HC Deb 09 May 1922 vol 153 cc2009-14
48. Mr. WISE

asked the Prime Minister if he can give a complete list of the nations and states represented at the Genoa Conference, with the number of their delegates?


The nations and states represented at the Genoa Conference are, in addition to Great Britain, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, and New Zealand, the following:

France. Lithuania.
Italy. Latvia
Japan. Poland.
Belgium. Czechoslovakia.
Germany. Austria.
Russia. Hungary.
Spain. Roumania.
Portugal. Jugoslavia.
Norway. Greece.
Sweden. Bulgaria.
Denmark. Holland.
Finland. Albania.
Switzerland. Luxemburg.
Iceland. Esthonia.
I am not in a position to state the total number of the delegates.

54. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the Lord Privy Seal how long the Genoa Conference is expected to last; and when the Prime Minister may be expected back and to make a statement?


No, Sir. I cannot say how long the Conference will last, nor when the Prime Minister will be able to return.

57. Colonel NEWMAN

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, in view of the growing anxiety in the country at the commitments that are being entered into by its representatives at Genoa, he will arrange for a Member of the Government at present at Genoa to return immediately and take the House into his confidence as to the actual position of affaire?


No, Sir. I am unable to accept this suggestion


May I ask the Leader of the House whether he can give the House any further information to-day regarding the position of the Genoa Conference? [An HON. MEMBER: "Is there a burst?"]


Since I came into the House I have received by telegram from the Prime Minister the text of the letter which he addressed to Monsieur Barthou, and M. Barthou's reply. I think the House will be glad to have them both, although the second was published this morning. The Prime Minister's letter to M. Barthou was in the following terms:

"My DEAR M. BARTHOU,—I am informed that there appears in the English newspapers to-day a statement regarding our conversation on Saturday, which attributes to me a declaration to the effect that the Entente between France and Great Britain is at an end, and that my advisers were pressing me to come to an understanding with Germany.

"I have already asked Mr. Chamberlain, who is acting Prime Minister in my absence, to contradict this malicious invention in Parliament this afternoon, and shall be much obliged if you, on your side, will also contradict both statements. I request it, because, as you know, I value Franco-British co-operation too highly to tolerate public mis-statements regarding an official conversation on that subject, at a moment of great importance in the relations of our two countries.

"I was a strong partisan of the Entente between France and Britain long before the War, and to me, as to every Englishman, this friendship means the more, since it was consecrated by common sacrifice. Hence my great anxiety that nothing should happen to divide the opinion of our two great democracies, upon whose partnership the peace of Europe so largely depends.

Believe me,

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) D. LLOYD GEORGE."

I think I ought to read, if only for the purpose of record in the OFFICIAL KEPORT, the reply received by the Prime Minister from M. Barthou. It has already been published in this morning's papers—not in all of them in the same conspicuous position or type as the mis-statements which it rebuts. The reply is as follows:

"MY DEAR MR. LLOYD GEORGE,—You appeal to my testimony regarding the conversation which we had together on Saturday afternoon, and which has aroused so much commentary. Here is my reply:

You did not say that the Entente between Great Britain and France was at an end, nor did you say that your advisers were pressing you to come to an understanding with Germany. You spoke to me of the difficulties through which the relations of our two countries were passing, but you did not pronounce one word which could be interpreted as expressing an intention to break the friendship which unites them, and I retain all my confidence in that essential union.



In view of the publication of these two letters, would it not be possible for us to have in the form of a White Paper the shorthand notes of the conversations which actually took place between the Prime Minister and M. Barthou? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]


No shorthand notes were taken of that conversation, and it is not customary to take shorthand notes of conversations of that kind.


Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report of something which the Prime Minister said to the effect that there was a minute taken of the conversations, and did the Prime Minister not say that he had no objection to its publication, and could the right hon. Gentleman ask that they should be published in view of the discussion that has taken place?


I have seen that statement, and I am in communication with the Prime Minister upon the subject, but I have not yet received his reply. At the same time it would seem to me that the letters which I have read dispose wholly of the malevolent and unfounded reports which were circulated in a section of the London Press, and I am indisposed myself—I am speaking without any knowledge of the Prime Minister's mind on this point—to set the precedent of publishing notes of these confidential communications, lest they should impede freedom of intercourse on subsequent occasions.


In view of the vital importance of the maintenance of happy relations between ourselves and France, upon which we are all agreed, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will take an early opportunity of laying a White Paper before the House and the country, containing as much information as it is possible to give to the House and the country, as it must be some time obviously before the Prime Minister will be able to be here himself to make a statement to the House?


I am always anxious to give the House the fullest information that it is possible to give as to all aspects of our policy and its development, but when negotiations are proceeding of a very delicate kind on more than one subject of vital importance to the peace of the world, I think it would be contrary to the public interest and injurious to the prospects of peace, that I should lay a Paper of the kind suggested by my right hon. Friend, and at least I hope he will accept my view that it would be unwise to do so at the present time. I am sure that when the Prime Minister comes back he will be only too anxious to take the House into his confidence as fully as possible, and I anticipate that on an early date after his return we shall find an occasion, or make an occasion, for a full explanation by him on his mission to Genoa.


In view of the mischief caused by these malevolent attacks, have the Government given any consideration to suppressing the "Times" and the "Daily Mail"?

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

And the "Observer."


I do not think the kind of action suggested by my hon. Friend is best calculated to place those newspapers in their proper proportion before European and public opinion outside this country. Here we know what they stand for. We know some of the motives by which they are actuated. No doubt in the course of time public opinion abroad will become as instructed as we are now.


Would it not meet the case if the right hon. Gentleman assures the Prime Minister that the House of Commons, having heard the correspondence read, was extremely gratified to know that there is no grounds for any anxiety in regard to the relations between the two countries?


Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been called to the statement made by M. Barthou himself, in a communication to his own Prime Minister, to the effect that the language used by the Prime Minister in his interview with him was of extreme gravity, and under those circumstances would it not be desirable that we should know what was said as well as what was not said.


I have no information as to M. Barthou's report to his own Government. I read reports of it in the Press, but I have no more means of knowing whether the reports of what the different French representatives said are any more accurate than the reports of what the principal British representatives said, but as far as this incident is concerned, and as far as rumours published in the Press about which I was questioned yesterday are concerned, I should have thought that this correspondence was a sufficient answer.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Why is it that the "Times" is singled out for these attacks on the Government when the "Observer" of last Sunday, and other newspapers favourable to the Government, are allowed to say just what they like about the European situation, and particularly to attack French policy?


Will the right hon. Gentleman say when the memorandum of the 3rd instant to the Soviet delegates, to Clause 7 of which the right hon. Gentleman referred me yesterday, will be laid on the Table of the House?


I believe it has been already laid, but I do not know definitely. I gave instructions immediately that it should be printed as rapidly as possible.


Will the right hon. Gentleman approach the French Government to see how it was that the Havas Agency gave out the same report?


No, Sir, I certainly will not take any step of that kind, which would seem to me impertinence. Everyone is entitled to draw their own conclusions from the similarity of the news by the "Times" correspondents and the Havas Agency. As to their similarity, I have no knowledge except the statement of my Noble Friend (Lord E. Cecil) yesterday, and the statement which has been repeated by the hon. Gentleman opposite to-day. Of course, I do not dispute it.


There are considerable differences. I should not like it to go forth that I said they were exactly the same.


I do not want to be made responsible for information which I was accepting but not giving.