§ 17 and 21. Mr. LEES-SMITH
asked the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1) whether the letter of the Emperor Charles of Austria of 21st March, 1917, containing proposals for peace on the basis of the restoration and compensation of Belgium, the re-establishment of Serbia with an outlet on the Adriatic, and the support of the just claims of France in Alsace-Lorraine, 17 was communicated by the Allies to the Governments of the United States or Belgium or Russia before it was rejected; (2) whether he will make a statement as to the reports that the Emperor Charles of Austria followed up his letter of 31st March, 1917, with a second letter in which he stated that he was convinced that he could induce Germany to make peace provided that the territorial demands of the Allies were restricted to Alsace-Lorraine, and that the Prime Minister of this country was favourably inclined to further negotiations, but that these were rejected on account of the opposition of Italy and France?
§ 18 Mr. OUTHWAITE
asked the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1) whether his attention has been called to the fact that the documents submitted by M. Clemenceau to the committees of the French Parliament in connection with the rejection of the. peace proposals made by the Emperor Karl included a letter from M. Poincaré to Prince Sixte in which the President demanded that France should not only have Alsace-Lorraine, but the frontier of 1814, and a guarantee in regard to the left bank of the Rhine; in view of the fact that he has stigmatised as a mare's nest the suggestion that France was making these annexationist claims, will he make a statement on the subject; (2) whether his attention has been called to the fact that the documents communicated to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament disclose that the Prime Minister at the time of the peace proposals made by the Emperor Karl contended that they should be considered; why, under the circumstances, the Government has sought to create the belief in the public mind that no opportunity for the opening up of negotiations in conformity with British war aims has yet been presented; (3) whether he can state the annexationist claims made by Baron Sonnino which were the main cause of the rejection of the proposal for the opening up of negotiations made by the Emperor Karl; (4) asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that M. Clemenceau has submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee and to the Army and Navy Committee of the French Parliament the documents relating to the proposals for peace negotiations made by the Emperor Karl of Austria; and will he immediately submit these documents to the House of Commons in open or secret Session?
I have already stated that, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, it is inconsistent with the public interest to discuss this subject by question and answer; but I have also promised to put the House in immediate possession of any official statement issued by the French Government, which is now considering the whole matter, and which is the Government primarily concerned.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any official statement issued by the French Government will in any case be published in the newspapers?
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
In regard to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's answer, does he mean to say that the people of this country have no right to any information as to the reasons for a decision which is leading to the loss of millions of lives?
No. What I said was that in my opinion it was inconsistent with the public interest to discuss the subject by question and answer.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Can the right hon. Gentleman affirm or deny the statement in the French Press, published in this country, that the Prime Minister supported the proposals made by the Emperor Karl giving a prospect of the opening of peace negotiations?
I say it is inconsistent with the public interest to discuss this by question and answer.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this statement has appeared in the French Press on the authority of M. Ribot, the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and why should not this country be informed, as the French public are, as to the attitude of the Prime Minister?
The hon. Member says it has appeared in the Press. If it appeared in the public Press that was all that was required.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Can the right hon. Gentleman not make a statement as to this intimation which has appeared also in British newspapers?
I cannot lay down what on some future occasion may be discussed in Debate; but I do say, and say quite 19 distinctly, that I do not think the public interest is served by dealing with this very difficult and delicate matter by question and answer.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
In regard to Question 20, has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the statement made in the French Press and repeated here that the Prime Minister supported the proposal made by the Emperor Karl, and that M. Sonnino opposed it on the ground of not fulfilling the annexationist claims of Italy? Can he say what are these claims which stand in the way of making peace?