HC Deb 24 February 1936 vol 309 cc6-9
10. Mr. DALTON

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will publish as a White Paper the Report of the Inter-departmental Committee presided over by Sir John Maffey on the question of an Italian occupation of Abyssinia; on what date this report was presented; and whether its conclusions have been accepted by His Majesty's Government as the basis of their policy?

13. Colonel GOODMAN

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been directed to the publication in the "Giornale d'Italia" of a document purporting to be a report to his Department on British interests in Abyssinia from a committee of which Sir John Maffey, Permanent Under-Secretary to the Colonies, was chairman; whether he has caused any inquiries to be instituted as to the means whereby the newspaper in question obtained a copy of this confidential report; and with what result?


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been drawn to the publication in an Italian newspaper of a confidential document on Abyssinia, prepared by Sir John Maffey and presented to the Foreign Office in June last; and whether this document represents the views of His Majesty's Government?


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to publish as a White Paper the document relating to Abyssinia which has been published in an Italian newspaper?

51. Colonel WEDGWOOD

asked the Prime Minister how the Maffey Report came to be supplied to the Italian Government or the Vatican?


The House will be aware that through an indiscretion, or a deliberate breach of confidence which every effort is being made to trace, a confidential document, the property of His Majesty's Government, has apparently come into the possession of an Italian newspaper. The leakage of information of this character must naturally be a matter of serious concern to the Government and every effort is being, and will be, made to determine the cause. I deprecate, however, any suggestion that the document is in itself, and particularly at this date, of an especially secret character, the disclosure of which can be a source either of any great embarrassment to His Majesty's Government, or of any danger to the interests of the country. Still less is there any justification for the suggestion which has, I understand, been put forward in Italian newspapers that its contents are such as to establish either the variability or the insincerity of the policy followed by His Majesty's Government in the Italo-Ethiopian dispute.

I will tell the House precisely how the report embodied in the document originated. Towards the end of January, 1935, when the Abyssinian situation was already a cause of pre-occupation to His Majesty's Government as a member of the Council of the League, an inquiry was made by the Italian Government as to the nature and extent of British interests in Abyssinia. An inter-Departmental Committee was thereupon set up, under the chairmanship of the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, for the purpose of estimating British interests in Abyssinia and of attempting an appreciation of the extent to which these interests might be affected by external events. I must make it clear that it was in no sense the task of this Committee to deal with His Majesty's Government's obligations under the Covenant or to attempt to frame a policy for His Majesty's Government in what had by that time come to be the possibility of serious trouble between Italy and Abyssinia. Had it been otherwise, the Committee would have been differently constituted. It was merely concerned to establish facts.

The Committee's investigation naturally occupied some time, and in the ultimate event no specific reply was returned to the Italian inquiry, owing to the fact that by the time the examination was completed the rapid development of Italian activities in regard to Abyssinia was beginning to raise the whole question of the integrity of Abyssinia, as to which any personal interests were naturally subordinated to our obligations as a member of the League. The Committee reported to my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 18th June last and its report was to the effect that there was no important British interest in Abyssinia with the exception of Lake Tsana, the waters of the Blue Nile, and certain tribal grazing rights. This, I may say ot once, is precisely the consideration which has underlain every authoritative statement of the policy of His Majesty's Government in the Italo-Ethiopian dispute. That policy has been inspired by no selfish or ulterior motive, but solely by consideration of the duties incumbent on His Majesty's Government as a member of the League of Nations and as whole-hearted supporters of the doctrine of collective security.

After a full review of all these circumstances I have come to the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served by publishing this document as a White Paper.


May I ask whether any steps are being taken to check these leakages, of which this is not the first within recent months, and a continuation of which will undoubtedly lead to very serious consequences? Can we have an assurance that what happened in Paris in the case of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and what has happened in this case will really come to an end?


I quite agree with the hon. Member that the leakage of any secret British document must be a matter of grave concern, and I know that the House will not expect me to state what steps the Government propose to take. At the same time I think we must distinguish between the theft or disappearance of a British document and the leakage in Paris, over which His Majesty's Government have no control.


If we did away with secret diplomacy, we should have none of this trouble.


Can the Foreign Secretary give us the personnel of this Committee? He has given us only the name of the Chairman.


This was a Civil Service inquiry, and I do not think that the House would wish me to go beyond the answer I have given.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to the publication in the "Giornale d'Italia" of confidential reports on British interests in Abyssinia, presented to the Foreign Office last June by an Inter-departmental Committee presided over by the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office; whether he can inform the House as to how this confidential document came into the possession of an Italian newspaper; whether the Press leakages, which occurred during the recent Hoare-Laval negotiations, have yet been traced; and what steps are being taken by the Government to stop similar leakages in future?


As regards the first and second parts of the question I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). As regards the third part, I understand that the leakage in question took place in Paris. As regards the last part, any precautions which may be considered necessary will be taken in addition to those which are already in force.


May I ask whether the recent document which appeared in the Italian Press was printed or not? Was it a letter sent to various people or a typewritten document sent by a confidential secretary?


Does the hon. Member mean, whether the document was printed for our use?


Yes, whether it was printed or not?


It was printed.


Has the right hon. Gentleman considered a, possible leakage in this way? I do not ask him to give me a definite reply.