Great Speeches of the War/Grey


[Speech in the House of Commons August 4, 1914, in which he announced the position and intentions of the Government with reference to the War. The Chamber presented a memorable spectacle, all the old party divisions were obliterated, parties felt and recognized that a great Assembly was taking high decisions in a noble manner.]

Mr. Speaker:—Last week I stated that we were working for peace not only for this country, but to preserve the peace of Europe. To-day—but events move so rapidly that it is exceedingly difficult to state with technical accuracy the actual state of affairs—it is clear that the peace of Europe cannot be preserved. Russia and Germany, at any rate, have declared war upon each other.

Before I proceed to state the position of his Majesty's Government and what our attitude is with regard to the present crisis, I would like to clear the ground that the House may know exactly under what obligations the Government is or the House can be said to be in coming to a decision upon the matter. First of all let me say very shortly that we have consistently worked with a single mind and with all the earnestness in our power to preserve the peace. [Cheers.] The House might be satisfied on that point. We have always done it, and in these last years, as far as his Majesty's Government are concerned we should have no difficulty in proving that we have done it. Through the Balkan crisis by general admission we worked for peace, and the co-operation of the Great Powers was successful in working for peace in that crisis. It is true that some Powers had great difficulty in adjusting their points of view and it took much time and labour and discussion before they could settle their differences, but peace was secured because peace was their main object and they were willing to give time and trouble to the consideration of difficulties and not to accentuate the differences that arose.

In the present crisis it has not been possible to secure the peace of Europe, because there has been little time and there has been a disposition, at any rate in some quarters, on which I will not dwell, to force things rapidly to an issue—at any rate to the great risk of war—and we know that the result of that is that the policy of peace, as far as the Great Powers generally are concerned, has failed. I do not want to dwell upon that and to comment upon it, or to say where blame seems to us to lie, and which Powers were most in favour of peace, or which were most disposed to risk or to endanger peace, because I would like the House to approach the crisis in which we are from the point of view of British interests, British honour [loud Opposition cheers], British obligations [renewed cheers], and free from all passion. We shall publish papers as soon as we can regarding what took place last week when we were working for peace, and when these papers are published I have no doubt that to every human being they will make it clear how strenuous and genuine and whole-hearted our own efforts for peace were, and they will enable people to form their own judgment upon what forces were at work which operated against peace.

Now I come first to the question of British obligations. I have assured the House, and the Prime Minister has assured the House more than once, that if any crisis such as this arose we should come before the House of Commons and be able to say to the House that it was free to decide what the British attitude should be [cheers]; that we would have no secret engagement [cheers] to spring upon the House and should not tell the House that because we had entered upon that engagement there was an obligation of honour on the country. I will deal with that point to clear the ground first. There have been in Europe two diplomatic groups—the Triple Alliance, and what came to be called the Triple Entente—for some years past. The Triple Entente was not an Alliance; it was a diplomatic group. [Hear, hear.] The House will remember that in 1908 there was a crisis—also a Balkan crisis—which originated in the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Russian Minister, M. Isvolsky, happened to come to London—his visit had been planned before the crisis broke out—and I told him definitely then that this being a Balkan affair I did not consider that public opinion in this country would justify us in promising him anything more than diplomatic support, and more was never asked from us, more was never given, and more was never promised.

In this present crisis up till yesterday we had also given no promise of anything more than diplomatic support. [Ministerial cheers from below the gangway.] Up till yesterday no promise of anything more than diplomatic support was given. To make this question of obligation clear to the House I must go back to the Morocco crisis of 1906. That was the time of the Algeciras Conference. It came at a very difficult time for his Majesty's Government, when a General Election was in progress. Ministers were scattered all over the country, and I was spending three days a week in my constituency and three days at the Foreign Office. I was asked a question whether if that crisis developed and there were war between France and Germany we would give armed support. I said then that I could promise nothing to any foreign Power unless it was subsequently to receive the whole-hearted support of public opinion here when the occasion arose. I said that in my opinion if a war were forced upon France then on the question of Morocco—a question which had just been the subject of agreement between this country and France; an agreement exceedingly popular on both sides [hear, hear]—if out of that agreement war were forced upon France at that time, in my opinion public opinion in this country would rally to the material support of France. [Cheers.] I expressed that opinion, but I gave no promise. I expressed that opinion throughout the crisis so far as I remember almost in the same words to the French Ambassador and the German Ambassador at that time. I made no promise and I used no threat.

Well, Sir, that position was accepted by the French Government, but they said to me at the time, I think very reasonably, "If you think it possible that public opinion in Great Britain might when a sudden crisis arose justify you in giving to France the armed support which you cannot promise in advance, unless between military and naval experts some conversations have taken place you will not be able to give that support, even if you wish to give it, when the time comes." There was force in that. I agreed to it and authorized these conversations to take place, but on the distinct understanding that nothing which passed between military and naval experts should bind either Government or restrict in any way their freedom to come to a decision as to whether or not they would give their support when the time arose.

I have told the House that on that occasion a General Election was in progress. I had to take the responsibility of doing that without the Cabinet. It could not be summoned, and an answer had to be given. I consulted Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the Prime Minister; I consulted Lord Haldane, who was then Secretary of State for War; and the present Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. That was the most I could do. That was authorized, but on the distinct understanding that it left the hands of the Government free whenever a crisis arose. The fact that conversations between military and naval experts took place was later on—I think much later, because that crisis had passed, and the thing had ceased to be of importance—brought to the knowledge of the Cabinet. The Agadir crisis—and the Morocco crisis—came, and throughout that I took precisely the same line as had been taken in 1906. Subsequently, in 1912, after a discussion of the situation in the Cabinet, it was decided that we ought to have a definite understanding in writing, though it was to be only in the form of an unofficial letter, that these conversations were not binding upon the freedom of either Government.

On November 22, 1912, I wrote the letter to the French Ambassador which I will now read to the House, and received from him a letter in similar terms in reply. The letter which I have to read is this, and it will be known to the public now as the record that whatever took place between military and naval experts, they were not binding engagements upon the Governments:—

{{smaller|"My dear Ambassador,— From time to time in recent years the French and British naval and military experts have consulted together. It has always been understood that such consultation does not restrict the freedom of either Government to decide at any future time whether or not to assist the other with armed force. We have agreed that that consultation between experts is not, and ought not to be, regarded as an engagement that commits either Government to action in a contingency which has not yet arisen and may never arise. The disposition, for instance, of the French and British Fleets respectively at the present moment is not based on an engagement to co-operate in war. You have, however, pointed out that if either Government had grave reason to expect an unprovoked attack by a third Power it might become essential to know whether it could in that event depend on the armed assistance of the other. I agree that if either Government had grave reason to expect an unprovoked attack by a third Power or something that threatened the general peace, it should immediately discuss with the other whether both Governments should act together to prevent aggression and to preserve peace, and, if so, what measures they would be prepared to take in common."}}

That is the starting point for the Government with regard to the present crisis. I think it makes it perfectly clear that what the Prime Minister and I have said in the House of Commons was perfectly justified as regards our freedom to decide in a crisis what our line should be, whether we should intervene or whether we should abstain. The Government remained perfectly free and a fortiori the House of Commons remained perfectly free. [Hear, hear.]

That I say to clear the ground from the point of view of obligations, and I think it is due to prove our good faith to the House of Commons that I should give that full information to the House now and say what I think is obvious from the letter I have just read, that we do not construe anything which has previously taken place in our diplomatic relations with other Powers in this matter as restricting the freedom of the Government to decide what attitude they shall take now or restricting the freedom of the House of Commons to decide what their attitude shall be. [Hear, hear.] I will go farther and say this. The situation in the present crisis is not precisely the same as it was in the Morocco question. In the Morocco question it was primarily a dispute which concerned France. It was a dispute, as it seemed to us, fastened upon France out of an agreement existing between us and France and published to the whole world under which we engaged to give France diplomatic support. I say that we were pledged to nothing more than diplomatic support, but we were definitely pledged by a definite agreement to side with France diplomatically in that question.

The present crisis has originated differently. It has not originated with regard to Morocco; it has not originated with regard to anything on which we have a special agreement with France; it has not originated with regard to anything which primarily concerns France. It originated in a dispute between Austria and Servia. Well, Sir, I may say this with the most absolute confidence, no Government and no country has less desire to be involved in war over the dispute between Austria and Servia than the Government and country of France. [Loud cheers.] They are involved in it because of their obligations of honour [cheers] under a definite alliance with Russia. It is only fair to state to the House that those obligations of honour cannot apply in the same way to us. [Ministerial cheers.] We are not a party to the Franco-Russian Alliance; we do not even know the terms of that Alliance. Now so far I have, I think, faithfully and completely cleared the ground with regard to the question of obligation.

I now come to what we think the situation requires of us. We have had for many years a long-standing friendship with France. [Cheers.] I remember well the feeling in the House—my own feeling, for I spoke on the subject, I think, when the late Government made their agreement with France—the warm and cordial feeling resulting from the fact that these two nations, who had had perpetual differences in the past, had cleared those differences away. [Cheers.] I remember saying, I think, that it seemed to me that some benign influence had been at work to produce the cordial atmosphere which had made that possible. But how far that friendship entails obligation—and it has been a friendship of the nations [cheers] and ratified by the nations—let every man look into his own heart and his own feelings and construe the extent of the obligation for himself. [Cheers.] I construe it myself as I feel it, but I do not wish to urge upon anyone else more than their feelings dictate as to what they should feel about the obligation. The House individually and collectively may judge for itself.

But now I speak personally for myself from the point of view of feeling.

The French Fleet is now in the Mediterranean. [Cheers.] The northern and western coasts of France are absolutely undefended. When the French Fleet comes to be concentrated in the Mediterranean, there is a very different situation from what it used to be because the friendship which grew up between the two countries had given them a sense of security that there was nothing to be feared from us. Her coasts are absolutely undefended, her Fleet is in the Mediterranean, and has been for some years concentrated there, because of the feeling of confidence and friendship which has existed between the two countries.

My own feeling is this, that if a foreign Fleet, engaged in a war which France had not sought and in which she had not been the aggressor, came down the English Channel and bombarded and battered the unprotected coasts of France, we could not stand aside [loud cheers] and see the thing going on practically within sight of our eyes, with our arms folded, looking on dispassionately doing nothing, and I believe that would be the feeling of this country. [Cheers.] There are times when one's own individual feeling makes one feel that if the circumstances actually did arise it would be a feeling that would spread with irresistible force throughout the land—in face of a thing happened.

But I want to look at the thing also without sentiment from the point of view of British interests [cheers] and it is on that that I am going to base and justify what I am presently going to say to the House. If we are to say nothing at this moment, what is France to do with her Fleet in the Mediterranean? If she leaves it there with no statement from us on what we will do, she leaves her northern and western coasts absolutely undefended at the mercy of a German fleet coming down the Channel to do as it pleases in a war which is a war of life and death between them. [Cheers.] If we say nothing, it may be that the French Fleet is withdrawn from the Mediterranean. We are in the presence of a European conflagration. Can anybody set limits to the consequences which may arise out of it?

Let us assume that to-day we stand aside in an attitude of neutrality, saying, "No, we cannot undertake and engage to help either party in the conflict." Let us assume the French Fleet is withdrawn from the Mediterranean; let us assume that the consequences—which are already tremendous in what has already happened in Europe even in countries which are at peace—in fact, equally whether countries are at peace or war; let us assume that out of that come consequences unforeseen which make it necessary at a sudden moment that, in defence of vital British interests, we should go to war. Let us assume, which is quite possible, that Italy, who is now neutral because, as I understand, she considers this war is an aggressive war [cheers], and the Triple Alliance being a defensive alliance her obligations do not arise—let us assume that consequences which are not yet foreseen, which perfectly legitimately, consulting her own interests, made Italy depart from her attitude of neutrality at a time when we are forced in defence of vital British interests to fight ourselves.

What will be the position in the Mediterranean then? It might be that at some critical moment those consequences would be forced upon us when the trade routes in the Mediterranean might be vital to this country. Nobody can say that, in the course of the next few weeks, there is any particular trade route the opening of which may not be vital to this country. What will our position be then? We have not kept a fleet in the Mediterranean which is equal to deal with a combination of other fleets alone in the Mediterranean. That would be the very moment when we could not detach more ships for the Mediterranean and we might have exposed this country from our negative attitude at the present moment to a most appalling risk.

I say that from the point of view of British interests we felt strongly that France was entitled to know and to know at once [cheers] whether or not in the event of attack upon her unprotected northern and western coasts she could depend upon British support, and in that emergency and in these compelling circumstances yesterday afternoon I gave to the French Ambassador the following statement:

"I am authorized to give the assurance that, if the German Fleet comes into the Channel or through the North Sea to undertake hostile operations against French coasts or shipping, the British Fleet will give all the protection in its power. [Great cheers.] This assurance is, of course, subject to the policy of his Majesty's Government receiving the support of Parliament, and must not be taken as binding his Majesty's Government to take any action until the above contingency or action of the German Fleet takes place."

I read that to the House, not as a declaration of war on our part, not as entailing immediate aggressive action on our part, but as binding us to take aggressive action should that contingency arise. Things move very hurriedly from hour to hour, fresh news comes in, and I cannot give this in any very formal way, but I understand that the German Government would be prepared, if we would pledge ourselves to neutrality, to agree that its Fleet would not attack the northern coast of France. [Hon. members.—"Oh!" and cheers.] I have only heard that shortly before I came to the House, but it is far too narrow an engagement for us. [Loud cheers.] And, Sir, there is the more serious consideration, becoming more serious every hour—there is the question of the neutrality of Belgium. [Cheers.]

I shall have to put before the House at some length what our position in regard to Belgium is. The governing factor is the Treaty of 1839, but this is a treaty with a history—a history accumulated since. In 1870, when there was war between France and Germany, the question of the neutrality of Belgium arose and various things were said. Amongst other things Prince Bismarck gave an assurance to Belgium that, confirming his verbal assurance, he gave in writing a declaration which he said was superfluous in reference to the Treaty in existence—that the German Confederation and its allies would respect the neutrality of Belgium, it being always understood that that neutrality would be respected by the other belligerent Powers. That is valuable as a recognition in 1870 on the part of Germany of the sacredness of these treaty rights. What was our own attitude? The people who laid down the attitude of the British Government were Lord Granville in the House of Lords, and Mr. Gladstone in the House of Commons. Lord Granville on August 8 used these words. He said:

"We might have explained to the country and to foreign nations that we did not think this country was bound, either morally or internationally, or that its interests were concerned in the maintenance of the neutrality of Belgium. Though this course might have had some conveniences, though it might have been easy to adhere to it, though it might have saved us from some immediate danger, it is a course which her Majesty's Government thought it impossible to adopt in the name of the country, with any due regard to the country's honour and to the country's interests."

Mr. Gladstone spoke as follows two days later:

"There is, I admit, an obligation of the Treaty. It is not necessary nor would time permit me to enter into the complicated question of the nature of the obligation under that Treaty. But I am not able to subscribe to the doctrine of those who have held in this House what plainly amounts to the assertion that the simple fact of the existence of a guarantee is binding on every party to-day irrespectively altogether of the particular position in which it may find itself at the time when the occasion for acting on the guarantee arises. The great authorities upon foreign policy to whom I have been accustomed to listen, such as Lord Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston, never to my knowledge took that rigid, and if I may venture to say so, that impracticable view of the guarantee. The circumstance that there is already an existing guarantee in force is, of necessity, an important fact, and a weighty element in the case to which we are bound to give full and ample consideration. There is also this further consideration, the force of which we must all feel most deeply, and that is, the common interest against the unmeasured aggrandisement of any Power whatever."

The Treaty is an old Treaty—1839. That was the view taken of it in 1870. It is one of those treaties which are founded, not only on consideration for Belgium which benefits under the Treaty, but in the interests of those who guarantee the neutrality of Belgium. The honour and interests are at least as strong to-day as they were in 1870, and we cannot take a more narrow view or a less serious view of our obligations, and of the importance of those obligations, than was taken by Mr, Gladstone's Government in 1870. [Cheers.]

Well now, Sir, I will read to the House what took place last week on this subject. When mobilization was beginning I knew that this question must be a most important element in our policy, and a most important subject for the House of Commons. I telegraphed at the same time in similar terms to both Paris and Berlin to say that it was essential for us to know whether the French and German Governments, respectively, were prepared to undertake an engagement to respect the neutrality of Belgium. I got from the French Government this:

"The French Government are resolved to respect the neutrality of Belgium, and it would only be in the event of some other Power violating that neutrality that France might find herself under the necessity, in order to assure the defence of her security, to act otherwise. This assurance has been given several times. The President of the Republic spoke of it to the King of the Belgians, and the French Minister at Brussels has spontaneously renewed the assurance to the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs to-day."

From the German Government the reply was:

"The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs could not possibly give an answer before consulting the Emperor and the Chancellor."

Sir Edward Goschen, to whom I had said it was important to have an answer soon, said he hoped the answer would not be too long delayed. The German Minister for Foreign Affairs then gave Sir Edward Goschen to understand that he rather doubted whether they could answer at all, as any reply they might give could not fail, in the event of war, to have the undesirable effect of disclosing to a certain extent part of their plan of campaign. [Ironical laughter.] I telegraphed, at the same time, to Brussels to the Belgian Government, and I got the following reply from Sir Francis Villiers:

"The Minister for Foreign Affairs thanks me for the communication and replies that Belgium will, to the utmost of her power, maintain neutrality, and expects and desires other Powers to observe and uphold it. He begged me to add that the relations between Belgium and the neighbouring Powers was excellent and there was no reason to suspect their intentions, but that the Belgian Government believed that in the case of violation they were in a position to defend the neutrality of their country."

[Cheers.] It now appears from the news I have received to-day, which has come quite recently—and I am not yet quite sure how far it has reached me in an accurate form—the news is that an ultimatum has been given to Belgium by Germany, the object of which was to offer Belgium friendly relations with Germany on condition that she would facilitate the passage of German troops through Belgium. [Ironical laughter.] Well, Sir, until one has these things absolutely definitely, up to the last moment I do not wish to say all that one would say if one was in a position to give the House full, complete, and absolute information upon the point. Sir, we were sounded once, in the course of last week, as to whether, if a guarantee was given that after the war Belgian integrity would be preserved, that would content us. We replied that we could not bargain away whatever interests or obligations we had in Belgian neutrality. [Cheers.]

Shortly before I reached the House I was informed that the following telegram has been received from the King of the Belgians by King George:

"Remembering the numerous proofs of your Majesty's friendship and that of your predecessor, and the friendly attitude of England in 1870 and the proof of friendship you have just given us again, I make a supreme appeal to the diplomatic intervention of your Majesty's Government to safeguard the integrity of Belgium."

Diplomatic intervention took place last week on our part. What can diplomatic intervention do now? We have great and vital interests in the independence, and integrity is the least part of the independence of Belgium. [Loud cheers.] If Belgium is compelled to submit to allow her neutrality to be violated, of course the situation is clear. Even if, by agreement, she admitted the violation of her neutrality, it is clear she could only do so under duress. The smaller States in that region of Europe ask but one thing; their one desire is that they should be left alone and independent. The one thing they fear is, I think, not so much that their integrity, but that their independence should be interfered with. If in this war which is before Europe the neutrality of one of those countries is violated, if the troops of one of the combatants violate its neutrality and no action is taken to resent it, at the end of the war whatever the integrity may be the independence will be gone. [Cheers.]

I have one further quotation from Mr. Gladstone as to what he thought about the independence of Belgium. It will be found in Hansard, Volume 203, page 1,788. I have not had time to read the whole speech and verify the context, but the thing seems to me so clear that no context could make any difference to the meaning of it. He said:

"We have an interest in the independence of Belgium which is wider than that which we may have in the literal operation of the guarantee. It is found in the answer to the question whether, under the circumstances of the case, this country, endowed as it is with influence and power, would quietly stand by and witness the perpetration of the direst crime that ever stained the pages of history, and thus become participators in the sin."

[Loud cheers.]

No, Sir, if it be the case that there has been anything in the nature of an ultimatum to Belgium asking her to compromise or violate her neutrality, whatever may have been offered to her in return, her independence is gone if that holds. If her independence goes the independence of Holland will follow.

Now, Sir, I ask the House, from the point of view of British interests, to consider what may be at stake. If France is beaten in a struggle of life and death, beaten to her knees, loses her position as a Great Power, becomes subordinate to the will and power of one greater than herself—consequences which I do not anticipate, because I am sure that France has the power to defend herself with all the energy and ability and patriotism which she has shown so often [loud cheers]—still if that were to happen, and if Belgium fell under the same dominating influence, and then Holland and then Denmark, then would not Mr. Gladstone's words come true, that just opposite to us there would be a common interest against the unmeasured aggrandisement of any Power? [Loud cheers.]

It may be said, I suppose, that we might stand aside, husband our strength, and that, whatever happened in the course of this war, at the end of it intervene with effect to put things right and to adjust them to our own point of view. If in a crisis like this we ran away [loud cheers] from those obligations of honour and interest as regards the Belgian Treaty, I doubt whether whatever material force we might have at the end it would be of very much value in face of the respect that we should have lost; and, do not believe, whether a Great Power stands outside this war or not, it is going to be in a position at the end of this war to exert its superior strength. For us, with a powerful Fleet which we believe able to protect our commerce and to protect our shores and to protect our interests, if we are engaged in war we shall suffer but little more than we shall suffer even if we stand aside. We are going to suffer, I am afraid, terribly in this war, whether we are in it or whether we stand aside. [Cheers.] Foreign trade is going to stop, not because the trade routes are closed, but because there is no other trade at the end. Continental nations engaged in war, all their populations, all their energies, all their wealth, engaged in a desperate struggle—they cannot carry on the trade with us that they are carrying on in times of peace, whether we are parties to the war or whether we are not. At the end of this war, whether we have stood aside or whether we have been engaged in it, I do not believe for a moment—even if we had stood aside and remained aside—that we should be in a position, a material position, to use our force decisively to undo what had happened in the course of the war, to prevent the whole of the west of Europe opposite to us, if that had been the result of the war, falling under the domination of a single Power.

Now, I can only say that I put the question of Belgium somewhat hypothetically, because I am not yet sure of all the facts; but if the facts turn out to be as they have reached us at present it is quite clear that there is an obligation on this country to do its utmost to prevent the consequences to which those facts will lead if they are undisputed. I have read to the House the only engagements that we have yet taken definitely with regard to the use of force. I think it is due to the House to say that we have taken no engagement yet with regard to sending an expeditionary armed force out of the country. Mobilization of the Fleet has taken place [cheers]; mobilization of the Army is taking place [renewed cheers], but we have as yet taken no engagement, because I do feel that in the case of a European conflagration such as this, without precedent, with our enormous responsibilities in India and other parts of the Empire, or countries in British occupation, with all the unknown factors, we must take very carefully into consideration the use which we make of sending an Expeditionary Force out of the country until we know how we stand.

One thing I would say. The one bright spot in the whole of this terrible situation is Ireland. [Prolonged cheers.] The general feeling throughout Ireland, and I would like this to be clearly understood abroad, does not make that a consideration that we feel we have to take into account. [Cheers.] I have told the House how far we have at present gone in commitments, and the conditions which influence our policy; and I have put and dealt at length to the House upon how vital the condition of the neutrality of Belgium is.

What other policy is there before the House? There is but one way in which the Government could make certain at the present moment of keeping outside this war, and that would be that it should immediately issue a proclamation of unconditional neutrality. We cannot do that [cheers]; we have made a commitment to France, which I have read to the House, which prevents us from doing that. We have got the consideration of Belgium also which prevents us from any unconditional neutrality, and without those conditions absolutely satisfied and satisfactory we are bound not to shrink from proceeding to the use of all the forces in our power. If we did take that line by saying we will have nothing whatever to do with this matter—that no conditions of the Belgian Treaty obligations, the possible position in the Mediterranean, with damage to British interests, and what may happen to France from our failure to support France—if we were to say that all those things mattered nothing, were as nothing, and to say we would stand aside, we should, I believe, sacrifice our respect and good name and reputation before the world, and should not escape the most serious and grave economic consequences. [Cheers, and a Voice "No."]

My object has been to explain the view of the Government, and to place before the House the issue and the choice. I do not for a moment conceal, after what I have said and after the information—incomplete as it is—that I have given to the House with regard to Belgium, that we must be prepared, and we are prepared—[cheers]—for the consequence of having to use all the strength we have at any moment—we know not how soon—to defend ourselves and to take our part. We know, if the facts all be as I have stated them, though I have announced no intending aggressive action on our part, no final decision to resort to force at a moment's notice until we know the whole of the case, that the use of it may be forced upon us.

As far as the forces of the Crown are concerned we are ready. I believe the Prime Minister and my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Admiralty have no doubt whatever that the readiness and the efficiency of those forces were never at a higher mark than they are to-day [cheers], and never was there a time when confidence was more justified in the power of the Navy to protect our commerce and to protect our shores. The thought is with us always of the suffering and misery entailed, from which no country in Europe will escape and from which no abstention or neutrality will save us. The amount of harm that can be done by an enemy's ships to our trade is infinitesimal compared with the amount of harm that must be done by the economic condition that is caused on the Continent. The most awful responsibility is resting upon the Government in deciding what to advise the House of Commons to do. We have disclosed our mind to the House. We have disclosed the issue, the information which we have, and made clear to the House, I trust, that we are prepared to face that situation, and that should it develop as it seems probable to develop, we will face it. [Cheers.]

We worked for peace up to the last moment, and beyond the last moment. How hard, how persistently and how earnestly we strove for peace last week, the House will see from the papers that are before it. But that is over so far as the peace of Europe is concerned. We are now face to face with a situation and all the consequences which it may yet have to unfold. We believe we shall have the support of the House at large in proceeding to whatever the consequences may be and whatever measures may be forced upon us by the development of facts or action taken by others. [Cheers.] I believe the country, so quickly has the situation been forced upon it, has not had time to realize the issue. It, perhaps, is still thinking of the quarrel between Austria and Servia and not the complications of this matter which have grown out of the quarrel between Austria and Servia. Russia and Germany we know are at war; we do not yet know officially that Austria, the ally whom Germany is to support, is yet at war with Russia. We know that a good deal has been happening on the French frontier. We do not know that the German Ambassador has left Paris. The situation has developed so rapidly that, technically, as regards the condition of the war, it is most difficult to describe what has actually happened. I wanted to bring out the underlying things which would affect our own conduct, and our own policy, and to put them clearly. I have put this vital fact before the House, and if, as seems only too probable, we are forced, and rapidly forced, to take our stand upon those issues, then I believe, when the country realizes what is at stake, what the real issues are, the magnitude of the impending dangers in the West of Europe which I have endeavoured to describe to the House, then I believe we shall be supported throughout, not only by the House of Commons, but by the determination and the resolution, the courage, and the endurance of the whole country. [Loud and prolonged cheers.]