HL Deb 09 February 1927 vol 66 cc47-75

LORD PARMOOR rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any information to give the House on the position in China; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for rising to call your Lordships' attention to China, although I have twice done so recently, because the events as they stand at the present time raise matters of momentous gravity. Not only is it a matter of momentous gravity to have peace and conciliation, which I hope we shall have between this country and China, but unless peace is obtained—and I do not say this with any thought that it will not be obtained—it might affect over a large area the great interests of this country as between East and West. Our traditions and history show that no other country has taken so large a part in this wider sphere as Great Britain and I sincerely hope, as one who is zealous for the national honour, that in the future, as on some occasions in the past, we shall stand in the front rank in favour of bringing about a better understanding between the civilisations of the East and West in order that they may influence one another and work together for their common benefit.

Peace with China is absolutely essential to the industrial prosperity of this country. I do not think that the noble Earl [the Earl of Balfour] or anyone else is likely to deny that premiss. The last time I addressed your Lordships on this question I gave statistics from lately published reports which showed the effects upon our trade even of uncertainty in the Chinese position. But no peace would be of avail unless it were not only a peace logically sound but also a peace which appeals to and evokes the good feeling of China. I remember that when the noble Earl spoke last he dwelt not only on the necessity of good will for China but also on the necessity of obtaining good will from China. In Lancashire particularly there would be widespread industrial disaster if our market in China were permanently either interfered with or curtailed. And whatever provisions may be indicated in His Majesty's gracious Speech for encouraging the prosperity of industry in this country, I think it is quite certain that there is no matter of greater importance than the maintenance and extension of our great foreign market in China, both for our general prosperity and in order to keep away as far as we possibly can what is undoubtedly the curse of unemployment in this country.

So far I am glad to know that, although temporarily there was some break in the negotiations that are being carried on by that eminent Counsellor of Legation, Mr. O'Malley, and Mr. Chen in Hankow, there has not been a permanent breach, and one question I would ask the noble Earl arises out of what was said in the House of Commons last night. If I understand rightly, already at the present time those negotiations have been resumed which we were told had so nearly been brought to a successful issue when they were broken off under conditions of which we know, and to which I propose shortly to refer. I admit I place great faith in the knowledge, tact, and skill both of Sir Miles Lampson and of Mr. O'Malley, and I think they have this great advantage—at least, one of them has; I am not quite sure about the history of the other, although he has always occupied a great position in the Foreign Office—one of them at any rate, from his own experience and the length of his residence in China, understands the mentality and the psychological outlook of the Chinese at the present time.

I want to say only a word or two on what is a very important topic, although it has already been largely discussed. I yield to no one in my desire that any British resident abroad should have a full measure of protection from the British Government. I think that that was emphasised by the Leader of the Opposition in another place last night, and it was certainly emphasised in language with which I entirely concur by my noble and learned friend Viscount Haldane. I hope that no prejudice will be raised on this subject if and when we criticise, if we have to criticise, the methods and means by which that protection is sought to be given. First of all, upon this point, I should like to read two passages from the speech made by the Foreign Secretary at Birmingham. He said:— I am far from saying or wishing you to think that the threat of bloodshed and massacre hangs over Shanghai. I hope and believe that it does not. Therefore, apparently—I am only taking the words for what they mean, and I think rightly—he had no fear of any immediate massacre of British subjects or of bloodshed in what we know as the International Settlement at Shanghai. I may be wrong, but I understand that the object of the troops was to protect the International Settlement. The other Concession, the French Concession, I have not seen mentioned. As I shall have to point out presently in dealing with certain details, although our interest in the International Settlement is large there are other countries who also have a large interest in it, and between whom and us it would have been wise, I think, to have taken joint action, assuming there is any threatening of life or property in that Settlement.

I also agree with what the noble and learned Viscount said last night, that it was most unfortunate and unwise to send out the troops—I will not use the word expedition; that is said to be a term of prejudice—to send out the troops and ships in the manner and under the conditions under which they were sent. We have not to consider the effect of an act of this kind on English thought and English opinion, but we have to consider its effect on Chinese thought and Chinese opinion. I hear on all sides—I admit I have a good deal of information from the missionary side—that it is through the vernacular Press in China alone that Chinese opinion is informed upon matters of this kind, and that the Chinese take little or no notice of statements of intentions but turn their attention merely to actions and effects which in reality take place. Last night a very important Cabinet. Minute, I understand, was read in the other House by the Prime Minister. I was delighted personally when I read that Minute. As far as I understand it in summary it means this. It is no good reading through the whole Minute again, but the summary I propose to give is what I understand to be the true meaning of the Minute as a whole. It is this: that the troops will not be disembarked at Shanghai, will not in fact proceed beyond Hong-kong, unless and until the British representatives on the spot consider their actual presence in Shanghai necessary for the protection of life.

I understand that that, in substance, is the attitude taken by the Americans, who, of course, are interested in an International Settlement. I do not say they are interested just as we are but they are largely interested in it and they do not think it necessary either to send or despatch special troops to Shanghai. What they did was to despatch troops to a position within reach of Shanghai. I hope myself that the troops will never go beyond Hong Kong. I believe that would give the best chance in every way of true peace and conciliation and when the time comes and it is found that there is no threat to British citizens abroad or to their lives I hope that at the earliest possible moment the troops may be recalled altogether. I have put my view—I think I may say our view—which is quite clear on this question. I want to make it clear for this reason. It is obvious that prejudicial statements may be made on the basis that we are not sufficiently concerned with the lives and safety of British subjects. I do not believe there is a word of truth in an allegation of that kind. I think it would be cowardly on our part, although we know that such an allegation may be made, if we did not state our view that, it is unfortunate that the troops were sent as and when they started from this country, that we do rejoice (because it makes a great difference) that they are not for the present to go beyond Hong-kong, and that we hope in the cause of peace and conciliation it may soon be possible to recall them altogether.

I want next to say a word or two about the nature and quality of the disputes which have arisen between this country and the Cantonese—that is perhaps the most correct way of putting it—or between this country and China. In old days Concession Settlements and extraterritorial rights were all given for one cause—namely, to favour and encourage industrial intercourse between our country and China. I think the first of the Chinese Treaties which gave the extra-territorial rights was the one in 1842 or thereabouts, and an extension to a large number of other places and ports took place about the year 1857 or 1858. But since that time the whole outlook of the civilized world has altered in regard to these extra-territorial rights and rights which are claimed in Concessions and Settlements. At the present time, with the exception of Persia, I do not think there is any really independent country other than China where they still subsist. They were given up in Turkey as long ago as the end of last century; they were surrendered in Japan, although in the first instance the extra-territorial rights granted by Japan were not granted until the year 1858, after similar grants had been given from China to this country.

I want to say quite frankly and without any hesitation that in my view the Chinese or the Cantonese are fully justified in saying that the time has come when they are entitled as a sovereign independent people to have full jurisdiction over foreigners to whatever country they belong. I do not say that without bearing in mind—I have said the same thing before but I emphasise it now—that they are not justified in enunciating this right now and at once. There must be an interim time, there must be an interim arrangement, but the interim time and the interim arrangement ought to be adjusted on the basis that we recognise that their claim is just and ought to be allowed as soon as the conditions have been provided.

If I may refer to a saying of the late Marquess of Salisbury, I have read of his saying that there is no commoner error in politics than sticking to the carcases of dead policies. He had a great power of phraseology and was also a great peace-loving Foreign Minister. I want to know whether the present Government are sticking to the carcases of the dead policies of Concessions and extra-territorial rights, or whether they have dropped what was called by the late Marquess of Salisbury the commonest of political errors and have made up their minds that the time has come when a change ought to be sanctioned. Again, let me say quite frankly—I do not want to be misunderstood in a matter of this kind—that of course there must be an interim time and of course there must be an interim arrangement. No one can suggest that we can turn from one system to another in a single day and this is one of the reasons why, when I come to a later part of my speech, I shall suggest that a matter of this kind can only be settled after full consideration in a judicial atmosphere, or at any rate in a quiet atmosphere. That being so, and if the Cantonese or other Chinese interested were satisfied that we will concede their full rights as soon as interim arrangements can be made and sufficient time has passed, I think we should have gone a long way in the direction of arrangement and conciliation.

Only a day or two ago there was issued a very important document, the Report of the Commission on Extra-territoriality in China. It is a very full history but a very complicated one. I have read it through two or three times with what perhaps the noble Earl will call a meticulous legal mind. He does not like accuracy in the legal mind. But having read it through with what care I could two or three times I still find difficulty in appreciating all that is contained in this Report. There is, however, one matter which comes out quite clearly from it. The conditions to be settled are extremely difficult and complicated. There are various steps which have to be taken before you can arrive at a final conclusion. Amongst other things you have to consider the whole Chinese judicial system and whether it can be fairly trusted in these great commercial transactions. To a great extent that is true, but, of course, with reservations.

At the end of the Report the Chinese Commissioner who signed it said he disagreed with it. That is only, I suppose, the fashion of dealing with matters of this kind. He said this: A fundamental readjustment of China's relations with the Powers is therefore necessary for ensuring mutual confidence and understanding in the interests of all concerned. I think that is perfectly true. I know that the noble Earl who is going to reply was much interested in the Washington Convention of 1921. This was a Commission appointed in accordance with the recommendation of that Conference. It has, so far as I know, only just reported. At any rate the Report was only published two or three days ago. Although there is an explanation that at some former time an incomplete Report has been issued, I at any rate never saw that incomplete Report, whenever it was issued.

There are one or two statistics in this Report which it is valuable that we should bear in mind. I am not going to trouble you with many, but there are one or two I should like to give as to the number of foreigners and foreign firms in China, because it is necessary to see what the international interest is when we are dealing with an International Settlement. The figures are on page 25. The first table gives the relative number of foreigners resident in China who have the benefit of extra-territorial rights. They eliminate some of the smaller countries, but taking the larger countries you have this result: of the five extraterritorial Powers specifically mentioned—Japan, Great Britain, America, Portugal and France—87.4 per cent. are Japanese (the larger part of whom are in Manchuria and probably not immediately so much interested), 6 per cent. are British, 3.8 per cent. are American, 1.4 per cent. are Portuguese and 1.2 per cent. are French. Therefore, as regards the international position in Shanghai it seems to me an unwise policy always to be putting forward the British to bear the brunt of what I may call the anti-foreign feeling there. It is particularly detrimental to our trade and we ought in these international matters to take our position with the rest.

Then I will quote the number of persons. I will only take two countries. There are 15,247 Britishers—that is in all the extra-territorial places—and 218,351 Japanese. As regards the number of firms, whereas we have 718, the Japanese have 4,708. Then Table II gives the population of the various nationalities which have no extra-territorial rights at all. There are two far ahead of any others. One country is Germany with 3,000 odd persons and 318 firms; the other is Russia with 79,000 odd persons and 932 firms. That shows two things. It shows, first of all, that those traders who have not the benefit of extra-territorial rights have not suffered. On the contrary we are told that Germany, whom we sought to deprive of these rights by way of penalty, has obtained an advantage. I am told again—my chief information on this subject comes from Sir Charles Addis, and I know of no better source except, of course, the sources that are open to the Government—that the amount of interference with foreigners has been comparatively small, though Hankow is a great exception, and that the foreigners who are not protected by extra-territorial rights have not only not suffered but have gained a considerable advantage. They are more popular and they appear to the Chinese to have assented to what they consider to be the true outcome of their new national consciousness, which, as we know, has expanded very largely since the period of the War.

I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, has this document before him. If he will look at page 101—and this is an important point—he will see that our rights in Shanghai and, in fact, throughout all the extra-territorial places to which we have access in China, are now regulated under the China Order in Council, 1925, made under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, 1890, and the nature of the Code will be realised from the fact that it contains 236 articles. I mention that point for this reason. Although various countries have extra-territorial rights, they do not all exercise these rights under the same provisions. I think that the Act of 1890 enables us to make the same provisions as we should have been able to make in the case of conquest, and I am perfectly certain that anybody who takes the trouble to study the Order will be surprised to see how far it goes.

The next point upon which I want to say a word concerns Russia. I say quite frankly that I believe that the position and influence of Russia have been very much exaggerated. I do not know what information the Government has obtained but I hear from sources of a very trustworthy character—I will quote one or two in a rnoment—that the nature and temperament of a Chinaman do not tend in the direction of Bolshevism. I will give one authority, which I am sure everyone in your Lordships' House will agree is a great authority. The authority that I want to quote is that of Sir Charles Addis. Sir Charles Addis was, or is—I looked at his qualifications in Who's Who of a year or two ago—Chairman of the London Committee of the Hong-kong and Shanghai Bank, Director of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, of the Eastern Telegraph Company, of the British and Chinese Corporation, and of the Chinese Central Railways; in fact, he is a business and commercial man who has had wider experience and, I should think, longer residence in the East than any other commercial man that I have had the advantage of coming across.

He was speaking the other night at a purely non-political meeting on China. He began his speech by reiterating the phrase that he had used before, and which I think was afterwards used by the noble Earl, and referred to patient conciliation. What does he say about Russia? This is not my statement, which of course would carry no weight, but that of Sir Charles Addis, who said: If every Russian in China were thrown into the Yellow Sea it would not affect the national movement, which exists as part of a great world movement. This is the opinion of a man who, beyond all others, has a knowledge of China, and especially of commercial matters in China. He says that if the Bolsheviks were all thrown into the Yellow Sea it would not affect the national movement in China, which depends on other considerations. I should like to add that I think that this view is strongly confirmed by the fact that the nature, outlook and character of the Chinese is not in any respect Bolshevist, which I suppose ought to be a delight to all noble Lords on the other side. I am certainly not a Bolshevik myself, and I do not believe that any mass of Chinamen are.

I have also had an opportunity of obtaining the views of the Principal of Haverford college who had been for some mouths in China. He is an American whom I knew very well. I need not mention his name, but he is a well-known literary man and was on his way back to New York. I understand that he had gone to China in order to obtain information for the American Government. He ridiculed the notion that the Bolsheviks were influencing the Chinese in any sense or altering their anti-Bolshevist attitude, which is of the essence of their national character. I read exactly the same view the other day in a document from a well-known missionary, who, he tells me, has sent the document to an official of the Foreign Office whom he well knows, again ridiculing this view. Whatever the difficulties might be, he said that they did not arise from Russian influence.

I should like at this point to give just two quotations from the Christian missionaries. I regard the Christians and missionaries in China as essential factors in promoting peace and conciliation, and I entirely join issue with the statement, made by one who is no doubt a great Western trading magnate, criticising what they have done. I believe that they have been a great and beneficent factor in promoting peace and conciliation. I will read one paragraph from the latest statement of the National Christian Council of China on international relations. This Council does not consist entirely of British, but largely of Chinese. It is an international body, and this is the statement:— The Christian Church and Christian missions should preach the gospel and perform Christian services in China upon the basis of religious liberty freely accorded by the Republic of China and all provisions in the Treaties with foreign countries for special privileges for the Churches or missions should be removed. That has been their attitude throughout, but that was a considered resolution after a series of conferences, and everyone will sympathise and think they have done right because they feel it is in accordance with what I may call the Christian spirit in China.

In the same way I have here one other extract from a conference of Chinese and foreign Christians in Shanghai itself on January 12. They say:— This is the Revolution of the people's mind. It has excesses—every revolution has—and no one can as yet gauge them against the permanent gains, but we beg of you to have, as much as in you lies, patience and faith in this tremendous change, in which we, with all our hearts and minds, believe. That is the message they sent home. I know there is a tendency nowadays to consider any one who appeals to the Christian spirit in practice as an idealist. I regard that as a great compliment; I do not think anything is done without idealism. At the same time when you come to practical action you have to consider the practical method and the best way of proceeding.

There is one other point which I desire to make. If conciliation and patience fail, what is the best thing to do? I am, as I have stated, one who does not believe in the use of force or coercion antagonistic to the Chinese feeling and the Chinese spirit. In the King's Speech there is a reference which I cordially welcome to the League of Nations. I will quote something which was said by the noble Viscount in a moment, but I often wonder why this side of the question has not been further developed. Your Lordships are aware that the matters to which I am now going to refer are not matters of choice but obligations, Treaty obligations, which we have undertaken. I remember that when I was at Geneva some question was raised as to whether Great Britain could be trusted to fulfil all her obligations to the League. I refused to discuss the question at all. I said that of course we would. I would not allow even the suggestion that we would not carry out the Treaty obligations which we had undertaken. I wish to emphasise the fact that these are Treaty obligations. I have not got their exact text here, but I think I can quote accurately, and if I do not I shall be easily corrected. The obligation is this. Members of the League—and China and ourselves are Members of the League—agree to refer matters likely to lead to dispute either to arbitration (because there is no compulsion as regards arbitration) or to the League Council for report and inquiry.

Now there is not the slightest doubt—at least I do not think there is—that, if conditions in China were normal, this matter must, as a matter of obligation, have gone to the League for decision. It is not a matter of choice nor a question of whether we like the League or not. There is the obligation and we should be unable to escape it. That has been pointed out more than once and with great force by the noble Earl. He said that matters of this kind would be all very well if you had a centralised Government, but the conditions in China did not allow of the operation of obligations of this character at the present time. I want to answer that question in two ways. First of all I want to say that, so far as Geneva is concerned, China has been recognised as a Member by the accredited machinery, her delegate has been accepted, and she has become a Member. In those circumstances, not only are we entitled to refer the matter to the League, but we are under an obligation to do so and it is quite clear, to my mind, that there would be no technical reason whatever which would prevent the whole matter being thoroughly discussed under those conditions.

But it is not necessary for me to rely upon that method. I am one of those who desire in matters of this kind to find means of conciliation. A short time ago I did make a suggestion that the powers of the League had not been adequately considered. Shortly after that the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, made a speech in reply, and I have here a verbatim copy of what he said. Let me read this to the House in order to show what weight ought to be given to an opinion of his. He said, talking of the proposal I made— No one would desire more than I that the troubles in China should be removed to the calm and judicial atmosphere of the League of Nations, but the only hope of bringing the matter before the League would be if the Cantonese were to desire it. In that case, whether the Cantonese represented a Government or not, the British Government would be only too glad to get the matter transferred to an atmosphere where a real settlement might be arrived at. I do not think it is only the British Government. Everyone, who cares for League policy and for peace, would be only too glad if a matter of this kind, instead of raising friction and trouble, a technical matter, a matter of detail which requires careful adjustment, should be referred to an atmosphere where a real settlement might be arrived at. The condition which he mentioned is the assent of the Cantonese. I have given my reasons for thinking there is an alternative method. I do not care about that. I want to take his own statement and I will ask the noble Earl this. Have any steps been taken to ascertain whether the Cantonese are willing that this matter should go—


Would the noble Lord tell me exactly what matter he means?


The matter in dispute.


What is that?


The matter in dispute as regards Settlements, Concessions, extra-territorial rights—


Those are not in dispute.


All those matters outstanding that are not settled. Of course if they are not settled conciliation is better than nothing. No one will suggest that the League of Nations should not support conciliation. Supposing you were to ask the Cantonese whether they are willing that all these difficulties should be settled? That is the question. Let me read again part of the quotation I have given:— In that case, whether the Cantonese represented a Government or not"— that is taking away the difficulty with regard to a centralised Government— the British Government would be only too glad to get the matter transferred to an atmosphere where a real settlement might be arrived at. Everyone would desire that. I am not going into any technical questions; I do not desire to do so. We all want a real settlement, and we all want it in what the noble Viscount refers to as the quiet and judicial atmosphere of the League at Geneva. It may be that the Cantonese will say "No," but at any rate we shall put ourselves in the right by making the suggestion.

The only other suggestion made against going to the League—I think it was made here by the noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon—was that there would be some difficulty from Russia. No difficulty could arise in that way at all. It would be a monstrous proposition if, in addition to all the other evils attributed to Russia, she should have the power of preventing settlement by the League of a matter of this kind, if otherwise it can be sent for settlement to Geneva. I do not think any one who knows anything of League procedure or League methods can entertain that suggestion for a moment. Those are the questions which I wanted to ask, and that is what I wanted to say.

It comes to this. We must have peace and conciliation. It is ruin for a great industrial country like ours not to have free and fair access to the Chinese markets. The matters in question are matters capable of settlement. These extra-territorial rights, how far they should be maintained, how far they should be given up, are necessarily matters of detailed consideration and detailed settlement, and if we start, as I hope we do, from the point of view that fundamentally the Chinese claim is just, although you would spread the adjustment over a period of time, I sincerely hope that agreement may be made, but if it cannot be made the matter should be sent to the quiet and judicial atmosphere of Geneva. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I must begin by congratulating the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down upon the fact that neither he in this House, nor the Leader of the Opposition in this House, nor, as I understand, the Leader of his Party in the other House, has given the least encouragement to the preposterous notion that our despatch of troops to the Far East, whether wise or unwise, whether mistaken or not mistaken, had anything to do with some crazy scheme of Imperialism or of territorial conquest in that country. That is only what I should have expected of them. With all their criticism of His Majesty's Government, they have abstained from the extremer follies which have been exhibited in certain parts of the country.

Of course the very idea is absurd. There never was the least foundation for it. There never was the least suggestion that the Government contemplated it. No sane man ever thought that an aggressive policy in China could be, or would be, carried out by any Government in this country, whatever the complexion of that Government's politics might be. No sane man ever supposed that the sort of force we have sent out to China, even if it was under the directions of a most insane and most unscrupulous Government at home, was the kind of force that could ever effect the sort of military operations a disordered vision of which has been dangled before—I will not say the deluded people, because I think our people never were deluded—but before a public which it was hoped would be sympathetic to these attacks.

I am not surprised but very glad that no responsible statesman in this House or anywhere else has given any countenance to these preposterous notions. But the Opposition have done what they are perfectly entitled to do, and the noble Lord has done what he is perfectly entitled to do, which is to explain that however little the Government were open to the charge of being criminal lunatics, they nevertheless had not shown the degree of wisdom which he had hoped and apparently still hopes we shall be able to show to his satisfaction. I do not think the exact position has really been made clear by the noble Lord to the House, and I am not quite sure that he thoroughly appreciated it himself. If noble Lords want really to understand exactly how the Eastern position stands at the present time, and how the difficulties have arisen with which we, and not we alone but the Chinese and fourteen or fifteen other Powers, are now struggling in China, they must go back to the Washington Conference and the events which have succeeded that Conference.

I was really surprised at the various insinuations or suggestions made by the noble Lord, in which he appears to think that we have been backward in our desire to bring our Treaty arrangements with China up to a modern standard. He is entirely mistaken, and the whole history of the Washington Conference is there to show that he is entirely mistaken. In the Washington Conference, with the full assent of the Chinese Government—for then there was a Chinese Government, which there is not now—arrangements were made for dealing by negotiation and by Treaty with the chief grievances which the Chinese felt. There was great sympathy shown with China by all the Powers, and not least by this country, of which it so happened that I was at the time the representative in Washington. We made no secret of our desire to treat China as a State belonging to the modern world, and not to the world of fifty or sixty years ago. We made no secret of our desire to modify the Treaties under which the amount of Customs Duties was limited. We made no secret of our desire to modify the extra-territoriality and to bring that, again up to date.

There was unanimity on these points, but what prevented that unanimity coming to a fruitful and successful result? The Treaty of Washington contained a provision, a natural and proper provision, that it should take effect within six months, I think, of the ratification of the Treaty. Unfortunately the Treaty was not ratified for a much longer period than anybody at the time when it was made for a moment thought, was possible. The British Government was not responsible for this delay, but when you are dealing with fifteen or sixteen Powers causes of delay are very apt to arise and are very difficult to get over with rapidity. Delay did occur, a most unfortunate delay as it turns out, so that when the Treaty was ratified, and when the Powers were prepared to deal with the situation contemplated at Washington, the Chinese Government was in process of dissolution, and long before any decision was arrived at by the assembled Powers the Chinese Government had altogether vanished. There was no central Chinese Government, there was no single authority with whom we could deal, just as there is now no single authority with which the League of Nations, however well intentioned, could deal.

That was a situation sufficiently difficult in itself, but it was complicated, and most seriously complicated, by the fact that not only had the Chinese Government, the central authoritative Chinese Government, vanished altogether from the scene, but that—I was going to say its place had been taken but that would be an inaccurate phrase—but that all that appeared in its place was six independent Generals, War Lords, each with his own following, each animated by his own separate motives and not any of them, so far as I can discover, animated by any single political or national difference, and at all events sufficiently divided to be fighting with each other, collecting their troops independently, pursuing a wholly independent policy, and offering no single body with whom it was possible for any foreign Power to negotiate. You could negotiate with this General, in which case you probably infuriated the other General, but you could not find any central authority of any sort with whom to negotiate.

That was a very great political difficulty. It was complicated by the fact that this political difficulty was associated with disorders, with danger to foreigners, with an agitation against the whole foreign community, with a special agitation directed against this country, without the smallest ground or reason; and the inter-action of all these causes—the inter-action of the fact that there was no central Government, that the government was divided among these six independent Generals, and that there was no possibility of negotiating with any single unity at all, and that if you negotiated with one you quarrelled with another—produced a situation with which I do not believe that any British Foreign Minister has ever been face to face before. I do not believe the Foreign Secretary of this country has ever had to deal with a situation so complicated, so difficult, and so totally without precedent, as far as I am aware, in history.

You might say that the proper way to deal with that was to exercise the long patience which is very desirable in many walks of life, and probably is never more desirable than when you are dealing with an Oriental nation of the temperament of the Chinese. I am quite sure the Government would have been only too delighted to exercise all the patience possible if the interests for which we were immediately responsible had not been threatened—I am putting it too mildly—had not been attacked, if we had not had brought before us in the most unmistakable way that we were face to face not merely with a diplomatic difficulty of unprecedented character and of almost impossible complexity, but with what was much more directly our immediate duty, which was to protect as far as possible the lives and the property of our own citizens.

Now, what is the complaint made by noble Lords opposite and by hon. gentlemen in another place? That we have been indiscreet, reckless, and wholly ill-advised in sending out a defensive force to the Far East. Very strong language has been used about that proceeding by some. The noble Lord opposite, I think, has been very moderate in his language, and has not accused us of crime, but only of folly. We are grateful for the nuance. But what course would noble Lords opposite have pursued had they been in power? Here you have at Shanghai an immense community, a community so large that I am informed that the idea of removing it from the sphere of danger, as we have had unfortunately to remove large numbers of our fellow-citizens in more remote parts of China, is wholly out of the question; so that if that idea had been pursued the result would have been that the persons removed from Shanghai would have been removed from any danger to life and limb, but they would probably have seen vast pecuniary interests, which had been lawfully built up under Treaty generation after generation, to which they had an absolute right under International Law—we should have seen all those things subject to the looting of a mob, or the more systematic robbery of getter constituted authorities, and we should have been completely helpless, not because we should have been lacking in good will but because our troops would have been thousands of miles away.

The only possible course to avoid that danger, if it was a danger—I will come to that in a moment—was to send troops to the Far East, and that we decided to do What the troops when they reached within a relatively small distance of the scene of danger should do we felt should be left to those on the spot, who could judge far better than we could what the danger was and how that danger must best be parried. Our main duty was to get the troops within reach of the possible scene of disaster in the interest, I think, of China itself and of the fifteen other Powers, but certainly in our own interests, which we were bound to safeguard. It is quite true that noble Lords may say this is provocative, this is likely to result in the very kind of danger you wish to avoid. Do not suppose that I think I know enough about China to assert for one moment that no such danger exists. When you are dealing with chaos accepted laws have no effect; you cannot argue from precedent; risks must be taken. One authority says; "You had much better not have sent troops, because you will raise dangers which otherwise would have lain quiescent," and that authority may be right. A second authority says: "Remember the danger that you fear may come upon you at the shortest notice and unless you have troops available at the shortest notice you may see yourselves and those for whom you are responsible suffer incalculable and irreparable wrong."

Perhaps it may be asked, on the other side: But why do you suppose that there is any danger to Shanghai? Why do you think that these six Chinese Generals will not consent to fight out their quarrels, whatever those quarrels may be, without interfering with foreigners? I should have been myself very glad to think that there was any possibility of foreign interests remaining untouched. But we had Hankow before us. What was the situation in Hankow? The situation there was as at Shanghai. There was a great British trading community—not nearly so great as at Shanghai, I admit, but very important—there by right, there to the advantage of China, I believe, as well as of themselves, carrying on legitimate trade under Treaty for the mutual benefit of the East and the West, doing no harm to anybody, threatening no Chinese institutions, not a menace to any single Chinese individual, but a benefit, and wholly a benefit. Hankow comes within the sphere of the Southern Government—the Canton Government. They had an Army there, It was their duty—a duty which I do not think they have ever denied, but at any rate whether they denied it or not it is quite clear it was their duty—dealing with matters within their area, to prevent an assault by a violent mob upon the British Concession. The British Concession was saved from absolute disaster by the courage and by the self-control and the moderation of the sailors who had been landed to defend it.

Those who are best informed hold the opinion that that attack was not a wholly spontaneous ebullition on the part of a mob, but that it was engineered in obedience to a wider and more sinister design by those who were carrying on, avowedly, openly, cynically carrying on, the most violent propaganda against Britain. The Canton Government had troops within reach. Those troops could have stopped that attack. They did not stop it and, against overwhelming forces and to avoid disasters even greater than those which occurred, the British authorities removed all the women and children from our Hankow Residency and the men were, if I remember rightly, packed in a building that was more or less defensible. Some of the best observers of Chinese affairs tell us that if the resistance of the British had been carried further, if firing had taken place, firing against a mob of overwhelming numbers which had, I will not say the support, but the sympathy of the troops belonging to the Southern Government, who were looking on—if firing had taken place the Residency and the Concession would have been swept from end to end and incalculable damage, horrible disaster would have fallen upon the British community.

I hope I have not exaggerated what happened at Hankow. I believe I have stated it with accuracy and I trust, with moderation. With that example before us were we justified in sending no troops within protective distance, as I may call it, of Shanghai? I believe that in those circumstances, had any disaster occurred at Shanghai at all comparable with that which did occur at Hankow under the same inspiration and carried out by the same people, we should have stood not merely before our countrymen of the present time but before the bar of history as having been grossly neglectful of the most obvious duties that fall upon a Government.

We took the course we did quite conscious that when you are dealing with a country in the chaotic condition of China, with no responsible Government, divided, as I have said, among these various War Lords, who themselves are divided by mutual jealousies—when you are dealing with a community like that there are always objections to any course you may take in such circumstances You are not dealing with plain and simple issues. It is always possible to say: "Well, had you not better take a little more risk by not sending troops or take a different kind of risk? Would it not have been better to do this than to do that?" I think in those difficulties you are bound to take the plain and simple course of duty. You cannot finesse. You can so subtly balance opposing arguments that you finally end by doing nothing. We were bound to act and I do not see how we could have acted with less provocation to China. I do not see how we could have acted more obviously in good faith than we did. What the future may be I know not, but I do say that we have done our best, facing the difficulties, facing the dangers and believing, however inconvenient it may be and however anxiously we may look to the future, that we could have done no less and been worthy of the responsibilities with which we have been entrusted by the Country.

The difficulty of the situation, as I hope I have explained to your Lordships, is that we have this extraordinary combination of chaos within the country and the attempt to carry out a very complicated series of diplomatic transactions which are intended to, and I hope ultimately will, relieve China of burdens or of provisions of which we all wish to relieve her. Some people might think that, though we were amply justified in saying, as we did say at Washington, that our wish is to negotiate with China for the revision of the Treaties, so long as China does not exist as a single State, so long as this chaos lasts we must put all this series of reforms on one side and leave commercial relations between ourselves and China untouched. I think there would have been an excuse for taking that course, an ample excuse for taking that course, but it was not the course we took. So anxious were His Majesty's Government to proceed as far as possible with the Washington policy that we have been, as everybody knows, negotiating to make changes in the Treaty system on the most generous terms.

The noble Lord who initiated this debate certainly never suggested that the proposals that have been made in public by the British Government were otherwise than generous, nor that the unilateral arrangements which are the only ones we can carry out by ourselves were not framed on the most generous scale. I do not know that we have received much gratitude from the Southern, the Cantonese Government. So far as my recollection serves the most obvious result of our offer was that the Cantonese said: "Well, but this offer will benefit the War Lord in the North. It will give him money. It will give us, the Cantonese, money, of course, but it will also give General Chang money. We strongly object to any justice for China which gives money to General Chang." That is what it came to and that is their attitude at this moment. How can you deal broadly and generally with a State in that condition? We still mean to do it. We are not deflected from our policy. We are most anxious to come to an equitable arrangement with any part of China with which we can have dealings. But do not suppose that it is an easy task when the different parts of China object to the benefits which they ask for themselves being given to the others. Among the many difficulties with which the Foreign Secretary has to deal surely that is not the least. No reference was made to that condition of things by the noble Lord opposite. He has not touched upon it at all.


What I did say was that the noble Earl had expressed those difficulties in a former speech. I was not questioning them and I did not think it was necessary to go into them.


I do not quarrel with the noble Lord for not having replied to a speech which I made to your Lordships some months ago.


I did not reply to it. I assented to it.


The noble Lord did not survey this situation. What I complain of is that he did not seem to see what the difficulties were, what the inevitable difficulties were, difficulties not due to our creation, not due to any single action of the Government from 1921 when the Washington Conference opened down to the moment at which I am speaking. Throughout that period, without wavering and without failing, successive Governments—certainly any Government with which I have been connected and I believe the Government with which noble Lords opposite were connected—have been most anxious to carry out the spirit of the Washington Conference, and at this moment we still desire and are still actively engaged in trying to carry out such unilateral arrangements as can be made without a regular revision of Treaties.

I do not think I am really qualified to deal with that part of the noble Lord's speech in which he discussed the relations of Russia to Chinese events. He spent a good deal of time—I do not think he misspent it—in saying that the Chinese were fundamentally anti-Bolshevist and that there was nothing in the Chinese temperament, character, history or institutions which suggested for a moment that they would adopt any of the political and economic adventures in which the Bolshevist Government indulge. He argued from that that the Bolsheviks had nothing to do—or nothing, so far as we are concerned, that matters—with our difficulties in China. I do not think, whether his premises are true or not, that his conclusion follows from them. I am rather inclined myself—though I do not rate my own opinion on the subject very highly—to think that the noble Lord was right when he said that whatever may happen to China you never will have a Soviet Republic there. I think he is probably correct. But that does not mean that the Cantonese Government, or some War Lord who thinks be can get advantage out of Russia, will not take advantage of any help which either Russian military advice, Russian diplomatic advice, Russian money, or the supply of Russian arms will give him. I am not at all sure that even a War Lord in China may not have something to learn in regard to methods of propaganda which he had not fully grasped before. At all events I think I see signs in a good deal that goes on in China of a skilful manipulation of mob violence which may not perhaps be wholly of Chinese origin. So that I am not at all moved by the noble Lord's view that China is not going to be a collection of Soviet Republics.

I put that on one side and I come to the last part of the noble Lord's speech. I think I have dealt with all the rest of it. I come to the last part of the noble Lord's speech in which he advises us to bring in the League of Nations in connection with all these Chinese difficulties. I need hardly tell your Lordships that on this Bench we are as anxious as any people can be to use the League of Nations for all it is worth in smoothing international difficulties. My noble friend near me and I have been even more intimately connected, or at any rate connected for a longer period, with the League of Nations than the noble Lord opposite who spoke with authority as having been himself at Geneva. This House may rest assured that the Government will lose no opportunity in any circumstances of bringing in the League of Nations to deal with any international difficulty which presents itself to them or to any of their friends and Allies. The noble Lord quoted an Article from the Constitution of the League of Nations, but I did not quite clearly make out what were the questions that he thought could be brought before the League.


I thought I explained that. I referred to the matters in dispute, but what I read was a statement of Viscount Cecil of Chelwood. I had not the Constitution of the League of Nations by me, and I read nothing from it.


I should so much like to know what the questions are that are in dispute. The dispute if I made my meaning clear to your Lordships, belongs to the other branch of the obligations that meet us in the East, to the branch that simply concerns the preserving of the rights and lives and property of our own fellow subjects. I put that altogether on one side. There is no quarrel about that with which the League of Nations either could or would deal. What other quarrel is there? There is, no doubt, a good deal of discussion about the Treaties to which reference is so constantly and so properly made in these debates. But we are in the very forefront of those who wish to revise those Treaties. This country, if I may say so, has been demanding the revision of those Treaties. There can be no controversy on the broad principle between us and any Party in China. The only controversy that has so far arisen between us and any Party in China, as I have reminded your Lordships, is due to the fact that the South does not wish the privileges that we are ready to give to it to be extended to the North. I do not suppose that this is a question that the noble Lord would desire to be brought before the League of Nations, and I should think that, if it were, the League of Nations would make short work of it.

Do not let it be supposed that we are not anxious to do everything that we can do to make the League of Nations acquainted with the case and, if they have any advice to offer us, to find out what it is and to take our part in any work of pacification that the League of Nations may take in hand. We have actually sent off a document which I have in my hand. It is dated yesterday. I have not had time to consult, with the Foreign Secretary, but I have not the least doubt that it will be made public immediately.


It has not been made public yet?


It is dated only yesterday.


It is a document sent to Sir Eric Drummond, Secretary of the League of Nations, and I may perhaps read the last sentence. Two pages are occupied in explaining the situation. I have not read them in their last form, and I know only the general principles. My noble friend put the document into my hand just now. It is the last sentence that perhaps the House will allow me to read. It runs:— In any case His Majesty's Government have felt it right to make this communication to the League of Nations— that is, a communication as to the general situation— so that its members may have before them a full statement of His Majesty's Government's policy in China and may understand how completely it is in accord both with the letter and the spirit of the Covenant. His Majesty's Government deeply regret that there does not appear to be any way in which the assistance of the League in the settlement of the difficulties in China can be sought at present. But, if any opportunity should arise of invoking the good offices of the League, His Majesty's Government will gladly avail themselves of it. I hope that this extract, which represents the spirit of the document, though of course there is much in the document besides that declaration of the policy of His Majesty's Government, will satisfy even so ardent a supporter of the work of the League as the noble and learned Lord to whom I have been replying. I do not recall any point that he raised with which I have not to the best of my ability attempted to deal, and I hope that your Lordships will endorse the policy of His Majesty's Government by a unanimous vote on this occasion.


My Lords, I intervene in this debate only for a few moments, and mainly because I think it undesirable that it should come to an end without an expression of opinion from the Party to which I belong and, if your Lordships will permit me to add, the opinion I personally hold, having regard to the advantages of experience I have had in the East. I am sure that your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Earl for the explanation he has now given and for the exposition of the policy of His Majesty's Government. I desire to say for myself, and I believe I speak also with the full support of the members of my Party, that I give uncompromising and unhesitating support to what the noble Earl has said. I cannot conceive that there should be any Party division of opinion on this subject, or that any different views should be held by my noble friends on the Front Opposition Bench. I had not the advantage of hearing the beginning of my noble and learned friend's speech in initiating the debate, and accordingly I cannot deal with his points save as I have gathered them from the answers that were given by the noble Earl.

I felt some satisfaction in answering a question I put to myself as the noble Earl proceeded with his speech, because I found myself in agreement with him upon all points and I wondered whether it was the charm of the exposition, the felicity of the argument, that had brought me to my conclusions. I am glad to say that I had no doubt as to the answer, because I came to the House this afternoon with the intention of giving the support I have just expressed; but it is nevertheless a satisfaction to have the benefit of the knowledge, derived from special sources not open to us all, and also of the accumulated wisdom and ripe experience of the noble Earl in matters of this character. I confess that, looking at the problems that have confronted the Government, I have asked myself many times, not only during the last months but far earlier, indeed for years, what, attitude His Majesty's Government could take, and I doubt very much whether there is any one of your Lordships who could have suggested any action other than that which has been taken for the purpose of protecting the lives and property of British subjects at Shanghai and, may it also be added, not only for the protection of British lives, for the action taken by His Majesty's Government has set an example which other nations may perhaps be slow to follow but of which they will be very quick to avail themselves in the hour of need.

Nothing impressed me more than the noble Earl's observation that the troops have been sent within a protective distance of Shanghai and that the use to be made of them must be determined in the main—not entirely, no doubt—by the man on the spot. No truer word has been uttered in this connection. It is easy to sit at home and criticise. It is not difficult to express philosophic doubts, but for the man on the spot it is a very grave matter. If the need comes, and he knows not at what moment it may come—it may come like a thief in the night, it may come by some sudden explosion of temper—and he is called upon to face a situation which I shall not describe but which your Lordships can very easily picture, it is only if the man on the spot knows that he has forces he can use at the time for the purpose of protection that he can feel reasonably secure in his mind and in his judgment.

A man on the spot could never sleep at Might in a situation such as he might see at Shanghai after what had taken place at Hankow unless he knew he could depend on His Majesty's Government, no matter of what Party it might be composed. No other Government could have taken a different action. It might have been a little slower or it might have been a little quicker. There was no other possible action to be, taken than that of taking steps to protect the lives and property of our own people in Shanghai. It does not need elaboration in detail to explain to your Lordships what Shanghai really means, a place far more important and of course for more exposed than Hankow, because of the greater number of European inhabitants and of the far greater accumulation of property. If I might be permitted to add one word it would be of admiration for the restraint exercised at a time of great provocation and by men from whom perhaps one might not quite so readily have expected it. It was a position of great danger if they had taken a step which would have been a, natural step, but they did not, with the result that the situation was to some extent saved.

There is nothing which has fallen from the noble Earl but has my whole-hearted acceptance. I am glad that, whatever divisions there may be between us on home affairs, natural divisions arising from different views and perhaps even from different methods of education and of thought, there is no division, fortunately, on a subject of this character. No fault can be found, or could be found by the roost captious critic, in my opinion, in the observations which fell from the noble Earl to-day. He spoke, if I may be permitted to say so, in terms of great restraint and has explained to us the decision of the British Government, which I whole-heartedly believe will have the support of the whole country.


My Lords, it is quite obvious that the noble Marquess was not here throughout the debate. If he had been I am sure he could not have misinterpreted as he did. In answer to the noble Earl I only wish to refer to two matters. I recognise his courtesy and acknowledge the information he has given. I understood, however, and I would like to know if I was under a misapprehension, that it was not until the Minute was read by the Prime Minister in the other House that the determination had been come to that the troops were only to be within a protective distance and not to go to Shanghai itself. As to the other point let me say this. If we have taken the attitude towards the League of Nations and the Council which he is now suggesting—and I think assistance of the most valuable kind can be had from that quarter—a great deal at any rate of my criticism would never have been necessary at all. My view was that it ought to have been done long ago.


The view of His Majesty's Government about the protective force is that having gone to the Far East it should be under the authority of the man or the Admiral on the spot. For anything I know to the contrary it may have gone on to Shanghai already; there is a rumour to that effect.


I do not take any objection to the responsibility of the person in charge. I do not see how else you can deal with it, but what I understood was that, so far as the Government were concerned, the place which they contemplated as the terminus for the troops was Shanghai in the first instance. What I think they have most rightly done is that, instead of sending them to Shanghai, they have now determined that in the first instance they should go to Hong-kong, subject of course to the responsibility of the Generals and commanders on the spot. I entirely agree that it is impossible to put the immediate responsibility in any other hands than those of the man on the spot. I am much obliged for the answer the noble Earl has given and I do not feel it necessary to ask for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.