File No. 763.72119/1785

The Consul General at London ( Skinner) to the Secretary of State

No. 6392

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith six copies of a discussion which took place in the House of Commons on June 20, 1918, in the course of which … the [Secretary] for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Balfour, spoke on the subject of peace by negotiation.

The text transmitted is official.

I have [etc.]

Robert P. Skinner
[Page 280]

Remarks of the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ( Balfour) Delivered in the House of Commons, June 20, 19181

We have never rejected any proposals which we thought had the slightest probability of producing the sort of peace which most of us—and, I hope, all of us—desire. There is no evidence whatever that the German Government have ever been serious in making such offers of peace. I have more than once referred to Belgium, though I always do so with some hesitation lest hon. Gentlemen should run away with the idea that, in my judgment, the restoration of Belgium would by itself give all that we ought properly to ask for as a result of the War. The case for Belgium is merely an example. It is a good example of German methods, because Belgium, as the hon. Member2 has pointed out, was the occasion of the War. I am not sure whether the hon. Member would admit that, but at any rate it was intimately connected with the opening phases of the War. The treatment of Belgium is, and remains, the greatest blot upon German honour and German humanity. German honour and German humanity, I think, have been violated in many parts of the world, but Belgium stands out as the great and unanswerable proof of what it is that the German Government will do if they think that any military advantage is to be got by it. Have the German Government ever openly and plainly said in any document, or in any speech, that Belgium is to be given up, that Belgium is to be restored, that Belgium is to be placed in a position of absolute economic as well as political independence? I know of no such statement. It has been suggested that Belgian territory should be restored, and there have been other suggestions of one kind or another, but you will never find any frank avowal that Belgium, having been taken by one of the most iniquitous acts of which history has record, is to be put back, so far as the perpetrator of the crime is concerned, as far as possible in the position in which she was before the crime was committed.

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that perhaps when he is discussing the reasonableness of terms he might have reminded the House of that fact? What he does is to point to ambiguous speeches and doubtful resolutions, and he turns his eyes resolutely away from the clear-cut and unmistakable statements on the other side, made by German writers of repute and German politicians of position. He turns his eyes resolutely away from what Germans write and what Germans say, and he turns his eyes still more resolutely away [Page 281] from what Germans do both in the east and the west, and then he presents a picture of German statesmen on that side offering reasonable terms of peace to the English statesmen on this side, and the English statesmen obstinately shutting their ears and insisting on going on with the War and determinedly forcing this country and its allies to go on with the expenditure of blood and of treasure, and he expects us to listen to him patiently and not to say that, whatever his intention may be, his acts in this House have the effect of doing everything that can be done by a speech in this House to discourage the Allies and their friends and to encourage the Central Powers and their friends. I must honestly say that I think that is a lamentable performance. If I understood one part of his speech aright—I may have failed to get the clear meaning—he seemed to think that we differ from President Wilson upon these points. So far as I know, there is no difference between the Allies and President Wilson upon war aims. I believe that we cherish the same ideals, we are fighting for the same purpose on the same fields of battle, we are making; similar sacrifices, and we are working towards the same end.

I cannot conceive why the hon. Gentleman, animated as I am bound to suppose he is by a public-spirited policy, suggests that there should be in this matter of war aims the smallest difference between us and our American allies. There is no such difference, neither is the hon. Gentleman right when he supposes that these secret treaties are an obstacle to peace. The notion is fantastic. I am not going to discuss the secret treaties. I have often explained to the House that these treaties were made not by me, not by the party to which I belong, not by the present Government; they were made in obedience to motives which I believe would have moved any government in power at the time to make the same or similar arrangements. It is very easy for the hon. Gentleman to say that if the treaty with Italy to which he referred—I am not going to discuss it—were discussed, it would be disapproved of in this meeting or that meeting throughout the country. If you want to judge the treaty rightly, remember the circumstances under which it was made, and ask the people whether, if they had been responsible for the conduct of affairs, they would have hesitated to come to arrangements of that kind. Even if the treaty is open to criticism, even granting—and I am not going to make any admissions about it—that it was open to this criticism, it is a mistake to suppose that it stands in the way of peace.

The Allies are prepared to listen collectively to all reasonable arrangements. Certainly His Majesty’s Government are not going to shut their ears to anything that can be called a reasonable suggestion. If such a suggestion was made, and it met with the approval [Page 282] of the Allies collectively, does the hon. Gentleman really suppose that the fact that three years ago, or whenever it may have been, they took a different view that that would stand in the way of accepting this reasonable suggestion? Of course it would not! Any proposal to the Allies will be considered by the Allies on its merits. These treaties were entered into by this country with other members of the Alliance, and to these treaties we stand. The national honour is bound up with them, and I really cannot conceive a more unfortunate moment in which the hon. Gentleman should criticise our Italian allies than at the very moment when those very allies are fighting with heroic courage in the battles which they are now carrying out against their Austrian enemy.

  1. Parliamentary Debates—Commons—1918, vol. 107, pp. 569–571.
  2. Mr. Philip Snowden.