HC Deb 28 February 1938 vol 332 cc741-4
42. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been called to the figures of the extraordinary Italian Budget, issued from Milan on the 9th instant, showing that it is £170,000,000 in debit and to the fact that no satisfactory peace settlement can be made with Italy unless and until international means have been found for covering this deficit, due mainly to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia; and whether he is prepared to give an assurance that, as far as the British Government is concerned, no obligation for this debt will be assumed by this country?

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)

I am aware of the figure referred to in the first part of the question, but I do not understand why the hon. and gallant Member supposes that the Italian Government regard their budgetary position as a matter for international treatment. So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, there is no question of assuming such an obligation in respect of Italy or any other foreign country.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

May I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom the original question was addressed, whether he can give us a definite assurance that neither directly nor indirectly, through export credits or other means, will any British credit be used to support Italian finance?

Lieut.-Colonel Colville

I have given a very definite answer to the question which was on the Paper, and I am not in a position to add to it.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

If I put down a further question perhaps I may get an answer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this exceedingly important matter.

45. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the circumstances attending the resignation of the ex-Foreign Secretary, he will give an assurance that in future no decision will be taken by the Government affecting foreign relations on the basis of unofficial information unless received by the Government through the medium of and on the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member appears to be under a complete misapprehension. The decision of the Government to which he refers did not turn upon the nature of the Italian Ambassador's reply to the question put to him, and he had been so informed on Friday, 18th February.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the fact that the ex-Foreign Secretary stated in the House last week that the first intimation which he had of the communication from the Italian Government was from the Prime Minister himself on the authority of an unknown person, does not the Prime Minister consider that communications from foreign Governments should be submitted to the Cabinet through the medium of the Foreign Secretary?

The Prime Minister

An official communication was asked for by the late Foreign Secretary and myself, to be given to us on Monday. This unofficial information reached me on Sunday and I communicated, as I though it my duty to do, that information to the Cabinet as a whole. It did not make any difference to the decision. If it had been upon that in- formation that a decision was to have been taken, of course I should have asked the Italian Ambassador to let me have it before.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not desirable from the point of view of the Foreign Secretary that information of this kind should not be conveyed to the Cabinet except through and on the responsibility of the Foreign Minister?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend did not make any objection.

Mr. Bellenger

Arising out of the remark just made by the Prime Minister that this was asked for on the Monday, may I ask why that information from Count Grandi was asked for on the Monday? The right hon. Gentleman remarked that both he and the Foreign Secretary asked for a reply on the Monday morning which reply eventually came. Why was it asked for on that day?

The Prime Minister

Because we wanted to give the Italian Ambassador time to communicate with his Government.

Mr. Tinker

Is it in keeping with the dignity of the Prime Minister of this country to receive unofficial communications like that?

47. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister the identity of the person from whom the information as to the Italian Government's acceptance of the British formula was received?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, this is not a matter of any public interest.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the fact that Count Grandi did not convey the communication of his Government to His Majesty's Government until the day after the ex-Foreign Secretary had resigned, is it not definitely in the public interest that we should be told whether the person from whom the information was received on the Sunday was in touch with Count Grandi here in London or in touch with the Italian Government in Rome?

The Prime Minister

As nothing turns upon this confidential information, I cannot see that that matters.

Mr. Davidson

Is the identity of this person known to the members of the Cabinet or to the ex-Foreign Secretary himself?

Captain Harold Balfour

Is it not curious that these questions should come from a party who, when in office, had their policy dictated almost entirely from outside sources?

Mr. Shinwell

Are we to understand from the answer which the right hon. Gentleman has just given that the identity of the person concerned is known only to the right hon. Gentleman himself?

The Prime Minister

Not even known to me. I only guessed at it.