§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
In accordance with a Notice which I gave at Question Time, I move the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention to the definite matter of urgent public importance referred to at Question Time on Monday and again to-day. That matter of urgent public importance includes two questions which are fairly distinct, but which are both of the utmost importance. The first is: what is the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to the question of the revision of the Treaty of Versailles? The second question is, the whole constitutional question of the responsibility of Ministers and Cabinet solidarity. At Question Time it was suggested by, I think, more than one hon. Member that the Home Secretary, in the speech which he made on Saturday at Burnley, was speaking as a private individual, that he was only giving his own personal opinion to his immediate audience. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I note that that statement is endorsed by hon. Members opposite, but I suggest that a person in the position of Home Secretary cannot speak as a private individual when he is speaking in public. With the single exception of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, there is no Member of the Government who, by his position, is more important and more looked upon by the public as the mouthpiece of the Government than the Gentleman who holds the great position of Home Secretary. I venture to submit this proposition: Either the Home Secretary's private views, which he was expressing, agree with the policy of the Government or they do not. If they do not agree with the policy of the Government, if he expresses his personal views on a matter, a crucial matter of public policy, and he finds that those views are out of accord with the views held by his leader and by his colleagues in the Cabinet, then, I say, that the right hon. Gentleman has no right or title to remain a Member of the Government.
The views which the Home Secretary expressed on Saturday were not merely thrown out in a general form, in a vague statement of dissatisfaction with some 599 part of the settlement that followed the War. It was no general statement of that sort. He gave his opinion with the greatest possible precision, and in a long, closely-reasoned argument. I want to call the attention of the House to one or two of the things said by the Home Secretary, especially if it is to be suggested that he was only speaking in his private capacity. I would specially call attention to these words of the right hon. Gentleman:He wanted the public to understand where the Government stood.Can it be maintained that an important Cabinet Minister is entitled to go down to the country, to have his words reported all over the world, so that the public should understand where the Government stood, and then for it to be said that these words are of comparatively no importance, and that they merely represent a personal and private view? Just let me remind the House what was said by the right hon. Gentleman:He was convinced that until we had a Government which was prepared, not only to promulgate such a policy"—that is a policy of the revision of the Treaty of Versailles—but to press it, and take risks, and stand by it, we could not hope to have an enduring, stable, political, and economic settlement among the nations of Europe.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That opinion is endorsed by some of the followers of the right hon. Gentleman—and I am very anxious to find out—I have no doubt we shall in the course of the evening—whether it is also held by the Prime Minister, because it is a matter of very vital importance. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to speak ofour task.Not "my opinion." According to the right hon. Gentleman "our task" is the establishment of a real peace. [HON. MEMBERS: "Is it yours!"] I entirely agree! [HON. MEMBERS: "Did you always agree?"] But I want to bring the attention of the hon. Members who cheer to the methods by which that real peace is to be achieved in the opinion of the Home Secretary, who is letting the public know where the Government stands. He says, speaking of "our task":All of us who value world-peace and desire to see the inauguration of a new era of international co-operation and good will 600 must insist as an absolute essential upon the revision of the Treaty of Versailles with all expedition possible.And, lest it should be suggested that the right hon. Gentleman only had in mind some of the minor questions connected with the method of obtaining reparations, or something of that sort, he went on to say:As regards both the territorial and economic aspects of the Treaty of Versailles revision, in his opinion, was not only essential, but was very much overdue.[HON. MEMBERS: "In his opinion!"] Those are the views put forward, as I say, with the utmost publicity, purporting to be the policy of the Government, by one of its most important Members A question was put on Monday to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and he dealt with it in a rather curious way. First of all he said:I am not going to commit myself as to whether the statement was made or not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1924; col. 46, Vol. 170.]He did not know. I do not complain that the right hon. Gentleman did not know on Monday, although the speech was made on Saturday, as to whether these opinions were expressed by his colleague or not, but he evidently thought it a matter of such very trivial importance what his colleague did say that he has not taken the trouble to verify it up to the present moment—or, at any event, up till question time today. He was asked at question time whether he had communicated with the Home Secretary to ascertain whether the speech was made to which the right hon. Gentleman would not commit himself on Monday, and he said that he had not done so. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:That statement, if made, was not a statement that has been passed by the Cabinet. The statements that I have made in the House and the action that I have taken are statements and action for which the Government are responsible."The statements that I have made," says the right hon. Gentleman, but he has made no statements on this subject. I have taken the trouble with diligence to go through every word he has spoken since he became Prime Minister in this House, and he has not said one syllable about this question of the revision of the Treaty of Versailles. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that to-day, 601 because his answer means "I have said nothing." When he said that on Monday we really implied from the negation that he had made no statement. The right hon. Gentleman has said a great deal about the necessity of perfectly frank and straightforward diplomacy. I do not want to say anything which in any way may appear to be lacking in respect to him, but I do not think the House will quarrel with me if I say the right hon. Gentleman has time after time taken up the attitude in this House of saying "Thank God I am not as other men are"—[Interruption]—or even as those publicans. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that the way in which he handled this matter on Monday and to-day is a conspicuous example of his exceptionally straightforward manner?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not agree with him. The Prime Minister says that the statement made by the Home Secretary was not passed by the Cabinet. Perhaps not, but what we want to know, and what we ask for, is not whether the statement was passed by the Cabinet but whether the statement, as made, represents the policy of the Government. The Prime Minister, without actually saying so, implies that it does not represent the policy of the Government. I must say that I have a certain amount of sympathy with Mr. Henderson, the Home Secretary, if he thought that in making this statement, an extract from which I have read, he had the support of the Prime Minister, for in that case he was not without excuse. I do not lay much stress on the fact that a revision of the Treaty, as outlined by the Home Secretary, took a conspicuous place at Hamburg in the Internationale Socialist Organisation, connection with which hon. Members opposite are now so anxious to minimise. It is interesting to find that that Resolution had a place there, and the Home Secretary wrote an article in the "British Weekly," in which he said:It is certainly true that every affiliated party agrees to accept the decisions of the Internationale.No doubt the Home Secretary thought that would give him authority for putting forward this part of the policy of the Government. But that is not all. He had 602 still better reason for expecting to get greater support from his leader than he appears likely to get. I find that there was a manifesto issued just before the Election signed not only by the Home Secretary, but also by the Prime Minister himself, and in that manifesto I find, after the usual rather flowery language aboutlabour's vision of an ordered worldthese words:It stands for the immediate calling by the British Government of an International Conference (including Germany on terms of equality) to deal with the revision of the Versailles Treaty.Therefore, when the Home Secretary went down to Burnley and made his speech I think he certainly had some ground for expecting that be would be supported by his leader, and that he was entitled to say, as he did say, that in so speaking he was informing the country where the Government stood. I am not trying to take up the attitude that every clause, semi-colon and comma in the Treaty is sacrosanct, and that no arrangement can be made with regard to any part of it which might not produce a better state of affairs. No one would ever deny that. The Government of which I was a member repeatedly tried to bring about an arrangement, and I wish the Prime Minister every success in that direction.
That, however, is not a revision of the Treaty. If the right hon. Gentleman finds that by special Conventions or Protocols with certain States he can make an arrangement which will introduce a better state of affairs between us and that particular State, there is no reason why he should not do it, without revising the Treaty. But the revision of the Treaty is a very different thing. I wonder very much whether, since the Home Secretary made this speech, the Prime Minister has received either remonstrances or requests for explanations from foreign Powers I should be very much surprised if he has not, because I notice that the Press on the Continent has attached very great importance to the speech of the Home Secretary. I expect, if our own Press is correctly informed, such a statement made by the Home Secretary would cause a very considerable flutter in opinion abroad, and no wonder.
What does revision of the Treaty of Versailles mean? The Treaty of Versailles is the basis now of the whole 603 public law of Europe. The whole of Europe, as at present constituted, rests upon it. There are, I think I am right in saying, 32 signatory States whose signatures are attached to that Treaty. Before you could revise the Treaty in the sense adumbrated by the Home Secretary, you would have to convene the whole of those signatory States and get their agreement to the revision proposed. Everyone knows that a large number of those States have been dissatisfied with the result, and any settlement that could be made would give dissatisfaction in many quarters. If the whole settlement is to be reviewed, and if once we start revision, no one can say where it is going to end. There is hardly one of the States brought into being by the Treaty, and hardly one of the States that have lost territory by the Treaty, that would not be ready to come forward with their own Particular grievance, and would not urge it for all they were worth; and there would be absolutely no security whatever that you would ever get a real agreement again, and that the settlement which you are prepared to tear up, in order to carry out this vision of an ordered world, would ever be reconstituted on anything like a settled basis. If you once admit that the settlement, whether good or bad—and, like all things human, it is of course, imperfect—if you once admit that it is to be revised this year or next year, why should it not be again revised the year after? Where are you going to get any finality in a matter of this sort if you once start? Revision means an entirely new Treaty. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. You cannot revise the Treaty, you cannot re-open the Treaty, without allowing every one of the signatories to put forward their own demands for a particular change to their advantage in the new Treaty that is to take its place.
There is one very important matter which I would most earnestly bring to the attention of hon. Members on both sides of the House. In the very forefront of the Treaty has been the Covenant of the League of Nations, and it is interwoven into the texture of the Treaty in almost every Clause. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well, and so do I, that there are certainly some States that are not altogether enamoured of the Covenant of the League of Nations. It 604 was accepted in the settlement partly, I think, owing to the fact that at that time it was believed that the United States of America would take part in it, and it was very largely due, I think, to the influence of President Wilson at that time. There has been a good deal of disillusion on that, as on other things. Is there the smallest security that, if you start revising the Treaty and putting a new settlement in its place, you will again get agreement in constituting a League of Nations such as we have now, to say nothing of a better one? I do not think there is any such security, and, therefore, it is of the most urgent and vital importance to know exactly where the Government stand as regards this matter. I think we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman not to refer us to some statement which he either made or did not make, that we may draw our inferences from that, but to tell us, without equivocation, whether or not the Government is dallying with the idea of revising the Treaty of Versailles if they get an opportunity of doing so, or a majority that will enable them to do so. The Press in this country, even that which is very sympathetic to the right hon. Gentleman, is, I think, very well aware of the seriousness of the issue that has been raised by the Home Secretary. I notice, for instance, that the "Manchester Guardian," which has been very sympathetic to the present Government, said, in a leading article yesterday:The result of attempting to upset now the whole fabric of the Treaty, as Mr. Henderson proposes, would merely be to throw the greater port of Europe into turmoil and to accomplish nothing.I would also quote another paper which I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit has certainly not been unfair to him, and that is the "Times." The "Times" concluded a leading article with these words:Nothing but mischief can result if unauthorised Ministers are to make impossible declarations of policy which the whole world rends to-day and the Prime Minister repudiates to-morrow.I want to know from the right hon. Gentleman two things. I want to know, does the Prime Minister or does he not definitely repudiate the policy propounded by the Home Secretary as essential; and, secondly, if he does so repudiate it, what is the Home Secretary going to do? [An HON. MEMBER: "That 605 is his job!"] I will ask the question of the Prime Minister all the same, assuming that he is not altogether a disinterested party. The Home Secretary's own words, may I remind the House once more, are these:Unless the Government is prepared, not only to promulgate a policy of revision, but to take risks and stand by it, we need not hope to have an enduring settlement of Europe.In these circumstances, is he himself going to remain a member of the Government that is not going to take that risk—and I am assuming, from what the Prime Minister said to-day, that they are not going to take that risk? Is he going to remain a member of the Government that is not going to take that risk, that is not going to stand by that policy, that is not going even to promulgate it, but, on the contrary, is going, as the right hon. Gentleman has already done, to repudiate it? Those are two perfectly simple and definite questions, and I think it is very greatly in the public interest that the Prime Minister should answers to them.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, who himself has known the responsibilities of the Under-Secretaryship of State for the Foreign Office, on making one of the most mischievous speeches, delivered for a purely partisan end, that has ever been made by even an irresponsible Member of this House, at a time of very delicate negotiations, when we are about to change, I hope for good, the European outlook. I think that if the Conservative party have really chosen an instrument for this sort of work, they might have shown discretion in the instrument that they chose. What is the accusation? That one of my colleagues, during an election, has made a speech which is not in accordance with the statement I made regarding the purpose of His Majesty's Government in its foreign policy, and it is the right hon. Gentleman who is chosen to reprove my right hon. Friend for that, a gentleman who himself, not as Home Secretary but as the colleague of the Foreign Minister, went to his own constituency and, whilst his Government was quarrelling with France over its Ruhr policy, made a public speech hoping that France was going to be successful. If hon. and right hon. 606 Gentlemen choose to throw thorns in my path, I should prefer that the person chosen to do it should have a clean record himself. The right hon. Gentleman gets up and says, "We do not quite know what the Prime Minister has said regarding the Home Secretary. We are very anxious to know. Has he repudiated him?" Then towards the end of his speech the cat comes out of the bag, "not" by implication, "that we think very much harm is done, but we want to get the Home Secretary into trouble." There is an election to-morrow. They want to reduce the Labour majority and whilst here, for the purpose of pin pricking the Labour Government and making it more and more difficult for us to change the situation which we inherited from him—whilst that happens here, what is happening at Burnley? What are his agents doing in Burnley? I have received a telegram this afternoon:Adjournment Motion regarded here as Tory manœuvre to influence Liberal votes.[Laughter.] I do not grudge that laugh, but it is the next sentence that is serious. Whilst the right hon. Gentleman is so innocent, so anxious that Europe should understand my position, so single minded, so keen in his enthusiasm that no two Ministers should ever speak with different voices, his representatives in Burnley have sent out sandwich men who are now parading Burnley with posters worded "Premier repudiates Mr. Henderson." I am about as thick-skinned a man as any here, but there has been an honourable position in this House that foreign affairs should be kept out of the sphere of mere partisan attacks. His first object has been attained. He has got his sandwich men out in Burnley. What is his second object? He says he is disturbed that some French papers are attacking me. Since when was the right hon. Gentleman disturbed at the attacks of the "Echo de Paris"? During all his term of office, did he ever get a good word from the "Echo de Paris"? He knows perfectly well that when he talks in that way he can only say I am getting what he got. Pertinax! When did the right hon. Gentleman become concerned by the attacks of Pertinax? When did the Tory Government in its foreign policy receive praise from Pertinax? Apparently what was to be a crown on his head is going to become a crown of thorns on mine, now 607 that he is free to devote his great knowledge of foreign affairs to the criticism of our foreign policy.
I advise the right hon. Gentleman to come up to date. I heartily excuse him to this extent. It is perfectly true that mistakes have been made, such as were made the other day. In his time it would have been serious. In my time it is not. I have telephoned to Paris this afternoon since I knew I should be in the most unfortunate position of having to speak on this subject to-night. The result of inquiry has been to confirm the report which I had already received, and I am informed that a study made of the French Press up to date showed that the majority of papers seemed disposed to drop the subject. What a glorious service he has done to his country to get them to start it again to-morrow. To drop the subject which may be regarded as significant of the general change for the better in the tone of the French Press as regards this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who sent that?"] My informant in Paris. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is he?"] What is the meaning of that interruption? I repeat, my informant in Paris. If hon. Members imagine that my informant in Paris is a person of no weight or no importance, they are very much mistaken regarding the responsibility I consider I hold. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman to come up to date regarding the robustness of the friendship of France at present. Does he wish to jeopardise the good relations between France and ourselves? Is he jealous? What is the purpose? In order first of all to try—he will not succeed—to reduce the Labour majority at Burnley to-morrow. That is his first object. The second object, which he openly confesses at the end of his speech, was to try to get my right hon. Friend to resign his position in the Cabinet. To do that what matters it—that bluff partisan fighter who sacrifices every national and international interest to putting his opponents into an unfortunate position. It is hardly worth the game. What has happened? I was in a difficult position. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are still!"] I am still, thanks very much to this Adjournment Motion. [Laughter.] If that gives any delight to hon. Members opposite, I make a present to them of the cause of the delight. I 608 have nothing to hide. I have nothing not to confess. If by adding to the difficulties between Great Britain and France at the present time, hon. Members can do a little pin-pricking, a little smart practice, and secure a partisan game, very well, I make them a present of it. What happened? Mr. Henderson, in fighting at Burnley, was apparently under the impression that, as a Minister of the Crown, he could speak as a private person. [Laughter.]
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Hon. Members laugh. I do not know whether there is any misunderstanding about what I say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not at all!"] That is his statement. The "Times" newspaper to-day has repeated the statement, that Mr. Henderson is under the impression that, although a Minister of the Crown, he can speak as a private Member of this House.
Sir F. HALL
May I ask the Prime Minister whether he thinks it is advisable that Members of the Cabinet should be under the impression that they can speak as individual private Members of the House of Commons?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. and gallant Member's brain is much faster than mine. I was coming to that point, only a little more slowly. That is Mr. Henderson's statement. Of course, he is wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Of course, he is wrong. Ministers of the Crown, members of Administrations, must speak with the seriousness and with the reserve of their position. If I had been responsible for the right hon. Gentleman who has just made his great speech, I would have had something to say to him after it. Will not this House, on all sides, stop seizing opportunities on such things as that. Every Member knows that there has not been a Government that ever sat on these benches but had to face this trouble. I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) having to use all his nimbleness and all his resources, which are far greater than mine, to get himself out of precisely the difficulty I am in now. If anybody could be excused, if it was ever justified on the part of any party leader to put his telescope 609 to his Nelson blind eye, it is justifiable with respect to a body of men and women such as I have around me, occupying this bench for the first time. I have told the House what my view is. If the right hon. Gentleman's view is that he wants resignations, and so on, I say that he will not get them so far as I am concerned. Faults! We have all committed faults; I have, and shall do so again. I say definitely—and everybody who has been in the position I am in, my right hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs will back me in saying this—that Cabinet Ministers must speak with reserve and with a sense of responsibility. What happened? My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs put a question to me. He asked: "Is this speech an expression of the policy of the Government?" I said "No!" I said: "The statement I made on foreign affairs is the statement of the policy of the Government, and by that I stand." Surely, that was sufficient, unless, of course, one is going to be pursued vindictively, unless the Burnley election is of more importance than everything else. If that is not so, I am bound to confess that every sentence that fell from the right hon. Gentleman's lips, every twist and twine of his argument, every piece of information that he used, indicated to me not the friendly remonstrance of one who has shared the responsibility of the Foreign Office, but the words and the attack of a reckless irresponsible partisan.
The House has pressed me so often, that I am going to take my revenge out of it by reading what I have said to it before. And it is the policy of His Majesty's Government. This is what I have in my mind, to try to get into friendly relations with France, and to try to re-start the negotiations which, when the right hon. Gentleman was at the Foreign Office, had come to a deadlock with Italy. I said that if matters were pursued in the spirit that I was trying to express,before the year's end France and Great Britain should be whole-heartedly co-operating with every nation in Europe in establishing the conditions of a European settlement.I went on to say:I can say nothing on those large questions until I get the Reports of the Reparation 610 Sub-Committees which are working hard in Paris and Berlin. Reparations remain the first bar to a general settlement.I am not going to look twenty years ahead. I am not going to look ten years ahead. I remember once from the box opposite urging my right hon. Friend to be a realist, and I am going to try, standing here, to take the advice that I gave to my right hon. Friend. I want to be a realist, and therefore I am not going to raise a ten or twenty years hence problem.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"—That is the time will have come then—for a complete survey of all the problems, debts and everything else, with the intention of attacking them in detail and clearing them out of the way.The right hon. Gentleman said that he spent weary minutes or hours in reading what I said, but he could get no indication of policy. Did he overlook that sentence?
§ Mr. McNEILL
In the course of my research I read that passage, and paused for a moment to consider whether it could possibly be upon that passage that the right hon. Gentleman founded his statement when he spoke about revision. Now that he has read it, I cannot see the remotest connection between that and revision. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it again!"]
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It all depends upon the word. The right hon. Gentleman takes the use of a word which is a very imperfect word, a word which he knows well is far more prejudicial to fears abroad than anything else I am responsible for the Government and for myself.
§ Mr. McNEILL
May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the passage which he has read did not go one iota beyond what was being done by his predecessors?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That does not matter. His predecessors may have been blundering on for a bit, but if hon. Members are going to insist, in this somewhat vacuous way, on using the name "Henderson" as an interjection on every occasion, let me say this, that to-morrow 611 morning the French newspapers, "Pertinax" and the others, will not be using the name "Henderson," they will be using a name somewhat more like my own, beginning with an indication that its owner comes of a Highland family. The Henderson affair has been straightened out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where!"] I know what I am talking about. The Henderson affair has been straightened out. Of course, the Nationalist papers are going for us and, of course, they will go for us for the next 10 days, thanks to hon. Members opposite. The affair which has not been straightened out, but which is about to begin, if I may say so, is the McNeill affair. The time will have come for a complete re-survey of the problem, the problem being what the right hon. Gentleman knows, or, at any rate, ought to know.The final aim of the Foreign Secretary must be to come to an agreement upon armaments. That is the test of a successful Foreign Secretary. I have had that at the back of my mind. I feel quite sure that if things are properly handled France and the other nations of Europe will see that the great security of a nation is not in armaments, but in the justice of the position it holds in the world. I am going to use all the energy I have got to increase the representative character and authority of the League of Nations. I am hoping the League of Nations will be used more and more as the international body for the settlement of questions that two nations themselves find it impossible to settle direct. Many opportunities will arise for giving that belief of mine an opportunity of being tested and I shall take them. Germany must come in. I hope Russia will come in, too. We ought all to be in."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1924; cols. 771–772, Vol. 169.]That is our policy. Hon. Members have invited me, as the Foreign Secretary, to state my policy in terms of my immediate problem. If hon. Members desire to put in a background of their own to that policy, they are welcome to do it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I hope that the country is watching to-day the kind of action that the Labour Government and the Labour Foreign Secretary are subject to by hon. Members opposite. As I said, wherever any doubt has been raised regarding any statement made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Henderson, that doubt has been removed. May I appeal 612 to the House? I have made a warm attack. Certainly the only attack that could have been made after the speech that was delivered was a warm attack.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I never assumed that the right hon. Gentleman did. I am only conscious of it myself, because I think, especially in times like these, a Foreign Secretary has very rarely been subject to such an attack as has been made on me by the right hon. Gentleman, who himself has held the responsible position of Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I hope that neither any hon. Member opposite, nor anybody in any other part of this House, is going to increase difficulties that are bad enough already. From this side, below the Gangway, an attack may come. They are not responsible. There is a great deal of obtuse understanding. [Laughter.] I admire the cleverness of that laughter. Hon. Members below the Gangway may attack, because they are not responsible for the mess which we have inherited. If there is any party in this House that at this moment, when there is a chance of settling problems that baffled them, of disentangling ravelments that they have created, of being generous to faults and to mistakes honestly made, whatever the degree of blundering may have been, it is hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, who should approach this Debate in that frame of mind.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
My right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Ronald McNeill) made a reasoned and restrained speech and has been met by rhetoric for an answer. He quoted from Mr. Henderson's speech. Mr. Henderson said he wanted the public to understand where the Government stood. As the "Daily Herald" has been careful to remind the Prime Minister in to-day's issue, Mr. Henderson was stating the policy of the Labour party, a policy which was promulgated by the Prime Minister himself in his manifesto of November, 1923. The right hon. Gentleman then said:The Labour party stands, therefore, for policy of international co-operation through a strengthened and enlarged League of Nations, the settlement of disputes by conciliation and judicial arbitration, and the 613 immediate calling by the British Government of an International Conference (including Germany on terms of equality) to deal with the revision of the Versailles Treaty.That was the manifesto of the Prime Minister three months ago. The right hon. Gentleman now pours scorn on that word "revision." It is the word he used in the manifesto I have quoted. I want to bring home to the right hon. Gentleman that, if a mischievous speech has been made, it has not been made by the right hon. Member for Canterbury. It was made in an election, for election purposes, by Mr. Henderson, the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister said it was not passed by the Cabinet. That is all his answer. He, of course, condemns the speech. In previous cases of that kind, the injudicious speech has been met by the resignation of the Cabinet Minister. Let me refer to a particular case, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was Prime Minister and Mr. Montagu resigned in 1922. Mr. Montagu's indiscretion consisted simply in authorising the Viceroy of India to publish a document, which was called a manifesto, stating India's position in regard to peace with Turkey. But what Mr. Henderson has done has been something affecting 32 nations in Europe, something which may be a bomb of dissension among the 32 nations. I shall not labour that point, because my right hon. and learned Friend has already dealt with it in so full and able a manner. In the Debate on Mr. Montagu's resignation, when the Adjournment was moved, the present Secretary of State for the Colonies said:We shall be able to draw one conclusion, and that is that the trade unions could not be conducted on more loose lines than the Cabinet.What then is to be said of the present Cabinet? The Minister went on to say of Lord Curzon:If that was his view at that moment, what excuse or justification is there for Lord Curzon not immediately bringing it to the notice of the Cabinet? That, after all, is what the mass of the British public want to know.Similarly we want to know, why has the Prime Minister ignored the speech of his colleague, which was delivered on Saturday at Burnley, and why, at Question Time to-day, Wednesday, apparently no 614 communication had passed between him and his colleague at Burnley? I said just now that the "Daily Herald" commented on the situation to-day. Let me quote that comment:There could be no need for the Cabinet to authorise any Minister to declare for a policy which has been authorised by the party throughout the land. If there was any indiscretion it was not on Mr. Henderson's part.Earlier in the article there is this:We are convinced that there has been a misunderstanding, due to Mr. MacDonald's lack of clearness in dealing with the incident.That is from the organ of the Labour party, and it refers to the incident as an "apparent divergence of opinion." I want to deal next with the constitutional practice, because the right hon. Gentleman—to use his own words—has made a most mischievous speech in abandoning the constitutional doctrines of this country in failing to look upon Mr. Henderson's offence as a serious one. Lord Esher in 1909 gave a lecture on "The times of Queen Victoria." He said:The ultimate decision was a minor consideration, compared with the principle of Cabinet responsibility as against individual ministerial action. For this the Queen fought steadily all her life. So watchful was she, that often we find her calling the attention of the Prime Minister of the day, not to the action, but to the speech of some colleague who, in her view, appeared to compromise the responsibility of the Government as a whole by some unwary or unauthorised declaration. It was her opinion, expressed on many occasions, that if a Minister made speeches in the country he should not outstep the limits of Cabinet agreement, and that he should not be permitted to pledge himself to a policy without at the same time pledging his colleagues. That the Queen was right in her interpretation of constitutional doctrine need not be argued, as everyone of her Prime Ministers supported her view.What took place in 1851 in regard to Lord Palmerston? He was dismissed from his office as Secretary for Foreign Affairs because, in an unofficial interview with the French Ambassador, he expressed his approval of Napoleon the Third's action in overthrowing the Republic. In a Debate in this House Lord John Russell said:In this matter, which was of the utmost importance—namely, that of giving the moral influence and support of England to the Acts of the President of the French Republic—it seems to me that it was an affair so great that the opinion, not only of the Prime 615 Minister, but of the Cabinet, should have been taken, and that no such opinion should have been expressed without their concurrence, and without the sanction of the Crown.It seems to me that it only makes Mr. Henderson's offence worse that he used this speech for party purposes in an election. The Prime Minister seemed to throw himself upon the mercy of the House because of the inexperience of his colleagues. Mr. Henderson has had experience. He was in the War Cabinet and he had committed one indiscretion already in the year 1917, over the Stockholm Conference. He was then door-matted and dismissed. There was, therefore, every reason for the Prime Minister to ask his colleague to exercise caution in what he said or to muzzle him in some other way. In these matters you cannot possibly mate the impulses of a schoolgirl with the responsibilities of a Cabinet Minister. After all, Mr. Henderson went on to explain what the policy of the Government was. It was to create an atmosphere, he said. That is very desirable. But what was the atmosphere that Mr. Henderson was creating by throwing this bomb into Europe? He was creating an atmosphere of mustard gas. We must have a better answer and a better defence than that which the Prime Minister has yet given of his colleagues, for he has given us nothing yet to which the Leader of the Opposition can possibly feel needs a reply.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am not concerned about the influence of this incident upon the Burnley Election. I am not for the moment concerned about the indiscretions of Mr. Henderson. I have known Ministers who have committed indiscretions, though not as serious as this, and I know that it is not always easy to keep an experienced team together in order. I am not at all sure that I did not give trouble once or twice to my chief. I think he used to scan my speeches with a good deal of anxiety and a good deal of relief at the end when there was nothing that would call for the attention of the House of Commons. But this is undoubtedly a very grave indiscretion. When you are making speeches about domestic politics, well, the matter is explained. It is something which is amongst ourselves. When 616 a statement is made which affects 33 Powers—suspicious, very touchy, very ready to believe that we are out for some mischief against their interests—nobody knows better than my right hon. Friend what embarrassment that must be to the Foreign Office. As my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down pointed out, in this case Mr. Henderson cannot take advantage of the very legitimate plea put to my right hon. Friend for colleagues who are new to administration. Experience does count in these matters in the way of restraint. Mr. Henderson was a member of two Governments, not merely of the Government of which I was the head. He was a member of the Administration of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) was the head. He has had experience of being corrected once before for an indiscretion. Therefore it is rather serious.
What I am more concerned about is the statement of the Prime Minister—his expressions of the views of the Government with regard to the declarations made by Mr. Henderson. Whatever obscurity there was in the answer which was given on Monday—and I confess, although I thought I thoroughly understood what my right hon. Friend meant, I wish he had made it a little more clear—I do not think he has left any doubt in the minds of anyone to-night what are the views of the Government. Mr. Henderson, after all, committed the Government, in the absence of a repudiation, to a very serious declaration of policy. No one knows better than my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Bench what an explosive word the word "revision" is. There are certain words one has to avoid in dealing with foreign Powers, and revision is a very dangerous one. Whatever one may think about the Treaty of Versailles, it is the basis of the very existence, the national existence, of certain new nations in Europe. Take Poland—its basis is the Treaty of Versailles. That is its charter. That is where it begins its new life. Czecho-Slovakia is also acknowledged in the Treaty of Versailles. I think Jugoslavia is as well. Take the boundaries of France—Alsace-Lorraine, a subject which has tormented Europe for 50 years, has provoked many wars, and the most terrible war in the world. The Treaty of Versailles has fixed the status of Alsace 617 Lorraine.Take the Rhine and Belgium. To use the word "revision" is the most dangerous word that any Minister could possibly use in reference to the Treaty.
It is inconceivable that a man of the experience of Mr. Henderson should have said such a thing. It is one thing to say it as a private Member. He may be in favour of revision. I am not taunting my right hon. Friend with the fact that, when he was a private Member, he used the word "revision" and shuns it now. He is right. He has to deal with the facts as they are. He has to persuade, to conciliate, to bring these people together, and therefore to go to them, with the revolver of revision in his hand is madness. May I point out to my right hon. Friend who very chivalrously defended Mr. Henderson, that I am not complaining of that. I think it is what one would expect as the chief of the Government. He very skilfully attacked my right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury Mr. R. McNeill in order, really, to protect his own colleague. I have seen that done before, and the worse the case the more vigorously you do it. I am not complaining of that at all, after all, we are here to consider, as a House of Commons responsible to the Nation, what this means, unless there is a clear, definite, distinct repudiation. I can well understand my right hon. Friend not using that word, and I think it would be rather unfair to force him to do it, so long as it is thoroughly understood that the declaration is not a declaration which represents the policy of the Government. Mr. Henderson did not casually use the word in a speech, saying "The Treaty of Versailles is a bad one and ought to be revised. It is not in accordance with the principles of the Sermon on the Mount or the 14 points." My right hon. Friend, before he has done with his job, will do a great many things not consistent with either of those, but, unless I am mistaken, he will do a good many things which are inconsistent with the doctrines of a different kind, and that is, the manifesto of the Labour party. He started well. He will gain from? experience.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Certainly, I should be ashamed if I had not. I am sorry my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) has not given 618 himself an opportunity of learning. What did Mr. Henderson do? He is a principal Secretary of State. He makes a speech in which he elaborately lays down a policy; not a sentence in a vague phrase; not the sort of thing that might escape you in the excitement of an election, and which you live to regret. Not at all. It was something that was undoubtedly very carefully worded. In fact, they were not Mr. Henderson's words. Not by any means. Not if I know him. I cannot say who wrote them for him, but at first it looked like an elaborate carefully prepared declaration, every word of which had been considered. What does he do? He declares for a revision of the Treaty of Versailles on three points. One point relates to the whole of the economic clauses and another to the boundaries. Can anyone imagine a Minister, in the present condition of Europe, proposing a revision of the whole of the boundaries that have been written in blood? [Interruption.] Yes—in blood. Then comes the revision of reparations. There is not a country in Europe that will not be alarmed unless that declaration is repudiated. That was not all. He says this is not some ideal, not something to walk towards, not a sort of star to which he has hitched his wagon, but that it is the next step. He uses the word "immediate"; he commits the Government to taking immediate steps without loss of time. Surely it ought to be made quite clear that this is not the policy of the Government. If it were believed in Europe that this is the policy of the Government, then farewell to every effort made by my right hon. Friend to secure anything in the nature of conciliation, agreement and some sort of settlement. He knows it perfectly well. Take reparations. If you talk about a revision of the clauses as to reparations, you will not get France to move one single yard towards you. Ask them to reconsider the figures; ask them to reconsider methods; ask them to reconsider the time; ask them to reconsider securities and they will do it, but say to them "Revise the reparation clauses" and they will not meet to discuss it, and my right hon. Friend knows that. What is really important is that it should be known in Europe that this is not the policy of His Majesty's Government.
Honestly, I am not very much concerned about the fact that a Minister has been guilty of an indiscretion, even 619 a Minister with whom I disagree entirely. After all, he is not a Member of the House. We could have been much more severe with him if he had been here. We could have talked to him as he ought to be talked to, but he is not a Member of the House, and therefore I am not concerned so much for the moment with that aspect, but I am concerned as one who had some share in the framing of the Treaty of Versailles. It is not a question of whether it is sacrosanct or not—I am not here to defend every clause in the Treaty of Versailles, and I have never done it—but you have to deal with 33 Powers, and if my right hon. Friend goes to a conference, with the Labour party manifesto in his pocket, he knows perfectly well he has to compromise every step of the way in order to make any progress at all. I am not going to taunt him if he makes an agreement which is inconsistent with something which he said in a General Election. I shall simply look at the fact that he has had to do his best with regard to the infinite variety of fiercely conflicting interests and prejudices and animosities which exist in Europe. But it is important to him, as he is the Foreign Secretary and represents this country, it is important to this land—and if it is important to Britain, it is important to the world, because without Britain there will be no settlement in Europe—it is important that it should be definitely known that this elaborate, carefully studied, detailed declaration of the intention of the Government does not represent that intention. I liked the speech of my right hon. Friend, because in spite of some rather irrelevant, but perfectly justifiable, flagellation which he gave to my right hon. Friend opposite—whether the right hon. Gentleman is guilty now or not, he deserves it for other things, and I am glad he has got it on general principles—but apart from that, to me the really operative part of the Prime Minister's speech is that in which, for the first time, he gave an emphatic "No" to the question of whether this speech represented the policy of the Government, and I say, for my part, and I think I can speak for my hon. Friends here, that we are satisfied with that as a complete representation of the policy of the Government.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I, too, am very glad that the Prime Minister has had the opportunity this evening of giving an emphatic "No" in place of what the "Daily Herald" admitted was the very ambiguous answer given last Monday, as to whether the Government approves of the policy and methods proposed by the Home Secretary. Further than that, an emphasis which is very much needed in connection with our Debates has been laid on the peculiar nature of the word "revision." I went into the newspaper room of the House to see the French papers of yesterday and to-day, and in every one there was a paragraph dealing with Mr. Henderson's speech or with the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the question put by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Every French paper had a reference to the matter, and the one word which created disturbance was the word "revision." The Prime Minister entirely mistakes the reason why the Opposition wish to raise this matter to-night. We wished to make it perfectly clear, and to let him make it perfectly clear, that revision in the sense in which it is understood throughout Europe is not the policy of the Government. It would be disastrous to the success of his efforts, which we on this side of the House are anxious to see crowned with success quite as much as anybody on the other side, if the methods which he has hitherto adopted are not pursued by himself and all his colleagues in the future. His method, as he outlined it to-night, is to refuse to be drawn into declarations of foreign policy beyond the immediate necessities. That is absolutely right, and we hope he will stick to that method, because along those lines there is hope of a better settlement in Europe, but if the one Secretary of State, the one Cabinet Minister who has had the high and responsible conduct of foreign affairs in a previous Administration, departs from the Prime Minister's methods, departs from the policy and the line he has pursued and goes about the country making grandiloquent speeches as to what the Labour Government are going to do to revise the Treaty in this respect and that, long before those questions are approached, then that colleague of the Prime Minister will wreck the chances of peace and settlement in Europe.
621 The object of the Opposition is not to indict the Prime Minister for his policy but to indict in the strongest and most emphatic terms, the most dangerous and provocative speech of the Home Secretary at Burnley, a speech, as I say, made by the one member of the Government who has had responsibility for foreign affairs in a previous Government and a speech which, supported by the "Daily Herald,' supported and cheered by many hon. Members on the benches opposite, can but lead to the failure of the hopes of the Prime Minister and of every patriotic British citizen for a better settlement in Europe. It is not partisanship that makes us raise an important question of this sort. Any Opposition would be wanting in its duty if, when a Cabinet Minister makes a declaration of policy, not on a matter concerning his own Department, but on a matter concerning the Department of one of his colleagues, of an important European character, it did not take that up and point out the great inconsistency between that declaration and those of the Prime Minister. The really vital sentence in the Prime Minister's speech to-night was this: He said that, when he answered the question of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs on Monday, he said "No!" This Debate need never have taken place if it had been a simple "No" on Monday, and if, on that occasion, the Prime Minister had said: "I will ascertain from the Home Secretary whether he has been correctly reported, and, if so, I will make it perfectly clear to the French and Italian Governments that the policy which the Home Secretary is reported to have adumbrated on behalf of the Government at Burnley is not my policy, and is not my method."
If he had said that, there would have been no need for this Debate, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has been abundantly justified in raising this question to-night. It was absolutely essential in the public interest that it should be raised, and, so far from it having been mischievous, I think the speeches of the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs have both tended to show that we, of all parties, are prepared to support the Prime Minister on the lines, which he repeated to-night, of his 622 original speech in this House, as to the methods he was pursuing and the aims he had in view, but that we are not prepared, either as a Party or as a nation, to follow the methods or the aims advocated by the Home Secretary.
§ Captain BERKELEY
I think the House must be very grateful, in one sense, to the right hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill), who moved the Adjournment, for giving it this opportunity of ascertaining definitely the policy of the Government with regard to the speech of Mr. Henderson at Burnley. I am bound to say that, after the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the remarks of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), while very well deserved, were perhaps rather in the nature of beating a dead horse. I do not mean his remarks with regard to the political aspect of the subject generally, but his remarks with regard to the grave indiscretion of Mr. Henderson. Perhaps we may put aside for the rest of the Debate the action of the Home Secretary, in order to devote a few moments to the question of the Treaty of Versailles itself. It is a somewhat misunderstood document, that Treaty. What has been the cause of this stormy affair has been a misuse of phraseology by the Home Secretary. He has used a most unfortunate word, but the Treaty of Versailles, as many people seem to forget, contains within itself the machinery for the reconsideration of any obsolete clauses or of any clauses that may be found to be unworkable. The Treaty of Versailles and the other Treaties of Peace are a very great improvement on previous Treaties, in that they do contain within themselves the machinery of their own—I shall be very careful not to use the wrong word—reconsideration. The Assembly of the League of Nations is specifically empowered to consider and advise, which is more than merely considering, the various signatories, not only of the Treaties of Peace, but of any other Treaties which may, in their opinion, seem to be obsolete, as to the remodelling of the clauses in question that ought to take place.
One of the curious attributes of political science has always seemed to me to 623 be the manner in which instruments which in themselves at first seem either reactionary or harsh become, in time, interpreted in such a manner as to work substantial good. I have no doubt that when the common people of this country first had the opportunity of studying Magna Charta, they did not find a great deal in it that was really, devoted to securing the liberties of the subject, as we understand them to-day. Magna Charta, of course, notoriously was never meant to do anything of the kind. Magna Charta was a document that was meant to secure the privileges of a certain governing class, but the course of judicial interpretation and the softening influence of time have made Magna Charta a transferable term for the liberties of the country, and I do not think it is a too adventurous flight into the realm of prophecy to believe that the Treaties of Peace which were concluded at Versailles, by reason of their creation of the League of Nations, and its interpretative organ, the Permanent Court of International Justice, will, in course of time, be found to work substantially well.
I should like, if I may do so with the fullest sense of the insignificance of my own opinion, to associate myself very warmly with what was said, both by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, that the Treaty of Versailles is, for good or ill, the public law of Europe. That fundamental fact about the Treaty of Versailles is that it must be recognised, and anyone, be he private citizen or Cabinet Minister, or group of Cabinet Ministers, who neglects that fundamental fact, will come to serious grief in dealing with foreign countries. Any suggestion that it is otherwise could do nothing except harm, would impair the work of the League of Nations, to which the right hon. Gentleman's Government has given such unqualified approval and support, and, more than that, it would put back for 10 years, perhaps for half a century, the work of limitation and reduction of armaments, which is an essential preliminary to what people loosely term disarmament, and which is also—and this, from the point of view of persons living to-day, is equally important—an essential preliminary to any large measure of trade 624 revival on the Continent of Europe. I do not wish to say anything on this matter in the nature of censure upon the Government. I supported the Motion for the Adjournment, because I considered, and I still consider, it was most properly made, and that it was a matter which urgently needed to be debated on the floor of the House. But I agree fully with what the late Prime Minister said, that the assurances of the present Prime Minister are satisfactory, and I am glad to observe, from the speech of my hon. Friend opposite, that they are regarded as satisfactory on the other side of the House. In those circumstances, I will congratulate, if I may, the right hon. Gentleman upon having made his attitude unmistakably plain, and I venture to express the hope that Members of his Ministry will take this serious lesson in foreign affairs to 10.0 P.M.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
I only want to say a few words in this Debate as one who has always strongly sympathised with the point of view of the French. I have not at times seen eye to eye with Members of His Majesty's late Government. I am one of those who have always taken the view that it is our bounden duty, without necessarily tying ourselves to the coat-tails of France, to make it quite certain that we stand by her. Hon. Members on the opposite benches, I know, will take an opposite view, but that is my view. Let hon. Members consider for one moment what would be the effect of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the candidate for Burnley upon them if they were Frenchmen. Surely, if they would only consider it impartially for a moment, their opinion would be, as I am perfectly certain it has been the opinion of a great many people outside this House, that His Majesty's present Government stand for a revision of the Treaty of Versailles. I regard the Treaty of Versailles as the sheet-anchor of Europe. If you weigh it the ship of Europe will drift, and, once the ship starts drifting, it will drift on to lee-shore. I do submit it is up to everyone in this House—and in this I appeal to hon. Members of the Socialist party—to stand together for the Treaty of Versailles. It may require amendment and the re-casting of some of its features in the future, but for Heaven's sake do not talk about revising it. The right 625 hon. Gentleman opposite made a speech to which I listened with amazement. It was an arrogant speech, a speech full of bluster, and one which did not sound like sane argument. It sounded like the speech of a man furiously annoyed and indignant. Why all this indignation? Why all this annoyance? My right hon. Friend on the Front Bench on this side was, after all, only saying what I am perfectly certain the majority of people have been saying outside. They have been wanting to know whether His Majesty's Government are, in fact, going to stand for the revision of the Treaty of Versailles, or not. It must be remembered that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the candidate for Burnley does not stand alone. Wherever there is a Socialist meeting you will hear speeches advocating, in terms of the utmost possible enthusiasm, not only revision, but immediate revision, as the right hon. Member the candidate for Burnley has advocated. We say that there is never smoke without fire, and if not only the right hon. Gentleman, but all those enthusiastic speakers who support the Socialist party up and down the country, go spinning the same yarn, surely there must be something in it, and we want to have it definitely proved to us beyond all shadow of doubt that there is nothing in it. I heard the right hon. Gentleman opposite say to-night, and I heard him say the other day, "I have stated the policy of His Majesty's Government, and what I have stated is the policy." What I have been waiting to hear from him is that what the right hon. Gentleman the candidate for Burnley stated was not the policy of His Majesty's Government. I want him to say so in categorical terms. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has said so!"] I have listened to everything he has said on the subject, but I have not heard him deny it in categorical terms. What he says is, "I have stated the policy of His Majesty's Government, and by that I stand." I have heard him say that several times, but I have not heard him say. "The policy advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the candidate for Burnley is not our policy." Surely it is not too much to ask of the Prime Minister that he will allay all doubt, as he could allay all doubt if he would only make that statement.
626 The right hon. Gentleman accused us of pin-pricking and sharp practice in order to reduce the Labour majority in Burnley. No one knows whether the Labour party is going to get a majority or a minority in Burnley. I hope they get a minority, but, really, Burnley is beside the point. We on these benches did not start this hare running. It was the right hon. Gentleman the candidate for Burnley. He cannot be surprised, and they cannot be surprised, if we are really profoundly anxious. There are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench who are French scholars, as great as any in this country. There are hon. Members there who know France. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty knows it, and knows what I say is true, that real, genuine anxiety is felt throughout France as the result of the speech at Burnley. It is up to the Government to make it right here, and say, "The right hon. Gentleman the candidate for Burnley did not express our views. We do not agree with what he said." That is all I ask. I still hope to see a Member rise from the Treasury Bench, and make it clear to us, beyond all shadow of doubt, right throughout the Empire, and, indeed, throughout the world, that the Government do not agree with what the right hon. Gentleman who is their candidate at Burnley stated, namely, that the policy of the Government was the revision of the Versailles Treaty. There are right hon. and hon. Members of the Socialist party who have experience of foreign affairs, and I am perfectly certain they would wish the matter to be cleared up beyond doubt, for doubt has given rise to many wars, and will give rise to wars in the days to come.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I rise only for a few minutes to protest against the tone in which the Prime Minister spoke in replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. McNeill). I listened to the whole of my right hon. Friend's speech, and I confess I was perfectly amazed at the tone the Prime Minister thought fit to adopt in speaking of it to the House Here is a statement made by a leading Cabinet Minister which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, bore every evidence of a deliberately-worded 627 and carefully thought-out statement, a statement which he prefixed with the declaration that it was desirable that the country should know where the Government stood. Mr. Henderson is, furthermore, not what the Prime Minister said, a new Member of the Government but he is one of the few Members of the Government who have had previous Cabinet experience and previous experience in diplomatic negotiations. That statement was in conflict with what we on this side of the House believed to be the policy of the Government. I say my right hon. Friend was not only perfectly entitled but was perfectly right to raise this issue in the House. I venture to say that if there had been a Conservative Government in power and if the Home Secretary had made a statement of that sort, hon. Members opposite would have had no hesitation in moving the Adjournment of the House and raising this precise issue, and they would have been perfectly right.
For the Prime Minister to come here and be indignant and lash himself into a fury because we have asked for a declaration of policy is treating the House of Commons with contempt. It comes with singular ill-grace from a party which boasts of being the champion of open diplomacy and the champion of democracy, which last year was so eloquent in pleading for the liberties and rights of the House of Commons. If the House of Commons is not to know what the policy of the Government is, who is to know? I venture to say that the Prime Minister was doing nothing but electioneering himself in beating himself into that fury in replying to my right hon. Friend. Those hon. Members who heard the speech know that a more carefully or cautiously worded statement it would have been impossible to conceive. He deliberately explained that he was not pressing the Prime Minister to say anything that would be inconvenient to his policy or anything that would jeopardise the negotiations he is at present carrying on. I think that if the Prime Minister is to take it as a personal insult whenever we ask for information on Government policy, then we are to understand that the policy of the Labour party is no longer that of open diplomacy, and that it is no longer even in favour of a 628 democratic tone in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister even went so far as to take offence at the fact that my right hon. Friend had used the term "revision of the Treaty." It was not my right hon. Friend who first used that term. That was the term used by Mr. Henderson himself, and if, as the Prime Minister said, that was a dangerous and misleading term, he has to thank Mr. Henderson for it, and nobody else. I think this Debate has done good if in no other way than this, that I hope it has convinced hon. Members opposite that they have got to bring their policy to the tribunal of this House, and, whatever they may have done in opposition, we are not prepared to allow decisions of this sort to be taken and announced outside this House, but will assert our right to challenge the matter and bring it under Debate in every constitutional manner.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I only propose to detain the House a very few minutes, but I do not think the Debate ought to be brought to a conclusion without a few remarks from this Bench. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a very bitter attack upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill)—an attack which I think was hardly justified by the tone of my right hon. Friend's speech. I think the Prime Minister, if he reads my right hon. Friend's speech to-morrow morning, will see that it was very carefully worded and that he also made his speech in such a manner as to make the Prime Minister's reply as easy as possible. As the Prime Minister has now come in, I repeat that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that the Prime Minister's attack was largely due to the fact that he was in a very difficult situation. No one can sympathise more than I do with the burden of responsibility on the Prime Minister. Anyone who is suffering under a great burden of responsibility is perhaps prone to see things in an attack which do not exist and which are not meant. The truth was stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), who said that if the categorical reply given by the Prime Minister this evening had been given on Monday afternoon, the Adjournment would never have been asked for and this Debate would never have taken 629 place. The Adjournment was not asked for through any desire to pin-prick, or with any view to an election. It was asked for solely to get a reply on this point, which we have now obtained, a reply which, I think, will be received throughout Europe with a great sense of relief. We on this Bench should be the last, and I do not believe any party in the House of Commons would do anything wilfully at the present to make more difficult the task of whatever Government may sit on these Benches in trying to straighten out the tangle in European affairs.
But there is another aspect—and I will be very brief on this; it is the aspect of Cabinet responsibility. Here, again, I was not moved by the Prime Minister's ad misericordiam appeal, because we should not have raised this question had the Minister concerned been one of less experience. After all, a man is called a Home Secretary to show him that he deals with home affairs, and for a Home Secretary to talk as he did of foreign affairs is quite as dangerous as for a Minister of Labour to talk about finance. If this Debate has done nothing else, it will have brought home to Ministers, present, past and prospective, that no deviation can be made from that strict line of conduct which is demanded by the responsibility that one Cabinet Minister holds to another and to the Cabinet and to its chief. If it brings that home to them, this Debate will not have been held in vain. The House is very jealous of its honour and of that aspect of its honour which affects those who sit on the Front Ministerial Bench. Into the reasons for the growth of that sense of responsibility this is hardly the time to go, but it must be perfectly obvious to every Member of this House that if Members of the Cabinet are allowed to speak at large their own private views on home affairs, and much more on foreign affairs, they may create a false impression before the electorate at home, and again, and what is far worse, a false impression of the intentions of the Government in foreign affairs which today are of such a critical nature. I assured the House that I would only speak for a few minutes, and I have kept my word. I am glad, indeed, that by this Debate we have succeeded in getting the assurance of the Prime Minister; in 630 consequence of that, so far as I and my Friends are concerned on this side, we do not propose to ask the House to divide.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and negatived.