HL Deb 17 March 1926 vol 63 cc590-601

LORD PARMOOR rose to call attention to Article 9 of the Locarno Treaty, and to ask His Majesty's Government whether any correspondence has taken place in reference thereto with the Dominions of Canada and South Africa; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Resolution which stands in my name on the. Paper, to call attention to Article 9 of the Locarno Treaty and to ask His Majesty's Government whether any correspondence has taken place in reference thereto with the Dominions of Canada and South Africa. I cannot help knowing, as the noble Earl knows, that correspondence has taken place, and the question is how far or to what extent it can be made public. I believe that with proper excerpts and the omissions which I suppose have to be made from correspondence of this kind there should be no difficulty, but I propose to develop that thesis in what I am going to say to your Lordships. Perhaps I might make it clear at the outset that this Question has nothing to do with the matters which have taken up our attention in the Geneva discussion during the last week. That is a separate matter altogether and does not in any way affect the Question which I am asking and the Resolution which I am proposing.

It may be well—perhaps you may not have it in your minds—to quote the terms of Article 9 of the Locarno Treaty to which I call attention. I quoted it on a previous occasion when addressing your Lordships and then the noble Earl told us that communications had passed between His Majesty's Government and Canada—I think he went so far as to say between the Dominions and ourselves—with reference to the matters involved. Article 9 is in these words:— The present Treaty shall impose no obligation upon any of the British Dominions, or upon India, unless the Government of such Dominion, or of India, signifies its acceptance thereof. My present Question is limited to the Dominions of Canada and South Africa. Of course, the same principles apply to all the Dominions, but these two are selected as being the two Dominions in which there has been a great deal of internal discussion and suggestion. I should like in a few words to point out again what I pointed out before—namely, that it is quite impossible that the Treaty of Locarno, if and when it is ratified, should impose no obligation upon any of the British Dominions. I think the noble Earl knows what I said on the previous occasion and I have not heard any answer to it. If you have, as is the case in our Empire, what I will call a common sovereignty, including both Mother Country and her Dominions, you cannot go to war so far as the Mother Country is concerned without involving the Dominions in the position of belligerents. That is a principle of international law which I have not seen questioned anywhere, although various articles have been written by Professor Keith and others pointing out its importance on the present occasion.

Now it is natural, of course, that the Dominions should be anxious, under our present Empire Constitution, to have a proper share in and proper knowledge of both our foreign policy and our Treaty obligations, and the noble Earl, in answer to a letter written to him, has supplied me through his secretary with two documents which give the information which I wanted. I will take the liberty of reading them shortly to your Lordships' House, because it is on the statements made in those two documents that I am largely basing this application for further information. The first of those documents is the Command Paper No. 1474, which contains a summary of the conference between the Prime Ministers and representatives of the United Kingdom and Dominions which was held in June, July and August, 1921. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, speaking on behalf of Great Britain, asked for suggestions for the conduct of Empire business and he made this statement: Any suggestions which you can make upon that subject we shall be very delighted to hear and discuss. There was a time when Downing Street controlled the Empire; today the Empire is in charge of Downing Street. Without committing myself to such a general statement as that, I think it is accurate to say that nowadays Downing Street cannot act independently of Dominion suggestion and influence, and that to that extent the Dominions are in charge of Downing Street rather than Downing Street dictating to the Dominions. Then Mr. Lloyd George said this:— On all matters of common concern we want to know your standpoint, and we want to tell you ours. That is exactly what I desire should be done, but of course it can only be done effectively if, so far as is permissible, publicity is given to communications of that kind.

On the mutual relationship within the Empire this statement is made: I read it for the sake of concentration; it was I statement which was intended to bind, and does bind, the Mother Country in relation to the Colonies:— The British Dominions have now been accepted fully into the comity of nations by the whole world. That is one of the results, as pointed out at that time, of the Great War. They are signatories to the Treaty of Versailles and of all the other Treaties of pence; they are Members of the Assembly of the League of Nations, and their representatives have already attended meetings of the League. … That, of course, very accurately points out the entirely new position, or the practically new position, occupied by the Dominions towards the Mother Country as a result of our common action and common assistance during the Great War. Then we have this passage: In other words, they have achieved full national status"— I think those words are extremely important— and they now stand beside the United Kingdom as equal partners in the dignities and the responsibilities of the British Commonwealth. If there are any means by which that status can be rendered even clearer to their own communities and to the world at large we shall be glad to have them put forward at this Conference. I adopt fully, at any rate on my own behalf, every word which was stated by the then Prime Minister as to the relationship between the Dominions and the Mother Country. The effect of it is that as regards foreign policy, and morn particularly as regards Treaty negotiations, we cannot, in loyalty to our Dominions, proceed in those matters without taking thorn into our confidence and having common negotiations expressive of our common interests.

In 1923, in a special way outside the questions of foreign relationships dealt with in 1921, Resolutions—given in Command Paper No. 1987—were passed under the heading: "Negotiation, signature, and ratification of Treaties." Then there was a Resolution drawn up by the legal adviser of the Foreign Office—I believe we do not state names, but the name is giver, in the Paper itself—who we all know has very special skilled knowledge and experience in these matters. I cannot read all that Resolution, but I will deal with two paragraphs. In paragraph (b), on page 13, under the head "Negotiation": Before negotiations are opened with the intention of concluding a Treaty, steps should be taken to ensure that any of the other Governments of the Empire likely to lie interested are informed "— Of course, ill asking for the correspondence I want to know whether that obligation which we have undertaken towards our Dominions was carried out. and whether, before opening the negotiations which resulted in the Treaty of Locarno, steps were taken to ensure that the Governments of our Empire in Canada and South Africa had full knowledge of what we intended to do— so that if any such Government"— this shows the reason the information— 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. What I want to ask the noble Earl—perhaps he will give me this information, although he may have reasons for not submitting the documents themselves—is this: Was the: Government of Canada given an opportunity of expressing its view and, where its interests were affected, of participating in the negotiations? I take Canada as an illustration because there has been a great deal of discussion on this matter in Canada, as well as h South Africa.

This if not a matter where any particular Government is concerned. I should like to say in the strongest manner that I do not think matters of this kind ought to be approached from a political Party point of view at all. They are matters of great national and Imperial importance, quite outside the special interests of one Government or another. I should like to add this. It is sometimes suggested, I think quite wrongly, that perhaps the Labour Government may have, less interest in our Imperial position and in the relationship between the Mother country and our Dominions than may be held, for instance, by the Government in power at the present time. I want to deny that in the strongest terms. No doubt there may be differences as to the way in which the Imperial connection may be best fostered and encouraged. I do not believe, for example, in the attitude of the present Government on the question of preferential tariffs and matters of that kind. On the other hand, I do believe that the Empire ought to be regarded as an Empire of independent Commonwealths in an equal position, able to work together and negotiating so as to act for common purposes to preserve not only the peace of the Empire but also, and in connection with that, the peace of the whole world.

There is one other passage which I want to read, paragraph (d) under the same heading:— Steps should be taken to ensure that those Governments of the Empire whoso representatives are not participating in the negotiations should, during their progress, be kept informed in regard to any points arising in which they may be interested. I find it difficult to conceive any matter of foreign policy in which the Dominions are not interested. If I may give an illustration, I may say that when I was a delegate at Geneva, we were in constant communication every day—I was going to say almost every hour—with the representatives of the Dominions as to the League policy to be followed. And, as a matter of fact, at that stage we all agreed; we not only negotiated and communicated, but we came to a common agreement. Subsequently, no doubt, as we know, there was some difference of opinion, although I think it was exaggerated, in the Dominions in reference to agreements which had been come to at Geneva, but no one stated more strongly than our critics, who were the succeeding Government, that no foreign policy of that kind, no foreign policy in which there might be any liabilities or any burden thrown upon any of our Dominions, ought to be either negotiated or entered upon or considered until there was assurance that we were all working together for a common purpose. I felt, and still feel, the force of that. But I have seen no evidence at present that our successors in their policy had anything like the same regard for Colonial opinion that we had.

Since I put down my Question on the Paper I observed, in The Times of yesterday, a message from its Ottawa Correspondent headed "Canada and Locarno Correspondence." That message quotes the answer which was given by the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Mackenzie King, to an application that the documents to which I am referring should be laid on the Table. The answer given showed that the British Government are opposed to any such publication. But I should like to read the words and I think it is fair that I should do so because, although I do not agree with it, I appreciate what was stated on behalf of the British Government. I had not seen it until yesterday, but what Mr. Mackenzie King said was this— We intimated that the Canadian Government would be prepared to accede to any request, so far as communication on our part was concerned"— That "communication on our part" had regard to the communication between them and Great Britain on the subject of Locarno. It was on that subject that he was asked to give information, and the documents on his side I am asking for now. I think I have rightly summarised the effect of it. Then he went on to say— but we are informed by the British Government that they do not see their way to consent to the publication of these Despatches, as they are of a detailed character, covering many phases of negotiations, and contain confidential information a-s to the views of foreign Governments.

I think the answer to that is one which has often been given. I realise that in communicating or publishing Despatches you must and ought to be careful not to interfere with private communications made by some third party—a foreign Government, for instance. That does not mean that the portion of the Despatches which is required to enable one to ascertain the attitude of the two principal parties may not be published. It has to be done constantly. But in matters of this kind you have to omit, and very properly, certain portions of the letters or correspondence. I do not know how often I have seen correspondence made public with limitations of that character. But I am afraid I shall have an unfavourable answer from the noble Earl; I appreciated that when I saw the answer that had been given in the Canadian Parliament.

It is really important to remember that the Canadian Parliament were asking for information to which they seemed to me to be entitled so far as Canadian interests are concerned. I admit at once that they are not entitled to it in reference to secret correspondence, if I may use the term, and confidential information as between Great Britain and foreign Governments. If the foreign Governments do not assent to it I think it would be a breach of diplomatic etiquette at least, to put it no higher, to publish documents in those circumstances. But it is unnecessary. I do not want to see, and no one I think wants to see, any matters of diplomatic reserve as between ourselves and foreign Governments. What we want to see from this correspondence is the attitude taken up between Canada or South Africa on the one side and the Home Government upon the other. I regard this as a matter of the very greatest importance. There is no question to the front at the present moment, or since the War, of greater moment or more vital interest to the people of this country and to the world than the unity of the Empire in the cause of peace and of peace policy. I recollect an interjection of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, the other day, in a speech by my noble friend Lord Thomson. The noble Marquess said that we are all pacifists now. We may all be pacifists, but I want to go a little further than that.


I did not quite say that.


The noble Marquess nearly said it and that is enough for my purpose. I very nearly congratulated him at the time—I did sotto voce— for making a statement of that kind. But that statement is not sufficient and I am sure the noble Marquess will agree that if he and I are pacifists we have approached the problem from different points of view. I do not think he will deny that for one moment. I am approaching the Dominion question at the moment from the point of view that the unity of the Empire and the working of the Empire together for a peace policy is one of the most important of the peace project which are to the front at the present time. It is absolutely essential that there should be unity on foreign policy in a peace spirit as between the Dominions and the Mother Country. Perhaps I might quote words used by General Smuts of which I took a note at the time. Ho urged them to pursue a common policy to bring real peace both for the Empire and the world generally.


Hear, hear.


There are many points in which I do not entirely agree with the noble Marquess, but I am glad to have his assent upon that matter.


What I assented to was what General Smuts said.


That is sufficient for my purpose. I do not desire to cross-examine the noble Marquess further on any interjectional statement he may have made. To ensure that common policy is a great national purpose, or may I put it, that to ensure it is a great Imperial purpose. If it is a great national and Imperial purpose there ought to be publicity as far as it can possibly be carried, in order that if anything like a breach or difference of opinion arises it may be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. I have said that what I am calling your Lordships' attention to today has no reference to what has been passing at Geneva; but we get lessons from time to time in the importance of frank and straightforward publicity in connection with foreign policy and international relationships. The area is so large, the number of people interested so great, that unless there is the maximum of publicity you can never be certain that you are carrying with you the people you desire to carry with you in any policy you may choose to adopt.

I do not want to say more at present because if anything had to be done concerning any fresh statement as to the relationships between this country and her Dominions I suppose it would be likely to take place at the Imperial Conference, which I am told is to be held in the autumn. In the meantime let there be the frankest statement possible. I am sure the noble Earl will agree that there is no statement which will carry the same weight as the publication, with the necessary eliminations and omissions, of the documents for which I have asked in my Motion. Therefore, so far as it is consistent with our obligations to other countries, and eliminating those parts I have mentioned, I ask that this correspondence may be published. I beg to move.


My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord who has just addressed you will forgive me if I say that I am sorry he has raised this Question to-day, because the operation of Article 9 of the Locarno Treaty to which he has referred is necessarily dependent upon the coming into effect of the Treaty itself in accordance with the provisions of the subsequent Article, Article 10. The conditions precedent to the coming into force of the Treaty, as laid down in Article 10, not yet having been fulfilled, it docs appear to be inopportune, if I may say so without discourtesy to the noble Lord, to discuss at this moment matters in connection with it—that is to say, in connection with Article 9. I should like to make this observation, however, that in so far as His Majesty's Government are aware, none of the Dominion Parliaments have as yet been invited to express their views regarding adhesion to the Locarno Treaty.

As regards the noble Lord's request for Papers, and his references to the Resolutions which were passed at a previous Imperial Conference on the subject of mutual consultation—these were contained in the earlier passages in his speech—I should like to make it quite clear that the correspondence with the Dominions on the subject of the Locarno Treaty falls under two capital heads. In the first place, during the period leading up to the signature of the Treaty last December, His Majesty's Government; have kept every one of the Dominion Governments fully informed of every phase of the negotiations. I think I am correct in stating that over seventy telegrams have passed between this country and the Dominions on this subject during the year 1925. These telegrams were of a detailed nature, covering many phases of the negotiations, and including in many cases confidential information as to the views of foreign Governments. The passage which the noble Lord quoted in his speech was mentioned by the Prime Minister of Canada in the Dominion House of Commons, on Monday of this week, and a notice of it appeared in The Times of yesterday. The noble Lord read a part of the speech, if I remember correctly, but did not state the expression of views of His Majesty's Government as to why publication could not be agreed to.


I read all I had.


The expression of views of His Majesty's Government appears in the latter part of the statement which was made by Mr. Mackenzie King in the Dominion House of Commons. His Majesty's Government, consider that publication of such correspondence would be prejudicial to the future free interchange of opinion, not only with foreign Governments but between the Governments of the Empire itself. The noble Lord has referred to what Mr. Mackenzie King said in the Dominion House of Commons. I have referred again to it, and I will not repeat it, but I would like also to refer the noble Lord to the remarks which were made on this question by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in another place, on November 18, as to the position of the Dominions in relation to the negotiation of the Treaty. As to the communications which have passed since the signature of the Treaty, I can only repeat what has already been stated by the Prime Minister and by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, in another place, that it is not possible at this stage to lay any Papers. As to how the situation will develop between now and the month of October, when the Imperial Conference is to meet, I am sure the noble Lord would not wish me to make any prophecy or forecast. He is aware, as this has already been announced, that it is contemplated that at the Imperial Conference there should be a general discussion of foreign policy, including, of course, all matters arising out of the Treaty of Locarno.


My Lords, I want to say only a word in reply. Being an advocate, as I am, of publicity in these matters and not an advocate of reservation in the direction of secrecy, I am naturally disappointed with the answer that the noble Earl has given, although, as I have said already, I presumed that he would give the same answer as was given in the Canadian Parliament. I am not quite certain after listening to the noble Earl—he will correct me if I am wrong—about his statement as to what took place before the Treaty of Locarno. I do not know whether be meant that before the Treaty, negotiations had been entered into with, for instance, the Canadian Government disclosing—I use a term that cannot be misunderstood—the nature of those communications?


All the Dominion Governments were communicated with.


I do not know if I ought to ask the noble Earl a further question. If all the Dominion Governments were communicated with, were all their answers in favour? My point is that on questions of this sort you ought to negotiate in order to obtain a common concensus of opinion before you come to what is often called a fait accompli. Were the answers of the Dominions, if they were all communicated, all in favour? That is what we want to know. In other words, did the Government, not merely in words but in spirit, act up to the Resolutions that were arrived at in 1923, and the statements that were made in 1921? There is only one other point I desire to mention. I have not got Article 10 before me, nor have I the Treaty of Locarno. Is Article 10 the one which makes the Treaty dependent on the entrance of Germany into the League of Nations?




What has that to do with my Question? It has nothing on earth to do with it. It is not a question connected with the entry of Germany into the League. It is an entirely different matter. In these negotiations and communications did you get a concensus of opinion from the Dominions before you entered into an important Treaty of this kind? That is the; question. It has nothing to do with the date of the entry of Germany. I postponed this matter, but if I had raised it a month ago it would not have made the slightest difference. Nor would it if I raised the matter a month hence. We are pledged. I devoutly hope, and noble Lords hope, that the cloud may be dispersed, and that at a future stage the entry of Germany may be accomplished in accordance with the Treaty of Locarno. I am all in favour of peace and I want success quite irrespective of political Party feeling on one side or another. But what has that to do with the question whether you have properly negotiated with the Dominions in the terms of the Resolutions which I have read? I do not desire to keep this matter up further, but I do regret that we have not had further information from the noble Earl.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.