§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir EDWARD GRIGG
I have to ask for the indulgence which the generous tradition of this House always gives to a maiden speech in a rather special degree this afternoon. I am not only a new Member of this House, but I am comparatively new to the dangerous art of public speaking. It is, therefore, with great diffidence that 582 I approach a subject of such delicacy and difficulty as that of Franco-British relations with regard to the Ruhr at the present time. I have also not had the advantage of listening to the Debates on this subject in this House. I must, therefore, apologise if I traverse ground already covered by hon. Members.
My excuse for intervening at all is that, after being very completely immersed in the details of this problem for many months on end, I have recently had an opportunity of standing back from the picture and contemplating the whole thing from a distance, contemplating it, in fact, from a point outside Europe altogether. I cannot pretend that distance lends any enchantment to the view; but distance helps one to sort things out; it simplifies things; it eliminates irrelevant details, and it makes the main features 583 stand out. It is simply because I have had that experience, and have recently come home through France and have caught something of the French atmosphere, that I venture to address the House on this subject this afternoon.
Before I get to the main question, I should like to say, as a Lancashire Member, one word upon the great dislocation and damage which is being done to our trade by the occupation of the Ruhr at the present time. I know of one firm which imports yarn to the value of £250,000 annually to the Ruhr. The whole of the exports of that firm are held up at the present time, and not only is it unable to put its yarn upon the German market in the Ruhr, but it is even unable to withdraw it from bond in order to dispose of it elsewhere. That is only one of many examples. The Government must know how very great. the damage is, and it. is the duty of the Members of this House, particularly of the Lancashire Members, to keep this point to the front, and I hope it may strengthen the hands of the Government in securing such consideration as they can for British traders from our French and Belgian Allies. The complete recovery of British trade is, however, not possible until this occupation of the Ruhr, and the whole policy involved in it, is definitely worked out.
The point which I wish to endeavour to put before the House this afternoon is that in the last two months we have imperceptibly passed into an entirely new phase of French policy in this question. We used to be concerned with the Treaty of Versailles, but we are now concerned with a new order of ideas, far beyond the Treaty of Versailles. To point the contrast, may I tax the patience of the House by outlining very briefly the main provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, as they used to he debated and interpreted before this new policy of the Ruhr came about?
The first essential point, relevant to this discussion, in the old Treaty of Versailles was the disarmament of Germany. As everyone knows, conscription was to be abolished in Germany. It has been abolished. As everyone knows, the German forces were to be reduced to a very small number. They have been so reduced. I believe every British expert who has been called upon to report on this question has reported that the 584 German disarmament is virtually complete I know that our French Allies do not agree about this, but, if proof were needed that Germany is helpless in this respect, I would invite the attention of the House to the present state of things in the Ruhr—Germany prostrate, while the heart of her industry is invaded and held by what, after all, is only a handful of armed men. I take it, therefore, that her disarmament is complete.
The next important provision in the Treaty of Versailles was reparation. The amount of reparation, in spite of many misstatements about it, was never to he fixed by this Ally or by that Ally; it was to be fixed by the Reparation Commission set up under the Treaty, and that Commission was to take into consideration Germany's capacity to pay. The guarantees established under the Treaty of Versailles were guarantees for carrying out the terms of the Treaty. There is a whole chapter in the Treaty of Versailles, headed "Guarantees," devoted to the question of guarantees. Every word in that chapter shows that the object of the guarantees was to secure the enforcement of what was actually in the Treaty of Versailles, and was not to secure the enforcement of new claims entirely outside the Treaty of Versailles brought forward at a later date. Not only that, but the chapter on "Guarantees" very carefully provided that the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine should be terminated by stages as Germany carried out her obligations, and should be completed in a period of 15 years. Those were the terms of the old Treaty of Versailles.
There is one other point about the Treaty which is perhaps worth remembering at this moment, that is the guarantee pact against invasion, which was attached to the Treaty, signed by the United States and ourselves. The object of that pact was to give France a double guarantee against unprovoked aggression by Germany over the French frontiers on French soil. There was no question of aggression in other forms; it was unprovoked invasion of French soil.
What is the position now? Neither reparation nor security, in the old form, holds the centre of the stage at all. If reparation were the only question of difference between French policy and ours, I should not despair for one moment of our coming to terms with 585 France over it. We have never been anything but agreed with our French Alai s on the principle of reparation. So far as there has been any difference, it has been a difference as to method. We have often had differences of that kind with our French friends before. I came across an interesting example, which occurred in the year 1878, in regard to the debts owed to European creditors by the Khedive of Egypt at the time of Disraeli's Government. At that, time our view was that the best chance of procuring money for the creditors was to give a moratorium to Egypt, to see that Egypt had a chance of reorganising and restoring her financial system, and thereby settling the payment on a definite basis and on lines which she would be able to carry out. That was the British view. I think I may best describe the French view by quoting Lord Cromer's account of it. Lord Cromer was involved indirectly in those negotiations. Lord Cromer wrote of it afterwards:French public opinion held that the Khedive could pay his debts if he chose to do so, that the distress alleged to exist in Egypt was fictitious, and the arguments based on the impoverishment of the country were fabricated in order to throw dust in the eyes of the public and to excite humanitarian sympathy where no sympathy was deserved.That, I think, presents a very close parallel to the argument of our French Allies at the present time. We ultimately gave up our view, and took the French view of the matter for the time being. Afterwards we followed our own course with admirable results; but for the time being we followed the French view. Why? I will again quote Lord Cromer:The reason is not far to seek. The Berlin Congress was lust about to sit to regulate the situation arising from the recent Russo-Turkish 'War. It was necessary to conciliate the French. The French initiative was therefore followed.If you substitute the Conference of Lausanne for the Congress of Berlin, and substitute Germany for Egypt, you have a very close parallel, I think, in that historical episode. We have, had differences of this kind with France before, and I believe we could settle them now. If the mind of France were centred on the question of reparations, I am personally convinced that she would have adopted a very different attitude towards the many prac- 586 tical and business-like proposals which have been made on this subject during past months. I think she would have addressed herself with more courtesy to the Conference of International Bankers, which met in Paris about June of last year. I think she would have paid more attention to the very broad proposals put forward by the Coalition Government at the London Conference in August of that year. I am quite certain, too, that she would have adopted a very different attitude towards the proposals put. forward by the present Government in Paris last January. I am not going to pretend that we all of us think those proposals were put forward in the best possible form. It was surely a mistake, for the sake of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000, to alienate our Belgian Allies. Four or five million pounds is really nothing at, all in the settlement of a great international account like this. There were other points in which perhaps our position might have been more tactfully put; but, after all, they were points which could have been modified, and, indeed, entirely removed, in discussion. The French Government, however, refused to discuss those proposals at all, and I think that is adequate evidence that reparation is no longer in the centre of French thought.
The same conclusion, I think, is to be derived from the fact that. the French Government has not considered the offer put forward by the German Government to refer the question of what Germany can pay, and how she can pay, to an impartial International Commission. That is a proposal in very close accordance with what the American Secretary of State, Mr. Hughes, proposed not many weeks ago, and I think it offers an admirable ground, if it can only be adopted, for a fair settlement. I am afraid, however, that the French Government has no intention of considering that proposal, even though it was reiterated, I believe, from Berlin yesterday. The French Prime Minister—I am only quoting newspaper reports, but I have no reason to believe them untrue—stated yesterday to the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber that the occupation of the Ruhr was economically unprofitable. I think that statement is sufficient to show that, as the occupation continues, it is not the economic aspect of that occupation which is principally-occupying the French mind now. Obviously, the main driving power of French 587 policy is elsewhere, and that is what we have to face. The central motive of French policy at the present time is not security or reparation. It certainly is not security in the old form which we used to discuss. It is security under an entirely new definition, and that is the problem with which we have to deal. It takes us into an absolutely new region of politics. It takes us, I venture to say, into a dangerous and volcanic region. When you look back in the face of the proposals and speeches which are now filling the French newspapers, when you look back from the policy which is being advocated now, I am bound to say that I view with astonishment the moderation which the British statesmen of that time managed to import into the Treaty of Versailles.
Let me illustrate the change of ideas which has come over the French mind in this respect. M. Poincaré yesterday made an important declaration to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber. He declared that the French would not leave Essen until every penny of German reparation had been paid. I am not arguing whether these declarations are right or wrong, whether they are wise or unwise. The point is that these are the facts with which we have to deal, and that these arc provisions not contained in the Treaty of Versailles. They are absolutely foreign to the Treaty of Versailles; they are of a new description altogether. They confront us with an absolutely new problem. M. Poincare not only said that the occupation of Essen would be maintained for an indefinite period, because France has refused to accept the verdict of the Reparation Commission and has herself become the sole arbiter as to what Germany is to pay. He has not only declared that Essen is to be occupied for an indefinite period, but he says that the costs of the occupation of the Ruhr are to be charged in the same way as the costs of the occupation of the left bank of the Rhine. That may be fair or unfair, but it is not in the Treaty of Versailles. It is another new claim entirely outside the Treaty. Under the Treaty of Versailles again the free navigation of the Rhine is secured to all countries by an international Commission, the Rhine Navigation Commission. The functions of that Commission have been entirely abrogated by the French and 588 Belgian occupation of the Ruhr. The Commission is to meet next week. What it is to discuss I do not know, because the navigation of the Rhine is now controlled by our French and Belgian Allies. That may be right or wrong, but it is outside the Treaty of Versailles.
I would give one other example of how French policy is being shaped at the present time. I will not go to extremist sources, but I will quote a French publicist who has always been moderate in his views and friendly to this country, and who seldom puts forward suggestions or proposals without knowing that they are representative of the views of France. M. Phillippe Millet has contributed several articles to "L'Europe Nouvelle," and I want to call particular attention to one which appeared in the issue of 10th March. It is headed:What might be the scheme of peace?I think that title in itself deserves some attention. At the present time we apparently are not discussing the peace which has been already made. We are not discussing the Treaty which was framed by all of us. We are discussing the terms of a new peace, and a new Treaty to be made after a new war. That is the situation. What does M. Phillippe Millet say are the essential requirements of France? He lays down that France should secure a permanent international control of the left bank of the Rhine and a permanent international control of the Rhine railways, with France and Belgium predominant in the international body which exercises this control. He also demands the permanent cessation of the Saar mines to France, and the annexation of the Saar territory to the Rhineland, so that the Saar territory is to come under this international control on which France and Belgium would have predominance. I believe the opinions I have quoted are representative opinions. I think I have stated them without any prejudice. I have not been arguing whether they are wise or unwise. I merely argue that they constitute a new situation altogether, and it is with that new situation we have got to deal.
How are we to deal with it.? I yield to nobody in my sentiments of friendship for France; I believe every Member of this House would a thousand times rather agree with France than disagree with France. I believe, when you come to 589 consider this question, that I am like every other Member of this House in feeling a strong natural inclination to agree with France, and much more than a natural prejudice against Germany. That is the state of mind in which I approach this question. But you cannot frame the policy of a great Empire in an issue of this kind on grounds of sentiment alone. You must be sure that the interests of your people, that their sense of right and wrong, and that the aims of your policy will, as years go on, justify the policy which your sentiment calls upon you to carry out. Otherwise, if the national conscience and interest begin to run contrary to sentiment, it is not sentiment that will carry the day. I think, therefore, it is part of the loyalty we owe to France to be perfectly frank about what we can do and what we cannot do at the present time.
What does this new policy advocated by France mean? In substance, it means the alienation of Germans and German territory from Germany. It means, if this country were to support France, that this country is to undertake an obligation to interfere in the internal affairs of Germany, and restrict German sovereignty for all time. The Rhineland and the Saar, as everybody knows, are ethnically German. The Rhine railways are a great artery of the German industrial system. The Ruhr is the heart of industrial Germany. International control in any form over these German territories and that, part of the German people must mean a denationalisation of them. It means they are in some way to be separated from Germany and put under a foreign sovereignty. It means, I believe, an inevitable explosion in the years to come. You might as well put the industry of Lancashire and the Manchester Ship Canal under some form of international control, and imagine you could do so without interfering in some way with the sovereignty of this Parliament. Paper formulas are useless to cover these realties. If the wise inert of ancient Pompeii had been warned beforehand that an eruption was about to take place and had thought of preventing that eruption by covering the crater of Vesuvius with a film of paper, they would not have been more foolish than the people who 590 imagine you can prevent the eruption of national feeling in a matter of this kind by diplomatic formulas of any kind.
I see a great difficulty in reconciling the British point of view and sense of right with this policy now being advocated by our French Allies. It is contrary to our declared war aims. It is contrary to the Treaty of Versailles; it is a sure cause of future wars, and it would mean an undertaking by this country of an obligation to interfere with the internal affairs of a European State that this country has never undertaken before. If we wish to look for a wiser policy, we may find it in the policy pursued by Castlereagh and Canning after the Napoleonic Wars. If we follow the line taken by Castlereagh and Canning, we shall, moreover, be following a policy which led to the first great example of co-operation between the British Empire and the United States.
I do not ask the Government to make any declaration on this question this afternoon. I only ask two things: first, that they should consult the Dominions upon the whole issue fully and consult them betimes. The Dominions were part of the British Empire Delegation which made the Treaty of Versailles. Their signatures are appended to the Treaty. Not only that., but the Dominions were at the Imperial Conference of 1921 and the policy which was followed in the months immediately after that—the policy, for instance, which took shape at Cannes—had been agreed to definitely by the Imperial Conference. Since then the situation in Europe has changed. The Government here has changed. The Government in Canada has changed. The Government in Australia has changed. There is, therefore, an overwhelming argument for consultation and consultation betimes, because we shall certainly be called upon to give some definition of British policy in the next few weeks—long, I fear, before the Imperial Conference can meet, as we hope it will, before the end of the year. I ask, therefore, that the Government shall give a pledge to consult the Dominions fully now. I ask them also to be ready with some declaration on behalf of the British Empire within the next few weeks. They arc not only the representatives of Great Britain, but the trustees of the British Empire, and while we do not wish to press them for a declaration here 591 and now, I hope when the time comes, as it is bound to come before long, they will be able to show that the British Empire has a mind and a voice of its own.
§ Sir LAMING WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I am sure the House agrees with me when I say that we are delighted to welcome so promising a recruit to our Debates as my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken. Whether we agree or do not agree with everything he has said, we agree at least in this, that he has made a contribution by his well-informed and arresting speech which is seldom equalled by Members speaking for the first time. I intervene to ask the Government one or two questions. I suppose everyone realises, and perhaps more so since the hon. and gallant Member has just spoken, how grave is the position at the present moment. The country is uneasy and anxious about our relations with France. The country has been accustomed to consider that she was an ally of France, and that France would be found working alongside of us with a parallel policy. Ever since the Armistice we have been on terms of the greatest friendship with France and our other European Allies. It is quite true that from time to time we have differed, but we have always managed to bring our differences to a conference, and to settle those differences at a conference so that our action might be joint action and not separate action. We have always succeeded in doing that till last January, and since last January separate action has been taken by France, and the distance between our paths seems to be widening. In France the position is not much different. Some newspapers and some writers in the French newspapers have always been inclined to view our actions with suspicion, but, on the other hand, Great Britain has had active friends in the French Press who have stood by us continuously for a long time. Those same writers have within the last few months been showing suspicions of our motives and holding us up, not as the Allies of France, but as the enemies of France who are standing in the way of France when she desires reparation, and standing in the way of France when she desires a reasonable security for the future. That is the position in France.
592 What is the position over here? The speech just made by the hon. and gallant Member voiced a feeling which is unfortunately spreading in Great Britain. There have been speeches in this House and certainly in the country, which have shown that the speakers contemplated not continued friendship with France but a period of hostility. Surely that is the gravest possible position, and I ask the Government what steps they are taking to remove the suspicion which is at the base of the feeling of tension existing between the two countries? The best way, in my opinion, to remove that suspicion is for both this country and France to appreciate that there is little or no ground for the suspicion of France. France suspects that we stood in the way of her getting reparation. We have not done so. On the contrary, this country has been prepared to support every practical proposal made. She thinks we arc depriving her of the security to which she is entitled. Not only have we not done so, but when America was not able to confirm an undertaking to act jointly with us in guaranteeing French soil from aggression, we ourselves at Cannes offered, alone, to stand in the breach. Why should not these facts be known? Why should not the papers relating to that offer of security by us to France and the terms of the offer be published? Why should not the proceedings taken on that offer be published, so that the people of this country and of France might know exactly what was offered. It would be worth almost anything in the state of tension which now exists to remove any ground of suspicion. The publication of these papers and the spreading of the knowledge of what was actually done, would, in my belief, remove many of the grounds of suspicion. As regards the reparation question, the papers relating to the abortive Conferences in December and January last have been published. Why not publish the papers relating to the Conference in London in August of last year? These papers could not have been published while the late Government was in power, because at any moment a further sitting of that same Conference was to take place. It did take place in December and was completed in January. As soon as it was completed, surely all the papers—not those relating to the December and January Conferenes only, 593 but also those relating to the August Conference — ought to have been published.
I now ask the Government to do so, and in this matter I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues in the last Government who are not Members of the present Government., and I believe that those Members of the present Government who were in the last Government naturally wish these papers to be published. I believe if they were published it would be seen that efforts were made by Great Britain to deal with the question of reparation, and the offers made by Great Britain to France to support her in every practical proposal would, in themselves, tend to remove some part of the suspicion which now exists. The proposals made in August last were of extreme importance. We have been charged—I have seen it in the French Press—with trying to induce or compel France to give a moratorium for which she would get nothing in return. What Was the proposal of August last? It was that a moratorium to the end of the year 1922 should be granted in respect of arrears of payments then due by Germany, and that it should be extended only upon condition that Germany should take steps to stabilise her currency; to balance her Budget, to pass legislation preventing the flight of capital from Germany and to grant autonomy to the Reichstag. These four conditions were really preliminaries to putting the financial and economic position of Germany on a basis which would enable her to pay reparation on any large scale. Until that is done it is useless to expect to receive any large sums from Germany. What was proposed last August was that there should be a short moratorium to enable Germany to give proof of her bonâ fidesby taking the preliminary steps which would put her in a position to go further.
If those papers are published the charge against us that we were trying to protect Germany and make France give up her rights, will, I think undoubtedly, be shown to be entirely false. The moratorium, if it. ever had been granted, was after all not to be a moratorium such as was proposed in January of four years. It was proposed that it should be a moratorium of two years and even then, not a complete moratorium, because the deliveries in 594 kind were to continue and the proceeds of the 26 per cent. export tax were to continue to be collected and either paid over to those entitled to reparations or held as a security for future payments. When these proposals are examined I believe it will be found that both French public opinion and British public opinion will free Great Britain from any blame on either of the charges which the French Press makes against her. France herself, had she been able to accept those proposals, would be in receipt of quite a considerable sum on account of reparation. After all, her share of the deliveries in kind would be worth something like £20,000,000 a year and her 52 per cent. of the export tax even at last year's rate of exports from Germany would amount to something like £30,000,000 a year, and if this other measure—this economic and financial measure to which I alluded just now—were honestly carried out by Germany there is very little doubt her exports would rapidly increase and the sums payable from the export tax would also rapidly increase. If that plan of August had been carried out both France and ourselves would have been receiving a considerable sum on account. of the amount due to us for reparation. I emphasise the plan of August last, although it was refused, for this reason, that it may be found in the future that progress upon the lines of the August proposal is the true progress and that which is likely finally to bring about a solution of this very difficult question. I ought to add, that in the proposals which were agreed to so far as the Allies were concerned there was to be some supervision over the German Customs and supervision over the German Budget —two very substantial securities which ought to have helped in the future.
Of course, it may be asked why all these proposals were not accepted by France. Then, just. as now, there was the difficulty that France wanted to put a Customs ring round the Ruhr and on the left bank of the Rhine. She made other proposals such as taking a proportion of the capital of the factories working on the left bank of the Rhine. All these proposals were considered by Allied experts, not by politicians, and the experts who dealt with them as economic propositions examined them from the point of view of practicability and from the point of view of the revenue obtainable 595 from them and a report was made. That report should be published, because these are the very things which the people of this country have in their minds to-day. One often hears it said in conversation, "Well, Germany is very prosperous. She has large numbers of works and factories. Why cannot we get some of it?" These questions were examined by the experts and a report was made upon them, and it would be wise, in my judgment, if the people of this country and of France were allowed to see the result of this examination. A proposal was made by France to manage the Ruhr mines. Our experts, and all of us, pointed out that there would be great difficulty in doing so. We did not think the output of the mines would be increased. On the contrary, we said that it would be much more difficult to induce the German miners to work successfully under Allied management than under their own system and that such an attempt on the part of the Allies would inevitably end in reducing production. That was said last August, and I think the result of the occupation of the Ruhr has amply justified the forecast then made. Why should not the public know that? Why should it he left to me now to state very imperfectly some of the things that were discussed in August last and some of the reasons for the course which we took? The position between France and Great Britain is so serious that every possible information should be given to the peoples of both countries.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member was not in the House when I explained. The Conference was adjourned. It had agreed to a certain number of things, and there were certain other things not agreed to. It adjourned, with the object of meeting again. As the hon. and gallant Member knows, the Election came, and the Government changed, but the adjourned Conference was held in December and again in January, and what I suggest is that now that there has been published a Blue Book on the December and January Conferences, there can be no reason why the August Conference should not also be published; and it is material and important, because I 596 believe the proposals that were made in August are much more likely of ultimate acceptance by the Allies than the proposals made in January. I am not a bit surprised that the proposals made in January were not accepted. One of them was made to Belgium, that she should give up her priority. Belgium will not give up her priority, and nobody who has ever been in touch with Belgium, nobody who has ever discussed the question of reparations with Belgium, will ever imagine for a moment that Belgium is going to give up her priority. One of the conditions of January was that she should do so, and that would ensure the rejection of the proposal by Belgium. Other proposals to France seem to me not to give as good security as Prance was offered in the previous August, so that I am not really surprised that, on the security ground, France refused the offer of January.
I hope that along the lines of the August proposals there is still a possibility of arriving at a settlement., and I ask the Government whether they are prepared to open up negotiations afresh upon those lines. I regret the absence of the Prime Minister, and more especially the cause, and I do not know whether, in his absence, the Government are prepared to say what their policy is. I know the Prime Minister, speaking in February last, stated that no policy was better than a bad policy. That, of course, is a profoundly true though simple statement, but it does not conclude the question. That was in February last, and since then things have not got better, but worse. I ask the Government now whether they cannot make some statement. It cannot be right that we should sit idly by while suspicion is growing, while feeling between ourselves and our Allies is hardening into antagonism, and while the seeds of wax are ripening. If we cannot get a statement of policy today, can we at least have a promise that the Papers for which I have asked, relating to the offer of a pact with France, the papers relating to the August Conference, shall be published, so that the people of this country shall be able to remove at least some of their suspicions, and that the people of France also will see that we have not stood in their way, either on the matter of security or of any practical steps for the recovery of reparations?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I desire to associate myself to the full with the congratulations which were offered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans), who has just sat down, to the hon. Member for Oldham (Sir E. Grigg), who opened the Debate. I have been a great many years in this House, and I have heard a great many maiden speeches, some good, many indifferent, and a few frankly bad, but I am not using the language of flattery at all when I say to my hon. Friend, if he will allow me to do so, that I have rarely heard a maiden speech which, both in form and in substance, seemed to me to promise a more hopeful and distinguished Parliamentary career. I am not saying for a moment that I agree with everything h said, though in the main I did. What I should single out as peculiarly interesting features in his admirable speech are his., wealth of knowledge, his avoidance of unnecessary verbiage, and the modest strength with which he presented a case strong in itself, but which suffered nothing from his advocacy of it.
I have risen, not to take part in any general review of what is a most grave and disquieting situation, but to put, if I may, one or two questions to the Government, to which I think we are entitled to an answer, and which are very necessary for the information of the public mind, both here and outside this country. Let me say that I entirely subscribe to the request which has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester that we should have, in the form of Papers laid upon the Table, the fullest possible disclosure of what has been going on during the last two years. We have had Papers describing the proceedings of December and January last, bat I do not think we have anything in the nature of a collective and illuminating narrative as to the course of the negotiations that have taken place during these last twelve, fifteen, it may be eighteen, months. I can see no reason why they should any longer be withheld from Parliament or from the country, and I entirely endorse the appeal on that. point which has been made by my right hon. Friend who has just sat down. There are one or two points, apart from that, upon which I think it would be well that the Government should give us their views. A very remarkable statement was made yesterday to the Foreign Affairs 598 Committee of the Reichstag by the German Foreign Minister, Dr. Rosenberg, and I do not think it has received quite the degree of publicity which it ought to have done in our own Press. I have been furnished with a Reuter's telegram, which gives a fuller and, I think, both a more accurate and more adequate view than, perhaps, would be gained from anything we have seen in the Press, and I want to call the attention of the Government particularly to one or two points in this statement:Dr. Rosenberg stated "—I am reading from Reuter—that the Government's position on the Reparation question was that an International Commission of business men should determine as soon as possible three points: (1) the extent to which Germany had already fulfilled her obligations; (2) her ability to meet them in the future; (3) the manner in which they could be met.They are three all-important questions. He continued:These questions would be determined by such a Commission, or any similar impartial body of experts, on which Germany and France would be represented on terms of full equality and full rights. If this or a similar way should he taken, the Government would be prepared to sound the international money market with a view to obtaining the highest possible loan, which would amply provide for any guarantee which the loan syndicate might think necessary. This money would he handed over to France or the Allies as an immediate advance in cash.Then he proceeds to say:Without expressing any request or desire, the Government has placed these views before such Powers as are principally interested in the state of Europe, which are not concerned directly in the Ruhr conflict.I should like to know from my right hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench whether these views have been laid before His Majesty's Government; if so, when, and by what form of communication. I should like to know, further, whether His Majesty's Government can tell us, in confirmation of what is said here, that they have been placed before the other Powers, at any rate such of the other Powers as are not directly concerned in this Ruhr adventure. Italy would be one, the United States of America would be another. I should like, further, to know whether His Majesty's Government if, as I am informed, they have for some time been in possession of these views, have taken any steps, by diplomatic 599 negotiations or communications or otherwise, to bring themselves into concert with the other Powers concerned, or have we been during this really very important new departure, and are we now still, committed to an attitude of what I may call benevolent impotence; an attitude which I think, having regard to the gravity of the conditions and the enormous and possibly disastrous possibilities of the near future, is one not altogether worthy of a great Power which has played so large a part in all these things and which cannot, either morally or politically, disinterest itself from their ultimate solution. That is the first point, on which I think we are entitled to get some information.
I should like to deal with another matter. As I say, I am in an interrogative mood, and I am not proposing for the moment any constructive policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear "] I am in an interrogative mood, and I think I am entitled to be so, as this is the Consolidated Fund Bill, and we are separating for our Easter Recess. A great deal has been said about reparation on the one side, security upon the other, and the relative importance, in the view of France and, possibly, of Belgium, of those two aspects of the situation. Of late there has been introduced into this discussion a. phrase, "the demilitarisation of the Rhineland" or some indefinite area in that part of the world. The House, I am sure, is aware, though I am not quite sure that the people outside are aware, of how that matter stands under the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles contains two sets of provisions, one set of a permanent and the other of a temporary and provisional kind. The permanent provisions as to the left bank of the Rhine are comprised in the 42nd, 43rd and 44th Articles of the Treaty. What do they provide? They provide for a prohibition to Germany—not a temporary, but a permanent prohibition—to maintain or construct any fortifications either on the left bank of the Rhine. or on the right hank to the west of a line drawn.50 kilometres to the east of the Rhine "—and within that area they are equally prohibited fromthe maintenance and the assembly of armed forces, either permanently or temporarily, and military manœuvres of any kind.600 Article 44 provides in very remarkable language, in case Germany violates in any manner whatever the provisions of the preceding Articles, thatshe shall be regarded as committing a hostile act "—and a hostile act, be it observed, not against France, but—against the Powers signatory of the present Treaty, and as calculated to disturb the peace of the world.I do not think it is wholly immaterial to add to that summary of the provisions for the real demilitarisation of the territory from which France would naturally be most apprehensive of a possible incursion or invasion, that by Article 213, which was one of the general Articles:So long as the present Treaty remains in force, Germany undertakes to give every facility for any investigation which the Council of the League of Nations, acting if need he by a majority vote, may consider necessary.In my view, that means that the provisions of what I may call the demilitarisation Articles are provisions which the League of Nations is entitled to see, by inspection and by supervision, carried into effect. Therefore, France did receive —people do not realise this sufficiently—under those terms of the Treaty, very adequate security against possibilities of future danger from Germany, by the double provision that even the holding of military manœuvres within the area so delimited on the part of Germany would be regarded as a hostile act by all the Powers signatory of the Treaty, and, at the same time, the League of Nations was entrusted with the duty of seeing that those other provisions are observed. That is a totally different thing from the temporary occupation by the Allied Powers of those various zones of which we have been hitherto in military possession. That occupation ceases in 1935, unless, when that time comes, there is adequate and reasonable ground for fearing future aggression either of Germany or of France, as the case may be. It is quite true that France had not, by the Treaty of Versailles, but by the collateral pact that was entered into between her and ourselves and the United States, a large additional and very material safeguard. That safeguard disappears through no fault of ours, and, therefore, I have always thought, and I still press upon the 601 consideration of Parliament that she cannot be placed in the same position of material—still more, perhaps, of senti-material and moral—security that she would have been, if that pact had been carried out; and, unless something is substituted for it, she gets—as I think she ought to get, as well as Germany and the people of the countries whose future territorial arrangements depend on the Treaty of Versailles are entitled to get—the assurance of a conjoint, solid, international guarantee of all those who, at any rate, are parties to the League of Nations.
If that be so; if this can be brought home; if these proposals have been made by Germany, and are open to consideration, we cannot help asking ourselves the question—I put it not in an ungenerous spirit; France has no older or better friend in this country than I am—why are things proceeding on the lines they are? For what purpose—and here, again, I address an inquiry to the Government —for the enforcement of what demand, are the French continuing and extending the occupation of the Ruhr and the adjacent country? Surely this ought to be plainly stated, so that it can be universally understood. Is it for the purpose of seeking to obtain from Germany, in the shape of reparation, £6.600,000,000, which was the sum estimated, as everybody now realises, under conditions which have become practically obsolete? Have the Government now got, or sought to get, from France, and distinct or definite statement whether that is her object? The continuance and extension of this operation, quite apart from the question of reparation, quite apart from the question of material and strategic security, is, if it is to continued on these lines, leading France into a position where, I regret—I hesitate to say it, hut it has to be said—she cannot carry this country with her.
What does it mean? It is no good blinking the fact. It is no good pretending; that realities are not realities. What does it mean? It means, or might mean, the creation, for an indefinite time, of a new Alsace-Lorraine situation. Peoples who, not only by race, but by historic association, and tradition and language, by all ties, domestic and communal, are German people, would during that time be 602 to all intents and purposes subject to an alien rule. That would be an appalling result, after all that has taken place since the beginning of the War—a war which was fought, as we all know, and many of us have proclaimed from the very beginning, as a war of emancipation and a war to prevent the domination of small States by large States, and the incorporation of alien populations in federations or in sovereignties to which they could never be honestly and genuinely loyal. It would be the most tragic commentary on wasted opportunities that history could afford, if you were going to set up again a system which it was our object to destroy, and to which we had hoped we had finally I put an end.
I earnestly hope that does not represent the goal to which French policy is tending. It would be a terrible thing, if we should sever the Entente, which has subsisted now for more than 20 years with the best possible results, as I believe, to. civilisation, and which, I hope and pray, may still continue, whatever friction and misunderstanding arises—it would be a terrible thing if that should have to come to an end. I do trust that, with this declaration on the part of Germany, and with-the assurance which we ought to be prepared to give, we shall do everything in our power to strengthen and to supplement the safeguards which are necessary for the future territorial security of France herself, and that the Government, will he able to give us to-day some hope that the situation is not so grave as it seems, and that they, at any rate, are not sitting with folded hands, but striving with all the power and authority which they possess, if they choose to exercise it, not only to re-establish to the full the Entente between France and ourselves, but to help along the road towards establishing in Europe a situation of stability and permanent peace.
§ 6.0 P.M.
Mr. J. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I wish to associate myself with what my right hon. Friend who has just sat down has said about. the gravity of the situation. The hon. and gallant Member for Oldham (Sir E. Grigg) who started the Debate told the House that, after having been for a long time right in the middle of it, he had had the opportunity of withdrawing himself, 603 and of viewing the matter from a distance. He said that from that point of view he could assure the House that it did not give enchantment to the view. I can assure the House, too, that those of us who during the last three or four weeks. have been right through this matter, and have been keeping in the closest touch with the French, Belgian, and German public opinion find the same lack of enchantment on the very close view that we have had to take of the situation. I hope the Government will accede to the request of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite and publish more papers, but I would warn the House that the publication of papers is not nearly enough. The right hon. Gentleman himself gave an illustration of how inadequate the mere publication of papers may be. The other day I met one or two of the leading members of the Belgian Chamber of Deputies, and I found that they were all under the impression that the offer made by the British Government in Paris last January was a pure and simple suggestion, that Belgian priority should be abandoned. I disputed the point with them. They assured me that I was wrong. When, however, the facts were given, and accurate statements quoted, it was discovered that they knew nothing about it. What was the proposal? I find it on page 117 of the Blue Book. This is the statement:So far, however, as the British Government is concerned it will be quite prepared to allow the existing priority to stand if the other Allies agree.That is a very important qualification. My only reason for reading it now is that I wish to draw the attention of the House to this fact: that this is not merely a question of publicity through the ordinary channels of the newspapers and other publications; if we are going to understand public opinion in France and Belgium, and if public opinion in France and Belgium is to understand us, we must do something more.
We, the Labour party, proposed the other day that the Parliaments should come more into contact one with the other. We saw quite plainly that the House of Commons was not prepared to agree to that Having been compelled to abandon that idea, we ourselves got into close contact with the corresponding bodies in the French, Belgian and Italian Parliaments. One of the first- 604 fruits of that discussion, I am glad to say, was to remove many misunderstandings and to help very materially to spread the light in certain sections at any rate; we could not do more! But the true opinion of France, Belgium and Italy now regards the position in this country in a certain light, and the fruit of that is the statement to which my right hon. Friend referred, that the Foreign Minister of Germany, addressing the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, on the invitation of those who belong to a similar party to ourselves, made clear for the first time since the occupation of the Ruhr, the general position—and I emphasise that—which the German Government occupy in relation to this matter. I feel perfectly certain that if we would only pursue these methods, we could bring public opinion to a further state of enlightenment. We can first of all enlighten the public opinions of the various countries, and then bring the peoples of the various countries together, and all these horrible and menacing clouds that are hanging so dark and low over our heads at this moment will, we trust., totally disappear.
A great deal of the difficulty we have to face now is the silence of our Government. I find that opinion held by practically everybody of good will and good intentions amongst our Allies. "Why," they say, "will not our Government speak?" This policy of France has been going on now for roughly two months—that is the occupation of the Ruhr.
It was, we are told, first of all started to secure reparations. It was soon plain that reparations could not he obtained in that way. Not only that, but. it was soon evident that if this policy was to be pursued, given the very best of will on the part of Germany, the most honest intention on the part of Germany, this policy was going to make it impossible for Germany to pay the reparations she would be prepared to pay. I ask for the official figures of the results of the occupation in terms of reparations. The December figures on which the defalcation was announced exhibited 80 per cent. of payment. The January figures, a part of which month was worked without any trouble, and the latter of which was 605 worked under occupation conditions, only produced 40 per cent. In February the production and delivery only amounted to 47 per cent. March production and delivery is not going to be very much better. Everyone who understands the situation there sees what appears to be perfectly plain before us, that in the Ruhr the French and the Germans are entering upon a contest in which neither of them means to allow an end until one or the other is beaten down to his knees. It is nonsense to say that the German workman in the Ruhr is being egged on by support from outside. We have sent there very competent inquirers, very capable men, to see what is going on, and to report to us the result, and there is not the least doubt that what is being done in the Ruhr, the industrial and political action now being taken in the Ruhr, is spontaneous, and comes from the will, intention, and determination of the people themselves, and it will not be ended until it is absolutely impossible for them to carry it on one day longer.
On the other hand, the French show no signs of weakening, no signs of yielding. The question now comes to be: How long is this deadlock going to last? We get estimates of three months, four months, some of them six months, but whenever one comes to discuss the situation with anyone in authority they agree, one and all, in saying: "Why does not the British Government state where it stands?" I would remind my right hon. Friend that when a tendency like this is in operation silence helps neither side. It deprives the silent country of credit and respect. It does nothing whatever to protect the interests that the silent country ought to protect. I do not know whether it is quite the right thing here to refer to the admirable work of those who are defending our interests and the honour of our country at the present time. Under the circumstances, however, I think it would be less than our duty and less than fair play for this House to refrain from giving a gesture of grateful thanks to General Godley and Mr. Pigott for what they have been doing in the interests of this country in an exceptionally trying situation. They have to stand between two fires. They have to steer a way, which they have done with extraordinary genius, between the various difficulties. I do not believe that we could have got 606 two men who would have performed that almost impossible task with greater and more conspicuous success than the gentlemen I have named. But I do not think the Government has treated them fairly. I know perfectly well what are the difficulties with which the Government are confronted. But nine-tenths of them are, I think, of their own making. When you start a policy of silence, when are you going to break it? You cannot do it! The only thing that the Government can do now consistent with its own dignity is to wait until the crisis comes. Surely we have got a different function from that? It is not consistent either with the responsibility or the duty of this country to allow this struggle, this grim, determined struggle, to go on in the Ruhr week after week, month after month, and have nothing material to say about it until one or the other faints and fails! What right have we then to come in either with advice or a demand that we should be consulted in the solution?
I think the Government ought to have seen right at the beginning that its duty was to say something defining its own position quite clearly. Its present position is not a position at all. It is merely drift. A neutral position is of little use. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs shakes his head. He has allowed the explanation and the excuse about reparations to go on. As my hon. Friend has said, quite truly, it is not only reparation that is going, but if you discuss this question now with French publicists you will find that they are not standing upon securities. The whole controversy has moved from off that plane, and is moving on to a totally different plane—I will call it crudely, and with, I trust, sufficient accuracy for hon. Members to understand what is in my mind—the crude plane of imperialism, of possession, of domination!
All the time our Government takes up the position of benevolent neutrality, and still, apparently, imagines that benevolent neutrality is a position at all. It is nothing of the kind. The Government could have spoken on one or two points. It could, first of all, have spoken perfectly definitely about trade, and I venture to say that it has not. It is perfectly true that it has made a protest here and a protest there, and has negotiated and put very heavy burdens upon our Cologne representatives regarding trade; but it has never said quite clearly," We are 607 not going to allow our trade to be hampered." It has never said in public, so far as I know, it has never said to the French—and I want a perfectly clear, definite and unequivocal statement saying, "We insist upon the right of our traders to use the Rhine, to have their contracts fulfilled, to be subject to no impediments to which we ourselves do not agree. We stand for the same conditions after the occupation as before the occupation," and put in such a way that everyone understands where we are. Certainly, the correspondence one has with the Chamber of Commerce in Cologne does not bear out the suggestion that I see my right hon. Friend is making when he rather disagrees with what I am stating at the present time.
There is another point. We ought to have insisted before now on some know-]edge of the French intentions. It was our duty; it should have been done; and, had it been done, the sinister developments that have gone on since would have been impossible. What is the position to-day? What is really happening is that now the tide has turned so far as opinion is concerned. In Germany, the Government is facing an increasingly difficult position. Unemployment is beginning to spread, and in Saxony, in particular, unemployment has serious political consequences. Therefore, we have in Germany now a Government ready to move, if the opportunity is given to it for moving. I am glad to see that we have been helpful in giving it the opportunity, and the statement that was made yesterday is a beginning. I do hope that the Government is going to recognise the statement made yesterday. I hope the Government is going to recognice it as a basis, at any rate, for negotiations, for inquiry, for sounding, as the beginning of a settlement that will ultimately be regarded as satisfactory. What hope can this country have of any settlement of reparations unless a settlement is come to by an impartial outside committee? A committee of business men has been suggested. What hope has France for reparations from Germany now of any importance or of any size at all, unless Germany gets the international financial hacking that will eventuate in a loan which will enable Germany to make a settlement? France, ourselves, and Belgium cannot possibly hope to get 608 reparations to any substantial extent from Germany unless it be by so changing the economic condition of Germany and the political condition of Germany that both will bear the issue of a loan.
The statement made yesterday gives some promise of that. I hope the Government is going to take that. statement as a promising beginning, and to recognise it at least in such a way that this deadlock in the Ruhr is going to he solved. Then, as regards Belgium, what is happening in Belgium is this. I think the Prime Minister—whom we all regret is not here to-day, and the reason for whose absence we regret more particularly —told us once that M. Theunis left Paris, after supporting France, under the impression that he was going to his doom, and that, very much to his surprise, when he got back to Brussels he found that the country was behind him. That is perfectly true, but the change of opinion in Belgium since then has been simply enormous. Belgium to-day is more and more united against the policy, both economic and political, of the Ruhr, and would be only too glad if an opportunity were given for a reconsideration of the whole matter from a new point of view and with a new idea of a settlement. It is exactly the same in Italy. Signor Mussolini supported France because France promised him a More prompt and more ample delivery of coal. He has got none, or, if he has got any, he is getting it in pounds avoirdupois instead of in scores of tons. And so to-day there is exactly the same change in Italian public opinion as.there is in Belgian and French public opinion.
It is perfectly true, as I think the hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate said, that there are certain publicists who have been writing in favour of this country—publicists like Philip Millet —who now are writing rather against us. Yes, but on the other hand there is a change in other quarters. There was a bye-election this week to fill the seat in the Senate occupied by the late M. Ribot, and at that bye-election the trend of French public opinion was magnificently shown, for the Republican of the Left was returned by a large vote, comparatively—because Senate votes are not large—and the runner-up was a member of the Socialist party, who had two-thirds of the votes recorded for the Republican of the Left. These are things which show 609 how the wind blows. I hope to hear the Debate in the Chamber of Deputies myself on Friday, when the Chamber is considering the question that we are considering now, and I feel perfectly certain that that Debate, whatever the result is going to be in the Division Lobby—and it may be that the result in the Division Lobby will be very much the result which has shown itself hitherto, and those who know French politics, and know the Division Lobbies of the Chamber of Deputies, know perfectly well that the day before the Revolution the Government vote is going to be as big as ever it was—I am perfectly certain that the Debate on Friday on the Ruhr will show a very considerable change in mind in a large section of the French Deputies.
I refer to these things as showing that the change is coming, and that, if we are to recognise that the change is coming, we have to make our position clear now, and not after the events have all taken place. The things we must do are these: We should make our position regarding trade quite clear. We have done it to a certain extent, but have not gone nearly far enough, and have not. been nearly stiff enough. We ought. to take up an attitude to the German Foreign Minister's statement made yesterday to the Foreign Relations Committee. I would also like to ask, on my own behalf, how long it is since His Majesty's Government knew that that statement which was made yesterday could be made—whether there was any opportunity of making it. If I am properly informed—and I observed that my right hon. Friend who sits beside me put a question which indicated to me that he also had the same information—His Majesty's Government was not informed of that only this morning or last night. In any event, the second thing is that the Government should ask France quite definitely, in a friendly way, what her policy is, and what she proposes to get from the continued occupation of the Ruhr. Thirdly, and this is just as essential as the others. we ought to make our own position clear. It is very important to rernember—I think some of our Continental friends are forgetting it—that we signed the Treaty of Versailles. It is rather odd that that should have to be noted, but whoever reads Continental opinion must be surprised to find that apparently it is a common thing for our critics abroad to forget that we were 610 signatories to the Treaty of Versailles. As signatories to that Treaty, we have both the right and the duly to make our position clear on what is going on now in the Ruhr and in the region of the Rhine. This is absolutely essential. We should make it clear that, although the French have gone into the Ruhr without the consent of Great Britain, and have thereby destroyed all hope of reparation, that does not give the French any additional rights under the Treaty, nor does it destroy Britain's rights under the Treaty. That is a point which I think it is very urgently necessary to make quite clear.
Moreover, we are told that it would be taken as a hostile or unfriendly act if we expressed our views, but I do not think it would be. We are told that, if we were to interfere in any way, if we were to make suggestions of solutions, in an official way as a Government, which were not in accordance with certain things that are being done at the present time, it would be a case of "Please take your hands off." We ought not to accept that situation for a moment. It is very humiliating to us, and it is more than that; it is depriving us of our moral obligation as a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles. We are responsible for this position as much as anyone else, and we cannot go away and simply wash our hands in public like a Pilate, saying, "Your blood be upon your own heads; we have no responsibility for this." We have a responsibility for it., and it is perfectly right that we should say so in such a way as to leave no doubt as to the fact that we claim those rights and we accept that responsibility. I think I am entitled to assure hon. Members that, so far from that making enemies, it will, as a matter of fact, make friends. There is nothing that tends to good understanding more than a perfectly straight, friendly statement to nations and peoples with whom we have been accustomed to co-operate. Therefore, all I wish to say in supplement of what has been said is to appeal again to the Government to make its position more definite. Some of us during the last. two or three weeks have been working as hard as we could to bring about this understanding, not between Governments, which at present is not the most important thing, but. between one national public opinion and another national public opinion, in the 611 hope that the clouds will disappear and that the dangers and threats of war will become mere things of the past.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Baldwin)
The absence of the Prime Minister must be a source of great regret to the House. He had hoped and expected until this morning to be present at the Debate and speak, but when I saw him at about 10 o'clock it was plain that his voice had not sufficiently recovered to enable him to address the House. It was with great regret that he had to give it up and leave the conduct. of the Debate to me. I am intervening for a short space only, because I only want to make as clear as I can the position of the Government, and I shall leave my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to deal with questions which have arisen and will arise in the Debate more directly concerned with the Foreign Office, with which he is far more familiar than I am. I should like. to join in the universal congratulations to my hon. and gallant. Friend the Member for Oldham (Sir E. Grigg) on his maiden speech. He made one realise how he was able to capture at the first assault the city which provided Mr. Winston Churchill with the first seat in the House. There was one point of my hon. Friend on which I can reassure him. He expressed a hope that we were keeping in close touch in this matter with the Dominions. We are and we intend to do so. My right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) desired the publication of Papers relating to the Conference held last August. I am sure he will understand that all I can say at this moment is that I will consult the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. and I hope it may be possible to give effect to his desire. There was one point my right hon. Friend mentioned about the discussion in January and the question of the priority of Belgium. That was answered by the Leader of the Labour party, who pointed out, what my right hon. Friend had for the moment forgotten, that these questions affecting the priority of Belgium were withdrawn the moment it was seen they were terms which would be inacceptable.
This is the fourth or fifth Debate we have had on this subject in the last 10 weeks. I do not think anyone can find 612 fault with that, because this whole question of the Ruhr occupation is one which touches our people very closely and causes both the Government and the people of this country the gravest anxiety, but the discussions following so closely upon one another often make it impossible or very difficult from one Debate to another that anything now can be found to be said. The only new thing which has appeared to-day, so far as I have been able to follow the Debate, is that in preceding Debates many suggestion have been made to the Government as to what they ought to do, and to-day hardly a single suggestion of any kind has been made at all, except that we should negotiate and to follow up proposals which may be made by other people. I think that is a very natural position to arrive at, because the root difficulty of this case, as has been said in this House more than once, is that there exists to-day, and has existed during the last few months, a profound but genuine difference of opinion between ourselves on the one side and our Allies on the other as to the policy which has been adopted. The French would maintain that in taking the step they have clone they have only taken a step which we threatened to take two years ago, and that has been put before us very plainly and it is a very difficult question to answer.
At, the moment, they have shown themselves singularly unwilling to accept intervention of any kind, and it is that attitude on their part, and on the part of the Allies acting with them, which has so far presented a door banged, bolted and barred against many of tile. ordinary methods of approach which in ordinary times might lead to a settlement. I remember early in this Session there was a most interesting Debate on a subject. on which we all held views, and that. was the possibility of bringing the whole question before the League of Nations. That possibility, of course, has been explored, as every other possibility has, and I do not know that there is anything to add to-day to what was said in that Debate. I think, perhaps, a remark that fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Aber axon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) really gave us, I think unconsciously to him, a clue to the whole situation. He said this struggle will not end until one party is beaten to its knees.
613 That is a very terrible statement, and if it were true in effect it would be disastrous to Europe and to the, world. I hope and believe it is an exaggeration, but it immediately suggested this to me, and I think the analogy is a very true one and I make no excuse for using it in a House which I am sure will be able to follow it. The position politically in Europe to-day is almost precisely on all fours with the position in this country when you are at the beginning of a very grave and extended strike. You have exactly the same temper—a temper which will brook no interference. You have exactly the same talk in the Press and by the publicists, which was even given effect to in this House by so practised a politician and so keen a student of foreign affairs as my hon. Friend who recently spoke.
We all know—and no one knows better than the late Prime Minister, with all the amazing success which fell to his lot in steering this country through one of the most anxious years of trade disputes that it. ever survived—that, in a strike, the nature of which I have attempted to describe, premature interference leads to disaster, and it is only by keeping in close, friendly, honest, direct and straightforward touch continuously with the parties to that strike that the man outside, who has the power later on of helping to bring it to an end, can strike in at the right moment and be welcomed by both parties and can really effect, or help to effect, that settlement, whereas if he interfered before the psychological moment has come. and before the temper was ready, he might prolong the struggle. He might, certainly, render his own position, when opportunity did come, such that he would be incapable of rendering any help.
I think it is profoundly true of the situation between France and Germany to-day. I believe the moment will come when our services to our Allies and Germany may be of inestimable value. I am certain that if we were so to conduct our conversations with our Allies as to lose their confidence, or make them feel we were taking an what, rightly or wrongly, they would describe as an attitude of hostility, our whole power, which I believe is going to he immense presently, would be dissipated. I can assure the House that the 614 Government is in close touch continually, both with the Allies and with the other country concerned, and that the moment we believe that by any form of such intervention, or anything else, we may take a step forward to bring nearer that peace for which Europe has waited so long, and that settlement of debts and reparations without which we can see no continuous improvement of international trade—we are still hoping the time may come when we can do this, and we are firmly convinced that up to now, in the past few weeks, we have pursued the only course possible for this country. We have preserved the friendship of our Allies, and their confidence and their trust, and I believe we should be accepted by Germany as an honest negotiator when the time came. We have those advantages to-day, and I see nothing at this moment—I only speak of the moment—which should induce us to step aside from the path in which we have hitherto trodden. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Sir E. Grigg) that we have been perfectly straight with the French. They know one position, and they know our view. We shall continue to be straight with them, and I believe it is from the fact that we have been straight with them, and they know exactly what we feel and what we mean, that we preserve to this day, as we do, both their friendship and their respect. The hon. Member also made some remarks about the trade of our country, and he paid a very well-deserved tribute to our representatives in the Rhineland. I cordially endorse every word he said. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who will speak during the Debate, is prepared to tell the House what steps are being taken, and what the result of those steps have been. I do not think I can add anything of use to what I have already said. I regret profoundly the absence of the Prime Minister to-day. It is always of the greatest importance. to the House of Commons that matters of such high policy as this should be dealt with by the head of the Government. I trust it may not be long before my right hon. Friend's voice has completely recovered, and he is able to take his part in our Debates.
§ Brigadier-General SPEARS
Three months ago the French Government occupied the Ruhr. Since then the House has 615 listened to many Debates on this subject. These Debates have, I am sure, been extremely useful and extremely necessary, but so far they have not resulted in obtaining any definition of policy from the Government, unless the admission that England can do nothing be taken as a statement of policy. I am going to attempt to put forward a constructive suggestion. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Government is often criticised, but seldom is a constructive suggestion put forward. I am going to speak on the possibilities of demilitarisation. I have listened with much interest to what the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) had to say on this subject. He said that demilitarisation was of no value, as it was included already in the Treaty; but he did not explain that demilitarisation was linked up with the pact of mutual guarantee, which did give France additional security. France sees the Treaty whittled down until she has felt that there was very little hope of security to be derived from it. I submit that the French ought to know how far we are prepared to go, and what are the terms we are prepared to accept. If it is shown that some scheme for demilitarisation would satisfy a section of French opinion, and give the French nation that security which they require, I feel certain that the right hon. Member for Paisley would be the first to welcome such a suggestion.
By demilitarisation I mean that the left. hank of the Rhine and certain territories on the right bank including the Ruhr should be kept entirely free of military forces, either French or German, that within this territory no fortifications of any kind should be erected, that no recruiting should take place, and that the great strategic railways that run through this zone should not be available for mobilisation or transporting troops. This territory would in no wise be severed from Germany, either economically or politically. It would remain an integral portion of the Reich. These conditions could be enforced by the League of Nations. It goes without saying that the Franco-German frontier would remain unaltered, and that. the French troops at present in occupation of Germany would retire to their own country and behind their own frontier, freeing Germany absolutely and at once of the presence of foreign troops. This is my suggestion. 616 If it were possible to induce the French to retire even a very few kilometres on their side of the frontier, I would very much welcome the idea, but I fear that that is impossible.
May I point out some of the advantages of the plan I propose? We all know that the chief requirement of France is security. Most people in this country sympathise with the French in this requirement, and it is abundantly evident that until France has obtained the security which she requires the Franco-German problem will remain unsolved. It has become increasingly evident that a good deal of French opinion would accept. some such scheme as satisfactory from the point of view of security, and it is easy to see why. If a Germany bent on war cannot. use the strategic railways of the Rhineland, which were built to a great extent for the express purpose of rapidly mobilising millions of men, she would have to mobilise far back to the East, well into her own territory, and advance her armies across her own country, as she was wont to do across the country of her enemy. Even were she, on the outbreak of hostilities, to send a light force into this zone, she might take possession of it and she might use the railways, but she could not use them for mobilisation. To mobilise an army, an obstacle behind which you can mobilise is required. The Germans used to use the Rhine as a screen behind which they mobilised their army. If they could riot use the Rhine they would have to use the Weser, miles and miles away. This is so true that the French, who had not the natural advantage of a river behind which to mobilise, had to build a screen of forts from Verdun to St. Michel, in order to provide that security behind which an army in its initial stages, when it is most, vulnerable, requires protection. If the strategic railways of the Rhineland were not available to the German military powers, the ramps and sidings which are essential to mobilising and entraining large numbers of men would be, of course, lacking.
The world under this plan would have ample warning of Germany's intention. Germany would have declared war on the League by violating a zone for which the League was responsible. The aggressor would be unmasked. No stealthy manœuvre would be possible. Time 617 would be given for the world to decide on its action. We all know that one of France's chief anxieties is her dwindling population. The measure which I propose, if adopted, would tend to equalise the man-power of the two countries. The 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 of Germans who inhabit the Rhineland would no longer be available as potential soldiers. I do not think the Rhinelanders themselves within a few years' time would much lament having lost the privilege of serving as soldiers in the Prussian Army. It may be said that there is no military service in Germany to-day. The whole point is that the French fear that, on the first opportunity, the Germans will make their man-power available, and will use their enormous preponderance of population to overwhelm France. France is fearful of that. She has conquered because the world was with her. She is still on the pinnacle on which we did so much to place her. Can she stand there long alone?
When 1935 conies and France is bound to evacuate the Rhineland, what is going to happen then? If she does not come to some arrangement now, when she has something in hand, when she still has the sympathy of the world, what will her position be then.? I think she would he mistaken if she relied upon us in 1935 to support her if her policy then was the policy that she is pursuing to-day. France is the lesser nation in population. She cannot retain her domination very long. When she goes, as go she must one day, how long will it be before the forces of vengeance follow? Already, farseeing men in France understand this, and would welcome a plan such as the one I have outlined. They would welcome it because it would mean a solution of their present difficulties. Perhaps the most important of all the advantages of a demilitarised zone that France and Germany would be separated by a vast expanse of territories where soldiers are unknown. Armies separated by a frontier only cast long shadows before them, the shadows of war, shadows that stretch out and darken the lives of nations, that stretch out across continents from the frontier fortress to the cabinet council chambers in distant capitals.
So much for France. I believe that the advantages of this scheme are quite incontestible for France, and I 618 believe that the scheme is also advantageous for Germany. I believe that the demilitarisation of the Rhineland would arouse no feelings of outrage or injustice in Germany, and that, if she is sincere in her desire to discharge her obligations, she would accept this proposal. There is here no question of dismemberment. Not a single German will cease being a German under this scheme. Germany will remain entirely German, politically and economically. I would remind the House that this plan is quite compatible within the Treaty. Articles 42 and 44 provide for the perpetual demilitarisation of the Rhineland, as the House has already been reminded by the right hon. Member for Paisley. There is also provision in Article 213, under which the League of Nations could perfectly well be charged with the duties I have outlined. Germany would therefore not be asked to accept any new obligations, and there is no reason why she should resist such a plan. At present, Germany is on the verge of ruin. The heart of the country is occupied by foreign and hostile troops and there is no prospect of their withdrawal. In fact, the French have announced that the beginning of the occupation under the Treaty has not yet started. Undoubtedly and inevitably, at the rate at which things arc going at present, the German nation will come to feel that the only solution is in the hope of some day fighting a war of liberation and vengeance. My plan, if it he put before them, offers them art honourable way out of their disastrous position, in the same way as it offers a way out for France. I have no illusions as to the difficulties of translating this idea into action. One of the chief dangers and difficulties is that certain Frenchmen are talking of a buffer State, a new republic of the Rhine. Even an autonomous State within the Reich is quite unacceptable. I, for one, would absolutely oppose any such suggestion, and it would certainly find no favour in this country.
The Rhineland is the very heart of Germany. The whole legend and history of the country are centred round that beautiful part, and to separate the Rhineland from Germany is unthinkable. The Rhineland is far more German than Alsace-Lorraine was ever French, and 619 an attempt at separating it from Germany would most certainly create war. It is therefore not to be countenanced under any circumstances. I do not believe that the section of opinion in France which advocates such a solution as a Rhine Republic represents the most far-seeing statesmen there. It is based, like everything else in France, on fear for the future. One way of meeting that fear is by insisting upon the further guarantee of security which France requires, and which would be provided by the Pact of Mutual Guarantee, which will come before the League of Nations at its next Assembly, and which, I believe, is at present being considered by the Committee of Imperial Defence. The representatives of France and England have both approved in principle of this Pact. Its adoption would do much towards clearing the ground for a final solution of the Ruhr problem. The Pact provides for mutual defence by members of the League in case of menace or attack. I suggest that the Pact, with a demilitarised Germany, might provide the solution required. There is one point, however, which I think it necessary to underline. That is that it will he absolutely necessary to convince France and Belgium that the League is capable of carrying out the obligation placed upon it. Personally, I should have thought that a mere body of inspectors, with wide powers, if they are sufficiently numerous, would have sufficed to carry this nut, but I suppose that a gendarmerie of the League of Nations might be insisted upon as well in any case, I do not imagine that France would ever consent to evacuate until, first, she was convinced that the League was strong enough to take over and enforce the proper demilitarisation. Even so, she would not forego her right of searching for arms in Germany, which was contained in the Peace Treaty, although that, I think, might take a somewhat different form than at present. France should also he assured that she will not have to forego Reparations. With this I do not propose to deal, hut I do not see why the League should not also he made responsible for collecting Reparations, once they are placed on a sound basis.
I should hope that if such a plan were adopted Germany would become, as soon 620 as possible, a member of the League of Nations. Our chief difficulty in dealing with Germany is that at present she does not trust the League of Nations. She considers that she is always meeting France and Belgium when she goes off under the belief that she is going to meet the League. That, of course, would have to be changed, if a plan like this were adopted successfully. The League must be the League, and nothing but the League. It would be quite wrong if the League handed over its powers to Belgium and France. Some over-zealous friends of the League would not entrust any of this work to the League. They believe that it. would be over-taxing its strength: but, surely, the League would lose far more than it could possibly gain by shirking its responsibilities. I am afraid opinion in Germany is hardening to the struggle. She is not in a mood to give way. I fear that the breaking point may soon be reached if something is not done. The Communist and reactionary elements in Germany are gaining strength. The comparatively weak Central Government cannot hold these forces of disorder for long in check. There is also, I fear, grave and imminent danger of an explosion in. the Ruhr. I would remind the House that in pre-War days Germany kept a large military garrison in almost every town in her Empire. In the Ruhr, alone, owing to the risk of friction because of the difficult character of the population, a minimum of troops was maintained. One must remember what a danger there is. The 50,000 French troops would be lost among the 5,000,000 inhabitants of that region, might be absolutely swept away at any moment, and you might have Sicilian Vespers on a scale unheard of in this country. Once fighting has been started on the Ruhr the worst elements in Germany would draw to the spot, and all the might of France could do nothing to stop the bloodshed. The horrors of street fighting on such a scale would actually make the siege of Saragossa pale.
I submit that in view of this danger we are entitled to ask that the Government should publish a plan. The world is waiting for a lead. Belgium is, perhaps, not too happy about the part she is playing in the drama. Italy has practically withdrawn from co-operation. Switzerland, Holland, and Sweden are suffering very heavily industrially. We know that 621 the United States are with us in the desire to see the military occupation of the Ruhr come to a close. Whatever the Prime Ministers of France and Germany may say in public, we know the fact remains that those two nations are most anxious for a just settlement. If we cannot intervene, we can at least make a statement of policy. We cannot impose a solution, but surely we can offer suggestions. If our suggestions lead to heated discussion in France and in Germany, so much the better. To provoke serious discussion of such a plan is the first step towards a final settlement. Until there is a plan to discuss, discussions will not begin. Until discussions have begun, an agreement can never be reached. What I ask is that the Government should give the stamp of its approval to some plan for a permanent settlement of the Ruhr.
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon and gallant Member for Loughborough (Brigadier-General Spears) and, also, in common with other Members of the House, to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Oldham (Sir E. Grigg). I do not understand clearly what the hon. and gallant, Member for Loughborough is suggesting. Does he mean that, what he suggests is within the Treaty, or it is taking advantage of the present situation to inflict further penalties and to take away other powers from the sovereignty of Germany? That is what I am not clear about.
§ Brigadier-General SPEARS
The powers are within the Treaty. I suggest the linking up of this working arrangement. with the new Pact of Mutual Guarantee.
In that case, it seems to me, so far as I can follow it, to be some extension of the Treaty. My own opinion is that we are face to face with wrong being done to Germany in defiance of the word we ourselves gave. We were responsible for the disarmament of Germany. We made an Armistice, the terms of which have not been carried out. Therefore, there is a certain moral responsibility. Whether we are able to early it out, or not, I cannot say, but there is a moral responsibility on us toward the Germans, because they laid down their arms on certain terms, and the Treaty which we made with them, and forced them to sign, is not being observed 622 to-day. That should be made quite clear by the Government. I totally disagree with what Lord Derby says, that morally you are right and practically you are wrong. My opinion is, and it is shared by others, that morally as well as practically you are wrong.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
in the case of voluntary default it is laid down in the Peace Treaty that the respective Powers may take Such measures as they think necessary. Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman say that Germany had not made a voluntary default?
In the first place, our representative officially gave his view that it. was not a voluntary default. In the second place, when somebody else, not big and powerful like France, but a comparatively small country like Rumania, attempted to take up the same standpoint, all the Allies, headed by M. Clemenceau, told her roundly that she was not acting within the Treaty. Those are two simple answers to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's interruption. I rose to deal with the special aspect of this question, not the exalted aspect which has been the subject of debate hitherto, but a plain business aspect—the harm clone to our interest by this proceeding. As the House knows our people who are trading with the occupied territory, and indeed with the unoccupied territory as well. are subject to two authorities. They arc first subject to the German Government, and then they are subject to the French and Belgian administration, and goods coming into the Ruhr or the Rhineland have to pay duties to the Franco-Belgian customs and goods leaving have also to pay these duties, without at the same time escaping the duties which they owe—money duties and formalities—to the German Government.
I have, one case in mind of a firm which had actually paid double duties and if the President of the Board of Trade wishes particulars I can give them. But that is not the worst trouble. The worst trouble is this conflict of authority which is paralysing our trade in these districts. I have spoken with many traders. They have not said that it is so much the money, although that does come into the question, but they complain that they never know whether they can carry on their trade or whether, as soon as they 623 have got from one control and run into another control, consignments of goods which they need are held up, they know not where, and never reach their destination. It may he said, "Why do they not comply with the Franco-Belgian orders. as these powers exercise the de factocustoms administration?" The answer is that the German Government regard compliance with the Franco-Belgian orders as trading with the enemy. We were familiar during the War with the sort of penalties inflicted on traders who traded with the enemy. That is the attitude of the German Government towards firms who comply in every respect with these French demands.
Moreover, the German Government, as one of the penalties, have announced that when goods, in respect of which the orders have been complied with, reach this country and a demand is made for the reimbursement of the 26 per cent., which we deduct under the German Reparations Act, they will not reimburse the amount. We debated this matter at some length on Monday night, and the Government did not appear to know that this was being done. I do not know where they get their information. The Chancellor, I presume, had only the customs information, hut the President of the Board of Trade has the information available at the Board of Trade and from the Overseas Trade Department, and knows that the German Government have made it clear that they will not reimburse this 26 per cent. That is sufficient in itself to paralyse trade with this country. The British Chamber of Commerce in Cologne wrote to our Foreign Office setting out their grievances. I have their questions here, and the answers which the Foreign Office gave, and which are highly unsatisfactory. They say, for example:Are the orders of the German Government or those of the Inter-Allied 'nine Commission to be obeyed in reference to the import and export of goods?The answer is:British traders within the area are subject to the Rhineland High Commission, and are obliged to recognise all the orders of that central body in accordance with the legislative power conferred on them. In the event of their goods being exported or imported through unoccupied Germany and the German Government also levying charges on them His Majesty's Government are not in a position to protest or claim recovery of those charges.624 That is not a very helpful answer to traders who are working very often with trade calculated to the last centime. Then the British Chandler of Commerce ask:Will British merchants or other British businesses in the occupied territories be justified in pleading force majeure should actions be brought against them in England. because many people are anxious to import goods from Germany?The answer of the Foreign Office is:The questions is one which would have to be decided in the Law Courts.The next question is:Will British-owned goods, property, and money in occupied territory be liable to arrest, seizure, or other action which may be determined upon hr the French-Belgian military authorities or the Commission in pursuance of the present coercive policy?The answer is:All goods imported or exported without licence or permit or in breach of the terms of such licence or permit are in practice liable to seizure by the French-Belgian authorities,and they add, that if there is any special hardship they will inquire into it. The position is that. British trade in this district is paralysed and the Government is impotent to assist, and when we had a Debate the other night I was surprised by the speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said:I understand that the German Government is certainly carrying out its undertaking about the 26 per cent.That is denied flatly by the traders in Cologne. The second thing he said was,I am advised that up to now there is no sign of our trade as a whole with Germany falling off. I am not saying that signs may not appear, hut not so far.Who would judge from an answer of that kind that for some days past, probably a week, the one service of steamers that goes from London to Cologne viâ the Rhine has been entirely suspended. and that this business is practically at an end. It may be stated in reply that these statements are only alarms and fears, but that no actual damage has been done. I do not wish to weary the House with examples, but. I have here three good examples. One man who purchases in this territory for export to South Africa and the Colonies, and whose purchases are calculated to the centime, says that he cannot stand such expense—that is the 10 per cent. imposed.
625 The second case is that of a British firm in London who had a large consignment of knives from Solingen which they were going to export to India. These unfortunate people wrote to the Foreign Office three or four days ago, because their consignment had been stopped, hut up to this morning they had no reply. Not because the Overseas Trade Department is not anxious to help them, but because it is completely powerless in the matter.
I would suggest that the Government should show more activity on behalf of its own traders. The complaints are very bitter and are very real. The Government may say they have no means of action. That is a confession of impotence on behalf of the British Government, which is rather sorry hearing, but when the Government were negotiating with the French on the subject of railway arrangements, as to the number of trains to be permitted to go through Cologne in support of the French occupation, why were not these negotiations made the occasion for getting some concession out of the French on behalf of our traders? The right hon. Gentleman, no doubt, in his reply will say that certain arrangements had been made, but I would draw attention to the fact that the so-called special arrangements only referred to trade up to 20th or 25th February. That is not the important point. Here is a trade which is based on a constant interchange of goods between this country and Germany, and that trade up to the 25th February, though it may involve loss to our traders, is not so important as the making of arrangements to maintain the flow of goods between foreign countries and this country.
This is only one aspect of the case. The Government persist in saying that they are waiting, and they represent their position as one of strength and reserve. The First Lord of the Admiralty, I think, has given a much more accurate explanation of the position of the Government and of what the power of this country has been reduced to, not only by the action of this Government but mainly by the operations of the late Government. In my judgment, he adequately sums up the position when he pointed out that not only in the Ruhr but also in reference to the rest of Europe, this country is very much in the position of a timid old lady 626 trying to interfere in a dog fight. That, I think, is an adequate description of the pass to which we have been reduced by the Government policy. I do beg this timid old lady to stir her stumps a little and do something in the interests of her children, who are trying to build up the family business.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir P. Lloyd-Greame)
I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised this question, because a great deal more has been done than he seems to think. I agree that the whole of our position has been subjected to great impediments in the way of trade between this country and different parts of the occupied area, though it is noticeable that the actual figures of the monthly trade passing between this country and Germany in the month of February show singularly little diminution.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Germany is Germany. A very large portion is coming through Hamburg. The suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not accurate in his statement that the actual volume of trade did not appear to be seriously diminished. The monthly average imports into this country from Germany during the last quarter of 1922 were £2,600,000. In January, which was partly a period of occupation and partly not, the imports were £2,800,000; in February, which was a short month, the imports were £2,760,000. The monthly average of exports from this country to Germany in the last quarter of last year were £2,560,000. In January they were £2,120,000, and in February £2,363,000, so that there is, after all, a considerable volume of trade still going on.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that if you send trade viâ, Hamburg you add to the cost of trade and ultimately kill the trade while you are improving the figures?
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
There is no coal coming out of Germany; there is a large quantity of coal in the export figures, but it is not accurate to say that the whole trade between Germany and this country has been stopped by the action of the French. I am not prepared to accept the view that every single thing which the French do is wrong, and that every single thing which the Germans do is right. It is a point of view which is not infrequently expressed by hon. Members opposite. Of course, trade would be very much simplified were a general settlement made, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman is utterly wrong in supposing that the British Government have taken no steps to secure the greatest possible facilities for British trade during the period of occupation and before a settlement can he reached. The Leader of the Opposition said, "Why do you not do something for trade in this period? You ought to make a statement which shows exactly what is the British position." I submit that it is much more effective to enter into detailed negotiations with the French in a friendly way than to make speeches here, and to say that the attitude of the British Government ought to be this or ought to be that. We did tell the French, and we have told the Germans that the facilities for British trade during the period of the occupation were of the greatest importance to this country, and we have got results which would not have been attained had we taken the action which one hon. and gallant Gentleman who has spoken to-day desired us to take. I will state the facts, and leave the House to judge where now the responsibility lies between France and Germany for the hold-up of British trade.
As hon. Members know, there was a large number of contracts being executed in the occupied territories. What we tried to get was an arrangement by which all the contracts entered into by our people, and all trade going between the occupied territory and this country, or between this country and the occupied territory, should be subject to the same obligations, whether financial or administrative, as they would have been subject to had the occupation not taken place. That seemed to me to be a fair suggestion to put forward. What are the facts? The French and the Belgians are in the occupation of the Ruhr and other terri- 628 tories. The arrangements made are these: We contended that trade going in and out should be subject to the same obligations as it was subject to before the occupation. Before the occupation licence had to be applied for and a duty had to be paid on imports and on exports. It is true that when the French originally took over from the Germans the control of the Customs offices, they said they could not all in a moment put into force the German tariff which had hitherto been in operation. That is quite understandable. What one had to get was a practicable solution. As a matter of fact, that difficulty is now being overcome. My action in the matter has been neither pro-German nor pro-French, but pro-British.
As regards imports the provisions are these: Wherever a licence had to be applied for before the occupation, a licence has now to be applied for. The tariff, the import duty, which the French are enforcing, is generally the German tariff as it existed in April, 1922. In some respects it is slightly lower than the tariff which existed just before the advance into the Ruhr. There are also to-day, as there have been under the German tariff, articles on the free list. There were some articles which were free of licence and some articles which were free of duty. All the articles Previously on the free list are on the free list to-day, both as regards licences and duty. As regards exports, exactly the same thing is being done; where a licence had to be applied for before a licence has to be applied for now. We have recently received a communication stating that, as regards the whole of the export duties, the French are proposing to put into force the previous German tariff. It is open to British firms themselves to apply for a licence and to arrange for licence duty. I know quite well what the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn) will say. But the German Government states, in effect, "If you receive any goods in respect of which these duties are being collected by the French, if you deliver to a British firm, and if these goods become tainted at any point by the payment of the duty which is collected by the French, then you are liable to five years' imprisonment."
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
It is more than that. They punish their own nationals, 629 or us, if we apply to the Inter-Allied Commission for a licence.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
I know. We have made an arrangement in order that the Germans should not have to apply for a licence themselves. Yet, supposing a British firm does apply for the licence and itself pays the duty, and deducts it from the purchase price, the German Government still says, "We will put our nationals under a penalty if they allow the transaction to go through." The German national who is to sell to a British firm, or is about to buy from it, would he receiving the same amount of money that he was under contract to pay or to receive, without a penny of difference. We put it very frankly to the German Government that if their object was to facilitate British trade, the least they could do was to facilitate their nationals carrying out the contracts into which they had entered with British firms. The German Government replied that they could not agree to any such arrangement unless the French were prepared to forego the licence, and the whole of the export duty to which those goods would have been subject in any case. You may say that the German Government is entitled to take up that point of view, and to say that if they facilitate British trade by allowing their nationals to trade with us, they are to some extent blunting the weapon of passive resistance. Possibly that is true. I have put it to both Governments that, whoever is in occupation, the same duty should be chargeable as before. That is a proposition which the French Government have felt compelled to accept, but the German Government are absolutely unwilling to permit their nationals to do this business with Britain under these conditions. There is more than that. If a British firm is sending an application for a licence through the post, that application is returned by the German Post Office marked, "Not known." I submit that the attitude which it was reasonable for us to take up was to ask both sides to allow their nationals to trade with us on the same terms as would have existed but for the occupation. I have stated the attitude which Germany has maintained. I sincerely hope it will not be maintained, though it is in the power of Germany, if she thinks it wise, to make it impossible for our nationals to trade 630 with Germany. If that attitude is maintained by the German Government the onus of blame for obstructing British trade with Germany rests upon the German Government and not upon the French Government.