HL Deb 24 March 1926 vol 63 cc768-94

THE EARL OF OXFORD AND ASQUITH rose to call attention to the recent proceedings of the League of Nations at Geneva; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I make no apology, although the subject does not seem to excite widespread interest in your Lordships' House, for putting down the Notice which stands in my name. The outcome of the proceedings of the League of Nations at Geneva has been described by the Foreign Secretary himself as a tragedy—a very serious expression for a Minister of the Crown to use—but I need hardly assure your Lordships that my object this afternoon is not to indulge in any recriminations about the past, but a much more serious and important one—to obtain substantial and effective reassurances as to the future. The Pact of Locarno—the Pact of Security entered into at Locarno in October of last year—in conjunction with the separate Treaties between various individual Powers by which it was accompanied, was hailed, I think I may say, with universal satisfaction in this country, as the longest step which had been taken for many years in advance towards the consolidation of European peace.

It was, as your Lordships will remember, preceded by well-intentioned attempts in the same direction—the so-called Treaty of Mutual Assurance and the Geneva Protocol, both of which, well meant as they were, failed to meet with general international acceptance. The Locarno Pact, less ambitious in its scope and in my judgment more practical in its methods, started under the fairest omens, not the least auspicious of which was that the three great European Powers, France, Italy and ourselves, in addition to Belgium, had associated with us in that great international agreement Germany. That was a conspicuous milestone on the road to international amity and concord. But the Pact of Locarno was subject to two conditions. The first and obvious one was that it should be ratified by the different States who were parties to it, and the second one, of much more practical importance and significance, that it should not come into operation till Germany had been admitted as a Member of the League of Nations.

Well, at this moment, as a result of what was done or perhaps I ought to say of what was not done, at Geneva, Germany is still outside the League of Nations and the obvious consequence of that unfortunate fact is that the Locarno Pact has at this moment, from a juridical point of view, no operative effect at all, notwithstanding the vague and, if I may say so, rather ambiguous and rhetorical pronouncement which was made at the end of the proceedings at Geneva by the representatives of the Powers who are parties to that Pact. The Pact was subject to the important condition that it shall come into force as soon as—and therefore not before—Germany had become a Member of the League. Of course—and I hope I shall here command general assent—it was taken for granted by all the parties to the proceedings at Locarno that if Germany became a Member of the League, which she could only become by the vote of the Assembly—nobody else could give her that status—she would take a seat side by side with the other great Powers as a permanent Member of the Council. To make that abundantly clear the German Government, after Locarno, issued a circular to the ten Members of the Council of the League, the permanent and the temporary Members, asking the question whether, if she were admitted as a Member of the League, she could count upon being made a permanent Member of the Council.

Not a single one of the ten representative Members of the Council to whom that inquiry was addressed, with the exception, which is not a real exception, of Brazil, which made some kind of ambiguous reservations, suggested in reply that any other addition to the Council, either permanent or temporary, was contemplated by them. Germany, I think, was perfectly entitled to assume that the question, first, of her admission to the League and, next, to her permanent membership of the Council would go without dispute or controversy into effect. Nor, let me add, as I understand—I shall be corrected by the representative of the Government if I am wrong—was it suggested by anybody, certainly not by any representative of His Majesty's Government at Locarno, that any question would arise as to any other reconstruction of the Council, except such as necessarily followed from Germany's admission to the League.

So far, I think, I have been dealing with uncontroverted and incontestible facts. What was the next step? In entire harmony with, and indeed in pursuance of, what had gone before, a special extraordinary meeting of the Assembly was convoked to be held at Geneva in order that the Assembly might be asked to, give assent—and without the assent of the Assembly the Pact, of Locarno could not in its essential condition be carried out—to what the Powers had agreed and to admit Germany to membership. I am sure I am not only within the knowledge of your Lordships but of everybody outside that that was what was understood, and universally understood, by people of all Parties in this country—and in my time I have never seen greater unanimity or more heartfelt emphasis on any question of foreign policy—to be the purpose, and the one purpose, for which the Assembly had to be brought together. And it was not only in this country. The Dominions—the great Dominions of the British Empire, who are not represented on the Council but are represented on the Assembly—so far as one can judge from the declarations of their leading statesmen and of their Press, were unanimously and heartily in sympathy with us, upon that point.

What followed? The Assembly met, the representatives of some forty or fifty States from all parts of the civilised world, summoned specially upon an extraordinary occasion for a particular purpose. They were kept for a week, ten days, perhaps a fortnight, kicking their heels about corridors and antechambers, while behind closed doors a select body of representatives of Powers, some of them great Powers, some of them very small Powers, were engaged in bargaining—I will not say in huckstering but in bargaining—and compromising, and every kind of accommodation to arrive at some agreement among themselves. Talk about the old and the new diplomacy! I do not think that even at the Congress of Vienna, now a great deal more than a hundred years ago, secrecy was so complete and so capriciously—if I may use the expression—selective as regards those who should be the participators in it.

What was the next step? It was understood, though there was no public declaration except the gossip of newspaper correspondents, that what was going on all this time behind these closed doors was a process of—I will not call it intrigue, but at any rate of bargaining, upon such a question as whether or not Poland or Spain, or perhaps Brazil, should become either permanent or additional temporary Members of the Council—a question, let me remind your Lordships again, as to which not only was the Pact of Locarno absolutely silent but as to which it was never suggested, either at Locarno or so far as we know in any accredited diplomatic quarter, certainly none that has been made public, that the coming into force of that Pact should be, as regards time or any of its other conditions, in any way contingent. When we have regard to what I consider the most vital matter in all this strange and complicated tangle, this being a meeting of the League of Nations with the Assembly exceptionally and specially convoked, with the permanent and temporary Members of the Council there, it is a curious and very strange circumstance that during the whole of the ten days or a fortnight the Council never met at all. The Assembly met once, it is true; I think it had a preliminary meeting about some trumpery question of buildings or something of that kind. But the Assembly only met once in order that it might vote its own adjournment until September. Could anybody, any critic, I will not say any enemy because there are no avowed enemies, who wanted to bring the League of Nations as an international machine into ridicule, I might almost say into contempt, have invented a better method of doing so?

Then, at last, we had the coup de théâtre which brought the strange spectacle to a dramatic, perhaps I had better say a melodramatic, conclusion—in the intervention at the last moment of the veto of the South American Republic, Brazil, with the result of the postponement till next September—that is to say, for a term of more than six months—of a vitally urgent matter for people who regard the Pact of Locarno as a really serious undertaking, the condition precedent of all the operative effect of that Pact—namely, the admission of Germany to the League. That is a bald, unvarnished, unembellished but literally and strictly accurate narration of what has taken place during the last two months. There is no member of your Lordships' House who is acquainted with the facts, or any one outside your Lordships' House, who would say that in any single respect I have either exaggerated, or misrepresented or caricatured the facts. Are we wrong, those of us—and I include among them not the members of any particular Party either in this House or outside it—who are really sincerely convinced of the need of maintaining the authority, the dignity and the efficiency of the League of Nations, in regarding this as a sorry and a disappointing chapter in its history? I do not think I shall receive any answer in the negative to that question.

I have read with much care and with an honest desire to understand and to appreciate them the explanations given in another place yesterday by the Foreign Secretary. I need not say that I do not associate myself with any charge or insinuation, if such has been made, either against his honour or against his sincere desire to promote the efficiency of the League of Nations itself so far as his opportunities and means allowed. I have no doubt he found himself confronted at Geneva with many difficulties, some of them foreseeable, which might, I think, have been forestalled and, indeed, altogether prevented by a clear, plain, explicit declaration—it was not a question of usurping authority or of claiming a dictatorship; it is ridiculous to use language like that—emphatically expressed on the part of Great Britain, that so far as they were concerned the admission of Germany to the League was the sole and only purpose for which that meeting had been assembled and to which its operations and its decisions ought to be confined.

It was the universal opinion of the people of this country, and I should be very much surprised if any noble Lord in this House would get up and say the contrary, that when the Secretary of State made what many of us regarded as a disquieting and indeed an embarrasing speech, I think it was at Birmingham, and the question came up for discussion in another place—I am not sure that it did not come up your Lordships' House—




My noble friend says that it came up in your Lordships' House, but unfortunately I was not able to be present—the Prime Minister made a soothing and I must say a perfectly honest and sincere declaration which for the moment removed our apprehensions, or at any rate mitigated them. I speak without any kind of desire, and I hope that noble Lords opposite will agree with me, of making, I will not say Party capital but of making controversial capital out of this matter. It is much too serious for any such course. But looking back upon the conduct of these negotiations and on the whole of this affair, I must express my own deliberate conviction that if a declaration of that kind, firmly made and tenaciously adhered to, had been brought to the notice of the world and of the parties concerned, a great deal of this atmosphere of bargaining and uncertainty, which resulted ultimately in diplomatic impotence, might have been dispelled and altogether removed.

That is all I have to say by way of criticism of the past, because, as—said in my opening sentences, my object to-day is not to dissect the past, not to apportion praise or blame, but to see how we stand and, above all, how the League of Nations stands in the immediate future. A good deal was said in another place last night. Some of it was more or less explicit, some of it was more or less nebulous, and I should be very glad if whoever is going to speak on behalf of the Government would be good enough in answer to my appeal to make perfectly clear two or three points about which I do not think there is any real controversy in this country, but as to which it is of the utmost importance, now that six months is to elapse before the League of Nations begins again to function, if it ever does, as it certainly did not at Geneva—I hope it will—which will make the whole world realise what the position of Great Britain is. I quite agree we cannot dictate to the League of Nations. Whoever said we could? After all, when we think what Sweden did, when we think even what Brazil did, surely Great Britain, with in this matter, as she has, her Dependencies whole heartedly behind her, might claim a distinctive position and, indeed, a degree of authority which she still possesses in the Councils of the world.

I believe the whole of this country and the Empire would like some definite reassurance from the Government upon these points. I am sure there is no difference of opinion here, but I think it will be well that the Government should state quite plainly what they mean. Are they still of opinion, as I believe they are, that the rule laid down in the Covenant of the League of Nations, that the decisions of the Council shall be unanimous, is a rule that ought to be adhered to? There is some point and indeed pertinence in putting that question, because the Geneva Conference, or whatever it is to be called, entered into the appointment of a Commission if the noble Lord who is to reply will give it me, I should like a little more information on that matter. It is to be a Commission, I understand, of ten persons to include the whole of the Council, permanent and temporary, with an addition of five, I presume from the Assembly—I should like very much to have definite information about this—and with the addition (whether they are included in the five or not I do not know and I should like to know) of some representatives of Germany, because Germany being outside the League is represented neither in the Council nor in the Assembly.

We understand that this Commission, however constituted—and as to that I ask for a little more detailed information—should make suggestions and recommendations if they are so minded, as to the future constitution of the Council and perhaps as to other matters of machinery. That being so, it becomes, I think, important to ask from His Majesty's Government whether or not they still adhere to the view to which I myself attach great importance, that the decisions of the Council should be unanimous? As I say, they cannot dictate. No one says they can. But so far as their influence goes, and so far as the authority of this country extends, will the Government resist any attempt to infringe upon the rule of unanimity? That is my first question.

The next, which I think is of equal importance, is this. Is it their view that it is or is not desirable—I think it most desirable and essential myself—to preserve what was certainly the original intention, you might call it the express intention, of the Covenant of the League that the permanent membership should be confined to the Great Powers, in which category, Germany, if she is admitted to the League, must, of course, be included? That is not a matter of arrogating, in any offensive sense, predominance to the Great Powers as such, but it is of very great importance for two reasons. In the first place, if you admit that any of these fifty or other countries who are fellow Members with ourselves of the League are to be entitled to permanent membership on the Council, you will have a perpetual, recurrent, irritating, disturbing competition and rivalry between all the others as to whom or to which of them should be assigned this prerogative position. That, I think, will very much interfere with the effectiveness of the Council itself.

In the next place, my attention was called to another matter I confess for the first time only to-day by reading the speech of my right hon. friend Sir John Simon in the House of Commons last night. It is a curious fact—it may have been what the lawyers call per incuriam—that once under the constitution of the League of Nations a Power becomes a permanent Member there is no machinery by which it can ever be dislodged from that position. It is permanent not only in name but in fact. That, I am quite certain, is a correct legal interpretation of the Covenant. I therefore hope that His Majesty's Government will be able to assure us that so far as they are concerned they will maintain what was one of the fundamental provisions of the original Covenant, that the Great Powers shall be the only permanent Members.

My third question is this. The final decision of all these matters has been, in consequence of the lamentable breakdown at Geneva, adjourned till September. When the time comes for that decision to be taken, may we be assured that His Majesty's Government will insist, so far again as their power and their influence go, that the admission of Germany to the League and to the Council is the first and most urgent step and not conditional upon anything else?


Hear, hear.


My last question—I am sorry to have so many, but I think they are all relevant to a very serious matter—is this, and it is founded not upon anything in the Covenant nor upon any legal or other nicety, it is founded upon the experience at this last meeting at Geneva: Will they secure as far as they can that in the future the machinery of discussion in the Council and in the Assembly shall be regarded in all the stages preliminary and otherwise to the taking of decisions, not only as the normal procedure preliminary to any decision, but as only to be superseded and set aside by the authority of the League itself? I want to get rid, and I believe we all want to get rid, of the kind of thing which went on at Geneva—the closed doors, the bargainings, the intimate gives and takes between select bodies—and to have the whole thing done, as the League of Nations evidently contemplated it should be done, in the light of day, with the Assembly and the Council, both of them representative bodies, in complete control of the whole thing.

I apologise for having detained your Lordships so long, but these are very serious matters and I should not do justice to my own sense of the gravity of the situation if I did not say one thing more. I think there has been a very serious setback for the moment to the authority of the League, but I entirely disagree with those pessimists who are disposed to think it has been a mortal blow. I should very much deprecate that any impression should get abroad that any Party, I will not say in this House but in this country, has lost its faith in the League, in its supreme importance as an instrument of peace and of civilisation, and its power of asserting itself as against selfish and particular interests. That I believe still, as strongly as I have ever believed, to be the one supreme necessity of Europe and of the world at this moment. But, anxious as we all are—I believe I speak the opinion of all your Lordships—that that should be the ideal to be aimed at, not to be aimed at merely as an ideal or as a dream, but to be carried out practically by the most efficient machinery and measures that men of judgment and experience can suggest—strongly as I believe that, I cannot help taking the opportunity of expressing my own view that the League and the ideals which the League represents are seriously threatened.

I see, so far as one can judge from such sources of information as are open to us, growing indications of a tendency in some parts of Europe—I do not particularise this country or this Power or that—despite the terrible experience, and as one would have thought the enduring lessons that have been given to us by the War, to set on foot and to re-establish the old vicious, pernicious, destructive, war-generating factor of separate groupings and alliances. I do not want to embitter the discussion or to excite unnecessary controversy, and I will not particularise special cases, but there is a tendency which, unless it is counteracted by the increasing moral authority of the League of Nations, may grow, a tendency which is now going on over large parts of Europe to re-establish some of the worst features of that old international system which we hoped the War and the League of Nations had once for all brought to an end. It is because I have a profound and disquieting conviction that that is the real danger, not an imaginary danger, but the real danger with which Europe and the world are now confronted, that I implore your Lordships and His Majesty's Government, as the spokesmen and authoritative representatives of the British people and the British Empire, to do everything in their power while there is yet time, to repair the damage which for the moment has been suffered by the authority of the League and to give, as they can give, such satisfactory assurances in reply to the questions which I have ventured to address to them as will reassure this country and may contribute very largely to the ultimate peace of Europe.


My Lords, I feel an additional sense of responsibility in replying for His Majesty's Government to the very important speech which has been delivered to your Lordships by a man so eminent as the noble Earl, because it is not my special duty to have regard to the intricate matters of foreign affairs, and I regret very much that my noble friend Lord Cecil is prevented by slight indisposition from being present this evening. At any rate, there is this slight comfort which I can take to myself, that these matters have been discussed at such length and in such detail in another place so recently as last night that a great deal of the ground which has been dealt with by the noble Earl has already been covered.

None of us wish to pretend that there has not been a serious setback to the League of Nations through that which has happened at Geneva. That is quite evident, and it is a matter of profound regret. But I do not think that it is wise to exaggerate the gravity of the setback. After all, nobody who followed the opening passages of the noble Earl's speech, which were, I believe, entirely accurate, could fail to realise that the Locarno Treaties are not in any way injured by what has happened at Geneva. They are as much alive now as they were when the recent meeting of the Assembly took place. They do not come into force, as the noble Earl has properly said, until Germany is admitted to the League of Nations, and that admission, instead of taking place, as we had hoped and, indeed, confidently believed, at the recent meeting, is now postponed for so many months. We have no reason to suppose that, when September arrives, the full programme will not be carried out as it has been mapped, that Germany will not be admitted to the League of Nations and to the Council and that the full force of the Locarno Treaties will not in consequence come into operation. As your Lordships are aware—though I think the noble Earl spoke of it rather slightingly—there was a solemn agreement at the end of the recent proceedings that the Locarno Treaties should be maintained. I think, therefore, that there is a certain danger of overrating the setback that has taken place.

The noble Earl was very severe upon the proceedings at Geneva. He did not, of course, suggest that we had control of the proceedings. Indeed, I think he frankly admitted that it was not so. Consequently he was not indicting the representative's of Great Britain or the Government of Great Britain only, he was indicting the Governments of Europe. I think that even a man of the great eminence of the noble Earl might hesitate before making an indictment of so sweeping a character as that. He thinks that these consultations—I forget the exact word he used, but I think it was "intrigues"—were very discreditable. I think that there is a certain want of proportion in the way in which those consultations are condemned. They are an essential feature of all deliberative assemblies. We are very familiar with them in the British Parliament. They happen in both Houses every day on every subject. Every Party knows these consultations, pressure, deputations, and every conceivable form of what the noble Earl calls secret proceedings. When he meets his friends to discuss the land policy of the Liberal Party he does not admit reporters. The meetings are all secret. I am not passing any comment upon what happens there, and the fact that they happen in this way is not discreditable at all.

It is an essential feature, and, though I can agree that there were elements in these deliberations at Geneva that were regrettable, that were not becoming, I am afraid we shall always find such to be the case if we have the system of deliberative assemblies at all. You can choose; either the thing can be done with all the old dignity of the old diplomacy, but with very great disadvantages on the other side, or you can have these deliberative assemblies, of which the most notable and the greatest is the League of Nations, and in that case you must have private consultations. The thing is absolutely inevitable.

I must remind the noble Earl, although I am sure that he knows it already, that there was a very special reason for consultations in this particular case. One of the most important parties, whose consent to everything had to be obtained, was not a Member of the League of Nations. Nothing could have been settled, at any rate in the view of the British Government, without the consent of Germany, and Germany is not a Member of the League of Nations. Accordingly consultations outside the League were not only natural but absolutely inevitable and necessary. No doubt we must regret that the result was not favourable. It is possible that mistakes were made. It is possible that more open discussion would have produced better results. It is easy enough to criticise, and I imagine that we may say so of almost the whole course of events in our own deliberative assemblies in England, but I wonder whether, when people speak with such astonishment of the failure of the recent Geneva Assembly, they reflect what a tremendous thing the admission of Germany to the League of Nations would have been, and, indeed, will be when it takes place in September.

It is only eight years ago that the War came to an end, and almost on this very date eight years ago we reached the worst moment of the War. Holy Week in 1918 was the lowest point to which the fortunes of the Allies fell, and none of us who lived through it will over forget that time. What antagonism to the Germans there was, what indignation, what hatred, what deep and bitter feelings throughout all Europe, and not least in this country. And yet, eight years afterwards, we have reached such a point that, with the exception of Brazil, every one is willing in the final result to admit Germany to the League of Nations. That is a most tremendous change. I think it almost grotesque that we should be surprised that there is friction in getting Germany into the League of Nations. Of course there is; it would not be anything like human nature if it were otherwise. The British Government are most anxious for it, we are working for it and my right hon. friend the Foreign Secretary has worked for it as hard as he could, but to think that it is surprising that there must be a few months' effort before such a tremendous thing can be accomplished is, I think, a very disproportionate contemplation of what history always shows.

There are great risks, of course, which stand in front of the League of Nations, and it will want all the skill of statesmen, not only British statesmen but statesmen of the whole of Europe, to bring it through. There are different conceptions as to what atmosphere the League of Nations should work in. In some quarters it seems to be believed that something like the old European parties might be re-created in the League of Nations, and that there is some advantage in getting in a particular Power because it is a partisan of one group or of opposing its entry into the Council because it is supposed to be a partisan of the other group. That is one view—a very dangerous view—and there is the other view, the view to which the British Government adhere, that there, ought to be no such division of parties in the League; that the spirit of the League should not be antagonism but conciliation. It was in that spirit that my right lion, friend went to work in Geneva and last night he spoke of Great Britain and of her accustomed part of moderator and conciliator. That was the temper in which the British Government approached these consultations.

In our view the object which could yield to no others in the recent deliberations was the admission of Germany as a Member of the League and as a Member of the Council. That was the policy. I go further. I think Germany had a right to expect that that should be the policy pursued, and I do not think there is any Party in this country who would deny it. Moreover, even looked at from n lower point of view, the infinite complications which raising these other issues involve was a strong practical reason against their being raised. My right hon. friend, speaking last night, so described the spirit in which lie went to Geneva. Sir Austen Chamberlain said: To every one I said the same thing. I said: 'Let us get Germany into the League and not complicate the discussion of that problem by introducing any other issue.' That was quite simple. Except that I daresay the noble Karl might have expressed it in more classical language, those words might have issued from the noble Earl's own mouth.

The noble Earl has asked me a number of questions and I will do my best to answer them. The first question which he put to me was: Do the Government adhere to the rule that the decisions of the Council should be unanimous? The answer I give is the answer which the Prime Minister gave last night in another place: "Yes, they do adhere to it." Then he asked me a question about the Commission. The Commission, or Committee, on the composition of the Council will be composed of ten members, representing the States on the Council, and five members representing the Argentine, Germany, China, Poland and Switzerland. The Committee is to study the problems connected with the composition of the Council—the number and method of election of the members of the Council—and if it cannot make a unanimous Report it will present Majority and Minority Reports. I need not say that His Majesty's Government are not solely responsible for the personnel of and reference to this Committee. It is the act, of course, of the main body itself, and it is to that Committee that this reference has been entrusted. The next question which the noble Earl asked was whether we adhere to the view that the Council should be confined to the Great Powers.


The permanent Members of the Council.


I am obliged to the noble Earl: whether the permanent Members of the Council should be confined to the Great Powers? That is undoubtedly the broad principle upon, which we propose to work, and there again the Prime Minister, in another place last night, referred to the instructions given to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when he went to Geneva, in these words:— The rule that only the Great, Powers should be permanent Members of the Council should in principle be maintained.


How broad is that principle to be?


I must leave the noble Lord to interpret that for himself. The next question of the noble Earl was whether it was the intention of the Government, so far as they were concerned, that Germany alone should be admitted to the Council in September. Of course, I must speak of this with all reserve because it is one of the matters which is referred to the Committee whose numbers and reference I have just read out.


It was not quite my question. My question was whether His Majesty's Government, so far as their influence goes, would make, the admission of Germany to the Council a primary and unconditional part of the agenda.


I think I must refer the noble Earl to the instructions of which I have already spoken, that our representative should vote for nothing which would prevent Germany's entry into the League. That was the policy with which Sir Austen Chamberlain went to Geneva, and that is the policy to which we must adhere. There is one other question. The noble Earl asked me whether discussions in the Council and in the Assembly would be the normal procedure in September. Of course they will be the normal procedure. But, as I have already said, there must be consultations outside; that is the essence of a deliberative assembly. But the normal procedure must undoubtedly be discussions in the Council and in the Assembly.

I have done my best to answer these questions. I come back to where I started. Undoubtedly the events at Geneva have been a very serious set-back, and it docs reveal to us and to any man who has the interests of the League at heart how grave are the risks which undoubtedly this great, institution must run in gradually evolving its constitution and procedure in the future. We are feeling our way to a totally new system of European politics, and there must be ups and downs. It would be utterly incredible if it were otherwise. I am quite ready to admit that mistakes will be made. I will admit even that mistakes have been made. Such is the necessity of human institutions. But if there are grave risks which await the development of the League of Nations let us reflect that there are far graver risks if anything fatal happened to it. The awful alternative which we know so well, we who have lived through the Great War, is the alternative if the League of Nations does not succeed, and therefore it is our part to strain every nerve to make it a success.

I think perhaps if the Republic of Brazil had had the experience which we lave had, if it, too, had undergone all the horrors of the Great War, perhaps it might have paused before, by its one act, it inflicted such an injury upon the League and upon its development. But we must not be downcast; we must not allow the natural irritation which occurs to us upon the failure of the late sittings at Geneva to depress us as to the future of the League. I believe it to be an institution which will survive because it must survive, because modern civilisation cannot do without it; and I look forward to September with a confident hope that it will redeem all the errors which the late Assembly has displayed.


My Lords, I listened with great respect and satisfaction to what was said by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House on the subject of the future of the League. The root of the matter, as it was once put in this House in 1918 by Lord Parker, a great jurist on these questions, is that we must have the peace system, or the alternative is a recurrence in a more terrible form of the disaster of the Great War. I am no pessimist about the future of the League. The failure at Geneva does not connote any failure either of the principles or of the machinery of the League; it has really arisen—and it is only in that respect that I desire to be critical to-night—from a failure to utilise the machinery which must and ought to be utilised if matters at Geneva are to be successfully carried through.

Let me take the first point mentioned particularly by the noble Earl, to which I think sufficient attention has not been given. I call special attention to it because it has fallen to my lot to have considerable experience of the procedure at Geneva. It is perfectly true that on a matter in which the Council ought to bf the paramount authority primâ facie, the Council was never once consulted at all during the recent meetings at Geneva. I want not only to make that general statement, but to explain also why I make it, and the foundation on which I rest what I must call this accusation. Of course, there must be certain preliminary discussions, and I quite agree with the noble Marquess that they are part of all procedure of this kind. That is not the point. The point is quite a different one, and it is this, that if you are to have a world organisation, dealing with world question, you must have a system based, not on secrecy, but on publicity. There is no other way in which you can work a world organisation such as the League without giving a chance, through publicity, that all the Member States should have knowledge of what is proposed and what is being done.

I come to a most important point—a point which really explains to a large extent the failure at Geneva during these recent proceedings, a point which could have been avoided by the action of the Foreign Minister of this country. The Council of the League, meets under three conditions, and only three. It meets as an entirely public body, to which the Press has access. There are certain matters in which publicity of that kind is of the utmost importance. I should like to have emphasised, only I understand that the noble Viscount (Lord Cecil of Chelwood) cannot be present to-night, what happen d through the agency of publicity in connection with the Corfu incident. M. Branting and the noble Viscount insisted on full publicity for the Council of the League, and it was in consequence of that full publicity that a public world opinion arose that enabled the League to deal with what was a far more difficult topic than that which was before it recently namely, the Corfu incident.

Secondly, if there are certain matters to which full publicity is not given, where there is ample opportunity for the nature of the discussion to which the noble Marquess has referred, you have a meeting attended not by the general public but by the Secretariat of the. Council of the Assembly, and full notes are taken of the nature of the discussion, the votes given and the decisions come to. No such meeting as that was held during the recent proceedings at Geneva. Then, in order that the Council might operate under all conditions, there is a third method under which it meets, which is called the secret meeting. It is secret except to the extent that its decisions are noted through the Secretary-General and are then published in the Official Gazette.

I should have liked to ask the noble Marquess some questions before he spoke, but no doubt he has an opportunity of giving me an answer later, because the House would not interfere with that. May I ask him why the Council was not called in one of the characters which I have mentioned? It cannot be said, as was said, I think, against what was stated by the noble Earl, that by making this point one is bringing any accusation generally against the Powers on the Council. Any one person could have assured publicity to this extent. I say again that if you are to have satisfactory results at Geneva publicity as against secrecy is an absolutely essential condition. What happened was that there was no meeting of the Council, although the Council was summoned to meet in the ordinary way at Geneva. There was nothing but what are called "tea party" meetings. Tea party meetings mean nothing more than private meetings of selected Members, which are open either to the trafficking or the intrigue to which the noble Earl has referred. My statement can be verified. If there was any meeting of the Council, whether fully public, private, or secret, a report of that meeting will be found in the Official Gazette of the Council at Geneva. I can find no indication that any such meeting was ever held. Is it possible to blame the League of Nations, or the machinery of the League of Nations, when, on the occasion of a meeting for the very purpose of assuring the entry of Germany into the Council of the League, the Council itself was never summoned to meet? I want to ask the noble Marquess how he can explain that. I emphasise it because, as I said before, it was not that the machinery of the League or of the Council failed. What caused the failure was the non-use and the disregard of the machinery both of the. Council and the League.

Let me say a word in reference to the Assembly. Why was not the Assembly called and consulted? Why was a meeting left over and then merely called at the last moment to ratify a decision already made? I listened last night to the speech of the Foreign Secretary. As I understood him, he indicated that it was not possible to approach the Assembly at an earlier stage in connection with the business of the entry of Germany into the League. That is an entire delusion. That is not in accordance with the terms of the Covenant. It is not in accordance with the practice which ought to be followed in such a case as this, and I should like to tell the noble Marquess why I say that, so that he may give me an answer if he can. What was being dealt with at Geneva and what caused the difficulty was the claim for an addition to the non-permanent Members of the Council of the League at the same time that Germany entered as a permanent Member. You cannot increase the non-permanent Members without the assent of the majority of the Assembly. Although at the same time you may require the acquiescence of the Council, it is certain that the Assembly must be consulted, and on an occasion of this sort it ought to have been consulted at a far earlier stage.

Not only is that so but, as the noble Marquess knows, under Article 4 of the Covenant—I do not wish in any sense to be technical—when the Assembly has been called together it can enter upon any matter within the sphere of its duties and powers. It would have been perfectly possible to go straight to the Assembly and in open discussion in the Assembly itself, not to make any suggestion to interfere with the entry of Germany but to decide the point whether on this occasion the question of the increase of the non-permanent Members of the Council should be embarked upon. Why was not that done? If, as the noble Marquess has pointed out, it was the desire of the Foreign Secretary as representing Great Britain that the terms of Locarno should be carried out and that the one matter to be decided at Geneva was the entry of Germany, why was not that point submitted for decision by a majority of the Assembly? Undoubtedly, every difficulty would have been solved had that natural procedure been adopted.

At the conclusion, as we know, there was only one dissentient, Brazil. But that does not tell the whole story. I have heard from people who were present that they had very little doubt that had that question been properly handled the objection of Brazil would probably have been withdrawn and our undertaking to Germany carried out. I say that for this reason: It is well known that all the representative States of South America, ten in number, had universally applied to their Governments asking them to use pressure that the Brazilian objection might be withdrawn. Before the answer could be received the business of the Assembly was pushed on, with the result that we all know. I cannot understand why the machinery of the Council and of the Assembly was not used for the purpose for which it was intended. Had it been so used I do not believe there would have been any failure at Geneva on this occasion.

I want to emphasise, and I hope that the noble Marquess will agree with me in this, that the real machinery which is laid down in the Covenant and has been used with success on many difficult occasions was deliberately neglected and put on one side on the occasion of these recent meetings. I have before me a copy of a letter which I noticed in The Times yesterday from a very eminent internationalist, a man of considerable and impartial experience, Sir Anton Bertram, late Chief Justice of Ceylon. Let me read a. word or two of what he said: The Assembly comes out of the crisis with its reputation unscathed. It comes out with its reputation unscathed because it never had an opportunity of fulfilling the functions which, under the Covenant of the League, are thrown upon it. He goes on: To pass from the atmosphere of the lobbies of the Secretariat"— that is where the secret intrigues were going on— into the atmosphere of the Assembly was like going into the open air. Here everything was sincere and spontaneous. That is in the Assembly. The speeches were direct, frank and dignified, yet marked by an extraordinary courtesy and restraint. The whole impression was of something healthy and sound. The feelings of all manifested themselves in that prolonged ovation to Mr. Unden, whose firmness of principle and ready self-sacrifice had marked him out as the man of the hour. That does not show that any injury has been done to the Assembly of the League, which has come unscathed out of these trials at Geneva, but it does show that the Foreign Minister and the Delegate of this country did not use the machinery that the Covenant of the League provides. If he had used it I think he would have been able to speak of a triumph instead of what he called a "tragedy."

I want to say one other word with regard to the position of the League of Nations. I cannot see that there has been any real setback as regards its principles and machinery in what took place at Geneva, but there is no doubt—and this I deeply regret—that the influence and authority of the League has been affected, and that those who from the first were not, and now are not, in favour of an international league such as was constituted in the Treaty of Versailles, have taken advantage of the position that has arisen and are already ventilating their views to the effect that it might be better if the League of Nations itself came to an end. The noble Earl when ho spoke would not name any particular country. Nor would I. But any one who has read with any care the various statements made in Continental papers cannot but be aware that, whether this country wishes or not, there is an attack being made at the present moment on the future of the League. I sincerely hope that that attack will be a complete failure. That, I think, is also the view of the noble Marquess opposite.

I have this in my mind. I have attended a good many international meetings dealing with questions of the League and the Council and the Council and the Assembly proceedings, and I say without hesitation there is no country, so far as I know, where the people are more determined in favour of maintaining the great principles of the League than are the people of Great Britain. No doubt that is to be explained, in part, by the splendid work that has been done by the League of Nations Union. Although I have attended many of their meetings I was astonished—and I think many other people were astonished—at the universal outburst in favour of maintaining the true principle of the League of Nations when there seemed to be a doubt as to the terms under which the Foreign Secretary would go to the late meeting at Geneva. It was said universally: "Let us have the whole matter straightforward and above-ground; let us avoid all suspicion of trafficking and intrigue and let us as far as we can make our voice heard in insisting that the entry of Germany as promised, and the entry of Germany alone without further complications, shall be the one matter to be settled at the coming meeting at Geneva."

I believe that if the Foreign Minister and our Delegate at Geneva had followed that principle and had complied wholly with at any rate the leading terms that were disclosed in the Government memorandum, not only would he have found no difficulty, but by this time Germany would have been a Member of the League and a permanent Member of the League Council. I am not advocating that this country should take a dictatorial or arrogant attitude. In my opinion that would be entirely inconsistent with the true principles that ought to govern international relationships at Geneva. But if that had been done, and if the machinery of the Council and the Assembly had been utilised in the way that it might have been, it seems to me almost incredible that any difficulty would have been experienced in carrying out our undertaking to Germany and in establishing the principles of the Treaty of Locarno.

May I say only one more word with reference to that portion of the story? In Article 10 of the Treaty of Locarno one preliminary essential condition is stated—namely, that the entry of Germany must precede the Treaty of Locarno becoming an operative Treaty. Those parties who were present at Locarno must have known that the entry of Germany with a permanent seat in the League could not be granted without the unanimous vote of the Council.

I recollect that during the time I was at Geneva, when we were intensely anxious that Germany should be admitted and when negotiations were opened with Dr. Stresemann and Dr. Luther and Dr. Marx, we had to give way, and to tell Germany that we were not in a position to guarantee absolutely her election to a permanent place on the Council, and so the matter fell through. What took place at Locarno? Did the Powers at Locarno, including Great Britain, satisfy themselves that they could carry out the obligation regarding the entry of Germany into the League with a permanent place on the Council? If they did not, if they were not assured by the other Powers already on the Council that this would be done, surely they were to an extraordinary extent premature in boasting of the spirit of Locarno and the success of the Locarno Treaty. I think it is quite clear that although the entry of Germany into the League as a permanent Member of the Council was the only condition mentioned m the Locarno Treaty, from the start the question of the reconstitution of the Council itself was raised.

I do not know what the position is as regards Spain. I understand there was a time when Great Britain advocated that Spain should become a permanent Member of the Council. I think that would be inconsistent with what the noble Marquess said this afternoon. I think he assented to the proposition. which I certainly regard as extremely important, that the permanent places on the Council should be reserved for the Great Powers whose accession to the Council of the League was envisaged at the time the Covenant of the League itself was drawn up. Therefore I should like to know whether this country has finally abandoned the suggestion, which as I understand from the statement last night was certainly at one time made, that we would support Spain for a permanent seat on the Council of the League. I think that would be very disastrous. It would be putting Spain in a false position. It would be giving her a place on the Council to which she is not entitled and would be upsetting the true principle on which the Council is based.

Then, what about Poland? I do not think the noble Marquess has answered this question. Is Great Britain still in favour of making Poland a non-permanent Member of the Council? My answer to that is, by all means let Poland become a non-permanent Member of the Council if elected in the ordinary course by the procedure of the Assembly, but only in that way and not as a matter of a bargain on the occasion of the entry of Germany. Perhaps your Lordships will bear in mind that the Assembly is represented on the Council by the non-permanent Members. It is most important that the relationship of the Council to the Assembly should be based on perfect freedom of election of the non-permanent Members which is vested under Article 4 in the discretion of the Council itself. The principles to be established have been laid down more than once by the Assembly, and I sincerely hope that neither by our intervention nor by the intervention of any other Power will there be any attempt to interfere with the absolute discretion of the Council, which ought to be exercised as a world organisation in the selection of the non-permanent Members of the Council. Your Lordships know that for three or four years in succession the principles on which that selection should be made have been laid down by resolutions of the Assembly itself.

I do not desire to say more than I have said. I feel deeply the loss that the League may suffer in its prestige through what has gone on during these recent proceedings at Geneva, but I feel also that the failure there is not attributable to the League but is attributable to the failure to use properly League machinery. If those who are in favour of the League and who believe in a system of peace as the only method of preserving the civilisation of the world will work and show their determination, I hope the issue will be no more than a passing set-back and that the real strength and future of the League will not be permanently affected.


My Lords, it is only by the leave of the House that I can say a word or two in reply to the noble and learned Lord. The noble and learned Lord has asked me about Spain and Poland. I think your Lordships will understand that, once the Assembly has appointed the Committee or Commission with the broad reference that I have read out and which, of course, cannot be varied now, it is not possible for us to give absolute answers as to what will be done.


But what will our influence be?


It is not a practical proposition to put members on a great Commission and bind them before any discussion takes place as to exactly what they are to do.


They go there as representatives of their countries.


If they are not to have any freedom at all it would be better not to have them. A gramophone would be quite sufficient. We must trust our representatives on the Committee. The broad object of the British representatives will be, as they have always been, to secure the admission of Germany to the Assembly and to the League as a permanent Member of the Council. The noble and learned Lord spoke of what he called "tea-party" meetings of the Council and he said they were composed of selected members. There he is under a misapprehension. All the Members of the Council were there.


They were not meetings of the Council.


The noble and learned Lord is shifting his ground. He said they were selected members and the innuendo was that they were not the general body but people picked to suit somebody's convenience. That is not so. They were not formal meetings of the Council but they were full meetings. They were all there. The real difficulty of the whole matter was this, that you could not submit Germany's name to the official Council until you were quite certain what the result would be. How could you ask Germany to allow her name to go before the Council in order that it should be rejected? Anybody who knows anything about international affairs is aware that such a proceeding is unthinkable. A great nation like Germany would not submit to it. That is the long and short of it. You would not have got her to send in her name until it was certain her name would be accepted. Therefore informal discussion was inevitable.

It was the same in the case of admission to the Assembly. You could not submit Germany's name to the Assembly because she would not allow it to be submitted until she was sure it would be accepted by the Council. If she had taken the course of allowing her name to be submitted without any guarantee that she would be accepted afterwards in the Council, she might have found herself in the position of being for two years a Member of the Assembly without being a Member of the Council. A nation in the position of Germany—undoubtedly a great Power and one which the noble and learned Lord, equally with ourselves, is most anxious to treat upon the most friendly terms—would not have submitted to that for a moment.


It would not have been done in that manner at all. It could have been discussed in the Assembly.


If the noble and learned Lord wants any confirmation of what I have submitted to him, he has only to refresh his memory by leading the speech he heard last night delivered by the Secretary of State. He will find that in a long passage my right hon. friend explained that Germany would not submit to have her name bandied backwards and forwards unless she was quite sure what the result would be. Therefore, if any good issue was to be looked for from these efforts, these private negotiations were essential. I hope that I have sufficiently answered the questions put to me by the noble and learned Lord.


My Lords, my noble friend the Earl of Oxford and Asquith asks leave to withdraw his Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.