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Foreign Policy

Volume 149: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1921

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The machinery is the machinery of the British Government—the Foreign Office, the Ambassadors. The machinery must remain here. It is impossible that it could be otherwise, unless you had a Council of Empire, with representatives elected for the purpose. Apart from that, you must act through one instrument. The instrument of the foreign policy of the Empire is the British Foreign Office. That has been accepted by all the Dominions as inevitable. But they claim a voice in determining the lines of our future policy. At the last Imperial Conference they were there discussing our policy in Germany, our policy in Egypt, our policy in America, our policy all over the world, and we are now acting upon the mature, general decisions arrived at with the common consent of the whole Empire. The sole control of Britain over foreign policy is now vested in the Empire as a whole. That is a new fact, and I would point out what bearing it has upon the Irish controversy.

The advantage to us is that joint control means joint responsibility, and when the burden of Empire has become so vast it is well that we should have the shoulders of these young giants under the burden to help us along. It introduces a broader and a calmer view into foreign policy. It restrains rash Ministers, and it will stimulate timorous ones. It widens the prospect. When we took part in discussion at the Imperial Conference, what struck us was this, that, from the mere fact that representatives were there from the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and from other ends of the world, with different interests, the discussion broadened into a world survey. That was an advantage. Our troubles were Upper Silesia, the Ruhr Valley, Angora and Egypt, and they came there with other questions—with the problems of the Pacific, Honolulu, the Philippines, Nagasaki, and Pekin. All these problems were brought into the common stock, and a wide survey was taken by all the representatives of the Empire, who would honour the policy decided upon, and support that policy when it was challenged. They felt that there was not one among them who was not speaking for hundreds of thousands and millions of men who were prepared to risk their fortunes and their lives for a great Empire.

That is the position which has developed in the last four years. If any one will take the trouble—which I took a few days ago—to read Pitt's speeches on the Union, he will see how this development within the last four years has altered the argument about Union. What was Pitt's difficulty? His one great difficulty was this: He was in the middle of a great war, a Continental war, which was not going too well, and no doubt our power was being menaced, and menaced seriously. What did he find? He found two co-ordinating Parliaments, each with full, equal powers to declare peace and war, to enter into treaties and alliances, and he said: "This is a danger." There had been recent rebellion. He never knew what peril might develop out of that state of things. Had he had the present condition of things to deal with, does anyone imagine that that is the course he would have pursued? Had he found that the question of treaties, alliances, peace and war were left, as they are now, to a great council of free peoples, each of them self-governing, and coming together with the Motherland to discuss their affairs and decide upon their policy, what he would have done then would have been to invite Ireland to come to that Council Chamber, to merge her interests and her ideals with the common ideals of the whole of those free peoples throughout the Empire. That is the position.

Ireland will share the rights of the Empire and share the responsibilities of the Empire. She will take her part with other Free States in discussing the policy of the Empire. That, undoubtedly, commits her to responsibilities which I have no doubt here people will honour, whatever may ensue as a result of the policy agreed upon in the Council Chamber of the Empire. That is a general summary of the main proposition which is involved in these Articles of Agreement.