HL Deb 17 November 1926 vol 65 cc644-72

LORD PARMOOR rose to call attention to the late Council and Assembly at Geneva, and especially to the questions of Mandates and disarmament. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I may say at once that owing to the very wide range of matters which come before the Council at Geneva—these matters appear to be constantly extending as the influence of Geneva extends—I do not propose to go into any question other than the two which I have specifically mentioned of disarmament and Mandates. Had I intended to go beyond those two subjects I should have given information to the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, who represents the Government. But there is one other matter which I must mention. Every person and Party in this country rejoices at the entry of Germany into the League of Nations at the last Assembly and rejoices not only because of the fact that as a matter of conciliation and friendship it showed a great advance in international opinion but also on the ground that to a very marked extent it adds stability, power, authority and influence to the League of Nations itself. There is no doubt whatever that for some time the absence of Germany had been felt, as a great loss and I believe all Parties and persons in this country heartily welcomed her entrance into the League.

The two subjects with which I have to deal are, I think, of great importance, particularly at the present time. It has been felt from the commencement of the work at Geneva that disarmament was an acid test of advance in the direction of real peace and reconciliation, but on this subject, raised I think seven years ago, no substantial advance has been made up to the present time. It is true that at this last Assembly—and I am glad that it is so—a step has been taken in a practical direction by suggesting or determining that before June of next year some declaration should be made by the Commission which has been appointed to deal with this matter, and, in addition, there has been a Preparatory Commission, of which the noble Viscount is a member, and one or more Sub-Committees to which special matters have been referred in order to be dealt with by experts. I only want to say this as regards these various Commissions, Committees and Sub-Committees. Whether they succeed or not I think is a matter which depends on the attitude of Great Britain and whether we are prepared to take so great a responsibility or not. As a matter of fact, the conditions are such at Geneva that on the attitude of Great Britain the success of these Committees and Commissions mainly depends.

There are two points that I should like to put particularly to the noble Viscount on this branch of my subject. The first is whether it will be possible, in his opinion, for this country to bring forward for consideration concrete proposals as affecting the armaments of this country? Though it is difficult always to follow what goes on at Geneva, I understand that the opinion of M. Paul-Boncour is that positive proposals can be brought forward on behalf of the French people and the French Government. I think it is obvious that positive proposals would be of enormous advantage if any true and real progress is to be made. On the other matter I believe there is a difference of opinion, or there may be a difference of opinion, between the noble Viscount and M. Paul-Boncour. Would the noble Viscount tell us what is the attitude of this country as regards international control of armaments when reduced to the defensive level? That is a matter of very great importance in dealing with technical and practical subjects, and I ask the noble Viscount, if he can, to give information upon it.

The other matter to which I want to refer is, in my opinion, a more important one and one on which, I admit, I have greater anxiety: that is, the attitude of the present Government. It is not necessary to emphasise the danger of large competitive armaments in Europe. It is sufficient for me to say that I agree with what has been often stated by so great an authority as Viscount Grey of Fallodon—namely, that in his opinion these competitive armaments were one of the immediate or direct causes of the Great War which broke out in 1914, and that unless substantial reduction is made the same difficulties may recur and we max be thrown again into all the horrors and miseries of war. He has pointed out—I think quite truly—that there can be no question that these large competitive armaments did not produce a sense of security. On the contrary, they produced a sense of insecurity, and were in his opinion—and no opinion could be of greater value—one of the immediate causes of the outbreak in 1914.

I may add one word perhaps upon the history of this matter. These competitive armaments which led, as I believe, to the disaster of 1914, are of comparatively recent date. I think that the whole question of competitive armaments does not go back further than the year 1860 and, as a matter of fact, it is only in the ten years immediately before the outbreak in 1914 that these competitive armaments advanced with rapid strides and produced, by competitive expenditure and provision, the insecurity to which Lord Grey has referred. There is another point upon which I desire to say only a word or two, because I need not emphasise it. It is not a question whether we in Great Britain ought or ought not to take part in the reduction of these armaments. We have come under a solemn obligation to do so and the question is not one of a choice of policy but of the fulfilment of a solemn and binding obligation.

I would like quite shortly to refer to the documents in which that obligation is to be found. There is what is known as the Fourth Point in President Wilson's Fourteen Points. There is the provision of Article 8 of the Covenant of the League. There are the provisions introduced into the Treaty of Versailles and into the other Treaties with the ex-enemy countries, and perhaps still more important—I shall have to refer later on to the special position of Germany—there is the answer given by the Allied and Associated Powers at Versailles to the German Delegation at the time when they were objecting to the reduction of armaments which was then being sought to be placed upon them. These are the words. They are the words of M. Clemenceau, I believe: They [the reductions] are also the first steps towards that general reduction and limitation of armaments which they [the Allied and Associated Powers] seek to bring about as one of the most fruitful preventives of war and which it will be one of the first duties of the League of Nations to promote. Therefore, I think I am well justified in saying that we need not any longer discuss the question of policy, but how loyally we can best carry out the binding obligations which we have already undertaken.

The point upon which I wish to dwell now is this: whether we can successfully carry out those obligations ourselves and assist other countries in carrying out similar obligations which they have undertaken depend very much on the view taken either as to the limitation or the extension of the arbitration principle. The League of Nations is an international community the members of which, under the Charter of the Covenant, have entered into certain obligations and restraints towards one another in order to further the interests of peace and in order that they may live together in peaceful intercourse. The machinery of the Covenant was borrowed from the experience of the machinery of justice which brought law and order amongst the citizens of any given organised country. Perhaps it is only a truism, but one must emphasise it, to say that the fundamental notion of justice, either between individuals or nations, implies some impartial authority or tribunal to which an appeal can be made when disputes and differences cannot be settled either by conference or conciliation.

The extent to which justice is brought as a harmonising agent of peace between nations depends on the extent to which agreement is carried for referring to an impartial third-party tribunal matters in dispute and disagreement. It is well known—I do not want to use phrases about it—that in 1924 the policy of what is called all-inclusive arbitration was carried furthest at Geneva. I am not prepared now to say whether the provisions under which it was carried were satisfactory or not. The important point is that unanimously in 1924 the Assembly expressed the view that it would be to the advantage of peace and reconciliation to have, if possible, an all-inclusive system so that all disputes of every kind might be referred for peaceful decision. I do not think the noble Viscount will differ from me when I say that in 1925 and 1926 there was no departure in the general view of the Assembly from the principle which was unanimously adopted in 1924. One illustration is sufficient for my purpose—Locarno. The whole basis of the Locarno Treaty is that it is in substance and in truth an all-inclusive Treaty as regards the reference of matters to arbitration or Court decision. Of course in that Treaty you have the distinction between arbitration and Court decision, but that does not matter. It provided that as between France and Germany—two of the most important countries who for centuries have had disputes and wars—the principle should be all-inclusive and that nothing should be left out but what could be settled by friendly means between the parties concerned.

We did not, I know, accede to the principle, but what I want to suggest is this: if a provision of that kind has found favour between the two countries between whom disputes were most likely to be of an extreme character, surely it is a strong argument that in all other cases a similar proposal should be adopted. I say, quite frankly, that I believe that if the present Government, at Geneva or during these Preparatory Committees and Commissions, would say that they were content to adopt in their disputes the same principle which has been established in the Locarno Treaty between France and Germany, the difficulties against practical disarmament proposals would be displaced in a large measure. I noticed the other day that M. Paul-Boncour, the well known representative of France at Geneva, made this statement, and as coming from the leading French representative on this matter I think it is of much importance. This is what he said:— If Germany was to be really disarmed it was necessary that disarmament should be extended to other countries and that was why the entire world demanded the Geneva Protocol. I should like the noble Viscount to tell us whether he thinks that Germany can be permanently disarmed without other countries being similarly disarmed, as implied by the words of M. Paul-Boncour. M. Paul-Boncour added that it could not be too often repeated that disarmament would be general or it would not exist at all.

I hope that there is some chance that on this great question relating to the future of peace and disarmament this country will not lag behind the general opinion of the world. There is no doubt that disarmament depends on a general will to peace; I have no doubt that a will to peace depends upon the extent to which justice is guaranteed in international affairs; and the extent to which justice is guaranteed is exactly coterminous with the extent to which the countries involved agree to refer all matters in dispute to an impartial tribunal instead of leaving them to the uncertain decision of violence and force. By the Assembly of 1925 a reference was made to the Secretariat asking for a Report on the number of registered Treaties dealing with arbitration. This Report was to be made to the Seventh Assembly. I will not trouble your Lordships with the terms of the Report, which would involve the discussion of a great mass of detail, but the Treaties aiming at a specific settlement of international disputes—that was the description given—were returned at 73. Of these, five Treaties were what are called all-inclusive Arbitration Treaties—that is to say, there were five Treaties in which the countries concerned agreed to refer all matters in dispute to an impartial decision. There were 23 signatories to what is known as the optional clause of the International Court, bringing the countries signing—with reservations, if they like—under an obligation to bring certain juridical matters for the decision of the International Court. There were 17 Conciliation Treaties—that is, Treaties depending on conciliation.

What was the position that this country held? We had no all-inclusive Treaties at this epoch, though it is true that there was one with Uruguay many years ago. We refused to sign what is known as the optional clause, and we were not party to any Conciliation Treaties, although during this time both Switzerland and a Scandinavian country had approached us asking us to come to terms with them for the negotiation of an all-inclusive Treaty. I am now in a position to ask these questions of the noble Viscount. My first question—I think it is a repetition, but I ask it again at this point—is whether the Government propose to bring forward agreed proposals for disarmament, not only at the preliminary Committee but at the Disarmament Committee itself. My second question is whether there is any intention to change the attitude expressed at the March meeting of the Council in 1925 and to enlarge the area within which this country will agree to submit disputes of an international character for either conciliation or settlement.

I want to say a word or two regarding Germany. Germany stanch in a very special position, and the complaint that Germany makes—I wish that all corn-plaints could be removed in matters of this kind—regards, in the first place, the inequality of imposing disarmament upon her without at the same time carrying out the obligations to which I have referred. In the second place Germany raises the objection that the international control has fulfilled its purpose and that supervision—I take the word from the Covenant itself—should in the future be placed under the authority of the League of Nations. When I was at Geneva in 1924 there had been referred to the experts, including, of course, the experts of this country, who gave great assistance, a question whether in the case of Bulgaria, Austria and Hungary the time had come when an arrangement should be made under which international control should be superseded by the supervision of the League of Nations itself; and the question arose while I was at Geneva whether at the same time an arrangement might be made for the supervision of disarmament in Germany, Germany passing from international control to the control of the League itself. I am glad to say that, after a good deal of discussion, a plan was prepared applicable to Germany. I ceased to be a member of the Council about that date and I do not know how much further the matter was carried, but the noble Viscount will be able to supply anything that happened after that time.

My urgent hope is that the time has come for getting rid of matters of friction which are certain to arise between France and Germany so long as international control is maintained, and that in its place may be substituted a neutral and impartial supervision under the authority of the League of Nations itself. Surely that is a matter of great and immediate importance. It is a matter which ought to be considered if what is called the spirit of Locarno is to be really carried out and if the result is to be a true reconciliation between France on the one side and Germany on the other.

Now I come to the question of Mandates, which I am glad to say is a shorter matter than the question of disarmament. It is known, of course, that under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League mandated territories are to be held by the Mandatory Powers as a sacred trust of civilisation, and it is important to see what the Covenant itself says upon this point. The Covenant has an integral condition which reads:— A permanent Commission shall be constituted to receive and examine the annual Reports of the Mandatories and to advise the Council on all matters relating to the observance of the Mandates. A very important Permanent Commission has been constituted. It was appointed through the Council, of course, but it was intended to be the creature of the Covenant itself, and in that sense independent of the Council. This year the Mandates Commission asked two questions. One was whether, in order to obtain the necessary information to carry out the duties thrown upon it, it would be right that it should hear the views of petitioners who desired to appear before it. The other was whether a questionnaire which they proposed was one which would commend itself as a proper means of obtaining information.

The obtaining of information of this character is a delicate matter, and the responsibility thrown upon the Permanent Mandates Commission is both a difficult and a delicate one; but when this question was raised before the Council, I do not know exactly how to express the attitude adopted by certain members of the Council and by the representative of this country. It certainly was not a courteous attitude, and in fact it is a suggestion, as far as I can follow it, that in some way the Mandates Commission was going outside its appropriate sphere and entering upon matters which more properly came within the authority of the Mandatories themselves. I think that was unfortunate, but I have no doubt myself that in spite of the comments made the Permanent Mandates Commission, constituted as it is, will carry out its duties in what it thinks an effective manner.

But my point is a different one, and seems to me to be of much importance. The Mandates Commission has to report to the Council in what is a semi-judicial attitude, and it is most important, if the principles of the Covenant really are to be carried out, that the Council should as far as possible act in a judicial spirit. Is that possible when the Council has amongst its members, and amongst its most influential members, I think I may say practically all the important mandatory countries. It is not for me to make a suggestion, and I do not know whether the noble Viscount will be able to make one, but surely it is inconsistent with the impartiality on which the principles of the Covenant are founded, that you should find, in substance, that the same parties are both parties to the dispute and also acting in a judicial spirit. Far the most important point of all, of course, is that the mandatory authorities should always have in view the trust character of their authority. Lately there has been an examination at Geneva of the mandatory conditions in Iraq, Samoa, Togoland, and other places, I dare say, too. It appears, to me at least, that the accounts given of the work of Great Britain are most satisfactory to all who desire that the trustee character of the Mandatories should be kept to the front, and I will quote one illustration, because I think the language is so apt that it covers the whole matter.

Sir Charles Fergusson is now the Governor-General of New Zealand, and New Zealand is the Mandatory of Western Samoa. What he is reported to have said, and it is quoted by the Chairman of the Permanent Mandates Commission, is that the duty of New Zealand is to consider everything from a single point of view, that of the ultimate benefit of the Samoan people. This meant, he said, that where New Zealand nationals and native interests were in conflict, as was sometimes inevitable, the deciding factor must be consideration for the interests and good of the Samoans. I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether he considers that a true account of a Mandatory Power in relation to the mandated territories of which it is a trustee. I desire to add one word. I have always regarded the Mandates provision in the Covenant as of the utmost importance. It introduces novel conditions for the education of backward countries, and so long as they can be adminstered in the spirit and in accordance with the words used by Sir Charles Fergusson, then I should think that one of the most beneficent clauses of the Covenant of the League was that dealing with the Mandates question. I am bound to say that I have heard and read expressions not of the same satisfactory character, but I hope the noble Viscount will endorse with his authority the view that the true position is stated in the words I have quoted from Sir Charles Fergusson. Those are the two matters that I particularly wish to bring forward.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken has covered a wide area of ground, over a large part of which I shall not attempt to follow him, and in the very few moments during which I propose to trespass upon your Lordships' attention I shall confine myself to a single topic, mentioned by him and to some extent elaborated by him, which appears to me at this moment to overshadow and indeed to dominate the whole of the international field. I mean the topic of disarmament.

It is now, as we have been reminded during the last week, eight years since the Armistice which brought to an end the fighting on the Western Front, and it is seven years since the signature of the Treaty of Versailles. The Covenant of the League of Nations is upon the threshold, and indeed occupier the forefront of that Treaty. And Article 8 of the Covenant, to which my noble friend referred, provides, in language which ought to be familiar to everybody, that The Members of the League recognise that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety, and the enforcement by common action of international obligations. Not content with the expression of a pious opinion, the Members proceeded to make this declaration, that— The Council, taking account of the geographical situation and circumstances of each State, shall formulate plans for such reduction for the consideration and action of the several Governments. Seven years have elapsed since that solemn obligation was undertaken, and I cannot help thinking that the Powers, both great and small, feel, or ought to feel, that they have not altogether an untroubled conscience in this matter.

The burden of armaments, grave and grievous as it was before the War, still presses with hardly diminished weight upon the peoples of the world, and, with all the efforts that have been made in every direction to alleviate those burdens, it still clogs the course of economic recovery and, in the judgment of all farsighted observers, it is still an over-clouding and menacing factor to the prospects of permanent peace. I am not sure that I rightly caught the words of my noble friend, but I do not agree with the view of those who hold that serious efforts have not been made.


I did not say that.


Well, I am very glad to hear that. The Washington Conference, to which he did not refer, and which was not convoked by the League of Nations, but by the United States of America, then as now, unfortunately, not a Member of the League—the Washington Conference of 1921 took a most salutary step by arresting, and effectively arresting, the competition in capital ships. But, valuable as that contribution was to the establishment of a more pacific, or at any rate, less menacing, condition of affairs, the Washington Conference—I am not blaming it, it did its best—in regard to land forces, to aircraft, and even to submarines, was obliged to coma to the conclusion that, at that moment at any rate, and under the conditions which then prevailed, no agreement for the limitation of armaments was possible. The disarmament of Germany, carried on under the supervision of the League of Nations and under the provisions of the Treaty, is now, I hope we may say—perhaps my noble friend opposite (Lord Cecil of Chelwood) may give us some more definite information upon the exact stage which we have reached—is now, to all serious intents and purposes, a fait accompli. There are, we are told, outstanding paints, but, so far as an outsider can judge, they are not of very serious moment, and I hope the noble Viscount will give us the assurance that before long they will be cleaned entirely off the slate.

My noble friend who has just sat down has read a passage from a letter which was addressed by the Allied and Associated Powers during the Conference in Paris, I think in the name of M. Clemenceau, in which he expressed his view to the German Peace Delegation that the disarmament of Germany was intended to be only the first step in the larger process of general disarmament. And it is not immaterial to recall to your memories that the whole of that Part of the Treaty of Versailles which deals with the disarmament of Germany, containing, I think, some fifty very minute and detailed provisions, is prefaced and is governed by this Preamble: In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations, Germany undertakes strictly to observe the military, naval, and air clauses which follow. Therefore, the disarmament of Germany, in view of the signatories of the Treaty, was not to be treated merely as an act—and a very proper and necessary act— to secure Europe against a repetition of what happened in 1914, but as the first step in a contemplated and considered policy of general disarmament.

Again, there was a very useful, though not perhaps very ambitious, Pact which was concluded between a number of the Powers in the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925, by which the signatories undertook that they would not permit the export of arms from their own territories, except to the accredited Government of the country to which they were to be sent. That was signed by all the great Powers, I think, including the United States of America; it was ratified by France; but so far as I know, it has not yet been ratified by this country, and I trust that my noble friend Lord Cecil will be able to say whether there is any prospect of its ratification here. I can conceive of no reason why we should not take the step which has been taken by France in that direction.

Then, finally, there is the Pact of Locarno itself. It is true, there again, that we are not dealing with the League of Nations. The Pact of Locarno was a Pact between specific Powers. It introduced into the League of Nations, it is true—or at least provided the means of introducing—Germany. But, by the Pact of Locarno it was provided, and most wisely provided, in its concluding paragraph, that the parties there concerned recognised the binding obligation of Article 8 of the Covenant of the League, and regarded what was then done as a step, and an important step, towards the final attainment of general disarmament.

It follows from that brief summary that it would not be fair to say that no advance has been made in the direction of disarmament; but it is a very small advance. The Washington Treaty, as I have said, deals only with a limited side of a comparatively limited area. It binds nobody but the parties who are immediately concerned. And the one really hopeful feature, as it seems to me, in the situation with which we are at this moment confronted is in the steps that are being taken by the League of Nations itself to convoke and to prepare the way for the activities of an International Conference. I am bringing no accusation of lethargy or indeed of lack of interest and sympathy on the part of the League. It has been beneficently and usefully occupied in preventing, on more than one occasion by accommodation, by persuasion and by bringing the parties together, disputes which in old days might certainly have threatened if they did not actually lead to war. But my anxiety, and I suppose the anxiety of everybody who regard this as a vital question, far the most, urgent of any in the whole sphere of international relationships, is to obtain an assurance, if we can, and I hope my noble friend, than whom nobody has done more to promote the usefulness and the beneficent work of the League of Nations, will be able to give us some such assurance, first, that this Conference, within at any rate a measurable distance of time, is likely to set to work, and next, that the preparatory work which is being done by the preliminary Commission of the League of Nations itself, aided by its expert Committees, is at any rate within hope of being finally completed.

This is a much more complicated and difficult matter than people sometimes realise. Disarmament is a general, indeed one might almost say an abstract term, and as such it makes a very good—I will not say battle-cry but watchword to describe the ideal at which we are all aiming. But never let us forget that it must mean, as it does mean, very different things to countries so varied in their geographical and their economic conditions as are the component States of the civilised world. The Commission has appointed Sub-Committees of technical experts dealing with the military side and with the economic side of disarmament. I do not wish in any way to underrate the importance or to disparage the work of those bodies. But this in the long run is not a matter for experts. Their function is to provide information and—I do not limit it entirely to that—to convey such suggestions as fall within their province.

But it is very important, particularly for those who look upon disarmament as vital to the future of the world, to realise the kind of problems and difficulties with which they are confronted. There are some instruments of warfare which in my judgment, and I suppose in the judgment of everybody in this country, ought not to be merely limited in quantity but absolutely ruled out altogether as wholly inadmissible. There is not complete agreement about them. Let me give two illustrations. The first, as to which I am glad to believe there is coming to be, in principle at any rate, a complete unity of opinion, is as to the use in warfare of chemical and bacteriological agencies of destruction. I imagine—the noble Viscount will correct me if I am wrong—that you will get a unanimous judgment in that sense from the Commission at Geneva. Another, and I take this because it stands in a somewhat different category, not, as I think, in point either of morality or of expediency, because diverse views are honestly entertained by States which are anxious for disarmament, is the question of the submarine. I should hope, and I believe, opinion in this country is almost unanimous in this sense, that the submarine as an instrument of warfare will be, as it ought to be in any effective system of disarmament, completely abolished. Those are things which ought to be put on one side as being outside the category of apparatus, of warfare which it is legitimate to employ.

When, however, you come to the narrower aspect of the matter, to armaments which, if war is needed and if war must exist, are conceded to be part of its necessary equipment whether by sea or by land or in the air, your first object it seems to me (I do not know how far this accords with the views, so far as they have yet been formed, of the Commission at Geneva) is to limit peace-time armaments. You must begin there. It is a question not of principle but of practicability, and in some of its aspects it undoubtedly presents great difficulties. For instance, to give two or three illustrations, such difficulties as the relative vulnerability of different territories, as to the possibility of what are now called regional arrangements, and, most important of all, as to the devising of effective machinery for inspection, for supervision, for control and for sanction. As I said a moment ago, these are matters which cannot be decided by experts. It is not possible to apply a common mechanical measure to the defensive armaments of land and of sea Powers. They involve political and economic considerations which for their adjustment require a high order of statesmanship.

I am glad to find that the Seventh Assembly of the League, whose sessions recently concluded, while expressing satisfaction at the progress which has been made in the preparatory work of the Commission, was sanguine that that progress of exploration and consideration might be completed early in the next year. I think we should all be gratified if my noble friend could hold out a real prospect that the International Conference might assemble and get to work before the next year is over. As I have said, the problems which will present themselves to the Conference must of necessity be of an intricate and complicated kind and not such as admit of rapid, still less of hurried, solution; but the world is waiting—and waiting impatiently, not with illegitimate impatience and not with unwarranted curiosity—the world is waiting now, after the seven years that have elapsed since peace was concluded, for some serious, comprehensive, definite and generally agreed solution of this problem, with which the whole of its future is bound up.

I will only say, without endeavouring in any way to anticipate what those conclusions may be—I am now reiterating an opinion which I have expressed more than once not only here but in another place—that there is one thing that can be done, can be done at once, can be done without waiting for the presentation, for the consideration and it may be for the modification of such conclusions as the Conference may arrive at—there is one thing which can be done, and which ought to be done without delay, and done effectively and drastically, and that is a reduction—upon which this country, I hope, may still set an example—a reduction upon a large and effective scale of our annual expenditure upon military and naval purposes.

I am not very sanguine, after the experience of the last three or four years, as to the prospect there. Recent events, the destructive domestic intestine warfare in which, to the discredit of our common sense as a nation, we have been engaged during the last six months, which has wasted invaluable resources, which has retarded the economic recovery of the country, which has set back the promise, the hopeful promise, of a revival in productive industry, of course makes it very difficult for a Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the best will in the world, I will not say to reduce taxation—that, of course, is out of the question; he may, indeed, be compelled to increase taxation—to cope with the task of his Budget. One of the best hopes for a real equilibrium of the Budget is not in increasing the Revenue side of the account but in reducing the Expenditure, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a great opportunity open. Confronted and embarrassed as he must be by these unforeseen and deplorable additions to his difficulties, if he comes down to the House of Commons next Session with, not a spasmodic improvisation, but a real well-thought-out programme for the reduction of unproductive expenditure, he will confer a benefit not only upon this nation but on the great cause of disarmament throughout the civilised world.

To go back for one moment to the functions of the League of Nations in this matter, the sooner the Conference assembles and takes up the task which the League will entrust to it, with the advantage of all this preliminary exploration in hand, the better it will be not only for the honour of the signatories of the Versailles Treaty, not only for the credit of the League of Nations itself as a permanent instrument of peace, but for meeting the most urgent of all international necessities—the provision in time to come, whatever may be the fluctuations of trade, whatever may be the rises in temperature of disputes which from time to time present themselves between the nations, of an effective and a permanent safeguard for universal peace. I earnestly hope—I know the will is present, and present nowhere more than in my noble friend opposite—I earnestly trust he may be able to-day to give us at any rate some substantial encouragement that the hope, so long deferred, so urgently in need of realisation, that there will be some compensation for the losses of the War and of the years that followed the War, is not a chimera but will soon become an actual realised fact.


My Lords, I have nothing but thanks to offer to my two noble friends for the tone and the substance of their speeches. Indeed, so far as the speech of the noble Earl who has just sat down is concerned, I really have very little to say, except that I profoundly agree with almost every word that he uttered. Before I come to the question of disarmament I would like to say a few words about the question of Mandates which the noble Lord opposite raised. He asked me whether I accepted the dictum of Sir Charles Fergusson as to the general purpose of Mandates and the general duty of Mandatories in discharging their functions. Of course I accept that most fully. Indeed, it does not appear to me to be much more than a commentary on the words of the Covenant which says that the wellbeing and development of such peoples is to be the chief function which is to be discharged by the mandatory system. Any one who has accepted a Mandate under those terms necessarily accepts also the obligation imposed by them.

The noble Lord suggested that something had occurred at the last Assembly on which he suggested that representatives of the Great Powers, including my right hon. friend Sir Austen Chamberlain, had been guilty of discourtesy to the Permanent Mandates Commission. I was not present at the debate in the Council but I have read the report of it more than once and I am utterly at a loss to understand on what words he founds any suggestion of discourtesy to the Permanent Mandates Commission. I am quite certain that nothing was further from the mind not only of my right hon. friend but of other members of the Council than to be guilty of any discourtesy to that body. I should like to say in the strongest possible way that the British Government have no desire in the world to hamper, or interfere with, or do other than support to the utmost of their power, the work of the Permanent Mandates Commission.

I may perhaps be permitted to remind your Lordships of the principles on which the League entered upon the function of supervising those Mandates. As long ago as August, 1920, M. Hymans, acting as rapporteur for the Council, stated that the annual report should certainly include a statement as to the whole moral and material situation of the peoples under the Mandate and with that object the Council should examine the question of the whole administration. That is a principle which His Majesty's Government accept as fully as anybody else and they have never suggested, remotely or in any way at all, that they differ from that general principle on which the Permanent Mandates Commission has carried out its duties.

The discussion at the last Assembly arose, as the noble Lord very truly said, over two points. It arose over what was called the questionnaire in the first place. That was, it must be admitted, a very long list of questions circulated by the Permanent Mandates Commission to the Mandatories. I am not going to criticise the substance of that questionnaire, but I am bound to admit that the impression on my mind when I first saw it was that, to use a colloquialism, it was "pretty stiff." It was very long and very elaborate and it did not seem at first sight necessary to put it in that form, however desirable the obtaining of the information might have been.

The other point was as to the right of audience and on that there was no suggestion made by the Permanent Mandates Commission: there was merely a question put by them. They asked whether in certain cases they ought, or ought not, to hear petitioners against a Mandate. That was a question which I dare say it was very necessary to raise, but I think all your Lordships will be of opinion that for the Permanent Mandates Commission to hear petitioners against a Mandatory would be, as a general practice, a very dangerous one, and I do not think any member of the Permanent Mandates Commission seriously differs from that point of view. His Majesty's Government's attitude in the matter is undoubtedly that if a petition is presented it is right to send the petition to the Mandatory. The Permanent Mandates Commission should obtain all information from the Mandatory that it can obtain by means of questions and correspondence. That is the ordinary practice and no question arises regarding it. I believe that in every case that will be found sufficient.

The Permanent Mandates Commission will be able to deal with the petition in that way, but if an extreme case arose and there was some difficulty in obtaining the necessary information, then it seems to me and to the Government that the right course would be for the Commission to refer the matter to the Council and ask for their directions in the matter. That seems to be the proper course in such a case and the one which I trust may be pursued. I have quoted M. Hymans' report, and it is perhaps right to refer to one other sentence in which he emphasised that it was very important that nothing should be done to increase the difficulties of the task undertaken by the Mandatory Power. That is a point of view which the Permanent Mandates Commission have constantly emphasised. They have constantly pointed out that it is of the utmost importance that they should work in full collaboration and friendship with the Mandatories. I believe myself their work has been quite admirable. I do not think there is any doubt about it. It has been devoted and self-sacrificing, and extremely skilful, and I have not the slightest doubt that the British Government desire to the utmost to collaborate with the Commission in their beneficent work and in carrying out this very novel and difficult experiment which has been set on foot as part of the international reforms connected with the League. That is all I need say on that subject. I do not think any specific question was put to me by the noble Lord.

I pass to the question of disarmament, and I am not going to weary your Lordships by dealing with the general case for disarmament. I think it is overwhelming. The noble Lord referred to the great danger of competition in armaments and he quoted Lord Grey's great authority on that point. I entirely agree, of course. He quoted arguments from the Treaties and I think my noble friend the Earl of Oxford also referred to the Locarno Treaty. There is no doubt that the international obligation to reduce armaments is clear and definite. There cannot be the least doubt about it. My noble friend the Earl of Oxford made a very telling and vigorous point in saying that if you desire to have economy then you have got to reduce armaments, and I think he might have added that there is no prospect of doing that with safety to this country except by some general international scheme. There are many other arguments that might be adduced in favour of the general case, but I do not think it is necessary to elaborate it to your Lordships.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, and the noble Earl, Lord Oxford, suggested that not very much had been done during the last seven years. The Earl of Oxford pointed out that some things, such as the Treaty of Washington, the Traffic in Arms Convention and some other things, have been done, but he said, and said quite truly, that the central difficulty of the disarmament problem had not been attacked. That is true, but your Lordships must not forget that international conditions have not been, up till now, very favourable for an attempt to proceed with international disarmament. The War necessarily left a great condition of unrest in Europe, and while that condition persisted and until some measure of security had been restored it was difficult to get Continental statesmen and Continental people to approach the question of disarmament as a practical proposition. A great deal has been done to improve that state of things, particularly, of course, by the Locarno Agreements, and it is not too much to say that the recent practical steps which have been taken towards disarmament would not have been possible but for the Locarno Agreements and the great improvement in the international atmosphere which has resulted from them. My noble friend Lord Parmoor seemed to think that nothing very much could be done in the direction of disarmament unless we carried out a system of international arbitration.


As in the case of Locarno.


I do not think that I agree with him but, whether I am right or wrong, the Question that I was asked on the Paper was, in effect: What is going to be done about disarmament? I do not think that your Lordships would desire me to enter into an elaborate disquisition or discussion of what is really a separate question altogether—namely, the question of arbitration. I desire as much as does the noble Lord to see arbitration established in international affairs.


But does the noble Viscount say that the establishment of arbitration has nothing to do with the question of disarmament?


I certainly should not say anything of the kind. Anything that affects the relations of the countries, anything that improves security, anything that turns the attention of countries from war to other methods of settling disputes will help to make disarmament possible. But the actual proposals with regard to disarmament are quite separate from the actual proposals with regard to arbitration, and I am certainly not of opinion that at this minute the difficulties—and of course there are great difficulties—in the way of disarmament depend upon the fact that no system of arbitration has been definitely established. I do not think that this is actually the fact, and I do not think it is likely to be true a priori. The difficulties in the way of arbitration are very considerable, but they are not really difficulties of principle. Everyone is really agreed on principle, but the difficulties always come—probably the noble Lord knows this, and it is certainly the fact—over the detailed application of principles. In any case I certainly trust that the advocates of disarmament in this country will not give any currency to the view that nothing can be done until we have a system of arbitration. That is only to add to our difficulties instead of making them less.

Before I come to the question of what Is actually being done, I should like to touch upon a point that was referred to by both noble Lords—namely, the position regarding disarmament in Germany and the fulfilment of our Treaty obligation to substitute the control of the League for the special control set up by the Treaty of Versailles. Again I do not think that this affects very closely the general question of disarmament, and all that I can say in answer to my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith is that the Government are most anxious to dispose of this question of the disarmament of Germany and they do agree that substantially—though this is always a dangerous word—Germany has carried out at any rate far the greater part of her obligations under the Treaties regarding disarmament. I think there are only some three or four questions of any importance which still have to be disposed of, and the Government strongly hope that they may be disposed of without any undue lapse of time, though that is a matter which necessarily does not depend entirely upon them or, in fact, mainly upon them, but must depend upon the action of Germany.

Now I come to the main question of what has actually been done regarding disarmament. I agree with that which has been said as to the delay that has taken place to the extent that. I agree that it has been unfortunate, though I think it has been inevitable; but I think we should be quite wrong if we did not recognise that very great progress in this question has been made during the last year. I think one might say with some truth that until a year ago, though there had been a great deal of talk about disarmament and though we had discussed it and its preliminaries in various forms, yet, even under the Protocol at Geneva, practically nothing had been said about disarmament except that the Protocol should not come into force until disarmament had been carried out.


It provided for a world conference on disarmament.


No it did not, with great respect. It provided that a conference should be held, but it did not provide anything else—any preliminaries for the examination of the question.


I should like to make this quite clear, because it is a point that M. Briand emphasised so strongly when he said that in his view, as a preliminary to a world conference, the provisions of the Protocol were essentially necessary. Of course, when the Protocol itself was overthrown, the proposal for a world conference on disarmament came to an end.


I am not attempting to make any attack upon the noble Lord or his beloved Protocol. That was not the purpose of my remarks. My purpose was simply to say that in point of fact no direct practical steps had been taken towards disarmament, either under the Treaty of Mutual Assistance or under the Protocol. It was, no doubt, contemplated that there should be disarmament and it was, no doubt, provided that they should not come into force until that disarmament had taken place; but no direct practical steps had been taken with a view to preparing an actual scheme for the reduction and limitation of armaments. That situation has quite changed. If I may be allowed to use an Americanism, disarmament is now "on the map" in a way that it had never been until within the last few months. It is a practical, actual, live question which is being discussed and considered, not as to whether it can be done, but as to how it can be done—a very great distinction. I date that change from the acceptance by the Sixth Assembly of the French proposition for the appointment of the Preparatory Commission and the programme which was assigned to it. The moment that this was done it became necessary for all the experts all over Europe to begin to consider what practical steps they would take supposing disarmament became a fact and what attitude they were going to adopt at the Preparatory Commission.

I think that the Preparatory Commission has proceeded in a thoroughly businesslike way from the moment of its appointment. It appointed the two Commissions to which the noble Earl referred: Commission A, which consists of some forty or fifty military, naval and aerial experts; and Commission B, which consists of economic and financial experts. It is, to my mind, really very encouraging that these Commissions have proceeded on a basis of considering how to carry out disarmament. The discussions have been extremely laborious. Commission A has been sitting continuously for six months and the work of its members at the task assigned to them has really been beyond praise. It was, I think, on the 5th or 6th of this month that they agreed on their Report. It is a very long Report—I am told that it occupies about four hundred typewritten pages—it sets out answers to all the technical questions that have been put to the Commission and where there has been a difference of opinion—as, of course, in a body of experts there is bound to be—it sets out the alternatives. I believe that it has replied to every question. It will take some time to print that Report and circulate it, but this is now being done by the authorities of the League.

With regard to the Economic Commission, its members have not quite finished their work. It has not been nearly so laborious, but it is more difficult to get these financial experts to sit continuously than in the case of the military experts, who are Government officials and can therefore give their time to any public purpose to which they are assigned. They have had several meetings, however, and I understand that they expect their duties will be finished in one or two more meetings. I have not seen their Report so closely as I have followed the other, but I understand that it will be unanimous, at any rate so far as they have gone, and that the important questions that have been put to them will have the great advantage of absolutely unanimous replies.

The noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, made what he put forward as practical and immediate suggestions. He said that chemical warfare and submarines ought to be abolished altogether. I need not say that I entirely agree with him, but I am sure that he will recognise that, although opinion upon chemical warfare reached unanimity, unfortunately these chemicals are so easily made and distributed that, whatever some people may think, there is doubt as to whether regulations, however admirable, will in fact be carried out if war takes place. With regard to submarines, at present there is no such unanimity, I am sorry to say, and although I should be very glad to see them abolished I am afraid it is not very likely that at this stage you will get complete agreement upon that point.

With regard to other points, I agree that the things we can deal with at the outset are peace-time armaments, because you want to prevent sudden attacks—you want to deal at the outset with armaments that are ready and can be got ready in each country. What can be brought together afterwards is not capable of being limited with the same case or effectiveness; nor is it so important, because what you want to avoid is sudden aggression. With regard to other matters both noble Lords suggested that some decision as to control would be essential—that is, having fixed the ratios of armaments, their numbers and their nature, it would be necessary to establish some kind of international control, in order to see that the limits were not passed by the countries concerned. As to that, there is no doubt considerable difficulty and difference of opinion. Some countries attach much more importance to it than others. I myself take a view which is not perhaps very common, but which I believe to be sound. My view is that it is not a matter about which we ought to bother too much at this moment. Once you have got your system established, and the limits fixed for armaments, should you get a serious charge that one of the parties to the Treaty has broken the Treaty and is engaged in overpassing the limits by which he has been bound, I have not the slightest doubt that some form of control or examination would be proposed, and could scarcely be rejected.

That being so I do not attach the same importance to a provision beforehand as to what exactly ought to be done, and it must be said that those who are doubtful about the wisdom of establishing it immediately have this to say for themselves, that the whole experiment, if it is to succeed, must succeed on the basis of good faith. It is of no use saying on the one hand: "I trust you to reduce your armaments," and on the other to say: "I am going to have a policeman to see that you do it." That is a consideration which I know is felt very deeply by my American colleagues and also by the advisers of the British Government, and therefore I should myself hope that we may avoid anything like acrimonious discussions on that question, because I believe it is one on which agreement would be difficult, and which in practice will not turn out to be of anything like the same importance.

I should like to say two or three words upon what seemed to me to be the broad results achieved by the discussions that have taken place in the Sub-Committees. The first result of enormous importance is the absolute good will shown by everyone who has attended the Committees. There has been not the slightest attempt to obstruct or destroy by indirect means the work in which they have been engaged. On the contrary everyone, although the discussions have been long and the differences of opinion have been frequent, has worked with a view of finding a solution of the difficulties that have been put before the Committees. That to my mind is very encouraging, and I should like to say, without I hope impertinence, that I think we owe in this respect a deep debt of gratitude to the American Delegates. They have been most helpful and have done everything they can to bring the discussions to a successful conclusion. The second great result is that the discussions have shown quite clearly that disarmament is a practical thing, that the idea that it cannot be done and is impracticable, and that the difficulties are so great that they can never be overcome—


It was done in the case of Germany.


I do not think that Germany is a very useful example to put forward, because the conditions imposed upon Germany are not conditions which would be easily accepted by other nations, nor would it be very practicable to impose such conditions generally. But that is not the point. The point is that all the experts, meeting together, have never contested the practicability of disarmament. They have always said it can be done in this way, or that it can be done better in that way. Nobody has said it cannot be done at all. That is a result of great importance to have achieved in the discussions which have taken place. I am perhaps by temperament sanguine, but I have very little doubt that this thing can be done, and success achieved, on three conditions.

In the first place the peoples and the Governments must be in earnest in the matter. You will I not get disarmament, or anything else, unless the people really mean to see the thing through. So far as this country is concerned I have no doubt at all. I have had some opportunity of making myself acquainted with popular feeling in this matter, and I should say there is an overwhelming majority in favour of a reduction and limitation of armaments by international agreement, and I have no doubt that being, as I believe it unquestionably is, popular opinion on the matter, whatever Government may happen to be in power will necessarily carry out the wishes of the democracy they represent. The second condition that I should venture to make is that we must not be in too great a hurry. There must be no hustling. My noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith said quite truly that the difficulties of disarmament were very considerable. Everyone who really tries.

to give his mind to the vexed questions that have to be solved—political, technical and economic—will agree that it is a difficult proposition. I believe that it can be solved if sufficient preparation is made before the Conference actually takes place.

I do not know whether my noble friend will agree with me, but my very strong impression is this. International conferences succeed in direct proportion to the amount of preparation for their meeting that has previously taken place. If you rush into a conference without any previous preparation, unless the matter is comparatively simple, you will find great difficulty in succeeding; but if you have prepared the ground properly, if the basis of the discussion is well established, and the arguments for and against particular solutions are known, then you have every hope and every ground for believing that the discussion round a conference table will result in agreement.

With regard to the third condition that I venture to lay down, I find myself in close agreement with Lord Parmoor. I agree with him that in this matter the responsibility of this country is very great. This is a matter in which we shall have, I will not say to give the lead, but to take a very large and important part. That is recognised at Geneva, recognised everywhere. I believe the people of this country are more than ready for it. My noble friend asked me whether we were prepared to make concrete proposals. It is too early yet for me to say in what form the basis of the discussion at the Conference will actually be formulated. But I understand everyone whom I have met at Geneva to conceive that in the first place each country will have to say what it wants, and that then it will be for the Preparatory Commission in the first place, and for the Conference in the second, to formulate a definite scheme, basing themselves primarily on the demands, so to put it, of the various countries. In that case it is evident that this country, in common with every other country, will have to make definite and concrete proposals as to the armaments that it regards as essential within the meaning of Article 8 of the Covenant.

Those are the observations which I venture to make to your Lordships. I do take a sanguine view as to the prospects of success, and I am profoundly in agreement with what has been said by both noble Lords that this is the really great question which is before the League of Nations at the present time. It is actually the question which has been put before them, it is an essential duty of theirs under the Covenant; and their success or failure in solving this great question means not only the success or failure of the League itself, but, I firmly believe, the endurance or the disappearance of civilisation as we now know it.

There was one other question which my noble friend Lord Oxford put to me about the Arms Traffic Convention, which I had forgotten. So far as that is concerned I understand that what has happened is this. The French Government have not actually ratified. They have obtained Parliamentary powers to ratify, but they have not deposited their ratification at Geneva. Some little time ago we sent a circular to the principal producing Powers, suggesting that we should agree upon a definite day for joint ratification. It is evident that there are difficulties about one producing Power ratifying before another producing Power—difficulties which my noble friend will easily understand; and, therefore, that was the suggestion made. I am sorry to say that so far the response has not been very encouraging, but we have not abandoned hope that something of that kind may be done.


My Lords, I hope I may be allowed as a matter of courtesy to express my feeling of gratification at the answer which the noble Viscount has given to my questions.