HC Deb 24 March 1925 vol 182 cc315-7

We have, as a member of the League of Nations and a signatory of the Covenant, the obligations of every member of the League and signatory of the Covenant to every other State within the League, and we propose loyally and faithfully to observe them. Those are obligations of general, of almost universal, application, but we have other obligations which are partial and local. We have an interest in the eastern boundary of France and Belgium, which is more direct, more vital, and to which we are more closely pledged by our signed word than to the general obligations common to every signatory of the Covenant and member of the League.

The right hon. Gentleman an the Leader of the Opposition dealt with it in a passage which I have already read. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon in an aide-memoire handed to the Italian delegation at Cannes said: Great Britain nevertheless has always felt that it was a point of honour on her part to stand by the Treaty (i.e., the Anglo-American Treaty of Guarantee). The understanding which it contained influenced French policy in certain important respects during the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles; and Great Britain therefore considers herself hound in honour to renew her pledge… Great Britain's pledge to stand by France against an unprovoked attack by Germany upon French soil is the first measure necessary to ensure the stability of Europe and to divert the German people from dreams of revenge. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition addressed a letter to M. Poincaré soon after he came into office. He wrote to this effect: There are many people in France who imagined that with the complete defeat of Germany they would automatically be freed for ever from a menace which I fully realise was real. Some thought that in order to obtain absolute security the frontiers of France should be extended to the Rhine. They were disappointed in this expectation; they were offered, instead, a joint guarantee by Great Britain and the United States of America; with the abstention of America this offer itself lapsed, and the French people have since then, with some justification, been seeking … That is the question of security. The need of security for France is great. Her right to expect something from us in that respect is recognised. Our interest and our duty to contribute to provide that security is recognised, and is the common policy of us all. That is something on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. There is nothing I more earnestly desire than to find a basis for a national policy in which we can all agree, and in which we can all heartily co-operate. These declarations give us a special interest in the Western frontiers of Germany. All history points the same way. All our greatest wars have been fought to prevent one great military Power dominating Europe, and at the same time dominating the coasts of the Channel and the ports of the Low Countries. Our ancestors fought Spain in her heyday. Our grandfathers fought Napoleon. We ourselves only a few years ago fought Germany. The issue is one which affects our security. It is an issue which we have never shirked and never can afford to shirk. But that is not all. There are at this moment our treaty obligations. There are Articles 42 to 44 of the Treaty of Versailles, Articles which deal with the left bank of the Rhine, and the demilitarised zone on the right bank. Article 42 says: Germany is forbidden to maintain or construct any fortifications either on the left bank of the Rhine, or on the right bank to the west of a line drawn 50 kilometres to the east of the Rhine. Then in Article 43 we read: In the area defined above the maintenance and assembly of armed forces, either permanently or temporarily, and military manœuvres of any kind as well as the upkeep of all permanent works for mobilisation are, in the same way, forbidden. Article 44 says: In case Germany violates in any manner whatever the provisions of Articles 42 and 43 she shall be regarded as committing a hostile act against the Powers signatory of the present Treaty and as calculated to disturb the peace of the world. The French text gives it more correctly, and says: as seeking to disturb. We or the Dominions have, therefore, a direct Treaty obligation to maintain these articles. The peace of the world and the peace of the British Empire depends upon the observance and maintenance of that Treaty provision.