HC Deb 24 March 1925 vol 182 cc314-5

The right hon. Gentleman spoke at one moment as if we were opposed to the objects of the Protocol. It is not with the objects that we find fault. Speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I expressed our full concurrence with those objects at the beginning of my declaration at Geneva. It is not with its objects, but with its effects that we quarrel. The right hog. Gentleman thinks that it would have promoted security and thus have led directly to disarmament. What evidence did he bring to bear for either of those theses? Our own experts advised us that we should be unable to fulfil the obligations which it would have imposed upon us without increasing our existing forces. I suspect that some other nations would find themselves in the same position.

Then I wonder whether the late Government gave much thought to the effect of the Protocol, or of the adoption of the Protocol, upon the policy of the United States of America. As far as I know, the United States have made no official declaration in regard to the Protocol, but I have tried to inform myself as to the trend of American opinion, and, unless I am wholly mistaken, the Protocol would have been viewed rather as a possible cause of war than of increased security for peace across the Atlantic. And what about European opinion? I say, without fear of contradiction, that those Powers most immediately concerned would not have felt that their security was so guarded against dangers by the Protocol, had we signed and ratified it as it stood, without alteration, as to have been content to treat that as a settlement of the question of security and proceed to disarmament at once. The Protocol, without subsidiary pacts, would not have been accepted in those quarters which think themselves threatened as a guarantee for their safety of a kind justifying them in disarming. As I have said, in the eyes of the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, the Protocol was to supersede and render unnecessary any special pacts. In the eyes of those with whom he was negotiating, the Protocol was not only to have been preceded by pacts, but was to have been accompanied or followed by pacts.

His Majesty's Government find themselves unable to sign the Protocol. They find themselves in that respect in the same position as the great Dominion Governments and the Government of India. They do not think that it is apt to promote security and, by promoting security, to lead to disarmament, but they do feel, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that they have an obligation to contribute if they can to that great aim, and they believe that it is in the power of this country and this Empire to do it. But, before I come to deal with that aspect of the case, let me just remind the House of what are our existing commitments.