HC Deb 16 July 1929 vol 230 cc394-400

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Kennedy.]


I desire to raise a matter of which I gave notice at Question Time yesterday, and that is the point whether the Legal Adviser to the Foreign Office, Sir Cecil Hurst, who has been nominated for election as Judge of the Permanent Court of International Justice, should be sent as a delegate to Geneva. I appreciate that the hands of the Government are rather tied in this matter., and that it is to a considerable extent a legacy from their predecessors, but I am quite sure that in saying what I shall say, I am voicing the opinions of a great many whose opinion carries very great weight in the affairs of the League of Nations. It has been a very unfortunate and regrettable practice for the Governments of the last few years to appoint one of their experts, a legal adviser, as a full delegate. It is not treating him fairly. He has to go out first for a Labour Government and than for a Conservative Government, and to put forward views which are to some extent contradictory, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that he does not propose to continue the procedure in future of appointing any new legal adviser as a full political member of any delegation which goes out to the League of Nations.

I would suggest that delegates should be politicians, not civil servants, who are thereby placed in a very difficult position. No one has greater admiration than I have for the great abilities of Sir Cecil Hurst and the great services which he has rendered to his country, and indeed to the world, and I am not bringing this forward in any personal sense whatever, but I think the many services he has rendered have unfitted him to a considerable extent for taking on the new duties now suggested, because it is of the greatest importance that we should keep separate in this new organisation the judicial and the political functions. If you appoint one as Judge of the Permanent Court who has been actively mixed up with the political side ever since the War, it may be that you will not be able to resist in future other nominations by other countries not so defensible on their merits as this, and that you may in due time create this situation, that there will be a feeling among the peoples of the world that the Judges of the Permanent Court are no longer entirely independent, as they are now, but that they are to some extent the mouthpieces, or under the influence, or the agents in some way of the Foreign Offices of the different countries. It may well be that that would not be so, but the Permanent Court, like Caesar's, wife, should be above suspicion, and I think you are taking a very dangerous step in appointing a man of the very high qualifications of Sir Cecil Hurst, who has been made unsuitable for the appointment by reason of the very duties which he has been carrying out for so long.

There is another difficulty, and that is that, as a Judge of the Permanent Court, Sir Cecil will be called upon to interpret Treaties which he has himself played a very great part in making. No man has done more since the War, in framing the Treaty of Versailles, the Covenant of the League, and in the Locarno Treaty, to the great advantage of the world, than Sir Cecil Hurst, and he will now have the rather invidious duty of being called upon to interpret international legislation which he has himself framed. I think that is another reason way an appointment of this kind is inadvisable. I do seriously appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he cannot make another nomination, because the time has not expired for such nominations, and there must be Judges of high standing who could very well receive this appointment. If he feels, having regard to all the circumstances, and to the commitments of his predecessors, that he is not able to take that course, I hope very much that he will consider the; inadvisability of letting Sir Cecil go out as a full delegate to the League this time. It would not look well for him to be carrying on comparatively political business, as he will do up to the very last moment in the Council of the League and on the Committees, and then stepping up on to the Bench in an entirely different atmosphere. There are many actions that are legitimate and defensible, but which are not wise, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that it would not be expedient for Sir Cecil Hurst to form a member of the delegation this year. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that I have not brought this forward in any petty spirit, or with any desire to embarrass, but solely in the interests of what I conceive to be the interests of that great hope of mankind, the League of Nations.


I wish to detain the House for a moment because this is a matter on which I may reflect a considerable body of opinion outside, which is not new to this matter, as some hon. Members are, and was given considerable attention to it. I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether I am correctly informed that the period of nomination to this high judicial office has not closed, that is to say, chat the nomination which the late Government contemplated and announced does not close the matter so far as His Majesty's present advisers are concerned. That is a question of fact. I wish to state this view, which weighs with persons of considerable service in the nation outside. It is felt that whatever nomination is made to this high judicial tribunal should be one worthy of the dignity of Great Britain. I make no reflection on the distinguished public servant to whom my hon. Friend opposite has referred. I should be the last to make any comment on his well-known abilities, for I have had the advantage of following them for a good many years. But I want to suggest to my right hon. Friend and the Government that in coming to a conclusion on this matter— I understand that the period of coming to a conclusion is not closed— they will make an appointment which will conduce in the most worthy way to the dignity of the country.

This tribunal is the greatest tribunal in the world. To it are committed the cardinal judicial issues of the world. It is an essential part of the equipment of every member of that tribunal that he should have had judicial experience. I venture, therefore, to press upon my right hon. Friend that they should consider all available candidates of judicial experience before they resort to a nomination which is one connected with the public service of an executive character. I ask them not to lower the prestige of this country in the eyes of the world by nominating to this supreme judicial tribunal anyone, however distinguished in other walks of life, who cannot bring to the tribunal that special judicial experience which the rest of the world expects to find in the representative of Great Britain. Therefore, I press my right hon. Friend not to hurry this matter, because he finds it in the office left by his predecessor, but before he follows a course which is subject to a good deal of criticism outside the House, he will satisfy himself that there are no high judicial persons who can bring to this office the special equipment required. I venture, with the greatest possible respect, to press that special consideration upon my right hon. Friend.

The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

Two points have been raised and I will deal very shortly with both. The first is as to whether the chief legal adviser to the Foreign Office should have been selected on this occasion as a delegate to the Assembly of the League of Nations. The chief legal adviser has been selected to go to the Assembly and not, as my hon. Friend suggested, to the Council. He will have no association with the work of the Council this year. As I stated in reply to a question yesterday. Sir Cecil Hurst has been a representative of this country to the Assembly of the League ever since the League was formed. I think that in itself was a very substantial reason why on this occasion he should have been continued as one of the Delegation. But there was another reason.

At the last Assembly a certain amount of work was given to Sir Cecil Hurst and to others that had to be carried forward and has not yet been completed. This work is in connection with the codification of international law, the preparation for a conference on this subject to be held next year, the revision of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice, and a special conference in connection with the adherence of the United States to the Permanent Court. All this work has been very well advanced. It is to be hoped that it will be completed during the early stages of the coming Assembly.

Many of the objections raised by the hon. Member opposite were present to my mind when I considered the delegation for this year. After weighing them all up I came to the conclusion that in order to enable him to give his valuable assistance to the completion of the work in hand, I should, at any rate, until the time when that work was completed, ask Sir Cecil Hurst to continue to be one of our representatives. I would like to say, however, before passing from that point, that the fact that he has acted so long should not be taken to be a precedent that would always be followed, and should he succeed in securing election to the Court the way will be much easier for me to act differently on another occasion.

The second point is as to whether one who has been associated with the work of the League in the capacity even in which Sir Cecil Hurst has acted for a number of years is qualified to act in connection with the Court. The hon. Member who raised the question reminded us that his nomination might be a legacy from our predecessors. I am not going to throw responsibility for this nomination on my predecessor. It is quite true that the nomination bad been made, and if I wanted to act in a different way I should have been compelled to withdraw the nomination. I was not prepared to take that responsibility. The more I thought of it the more I was driven to the conelusion, in view of the fact that not only had' the representative of this country received a nomination from the previous Government but also, I am happy to say, received a nomination from other Governments, that it would have been placing him in a most invidious position if I had proceeded to withdraw his nomination. It is quite true that in the progress of years he has been placed in a very difficult position. I remember being with Sir Cecil Hurst at the Assembly in 1924, and a jolly good and faithful colleague he made. I have not a shadow of doubt that, had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) been present, he would have been prepared to have said that all the years Sir Cecil Hurst had been one of his colleagues at the Assembly he had been equally loyal and faithful. That only goes to show how faithful a civil servant can be towards whatever Government may be in power.

Having said that I am not going to take his appointment as a precedent always to be followed, having said that he had received the nomination of the previous Government and other Governments, I, do not know that there is anything more that I can add. I am quite satisfied that he has as high a standing among the Governments of the countries associated with the League as any judge that could have been selected by the present Government. I am quite certain that his knowledge of the working of the League cannot be surpassed, and it would be difficult, in my judgment, to equal it. For all these reasons I hope that my hon. Friend will accept it from me that I did what I did in the interests of the work which Sir Cecil Hurst had to undertake.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-three Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.