§ LORD ARNOLD rose to call attention to certain statements made by members of His Majesty's Government regarding the obligation to ratify International Labour Conventions; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion deals with a problem of great importance. The Government have taken up a position in the matter, as I shall indicate to your Lordships, which is, in my submission, quite untenable. The point at issue turns upon the degree of obligation which rests upon a country the Government of which have signified by vote their agreement with an International Labour Convention, at Geneva or elsewhere as the case may be. I think it will be remembered that in the recent debate upon the Lead Paint (Protection against Poisoning) Bill, which has now become an Act, we complained strongly from this side of the House that the Convention which was agreed to by Great Britain at Geneva in 1921 had not been ratified. The Government instead of ratifying the Convention and prohibiting the use of lead paint for interior work only enacted in the Bill of last year that the use of lead paint as regards interior work should be regulated. That is a totally different matter, and in the opinion of those best qualified to judge regulation will be of little or no use in stopping the terrible sufferings coming from lead paint poisoning. However, I am not going into that matter to-day in any detail. I only mention it as part of the case which I wish to put before your Lordships.
§ I must emphasise, however, that it is surely indefensible for this country, or any bother country, actually to propose the terms of an agreement which becomes a Convention and then for the country which took the initiative in proposing the terms and bringing about the agreement to refuse itself to ratify that which 291 it proposed. It will be within the recollection of your Lordships that Sir Thomas Legge, the Senior Medical Inspector of Factories at the Home Office, felt so keenly what had been done, or rather not been done, by the Government that he resigned his position in the Government service. The Government had no adequate defence to offer, but in the debate which took place in this House on February 23 last, with a view to trying to help matters, the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, intervened with a contention that the only obligation undertaken was to bring the recommendation or Draft Convention before Parliament and Lord Desborough, and also Captain King, speaking for the Government in another place, said in effect the same thing. I have the quotations here, but I need not trouble your Lordships with them in detail, beyond referring to some words of Lord Desborough, uttered on November 18 last, when the Lead Paint (Protection Against Poisoning) Bill was being discussed.
In seeking to defend the Government for not having ratified the Convention, which was really brought about, as I have said, at their instance, he used these words:—
There is nothing signed and there is no question, therefore, of going back on a signature. No engagement whatever is entered into.
That is an astonishing statement. It is quite true that in the procedure at Geneva there is nothing signed, but there is a vote, and are we to assume that there is sanctity in a signature and no sanctity in a vote? Any such position is quite untenable. Why, every day in this country enormous financial and commercial transactions are effected simply by word of mouth, which is never repudiated, save in the case, which is very rare, of a genuine mistake or misunderstanding.
§ Let me look at the matter in more detail, although it is not necessary I should detain the House at any great length. I begin by pointing out that even as defined in these statements by the noble Viscount opposite and Lord Desborough, this country has not done its duty. So far as the Lead Paint Convention is concerned the Government has not brought the recommendation or Draft Convention before Parliament, and neither did the Conservative Government of 1923. In 1923 a Motion dealing with 292 several Conventions was brought before Parliament, and in the course of his speech on that occasion Sir Montague Barlow included certain observations about the Lead Paint Convention. His statement, however, in relation to that Convention was inconclusive, although it seemed pretty clear that even already the Conservative Government did not want to ratify the 1921 Convention. In any event, it cannot be contended that the Government brought before Parliament the recommendation or Draft Convention, because what was put before Parliament in 1923 certainly did not amount to that.
§ Now we come to the present Government, the second Baldwin Government. They have not carried out the duty of bringing the recommendation or Draft Convention before Parliament. On the contrary, the Lead Paint (Protection against Poisoning) Bill of last year, which they recommended to Parliament, was precisely the opposite of what was agreed to at Geneva. That cannot be denied. Therefore I submit that the duty laid down under Article 405, and quoted by the noble Viscount opposite and other Government speakers on this matter, has not been carried out. Let me consider what was the position taken up by the Government on February 23. I think it is not putting it wrongly to say that the position comes to this, that even if the recommendation or Draft Convention of 1921 had been laid before Parliament a Government is perfectly at liberty to advise Parliament to do exactly the opposite. That is what this Government did. That is what it comes to. In short, you may have an International Labour Convention at Geneva, weeks of discussion and negotiation, a large number of countries represented (in this case about thirty and in one case forty), various delegates meeting at great expense and devoting much and valuable time, agreement may be reached, all the countries present may vote for that agreement—and that in this case is practically what has happened—and yet we are told there is no real obligation to ratify, no obligation upon this country to honour its vote, we are told by Lord Desborough.
All the Government has to do, according to the noble Viscount opposite, is to bring the recommendation before Parliament. As I have pointed out, that has
not been done, but even if it had been done the Government, according to the theory laid down by Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, is not under any obligation to support the recommendation or Draft Convention for which its delegate voted. In the debate on February 23 my noble and learned Leader, Lord Haldane, intervened and said: "Why does not the Government make a recommendation? That is what we complain of." Then the noble Viscount opposite used these remarkable words: He said:
The Government are entitled to present and have presented to Parliament their views on the subject. It is for Parliament to judge whether their views are right and also to take whatever action it likes.
This is an extraordinary way of putting it. It suggests that on an issue like this there is a perfectly free vote: the Whips are taken off and the Conservative members vote without allegiance to the Government; but, the facts are quite different.
§ In a matter like this the supporters of a Government will, with possibly one or two exceptions, vote for the Government policy. Of course they will, because, if they do not, the Government will be defeated, and it will resign if it has a majority, if it is a majority Government, and the present is a majority Government. It has a majority of about two hundred in another place, and a majority of about seventy to one in your Lordships' House. The idea that Parliament is free to vote as it likes quite independently of the Government, and of the consequences to the Government of its votes, is something quite new in Parliamentary history, and it is opposed to the facts. It really will not do to suggest that the majority of Parliament in a matter like this will vote in any other way than that which the Government of the day recommends, provided it is a majority Government. So I say, and I say emphatically, that the obligation of a Government in respect of a recommendation or Draft Convention for which its delegate or delegates have voted at Geneva is not discharged by bringing the Convention or recommendation before Parliament and then advising Parliament to do exactly the opposite—for that is what this Government did in this case. It is only discharged by bringing the Convention before Parliament and advising Parliament to vote for it. That is the point at issue.294
§ I put this Motion down because I am really very anxious to get a more satisfactory statement from the Government in regard to the obligation to ratify International Labour Conventions. When it is said that a vote for a Draft Convention is not constitutionally binding until the Convention has been ratified by Parliament, that is true. But, of course, there is a moral obligation upon the Government to honour the vote given by its delegates, unless possibly circumstances alter very materially after the vote has been given. In the case of the lead paint issue I have on two separate occasions at great length and in great detail demonstrated to your Lordships that nothing of sufficient importance has occurred since 1921 to justify the Government of Great Britain in going back upon the vote which its delegates gave in 1921. I am not, to-day, going again through those matters, but the position which I have taken up really remains unshaken, and no real attempt has been made by the Government to controvert what I have said. I have pointed out in regard to this Lead Paint Convention, which is a good illustration for my purpose, that even so influential a supporter of the Government in another place as Major Hills, in a very impressive letter in The Times, said that the Government might be technically free not to ratify, morally it was not free.
Then I should like, in support of the case which I am submitting, to quote a few words from the White Paper, Command Paper No. 2465 of 1925. This is the Report by the British Government delegates to the Minister of Labour in that Year with regard to the International Labour Conference. On page 8 these words appear, and they have added weight owing to the fact that one of the delegates whose signature is at the end of this White Paper was Mr. Betterton himself, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Labour. These words were used in reference to workmen's compensation for industrial accidents:—
While the effect of these amendments, as the British Government delegates recognised, was to eliminate the greater part of the more obnoxious features in the Draft convention, there remained various points of difficulty which appeared to them to require further consideration and inquiry and, no opportunity having been given for a thorough examination of the obligations involved, they felt it impossible to undertake
any responsibility in regard to the Convention on behalf of the Government. They could not, therefore, vote in favour of the Draft Convention.
Those words show that Mr. Betterton and his colleagues did not vote for the Convention because of the obligation which a vote imposes. I do not think there can be any dispute about that. That is the clear sense of the words which I have quoted.
§ Then again, let me point out that the British Government has, from the very start of these International Labour Conventions, admitted that the Conventions are serious matters involving obligations, because the voting power of the International Labour Conference is two Government votes to one employer and one worker. That balance was a British proposal. Its specific purpose was to prevent the decisions of the Conference from being mere pious resolutions, owing to Conventions being adopted contrary to the wishes of Governments. Therefore, as I say, it has from the start been not merely admitted, but laid down, that these Conventions are serious matters, and that they do involve obligations.
§ The noble Viscount opposite intervened in the speech to which I have referred, and he made the point—and it has been made two or three times in the course of these debates—that after all the procedure under the International Labour Office for the ratification of Conventions is different from the procedure under the League itself. That is true. But that is not a good point for the noble Viscount to make: it really is a point against him rather than a point for him, the truth being that the procedure in regard to the ratification of International Labour Conventions is much more definite and precise than in the case of the ratification of a League Treaty or Convention. As your Lordships are aware, there is really no precise procedure under the Covenant at all. But here there is a definite procedure laid down under Article 405, and so forth. Therefore, I submit that that point does not help the noble Viscount in the least; it rather has the reverse effect.
§ The point I wish to put to the noble Viscount quite definitely is this: What degree of obligation does he consider attaches to a vote given at Geneva in favour of an International Labour Con- 296 vention? The position which the noble Viscount and other Ministers have taken really comes to this, when it is analysed, that there is no obligation in the last resort to do anything except to make a speech about the matter in Parliament. According to the theory laid down by the noble Viscount on February 23, that speech, when it is made, can be dead against the Convention in favour of which the vote of the Government has been given at Geneva. The only obligation, according to this theory, is to lay the matter before Parliament, and in so doing the Government is quite free to recommend precisely the opposite to that for which its own delegates have voted at Geneva. I cannot think that that really represents the view of the Government. I should be sorry to think it did. And therefore I have felt it my duty to put down this Motion in order to get, as I hope I may do, a more satisfactory statement from the Government.
§ I am extremely concerned, and a great many other people are extremely concerned, about recent events, and about the position in which this vital matter of the ratification of International Labour Conventions now stands. I say, and say deliberately, that if the Government view stated on February 23 were to be the last word on the subject, then it will not be very long before no more International Labour Conventions will be agreed to at Geneva, or anywhere else. Countries will say and properly say: "What is the good of sending delegates to Geneva, what is the good of having all this anxious discussion and negotiation, finally ending in an agreement—what is the good of it all, if after agreement is voted the vote really carries no obligation at all?" I say clearly that things cannot go on like this and that before long these International Labour Conventions, with all their enormous potentialities for raising the standard of the workers in almost all parts of the civilised world, will cease to be held and this great instrument for good will have proved to be of no effect.
§ Unfortunately, the responsibility for that state of things if it comes about will rest largely with the Government. I know the noble Viscount does not like things like that to be said, but I do not think the argument he used in the last debate is one which ought to carry 297 any weight. The argument he used against my noble friend Lord Parmoor was that he was talking against his own country. It may be all very well to argue like that in some places, but I do not think you can pay any attention to it in this House. We want the facts and I say the truth is that the present position in regard to this matter is in large measure due to the action of this country under the present Conservative Government. That is a simple statement of fact. This matter of the Lead Paint Convention does not stand alone. There is also the Washington Convention. I am not going into that to-day. There have been debates here and in another place upon it. My noble friend Lord Parmoor brought it up here only a few days ago. Certainly, until recently, the position in regard to that has been profoundly unsatisfactory. I do not say it is satisfactory now, but it has been profoundly unsatisfactory. The attitude of the Government and the record of the Government in regard to that was too much even for The Times. The Times criticised it, and the debate which took place in another place on that Convention was one of the most damaging debates which has ever taken place in regard to the action of any Government. Words to that effect were used by one of their own supporters in another place in describing, what had occurred.
§ Finally, there is one consideration which I think is of supreme importance arising out of this whole question of ratification—I am afraid I must put it non-ratification—of International Labour Conventions and that is the adverse effect which the breakdown of the hope and expectation in regard to International Labour Conventions would be bound to have upon the future of the League itself. I am hopeful that that is a point which will appeal strongly to the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Cecil of Chelwood). I am afraid it is only too clear that if a vote for an International Labour Convention is treated as of little or no account, then also the signature to a League Treaty will come to be regarded lightly. Indeed, if International Labour Conventions cease to be held—and it may come to that—and, if under the procedure which I have described there is a definite system of ratification laid down for votes given for International Labour 298 Conventions and those votes are not being honoured and are treated as of little or no account, then you have struck a blow at the sanctity of League Treaties. Thus you furnish an almost unanswerable excuse for not ratifying them and treating signatures to them lightly also. I have already emphasised that the procedure for ratification of League Treaties and Conventions has never been laid down as in the case of Labour Conventions. I submit that the issues are of great gravity and they might have very grave results if no more satisfactory reply is given than we have had hitherto in regard to this matter. I very much hope that the Government and the noble Viscount Opposite will give a reassuring reply which will be encouraging to those who believe that the International Labour Conventions offer the best hope of raising the standard of life of the workers almost throughout the civilised world. I beg to move.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD)
My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a question which I think all your Lordships will agree is one of some importance and has built on what he conceives to have been the conduct of His Majesty's Government anticipations of a very grave and serious character. I hope before I conclude the very few observations that I am going to make that shall be able to convince him that he takes altogether a too gloomy and melancholy view of what has occurred. There are really two points, quite separate, to be considered. There is the question of what is the strict Treaty obligation of the Government in respect of a Convention which is adopted at a meeting of the Conference of the International Labour Office, and there is the second quite distinct question—which has nothing really to do with the first, as I think I shall show your Lordships by looking at the Treaty—what is the moral obligation that rests upon any Government whose representative has accepted either by his signature or by public and official statement a particular view which afterwards the Government for various reasons is not prepared fully to endorse? Those are two quite separate questions.
I do not propose to go into the particular cases and the noble Lord, I hope, will forgive me if I do not once again 299 discuss the exact iniquity or propriety of the Government's action with regard to the Lead Paint Convention or even with regard to the Washington Hours Convention. I understand him to raise the question in a much more general way than that and I propose, if I may, to confine myself to a reply on the general aspects of the question. In order to make plain the observations which I desire to make, may I remind the House how the matter really stands with regard to these Labour Conventions? Under the normal practice of International Conventions quite a number of steps have to be taken before you get to the stage of ratification. Normally there is a considerable negotiation. It may take place by the ordinary diplomatic channels, it may take place at Geneva in the discussions in the Assembly or the Council of the League. That is the first stage.
Secondly, you have a Conference called to consider the possibility of entering into—I am talking of the normal procedure apart from the Labour Conventions—a Convention, or it may be a designated meeting of the Assembly of the League, at which the actual Convention that is proposed to be agreed upon shall be discussed and if possible accepted, and that Conference or Assembly does not generally meet until the prior negotiations have shown there is a reasonable prospect of agreement. If that conference stage is successful, there comes a third stage—namely, the signature of the Convention, and that, of course, is a very formal official act by the representative of the Government who is specially empowered to affix his signature to the Convention. Then, after all those stages, comes the ratification of the Convention, which is the formal act by which the Government agree to be internationally bound by this particular Convention and, necessarily, after all these stages have been taken the Government have had plenty of time to consider the matter. They have had the whole thing brought before them, first on the preliminary discussions, then in the Conference, and then before the signature has taken place, and therefore they may be supposed to have made up their minds, and generally have made up their minds, to ratify the Convention in its final form and the ratification is almost always a formal stage.
300 But in these Labour Conventions matters are different, because in order to facilitate the making of them a very special procedure was adopted at Versailles. The preliminary negotiations and Conference and signature were all telescoped together into one proceeding—namely, the proceeding at the Conference, I think it is called, of the Labour Bureau or the Labour Office, and the vote of that Conference—supposing there is a two-thirds majority in favour of the Convention—brings the Convention to the same stage as it would have been brought by the negotiations, Conference and signature under the ordinary procedure.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
That is so. In that sense that takes the place of preliminary negotiations and the Conference takes the place of the special Assembly or special Conference and signature. The point is that you do not have to sign these Conventions. The mere vote of a two-thirds majority, as far as the international aspect of these Conventions is concerned, has the same effect as if signature has taken place. It is quite plain that under that procedure ratification becomes a much more important stage. The Government have not had the opportunity really of considering the Conventions at all in their final stage. They have not the opportunity of considering the Conventions agreed upon in the Labour Office until they have been actually adopted. They are brought before the Conference, discussed, changed and modified, and it is only after that that the Government have any opportunity of considering them. Therefore ratification is necessarily a much more substantial stage than it is in the case of an ordinary Convention.
This becomes the more obvious when it is considered that, as far as the Treaty is concerned, a Government that has voted against the Convention is in precisely the same position as a Government that has voted in its favour. The obligations under the Treaty as far as ratification is concerned rest upon all the Governments who were present whether they have voted for or against the final draft, if it has been passed by a two-thirds majority. With regard to Labour Con- 301 ventions all that depends on Article 405 of the Treaty of Versailles. The important clause in that Article is this:—Each of the Members undertakes that it will, within the period of one year at most from the closing of the session of the Conference. …or at a later period, if necessary—bring the recommendation or Draft Convention"—that is what they undertake to do, the absolute undertaking whether they had voted against it or for it—before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies, for the enactment of legislation or other action.I admit that "the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies" is rather a vague phrase. It may mean the ratifying authority, it may mean not only the ratifying authority but the legislative authority if legislation is required to bring the Convention into force, as in these cases it usually would be. But in any case they undertake to bring it before the competent authority and they have to do it whether they voted for it or against it.
I think if one looks at it from that point of view, one must admit that it cannot be a Treaty obligation—I am coming to the moral obligation later—if they voted against it that they should none the less recommend that Parliament should pass it. They voted against it, they did their best to prevent its being enacted, and it cannot be true that they are forced to recommend it to their Parliament. The obligation is to present it to Parliament, if Parliament is the proper authority, or it may be to present it only to the Cabinet if we take the view that it is only the ratifying authority to which it has to be presented. But, whatever authority is meant by the words competent authority, they have to present it and give that authority full opportunity of accepting or rejecting, but they are not bound, as far as the Treaty is concerned, to do more than that.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I have always taken that view myself, and therefore I will not argue with the noble Earl whether it is so or not. But what 302 ever view you take—and for the purpose of my present argument it does not matter which authority it is—the obligation is to present it. That is made quite clear, because the Article says in a paragraph further on:—If on a recommendation no legislative or other action is taken to make a recommendation effective, or if the Draft Convention fails to obtain the consent of the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies, no further obligation shall rest upon the Member.So it is quite plain that what is meant is that the matter must be presented to the competent authority as far as the Treaty is concerned, and that is the whole of the obligation which rests upon the Member.
That is the contention I was trying to support in February this year, I think, when the matter was being discussed between Lord Parmoor and myself across the Table. I had not then in my mind, and I was not then considering, the question of moral obligation which I think is important but is really quite distinct from the question of the obligation under the Treaty. I have stated the Treaty position as I understand it. What about the moral obligation? Here, I quite agree that the noble Lord, if he will allow me to say so, is on much stronger ground. He says it is not right that a Government at home should ignore altogether the action which its representative has taken in an International Assembly and treat his vote as representing the Government as of no account at all. I should agree with that most fully. I think it a very unfortunate thing, personally, when it becomes necessary not only in this case but in any case for a Government to take a different view from that which is taken by its representative in an International Assembly.
It happened more or less in the case of the Treaty of Mutual Assistance. The representative of the British Government, who happened to be myself, took a view in 1923 in favour of that Treaty. It is quite true that I guarded myself very strictly by saying that I was only undertaking to bring it before my Government and that I was not pretending to bind the Government. What happened in fact when it did come before the Government? The Labour Government—perfectly legitimately from their point of view, though, as I individually think, very mistakenly— 303 rejected it. They were quite obviously entitled to do so. The same thing happened with regard to the Protocol in the next year. The noble Lord who represented the Labour Government more or less undertook to accept the Protocol, but when it came to be considered a change of Government had taken place, as your Lordships will recollect. The Government did not agree with him and decided that they could not accept the Protocol. They rejected it.
I am not going into the question whether in these two cases, or in similar cases, they were right or wrong. They may have been perfectly right in both cases, but, of course, I quite admit, and I am sure the Government of the day would admit, that it is in itself an unfortunate thing. It gives an impression of infirmity of purpose and vacillation. No one who has had, as I have, to discuss similar topics before international Assemblies since these events took place can have failed to feel that the unfortunate circumstance of a measure that has been accepted by the representatives of this country in an international Assembly being afterwards rejected, it may be quite rightly, by the Government at home does to some extent weaken the position of the British representatives who are discussing similar matters before international Assemblies. It is obvious that it does. I think that these things are inevitable, unless you are to say that the British Government is always to be bound absolutely by everything that its representative does abroad. I am not able to say that. I think that each case must be judged on its merits.
I really have nothing more to say on this point than that which was said by my right hon. friend the Minister of Labour as long ago as 1925. He was challenged on this very point—not on the question of the date, but merely on the moral obligation arising from the British representative having voted in favour of a Labour Convention. He said:—I say for myself—and here I agree entirely with my right hon. friend—that was Mr. Fisher, I think—that if a Convention is adopted at Geneva by the country it ought to be on the understanding that the Government of the country intends to ratify and will do its very hest to ratify it, but that it should consider itself absolutely bound without some loophole, I think he will himself recognise is not practical politics.304 I dare say that the phraseology might be improved, but in substance it seems to me to be the true view. Undoubtedly there is a moral obligation to support that which the representative of this country has done abroad, but it is not an absolute obligation. It is a moral obligation subject to this consideration: that the Government, when they have on their own responsibility to consider it, must say what on the whole they think is in the interests of the country. They must not merely say that because their representative has given a certain vote abroad, although they now think that it would be deleterious to the country, they are the none the less going to support his view in defiance of what they consider right and judicious in the matter. I must say that this seems to me to be the common sense of the matter.
The noble Lord opposite suggests that the effect of any such doctrine as I have tried to put before your Lordships would be that the vote carries no obligation. I do not think that this is true. I am sure that I do not intend it to be so, and I do not think that it has been so in the past. I do not think that it is in the least true to say that British Governments have ignored altogether the obligation imposed upon them by the action of their representatives.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Even so far as this Government is concerned, it is not so. This Government has accepted by far the greater number of Conventions that have been accepted at Geneva.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The noble Lord suggests that this Government is entirely responsible. I am not saying whether what was done about the Hours Convention was right or wrong, but he forgets that this Convention was agreed upon in 1920.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I think I am right in saying that it was agreed in 1920, but I may be wrong. At 305 any rate, whenever it was agreed upon, there has since been a Coalition Government, for which I at any rate have no responsibility, there have been a Conservative Government, a Labour Government and another Conservative Government. To say that this Government is responsible for all that has taken place since 1920 seems to me a most fantastic statement.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The noble Lord certainly made a great attack upon the attitude of the present Government with regard to the Hours Convention.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
It may be that there is a difference of opinion as to what ought to have been done about the Hours Convention. I quite recognise that. But to say that the present Government is solely responsible is absurd. As to the Lead Paint Bill, I am not going into that now. It has been discussed very fully and it is the only one as to which any charge is brought against the Government. There are two other Conventions which this Government or previous Governments have rejected or have not ratified, on technical grounds that everybody admits were, perfectly adequate and proper.
What are the actual facts in regard to the British Government? Since the Labour Office came into being they have agreed upon 23 Conventions. Three of these were agreed upon so recently that the period for ratification has not yet come to an end. That leaves 20, and of these two were voted against by the British Government and two were not voted upon. That brings it down to 16, and of these 16 they have ratified 12 and have failed to ratify only four. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I think it is ridiculous to say that these figures show that the British Government have treated their obligations to Geneva as of no importance. The case becomes still stronger if you compare our record 306 with that of other Governments. I do not want to say a word to prejudice them, but I have here a list showing in the case of each country the number of Conventions voted for by the Government delegations that have not so far been ratified. It is a very long list, but I take some of the principal countries. In the case of Germany, 11 Conventions were voted for but not ratified; in the case of France there were 12 in the case of Italy, 9; and in the case of Great Britain the comparable figure is 4.
It seems to me that in these circumstances the noble Lord takes altogether too gloomy a view of what has occurred. In substance I do not disagree with him that there does rest upon the Government a moral obligation to support, if possible, the vote of its representative at Geneva. That moral obligation must depend to some extent on the circumstances in which the vote was given, and it must also depend upon the honest and considered view of the Government as to what is necessary for the good of the country. Subject to this, I think that the Government must do what it thinks right, and I cannot admit for a moment that there is anything in the record of the British Government of which it needs to be ashamed.
§ VISCOUNT BURNHAM
My Lords, I should be the last person to complain of the noble Lord returning to what has become a well-worn theme in this House. I can tell him at once that he will have the gratitude of the International Labour organisation for raising these matters in debate, because the International Labour Office complains most that it is working in the dark. What it most desires is to have public discussion and Parliamentary criticism, and, so far as the noble Lord enables it to secure that discussion in this House, I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of the International Labour organisation in saying that it will appreciate his efforts. On the other hand, I think, if I may say so, that he goes much too far in his exaltation of dogma and in his insistence upon cast-iron regulations. What has been proved in the history of the International Labour organisation is that what it most requires is practical elasticity and general understanding.
The noble Lord spoke as if that was not recognised by the International 307 Labour Office. On the contrary, they have now remodelled the procedure of the International Labour organisation on those lines. As the noble Lord knows, the present procedure is laid down in Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles. Before a subject is submitted for discussion at the International Labour Conference, a resolution has to be adopted in regard to it by the governing body. Then there is a long inquiry by means of questionnaires, and consideration within itself, before the Draft Convention is submitted to the Conference, which is, so to speak, the Parliamentary incarnation of the League on the industrial side. After the Second Reading discussion these Conventions are referred to Commissions, as they are called abroad, and then a Draft Convention is brought up at the end of the Conference and may or may not be adopted by the two-thirds majority. In working that was found to produce a great deal of confusion, or rather, perhaps I might put it, of neglect on the part of the authorities to whom the Convention stands referred. They need not necessarily have been aware of the form that the Convention was to take, or been able to instruct their delegates as to how exactly they were to vote in regard to it. That very thing happened in regard to the White Lead Convention to which the noble Lord has several times alluded. I was in the chair at that Conference, and well recollect it. Sir Montague Barlow, the British representative, who was then Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, himself agreed only subject to the reservation that he had not got the assent of his Government. I had his assurance on the point.
§ VISCOUNT BURNHAM
I prefer that assurance to the secondhand testimony of the noble Lord, if he will allow me to say so.
§ VISCOUNT BURNHAM
He said he was voting in his individual capacity, and he agreed in that sense. That seems to me to carry still further the argument used by the noble Viscount in front of me. But the result has been that the organisation has thought it wise to remodel its own 308 procedure. In future in the first year a proposal under discussion by way of Convention will not be finally adopted and in draft form will stand referred back to the competent authorities mentioned in the Treaty of Peace. Then, of course, the Governments concerned may be able to formulate their views more exactly, or, if necessary, to suggest amendments, which can be debated in the next session, and will form part of the Convention when submitted to the Conference. Surely, as the noble Viscount says, that is an admission that the procedure was not elastic enough, and that certain amendments had to be made in order that it might work more smoothly. I cannot conceive anything wiser or more expedient. The noble Lord opposite interrupted the noble Viscount when he dealt with the question of Parliamentary assent. He knows as well as any of us that in many of the countries concerned the assent of Parliamentary action is not necessarily needed: Conventions can be carried out by administrative action and by way of official Order. That varies with the constitutional arrangements of the country concerned. The main point that I want to urge is this: considering that a new procedure has been adopted, the disadvantages which were inevitable under the unduly rigid articles of the Treaty as they have been applied are not likely to occur again. It is of no use, I think, belittling the work of the Conference or of the Office, having that in view.
I repeat that had it not been for the steady sympathy and support of this country throughout its whole existence it is very doubtful whether the international Labour Office would be in existence to-day. In every way we have contributed to uphold it, and I am bound to say that on all the Commissions that sat there during the sessions which I have spent at Geneva the British representatives have played a very worthy part, and as often as not have been nominated to the chairs of the Committees. That is a proof of the confidence which is reposed in them by their fellow delegates. By all means let us debate these matters, but the noble Lord himself will see that he is not called upon to defend arrangements that have already been abandoned, but rather to point out the necessity which existed for allowing latitude, 309 if necessary, for amendment of the functions under which contracts were entered into and approved at the Sessions of the International Labour Conference.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I do not for a moment desire to controvert what the noble Viscount has just said in regard to amendments in procedure in connection with this International Labour Conference at Geneva. On the contrary, I think my noble friend Lord Arnold, as well as myself, would only be too willing to welcome any alteration in procedure which might improve the condition and authority of these International Labour Conference suggestions, after experience has been gained as to the working of the system. Also I desire to recognise the importance of the opinion of the noble Viscount, because, as we know, he has on more than one important occasion—I think on three occasions—himself been the Chairman of the Conference. May I bring the debate back to what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood? I think that the answer which he gave to Lord Arnold was certainly not satisfactory. We are glad to see the noble Viscount again in the House, particularly on occasions of tins kind. I know how much the House often is indebted to his advice upon these matters, but there are one or two points in the statement which he made this afternoon to which I take exception.
In the first place he brought back to my memory the objection which he took himself to dealing with ratification of Conventions in the Assembly in the same way as ratifications of Conventions adopted by the National Labour Office. I am still of opinion that the view which I expressed was accurate, but that does not matter. He expressed an entirely different view. He said you must not have regard to the procedure in the Assembly when you are dealing with the ratification of a Convention of the independent Labour Office. The noble Viscount pointed out that on two important occasions the views expressed by this country to the Assembly were altered with an alteration of Government. I do not quite agree with the way in which he put it, but that does not matter.
310 What I want to ask the noble Viscount is this: Having regard to that risk—which is not an advantage, of course, to international meetings—might we not consider the much less political character of the representatives sent to the Assembly at Geneva by some of the other countries? Take France for example. The representatives of France are not changed every time there is a change of Government. Several of them, to my knowledge and to the knowledge of the noble Viscount, have been there for a large number of years, quite irrespective of the particular Government in power. I do hope that this matter will be very carefully considered. It is a very important matter. It gives an influence both to continuity and to knowledge which you cannot get if you change the complexion of your representation each time there is a change in the political Party Government in our country. That is a point which wants great consideration. But I do not think that it has much to do with the matter which was raised by the noble Lord. Nor do I wish to question what the noble Viscount has said. I agree that there, too, continuity is of great importance; it gives a status and a consideration, an influence and an authority which you really cannot get in any other way
Now let me deal with the particular point which the noble Lord raised. In reference to that I think that in substance the noble Viscount agrees with what the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, has said. He perhaps puts it in somewhat different language, but in substance there is agreement, and it is very important that on these international questions we should, if possible, get agreement on both sides of the House. I am one of those who think that political Party conflicts are carried to an extreme in this country, but at any rate in international matters it is as well, as far as we can, to understand one another, and, if we can, to agree with one another.
What were the two points which the noble Viscount took? There is no difference between him and the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, that the Treaty obligation comes from the two-thirds majority, and, as the noble Viscount has said, supposing that your representative has not been in the two-thirds majority, there is no moral 311 obligation upon the Government of this country to carry out what the Conference has decided. That is quite clear. But that was not the point of the noble Lord, Lord Arnold. His point was this. Supposing your representative did vote in favour—and even, as the noble Viscount, Lord Burnham, has said, after communication and further consideration, and when the matter has been thoroughly thrashed out—is there not something of a moral obligation upon the competent authority, which would be the Government of this country for the time being, to proceed to ratification? Do not let us get troubled about the competent authority point. I believe in every country the competent authority for ratification is the Government.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Well, the Parliament, as here, gives its assent, but Parliament is not generally the ratifying authority. However, I will not go into that discussion. My view of what is meant by the competent authority is that it is the ratifying authority, and the ratifying authority in this country is undoubtedly the Government. Parliament has not got the ratifying authority. Parliament considers the matter, and it is very unusual to ratify without Parliamentary assent; but, as a matter of fact, ratification is a question for the Executive, and not for the Legislature. What does the noble Viscount say? He says that in such a case there is a moral obligation, and he goes further and thinks that the moral obligation is a wide one—that it is a moral obligation which ought to be observed unless you leave a loophole for what he calls exceptional cases. That is really going the whole length of the argument of Lord Arnold. The loophole in exceptional cases, of course, must not be extended to a reconsideration of a matter which has already been adopted, and to which the representatives of this country have already given their assent. I do not think any one would suggest that that is right. If you get all those considerations concurring then there is a very strong moral obligation on this country to go forward to ratification. I do not think the noble Viscount, Lord Burnham, would for a moment differ from that. And the more the noble Viscount 312 presses the view of improved machinery, improved mechanism and procedure, the stronger does he make the case, because he takes away the possibility—I will not say the probability—of what might be called a snatch vote or a snatch idea in a particular case. Therefore I welcome what has been said.
Reference has been made to the number of these International Labour Conventions ratified in this country and in other countries. I had the statistics the other day, and stated them; I do not wish to go into them again. But take one important illustration—the Hours Convention. I do not quite know how it stands now, but, as it did stand, all these important countries—Germany, Italy, France, among others—ratified subject to this, that their ratification would not become binding unless and until this country had also ratified. I do not want to go into matters of controversy, but that was the form of their ratification. Personally, I am grateful for the discussion which has taken place, and I think that the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, has been amply justified, and to a large extent accepted in what the noble Viscount has said.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, there are exceptions to every rule. First of all, let me bring before your Lordships, with reference to this lead paint question, the instance of the Forth Bridge. When they finish painting the Forth Bridge at one end it is time enough to think about painting the other end. I have crossed that bridge very often, and I have seen the workmen washing their hands with soap and water, which is provided, before they begin to eat their luncheon. I will give another instance. I am an early riser, and at present Claridge's Hotel is being painted with the very strongest lead paint. The workmen who are doing that are allowed to go to the washing basins down below, before they take their food, and I have been down there myself and have seen these men washing their hands most carefully before they eat their early morning breakfast. Those are two exceptions that I wish to mention. There are facilities to workmen to wash their hands, and if they wash their hands properly, as they ought to do, they will not suffer from lead paint poisoning with their food.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, before withdrawing my Motion, perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words, because these matters, I think it will be agreed, are of great importance, and probably will not be raised again in your Lordships' House for some time. Before I come to them, perhaps I might be permitted to say in reply to the noble Earl who has just spoken that the views which he has expressed as to the salutary effect of washing the hands are not shared by Sir Thomas Legge, who probably knows much more about this matter than anybody else in this country. He has pointed out all the regulations which would be essential in order to make it reasonably certain—and even then there would be much doubt—that no harm would come from lead paint if they were all conformed to, but there are so many that they would not be carried out. Therefore the regulations—which, after all, are more for interior work than exterior work—are, I am afraid, likely to prove of little or no avail to prevent suffering from lead paint poisoning.
I would like to say at once that I am truly grateful to the noble Viscount. I consider his speech was a great advance, if he will allow me to say so, on the previous position taken up by certain members of the Government and is in pleasant contrast to some of the statements that have been made. For that I thank him very much. He has stressed strongly that there is, generally speaking, a very great moral obligation in regard to a vote given at Geneva for an International Labour Convention, and that is all to the good. Taking two or three of the points in detail, which I think are of sufficient importance, I would like to point out first, with regard to the competent authority, that whatever the position may be in respect to the ratification of League Treaties or League Conventions, I think it is perfectly clear that in reference to International Labour Conventions the competent authority which was intended must, at any rate in the vast majority of cases, be Parliament, because most of these Conventions require legislation. Indeed, the noble Viscount himself did not take up the position that it was not an obligation upon the Government to put the recommendation before Parliament. He said he had some doubt what the words meant.
314 I think it has become increasingly recognised that Parliament is the body, intended and that is being recognised in all countries where there is a Parliament. That was the intention in regard to the special Commission on the, Peace Conference and, so far as this Government are concerned, their own speakers, particularly in reference to the Lead Paint Bill, have on more than one occasion indicated in fact that the competent authority was Parliament. It seems to me that otherwise the matter really is reduced almost to absurdity; for it surely cannot be laid down that the delegates are to come back and merely report to the Governments who send them what has happened. That, it seems to me, would come to little or nothing. The noble Viscount, in quoting from Article 405 said that if on a recommendation no action is taken then the obligation is at an end, or words to that effect. I think what was intended there was that if, on a recommendation, the maority of Parliament, having been advised by their own Government to do that for which the delegates voted, should reject the recommendation there is then no further obligation. I think it must mean that: otherwise it seems to me you are getting into a position almost of absurdity. The clear intention was that in the ordinary case the Convention would be held at Geneva, the recommendation would come back to the home Government, the home Government would advise Parliament to ratify in the ordinary course, and there would be an end.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I am sure he agrees with me. This is a very important matter and we must not get wrong about it. The Treaty obligation, whatever it is, rests on those who take part in the Conference, whether they voted for or whether they voted against the Convention. I think that is quite clear, as long as there is a two-third majority in favour of the Convention.
§ LORD ARNOLD
That is so, but that is not the point with which I was dealing. Strange though it may appear, it may be held there is an obligation on a country whose delegates actually voted against the Convention of still bringing it before Parliament. I understood the noble Viscount to argue that in case 315 a country voted for the Convention, and the matter was brought before Parliament and was defeated, even after recommendation of the Government, that then nothing more would be done—that nothing more would be done if a Convention has been adopted and the country definitely refuses to ratify it. That is not my case. My case is that the Government has recommended Parliament to do precisely the opposite to that for which its delegates voted.
In regard to the records of other countries the noble and learned Lord behind me, Lord Parmoor, has spoken about them, and I do not want to go into the figures now. After all, in Great Britain, we have rather prided ourselves upon the fact that we are more or less the pioneers in these movements for raising the standard of life and, therefore, our record should be better than that of other countries. It may be better than the record of some countries, but there are, I believe, one or two countries whose record is better than ours. I do not want to go into those matters again. I do think the record lately in regard to the two very important Conventions which have been mainly at issue has been anything but satisfactory. As regards the Treaty of Mutual Assistance, which the noble Viscount quoted more than once, of course the procedure there is a different one. That is a League matter: it is not under the International Labour Office procedure and, therefore, the analogy with anything that I have said is not really a complete one.
I now come in conclusion to the noble Viscount, Lord Burnham. He said that Sir Montague Barlow had made certain qualifications. I have dealt with that at great length before. It is true that at the time when he gave his vote Sir Montague Barlow said he did so on the basis of the compromise being a satisfactory one acceptable to all. Those are the words he used. It would take me a long time to go through that matter again. I have done it twice and have never been replied to. I pointed out that it was a general qualification and that Sir Montague Barlow, at the same time that he gave the vote, made a speech most enthusiastically in favour of the Convention, that when he came back to this country he attended a dinner at the 316 Savoy Hotel where he was again most enthusiastic, and that there was no question there of any qualification or of any possibility or likelihood of non-ratification. When Sir Montague Barlow himself came into the House of Commons in 1923 for the long discussion on this matter he did refer to that qualification, I admit, but he did not turn the Convention down; on the contrary, his main basis in regard to the qualification was the Norman Committee. But the Norman Committee, whatever else it said, did really recommend ratification. It cannot now be brought up that that seriously affects the vote which Sir Montague Barlow gave in 1921. To do the Government justice they have not on the last two or three occasions on which this matter has been debated brought up the qualification. They have realised there was no substance in it and have said nothing about it. It has been left to the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Burnham) to bring it up.
Finally, I would say this. Surely a vote is a vote. You cannot do business at Geneva or anywhere else by the qualification of a vote. That is the main point. Whatever the noble Viscount may say, it does not alter the fact that the proposal was made by this country itself. That is where I think the seriousness of the position in regard to lead paint is so strongly emphasised. It will not avail a Member of Parliament when an Election comes to explain upon the platform in regard to a certain vote he had given that he had much doubt about it and that he should not really be held responsible for the vote. I am trying to get a better realisation of the sanctity of the votes given at Geneva and it is because I think that has been achieved to a considerable extent to-day that I thank the noble Viscount. In the circumstances I will not press for Papers. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.