HC Deb 10 March 1937 vol 321 cc1131-4
15. Sir Robert Rankin

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, seeing that a committee of the League of Nations, formed to discuss the question of raw materials, has proceeded to consider matters affecting the transfer of territory and other subjects concerning the sovereignty of Great Britain in the British Colonial Empire, he will give to Parliament information as to the origin of this unfriendly action?

16. Lieut.-Colonel Wickham

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that the Committee on Raw Materials at Geneva is discussing questions affecting the disposal of British Colonies; and whether he has lodged a protest and requested the withdrawal of such suggestions from the agenda of that committee?

17. Mr. Wise

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to proposals which are being considered by the Committee on Raw Materials at Geneva, which suggest the transfer of British possessions to some other sovereignty and other matters which have no concern with the subject of raw materials; and, if so, what action His Majesty's Government propose to take?

18 Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether his attention has been called to the memorandum which the secretariat of the League of Nations has prepared for the Committee on Raw Materials; whether he is aware that that report refers to suggestions which have been offered as to preferential agreements and the domestic arrangements existing within the British Colonial Empire; and on whose behalf were these suggestions offered;

(2) whether he is aware that it is suggested in the memorandum prepared for the Committee on Raw Materials that there should be a transformation of colonies into mandated territories or the transfer of their administration to an international authority; whether His Majesty's Government have consented to this discussion on the disposal of the British Colonial Empire; and what country is responsible for tabling suggestions which interfere with British sovereignty in His Majesty's territories overseas;

(3) whether it is customary for the Secretariat of the League of Nations to frame memoranda with proposals affecting the sovereignty of member States without stating from what country such suggestions emanate; and whether His Majesty's Government will take immediate steps to protest against such procedure?

Mr. Eden

I think that there is some misunderstanding on this subject. The terms of reference of the League Committee now sitting at Geneva were clearly defined in the report of the Polish delegate to the League Council last January. A copy of that report is in the Library of the House. It will be seen that, under these terms of reference, the League inquiry is strictly limited to the question of equal commercial access for all nations to certain raw materials. Any discussion of territorial redistribution of colonies or mandated territories, or any change in their administration is entirely precluded. I am arranging to place in the Library a copy of the memorandum prepared by the Secretariat of the League to which reference has been made. This document does not in any way constitute the agenda of the present inquiry. The Committee are not working on its basis. It represents merely a collection of views of a general character which have been expressed in publications, official and unofficial, in recent years. The origin of these views will be found clearly indicated in the memorandum itself. It is naturally nowhere stated by the Secretariat in the memorandum that these views ought to be discussed by the Committee. The particular views regarding territorial redistribution and change in administration to which my hon. Friends have drawn attention, are in any case outside the scope of the Committee's terms of reference, and the Committee is, therefore, precluded from considering them.

Sir H. Croft

Were the views that were offered, offered by States members of the League or were they unofficial suggestions which have been put forward from other sources, and have the Government protested against the idea that these questions can be discussed?

Mr. Eden

As I understand it, there never was any suggestion that they should be discussed. What have been collected have been various expressions of opinion on the subject recently. They are not on the agenda.

Mr. Wise

In view of the fact that these subjects are being mentioned whether they are on the agenda or not, would the right hon. Gentleman issue instructions to the British delegation that they are to withdraw from the committee if such suggestions are discussed?

Mr. Eden

If my hon. Friend has read the speech of Sir Frederick Leith Ross in the committee last Monday, he will see that the position has been safeguarded.

Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

Which country initiated the inquiry?

Mr. Eden

We originated the inquiry.

Sir H. Croft

Is the House to understand that it was on the initiation of this country that it is suggested that all Colonies should become mandated territories?

Mr. Eden

No. I have made it clear that this matter is not on the agenda at all. What has been issued by the Secretariat is a collection of opinions by persons of various countries. They have no authority or support from His Majesty's Government.

Mr. Mander

Is it not a great pity that these ideas are excluded from discussion?