HL Deb 21 April 1926 vol 63 cc854-79

LORD CHARNWOOD rose to ask His. Majesty's Government—

1. Whether they are under any pledge to support the claim of any country (other than Germany and the countries already having such seats) to a permanent seat on the Council of the League of Nations:

2. Whether it is their policy to exercise a leading influence in the choice by the Assembly of the League of Nations of countries to occupy elective seats on the Council or, so far as possible, to encourage the free choice by the smaller Powers of countries that will represent them effectively.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting these Questions on the Paper nothing could have been further from my mind than to revive criticisms of past transactions. What took place lately at Geneva and previously has been very thoroughly discussed in both Houses of Parliament and for my own part this afternoon I shall assume very gladly indeed that anything done in this connection of late by Sir Austen Chamberlain in circumstances of extraordinary difficulty was a wise thing to do at the time when it was done. My concern is entirely with the question of just where we now stand. It almost goes without saying that what is called a League of Nations policy is the policy deliberately adopted by our country and its warmest upholders are to be found equally in all Parties in the State.

Among those upholders there is a pretty general agreement upon one or two secondary but still very important points. One of those points I take to be this, that in the interests of the whole League itself, even more than in our own, all the recognised Great Powers should have seats upon the Council of the League. That could, I imagine, be well ensured, as one looks at the matter now, by simply leaving the election of the Council open to the Assembly of the League. Assuming for the moment Germany to belong to the League, the Assembly of the League, unless it wished to destroy itself and the League at a stroke, could not possibly fail to place both Germany and France upon the Council. But inevitably those who had to frame the Covenant could not rely upon that. They had to resort to the expedient of having certain permanent seats upon the Council given to recognised Great Powers in the League, with the understanding that other Powers of similar status would follow, and given also, as a signally exceptionally case, to Belgium—owing, I take it. to special reasons which existed at that time and which, please God, will never again exist in the case of Belgium or any other minor State.

But the course that was then adopted seems to carry with it not merely the giving of permanent seats to those Great Powers, but the restriction of those seats, with the single exception that I have named, to those Great Powers. To a humble but respectful outsider it would seem quite obvious that if you once make an exception in favour of some Power not obviously and in all senses a Great Power, and give it a permanent seat on the Council, you will do one of two things; either you will let loose all kinds of rivalries which are at present held in leash, or else you will destroy the Council as an effective body. I do not think there is in this country very much difference of opinion upon that. The broad principle is admitted. What I have tried to say was stated, with his own incomparable force in this House not very long ago, by my noble friend, Lord Oxford and Asquith, and in reply to him the noble Marquess who leads the House said, in effect, that that was the broad principle upon which the Government acts.

I have no quarrel with the guarded phrase "the broad principle." I would not ask the Government for a moment to lay down on the matter any sort of cast-iron rule which might hamper them in some unforeseen emergency. What I want, however, very respectfully but very earnestly to inquire is: Is there any foreseen emergency in which the Government think it likely that the application of that broad principle will have to be restricted? Is there any existing engagement on the part of His Majesty's Government? Is there—I was going to say any entanglement—"entanglement" is not the right word; the right word, but I cannot think of it, would be more entirely polite than "entanglement" is—which might compel them to limit or to extend their championship of the broad principle to which I have referred?

A good many of us, I think—and there, again, I do not believe the anxiety is restricted to any one Party—are a little anxious upon that point for a reason which I will try to make clear. I shall have in this case plainly to mention Spain and the claims of Spain, but it goes, I think, without saying that I do so without the slightest disrespectful or unfriendly feeling. It appears that some four years ago, not under the present Administration but under another, upon an occasion of some difficulty within the bosom of the Council itself, about which I know nothing and ask nothing, the then representative of this country upon the Council did promise and give for that occasion support to the claim of Spain to a permanent scat upon the Council. Whether, in view of the circumstances of the moment, that was wise or not I do not know, and I am not asking.

I pass on to the part played by the present Foreign Secretary, in whom we all have such a high general confidence in this matter. I do not think I need quote at length from his statement in the House of Commons and I will come back to Spain in a moment, but he referred in that statement to the conversations he had had with M. Briand last December, in which I think M. Briand raised the question of the admission of Poland and some other State, not Spain, to permanent seats upon the Council of the League. In reply, the Foreign Secretary, quite rightly, did not indeed see fit to lay down that broad principle about the restriction of those seats to Great Powers to which reference has been made in this House, but took his stand upon another still broader and unassailable principle—the objection on the part of this Government to giving anything in the nature of a pledge as to what it should do on the Council or in the Assembly of the League, and a preference to make up its mind, if possible, in the light of the discussions which might take place in the Council or the Assembly, as the case might be. That was the attitude which, as I understand it, was taken by the Foreign Secretary in regard to the claims of States other than Spain.

He had said previously in. his speech that he had felt compelled to take a somewhat different line in the case of Spain. He had been asked some question, not by M. Briand but by the representative of the Spanish Government, in regard to his attitude upon that matter and as I understood him he had answered that he was prepared, in suitable circumstances, to give the same support to the claims of Spain as had been given by his predecessor under a previous Administration. The impression conveyed to an ordinary reader by what the Foreign Secretary said is that he would have taken the same line in the Spanish case as he had taken in the others but for the fact that he felt himself committed in some degree by what had previously taken place. I know not whether he had any other reason. But the question which a little puzzles some of us is this. I am assuming that there is no secret reason, that we know nothing of, which makes the case of Spain an altogether exceptional one. If, on that occasion, Sir Austen Chamberlain felt himself committed in that matter by what had been done by his predecessor in the representation of this country, may not he or his successor feel tied on some future occasion in precisely the same way regarding the claims of Spain if they are again put forward? I will go a little further. Is not the Spanish Government actually entitled to expect a renewal of that support unless it has already been made plain to the Spanish Government, or is now made plain to the world, that the Government hold themselves wholly and entirely uncommitted in this matter and free to carry out in full the broad principle enunciated in this House by the noble Marquess, to which I have just referred?

I hope I have made my point plain, and I would like to add in passing from it that I hope the Government stand uncommitted because of the gravity, as it appears to me, of the particular point which I have been stating. I should like to think it was so for a somewhat wider reason, and without saying anything pedantic or carping about conversations and so on which take place beforehand, I feel sure that the more the deliberations of the. League, whether in the Council or in the Assembly are the free deliberations of people who come together so far as possible previously uncommitted and wishing to come to a common mind in the light of their discussions then and there, the better it is for the future of the League and the more fully will the League carry out those aspirations which the Government and so many of us have regarding it.

I have placed on the Paper a second Question which I think I can explain in a very few words. Your Lordships will not treat it as unimportant because I think it can be dealt with very briefly. It appears that in the course of those troublous and difficult conversations and negotiations on the part of the Foreign Secretary which we have discussed so much, he made a suggestion, in view of the claim put forward (by Poland I think it was) to a permanent seat upon the Council, that Poland and possibly some other Power ought to be elected by the Assembly to one of the elective seats upon the Council. I am not mentioning that for purposes of criticism, because to have made that suggestion in view of the difficulty then existing seems to have been an obvious and reasonable course and it was a suggestion which I can well imagine would come with at least as good a grace from the Foreign Secretary as from any other man there who could have made it. But it suggests to my mind not any sort of suspicion of him or the views of the Government, but the hope that the course taken in those exceptional circumstances was taken as an exceptional course.

It is very desirable, broadly speaking, that so long as there are permanent seats allotted to Great Powers the remaining seats on the Council shall be common, so far as possible, to the representatives of the minor Powers excluded from those permanent seats. I am perfectly aware, of course, that the whole Assembly and not the minor Powers elect representatives to fill the elective seats, and I am not suggesting any principle which would restrict the action of the Government in some future case. I merely wish to elicit what I rather think I shall obtain—the sympathy of the noble Lord who is following me for the general principle that it is desirable in this matter that the smaller Powers should express themselves freely, led, or prompted, or driven as little as possible by the influence of this or that Greater Power. If it is certain, as it is, that the success of the League requires a certain predominance to be given to the Greater Powers in view of their greater responsibilities and, indeed, their greater interests, it is no less certain that the success of the League depends also upon the freeness and the fulness with which the influence of lesser States is there made felt. I beg to ask my Questions. I hope I have succeeded in making my words perfectly plain. I must also apologise for being, I feel, one of those people who have rather a difficulty in making themselves quite plain without at the same time making themselves inordinately long.

LORD PARMOOR had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is intended to give definite instructions to the British Representative on the Constitution Committee appointed at the late meeting at Geneva; and to move for Papers, said: My Lords, I do not rise in any way to criticise or to differ from the views put forward by the noble Lord who has already spoken, but I am bound to say, on the points to which he has called the attention of the House, that I should not put the view which I hold on those matters in quite the same language as that which he used in addressing your Lordships. I do not say that in a spirit of criticism, but in order that I may be understood if I appear to differ slightly from him on one or two of the points that he has made. I entirely agree with him in one matter. We need not trouble further about the past. We have had a good many discussions here and elsewhere on what is known now as the Geneva failure. I do not want to go back to that but to keep our attention on the future. I say that for this reason. I am no alarmist as regards the future of the League of Nations. On the other hand, I am not, I hope, so foolish as to disregard the signs to its disadvantage that are undoubtedly apparent on the horizon at the present time, and the object I have in referring to the future is to make one or two suggestions in order that those difficulties should not be enhanced, but, if possible, met and answered.

The first Question that the noble Lord asks he certainly puts in a different form from that which I should suggest. Perhaps the noble Viscount who is going to answer these Questions may consider what I am saying. I should like to ask him on the negative side somewhat in language of this kind—whether they are not now, having regard to the conditions of Locarno, under a pledge not to support any claim for any country to have representation on the Council until the claims of Germany have been satisfied in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Locarno? I should like to make one or two observations upon that. The opinion of this country has been expressed with a wonderful unanimity in favour of that proposition. More recently the German Government have expressed quite clearly, although with great reserve, dignity and moderation, their views of what was intended and meant by the Locarno Agreement. No one will know or recognise more fully than the noble Viscount that in the Locarno Agreement there was merely a question of the entry of Germany into the League with a permanent place on the Council.

But there are a number of very vital questions affecting Germany and the other parties to the Locarno Treaty which, in case of difficulty or dispute, are referred to the Council and, as has been stated by the German Government, that means to the Council as constituted after the entry of Germany. No one suggests that the constitution of the Council is sacrosanct or should remain unaltered for all time. I certainly make no such suggestion, but I do say this, which is a very different thing, that questions of reconstruction should not be approached and considered until Germany has become a permanent Member of the Council and, therefore, has full authority to say what she desires and what she thinks is best on these matters.

As regards the second Question also, I am afraid, I cannot endorse the words that the noble Lord has used. I should ask the Government, if they are adopting an attitude, to adopt rather a different attitude. In my view there is no more vital matter, if we are to maintain the integrity, the power and the impartiality of the Assembly, than to allow the Assembly free and unfettered right in its own decisions or in its own discretion—to use the words which we find in the terms of the Covenant itself: the free and unfettered right in its own discretion to select without interference by any Power small or great the non-permanent or representative Members of the Council. I am one of those who agree in the necessity of permanent Members, but it is the representative Members only who voice the opinions of the Assembly and the Council and it is of the utmost importance that they should represent the real opinion and the unfettered opinion and discretion by being elected without any interference or any suggestion by any of the outside Powers. One of the most essential matters which I think was overlooked at Geneva—I am not going back into the past—was to preserve the free action of the Assembly, and the matter perhaps most to be criticised by those who have been to Geneva is that at the last meeting the Assembly was not allowed to function at all—that is to say, so far as the question is concerned for which it was really summoned to a special meeting, namely, the entry of Germany with a permanent place on the Council of the League.

There is one other caution that I should like to mention and it is this. I do not regard these matters as mere matters of procedure. I think we must look underneath procedure to see where the underlying difficulties are and we must not shut our eyes to those underlying difficulties. Quite apart from political Parties, a very large majority, as I believe, of people in this country are in favour of the maintenance of the authority and influence of the League. What I think was forgotten was this. Since the War different conditions attach to international relationships from those which existed before the Great War broke out in 1914. In those days the eight Great Powers, as they were called, practically influenced or o decided all these questions which we are discussing at the present time. That was in a certain way satisfactory. It worked at any rate from 1713—that is, after the Treaty of Utrecht—until 1815, and again from 1815 to 1914. Its weak point was that it could not operate to establish a permanent peace when the Great Powers themselves fell out one with the other, which, of course, was the fact in the Declaration of War in 1914.

I only want to remind your Lordships—I think it is the shortest way—of what was said so truly by General Smuts. He said the War was the liquidation (that was the term he used, if I recollect aright) of the old Europe, and that the heir-ship had fallen to the League of Nations, the only possible safeguard of a permanent peace system in the future. I think that is absolutely right and that the noble Viscount is not in the least likely to question it. I think its representatives must be careful to safeguard the procedure which alone is applicable to these new conditions. You must remember, for instance, that you cannot at Locarno make arrangements which might have been made effective if we were there with Russia and Germany, the old Austria, the United States and Japan. You cannot do it. The new epoch has given a far larger power and a far larger share in these matters to the smaller States, which are represented on the Assembly of the League.

I have been in communication with the noble Marquess who leads the House and the noble Viscount, and also with my noble friend Lord Lambourne, who has a Question on the Paper, and it is thought better that the Question which comes a little later in my name should be discussed now in order that I should not trouble your Lordships with a further speech. I understand that that arrangement meets the convenience of the noble Viscount. My Question raises what is immediately a very important matter. I do not know whether the noble Viscount will tell us whether he is to represent this country on what I may call the Reconstitution Committee.




I am exceedingly glad to hear that that is so. It will be a very difficult and complicated question, and in what I am going to say I hope I shall not in any way do other than assist him. He and I, I am sure, are equally anxious for success. If there is not success the future of the League looks to me a difficult and dangerous one. The importance of this Reconstitution Committee or Commission was emphasised in an extract sent to me the other day from the Journal de Genéve which is really the organ of the League at Geneva. I will read this extract because it puts the point I want to put quite shortly. This is what is written: If within the next three weeks the situation concerning the League Council has not radically changed we shall witness in the Commission which is to meet at Geneva on May 10 discussions even more painful than those of the last month. That would be a very great misfortune. What are the dangers and how can we best meet them? I think we are bound to face the difficulties and I should like to do what I can to help solve them.

I regret, I admit, that the Commission as formed is not an impartial Commission. There is, I think, only one impartial Member of it, and that is Switzerland. It really contains all the partisans and protagonists in the late discussions at Geneva. I also regret one other matter which is very important before a task of this kind its embarked upon. I must say that I should like a free and open discussion in the Assembly itself. I am not now talking about the particular position of Germany, but before you embark upon such an enormously important question as the general reconstitution of the Council I should like a discussion in the Assembly itself. It is no good, however, going back on that now. The Commission has been constituted. I do not know how many of your Lordships have considered the terms of reference of that Commission. They are extremely important and also extremely wide; in fact, they encourage, if I may say so, the resurrection of all the frictions and troubles which were encountered at the last meeting at Geneva. I will not read the whole reference, because it is very long, but I will read one or two of the terms:— This Committee shall give particular attention to the claims up to now put forward by or on behalf of any Members of the League— that is to say, shall give particular attention to the very matters which at the last meeting at Geneva raised so much trouble and friction. That is a very serious matter, and what I hope may be done in connection with it I will say shortly. Then it is asked also that the Governments, through their official representatives—that will be through the noble Viscount in our case—will submit statements in support of their case or containing their views on any of the problems falling within the competence of the Committee. Therefore all these complex matters—


I do not think that is the meaning of the phrase you quote.


I have it here and I will read it to the noble Viscount. He will correct me if I am wrong. The terms of reference say that the Committee shall be authorised to invite the Governments of any Members of the League who so desire to lay before it any statement, whether in writing or through an official representative, in support of their case or containing their views on any of the problems falling within the competence of the Committee.


I believe that was intended really to apply to those Members of the League who are not Members of the Commission. I do not mean that it would prevent Members of the Commission sending in any statement—they would have a right to do so—but it was to open the door as wide as possible so that any Member could lay before the Commission any view it held.


I see the importance of what the noble Viscount says, but on the other hand the words are equally applicable—whether wisely or not I do not say—to the Members, of which the noble Viscount will represent one, who are represented upon the Commission or Committee. Then it says: It shall bear in mind the various proposals on the subject which have been previously discussed by the Council or the Assembly, and in particular the resolutions regarding 'geographical and other considerations,' and repeatedly adopted by the latter body. The other considerations are those which the Assembly itself adopted some time ago.

That being the constitution of the Committee and those being the wide terms of reference, it seems to me that nothing could possibly be more important, as affecting the League and its future, than the attitude which the noble Viscount will be asked to adopt on behalf of the Government when he goes to Geneva on May 10. Of course I do not ask the noble Viscount to express his own views, which are well known. He has been at the meetings of the Council and the Assembly almost from the first and I suppose no one has attended so often as he. He has expressed to the League of Nations Union views with which personally I am entirely in accord, so far as I understand them. But I am referring—and I need not deal with the matter at any length—to the views which I think ought to be brought forward, and which I am hoping will be adopted as the views of this country and of this Government when the noble Viscount goes to Geneva.

The noble Viscount will agree, I think, that there is no country which individually exercises a wider and, on the whole, a better and saner influence than Great Britain, and perhaps the reason for that is twofold. First there is our traditional policy, and, in the second place, opinion in this country—as I know very well from the experience of meetings in other countries—has, under the guidance of the League of Nations Union, been educated far beyond that of any other of the countries concerned. I think that the force, authority and power of the League of Nations Union, guided amongst others by the noble Viscount and by Professor Gilbert Murray, have had an enormous influence at Geneva.

In order to emphasise my point of view I have made a short extract of one passage of M. Unden's speech at the concluding meeting at Geneva. I dare say that the noble Viscount was present. I gather that M. Unden was received in a wonderful manner, and, so far as one person can summarise the general view of the outside Members of the League, he seems to have done so. I will read a short quotation from this speech, which seems to me to be a convenient summary. M. Unden said:— The sole object of this special Session of the Assembly was the admission of Germany into the League and the allocation to Germany of a permanent seat on the Council. In September there will be what is really an adjourned meeting of the Assembly—one may call it that—to deal with matters that were not satisfactorily dealt with in March. I want to know if the noble Viscount has any fault to find with the expression of the view that whatever else may happen, one of the principal objects will be "the admission of Germany into the League and the allocation to Germany of a permanent scat on the Council." I want this to be regarded as what I may call an isolated matter which, in all circumstances, must be carried through.

I approach this matter from both points of view. Nothing could possibly be more unfortunate than the failure, of Germany's entrance into the League. It is the most important point that one can contemplate at the present moment. Further, I cannot help thinking that, unless that is made the sole preliminary point, some at any rate of the criticisms—I do not want to go beyond that—made upon the attitude of our representative at Geneva in March would be very fairly justified—to put the matter as fairly as I can.

M. Unden goes on to say—and this also is a very important matter in relation to the coming Committee— Unhappily the question of the entry of Germany has been bound up with other questions which are foreign to it. I hope that, whatever the considerations of the Committeee may lead to, the entrance of Germany into the League will not be bound up with other matters which are foreign to it, but will be taken as an isolated matter in which our honour and faith are really concerned. I feel very strongly that if that attitude is adopted our authority and influence are sufficient to ensure its success. M. Unden also says:— National claims have arisen in various quarters; special interests have found themselves in opposition with the general interests and with the common welfare of the League of Nations. I should like to know whether there is a single word of the extract that I have read from M. Unden's speech from which the noble Viscount differs. It seems to me that in those few stately sentences he goes to the root of the matter. He speaks of the isolation of this one question and pleads that it should not be mixed up with intrigues but should be kept free from the pushing forward of these rival claims which undoubtedly—no one can find any fault with that—arouse very strong feelings regarding national interests and national antagonisms. That is, I think, a most important point. I dare say that the noble Viscount heard it said at Geneva that England expected every Swede to do his duty. I hope that every British representative—indeed, I have no doubt about it—will be commanded in the same way.

I want to say a word of caution about two matters. As I have said, I do not think that any questions of the constitution of the League can fairly be discussed until the question of Germany has been finally settled, but there are two points on which I should like to express my view, though I do not know whether the noble Viscount will agree with me or not. In the first place there has been a good deal of discussion about unanimity on the Council. I am one of those who believe that unanimity ought to be preserved, because I think it is much too early in the history of the League for anything to be done apart from what I may call the doctrine of general assent. It is easy enough to say that we can do this and that without unanimity, but we cannot do these things without arousing antagonism as soon as we have given up unanimity. Whatever may be said of the future, I do not believe that the time has yet come when the principle of unanimity, which was so strongly insisted upon at Versailles, ought to be altered.

My other point concerns the permanent Members of the League. I am bound to say that I dissent entirely from any proposal to add at this juncture any permanent Member to the League beyond Germany herself as a condition of her entry into the League. I think that is a very important point. Perhaps I have used words which are too strong in my Question, but I think it would be well if we could get this result put thus:—that the first matter of all is the entry of Germany, and that these other two matters, whatever may be their future consideration after Germany has entered, are not yet ripe for discussion. From my own experience in these matters I see that it will be an extremely difficult task which will fall upon the noble Viscount opposite. It will not be an easy task for a member of this Committee to carry through satisfactorily, but I think that his position would be materially strengthened and fortified if, on one or more of these crucial questions, the attitude of the Government could be publicly announced, because I believe that the public announcement of a definite attitude by the Government of Great Britain would do more to solve these difficulties than any other step that they can take at the present time. I therefore ask the noble Viscount, not exactly in the terms of my Question but substantially in those terms, what advice or answer he can give to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I am very grateful to Lord Charnwood and to the noble Lord opposite who has just spoken for raising these Questions at this time. The noble Lord who has just spoken was good enough to say that he thought that the task of the representative of this country on the Committee would be a very difficult one. In that observation I respectfully agree. I think the task of the Committee will be a difficult one and for that reason I am anxious to receive, since it has fallen to my lot to be that representative, all the assistance I can obtain from members of this House and from others, in order to fortify me in representing this country on that Committee.

The noble Lord made some criticism on the composition of the Committee itself. His criticism is, of course, a forcible one. He said that this is not an impartial Committee, but a Committee consisting precisely of representatives of those countries who were most actively engaged in the controversy which arose last March. I think every one would have desired to have constituted a perfectly impartial Committee, but I think it passes the wit of man to do such a thing and yet make it an influential body. Obviously, if it is to be an influential body it must have upon it representatives of some or all of the more influential Members of the League of Nations. Once you say that, it is obvious that some of those who took part in the controversies last March would have to be on the Committee, and once you put some of them on that Committee it becomes impossible not to have them all. In other words, if you are to have an impartial Committee, or perhaps I should say a body which will arrive at an impartial decision, you must have it composed either of people who have nothing to do with the dispute or else composed of representatives of all the parties to the dispute. To take the example of a Royal Commission, the members, as your Lordships know, are of two classes, those who represent all those interested in the question and those who are entirely outside the question altogether.


But you generally have one member as an impartial member.


I think if the noble Lord will read with some care the names of the members he will find that certainly they include more than one whom we can free from any suspicion of partiality in the matter. Then the noble Lord made a very elaborate criticism, or perhaps I should say comment, on the terms of reference to this Committee. I think if he will allow me to say so that he a little misread those terms, because they are all governed by the first paragraph:— The Council, considering that it is desirable that a thorough study should be made of the problems connected with the composition, number and method of election of the Members of the Council, decides to appoint a Committee for the purpose. That is the main reference to the Committee. It is a broad general reference of the method of election to the Council. Then it goes on to draw the attention of the Committee to particular points which affect the decision of those questions or the advice to be given on those questions, and it refers on those points to the matters which created so great a stir at that time and to other matters also.

It was then pointed out that if you had a Committee of a limited number—and we were very anxious to keep the numbers down to a reasonable number in order to have a chance of arriving at a decision—it was very difficult then to exclude altogether from the deliberations of that Committee other Members of the League, since all are in forested in the decision of these very vital questions. Following the precedent set by the Covenant of the League itself, it was enacted, not perhaps in the most completely happy phrasing that could be devised, that any Member of the League should be entitled—not only of the Committee itself, but any Member of the League—to make representations verbally or in writing in reference to the questions to be decided by the Committee.

That is the nature of the Committee, and when the noble Lord says that the Committee ought not to make any recommendations on the subject of the composition of the Council until Germany has been given a seat on the Council, that, of course, means that it ought not to sit at all until after the next Assembly, which I am sure would not be a desirable course to take; and I may remind the noble Lord that the appointment of the Committee was advocated by Germany at Geneva as what they thought was the best solution of the difficulties which had arisen. No doubt they hoped that Germany would be a Member of the Leaque at that time, but it was part of the German proposal—I do not say that it was solely the German proposal—that this Committee should be nominated, and I observe in the newspapers that this was one of the reasons put forward in the discussions in Germany why Germany should accept the invitation to sit upon this Committee, which I am glad to know she has done.

Before coming to the Questions raised by Lord Charnwood and Lord Parmoor in their Notices on the Paper, I should like to say one word upon the point raised at the end of his speech by the noble and learned Lord—namely, whether His Majesty's Government are in favour of the maintenance of the rule of unanimity. I think that has already been stated in the clearest terms by my right hon. friends in the other House. In any case there is no doubt at all that His Majesty's Government do believe that it is right to maintain the rule of unanimity in reference to the decisions of the Council and of the Assembly, subject, of course, to those exceptions which already exist. I do not think I need say anything more on that point, because the answer is, I hope, perfectly clear and definite.

But I want to call your Lordships' attention to this. The necessity for this Committee to discuss the composition of the Council does not arise only from the events of last March at Geneva. Apart from special matters there are really two broad questions which call for discussion and consideration. The first is that to which both the noble Lords have alluded, the permanent Members. At present, as the House knows, there are four permanent Members, who were described in the Covenant as the Allied and Associated Powers, including, of course, at that time the United States, and it is proposed to add another of the Great Powers—namely, Germany. The rule, good or bad, is quite clear and definite. Every one knows, broadly speaking, which are the Powers in the category to which the Principal Allied and Associated Powers belong. It is a perfectly definite category.

I shall have a word to say about it in a moment, but I should myself say, as I think I said on a previous occasion, that if you are to abandon that rule, or make an exception, at least you must secure that you substitute some other rule equally clear, equally definite, and equally to be relied upon as a guide to the future proceedings of the League. Otherwise it is evident that you have no means of resisting a claim by this or that country to sit upon the Council, and there is no limit to its expansion, and consequently ultimately to the destruction of its usefulness, or at any rate of the character which it now possesses. May I correct an error into which my noble friend, Lord Charnwodd, fell? Belgium is not a permanent Member of the Council: permanent membership is confined, as the noble Lord will see in the Covenant, to the Principal Allied and Associated Powers. So that there is not even that exception, which no doubt would have caused some difficulty, if it had existed.

Besides the question of permanent eats, which raised the great difficulty at Geneva, there is a very considerable question, as I have no doubt was brought to the attention of the noble Lord when he attended the Assembly, as to the non-permanent Members. When the League was constituted, four Powers were named as the original non-permanent Members, and to them have been added two other Members, making six in all. With certain exceptions, for special reasons into which I need not go at this moment, those Powers have been re-elected year after year, and I think I am right in saying that four of them are the same four, or something like them, that were originally on the Council. There has been considerable feeling in the Assembly for years past, culminating in a definite Resolution of the last Assembly—but I think some similar Resolution had already been passed—calling for a system of rotation.


It was passed some years ago.


Yes, and reiterated last year. And the reason is quite simple. The Members of the League say, rightly enough, that the Council is one of the most important, if not the most important body in the League, that it has elective Members, and that they ought to be given a reasonable share in the transaction of the business of the Council by a system of rotation, so that the bulk of the Members will have the privilege of sitting from time to time on the Council as Members of the Council. That is a very urgent question, and has to be dealt with. For reasons into which I do not wish to enter, because it is raking up old controversies, which I do not wish to rake up, it has been impossible to settle that question up till now, and when this Committee meets undoubtedly one of the things it will have to do will be to consider the question as to how far, and in what form, rotation should be allowed, and in what respects the very legitimate aspirations of the Members of the League can be dealt with. If your Lordships will read carefully the passages which my noble friend read out of the reference to the Committee, you will see that a great part of the reference had in view that question—for instance, the reference to geographical considerations—it had in view not the question of the permanent Members, but the question of the non-permanent Members, which will also have to be settled, and which is a very important matter.

I have been asked by Lord Charnwood a specific Question about the election of non-permanent Members which it might be convenient for me to answer at this stage of my observations. The noble Lord asks me whether it is the policy of the Government to exercise a leading influence in the choice by the Assembly of the League of Nations of countries to occupy elective seats on the Council, or, so far as possible, to encourage the free choice by the smaller Powers of countries that will represent them effectively. Lord Parmoor thought that did not go far enough, and he wanted me to say that the Government would pledge itself against any interference in the free election of non-permanent Members. I really do not quite know what the noble Lord means by "interference." He is familiar with the procedure under which these Powers are elected. The President gets up and says: "It will now be the duty of the Assembly to elect the Members of the Council for the ensuing year," and thereupon the election takes place. It is perfectly true—I do not wish to conceal it; it is inevitable—that certain Members of the League attach importance to the action which this country is taking in this, as in many other matters, and they come and ask us, the representatives of the British Empire, whom we are going to vote for, or whether we are going to vote for this particular Power or that. I do not think that is a thing that can be interfered with.


That is not what I meant: it was in contrast to what the noble Lord had said. He suggested interference in favour of the smaller countries. My answer was that there should be no interference in that sense at all. Of course, the actual election is a very different matter; in the actual election discretion must be left to the Assembly itself.


Well, it cannot be taken from them, because, as the noble Lord very rightly stated, the Covenant gives them the right in their discretion from time to time to elect these Members. I did not understand the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, to suggest that the British Government ought to interfere or intervene expressly in the election of these Members at all. I thought rather that he said he understood that a statement had been made that Great Britain would in certain circumstances last March support the election of particular countries to the Council. He did not criticise the Government for doing that in the special circumstances of the case, but he hoped it would not become a rule or precedent for further action. That was the question, as I understood, that my noble friend addressed to us, and I am glad to know that I rightly understood him. I need not say that it would be a complete departure from anything that has ever gone on at Geneva, and I think a departure which none of us would welcome, if it became the practice of any Powers, great or small, to announce in the Assembly or elsewhere that they were going to vote for this or that particular country and desired that their friends should do so, or any phrase of that kind. At the same time, as I have already said, you must not carry that too far, and if we are asked what we are going to do and if we have a strong view as to the class of countries that ought in any particular ease to come in, without using undue or improper pressure, I think it is impossible to say that this country should refuse to give its advice in a case of that kind.

I come now to the main Question which Lord Parmoor has placed on the Paper and which he developed in a way which was not, perhaps, altogether what I expected. However, I shall answer that Question, and I think I shall answer all the subsidiary Questions which the noble Lord put. He asked whether it was intended to give definite instructions to the British representative on the Constitution Committee. I have no doubt at all that the British Government will give definite instructions to its representative. It is evident in a matter of this importance that no representative would like to go out—I certainly should not like to do so—without being sure that he was representing the views of his colleagues as well as his own, and although I will not go in any detail into what those instructions might be because I do not think the noble Lord has asked me to do that, nor do I imagine he would desire it, yet I think it is germane to call his attention to the instructions which were given to Sir Austen Chamberlain and myself when we went out to the last meeting because they seem to me to answer a good many of the points he put to me.

Those instructions, of course, are unchanged so far as I am concerned and so far as they are relevant to the matter with which we have now to deal. The first instruction was— No change in the Council"— I call the noble Lord's attention to that— can be admitted which would have the effect of preventing or delaying the entry of Germany. That is still the policy of the Government. The Government desire that at the earliest possible moment the application of Germany for membership of the League and, consequently, for a seat on the Council should be granted and they are strongly of opinion that no action ought to be taken which will in any way hamper or hinder that proposal from being given effect to. It is true that the instructions went on to say— It would be best that Germany should, as a Member of the Council, have full responsibility for any further change in the Council beyond her own admission. I still hold strongly the view that the principle of that instruction should guide the proceedings of the British representative; but I cannot go quite so far as I was asked to go by Lord Parmoor in saying that we were under a pledge that no other change should be considered until Germany was a Member of the Council. That, of course, is impracticable now, because we have appointed a Commission the very purpose of which is to consider what changes ought to be made in the composition of the Council.


But it would be quite competent to the noble Viscount to say that Germany should first be admitted; that is the first thing, by itself.


Even if that were the conclusion to which the Commission came they would still have to consider what changes were to be made in the composition of the Council, though, very properly, those changes might not be made until after Germany had become a Member of the Council. It seems to me a matter which is well worthy of consideration, that that. ought not to be done; but to say that it should not be considered is obviously going too far. Germany will be there and will be a party to the consideration and we hope—that is the hope and design with which this Commission is appointed—that we shall be able to lay down the principle upon which, as we shall recommend to the Council and the Assembly, the Council shall be composed for the future and the method of the election of its Members.


You only recommend, I think, to the Council?


Yes, we only recommend to the Council; but in a matter of this kind nothing could be done without the Assembly because the Assembly is master of all matters affecting the composition of the Council. It would have to go to the Assembly. Therefore the first principle is that which I have already read to your Lordships about the admission of Germany. The next proposition which was laid down answers one of the specific questions which the noble Lord was good enough to put to me. It is as follows:— The rule that only Great Powers should be permanent Members of the Council should, in principle, be maintained. I think those were almost the words in which he asked me to affirm that principle.


Hear, hear.


He did not ask me to adopt a rigid or cast-iron rule; but it seems to me as a matter of fact that if you are to have a rule for permanent Members and you have that rule now and can think of no other rule which would be equally clear and definite, we are bound to maintain that rule at any rate. Subject, of course, to anything that may be said to us to show t hat we have misread or misunderstood the subject, the policy of the Government is undoubtedly to maintain the rule as to the permanent Members of the Council.

Then there is a reference to Spain and other Powers in the instructions that were given to my right hon. friend and myself. Since those instructions were given a new situation has arisen. There have been all the events which took place at Geneva and there has been the appointment of this Commission. The representative of this country will, in consequence, go to the Commission quite free from any obligation or any declaration that may have been made in the past with reference to the membership of the Council, on behalf of this country. I think my noble friend Lord Charnwood asked me whether that particular question had been made quite clear to Spain. I do not want to go more into detail than I need, but I can assure him that there is no danger whatever that Spain will be under any illusion on the point of that declaration. Beyond that I rather hope that I shall not be pressed to go, at any rate at the present moment. I can assure noble Lords that in a sense I should be very glad to be tied down hand and foot before I went to Geneva. It would be a great relief from my responsibilities if that were done.


You do not want a free hand or foot?


I might want neither, but I do not think it would be courteous to other Powers that we were meeting at Geneva or likely to produce a favourable result in any negotiations if it were announced before hand that the British Government had absolutely made up its mind on every conceivable question and that it was no use addressing arguments to them upon it. The broad principles I have ventured to lay down with full authority from my colleagues. Beyond that I hope that the representative of this country will be trusted to do his best to bring those broad principles into effect by the ordinary methods of negotiation and discussion.

I was glad to hear from my noble friend Lord Charnwood a strong plea for freedom in such matters, a plea which I venture respectfully to endorse. One thing of which I do want to remind the House in this connection is this. No result can be obtained except by agreement. That is not only a question of the rule of unanimity. We are engaged in remodelling to some extent and modifying the constitution of the League. If it is to work, and work smoothly and with acceptance, we must aim at the modification by agreement. There must be no question of dictation. There must be no Power, I hope, going to Geneva and saying: "This is our policy; we can listen to nothing else." We must be ready to meet and try to understand the views of other countries and so far as possible to meet their views consistently with the essential interests of the League.

We must never forget that it is one of the fundamental principles of the League that all its Members are equally sovereign and independent. This country has undoubtedly a great influence, as other countries have a great influence, in the League, but it is the influence, if I may say so, of a moral character and not constitutional. We have no more rights in the League than any other Member of the League, and I do not think we ought to have any rights beyond the fact that we are permanent Members of the Council. But that is an argument winch is equally applicable to everybody. There most be no dictation to us. We cannot admit that any Power has any right so to use its position and voting on the Council as to prevent steps being taken which it admits are in themselves desirable unless also some position is given to it which it desires. That seems to us to be, very respectfully may I say it, an abuse of the right and powers and position of the Members of the Council. We are all for freedom, but it must be for freedom on both sides, independence and sovereignty for all Members of the Council and Assembly alike.

I heard with great agreement the serious words that Lord Parmoor addressed to this House as to the gravity of the crisis which may supervene from a continual failure to solve the problems of the composition of the Council. I agree that the crisis is serious. I have always felt ever since I have had anything to do with the League that these questions affecting the prestige and position of particular countries in the League are much more dangerous to its prosperity—I will not say to its existence, for I hope that is beyond doubt now—but to its prosperity and strength than much more serious questions affecting the whole international position of the world. They excite much more violent and personal passions, if one may so put it, and in many respects they raise problems more difficult to settle and to reach agreement upon. That is why I venture very earnestly to appeal to all members of your Lordships' House and to everyone else to do their utmost to help the Government in trying to reach agreement upon these questions I have already told your Lordships that I am sure they can only be settled by international agreement. I venture to add that the possibility of international agreement depends very largely indeed upon the existence of national agreement in this country as to the way in which they should be settled. I have no right to dictate to noble Lords opposite, or to advise them as to what view they should take of this or any other question, but I very earnestly appeal to them to give what assistance they think they reasonably can to the Government in this matter. I venture to say to them that if they have any suggestion or any advice to give, either publicly or privately, I, as the representative of this country on that Commission, will be only too delighted and glad to receive it.