for the Spaniards themselves, and I earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government will not depart from the stipulation that before the Italian Agreement comes into force the Italian intervention in Spain shall cease, not only partially but absolutely. The way has been opened to them by the Government of Spain. Dr. Negrin's Government have not only agreed that all foreigners on their side shall be withdrawn, but have taken immediate steps to that end, having invited the League of Nations to establish an international supervision to see that the agreement is carried out. I think that the policy of the Government in regard to Spain has been deplorably weak, and I hope that they will not be induced to come to a speedy agreement with Signor Mussolini, at the expense of giving up their previous position that the Italian forces must be withdrawn first from Spain.There is further the economic side of European politics. There is the van Zeeland Report, and all these questions linked together must not be omitted from consideration. Lastly, we must still keep in view—Lord Stonehaven will not agree to this—the desirability of re-establishing the League of Nations. With a programme more restricted than hitherto it may, in future, have a membership more extended, and not immediately, but in future time, we may prepare the way, when the atmosphere has generally improved and these immediate questions have been solved, so that the League may be able to renew the admirable work which it did in the first decade after the War. Whatever your Lordships may not agree with, I think the whole House will agree with me in this—the hope that the aspiration embodied in the Anglo-German declaration signed at the last moment at Munich may be fulfilled, and that Europe and the world may at last emerge out of these troublous times into an era of tranquillity and ordered progress.
EARL BALDWIN OF BEWDLEY
My Lords, in addressing your Lordships for the first time I make my first political speech for many years, not as the Leader of one Party, but with no responsibility as a member of a Government and responsible to myself alone—a position novel but not wholly disagreeable. I should like in my first observation in this House to express to my noble friend Lord Halifax with what interest I heard his speech yesterday, and to tell him that, as with me so with the great majority of your Lordships, it gives us in the worst times a feeling of confidence to know that he is at the right-hand of the Prime Minister, and will be throughout these days. I was in some doubts whether to speak at all to-day, but I felt that though I should not detain your Lordships long there were one or two things I must say, and one or two contributions to the pool of thought which I hoped might be of service.First as to the Prime Minister. Since my retirement only this summer I have followed events but little. I know little of what has passed between the Chanceries of Europe, but I know enough to know this, that when the Prime Minister took that decision to go to Berchtesgaden there was nothing else on earth that he could have done, and I thank God that he was able to do it. And while I think perhaps others might have taken that decision and might have gone, I do not believe there is another man in this country who could have brought about what he has because of his remarkable gifts of tenacity of will, of purpose, the fertility of his invention and his resources in times of difficult conference and of argument. I could lay my hand on no man—and I know I could not have done it—who could have done what he did when he once got into these discussions in Germany. It is a performance for which his country owes him much. And when people talk as though there were something unclean in having face-to-face discussions with the Dictators, I wonder if they realise that one of our greatest difficulties throughout the last five years has been how to get into contact with the Dictators? It troubled me long before I was Prime Minister—when I was Lord President. It became obvious soon that the Dictators will not use the machinery of diplomacy, they have scrapped it. If you want to get anything home to them it has got to be told them direct by a man with authority. There are dangers, I know. It is hard for a democratic Prime Minister to commit himself in the same way that a man can with absolute power. But that is a risk that must be taken unless you are willing to ostracise them completely, with results that may be formidable for the whole world. No, 1 rejoice in these meetings that have taken place. I rejoice in what my old colleagues and—as a rank and filer—my present chief has accomplished. I know no other man who would have brought it to a successful issue. But let us try to imagine for one moment what the strain of what Mr. Asquith calls "that intolerable burden" has been on him these days. The heaviest strain on a Prime Minister lies in the fact that his is the ultimate word. He may have fifty colleagues, but he is the man on whom the ultimate decision must rest, the decision for peace or war. War is different to-day from what it was right up to the last three or four years. No Prime Minister ought to commit his country to war unless he is convinced that that country is ready. Now, by "ready" I do not mean with an army and a navy and everything else bigger than anybody else's—that is impossible. Risks have to be taken. But I mean this. Had there been war there would have been tens of thousands of mangled people—civilians, women and children—before a single soldier or sailor gave his life for the country. Now, that is a very awful thought. And therefore you must take every precaution that human foresight, human skill, human knowledge, human science can devise. You cannot do more, you cannot protect everybody, there will always be fearful casualties. But what right has any man to condemn to that terrible death hosts of civilians unless he knows that all that can be done has been done? When you have done all you can do then go forward, if it is necessary. Now I have no desire to dwell on the past. I do not want to talk long. I want to speak of the present and a little of the future. We have to look at where we are, and events are moving fast. If I look at the past I know we have all made mistakes, lots of them—every country that has had anything to do with the direction of world affairs. We have all gone wrong at one time or another, and are there many to-day who would say that the Peace of Versailles was a just peace? I heard the most reverend Primate use the term yesterday "a just peace"—I forget of what it was apropos. Is not that a contradiction in terms? Has there ever been a just peace? Is not peace nearly always unjust to the vanquished? Passions are always high when peace is made after a long war. I often recall that during and just after the Napoleonic wars there were two great men, as different as they could be, one an Englishman and a soldier, one a Frenchman and a diplomat, who realised that if you press your advantages beyond a certain point in your terms when you make peace with the vanquished you are but sowing dragons' teeth that you or someone else will reap. They were the Duke of Wellington and Talleyrand, and unfortunately the spirit of neither of those remarkable men was present at Versailles. There is one, not argument but one observation common at this moment on the lips of many people, and I believe it to be a complete fallacy—"You have got to fight some day, fight now." No greater fallacy was ever uttered. War is never inevitable in the distance, and if there were a 95 per cent. chance of war at some future date I would hold on to the 5 per cent. till I died. I believe that this Government will do that, and I believe that that is in the mind of the Prime Minister. I would never lose hope, but I am in entire agreement with those who would push on to bring up those defences of which I have spoken to a satisfactory point with the least possible delay. I would mobilise our industry to-morrow. I would go on with that work. And I will make one other observation about it. Everyone who was in London during those critical days must have been struck—if one is ever more struck at any one time than at another by the behaviour of our amazing people—with the calm and the courage that everyone showed, but I was struck with what I remember of 1914, those first: weeks of the War. In the streets, in the railway stations, one felt instinctively that every barrier of class had been swept away. The bomb and the bullet make no distinction of class. We felt what might be ahead. There was that same spirit of brotherhood that I remember in August, 1914, a spirit which, if it could be kept, would solve all the problems of this world. I want to make this observation following on to that. Whatever happens, this coming year is bound to present many difficulties, and on how we face them may depend perhaps the peace, perhaps the settlement, of Europe and of the world. There is nothing more important from every point of view than that, in so far as the defence of this country, which concerns, primarily, peaceful citizens—women and children—there should be no difference of Party, and that Liberals and Labour and the Government should all work together for that end, just as we all have to fight together, whatever our politics, to the one end if war should come. I know the difficulties. I have been in politics long enough to realise them. I know what they are. I am not going into them now. But I think that those who lead the other Parties should be as familiar from day to day with the exact position of our defences as the members of the Government themselves. I know the difficulties of that. I know that, politically, it cramps your style if you know too much. But times are far too important to bother about having a style cramped for three or four months or six months or even twelve. That is one subject on which I feel keenly, and I am quite confident, although I have no means of knowing, that some such thought as that must have passed through the Prime Minister's mind, and it must have passed through the minds of those who lead Labour. There is one good thing to my mind that has emerged. Throughout all my political life—and I have had the right to be one sometimes—I have never been a pessimist. I may not have looked an optimist always, but I have always been one. There is one thing, a little thing, a straw from which I have derived some comfort. All the peoples of Europe have looked down into the volcano this last week, and they have begun to ask questions. I do not believe there is a country in the world—and I include Germany and Italy too—where men are not asking "Where are we going, what is there in the policy of our leaders which has brought us to this vision?" Now, when men begin to ask these questions, they will never rest till they have an answer; and it may be worth going through what we have experienced if that should be the result in many countries of this world. To those who went through the experience of last week, riot in Governments, but merely, as most of us in this House are, as private individuals, it is an experience we shall not forget. Today is Tuesday, and it was only last Wednesday the Prime Minister spoke in another place. I sat next my noble friend Lord Halifax, and up to the middle of the Prime Minister's speech I do not believe there was any thought in the mind of anyone present but that war was inevitable. My mind went back to that day in August, 1914—and I have never forgotten Edward Grey's face, the face of a man who looked as though he had been through hell—and I thought the skies were completely black. The prayers of the nation had been ascending night arid day, not only in this country but in other countries, but no answer had come; and in the middle of that speech the Foreign Secretary was handed a telegram which he showed to me, and it was the answer, the long-expected answer, to the Prime Minister's invitation. It was just as though the finger of God had drawn the rainbow once more across the sky and ratified again His Covenant with the children of men; and the children of men, the children of all the nations, have their part to play now in these fleeting hours that are before us. They have their part to play, and may the rulers of all the nations of these peoples be guided with understanding and with knowledge.
LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, it is my privilege, in succeeding the noble Earl who has just resumed his seat, to extend to him welcome and congratulations on having broken, for the first time, his silence since he became a member of your Lordships' House, and to express the sincere wish that his inter- ventions in debate may be frequent. As a former Prime Minister, the noble Earl is in a peculiarly favourable position to undertake the rôle of critic, and perhaps on future occasions a more critical note may be struck by him, especially towards a Government which I should say suffers from a tendency, at times, to exaggerated self-esteem. I feel it an honour to be in the position to offer these few words of welcome. My acquaintance—if I may say, my friendship—with the noble Earl extends to a time when, politically speaking, he was as obscure as I have continued to be.As I am speaking for myself and not as a follower of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, I feel that I may break through what I believe is Party etiquette and offer my tribute to the present Prime Minister for the part he has so nobly played recently in these very troublous times. In such a critical moment party political etiquette counts for nothing, and the tribute I wish to pay is not a grudging tribute but a very sincere one, because of the circumstances with which he found himself faced. It is true that he broke through all the conventions of diplomacy. He took an aeroplane; he went to see Herr Hitler face to face; and as the noble Earl who has just sat down said, we must get accustomed to these things. It is the only way to deal with them; and to be told that it is not democratic or that it is a new-fangled idea contrary to Victorian diplomacy counts for nothing, especially when the result has been what we see for the moment. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi is holding out very grave trouble for the future. He tried to make our flesh creep, but I have heard him before. You should hear him on the platform; you can imagine it. I will have a word to say about his speech in a moment. Now the circumstances in which Mr. Neville Chamberlain undertook this journey were quite unprecedented—the complexity of the issue, no clear-cut issue, no actual white and black, right and wrong, but a tangle of possible obligations and difficult points to settle, and all the time threats of force and violence which prevented cool judgment from being brought upon the issue. It was a remarkable position, because he had very little time to make up his mind. He went off at once. My right honourable friend Mr. Lansbury has been occupying his time as a private individual confronting these people in the different countries, and he came to the conclusion that when you came face to face with them they were human beings, and they were not the ogres that they are painted. They are difficult people to deal with we know, but there have been dictators before now and we in this country have kept our heads and not been diverted from the course which has meant for us security, common sense and reason. The Prime Minister's courageous initiative may not bring lasting peace. I should think he was the very last person to suggest anything of the kind, but he has opened the door to the method of reason and turned his back on the method of force, to the unspeakable relief not only of his fellow-countrymen but of millions of other people all over the world. And apart from the question as to whether this concession was made or the other concession ought to have been made, the fact remains that he stopped a war, and this move will be remembered by generations of grateful people. Let us hope that it will open, not a new chapter only, but a new volume in the conduct of international relations, and that we shall all of us help in a course which must be consistently pursued and which can only lead to the abandonment of the barbarity of war. The jubilation throughout the world was very great. The jubilation was partly at the lifting of those dark clouds and the thought that suffering and destruction had been removed, but there was also a hope that the rulers of the world have at last realised the imbecility of supposing that any quarrel can be settled by bathing Europe in blood. I think that that has come home to the people, and they are not going to be misled by any false cries into indulging in this awful orgy which war now means. Throughout the whole question I could not help thinking at the hack of my mind what should we have done if three million Englishmen were kept under a rule to which they objected. Should we have waited twenty years to release them? I doubt it. My mind went back forty years and I thought of the grievances of the Uitlanders in the Transvaal. There was no waste of time there. Our method was short and sharp. We not only conquered the Transvaal but we conquered the Orange Free State. Thinking as I did of the feelings of compatriots, I could not feel that these demands were so extravagant, especially as this country of Czechoslovakia had been established under the Treaty of Versailles. I remember very well one of the foremost British delegates being asked how matters were getting on at Versailles, and he said: "We are occupied in handing over people we have never seen to countries we have never heard of." And that was what they were doing in their day of triumph. No, my Lords, I cannot get on to this high moral horse on which some of my friends take their seat. It is too high for me, and I do very much deprecate the recriminations that go on with regard to the past and to the blame that should be put here or the blame that should be put there. I made a list of people who were to blame for the present situation, including several Prime Ministers and many others. I am not going to read it to your Lordships; it is too long; but what is the use of that now? We must look to the future. There is just one point I should like to ask the noble Earl who I understand is replying, and it is this. Why, when there is a crisis, does Mr. Winston Churchill go to 10, Downing Street? Is he invited? I have got the greatest possible admiration for Mr. Churchill's Parliamentary powers, his literary powers, and his artistic powers, but I have always felt that in a crisis he is one of the first people who ought to be interned. Then I think we have got to get a new language. If I may very respectfully say so to my noble friend Lord Cecil, I think the jargon of the League of Nations must be dropped. Collective security! This has nothing to do with collective security. I would remind my noble friend that you pick your opponent; you say who is the aggressor; and everybody puts up his hand in the Council of the League and in the Assembly. You know who he is all right. The important thing about collective security is to find out the people who are going to fight with you. You are never sure of them, and no rules or regulations will ever make a certainty of a large unanimous body of nations who are going to fight together against aggression on the part of others. So do let us drop that. I really do not believe that you can get any improvement until you get, perhaps slowly, a body of international opinion, not tied down by regulations and rules, to make a new bond of conciliation and not prepared always to punish somebody, which is what the League does at present. "Obligations of honour." That is another phrase. What are these obligations of honour? You always quote a treaty when it is convenient. Treaties are matters of expediency.
LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
It was expedient for my noble friend just now to quote the Treaty of Versailles in order to go to the defence of Czechoslovakia.
I quoted the Covenant.
LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
The Covenant, which is part of the Treaty of Versailles. Obligations of honour! I can think of two very outstanding, serious obligations of honour. There is our obligation to the dead, to the millions who sacrificed their lives in a war which they were told was to end war. That is a big obligation, and I doubt if we can ever repay their sacrifice. Secondly, there is an obligation to the women of this country who for the last thirty years have borne boy babies, not to be cannon and bomb fodder. Those are real obligations to our own people which we can carry out and ought to carry out long before the tangle of treaty engagements which are made in hot haste after victories and never last. I would remind noble Lords that the provisions of the Treaty of Vienna after the Napoleonic wars were all scrapped in twenty-five years, barring the delimitation of the frontiers of Switzerland. Herr Hitler did not wait twenty-five years, but has been scrapping bit by bit the Treaty of Versailles as he goes along.No, what is serious is the future. We must think of the future and concentrate on the future. The Prime Minister has opened a door and we want to follow him and we want to help him. We have learned the lesson. The points of dispute between nations must not be allowed to drift on but must be dealt with when matters are comparatively calm. I entirely agree with what the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, said yesterday on that point—that this question of Czechoslovakia ought to have been dealt with either under Article 19 of the Covenant or else raised with Herr Hitler when his intention became perfectly clear. It ought to have been dealt with in a calm atmosphere and not when tempers are all frayed and the threat of war is imminent. We have closed a very bad chapter in European history and I trust this new one will open in more favourable circumstances. But I differ from I suppose everybody here except my noble friend Lord Arnold in not thinking that rearmament should be continued as a contribution to a peaceful world. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi made, as I said just now, a very tremendous speech. There are people who within the last few weeks have used a phrase more often than I have ever heard it used before. People come up to me and say "You may take it from me." Well, I think that my noble friend Lord Strabolgi is the head of the "You Can Take It From Me Society." He has always got some mysterious information that we are not allowed fully to understand. He complains that we have not consulted the Russian Generals. That does not surprise me. In order to do that—to put it in Parliamentary language—we should have had to go to another place. Then he got in a state of almost fanatical passion about Prince Starhemberg's mother. Well, I am very, very sorry for her, but I am very much more sorry for the poor dwellers who are leading degrading lives two or three hundred yards from this Chamber. I wish the Party to which I still belong would get to work on Socialism instead of being so frantically interested in the evil deeds of these Dictators. What, at a moment of this sort, can be the object of raking up this sort of accusation? I could rake up many more and much worse stories than Prince Starhemberg's mother sweeping the streets, but I am always rather doubtful whether they are true to begin with. As I say, we cannot shoulder the ills of the whole world and it is rather a better policy to try to concentrate on questions over which we have got real influence. To conclude, I want to put this to the Government. I have put it so often that I am going to put it again. Rearmament can only be for two purposes—as a weapon for future threats, and I think that spoils your diplomacy, or as a defence of this country, and that is a measure of your distrust of the people with whom you are negotiating. I agree with my noble friend Lord Strabolgi when he said, "You say 'Trust Hitler,' and yet you come home and say you must go on with rearming." I do not think those two things really stand side by side logically. I want to see that method abandoned. I want to see relief from this burden for the people of this country. I believe the reduction of armaments must be the very first question that is tackled between the nations of the world, and I am in favour of it, even before a world conference can be called, by bilateral agreement with various nations. Let us tackle these difficulties, tackle these points of difference, the grievances, and then get a world conference to deal with the real fundamental things, economic and financial, questions of currency, questions of tariffs, which make sore places in the relationship between nations. The Prime Minister has opened a magnificent new opportunity and it should be used, not for making more bombs and more gas masks and shelters, but for directing the energies of the people away from destruction to reconstruction. It is for the people themselves to take advantage of it, to force their Governments to reflect and to express their own universal abhorrence of allowing the barbaric methods of violence and destruction ever to enter again into the relationship between nations.
My Lords, it is inevitable in this debate that many speeches should cover much the same ground, because the issues before us are as clear as they are important. Many of us feel that those issues are so important that it is our duty to make plain what our view is in regard to them and where we stand. I share that view, and therefore, as briefly as possible, I want to make clear why I consider that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been entirely and wholly right in the course which they have pursued in these last critical weeks.It surely is axiomatic that it is the duty of any Prime Minister, not only to this country but to humanity, to strive for all he is worth for the maintenance of peace. This country and the world at large are indeed fortunate that in the Prime Min- ister of England there has been a man of such courage, such pertinacity and such faith. Indeed, many of us must have wondered whether, had there been a statesman in July, 1914, who had taken similar action, who had forced the statesmen of the other countries to come together in the few weeks of July when settlement was possible, we might have been spared the whole tragedy of the Great War. Certainly the action which the Prime Minister took not only aroused in every country enthusiasm for what he did, but also demonstrated that in all countries there is a real hatred of war. I use the word "hatred" advisedly, not fear; for no one who saw the calm of this country in those days would use the word "fear." But in the hearts of all the people of all the lands there was that hatred of war and that will to peace. I am not sure that that is not the most important factor that we have to consider at the present time, and the best augury of peace. The very fact that the nations of Europe came so close to catastrophe brought out the will of the people in a way that nothing else could have done. That is going to count tremendously, I believe, in every country in the world, because there is no system of government, however arbitrary, in which the ruler can for long go against the real wishes of his people, or do so with safety. That force of public opinion for peace has to be harnessed. If we are to get permanent peace, that does not just mean avoiding war; it means something much more positive. It does not merely mean settling outstanding differences, important as that is. It means developing common interests between nations. Only in that way shall we get a sense of security founded on a common determination to live at peace and build up a world where men and nations can make a new economy of peace. It is by doing that that we make the reduction of armaments possible. It is because I believe that there is in all these people the will to peace that I believe peace may be permanent. It has been suggested—indeed, it has been stated bluntly—by Lord Cecil that we have bought peace at the sacrifice of principle and by a reversal of policy. I ask your Lordships to consider, and to consider fairly, what British policy has been, and was clearly stated to have been, not only in these last weeks but in recent years. We had no obligations to Czechoslovakia. We always refused. Successive Governments—Conservative, Labour, National, every Government that has held office in this country—have absolutely refused to undertake a special commitment towards Czechoslovakia or to extend the Treaty of Locarno to cover that country. I am quite certain that, if that had ever been proposed, the British people would have refused it. But Lord Cecil says that of course we were bound: we were bound by the Covenant. I entirely agree with Lord Ponsonby that it is just not real or true to use that kind of language. It is misleading your own people—if indeed you can still take them in. Our own people know how to appraise the kind of language our own statesmen use. What is much more serious is that such language is apt to take in other people who have not the internal knowledge of speakers in this country that we possess. I say without fear of contradiction—and I wish Lord Cecil were here—that there is not a Government in Europe, and there is not a people in Europe, who has ever construed the Covenant in that sense. If Lord Cecil's argument were in any relation to the truth, and if we had been bound by the Covenant to fight for Czechoslovakia, what sense would there have been in special treaties in regard to Czechoslovakia? Why a French alliance? Why should we have been pressed—as indeed we were pressed at the time—to extend the Treaty of Locarno to cover Czechoslovakia? Of course there was no such obligation at all. Indeed, if we are to say that the Covenant has this automatic compulsion upon us, which no one has ever accepted—and the Covenant and the League have been weakened because its advocates and supporters have tried to make it do things which the peoples of their different countries would never dream of accepting—then it is not only one clause of the Covenant which should have this force, but all its clauses. I am bound to point out to Lord Cecil, that if Article To of the Covenant is binding, so also is Article 19 of the Covenant, which provides for the peaceful revision of boundaries under the Peace Treaty. This was our considered policy. It was the plainly-stated policy of every Government, and was stated and adopted because we envisaged the sort of contingency which actually arose—the contingency that a war might start over Czechoslovakia—and we refused in regard to that country to be bound automatically by any such obligations as bind us under the Treaty of Locarno. To reverse that policy, adopted years ago and confirmed and acted upon by every Government in this country ever since, would mean that there would have to be an overwhelming reason for such a change. Is there then, on the merits of this case, any reason why we should have changed that policy? It is not too easy at this moment to look fairly and objectively at the merits of the case. Quite naturally all one's sympathy goes out to Czechoslovakia for the way the Czechs have borne themselves in these difficult times. That is made more natural and more appealing because of the outrageous propaganda conducted in Germany against them. I am hound to say that I think Herr Goebbels has been the best advocate that Czechoslovakia has had.
It is still going on.
We as Englishmen, when we wish to appraise the merits of the case, have to consider—and this is what the Government of course had to consider, and which surely every one of the citizens of this country has to consider—whether there is a case which would justify our fighting. Was the cause we should fight for, this transfer of population, this alteration of boundaries in Czechoslovakia, justified or not, and quite naturally we turn to Lord Runciman for a fair and impartial opinion on that. Lord Runciman, wise conciliator, in a better position to judge after his arduous work in Czechoslovakia than anyone else, and dismissed I thought very cavalierly by Lord Cecil by selective quotation which would have done justice to propaganda in another land—let us find what was Lord Runciman's actual view of this. He says:
and it is to this that I want to draw attention—"I have much sympathy, however, with the Sudeten case. It is a hard thing to be ruled by an alien race; and I have been left with the impression that Czechoslovak rule in the Sudeten areas for the last twenty years, though not actively oppressive and certainly not 'terroristic,' has been marked by tactlessness, lack of understanding, petty intolerance and discrimination"—
He goes on to say how "local irritations were added to these major grievances," and adds:"to a point where the resentment of the German population was inevitably moving in the direction of revolt. The Sudeten Germans felt, too, that in the past they had been given many promises by the Czechoslovak Government, but that little or no action had followed these promises. This experience had induced an attitude of unveiled mistrust of the leading Czech statesmen. I cannot say how far this mistrust is merited or unmerited; but it certainly exists, with the result that, however, conciliatory their statements, they inspire no confidence in the minds of the Sudeten population."
Then he comes to his recommendations as to what is the necessary and proper action to be taken. He, the impartial judge, says:"I believe these complaints to be in the main justified. Even as late as the time of my Mission, I could find no readiness on the part of the Czechoslovak Government to remedy them on anything like an adequate scale."
Those being the considered findings and recommendations of our own conciliator, our own independent man on the spot, how can it be said that we should have been justified in going to war to prevent the very recommendations which Lord Runciman made from taking effect? I cannot conceive of any Government taking such a responsibility, and for all his bombast I do not believe for a moment that if Lord Strabolgi had been a member of the Government at this time he would have dreamed of plunging this country into a war on that view. Nor can it really be of interest to a country to compel its unwilling subjects to remain within its jurisdiction. I think perhaps we in the British Empire have learned something of the wisdom and truth of that. Let me say in conclusion on this point what is indeed common ground to everyone, whatever view he may hold on other matters, that if war had taken place, whatever aid could have been given here and there—and I agree that in a war you fight with all your might—given that you fought with all your might and secured ultimate victory, the one thing certain, as Lord Chatfield pointed out in his excellent speech last night, is that Czechoslovakia would have been overwhelmed. That is quite certain from a military point of view and nobody differs on that point. But not only would Czechoslovakia have had the awful suffering that would have been entailed, but can anyone doubt that at the end of the war, assuming complete victory, the countries of Europe in some new peace conference held not before but after the war would have reviewed the position from which the war arose? It is quite inconceivable that they would have renewed that position. There is then our policy to France. There was no Locarno commitment. But quite rightly I think the Government stated plainly that if France were engaged in active hostilities against Germany we should support them. I think that neither in the attitude nor in the policy which the Government have pursued nor in the results is there anything of which a British Government need be ashamed. But I want to turn very briefly to the other side, to the future. If we are to have a real and lasting peace this settlement, whatever view we may take of it, is but the first step. We must pursue actively the policy of peace. I know there are some people who say that that is hopeless, that you cannot make arrangements with Dictators, that they make arrangements but do not keep their word. Lord Cecil has told us of the German juridical philosophy, Rebus sic stantibus, which may be translated "As long as it suits you." And it is said that you will have democracy on the one hand and totalitarianism on the other and therefore you cannot get agreement or the spirit of agreement between those opposing systems of government. It seems to me that to argue in that way is a counsel of despair, and that you make war inevitable. I flatly refuse to believe in the inevitability of war, and may I add that the very people who press that argument—the argument which has come from the Labour Front Bench of the impossibility of making arrangements with Dictators, and the futility of this larger peace settlement to which, as I think, the Prime Minister has opened the door—are the very people who complain that during the last few weeks our Government has not been sitting down every day with the Russian Government in order to hammer out a common policy. I am entirely for bringing the Russian Government into a world settlement. I think it may well be that settlements proceed most surely by stages. I am not quite sure that to have the whole of the cast on the stage throughout every act makes the most successful play, but I am certain that Russia has to come into any final settlement of Europe. But can anybody say, will anybody in this House or in another place say, that the system which operates in Russia and deprives them of the Generals whom the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, desires us to consult is any less alien to our system of democracy than a dictatorship in Germany or in Italy? That is not a sensible argument. I refuse to believe, when there is the hatred of war which we have seen in these last weeks, and the will to peace that we have seen in the peoples of the world, that the way to peace and cooperation cannot be found. It is our duty to try to get that lasting peace, to try with all our might, and we shall not lose prestige, either in this country or in the world, by so trying. And in that settlement there must come an effective limitation of armaments. I agree with everything on that subject that my noble friend Lord Chatfield said. Those of us who have worked with him for many years became acquainted not only with his clear thinking but with his clear expression, which so delighted your Lordships. But I believe that effective disarmament, or effective limitation of armaments, will only come as a corollary of a world that feels itself secure, and that feels itself secure because it is concentrating on works of peace, national and international. And meantime we must perfect our own security, we must intensify the completion of all our rearmament programmes. No one will misunderstand that: it is a necessary insurance of peace. Not only must we intensify the completion of all our necessary rearmament, but we should complete all those plans which are necessary for a nation when it goes to war. I know that an enormous amount has been done in the preparation of plans, but if we are really to be ready for the kind of war that it would be if war ever came, we cannot afford to waste a day, perhaps an hour, on a sitting of Parliament to pass the necessary legislation to enable the country to pass straight into its war activities. I believe that this country now would not only accept, but would insist upon there passing through Parliament, every measure which is necessary to give the Government of the day power to put immediately into force every plan necessary in time of war, and would insist upon being satisfied that those plans are complete to the last item, so that the country, if it were ever called upon, will not only function in the three fighting Services but will function in every department of life the second that a war starts. Saying that—and I feel that most strongly—is in no way inconsistent with working for peace and with building up a new world, or with the full confidence that such a world can be built and such a peace can come. Millions of people are longing for it in every land, and not to bend all our energies to that end would mean that statesmanship was bankrupt and the world without hope."If some cession is inevitable, as I believe it to be, it is as well that it should be done promptly and without procrastination. There is real danger, even a danger of civil war, in the continuance of a state of uncertainty. Consequently there are very real reasons for a policy of immediate and drastic action. Any kind of plebiscite or referendum would, I believe, be a sheer formality in respect of these predominantly German areas. A very large majority of their inhabitants desire amalgamation with Germany. The inevitable delay involved in taking a plebiscite vote would only serve to excite popular feelings, with perhaps most dangerous results. I consider, therefore, that these frontier districts should at once be transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany …"
My Lords, I do not think that I need assure either the Prime Minister or my noble friend the Foreign Secretary how completely and sincerely I endorse all the tributes that have been paid to them in this House and elsewhere for the devotion with which they have followed the paths of peace in the last few very anxious weeks. I was glad too that my noble friend Lord Baldwin, to whose wonderful speech we all listened just now, paid a tribute where a tribute was more due than anywhere else, and that is to what was once called the "decent, dauntless people of these islands," who so quietly and courageously prepared themselves, with very little knowledge of the issues, to face a terrible ordeal.And the same, I think, is equally true of the great French people. I happened to be in Paris and I saw the reservists gather at the Gare de l'Est. I saw a wonderful sight, something much greater than an ignorant pre-War enthusiasm—the gravity and serenity of the youth of France, called suddenly from every village where they found a bit of paper summoning them to the colours. The gravity and serenity of the youth of France, mustered there to do their duty, was one of the most striking things I have ever seen in all my life. I make special mention of that because there have been stories, ignoble stories, going round among gossip mongers in London and elsewhere that England was handicapped by the lack of will of the French reservists to move. I hope there will be no recriminations of any kind between our two peoples. Our solidarity is needed more than ever to-day. I know that M. Daladier when he was here spoke feelingly to friends of the tremendous impression that was made upon him, even as Prime Minister of France, by the smoothness and the wonderful working of the French mobilisation. I do not think that I have ever disliked—though some noble Lords will say that I ought to be used to it by now—differing from Government more than I do to-day. When so patently and obviously all the great protagonists have been toiling, tearing their hearts and their minds out, to do what is best and right for the country, how difficult it is for anyone to differ. But I can only say that Parliament has no meaning if, however great our differences may be, we do not say what is in our hearts quite frankly, however much we may dislike it. We have just listened, as I have said, not for the first time though for the first time in this House, to my noble friend Lord Baldwin and to the marvellous quality of his oratory. He rejoiced in the meeting of our Prime Minister with Dictators. I wonder if he rejoiced at the results of that meeting. He did not tell us. There is not one of us who did not welcome—with trepidation, but we welcomed—Mr. Chamberlain's visit to Berchtesgaden, but my noble friend Lord Baldwin's picture of the encounter—for such it was—at the first meeting, where the English statesman was able to develop his mind fully and quietly with the German statesman, and vice versa, represents, unless I am very ill-informed, nothing of the true picture. There was something like a soliloquy, a few questions, and then a hurried return, and the result was that we became the vehicle of transmission of what—I do not want to exaggerate because I feel too keenly—seems to me one of the most shameful and unhappy messages ever delivered by a British Prime Minister to a friendly people. I say that because we were compelled by force to do something which we have always stood out against doing. We had always stood out from first to last on this issue, seeing it quite clearly, knowing the facts before Lord Runciman ever went. We said we would do all we could to procure fair and liberal treatment for the Sudeten minorities, but only provided it was done within the framework of the Czechoslovak State. That is the fact. This message which our Prime Minister transmitted under force compelled us to go back—there can be no dispute about it—on everything we had stated when we had considered the matter quietly, without pressure, and in the full knowledge and light of the circumstances under which the Sudetens lived. In a peroration which Lord Baldwin made, and which stirred tie whole House, he talked about how this miracle of peace was secured and how—I have forgotten his exact words—peace walked in. He said nothing of how justice walked out. I wrote a letter to the papers to-day in which I begged the Churches once more to preach the true message, not preach merely a prayer for peace, but preach once more that justice is greater than peace, that peace is a spiritual thing as well as a physical thing. There can be no peace in the heart of any reflecting man in England when he thinks of what was done to the Czech people last week. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, talked about minorities. He talked as if—though perhaps I mistook him—there were no difference between autonomy within the Czech State and the excision of the Sudeten Germans and their incorporation into the Reich. Lord Runciman thought on the whole that it was inevitable. I have a great respect for Lord Runciman, but he is not the last word on this question. He was there for three weeks in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and he did a wonderful piece of work; but let anyone here consult any of the great experts—Professor Seton-Watson or many others—who have spent more months and years down there studying the problems of that country than Lord Runciman was able to spend days, who talk the language of the people, who have been from house to house, who have known the Sudeten problem before we ever considered it, and there is hardly one of them who would not tell you that if the facts could come out at an absolutely just plebiscite there would probably be 75 to 80 per cent. of the Sudeten Germans themselves who would vastly prefer, if they had autonomy within the Czech State, to remain there than to be put outside. Why must we allow the hypocrisy of this minority question—for such I think it is—to continue? After all, what are we doing to protect the other German minorities who, in Poland and Italy, are far worse treated than any of the Sudetens? What are the Germans caring about them? Only this, these other minorities do not happen to be on the German line of march. That is the difference. It does not suit Herr Hitler to defend the minorities in Italy. Why? Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler have both pledged themselves to the doctrine of the natural frontier. That is Mussolini's defence for keeping the German minorities in Italy. Are the Bohemian mountains not a natural frontier? If ever there was a frontier traced by the finger of God that was it. In a speech not ten days ago, in one of those speeches which Mussolini was making trying to rally his people from different points of view at a difficult moment, he pointed out the difference between a frontier that was traced "inchiostro da inchiostro"—from inkpot to inkpot—and a frontier that was, as he said, traced indelibly by the hand of God. Why is the Brenner the hand of God and the Bohemian mountains not? Must we really lend ourselves to this imposture?—because that is what it is! Make no doubt that in what we are doing as regards the Sudeten Germans we are laying up for ourselves a harvest of ill-feeling amongst these minorities as much as any others. I hope Lord Samuel will not think it an impertinence of me to say so, but I was amazed—at any rate I was moved—to hear him defend and contemplate lightly the extension of that Nazi rule under which his people lie tortured and torn and agonised to-day. The Sudeten minority question is a question that has never been more distorted than it has been for the purposes of this political method at this moment. What shame, forsooth, that we, a people of great understanding, of long political experience, wise to see through these great problems, tutored to balance the pros and cons, should consent to this in a panic—because look at the language used in these documents; it was not the considered language of one friend to another friend. Think of the language used at 2 a.m.—I hesitate to use strong terms, but what clearly were almost third degree methods were used on September 23. The Home Secretary denies that this language was ever used. I made such inquiries as were possible this morning, and in quarters of authority, and I confine myself to saying that I think a White Book on Czechoslovakia will be published before long and then we shall know the truth. It is very hard to know whom to believe in these great issues when passions run high. I can only say that if language anything like that represented was used, then I for one will hang my head in shame. We listened to the most reverend Primate yesterday with the respect with which we always listen to his eloquent and grave utterances. He concluded, I thought rather too comfortably, that no injustice had been done to Czechoslovakia—on the same ground as Gallio. He said it was nothing to do with us, that we were not in any way responsible—I must be fair: that we were under no obligation. I am not very good about League of Nations matters. But my noble friend Lord Cecil who, I think, we all admit knows something about them—for many years I have thought he has known too much—corrected respectfully the most reverend Primate. And now I hear Lord Swinton saying that the Covenant placed us under no obligation towards Czechoslovakia. I have expressed my modesty in regard to League of Nations matters, but words have no meaning—
No obligation to go to war.
We had obligation to defend at least. What does "defend" mean? Making speeches? "Defend" means to aid, sustain, comfort, and support, militarily or otherwise, your friend in adversity. Of course it means that or nothing at all. To say less would be to quibble, an occupation in which I am sure my noble friend would never indulge. It was for those reasons that I have often objected to the Covenant. I thought it went much too far, that we were increasing our liabilities while reducing our capacities to fulfil them. The most reverend Primate used further arguments which have been used by other noble Lords to-day. If I may say so with the very greatest respect, was his argument quite worthy of one in his great position? He said in effect, what would the Czechs have got out of it if they had fought? Have nations no souls? Will they never do anything because they would be overrun? Every argument that the most reverend Primate used might have been argued in the case of Belgium. Belgium would certainly have been overrun. It was overrun. Did that quail her great soul? It did not, although at that moment it seemed almost certain to Belgium and to others that the forces of Germany would be victorious. Had Belgium no minorities within her frontiers? Has she not them to-day? Did that stop Belgium fighting? Did it stop her preserving her soul? No, because she had a gallant leader there and because we did not fail her at the last moment or go back upon our guarantee.I have been astonished to hear some of the arguments used to-day. Some of them I thought I should never hear made in this House. One was that there is nothing worth fighting for. That is the worst thing of all. Since when was that the Christian doctrine? Is there nothing worth fighting for? Justice? We have scarcely heard a word about justice in this House. I will not add much more, but I am deeply concerned for our honour and for the Czech people. I have looked round this House for the last two days and I believe there is no man in this House who does not in his heart know that this is an unpleasant business. We will not put it higher than that. We know there is not one. But I have got a case for England too in the matter. It is not only for the Czechs that I am concerned. It is not only for our good name. I agree that here there was a great bastion of British defence, and our liberties, as we learned in 1914–18, can be defended in very remote places. Here was a natural frontier. It had been a frontier for 900 years, and on that frontier, by the patience and the self-sacrifice of these people, there had been erected a great bastion of defence. Only yesterday a Czech said to me: "To-day we have got to give up £20,000,000 worth of guns and rifles which were not bought for the most part out of the ordinary Treasury of the country but were bought by my poor people who went without shoes and stockings and so on to contribute their pennies. They made this great sacrifice to build the Maginot line of Czechoslovakia. We were," he added, "the only people in Central Europe who were prepared to die for an ideal. What I want is to be able to read my Bible and perhaps take a copy of Heine under my arm to read also and not to be told I must not do so because it was written by a Jew!" I will not mention names, but a leading Jew who has one of the greatest names in Zionism told me to-day: "I have still got a narrow strip of territory where I can walk with my head up as a free man. I can walk from here through France and a little way in Spain. What you have done to us is this: you have narrowed down that strip on which I can walk. It does not matter to me. I have given up hope of freedom for my people in this world. No doubt to-morrow Herr Hitler will say to your Government, 'You shall not have a settlement favourable to the Jews in Palestine which does not suit us'." There is deep meaning in all that. We have been held up as the people who were prepared to make sacrifices for great ideals and for the defence of small peoples. I have had letters from as far away as Rumania and Denmark. A Danish journalist with a great name came rushing over to me and said: "Where are we to look to-day? How do you expect the Balkans to rally in defence if you betray all those around them?" There is one word I would address to my noble friend the Leader of the House. I would ask a word about the guarantee. If you could not possibly defend the Czechs when you had 1,200,000 rifles there and the Maginot line to help you, how are you going to fight for Czechoslovakia and defend her under the guarantee you have given to-day? We are entitled to an answer to that; we have never had one. We want—I will use an old phrase—not a reply but an answer. I do not know how it can be clone nor does anybody else know how it can be done. You in the Government do not know how it can be done. I do not think you know to-day what kind of a guarantee you have given. Are you guaranteeing Czechoslovakia jointly or jointly and severally? It makes the whole difference. If you are guaranteeing her only jointly, let me remind you what one of the greatest authorities on diplomatic usage has said. Headlam Morley said: "If you have a joint guarantee alone it is a mere rhetorical flourish of the pen at the end of a document." Is yours jointly or is it jointly and severally? If it is jointly and severally and two of the contracting parties, Germany and Italy let us say—the axis—break the guarantee, what then? Suppose they are the offenders, and it is conceivable for a word has been broken before. Let us conceive it. What do England and France do about it? They are left under far worse conditions when they have the whole of the great Maginot line and the bastion of the Bohemian mountains taken away. How are you to do it? You have given up rifles and guns and ammunition and everything else. You have lost your ally, yet you have guaranteed this country. Will the Government be so good as to tell me the answer to that? I am very curious to know the answer. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who is going to look after Germany and Italy under those conditions? Has this guarantee any real meaning at all or is it only adding to our obligations and reducing our power to fulfil them? You may have it all over again. Some day, it may be soon, we will be asked for our Colonies, and perhaps they will have to be refused unless we are to compel the poorer countries like Holland, Belgium and other people who have Colonies to disgorge them. We are not treating small nations very well to-day. Someone said to me: "I should hate to be a Dutchman or a Belgian or anyone else who has Colonies; it might be inconvenient." When we have refused the German demand what are we going to do? Are we going to fight and have Germany turn round upon us with the forty extra divisions which the Czechs would have looked after, with the value of our Fleet in a blockade very largely neutralised by virtue of the fact that the Germans will have possessed themselves of men, corn and food and petrol. Will the position be better or worse then than it is now? One last word about the Hitler-Chamberlain war agreement. I think we are bound to be a little anxious about that. I agree with what Lord Swinton said that you must not say that any war is inevitable. I have never used that argument for a moment. I entirely agree. You have never heard me use it, but we are bound to be anxious about the bond between ourselves and Herr Hitler. The noble Lord who spoke first to-day used some very important words. I cannot believe they were not authorised by his Party. He told us that a bond between ourselves and the Nazi régime would divide the working people of this country into two, or words to that effect.
No. This is very important. What I said was that if we were asked to go into an anti-Comintern pact, which we think would be the real effect of the pact so dear to the heart of Mr. Chamberlain, you would lose the whole working class.
I did not intend to misrepresent the noble Lord. That is entirely different. Let me put this, about which I think there will be no dispute, that any close co-operation with the Nazi régime would be highly unpopular and distasteful to a very large section of the people in this country, unless the Nazi régime changed its ways. Is that true, my Lords? I think it is. Nazi policy has not changed one jot since the days of Frederick the Great, not one jot since the days of the seizure of Silesia or the three partitions of Poland or the rape of the Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein. But we must not mention that to-day. The analogy is too unpleasantly close. You remember what Prussia said about those Duchies. "This is not a question of law or of right. It is a question of force, and we have it." And that is the spirit. We had it in the Rhineland recently, and in the Anschluss and we have it in Czechoslovakia to-day. That is why we have the right to be anxious and to look at this bond very closely.I agreed with Mr. Duff Cooper when he said that an earlier statement of a definite character might have saved much that has passed. I am sorry that my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is not in his place at this moment—though I know he needs rest from oratory as well as from other things more than most men—but he knows that I was able to inform him in the very early days of August of the whole German plan which worked out to the actual day. He knows, too, where that information came from, and that there was counsel from that source that to save the situation there should be an immediate declaration of solidarity with France and Russia. We had this assurance from an authority which has proved right in every other respect that if that declaration had been made before mobilisation things would almost certainly have been saved. It was the case in 1914. It was the reason and the main justification for the Prime Minister going to Berchtesgaden. Why did we not do it earlier? Why did we not take our courage in both hands? But that is all past. I have wearied your Lordships already, and I am only going to add one word. The past is past. I have had to say what I think, but unity now is the essential thing, the only thing that matters. I would like to say to the Prime Minister that I believe that if he will introduce national service it will be accepted by the country to-day if it is done on the Swiss model, where duke or pauper, prince or peasant serves in the ranks on a footing of absolute equality. The people in this country will accept it with proper leadership because of what they have been through in the past week. I was interested to hear the Prime Minister say that we have tried unilateral disarmament. I have spoken on that in your Lordships' House and have seen looks of contempt when I pleaded for rearmament. Should I be in a minority to-day? Are we going to do it again? After all, my noble friend Earl Baldwin ought to know better than any man what is his responsibility for failure to rearm. I had hoped that he would be in this House at this moment so that I could have said here what I have said in his room and elsewhere. Are we Tories, Liberals, Socialists, Labour men, Pacifists, all of us going to do the one thing that can save this people from going through another such—shall I say humiliation, no I will not—another such ordeal and lose so much respect from so many people whose respect we have always had?
My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships for the first time I do so with a certain amount of diffidence for the reason that as a Whip in another place for some ten years I was precluded from taking part in debates and have been forced to follow a policy of non-intervention. For that reason I crave your Lordships' indulgence this afternoon, but I feel such strong resentment that after all the Prime Minister has done and after the great work he has achieved he should be criticised in such a hostile manner by his political opponents and by many of his followers also, that I think everyone who believes in what he has done should stand up and express his opinion. I am sure the feeling uppermost in the thoughts of every noble Lord and of every man and woman in this country to-day is one of profound and heartfelt relief that peace ensues instead of a war with all its terrible consequences, which, but a few days ago, seemed inevitable. To-night we might have been listening to air-raid warnings instead of to the much less realistic warnings of hostile critics that the peace obtained is but a respite gained at a humiliating cost.I can hardly imagine that people if they were dangerously ill would say, "We will not call in a doctor to attend our ills because he can only delay the inevitable end." It is the same line of argument. I suggest that the price we should have had to pay for war would be a more appropriate discussion for this House to-night. What would have been that price? The price would have been the lives of perhaps millions of British sailors, soldiers, airmen, civilian men and women. I cannot imagine anyone who has given serious thought to this matter saying that it was a price which we should have paid in order to remedy the political and social grievances of three and a half million Germans in Sudetenland under Czech rule. Had war come last week what would the fight have been about? It would not have been the cession of Czech territory to Germany for that had been already agreed to by the Czech Government. When the war clouds were most threatening the main point at issue with our Prime Minister and Herr Hitler was a question, not of what was to be done, but how it should be done and the manner in which it should be carried out. There cannot be anything but the profoundest sympathy for the Czechs in the grievous position in which they find themselves and here I would point out that that position would have been considerably worsened had it not been for the intervention of the Prime Minister. I applaud the action of our Government in arranging for financial assistance to meet their immediate needs. If evidence is required surely that shows where our Prime Minister is trying to help. The Prime Minister's action in meeting Herr Hitler prevented an armed occupation and its consequences which might well have developed into a struggle which meant that the very existence of an independent Czechoslovakia would have been taken away. When these poor people are able to reflect more calmly than they can at present under the distressing conditions in which they find themselves, I am sure they will realise the great modifications which Mr. Neville Chamberlain obtained for them in what Germany asked for in the Godesberg ultimatum by what was agreed to in the Munich Agreement, and instead of saying they have been betrayed they will hold his name in high reverence. They themselves must realise that so long as they had powerful minorities in permanent unrest they could never be strong and united, and that fact alone, apart from the impossibility of their having contented conditions in their own country, would have been a constant source of danger both to them and to the future peace of Europe. I carry my mind back to last Wednesday when the news suddenly came through from Germany that she had delayed action. The spontaneous outburst of pent up feelings which were expressed in the House of Commons when it was known that Germany had agreed to refrain from war was one of the most memorable occasions in Parliamentary history. It is awful to me to think that some people describe that as mass hysteria. To my mind it is a cruel travesty of fact, and to call it such does irreparable harm in this country and throughout the countries of the world. The Prime Minister in his efforts for peace threw over all the old systems of diplomacy. He risked his position, he risked his reputation, and decided that he would seek a personal interview with Herr Hitler. I applaud him for doing so. Why adhere to old methods which have been very useful in the past but which to-day are getting rather obsolete, with the efficiency of transport and the quickness with which nations can approach each other? I am sure that even those who criticised him in such a hostile manner to-day feel in their hearts that it was the act of a man who has the ideal before him that the part he has to play in life is to serve his fellows and the world at large. I will say for our political opponents that they behaved splendidly throughout the crisis, and I wish they had continued to act in the same way. But they have turned right round. They are now saying with all the force of language at their command that our Prime Minister has been outwitted by Hitler and that we should have gone to war. They were the very people who, when peace seemed far away, cried out for peace. I will admit that they are very consistent in one point of their policy, and that is that they are anti-Fascists. During the crisis they were anti-Fascists, and I might also tell them that in my opinion they have almost been volte-Fascists. They have turned right round from one side to the other: the party of pacifism has now become the party of aggression. They taunt us by saying that they are going to fight a General Election. I think they are whistling to keep their spirits up. I have had a fair experience in fighting elections, and I think I can claim to know something of the psychology of our people. I know that if I went on to a platform and said to them, "I want a verdict from you people: would you sooner have the peace which the Prime Minister has brought us, or would you prefer what evidently the Socialists prefer, war?" there would be an overwhelming verdict for what the Prime Minister has done. To play our part the country must prepare as we have never done before, to meet any emergency which may arise. We do not do this in any aggressive spirit but to ensure that we shall be in a position to secure the conditions that we all want. We must perfect our national service so that our people will know what to do and where they have to go in a time of crisis, and at the same time build up our forces with all speed possible. If we do this and also cultivate the best relations with our neighbours throughout the world, in my humble opinion we shall contribute the maximum possible towards world peace; but if we neglect to do so we may yet have war. There are many who say we have made an agreement with Herr Hitler when we cannot trust his word. To those men in Parliament who make these utterances I would mention that if they were to look back upon the speeches which they made some two or three years ago they would find, to put it in the kindest sense, the greatest inconsistencies in what they are saying to-day. In fact, you would find that a great number have absolutely turned in their tracks from the utterances they made a few years ago. We have also to remember that on our part we have spurned on many occasions the overtures which Germany has made to us, and we have had to pay very dearly for doing so. Let us give Herr Hitler credit and believe that his intentions are honourable to this country, for it is quite impossible to foster feelings of goodwill and cooperation unless mutual trust exists. They cannot be built up in any other way. He has already made a gesture in regard to his method of occupying the territory in the Sudetenland. I pray Heaven that he will go farther, and that he will release the many hostages that are now imprisoned in Germany. I want to see him show the world that he means to carry out his pledge. We also have to realise that the insane policy which has been pursued so long of trying to keep a great nation in subjection must be scrapped for all time, and the world thanks the Prime Minister for his efforts to bring this about. The sinister figure to my mind in Germany to-day is not Herr Hitler; it is the Minister of Propaganda, who has consistently endeavoured to inflame the minds and hatred of his countrymen and will not allow them to know the whole truth of what is going on throughout the world. Many in Germany to-day are now realising this. The lack of knowledge of their own mobilisation by many of their leading people is a case in point. Certain transactions were on foot in that country, and the people there who wanted the goods were told that they had to send the money over here before the goods could be shipped. They telephoned through to ask why this course should be adopted, when it had never been taken before, and they were amazed when they heard of the position which had developed in the last twenty-four hours. That was one of the largest firms in Germany: that will show you how news is suppressed. I do hope that the radio and the Press will be put abroad in that country in such a manner that the German people will know what is going on throughout the world. I know the Germans, I have mixed with the Germans; I know they want to avoid war as deeply and as passionately as I do. If Herr Hitler is shown by our Govern- ment the danger which he is keeping in his midst by having a man of that character, so that he can take steps to see that the people are behind him and helping him to keep his word, I am sure that our Government will be doing a great thing for world peace. I also hope our Government will consider, when things are a little more placid than they are to-day, the outstanding problems which in the course of time will have to be considered, and weigh their pros and cons in an atmosphere of peace, understanding and good will, instead of waiting for a day when possibly some other alternative is put forward. Before I sit down I would like very much, if I may, to join in the tributes expressed by so many to the great work carried out by the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, who, with his brilliant talents and calm judgment, has been such a strong help and support to the Prime Minister during this awful crisis. I would also like to appeal to all political Parties at the present time to forget the political aspect and to look at the wider world aspect. Let us all work together in such a way that the Prime Minister will feel, in the work he is undertaking, that he has the nation behind him, and I pray, as do countless millions to-day, that a higher Power may give him wisdom, courage and foresight, so that his great ideal of European appeasement may be speedily fulfilled.
My Lords, I am sure you will desire me on your behalf to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down upon his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. We all know that Lord Marchwood comes from another place, where he discharged very great and onerous responsibilities, and we have all listened to his speech, which was marked with great eloquence and clarity, with interest and the hope that we shall hear him again on many future occasions. I must confess, however, that with his speech I found myself in almost entire disagreement.To-day your Lordships have listened to a number of speeches from all Parties in your Lordships' House, and therefore I do not propose to go over the ground which has already been covered. I should like, however, to refer to the speech made yesterday by the Foreign Secretary. I listened to that speech with great interest, but at the end of it I confess I still found myself weighed down with the same feeling of humiliation and dismay which I am sure has touched all our hearts during the past ten days. There was one passage in his speech to which I wish to refer, and I am sorry he is not here, in order, perhaps, that he might at a later stage tell us more precisely what he meant. With that passage in his speech I profoundly disagree. He said:
There is at least one other procedure, one other method, which the noble Viscount omitted to mention, and that is, that when negotiations have come to a standstill, when consent has been found to be impossible, the matter in dispute can be referred to some impartial body, to some third-party judgment. I am supported in this view by a very distinguished historian, to whom I have before referred, the late Sir John Seeley, who wrote:"Yet if we are to be honest with ourselves we must acknowledge that there are only three ways in which Treaty revision can be secured. One is by consent, the second way is by force, and the third way is by the threat of force. However strongly, therefore, we may condemn resort to the only other methods, we must in fairness admit that the way of consent, laid down in Article 19, has not hitherto in vital matters been made effective,"
That, I venture to think, is what we know in this country as equality in the sight of the law, and it is because this principle has apparently been entirely disregarded in the proceedings of the last two weeks, that I venture to make, to-day, with other members of your Lordships' House, a protest against the settlement which was arrived at. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, told us a few moments ago, what we all want is to administer justice. We have heard very little, as he told us, about justice in any of these debates, but I should like to remind your Lordships that we expected that our Government at least, and the French Government too, would insist upon some procedure which would give Czechoslovakia an opportunity of stating her case before a verdict was pronounced. Why was this country excluded from taking a direct part in the negotiations which took place? I suppose we find the answer in the broadcast speech which the Prime Minister made during these proceedings, in which he said:"There has been found hitherto but one substitute for war. It has succeeded over and over again; it succeeds regularly in the long run wherever it can be introduced. This is to take the disputed question out of the hands of the disputants, to refer it to a third party whose intelligence, impartiality and diligence have been secured, and to impose his decision upon the parties with overwhelming force. The last step in this process, the power of enforcing the decisions of the federal union only, is just as essential as the earlier ones, and if you omit it you may just as well omit them too."
I think in the same speech he also alluded to the fact that Czechoslovakia was a small State. Well, I happen to belong, and I am proud to belong, to a small country, but nevertheless one which I believe has some regard for the principles of justice and fair play, and therefore I do not withhold my support from the settlement merely on the ground that we were mediating on behalf of a small country. I would like to suggest to your Lordships that this question of justice is really vital, because no permanent peace can ever be secured if it is founded on injustice. In a speech made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on March 24, just less than six months ago, he used these words:"How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of the quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing."
Now what were these principles? The Prime Minister said:"We do not believe that any stable order can be established unless by one means or other recognition can be secured for certain general principles."
Well, after all, we all realise that in this settlement at any rate force was there looming in the background, that great and terrible force the threat of which undoubtedly not only brought these negotions to a head, but also influenced the decisions which were arrived at. The Prime Minister went on to enunciate the second principle. He said:"The first is that differences between nations should be resolved by peaceful settlement and not by methods of force."
I believe that the Prime Minister has out of his own mouth expressed in those words a denunciation of the settlement which was arrived at last week, because no fair-minded person can for a moment suggest that this settlement was based on any principle of justice. Therefore I venture to think that we cannot be satisfied with the situation as it exists, and we must do something to try to retrieve the position. I think most of us are agreed that there was a definite grievance in Czechoslovakia, as unfortunately there is in many other places in Europe to-day in regard to these minority questions. It seems to me that the predominant principle when these peace treaties were concluded was the principle of self-determination, and I imagine the majority of the people in this country would have supported it. That was the principle enunciated by President Wilson, which I believe was applied, perhaps not to its fullest extent, but at any rate it was the main principle which was applied, when the Treaty of Versailles was being drafted. But what is this principle of self-determination? Some people apparently believe that it is merely the application of a racial principle—whether you are a German, whether you are a Czech, whether you are an Englishman, or whether you belong to some other nationality. But I do not believe for a moment that that is a true definition of the principle of self-determination. I believe it is Herr Hitler's definition, but if it is not a true definition, then it is quite wrong to suppose that the principle of self-determination has been applied to the problem of Czechoslovakia. The principle of racial affinity, the idea that these areas were to be carved out simply because 50 per cent. of the inhabitants were Germans does not follow at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, pointed out, it does not follow at all that the inhabitants of these areas really desired to be annexed by or transferred to the Reich. If we read our papers during the last few days we find that probably hundreds, if not thousands, who voted for Herr Henlein's party had no idea in doing so that they were voting for a separation of the Sudeten areas from the Czechoslovak Republic. Therefore it seems to me that the principle of self-determination, which we and many people in this country imagined was going to be invoked, was never invoked at all in regard to these areas where 50 per cent. were of German nationality. We are told that it is proved by the results of the municipal elections, but what on earth have the municipal elections to do with this question of transferring these districts bag and baggage to Germany at the point of the bayonet? I say they have nothing to do with it at all, and we are deceiving ourselves if we imagine that we are bringing peace to Czechoslovakia by allowing these districts to be transferred from the present régime to the Reich without having consulted the wishes of the inhabitants. After all, we did consult them in the case of the Saar. The procedure adopted in the case of the Saar was an appeal to the people themselves. We assisted by contributing to an international force which was sent to the Saar in order to prevent terrorism, in order that those people might have the opportunity of expressing their ideas freely, without any pressure or coercion. I remember suggesting in this House that an international force should be sent to the Saar, and the noble Viscount who led the House said, "No, no force from this country shall ever go to the Saar to assist in carrying out this plebiscite." A few days later, thank God, we were informed that we were willing to join other nations in trying to produce an atmosphere of calmness, an atmosphere free from coercion and terrorism in the Saar in order that the people in that country could express their issues freely and without any pressure. I would ask the Leader of the House why the same procedure was not adopted in the case of all the Sudeten districts. Why confine it to a certain section of the population? After all, what is 50 per cent.? In these 50 per cent. areas there may be thousands of Social Democrats, thousands of Jews, thousands of people who hate the idea of being transferred to an alien country, and whose only hope, probably, of life, whose only hope of saving themselves, is to flee the country as soon as they possibly can. Before I sit down I want to allude to the Report presented to the Government by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman. I was very astonished to read in that Report that Lord Runciman had apparently committed himself to certain principles and proposals which I cannot conceive any person sent to a country merely to mediate could possibly suggest. One of these principles was:"The second, admittedly of no less importance, is that a peaceful settlement, to be enduring, must be based on justice."
As far as I can make out that means that you suppress all free speech in Czechoslovakia, that no Czechoslovakian in future will be allowed to criticise or make any comment at all on the policy of other countries who happen to be neighbours of Czechoslovakia. That seems to me the very essence of totalitarianism. It means the negation of all democratic ideas, and it is a most unfortunate suggestion to have been made in a report which was intended to endeavour to bring the Czechs and the Germans together. It is rather curious that in his speech yesterday the most reverend Primate concluded what I thought was an extraordinary oration by saying:"That those parties and persons in Czechoslovakia who have been deliberately encouraging a policy antagonistic to Czechoslovakia's neighbours should be forbidden by the Czechoslovak Government to continue their agitations—and that, if necessary, legal measures should be taken to bring such agitations to an end."
The most reverend Primate must have been reading Lord Runciman's Report. Apparently it may be considered a hostile act if we in this country make any criticisms at all about these totalitarian States or if we venture to criticise their actions or protest against what the most reverend Primate calls "blatant infringements of religious or civil liberty." When we reflect upon these proposals, when we reflect upon what has been happening during the past two or three weeks, we cannot help feeling some sense of mortification and shame that our Government should have been a party to them. I have omitted to allude to the obligation which we as a country had towards the Czechoslovak Government. Lord Lloyd in his speech has already dealt with that point, but I should like to reinforce what he said by reminding your Lordships that we were, after all, one of the sponsors of this new State at the conclusion of the Great War. We were represented—I think by Major-General Temperley—on the Commission to limit the frontiers of the State. It is quite true that the guiding principle was the principle of nationality. There were eight or nine million Czechs and other races and about three million Germans. The problem was to create a new State—well, not quite a new State, because for centuries there had been the ancient State of Bohemia. But the Commission that had to undertake this job was told that not only were frontiers to be decided on the grounds of nationality, but they were to take into consideration economic and strategic factors, which I believe they did. In any case we were represented on that Commission. We were signatories of the Treaty of Versailles which created this new State, and I maintain that we had a special responsibility and obligation to see that at least this new State had fair play in any crisis which came along. A further point I wish to make is that we sent to Prague Lord Runciman as our mediator. He was not sent out by the League of Nations but by the British Government, his job being to try to bring together the Czechs on the one hand and the Sudeten Germans on the other. Four plans were put up and agreed to by the Czech Government, and as far as I can see the mediator did his job. Surely we have again special reasons why we should not have thrown over the Czech Government when the actual crisis became acute. I suggest to your Lordships that we have got to regard this problem in its proper perspective. It is not merely the events of the last few days, or the events of the last few weeks. If the minorities in Czechoslovakia were to be given the right of self-determination, why did the Government not suggest some practical procedure many weeks, if not months, ago? Why did they disregard the League and ignore its existence? Why did they refuse to use it as an instrument for bringing about peaceful changes in the relationships of States? I have ventured to plead in this House on many occasions for the revision of treaties. The noble Earl opposite thinks I am a great nuisance because I am always endeavouring to persuade him and his colleagues that there must be some peaceful procedure for the revision of treaties if you are going to avoid war, or to avoid a disgraceful settlement which is not based upon justice, and which, therefore, must sooner or later lead to war. I have tried my best ever since I came into this House to persuade His Majesty's Government that at Geneva they should endeavour to improve the provisions of Article 19. Article 19 in its present shape is unworkable. That is why it has never been invoked. But you can make it workable it you create the proper machinery—machinery which sixty years ago was suggested by the late Sir John Seeley. That is our great problem. It is still our great problem. As your Lordships have heard this afternoon, there are a great many other problems which will soon become acute. Why wait for them to become acute? Why not set up the proper machinery, which will prove to the world that what we are after is not merely peace but justice, because we know that peace must be based upon justice. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, referred to the question of Colonies. What is the Government going to do about that? Are we to wait until another crisis is reached and the Prime Minister has to rush off to Berchtesgaden or Munich or Berlin? Is that what you are going to do, or are you going to take time by the forelock? Are you going to try and settle these things by some peaceful procedure, and, if you cannot settle them by negotiation, are you going then to refer them to the adjudication of some third party whose impartiality is above suspicion? That surely is one of the lessons that we ought to learn from this terrible crisis through which we have just passed. I could say very much more, but as I understand there are several other members of your Lordships' House who wish to address you I will not trespass any further upon your indulgence, except to say this. At the bottom of all the trouble is not merely a question of providing institutions through which the will to peace and the determination to secure justice can be made effective. That is not the trouble. The real trouble is the moral deterioration which has been going on for the last five or ten years. It reached its highest point before this horrible catastrophe occurred. It reached its highest point when we signed the Anglo-Italian Agreement and when, out of the sufferings and misery of those poor people in Abyssinia, we tried to take a profit to ourselves over the prostrate corpse of that country. We tried to make arrangements with Mussolini for safe- guarding ourselves and our possessions. I thought that was the climax. It was the highest point of our deterioration. We were prepared to descend from the principles of the Covenant of the League to the level of the dictator and to seize any opportunity to try and get out of the difficult position. It is there that the trouble really lies. We have to try and restore a courageous spirit in the hearts of our people. We have got to try to make them believe that the permanent and durable peace which we all want must be founded upon justice and fair play."I hope I shall not be introducing a jarring note if for one moment I say that I trust that among friends, since there is this new friendship, it will be possible without being misunderstood to make remonstrances from time to time against blatant infringements of religious or civil liberty, because what is the worth of friendships if they have no place for candour?"
THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD MAUGHAM)
My Lords, at this time of the evening you will not expect an elaborate speech from me, and indeed I would not have risen at all in the circumstances which now exist if it were not that I occupy a somewhat unusual position in this matter. Your Lordships are well aware that I am in no sense a politician. I have spent my life at the Bar and on the Bench, and in particular in sifting and weighing evidence and seeing to what conclusion that evidence leads. I must say that I have been somewhat surprised and shocked at the language in which the conduct of His Majesty's Government, and in particular the conduct of the Prime Minister and of the Foreign Secretary, has been attacked in this House. I must say with great emphasis that if I believed that the position was to any material extent as it has been represented by those to whom I refer I should not be standing in this position and wearing these robes, but I am perfectly satisfied for my part that what they have said and what they have urged upon the House, sometimes with anger and always with bitterness, is absolutely ill-founded.These critics of the Government and of the Prime Minister do not understand what has happened. They do not know what the Government has known. They have not, like myself—I am bringing in myself for one moment again—read the hundreds if not thou sands of despatches, letters and reports from all kinds of people, many of them experts in their particular walks of life, and consequently they have placed before your Lordships a wholly false and fantastic view of the position in which we now stand. It is very irksome to me to make any criticism of anybody's speech in this House or elsewhere if they are not present to hear it and to see what it is in respect of which they are being attacked, and I propose therefore to say only this, that the noble Lord, Lord Snell, who leads in this House the Labour Party with such distinction and whose language is always so courteous and so pleasant, has framed the basic indictment against the Government in words which I can cite textually, and they will show how far I am from accepting the position which he has put before your Lordships. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Snell has returned to the House. After some very eloquent observations on the aspect of affairs, he summarised, as I think, his charge against the Government in this way:
Anybody who believes that can believe anything. There is hardly a word in it from first to last which is true. It is a false statement of fact. We have not given away any territory at all, because we had not got it to give away. We never forced the Czechoslovak State to do what they did. We did no more than point out to them, what I am convinced is true, that neither Britain nor France nor Russia nor anybody else could intervene in time to prevent their country being overrun and destroyed. At any rate there was nothing we could give away. And then the second part of the sentence—that we have despoiled a small and helpless people. How have we despoiled the Czechoslovak State? What have we got out of it? How much loss shall we not have to bear one way or another by this most unfortunate crisis in the affairs of Europe? If your Lordships want to know what I think for my part is the truth, I should borrow to some extent from the language of Lord Snell and I should say this: "In plain words this country has gone to the very verge of war in an effort to support France, whilst we and France have been engaged in saving from destruction a State which ought never to have been created at all." And that is absolutely and literally true. When it comes to the day when history is written I am for my part perfectly satisfied that history will say that the conduct of the Foreign Secretary and of the Prime Minister, and of the Cabinet which has throughout supported them, has been noble and in the interests of this country, and that what they have done must be approved as as noble and as righteous a thing as has ever been done by any statesmen in this country."In plain words, we have obtained peace for ourselves by giving away territory that did not belong to us, and by despoiling a small and helpless people."
My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
Moved, That the debate be now adjourned till to-morrow.—( Lord Gainford.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, we shall meet to-morrow at three o'clock.
House adjourned at three minutes past seven o'clock.