HL Deb 04 May 1927 vol 67 cc57-86

LORD PARMOOR had given Notice to call attention to the Report of the Forty-third Session of the Council of the League of Nations, and to recent discussions at Geneva on the subject of an International Convention for an eight-hour day, and generally to the question of the ratification of International Conventions; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I regret to have heard from the Leader of the House that the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, will be unable to be present this afternoon owing to the great stress and strain that he has undergone at Geneva, as the result of which it is desirable, I am told, that he should have rest. I naturally regret this on more than one ground, but let me add that I understand what this stress means, having gone through it once myself, and I should like to acknowledge that although we have sometimes had differences of opinion there has been no more consistent and able supporter of League principle and League policy in this country than the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood. I am glad to say that he is to be more than adequately represented from every possible point of view by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, to whom I have sent a copy of the notes that I intend to use on this occasion in order that he may have full information. I hope that they have given him all the enlightenment that he desires.

The Notice that I have put upon the Paper really resolves itself into two heads. Both have to do with the League of Nations, but they arise from different sources and must consequently be treated in distinctive ways. The first question has regard to the Report of the Forty-third Session of the Council of the League, and the other subjects upon which I seek information are the International Convention for an eight-hour day and the general question of the ratification of international Conventions. This is a matter which has to do with the League of Nations in one sense, but it primarily concerns the International Labour Office. That body is an association of a special character constituted under the Treaty of Versailles and other Treaties and its constitution was made part of the contract to which all the Allied and Associated Powers agreed when the Treaty terms were made. I will read one passage from the constitution of that office which will show the nature of its duties. It states that— conditions of labour exist involving injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people. … and it goes on to say that the fifty-six States represented have entered into a definite international contract to seek to prevent all these conditions by inter national action. This is a very important point indeed, both in relation to what we call the unity of world history and to fair conditions of labour in the different countries.

I may add one word on this point before I come to the actual facts on which I wish to base my question to the noble Earl. The object of the International Labour Office is two-fold. First and most important perhaps of its duties is that of making an international arrangement to do all that can possibly be done in a reasonable manner to improve the conditions of injustice and hardship that affect labour at the present time. We shall all sympathise with that desire, though perhaps we shall not all be agreed on the roadway to its accomplishment. In the second place, when the unity of labour and industry were being brought to the front, it was pointed out that the inhuman conditions of sweated labour in some countries had subjected more advanced countries to unfair competition and it had become of great importance that these conditions should be made more fair, in order to get a firm basis for the spread of international trade that is so essential, and in order that this allegation of the unfair advantage of one country over another could not be made.

The head of the International Labour Office is M. Thomas, a man of huge ability and endless energy. At the present time, as the noble Earl will see from the notes that I have given him, twenty-three Labour Conventions have been made. All of them aim, whether rightly or wrongly, at the improvement of labour conditions. Twelve of these Conventions have been ratified by Great Britain, and as regards eleven of them there has been no ratification. But in order to be quite accurate I ought to say, in regard to the last three of them, dating from 1926, that the full year has not passed within which ratification has to be brought to the attention of the respective Governments, and accordingly it will be better to eliminate those three and to deal merely with ratifications which, the conditions having been observed, must come forward for this and other Governments to consider. I will limit myself on this point to one specific question. What is the policy of the Government as regards ratification, and is ratification likely to take place?

Before I come to specific questions regarding hours of work, I should like to refer quite shortly, not as a matter of detail but simply as a matter of history, to one or two illustrations that will show my meaning. The question of the employment of seamen came forward in 1920. In 1921 Mr. Macnamara, who was then at the head of the Labour Ministry, indicated approval, and this was confirmed by a Resolution of the House of Commons. In 1925, however, a different view was indicated by Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland and, so far as I understand what happened, the principle of ratification, which was accepted in 1921, was regatived in 1925. The same principle applies in one or two other outstanding ratifications. For instance, a minimum age for agriculture appears at one time to have been definitely accepted, but under the present Government the idea of ratification, as I understand, has been rejected. The white lead case has already been discussed in this House and I need not add to what was said upon that by my noble friend Lord Arnold. Generally speaking, it would not, I think, be unfair to make this summary: that as regards the ratification of those Conventions which were all brought forward in favour of improving the conditions of labour—there is no question about that—the policy of the present Government has been against ratification; in other words against accepting those improvements in the conditions of labour which have been advocated and advised from the International Labour Office at Geneva. I think that will be sufficient to say on the general question, because I want to come to the hours of work.

Your Lordships may notice that in my Notice I refer especially to the International Convention for an eight-hour day. What has been the history of that matter? In the first place it was unanimously accepted at Washington as long ago as 1919 and as factors in that acceptance both the British Delegates voted in its favour. Therefore, you had a unanimous vote in its favour supported by the representatives of the then British Government. This Convention—perhaps I ought to call it a Draft Convention—advised that the working hours of persons employed in any public or private industrial undertaking other than an undertaking in which only persons of the same family are interested, were not to exceed eight in the day and forty-eight in the week.

This is not an occasion on which it is necessary to refer in any detail to certain exceptional provisions which would give a sufficient flexibility to a general principle of this kind. For instance, it does not apply to persons holding positions as managers or controllers; when the hours had been one day less than eight they could be made up on a subsequent occasion; there was special provision, too, dealing with the employment of persons in shifts, such as mining, in order that there should be no interference with the conditions of their employment under the eight-hour principle. They were to be allowed in such a case to be employed in excess of the eight hours in any one day and forty-eight hours in any one week. Provision was also made that the limitation of hours should not apply where there were continual processes, and I think it may be said generally, though of course this is not an occasion on which a close analysis of a matter of this kind can be made, that all kinds of exceptional employment are referred to in exceptional terms and either kept out of the eight-hour principle or made subject to special provisions in the Convention.

What has been the course of His Majesty's Government towards that Convention? In 1925 there was a meeting between representatives of this country and the Ministers of France, Germany and Belgium, but I pass over that because a more important meeting was held in March, 1926, when the present Minister of Labour, Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, convened a meeting of the Ministers of France, Germany, Belgium and Italy in order to discuss what had been suggested as difficulties in the application of this Eight Hour Convention. Previously the Prime Minister had intimated in the House of Commons that if agreement was reached on the matters which they thought required further settlement, Great Britain would proceed to ratify. As a matter of fact, agreement was reached. There is no question about that, so far as I know. It was reported as reached, and all the facts brought before me pointed in the same direction. During the rest of 1926 further progress was not made owing to the difficulty arising from the industrial strike in this country. I understand that and I make no comment upon it. But no declaration of policy, of acceptance, has ever been made, so far as I can ascertain, although, fortunately, now the industrial strike is some way behind us, and although it is understood, and I think was so stated, that agreement was reached and all basis for misunderstanding was removed.

What other Powers, no doubt equally interested with us in a question of this kind, have ratified the Convention? I think all the important Powers; that is to say, Italy, Belgium and France, have ratified subject to our ratification. Germany has not approached the question quite in the same way. Germany has introduced a certain measure of labour legislation which implies the ratification of the Hours of Work Convention. What I want to ask is why is ratification withheld by this country, and what is the policy of His Majesty's Government? That is a specific question, and that is a matter to which, in giving my notes to the noble Earl, I call specific attention. Surely it is right in the circumstances that we should be in the forefront in improving the conditions of labour, particularly on the International Commission. Surely it is right that after all this length of time, and after, so far as I know, all the difficulties have been removed, ratification should now be granted.

One objection I notice was taken, and that is a sort of doubt—I think rather an unworthy doubt—that other countries, although they have ratified, might not maintain the terms of the Convention. Of course if you start from that point of view of an International Agreement you never get very far, but surely it is an unworthy suggestion that at any rate any large Power, of essential importance in the industrial world, would not maintain an Agreement solemnly ratified under these conditions. I recollect an occasion on which it was suggested at Geneva, in connection with matters then discussed, that perhaps the Government of Great Britain might not comply with conditions which it accepted. I refused to allow the matter to be discussed. I said: "I am perfectly certain that Great Britain will honourably fulfil any Treaty obligations it undertakes, and if you doubt that it is not much good going on discussing at all." And the matter was not raised again.

There is one further passage to which I should like to call attention as regards this Eight-Hour Convention. I see that a complaint was made last month at Geneva in reference to Great Britain. The quotation is from the Manchester Guardian, which states:— At yesterday's meeting of the governing body of the International Labour Office the British Government delegate, Mr. Wolfe, in reply to a question by Mr. Poulton"— who represented the employers— declared that the British Government is now very seriously examining the problem of the ratification of the Washington Eight Hours Convention. A remark was made not altogether complimentary to Great Britain, but I leave out the uncomplimentary words. And this was said by the leader of the Workers' Group, Monsieur Oudegeest of Holland—that the British Government had been studying that question for seven years—and he added the observation that the British officials (I will not use his exact words) did not seem to be in a hurry. But surely that is a true criticism, particularly of a country like Great Britain, which ought to march in the van in all matters concerned with improving the industrial position of the working class. The report then said this: During further discussion the British employers' delegate, Mr. Forbes Watson, once again opposed ratification"— apparently he was the only person who did— denying especially the possibility of the uniform application of the Convention. That is a re-opening of the whole principle on which this Convention was founded.

I hope that the noble Earl will be able to say that after all these years, after discussion which has resulted in agreement, and after the statement made by the Prime Minister, the time has now come when ratification can be made effective, and if ratification is effective then the ratification of other countries, Belgium, France and Italy, would at once become effective. I do not ask the noble Earl to go into any detail upon the other Conventions to which I have referred. I only referred to them to show that this was not an isolated case, and that our sympathy towards this attempt to improve the position of labour on an international basis had not been demonstrated by any prompt action. But putting that on one side and limiting myself to the Eight-Hour Convention, I think that the noble Earl has all the information before him, and I hope he will be able to give a favourable answer on behalf of the Government.

The other part of my Notice is really distinct. When we think of Geneva we very often muddle up together a large number of different things, and, particularly now that so much interest is taken in the League and so many subjects are passed through Geneva, it is almost impossible for any one in this country, even though he has a chance of access to Geneva documents, to keep himself abreast of what is really going on there at the present time. The first matter I wish to refer to is dealt with on page 19 of the Report by the Foreign Minister of the Forty-third Session of the Council, under the heading of the Economic Conference. It is merely a coincidence, but it happens that that enormously important Conference meets for the first time to-day, and I think that all of us who have any knowledge of international matters will rejoice that it is meeting under the presidency of such an able man as M. Theunis, who at one time was Prime Minister of Belgium, and whose knowledge of commercial matters, especially banking matters, is in every way exceptional. I think his acceptance of the presidency is the best possible omen that good results will ensue from this Conference, although no doubt many complicated and difficult questions will come to the front.

The second matter is this. The noble Earl will see that the Council decided to issue invitations to various countries, including Russia. One of the black spots of the peace of Europe has been the isolation of Russia—an isolation made more complete owing to the difficulties which arose at Geneva some time ago but which I am glad to say have been settled to everyone's satisfaction. It is of immense importance in the general interest of European economic progress that Russia should have sent a representative on this occasion to Geneva. Since the quarrel to which I have referred this is the first time that Russia has brought herself to send any representative to Geneva for an international conference, and I must say I sincerely hope that, in accordance with the invitation sent by the Council, not only will Russia attend, but that a better understanding, which is so extremely important, particularly to this country, may result from co-operation on this Economic Conference.

The third point is this. There can, of course, be no country more interested than we are in this Conference. It would be impossible, and indeed out of place, on this occasion to attempt to predict the multitude of matters which are likely to be brought forward at the Conference. But there is one point to which reference has been made in almost all the communi- cations which have come from this country preparatory to this Conference and it is this. We in this country are ultimately dependent for true prosperity on the conditions of our foreign export and as regards the condition of our foreign export trade it is stated in one of these communications that our export trade in volume is 80 per cent. less than it was in pre-War times. It is also stated that the result to this country—and we were the conquering country—is probably more deleterious than either the devastation in France or the collapse of the currency in Germany. What we are interested in more than in anything else is the taking away of the tariff obstructions which prevent the free intercourse of foreign trade, or of what may call international trade, at the present time. On the other hand, the advantages which we have derived as far as we have gone in a different direction are comparatively slight. That, however, is not a matter for discussion on the present occasion.

I think these communications show most clearly—and it is a matter which must be kept to the front in this Economic Conference—that so far as this country is concerned the old open market principle, which carried us to the front in the commercial and international trade of the world, must not only be preserved but must, if possible, be restored at least to its pre-War condition. There can be no worse policy to a country like ours in the case of an Economic Conference of this kind than to take any other attitude than this: that, as far as we are concerned we are all for open markets and desire to keep our markets open to the world.

The other matter to which I particularly wish to call attention is one that has been brought very much to the front during the last few weeks. That is the question of disarmament. I suppose we have all noticed the vigour with which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has represented British interests, but we have also noticed—I shall go a little further into detail on this—that the progress made appears to be extremely slight. No doubt there has been agreement in certain phases which takes us a certain distance, but when you come to matters of distinctive principle you still find division which I may say is, roughly, that of Great Britain and America on one side and, so far as Europe is concerned, the Continental States on the other. This matter is referred to on pages 4 and 9 of the Report to which I am calling your Lordships' attention. What is said on page 4 is really a resumé of what was done at the last Assembly of the Council. It will be more convenient to refer to the Assembly Report than to the Report of the Council. On page 9 the reference is to what has been called the Preparatory Commission. I agree with what was said there by the Foreign Secretary, among others, that if this Preparatory Commission is to be effective at all it requires great patience and very full discussion, and it is quite hopeless to think that it is likely to come to any definite determination within a short time.

I have not a word to say against that for reasons I am going to give; as a matter of fact, I entirely agree with it. I look upon it rather less favourably than that, if I may so put it, because I think that the conditions, for example, in China, where we have between 50,000 and 60,000 I am told engaged at an expense of not much less than £2,000,000 a week, cannot be very favourable, whatever one's views may be about China. I have already stated in a former discussion the views which I hold and I hold them more strongly as the use of force goes forward. You cannot expect much result from a Disarmament Conference contemporaneously with what is going on in China at the present time. I want to say nothing more than that, because this is not an occasion on which I seek to raise the question of China. The time will come to do that, but it is not this afternoon.

I would ask the noble Earl now to refer to a passage in page 11 of the League of Nations Seventh Assembly Report, which was published in London on November 19, 1926. It is Command Paper No. 2780. I do not know whether the noble Earl has a copy of that, but I will hand him my copy when I have read the passage. There are two passages from the recommendation of M. Markovitch, the representative of Yugo-Slavia, which the Assembly adopted as their Resolution. He was the rapporteur of one of the Committees—the first or third Committee—and his report was accepted as the report of the Assembly and forwarded to the Council. These are the two passages to which I wish to call attention. First, the Assembly asserts its conviction that the general ideas embodied in the clauses of the Treaties of Locarno, whereby provision is made for conciliation and arbitration and for security by the mutual guaranteeing of States against any unprovoked aggression, may well be accepted amongst the fundamental rules which should govern the foreign policy of every civilised nation. What were those fundamental rules? Here I shall probably find a difference of opinion between myself and the noble Earl. The fundamental rules referred to were that all disputes should be settled in a friendly manner either by arbitration—that is the principle of Locarno—or by legal tribunal. Those fundamental rules are of essential importance if you are to carry out the proposals upon disarmament which come from the Assembly and the Council.

I will go a little further. Until you have security—I mean security growing up through an atmosphere and a spirit of peace—I think it is very doubtful how far real success can ever be obtained from negotiations similar to those which have been carried on at Geneva. And if I might refer to one other passage, because it carries the matter a little further, it refers to the indispensable conditions of the maintenance of international peace—that is to say, arbitration and legal decision—and as a result you could facilitate the reduction and limitation of the armaments of all nations. Security first, arbitration in all disputes first, legal disputes determined by legal tribunals, and then as a result you get the indispensable conditions which allow you to facilitate the reduction and limitation of the armaments of all States. It is an old discussion whether you ought to begin with attacking war or with attempting disarmament. I have never altered my view—and it has been confirmed by what has subsequently happened—that if you really want peace and disarmament you must begin by what has been called the outlawry of war, by accepting an inclusive system of arbitration for all questions and on legal questions, as is generally said, the optional clause and legal decision.

Of course, you come up right against this point. Negotiations fail, as they often have failed and often will fail. What is the next step? Is it to be force or it to be conciliation and arbitration—ultimately what is called a third-party decision? You cannot get away from that distinction. People will hold different views about it. I am not sure what views the noble Earl himself holds, but I do not think he will doubt the proposition that if you are to have established peace which would justify countries with great interests really disarming to a defensive level, you must have a system under which in place of reference to war you may have reference to an impartial and unbiased tribunal.

Upon that point I may say one other word. I want to quote now a very great authority. I am not quoting him in my favour, but I want to quote what he said upon the occasion when I had the honour, if I may so call it, and the privilege of working with him when I was at Geneva. I think he has been present on every occasion. I am referring to Sir Cecil Hurst. One of the proposals made was that countries which had not adopted the optional clause, as it is called—that is the reference of legal matters to legal decision—should be invited to do it. Sir Cecil Hurst made a statement which I think admirably puts the point I wish to make. He said his Government had not adhered to the optional protocol—that is the Statute which constitutes the International Court—but that as they intended to examine the question as a whole in the near future they would be obliged, without wishing to raise any opposition to an amendment proposed by M. Rolin, of Belgium, not to support it. As a matter of fact that amendment was withdrawn. The words he used were "the near future." Has any progress been made as regards adhering to the optional clause? It is not valuable on this point merely to uphold arbitration generally for matters of that kind. There we are all agreed. The question is: Will you uphold it to the extent of leaving the final decision to the arbitrator, except on legal points when you may require a legal decision? That seems to me to be the real reason when you look beneath the surface of what has been going on at Geneva for any difficulty that has arisen.

May I now quite shortly summarise the points of difference of principle in order to establish as far as I can the proposition I have made? As regards land forces, a difficulty arose as to whether the forces raised by conscription should be included or not. The French urged one thing and our opinion was in the other direction. Naturally you would have a conflict of that kind when you had not an established sense of security. May I make this suggestion, that unless the conscript forces are included—and I understand that there were negotiations for some sort of arrangement—provisions for disarmament so far as land forces are concerned can hardly be of any adequate value so far as security is concerned, security, that is, in the sense of avoiding war? Perhaps that is the reason why Count Bernstorff, whom we all know and who represented Germany, was said to have taken a very gloomy view—that was the expression used—of the negotiations at Geneva. Under the Treaty, of course, the Germans cannot have conscription. If you are to limit land forces and excuse those whom you can mobilise because they have been brought up under conscription terms it is fairly obvious, I think, what the attitude of Germany may be.

What we have to face in this matter of disarmament is that we have to fulfil the promise we made to Germany to reduce our forces. I do not mean this country alone. All the Allied and Associated Powers made an agreement that they would reduce their forces to the defensive level, substantially to the level of Germany, and it was only on those terms that the Germans signed the Treaty. As regards sea forces, there was naturally a difficulty, I think, at Geneva because we know that another Conference of the three great Sea Powers is likely to take place. What was really the discussion? The discussion was on submarines. The French desired that any limitation should be on what they call total tonnage, so that as regards submarines they would have a free hand. I am not going into this question. I am only saying what, as a fact, happened. As regards Air Forces, which I connect with my noble friend Lord Thomson, there was also, so far as I can understand, no substantial agreement. On the other two points of supervision and expenditure, there was no agreement at all. I am not anxious that disarmament should not be approached from every possible point of view, and I am very grateful for what Lord Cecil did in face of what I consider great difficulties at Geneva, but I should not be frank (and I think we ought to be frank on this point) if I did not state my own opinion most decisively that in order to have a real system of disarmament which would mean peace in the world—I do not mean partial peace but peace in the world so far as human foresight can secure it—you must have, as is suggested in the Covenant, a true alternative system to war if negotiation fails.

I think that those are all the points that I wish to raise. It is impossible on any one occasion to go through the whole Report of the Council at Geneva, which covers a vast area and touches on many great questions that confront international policy at the present time. I hope, however, that on all the points to which I have directed attention I have made the position clear—though how far the noble Earl will assent to any of my propositions I cannot say—that the object to hold in view, as regards ratifications, is that you should have an era of real international reform in labour matters. There are many matters that are likely to be considered for some time to come before a satisfactory arrangement is found, but at least we should bear in mind the principle that I am advocating, and that has been advocated, I think, at every Assembly since 1924, that the real road to peace is to attack the principle of war and to substitute for it the principle of an impartial decision.


My Lords, let me begin what will be, I hope, a very brief interposition in this debate by making two observations. The first is to thank the noble and learned Lord opposite for the great courtesy that he has shown in sending me a full account of the speech that he proposed to deliver to your Lordships. That account has been followed by him, I think, in the observations to which we have just listened. I am very much obliged to him, and the task that I have undertaken is, of course, greatly lightened by his kindness in that matter. The task, nevertheless, remains a difficult one for me. I got his letter only late this morning—I naturally could only get it then—the subjects that have come before your Lordships have not engaged my careful attention, and I should not be now addressing your Lordships' House but for the unfortunate fact that Lord Cecil is prevented by an indisposition which,, I am glad to hear, is greatly improving from taking the part that he alone, I think, can properly till in your Lordships' House on this occasion and that I fully and freely admit that I am not in a position myself to occupy.

That observation refers more or less to the whole speech of the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken, but it refers more especially to the latter part of it, in which he dealt with the question of disarmament. Disarmament and the discussions at Geneva connected with it are peculiarly within the province of my noble friend and I do not think that anybody else is really in a position to be his substitute, either in this House or elsewhere, in giving an account of the present state of that most important discussion and all the inevitable delays and difficulties with which its progress is surrounded. I really think that I should be doing nothing but harm were I to attempt, in what must necessarily be a very imperfect manner, to deal with a subject of very great delicacy and very great importance, but I think that probably your Lordships and the noble and learned Lord opposite will be satisfied when I tell them that Lord Cecil is now engaged in preparing a Despatch to his Majesty's Government giving a full account of the present state of these negotiations and of the reflections that occur to him upon the great negotiations with which he has been so strenuously occupied. As soon as that Despatch is received by the Government it will be made public and your Lordships will have a full opportunity of seeing the views of the member of the Government who is alone, I think, in a position to speak fully and completely upon this particular theme.

When the House and the public are in possession of this document it will, of course, be in the power of the noble and learned Lord opposite, of his friends, or of any other member of your Lordships' House to raise the whole subject upon a statement of the case that will be full, clear and authoritative. That, I think, will be a far more valuable contribution to the progress of these important dis- cussions than any casual remarks that it will be in my power to make this afternoon in your Lordships' House. I am sure that the noble Lord and his friends will not misunderstand the statement that I have made and will not think that there is any desire on the part of His Majesty's Government to evade discussion. On the contrary, I make these remarks because I believe, and my friends near me believe, that this is by far the best way of laying the whole subject, not merely before this House but before the public, and that When your Lordships have had an opportunity of seeing this authoritative statement you will be far better qualified to deal with the problem than on the present occasion. I shall therefore very respectfully ask permission of noble Lords opposite simply to put on one side, explicitly and completely, any discussion of disarmament or of recent transactions at Geneva, leaving it to another speaker on a happier occasion to develop them as they deserve to be developed.

I turn from that subject, which was, as a matter of fact, the last with which the noble and learned Lord dealt, to the earlier part of his speech, which was in the main occupied by a number of questions and commentaries on the subject of the ratification of the Eight-Hour Convention. One observation was made by the noble Lord in the course of his speech which greatly struck me. He told your Lordships that when he was representing the British Government at Geneva some member of the Council, or possibly of the Assembly, was ill-advised enough to suggest in his presence that Great Britain might conceivably enter into a Convention and, having entered into it, might not carry out the terms of its provisions. The noble Lord appears then, and in my opinion quite rightly, to have uttered an indignant and immediate protest, and the subject was dropped. If I may respectfully say so, I entirely approve of the course taken by the noble Lord and I am not surprised, though I am pleased, to hear from him that it had the desired effect.

But observe the moral of this episode. I am not sure whether the noble Lord was speaking of the representative of a great Power or not—I think probably it was not the representative of a great Power, but I do not ask that question. If, however, there is this kind of sus- picion, which can prevail over these Treaties, it really is most important that they should not be ratified until it is quite clear that they can be carried out clearly and to the letter. After ratification it really is too late conveniently and properly to ask for changes, reforms, modifications of language, increased clarity of expression, or any other of the amendments which may seem small but which, when they become the subject of controversy, have a most unhappy habit of turning out to be of great importance, and great causes of embitterment in international relations. Therefore I am sure the noble Lord will not differ from the general principle which I laid down—however much he may differ from the application of it—which is that on a very difficult and complicated question mere adherence, however zealous and however unqualified, to a general principle is not enough; that you must consider how that general principle is going to be carried out, so that when the time comes for carrying it out there shall be no indecorous, and worse than indecorous, disputes between the Powers as to what the Treaty is to which they have agreed in appending their names.

I do not say that that is a justification for the six or seven years which have elapsed since the Washington Conference of 1919. I am not going to defend the various Governments which have been in power since that time, or to ask whether they have spent to the best of their ability the time at their disposal in dealing with questions which necessarily arise upon this subject. I am content to deal with the present, and, dealing with the present and immediate past, I say quite distinctly that the object and policy of His Majesty's Government is to proceed with the legislation required before ratification can take place, and immediately after that legislation is accomplished to proceed with the policy of ratification. That is our object. How is it best to be accomplished? The subject, as everybody is well aware, although very clear to most of us in this House on broad principles, is surrounded in particular cases with complications which do require consideration. I suppose that if I had made that observation before March of last year critics would have said: "Well, why do you think there is any obscurity hanging over this principle which was laid down at Washington? Where is the difficulty? Can anything be clearer than what was said at Washington? Can anything he simpler than putting into effect the settlement agreed to at Washington by the practical step of ratification?"

That would have sounded very plausible, but as a matter of fact it clearly was not the case. Examination showed, in the opinion of everybody concerned, that there were a great many points to be cleared up, and so obvious was that that my right hon. friend the Minister for Labour set to work to get a Conference of the great industrial Powers to meet in London. They actually went over a certain number of very important difficulties and came to an agreement about them. I take it that that means—I speak with diffidence here because I do not pretend to be an authority on the subject—that ratification on the part of those Powers will be qualified or associated with the resolutions and decisions arrived at in the London Conference.


They have already ratified subject to our ratification.


The Washington Declaration will be associated with some further Declaration—in other words, it will have to be taken note of, and will no doubt be taken note of, by any of those who have to survey, in a Court of Law or otherwise, the engagements entered into by the various Powers. We have got to legislate before ratification is possible. You cannot ratify without legislation, so I am given to understand, and I am not at all clear, and His Majesty's Government are not at all clear, that there may not be some other points that require precisely the same kind of consideration, and are no doubt susceptible of the same kind of agreement amongst those concerned, as the questions which were discussed and agreed upon at Washington. I do not pronounce upon that.

We must, however, be clear as to the interpretation to be put upon the Eight-Hour Day Declaration of Washington, and when the penalty of not being clear as to what exactly we are ratifying may be that disputes will arise subsequently of an acrimonious kind, and that what was intended as a great social reform may be the cause of great international difficulty, that would be a disaster and a disaster which I think is quite unnecessary and can be avoided without undue delay, and which undoubtedly His Majesty's Government wish to avoid. They would certainly much rather see their way clearly to a clear decision upon this complicated question than hastily legislate in this country with a possibility of finding, after all that they have done, that they have not done anything for the benefit of the people whom the Eight Hours Convention is intended to benefit, but have merely produced a new complication in international relations.

We are reminded now and then by those who are criticising the delay which has occurred, and which I think is unfortunate delay—I am of that opinion, and I am very sorry it has occurred—that this delay is an indication that this country is not leading as it ought to lead in the true path of industrial reform. Surely that is a most unnecessary suggestion. We have led throughout in industrial reform, and still lead in industrial reform, and when the noble Lord and others suggest that we are falling behind let them remember that without ratification, as I understand it, over 90 per cent. of our industrial population are at this moment enjoying all that they will ever enjoy were this Convention ratified. I do not think that that is an excessive statement. If it is not an excessive statement it means that, although our ratification ought to occur and will occur, the delay is not due to any slackness in our desire to see the Eight-Hour Convention adopted, or any wish whatever to reverse the general movement which we have hitherto led and sell lead in favour of this great social reform. I do not myself see why there should be any serious delay in carrying it out. The Government desire to carry it out, desire to pass the necessary legislation and desire, after they have passed the necessary legislation, to go through the stage of ratification—of that I can assure the House there need be no doubt whatever.

It must be remembered that this is not merely a question of domestic legislation, and it is not merely a question as to what we think personally ought to be done with regard to the eight hours measure. What we want is not merely that all the great industrial Powers should ratify, but that all the great industrial Powers should ratify the same thing, knowing what that thing is—that is the really essential point. It is not that you are to put up a list of States which have ratified the Washington Declaration; what is required is that those States which have ratified the Declaration should know what they have ratified, and are ratifying the same thing. That really is vital, otherwise your appearance of unanimity is a fraud, and, like other frauds, is apt to react in a very painful way upon those who have been guilty of it. And therefore there are questions of consultation with other great industrial Powers, as well as of consideration of the precise terms of our own legislation.

It is unnecessary to say that in addition to that agreement as to precisely what all these Powers are ratifying there must be simultaneity; there ought not to be a patchwork agreement over the great industrial areas of the world. It ought not to be an agreement here and no agreement there. There must be not only a common policy but a simultaneity of action, and that also is a thing which I do not think will be difficult to attain, but which must be attained. I think I am not wrong in saying that the French Government have introduced a Bill on the subject—it is not passed, but it is introduced—but it is conditional upon Great Britain and Germany and other great industrial Powers pursuing the same course as they do. And what is true of France is true of other nations also, and it is obviously reasonable.

I think, therefore, that some slight measure of the patience which the noble Lord appealed for when he was dealing with the question of armaments must be extended to us in connection with this question of the ratification of the eight-hour day. I do not mean that the patience will be strained to anything like the same extent. I hope and believe that the ratification of the Washington Agreement will be rapid; I expect it will be rapid. I hope that the work of the Disarmament Conference may also be rapid, but I do not know that I can truly say I think it will be rapid: I rather think it will not be rapid. But in both cases some patience will be asked for, and ought to be given when we are dealing with subjects which do not depend upon our own action but which are international in their character—subjects which are not merely international in their character but touch industrial systems which are very different in different countries, and which in our case at least are of ancient growth and require careful consideration.

In these circumstances I hope your Lordships will be satisfied with the declaration which I most sincerely make, which is that I do not anticipate any undue delay in dealing with this subject, but that I do think it is beset with some difficulties which have not been present to the minds of the critics of the Government, and especially critics of the Minister of Labour, who, it will be admitted, I think, by those who in future look back on this controversy, has really made one of the greatest steps forward that have been made at all, in the London Conference, and by that step forward has, I think, enormously facilitated the future course of legislation on this subject, and if anything more requires to be done of the same kind, has shown how it may be done speedily, effectively, and with common agreement.

The noble Lord then referred to the Economic Conference, which opens to-day. He, I will not say tried to drag in, but he did introduce the abstract discussion of Free Trade and Protection, in which I hope he will not expect me to follow him. I do not know which I dislike most—being called a Free Trader, or being called a Protectionist. I regard them both as terms of abuse, to which I am very unwilling to submit, but I certainly go the length of the noble Lord in saying that I regard it as a very unhappy result of what is in other respects a very great international reform, that the creation of these new States, based upon nationality, and I think having the stability and permanence which nationality is specially qualified to give and to increase, has filled Europe with Customs barriers which, to the extent that they have been erected, do hamper the full and free development of international trade. May I say that I think that the figure which the noble Lord gave as to the diminution of our foreign trade is based upon a misprint. I think he said eighty per cent.


I did.


I believe he quoted rightly, but I think the figure is twenty per cent.


Probably we should be agreed that it is eighty per cent. of what it was; that is, a reduction of twenty per cent.


It may be so, but I think noble Lords who heard the noble and learned Lord rather understood him to mean what I have understood him to mean.


Then I should like to correct that.


I am much obliged to my noble friend and I drop that point. I have nothing more to say except to express a certain regret that the noble and learned Lord, at the end of a speech devoted to international peace and social reform, should have dragged in China. I am not going to follow him with any closeness, but before I sit down I must ask him what relation his views on China have to the idea he drew of a world in which everything was settled by arbitration and in which war became impossible because arbitration had become obligatory?


I did not say that.


Well, something like that.


What I said was that it was unfortunate that the Disarmament Conference was going on at the same time as the Chinese troubles. That is a specific statement and I did not go into the China question at all.


It is very unfortunate that the Chinese troubles should take place at all, but what is their relation to arbitration? That is the thing I want to get at. The noble and learned Lord no doubt truly says that while in the world we are striving for disarmament and peace here we have war in China and I think he said that we had 50,000 troops there. That was an error if he meant that.


I think it is a little more.


I think the noble and learned Lord is greatly mistaken in that, but for the sake of argument I will concede him the 50,000 troops. Then he says: "All that comes in as an illustration of the blessings of arbitration." Now, arbitration can only occur between Governments. How are we going to arbitrate about the Chinese case, and with whom? I should have thought that if anywhere in this imperfect world compulsory and universal arbitration was a weapon to preserve universal peace, it would not be in the events now going on in China. There we have a situation which, at any rate in the opinion I am quite sure of a great majority of our countrymen, required us to send out, not I think 50,000 men but at all events a not inconsiderable force, and in which arbitration could not by any possibility have done the least good or contributed in the smallest degree towards preserving international peace or preventing what we deem to be unnecessary bloodshed.

I do not think that China strengthens the noble and learned Lord's case. I certainly do not mean to dwell upon it because I think it is really irrelevant to the main topic he wished to bring before us. I think what is going on in China may well give pause to those who think that by legislating for honourable Governments who really represent organised peoples you are thereby making a perfect world. You may have to deal with vast populations who are not organised, you may have to deal with vast populations who have no Government, and in such cases no better method has, unhappily, been discovered for dealing with the situation than the old—and I readily admit the barbarous—method of actually using your forces to defend yourself against ruin.


My Lords, may I be allowed to say that I hardly think the noble and learned Lord opposite does any good to the League of Nations or to the cause of international harmony for which it stands in asking three separate and distinct questions relating to different parts of the League and to different subjects none of which has any connection with the other. I think to confuse issues does not tend to clarify wisdom. This afternoon I may be allowed to address myself only to the first question which he raised, because I presided at three out of the seven conferences of the International Labour Organisation that have been held in Geneva. The noble and learned Lord seems to me to present the case of this country in regard to social and industrial reform always, so far as I have heard him, in an unfavourable and sinister light. I do not believe that in that he is in the least justified. The longer that the International Labour Organisation acts and the greater the number of topics to which it applies itself the more is it proved to the clearest point of demonstration that this country holds as much as it ever did pride of place in respect of social reform.

I listened to the debates, almost wearisome in their reiteration, in the International Assembly upon the Eight Hours Convention and I have heard really every subject of social interest discussed there, either specially on Conventions and recommendations or when the Directors' Report was under review. In almost every case, I can assure your Lordships, the law and custom in regard to the conditions of labour are higher in this country than they are anywhere in the world, with the doubtful exception of the States of the Australian Commonwealth and that nearly every proposal that is brought forward at Geneva at the International Labour Conferences is to raise the general practice to our own standard. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord will dispute that.


No, my argument is largely based upon it.


Unfortunately the noble and learned Lord conveys the impression that we always show ourselves wanting when we are put to the proof. I quite acquit him of the intention to do so, but I appeal to your Lordships whether that is not the impression which he leaves upon our minds. I recollect long discussions on the subject of a weekly rest day at Geneva. As your Lordships know, in the greater part of the world there is no such thing as a weekly rest day and it is only slowly creeping into the usage of the Western countries of Europe and, of course, of the British world overseas. Yet there it was debated, although we know that with us it is not a question of the Act of Charles II but of immemorial custom that the Sunday rest is practically universally enforced and observed. I have also heard discussion upon the night labour of women in agriculture. Except in some isolated eases, I believe in Scotland, but here I speak subject to correction, that question can never arise in regard to the conditions of labour in this Island. So [...] is all through the gamut of these Labour debates.

It is quite true that the course of history in respect of the Eight-Hours Convention has been, as the noble Earl (the Earl of Balfour) said, unfortunate, but the great reason is no fault of ours. The International Labour Organisation was set up by Part 13 of the Treaty of Versailles and I venture to think it is the most idealistic document that was ever agreed to by any international Congress it was, however, inevitable that the machinery set up under it should not be perfect and perhaps should in some respects have been certain to require amendment. From the first it has been found that the provisions were too rigid and too stereotyped to meet the necessities of the case. Both Conventions and recommendations have there to be adopted by a two-thirds majority, but once adopted they cannot be modified or aitered, much as the Bills that are sent here under the Parliament Act, even in a comma, without the universal assent of all the nations composing the League. It is true that in respect of these matters the diplomatic rule of all or none still obtains. Therefore no provision was made for modifying or conditioning the Conventions adopted either at the Washington Conference or at any of those that have succeeded it. That was a constitutional fault which is now in process of amendment.

For the first time this year at Geneva the International Labour Conference will consider Conventions as being merely Draft Conventions for the one session and they will then be brought up in the following year after they have had further consideration in all the countries which constitute the League and have been made, no doubt, the subject of suggestions by the Governments concerned. It is almost certain that in future no such difficulty can arise as has taken place in regard to the confirmation of the Eight Hours Convention. Everybody knows why it was impossible to adopt it here, and that was because it struck right across the Railway Agreements. The Railway Agreements, as your Lordships know, have been the subject of negotiation and settlement between the great companies and the National Union of Railwaymen and the other Labour bodies connected with that great industry. Therefore it was not only that the employers were opposed to it but that those who spoke for the employed and who equally set store by the terms of the Agreements thought that there must be some exception in order to provide for their case—that is to say, as the lawyers put it, I believe, that they were quite ready to take the Convention only sub conditione.

That is true, too, of the other points put by the noble Earl. In all probability it is far better that the delay has taken place if by means of it there can be simultaneous adoption of the Convention and equality of administrative action under it. One of the difficulties, as your Lordships know, is that in these matters of administration in regard to labour the methods are quite different in different countries. What we should require statutory authority for here is settled in many other countries by administrative order. It is far more difficult, therefore, to ascertain exactly how the Convention has been applied in detail elsewhere because these administrative orders may vary in different regions of any one country. Besides that, in federal States as opposed to unitary States the conditions of labour are regulated partly by national and partly by local law. A Convention limiting hours absolutely to eight is a very important step in advance of industrial practice taken the world over. So far as we are concerned, as the noble Earl has already stated, it would have hardly any practical effect except in that great industry which, through the mouths both of masters and men, demands some exceptional treatment.

If, by means of the Conference held a year ago in this country, presided over by the Minister of Labour, and by negotiations that have taken place through the International Labour Office since, it is possible now to proceed to ratification nobody would be better pleased than I, if I may say so. There is no reason now why this country should not ratify subject to conditions. France has proposed a law which will have conditions attached to it. Germany has given notice that she will do the same on a larger scale. It has not yet been decided by the High Court of International Justice whether countries can ratify subject to conditions and modifications. It remains to be seen whether the Court will take what I think would be a technical view of their powers and refuse leave for such conditions to be attached to a general Agreement or not. If it is impossible to ratify with conditions attached, which I do not for a moment anticipate, then the only thing will be to bring forward another Convention with clauses providing for the small exceptions that we have to make, and I hope and believe that his Majesty's Government are thoroughly in earnest in their determination to put it through as soon as possible.

The truth is, and I should like the noble Lord to realise it, as I dare say he already does from his long sojourns at Geneva, that except for the hearty support of this country the International Labour Office would not be standing now. There is no doubt that we have agreed to almost all that has been asked of us both in financial contribution and in moral support. I do not think that anybody associated with Geneva will complain that this country has been found wanting and I am quite certain that the influence of England has been uniformly on the side of social advancement and social amelioration. We have been represented there not only by the political heads of the Labour Department but by the officers concerned in the particular questions that have been under review, than whom there are no body of men who are more anxious to maintain the high fame of this country as the historic home of social reform in industrial matters to be found anywhere.

It is with these feelings, and believing that, though it has been unfortunate, the delay has been to a great extent inevitable on account of the constitutional point involved which has not been possible of removal, that I earnestly hope that this discussion will not prejudice the settlement of the question. When you give it a Party aspect it always has an irritating effect upon bodies outside which may not agree entirely with the attitude of the British Government or with any further statutory interference with the hours of labour. I do not think that will be so. I am glad to have had from the noble Earl a declaration so clear on behalf of His Majesty's Government, which I am sure will give great satisfaction in all the Labour offices of Europe, that this matter is now almost on the point of settlement.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in answer to what has been said by the noble Viscount opposite and afterwards a few words relating to what was said by the noble Earl. No one made any allegation—certainly I did not—that we and our representatives had taken anything but the most sympathetic attitude towards all matters of labour reform and progress. I want to make that quite clear. That point was not involved at all, if I may say so. The broad question that we discussed was whether there had been delay, and to what extent it had been unnecessary delay, in the ratification of the Eight Hours Convention, and that point cannot be decided by mere generalities and phrases with which we all agree. It is no good putting forward phrases of this kind and trying to knock them down again.

The question is: How have the actual facts been dealt with by the Government of this country? Let me say, with regard to the weekly day of rest, though I did not go into that matter, that we were opposed from the start to the international suggestion. I hope the noble Viscount will recollect that when we are dealing with these international matters our leading principle is to bring less favourable conditions in other countries up to the level of the more favourable conditions that we have here. I do not want to refer to this point again, except quite shortly. If we have an eight-hour day in operation in ninety per cent. of our industry—I agree with that figure, which I have often used—it is most creditable, if I may use that expression; but one of the great considerations in the ratification of international Conventions of this kind is that other countries should have the advantage that we enjoy, perhaps to an ex- ceptional degree, at the present time. It is no answer merely to say that we enjoy it. From the international point of view we want other people to enjoy it and in regard to conditions of labour in particular we want as far as possible to bring them up to the highest scale.

It would be ungrateful of me not to express gratification at what has been said by the noble Earl on behalf of the Government and at his attitude towards the Labour Convention, but I would like for one moment to call attention again to one point. I am in agreement, I think, with all the principles laid down by the noble Earl and the noble Viscount in general terms, but I pointed out that this particular Convention is now seven years old and that, so far from the difficulties to which the noble Viscount especially referred not having been considered, they were particularly considered at a Conference called for that very purpose. I called attention to the statement of the Prime Minister in 1926 that, if that Conference came to an agreement, ratification could at once be proceeded with. I entirely agree with all that has been said about simultaneity and the need of care on these questions. I cannot think how anyone could dispute it, but I wish to ask how it is that for seven years the ratification of the Eight Hours Agreement, which is admitted by both the noble Earl and the noble Viscount to be of great value, has stood over. Of course these were matters for discussion, and they were discussed and were agreed upon, according to the statements to which I have referred. My question was why, after that agreement, a further advance had not been made. I am quite satisfied with what has been said in favour of the Convention itself and I am glad to hear that ratification is to be pressed forward.

There is only one other matter to which I should like to refer, because I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. The matters to which I called attention, apart from the ratification of the Convention, were, as I thought, almost entirely matters for the Government's decision. I had to refer—though I did not do so in a controversial manner—to what passed at Geneva, but I should not have thought of raising the matter at all on this occasion unless I had understood that an answer could be given in regard to the matters that I afterwards brought to the attention of the noble Earl. Do not let it be thought that I am complaining. I am certainly delighted to hear that Lord Cecil is better, and I think it will be of enormous advantage for the understanding of these matters that we shall have his Report before us in the form of a White Paper. Nobody will welcome it more than I do and, as I said at the outset, although I differ from him in some respects, I most sincerely hope that his efforts at Geneva will conduce towards the disarmament or relative disarmament that I believe everybody in this country desires both in order to promote an atmosphere of peace and also on industrial grounds. I do not propose to press my Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.