HC Deb 24 March 1925 vol 182 cc317-21

I come now to the German proposals, to which allusion has already been made in Debates in this House. I think now that I can, without injury to any prospect that they may contain, speak with greater frankness than I felt myself able to do before I went to Geneva. If I can do so, I am quite certain it is my duty to this House to do it. The German proposals are very properly put in a somewhat liquid shape. They have not been subject to any precise or rigid definition. They are put forward as a possible basis for discussion, not as a thing to be taken or left, or as an agreement already put into a form in which it might be signed. They did net, in the first instance, come to me fully. They came to me under circumstances of secrecy, of attempted secrecy, which, I have already admitted, caused me to feel some suspicion about them. I am convinced—and I say so in my place here—from what has passed since, that the German Government are making a sincere and an honest attempt to lead to a better state of things; and it is in the hope that we may assist to carry that effort to a fruitful conclusion that we have engaged in our serious discussion of their proposals. Very broadly I would outline the German suggestions as follow: Germany is interested in the establishment of a special Treaty foundation for a peaceful understanding with France. Germany is prepared to consider a comprehensive arbitration Treaty, to enter into a mutual Pact with the Powers interested in the Rhine. Similar arbitration Treaties might be concluded with other States which have common boundaries with Germany if those States desire. Further, a Pact expressly guaranteeing the present territorial status on the Rhine would be acceptable to Germany. The Pact might further guarantee the fulfilment of the Articles I quoted a moment ago from the Treaty of Versailles.

The House, I think, will agree with His Majesty's Government that it is a signal advance that such proposals should have reached us even in a vague form, and on her own motion, from Germany. If I understand them rightly, they amount to this: that Germany is prepared to guarantee voluntarily what hitherto she has accepted under the compulsion of the Treaty, that is, the status quo in the West; that she is prepared to eliminate, not merely from the West but from the East, war as an engine by which any alteration in the Treaty position is to be obtained. This not only in the West but in the East, she is prepared absolutely to abandon any idea of recourse to war for the purposes of changing the Treaty boundaries of Europe. She may be unwilling, or she may be unable, to make the same renunciation of the hopes and aspirations that some day, by friendly arrangement or mutual agreement, a modification may be introduced into the East, which she is prepared to make in regard to any modification in the West.


I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but this is very important. It is the first time we have had any official account of this significant offer. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if I understand Germany as prepared to accept voluntarily the boundaries of the West. She does not demand any reconsideration or revision of those boundaries? Do I understand that she makes the same declaration in regard to the East, or is that subject to arbitration?


No, Sir. My right hon. Friend rightly understood, if I rightly understand, what Germany is prepared to do in the West. In regard to the West she is prepared to renounce all desire of change, and to enter into a mutual Pact to guarantee the existing situation. In suggesting arbitration in the East, she does not propose or suggest that her Eastern frontiers should become subject to such treaties of arbitration. She is prepared to say that she renounces the idea of recourse to war to change the frontiers in the East. She is not prepared to say, in regard to the frontiers in the East, that she renounces the hope some day to modify some of their pro- visions by friendly negotiation, by diplomatic procedure, or it may be, for aught I know, by recourse to the good offices of the League of Nations.


May I ask whether it is convenient for my right hon. Friend to say now whether in any way this proposal is linked up with a proposal that she should join the League of Nations or otherwise?

6.0 P.M.


I am coming to that. That was broadly the position when I left London to confer with M. Herriot in Paris, and to attend the Council Meeting of the League at Geneva the other day. What were the instructions which I carried with me from His Majesty's Government for the purposes of my interview with M. Herriot, and with the other Foreign Ministers whom I met at Geneva? They charged me with a message which, I frankly say, it was personally not wholly agreeable to me to deliver. I see that sometimes I am accused of being pro-French. I have seen it stated, and I told M. Briand that I was accused at Home of being in his pocket. I thought he looked a little regretfully at the size of his pocket and wished it were larger, so that he might have me more safely deposited. But though I have, and I confess it, deep sympathies with the French people, a great appreciation of what France has done for the world and, incidentally, for ourselves, I owe to France the frankness of a friend, and the very fact that I used that frankness will, perhaps, carry a conviction that would not come from one who was not known to be as warmly her well-wisher as the present Foreign Secretary is.

What was the message I gave? I had to tell M. Herriot, and the other Foreign Ministers, that His Majesty's Government were unable to sign the Protocol. I had to add that, whilst we appreciated all that was involved for France in the failure, through American abstention, of the Anglo-American Pact of Guarantee, yet after what had occurred in Cannes, and after what had occurred in the troublous years that followed, it was not within the power of a British Government to offer to the French Government or the Belgian Government a ere-sided Pact of Guarantee of their frontiers directly pointed against Germany

But I told them, and I told others, that we attached the highest importance to these German suggestions, that we thought they should be examined most carefully in order to see whether they did not, in fact, open the door to a new and better state of things, and close 'the door not merely on actual military operations, but on that war-like atmosphere which has endured ever since the Peace of Versailles. I found myself in agreement with the representatives of all the foreign Governments whom I met that these proposals could not be lightly turned down or rejected, that we must examine them carefully and see what advantage could be drawn from them, that we must work with good faith and good will in the hope that we might make them the basis of a real security and a real peace. I found myself in agreement on certain broad principles. Any agreement that we might make should be made, in the words of the Declaration which I read at Geneva: Any arrangement into which we might enter should be purely defensive in character, it should be framed in the spirit of the Covenant, working in close harmony with the League, and under its guidance if possible. It is equally obvious that, in the view of His Majesty's Government, our obligations could not be extended in respect of every frontier. That is one reason, the main reason, why we rejected the Protocol. It was because it was a universal extension of our obligations of the most serious kind. But we thought that what we could not do in every sphere we might properly undertake, and advise our people to undertake, in that sphere with which we were most closely connected. But it must be made quite clear that in trying to underpin the Covenant and to stabilise peace in the West, we were not licensing or legitimising war elsewhere; that to enter into fresh engagements of a mutual character turning into a friendly agreement, voluntarily made on both sides, what is now a peace imposed by the victors on the vanquished—that that must not be held to be an encouragement to those who were defeated yesterday to try and reopen conclusions in other spheres. On the contrary, we held that by the mere fact of stabilising peace in the West you would give an additional guarantee to the frontiers of the East.

After all, who is it who has an interest in disturbing those frontiers? No country has a greater, a profounder interest in stabilising peace, or in promoting good relations with her great neighbour, than Poland; and no one, no impartial person, who can judge Germany's interest with a clear mind, unclouded by prejudice or passion, can fail to see that Germany can gain no real advantage, and no additional security by attacking her Eastern neighbour. Time and friendly adjustment, the force of economic ties and obligations, the free play of commercial interests, should lead those great nations to cultivate an ever-growing an ever-closer friendship, once they can get away from the atmosphere of yesterday and turn to what should be the attitude of the future.