HL Deb 10 December 1928 vol 72 cc453-74

LORD PARMOOR rose to call attention to Article 431 of the Versailles Treaty, and to the interpretation placed thereon by the Foreign Secretary; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move for Papers on the question of the interpretation that should be given to Article 431 of the Versailles Treaty and of the interpretation placed thereon by the Foreign Secretary. I think it cannot be doubted that at the present time the interpretation of Article 431 is an extremely crucial matter as regards foreign policies and the general peace, and what I want to submit to your Lordships is this: that the suggested interpretation, which after all is not a legal matter but depends upon the meaning of words, is not anything like a sacro- sanct legal decision, and as soon as it comes to be discussed and considered I think it obviously cannot be sustained. It is not only in reference to the actual words of Article 431 that I make this statement, but there have been concurrent statements or documents dealing with the same point which show, I think, that the somewhat narrow interpretation which the Foreign Secretary was advised to take is not really the true interpretation of this Article.

We all desire one thing; at least I think all English people desire, practically without exception, that the troops shall be withdrawn at the earliest possible moment from the occupied German districts. As long as they are there irritation is sure to be caused, and in addition it is impossible, I think, that the friendly effects of Locarno can be developed if the French, Belgian and British troops still remain in occupation of the Rhine territories. In order that there may be no mistake I will just quote one passage from a speech made by the Foreign Secretary, with which I entirely agree:— …I repeat that His Majesty's Government would welcome an early evacuation of the Rhineland by the French, British and Belgian forces, irrespective of the legal right of the ex-Allied Governments to continue their occupation until the expiry of the period fixed by the Treaty. What I want to add to that statement is that, if the terms of the Treaty are properly understood and appreciated, not only is there that general desire as regards the withdrawal of troops from the occupied areas, but there is an obligation upon us that we should withdraw our troops in the immediate future.

May I for one moment call your attention to the words of Section 431?— If before the expiration of the period of fifteen years Germany complies with all the undertakings resulting from the present Treaty, the occupying forces will be withdrawn immediately. Two interpretations have been suggested as to the conditions on which the occupying forces would be immediately withdrawn. Of course, the whole Article is an Article in favour of Germany and intended to be a, mitigation of the possible period of occupation which is defined in the preceding Articles of Part XIV of the Treaty.

I think it would be convenient if I put in contrast the two interpretations which have been suggested. The interpretation which the Foreign Secretary has said he is advised is the right one, is that the Article only takes effect when Germany has completely executed and discharged the whole of her Reparation obligations. To begin with it is impossible really to think—and as a matter of fact I can show that they have stated the contrary—that the statesmen engaged in drawing up the Treaty of Versailles and who knew that the minimum time fixed for the payment of Reparations was more than thirty years, could have supposed that the Reparations could all be paid up and settled within this period of fifteen years. In other words, if that is the interpretation it was an otiose Article which it would really have been impossible to execute for the advantage of Germany and the German people. The other interpretation, which I suggest is the right one, is this: that it is enough to show that Germany has sufficiently carried out with regularity her undertakings in the matter of current Reparation payments.

I will not say that that is the obvious meaning of Article 431, because I am quite aware that on questions of this kind there is often a difference of opinion as to construction and interpretation. But what I think may have been overlooked is this. When you are dealing with international documents, then by International Law you take a wider basis of construction, and interpretation than is taken by British lawyers in the ordinary construction of our documents and legislative enactments. The difference is that in International Law and in reference to international engagements you try to discover by reference to contemporaneous or other documents or declarations or understandings what the intentions of the parties to the particular Treaty really were. If you apply that test in the present case I think it is quite clear that the intention of the parties, when they signed the Treaty, was not to postpone the date of withdrawal until all the Reparations had been actually paid, but only until after all the undertakings resulting from the Treaty had been complied with.

What are the undertakings resulting from the Treaty? Suppose you come to an arrangement, as was done under the Dawes plan, that the Reparations should be paid regularly and that certain bonds should be deposited by the German Government as security for the carrying out of their obligations, and suppose that all those obligations have been regularly and punctually complied with: I should have thought that naturally then, in accordance with the language of this Article, the occupying forces would be immediately withdrawn. It will not, of course, escape your Lordships' notice that this Article 431 is an obligation between Germany on the one side and certain Allied Powers on the other, and the importance of it is that if the British Government thought that the obligations had been complied with there would be a duty upon us to withdraw our forces of occupation from German territory. This very difficulty—if it is a difficulty—was foreseen a few days before the signing of the Versailles Treaty, and a declaration was made, signed by President Wilson, M. Clemenceau and Mr. Lloyd George, as a declaration by the Governments of the United States of America, France and Great Britain, in regard to the occupation of the Rhine Provinces, which really, I think, puts this matter outside the region of doubt altogether. I am confirmed in that because I see that the other day Mr. Lloyd George, who himself was one of the parties concerned, repudiated entirely what I may call the narrow construction of Article 431 put forward by the Foreign Secretary, and said it was a construction not in accord with the opinions of the parties concerned in drawing up the Versailles Treaty.

This declaration which has been published by command of His Majesty (Cmd. 240) states as follows:— The Allied and Associated Powers did not insist on making the period of occupation— the very matter dealt with in Article 431— last until the Reparation Clauses were completely executed, because they assumed that Germany would be obliged to give every proof of her good will and every necessary guarantee before the end of the fifteen years' time. Of course, that declaration is absolutely opposed to the construction which the Foreign Secretary has been advised to put upon this Article. As is here expressly stated, Germany is not obliged completely to execute the Reparation Clauses before the end of the fifteen years' term. This document goes on to say:— If Germany, at an earlier date, has given proofs of her good will and satisfactory guarantees to secure the fulfilment of her obligations the Allied and Associated Powers concerned will be ready to come to an agreement between themselves for an earlier termination of the period of occupation. That declaration is a very solemn matter as regards the three Powers concerned.

But it goes a little further than that in its effect upon Germany, although this declaration was in fact never communicated to Germany, because it is stated by French lawyers, who in this opinion have certainly not taken the same view as has now been indicated by the Foreign Secretary, that, although a declaration of this kind on the subject of occupation as between the United States of America, Great Britain and France was not communicated to Germany, yet as a matter of honour under the ordinary practice of international relationships it must be regarded as a binding matter towards Germany in the same sense as if it had been communicated to Germany at the particular time. I do not think it is possible to have any stronger evidence than that if the problem is what was the intention of the Parties by whom this Treaty was drawn up.

At the same time the matter has been discussed, and discussed very often, in France. It has been discussed in his book by M. Andre Tardieu, who took a very strong part as regards the Treaty negotiations and, it is said, in drafting the Treaty as principal assistant to M. Clemenceau. His name is very well known to any one who has taken any interest in international questions so far as France is concerned. This is what is said in M. Andre Tardieu's book upon the Peace negotiations in Paris. He describes a discussion which took place on the meaning of Article 431, the particular Article that we are discussing at the moment. It is stated to have been agreed—that is, agreed between the parties—that the complete and total payment of Germany's Reparations debt was not the condition of withdrawal, but that Germany might, short of this, reassure her debtors by raising loans or by depositing bonds, which he points out has been done. How can you have stronger evidence than that of M. Tardieu and the declaration of the three Governments as to what was the intention when Article 431 was framed?

As I stated before, to give it the interpretation suggested by the Foreign Secretary makes Article 431 of no advantage to Germany whatever. It is utterly impossible, it is unthinkable that Reparations should have been paid right out and settled within such a period as fifteen years. No one has ever suggested or thought of it, and if that interpretation is given to Article 431 it might just as well not have been passed at all. Then there are passages from other French authors which are equally effective, from M. Seydoux amongst others who is a very great authority on these points. But I want to come to more general statements. So far as I know there has never been any authoritative claim made on behalf of the French Government or by French statesmen or lawyers in support of the view of Sir Austen Chamberlain. We must all have noted what appeared in the Press, that those members in France—of course, they do not by any means comprise the whole of the people of France—who in old days were called "Left Bank Rhiners," and who really are keen to maintain troops in the Rhineland Provinces for as long as possible and really do desire it (I do not want to find any fault with them in that way, it is their bona fide desire) were both astonished and delighted—those are the words used—at the interpretation placed on Section 431 by the Foreign Secretary, because in effect it nullified its whole operation as regards the withdrawal of troops from the occupied areas.

It is unnecessary, I think, to build up authorities of this kind, but there are two other points on which I should like to say a word. It may be asked: What is to happen if there is a difference of opinion as regards the construction of Article 431 either as between the Germans and ourselves on the one side or between ourselves and France or Belgium on the other? France really is the only other country. I think it is extremely important that we should realise that if that difference is made a matter of real moment there is a provision in Article 13 of the Covenant of the League of Nations which would allow of a decision upon the principle of arbi- tration. Article 13 of the Covenant of the League of Nations is not compulsory, but it applies to all Members of the League of Nations. France, Germany and Great Britain are, of course, all Members of the League of Nations at the present time. That Article says that if there is a dispute as to the meaning of a Treaty—Article 431 is part of a Treaty—or if there is a question as to whether the conditions have been complied with in order to make certain sections of a Treaty operative, those are matters eminently suitable for the Arbitration Tribunal, in order that they may be settled in a friendly way between the nations concerned. I am not quite sure about France, but so far as Germany is concerned the matter has gone further. Germany has signed the Optional Clause and that makes the reference of such a dispute as this—as to the interpretation of a Treaty or whether the stage has been reached at which a Treaty becomes operative—referable by compulsion for decision by the International Court of Justice. I should hope that these matters might be settled, of course, in the sphere of conciliation and before a dispute has reached the stage at which it requires settlement by an outside authority. But these are suppositions.

I have stated my view and the reasons for it, why Article 431 has a much larger bearing and a much larger operation than was stated in the opinion of the Foreign Secretary. In corroboration of that I have brought forward the views solemnly declared by the parties who were present at the time and who were in a position to know what the intention of the parties really was. That is a consideration which is always allowed to be brought into play in all matters of international opinion. If not, why should not the question be settled by arbitration or by a decision of the International Court? If you really want peace you must use the machinery and methods which the Covenant of the League has prepared for this purpose. You must not put them on one side. You must not try to make a dispute where no dispute, at any rate of a difficult character, ought to arise. There is either the Court of Arbitration or the International Court at The Hague where the question can be settled. That is the acme of peace—to have an alternative way so that questions of this kind shall not arouse prolonged irritation and difficulty.

We should none of us, I think, differ on this point—it is not necessary to emphasise it—that if the Rhine Provinces could be evacuated it would be an enormous step in the direction of general peace, and that so long as, they are not evacuated the true results of Locarno will never be reached. I do not say this in any spirit of hostility to France. The people of this country have none other than the most friendly feelings towards the French people in every possible way, but what is necessary is that all nations should be equally treated, on the same plane, if we are to have any chance of an all-round peace basis for international relations in the future. It is on that ground that I think we ought to consider with great care what the proper interpretation of Article 431 is, and, if there is any doubt about it, I think we should encourage the removal of that doubt. I believe that would result in troops being withdrawn from the occupied territory and a further great step being taken in world peace. I move for Papers.


My Lords, I have first of all to express to your Lordships' House the regret which I feel that my noble friend Lord Cushendun, who normally speaks on foreign affairs, is unable to be in his place this afternoon, and, consequently, that the responsibility of dealing with the point which has been raised by the noble and learned Lord falls to my lot. Undoubtedly it is the right of everyone of your Lordships to bring before the attention of this House any matter which, on his responsibility, he regards as of importance, and one as to which it is in the public interest that there should be a discussion. Whether any one of your Lordships exercises that right must be a matter for his own discretion and his own conscience; therefore I make no complaint that the noble and learned Lord has seen fit to introduce this Motion this afternoon. But having said that, I should like to add that for my part I cannot conceive what useful purpose can possibly be served by the discussion which he has thought it right to initiate. The Motion is not designed to elicit the views of His Majesty's Government. Your Lordships have only to look at its terms to see that it is to call attention to views already expressed as to the interpretation to be placed upon the Article by the Foreign Secretary. The interpretation is well known. It has been a matter of public discussion and comment, and the object is, therefore, only to raise the discussion upon it.

The question as to that interpretation and its correctness is, as I think all your Lordships must be aware, a matter of acute controversy at this moment between France and Germany. The noble and learned Lord said that France did not contend, or had not contended, for the interpretation which Sir Austen Chamberlain advises is the correct one, but in fact the very first thing said at Geneva when this question was raised by France was that the juridical view expressed by Germany was one which she could not possibly accept. The matter is, therefore, one of acute and direct disagreement between those two Powers. In those circumstances, as the noble and learned Lord has quite accurately stated, His Majesty's Government desire, if possible, to see an agreement reached under which there may be an early evacuation of the Rhineland. We have stated that publicly more than once, and, seeing that there is this direct conflict, of opinion between two of the interested powers, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been at pains to try and transfer this discussion from the plane of an and legal argument into the more practical sphere of agreement between the interested parties. There is, in fact, a meeting of the Council going on at Lugano—taking place at Lugano instead of Geneva for, I understand, the very reason that the German representative, Herr Stresseman, may be able to attend, and for which Sir Austen Chamberlain departed from this country on Saturday last. Whether his efforts to bring about such an agreement are likely to be furthered by emphasis being placed upon the fact, that he takes the legal view of France and not that of Germany, is a matter upon which your Lordships can form your own opinion.

I emphasise this point, not from any desire to be discourteous to the noble and learned Lord, but because, I regard it as of great importance that foreign countries—to whom of course this discussion will be of interest and who will keenly watch what is said—should realise that the debate has not been raised at the instance of His Majesty's Government and that the fact that we are compelled to embark once more upon this discussion is not due to any desire upon our part to harp upon legal rights and wrongs, but only because our view as to the law has been directly raised and challenged; and at any rate Germany will have the satisfaction of knowing that, although we have again to stress and explain our view as to the law, the noble and learned Lord thinks we are wrong and takes the opposite view. I hope that satisfaction will allay any irritation which they might otherwise be disposed to feel.

The question is a question of law. It turns upon the construction of certain Articles of the Treaty of Versailles. The noble and learned Lord has explained that in his view Treaty construction does not depend upon the narrow limits which are laid down by English lawyers in the construction of English Acts of Parliament, but rests upon broader considerations of contemporary declarations and the like. I do not want to embark upon a discussion as to how far such declarations made, as in this case apparently the noble Lord tells us, by only some of the parties to the Treaty and never communicated to the others—how far such declarations may be useful or admissible. I think the doctrine at any rate may be a dangerous one, and it is not necessary to embark upon it, because, as I shall hope to show your Lordships presently, the declaration which the noble and learned Lord stated to your Lordships bears exactly the opposite construction to that which he seems to put upon it.

But I would like first of all to deal with the Treaty on the lines which any lawyer, in this country at any rate, would regard as the normal lines upon which to deal with it—namely, by seeing what the document itself says, and I would ask your Lordships to bear with me, since the matter is one of great international importance, while I deal very shortly with three or four Articles. Article 431 is one of a series of five Articles which form one section, Section 1 of Part XIV of the Treaty of Versailles. It is part of a group of sections headed "Guarantees: Western Europe." It is necessary to see, therefore, exactly what the other Articles lay down in order that we may quite clearly understand the construction to be put upon the Article under discussion. Article 428 is "a guarantee for the execution of the present Treaty by Germany." The "German territory situated to the west of the Rhine, together with the bridgeheads," is to be "occupied by Allied and Associated troops for a period of fifteen years from the coming into force of the present Treaty." We must begin therefore with the fact that fifteen years' occupation of this Rhineland is prescribed as a guarantee for the execution of the Treaty, and I stress that because of the extraordinary contention which seems to have been suggested outside, and which even receives some colour from the observations of the noble Lord, that the construction which the Foreign Secretary places on Article 431 involves that the troops are to remain in occupation of the Rhineland until the whole of the Reparations have been paid—that is, I think, sixty odd years; I have forgotten the exact number. That is not the result of the construction put upon the Article by the Foreign Secretary.


May I interrupt for a moment? What I read was the actual construction put upon Article 431 by the Foreign Secretary, not a reference to Article 428. The words I read to the House were the actual construction.


I am contending for the actual construction placed upon it by the Foreign Secretary. What I am saying is that the Foreign Secretary never suggested anything so foolish as that under these Articles there was any right to stay in the Rhineland until Reparations had been completely paid, and the reason why he did not do that is that the group of Articles begins with the statement that the occupation is to be for a period of fifteen years, and only fifteen years. Article 431, when we come to it, your Lordships will see explains one circumstance under which the period of fifteen years may be shortened.


Hear, hear!


But we are dealing here with the maximum period to begin with of fifteen years, not a period which is extended to the total payment of the Reparations. Now, Article 428 having said there is to be fifteen years' occupation as a guarantee for the execution of the Treaty, Article 429, the language of which is very important in contrast with that of Article 431, lays down certain conditions under which there will be a gradual and successive evacuation of parts of the Rhineland. The first words of it are very important. They are:— If the conditions of the present Treaty are faithfully carried out by Germany, the occupation referred to in Article 428 will be successively restricted as follows… Then follows three successive five-year periods at the end of which there will be an evacuation of part of the occupied territory. Your Lordships will observe that that right to partial evacuation by successive quinquennial periods depends upon the faithful carrying out of the conditions of the present Treaty. In other words, Article 429 says that if there is no default by Germany, then by successive quinquennial periods the evacuation is to take place.

Article 430, again an important Article, provides that— In case either during the occupation or alter the expiration of the fifteen years referred to above the Reparations Commission find that Germany refuses to observe the whole or part of her obligations under the present Treaty with regard to Reparation, the whole or part of the areas specified in Article 429) will be re-occupied immediately by the Allied and Associated forces. So your Lordships see, pausing there, that the position so far is this. Under Article 428 there is a fifteen years' occupation of this disputed territory; under Article 429, if there is no default by Germany, there is to be a partial and successive evacuation of the occupied territory at five-year intervals. By Article 430, if there is a subsequent repudiation by Germany of her obligations, there is a right of re-occupation of that part which had been evacuated under Article 429.

Now we come to Article 431. Your Lordships, I hope, will notice the change of language:— If before the expiration of the period of fifteen years Germany complies with all the undertakings resulting from the present Treaty, the occupying forces will be withdrawn immediately. Now your Lordships see at once the contrast between Article 429 and Article 431. Article 429 says that if Germany makes no default but keeps on carrying out her obligations there is to be a successive evacuation. Article 431 says that if Germany fulfils all her undertakings before the fifteen years' period is up then there is to be an immediate evacuation for the reason that there is then nothing left to guarantee: the full undertaking has been fulfilled. There is no provision then for subsequent re-occupation on repudiation, for the excellent reason that, of course, when there is evacuation under Article 431 there has been complete fulfilment. Therefore there is no possibility of subsequent repudiation, and no need to provide for that eventuality.

If your Lordships will allow me I would like now to refer to Article 232 which lays down what the undertaking is with regard to Reparations. In Article 232 we find these words:— Germany undertakes that she will make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population… and so on. The undertaking, therefore, which Germany has to fulfil in order to secure complete evacuation is that she will make compensation for all damage done, in other words, that she first pays the Reparations. How can it be said that Germany has fulfilled all her undertakings until she has paid the Reparations which she has undertaken to pay? It is just as if you said that it you borrowed money from your banker and gave him security for due repayment, you had then fulfilled your undertaking to pay him back. Any creditor who knew that his debtor claimed that he had fulfilled his undertaking by giving an I.O.U. would, I think, find himself faced with a rather surprising situation. There is all the difference in the world between the provision in Article 429, that in the absence of default there is to be partial successive evacuation, and the provision in Article 431, that if there has been fulfilment of all the undertakings including the undertaking to pay Reparations, then there is to be a complete evacuation of territory which is only held in occupation in order to ensure that the undertakings shall be fulfilled.

Now, my Lords, I should have thought, with all respect to the noble Lord, that the language of these Articles was quite conclusive and quite clear. The noble Lord says Article 431 cannot have the construction which it naturally bears because nobody could have supposed at the time when the Treaty was signed that there was any chance of Germany discharging her Reparation obligations within fifteen years. I venture to think that the noble and learned Lord is quite mistaken. In the first place, when the Treaty of Versailles was negotiated the negotiators must have had present to their minds that, after the war between France and Prussia, there was an arrangement for enormous payments by France to Prussia, that those payments were made before the time stipulated and therefore that France was in a position to say: "I have fulfilled my obligations long before anybody anticipated that I would be able to do so." When one remembers that under this Treaty, by virtue of a clause to which I shall call attention, provision is made that if Germany gives bonds for her payments under Reparations, and those bonds are negotiated, that operates as a discharge of her Reparations obligations, then one sees that it was not at all an impossible eventuality that she might have discharged her obligations with regard to Reparations in much less than fifteen years.

In Part VIII of the Treaty, which refers to Reparations, this provision is found in Annex II, Paragraph 12 (d):— In the event of bonds, obligations or other evidence of indebtedness issued by Germany by way of security for or acknowledgment of her Reparation debt being disposed of outright, not by way of pledge, to persons other than the several Governments in whose favour Germany's original Reparation indebtedness was created, an amount of such Reparation indebtedness shall be deemed to be extinguished corresponding to the nominal value of the bonds, etc., so disposed of.…[...] In fact, as we know, there have been discussions from time to time as to whether it could not be arranged that Germany should make an issue of bonds to satisfy her Reparation indebtedness, that those bonds should be negotiated on the market and that in that way the Reparations should be realised at a much earlier date. Having that provision in mind, what more natural than that Germany should submit that, as we had been in occupation of her territory for fifteen years as a security for the due performance of her obligations, if by virtue of that provision or by any other means she were able to discharge her Reparation indebtedness before the end of fifteen years, she should not have to wait any longer. That is obvious. Perhaps I should not say that it is obvious, because the noble and learned Lord takes an opposite view, but that is what I should have thought was obviously the natural interpretation.

The noble and learned Lord has referred to contemporary statements in order to show that this natural view is not the true view. I am going to ask your Lordships to look a little move attentively at these declarations and see whether or not the noble and learned Lord is right. First of all, Germany herself made certain observations before signing the Treaty, in protest as to some of the Articles, and in regard to Article 431, on May 29, 1919, Germany said:— Germany will be very hard pressed by the form in which guarantors are demanded, because it is impossible for her to discharge her heavy obligations in n short time, so that in accordance with Article 431 the liberation of the German Rhineland from foreign occupation will be postponed for an indefinite time. That is the German observation of May 29, 1919. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that, before Germany signed this Article, she was perfectly alive to the fact that the interpretation which we adopt as the right one was, in fact, the right one, because she was protesting against the Article on the very ground that she could not discharge the Reparations obligation within fifteen years, and therefore there was no chance of getting the Rhineland back, under Article 431, within that period. If the noble and learned Lord is right, that all that she had to do was to agree to the amount of Reparations and to make no default in the payment of any instalment and that then she could at once claim a complete evacuation, that observation becomes a ridiculous one, because she could do so when she had paid the first, second or third instalment. If the noble and learned Lord is right and the Article only means that she must not have made default, she is in a position to claim complete evacuation the moment the Reparations payments are fixed and before, she had paid any of them, and therefore the question of the discharge of her heavy obligation never arises at all.

But the noble and learned Lord relied on a declaration made by the United States, Great Britain and France in regard to the occupation of the Rhine Provinces on June 16, 1919. I admit that the declaration has some of those elements of obscurity which I, for my part, not infrequently found in declarations signed by Mr. Lloyd George. But I do not think that, even when allowance is made for the signatory, there can be any serious doubt upon this particular point. The declaration is, for relevant purposes, in three parts—the fourth does not, I think, arise in this connection.


It does not apply.


The first part of the declaration says:— The Allied and Associated Powers did not insist on making the period of occupation last until the Reparation Clauses were completely executed, because they assumed that Germany would be obliged to give every proof of her good will and every necessary guarantee before the end of the fifteen years' time. What does that say? It is explaining why it was that they did not insist that the occupation should go on until there had been complete payment of the Reparations, but why it might be for a much shorter period—namely, only fifteen years. Then it goes on:— As the cost of occupation involves an equivalent reduction of the amount available for Reparations, the Allied and Associated Powers stipulated, by Article 431 of the Treaty, that"— your Lordships will mark these words— if before the end of the fifteen years' period Germany had fulfilled all her obligations under the Treaty, the troops of occupation should be immediately withdrawn. Your Lordships will see from this which of the two interpretations which the noble and learned Lord regards as possible, is the one which these three signatories placed upon it. The words are not "if Germany has not made default at any period during the fifteen years," but "if she has fulfilled all her obligations under the Treaty."

The third paragraph is even more conclusive. It runs:— If Germany, at an earlier date, hay given proofs of her good will and satisfactory guarantees to assure the fulfilment of her obligations, the Allied and Associated Powers concerned will"— what?— be ready to come to an agreement between themselves for the earlier termination of the period of occupation. If the noble and learned Lord is right, then after Germany had given proofs of her good will and satisfactory guarantees—that is to say, presumably if she had been doing what she had agreed to do—she would have been entitled to claim immediate evacuation under Article 431. That is what the noble and learned Lord says that it means. What these people are saying is, not that, if that happened, Germany would be entitled to get evacuation, but that, if that happened, the three signatories would then be ready to come to an agreement between themselves for the earlier termination of the period of occupation—that is to say, for its termination at a period earlier than that which Germany is entitled to claim.

It really seems hardly necessary to press this argument any further, but let me add one other consideration. If the noble and learned Lord is right, what was the need of Article 429? That Article says that, if Germany is observing all her Treaty obligations, then at the end of five years, she is to get back part of the territory, at the end of another five years, if she still commits no default, another part, and, finally, evacuation at the end of fifteen years. But if the noble and learned Lord is right, there was no need for Article 429, because under Article 431 in that event she was entitled to have complete and immediate evacuation of the whole of the territory, and Article 429 becomes a meaningless addition to the Treaty. I submit that whether you look at the language of the Treaty itself, or at the temporary declarations to which the noble and learned Lord attaches so much importance, you are driven to the same conclusion in either event—namely, that the interpretation placed upon this Article by the Foreign Secretary is obviously and plainly the right one.

Having dealt with the legal aspects, let me now, abandoning the academic and unreal plane upon which the noble Lord wishes to discuss the problem, return to the practical line on which we are endeavouring to deal with it. On that basis we have stated, and therefore I am only repeating what has been already said, that we should like to see evacuation take place as soon as possible. It is no good, of course, for us to evacuate alone. That would only irritate France and would not help Germany, because French troops would at once take over the zone we had evacuated. The only thing to work for is to try and achieve agreement between the occupying Powers, under which arrangements might be made for evacuation at a date earlier than the date for which the Treaty provides. To those negotiations Belgium, which was not a party to the declaration referred to but is one of the occupying Powers, must of course be a party, equally with France, ourselves, Germany, and, I presume, Italy and Japan, who are interested in the evacuation problems. At any rate all those Powers will have a right to be consulted and no doubt will have an opportunity of expressing their views and every endeavour will be made to reach an agreement.

I will only add in conclusion that I most devoutly trust that the discussion forced upon us this afternoon will not have done anything to hamper these negotiations or to prevent their coming to a successful issue, and that nothing I have been obliged to say will make any foreign Power think that we desire to handle this problem from the point of view of legal right alone and not from the point of view of assisting good will and friendliness between the nations involved.


My Lords, I would like to say a few words in answer to the argument and speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I stated quite clearly, at the outset of my address to your Lordships, that I was in thorough agreement with the last words which the noble Lord on the Woolsack uttered—namely, that we ought to approach this question, not from what I call the narrow legal aspect, but in a spirit of good will and all-round conciliation. There can be no doubt whatever that that is the right spirit, and in that respect I entirely agree with what he says, but I am bound to admit, after listening to his argument upon the question of the interpretation of Article 431, that I was not convinced that the argument which I addressed to your Lordships was not a sound one. On the contrary, it appeared to me that, as soon as one came to analyse what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was saying, he confirmed the view which I put forward.

I should like to quote again the actual words of the Foreign Secretary, so that there may be no mistake or any suggestion that I have exaggerated his statement. They were that— the concession provided for in Article 431 could only take effect when Germany has completely executed and discharged the whole of her Reparation obligations. "Has completely executed…the whole of her Reparation obligations!" I do not think, in the first place, that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in any way displaced my argument that that was known at the time as an impossible matter to bring about within the fifteen years' period. I think the noble Lord stated sixty years. I think myself that the time mentioned was thirty years, although I am not now speaking of the alterations made at the time, that the Dawes arrangement came into operation. Let me state in a few words what is the argument of the noble and learned Lord. His argument is based partly, in fact I think mostly, upon the various Articles in Section 1 of Part XIV, which deals with Guarantees in Western Europe, and secondly, with the White Paper or declaration to which I referred. Article 429 is clearly necessary in any case. Article 429 not only provided for the ultimate evacuation of the whole territory, but for three successive evacuations at quinquennial periods. There is nothing of that in Article 431. I do not want to cross-examine the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but I would like to ask him where he finds in Article 431 any indication of the principle in Article 429, of evacuation at quinquennial periods of successive portions of the occupied territory?


The noble and learned Lord has not appreciated my argument. I pointed out that under Article 431 it had to be complete evacuation, and that it would be stupid to provide for partial evacuation under Article 429 in the event which, on his argument, entitled to complete evacuation.


I must apologise. My argument must have been very badly phrased or framed if that is thought to be the result of it; and no doubt it is from what the noble and learned Lord has stated. Article 431 deals with the occupation forces being "withdrawn immediately," Article 429 deals with, I will not say a quite different matter, but with a matter not dealt with in Article 431—namely, the withdrawing of certain portions of troops from occupied territory at successive quinquennial periods—and I cannot see myself what is the basis of his argument if what I regard as the right construction of Article 431 is in the slightest way consistent with what we find in Article 429. And with regard to Article 430, in the case which the noble Lord has pointed out, where, if after the occupied territories have been evacuated something is done by the Germans inconsistent with the terms or obligations of the Treaty, particular portions of the occupied territories may be reoccupied, it seems to me that that has nothing to do with Article 431. Article 431 goes much further, and to this extent, that if the Germans have complied with one condition—whether they have complied may be a question of fact to be determined by arbitration—if they have in truth complied with the condition set out in Article 431 the occupying forces will be immediately withdrawn. I quite agree with what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said, that this is an extremely important argument so far as Germany is concerned. If there is an obligation that there should be immediate withdrawal that is an obligation binding upon us, quite irrespective of the attitude which France or any other country may adopt. It is an obligation from us to Germany.

When we come to the subsequent matters dealt with in the declaration, there arises the question—obviously a different one—of the obligations of the three occupying Powers in relation to one another. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, of course, knows that at that time the question was raised—in fact, it was settled but for what was done in the United States Senate—of a guarantee by America and Great Britain for the protection of France against an aggressive attitude of Germany on her eastern frontier—very much what was carried out in the Locarno Treaty. What France and Great Britain and America desired to know was what was the nature of the protection which they were prepared to give to France if they were to carry out that obligation. As I say, the obligation never came into force, because the United States Senate would accept neither the Covenant of the League nor the Treaty of Versailles. And that is the importance of it. It is not necessary for me to defend Mr. Lloyd George: if there is any one in this country who is able to defend himself it is Mr. Lloyd George. BUG you cannot put on one side the statement which he made, as one of the signatories of this declaration, that it was intended—and I think rightly—that the withdrawal should not depend on the complete execution of Reparation payments, but on the lesser consideration to which I called attention when I spoke before. It would not, of course, be courteous to your Lordships to re-state that argument, but I am bound to admit I cannot understand in what way it has been displaced by the argument of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.

There was one matter which perhaps I ought not to overlook, and that was a statement made by Germany on May 29, 1919, at a time when Germany was complaining of the harshness of the Treaty, and it was after that date—on June 28—that this declaration was made. There were many statements made at that time, which were intended to be, and were in fact, answers to certain complaints which Germany had made. Before the Treaty was actually signed these representations from Germany were carefully considered, and in some matters there were very important modifications made, particularly on the question of disarmament.

I regret that what appears to me to be a wrong interpretation should be sus-staincd—because I have not in the least altered my opinion. A wrong interpretation is an interpretation which stands directly in the way of the withdrawal of troops from the occupied areas, which is the first foundation, in my opinion, of a general peace in Europe. I beg to thank the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for the exhaustive way in which he has dealt with this topic. I do not in any sense feel hurt by his satire—I am afraid I am hardened against that. I think this is a matter which ought to have been discussed, particularly in the House of Lords, which, if we are to maintain our position and our value as a great constitutional body, ought as frankly and as fairly as it can, whatever the differences of opinion may be, to state its views on a Treaty question such as the proper interpretation of Article 431 of the Treaty of Versailles.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before six o'clock.