HL Deb 07 July 1926 vol 64 cc900-13

LORD PARMOOR rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can now give further information as to the nature of the obligations which Treaties impose on the Dominions; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have given notice to the noble Earl, Lord Clarendon, who represents the Dominions in this House, of the points that I desire to raise this afternoon. I believe myself that no questions at the present moment are of more importance, as regards the Dominions, than those which have been raised in regard to the obligations which are placed upon the Dominions by Treaties at the present time. There is no doubt that in all the Dominions, and more particularly in Canada and South Africa, and in Ireland as well, this question has become one of the first importance and has given rise to more local discussion and consideration than any other.

I am bound to say that in my opinion this attitude is well justified. It is not intended to be antagonistic to this country, but there are questions, as I think I should point out to your Lordships, which ought to be considered now to prevent further agitation going on. The difficulty is this, if I might summarise it first of all. The difficulty is that Treaty obligations which may involve war— I merely give Locarno as an illustration, and it is with reference to Locarno that a great deal of this discussion has arisen — will have the result of making the Dominions into belligerents, whether they desire it or not, and mere municipal regulations— if I may use the expression— will not interfere with what is now governed by the rules of international law.

I should like in the first instance, as I have told the noble Earl, to ask him whether he concurs in a statement of the law, which I have endeavoured to make more than once but which I will take at the present time from a statement issued from the Colonial Office when Mr. Winston Churchill was at the head of that Office, during the Coalition period. I take his statement because I believe it to be absolutely accurate. It certainly is in accord with my view of international law, and it is the reason why, at the present time, much discussion, not always of an entirely friendly character, has arisen in our great Dominions. This is what he stated:— When the King declares war all subjects of the British Empire and all the Dominions of the Crown are from that moment at war. Other parts (i.e., other parts than England) of the Empire are brought into the war by the act of the declaration of war, and the enemy may attack them". Of course, that is a very serious position as regards the Dominions. We want, I believe— at least I am sure the Party to which I am attached want— a full unity and loyalty. They want the two combined for all parts of the Empire, but they consider that this unity and loyalty is not to be brought about by what I may call coercion, and still less by pressure of Protection or Tariff Reform, but should be brought about by giving fair consideration to the wishes of the Dominions, thus giving them the maximum of freedom in all matters of this kind.

During the War we were extremely indebted— we cannot exaggerate the amount of our indebtedness—to the unity and loyalty of our Empire. No one will question that for a moment, but when the War was over, and perhaps partially as an effect of the great services rendered during the War, they were given almost an independent position. They were signatories, as part of the Empire, of the Treaty of Versailles, and, also as part of the Empire, they were given an independent position in the League of Nations at Geneva. At Geneva they had as much weight, technically, as the Home Government itself. They are in the position of independent bodies entitled to vote independently, but —at any rate that was my experience at Geneva—we all managed to work together, and it is my cordial desire that that should always be so.

Let us see what was said by the then Prime Minister in 1921, at the first Imperial Conference after the War. He said:— The British Dominions have now been accepted fully into the comity of nations by the whole world. They are signatories of the Treaty of Versailles and of all the other Treaties of Peace; they are members of the Assembly of the League of Nations, and their representatives have already attended meetings of the League; in other words, they have achieved full national status, and they now stand beside the United Kingdom as equal partners in the dignities and the responsibilities of the British Commonwealth I desire to express most cordially my agreement with that statement, made almost on the morrow of the War, and no doubt under the influence of the great services which they rendered during the War.

The Prime Minister further expressed, in somewhat epigrammatic language, the same idea in these words:— Whereas in past time Downing Street controlled the Empire, to-day the Empire is in charge of Downing Street Perhaps that is carrying matters a little far. I do not wish to exaggerate, but the point is that on the one hand the Dominions become subject to all the dangers and obligations of belligerent powers if war is declared by this country, as it might be in the enforcement of any of our Treaties, whereas, on the other hand, they are told that they possess, and they are now claiming, the position of independent persons in the sense that they are equal partners who have achieved full national status. The problem which I want to discuss is how, in the interests of the whole Empire and with a full consideration of the claims of the Dominions themselves, we can reconcile these two apparently inconsistent positions. We cannot reconcile them as a matter of municipal law; it must be a matter of international understanding, and that is fully appreciated by the Dominions themselves. I shall be obliged to give one or two illustrative extracts of the view which they take upon this matter.

There was a further Imperial Conference in 1923, and so important was this matter— and it is undoubtedly a matter of fundamental importance for the future of this country and our Empire— that a very special Committee was appointed under the chairmanship of the Foreign Secretary. That Committee was under the guidance— I know one must not mention names in this connection—of a legal adviser of the Foreign Office to whom I am sure the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Cecil of Chelwood) and everyone who has had to do League work feels that this country is deeply indebted.

What was the Report at that Conference which sat in 1923?—and I think it was the last Imperial Conference there has been. It was said:— The principles governing the relations of the various parts of the Empire in connection with the negotiation, signature and ratification of Treaties seemed to the Conference to be of the greatest importance I am sure the noble Earl will not have any difference of opinion upon that. It was added:— Accordingly it was arranged that the subject should be fully examined by a Committee of which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was Chairman I think that at that time the Secretary of State was the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. I have selected two recommendations out of a most careful Report which that Committee made. One of the recommendations is this — Before negotiations are opened with the intention of concluding a Treaty, steps should he taken to ensure that any of the other Governments of the Empire likely to he interested are informed, so that, if any such Government considers that its interests would be affected, it may have an opportunity of expressing its views, or, when its interests are intimately involved, of participating in the negotiations I presume that there has been no change of outlook or policy as regards that very important statement.

There are reasons why I desire Locarno to be successful, but that is not the immediate point. What has raised the discussion is that as regards the Locarno Treaty, although it has been laid down that they ought to be parties to the negotiations—which, of course, also implied the possibility of effective intervention and of effective discussion—I have asked once or twice, and have never yet found out, whether any effective communication, in the sense of negotiation with the hope of coming to a common purpose, took place. So far as I know, no negotiations were ever initiated. I know that the noble Earl has more than once said that, whatever the negotiations may be, they are at the present time what I may call secret. I do not believe in that; I believe it is a great mistake if difficulties of this kind are not frankly opened and frankly discussed in public; but I should be surprised, having regard to one or two quotations which I shall have to give, if the noble Earl is able to say that negotiations were carried on for the purpose of coming to a common determination, and that Locarno was postponed or relegated to the future because these negotiations have not so far borne any fruit.

I will only read one other passage out of the same Report, and here again it is most important, if we are to preserve the unity and loyalty of the Empire, that these matters should be observed:— Steps should be taken to ensure that those Governments of the Empire whose representatives are not participating in the negotiations should, during their progress, be kept informed with regard to any points arising in which they may be interested If the principle is maintained which was laid down by the Colonial Office, and which is certainly in accord with the principles of international law—nobody, I believe, questions it—it is almost impossible to imagine any negotiations of this kind which may result in war or peace in which the Dominions are not interested. I should like to know, so far as the noble Earl can give me the information, to what extent that second Resolution was observed in the negotiations. I cannot say it led up to the Treaty of Locarno, because the Treaty is not yet fully complied with, but to the proposed Treaty of Locarno.

The three Dominions to which I wish to call attention and in which considerable discussion has arisen upon these matters are Canada, South Africa and, to a considerable extent, Ireland. Taking Canada first of all, I told the noble Earl that I intended calling attention to a recent very important discussion in the Canadian Parliament regarding the objection of Canadian statesmen and of Canada to come under this international obligation without full opportunity of consultation and negotiation. That was the subject matter of the discussion, and as part of the view which they very strongly expressed they hoped that some means might be found—and I entirely agree with them—by international communications by which the liability of a Dominion to become a belligerent in the circumstances I have mentioned might be mitigated or altered. In connection with this movement—and it is a movement which has to be considered—all Parties came the other day to a unanimous resolution; that is to say, there was no division in the Canadian Parliament. It was before the present conditions arose in Canada, to which I have no wish to refer at all. It was when Mr. Mackenzie King was Prime Minister and: Mr. Meighen was Leader of the Opposition.

The Canadian House of Commons gave its unanimous support, irrespective of Party, to the Motion of the Prime Minister. Mr. Mackenzie King, providing that before the ratification or acceptance of military or economic Treaties or Agreements by the Canadian Government the approval of the Canadian Parliament must be secured. In other words, although they were not objecting, they said in the course of the debate in terms, that they were not prepared so far to approve of it, they were all agreed that they must have an opportunity for discussion and must ascertain the views of the Canadian Parliament. There was a long debate which occupied, I think, an entire day and there, was very strong comment on withholding from the Canadian Parliament, the negotiations regarding the Locarno Treaty. All Parties in Canada desired that those negotiations should be published and the reason why they were not published was the objection of this country. I am not now discussing whether that objection is sound or not, but I am calling attention to the extremely legitimate attitude of the Canadian Parliament that they should not be bound to all the obligations of belligerents under Treaties made by this country without an opportunity for full discussion and consideration.

I have one statement here which I should like to quote because, although it is in accordance really with other statements, I told the noble Earl it was the statement to which I desired to call his attention. I do not want to go through the whole Report which consists of a very large number of pages. It is the declaration of Mr. Forke, who is the Leader of the Progressives: that is to say, he is the Leader of neither of the two big Parties. He declared that the people of the Dominion would have the interests of the British Empire best at heart by looking after their own country, attending to their own affairs, and always looking across the Atlantic with feelings of affection and appreciation. That is what we all desire should continue to the maximum extent. And he added:— If the time ever comes when danger threatens the old land I am certain that the sons of Canada would be willing to sacrifice themselves as in the days gone by. This is admirable, and I have no doubt that if they are not interfered with, if they are allowed the freedom which they can justly claim in matters of this kind, there will be no interference with their making the sacrifices which they have made in days gone by.

May I be allowed to say something further upon that subject as I see the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, in his place I The noble Earl made a very important statement upon this subject when, in 1924, the noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon, raised the question of disarmament. In the course of a debate, which I dare say the noble Earl will remember because a good deal of discussion took place in reference to what was called the Treaty of Mutual Guarantees, the noble Earl pointed out (and I entirely agree with him) that the great force for peace in the world was the maintenance of the unity and loyalty of the British Empire. That we must maintain, in my view, by giving full play to the opinions the Dominions have expressed, not depending in any sense upon what I may call coercion but upon loyalty and common feeling and the knowledge that when the time comes they will sacrifice themselves again as in the days gone by.

In regard to South Africa I think one is obliged to say that unless the matter with which I am dealing is settled the attitude is likely to become less friendly than one would wish it to be. General Hertzog declared that after the Treaty of Versailles the Dominions had been compromised by creating the doctrine of "group unity," but, that this doctrine had utterly failed in practice; and to show that it had utterly failed in practice, he pointed to the illustration of Locarno. It has always seemed to me to be extraordinary that the Party in this country —I do not want to make this a Party question—which has always protested most strongly its desire for the unity and loyalty of the Empire should have disregarded on this vital occasion what it has always put forward as one of its most important requirements. General Hertzog also said that at Locarno the Dominions had not been properly represented—as far as I know they were not represented at Locarno at all—and the British Government had gone its own way without consulting them. That is exactly the way, of course, to cause friction and trouble. He said further that this meant the rejection of the "group unity" idea (that is the idea to which I have already referred), and brought the Dominions back to a sound basis by returning to the Versailles Treaty and the claim of the international independence thereby accorded them.

If they want international independence and their entrance into the comity of nations, as stated at the Imperial Conferences in 1921 and in 1923, I should like to ask the noble Earl this question: Is it not of the greatest importance that this measure of independence should be allowed them; that we should not take an attitude which, undoubtedly, may raise friction and trouble, but should do all we could to maintain the unity and loyalty of our Empire and to meet the wishes of these two great Dominions of Canada and South Africa?

A similar movement has been set on foot in Ireland and other parts. I do not want to go too far. I want to say that the position in Ireland is very special and not that it is analogous to the position either in Canada or South Africa. There is a special provision in the Treaty which created the Dominion of Southern Ireland that the Government of the Irish Free State shall accord to His Majesty's Imperial Forces in time of war or strained relations with a foreign Power such harbour and other facilities as the British Government may require. It was reasonable enough, I presume, that in the case of Ireland, so nearly on one of our frontiers, a provision of that kind should be made, but I must add this. Their special obligations, which are heavier than in the case of any other Colony, make them yet more anxious that they should not be put in the position of belligerents without a full opportunity of explaining their views and of notifying in what position they stand, not the least in disloyalty but from a claim to hold the position which in the case of the other Dominions was won by the Treaty of Versailles and in their case at a later date.

I hope I have sufficiently explained what the real vital importance of this matter is. It cannot stand over indefinitely; it is a matter which must be grappled with. I hope it is grappled with in accordance with the views the Dominions themselves have expressed. I believe that in that way unity and loyalty can be found combined and that, if a time of trouble comes, if we recognise the justice of their claims now, they will always stand up for the old country, giving services of such inestimable value as they did in the Great War. I do not want necessarily to move for Papers, because the noble Earl may perhaps have some technical objection to it, but I make the Motion in case I should wish to ask the noble Earl anything at a subsequent stage. I beg to move.


My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord for his courtesy in having told me privately exactly what were the points that he desired to raise in the debate that he has initiated on this Question in your Lordships' House this afternoon. May I at the outset answer his question with regard to Papers? I am afraid there are no Papers which we can lay. The only Papers which we can lay are the published Resolutions of Imperial Conferences on the matters which he has raised.


I am quite content if it stands at that.


I think your Lordships have listened with a great deal of interest to the issues which have been raised by the noble and teamed Lord this afternoon. I feel that he would not desire me to reply, except in general terms, and he would expect me to refrain from anything in the nature of what may be described as a categorical reply. I am sure the noble and learned Lord will not think that I wish in any way to be discourteous to him. That is very far from my intention or desire, and I can assure him that on all the issues that he has raised this afternoon there is absolutely no indifference on the part of His Majesty's Government. On the contrary, the Government recognise and realise the importance of all the issues which he has raised, affecting as they do every part of the British Empire. I am inclined to think, however, that the noble and learned Lord will agree that at this moment no dogmatic pronouncement can be made on behalf of His Majesty's Government (one of the Governments concerned), especially in view of the fact that at no very distant date all these important issues will be discussed at the Imperial Conference which is to take place here in October of this year.

One of the questions which the noble and learned Lord raised in his speech was that of the, Treaty of Locarno. That, as I think he is aware, will be one of the subjects which will be discussed at the Imperial Conference. During the course of his speech the noble and learned Lord asked me if I could give him any information with regard to any communications which had passed between this Government and the Governments of the Dominions in respect of the Treaty of Locarno. He will recollect that I answered a question of this kind some time ago and informed him that the Dominions had been kept fully informed of all the steps and negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Locarno The noble and learned Lord also referred to the debate which took place in the Canadian House of Commons on June 21 of this year. I do not know whether he was more fortunate than we were in the Dominions Office, but we only received the Official Report within the last forty-eight hours and I am sure the noble and learned Lord will recognise that there has not been sufficient time, either on my part or on the part of the Dominions Office itself, to consider that Official Report in anything like detail, but I will attempt this afternoon to give, if I can, a brief indication of what we think the object of the Canadian Government was in bringing the Motion before their Parliament.

Mr. Mackenzie King, in introducing that Resolution, indicated that it fell into two parts. The first part asked for the formal approval of Parliament of the Resolutions regarding the negotiation and the signature and the ratification of Treaties accepted by the Imperial Conference of 1923 (the last Imperial Conference), and the reason that Mr. Mackenzie King gave for bringing forward that part of the Resolution was that it was desirable that Canadian Ministers, when they were over here for the Imperial Conference, should be able to state that their Parliament had approved the Resolutions that had been adopted at the previous Imperial Conference. With regard to the second part, it was explained that that was to the effect that before Ministers in Canada advised the ratification of any Treaties or 'Conventions affecting Canada, or the acceptance of any Treaties, Conventions or Agreements which would involve military or economic sanction by Parliament, those should have beforehand received the sanction or approval of the Canadian Parliament itself.

The Resolution of the Imperial Conference provided that the existing practice should be followed with regard to the ratification of Treaties. The noble and learned Lord is probably aware that the existing practice was defined to be that ratification of Treaties imposing obligations on one part of the Empire is effected at the instance of the Government of that part; and that ratification imposing obligations on more than one part of the Empire is effected after consultation between the Governments of those parts of the Empire concerned. Now, Mr. Mackenzie King explained that the object of the Canadian Government, in bringing forward in the Canadian House of Commons that part of the Motion to which the noble and learned Lord has referred, was that in the case of Canada it would help to avoid embarrassments and dissensions and would make for the greater unity of the Empire in so far as the future was concerned, if the general practice were adopted of important Treaties involving military obligations being submitted for approval by the Canadian Parliament in the first instance, preceding any advice that the Canadian Government might give which would be favourable to ratification. There was one question which I do not think the noble and learned Lord put to me in the speech which he made—a question directed to the employment of Dominion troops in the event of war. I do not think he put that question.


I did put it because I read what had been issued from the Colonial Office, that in the event of war a Dominion of necessity becomes a belligerent.


That is a question to which I am afraid I cannot venture to give the noble and learned Lord an answer. In our view that is a domestic question which the Government of the Dominion must decide for itself.


I do not want any misunderstanding. According to the view which I read from the Colonial Office—which I believe is quite correct—it is not a domestic question; it is an international question. That is one of the difficulties.


I am afraid I cannot give the noble and learned Lord any further answer on that point. I have gone very carefully into the question with the office, and that is the answer that I am authorised to make in respect of that particular point.

With regard to the speeches which were made in the Union of South Africa by General Hertzog, the Prime Minister, and1 to the discussions which have taken place in the Irish Free State as to the equal status of the Dominions, and the stress which was laid on the necessity for making some pronouncement on this point to foreign nations, let me make this observation: The principle of equal status is one to which His Majesty's Government attach the greatest possible importance. That principle is contained, as the noble and learned Lord no doubt is aware, in Resolution IX of the Imperial Conference of 1917 and has been reaffirmed on more than one occasion. In that Resolution the principle involved the recognition of the right to a voice in foreign policy and in foreign relations and a provision for effective arrangements for continuous consultation in1 matters of Imperial concern to all in the Empire.

His Majesty's Government are no less anxious than the Labour Government, of which the noble and learned Lord was a member, to assert, and to assert fully and strongly, the importance which they attach to this principle. If all these principles are adhered to, and detailed arrangements are made for the applica- tion of them in any case that may arise, the Governments of the Empire will surely, as a result of this concerted discussion, be able not only to deal with ill the problems that may arise either now or in the future, but also with such issues as the noble Lord has raised in the course of this debate.

Before I sit down there is just one more point that I should like to make-The noble and learned Lord laid a great deal of emphasis upon the technical and logical side of the relations between the various parts of the Empire. I venture to think there is another point—another much more important point—which should not be overlooked, and that is the human aspect, or, if I may so put it, the moral aspect.


That is the point I made.


That aspect surely—and I am glad the noble and learned Lord agrees—will be paramount if we should have to deal with any future crisis. In such a crisis surely the strength of the British Empire will depend, not so much upon the observance of forms or the maintenance of constitutional principles as in the belief of all its nations and races in the righteousness and justice of the cause which they are called upon to uphold.


My Lords, I beg most heartily to thank the noble Earl for the answer he has given me. I am the last person, as I tried to express in my speech, to seek to raise controversy about this extraordinarily vital and important question of Imperial unity and loyalty. May I say this—I thought I had made it quite clear—that in my view this unity and loyalty depend on what the noble Earl called the human principle and not on mere technical matters. What I also desire to make clear—I am not quite sure that I understand his opinion upon this point, his opinion being, of course, that of His Majesty's Government—is that the complaint which is now being made is that this very attitude, which he called the human attitude, is not, in fact, being observed as between the Dominions and the Mother Country to the extent to which he and I would desire it to be carried. I stated that the reason for that was that, although certain pro- visions and regulations had been laid down, particularly at the Imperial Conference, it was the view in these debates to which I have referred that in practice they had not always been observed.

However, I do not want in any sense to raise controversial matters. I believe that all political Parties in this country have the same desire—though they may pursue the goal by somewhat different means—and I heartily thank the noble Earl for the answer he has given me. Having regard to what he has said, I will ask the permission of the House to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.