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The Labour And Socialist International

Volume 56: debated on Tuesday 26 February 1924

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had given Notice to ask the Lord President of the Council whether, in protesting in this House that the Prime Minister could not be suspected of divided allegiance, and insisting upon what he called "the voluntary character "of the Labour and Socialist International, he intended all adherents of the Labour and Socialist International to understand that the Prime Minister repudiates any obligation of loyalty on his part towards their declared principle that "in conflicts between nations the International shall be recognised as the highest authority"; and, if so, whether he has the Prime Minister's authority for such a statement of his attitude?

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Charnwood cannot be here this afternoon, owing to illness, he has asked me to put this Question for him. The reason for asking it is that when the matter was raised the week before last, I think it was generally felt by your Lordships that the answer given by the Government did not make the position of the Prime Minister with regard to this article of the Hamburg International quite so clear as your Lordships would have liked. The, article to which I refer is that quoted on the. Paper—" In conflicts between nations the International shall be recognised as the highest authority." The noble, and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council scouted the idea as something utterly unthinkable that there could be any question of divided allegiance on the part of the Prime Minister; but, after all, we can only believe the evidence of our senses. The Prime Minister has, in fact, subscribed to an article which says that in conflicts between nations the International shall be recognised as the highest authority. So far as we know, he still subscribes to that article. If he does not—and that is the point that we would like to clear up this afternoon—then, obviously, he repudiates it, and it is desirable that this repudiation should be as widely known as possible.

The noble and learned Lord on the last occasion made a great point of the fact of the voluntary character of this undertaking. I do not quite know what meaning we are to attach to the word "voluntary." It is true, of course, that these twenty-one delegates from the Labour Party voluntarily went to Hamburg and voluntarily subscribed to the article which I have already read. Obviously, in doing that, they must have contemplated certain circumstances in which an international conflict would arise and in which their allegiance would be due not to His Majesty and the Constitution of this country, but to this international body. Clearly also it was very improper that any British subject should be able to contemplate any circumstances in which his allegiance would be in that condition. In those circumstances, I submit that the only honourable and loyal course for His Majesty's Ministers to pursue is to repudiate this obligation altogether, to do it as soon as possible, and to see that this repudiation is as widely circulated as possible. I beg to ask the Question which stands upon the Paper in the name of the nobe Lord, Lord Charnwood.

My Lords, I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, is incapacitated by illness from asking his Question, but I am sure that he has lost nothing by leaving it in the hands of the noble Duke. The first Question which I think ho asks me is in regard to the use of the word "voluntary" and in what sense I used it in replying to the Question which I endeavoured to answer when the noble Lord brought the matter before your Lordships' House a short time ago. What I mean by the word "voluntary" is an association such as this, the constituent parts of which, whether personal or affiliated members, can at any time of their own volition, and without any interference from the central authority or central body, terminate their connection with the association, in this case the International. In other words, there is no compulsion of any kind in regard to the continuance of relationship between the constituent parts and the central authority. I think that is very important, for this reason. Whenever you have an association of that nature it is always an implied condition, if anything is asked of the affiliated members which in their view is either dishonourable, or contrary to morality, or to their allegiance vows, or anything of that kind, that the remedy is an obvious one—namely, they dissociate themselves from the central body (which they can do at any time) and become dissociated from it.

That is the substance of the answer which was given by the Prime Minister, twice over I think, in another place. I want to quote the words he used, because I think it is much more satisfactory, in such a matter, that I should use his own words rather than endeavour to make any explanation which would, after all, be only an explanation from another mouth. I have the extracts here. On the first occasion the Prime Minister said this :
" The affiliation is merely voluntary and can be terminated at any time should necessity arise."
I think that puts very clearly what, at any rate, I intended to imply when I used the word "voluntary" on the last occasion on which this matter came before your Lordships. The Prime Minister was questioned a second time about a week after, on February 18 I think, much in the same way as the noble Duke—who is quite entitled to do it—asks for a further explanation of this word "voluntary." This is what the Prime Minister said :
" Should any decision be taken which would be an oppressive limitation of the freedom of a body, or which would be contrary to the fundamental conception that body has of its duty to itself and to the electors, then the ordinary method would be adopted, and the body would resign and cease to be affiliated."
He said that in answer to Questions, because he had already stated that the Labour Party had become affiliated to the International body, which, of course, is not the ordinary International which is sometimes referred to in connection with Moscow but one of a different character which was constituted in Hamburg in 1923.

I do not know that I can carry the matter any further. I am asked whether we are to understand that the Prime Minister repudiates any obligation of loyalty on his part toward" the declared principle of the International. I do not think that question arises at all. If anything is done which in any way would suggest any interference with allegiance, it is a voluntary association and the association thereby stops. That is the explanation which the Prime Minister has given and which appears to me to be adequate and correct. I purposely abstain from using words other than those used by the Prime Minister himself. They appear to me to be conclusive and really to deal with this matter. I do not think that any one can think, having regard to what the Prime Minister said in another place, that there can be any question whatever of divided allegiance. The Prime Minister of this country, as I stated before, occupies a great place in the world's history, and I do not think it ought even to be suggested that it is possible for him, in his position, to accept any suggestion whatever that his allegiance can be divided.