HC Deb 09 March 1922 vol 151 cc1489-94

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for India whether a telegram has been received by the Government from the Government of India specifying definite modifications in the Treaty of Sevres which they recommend; whether the publication of this telegram was approved by the Government of India or by His Majesty's Government; who is responsible for its publication; and whether the Government will to-day declare their attitude on this unprecedented incident?

Captain BENN

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether the telegram from the Viceroy of India urging a revision of the Sèvres Treaty represents the view of His Majesty's Government?


(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for India whether His Majesty's Government has received a communication from the Government of India recommending the revision of the Treaty of Sevres and the settlement of the Turkish question on certain definite lines; whether he will say what are the specific lines of settlement recommended and what His Majesty's Government propose to do in the matter?


I understand that this telegram was published by the Government of India, with the sanction of the Secretary of State. No other Minister was consulted.

I desire expressly to abstain from any comment upon the subject-matter of the telegram, though the terms exceed those demanded even by the warmest friends of the Turks themselves. This, however, is matter for discussion at the Confer- ence, into which it would be highly inexpedient for me now to enter. But the publication of such a pronouncement of policy, without consultation with the Cabinet, and without their assent, raises a different question all the more important because the Conference was just about to meet at Paris, when, as it seemed, there was a fair prospect that in concert with our Allies, we should be able to lay the basis for peace between Turks and Greeks.

His Majesty's Government are unable to reconcile the publication of the telegram of the Government of India on the sole responsibility of the Secretary of State with the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, or with the duty which all the Governments of the Empire owe to each other in matters of Imperial concern. Such independent declarations destroy the unity of policy which it is vital to preserve in foreign affairs, and gravely imperil the success of the impending negotiations.

The Secretary of State has tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister, and His Majesty has been pleased to approve its acceptance.

When the Foreign Secretary proceeds to Paris to discuss the Eastern settlement with the Foreign Ministers of France and Italy, it will be his object to arrive at a solution that will be equitable to all parties. Due weight will be given by him to the opinions of the Indian Mahommedans, as expressed by the Government of India. But he cannot hold himself bound to accept any solution that may be put forward by that Government irrespective of its relation to the problem as a whole. The responsibility for the revision of the Treaty of Sèvres and the conclusion of peace in the East rests with the Allied Powers in combination.


Arising out of the entirely unsatisfactory nature of that answer, I beg leave to move the Adjournment of the House, to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance—


There are other questions first.


May I ask whether the Secretary of State for India resigned before or after the publication of this document?


The Secretary of State tendered his resignation to-day.


May I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—who, I have reason to believe, would regard a discussion such as that suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Herbert) as inopportune at the moment—whether ho will undertake to give the House an opportunity, at an early date, of discussing not only the dispatch, but the policy of the Government with regard to the Near East?


Of course, if it be the general wish of the House to discuss the policy of His Majesty's Government, I must endeavour to provide an early opportunity for it, but I do most earnestly impress upon the House the view that a discussion of the policy of the Government, or of the action which is to be taken by the representatives of the Government in the Conference at Paris before that Conference takes place, cannot serve the public interest. The successful conduct of negotiations is impossible if the Government are to be asked, before entering the Conference, to state exactly what they will do, and what is to be the outcome of it. I should, therefore, earnestly deprecate any discussion as to the policy to be pursued in respect of these matters, in anticipation of the Conference.


Is the House to understand from what my right hon. Friend says that this very important document was communicated to the Press on the sole authority of the Secretary of State for India? We have on the Paper to-day, as the first Order, a discussion upon the Vote for the Middle East, Supplementary Estimates, and—I am only suggesting this to my right hon. Friend, and not in any hostile spirit—the opinion of the House on certain points connected with that matter will be very largely affected by this pronouncement, and by the action of His Majesty's Government upon it. That does affect vitally—or would, if it were adopted in any sense by His Majesty's Government—the whole future of that part of the world. Shall we not be rather embarrassed in that discussion if we do not know what is the attitude of His Majesty's Government?


My right hon. Friend is correct in interpreting my answer. I need hardly say that my answer was explicit on the point. The document was published by the Secretary of State for India on his sole authority, without consultation with any Member of the Cabinet.


I only wanted to make that point clear.


I do not think that the discussion on the Middle East, in regard to which my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary is prepared to make a general statement, will be prejudiced in any way by this very regrettable incident. As regards the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the negotiations or Conference at Paris, I have stated what that is, and I deprecate Members pressing the Government for any more explicit statement as to policy, in anticipation of the Conference. I think a good deal of mischief has been done in connection with previous conferences by debates, not, indeed, in this House, but in other places, which have endeavoured to pledge Ministers to a particular solution, before they met the representatives of other nations in conference.


As questions regarding the Government of India are involved in the subject raised in these supplementary questions, may we understand that the right hon. Gentleman will give a day for the discussion of the Indian side of the matter if it be generally desired?


I cannot accept my hon. and gallant Friend's premise. The Government of India were obviously entitled, and indeed almost bound, to put their views before His Majesty's Government, and they were quite entitled to ask that those views should be published, but the question of publication should have been reserved for a Cabinet decision. The responsibility of the Government of India for that document is wholly covered by the responsibility taken by the Secretary of State, who authorised its publication.

Major-General SEELY

There is one point which I am sure the House would like cleared up in this important matter. The statement appears in the Press as a Reuter telegram. How does it come about that it is published as a Reuter telegram, and yet the Secretary of State for India is the only man to blame?


The Government of India asked that they might publish this telegram, and the Secretary of State for India authorised it to be published in India. It was published in India, and it was telegraphed from India to this country. It was not published in India before it had reached the Secretary of State for India, or had been circulated, but it was published in India, I suppose, yesterday. I do not actually know that; I only assume, from seeing it in the papers this morning, that it was published in India yesterday. That publication in India was authorised by the Secretary of State for India, and has led to his resignation on the grounds of Cabinet responsibility and Imperial policy which I have described to the House.


What form did that publication take? Was it a proclamation through the Press, or what form did it take?


I do not know.


May I ask my right hon. Friend if he is not aware that the last thing that I should desire to do to-day is to embarrass him or the Government in the very serious situation in which they are placed? May I also ask him if he is aware that men like myself have known that this disaster was going to come for the last two years, and that we have been denied all knowledge, while Sir Basil Zakharoff has known exactly what the Government were going to do?


What is the date that the Paris Conference is to assemble?


My memory is charged with a good many matters at the present time, and I am not quite certain of the date, but I think the meeting is contemplated for the 22nd March.


I have a question on the same subject from the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings. I take it that his point is covered.




Shall we be given a day for the discussion of this question next week?


I can make no promise on that subject. I gather that my hon. and gallant Friend (Mr. Herbert) wants to discuss the line of policy which His Majesty's Government, or the representatives of His Majesty's Government, should take at the Paris Conference. That is the particular request which I have asked hon. Members not to press, it being contrary to the public interest, and almost incompatible with the successful conduct of the negotiations.