HC Deb 12 February 1924 vol 169 cc767-72

I have one further word to say, and that is about foreign affairs. In that connection I must explain to the House that, when I had to consider whether I would or would not take the Foreign Office, the thing that weighed with me most of all was this: Foreign affairs, the relations of this country with Europe, and the position of this country in Europe had become so unsatisfactory that I believed it would he a great advantage if, whoever was Prime Minister was also Foreign Secretary, in order to give the weight of office to any sort of policy that one might devise. I do not know if I was rash or not, but in the end I decided that, for the time being, at any rate—until some of the preliminaries were cleared away, and prospects got a little better, I would venture to unite the two offices, and I will do my best to carry on both, on the clear understanding that as soon as I feel that I can relieve myself of the one. I shall do so.

Now as Foreign Minister I recognised Russia without delay, and with the full approval of the Government. The point of view I took was this: I want to settle all the outstanding points between Russia and ourselves. It is a very big job, certainly it is a job that somebody sooner or later had to face, an I made up my mind to face it, to tackle it. I made up my mind on this at the same time, that., if you try to face those things—debt, foreign relations, treaties of doubtful validity, disagreements which were threatening war almost every day. propaganda North, South, East and West—if any Foreign Secretary sat down, and tried to settle those questions with a representative of Russia who was not even a chargé d' affaires, if he lived to the age of Methusaleh, he never would settle them. The preliminary for settlement was recognition. Therefore I recommend the Cabinet to recognise Russia, and that was done.

I see that some papers have said that after thinking the matter over for a week the Soviet authorities replied. That is not true. It is not. fair. I knew that an All-Russia Soviet with about 2,000 representatives gathered from the utmost borders of the Socialist Republic was sitting in Moscow. I knew that it was the supreme authority in the Russian Government, and I made up my mind that. the message of recognition, the despatch of recognition should go there. It went there, and within an hour of its receipt a message of the most cordial character was on its way to the Foreign Office here. It is perfectly true that it was only some days after that when 1 received a letter from Mr. Tchitcherin. The explanation was that the message from the Soviet, having been sent by wire, Mr. Tchitcherin sent his message by post. That. is the explanation of the four or five days which some of the newspapers say was taken by Mr. Tchitcherin in considering our proposal. Not. a day was lost. The acceptance has been most cordial, and the first steps have already been taken in consequence.

I now propose to send to Moscow a complete statement. of all our outstanding differences. absolutely complete as far as we have them, at any rate, at the Foreign Office. I propose that we should revive at once—In fact we have done so—all pledges made by the Soviet Government regarding debts and so on. The Soviet Government has agreed to appoint Russian members to an Anglo-Russian Commission, to which would be referred all the details regarding the debts, and such other questions from the catalogue of outstanding points which would be referred to it by agreement. between the representatives of Russia in this country and myself. In that way debts, credits, and South Sea difficulties, the territorial waters trouble, and so on—


Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly say what he means by "credits"? Does he mean the conditions under which private credits might become available, or does he mean credits from Government to Government?


The question of credits would be proposed by the Russian Government, and not by us, but I have no intention of going any further, so far as Government credit is concerned, than overseas credit, trade facilities credit, and such things as have already in principle been approved regarding other countries by the House of Commons, and I have no reason to doubt that would be quite adequate. But the point is this: The preliminaries to the agreements have already been made, and before this week is out, I hope that Mr. Rakovsky will be on his way to Moscow to get final instructions from the Government regarding the opening up of these negotiations. After that happens, I feel perfectly certain we shall be able to settle all these questions in a very short time. One of the most important of these questions is that. of propaganda against us, upon which I shall certainly insist. At the same time, let us be fair. Supposing we were in their position, supposing they were in ours, and they had refused to recognise us. They had fought a war against us, they had spent their national money in trying to foment revolution inside our country, and then we were able to do them damage in their territories. What should we have done? As a matter of fact., the sooner that we close the volume of our Russian transactions the better. I propose to close that volume as quickly as possible and to open a new one, upon which I hope more amicable messages and stories will be written than the one which has just closed.

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD

Do not give them our money, that is all!


May I ask if any settlements agreed to by the AngloRussian Commission will come before the House of Commons for approval?


Everything that is necessary will come before the House of Commons. It is no use asking me now what is coming, because I cannot say. We are now engaged in setting up this Commission, and in getting into direct contact with the Moscow Government so as to begin our work, and it will be pushed ahead with the least possible delay. Anything requiring to be sanctioned will be put before the House of Commons. The work has begun, not merely the recognition, but the economical and political consequences of recognition have now begun to show themselves.

So much for Russia. When I went to the Foreign Office I was faced with a very serious situation in Central Europe. Our relations with France had been drifting, and were anything but pleasant. There was a feeling of insecurity all round. There was an unhappy sort of scramble for alliances—a policy only half understanding itself, of finding hero and there and elsewhere a possible ally in a possible time of danger or of need, and one felt even more instinctively than saw written down on paper, although there was enough there—what one felt was that unless there were a change in all this, we were going to get back into a most hopeless condition, which would only have resulted in a fresh outbreak of a big European war in our lifetime perhaps, and the result would be more armaments, new alliances, a recrudescence of the policy of the balance of power, and finally the inevitable war. That was the situation in the Ruhr, with its dozens of baffling problems—none really baffling to reason, but every one very trying to one's serenity of temper. My immediate troubles were in the Palatinate, with its Separatism, regarding the railway policy of the Regie round about Cologne.

I cannot make a full statement to-day about these things, much to my regret, because the is have not been dotted and the i's have not been crossed yet. But I am very happy to say that unless something very unforeseen happens—and I do not think it will—I hope that a complete agreement will be come to within the next few days.

> I must take this, the first opportunity, of paying my tribute to the instant and hearty co-operation of M. Poincaré to the approaches that I made on this subject. My first task was to create a healthier atmosphere I had to make a gesture, and wait to see if it was responded to. It is these psychological matters, that are far more important than clever despatches, however politely handed by ambassadors to ministers, which are nevertheless thrown like bricks at their head, our diplomacy must be perfectly straight and absolutely frank. It must be perfectly straight. It must be quite considerate, asking only for a similar response on the part of the other side. France has nothing to fear from any policy that we may pursue. We may not be able to agree with everything that she does. We do not expect her to follow our desires, but nothing ought to arise between us, and I am, sure nothing will which good will and honest dealing cannot settle. We must consider such problems as Reparations and the Ruhr from the point of view of France, Great Britain and Europe, and do everything to find a satisfactory agreement. Above all, and thin is very essential, we must both remember that time is running a very tragic race against us.


May I ask one question on the important and interesting statement just made? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House any particular in which his policy differs from that of his predecessor?


I think I had better not. Let me explain that what I have been saying was not said for the purpose of drawing a distinction between the right hon. Gentleman and myself, and I am very sorry he should have raised that idea. What I have in mind and what I have said is for the purpose of making our policy clear to the world. I am responsible for the moment for our policy, and am not going to mix myself up either with my predecessors or with my successors. Neither M. Poinearé nor I have any illusions with regard to the policy of reconciliation and accommodation which we are pursuing, but if we pursue it in the spirit in which our work has been begun, before the year's end France and Great Britain should be wholeheartedly co-operating with every nation in Europe in establishing the conditions of a European settlement. I can say nothing on those large questions until I get the reports of the Reparations Sub-Committees, which are working hard in Paris and Berlin. Reparations remain the first bar to a general settlement. As soon as these Committees have declared their decision, and the Reparation Commission has considered and pronounced upon it, I think the time will have come for a complete re-survey of all the problems, debts and everything else, with the intention of attacking them in detail, and clearing them out of the way.