HC Deb 23 February 1914 vol 58 cc1374-6

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if he is aware that the last Hague Conference, among its last acts, registered a recommendation to the Powers that a third conference should be held within a time corresponding to that between the first and second, that a programme should be prepared beforehand so as to secure the deliberations being conducted with authority and expedition, and that it would be desirable that some two years before the probable date of the meeting a preparatory committee should be charged by the Governments with the task of collecting the various proposals to be submitted to the Conference and of ascertaining what subjects were ripe for International Regulations as well as preparing a programme upon which the Governments should decide in sufficient time to allow careful examination in each country; will he say if, in accordance with the above, it falls within the province of the British Government, without reference to any other Power, to appoint its National Committee to prepare its own proposals for the preparatory committee; has he now received a communication from the United States Government with regard to the date of the third Hague Conference; has the British Government made any suggestions to, or received any from, any other Powers as to how the International Preparatory Committee should be appointed; if not, will they now make suggestions; and will he assure the House that the Government desires an early meeting of the Conference, and that better preparations will be made than in 1899 and 1907 for the initiation of proposals in which this country is interested?


The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. From this the hon. Member will see that at the last Hague Conference every step was taken to secure that the next Conference should be prepared for in the best possible way, except that no agreement was come to as to the manner in which the preliminary International Committee should be summoned and composed. This was apparent before the Conference separated, and the representatives of His Majesty's Government at the Conference made several informal suggestions towards the settlement of the question, but their efforts were not successful. It being the wish of His Majesty's Government to avoid any possible controversy with other Powers on these preliminary questions, they think it undesirable that the initiative should be taken by a Power which has already put forward suggestions which did not prove generally acceptable, and which has not been able to ratify some of the agreements come to in 1907. I am glad to say that I have to-day received a communication from the Government of the United States of America, making suggestions for an International Committee. This will at once receive most careful consideration. No suggestions have so far as I am aware been made by any other Powers on this subject.

With regard to the method which each Government may follow to formulate its views on subjects which may be discussed, this, as I said last Wednesday, is a matter for each Government itself to determine. In connection with the Second Peace Conference, an Interdepartmental Committee was set up, under the chairmanship of the then Attorney-General, to advise as to the programme to be discussed and the views to be put forward on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and similar machinery may be employed with regard to the next Conference at the proper time. I can assure the hon. Member that His Majesty's Government have no desire to postpone the Conference, but any attempt to hold it at a date earlier than that which would suit the convenience of the Powers participating would tend to defeat the objects for which these Conferences are held. I cannot accept the suggestion that His Majesty's Government did not adequately prepare for the Conferences of 1899 and 1907. On the contrary, the greatest pains were taken to examine fully every question involving the interests of this country.


Are we to take it that the Government has not yet taken any steps of its own to set up our own National Committee?


No; because up till now we have not been certain at all as to when, or how, or with whom the preliminary International Conference will be held. If the proposal which is made by the United States should prove generally acceptable, we will at once take steps to prepare questions to be discussed.


May I ask if the Government is prepared to co-operate heartily with the United States in having this Conference come to?


Oh, certainly!