§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—
§ [Captain Margesson.]
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I rise to call attention to a matter about which I gave notice at Question Time a week or so ago, and that is as to what extent consultation has taken place with the Dominion Governments and whether any agreement has been arrived at with them in connection with the change in foreign policy, as I interpret it, which has taken place. That change may not have been of very recent growth. It is possible that it has been going on for a considerable period, but it was brought to a head, and the facts were brought out with some distinctness, at the time of the resignation of the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. There has certainly been a profound change of policy, whatever the reasons may be, whether good or bad, since the last General Election. With regard to the 1338 Italian negotiations now going on, I understand, from questions that have been answered, that the Dominions are being informed of what is taking place, but that it is not intended to consult them unless something arises in which they are closely concerned. It is the policy with regard to the League of Nations and the Government's attitude towards the League of Nations as concerning the Dominions that I particularly want to raise to-night.
It is, of course, well known that the Dominions themselves attach enormous importance to their membership of the League of Nations. It gives them a feeling of independence, of distinct and separate status, which they have not had before and which is enormously prized by them. Indeed, it is the case that when the optional Clause was signed by the late Mr. Arthur Henderson and the Dominion representatives at Geneva some years ago, two of the Dominions expressed the view that it was quite competent for disputes between Dominions to be decided by the Permanent Court of International Justice—that shows how far their feeling goes—but that, as a matter of expediency and policy, they desired to submit those disputes to an Empire court. It is my belief that all the British Dominions desire to play their part to the full in the collective system of the League of Nations. Indeed, the British Empire is quite incapable of being defended except as part and parcel of such a system. If it is to be abandoned, then, for example, Australia and New Zealand will have a very poor chance of maintaining their independence, and if the League goes as a result of a change of policy, then, to my mind, the British Empire is certain to go too.
While the Dominions are perfectly prepared to play their part under the Covenant of the League of Nations, some of them have made it clear that if it is to be the old dog-fight on a purely nationalist basis, they cannot be relied upon so to do, and I think there is a very-strong body of opinion in Canada and South Africa, for example, that would probably desire to remain neutral in any disputes in which the Empire might become involved if it was not part of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Now let me quote certain recent statements by the Press on this subject. I would like first to quote from the "Manchester Guardian." 1339Reports in some London newspapers that the Dominions have been consulted by the Dominions Office about foreign policy in the present European crisis and that they have given their views are not true. Mr. Mackenzie King, speaking in the Commons at Ottawa yesterday, said that the Canadian Government had not been consulted, but had been kept informed of developments in Europe. Inquiries in London indicate that this applies also to the other Dominions.There is resentment in Canadian quarters here about this Press attempt to use the Dominions to buttress the Chamberlain policy. It is pointed out that all the Dominions are members of the League and are bound by the Covenant. A League policy, therefore, would not involve risk of Empire disunity. But if the Home Government departed from a League policy, each Dominion would have to decide its own course of action.In a message from the Canberra correspondent of the "Times" on 3rd March there is a statement from Mr. Lyons, the Australian Prime Minister, in which he says:To resolve doubts (Mr. Lyons continued) he had communicated with Mr. Chamberlain and had obtained his authority to state that the United Kingdom Government adhered to the policy enunciated by the Imperial Conference of "1937, and, in particular, that there was no change in principle in the attitude of the United Kingdom Government towards the League of Nations and collective security.Another cable on 22nd March from Australia said:The newspapers fairly reflect the cleavage of Australian opinion on the European situation, on which Mr. Lyons, the Prime Minister, is studiously silent.I come to the main point I want to make. Mr. Lyons said that on the information given to him there had been no change of foreign policy. I want to ask the Secretary of State not just to tell the House that assurances have been given that there has been no change and that they are all satisfied. I want him to say whether the Dominion Prime Ministers have had the precise words used by the Prime Minister on 22nd February put to them, because I believe that those words, clearly read, can convey but one meaning, and that is a complete abandonment as a working institution of the collective system of the League of Nations. Let me read certain words:I doubt very much whether the League will ever do its best work as long as its members are nominally bound to impose sanctions or to use force in support of obligations.1340 That may be right or wrong but it is a fundamental departure from the Covenant of the League and is quite different from the system as understood by the Dominions and the world at the present time. It is an abandonment, and it is coming to the same position as that taken up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). The Prime Minister went on to say:I would not tear up a single article of it, not even Article 16, in the hope that some day it might be reconstituted in such a form that we might rely upon being able to use those powers for the function for which they were originally intended.That is, it is to remain in the Covenant but it is to remain inoperative. We are to regard it as not binding—surely a curious doctrine that if it does not please you at the moment you need not regard any particular international obligation as binding on yourself:But I would have it clearly understood to-day that the League cannot use them and cannot be expected to use them and that the nations which remain in the League must not be saddled with liabilities or risks which they are not prepared to undertake. Nor must other nations expect that the League will provide that security which it was once hoped it would provide."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1938; col. 228, Vol. 332.]That is a nice look-out for some European States which have been looking to the League for that security. He goes on:I believe that if the League would throw off shams and pretences, which everyone sees through—
§ Mr. Mander
I want to know what the Dominions think about it. I am not interested in what hon. Members on the other side of the House think; I am thinking of the other ends of the earth, to which some of these remarks may percolate. He said:If the League would throw off shams and pretences, which everyone sees through, and come out with a declaration of what it is prepared to do and can do as a moral force to focus public opinion throughout the world, it would justify itself.Some hon. Members cheer that. That may be the correct view, but it has nothing to do with the conception of the Covenant of the League, which all members of it have stood up for up to the present time. The British Government at the last General Election got their great majority on that basis.
§ Mr. Amery
I should like to remind the hon. Member of a speech made by General Smuts in which he pointed out that at the Conference table the Dominions and the United States of America would work with the League, but that once the League were regarded as an international war office neither the United States nor the Dominions would have any part in it.
§ Mr. Mander
I remember the speech very well. I was present on that occasion and I am certain that General Smuts in using those words was in no way giving support to the doctrine that the League of Nations must become purely a moral force without any sanctions.
§ Mr. Mander
I have a clear recollection of the occasion and General Smuts' point was that he was opposed to making the League of Nations a military body with an international police force, but to say that you must never use force in the application of sanctions is in my view to misrepresent the very strong support that General Smuts has always given to the League. It is perfectly clear that we have had from the Prime Minister a declaration that in his view the League should have no physical force behind it, no military sanctions and that in all circumstances it should rely purely on moral force. He went on to suggest that under those conditions it might be possible to invite back Germany and Italy and Japan. He said:It might draw unto itself again some of those who have lost faith in it in the past "—Germany lost faith in the League—and the future of the League might be assured for the benefit and salvation of mankind.I want to ask whether those words, and the doctrine behind them, have been conveyed to the Dominion Governments. Have they accepted the abandonment of the use of force on behalf of the League, which is implicit in those words? It is of vital importance to know that. We do not want to be told simply that an assurance has been given to the Dominions that there has been no change. There has been a change of a fundamental kind since the last General Election. If those words still stand, and I 1342 presume they do, it means a complete abandonment of the whole system of collective security and the League of Nations. I agree that the Prime Minister and the Government still adhere to it as a distant ideal to which we shall attain one day. I am sure they are very sincere about that, but the point is: Is it operative to-day? Clearly, if that is the Government's view, they do not think so.
In particular, I want to know whether the New Zealand Government, which is wholeheartedly, 100 per cent., behind the Covenant, and the whole Covenant, as they declared in a very admirable memorandum which they submitted a year or two ago—a communication on the reform of the League, where they go for the full application of Article 16 and of every other article—
§ Mr. Mander
I am making my own speech. I should like a specific assurance that the New Zealand Government have accepted this doctrine which I have read out and agree with it. Furthermore, is it conceivable that General Smuts agrees with this new doctrine? I do not accept the version of his speech given by my right hon. Friend opposite. I should like to know whether the South African Government have not simply accepted the assurance given to them but have accepted it on the basis of that statement. I hope that with his usual clarity the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the points I have raised, as I conceive them to be in the highest interests of the British Empire. I have no other object to serve, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some assurance as to precisely what the Dominions do feel on this extremely important matter.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)
I think that the whole House will agree that the closest possible contact should be maintained between the Government of this country and the Governments of the Dominions in regard to international affairs, and that it is the duty of this Government particularly to keep overseas Governments fully informed not only upon international events but on the comments on those events from our diplomatic representatives and on the policy regarding those events of His Majesty's Government in this country. I think we fulfil 1343 that duty adequately and to the satisfaction of the Dominions.
I inquired the other day how many telegrams on the subject of foreign affairs had passed from this Government to Governments overseas in recent years. I discovered that in 1936 no fewer than 258 telegrams had been sent by this Government to each of the Dominion Governments on that matter. In the following year there was an Imperial Conference in London. Dominion Prime Ministers were present here for a great many weeks and communication took place during that time by word of mouth at the Conference Table. Nevertheless, telegraphic communication was necessary for a considerable period of the year, and no fewer than 195 telegrams went from this Government to each of the Governments of the Dominions with regard to foreign affairs. I take this opportunity to give the House that information in order to indicate that at any given moment the Dominion Governments are fully seized of any information which we have in our possession and of our opinions and policies regarding these all-important matters.
A principle regarding this matter of communication between ourselves and the Dominion Governments on foreign policy was implied in the hon. Gentleman's speech. He rightly suggested that if this Government were contemplating any important change in their foreign policy they should give the Dominions good warning of the contemplated change before it was made public to the world, so as to give the Dominions time to make comments and criticisms and perhaps to attempt to influence us if they felt so disposed. I accept that principle of policy in its entirety, and I think that any Secretary of State for the Dominions to whatever party he belongs would accept that policy and act upon it. Where I quarrel with the hon. Member is in his views regarding the particular case he has raised this evening. He has stated, as he stated in his question the other day, that there has been a recent change of policy on the part of His Majesty's Government in foreign affairs and particularly in regard to its attitude to the League of Nations.
§ Mr. Mander
I did not say it was recent; I said it might have taken place over a considerable period.
§ Mr. MacDonald
I appreciate that, but the very fact that it has been taking 1344 place over a considerable period somewhat modifies the necessity for special communications with the Dominions regarding it in the very recent past. I am going to deal with all these questions before I sit down, but surely it is relevant to emphasise the fact that the statement of this Government's attitude to the League of Nations which was made by the Prime Minister towards the end of last month was not representative of a recent change of policy by His Majesty's Government. I would make three comments on what the hon. Member has said this evening, and what he said the other day at Question Time. The first is that what the Prime Minister said with regard to the League of Nations on 22nd February did not represent any change of policy on the part of this Government. Those views as to the ability of the League, constituted as it is at present, to fulfil all the functions which we hoped it would be able to fulfil, have been held by His Majesty's Government for a very long time.
§ Mr. MacDonald
My first point is that they do not present any recent change of policy by the Government. The second comment I would make is that Ministers representing His Majesty's Government have certainly said so before, and have been giving indications of this policy for a very long time past. It was not the first time that that view of the League as at present constituted had been expressed. The whole question of the reform of the League, as it is called, was raised formally at the Geneva Assembly in the autumn of 1936–18 months ago; and on that occasion my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who was then Foreign Secretary, speaking on behalf of the Government, gave the first indication of the consciousness of the Government that the League as constituted could not carry out its full functions. I will not trouble the House with the whole speech which he made on that occasion, but it contains this sentence:A lack of universality "—that is, of membership—has unfortunately been operative to some degree ever since the inception of the League. It has been aggravated by defections in recent years, and the authority of the League 1345 has without doubt been greatly impaired by the fact that its pronouncements do not have the weight of universal world opinion.That kind of sentiment has been expressed by representatives of this Government from time to time since, until again, in January of this year, the late Foreign Secretary made a more specific statement than he had made 18 months ago, when he merely threw out a suggestion. In January of this year, a whole month before that speech of my right hon. Friend which the hon. Member has quoted, the late Foreign Secretary used words which, although the vocabulary is different, expressed in substance exactly the same sentiments as those expressed by the Prime Minister. This is what he said:There can be no advantage in shutting our eyes to certain events. By the defection of some of its more important members, the League is now faced with the fact that the area of co-operation is restricted and that its ability to fulfil all the functions originally placed upon it is thereby reduced. We must realise that in present circumstances the League is not in a position to do all that it was hoped to do.That is a perfectly specific statement. What is in the OFFICIAL REPORT is perfectly consistent with what the then Foreign Secretary said to the League a month beforehand.
§ Mr. MacDonald
The third comment I would make is that we have been in touch with the Dominions right through the last 18 months, ever since they and we met together at the Geneva Assembly of 1936 and had a complete exchange of views amongst each other as to this matter. That exchange of views has been continued ever since in connection with the meetings of the committee of the League which examined this question. It was continued at the Imperial Conference last year.
§ Mr. MacDonald
If the hon. Member will let me make my own speech, as he 1346 said he should be allowed by my hon. Friends to make his, I will take his points one by one. It was on the basis of the views which were expressed by the Prime Minister in that speech on 22nd February of this year. There was no need, in fact, to inform the Dominion Governments of our policy, of which they were perfectly well aware beforehand, and had been aware for many months past. Just to show that I am endeavouring to assure the hon. Member completely, let me answer his specific question. He asked whether these very words used at this Box by the Prime Minister were conveyed to the Dominions. The answer to that question is that the whole of that passage regarding the League of Nations was telegraphed immediately in full to every one of the Dominions.
§ Mr. MacDonald
It was telegraphed on the same day that the speech was made. If those words had been any surprise to the Dominions, if in the view of the Dominions they had represented a change of policy, the Dominions would have been the first to indicate to us that that was a matter upon which consultation was required, but the very opposite is the case. If the hon. Member had not interrupted, I was going to give quotations to show that, far from Mr. Lyons being surprised, he had specifically said that this represented no change of policy, either on the part of the United Kingdom Government, or on the part of the Australian Government, and that this very attitude towards the League of Nations represented the attitude of a great many Governments, including Dominion Governments for a considerable period of time past. The views of the New Zealand Government have been as well known as our have been.
§ It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.