HC Deb 20 December 1928 vol 223 cc3412-24

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Sir William Cope.]


I desire, in the very short time which remains, to ask one or two questions of the Foreign Secretary. There was a feeling on these benches yesterday that certain questions put to him by some of my hon. Friends were not answered as fully as some of us would have desired. I wish, therefore, first to ask whether he can tell us now something more about the Rhineland evacuation question. I want, in the second place, to put a question on Anglo-Russian relations, and, thirdly, on Anglo-American relations. With regard to the Rhineland, is there nothing that can be added to the rather sugary communiqué which was issued at the close of the last council meeting at Lugano with which, strictly speaking, it had no connection? What policy is His Majesty's Government following, especially in regard to the very early evacuation of the second zone at any rate? With regard to Anglo-Russian relations, there are some evidences that things are moving towards a re-opening of negotiations with Russia. There have been articles in the "Daily Express" and the "Financial Times" and a most interesting speech by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothhy) at Peterhead last week, which I had intended to quote if there had been more time. Can the right hon. Gentleman add anything now to what he has said in reply to questions in the last few days with regard to the attitude of the Government towards these matters? I have a feeling that there is a certain false pride on both sides in this matter, both in London and in Moscow. I am not here to make any apologies or defence of anything done by Moscow or said from Moscow. If com- plaints are to be made about Communist propaganda, no doubt we on these benches could make them with even more vigour than the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I suspect Communist propaganda and a Communist candidature in his own constituency are not unmixed evils. I say this in the hope that he will not imagine that we have any undue sympathy with one side or the other in this dual display of false pride. What matters to us is the serious state of unemployment existing in this country and the possibility of doing something to alleviate it by developing trade with Russia and the desirability of gradually moving towards a better state of international feeling.

In regard to Anglo-American relations, it is generally felt that these are unsatisfactory at present. We desire to know whether His Majesty's Government is planning any move which may lead to their improvement. There are three points in particular which I should like to mention under this head. First of all, our arbitration treaty with America has lapsed and has not been renewed. Questions have been asked from time to time, and the suggestion has been made that these serious delays are owing to consultations with the Dominions. This seems somewhat surprising in view of some of the utterances of Dominion statesmen. The utterances of the Canadian statesmen in particular have been most friendly to a wide extension of arbitration. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, both Mr. Mackenzie King and Senator Dandurand have made most admirable contributions to discussions on arbitration both in Canada and at Geneva. Cannot we have some assurance that the Arbitration Treaty with America is shortly going to be renewed on a wider basis? Second, as regards disarmament: After the failure of the Coolidge Conference at Geneva, after the unsatisfactory result—I deliberately use colourless words—of the Anglo-French Naval discussions, is there no prospect now of a fresh start being made, and is anything moving at all between ourselves and America with regard to new proposals for naval disarmament?

Finally, as to sea law and the freedom of the seas! This is hardly ever mentioned here on this side, but frequently mentioned in America. Many observers tell us that there is an apprehension in the American mina that on some future occasion of trouble, our view and their view as to sea law may conflict. This fear is at the bottom of a good deal of ill-feeling, suspicion and misunderstanding. Can the Government give an assurance that they are taking this matter into serious consideration and preparing for its friendly consideration in conjunction with America, in order to see how far our views are really apart with regard to the many changes that have taken place since old formulation of sea law was made, with regard to the changes due to the growth of aeroplanes and submarines, to the provisions of the League of Nations Convenant, and, finally and most conspicuously due to the Kellogg Pact. I have only had time briefly to mention these points. They are all of considerable public interest and some of them are gravely disturbing the public mind at this moment. Before we separate for more than a month, I think that public opinion in this country, and, indeed, in foreign countries, will desire some further statement from the right hon. Gentleman.


I want to postulate two questions to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. First of all, with regard to the relations between this country and Russia. In the replies which he gave in the House the other day, he stated that the time would not be opportune to re-open negotiations with Russia until they had desisted from their hostile propaganda against this country. That, while not a definite statement, was a distinct and plain indication that those activities are still proceeding. If that is so, I want to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he has any evidence whatever that these activities are still proceeding, and, if he has, will he be so good as to produce it for the information of the House? That is a matter, I would say very respectfully to him, which does not merely concern himself or the officials of the Foreign Office. It concerns the friendly relations between this nation and the great country of Russia, which is a great prospective trading country. I think that we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman what stands in the way of re-opening friendly relations-with that country?

The second point with which I will deal with equal brevity relates to the question of the Rhineland. The right hon. Gentleman, whenever he is questioned on the subject—and I am going to say this quite inoffensively—adopts an attitude of the most Olympian superiority. He begs us not to embarrass the Foreign Office. The right hon. Gentleman, if he persists in the present policy, is going to embarrass the whole country, and we are entitled to ask him what is going to be the measure and limit of Germany's obligation to this country? Is she going to be told the limit of those obligations to enable her to fulfil them, or are we to maintain our army in the Rhineland on the ground that some indefinite and indefinable obligations have not been fulfilled? I maintain that that is a dishonest attitude for this country to take up, and I sincerely hope that in the ample time which the Foreign Secretary will have to-night, he will try to throw some light on this question.


I should like to refer to one point in regard to the application of the Locarno Pact to the present situation. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs knows that there has been a great deal of criticism lately as to whether we are trying strictly to carry out the spirit of the Kellogg Pact.


Do try to speak up. We cannot hear a word.


I will try.

The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Austen Chamberlain)

The hon. Member spoke, in the first place, of the Locarno Treaty, and in the second place of the Kellogg Pact. I suppose he meant the Locarno Treaty.


I am grateful for that correction. I want to refer to the Locarno Pact in relation to the immediate events of the last few months. There have been several events which have given rise to a great deal of anxiety, which is not confined to any one party or any one country. The fact that in this year the British troops, for example, have co-operated with the French troops in the Rhineland manoeuvres, on German soil, gave rise—as I had occasion to discover, much to my regret, in connection with the Parliamentary Union—to a great deal of anxiety lest the spirit of Locarno had definitely, in this instance, been departed from. The question was put to me whether if, on a fair reading of the Locarno Pact, it is necessary to have any kind of manoeuvres at all we should not be really in honour bound to co-operate with the German Army as much as with the French Army in any manoeuvres that might be necessary.

Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman's legal interpretation of the German position in relation to the withdrawal of troops has given rise to widespread disappointment, mostly, I have no doubt, in Germany, but not confined to Germany. There are men in responsible positions in all the three countries immediately involved who doubt very much the correctitude of that decision. It is thought that it would help not only in our relations with France and Germany, but from the point of view of the general policy of His Majesty's Government in relation to the League of Nations, to throw the onus of that judgment away from ourselves. It has been said over and over again in my hearing, and I have heard it in this House during the last four years from the right hon. Gentleman that whilst he could not accept the obligation of arbitration he would consider the matter on its merits, and that our record was in favour of the method of arbitration. Would he not be willing to submit what is obviously a dispute as to the interpretation of a Treaty, to the World Court, which is an impartial body, so that they might express their judgment upon it. I would like to stress what is felt in all quarters of the House to be a very serious situation.

I do not want to go into any details in regard to the recent unhappy Anglo-French negotiations and their effect upon the Central European mind and upon the mind of the United States, but I should like to draw attention to a remarkable article from Lord D'Abernon which appeared in a monthly publication, the "Nord et Sud." It will be agreed that Lord D'Abernon is very friendly to His Majesty's Government, and certainly if there is one Englishman who can be said to have helped the right hon. Gentleman in regard to Locarno it is that particular Noble Lord. He stated in the article which has been published within the last four weeks in this monthly magazine, which is circulating on the right and the centre of opinion in Germany and Europe, that what we need is to get back to Locarno. I submit that that is a very representative and very telling piece of evidence from one of the best friends of the Foreign Secretary. When the right hon. Gentleman replies to the first part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Dalton), he will give some very precise and very assuring information to the House, that we are not going back to the old entente policy with France, but that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to carry out the fifty-fifty policy which is the glory of Locarno. If he can give that assurance to the House we shall be a long way out of the difficulties which have been embarrassing us since he, unhappily, fell ill in the early part of August this year.


I desire to put three very precise questions to the right hon. Gentleman. I regret that we have not had a longer time to discuss important matters of foreign affairs. The 3iiestions which have been raised with regard to Russia and the Treaties with China which have been signed might well have occupied the whole day. The first two of my questions concern the Rhineland. The right hon. Gentleman would probably remember the statement he made on the 3rd of December. He said: On the question of law, His Majesty's Government are advised that there is no legal justification for the contention that Germany has complied with all the obligations imposed upon her by the Treaty."— [OFFICIAL, "REPORT, 3rd December, 1928; col. 823, Vol. 223.] I will not read the whole of his reply, because there is not much time. Let me read exactly the questions which I think ought to be answered: What, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, will entitle Germany, as a right under Article 431 or otherwise, to demand the withdrawal of the forces at present occupying the Rhineland before the expiry of the period laid down by the Treaty? I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give a concise answer to that question. My second question also concerns the Rhineland and our obligations in connection with other countries. M. Briand, writing as long ago as 1925 to the German Ambassador, said: It is in the same spirit of confidence that the Governments participating in the occupation of the Rhineland have vested in its actual occupation all the alleviations compatible with the Treaty of Versailles. There was a hint in that communication —I will not read it—that there was some agreement between the Allied Powers. My second question is: Whether in the course of the discussions at Locarno in 1925 the right hon. Gentleman discussed the question of reparations and the evacuation of the Rhineland, and whether any assurance was given, official or unofficial, that this country would not take action without agreement between the other countries? My third question is—I raised this point with the Prime Minister over a week ago: Whether the Committee of Imperial Defence considered and approved the acceptance of the French proposals of the 20th of July last for fixing the same maximum tonnage for all the great naval Powers, and if so, what were the reasons for abolishing the policy of the ratios agreed at Washington? Did the Committee of Imperial Defence review all the negotiations in the Anglo-French Pact, and did they approve? If so, in view of the collapse of the Anglo-French agreement, has the Committee of Imperial Defence reviewed the whole question again in the light of the change? I am sorry there is not longer time to discuss the matter, because I think the Committee of Imperial Defence plays an important part in these negotiations. Let me say this. Everyone will agree with me when I say how glad we are, notwithstanding our differences to see the right hon. Gentleman back in the House restored to health. I want to make this point, that in no small measure the ill-health of the Foreign Secretary is due to the burden of work which now falls upon him, and I suggest that the time has come to consider whether the present method of conducting the foreign policy of this country ought not to be inquired into. This is the only country in Europe where foreign affairs are not controlled by a Committee of the House of Commons, or the Houses of Parliament. I do not say that the methods in France or Germany are any better than our own, nor I do not think there is any evidence that they are not democratically controlled. We have many opportunities on the Estimates and on the Adjournment or raising these questions, but I think the time has come when the whole question of the democratic control of foreign affairs ought to be reviewed.


I am grateful to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) for his kindly allusion to my health, but I am a little alarmed at his suggestion that my labours should be alleviated by the creation of Parliamentary committees of the two Houses to supervise all that I do. As far as I can gather from those Foreign Ministers whom I occasionally meet in order to discuss our different Parliamentary systems, they do not find in the existence of those Parliamentary committees any relief from their burden, though they might be able to derive advantage in other respects from the discussions that there take place. Time is short and I will do what I can to reply to the questions that have been put to me. Let me deal first with the Rhineland. There is really, as far as the Lugano conversations are concerned nothing which I can add to what I said the other day. No new engagements have taken place, no new engagements were sought by anyone. What we did was purely tentative and explanatory, preparatory to the negotiations which we hope may eventually lead us to agreement. The policy of His Majesty's Government has been quite plainly declared in this House on several occasions. We desire to secure the evacuation of the Rhineland as early as possible. The questions directed to oblige me to declare myself the supporter of a particular French thesis or a particular German thesis are not conducive to that result. The position of this country depends upon the independence of its own point of view, and if I were to respond to these questions and take sides publicly with one party or the other, I should lessen my influence and the influence of my country for securing that evacuation which all the three Powers would desire to see take place.

I will add one thing about the conversations at Lugano. The hon. Member who questioned me again to-night had put upon the Paper, just about the time of my return from my long absence, a question which directly required a statement of the view which the Government took of the legal position in respect of evacuation under a certain Article of the Treaty. I regret very much that that question appeared on the Paper. I regretted to have to enter into that matter at all. The German Government had been made aware of our view in the course of the September conversations and earlier, and in the September conversations the six Powers had deliberately turned away from the unfruitful discussion of their differences on the legal aspect of the case, to seek an avenue, a road, to a practical solution. I held it to be in our interests not to revive discussion on matters on which we disagreed, but to pursue that road to the practical solution which we all desire. Therefore, if I may use the phrase—it is the correct one to describe it—I put into my answer to the hon. Member, in which I was obliged in consequence of his question to state the legal view—I dragged by the ear the question of policy, to show that, though that was our legal view, that did not in our opinion determine the matter, and that it remained our object to evacuate the country.

Under our custom of having Supplementary Questions, hon. Members apposite proceeded to bombard me with questions which were, in fact, charges and allegations that my answer was dictated by France and that the policy of the Government was subservient. I will only add this, that the first thing I had to do, before we could get on, was to remove from the minds of the German representatives, misconceptions created by those Parliamentary Questions put to me from the benches opposite. The fact of the matter was that I had no communication with M. Briand since I left this country in the month of June, except a friendly message of welcome from him when I returned, on my restoration to health. I am not going into that matter further. My Noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, in circumstances which gave him greater freedom than a Minister has in answering questions, had occasion to state the views of His Majesty's Government fully in another place, and, if the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) will consult that speech, and take the trouble to understand it, it will be an answer to his question.


The only person I cannot understand is the right hon. Gentleman himself.


If somebody who speaks so lucidly as the Lord Chancellor, fails to make his meaning clear to the hon. and gallant Member, I cannot hope to supply the deficiency.


I understand him, but not you.


A similar misinterpretation was alluded to to-night by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) who questioned the advisability of that co-operation which took place between, I think, a British cavalry regiment and the French troops in the Rhineland in the summer. What is the position? We have reduced our force in the Rhineland to so small a figure that it is impossible to give it its proper annual training, and our military authorities gladly took advantage of this invitation and availed themselves of it, in order to secure the ordinary normal training of our cavalry. It had no other significance than that, and to attempt to read into it some alteration of the Locarno policy, some new and military understanding with France, is not only absolutely without foundation, but is actually most mischievous, because it creates suspicion which it ought to be our business to prevent.

The hon. Member for Northampton put me a further question which I have not yet answered, and to which I propose to give an explicit answer. He inquired, if I rightly understood him, whether in the course of the negotiations at Locarno or in the conversations which took place outside Locarno, any assurance had been given by His Majesty's Government that their participation in the occupation of the Rhineland should not be terminated except with the assent of France. I think that was the question put by the hon. Member.


Was there any official or unofficial agreement?


The answer is that there was no agreement, official or unofficial, to that effect.


We could act alone if we wanted to do so?


Yes, Sir. His Majesty's troops are under the orders of His Majesty's Government and nobody else, and we are under no obligations entered into at Locarno or at Lugano, or in any of these negotiations or conversations, to maintain those troops there any longer than we ourselves think it expedient to do so. But I do not think that any substantial result could be achieved by the withdrawal of, I think it is the 7,000 troops that are there, and it is much more important and much more practical to devote ourselves to seeing whether we cannot reach such an agreement as would lead to the early and complete evacuation of the Rhineland.

Then the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate spoke of our relations with Russia. He said there appeared to be movements or currents in different quarters which led him to think that something new might be going on. There has been no change in the situation as far as His Majesty's Government are concerned. I have received no communication from the Russian Government, we have made no communication to them, and, as I have repeatedly said, I do not think that we can usefully enter into negotiations with them until we have from experience the assurance that they have abandoned the practices which led to the rupture of the diplomatic relations which previously existed. The hon. Member asked me to produce evidence. The only evidence to which I would refer is the evidence of the speeches made in Moscow. If he peruses those speeches he will see that there is no change of heart or mind on the part of the authorities who are there in power. The hon. Member spoke of it being false pride which prevented either of us from approaching the other. There is no false pride in the attitude of His Majesty's Government. It is severely practical. We established relations with Russia, first trade relations and, later, diplomatic relations. It was a condition of the trade relations, as it was of the diplomatic relations, that they should desist from propaganda, either in this country or outside of it, directed against the British Government. Each Government in turn found that that engagement was consistently broken by the Soviet authorities. It is not false pride that prevents our renewing those relations: it is the conviction that nothing has happened to cause us even to think it probable that if we renewed the relations the same abuses would not at once begin again.

In regard to Anglo-American relations, I profoundly regret that a little cloud has come over them recently, but I refuse to believe that between two nations both so peacefully minded and so friendly to each other these passing differences are going to create any permanent disturbance of our relations. I was asked about the Arbitration Treaty. I had proposed that that Arbitration Treaty should be extended—at best, we should like to see the old Arbitration Treaty extended—to cover the time which was needed for the consideration of the new proposal which had been put before us by the American Government, and which came upon me completely as a surprise, as I had been previously informed that the American Government intended no change and would merely propose to renew the old treaty. It was found impossible, owing to the business before the Senate, to secure an extension of that treaty before it expired, but let us never forget that there is another and a very valuable treaty which, being without a time limit, is still in force as a treaty, namely the Bryan-Spring Rice Treaty of Conciliation.

My own impression is that very probably in the future relations of the two countries conciliation machinery will be more used by both than any arbitration treaty which may be in existence. Before we could deal with that matter, a much wider and larger proposal was made to us and other Powers by the American Government. Of course, I speak of the great Peace Pact associated with Mr. Kellogg's name, and it seems to us—and I believe our view was shared by the United States Government—that it was certainly desirable to conclude the negotiations on that point, and lay aside for the time being any resumption of any negotiations in regard to the Arbitration Treaty.

I may say, broadly, that in regard to the terms of an arbitration treaty, in regard to further steps to be taken in relation to disarmament or the limitation of armaments, and in regard to the question of the bearing of belligerent rights on these other points, His Majesty's Government are engaged in a very careful inquiry and consideration of the very large issues raised. How large they are, the hon. Member himself knows when he speaks of the freedom of the seas and the effect upon what is called the freedom of the seas of the provisions of the Covenant, and the obligations that we and other nations have undertaken under the Covenant and under the Kellogg Peace Pact. These are matters raising very complicated issues. It is not at all easy to say what is the proper answer to give to the questions which at once suggest themselves. All that I can say for the information of the House is that they have been for some time receiving the very close attention of His Majesty's Government, but we have not yet reached the conclusion which enables us to proceed further in negotiations with the Government of the United States. I hope that I shall be felt to have answered as fully and frankly as the circumstances permit the different questions that have been raised.


May I ask a question arising out of an answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave on Wednesday? I rather understood him to say, in his reply, that the question of propaganda was now the only obstacle to a reopening of the Anglo-Russian negotiations. Is that the situation?


No, I did not say that. I said that that was the preliminary to any reopening of negotiations. Of course, there are other questions which must be settled.


I understood the right hon Gentleman to say that the principle contained in the last Clause of the Trade Agreement of 1921 was accepted as regards compensation and debts. What are the outstanding questions?


I really think that it is useless to enter into subjects which we should have to discuss whenever the Soviet Government has adopted that policy which makes such negotiations necessary. The first step is that those abuses, of which we complain as contrary to international relations, should cease.

It being Nine of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 19th December, until Tuesday, 22nd January, 1929, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.