HC Deb 24 March 1925 vol 182 cc309-13

I think it is worth while to consider for a moment what was the genesis of this Protocol. Its origin can be traced back to the negotiations which took place between the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and M. Herriot earlier in the year. In the course of the Franco-British Memorandum which was issued during that hurried visit to Paris which, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, he paid in July, 1924, and which saved from the danger of premature wreckage the proposals of the Dawes Committee—in that Memorandum there occurs the following passage: The two Governments have likewise proceeded to a preliminary exchange of views on the question of security. They are aware that public opinion requires pacification. They agree to co-operate in devising, through the League of Nations or otherwise, as opportunity presents itself, means of security and to continue the consideration of the question until the problem of general security can be finally settled. They agreed—the right hon. Gentleman who was then Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary and the President of the Council of Ministers in France—that they would together go to the Assembly of the League of Nations and open a discussion of this great problem of security. Well, Sir, they did so. They came, they saw, they conquered. They made speeches which were received with immense enthusiasm by the Assembly. I am told the right hon. Gentleman's speech sounded even better and was even more enthusiastically applauded when it had been translated from the English in which it was delivered info the. French language. Nothing could have been better, until the gentlemen themselves and the Assembly which they had addressed began to reflect upon the speeches, and then it was at once apparent to everyone that the two Prime Ministers in their joint friendly gesture were irreconcilably opposed, one to the other, in the advice which they were tendering to the Assembly. Then followed some hours—I think one or two nights—of hectic, feverish movement in search of a formula, and presently a formula wars produced and I suppose the two Prime Ministers thought that when, with the help of very active and very clever friends, they had reached a formula upon which they could agree, they had really agreed about something of substance. But it was evident even then to skilful observers that, even at the moment when they thought they were most agreed, they were as far apart "as poles asunder," and that the principles which underlay and inspired the policy of the right hon. Gentleman were neither believed in nor accepted by the Leader of French opinion and the representative of France.

The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has made it plain that the idea of the British Government was that you could supersede individual pacts or regional agreements by one vast universal scheme of international insurance. That was the policy of the British Government, but that was never the policy of the foreign Governments with which they were negotiating. Never for one moment did those Governments mean to abandon the local alliances or regional pacts into which they had entered, if the Protocol were accepted. On the contrary, they regarded the Protocol as something which might give additional security to the world, I do net doubt, but also as something which must be followed, as it had been preceded, by special, subsidiary or complementary- alliances and agreements. The two distinguished visitors, both busy men who could ill be spared from their own countries, having with the aid of friends and with much burning of midnight oil patched op a formula, returned to Paris and to London and left their representatives to put into the form of an international agreement the opposite ideals which were embodied in the formula upon which they had agreed. The deputations went to work, and in some six weeks' time in that Assembly there was undertaken for the whole world a piece of legislation, with which it is impossible to compare, in its extent or importance, even the largest project which could come before a domestic Legislature like our own, and that agreement, that leglislative project, was framed, discussed and passed in less time than we should take over an Electoral Reform Bill whether in Cabinet or in the House of Commons

Is it wonderful that in those circumstances, when we came to examine it, we found it apparently so full of danger, we found its principal causes and effects apparently so little appreciated and so little foreseen and its obligations so great for an Empire of such a peculiar character as our own, scattered in every portion of the world, based primarily upon sea power and not upon land power as was the case of most of the nations who were there assembled—is it wonderful when we came to consider this document we found it impossible to recommend it to Parliament? The right hon. Gentleman has complained that we announced our decision not to recommend it before we had consulted Parliament. Was it a more serious step to take to declare our decision not to recommend it, than to do as he did and to recommend it, to be a party to it, without having given Parliament the least information of what he was doing or the obligations he was undertaking. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman was present at the beginning of that Assembly.


Yes, the whole time.


Then at least the right hon. Gentleman, before he went out might have come to this House and told the House in broad outline what policy he meant to pursue, and, if he did not think it worth while to do so, it doer not lie in his mouth to condemn us for having made our position clear at the League of Nations Council meeting—which adjourned the consideration of the matter to suit our convenience—when we had, in fact, reached our final conclusion as to the reasoned form of our objection only a few days before that Council meeting resumed. I do not propose to go at length into the objections to the Protocol. I have too much other work to do. But I beg the House to observe that the right hon. Gentleman himself is not a whole-hearted and unconditional supporter of the Protocol. The right hon. Gentleman laboured a great deal the point that he and his fellow representatives of Great Britain had preserved full liberty to the British Government and Parliament of free action in any emergency. There is a passage in the report of one of the committees which is a rather interesting gloss upon the observations of the right hon. Gentleman. In the report of M. Benes he goes so far in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman as to observe that it is true that it remains with our Government to decide what they will do, but it is no longer left to them to decide what they ought to do. Here is the passage: In view of the foregoing, the gist of Article 11, paragraphs 1 and 2, might be expressed as follows: Each State is to judge of the manner in which it shall carry out its obligations, but not of the existence of those obligations. That is to say, each State remains the judge of what it will do, but no longer remains the judge of what it should do.' You observe that the right hon. Gentleman's complete liberty means that you have a liberty not to discharge your obligations, but that there is no doubt that the others have a right to impose the obligations on you. That is not quite the liberty that might have been inferred from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. But the whole terms of the Protocol, as shown in the declaration which I made in Geneva, are framed, not with a view to a naval Power, and not with proper regard to the interests or the necessities or the position of a naval Power; they are framed for the special purposes of States with land forces and land frontiers about which they are anxious. The right hon. Gentleman says it would be easy to deal by Amendment with all the criticisms which His Majesty's Government had made of the Protocol.


I said those alterations that were proved to be necessary.


He said that it would be possible to deal by amendment with all the alterations which might prove to be necessary. We made some study of the Protocol from that point of view. If the right hon. Gentleman will do the same, he will find that very little remains of the Protocol when he has made the necessary alterations; and when, to the necessary changes, you add the reservations which the right hon. Gentleman would have put in for his Government, and the reservations which other representatives would have put in for their Governments when signing, I venture to say that the Protocol would be seen to have shrunk to a very small document indeed, and one which would not have materially increased the security of the world. I am really not sure what the right hon. Gentleman himself thinks of it. At one moment he declares that we undertake no new obligation, at another moment that it is merely the logical conclusion of the Covenant.

I profoundly distrust logic when applied to politics, and all English history justifies me. Why is it that, as contrasted with other nations, ours has been a peaceful and not a violent development? Why is it that, great as have been the changes that have taken place in this country, we have had none of those sudden revolutions and reactions for the last 300 years that have so frequently affected more logically minded nations than ourselves? It is because instinct and experience alike teach us that human nature is not logical, that it is unwise to treat political institutions as instruments of logic, and that it is in wisely refraining from pressing conclusions to their logical end that the path of peaceful development and true reform is really found.

After all, what is our crime? The signature of the Covenant is barely six years old, and we are to be condemned by the right hon. Gentleman because, with only six years' experience to guide us, we are not prepared to re-write the whole document or to super-impose upon it a vast structure which might easily destroy both Covenant and League. There has been a good deal of talk of late in this country about the safety and security of St. Paul's Cathedral. A great many experts have been consulted, and not all of them, I understand, have taken the same view, but, as far as I know, no expert, however eminent, has thought that the security of that building would be promoted by putting another dome on the top of the existing dome, and, whatever their differences have been, they have all agreed that it is by underpinning the foundations that the building will be best preserved. That is cur view in regard to the Protocol. We do not think that it would add to the strength of the League or that it would add to the security given by the Covenant.