HC Deb 19 March 1918 vol 104 cc841-99

I beg to move to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words "in the opinion of this House, a Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs should be appointed, representative of all parties and groups in the House, in order that a regular channel of communication may be established between the Foreign Secretary and the House of Commons which will afford him frequent opportunities of giving information on questions of foreign policy and which, by allowing Members to acquaint themselves more fully with current international problems, will enable this House to exercise closer supervision over the general conduct of foreign affairs."

This Amendment which I have just moved is part of a great subject, namely, whether this House is going to remain content indefinitely with the present control which it exercises over foreign affairs, which at the present time is very remote. Nobody disputes that Parliament constitutionally can confirm or alter or subvert the policy of the Government for the time being in foreign affairs, as in practice it has done for a century in home affairs. But for a considerable period before the commencement of this War the policy of the Government m foreign affairs was almost unaffected and almost undiscussed by the House of Commons, and during the period of this War diplomacy has hardly been under any Parliamentary supervision at all. At the same time the House of Commons has shown an appreciation that there is a new era approaching, and that the men and women of this country are going to take a more active and critical part in politics. They have just passed the Representation of the People Act, which prepares for a more democratic future, and I hope that by accepting this Motion to-day they will give new recognition of conditions which are inevitably approaching. I do not know what attitude the Foreign Secretary is going to take today. He has not hitherto shown any great sympathy, and only a few months ago—I think it was in the August of last year—he defended secret diplomacy, and throughout he is apt to discredit the possibilities of popular control of foreign policy. But there are, after all, stronger forces than those which stand behind the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman. The other view of the new world upon which we are entering is put forward by the President of the United States, and I want to read one or two quotations from President Wilson's messages to Congress during the War, for throughout he has spoken in unmistakable terms on this question of the control of foreign policy by the people at large. On 4th December, 1917, in his Address to Congress, he used these words: The thought of the plain people here and everywhere throughout the world, people who enjoy no privilege and have very simple and unsophisticated standards of right and wrong, is the air all Governments must henceforth breathe if they would live. It is in the full disclosing light of that thought that all policies must henceforth breathe if they would live, and it is in the full disclosing light of that thought that all policies must be conceived and executed in this mid-day hour of the world's life. He spoke with even greater plainness in the very remarkable speech on 8th January, 1918, when he put forward in specific terms his views with regard to the proper method of concluding peace: It will be our wish and purpose that the processes of peace, when they are begun, shall be absolutely open and that they shall involve and permit thenceforth no secret understandings of any kind. The day of conquest and aggrandisement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular Governments and likely at some unlooked-for moment to upset the peace of the world. Then, it is a most remarkable thing that President Wilson, in stating the fourteen points which he regarded as the essential desires of America for the conclusion of this War, put first and foremost the point: Open covenants of peace openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view. I will make this one other quotation, which immediately followed on President Wilson's Declaration to Congress. The Labour Party of Great Britain immediately issued a manifesto on his Note, in which they said that that was the only kind of diplomacy that the democracy of the world could tolerate, and they referred to Mr. Wilson's declaration. In fact, I believe Mr. Wilson, in this respect, is the spokesman of, effectively, the whole of the Anglo-Saxon democracy. I think this House would do well to prepare for the new policy in which the people of this country will require from this House the means of forming its opinion and expressing its will on foreign affairs to exactly the same extent as for a hundred years it has expressed its will on domestic affairs. I am firmly convinced that during this War, among many changes of opinion that have occurred, there is, perhaps, no change of opinion so decisive as this, that our people now feel that self-government and democracy are unreal boasts, are empty phrases, if they are not applied with the same completeness to foreign policy as they are, and have been, to home policy.

I want to discuss for a few moments—and I am not going to speak long to-day, because I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Ponsonby), who also got a place in the ballot, will speak in somewhat more detail immediately after me—what the new conditions require. The House of Commons, I think, needs some body of members fully representative of itself, who will keep in touch with the general policy pursued by the Government in foreign affairs, who will ensure that there shall be no commitments secretly made which involve the country in any new obligation, that no irretrievable action shall be taken without its consent or knowledge, and, having got that information themselves, such a Committee ought to keep the House of Commons fully informed on essential questions. I want the House to take into consideration two events. I shall only refer to two. though I might refer to many which have occurred during this War. About the facts themselves there is no controversy. During the early months of this War the Government then in office reversed the traditional policy of this country with regard to Constantinople. There may or may not have been good reasons for altering that policy. It was done without the knowledge of Par- liament, and without the knowledge of the country. The Government pledged this country to secure Constantinople for the Czar as a prize of war. For eighteen months they refused to give the House of Commons any information. At the conclusion of that time the arrangement was revealed to the world by the then Russian Premier. Shortly afterwards occurred the Russian Revolution. It then became apparent that the Russian people did not approve of the policy at all, but that it had been done in their name by the unscrupulous Ministers who surrounded the Czar during his regime. I do not know why that arrangement with Russia about Constantinople should have been concealed from this House and the country for any reason except fear of their disapproval, and I am personally convinced—I may be wrong—that if there had been a Foreign Affairs Committee, before whom the principal acts of policy had to be placed before they were realised that agreement, in fact, would never have been arrived at with Russia.

The other thing I wish to cite is the arrangement which was made with Italy. It was no doubt very desirable that Italy should come into the War on the side of the Allies, but it was also very desirable that the high and generous principles which actuated this nation at the inception of war should remain unsullied. During 1915 Ministers were constantly telling us that we and the Allies were not out for conquests and annexations, and that it was only the Germans who were. I feel certain the House of Commons means that. I feel quite certain that the only desire the House of Commons, as a whole, has ever had is the assertion and realisation of those unselfish and democratic principles. But the Italian Treaty is founded on rights of conquest and annexation, and, in my opinion, it would, have been quite impossible, if there had been a Foreign Affairs Committee, which had had to know this new and profound departure in our policy, that that policy would have been, in fact, accepted by the House. To my mind, and, I think, in the view of a very large number of Members, at any rate, when there is a question between the principles of national morality which inspire a nation and military expediency, it is the House of Commons, and not any secret political junta, which ought to decide if the former are to be abandoned.

I have taken these two salient questions of what has been done secretly, without the knowledge of the House of Commons, during this War, because I want it to be clear what is needed and what it is for which we are asking. It is not that every detailed action of the Executive needs to be, or ought to be, watched and sanctioned by this House. The Foreign Secretary, speaking on 17th August, ended what he had to say by the words: To reveal from day to day what is ultimately revealed with all due precautions in the Blue Book would really be insanity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th August, 1917, col. 1672, Vol. 97.] But that is a travesty of what is aimed at. Those who want most to control foreign affairs do not want every act of the Executive controlled. What they want this House to control is policy and changes of policy, that the country, through the House of Commons, should always know what policy is being pursued, and should always know when any great change is being made in the essential policy of the country. They protest against the doctrine of secrecy—secrecy which is very seldom desirable. No doubt if a Committee of this kind were set up, such a Committee ought to have the power, in consultation with the Foreign Secretary, of deciding that its deliberations should on certain subjects, and under certain conditions, be secret; but, as a rule, what we want is publicity—the maximum of publicity and not the maximum of secrecy.

In talking to some of my friends who, on the main principles of what I am saying, do not materially disagree with me, some of them have said to me that such a Committee might weaken and not strengthen the control of the House as a whole. I find it very difficult to conceive how the control of the House could be weakened, for it seems to me it is at present as weak as it can possibly be. But I will assume a condition of things in which public opinion demands that the House should exercise a very much more active supervision over foreign affairs. What I imagine in a Committee of this sort is not a board of foreign affairs which should sit with the Foreign Secretary and share his authority. I am not thinking of anything which would so much subvert the general idea of our constitutional practice. I am thinking of a Committee thoroughly representative of this House which would be in constant touch with the Foreign Secretary. If, in discussing his policy with him, it thoroughly approved that policy, it would say so and let it pass. It would discuss with him that policy, or changes of that policy, if it felt critical towards him.


Would it see all dispatches?


I presume it would be able to ask for all dispatches certainly. It seems to me that the relations which you want to set up are relations, to a great extent, of give-and-take between the Committee and the Foreign Secretary. I do not press the point, because I think it is clear that there would be occasions on which it would be undesirable that very secret documents should be made public, but in revealing the general tendency of the policy of the Government, the question hardly arises of very secret documents. But the chief function, I take it, of such a Committee would be to keep the House of Commons—the larger House of Commons—informed of the policy which was being pursued, of impending changes of policy, to submit Reports to the House of Commons, and to provide in the Debates in this House a large number of Members who were well informed, in order that this House, wishing to control foreign policy, might be far better informed than it is at present, and, therefore, far more responsible in the performance of its duties. I am bound to say that I do not believe the establishment of such a Committee would in any serious degree hamper the work of a Foreign Secretary who really wanted to act with the House of Commons.

I want, in passing, to say a word about another function which, I think, a Committee of this sort might perform if it became important and representative. I believe it might form the nucleus for Parliamentary relations with other representative assemblies. The old ambassadorial system has failed, and is discredited in the eyes of most people. After the War, the old diplomacy off Court and upper classes will be, in the eyes of most people, obsolete and inadequate. In fact, what is the whole idea of the League of Nations except the substitution of open and popular diplomacy for the old system? The idea is that difficulties between nations should no longer be settled in conclaves of Ambassadors, but by public, international discussion, and by arbi- tration of a public kind. But, of course, if any such new system is to come into existence, it cannot merely consist of the meetings of the representatives of the nations. It will have to be supplemented by informal meetings of those who are interested in international affairs coming from various countries, many of them entirely informal—meetings of men of science, religion, and so forth. Then there will be the rather more formal relations of political parties; for instance, Socialist parties, who may form a great unity in the world. But it seems to me to be also of vital importance that the Parliaments themselves should have some organisation which would enable them to cooperate and communicate, and a Committee of men, specially chosen for their knowledge of foreign affairs, possessing information, and having the feeling of responsibility such a Committee of this kind would have, I think might well be a very valuable national medium of communication.

I do not want to say anything more in moving this Resolution except this: I should have thought that the more the Foreign Secretary held to the merits of she old order, the more he ought to welcome anything that could create confidence between the Foreign Office and this House, because there is bound to arise a very difficult situation indeed after the War is over. It is very difficult to find a common ground, unquestionably, between those whose central creed with regard to foreign affairs is that they are the business of the specialist and the expert, and those who think that Parliament ought to assert its control in a most determined way. The right hon. Gentleman, giving evidence some time ago before some Committee, talked of 670 prying eyes perpetually directed towards those current details of international negotiations.


Did I say that?


I think I have quoted it correctly. I think, in so far as that is the view of a large number of people, it is a mistake to suppose that that is the real desire of the House of Commons. I do not think that is what the House of Commons wants. I think that unless the Foreign Office can get in real close touch with the House of Commons, and is ready to acknowledge its control, then you will get a state of enmity between the Foreign Office and the House of, Commons which is going to lead to an unsatisfactory state of affairs, in which there will be a desire to pry into everything the Foreign Office is doing. The only way by which that can be avoided, is by making the House of Commons quite certain that it has control over the main elements of policy. If it has that, I do not believe it is going to show itself unreasonable in prying into details. If we do not have some such system, if we do not secure to the House of Commons real, effective supervision of policy, then, I think, there may come a change which may overwhelm; the system now existing. I hope that will not be so, and I trust the House of Commons will consider this question of moderate reform before furious reform comes along.


I rise to second the Amendment.

We are exceedingly fortunate in being able to raise this question and to detach it from other questions in order that it may be debated fully on its merits. I desire to avoid very scrupulously introducing any illustrations which are likely to arouse dispute or differences of opinion, or to bring up points which may lead to acrimonious debate. I also want to make-it clear to the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary that in my remarks I do not direct my criticisms either to him or to the Government, or to his predecessor or any former Government, but they will be directed at the system which has been carried on by successive Governments during a long period of years. If it is a bad system—and I think it is—it is not the Government or the Foreign Secretary who arc to blame; it is the House of Commons itself, and the people outside who have allowed this system to continue. There is another thing I would say as a preliminary remark in regard to this question. I think we ought not to be led away too much by present conditions—by the abnormal conditions of the War. We ought to regard the question much more from the general point of view of foreign policy in ordinary times.

What are the opportunities for discussing foreign affairs in this House?—The Foreign Office Vote, the Consolidated Fund Bill, Motions for Adjournment, and, in addition, Questions. We can put aside the Consolidated Fund Bill and Motions for Adjournment, because everybody knows that questions can only be raised on these occasions in a very unsatisfactory way; other subjects may be discussed simultaneously, and one cannot keep the attention of the House directly to the particular point one wishes to have discussed. The Foreign Office Vote is not always put down. For several years previous to the War it was not discussed. The Leader of the House has kindly consented to put it down after Easter this year, and that will be the first occasion on which it has been put down during the War. The House will, therefore, see that even the Foreign Office Vote opportunity depends upon whether the Opposition of the day ask for that particular Vote in Supply to be put down, and, as the Opposition is generally much more concerned with points of party difference, it very often allows the Foreign Office Vote to lapse. It must be admitted, therefore, that the opportunities for discussing foreign policy in this House have, in recent years, been reduced to a minimum—they have arisen once or twice or three times perhaps during a Session—and I do not think that these matters, which I consider to be infinitely more important than anything else, should be left to the chance whether or not the Vote is asked for. Then we come to questions. If I were in the position of Foreign Secretary I should look upon questions as a most unsatisfactory method of giving information in regard to foreign affairs. I cannot conceive one more unsatisfactory. It is often declared that questions are embarrassing. No doubt they are, but the reason that they are embarrassing is to be found in the extraordinary ignorance of this House on foreign questions. If the House had better information the questions would be less embarrassing, but, on the whole, I am inclined to think that embarrassing questions are far the lesser evil; they are far less dangerous to the public interest than the deliberate withholding from this House of information which it ought to have.

The tendency before the War was to say that foreign affairs are non-party and, therefore, ought to be withdrawn from the arena of party politics, and the result has been that they are withdrawn from the arena of Parliamentary discussion altogether. Although there might be differences of opinion in the House there might be no marked party division, yet there was no method whatsoever of raising questions of importance in the realm of foreign affairs. Hon. Members on the Unionist side have several time in years past come to me and asked, "How can we raise such-and-such a question?" They, like I, at that time realised the importance of the question, but we had no method of getting it brought forward. The only opportunity of discussing foreign matters really resolves itself into that afforded by the Foreign Office Vote, and anybody who has attended discussions on that Vote-can safely say it reaches sometimes the lowest watermark of Parliamentary debating. We have questions raised by individual members on China, Egypt, Persia, Western Europe, and South America, and I remember that, on one occasion, I was anxious to raise a question about Russia. I thought it was of great importance, and I waited throughout the whole evening. I was preceded by an hon. Member who held the House half an hour talking about the electric lighting in Bangkok, and I found it extremely difficult for me to raise, after that, a very much more important subject regarding Russia. The Foreign Secretary on these occasions gives a perfunctory reply on the points raised, and, if anybody suggests that a general alteration of our policy towards the great Powers of Europe should be allowed to be discussed, such a suggestion is dismissed as not being in order. The old method is a failure, and it is as inevitable as that the sun will rise to-morrow morning that a new method will have to be adopted. The question whether we are going to help devise that new method or are going to drift and allow the old method to be broken down. by some means which may not yield satisfactory results is a question which I ask the House to consider this afternoon. There is a very great consensus of opinion, in regard to it. We are not raising to-day some fad of a few Members who are-always regarded as a contemptible minority. We are raising a question which has been envisaged by statesmen, students of foreign affairs, historians of all parties, and all schools of thought. I am only going to quote three—an ex-Ambassador, an ex-Foreign Minister, and a very prominent Member of this House. Viscount Bryce, an ex-Ambassador, says in his book, "The American Commonwealth"— The day may come when in England the-question of limiting the at present all but unlimited discretion of the Executive in foreign affairs will have to be dealt with, and the example of the American Senate will then deserve and receive careful study. Lord Rosebery, speaking shortly before the War, in Glasgow, said: Armaments must depend upon your policy, and it is extremely difficult for us, who know nothing about foreign policy but what we see in the newspapers, to form any accurate judgment as to what that foreign policy may be. Do not think that in saying this I am disparaging the knowledge of foreign policy which is derived from newspapers. I am only saying this, which must be familiar to all who have any knowledge of the subject, that what is seen on the stage of foreign policy is but a small part of the whole. By far the greater portion of what takes place behind the scenes, and as we ordinary mortals are not admitted behind the scenes, not even to the door of the green room, our knowledge of foreign policy must be based mainly on speculation.…I do not know if any Glasgow merchant here would care particularly to do what we do in foreign affairs—that is to engage in vast and unknown liabilities and affix his signature to them without knowing their nature and extent. That is from an ex-Foreign Minister. I come now to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). He said shortly before the War: I sometimes ask myself whether in the future it will not be necessary and, indeed, if it will not be a good thing that the Foreign Secretary should take the House of Commons, in the first instance, and his countrymen at large in the second, much more into his confidence than he has done in the past. We have passed in recent years through European crises, the full gravity of which was not realised by our people, if realised at all, until after they had passed into history. I ask myself can you conduct democratic Governments on these principles. Then again, after the announcement of war, the right hon. Gentleman said: I do not know why it is but in this the most democratic of countries our people have been told less of foreign politics—of the relations of one State to another, and of our relations to them all—than has been the custom in all great Continental nations, even in those in which Parliaments and the mass of the voters do not have, as they have here, complete control of the policy of the country. It has been a tradition not affecting one party only. What I am speaking of is not the peculiar property of this Government or of that Government, but it has been a tradition handed down from all the days when less depended on the voice of the people and, as I think, not suited to the circumstances of to-day. I read these because I think it is very important to show that there are prominent statesmen who realise that a change is necessary. The late Lord Cromer, also, in writing a comment on something I had written on this question, said: Mr. Ponsonby's main contention is one which may and should receive the hearty assent of many who disagree with him in detail. 5.0 P.M.

He realised the great importance of bringing about this change with regard to the Foreign Office. While during the last few years the flood of democracy has been rising—whether one likes it or whether one does not—and the great Departments of State have become more and more under the control of this House, the Foreign Office has remained high and dry in its old attitude, quite apart from this general rise in the tendency of democratic control. There is this difference between the Foreign Office and any other Department of State: In any other Department of State we in this House are able to see the result of the work done: whether it be the Treasury, the Home Office, the Board of Trade, the Local Government Board, or even the Colonial Office, we are able to detect points on which we disagree—maladministration and mistakes become obvious at once. In the realm of foreign affairs the whole thing is quite easily concealed from us, and we never realise what may be going on. At the same time, in the last ten years or so, the character of this House has very much changed. The advent into this House of men of moderate means and a large number of Labour Members has brought into the House a great number of hon. Members who have very special knowledge of a great many of the domestic problems which have been so much before us during recent years, and the whole of domestic legislation and administration has occupied the time of this House far more than it did in old days. At the same time there has been a reduction in the number of hon. Members who have any close knowledge or intimacy with foreign affairs, and while that has been going on it gives a false impression to the country that foreign affairs are not on the same level of importance as domestic affairs. They have learned a lesson now that they are not likely to forget, namely, that foreign affairs, which entail issues of peace and war, concern the men and women of this country far more vitally than any conceivable domestic matter.

Let us analyse what control means. First of all, I want to say what it does not mean. Control over foreign affairs does not mean interference with the conduct of actual negotiations. I have been accused very often by people in this controversy of demanding that the Foreign Secretary should lay his cards on the table, and so spoil his game. It is not the demand at all. I have never heard that demand. We do not want him to lay his cards on the table, but we want to know what game he is playing, because he is playing with very high stakes—people's lives and the nation's money. Of course, we do not want to pry into the inmost secrets of the conduct of negotiations, but between that centre of secrecy and the outer circumference of ignorance which we are in at the present time there is a vast field in which we might well have far fuller information and guidance. I want to impress on the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary very much this point that we do not want to interfere with negotiations. My hon. Friend the Member for Elland has just quoted a phrase of the right hon. Gentleman, which he did not seem to remember, about the prying eyes. The exact phrase was: He did not think it would be in the public interest if 670 prying eyes were perpetually directed against the details of current international negotiations.


When did I say that?


The right hon. Gentleman said it before the House of Commons Committee on Procedure, in answer to a question from me.


What was the date?


I think it was 1914, just before the War. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks I complain of the phrase, I would say I am not doing so, but it illustrates the argument better than any other phrase I could quote of those who will pretend that the demand is for interference in negotiations. I want to clear that out of the road, because it is a very easy tangent for the right hon. Gentleman to go off on and to leave our main demand alone. That is the first thing that we do not want. The second thing we do not want is to infringe the individual responsibility of the Foreign Secretary. Foreign negotiations are of such a character that it appears to me inevitable that they must be conducted by an individual who is responsible, and solely responsible, for the conduct of foreign affairs. I certainly think myself that he should have some sort of assist- ance. I think myself that a Cabinet Committee supporting him would be a help to him, because it has been said in old days before the War that when the Foreign Secretary came to the Cabinet with some pressing question of foreign affairs he found the Cabinet so occupied with all the contentious party matters for which the heads of the various Departments were responsible that he could never get a hearing at all, and that foreign affairs were very often treated as though they were something which might safely be left to him as an individual. That we should have at the present time a War Cabinet without the Foreign Secretary in it is something so absolutely grotesque that it really does not bear looking into for a single moment. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, must not suppose that the individual responsibility of the Foreign Minister is to be interfered with. Thirdly, we do not want that any form of control should detract from or diminish the control of the House of Commons itself. My hon. Friend who preceded me says he thinks it would be very difficult to diminish the control of the House of Commons. I entirely agree with him. The control of the House of Commons really amounts to nothing at all. I think, and I hope to show, that a Committee, so far from diminishing the control of the House of Commons, would be a spur and a lever to induce the House of Commons to consider this question of foreign relations far more frequently and more seriously than they do now.

I will now come to the positive side, as to what we do desire by control. First of all, the lines of policy, the course of events, and certain details which I will refer to, control over agreements and alliances, and, thirdly, the question of treaties. With regard to policy, my hon. Friend who preceded me has already dealt with that, and I need not go over the same ground. We want to know the broad lines of policy. We want to know what our relations are with foreign countries in the main, the basis and foundation of them. I repeat that I want the Secretary of State to bear in mind that I am speaking more especially of the normal state of peace than the abnormal state which obtains now. We also want information with regard to the course of events-What happens now? We, as Lord Rosebery said, have to rely on the Press. What happens in the Press? We see a series of events reported with great fulness; we begin to read of them. The next day the story continues, and we read it with interest; but the day after that some domestic concern crops up, either in. Parliament or in the country, and the foreign news is withdrawn, the story stops, the country is under the impression that that particular issue is over. It may not be at all, and we who are precisely on the same footing as any individual, as the man in the street— because we know no more than they do with regard to foreign affairs—are also prevented from following the course of events. As the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well, events which apparently are quite unimportant may, when they are followed, be seen to have very grave bearings, may raise other problems which require looking into, and that perpetual motion of foreign events in foreign countries is something to which more than an expert department should have their attention drawn. In a Committee the current events could be asked for and understood, and the information—just ordinary information—given to them. I am not talking about any confidential information in the slightest degree, but just the ordinary information which we cannot get in any other way. In addition to that, there are a great many commercial and Consular matters which are of interest to Members of this House, because the Foreign Office touches in one of its wings on the Board of Trade very closely. There are many commercial matters which it is impossible to raise in this House at all, which are never raised, which are of great importance, and which this Committee would form an admirable opportunity for discussing upstairs. So much for the lines of policy and events.

Secondly, I come to agreements and alliances. This, of course, is very fundamental. I consider that alliances and agreements should always be brought to the knowledge of this House. I do not think there is any question about that. Anybody who looks over the history of the last hundred years or so is very much struck by the constant change in the combinations between the nations of Europe. The friend of one decade becomes the foe of the next, and that continual change is due to the fact that these alliances, instead of being based on the sound approval of the people, are based on bargains made by individual Ministers or Governments, and, so long as they rest on that basis, they can only be ephemeral. The people will not be so capricious, because the people are there all the time. Ministers drop out, Governments depart, but the people are there all the time, and if you get their consent and approval and backing to agreements and alliances, made openly and clearly in the light of day, you are much more likely to get duration and to prevent what has been the spectacle of Europe in the last century—all these continual changes of combinations in what is treated really as a diplomatic game.

Thirdly, with regard to control, there is the question of the treaties. I am not quite certain how this question of treaties stands. I understand that no legislation would be necessary in order to get the constitutional practice established that treaties should receive the sanction of this House. I have no doubt myself that they ought, but it means rather a change in our constitutional practice. Lord Grey, when he was Foreign Secretary, dismissed this matter when it was brought forward by saying it was not a Departmental matter, but that it was a constitutional matter. I do not know who deals with, constitutional matters in this House, but I think it is a favourable opportunity to-day, because, as I hope to show, it is relevant to the whole question of a Foreign Affairs Committee to raise the question as to whether treaties should not receive the sanction of this House. Again I say what I have said already of alliances and agreements, unless you get the sanction of the people behind treaties, if treaties are simply documents to which only the Executive, only the Foreign Secretary or the Foreign Office, affix their signatures, you will never get the proper respect paid to them which we hope to see paid in the future. But there is another question with regard to treaties which is very important. If treaties are going really to be durable they must not, as they are at present, be drawn up as binding for all time. There must be a term put upon them. It was John Stuart Mill who said in one of his essays: Nations cannot rightfully bind them selves or others beyond a period to which human foresight can be presumed to extend, thus aggravating the danger, which to some extent always exists, that the fulfilment of the obligation may by change of circumstances become either wrong or unwise. And there is supposed to be in every treaty a tacit condition of rebus sic stantibus—that is to say, if there are altered conditions, that is an excuse for the repudiation of the treaty. That excuse has been made on several occasions by nations; and, in regard to a complete innocence and righteousness in the matter of observing treaties, I am afraid there is no nation which can point to a spotless record. It is not because national morality is low; it is rather because inter-governmental morality is so low; and that is because these treaties, drawn up and ratified, binding for all time, must, in the course of time, necessarily lose their binding effect, unless they are brought up for revision. Therefore, I say all treaties ought to be binding only for a limited period, and then brought up for revision. In that case you want a special body, just seeing the treaty that comes up at a certain period, going through it, and saying in what respect it ought to be altered. Very often, quite automatically, a number of treaties would pass through without any discussion whatsoever.

A Foreign Affairs Committee, of course, does not completely cover the whole ground or get the full Parliamentary control, which I should certainly like to see; but it is a step in the right direction. As to its functions, constitution, and procedure, it would act as a connecting link between the Foreign Secretary and the House of Commons. It would assist him in giving him a contact with opinion outside which I think he very much needs. Again I am not talking of the present Foreign Secretary, but of a Foreign Secretary. Let us put it in the abstract and not in the concrete. A Foreign Secretary does require more contact with opinion outside, and a Foreign Affairs Committee, which he or his. Under-Secretary would attend, would give him the opportunity of realising what was the thought and opinion of people who know a great deal of foreign questions. There is a sort of impression that the House of Commons knows nothing at all about foreign affairs. When I was in the Foreign Office I certainly thought so. I know that in drafting answers to questions in the Foreign Office end in asking questions in the House of Commons one has two very different points in view. The actual view in the Foreign Office was, "What on earth are these Members of Parliament interfering in our work for?" and one does not realise until one becomes a Member of the House how vitally important it is that Members should interfere, and should have full knowledge and some voice in the conduct of foreign affairs. The Committee would have the power to call for papers. As to whether it should demand papers or demand witnesses, that is a matter which I think at this stage we need hardly decide. These are important points, but I do not think these details should stand in our way at the present time. As I have said, if there are questions of revision of treaties, that in itself would give the Committee an extremely useful function.

As to its constitution, I think a Standing Committee of the House of Commons, consisting of about thirty to fifty Members, would meet the case as well as any body that I can think of. A Select Committee would be too small. I think the names of the members of the Committee would have to be submitted to this House for approval, in order that not only parties but all sections of opinion in this House might be represented. As to whether there should be a Committee of both Houses, considering that very often in the House of Lords you get interesting Debates on foreign questions and you get Members of that House who have a closer knowledge of foreign affairs, including ex-Ambassadors than Members perhaps in this House, that is a question quite worthy of consideration; but, on the whole, I am inclined to think that a Committee of the House of Commons, considering that we are the House of the people's representatives, is more necessary in order to secure control than a Committee of the two Houses. I say about thirty to fifty Members, in order to make it completely representative and ensure a good attendance. I do not intend to detain the House with regard to procedure, because that is a matter which would have to be settled hereafter if the main principles were accepted, but we ought not to be hampered by any sort of precedent in this matter. In all the different sorts of Committees we have constructed under our procedure from time to time to meet our needs in this House we have bad to devise different systems; and if this is a new need, and it has to be met, we must not be frightened of devising a new method of meeting it. We must not be hampered.

Of all countries, I think, in Europe, of all the great Powers, we have the least control over foreign affairs. There are committees in France, in Germany, and in the United States. There is an interesting Parliamentary Paper giving the full details of all these various Committees. I have spoken to Deputies of the French Chamber with regard to their committee and they have said that it does not give them satisfactory control They admit that, but at the same time they say they are able to get a great deal more information than we do, and it is a notorious fact that foreign Parliaments are far better acquainted with international problems than we are. It is not only our national insularity, but it is this deplorable procedure, which prevents us really being au courant with international affairs. The United States of America affords perhaps the most interesting instance, because the Committee of Foreign Relations of the Senate is a very important body indeed. It is a very small body, but the Senate has treaty-making power—that is to say, no treaty of the United States being able to be sanctioned without the consent of the members of the Senate. Members of the Committee have a very important position, and the Secretary of State not only brings matters to them for their sanction, but consults them very often before he takes the initial steps in drawing up a treaty. I do not think that really any of the methods devised by foreign Parliaments, although they go a great deal further than anything we have devised, meet the case completely; but I think a closer study of their methods might give us a hint as to the direction in which we might advance, gaining from their knowledge and experience and correcting the mistakes which they see they have made.

But no Committee or any other sort of advisory body can succeed in getting control of foreign affairs so long as a Foreign Secretary desires to evade Parliamentary control. He can always do it. I make one reservation—unless the Committee has power to demand information. Then that would be an effectual check on him. A Foreign Affairs Committee would certainly make it more difficult for a Foreign Secretary to retain the secret methods, and it would make it far easier for a Foreign Secretary who desired to get into closer touch with Parliament and to fortify his actions by public approval. We have had all sorts of small Committees connected with tins House, Committees get up by Members privately to investigate various questions of foreign policy, and they have been very useful, some of them, in getting us information. But of course no private Committee is of the smallest use in securing control. What we want is a publicly recognised, constitutionally established, body. There was. some sort of Foreign Affairs Committee sent over to France a year ago, during the War. Several hon. Members went over, and I could never ascertain on what principle they were chosen. They were leading Members of well-known ability and capacity, but not particularly distinguished for knowledge of foreign affairs; and, so far as I could ascertain from replies given to me, they were chosen because they were "safe,'' and therefore could be relied on. I do not know that that is a very good method of selection. It is not necessarily the orthodox "safe" people who may be most useful.

But at any rate these informal Committees are of no particular assistance in this matter. In fact, foreign affairs should not be any longer a highly technical, obscure and secret business which must be jealously guarded from outside interference and kept scrupulously in the hands, of the initiated, questions and discussions by private Members being considered unwarrantable intrusions by outsiders into a private concern which is no business of theirs, like a small boy spying behind a curtain behind which his elders are engaged in work which he cannot possibly understand. That idea ought to be disposed of once and for all. Foreign affairs should be recognised as the nation's chief concern, in which the people's representatives have the right to participate and in which their co-operation should be sought. If any international order is to be set up after this War it can only be by getting the people to give their approval and their consent to the main lines of our foreign policy. This can only be done through Parliament, and in no other way. It may be said that the last few months of a moribund Parliament is. the worst opportunity that could be chosen for bringing this matter forward, but I disagree. To begin with, we have got a Coalition Government in power, and we have already done an astonishing bit of work by passing the Representation of the People Bill. There is no reason why a step forward should not be made in this direction also. More than that, we have immediately in front of us the most critical moment, perhaps, in the history of this country, and it is a moment in which it is of the very utmost importance that we should, have the assistance of the popular will, the popular intentions with regard to the solution of these international problems. These decisions can only be arrived at satisfactorily through Parliamentary discussion, and they can only be effectively carried out with the assent and approval of the people's representatives.

Captain G. A. LLOYD

I do not think that the hon. Members who moved and seconded this Motion will misunderstand me if I say that a great many of us have come to look upon Motions put forward by hon. Members below the Gangway with a good deal of suspicion. This, however, is not one of them. I listened with a good deal of interest to the speeches made by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Ponsonby) and the hon. Member who moved this Motion, but what they have said does not alter the fact that they are proposing an alteration in our contitutional method of dealing with important business in this House of a very grave character, indeed, which must have very far-reaching results. When I listened to the extraordinarily temperate and mild manner in which they advocate this great change.—they stated, I think, that they only wanted the most ordinary information and that the question of obtaining powers to compel information was to be left over to a later date—I felt a little bit alarmed lest this House should not realise what a tremendously important issue was being raised at this juncture in the War.

Let me say that I think the time selected for this proposal is most unfortunate. Whatever the merits of the case may be, for a Committee of this House to deal with foreign affairs in time of peace, that case is very much weaker in time of war. We cannot afford to make mistakes, and still less can we afford to show even the smallest trace of disunity in our counsels, or even a fraction of disunity with regard to our alliances. I think, too, that it is very doubtful whether, in time of war, a Committee, such as that which has been advocated, could, without hourly and daily access to all the official telegrams and information which come in time of war, render any useful or valuable advice and assistance to the Government in dealing with all the various complex questions entrusted to the care of the Foreign Office. If such is the conclusion one comes to now, I would not for a moment suggest that I think there are not good reasons for, at any rate, considering such, a proposal to operate in times of peace. Although we may dislike the proposal put before the House to-day, I confess that I think this Motion is in a considerable measure due to the Foreign Office behaviour towards this House in past times. I do not disguise for a moment that I think there is a good deal to be altered, but I differ as to ways and means from hon. Members below the Gangway. I do think it is absolutely impossible for foreign affairs to be conducted by public debate at all moments and seasons in the House of Commons. I have not a vestige of sympathy with the rather vague and sometimes ill-directed invective against secret diplomacy. It is obvious, in fact, it is intolerable, that you should discuss and give your most intimate views as to the conduct of all your neighbours without largely impairing the relations between, you and them, and no good or useful purpose would be served. It is really worth remembering also that there is very little diplomacy that is secret to anyone who takes the time and trouble to study it, and give it as much attention as hon. Members do to social and domestic questions. Necessarily, however, there must be a reticence of expression in regard to the behaviour of our neighbours if we are not to be perpetually disputing all kinds of questions.

I will give a small instance. Not a few of us in this. House before the War were convinced that Germany was plotting and planning and preparing against this country. We are now accused by politicians in this House of not having-warned the country against the impending danger, and it is assumed in consequence that we were blind to that danger. Our difficulty was that when we sought to give expression to our fears in this House we always ran the risk by our utterances of precipitating or augmenting the ill-feeling which behind the scenes we believed the Foreign Office was doing its utmost to appease. That is the difficulty which exists now, and which must exist even with a Foreign Affairs Committee, of an unfettered discussion of foreign affairs in this country. I said that the Foreign, Office has been largely responsible fort his Motion. Hon. Members have a lack of confidence in our foreign diplomacy, and they wish to correct it. But the only way in which this country can really take a larger control of its foreign affairs is by understanding them. It is true it is much harder for this country to understand its foreign affairs than for other foreign countries, but that does not alter the fact that the people of no country can understand their foreign affairs unless they study them. We cannot enter into details of foreign policy, but we can have the broad outlines of our foreign policy explained to us, and I think this should be done more often, more simply and with rather greater candour than has been the custom in this House. I refer especially to the four or five years preceding this War. It is because the country does not understand foreign policy even in its broad aspects that misconception arises. How many people understood before the War what our moral liabilities to France and Russia were? How many people realised why they were undertaken, or what was the importance of them? I do not think there is any doubt if the people had understood them they would either have refused the engagements to which they were pledged, or, at any rate, they would have seen that this country had made adequate naval and military preparations to meet them.

Although I risk being out of order in giving this illustration, I would like to say that many people who have studied the question believe that this War might never have occurred if some days earlier the Prime Minister had been able to say absolutely and unequivocally that he was going to stand by his engagements even when the first outbreak of the Serbian trouble arose. Why was he not able to do so There were several important reasons, but one of the main reasons, which I am sure will be put forward after this War, was that the Government and the Cabinet at that moment were not sure that they had the confidence of the people in that policy. Why had they not this confidence? Because they had never told the people what their engagements were, and so the Government had to wait day after day until the enemy should commit some huge rand obvious outrage which from a sense of justice would be repudiated by the people of this country. But all the same I am not convinced that you are going to get an understanding of foreign affairs in this country by setting up a Foreign Affairs Committee in this House. On the contrary, I think it tends to uncertainty in foreign relations and divided counsels. Hon. Members who have raised this discussion talk a great deal about the fallacy of our foreign policy, but they do not say anything to justify it. If hon. Members went to France or Germany, particularly the latter, and other countries on the Continent, the people there would tell them that we had pursued a masterly foreign policy for the last fifteen years. We must look back twenty years to see this question in its true perspective. The truer criticism would be, to use a military parallel without any military meaning here, that the strategy of our Foreign Office for the last fifteen or twenty years has been amazing and wonderful; in fact, it has been a masterpiece, but that the tactics have been very often deplorable. Take, for example, the Japanese alliance, which led to tranquillity, economy, and economic progress in the East. This was masterly, and achieved something which could not have been achieved by public debate. The Triple Entente met a danger which those who knew best felt the country was moving to, and that was very masterly. Huge difficulties were patiently overcome, sacrifices were made, deep-seated differences were removed, old time prejudices excised, so that France, who had been for two centuries an enemy of this country, and Russia, with whom we had been on nagging and uncomfortable relations for nearly as long, came into the orbit of our friendship, and this 'was all the result of that secret diplomacy which hon. Members below the Gangway are so very unhappy about.

If you come to the tactical performances of the Foreign Office you can point to great blunders. You will see blunders in Bulgaria, with Turkey, and with Polish policy. What are the conclusions from that? Rightly or wrongly, I draw these conclusions, that there may be a very big case for reforming the machinery of our foreign office internally, but that there is very little case for setting up a Foreign Office Committee. Such a Committee could never hope to deal with all the daily details which make up the tactical work of the Foreign Office. It could only exert its influence on the great, broad policy which I believe all agree has been masterly in its conception during the last twenty-five years. I do not believe by such a Committee you would achieve the resutls you are seeking. Hon. Members have referred to the countries that have Foreign Affairs Committees. The subject was slapped over rather lightly I thought. Denmark, Italy, Greece, Japan, and Norway—none of them have such a Committee. It is a fact that Turkey had a Foreign Affairs Committee, and, although I noticed a rather unusual and to me a rather painful sympathy with the position of Constantinople in Turkey on the part of the hon. Member below the Gangway—I confess that I could not understand it, and sometime I should like to ask him what he meant—I do not think that we should want to imitate the Turkish Chamber. Germany is not a very democratic country whose institutions we look at with a great deal of affection. Therefore, there remains France and the United States of America. We may try and learn something from those neighbours, though in this connection it is necessary to remember that there 13 not any parallel at all for our diplomatic position, except perhaps that of Japan. Japan and Great Britain are both island Empires, and are bound to pursue a policy that is non-Continental. There is possibly a similarity in the position of those two countries in this matter, but none of the other countries, and particularly the United States, afford any parallel in dealing with foreign affairs. The sea makes all that difference.

Let me take, first, the case of the United States, and ask if there is any one who would venture to say that he anything like understands the complexities of the Senate and the House of Representatives—the complexities of the American constitution, and its machinery. I at once say that I do not. It is an immensely complex constitution and one very difficult to understand. This, at any rate can be said. The Monroe Doctrine has eliminated from the purview of the United States and of its people practically all foreign questions, and although they have a Committee there I do not see that we should imitate it, because, without meaning any offence to the people of the United States, they have a very good reason for being ignorant of foreign affairs and they are or have been ignorant of them. I wish that we in. the same way could afford to be ignorant. I should think there is no country where the people understand so little about foreign affairs as the United States. That is very well known. Therefore, if it is alleged that a Committee on Foreign Affairs is necessarily a good means of educating people to understand their alliances and agreements, I do not think much encouragement will be derived from the example of the United States. In conclusion, take the case of France. I do not know if hon. Members who advocate this change realise the effect—this really is not a debatable point—that the foreign and Colonial Committee of the French Chamber has had. It has been very simple. It has been intensely expansionist and Jingoist, to use a broad word. The foreign policy of France has been almost entirely defensive on the one side and expansionist on the other. The defensive policy was understood by all. Every child knew of 1870. Every child was taught that Alsace-Lorraine was French but in alien hands It was a simple irredentist policy as regards the latter and strictly defensive as regards the former. The Foreign Affairs Committee deals extraordinarily little with foreign affairs and almost entirely with colonial affairs. Anybody who has ever studied or been acquainted with members of that committee or with its work knows that all it has dealt with practically has been colonial affairs, oversea trade affairs, and in those affairs there has been no body that I know that has been more expansionist and more penetrating in its attempts to introduce French methods, French trade, and French influence in other countries than the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Chamber.

I do not think that is the kind of Committee that hon. Members seek to set up here, or that those are the objects for which they, at any rate, want to set up. Therefore, I think that they would do better to withdraw this Motion for discussion in the House and to substitute another for it. This Motion, I believe, is alien to the practice of this House, and would be inharmonious to the working of this House. After all, if there is one thing that we are keen about in this House it is the direct access of Members of the House to the Government, and I dislike interposing unnecessary Committees. It is undemocratic and alien to our traditions, and, if I might suggest it, I think that the hon. Gentlemen would do better to withdraw this Motion and to substitute for it a Motion dealing with the reform of the Foreign Office as an institution, effecting improvements in pay, improvement in terms and conditions, and improvement on many a line that is not appropriate for me to refer to on this subject. Not only would they have my support there, but I am sure, though they perhaps do not know it, that they would have with them half the Foreign Office on the question of reform in that body. I believe that would go far to meet the points that have been raised very ably and with great interest by the hon. Members below the Gangway, but I do ask them to consider very carefully before they press upon the House an alteration in the management of our foreign affairs which I believe would be most dangerous in its results and certainly would not carry out the objects which they have advocated.


My hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down has made a most able contribution to the Debate. He has spoken with originality, he has spoken with knowledge, and he has spoken with a varied experience of foreign affairs both at home and abroad. I think the result of his experience came out in the course of his speech. He endeavoured to regard—and I think he succeeded in regarding—the conduct of our foreign affairs as a practical question for practical men, to be dealt with, not according to abstract formulæ, but according to the real necessities of the actual situation. I did not see the same full consciousness of the facts of the case in the speech either of the Mover or of the Seconder of the Amendment. Both those two hon. Gentlemen, and the Mover in particular, spent a great deal of time upon what are now becoming the familiar platitudes of democracy versus secret diplomacy. He drew again with considerable elaboration the well-known caricature of foreign ministers of various countries spinning diplomatic webs, oblivious, apparently, of the public opinion of their respective countries, and pursuing almost worn-out methods, with the result that civilised mankind is now groaning under a series of undemocratic treaties. That picture is entirely fantastic. I neither see how the present system is undemocratic nor how the proposal is going to make it more democratic. The hon. Gentleman appears to think that the Foreign Minister at this box does not represent the people of the country in whose name he speaks, and that the Government to which he belongs and with whom he works in harmony represents some occult, half-forgotten tradition of Eighteenth Century diplomacy, which has no legitimate place in modern international relations- That is quite fantastic. Why is the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Elland Divisiou (Mr. Trevelyan) a better representative of democracy than I am?


I never suggested it.


He has been sent here—no doubt with great advantage to the House—by his constituents. Well, so have I. Why does he think that a Member of Parliament, duly elected, but standing at this box, ceases to have those democratic instincts of which, apparently, he is so proud?


I did not suggest it.


I consider myself quite as good a representative of my country as the hon. Gentleman can possibly consider himself, and, if I reveal the whole truth, I think at this particular moment that I represent it muck better. Putting on one side this comparison, which need not be pressed far, between the hon. Gentleman and myself, I want to know how is the existing undemocratic condition of things going to be remedied by appointing a Committee of this House? Apparently, the hon. Gentleman who initiated this Debate thinks that our Foreign Office discussions are very unsatisfactory. If I remember rightly, the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr, Ponsonby) has retained an embittered recollection of some Debate in which he desired to take a part, which I am sure if he could have taken would have been both important and useful, and in which he was prevented from that exercise of his responsibilities by the fact that while he wanted to talk of Russia and of some great issues in which Russia was concerned, there was another hon. Member who insisted upon talking about gas-lighting in Bankok. I heartily sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. I can see even now an expectant House melting away under the discussion of the gas-lighting of Bankok. When the House has been emptied by a Debate on the gas-lighting of Bankok, it is very difficult to bring it back to any world-wide question of foreign policy.


I did get my speech off.

6.0 P.M.


I feel that the hon. Gentleman must have done it under chilling circumstances, and that the edge of his eloquence was a great deal affected by the fact that his audience had been completely spoiled by the eloquence of his-predecessor, who exercised his ingenuity for that painful half-hour upon the gas-lighting of Bankok. How is that going to be cured? How are our Debates going to be made more democratic? What machinery is going to be devised by which these little accidents are not going to occur? Let me go a step further. I should have thought that by every remove from the people you became, in the language of the hon. Gentleman opposite, less democratic. If you could have a plebiscite, I suppose that would be the most democratic thing of all, although I understand that it is not always regarded with favour on the benches opposite. Next to a plebiscite, I suppose, comes a representative Assembly—the House of Commons. Thirdly, and far down the scale, comes a Committee of the House of Commons. Why is that? How are we to democratise our institutions by handing over to a Committee of this House a responsibility which ought to be directly exercised by the House? I entirely fail to see how you would approach one step nearer to this ideal of democratic diplomacy which the two hon. Gentlemen cherish. Let me consider the work of this Committee a little more closely. What is it exactly going to do? Both hon. Gentlemen who opened this Debate repudiated the notion that these Committees were going to deal with the current business of foreign affairs. Nobody who does not deal with the current business, more or less, of foreign affairs is in a fit position to deal with the special crises which from time to time arise It is impossible that it should be otherwise.

What is the business of the Foreign Office of this country and of every other country in its aspect of an international machine? It does not pursue strange and secret aims. I think the British world perfectly understands and could thoroughly describe the broad ends for which British diplomacy works. We want to keep on good terms with our neighbours. Questions are perpetually arising, sometimes large, sometimes small, ranging perhaps on the one side from some great boundary question between two great Empires to the gas lighting of Bangkok on the other. All these questions have to be dealt with by some Department. The objects which the Government have in view in dealing with them are quite simple, are quite plain, and are known to all the world. What is not simple, what is not plain, and what is not easy, is the actual day-to-day carrying out of the negotiations by which the end is to be attained. A Foreign Office and a Diplomatic Service are great instruments for preventing, so far as it can be prevented, and diminishing, even when you cannot prevent, friction between States which are, or which ought to be, friendly. How is the task of peacemaker—because that is largely the task which falls to diplomatists and to the Foreign Office, which controls diplomatists—to be pursued if you are to shout your grievances from the housetop whenever they occur? The only result is that you embitter public feeling, that the differences between the two States suddenly attain a magnitude they ought never to be allowed to approach, that the newspapers of the two countries agitate themselves, that the Parliaments of the two countries have their passions set on fire, and great crises arise, which may end—have ended sometimes—in international catastrophes.

One of the main businesses of the Foreign Office is to see that the interests of this country are not neglected or sacrificed, and yet to see in regard to the inevitable small collisions, the small questions of dispute, the small troubles which must arise when an Empire like the British Empire, stretching over the whole world, is the next-door neighbour to heaven knows how many countries, and has interests connected with them—that as these questions arise and when they arise—they are constantly occurring—we should never let British interests be unduly sacrificed, nor that great international quarrels, or international rivalry, should be allowed to arise over small matters. My hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down referred in one of the most interesting parts of his speech to the Anglo-French Convention—the Entente. I was very closely concerned with that great transaction. What was the motive animating the British Foreign Office and the British Government at that time? It was not the desire to carry out secret diplomacy by ancient and musty methods. It was a common-sense ambition, a common-sense desire, looking round the world, and seeing how British and French interests were always having little collisions and producing little difficulties in every part of the world, from Arabia to Newfoundland—it was seeing that this was always happening that made the statesmen of the two countries feel that if they went on the old lines there would never be those cordial relations which, in our view, were absolutely necessary, not merely for the prosperity of the countries most directly concerned, but for the interests of the world at large and for the maintenance of peace. That was the object. Do you call that "secret diplomacy"? It seems to me to be the most idiotic name to give it, but you may call it that if you like. How could you have carried out that long-drawn and complicated series of negotiations if our own Foreign Minister had spent his time in discussing the matter with thirty or forty gentlemen, whom the hon. Gentleman pictures as making our foreign diplomacy more democratic than it is, instead of devoting himself to the varied problems, the complex aspects of which were inevitably the most difficult to master, and which had to be dealt with in constant discussion with the diplomats on the other side?


Had not the French Government such a Committee?


It did not help the negotiations. I do not know whether I ought to be dragged off my general line, but I will take up the hon. Gentleman's interruption. He seems to think that this general objective of diplomacy becomes more democratic—I suppose he is one of those who take that view—if there is a Parliamentary Committee with regard to it. My hon. and gallant Friend (Major Lloyd) has pointed out that the French Parliamentary Committee does not really make French diplomacy more democratic, or less concerned in the interchange of ideas through the ordinary diplomatic channels than British diplomacy. It is invidious to pronounce an opinion on the institutions of a country not your own, but frankly I admit that what I have heard about the working of the French Committee does not make me specially desirous of seeing it introduced into this country. The American Foreign Relations Committee stands on a wholly different basis, for this reason, among others, that the American Minister responsible for foreign affairs is not, and cannot be, a member either of the House of Representatives or of the Senate. His only connection with the Legislature of his country is through the Committee. If that is the system on which your Constitution is to work, there may be a good deal to be said for it; indeed, a Committee seems to me to be very nearly a necessity.

If you are going to exclude your Ministers from this House, very likely you would find it very desirable to have a Committee to act as intermediary between them and the House. But that is a change which none of us are going to live to see, and which certainly does not seem to me to be in the democratic direction. What this House desires is to be in contact with the Ministers who control its affairs, and to turn them out if it does not like them. That is not the American system. The American system is that Ministers of the day depend upon the President of the day, that the President of the day is elected by direct popular election, and that during his term of office he is, in that sense, quite independent of the approval or disapproval of Congress. The hon. Gentleman used big words about "democratising diplomacy." We have always thought in this country that the proper method of democratic government ought always to be one of gradual evolution. That is the one with which we are familiar, and which has worked well. It is one in which what is practically a Committee of this House, in this House of elected representatives of the people, dependent upon this House for their continuance in office, sit here, hear, explain, and defend their policy when it is challenged. That is a democratic system. It is the existing system. I cannot conceive how it can be made more democratic by the creation of a new organ or instrument in the shape of these fifty Gentlemen who are to sit upstairs in a Committee Boom, and have the business of examining the Secretary of State or his subordinates. Before I leave that subject, may I ask why should we be "democratic" only in foreign affairs? There are a great many offices besides the one over which I have the honour to preside. There is the Navy and the Army. Are they to be democratised? Is the Home Office to be democratised?




And the Board of Trade?




Well, then, be consistent. In America they are consistent. They have Committees for all these subjects, and it is before those Committees that the officials responsible for the conduct of the Departments appear from time to time. But we have down on the Paper an Amendment which, does not allude or refer to any other Department than the Foreign Office. I cannot imagine why. Why is democracy to be introduced into the Foreign Office and excluded from the War Office, the Treasury, and the Board of Trade? You may say it is introduced in the ease of the Treasury. I see my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer sitting on this bench. We have a Public Accounts Committee, but if I remember rightly the Public Accounts Committee is always practically engaged in discussing what has happened a year ago, or even two years ago. I believe its functions are extremely useful. I am the last person to suggest that it does not do the most admirable work, but I venture to suggest that you might do less harm in foreign affairs if you introduced the same limitation, and if these forty or fifty Gentlemen spoken of by the hon. Member gave in the result only an historical survey of the efforts of the Foreign Office two years ago. I gather from the illustration given in the course of this Debate that it is not the events that have happened during my brief tenure of this office that have excited the wrath of the hon. Gentlemen—I will not say wrath, for their speeches were conspicuous for their moderation—who took as examples the old-fashioned methods of the Foreign Office. It is my unfortunate predecessor, who, when I sat opposite to him on the other side of the House, I was accustomed to regard as being in the view of the Liberal party of that day the very incarnation of democratic Liberalism. He is the Minister who did all these dreadful things.


I specially said there was no Minister I had in my mind.


I was not referring to the hon. Member. It was the Mover of the Amendment to whom I was referring. He gave two illustrations. One was the iniquity of our arrangement with Russia over Constantinople, and the other was the iniquity of our arrangement with Italy over Dalmatia. Both those instances happened before I had any official relation with the Government then responsible for the conduct of affairs. Both occurred in Lord Grey of Falloden's period of office. I thought those criticisms singularly inept. These are the illustrations deliberately chosen by the Mover of the Amendment. We were in the middle of a tremendous struggle. The moment came, after the Turks joined our enemies, in which this question of Constantinople came up. A great body of British tradition was very unwilling to see Constantinople become Russian for fear that Russia would obtain complete control over the Black Sea and over Turkey, and would have a naval position in the Mediterranean which would be of a very formidable character. I do not say whether it was right or wrong, but that was the tradition of a very large body of opinion in this country. A moment came when the Government of the day had to decide whether, when these questions came up, we should say to Russia, "No; you are not going to have Constantinople. That is a thing we cannot allow. You must go on fighting with us, but, whatever happens to Turkey, Constantinople you shall not have." That is what, I understand, would have been done by the forty or fifty members of the Committee sitting upstairs, which shows distinctly that that arrangement about Constantinople never would have been made if the Committee had existed. I can hardly conceive a stronger condemnation of it. If the hon. Member had had his way, if he had got the democratic constitution for the management of foreign affairs which he desires, if there had been the forty or fifty Gentlemen sitting upstairs, whom he wishes to see organised into a, Foreign Affairs Committee, and if they had decided, as he is quite convinced they would have decided, we should have been short of two of the Allies who fought side by side in the most critical days of the War. I cannot understand the courage of a Gentleman who gives, as an illustration of the blessings to be showered upon us by a Committee of Foreign Affairs, an example of that kind, which, no doubt, if things happened as he believed, would have conduced to those Pacifist aims which he desires, but chiefly by the defeat of France, Britain and their Allies.

You have to consider, when you are perfecting your Parliamentary machinery, which, in the main, is your machinery of criticism, whether you are not weakening your machinery for action. This House is not an executive body, cannot be an executive body, and if it tried to be an executive body would do its work altogether abominably. The 670 Gentlemen could not do it, and no delegation to Committee Rooms of forty or fifty could do it. That is not the way the work of the world is done anywhere if it is done effectively. No house of business manages its affairs in that way; no Army and no Navy manages its affairs in that way. Those who aspire to that ideal of popular machinery and call it "democratic" confuse administration with criticism and legislation. Administration is one thing; criticism and legislation are another. You should have your control over those who manage your affairs, but it is not the kind of control which the hon. Member wishes to set up with his Committee of forty or fifty. It is quite a different control. You must know, broadly speaking, what are the general lines of policy, and I maintain that that is thoroughly known with regard to foreign affairs at this moment by every man m this House who takes the trouble to think.

The general lines on which we are proceeding are thoroughly known. If the House or any large body of the House thinks we are proceeding on wrong lines, turn us out—that is the proper remedy—but do not suppose that we can do the work better by having to explain it to a lot of people who are not responsible. That is not the way to get business properly done. I have no personal feeling of my own, because, whatever else is certain in this world, it is quite certain that I shall not be Foreign Minister, if and when any Committee of this sort is established. I speak, therefore, with great impartiality. But if the House will admit that I am impartial, let me say this quite plainly. Ac a time like this the offices are worked up to the limit of their strength. The augmentation of the work, to say nothing of the augmentation of the responsibility, is enormous. It never stood, in the history of this country, at a level comparable to that at which it stands at this moment.

Conceive adding to all the other work which the Foreign Office has to do the work of preparing material in order to discuss foreign affairs with a Committee which, by hypothesis, has come as much to learn as to act. It was the ignorance of the House of Commons, the relative ignorance of the Committee, on which the hon. Member dwelt. There was a kindergarten aspect given to the scheme. Take it that the forty or fifty Gentlemen have no other desire but to learn. You throw the labour of tuition upon an overworked Department. But suppose, as is much more probable, that the object is not to learn, but to criticise, then the Foreign Minister or his colleague comes down once a. week, and has a discussion on foreign affairs with these forty or fifty Gentlemen. They ask him for all the secret telegrams which have passed and all the negotiations which have taken place. Whether he was to give them or not was left obscure. I think I am not doing the hon. Member an injustice when I say that for the moment some latitude of responsibility was to be given to the Minister, but when the process of democratisation was complete, the Papers would be given and the telegrams would be revealed as a matter of course. That would be an intolerable addition to the work of my Noble Friend and myself. But I want to know whether it is going to stop there. Are you going to have the officials of the Foreign Office and cross-examine them? I believe that is done in some other countries.


The Public Accounts Committee has officials before it.


I have dealt with the Public Accounts Committee. I dare say a section of the Foreign Office would be equal to dealing with questions that arose about what happened two years ago. I am talking of the day-to-day work, which is the subject of Debate brought before us by the two hon. Members. If you are going to ask Foreign Office officials, or officials of any Department, to expend some of their energy in getting ready for cross-examination, you will really be destroying the public service. There is nothing on which I feel more strongly than that. They are not accustomed to it, and they ought not to be accustomed to it. They are not trained for it, and they ought not to be trained for it. It is my Noble Friend's business and mine, no doubt, to stand cross-examination, and we do it from time to time, and get out of the various traps and nets which are spread for us by the ingenuity of hon. Members opposite to the best of our ability, and, being trained to the business, our constitutions do not suffer. That is not the case and ought not to be the case with the ordinary Civil servant, and I beg the House to remember that any system which keeps constantly before the eyes of the Civil servants of this country the fear of examination, cross-examination, and re-examination by Gentlemen who may be described as "professional" politicians, would be most disastrous in the public interest.

Therefore, after having heard the speech of the Mover and Seconder—I read the Amendment with very little sympathy—I do not believe it is democratic. I do not believe it is practicable. I believe the evils against which it is directed are largely illusory evils. I do not hold the view that antique methods are pursued by diplomatists which no man of common sense adopts in the ordinary work of everyday life. On the contrary, the work of diplomacy is exactly the work which is done every day between two great firms, for instance, which have business relations, or between any two great corporate entities which have interests diverging or interests in common. If you are a man of sense you do not to begin with, create difficulties. You try to get over all these things without the embitterment which advertisement always brings with it. It is when you begin to press your case in public that antagonism arises. In private, in conversations which need not go beyond the walls of the room in which you are, you can put your case as strongly as you like, and the gentleman with whom you are carrying on the discussion may put his case as strongly as he likes. If good manners are observed, and nothing but fair discussion takes place, no soreness remains and no one is driven to ignore the strong points of his opponent's case. Directly a controversy becomes public all that fair give-and-take becomes either difficult or impossible, and if secret diplomacy meant anything so idiotic as an attempt to discuss in public matters in which sentiment, international pride, and international interests were profoundly concerned, I do not think that any sane assembly would ever really try to carry it out in the day-to-day national work which has to be got through.

But if all you mean—and I think it is all that President Wilson means in the statement which has been quoted—is that it is wrong for the nations of the world to find themselves hampered in their mutual relations by treaties of which those countries know nothing, that, I think, is an evil. I do not at all say that there may not be sometimes a necessary evil. I do not say that there have not been secret treaties which were inevitable; but I do say that, if they are necessary, they are a necessary evil. Please remember that two nations make a treaty together for their mutual advantage. Both are desirous of passing it. One nation says, "It is against our interest that this treaty should be made public at present." The other says, "We do not like being committed to any treaty the terms of which we cannot make public at once." Which is going to prevail?

Hon. Gentlemen talk as if it rested with the British Foreign Office to decide in every case whether a particular treaty shall be treated publicly or confidentially. It does not rest with any single Foreign Office, British or other. It is always an arrangement between two, possibly three or four, Foreign Offices. You cannot lay down, and I do not think you would be wise to lay down, an absolute rule that under no circumstances, and for no object, could you so far concede the point as to say that a treaty is to be made which is not to become public property. I am perfectly ready to admit that that is not a process which, to me, is a very agreeable one. To reduce secret treaties to the narrowest possible limits should, I think, be the object of every responsible statesman who has the control of foreign affairs. Beyond that I do not feel inclined to go. I do not see any signs of a grasp of the true realities of life in the Amendment before us. I do not stand here to defend ancient forms and worn-out ceremonies. I stand here to defend the common sense carrying out of great international objects, and those objects, as far as this country is concerned, are, first, to obtain peace, and then to maintain peace. I do not see that there can be, or ought to be, any collision between the Government and any section of this House upon the general aims of British policy. Still less can I see anything in our system that can be described as antagonistic, inconsistent with, or opposed to, the true principles of democracy, interpreted in the light of the actual facts of national life as we see them before us. I therefore, shall resist the Amendment.


The right hon. Gentleman devoted a considerable portion of his speech to praising our present system. I am sufficiently insular to believe that, on the whole, that system is the best system that obtains probably anywhere, but I still think that it might be greatly improved. Subsequently the right hon. Gentleman went on to make several assumptions as to the future in regard to the creation of this Committee. He assumed that this Committee was first of all to be a very large body, forty or fifty in number. I understood him to assume that they would be extraordinarily stupid people. The picture which came up into my mind as he spoke was that of the right hon. Gentleman drawing on a blackboard in chalk, with a number of these stupid people watching him and asking him to repeat everything he said twice. I think that both these assumptions are unnecessary. The right hon. Gentleman took another hypothesis, and that is, that the whole attitude of this Committee, if it was formed, would be unfriendly to the Foreign Office. I think, again, that that was an unnecessary hypothesis.


They would represent every section of the House.


I think every section of the House, especially in these days, is only too anxious to help, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman need assume that that Committee would essentially be hostile to the Foreign Office. What I think might be assumed is that it would be critical of our general policy; but our general policy need not come from the Foreign Office. There is no one who has been abroad who does not know that there are things that are public abroad that are not public in this country and that are not particularly associated with the Foreign Office. As a matter of fact, a Committee of this nature does already exist. It is not called the Foreign Affairs Committee, but the Committee of Inter-Allied Parliaments, and its work has been found to be very satisfactory in the main. At any rate, it has had nothing but thanks. Another thing which the right hon. Gentleman said—and in this, I suppose, there is nobody who will for a moment quarrel with the accuracy of the statement—was, "You have got your Committee in the House of Commons." That is virtually what he said. On that I would like to make two observations. First of all, in war-time, nearly every Member of this House has got at least two duties, and a great many of the people who are interested in foreign affairs are abroad. Secondly, what is everybody's affair is nobody's affair. I have constantly seen that when any one individual in the past took an interest in foreign affairs and was anxious to get things done alone he carried no weight, but if he had a certain number of people associated with him the chances were that he would be able to improve conditions constantly.

We live in days when phrases are used and one of these phrases which has become most familiar to us is secret diplomacy. There are many of us who, in the intention of that phrase, welcome it in so far as it constitutes a repudiation of anything that is sinister, oppressive or unscrupulous. On the other hand, I think we deprecate it in its insufficiency. Really it is not secret diplomacy, so far as I know, that anybody is up against. What we are up against are the things that are being done through secret diplomacy. It is those things we are attacking It is obvious you cannot carry out negotiations in the clear light of day. There is no firm in the country that has to go through business operations that could publish everything that it or he is doing the whole time. It strikes me that if you had a Committee of this sort it might make the happy medium between publicity and complete secrecy. It would prevent some of the regrettable things that have been occurring, and it might give greater coinage to the Governments who were not anxious to accede to the rather drastic demands that are made upon them. My hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Lloyd) suggested this possibility, that if you can constitute a Committee of this kind—and other committees are constituted in foreign countries—there in embryo you really have the beginning of a People's Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman says there is no such Committee existing abroad. That is perfectly true; it is a great pity there is not. We have no models at present, but the whole course of this Debate has been, and I hope it will continue so, that the House of Commons and the country desire to have more control over foreign policy in future than in the past. Whatever our obligations were or were not I believe the people of this country would not have hesitated to go into this War once they knew what the issues were, but when the people are to fight as they have fought in this War it does seem fair to toll them what their obligations are going to be and ask them how far they will ratify the treaties. You can do that in a number of different ways. You can have Secret Sessions. Very often it is quite easy at a Secret Session to tell the House something which is private but not secret. The Foreign Secretary said that one of the most important items in our Constitution was the relation between Ministers and the House of Commons I quite agree, but, as I have said before, one individual does not constitute a sufficient force. From all my consideration which I have given to this question, it seems to me that the best solution yet found has been the American solution, where the Senate can, if it so chooses, repudiate a treaty which the President has signed. I think the objects of those who agree with me are these: We do not want to know how these things are being done, we have no idle curiosity, but we want to know what are the things that are being done.

I would like to say a few words about a class of men of whom one hears much abuse, and that is the unfortunate diplomatists. I suppose there is no class of people who have been more abused in this War than the diplomatists. So far as I know them, they are a very hardworking body of men, who have done as much for their country as any body of men in this War. They are men who live in very laborious exile. They are moved from one place to another, and really have no chance of a long stay or of making friends, which is one of the greatest amenities of life, and when they return to their own country they return to it as to a strange land. The task they have is a very hard one. They have to carry out their orders just like the soldiers or the sailors. When they succeed it constantly happens that somebody else gets the praise. When they fail to make bricks without straw, they always get the blame. In spite of all that, it is not these men alone, capable as they are, whom I hope to see make peace. I hope that as this War is different from all wars that have gone before, so the peace that is to come will be different from all other treaties of peace that have gone before, and that it will be a people's peace.

General CROFT

While agreeing with my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down as to the necessity for greater understanding of what our diplomacy is, I must complain that he really has not added a great deal to the Debate. But I believe that there is a very great feeling, apart from the small section which supports this Resolution, running right through the House, that we have suffered in this country from lack of confidence as between those responsible for our Government and the Foreign Office in recent years and the people of this country. It is a very remarkable fact that if we read back through comparatively recent political history we do find that in the times of Pitt and Palmerston, and more recently in the time of Gladstone and Disraeli, the people of this country really knew to a far greater extent in what direction they were tending, and our statesmen did take the trouble in peace time to enlighten the people as to what were the main principles of our foreign policy. We have only got to look back a few years just before the War—I might give the instance which was referred to by the hon. Gentleman behind me—to realise that, remarkable though the response of the country was when the War broke out, not one man in a thousand in this country had the smallest conception—I do not think that that is an exaggeration—as to what our commitments were with France with regard to this War. As it was, the spirit of the country, recognising the violation of Belgium, was so strong that that did not matter very much; but suppose that the War had been an unpopular war from the point of view of the country, what would have been our position with our word pledged to France when the people of the country really had no conception as to what the course of our diplomacy was?

I think that that is a case in which we need, and I think will insist upon, a change; and I think that if the Prime Minister and the Government knew before the War, as they confessed after the War began, the peril which was coming—Lord Haldane told us after the War that he had grave suspicions after having been to Berlin—surely it would have been far better if there had been some warning to the people of this country, so that they could have realised the perils we were up against! That is merely an instance, but there were many others before it. I think that we had got into a bad fashion in that respect, that, the people of the country did not know what was in the minds of the great statesmen who were leading them at that time. Having said that, I want to say at once that, I believe that, if we have popular control of the Foreign Office in the sense indicated by the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution, we shall have popular, perpetual wars. I cannot conceive that it is going to lead to peace. It seems tome that it must lead to misunderstanding. To turn to recent history. Take the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina We all know that the peace of the world was trembling in the balance at that moment. I cannot believe that the Foreign Minister of this country would have achieved his great triumph of forestalling that disaster if he had had to go down day after day to fifty, or even thirty, Members of this House and give information which must inevitably, with so many members, be carried throughout the length and breadth of the country. It was difficult enough to keep Cabinet secrets when there were twenty-two members in the Cabinet, but if there were thirty Members of this House to be consulted on all these matters, it would be still more difficult.

The same thing might have occurred on the occasion of the Agadir incident. In that very interesting document published a day or two ago by Prince Lichnowsky with regard to what happened prior to the War he tells us that time and again Lord Grey leant rather in the direction of the Triple Alliance as against the Triple Entente in order to preserve peace. Had these facts been known, surely they might have led to grave misunderstanding between this country and her Allies, France and Russia! If the populace of those countries, owing to the large number of people who knew what was going on here, had got wind of what was going on the result might have been absolutely disastrous, and the peace of the world might not have been maintained in those times. The hon. Member for Elland said in his speech that democracies have had to pay for secret diplomacy—clearly pointing to this War. But the Belgian Treaty was known perfectly well to everyone in this country and all over the world. There was no question of secret diplomacy. There, it seems to me, you have got to apply your arguments to the German nation in this respect, and it is no good blaming ourselves here because the world has plunged into war, when we know perfectly well that the treaty over which we went to war was common knowledge through the length and breadth of the country, and even the further agreement with France was one of the things that were generally known. He mentioned in his speech the two instances to which my right hon. Friend has referred, with regard to Constantinople and to the Italian Treaty. The arguments which he desires to apply to peace could not have applied to war. Nothing could have been more disastrous than to have had the question of Constantinople debated in a Committee of this House, and then to have had the members of the Committee canvassing the whole House. It is exactly the same with the Italian Treaty. When you are working with Allies it is impossible to do so, if you have got fifty voices, discordant voices as they are invariably going to be, which have to decide as to whether the Foreign Secretary can make a treaty of that description or not.

When we are asked to have the maximum of publicity let us remember that that is precisely what we have had in Russia. There we have had conditions in which there was an effort to frame diplomacy through those who claimed to draw their strength immediately from the people. I would ask why should this be applied to one Department alone and not to the decisions that are come to, vital as they may be—by the Fleet and the Army. How, for instance, are you to apply this principle—and to be logical you have got to—to the Army or the Navy? Suppose you have got a Committee of thirty or fifty hon. Gentlemen who have to discuss whether it is advisable to make the Somme offensive, or some question of that kind, you have to gather them all together by telegram, and they have to be consulted on that, or as to whether we will fight the battle of Jutland. These questions might have to arise, and when we come to think of it those decisions have to be made just as quickly by the Foreign Office. Just imagine the position of the Foreign Secretary, who might have to make a very sudden decision, and who yet could not make it because he felt that he had this weight hanging round his neck and that he must consult his Committee. We were told that this Committee will have to approve of the policy of the Foreign Secretary. We were told at the same time that it is going to be drawn from every party and every section of this House. Just imagine the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Trevelyan), the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), and the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) —they would on account of their extreme interest in this question be asked to represent one group—having to meet Gentlemen fundamentally opposed to them on these questions on this Committee. How could they approve of the policy of the Foreign Secretary? You would never get agreement from that Committee. The result would be that you would merely have dissension daily, and I do not think that there would be any possible advantage. It would be just as if you had a Navy Committee on which you had such admirable friends as Lord Beresford and Lord Fisher or Lord Jellicoe and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge (Sir E. Geddes).

The hon. Member for Stirling told us that control does not mean interference with negotiations. That really is camouflage. If there is to be any sort of control at all you have got to know what the negotiations are. Then we were told again, that treaties at the present moment are only a matter of the Foreign Secretary's signature. That surely is inaccurate. The Foreign Secretary surely signs no treaty without the consent of the whole of the Cabinet, and I think that a suggestion of that kind is not a correct one, for the simple reason that it is so inaccurate. The Foreign Secretary is responsible to the Cabinet, and the Cabinet fortunately at times can fall from the weight of popular opinion. Here again we have got what I believe is a Constitution more or less suited to the people of this country. We have got popular control. Sooner or later Governments fall. Governments fall quickly if the country is not behind them. But here again, what is the good of our making any arrangements of this kind, or of considering this revolution unless you are sure that you are going to have a similar attitude on the part of the peoples of the Germanic Empires at the present time? That is a much more important matter. Before you can get ahead with this sort of popularising of public affairs you have got to be certain that all parties are going to treat the matter in the same way.

We were told that the people will not be capricious. Here, again, we must ask hon. Gentlemen to consider what has occurred where the people have had the greatest say. Recently, in the case of Russia, the people have been capricious. The people have not realised in that case the honourable obligations of Russia to the Allies. The result has been, as we all know, absolutely disastrous. If we get a Foreign Affairs Committee in this House which is going to sit and work together, like the Liberal or the Unionist War Committees, I think that it is all to the advantage that they should get various Gentlemen to come and address them from time to time, so that they can get a movement in which a group of Members in this House are becoming more and more informed in regard to foreign affairs. But a proposal such as is now made could not possibly give a satisfactory policy, and I am also convinced that even in peace time it would be far more fruitful in bringing about misunderstanding than in ensuring peace to the world. I may give one instance of how, I think, misapprehensions frequently occur. I see present my hon. Friend who is chairman of the recently-formed Foreign Affairs Committee. That committee may be a tremendous advantage. I believe that it is the idea of the hon. Gentleman and his friends to ask various distinguished foreigners to come and address that committee. I do not think that I am betraying any secrets, because, I think, that it has become generally known when I say that a gentleman addressed that committee who was a distinguished representative of one section of the Polish people, and, I think, that of that committee there were not more than two or three of those present who realised that this gentleman represented merely one section of the Polish committee.

We sat at this gentleman's feet and listened to what he said. I had very good reason to believe that he was holding views entirely different from those which were held, as I understand, by the majority of the Polish nation. I asked him a question just before the committee dispersed, and we discovered then that there were these two sections of opinion. He was a most distinguished gentleman, and he gave us his views, and the impression he left on the committee was that these disagreements, which I need not go into, are gradually falling away, and that there were very few more disagreements. But now we have a telegram from Vienna which shows that a very different opinion is held by the most numerous parties in Poland. I do not think that I am giving away any secret. Everybody knows that the gentleman was invited, but he represents one point of view. If you get a committee such as exists at the present moment, which invites a distinguished gentleman like that gentlemen to address it, but which also invites a distinguished representative of the other point of view from Poland, I believe that great advantage will accrue, because you will, for the first time, get both sides of the question discussed, and that is an object which we desire to see achieved. We want to get more than a superficial knowledge of the great problems affecting great portions of the world, but the moment you introduce a third party, a Committee, which has to be consulted by the right hon. Gentleman, you take a step which I am quite sure would not achieve what is a democratic end, but would erect a bulwark or a parapet between the right hon. Gentleman and his just criticisers, and I think that that would be disastrous from the point of view of democracy in this country.

7.0 P.M.


The Debate this afternoon has revealed a state of mind that an insignificant Member of this House, like myself, can hardly appreciate. I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the Foreign Secretary, and to those delightful irrelevancies in which he indulged to the amusement and entertainment of the House, but he did not seem to me to come to real grips with the issue at stake. The problem with which this House as a representative body is faced is, as I conceive it, how it shall give to the elected representatives of the people control over the business which this House is sent to execute and administer. The Foreign Secretary described various grades of democracy, and he said—I do not attempt to quote him textually, but as I understood him—that a plebiscite was the best form of ascertaining democratic feeling; that the next was a House of Commons; and the third, coming a long way after, was the Commitee. The Committee system which has been advocated to-day is by no means so extravagant and ridiculous a proposition as the Foreign Secretary has tried to make it appear, for his Chief, the Prime Minister, when he took office, himself blessed that system. Let me read a few words from his speech, delivered on the 19th December, 1916, on a question of Government policy: I have always thought, that the methods of Parliamentary control, and I speak here as a fairly old Parliamentarian, rather tended to give undue prominence to trivialities—my right hon. Friend and I have talked over this matter many a time—and, on the other hand, that it rather tended to minimise and ignore realities. Whether you can improve upon that I personally have never had any doubt, but I have always thought—I do not know whether I carry anyone with me on this, except my hon. Friend who sits there—that the French system was the more effective one, the system whereby Ministers have to appear before Parliamentary Committees, where questions can be asked them, and where they can give an answer which they would not care to give in public. I think that in many respects that system has helped to save France from one or two very serious blunders." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1916, col. 1344, Vol. 88.] After that statement from the head of the Government, on which the Foreign Secretary serves, I must say it appears to me out of place that he should ridicule the suggestion that has been made in this Debate. But let me go back to the thought I was endeavouring to express. What is required is that Members elected to this House shall be in touch with the actual business that is being transacted. But what occurs under the present system, which is so much beloved by the Foreign Secretary? It is a system of discussing public business in what is little else than a public meeting; indeed, I do not know if it is not actually worse, in regard to discussions by this House of foreign affairs, than a public meeting, for, in a public meeting, those who attend it, speaking generally, do at least go there for the definite purpose of listening to what is said, and of considering the subject about which the meeting was being held, whereas this House, on a day when some subject like foreign affairs comes up for discussion, is not wholly in the nature of a public meeting, for the Members entitled to be there go in an i out while discussion is proceeding. There is no real consideration of the question, and actual deliberation is practically impossible. I know it is said that the functions and business of the House could well be expressed in the words, "Where it is not satisfied with the conduct of the Minister, or is of opinion that he has not conducted the business of the country in such a way as to satisfy them, then it can turn him out of his office." That is not so in actual fact, and it cannot be so in practice. The party system protects a Minister. Whatever maybe the disagreements discovered in this House, whatever may be the opinion of Members on the merits of any particular topic, when the Division bell rings it is not on that particular topic that Members vote. The question has not been properly discussed, and when the vote is taken it is not a vote on the question that had been before the Members. What the House votes upon is as to whether the Government is to remain office. Therefore, what use is there in saying that the House has power and control when, as a matter of fact, there cannot be real control?

But to deal with the question as to Committees. It is asked how can a Committee give democratic power? They can do so, being in close touch with the permanent officials, with the Minister at the head, and because they have continued access to information which the ordinary Member could not possibly hope to obtain. It is further asked how such a Committee would benefit other Members of this House? My answer is, by reason of the very fact that there would be representatives of all sections of the House on that Committee, gaining knowledge, gaining experience, and conversing with their colleagues, giving them the benefit of their experience; and by reason, also, of the fact that when discussions did take place in this House the various Members belonging to the different sections, groups, and parties, would be more acquainted with the subject under discussion owing to the information which the members of the Committee had been able to impart in conversation to them. Members would be enabled to discuss subjects with greater intelligence and greater knowledge, and the general result would be, I contend, to improve and to increase the general knowledge of the House itself, as a House, while giving to each Member that information and power that would put him in a position to give a better lead to opinion in the country. But that cannot be the case with the full House of Commons. The hon. Member who believes, as the Mover and Seconder of the Motion believe, in Committee control, will agree that the Minister could not impart all the information which he possesses to the House. But this question of a Committee of a representative character would, as a matter of fact, be a great protection against the old antidemocratic methods, which are an anachronism. It could deal with Departmental questions and the question of the Foreign Office. To make this matter clear, I will put my own position with regard to the points raised by the present system and the consequences of that system. When I entered this House I had no experience other than that which I had gained in local affairs. I tried by listening to the Debates to arrive at certain conclusions on great issues as to which it was my duty to form such conclusions. One of those issues was the question of Conscription. I soon came to see, as was men- tioned in the quotation given by my hon. Friend, that the policy on armaments depended on foreign policy. Therefore, in order that I might decide as to whether or not I should become a supporter of universal service, as it was then called, or Conscription, I had to come to a conclusion as to the objects of our foreign policy. It seemed to me from all I gathered from the Debates that there was no danger of invasion, and therefore it was necessary for me to ascertain whether or not this country was committed to any foreign obligation, written, understood, or implied, that might lead this country into Continental war. I read in the early part of the year 1911, to my very great surprise, a most startling passage from the speech of Earl Rosebery, in which he said: We have entered into liabilities the nature and extent of which I for one do not know, but they are not the less stringent and binding because they are unwritten. He added that, so far as he could read the signs of the times, they would lead them into a war which would be greater than any war they had known. When I read those words I felt inclined to put a question to the Foreign Secretary to ascertain whether or no any such obligations understood or implied had been entered into? I was referred to the Anglo-French Convention, and I was told that there were no other obligations than were therein contained. I went and looked at the Anglo-French Convention, and I found that the substance of it was that on condition that France recognised our position as it then existed in Egypt we recognised the position of France as it then existed, so far as France was concerned, in Morocco. It appeared to me that there was no obligation here, but merely an affirmation of the status quo. We had the disclosure later of the secret Clauses of that Convention, which contained the answer to my question. But I was not told when I was referred to that treaty that the answer was in the secret Clause that had not been published, although it was then nearly seven years old. I was sent away contented and oblivious of the fact that those obligations were being incurred. Not only that, but further questions were asked at various times, and the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) on one occasion challenged the Prime Minister, and asked him definitely whether there were any obligations unwritten? Furthermore, the then Colonial Secretary (Lord Harcourt), who was one of the Chief Secretaries of State, on 13th May, 1913, stated in a public speech— I can conceive of no circumstances in which Continental operations by our troops would not be a crime against the people of this country. Examine the position. Like every other hon. Member it was my duty to find out what I could regarding great questions of policy on which my vote depended. I took every precaution that was possible for any human being to find out whether or not there were any obligations that might lead this country into Continental warfare, because I knew, as any man of common sense ought to know, that if this country entered into Continental warfare it would mean Conscription, and although I tried to find out I was met with definite and deliberate denials, as others were. If I had been told the truth I would have gone to my Constituents and I would have said to them, "It is my duty to tell you that the foreign policy of this country is such that the country may be led into a Continental war, and if you approve of this policy it is your duty to prepare for it, and the duty of Parliament to prepare for it, and it is your duty to sanction those preparations." I would have opposed the policy myself, and I would have tried to destroy the obligation. But if it was taken, and if the policy actually adopted by the Foreign Office was to be maintained as the policy, then I would have gone to my Constituents and told them that there must be Conscription and that they should prepare at the earliest possible moment. Here is a plain, straight question. Never mind all these dialectical duels that take place across the floor of the House. How is a Member of Parliament to get to close grips with these questions? The present system is no use. The present system is a farce and a mockery. The Foreign Office Vote may be picked out by the Leader of the House, that is the tradition, amongst the Votes to be discussed and not closured. But the Leader of the Opposition is not likely to pick that Vote out for discussion if some question would be revealed that he, in collusion with his colleagues across the floor, does not want discussed. Therefore, there is no real discussion. When the Vote is picked out and discussed, what happens? A fight hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench on this side gets up and makes a fine speech and a Minister gets up and answers him and other Front Bench Members join in. That is not business, and there is no way in my opinion of getting to close quarters, except through members of parties being kept in touch with the actual state of affairs, which are their affairs as much as the affairs of others. Let me point out to the Noble Lord the Minister of Blockade the danger that there is in the present system where one solid block of Members of this House are excluded from real official knowledge and touch with any public Department. The party to which I belong, until this War produced that wonderful thing, the Coalition Government, never had any of its members in office. We were at a disadvantage, naturally, as against ex-Ministers on this subject. I think I am right in saying that, generally speaking, Ministers and ex-Ministers are agreed that foreign affairs shall not be party questions, and that there shall be general agreement. There is no doubt, at any rate, that there has been a certain amount, we will say, of consultation between Ministers and ex-Ministers, and ex-Ministers have had the advantage, and the party to which they belong have had the advantage, of having a close and firsthand knowledge of foreign affairs. The body to which I belong have not, and that is a great disadvantage, and I venture to say a danger to any public assembly. All sections of members ought to have access to information in some form. As a final word, I do hope that on questions such as these, Ministers will cease to make debating speeches, and will talk about the real issues that matter, for there can be no mistake that things are going to be very different before long. There is a rising in this land of new powers, and I would beg-of the Government to make it easier for those new powers to express themselves without having recourse to methods that they, as well as we, would deeply regret.


Before the Debate comes to a conclusion, I should like to utter a very few words, and I am compelled to do so, I think, by the speech to which we have just listened, rather than any which has preceded, because I do want to make one point quite clear, and it is this. If there are hon. Members who think that the present opportunities in normal times for this House to raise debates and to open discussion and to examine Ministers on questions of foreign policy are all nugatory and in vain—the sort of opportunities we enjoyed for the three or four years before the War—they are not going to find any salvation in any system of committees whatever. To try to represent the ordinary occasions, of which there are dozens in the course of a Session, as being no good at all, as giving no chance at all to the representatives of some particular party, because things were squared between the representatives of the two Front Benches—that is not, first of all, an evil which corresponds with the facts as they existed before the War, and, if things are so, no system of committees is really going to help matters at all. The Foreign Secretary under whom I had the honour to work as Under-Secretary for three years, on first taking office, said in this House he was in some doubt as to how far he would find the occupation of the particular office compatible with sitting in this House, which meant being called upon to answer daily questions and many opportunities for review during the course of the Session. I can never remember in the years I worked with him any questions ridden off, when Members wanted to exercise their powers of criticism, by saying that it was impossible for him to give information. He was always ready to meet requests for Debates on foreign affairs on any of the occasions when the House has opportunities for discussing them, and I cannot think that the mere setting up of some new machinery by a Foreign Affairs Committee is going to make all the difference between the control of foreign affairs by the people and the possession of no control, as some of my hon. Friends try to make it out to be.

First of all, let me make this clear, that, as far as my experience of the Foreign Office goes, diplomatists cure ten thousand times more difficulties between foreign countries than can possibly be caused by any errors that they may possibly make. There are thousands of things, if they were discussed in public, especially with the newspapers focussed upon them, as they would be, that might ripen into causes of dispute, dangers, and war, which are now removed by the efforts of diplomacy. It would be a splendid thing if Members of this House could come into closer touch with our diplomatists and the permanent heads of our Foreign Office, because they would understand better the extraordinarily good work they do in removing difficulties with other countries, and keeping this country at peace. And then, surely, it is true that this House cannot control administration! Is that not just as true in foreign affairs as in any other realm of affairs? Nobody dreams that this House as a Committee should really control administration in. any of the ordinary branches of our administrative system or of our political life. I do not think we can suddenly begin to control administration through a Committee at this time of day Surely therefore, if our general system of government is that legislation and criticism should rest with this House, and that administration should rest with the Departments of State under the control of the Cabinet, we are hunting a false hare if in foreign affairs, and presumably not in other things, we set up a Committee as a sort of hybrid between the House of Commons and the Cabinet, with partial control of administration but no real responsibility for carrying on the Government! Those who are responsible for carrying on the Government must have the responsibility for administration. You cannot expect the Government to share its administrative responsibilities with any Committee, unless that Committee is really responsible for the conduct of affairs. I do not think having a Committee will lead, or can lead, to democratic-control. It might lead to what is much worse—newspaper control, or control by finance. I do not think it will help control by the democracy. I do think you can do useful work from the point of view of having a Committee for information, but I think, so far as control goes, if control cannot be exercised now by, and through, this House, it is a false hare to run to think that it can be, or ought to be, exercised by a Committee, because control of administration must rest with the Cabinet and the Government.

I do look forward to a very considerable growth in the control of great principles of foreign policy by democracy, not in this country alone but in every country, but I think that that must come primarily from the people, through the views they express in electing their representatives; and, secondly, through their elected representatives in the ordinary everyday action in this House asking questions, or bringing up matters of foreign policy in Debate, as there are many opportunities of doing, particularly if the Secretary of State sits in this House. But in order that that should develop, again the secret is not a Committee. The secret is better education and more interest by the people of this country in foreign affairs than they have hitherto developed, or developed, at any rate in recent years, or shown much sign of developing in future. Until our ordinary people are better informed and more interested in foreign affairs, until their representatives know more foreign languages, read more books and articles about foreign affairs, put matters about foreign affairs more widely and fully before their constituents, it is, I think, a mistake to imagine that, by some magic, setting up a Committee is going to bring the democracy of this country into really effective touch with, or really effective control over, our foreign affairs.

But, I am bound to say I was led to think from my experience as Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, that good work might be done by a Foreign Affairs Committee of this House with regard to information—with regard to keeping a small number of Members of this House really in possession of the general course of events on which our foreign policy depends. I do not think anything of that kind is conceivable during the present War. I do not think you can begin a system of that kind during war, or that it would be possible or fair to the officials of our Foreign Office in any sort of way whatsoever; but I did recognise in those many opportunities of Debate that arose in the years before the War that there was in the minds of a great number of Members of the House, particularly in the minds of those who take part in the Debates on foreign affairs, a very abyss-mal ignorance even of the main course of events and the past history that really were making our foreign policy which had been carried on from day to day. If this House wished to have a Committee, frankly not in order to interfere with administration, not in order to take any responsibility for the administration, but simply in order that from time to time members of the Committee might be more fully informed of the underlying principles of our foreign policy, that might have a good effect.

Although I agree entirely with the Foreign Secretary in rejecting the idea of a Committee as giving democratic control, because nothing but democratic education and interest will give that; although I agree with him in rejecting a Committee from the point of view of giving to this House what it has no responsibility for under our Constitution —administrative control of the affairs of any Department from day to day; although I agree with him, also, that one should not set up a Committee of any kind during the War, I hope that the Foreign Secretary himself and this House will keep their minds open, at any rate, to the possibility after the War of setting up a Committee on, perhaps, quite a small basis, composed of Members who will deliberately set themselves to become better acquainted with the basis of our foreign policy, having access to Papers— although the Minister should always be able to say that he could not give access to particular Papers—having access to the permanent heads of the Foreign Office, and assisted by them to a better understanding of what really is the policy which our Foreign Office is carrying on from time to time. From that point of view, although it is only a limited one, I think there may be an opportunity for a Committee of the House of Commons in future to do valuable work in keeping the country more in touch with the real roots of the policy as carried on by the Foreign Office from day to day.


We have been told by old Parliamentary hands that when Front Benches are in agreement it is time the Back Benches got together and disagreed. The two speeches which have come from the Front Benches to-day seem to me so little designed to deal with the proposal which is really before the House, that I think a word is necessary in order in some way to bring the Debate back to realities. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary challenged supporters of this principle to bring it to the test of reality. It is just because we are fully aware of the bearing of those realities upon the attitude which the House of Commons should take towards foreign policy, that we put forward a request, not based upon any especial democratic principle, but based upon a conception of those very realities, for some Parliamentary share in foreign affairs. The Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend both appear to think that in some way a Foreign Affairs Committee of this House—the Committee which has been proposed this afternoon—would endeavour to share the administrative and Executive responsibility. Those two right hon. Gentlemen will forgive me for saying they could not have listened to a single speech made in favour of the Motion this afternoon. No one has claimed that the undivided responsibility of the Secretary of State for the business entrusted to his charge should not remain undivided. It is perfectly obvious, as long as Ministerial and Cabinet responsibility remain, that responsibility must be undivided and cannot be shared, except in so far as it is shared with colleagues in the Cabinet. There is vast difference between that and the present system, and it is because the Foreign Office, above all other offices of State, is peculiarly open to criticism and peculiarly removed from popular influence, that the Mover and supporters of this Motion have endeavoured to devise a means which will cope with the realities of the situation.

This question has arisen now not because-war-time is the easiest or most appropriate time in which to institute a constitutional change of this kind, but because, under pressure of the War, this House, and certainly the vast bulk of the people outside, realise that so long as there is a divorce between domestic and foreign policy there is something wrong with the health of the State, and we wish to see some organ set up by this House in an official manner which will keep this House in contact with the Foreign Office in a way in which it cannot be kept in contact by ordinary method of public debate. I was somewhat surprised to hear in a speech from the Front Bench opposite that there are many opportunities for discussion of foreign affairs during the Parliamentary Session. I have always supposed and observed that the very reverse was the case. Apart from the situation in peacetime, the situation in war-time is more complicated. I remember a very illuminating speech which my right hon. Friend made on Greek affairs in the Secret Session. It was a speech which cleared up difficulties in the minds of hon. Members; it gave the House a good deal of interesting information which was not necessarily secret, and it enabled hon. Members to understand the difficulties which made it impossible for the Government to carry out in all its details the policy which was originally designed. They were difficulties which arose in co-operation between the Governments of the Allies. But is there any reason why to a Committee upstairs that kind of speech should not be made on any issue which is vexing public opinion? Such speeches would do a great deal to satisfy not only members of the Committee, but, through them, the Members of the House, and the Government would then not be [...] open to criticism as they now are. Let it not be supposed that we are endeavouring to set up an exact replica of the French system of Parliamentary Commissions dealing with public affairs. The fundamental difference between that and the system we propose is that we work by the party system, which gives a check upon Ministers, a check which operates largely through the sanction given it by the Front Opposition Bench. That check is replaced in the French Parliamentary system very largely by a system of Commissions. There they have sixteen large Commissions devoted to all the big questions of debate and administration in the great department of State. We have no such thing.

I think my hon. Friend the Member for West Bradford (Mr. Jowett) made a very pointed remark when he said there is always a kind of collusion between Ministers and ex-Ministers, especially on foreign affairs, by which they are withdrawn from the public gaze and very largely withdrawn, indeed, from Parliamentary discussion. The time may be coming—it may be nearer than some of us think—when a very different spirit will, as suggested by the hon. Member for West Bradford, pervade the politics of this country and when this House will pursue very different methods to those we now possess. But we are in the midst of a great crisis; every day in this War is a crisis in itself. If any man wished to tell me that the Foreign Office would not have found itself more efficient and strengthened in the discharge of its duties by having a Committee of this sort in the House of Commons he is embarking on a difficult proposition, and I think he would find it very hard indeed to prove it. Let me put this to the House. I cannot believe that if such a Committee had been in operation it would have been possible to exclude the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from the War Cabinet. The conception of the conduct of the War by a body from which the chief controller of foreign policy was absent is a very denial of those principles which ought to lie at the base of any system. The Foreign Secretary might very well say there are many subjects in which he is not interested, but there is no large policy on which the country has embarked since the War broke out, which has not laid very close to the work of the Foreign Office. That is one point on which I think the Committee would certainly have insisted, and I do believe that the Foreign Secretary should certainly take a personal share in the work of the War Cabinet.

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