HC Deb 17 April 1935 vol 300 cc1851-4

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he can now make his promised statement on the subject of the discussions at Stresa?


I would remind the House that the Stresa Conference was called to consider the Franco-British Declaration of the 3rd February in the light of the information gathered by the British Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal in Berlin and certain other European capitals. The German military claims of the 16th March which had already, as a matter of fact, been far advanced in execution, and the method of their announcement, influenced in one way or another the whole of the Stresa negotiations.

The first subject dealt with was the request of the French Government that the German action should be considered by a special meeting of the Council of the League of Nations which was summoned for 15th April; and the three Governments found themselves in agreement as to the recommendations that should be made to the Council.

The view of the Stresa, Conference as regards the effect of the German Government's announcement is found in the fifth section of the White Paper under the heading of" "Armaments." This records with regret that at a moment when steps were being taken to promote a freely negotiated settlement to release Germany from the armament disabilities of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, the German Government should have chosen that moment to seek the same end by treaty repudiation and to make armament claims of such a magnitude as to invalidate the quantitative assumptions upon which efforts for disarmament had hitherto been based. In spite of this, the three Governments unanimously recorded their continued anxiety to join in every practicable effort to promote international agreement on limitation of armaments, Germany being invited to be a partner to the negotiations.

It was plain that the question of security had been roused very acutely in the minds of the nations of Europe, but in spite of the changed situation the Conference decided still to discuss security in terms of the Anglo-French Declaration of the 3rd February, which it will be remembered contemplates the negotiation of a general settlement with Germany.

The Conference then dealt with what is known as the Eastern Pact, explained by the Foreign Secretary in the statement he made to the House on the 9th April, and it was agreed that endeavours should be continued by the Powers concerned to proceed with negotiations which would cover Eastern Europe with a system of non-aggression and mutual assistance treaties

The second concern of the Conference as regards security (Section 3 of the Communique) was that of the maintenance of the independence and integrity of Austria. The three Powers confirmed their previous declaration that their common policy would continue to be inspired by the recognition of that necessary objective. They also agreed to recommend that representatives of the interested Governments, including all those bordering on Austria, should meet in Rome at an early date with a view to concluding a pact of non-aggression and non-interference for Central Europe.

As regards both the Eastern Pact and the independence of Austria, it will be remembered that the position of this country has always been one of close and friendly interest, but that we have incurred no obligations except that of consultation in the event of the integrity and independence of Austria being threatened. None further were added at Stresa.

There was also brought to our notice at Stresa (Section 6 of the resolution) the desire of Austria, Bulgaria and Hungary to obtain a revision of the armaments clauses of the treaties by which they are bound. The Conference decided to recommend the interested States to examine the question with a view to its settlement by mutual agreement in connection with general and regional guarantees of security.

The three Powers further agreed (Section 4 of the resolution) to continue actively the study of the proposed Air Pact for Western Europe, with a view to the drafting of a Pact as contemplated in the London Declaration, and of any bilateral agreements which might accompany it.

With Italy, the other guarantor of the Locarno Treaty, we re-affirmed the obligations we undertook when we signed that Treaty.

The Conference ended with the declaration of solidarity with which the White Paper closes.

We went to Stresa to consider, as I have said, past statements of policy in the light of new and somewhat deteriorated conditions. Many people thought that these new conditions would involve new commitments by His Majesty's Government. We have assumed none. Without condoning her recent action, but, on the contrary, making it plain that we regard it as a grave cause of unsettlement and a blow to any international organisation of peace and order, we have kept the door open for Germany to join as an active partner in the movements we have planned to create a system of collective security in Europe.

We have made it clear that our policy will continue to be based on the Covenant of the League of Nations. The three States represented at the Conference departed not as separate units broken by the undoubted difficulties they had to deal with, but as a combination of States pledged to keep together and try to find peaceful solutions for present dangers in co-operation with every State willing to associate itself with their work.

I may add that in the statement I am about to make the House will find that provision has been made for a discussion on foreign affairs in the first week after our resumption


May I ask what form the future negotiations on these matters will take? Will they be through diplomatic channels, or conferences through the League of Nations machinery?


If the hon. Member will wait for the opportunity which I stated that the Government are going to give, that question can be answered. As a matter of fact, 1 have not had time to consult with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in whose charge the application of these Resolutions now rests.