§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I rise to call the attention of the Committee to a very grave and urgent matter connected with the government of the Saar area. We have had many Debates recently on the subject of the Ruhr, but little public attention has been directed to what has been occurring in the Saar Valley. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that last month the Government sent the Minister of Education as their representative to attend the Council of the League of Nations at Geneva, and, in the course of the discussions of the Council, there was raised a very serious question as to a decree which had been recently promulgated in the Saar area. If I may quote a single sentence from the criticism passed on that decree by another member—not the Minister of Education—of the Council of the League of Nations when it came before them last month, the Committee will see that the view that this is a very grave matter is shared in other quarters besides our own country. Mr. Branting, who is the Swedish representative acting on the Council of the League, and who is well known, having been Prime Minister of Sweden, said in relation to this matter:This provisional decree authorised the severest penalties for acts which are not 2624 punishable at all, or are considered merely as insignificant misdemeanours in any other country.He added:I must frankly record the unfavourable impression caused by the fact that it has been considered necessary to establish in a district administered by the League of Nations a régime only justifiable in time of war.When this matter was first raised at Question Time, some week or two ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then leading the House, pointed out that when the Foreign Office Vote came to be put down it would be a convenient opportunity to get an explanation from the Minister who represented the Government at Geneva. Perhaps the Committee will forgive me if I remind them how this basin of the Saar is dealt with under the Treaty of Versailles. This, of course, as the Committee knows, is a densely populated area of Germany. I think it is about 40 miles each way and contains a population of something like 700,000 people, the Saar being the river which runs through it. There is no ground for saying that the area of the Saar is an area which is not in every sense German. The case is not in the least like that of Alsace, where there were associations and sympathies on the side of the French of the strongest kind. The only reason why the Treaty of Versailles dealt specially with this German area at all was—and it so states in the Treaty—that the possession of the coal mines in the Saar area was given by the Treaty to France for 15 years as compensation for the fearful destruction of the coal mines in the North of France and as part payment towards the reparations which were due from Germany. The Committee will observe that, while the mines in the Saar Basin are thus for 15 years put in the hands of France, the area in question is not itself even temporarily annexed to France.
The Government of the territory was put in the hands of the League of Nations, and put in the hands of the League of Nations as trustee. The word "trustee" occurs in the Treaty. It is obvious to the Committee that in a case where the Government of an area is put, by the Treaty of Versailles, in the hands of the League of Nations, as trustee of all concerned, it is a matter of the very greatest importance that we should see, as well 2625 as the other Governments concerned, that the laws which are made for that area and are applied in that area are laws which can be justified and which are calculated to operate fairly. At the end of 15 years from the coming into force of the Treaty—that is to say in the year 1935—the provision is that the German population of this crowded area are to choose their future government by a plébiscite, and they are to have a choice between three alternatives. When 1935 comes, they may vote for the continuance of this government under the League of Nations which now exists, or they may vote for government by France, or they may vote for government by Germany. The Committee will therefore see that the position of the League in relation to the inhabitants of the Saar is difficult enough in any case, for the League is marked out by the Treaty as a possible future rival for the government of the area. It is, therefore, vital that the League should not be discredited in the view of those principally concerned, or be found to be acting in a way which is calculated to be oppressive on the one side or biassed towards the other.
What in the meantime is the government of this area under the League of Nations? The Treaty provides that this Saar area is for the time being to be governed by a Commission representing the League of Nations, and consisting, I believe, of five members. One of those members is a Frenchman; one of them is a native inhabitant of the Saar who is not a Frenchman; and the other three members are to be foreigners, members of other countries than either France or Germany. The actual constitution of the Commission, as I understand, is as follows. The Frenchman is a gentleman named M. Rault, who was formerly Prefect of Lyons. He appears to be, and I do not doubt that he is, a patriotic Frenchman. He is not only the French member of the Commission, but he has been—and this becomes important as things have turned out—made Chairman of the Commission. As regards the Saar representative, the story is an unfortunate one. The first representative who was an inhabitant of the Saar—and the Committee will observe that the Saar member is not elected or chosen by the inhabitants of the Saar, but is nominated by the Council of the League—was 2626 a gentleman named Mr. Hecktor. It is sufficient to say about Mr. Hecktor that he was so unfortunate as to be reflected upon by a local newspaper who alleged that he had entered into compromising relations with the French before the Treaty of Versailles was ratified, and that he has failed to recover any damages in a libel action. He has recently announced that he has retired from the Commission on account of his health. He is seeking health elsewhere.
His place has been recently taken, and taken as the result of a vote at Geneva, when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education was present, by another inhabitant of the Saar, named M. Land. I notice from the report of the proceedings—and this is a matter I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman—that the Minister of Education said that he was unable to vote for M. Land. I think the Committee would like to know what was the information which the Government had about this M. Land, and why it was that the Minister of Education, as representing the Government, felt that he ought to say that he could not support his nomination. All I know about M. Land is that when he acted as a substitute on the Commission he failed to resist the proposal which I am going to ask the Committee to consider and that also, when he was acting-mayor of one of the towns in the Saar area, he was not regarded by the president of the Governing Commission of the Saar as a person whom he would wish to confirm in his office. The remaining members of the Governing Commission are these: there is a Belgian who—I dare say, naturally enough—agrees with the French. There is a Danish gentleman, who, I understand, is a well-known resident in Paris, and who, I believe, has not hitherto found himself differing from the view of the French President. There remains, as the fifth member, a gentleman who is a Canadian, named Mr. Waugh, as to whom my information is that he is a most excellent man and is equally well spoken of both by his colleagues and by the Saar population, whose future so much depends upon the spirit in which this Governing Commission acts.
That being the constitution of the governing body, what is it that has recently happened which justifies my intervention this afternoon? On 7th March 2627 last there was promulgated a decree, called a provisional decree, by this governing Commission of the Saar—which Commission is only executing a trust imposed upon the League of Nations—which I do not hesitate to say is the most astonishing abuse of legislative power that the supporters of the League of Nations could ever have imagined would proceed from a body constituted by the League. I have the actual text of the decree before me, and Article 2 makes this amazing provision—Persons committing any of the following offences shall be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years and"—not "or" but "and"—should the Court so decide to a fine not exceeding 10,000 francs.It is, I think, symbolic of the way in which the governing Commission has been acting that the fine is in francs, because there was no reason for substituting French for German currency. But since the Commission has undertaken the government of this German area, they have introduced French currency. What are these serious offences which must be punished by five years' imprisonment, and in addition, it may be, fined 10,000 francs? The first is:If in public or at a meeting a person casts discredit on the Treaty of Peace of Versailles"—Different opinions have been held of the Treaty of Versailles, or, at any rate, of different portions of it, but I feel quite certain there is nobody in this House who would consider that an offence had been committed because some portion of the Treaty was subject to some sort of criticism—casts discrediit on the Treaty of the Peace of Versailles.There are 440 Articles in this Treaty, and by this precious Decree it is to be made a criminal offence punishable with five years' imprisonment to say anything about any of them. In the second place, this Punishment is as follows—if you insult or traduce the League of Nations, its members or the State signatories of the Treaty of Peace of Versailles, or the Governing Commission or its members, organisations, or officials responsible for the conduct of its administration.There is a tradition that an ancient Puritan, the Rev. John Bradford, who lived in the time of Edward VI and Queen 2628 Mary, was accustomed, when he saw an unhappy man going to execution, to say: "There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford." I cannot help feeling, as I look around, there must be a good many people in this Chamber, in all quarters, who have offered criticism of the Treaty or its signatories—even distinguished persons who have written articles in the "Daily Telegraph" and other newspapers—who ought in their hearts to echo the sentiment of John Bradford, when they have heard of these penalties being imposed upon those who criticised the League of Nations, and committed the offences catalogued above. There are 52 members of the League of Nations—including Paraguay—and we are told that no criticism is allowed of the—state signatories of the Treaty of Peace of Versailles or the Governing Commission, its members, organisations, or officials responsible for the conduct of its administration.When we hear of such penalties being imposed in the Valley of the Saar we must, I think, thank God that we live in a safer and quieter neighbourhood. The next thing that occurs in this precious document is this: The authors of it are not content with imposing these absurd penalties for the ridiculous crimes, but they think it necessary to create a special Court to try and punish offenders. I think if hon. Members will turn to Article 6 they will find this provision:A special Chamber of the Saarlouis Supreme Court"—
§ Sir J. SIMON
—shall be instituted which shall have power to hear and determine finally.There is no appeal!Prosecutions for the offences referred to in Articles 1 and 2. This Court shall consist of five members, including the President.Will the Committee note this?—They shall be appointed annually by the President of the Governing Commission, on the advice of the member of the Governing Commission responsible for the Department of Justice.Translating that into plain terms, it means that there is to be a special Court that is to try offenders speaking disrespectfully of the League of Nations, and this Court is to consist of five nominees 2629 of M. Rault, who is to act on the advice of the Danish member, and I would call special attention of the Government to the circumstances that this Court is to be appointed annually. I have hitherto supposed it to be a well-established principle that the superior Courts of the country, entrusted with high powers, should be staffed by judges who cannot be removed if they do not give satisfaction to the people who appointed them. What would happen if it were possible for the Government at this time to deal with the judges of the Court of Appeal? As it is we are living in a country where judges who perform their functions do not require the favour of those who originally nominated them. Here is a case under the League of Nations, acting as a trustee, administering this area, of the issue of a decree which has created a special Court in this amazing manner. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to read a little further: Article 7 says that if the Commission considers it well—meetings, processions and demonstrations may be prohibited when public feeling is so excited that there may be reasonable grounds for apprehending that language of a nature to constitute an offence under Articles 1 and 2 will be used at such demonstrations.Just think of that! If a public meeting is so excited that anyone is likely to use language, or to criticise any one of the 52 members of the League of Nations, and if public feeling is such, and so excited, and there take place criticism of any one of the 440 Articles of the Treaty of Versailles—in that eventmeetings, processions, demonstrations may be prohibitedunder Article 7 of this ridiculous Treaty. The question which I wish to put to the Minister, who has been good enough to say that he will take the opportunity of giving an explanation, is this: First of all, when did the British Government first hear of this? The Decree was made on 7th March. It was communicated to the Secretary-General of the Council of the League of Nations on 9th March. It was put into operation—at it appears to me in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles—on 12th March. I say it was put into operation, so far as I can see, illegally, because the Treaty of Versailles provides that before you change the law in the Valley of the Saar there must, at any rate, be consultation with a body 2630 supposed to represent the inhabitants, and the fact is that there has been no such consultation. My information is that already very serious penalties have been imposed under this Decree. For example, a local newspaper called the "Arbeiterzeitung," which protested against the Decree, was suspended for a fortnight. On 20th March the "Berliner Tageblatt" was prohibited from appearing for four weeks. On 23rd March the well-known illustrated newspaper, "Die Woche," was prohibited for six months. Why? Because it gave some photographs of incidents going on in the Ruhr. On the next day two more papers were suspended for 24 hours for publishing reports of events in the Ruhr. When did the Government learn of this? The second question is: when they did learn about it, what did they do; what steps did they take? I cannot think that the supporters of the League of Nations in this country, or in other countries, would be entirely satisfied if it turned out that nothing was done, after this matter became known, until Mr. Branting, the Swedish representative—after, I believe, the Council of the League was already in Session at Geneva—more than a month afterwards—insisted upon putting this question upon the Agenda. I cannot help believing that it was unfortunate—no doubt the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education will explain—that though the rest of the business of the Council was, I understand, conducted in public, the discussion of this matter was held behind closed doors, with the result that we only got information about it at a later date. We should also like to know from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education—and, I may say, we thoroughly appreciate the difficulty of his personal position in going to Geneva and being asked to take the Chair, and having to deal with all sorts of subjects, in all likelihood difficult enough to deal with—I am not making any personal reflection—but we should like to know from the Government what instructions were given to the right hon. Gentleman as to the course that he had to take. If any instructions were given, what was the attitude which the Government desired him to adopt? It may be that it is possible for us to see these instructions, or to learn about them, either now or later, in some publication.
2631 What happened? This is the only other point I wish to make. What happened at Geneva appears to have been this. Mr. Branting called attention to this most astonishing document, and he spoke of it in the way I have already quoted. He summarised it by saying:According to the decree any criticisms in public of the Treaty of Versailles, either spoken or written, is considered as a gross misdemeanour. This also applies to defamatory language concerning the League of Nations, its members or States signatories of the Peace of Versailles.The defence to this was that it was desired not to hinder a free vote in the plebiscite of 1935. Note that. In view of this it was thought necessary to punish severely any language calculated to hinder the free exercise of the right to vote in a plebiscite in 12 years' time! Mr. Branting used very strong language in criticism of this matter. He pointed out that the only defence suggested by the President of the Commission, this French gentleman, M. Rault, was that he said: "Oh, well, we have merely drawn this up by analogy to the law which was made in Germany at the time of the very great disturbances after the murder of Herr Rathenau. We have copied it from that." On that I have to say first of all, I think, whether the precedent was good or bad, we are sufficiently deeply concerned as to the independence, the good sense, and sense of justice of the League of Nations everywhere, that my hon. Friends and myself get very small comfort indeed in being told that this matter has been borrowed from a German source. Then Mr. Branting went on to say—and I think hon. Members will agree with this—I am convinced—and I speak as a man who has had considerable experience and knowledge of popular feeling—that these severe measures which restrict the liberty of the Press and subject will rather increase than relax the tension.The only explanation offered is this: that, early this year, I think, in January, there was an industrial disturbance in the Saar area, which is a mining area. There was a strike. Such things do happen. But it would be a bad precedent, even if there was a strike, that laws of this sort could possibly be regarded as justified. I would point out this to the Committee—and I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite will agree—that, in origin, that strike 2632 appears to have been an ordinary industrial dispute based on the usual economic controversy. It must be so, because M. Rault, in offering his excuse, said that the strike had occurred and that there had been negotiations between masters and men, and he had hoped and expected that it would be settled by an advance of three francs in the wages of the miners. It may very well be that after the French had gone into the Ruhr, and under the conditions of strong feeling which had been created, the inhabitants of the Saar area and unoccupied Germany had been concerned to maintain this strike, but my submission is that it would be a disastrous course if our own Government were content to accept a decision of this sort inflicting a punishment of this kind merely because an industrial dispute had occurred in that area. The Committee, I think, will wish to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, and, therefore, I do not attempt to summarise the report of his observations at Geneva. I would, however, make this one criticism, that his observations were of a very restrained character. He said that he regarded the decree with some misgivings. I hope very much that, on reflection, the Government will authorise him to use a very much firmer tone about it.
If the right hon. Gentleman is correctly reported, he seems to have said that insofar as the strike was political it required to be dealt with by political measures. I very much hope that is not the opinion of the Government, and I hope my right hon. Friend will have some explanation to give. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman took up the position that even if it were true that the decree had been unanimously passed by all the five members of this Governing Commission, that would be an important fact, because it would show that people here appointed from different points of view were of one mind. I want to ask is the right hon. Gentleman's information that that is not so? Is it not a fact that Mr. Waugh, the Canadian member, opposed and resisted this decree? Is it not his information that there was not unanimity in the support of this ridiculous document? If that is the case, what is it His Majesty's Government are going to do about, it? It is very easy to say, "Well, we have handed its government to the Commission appointed by the 2633 Council of the League of Nations, and there it is, and having appointed these people we have to give them certain latitude and discretion. That is true within a measure, but do I understand that it is within the power of the Council of the League expressly so provided in the Treaty of Versailles that they may alter and revoke the appointment of any member of that Commission at any time? If that is the case, I wish to ask, not from a desire to put the right hon. Gentleman personally into a false position, because I think his difficulties are very great and he deserves our sympathy, but I wish to ask that the Government should tell us now what is the course they propose to adopt on behalf of this country?
The matter becomes all the more important because when the Treaty of Versailles was communicated by those who had framed it to the defeated enemy, and when Germany had raised some criticisms and objections, they were met by a covering letter which I have previously quoted in connection with the Ruhr, which pointed out to the Germans, who thought that the terms were too severe and would not work, that the Treaty was not a document which gave no opportunity for things being put right, and that the League of Nations was put in the forefront as the very body which by the Treaty of Versailles had been created and set up so that it might safeguard the interests of all concerned. I will read one sentence from the governing letter sent to the Germans in 1918 by the Allied and Associated Powers, in answer to the German criticisms:It is true that the Governing Commission with which the final control rests, will not be directly responsible to a Parliamentary Assembly, but it will be responsible to the League of Nations and not to the French Government. The arrangement made will afford an ample guarantee against the misuse of the power which is entrusted to it; but, in addition, the Governing Commission is required to take the advice of the elected representatives of the district before any change in the laws can be made, or any new tax imposed. The people will live under a Government resident on the spot which will have no occupation and no interest except their welfare.If you use language like that, it seems that this very remarkable arrangement was imposing upon the inhabitants a provision which has no parallel elsewhere in the Treaty, and I submit to the Committee and to the Government that a very grave 2634 responsibility rests upon His Majesty's Government to see that effective steps are taken to put a stop to what otherwise exposes the League of Nations itself to contempt and derision, and makes it perfecly impossible to appeal to Germany or other people to believe that, by international action of this sort they may find fair treatment as between themselves and others interested.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Edward Wood)
While I am not able to assent to every proposition that fell from the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject to the attention of the Committee, I may say that, far from desiring to make any complaint either of the fact that he should have brought it before the Committee, or of the manner in which he brought it to our attention, I think he has done a very valuable service in initiating this discussion this afternoon. I hope in the course of the few observations I wish to make to be able to make plain to the Committee why I hold that view. There are two matters which perhaps I may distinguish to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The first was the question of a particular appointment of a particular individual which, as it is a much smaller point, I may get out of the way of our discussion so that we may concentrate upon the broader questions.
Dr. Hector, who had originally been a member of the Governing Commission representing the Saar native inhabitants, had in the circumstances he related, ceased any longer so to act. The question of his successor was therefore brought before the Council. The gentleman nominated or suggested to the Council to fill that vacancy was this gentleman, Mr. Land. I questioned the wisdom of the nomination of Mr. Land on two grounds, firstly, that it appeared to me to be an unreasonable proposal to make to the Council to invite them to assent to a single name when no steps had as yet been possible or at any rate had been taken, to submit other names out of which they might choose what might seem to them the best. I accordingly suggested that the appointment should be delayed for a short time during which inquiries might be made as to the possibility of finding other names from which the Council could then select. The other reason why I was unwilling to support 2635 the nomination of Mr. Land was that I was not satisfied, and I am not satisfied to-day, that he discharged or discharges what I conceive to be the principal functions for which a member of the Governing Commission should exist, namely, the function of being able to act, and being accepted as acting for the population of the Saar as the representative of the interests of the population, that is loyal to the Treaty of Versailles on the Governing Commission. Accordingly, after a rather protracted discussion, I made the position of Great Britain clear as far as I could from what I conceived to be a particular danger into which there was some risk of its falling and that was this:
All these appointments of the members of the Governing Commission come up for review, in February of next year, that is the regular statutory term of their appointment, and it is of course open to the Council at any time, for sufficient cause shown, to terminate the appointment of all or any. But the position I was anxious to safeguard, and did safeguard, was that of the British representative of that day in February next year being placed in a very invidious position, without anything having previously been said, of having to make a special objection to a specific individual of the Governing Commission, and it was for that reason that I pressed to have the appointment, if it was to be made, on a temporary basis so that it might come up for review. On that main point I made it clear to the Council that the liberty of the British representative was safeguarded with regard to this particular appointment, and that whatever might be the view about other appointments this country reserved its liberty to treat this appointment, against which it protested, and for which I refused to vote, as standing on rather an exceptional and peculiar basis.
Now I come to the other question, the more general question, of the policy and the facts relating to the Treaty. The right hon. Gentleman reminded the Committee of the principal provisions of the Peace Treaty, under which the régime in the Saar was established. In short, there were three principal facts, as he said. One was that the Territory, as a whole, was placed under the League of Nations; secondly, in contra-distinction 2636 with the general provisions of the Territory, the mines were handed to France; and, thirdly, that provision was made for a plebiscite in 1935. A priori, it was, of course, I think—and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was largely responsible for the Treaty, would agree—unlikely that this settlement would work with complete harmony or without friction. A situation that was already difficult—that was necessarily difficult—has been, I have no doubt, immensely complicated by political reactions, as the right hon. Gentleman has hinted, from the Ruhr. That has coincided with a very widespread strike, to which he referred, in which the original economic character had been, according to the view of the Chairman of the Governing Commission, very rapidly submerged by another movement, political rather than economic, not unconnected with the policy of German passive resistance in the Ruhr. Those were the political circumstances in which the Governing Commission—not, indeed, unanimously, but, as I explained, by three votes to one, with one abstention—
§ Mr. WOOD
The other three members were the Chairman, the Belgian, and the Dane. Mr. Waugh the Canadian voted against it, and the Saar member abstained—now, I think, we have them all covered—that is five. The terms of the Decree are, of course, open for public examination, and the right hon. Gentleman has referred us to them. He asked me when information as to the Decree first reached the Foreign Office. I am advised that the first intimation we received here in London was on the 27th March. That was in the shape of a letter from the Chairman of the Governing Commission to the Secretary-General of the League, dated 9th March, and that was then transmitted to us.
§ Mr. WOOD
That is the letter covering the Decree, and that was duly transmitted to the different States which are members of the Council. The right hon. Gentleman then asked me what steps the Government thought fit to take about it. The Council was to meet on 10th April. It was, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, postponed at the last moment for a week, at short notice. The steps the Government thought fit to take were at once to give instructions, as soon as they had received the letter and the Decree, and had had time to consider them, to their representative, which happened to be myself, to give me discretion, to bring the matter before the Council. Those instructions, I am afraid, were verbal, and I am not able, therefore, to gratify the curiosity of my right hon. Friend by laying them on the Table. That was what happened. When I got to Geneva, on the first morning of the Council meeting, over which I had the honour to preside, it is quite correct that this matter was added to the Agenda, on the motion of the Swedish representative. It was added on his motion rather than on mine, because, as Acting-Chairman, I thought it quite courteous to invite observations from the members of the Council before I made my own. But, as soon as those were made, I associated myself with them.
Let me turn to the question of the Decree itself, and the action of His Majesty's Government, through me, at Geneva, and the action we propose to take now. First of all, I am advised that from the strictly legal point of view the Governing Commission was not acting beyond its rights in drawing up Articles 2 and 3 for the maintenance of order in the Saar Basin. I do not pretend to be a lawyer, and I should hesitate to challenge legal opinion. I also recognise that legal luminaries do not always have the same opinion, but I was advised, and I am advised, by my legal advisers that the obligation of the Treaty, under Clause 23 of the Saar Annex, which wording, indeed, differs slightly from the wording of the letter which the right hon. Gentleman read at the conclusion of his speech, is as follows:The laws and regulations in force on 11th November, 1918, in the territory of the Saar Basin shall continue to apply. If, for 2638 general reasons, or to bring these laws into accord with or within the provisions of the present Treaty it is necessary to introduce modifications, those shall be decided on and put into effect after consultation with the elected representatives, etc.I am advised—whether the advice is firm or not I have no means of knowing, but it was the legal view, that was also taken by other nations, I think I am right in saying, as well as ours—that inasmuch as the Decree does not introduce modifications into any existing law it was not bound to be submitted to the elected representatives of the inhabitants. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]
§ Mr. WOOD
The Chairman of the Governing Commission also explained that it was not possible to submit the Decree to the Landesrat before publication, because that body was not sitting at the time, and he was under the impression that he was under no such obligation. In this form, therefore, the Decree was published on, I think, 12th March. It was brought into force on 12th March, and under it certain prosecutions were immediately initiated and taken. I would direct the attention of the Committee to one point that there arose. It has been responsible for some misconception in the public judgment of the exact powers of the Council in this matter. The form in which the Decree was officially brought to the attention of the Council was this. It was not the act of the Council, because it was already in operation. It was not brought before the Council for approval or for confirmation, both of which were unnecessary. Nor, indeed, did Mr. Granting, to whom reference has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, ever do more than call the attention of the Council to the terms of the Decree, and invite observations from the Chairman of the Governing Commission with regard to 2639 them. Mr. Branting, therefore, while not proposing the concellation of the Decree, described it, as indeed did I, as an exceptional measure, and recorded the inevitable impression that it had created in his country, and which, I said, it would create in this country. He and I both questioned whether this was or was not the best method of dealing with the situation.
The Chairman of the Governing Commission, in response to these inquiries, justified a method, admittedly exceptional, by pleading that it was adopted to meet exceptional circumstances. He especially emphasised the dangers that would arise in the Saar territory if the Saar Press, subsidised from Germany, were to be allowed, unrestricted and unhindered, to use its influence to incite the population of the territory to an attitude of hostility towards a settlement of the Treaty of Versailles and the régime that that Treaty had established. That, in substance, was his defence.
§ Mr. WOOD
In those circumstances, I ask hon. Members to reflect what was to be the action of the Council. I ask them if they can, to put themselves in the position of the Council, having no source of information as to what was actually proceeding in the Saar, but having before them the Chairman of the responsible instrument of Government whom they had established. I do not think it was very likely that the Council, ignoring the considered opinion expressed by the spokesman of its own servant, on whose shoulders lay the entire responsibility of government and public order, would be willing, on that, to reject the advice deliberately tendered by its own servant, and to refuse to support those to whom, in the last resort, it was bound to look to carry on the Government.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WOOD
I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. Because only an overwhelming case could induce the Council to take that line. Did, in fact, such an overwhelming case exist? I want hon. Members to address their minds to certain considerations that inevitably affected the Council's judgment. One was this to which I have 2640 already referred. The Council could hardly fail to have regard to the deliberate judgment of the man on the spot, which was deliberately tendered with a full knowledge of the situation. It could be argued that the decree would hurt nobody who was not seeking to foment discontent with the régime established by the Treaty of Versailles. It was clearly the duty of the Governing Commissioner to maintain order if such were challenged, it could be argued with great force that it was not less their duty to check those who by speech or writing may be indirectly responsible at an earlier stage for the disturbance. The decree was justified by the Chairman as an adaptation of German law, with the addition of an appeal that did not find a place in the German law. Lastly, and this is an argument that had very great influence with the Council in reply to a question which was asked, the Chairman informed the Council in the course of the discussion that the decree had been approved in general principle by a body known as the Technical Committee, a body which as I understand it consists of eight or 10 of the inhabitants of the population, including workmen, including, I think, a Dean and an architect and all sorts of classes of society. The Chairman told the Council that the decree had received the general approval of that Committee. They had, he said, suggested certain amendments which they proposed to incorporate, but in the main they had accepted the necessity for the decree and they approved the general principle of it.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Did the President say that he had heard a rumour to that effect, or did he assert it was a fact?
§ Mr. WOOD
I have his words here. The actual words of the Chairman were:It was not correct to say that the whole of public opinion in the Saar did not approve of the attitude adopted by the majority of the Governing Commission. In the decree creating the Advisory Council, 2641 unanimously approved by the Council of the League, it has been decided that, besides the Advisory Council, there should be constituted a Technical Committee whose members should be chosen from among representatives of the population. The decree concerning the maintenance of order which was only provisionally executive, had been submitted to this Committee, which had given its opinion. It will be afterwards submitted to the Landesrat. It was only after those steps had been taken that the Governing Commission would make the decree definitive. The Technical Committee had recognised that extraordinary circumstances rendered the taking of exceptional measures necessary, both in the interests of authority and of the general welfare. It had assented to the publication of the provisional decree, but it had proposed certain amendments which were in conformity with the ideas developed by M. Branting.I have no means now of knowing the full history of these facts though I hope shortly that the British Government will be in possession of the facts. All that I knew at the meeting when this matter was under discussion was that the responsible Chairman of the Governing Commission made a certain definite statement as to having secured assent to the decree by what are generally accepted as the bonâ-fide representatives of the Saar population. That had considerable influence on the judgment of the Council, of myself and of all the other members of the Council. For these reasons, most of which, and certainly the last, were strong it is quite certain the Council would not order the Governing Commission to withdraw the decree. Such a proposal was never before them. What then should have been the attitude of the representative of this country. I kept throughout this matter in constant communication with M. Branting, and I made no concealment of the fact in public or in private that I disliked the decree as much as he did, but I was not relieved of the obligation to have regard to the German propaganda in the Saar territory, if such in fact, as stated by the Chairman of the Commission, prevailed, and I had no other means of information except through the Chairman of the Commission.
The form of the decree, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, is certainly not one to which we in England are, or have been, or perhaps shall ever be, I hope, easily accustomed. It has never been thought necessary or desirable to impose such penalties on those of us who may have at one time or another criticised this or that provision of the Treaty of Versailles. 2642 But, so far as I know, neither English circumstances nor the strength of public feeling on the question of the Treaty of Versailes have ever been such as to induce in the minds of the British Government any fear that such criticism would lead to public disorder. Therefore any comparison between the circumstances in the Saar and in this country is not wholly conclusive. The question is, ought I at that sitting, and in that set of circumstances, to have gone beyond the proposal that M. Branting, who dislikes the decree as much, although I think not more, than I do, had seen fit to make to the Council, and force a vote upon a proposition to cancel the decree. He had proposed no such method of cancellation. Ought I to have done so? Some hon. Members appear to think that I should. I will give two reasons why I held a different view. The first of the two reasons which weighed with me was, if I had made this proposal, the measure of support I should have obtained in the Council—in view of the explanations given, in view particularly of the statement made by the Chairman and of the opinion of the Technical Committee—I consider would have been very small, and my action, whatever grounds I may have advanced in support of it, would have inevitably appeared to have been induced by reluctance to support the man on the spot in the discharge of a necessarily difficult duty. That position would have been an essentially false one and that I have no desire to adopt. The second reason was more general and more important. It may very well be that a more important matter as affecting economic and social life in the Saar territory will at some time or another claim the attention of the Council. Particular acts of administration are always, in my judgment, secondary to the character of the administration itself. I had felt long before I went to Geneva, I felt at Geneva and I feel not less strongly now that the essential thing in this matter is to maintain in spirit not less than in form the international character of the administrative responsibility for the Saar.
His Majesty's Government have been and are being criticised owing to the share of responsibility which they bear through their membership of the Council of the League, for the Saar administration. They have not and I have no desire on 2643 their behalf to evade that responsibility or to ignore its weight. I am well aware and the Government are well aware, of the uneasiness and anxiety that prevails in this country in regard to the conduct of the administration of the Saar, an uneasiness which is justified by other reports which have reached them. His Majesty's Government feel that the appropriate method of dealing with the question is by an impartial inquiry conducted by the machinery of the League into the question of the general administration of the Saar territory.
The Government accordingly propose to communicate with the Governments of the other States represented on the Council, notably the French Government, in that sense, and they have every hope that the suggestion may meet with their approval and secure their ready co-operation. When His Majesty's Government are apprised of the views of the other States' members of the Council they will be in a position to consider the desirability of instructing the representative of this country to move on these lines at the next meeting of the Council and to suggest an inquiry into the matters which have caused considerable anxiety not only here but elsewhere. It was because I thought at Geneva that it was likely that certain fundamental questions would at an early date have to receive consideration that I was reluctant to take ground on a narrower issue that the majority of the Council could hardly fail to see on the facts before them was false and unsound ground on which to stand.
I have little doubt that I was right, and I have no doubt at all that in similar circumstances I should do the same again. I have not much doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman himself, or any reasonable member of this Committee, had been placed in my position, faced with the necessity of taking a quick decision, having regard to the bigger issues that underlay an isolated act of policy—I have little doubt they would have followed the same course of action. I think that that is all I have to say with regard to the points to which the right hon. Gentleman directed my attention. I hope I have covered them to the best of my ability. It is rather difficult to give a consecutive account of rather inconsecutive discussions, but I have tried as far as I could, 2644 and as frankly as I could, to place the Committee in full possession of the information that was present to my mind, of the action which on that information I took, and the reasons for which I thought, and still think, that that action was justified.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I certainly have no intention of saying anything of the nature of censure, or even criticism, upon the action which was taken by the right hon. Gentleman at Geneva. He was, as we all know, placed in a position of extraordinary difficulty, attending that, his first meeting of the Council, as President, sitting in the chair; and I do not think that anyone here, whatever view we may take of the decisions arrived at, can have anything to complain of in regard to his conduct there. Let me, therefore, dissociate myself entirely from any notion that I am criticising the right hon. Gentleman. This, however, is a most serious thing, and it is rendered all the more serious by the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made, because it affects the whole prestige and moral authority of the League of Nations as an international institution. Here was a crucial case, but the right hon. Gentleman, very wisely and properly, and obviously speaking in accordance with his own conclusions, has not attempted to say one word in defence of this monstrous and ridiculous decree. One might ransack the annals of the history of the Russian treatment of the question of Poland, without finding worse specimen of despotic legislation, more suppressive of the elementary rights of free citizenship, than is here to be found; and this goes forth to the world with the authority of the league of Nations. I do not believe that there is a man in any quarter of the House who will rise and defend it. It is not only not consonant with British traditions, but is in entire defiance of all the principles which all democratic countries and all free countries have been endeavouring to practise.
Before I come to the action which the Government has taken in the matter, let me point out what the legal constitutional position in the Saar Valley, as determined by the Treaty of Versailles, really is. According to Article 49 of the Treaty:Germany renounces in favour of the League of Nations, in the capacity of 2645 trustee, the Government of the territory defined above.Therefore, the League of Nations is the sovereign authority in the Saar Valley, and remains so until the period of 15 years laid down in Article 49 has expired. Now I shall come to the development and elaboration of that in the Annex. Let me read one or two of the most material paragraphs of the Annex. Paragraph 16 says:The Government of the territory of the Saar Basin shall be entrusted to a Commission representing the League of Nations.Paragraph 17 goes on to say:The Governing Commission provided for by paragraph 16 shall consist of five members chosen by the Council of the League of Nations, and will include one citizen of France, one native inhabitant of the Saar Basin, not a citizen of France, and three members belonging to three countries other than France or Germany.The members of this Commission are the representatives, agents, and servants of the League of Nations. They are nominated by, and derive all their authority from, the League, and the League is responsible to the world at large for acts of theirs which are not repudiated by the Council of the League itself. Let me read further from paragraph 17. It goes on to say:The members of the Governing Commission shall be appointed for one year, and may be re-appointed. They can be removed by the Council of the League of Nations, which will provide for their replacement.Therefore, these people are merely agents acting under the instructions of the Council of the League of Nations. I am not going to say anything for the moment about this Decree itself, but only to examine its legal authority; but if it did comply—which it did not—with the conditions laid down for the exercise by the Governing Commission of their purely delegated authority, even so, the Council of the League of Nations would not escape responsibility for its enactment and for its enforcement. I say, however, without any hesitation, that it is not legal. We know now that, at the meeting of the Council, M. Branting and the right hon. Gentleman himself, very properly, asked whether this was the unanimous decision of the Governing Commission, but they received no answer. We now know that it was not.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
We know what the majority was. They were the French President of the Commission, the Belgian representative—who, in these days, must be regarded as an associate of France—and the Danish representative. The two dissenting members of the Commission were the representative of the Saar—who is not really a representative person—and the only one for whom this Empire is in any way responsible, namely, the Canadian representative. Out of the five members of the Governing Commission, two dissented, of whom one was the representative of the British Empire. Therefore, to start with, there was but a bare majority even of the Governing Commission. That impairs its moral value, but what about the legal position? The right hon. Gentleman, apparently, has some kind of camarilla which advises him in legal matters. I put a question recently, asking whether he was advised by the Law Officers of the Crown. Not at all, and I am not surprised.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Let me now refer to the provisions of paragraph 23 of the Annex, which governs the whole matter. That paragraph says thatIf, for general reasons, or to bring these laws and regulations into accord with the provisions of the present Treaty, it is necessary to introduce modifications, these shall be decided upon and put into effect by the Governing Commission after consultation with the elected representatives of the inhabitants in such a manner as the Commission may determine.That is a condition precedent to the legality of any such changes in the law, and I say that that condition precedent has never been fulfilled. What is the status of the Technical Committee? What authority has it? It is not recognised by the Treaty, but we are told that it repudiated this Decree. It is not an entity which is in any way recognised or acknowledged by the Treaty itself. This Decree is a flagrant illegality. The letter of the 9th March, from the Governing Commission to the L ague of Nations, says this about the Decree:I feel it my duty to bring to your notice without delay the text of an important Provisional Decree—
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am referring to the original letter. It says:I feel it my duty to bring to your notice without delay the text of an important Provisional Decree which lays down certain measures.… I have the honour to attach the text of this Provisional Decree, which will come into force on March 12th, 1923, and will be submitted"—not "has been submitted"—to the elected representatives of the inhabitants at the next session of the Advisory Council.My right hon. Friend asks, is this a modification? It is not merely a modification, it is a complete reversal of the elementary principles of civil and criminal law as recognised in all democratic countries. If this is not a modification of the law, what is it? I understood my right hon. Friend to say that the body contemplated was not then in session. Why was it not called into session, and why, above all, was this Decree promulgated, put into force, and even executed, before that elementary precedent condition had been complied with? I see that the Solicitor-General is here, and I shall be very glad to have his opinion as a lawyer upon this question. I know his experience too well to have any doubt as to what his answer will be. This, then, was an illegal Decree, which had not the force of law, because it did not comply with the conditions under which alone the Governing Commission could act under the authority of the Treaty of Versailles.
Now let me pass a stage further. I want to say something about the action of His Majesty's Government. The Decree was promulgated on 7th March. On 27th March it reached, through the agency of the Secretary of the League of Nations, the Foreign Office. My right hon. Friend did not go to Geneva until 23rd April.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
At any rate not for a fortnight after. What instructions had he? The Foreign Office was apprised of it. It had had an opportunity of examining and considering whether it was in conformity with the terms of the Treaty and therefore had the force of law. This is 2648 a matter that affects the British Government very deeply. It affects the League of Nations still more. Here was the Council of the League of Nations about to assemble with the British representative in the Chair. They had ample opportunity of scrutinising and examining the terms of the Decree. I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say he was instructed to bring the matter before the League. Is that so?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
Why then was he not instructed, as their representative, sitting in the chair of the Council of the League of Nations, to say, "So far as we are concerned we will have no part or lot in it"? Those are the admitted facts. The right hon. Gentleman went there in this very responsible position, carrying upon his shoulders the whole responsibility, so far as this country was concerned, of determining the policy of the League of Nations in the matter, without any authority to raise a distinct, emphatic and irreversible protest against the committal of the League of Nations. That is the matter which concerns the Government, and I must confess myself profoundly dissatisfied with the proposal, if I understand it at all—I do not understand it very clearly—with which the right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech. What is the Government going to do? This I do not hesitate to say. It is far the gravest blow which has been struck at the moral authority of the League of Nations since it was established. It has impaired its prestige and it has enabled the people of Germany to say what we know they are saying. Germany says, "the League of Nations, as at present constituted and worked, is a phantom and a farce and a fraud. It is run by the French and dominated by the French. We should have no real locus standi there if we went there." It makes it difficult for those who are urging, as I am urging and shall continue to urge, that Germany should try to become a member participating in its decisions and jointly responsible with the other nations of the world. An incident of this kind increases immeasurably the difficulties in the way of those who are advocating that course. This is a blot on the escutcheon. I want to see it removed. I am anxious, above all things, 2649 that the League of Nations should become really operative and effective. How is it to be removed?
I think, in the first place, the Council of the League of Nations ought to intimate plainly, either to this Commission or to any Commission which may be put in its place, that legislation of this kind, or indeed any revolutionary change, before it is promulgated should come before the Council and be assented to and ratified by them. The mischief is done. I believe any court acting on ordinary juridical principles would annul the Decree to-morrow and declare it to be ultra vires. It has now been put in force. I dare not go into the Saar myself, because I have been guilty of criticising some of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, and to-day I am criticising the proceedings of the Council of the League of Nations. We are none of us safe, because under the terms of this Decree it does not matter what our nationality is and it does not depend, which is more important, on where the offence was committed. Mr. Branting pointed out with unanswerable force, "I am a Swede in Sweden. I am audacious enough to pass certain adverse comments and criticisms. If I go to the Saar I am subject to five years' imprisonment." I state as a lawyer that under the terms of this Decree there is not a man in this House who is safe. Against whom has he committed the offence? Against the League of Nations. Not against France. I suggest further that at the earliest possible moment His Majesty's Government should take steps to invoke a special meeting of the Council of the League of Nations and upon their authority, backed up by the whole of the British Empire, and I believe by all the free countries of the world, propose that this Decree, which is a fatal smirch so long as it is not wiped out on the authority and reputation of the League, should be rescinded and treated as of no effect until the ordinary securities of civil life and freedom are restored to the inhabitants of the Saar Valley.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman has condemned the terms of this Decree. I shall not make any attempt whatever to defend what appears to me to be an outrage on the part of the Governing Commission of the Saar and a gross misuse of their powers. There is a little exaggeration 2650 in some of the right hon. Gentleman's observations. I mention that not because it invalidates the general line of his argument, but because I think they go a little far. The object of the Decree, utterly misconceived as I think it is, was not to suppress criticism, but to preserve order. It was the very worst way of doing it, but that was the object. To suggest that the right hon. Gentleman would be attacked because of something he has said here is, of course, absurd and does not come within the meaning of the Decree. However, that is detail and I entirely agree that the Decree is utterly indefensible and ought to be withdrawn immediately. I have no doubt at all it is the opinion of my right hon. Friend who attended the Council that the Government should take the earliest possible steps they think are at all within their power to see that it is withdrawn. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me suggested that an immediate meeting of the Council should be called. I think that is well worthy of consideration, but I am not sure if it were called it ought to be called only for that purpose. I have another suggestion to make in connection with another matter which I am disposed to think there ought to be a meeting called immediately to deal with. I did not think the right hon. Gentleman's other suggestion so good, namely, that every Decree of any importance should be submitted to the Council of the League before it is put in force. I have grave doubts about the Saar experiment altogether. It is outside the Covenant altogether. It is not part or parcel of the Covenant or in accord with the general powers given to the Council or other body of the League under the Covenant. It is one of the exceptional instances of administrative power being given to the organs of the League. I doubt very much whether that is a desirable thing to do. The League is not constituted for administrative action. When I say the League I mean the Council and the Secretariat and the Assembly of the League. They are constituted for consultative and advisory purposes. That is nine-tenths of their duties under the Covenant, if not more. I have been for a long time doubtful whether their constitution is such as to enable them to discharge administrative duties satisfactorily. 2651 Take the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that every Decree ought to be submitted.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I did not say that. I said decrees of such a character as this, making fundamental changes in the law.
§ Lord R. CECIL
This Decree was, I understand, submitted to the League immediately. I understand they sent it to the Secretary-General immediately, two days afterwards and before it had come into force. I do not quarrel with that. I hope the Government will consider carefully whether they ought not to take advantage of any general settlement which may have to be arrived at about the general matter arising out of the Treaty between France and Germany to reconstitute altogether the Government of the Saar on a different basis. I have the greatest doubt whether you will ever make it work thoroughly satisfactorily.
§ Mr. J. JONES
On a point of Order. Will the Noble Lord tell us under what Clause one member of the League is allowed to take military action without consultation with the others?
§ Lord R. CECIL
I would answer that question if this were a public meeting in favour of the League of Nations, but I do not see that it has anything to do with this particular question as to the action in the Saar, which is totally apart from the question of military action. This question has an importance beyond its actual character, although its character is very bad. I agree with a great deal that has been said on the opposite side, and I do not understand that the Government disagree with it, as to the actual evil of this particular measure, as to the injury that has been done to the reputation of the League, and as to the actual injustice that may arise, and perhaps has arisen, in consequence of this incident. It is one of the examples of the spirit that has been produced by the recent action in the Ruhr in regard to the whole of European affairs. I feel that we have reached a position of great seriousness. Here you have an action which really is worthy of Prussian militarism at its worst, and I confess that some of the developments 2652 that have recently occurred in the Ruhr—I wish to be quite frank about it—seem to me to belong to the same character. Take the Note that the French Government have recently sent to the German Government. It appears to me to be a deplorable Note, both in tone and in substance.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
As to the tone of Notes, I would advise the Noble Lord to draw attention to the Notes of our own Foreign Office first.
§ Lord R. CECIL
When we are discussing those Notes, no doubt it will be proper for me to deal with them; but I am dealing with a different subject now. I particularly regret, not, perhaps, the adherence to that particular Note of Belgium, but generally the adherence of Belgium to the attitude which the French have taken up. I have noted that attitude with great surprise. The Belgian people owe a great deal to this country and, without dwelling on it, and without desiring to say anything that might be indiscrete, I think it is a matter for the deepest regret that the Belgian Government should have thought it right and necessary to separate itself from this country in this matter. The reason why I regret the action in the Saar and the Ruhr is that I have always been strongly in favour of joint action between this country and France, as long as it could possibly be maintained, and I deeply regret that the French Government have thought it right to separate itself from this country in this way. It is a matter for the profoundest regret, and it brings the whole question into an entirely new phase of seriousness. It is very difficult for an advocate of joint action by the Entente, as far as possible, in carrying out the very difficult Clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, to get up in any assembly and say, after that Note that the French have sent, that it is possible to continue joint action. I cannot help feeling that it throws rather a distressing light on the whole Ruhr enterprise and activity.
I accepted most fully and most completely the French doctrine and the French explanation that the Ruhr action was purely economic in character, and merely for the purpose of obtaining the necessary economic pledges in order to obtain the reparations to which they thought they were entitled. I accepted 2653 that absolutely and with complete sincerity, and I still hope it is true. [Laughter.] I hope hon. Members will agree with me that this is not a matter for party gibing, or for interruptions which may make a speaker say something which he will be sorry for having said on a matter of this seriousness. I thoroughly accepted the French view of the matter, and I still hope it is true, but it does seem to me very difficult to reconcile M. Poincare's latest Note with the conception that the authors really do desire, and that the public opinion, in deference to which it was sent, really do desire, a settlement. There is no attempt to settle. The German offer is, I think, inadequate, but still it does make some proposal and suggestion. The French Government do not say, "We will accept the proposals as far as they go, but we think they ought to go further." There is nothing of that kind. There is complete rejection, out of hand, without any drawback or modification or qualification. That seems to me a very strange policy to pursue, if the real object is to reach a settlement by obtaining, somehow or other, satisfaction for what in the main and in substance I have always regarded as the just claims of France.
I do not quite understand the statement that it is the intention of the French Government to remain in occupation of the Ruhr until payment is made. I do not understand that, if the object is to secure payment. I cannot believe that it is really seriously thought that, under any circumstances, an industrial district like the Ruhr will he as productive if it is occupied by a foreign force or a foreign agency as it would be if it was not so occupied. Forced labour is notoriously unproductive, and anything in the nature of forced labour will always be unproductive. That seems to me the vice of the whole Frence conception. You cannot force a nation to work. You cannot get payment out of Germany unless Germany will work, and unless Germany will do her utmost, and it is very difficult to see how you can expect that Germany will be induced to exert herself to the utmost by procedure such as that which has been undertaken by France. I remember very well talking to a Belgian, just after the War was over. He was speaking of the difficulties in regard to the reconstruction of the country—difficulties which have 2654 been completely overcome—and he said that during the occupation of Belgium by Germany, it became a patriotic duty on the part of Belgians not to work. Patriotic idleness was one of their phrases—very reasonably and very naturally. Patriotic idleness is almost impossible to deal with. The Germans had an enormous force in the occupation of Belgium. They had hundreds of thousands of men there. The whole country was absolutely at their disposal, but they were not able to induce, and they were not able to compel, the Belgians to work. As a matter of fact, habits of idleness were acquired which were serious for the Belgians for a time aft r the restoration of peace. With that example before us, it is almost fatuous to suggest that the French will ever be able to compel the Germans to work by violence.
I should like to put a question which may have been put before. I have, however, been out of the country, so that must be my excuse if I ask something that has already been asked. Who is going to pay for these operations? They are costing the French Government, in the first instance, several hundreds of thousands of pounds, perhaps millions of pounds, every week. Is that to come out of the Reparations Fund? What provision is there in the Treaty which enables that to be charged upon the Reparations Fund I should like to be informed on that matter. If there is no such provision, is it to be paid by the French Government, finally? That is a matter upon which we ought to have a clear view expressed. I should like to know what the Government contemplate under these circumstances. I hold as strongly as anybody in this House that it is unwise for this House to try to take executive action out of the hands of the Government. I have always held that view; I held it in the time of the late Government, and I hold it in the time of the present Government, but I am bound to admit that I am beginning to be rather anxious as to whether a policy which seemed to me a perfectly reasonable policy some months ago, that is, of leaving things to work themselves out, and letting the French find out the error of the policy they are pursuing, is in fact proceeding as satisfactorily as might be hoped. I may be so, I do not know, but it does seem rather difficult to see what is going to be the end of it.
2655 Suppose the Germans give in. Suppose they concede everything that the French ask? Shall we be any further advanced when that happens? It seems to me to be very doubtful. I cannot help feeling that every day things are going worse instead of better. The Saar incident is just the kind of incident which all of us feared. We are going back more and more to an era of violence, and further and further away from the ideas of peace and peaceful reconstruction. If there is to be a real relapse to the methods of violence and to the methods of war, it would be the most terrible tragedy which it is possible to imagine. I had the opportunity, recently, of visiting the United States, and discussing there the question of the restoration of peace and the possibility of American co-operation in this or that way towards that object; but I found on all sides the most universal disbelief in the sincerity of Europe in their desire for peace. I met it at every turn. They said, "You are going on just as you were before the War. You have just the same kind of attitude of mind. You still believe in all the old doctrines of violence and force." I found, also, a great deal of exaggerated belief in the wickedness and in the extraordinary skilfulness of the European diplomats.
And, as an example, I was asked at every single meeting which I attended, either private or public, when I invited questions, what was going to happen in the Ruhr. Why is that allowed to go on? Why does not the League intervene? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I do feel in the circumstances that some action has become necessary or at any rate desirable. I know the immense difficulty; I know the extreme unwisdom of an unofficial Member making suggestions of a detailed character, and I am going merely to put forward a particular suggestion, by way of inquiring from the Government whether they have considered it and think it practicable. It seems to me that, in spite of all that has been said, there is no hope of settling this question except by some method of general international action. I have always held that view and it seems to me that the recent action of the French Government makes so great a change in the situation that the time does appear to have arrived when action 2656 of an international kind might be promoted.
What kind of international action is possible? I do not think that action through the Supreme Council is likely to be of any use. It is very difficult to see how in existing circumstances the reconstitution of another meeting of that Council would be likely to produce any good results. I still think that the League of Nations offers your best help, and I see no reason why, at any rate, the question should not be ventilated in that body. Is is said that the French Government would not agree. That remains to be seen. At any rate, the British Government, as a member of the League, have a very distinct Treaty right, if they choose to exercise it under Article 11. Under that Article they have what is called the friendly right to bring a matter of this kind—I do not think it would be disputed that this matter is of the kind which comes within the terms of that Article—before the notice of the Council or Assembly of the League. That is to say, they have a right to do that without being guilty of an unfriendly act. That is a part of the Treaty of Versailles, on which the French rely in justification of their action. I do not see how any French Government could resent such action as unfriendly, since every member of the League is by their own agreement given this friendly right to act under that Article.
I suggest to the Government that the time has now arrived when they might properly say to the French: "We cannot go on with this. We see the whole structure of Europe being gradually shaken by your action. We see on all sides a recrudescence of the attitude of violence and war. We see enormous dangers, economic as well as political, threatening many States besides those actually affected by your action. We do think that this is a matter of very urgent world importance; we think it impossible to say that it is a matter which the League should not consider. On the contrary, we think that the League ought to consider it. You have taken your own line. We must take ours. You have made a new situation, and we are forced to seek for ourselves a solution of the difficulty. We therefore propose that an immediate meeting of the Council should be summoned—no doubt to consider the Saar question at the same time—and we 2657 shall exercise our right under Article 11 to bring this matter before the Council, and to ask for its discussion and for recommendations for its settlement."
What might happen? It is possible that the French Government would agree; I do not know. In that case I have not myself any doubt that under the machinery of the League this matter could be settled. I believe that you could arrive at a proper figure for the reparations without any great difficulty. I believe that a properly selected Commission could arrange machinery for it, and I believe that in the atmosphere of Geneva they would very soon find a solution. There is this additional advantage. I know that you cannot settle only the question of reparations. You have got to consider the whole question of governmental indebtedness, and that also requires a big international body to settle it, and you have got to deal also—we have all said so in this House—with the apprehensions of the French for their safety. There, again, you want to find internationally some solution which will give the French real security, without the risk of breaking up Europe and the world into alliances which will again threaten the peace of the world. Therefore I believe that if at any rate the French were prepared to co-operate in such a movement you could get a settlement which would be just to everybody, and, so far as I can see, would not be dangerous or disagreeable to the self respect of any of the parties concerned.
It is possible also that the French might refuse to have anything to do with it. When you brought the matter before the Council the French might say, "We object to the Council taking any action. We propose to vote against it, and we ask the others to do the same." Nothing would therefore be done. It is possible under the Constitution for any of the members of the League to prevent action. I feel very strongly that the function of the League is not to impose a settlement but to promote consultation, to exercise advisory and consultative functions, solely to promote a conciliatory spirit of settlement, but not to impose a settlement by force. Therefore, I quite recognise that French development may prevent the League doing anything, except that it cannot prevent the British or any other Government 2658 bringing the matter to the notice of the Council or Assembly and asking for an open discussion, so that every country will be forced to take up their own position before the world, and say what they think. That is a very important advantage which would be gained. If you believe in the League at all, as I do, you must believe in the effect of the public opinion of the world. It is the only effective sanction which it has, and to get that sanction in this matter you have got to bring the matter into the open and have it discussed openly, and to say to each country, "You must take up the attitude which you think is right and in which you believe sufficiently to take full responsibility for it before the public opinion of the world."
I think that that might be done. It must be for the Government to take the responsibility of action of that kind, and I do ask that, before the Debate concludes, we may have some indication of their opinion on the subject. I would ask whether the moment has not now arrived when action of that kind might be taken? I quite admit the difficulty. I quite admit that you are going to put on the League a function of great difficulty, which possibly will strain its vitality, though I do not myself believe it. But you have got to weigh one difficulty and danger against another. Can you afford to allow this sort of thing to go on indefinitely? There must be a moment when the other nations will step in and say, "There must be an end to this." Have we not reached a point when some such action might be taken? I assure my right hon. Friend that I ask these questions in no spirit of hostility, but only with the desire of solving what is a grave European and world problem, and with the hope that it may be possible to take some step towards solving many of the problems in which many of their supporters are only too anxious to give every assistance in their power.
§ Mr. HERBERT FISHER
The House always listens with great pleasure and respect to the observations which fall from my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) on matters of foreign policy and European peace. We all welcome him back to the House after his tour in America, where he has been doing so much valuable work in the cause which he has so much at heart. 2659 What is peculiarly welcome to me is the discovery that the Noble Lord is now prepared to accept a course which we on these benches pressed on the Government on the Amendment to the Address. At that moment my Noble Friend found himself obliged, for reasons which I did not follow fully, to vote against it. Now he takes the view which we then took, and which I have always taken, that an occasion has arisen, following from the French occupation of the Ruhr, which does imperil European peace, and that if this country is not prepared to exercise its friendly right under Article 11 of the Covenant, to bring the situation before the notice of the Council of the League, then the Covenant of the League becomes indeed a scrap of paper. Whether our action in this matter is acceptable to the French Government or not—and after all no ultimate action can be taken by the Council of the League without unanimity, and France will always be able to block any particular course of which she disapproves—I feel that, if we believe in the League at all, our Government ought to bring the matter of the Ruhr before the consideration of the Council.
Before I pass to the larger considerations opened up in the interesting speech of the Noble Lord, I would like to revert for a moment to the question of the government of the Saar. We are all greatly indebted to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) for having brought this matter to the attention of the House. The administration of the Saar has been for a long time past a cause of anxiety to friends of the League in this country, and a cause of considerable criticism upon the Continent of Europe. I am very much in agreement with some observations which fell from the Noble Lord as to the difficulties of carrying on the administration in the Saar under the League of Nations. I have from time to time been obliged to occupy myself with questions affecting the administration of the Saar, as a British delegate to the Council and the Assembly, and I have always felt that the administration is one which it is very difficult to work. It is very difficult for the British Delegate to have sufficient control over what is being done in the Saar district. He arrives in Geneva. Suddenly he is plunged into a great mass of unfamiliar details. He has to come 2660 to such conclusions as he can. Naturally, he is guided very largely by the expert advice he receives either from the officials of the League or from the administrators in the Saar itself.
I have always felt that the whole question of the administration of the Saar requires to be looked into thoroughly. At the same time it is only fair to those who have borne the burden of administering the Saar district to remember that many of the complaints brought against the administration by the Germans have proved, on examination, to be utterly unfounded. The British Delegation on several occasions has examined the complaints and has found that they are extravagant and flimsy. The administrators of the Saar have some ground for complaint of the manner in which their administration has been criticised by agencies external to the area, with very little interest in the area except the interest of making the task of Government difficult and impracticable. The German critic had several very sound grounds for criticising the administration in the earlier stages of its history. In the first place there were far too many French troops in the area. There was in the area a black regiment, which gave great offence. At the same time many civilians in the Saar were made subject to and brought before military courts and were tried by court-martial in defiance of every sound principle of justice and equity.
The British Delegates more than once raised the question in the Council, and these evils were redressed. The military garrison of the Saar was very largely decreased, the black regiment was withdrawn, and a Decree was issued, exempting civilians from the jurisdiction of military courts, except in cases of espionage. Those were all improvements effected. Last year one of the ablest members of the League Secretariat paid a visit to the Saar, made an exhaustive inquiry, and came to the conclusion that on the whole, the Government was well conducted, and conducted in the interests of the inhabitants. I may say also that an American visitor to the Saar, who actually worked in the mines, and who was perfectly impartial, reported that the miners in the Saar were better satisfied with the French principles of management than they had been with the German principles 2661 of management. It is only fair to mention these facts in order that the House may be in a position to pass an impartial verdict upon the Government as a whole. But it is obvious that the French occupation of the Ruhr, which has exercised so calamitous an influence in so many spheres of public policy, has not been without its ruinous influence on the administration of the Saar. As a consequence we have this Decree, which has been so thoroughly riddled with criticism and contempt by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench.
We have this Decree, which is not law, but opéra bouffe. I shall not waste time by any further criticism of the decree. I hope it will be cancelled at the earliest possible opportunity. I welcome the suggestion which was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) that a special meeting of the Council should be summoned to take into consideration the general subject of the administration in the Saar. There are many topics in that connection which deserve to come up for consideration. In the first place, it is unfortunate that the Chairman of the Governing Commission should be a Frenchman. I have nothing personal to say against M. Rault. I understand that he was one of the most distinguished of the French prefects. He had a very special experience in dealing with industrial disputes, was regarded as specially skilled in handling labour problems, and therefore seemed marked out in a special manner to occupy a position in a great industrial district. He is, I believe, genuinely concerned to make his Government popular among the inhabitants of the Saar district, but I think it is unquestioned that the fact of his nationality seriously prejudices the success of his administration. I hope very much that when the time comes for a change our Government will press that the Chairman of the Governing Commission should not be a Frenchman.
Then, again, the Commission as a whole is weakly composed. I had many conversations with M. Leon Bourgeois with regard to one member of the Commission who, by all accounts, is quite unfit for his pest. I had assumed that a change was to be made. No change has been made, and I think that the British Government ought to press for the change to be made 2662 as promptly as possible. Again I think it very important that the Chairman of the League's Commission, whether the Commission at Danzig or that in the Saar, should correspond exclusively with the Council of the League and not correspond officially with his own Government. That sound principle was most loyally carried out by Sir Richard Haking, who was our High Commissioner at Danzig, and whose administration in very difficult circumstances was a most brilliant success. Sir Richard Haking dealt with a number of most delicate and thorny issues between Poland and the free town of Danzig, with great good temper and great good sense, and invariably he conducted his correspondence exclusively with the Council of the League. I am afraid that that principle has not been adopted by M. Rault. We ought to press that the High Commissioner in the Saar should correspond exclusively with the Council of the League, and should regard himself exclusively as the agent of the League, and in no way as an official of the French Republic. Also it is unfortunate that the troops in the Saar District should be contributed by one power only. The French provide the troops. The French War Office decides how many troops are to go into the Saar, whether the regiments are to be white or black, and that impairs the international character of the organisation. All these matters deserve to be reconsidered very carefully.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley has truly pointed out, there is nothing more calculated to injure the reputation of the League of Nations throughout the world than the criticisms, in many cases well founded criticisms, which have been levelled against the administration in the Saar district. If I understand my Noble Friend's proposal aright, he suggests that the Council of the League should meet to consider the reform of the administration in the Saar, and should be invited to consider also the question of the Ruhr. Indeed, the two questions are very closely linked together. It is obvious to everyone that the situation in the Ruhr is gravely prejudicing the tranquillity of the Saar district. My Noble Friend also urged on the Government the desirability of calling this Council as soon as possible. With that proposition I find myself in entire agreement.
2663 My Noble Friend has just come back from America. I have just come back from Germany. I have had an opportunity in Germany of seeing many influential and representative publicists and politicians belonging to different schools of political opinion. What strikes me about the present situation is its extreme danger. I think that it is deteriorating hour by hour. There is a party in Germany, not a formal political party, but a very large body of German people, which takes, what I call, a wrecking view of the situation. They do not want agreement; they do not want a settlement with France; they do not want a settlement on reparations. They want the struggle to go on; they want passive resistance to go on. They say, "Let this go on for a few more months and Germany will be ruined, and Germany will bring down France with her. If this struggle goes on for a few more months there will be no question of reparation, for we shall not be able to pay. Europe and the world will see that we cannot pay." That, I think, is a very dangerous type of opinion. It is a very prevalent type of opinion, and it is strengthened by every untoward and unpleasant incident which occurs in the Ruhr district. That is one very sound reason why we should attempt to settle the reparation question before too much water has flowed under the bridges.
The Germans have made an offer. In its present form it is an unacceptable offer. France certainly could not be expected to accept it in its present form, and she has emphatically rejected it. But there are many features in the German offer which appear to me to deserve serious consideration. It is not an offer which ought to be dropped; it is an offer which ought to be treated as a basis for further negotiation, and ought to be pursued. Let me indicate briefly to the House some of the features in that offer which seems to me to be promising. In the first place, the Germans realise that in the settlement of the Ruhr or reparations questions there ought to be an elastic factor. That is an acknowledgment of value. In the second place, they give us a figure, and at the same time they say that if the figure is thought to be too low they are prepared to submit 2664 the problem to an impartial international commission. In the third place they are prepared to offer guarantees, though they are not at present in a position to specify what guarantees they will offer and, lastly, they are prepared, in what appears to be a reasonable way, to deal with the question of coke and coal.
I earnestly hope His Majesty's Government will not let the German offer drop; that they will indicate to the Germans their wish that further proposals should be made and that they will encourage the Germans to make further proposals, in order that we may see whether we cannot find a way towards a reasonable settlement. I am encouraged in that view because I am convinced that in the German Government there is a genuine desire to settle the question. Do not let the House be misled by those features in the German offer which appear to us and which have appeared to the French to be most unacceptable. We have got to remember that the German Government is a very weak Government. It is a Government which cannot collect taxes, which has no prestige and which is faced with an extremely difficult and angry public opinion. Remember also the fate of Dr. Rathenau. These political leaders of Germany have that fate before them. They require to have police protection. They are not entirely free agents. They have to consider the public opinion of their country just as the French Governmen have got to consider the public opinion of France. From conversations which I have had with the leading men in the German Government I am convinced that as cool-headed business men, they believe it is to the interests of Germany that the question of reparations should be settled as quickly as possible, and they are anxious to make an honest offer, an offer which they can implement and which may be regarded as reasonable by the impartial public opinion of the world. For these reasons, therefore, I trust His Majesty's Government will indicate in some way to the Government of Germany that we hope they will make a more acceptable offer. I know it might be difficult for our Government to indicate in any specific way the proposals which we would regard as acceptable, but let the discussions be continued.
2665 Let me make a further observation. There is undoubtedly in France and in some quarters in Germany a very active public opinion in favour of a revision of the territorial settlements of the Treaty of Versailles. The French profess that they are not content with the security which they receive under that Treaty. They want some further security, and one has only to read the French newspapers regularly to see that a very large body of public opinion is being formed, without any correction from this side of the Channel, in favour of some alteration of the Treaty of Versailles in favour of France. I am against any such alteration at present. I think it would be a great disaster to attempt at this juncture to revise the territorial arrangements of the Treaty of Versailles, and I hope the Government will take that view. What I am suggesting is that His Majesty's Government should take an early opportunity of indicating their views upon this question. I think it is only due to French public opinion and German public opinion that Europe should know where we stand in this matter. Does Great Britain think that France needs more territorial security than is given her under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, or do we think that the territorial securities in the Treaty of Versailles are adequate as they stand? Are we going to revise the terms of that Treaty favourably to France and prejudicially to Germany or not? That I think requires to be stated, and requires to be stated soon. Otherwise the unrest in Europe will gain ground.
I have said everything that is in my mind except one thing. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education made to the House, as we would expect him to do, a very frank and able statement describing the part which he took at the late meeting of the Council of the League in Geneva. I think we must all sympathise with my right hon. Friend in the very great difficulty in which he found himself. I do not in the least attach any blame to him for what happened. I think he was in a very difficult position, and I think the general view which he took of this absurd Decree is one which we on this side of the House take as well as he does. But, in view of the absurd character of this Decree, it is much to be regretted that my right hon. Friend did not receive more specific instructions from 2666 the Foreign Office with respect to the treatment which that Decree should receive. May I summarise the suggestions which I venture to make to His Majesty's Government? In the first place, I venture to make the suggestion that a meeting of the Council of the League should be summoned for a reconsideration of the whole question of the administration of the Saar and for the repeal of this particular Decree. Secondly, I suggest that the British delegate on that Council should be instructed, in the terms of Article 11 of the Covenant, to bring to the notice of his colleagues on the Council the grave situation in the Ruhr. The third suggestion is that His Majesty's Government should treat the German offer as a serious offer and as a basis for further negotiations; and, lastly, I suggest that His Majesty's Government should take an early opportunity of making manifest to the world the position which they take up with respect to the territorial arrangements under the Treaty of Versailles.