HC Deb 16 March 1922 vol 151 cc2530-6

I desire to revert to two questions which I asked yesterday of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs on the subject of British interests, in Mexico, to which I received, as I thought, a very unsatisfactory answers. The questions were, regarding the claims of British subjects in Mexico and what was being done for the settlement of them, and I gather I am not over stating the answer when I say that nothing definite has as yet been settled as regards these questions. There originated, as I understand, from Mexico a suggestion that all British subjects who had suffered loss from the revolutions in Mexico dating from 1910 should have their claims examined by what is known as a mixed Commission, to be composed partly of nominees of Great Britain and partly of nominees of the Mexican Government with an independent chairman. In October last I happened to be in Mexico City and, by a strange coincidence, I happened to be in the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs when a telegram sent by the Mexican agent here arrived from London stating the stipulations which His Majesty's Government made regarding this mixed Commission. The Minister for Foreign Affairs was good enough to show me the telegram. The stipulations were, roughly, that the independent chairman should be a Chilean, and that there was some demur as to whether the payments should be made ex gratia or de jure. The Minister for Foreign Affairs said to me then and there, "These proposals are entirely acceptable, and I shall instruct our agent in London so to inform His Majesty's Government. About the same time I had the honour of seeing the President of the Mexican Republic, and he said to me definitely, "As soon as His Majesty's Government appoint commissioners on the mixed Commission, we, the Mexican Government, are prepared to examine all claims of British subjects who have suffered loss since 1910, and to satisfy them."

According to the answer I received yesterday, I understand that negotiations have been in progress, and His Majesty's Government hope shortly to communicate to the Mexican representative a draft scheme containing a modification of the original proposals to the Mexican Government. Considering that the Commission was proposed by His Majesty's Government, and that the terms of the Commission were agreed to by the Mexican Government in October last, I cannot see why the Commission should not have been already appointed, and the claims of British subjects examined and a number of them satisfied by now. The same offer was made to every country which had nationals who had claims of that kind, and a number of the Commissions have been appointed and they are now working. There is only one reason which I can think of why His Majesty's Government have not appointed their Commissioners, and it is that through what without offence I may be allowed to term an obstinacy almost inconceivable His Majesty's Government will not recognise the Mexican Government. They fear that by appointing Commissioners to a mixed Commission they will be taking a step towards the recognition of the Mexican Government. I have not time now to enter into that very vexed question. When the Foreign Office Vote comes before the Committee of this House I hope to deal with the subject.

That brings me to the second question I asked yesterday, and this I must deal with rather more delicately, I am sorry to say—and all the more sorry because the gentleman himself, of course, from the nature of things, cannot be here to answer mc—I am sorry to say that His Majesty's representative in Mexico City is not doing his best to mantain cordial relations between the two countries. It is not a light thing to make a charge of this kind, but I am prepared to make it and to stand by it. I was informed last autumn that the Mexican Government had requested His Majesty's Government to have this gentleman recalled because he was endangering the friendly relations between the two countries. I understand that the Foreign Office asked for the reasons. They were informed that his notes to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and to the President, were exceedingly impertinent, and that to them he was not persona grata. I had an opportunity of seeing the Mexican officials concerned. I was definitely informed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that under no circumstances would he admit that gentleman to the Foreign Office. I was told by the President that they would not allow him into the National Palace. I referred to the list of foreign representatives, official and unofficial, which is published in Mexico City, and his name is not included. I went to British residents in Mexico City, and they one and all told me the same tale. They said: "We do not have recourse to him because we do not stand a chance of having our case properly considered by the Mexican Government if we did. That was rather a serious charge. I had an opportunity of seeing this gentleman. I do not know whether I ought to enlarge on this point. Anyhow, I may say that he made it perfectly manifest to me that his attitude to Mexico was one of intense hostility. I was very reluctant to believe a number of accusations which were levelled against him by the Mexican Government, and I do not now do so. But without fear of exaggeration I say that his conduct is most imprudent, that he has unfortunately got himself identified with the enemies of the present Mexican Government. There is no hon. Member who does not know that in a State such as Mexico there is a number of what some would call comic opera generals. Hon. Members do not need my assurance that they play an important part in the politics of the country. Unfortunately our representative there has got himself identified with those generals who are supposed to be actively hostile to the Mexican Government.

Can the House wonder that the Mexican Government object to the presence of this gentleman in Mexico City? That in itself is a very serious matter from our point of view, but it is serious from other points of view. The fact that official diplomatic relations cannot be restored with Mexico is militating against the development of British interests in Mexico. Perhaps I shall surprise the House when I tell them that British interests in Mexico exceed by over 17,000,000 dollars American interests in that country. Most of the loans have been floated in Europe and we hold the greater part of the Mexican bonds. The Mexican railway has been financed by British financiers. A great deal of oil has been exploited in that country on British capital. The light and power, the trams, and hundreds of industrial enterprises in that country have in them British capital. So we cannot afford, through the hostility of a representative in Mexico City, to imperil our interests in that country. The irony of it all is that this gentleman is receiving the full salary of a Minister plenipotentiary; be is receiving £3,000 a year free of tax, and, in addition to that, the Legation, which is one of the best houses in Mexico City. I earnestly represent to the Foreign Office that these present hard times, these days when it is necessary for us to develop to the utmost our industries and to export as much as we possibly can to foreign countries, are not the time when we should hesitate to take action and to examine very carefully the state of affairs which has been brought about, as I verily believe, by this gentle- man, who is our unofficial representative in Mexico.


My hon. and gallant Friend has for a very long time shown a great interest in Mexico. It is very much to his credit that he should take an interest in a great and important country which comes very little under the consideration of this House. He has asked from time to time a number of questions and has exhibited a very great familiarity with the recent history of that country and with its natural resources. I very much regret that he should have taken this occasion to animadvert in terms so serious on a gentleman who is in a diplomatic position as representing this country in Mexico. I wish he had given me some notice of the particular charges which he was about to make against Mr. Cummins, who is chargé des archives in Mexico City.


May I interrupt my right hon. Friend to say that the charges were indicated in my second question yesterday. I think I did give my hon. Friend notice I was going to raise further questions.


With respect, I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend indicated in that question the serious nature of the accusations he has made against Mr. Cummins. What does he say? He says Mr. Cummins is not admitted to the Foreign Office in Mexico. I am not in a position to affirm or deny that statement at this moment, but I should be much surprised if I learned that my hon. and gallant Friend is well informed in regard to that matter. He has spoken of the intense hostility of His Majesty's representative in Mexico City to the present Mexican Government. I think he sought to prove to the House that this intense hostility did exist. I should think that one of the gravest charges that can be brought against a diplomatic representative of this country in a foreign country is that he was animated by intense hostility to the Government to which he is attached. My hon. Friend has gone further. He has said that Mr. Cummins is identified with general officers who are hostile to the present Government of Mexico. I can only say these two last allegations come to me as a surprise. I think I may repudiate both of these suggestions.

My hon. and gallant Friend has gone a little out of his way to object to the salary which Mr. Cummins is at present receiving. Expenses, as he knows, are very high in Mexico, and Mr. Cummins, who although he has a diplomatic position, has not that of an accredited Minister, nevertheless occupies the legation, which must be maintained, and so far as our diplomatic arrangements in Mexico extend, is in full charge of them. I do not think, in the present circumstances, having regard to the cost of living in Mexico at the present time, that his salary of £3,000 a year is to be taken serious exception to. It is the ordinary salary of a Minister accredited to a country such as, Mexico. However, I am free to admit with my hon. and gallant Friend that our relations with the Mexican Government are unsatisfactory. This fact is the occasion of much regret to His Majesty's Government, who have always been anxious to recognise the Mexican Government as soon as they are convinced of its stability and of its intention to remedy the losses incurred by British firms and interests. I will not enumerate again, as I have on former occasions, the cases in regard to which His Majesty's Government have from time to time made representations to the Mexican Government, and will content myself with reminding the House of two special circumstances.

The House will remember that the Government of President Huerta was recognised by His Majesty's Government. Succeeding Mexican Governments have failed to acknowledge the loans raised by the Huerta Government. My non. and gallant Friend is as well acquainted with that fact as any hon Member. Again, I take only one salient instance. The Inter-Oceanic and Southern Railways taken over by the Carranza Government have not been returned to their proprietors.


Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that the proprietors of the Inter-Oceanic and Southern Railways are the Mexican Government themselves. They own over 53 per cent. of the shares.


I only know that no dividends are paid to the other shareholders.


That is perfectly correct, but the majority share proprietors are the Mexican Government themselves.


I am anxious not to dwell on these inconvenient circumstances. I have no desire to dwell at any length on the outstanding points of difference between the two Governments, serious enough as some of these matters are. I trust that we are already in prospect of a more hopeful condition of things. As the House has already been informed, and again by my hon. and gallant Friend this evening, negotiations have been in progress between the two Governments with the object of concluding an agreement for submission to an arbitral tribunal of all British claims against the Mexican Government, and it is hoped that at an early date a draft of this Agreement will be submitted to the Mexican Government for their consideration and acceptance. We sincerely desire to come to better terms with Mexico. In that great country we have many interests, and there has long existed and, I am glad to say, still exists, between the two peoples a feeling of mutual respect and esteem. For the moment there are hindrances and stumbling blocks in the way of a closer and more intimate understanding. I hope that these will soon be removed, and that we may be able to look forward with confidence to a return to those happier conditions of former days that were advantageous alike to us and to the Mexican people. I do not think that I can usefully say anything further in reply to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend. This is a difficult and delicate matter. Anyone who has to speak on behalf of the Government must very carefully weigh every word he uses, and I hope the House, if not my hon. and gallant Friend, will be content for the moment with the statement that I have made this evening.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five Minutes after Eleven o'clock.