HC Deb 10 July 1924 vol 175 cc2464-8

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister if he had any communication to make to the House on his return from Paris?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald)

An unfortunate situation having arisen in Paris, which threatened to destroy the work done to arrange for an Inter-Allied Conference on the application of the Experts' Report, I went to Paris to try to remove it.

His Majesty's Government have taken the view that the most supreme efforts should be made to put the Experts' Report into operation without delay, and the urgency to-day has been much increased by the time required for the elections and changes of Governments on the Continent, when no negotiations could be conducted.

It is essential that the Inter-Allied Conference fixed for the 16th instant should be held, as many details have to be settled preparatory to carrying out the Report, and some of them will require thorough discussion by Treasury and legal experts, and agreements upon them will not always be easy to make. French opinion is unwilling to allow the Experts' Report to be regarded as a substitute for provisions of the Versailles Treaty, but willing to accept, it as a new and better way of dealing with reparations On the other hand, the Experts' Report has, as its essential foundation, the raising of a £40,000,000 loan, and that cannot be done unless those who are willing to invest have some security that, their investments will not be destroyed by political or military action on the part of Governments, either Allied or German.

I found when I got to Paris that, in view of the situation which had arisen, I had to discuss this matter beyond where it had been left at the previous conversations, and try to effect a preliminary agreement with the French Government upon it. His Majesty's Government would not waive its expressed views upon the work and powers of the Reparation Commission as hitherto exercised, but it could agree not to try and settle them as a preliminary to putting the Experts' Report into operation. At the same time it could riot pretend that investors would be forthcoming so long as the political and economic security which the German State as a going concern offered to investors could he destroyed by action similar to that which took place last year.

We therefore agreed, first of all, to try and add to the Reparations Committee, when it is dealing with defalcation under the Experts' Report, an American member who would look after the interests of the investors, or, failing that, to use the services of the American who will be the Reparations Agent-General. The view of the British Government is that this gentleman should act as arbitrator in the event of a failure to get a unanimous decision from the Reparations Commission, but the French Government wished time to consider this and leave a final decision on the point to the London Con- ference. To that we finally agreed, and in the meantime we shall consult financial opinion on the subject. Unless this is settled to the satisfaction of the investors, no loans will be forthcoming.

The French Government further desired to associate the question of Inter-Allied debts with the Experts' Report. To that we could not agree. I had warned M. Herriot at Chequers that the British Government could not allow this matter to drag on indefinitely, and I had told him that I proposed to ask the Treasury to take up the matter at the point where it was left by Lord Curzon's Note of the 11th of August last. I had proposed further that it might be desirable that an official of the French Treasury should come here to discuss the question in a preliminary way with our officials. It has been agreed that this should be done, and that in negotiating a settlement account shall be taken of "all considerations."

Further, the French Government desires to keep the question of national security alive. His Majesty's Government made it definitely clear that no proposal of the nature of a military pact could be entertained, but repeated its desire to continue conversations on the subject, especially as regards arrangements through the League of Nations, disarmament conferences, or by other acceptable means.

I must add that the purpose of the joint statement agreed to in Paris was to make a conference on the 16th instant possible, that details will be settled there with the assistance of the proper experts, that owing to the limited purpose we had in view, and the inadequate time at our disposal, various important matters which must be settled at the Conference, when the advice requisite will be available, are not referred to.

I would like to add a personal note expressing my gratitude for the very cordial way in which I as the representative of this country was received by the leaders of all parties during my short stay in Paris.


The right hon. Gentleman spoke of adding an American representative to the Reparation Committee. I presume that what was meant was the Reparation Commission, and not any new body?


Yes; I meant the Reparation Commission.


Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether he discussed it Paris the total amount of reparation to be paid, or whether the amount of £6,600,000,000 in the pact of 1921 is still to stand?


No, I did not discuss that question. I rigidly refused to go outside the provisions of the Dawes Report.


Did the right hon. Gentleman discuss the question of the effect of the acceptance of the Dawes Report upon the default declared by the Reparation Commission? In other words, will the acceptance of the Dawes Report cancel that declaration of default?


Oh, no, that is a totally different subject.




With all due respect, it is. The question which we have to settle now—we must be very careful not to allow it to get mixed up with other issues—is, Are we, or are we not, to put the Dawes Report into operation, after full agreement among ourselves and with the concurrence of Germany?

Lieut.-Colonel Sir EDWARD GRIGG

Was the joint statement issued in Paris yesterday agreed in English as well as in French? The English versions apparently differ. Will the official text be laid on the Table of the House?


I had better answer the last part of the question. The official text will be laid on the Table of the House. I am not sure whether it is of any interest to the House, but I may state that, in order to get a very rough translation, we had to keep the train waiting half an hour for us. We have an official text, and that will be very carefully compared with all the translations. We understood the situation, and pledged ourselves that there should be no question at all about any first translation.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

The Conference on the 16th is only an Allied Conference, with, possibly, an American representative. If, as we hope, an agreement is reached, will the German representative be invited to the same Conference in London, or will a fresh Conference be convened?


That will have to be discussed and settled at the Conference.


I would like to ask one question on a matter which the Prime Minister's statement has not made clear. In the published correspondence in the recent White Paper, the right hon. Gentleman reiterated that, in his judgment, the Dawes Report was outside the Versailles Treaty, and that, consequently, questions of default could not be decided by the Reparation Commission. Do I understand from him now that the attitude taken up by himself at Chequers is definitely withdrawn?


No, it has not been definitely withdrawn. The matter has been referred for judgment to the legal experts of both countries, and that will be presented to us at the Inter-Allied Conference next week, and the whole matter will be considered in the light of that judgment.