HL Deb 25 July 1887 vol 317 cc1830-4

rose to call attention to the subject of international arbitration, and to move— That this House, in view of the yearly increasing armaments of European nations, is of opinion that the formation of an interna- tional tribunal for the reference of national disputes in the first instance is highly to be desired. The noble Marquess, who was imperfectly heard, was understood to say that nothing but an imperative sense of public duty would have induced him, who was ordinarily a silent Member of the House, to bring this subject before their Lordships. He was old enough to remember the Great Exhibition of 1851, in which the noble Earl opposite, then Secretary for the Colonies, took so prominent an interest. At that time the most hopeful anticipations of the future prevailed, and it was believed that a new era was opening in which all the nations of Europe would be bound together in a brotherhood of amity and concord. Now nothing was seen or heard in Europe but the preparations and the operations of war. No effort, therefore, ought to be spared to lessen or minimize, and, if possible, to put an end to, the existing state of things. He left this Resolution with confidence in their Lordships' hands. If they could see their way to give him their support and encouragement in the great and glorious cause of peace and goodwill among men, he was sure that support would not be withheld; but if from any cause they should, in their wisdom, conceive that the time had not yet come when it would be opportune for taking any such action as he recommended, he hoped their Lordships would not give the Resolution a direct negative, but would permit him to withdraw it. Moved to resolve, "That this House, in view of the yearly increasing armaments of European nations, is of opinion that the formation of an international tribunal for the reference of national disputes in the first instance is highly to be desired."—(The Marquess of Bristol.)


, in supporting the Motion, wished to point out, before any objections were made as to the possibility of carrying out the Motion, that a Court of Arbitration existed already, and that although it had been for many years in abeyance, yet it had been revived very recently with great success. When all Europe was Catholic the Court of Rome was the natural arbitrator when disputes arose between nations, and very recently the German Empire had submitted its dispute with Spain respecting the Caroline Islands to the Pope, who, by accepting the duty of arbitration which had been confided to him, had averted a war which at one time seemed imminent. Men's minds on the Continent had been prepared for a revival of the intervention of the Court of Rome, in order to diminish the evils of unjust wars. During the Vatican Council of 1869–70 a postulatum had been presented, signed by 40 of the leading Bishops from all parts of the world, and formed a part of the acts of that Council, praying the Pope to take measures for the re-establishment of respect for the Law of Nations. In November of last year there was a Congress at Lille, at which the Abbé Defourny and Baron d'Avril presented proposals for the re-establishment of the Law of Nations, and a pamphlet by the Abbé Defourny containing a draft of a Bill for the French Chambers, enjoining the necessity of examination of all international disputes by a duly constituted body, and of its sanction previous to the issue of a declaration of war. These proposals were nearly the same as the provisions of English law with regard to declarations of war, and the functions to be entrusted to the body charged with inquiring into international disputes were those which were vested in our Privy Council previous to the Statute of Queen Anne. He thought that Her Majesty's Government might do well to follow the example of Prince Bismarck, and refer their next difficulty to the arbitration of the Holy See. Those who doubted the impartiality of the Holy See, might be reminded of what was well-known, that the Pope had objected to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and had blamed the Dragonnades of the Cevennes, and had blamed James II. for disregarding the feelings of his Protestant subject; and what was less well-known, that the Pope had objected to the expulsion of the Morisioes from Spain.


My Lords, it is impossible for me to mistake the spirit of earnestness in which my noble Friend (the Marquess of Bristol) has brought this subject before the House; and I know that he does not stand alone in the feeling with which he regards the proposal he has made. There are a certain number of persons very earnest and very excellent who believe that this would be a remedy for the terrible evils of war, and who from time to time urge it on the public mind. He has had some great predecessors. I may mention alone the name of Cobden as one who certainly took the proposal out of the category of merely fanciful suggestions. Yet I confess—and I think it is the general feeling—that deeply as everybody sympathizes with the object my noble Friend has in view, and earnestly as we must desire to see the day when the horrors of war may be prevented by the establishment of some species of international arbitration, it is very far from us now and further apparently than it was some years ago. No one, I think, can watch the progress of affairs on the Continent of Europe and the tendency of various States without seeing that the pacific spirit has not increased, and that the chances of avoiding war are not more favourable than they were. My Lords, the reason why any proposal of this kind has not yet been dealt with by any Government as a practical proposition is that it presupposes in States a condition of mind, which would in itself accomplish all the objects my noble Friend has in view. If nations were once to get to that state of mind that they would submit all their disputes to any tribunal, and would obey that tribunal, the warlike spirit would so far disappear that the very necessity for taking precautions would cease to exist. At pro-sent we can only say we see no prospect of the formation of any such tribunal. I will not be tempted by my noble Friend (Lord Stanley of Alderley) to discuss the capacity of the Papal See to fill such a position; but there is no probability of the formation of any tribunal under which all nations would confidently feel that they would have equal law. There is no Legislature to lay down the law by which such a tribunal could be guided, and there is no authority to enforce its decrees when once they have been pronounced, and therefore it would be a mere form and its functions would be reduced to a nullity. My noble Friend proposed to avoid these practical objections by leaving to nations after they had submitted themselves to a tribunal the choice if they thought fit of going to war if they did not like the decision. The only effect of that provision would be to interpose a period of time between the origin of the dispute and the declara- tion of war, which would give an opportunity to the Power least prepared to bring itself to a level with the Power most prepared. It is very unlikely that any Power which felt itself to be the best prepared would submit to an artificial disadvantage such as that. The chief effort of all nations now with regard to its warlike machinery is not merely to make it as potent as it can be made, but also to bring it into such a state of perfection that it can be set in operation at the earliest possible time. I fear, therefore, that the proposal of my noble Friend is contrary to the tendency of all modem nations, and is not likely to meet with acceptance at their hands. I think, my Lords, we are misled in this matter by the facility with which we use the phrase "International Law." International Law has not any existence in the sense in which the term "law" is usually understood. It depends generally upon the prejudices of writers of text-books. It can be enforced by no tribunal, and therefore to apply to it the term "law" is to some extent misleading, and I think has given rise to the somewhat exaggerated hope to which those persons who hold the views of my noble Friend approach this matter. I do not think there would be any advantage in committing this House to a barren statement on the subject. I do not believe that one man in one hundred supposes that such an issue as my noble Friend desires, intensely desirable as it is, will be witnessed by ourselves, by our children, or by our grandchildren; and it is idle to attempt to conceal from our minds the terrible realities of the case. I, therefore, can meet the Motion of my noble Friend in no other way than by recommending him to withdraw it.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.