HL Deb 18 July 1911 vol 9 cc548-50

LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH rose to ask the Lord President of the Council whether he could lay on the Table copies of Treaties or extracts from Treaties embodying "our Treaty obligations to France" I in connection with Morocco.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am afraid, from what I understand, that my noble friend will not grant the Return which I am endeavouring to obtain from him. If the noble Viscount has arrived at an adverse decision perhaps he will allow me to make, just one or two observations to explain why he should reconsider that decision. I am told that it would be difficult to make this Return, in fact that it could not be made. The desire is that there should be laid before Parliament copies of Treaties or extracts from Treaties embodying our Treaty obligations to France in connection with Morocco. It is said they are difficult to extract. I have examined what appears to be the main part of our Treaty obligations, and it appears to me that it would be easy to give the Treaty between France and ourselves which was concluded when the noble Marquess opposite was Foreign Secretary. Only four clauses are concerned—the second, fourth, seventh, and ninth; they are very simple clauses and could easily be put into a compact form. It is said that the Algerciras Act considerably affects those obligations, and that it is a voluminous document; but I do not think it has been established, or, at least, it is very doubtful, that there are any Treaty obligations in it towards Fiance involving us. But it is not of a very difficult character.

I submit that it is not difficult to put before the country or Parliament in a simple form the Treaty obligations which are referred to. Indeed, a subsequent statement has been made which contradicts the one as to difficulty. It is said, "Oh, you can do it yourself. Any private person can get any of the documents, and can easily make the extracts." Then again, it is said that it has been done by the newspapers. The newspapers do perform a very useful public function when they give extracts from public documents so as to convey to the public their simple essence, but they do so on their own authority, and the extracts do not carry with them the authority which a Government communication would command. The great utility of such a Return as the one for which I ask would be that it would tend to the education of the public as to the character of our Treaty obligations with France in connection with Morocco, and the authority of a communication so put forward would be such as to conclude differences which might arise in similar documents in newspapers. We may be told that the differences arising out of the question of Morocco are, perhaps, passing away. There is great hope that they will be settled. I hope so too. But there is no reason to apprehend that the publication of this Paper would cause any delay in settling the questions which may have arisen and which may be under discussion by the respective Governments—on the contrary, it may facilitate the settling of those questions. I press upon the noble Viscount the expediency of considering the granting of the request which I make to him.


My Lords, the concluding observation of my noble, friend takes us on to what is rather at the time, delicate ground, and I am sure he will excuse me if I do not touch that part of the question. It would be highly inconvenient, or might be. The answer to the Question on the Paper is this—The Treaty obligations referred to are those contained in the Anglo-French Declaration of 1904, which was presented to Parliament in a very slender Blue Book in the Treaty Series No. 6, 1905. This country is also, as my noble friend is perfectly well aware, one of the signatories to the General Act of the International Conference at Algeciras relating to the affairs of Morocco. The obligations under that Act are shared by all the other signatory Powers. The Act has just been laid before Parliament in the Treaty Series No. 4, 1907. If any member of this I House or any member of the public is interested, as he may well be, in the terms of our obligations to France, and the terms of our obligations under the Algeciras Act, along with the other signatory Powers, I think it is really very little trouble for him to turn over the pages of these two Blue Books—barely Blue Books, and one of them of the most slender character. I would also point out that the clauses relating to our obligations to France concerning Morocco are rather involved, and a selection of them would not be so perfectly simple a transaction as my noble friend appears to think. He is quite right when he says that the public Press has already—I have one before me now—produced a sort of précis of the effect of these two instruments, perfectly adequate—a couple of columns intelligible to the plain man in the street. I hardly see I what is to be gained by governmental publication, and I may perhaps point out to my noble friend that, though I doubt if anything could be gained, the deliberate publication of selected extracts from these two important instruments at this moment might be open to a dubious and perhaps injurious construction. What may happen by-and-by I do not know, but I am afraid, for the present at all events, I must beg to be excused for not complying with my noble friend's wishes.