HC Deb 12 April 1920 vol 127 cc1382-6

Before the right hon. Gentleman is asked what Bills he proposes to take to-day, may I inquire whether he intends to make a statement as to the position of affairs between His Majesty's Government and the French Government?


May I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, before I ask him a question about the business to-day, whether he will give the House any information in regard to the alleged differences which are stated to have arisen between the British and French Governments in regard to the occupation by French troops of German territory?


Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, may I have an answer to a question of which I have given him private notice—whether he will give the House an opportunity of discussing the Anglo-French crisis, in view of the grave danger to the Entente caused by the answer of the British Government?


In addition to the question to which my hon. and gallant Friend has just referred, I have received private notice of questions on the same subject from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dulwich (Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. Hall) and from the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper).

As the House is aware, a difference, which His Majesty's Government greatly deplore, had arisen between the British and French Governments, but the exchange of Notes which has taken place between London and Paris justifies the belief that both Governments recognise more than ever the necessity of maintaining intimate and cordial agreement for the settlement of the grave questions confronting them in Germany and elsewhere. The approaching Conference of the heads of the Allied Governments will, no doubt, serve to confirm and consolidate a complete understanding between the Governments. In these circumstances, I venture to suggest that it would be very undesirable to have any discussion of the subject in this House either in Debate or by way of question and answer.

It is hardly necessary to add that there is no truth whatever in the statement made in a certain section of the Press that there has been any difference of opinion in the Cabinet, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose name has been specially mentioned in this connection, has requested me to take this opportunity of explicitly denying it on his behalf.

Lieut. Colonel GUINNESS

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government took any steps to prevent the development of the crisis, by addressing any protest to the German Government against their continued violation of the Peace Treaty?


That is just doing what I hoped the House would not do. We cannot discuss any partial aspect of this question without discussing the whole.

Viscount CURZON

May I ask whether Lord Derby is now attending the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris?


I would rather that question were postponed for a couple of days. That particular point has not been discussed.


Do the Government intend to publish the Notes that have been exchanged?


On that also I cannot give an answer. It must, of course, depend not only upon what the British Government think right, but upon what is thought by other Allies.


Is it a fact that the German Army at present, either under the guise of the Reichswehr or of militia or of Red police, now exceeds 2,000,000 men?


I do not believe there is a shadow of foundation for any such statement.


Was it by the authority of the Government that a communique was published in the English Press on this subject on Friday or Saturday?


I do not know to what communique my Noble Friend refers.


Does the right hon. Gentleman consider it right that the Press should be allowed to carry on controversy on this matter and this House of Commons should not have an opportunity of expressing its wishes?


Is it not a fact that the Press were specially invited to a meeting, to learn the views of the Government, and is it not lacking in courtesy to the House not to make a similar statement to it?


I quite appreciate the feeling which has been shown in regard to this matter. There is a difference between statements appearing in the Press, and discussions which inevitably, in this case, must take the form of explaining the action of the British Government, and appearing to criticise the action of the French Government. I may point out also that, so far as the British Government is concerned, no steps whatever were taken to give any information to the Press until the Press had published abundant statements on the other side.


Has the right hon. Gentleman any information as to the withdrawal of the Reichswehr or the Baltic troops from the Essen district?


Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that no further communications will be given to the Press without this House having an opportunity of discussion?


As regards the question of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wedgwood) I can give no information, because I have none. The information which reaches us is to the effect that the Reichswehr will be withdrawn very shortly, but I have no information that they are being withdrawn up to now.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Are we taking any steps to insist on the Germans withdrawing these troops from the neutral zone?


The hon. and gallant Gentleman is doing what I deprecated. It is quite obvious that you cannot discuss isolated parts of this subject without discussing the whole. If you were dealing only with the British people I should like nothing better than to have a full discussion; but it is because it is a matter which affects not only us but our Allies that it is desirable to avoid discussion if we can.


Has my right hon. Friend any objection to questions being put on the Paper, or is the House to understand that the Government at this juncture will prefer that no questions on this subject should be put on the Paper?


The House can understand that the Government do not presume for a moment to suggest that their wishes as to the avoidance of discussion are to have effect if there be a general desire for a discussion, but I can only say that in our view at present we think it would be undesirable. In the same way as regards questions: if they are put on the Paper and if I think an answer to them would do harm, I shall ask hon. Members to allow me not to answer them. Beyond that I cannot go. I may add that it is quite possible that developments may make discussion advisable. I hope not, but if they do, the Government will be quite ready.


Will my right hon. Friend give any information which is to be given in the first instance to the House, and not to the Press?


In view of the garbled and partial accounts of the Notes exchanged, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the advisability, in the public interest, of speedily publishing the full text of those Notes?


That really is the same question in another form. There is no doubt whatever that in cases of this kind the best plan is to have a complete statement in the House, but the House must realise that there are two great dangers. The first is that any statement in this House, and still more any statement by a member of His Majesty's Government, which seems to justify our action might have the appearance of criticising the action of our Allies. On the other hand, any statement of that kind might have the still more deplorable effect of conveying to the German Government the idea that there was not complete agreement among the Allies.


Will my right hon. Friend consider whether he cannot clear up for the benefit of the House and the country the suspicion that information or a communique, call it what you like, was made to the Press on Friday and Saturday purporting to give the substance of the Note which was sent to the French Government, and if on inquiry he finds that has been done, will he explain how it came to be done and why it is impossible to make a similar communication to the House?


The answer I have given is an answer to the question of my Noble Friend. There has been no statement issued by the Government in any shape or form giving particulars as to the Note. But it is a fact that for two or three days the Press was flooded with accounts from one side, and the Government thought it necessary to give an indication as to their attitude. That cannot be avoided unless we are to allow only one side to appear. It is deplorable and certainly it would not have been done if it could have been avoided.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

Did or did not Mr. Philip Kerr interview the provincial Press?


The hon. and gallant Gentleman should give notice of that question.

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

Is it not just as objectionable for a statement to be put into the provincial Press as to make that statement in the House, and is it not just as dangerous from the point of view of imperilling our relations with France?

Captain LOSEBY

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the majority of hon. Members have complete confidence in His Majesty's Government in this matter, and have no desire whatever to embarrass them?


I have already said enough to show that in my view and in that of the Government it is very undesirable that there should be such communications, but at the time the House of Commons was hot sitting, and for at least two days—I think three—no statement of the British case at ail had been made. It is obvious that we could not allow one side only to be given without making any effort to present the other side.

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