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Prime Minister's Statement

Volume 154: debated on Monday 22 May 1922

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Prime Minister if he is in a position to name the date on which his statement on the proceedings of the Genoa Conference will be made, and to indicate the nature of the documents that will be laid upon the Table of the House prior to that date?


asked the Prime Minister when he will be in a position to make a statement regarding the Genoa Conference and the international situation?


asked the Prime Minister whether it is intended to issue a complete account of the proceedings at Genoa as a Blue Book?

A Blue Book is being prepared which is now in the hands of the printers. I hope that it will be available in the Vote Office to-morrow afternoon. It is being got ready with all expedition.

As regards discussion in the House, there are two distinct questions which, I understand, the House wishes to discuss, and which it is desirable to keep distinct. One is the Genoa Conference. The other is the reparations questions and what may happen on the 31st of this month. As regards the Genoa Conference we propose to put down the Foreign Office Vote for Thursday in order that that discussion may take place on that day. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will open the discussion on behalf of the Government and make a general statement as to the results of Genoa. The Prime Minister will of course be in his place to answer criticisms or give any further explanations which the House may desire.

As regards the reparations question, I think that the most convenient arrangement will be that we should take the discussion on the Motion for Adjournment. I would propose to the House that we should complete the Second Reading of the Budget on Monday, which I am sure we can do, and still have time for the Adjournment Motion on Tuesday, taking the discussion on the reparations question first and any other questions that hon. Members may desire to raise afterwards.

Will the Blue Book contain a statement of the import and object of the Hague Conference and notes of the conversations which took place at Genoa; and is it not in accordance with the traditions of the House that the Prime Minister should open the discussion on the Genoa question?

The Blue Book will contain all the papers necessary to an understanding of the proposals for the Conference at the Hague. It will not contain notes of various conversations which took place at Genoa on that or other subjects. As regards the second question, I think that it is the common practice that the Government should arrange the order of its own speakers in Debate as seems most expedient to it, but I am also aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister feels that he is not at his happiest in making an explanatory statement to the House, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will give the House a better account of the arrangements come to at Genoa than he would be able to do himself. I do not conceal from the House that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also desires to know the nature of the criticisms that are to be levelled against him before he exhausts his right of speaking.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we do not regard one day as being sufficient for the Second Reading of the Finance Bill? I think that that is the view which is very generally held on this side of the House. With regard to the Prime Minister not opening the Debate on Thursday, is my right hon. Friend aware that that is an entirely novel procedure for a Prime Minister coming back after dealing with a situation of world-wide importance as to which he alone can inform the House? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the opinion that the Prime Minister should open the Debate on Genoa is also widely held on this side of the House?

I have observed that my right hon. Friend and his friends are almost most anxious that the Prime Minister should speak first and that they should have an opportunity of answering him. Although my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister frequently gratifies them, he cannot do so on every occasion. On this occasion my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will make the opening statement for the Government.

As regards the Finance Bill, I am confident that one day is sufficient, hut if the House do not think one day sufficient and desire two days, then the Debate must go on, and the Motion for Adjournment must be taken on Wednesday. It is only a question of whether the House wishes to facilitate the conduct of business sufficiently to enable us to rise a little earlier. If not, we must meet on Wednesday and, if necessary, on Thursday.

Questions relating to the business of the House should be discussed after Question Time.


asked the Prime Minister if, prior to the issue of the invitation to the United States Government to attend the proposed Conference at the Hague, steps were first taken to ascertain at Washington whether the invitation was likely to be acceptable to that Government?


asked the Prime Minister whether the United States has definitely declined an invitation to attend the proposed Hague Conference; and whether, in view of the difficulties which arise from the refusal of the United States to participate in a European conference, he will inquire of the American Government upon what terms they will co-operate with the countries of Europe, or whether the American Government is prepared itself to call a conference to consider the methods by which economic prosperity may be achieved?


asked the Prime Minister whether it is the intention of the United States not to attend the proposed conference at the Hague; and, if so, if he can state what the difficulties are which prevent their taking part in such a conference?

Steps were taken informally, through the United States Ambassador in Rome, to inquire whether an invitation to participate in the work of the Hague Commission would be acceptable to the United States of America. The views of the Secretary of State upon the subject are contained in the message which was communicated to the Press by the United States Government, and His Majesty's Government have no further information.

Was a reply received from Washington before the invitation was issued?

Can the right hon. Gentleman answer my question as to inquiry from the United States Government of the terms of co-operation?

No, Sir. I do not propose to take any further action on that subject.


asked the Prime Minister whether a subsequent Conference to the Genoa Conference has been arranged to consider the results of that Conference; where will it be held and on what date; what Powers have agreed to send Representatives; who the British Representatives will be; and whether a further Vote of Confidence will be invited from this House?


asked the Prime Minister who has issued invitations to the proposed Russian Conferences at The Hague; what Powers have accepted the invitation; when the Conferences will begin; and who will be the principal British Representative?

The decisions taken at Genoa in regard to the meeting of the Commissions at The Hague will be contained in the Papers which are to be circulated to-morrow. At the final meeting of the Genoa Conference the President announced that an invitation to take part in the proposed Commissions at The Hague was made to the following Powers: Belgium, France, Japan, the British Empire (including Canada., Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India), Italy, Russia, Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Czecho-Slovakia, Denmark, Esthonia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Switzerland, and Hungary.

So far as I am aware, no Power has formally accepted the invitation, but the representatives at the Genoa Conference of the Powers mentioned above have either accepted or undertaken to recommend to their Governments the acceptance of the resolutions for the appointment of the Commissions. The members of the two Commissions will be at The Hague on 26th June, 1922. The non-Russian Powers will send representatives to The Hague en 15th June for a preliminary exchange of views. The British representatives have not yet been selected.

Will the reply of the Russian Government and the further reply to which the right hon. Gentleman referred last week be included in these papers, and will we have them to-morrow? Among all the Powers, great and small, that are to consider the Russian question, why is Germany, perhaps the most concerned, left out?

Germany is left out for reasons made perfectly plain in the discussions at Genoa. As regards the papers to be issued, I think they will contain those to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers, but I speak without having verified that statement.

The Prime Minister certainly does not intend himself to go to The Hague.

At the end of Question

May I ask the Leader of the House a question with regard to the announcement as to the order of Debate on Thursday next—whether the idea that the Debate should be opened by the Secretary of State for War is provisional, or is it settled that that is to be the order of the Debate?

It is settled for the reasons I stated earlier. Of course, Genoa embraces two different classes of questions. There are the large political issues and there is the very important work of a much more technical character, which was done by certain of the Sub-Commissions in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War took a very prominent and useful part. The general statement, including the results of the Conference, will be made by my right hon. Friend.

Are we seriously to understand that the Prime Minister is not, in the first instance, to give us a full, authoritative, and authentic account of what took place?

No, Sir. For the reasons which I stated earlier, when the right hon. Gentleman was not in his place, the Prime Minister has asked the Secretary of State for War to make that general statement The Prime Minister will be in his place, and will be ready to give any further information that is required after the opening statement of my right hon. Friend, as well as to answer any criticisms; but on this occasion my right hon. Friend would like to hear his critics before speaking.

May I. ask whether the Secretary of State for War was engaged in those large political negotiations of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke, or whether they were not carried on by the Prime Minister; and whether, if it be necessary that the Secretary of State for War should give at the outset of the Debate an account of these negotiations in which he was particularly engaged, it is not even more necessary that the Prime Minister should give an account at the commencement of the proceedings?

Both my right hon. Friends were engaged in the whole of these proceedings, and in close touch with one another throughout, but the work had to be divided between the different Ministers and the different Commissions. It so happens it is much easier to make the kind of statement that the House ought to have on the broader issues without having been the principal delegate at the Conference than to make the same kind of statement with regard to the more technical questions without having been the Minister chiefly engaged in conducting them.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that this announcement entirely disregards expectation in the country and opinion in this House, and that naturally we would expect to have a statement from the Prime Minister after his long absence from this House? Does not the right hon. Gentleman further recognise that it would be indeed impossible—I think improper—for the Leaders of the Opposition to take part in the Debate until the Prime Minister has spoken?

No, Sir; I am entirely unable to follow the reasons advanced by the right hon. Gentleman, for the reason that I have never known the Opposition to claim to dictate to the the Government—[An HON. MEMBER: "Camouflage!" andinterruption]—when the hon. Member permits me to proceed—I have never known the Opposition undertake to dictate to the Government by whom the Government's case should be stated or defended, or in what order the Government speakers should speak. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is competent, by his experience and by his work at Genoa, to make this statement on behalf of the Government, and he will do so. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, whose actions everybody—a large number of hon. Gentlemen have been very ready to criticise whilst he was absent can now criticise them in his presence, and before he exhausts his right to speak.

Is it consonant with the dignity of the Prime Minister that he should send the War Secretary over the top whilst he himself takes refuge in the trenches?

On a point of Order. At Question time, when the right hon. Gentleman was replying on behalf of the Prime Minister, he said the Prime Minister was not going to speak first, otherwise he would exhaust his right to speak. Is it not the case that Thursday is a Supply day, and the Prime Minister may speak first, and then reply to his critics without exhausting his right of speech?

Division No. 114.]


[4.3 p.m.

Adair, Rear-Admiral Thomas B. S.Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.Fell, Sir Arthur
Agg-Gardner, Sir James TynteBull, Rt. Hon. Sir William JamesFildes, Henry
Amery, Leopold C. M. S.Burgoyne, Lt-Col. Alan HughesFisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.
Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel MartinBurn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)FitzRoy, Captain Hon. Edward A.
Armitage, RobertButcher, Sir John GeorgeFlannery, Sir James Fortescue
Armstrong, Henry BruceCampion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.Ford, Patrick Johnston
Ashley, Colonel Wilfrid W.Carr, W. TheodoreForestier-Walker, L.
Austin, Sir HerbertCasey, T. W.Forrest, Walter
Bagley, Captain E. AshtonCautley, Henry StrotherFeaser, Major Sir Keith
Baird, Sir John LawrenceCecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Birm., Aston)Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. StanleyChamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A.(Birm., W.)Ganzoni, Sir John
Balfour, George (Hampstead)Cheyne, Sir William WatsonGardiner, James
Barlow, Sir MontagueChurchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.Gardner, Ernest
Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. (Glas., Gorbals)Clay, Lieut.-Colonel H. H. SpenderGee, Captain Robert
Barnett, Major Richard W.Clough, Sir RobertGibbs, Colonel George Abraham
Barnston, Major HarryCoats, Sir StuartGilbert, James Daniel
Barrand, A. R.Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John
Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar (Banff)Cohen, Major J. BrunelGlyn, Major Ralph
Bartley-Denniss, Sir Edmund RobertColfox, Major Wm. PhillipsGoff, Sir R. Park
Beauchamp, Sir EdwardColvin, Brig.-General Richard BealeGoulding, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward A.
Beckett, Hon. GervaseCooper, Sir Richard AshmoleGrant, James Augustus
Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely)Gray, Major Ernest (Accrington)
Bethell, Sir John HenryCowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)
Betterton, Henry B.Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir HenryGreene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y, N.)
Bigland, AlfredCurzon, Captain ViscountGreenwood, Rt. Hon. Sir Hamar
Birchall. J. DearmanDavidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead)Greer, Sir Harry
Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)Greig, Colonel Sir James William
Blades, Sir George RowlandDavies, Thomas (Cirencester)Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.
Blair, Sir ReginaldDavison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)Hacking, Captain Douglas H.
Blake, Sir Francis DouglasDoyle, N. GrattanHall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)
Bowies, Colonel H. F.Ednam, ViscountHall, Rr-Admi Sir W. (Liv'p'l, W.D'by)
Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)Hamilton, Major C. G. C.
Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.Edwards, Hugh (Giarn., Neath)Harmon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Breese, Major Charles E.Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William CliveErskine, James Malcolm MonteithHarmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)
Brittain, Sir HarryEvans, ErnestHarris, Sir Henry Percy
Broad, Thomas TuckerEyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.Haslam, Lewis
Bruton, Sir JamesFalcon, Captain MichaelHenderson, Lt.-Col. V. L. (Tradeston)
Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.Falle, Major Sir Bertram GodfrayHerbert, Col. Hon. A. (Yeovil)