HL Deb 17 November 1927 vol 69 cc112-31

LORD NEWTONasked if it is the case that the Rumanian Government has officially declared that it refuses to submit to the decisions of the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal set up under the Trianon Treaty. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Question, which has been on the Paper for some time, is in itself of a very trivial nature, because it only concerns the question relating to the property of various Hungarians in Transylvania, and the answer to it is obvious. But as a matter of fact very important issues are involved, and it raises a question of very considerable complexity. And the complexity of this matter has been increased owing to the fact that a concurrent agitation, so to speak, has been going on recently advocating the revision of the Treaty of Trianon. I have not a good word to say for the Treaty of Trianon, but at the same time I should like it to be clearly understood that I and the other persons who are interested in this question are not asking for the revision of the Treaty of Trianon; what we are asking for is that the conditions of that Treaty shall be fulfilled.

After the War, as everybody knows, many questions arose regarding the disposal of property of various kinds in the new countries, and in all the Treaties which were signed at Paris articles were introduced safeguarding the property of foreign subjects in the new dominions and Arbitral Tribunals were created in every instance in order to consider this particular subject. These Arbitral Tribunals are functioning in every country in Europe, so far as I know, and their work has been uniformly successful. The particular article in the Trianon Treaty which deals with this question is Article 250, which read as follows:— Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 232 and the annex to Section IV the property, rights and interests of Hungarian nationals or companies controlled by them situated in the territories which formed part of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy shall not be subject to retention or liquidation in accordance with these provisions. Such property, rights and interests shall be restored to their owners freed from any measure of this kind, or from any other measure of transfer, compulsory administration or sequestration, taken since November 3, 1918, until the coming into force of the present Treaty, in the condition in which they were before the application of the measures in question. Claims made by Hungarian nationals under this Article shall be submitted to the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal provided for by Article 239. All that seems perfectly plain; I do not think anything could be plainer.

But I will ask the House to follow exactly what has taken place. The Trianon Treaty was signed in June, 1920, and I may remind the House that we wore parties to that Treaty ourselves. Subsequent to the Treaty the Rumanians passed an agrarian law of a confiscatory character. When the Arbitral Tribunal proposed to set to work upon this question last year the Rumanian Government protested that the Arbitral Tribunal was not competent to deal with this question, although it had been expressly constituted for this particular purpose. On January 10 of this year the Tribunal, after long discussion, affirmed its competence, On January 7 the Rumanians declared officially that they would not submit to the decisions of the Tribunal and announced that they would appeal to the League in virtue of Article 11 of the Covenant, which deals with the danger of war. Later on, on February 24, the Rumanian Government announced that it would withdraw its representative from the Tribunal. In March the League of Nations met, the Rumanians categorically repeated their refusal to submit to the decision and on the same day, March 7, the Hungarians asked that the Rumanian Judge should be replaced by a neutral; but as a compromise and in order to settle the matter as pacifically as possible, they suggested that the question of the competence of the Tribunal should be referred to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. This was at once refused by the Rumanians.

The Hungarians thereupon made a formal request to the League that a neutral substitute should be appointed on the Tribunal at once, otherwise there would be interminable delay. For some reason which I personally am quite unable to understand, this request was refused by the League, and a Committee was appointed, of which Sir Austen Chamberlain was named as the rapporteur. Sir Austen Chamberlain, no doubt very unwillingly and no doubt from a strong desire to settle this matter if he could, accepted this very invidious post and I imagine that he has bitterly regretted it ever since. Then the League adjourned until September, and when September arrived Sir Austen Chamberlain announced the decision of the Committee. The decision amounted to this, that the appeal to the International Court of Justice at The Hague must be refused because the Rumanians objected. But what is far more important is that they laid down the doctrine that the Rumanian agrarian law superseded the Treaty obligations of that country, and that they would only appoint the substitute on the Tribunal asked for on condition that the Hungarians admitted this principle. In other words, they gave the Hungarians their Judge on the condition that judgment went against them. Naturally this offer was refused by the Hungarians, and a deadlock ensued, which remains at the present moment.

I may point out that this deadlock does not exist only in connection with Rumania and Hungary, but it exists everywhere else, because all the other Tribunals are waiting to see what the decision is going to be in this case. This decision of Sir Austen Chamberlain has naturally excited a great deal of surprise, and I might add that it has probably excited a great deal of disquiet as well. Looking at it casually it seems to me ominously reminiscent of the "scrap of paper" theory. But what is more serious, at least so it appears to me as a layman, is that the adoption of the principle that domestic legislation is to supersede and over-ride Treaties is a most dangerous doctrine, and, so far as I know, a new one. If the world is going to accept this doctrine, what becomes of our case against the Soviet Government, or the Mexican Government, or any other predatory Government which proposes to confiscate foreign property? And what an opportunity it affords for the evasion of all Treaty provisions! I can imagine an ingenious Government devising methods by which it would escape paying reparations, or, in fact, doing anything contrary to its own wishes.

It is true that Sir Austen Chamberlain, in making this remarkable decision, announced that it had received the concurrence of a number of legal experts who happened to be present in Geneva at the time. I dare say that he had not much difficulty in obtaining their concurrence, but I need hardly point out that a very short time elapsed before the Hungarians on their part were able to discover any number of far more eminent legal experts who pronounced that their judgment was all wrong, and I hope we may hear something upon this point this afternoon. What I particularly want to elicit from my noble friend Lord Cushendun is why there should be a differentiation between the case of Hungary and Rumania and cases of other countries. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, these Arbitral Tribunals are functioning everywhere and functioning with great success; but there have been numerous occasions upon which their proceedings have been interrupted and it has been necessary to appoint substitutes. I might remind the House that when the French occupied the Ruhr the Germans withdrew their representatives from all the Mixed Arbitral Tribunals. They were at once automatically replaced by neutrals and no harm has resulted at all. But it is not only a case of the Ruhr. There have been cases in connection with the Franco-Hungarian Tribunal, the Franco-Austrian Tribunal, the Franco-Bulgarian Tribunal, the Belgo-Hungarian Tribunal and the Belgo-Austrian and Belgo-Bulgarian Tribunals and many others as well. In each case, as I say, substitutes were appointed automatically and the Tribunals continued to function with perfect efficiency. The system, in fact, has worked remarkably well up to the present moment.

As I stated at the beginning of my remarks, everybody interested is waiting at this moment, and it is easy to see that there are other nations which are only waiting to adopt equally confiscatory measures as soon as they get an opportunity and this case is decided. I do not wish to discuss the legal aspect of the question. I leave that to others who are more competent than I am; but it seems to me that the real gravity of the case is that one of the signatories to a Treaty has taken upon itself to say that it shall be the judge in its own case. It also appears to me that the system of arbitration has received a very serious, if not a fatal blow. Surely it must be obvious to everybody who supports the League of Nations—and everybody professes to be a supporter of the League—that nothing more injurious could happen to it than that there should appear to be any denial of justice. I do not think the position has been much improved by the speech which Sir Austen Chamberlain made in September last, when he openly admitted that his decision had been largely influenced by political considerations.

Those are the facts of the case. Before I conclude my remarks I cannot help expressing the opinion that this action comes with singularly ill-grace from the Rumanian Government. The Rumanian Government is one of those Governments which, to use the language of Mr. Lloyd George, waited to see who was going to win before coming into the War. When the Rumanian Government came into the War they not only met with disaster themselves but they were the means of inflicting very heavy disaster upon the Allied forces generally, because the Germans were able, owing to the much-needed supplies which they obtained from Rumania, to continue the contest much longer than otherwise they would have been able to do. Neither is the post-War history of Rumania one to excite much admiration. Under the guise of suppressing Bolshevism they occupied Hungary and steadily and thoroughly pillaged that unfortunate country for about six months and only left it after they had received about a dozen ultimatums from the Allies at Paris.

I confess that I do not approach this question in as detached a frame of mind as I should like or as perhaps is desirable. It so happens that I have been in Transylvania itself, which is the scene of the present trouble, and I have been a witness with others of the abominable mis-government which takes place in that country. I do not think I am exaggerating when I assert that I do not think there is any district in Europe which is so badly governed, with the exception of Soviet Russia, a country with which I have also some slight acquaintance, as Transylvania. In the circumstances it seems to me that instead of allowing the Rumanian Government to evade their obligations under the Treaty we should be much better occupied in making them carry out the obligations which they solemnly entered into under the Trianon Treaty and fulfil the articles of that Treaty to which we, amongst others, are parties.


My Lords, it would be presumption on my part to complain of my noble friend for having put the Question and made the speech he has addressed to your Lordships. But I hope I may express my regret that he has thought it necessary to do so at this moment, because I gave him notice that it would not be in my power to make any reply on behalf of the Government to the case that he has made. The matter stands in this way. A precisely similar Question was put by my noble friend last May to my noble friend Lord Cecil, who then occupied the office that I have now the honour to fill. In reply to that inquiry he was told that the whole question as between Rumania and Hungary on this matter was sub judice, that it had all been referred to the Council of the League of Nations and that the Foreign Secretary of this country, as he has repeated to your Lordships, was asked to act as rapporteur in the case. The position is precisely the same today as it was then. Owing to delays which I do not think I am called upon to explain, but which are not surprising in the circumstances, the matter has not yet been decided. The Report will come before the Council next month and we hope it will be possible then to have the matter decided one way or the other by the Council.

I hope that your Lordships will take the view I certainly submit to you—that in these circumstances, with our own Foreign Secretary appointed to take judicial action in an international dispute, it would neither be possible nor proper for the Government, in anticipation of what may there occur, to go into the merits of the case and to express any opinion at all. Therefore, I am afraid that all I can do, as I told my noble friend would be the case, is to repeat the statement that was made by my noble friend Lord Cecil in May, that the Government are not yet in a position to give a reply. There is one word I must add to that by way of caution. If I make no reply to my noble friend's speech I hope that no one will suppose that I at all admit or accept the statement he has made as an accurate statement of the facts of the case. In one part of his speech, dealing with the nature of the dispute, he said that up to the present point all is perfectly clear. I have tried to get to the bottom of this extremely complex and difficult dispute, and I have found no part of it yet which could be described as perfectly clear. It appears to me to be fraught with every conceivable sort of tangle and complexity of Treaties and counter-Treaties and to require the most careful judicial investigation and decision. I therefore must not be taken as accepting either the facts of the case as detailed by my noble friend or the decisions which have been taken by the various bodies before whom this dispute has come up to the present time.


My Lords, I feel sure that every one would be anxious to avoid causing unnecessary embarrassment to the Government's conduct of these delicate and difficult proceedings, but I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord who has just sat down has overlooked the Question which formed the text for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for the Question asks a perfectly simple matter. It asks if it be the case "that the Rumanian Government has officially declared that it refuses to submit to the decisions of the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal set up under the Trianon Treaty." That is a matter which the Government can answer without any difficulty or embarrassment whatever, but the noble Lord has deftly, and probably designedly, avoided even referring to the form of the Question which the noble Lord has just asked.

He has pointed out to us that the matter is, as he calls it, sub judice. There is nothing sub judice in it. It is a simple question of fact. I think it may very well be that the matter to come before the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal is one upon which we ought not prematurely to express any opinion, but I cannot quite agree with the noble Lord that this matter is involved in such mystery and complexity, for, as I understand it, the proposition is reasonably plain. Hungary presents a spectacle which I think must call for the pity of us all. It was a nation with whom we had no manner of quarrel from beginning to end and when War concluded I very much doubt if there was any person in this country who entertained the slightest feeling of hostility towards people who had formerly been members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Our relations remained unharmed by the horrors and excesses of the War, and the Peace, which by universal tradition is supposed to assume the aspect of a dove, descended upon Hungary in the form of a vulture and tore her limb from limb, tore her in pieces without the least regard to the economic interests of what were left and left this unhappy country absolutely paralysed and impotent in the face of ancient and determined foes.

What the noble Lord has said is perfectly true. She first of all suffered depredations from a victorious enemy and then she had the humiliation of having to undergo the régime of the Bolsheviks. But the unfortunate country when it suffered the excesses of the Peace Treaty was surely at least at liberty to rely upon the provisions that that Treaty had created in its favour. Why I think this matter is reasonably plain is because when those provisions are examined it seems perfectly clear that there is a case for discussion. What the merits may be, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, is not for us to say, but there is a matter for discussion, a matter for judgment, and that is what it is that Hungary seeks to assert.

The Peace Treaty contained many other provisions, against one of which I have never ceased to protest. It was the provision that expropriated within the territory of any Allied country all the property of the people who were called ex-enemy aliens. I need not hesitate to refer to my protests here, because your Lordships' House passed a Resolution requiring a material modification of the terms of that Treaty in favour of the enemy aliens, but recognising that the clause was directed only against enemy aliens who possessed property in one of the allied countries as constituted at the outbreak of war, there was a provision inserted that this clause should not apply in cases where new national boundaries were created. It is in relation to precisely that case that this question has arisen. Part of the Hungarian territory was taken away and was possessed and occupied by Rumania, and what has happened, as I understand it, is that an agrarian law has been passed in Rumania which enables acquisitions to be made of the big landed estates there on certain terms of valuation which it is wholly unnecessary to discuss.

It sought to apply that to the property of people who were formerly Hungarian subjects, and they say: "No, we are entitled by virtue of the Treaty to retain rights in that property, which you cannot get round by passing a domestic Act of Parliament which gives us something less than the full value of our estate." I repeat that that is a question upon which I do not intend for a moment to pass an opinion, but I say it is eminently a case to be decided and the Peace Treaty set up the very Tribunal for the purpose of determining this kind of question. It was the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, which was to be established by the appointment of a representative from each of the two disputing countries with an independent Chairman. It is to this Tribunal that the Hungarians seek to refer this question, and it is, as I understand it, from that Tribunal that the Rumanian Government has withdrawn their representative, so that the Tribunal cannot function. So far as that is concerned that appears to me a perfectly simple, plain, comprehensible question that is not involved or entangled with any of the difficulties to which the noble Lord referred. All that the Question asked was: Is it the fact, is it true that this Tribunal has been rendered incapable of functioning by virtue of the Rumanians removing their appointed representative from its body?

I am not so sure that the matter quite ends there. The noble Lord has said that this Question was asked in May and that nothing has happened since. Is that the case? It may be so. I should like to know for certain whether it is. Is not this what has occurred? In the event of one of the disputing parties declining to put their representative on this Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, the Council of the League of Nations has the power to appoint one in its place. Is it not the fact that Hungary has applied to the Council of the League and asked that such representative should be appointed in the circumstances that have arisen, and is it not true that the Council has referred this to a Committee, which reported in September of this year that they would only do that in the event of the Hungarians accepting the statement of the law that the Committee itself prepared? If that is the case the Council of the League, as it seems to me, has taken upon itself a duty which is entirely outside the provisions of the Treaty and never was contemplated. Their function was to appoint the arbitrator. Their function was not to impose terms upon the person who asked them that such an arbitrator should be appointed and it was the function of the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal to determine this question. I cannot see by what means it is possible to avoid that conclusion.

I have most carefully avoided saying anything about the merits of the dispute. It may well be, when the matter is argued before this Tribunal, that the Hungarians will be found to be wrong. It may be that what they believe to be the protection given them by the Treaty of Trianon has in the result been taken away. That is not a matter for us to consider or discuss. The thing which I think is of the greatest consequence is that in a question of this kind the League of Nations should act in strict accordance with the duties that are established by the Covenant by which it is set up, and that we should do all in our power to support the League in order that its authority may be unimpeached and its reputation undimmed.


My Lords, I have listened to the debate, and I have listened to my noble friend Lord Buck-master, and I am not sure that I take quite the highly-coloured view that he does on the position of Hungary. Hungary is a nation, it is quite true, with which we are at profound peace, and Hungary is a nation against whom we have no grievance and no criticism other than that she is singularly bad at getting on with her neighbours. If you ask the rest of the Jugo-Slavs you will hear a good deal about that. That has nothing whatever to do with the Question we are discussing, nor has it to do with it that Rumania also, according to the information which I have accumulated, has been anything but an easy neighbour for Hungary in their transactions. None of that touches the points which Lord Buckmaster made and in which I find myself in the main in agreement with him. It began with the Question which my noble friend Lord Newton put, which was, in effect, whether Rumania had declined to recognise the jurisdiction of the Tribunal and to have anything to do with it. Then there was the second question, whether this was such a question as would naturally go to the Arbitral Tribunal and whether it was not in the power of the Council of the League to appoint somebody to take the place of the missing arbitrator.

It seems to me that both these are simple questions on which the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, could properly have given us information. He made a temperate speech, well worded, a speech which makes one look forward to other parts which he may take in the debates before this House, but though I appreciated the tone of Lord Cushendun's speech, I do not think that he made an answer to the point which Lord Newton has put before us rather forcibly to-day. I think we owe a good deal to Lord Newton for having brought this matter up. I am quite aware of the difficulties of Sir Austen Chamberlain. I am quite aware of the inexpediency of saying a word which could pre-judge the issue which has to be determined. But on the other hand, it is a matter about which we are entitled to be informed, whether Rumania has made the refusal which is referred to in Lord Newton's Question. We are entitled to be informed why the Council of the League thought it right to take this somewhat circuitous method of coming to a conclusion instead of simply appointing another arbitrator. I only wish to add that, although this is a small question, it is one which has caused a great deal of interest in this country and to which a great deal of attention has been given. I do not see that the volume of that interest and attention is diminishing, and although I appreciate the reserve with which Lord Cushendun has spoken, I think it is desirable that the British public should be informed as to what is the real situation.


My Lords, I do not profess that I shall be able to add anything to what Lord Buckmaster has so very well stated upon the Question of my noble friend Lord Newton, which seems to me to be a very simple Question. I am very sorry so early in his career in this House to differ from my noble friend regarding the action he has taken as representing the Government, but I think it is a very disappointing thing on a question of this kind, which rouses the most intense national feeling, naturally, upon the part of Hungarians, and no doubt upon the part of others who under the Treaty of Trianon are similarly situated in relation not to Rumania but to other countries, to be told that we ought to be satisfied with an answer that was given as far back as the month of May, this being the month of November.

I think it would be a great mistake to attempt in any wise to press the case of Hungary upon the merits. I am certainly not competent to do so. I know that very eminent lawyers have given opinions—I have one in my hand at the present moment—upon the meaning of the Treaty. I dare say the Rumanian Government may have had certain opinions given to them in a different direction from that which I hold myself and that which I know very eminent men in this country who are acquainted with International Law and who are accustomed to consider Treaties hold. But that is not the question. The claim of Hungary—and I think it is an unanswerable claim—is: We want to have our case tried under the Treaty which took away our lands. The Treaty is good enough to give possession of the lands to the Rumanians. They took the lands upon the conditions of the Treaty. Hungary alleges that while they keep the lands they refuse to carry out the other parts of the Treaty, and all Hungary asks is that the Tribunal which is set up under the Treaty should decide. Was there ever a more reasonable request? Surely to goodness if the League of Nations are not able to do that much, or are not able to support a Tribunal set up by themselves for the purpose of carrying out the Treaty, one begins to despair as to what the League of Nations can ever do at all.

The questions asked are simple and we might very well get an answer to them on this occasion. The first is: Have the Hungarians asked to be heard? Secondly, was there a Tribunal set up under the Treaty by the League of Nations? Thirdly, the moment it was set up did the Rumanians say, "Although we will keep the land under the Treaty we refuse to recognise the Tribunal"? Is that true? Did they then in order to enforce that view withdraw their representative? These are all more or lees ancient facts now. They have nothing to do with anything that is sub judice at the present time. Is it also true that, as a sort of compromise to bring about peace, Sir Austen Chamberlain and a Committee were asked to make a certain Report? I do not know. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the methods of the League of Nations, as to their ways of getting out of appointing members of the Tribunal under the plain terms of the Treaty. But was it done, and if it was done is it a fact that in September the Committee presided over by Sir Austen Chamberlain reported that a Judge ought to be appointed presuming that the Hungarian Government were willing to admit that they were bound by the domestic laws of Rumania? I do not know whether that Report was ever made. I do not know how such a Report could ever come to be made. I do not know how any nation could be asked to accept such a Report because what it means is this: Do you admit that the Rumanians had the power to do what they did do?—which is the question that the Hungarians asked to have tried, and which they were willing to submit to the Tribunal, accepting whatever was decided.

All these seem to me to be very plain questions. I think the public ought to know them, but where the facts can be found I do not know. I have a very strong suspicion that it is one of the weaknesses of the League of Nations that it will always yield to a greater Power, and I think that at the very outset of these proceedings of the League of Nations this House, this country and the Government of this country ought to proclaim that they will see fair play in the carrying out of these Treaties for the people whose territory has been handed over, though I understand that they were allowed to maintain their Hungarian nationality. It is all very well for Rumania, for Sir Austen Chamberlain and for other nations to say these things, but the people who are suffering from day to day are the Hungarians, whose claim is that they should be heard. That claim has been refused.


My Lords, I think the answer to the observation made by Lord Cushendun, that the Question put in May and then answered ought not to have been pressed in November, is that since the Question was asked in May something has been done, and something prejudicial to the Hungarians, which possibly might have been prevented if my noble friend Lord Newton had not been put off asking his Question in May, The noble Lord who has answered for the Government has said that there is great uncertainty about these facts, great difficulty and great complexity. I take leave to say that there is no difficulty and no complexity except for those who want to have it made complicated. Of course it is a familiar device of the injuring person to establish a sort of cuttlefish fluid around the facts. The facts, as Lord Buckmaster and others have stated, are quite simple. I have them all here under my hand, and I have verified them.

The Hungarians had a right under the Treaty of Trianon to bring a question of this kind before the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal. The Mixed Arbitral Tribunal did not decide it, but they decided that they had competence or jurisdiction to decide it, and thereupon, on that preliminary point, the Rumanian Government withdrew its arbitrator. To complete the Tribunal it was necessary to have a substitute. Provision was made under the Treaty of Trianon by which that substitute should be appointed, or two persons from whom a substitute could be chosen could be appointed, by the League of Nations, and the Hungarian Government went to the Council of the League of Nations and asked it to perform that duty which it was requested by the Treaty of Trianon to perform. The Rumanians protested, and the Hungarian Government then went below its strict rights and suggested that the Permanent Court of International Justice should be asked whether they were, in the terms of the Treaty, right or wrong.

Then a most remarkable thing happened. Sir Austen Chamberlain said: "You cannot go to the Permanent Court of International Justice unless the Rumanians agree to go there." But Article 15 of the Covenant, the very Article that the noble Lord was relying upon last night, decides that you can make a unilateral application, that it is possible for the Council to refer a matter that has been brought before it unilaterally to the Permanent Court of International Justice. There is an excellent precedent for this in a case which I am shortly going to mention—that of the German farmers in Poland. I cannot see why this procedure was not followed. However, this proposal was dropped for the moment and then the Hungarian Government went back upon their rights and asked for the appointment of a Judge. Instead of a Judge being appointed, they were told: "We will appoint a Judge only if you will consent that the Judge shall have his hands tied by some previous proposition of law"—the very thing that he was there to try. I cannot understand, except on the view that it was a very awkward job and the sooner they washed their hands of it the better, why the members of the Committee of the League of Nations did not at once proceed to do their business.

This has now been a matter of international discussion, and international legal discussion, for a long period of time. Most eminent lawyers, not only in this country but in others, have given their opinion upon it. There are Mr. Vaughan Williams and Sir Frederick-Pollock, names which are known all over Europe and the United States for competency in International Law. There is Dr. Bellot, also a very competent international jurist, and we have since had the opinion of Sir John Simon and of Mr. Sutton on a similar point. Then there is M. Pillet, a distinguished Parisian lawyer, and I think I am right in naming also M. Lapradelle, who was sent by the French Government as their representative on the Committee which constituted the Permanent Court of International Justice. All these men have expressed their opinion that the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal had jurisdiction or competence to hear this question. They have not expressed their opinion that the Tribunal had to decide it in any particular manner. The Hungarians may be wrong, and very possibly arc, but all these great lawyers have agreed that it is within the competence of the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal to decide this question, and they ought to be allowed to decide it.

Before I sit down I want to know what is the distinction between this case and the Polish case. In Poland there were a large number of very aggravating German settlements put there by the Germans with a view to the Germanisation of Prussian Poland. These farmers were encouraged to settle there on very easy terms by the German Government. The Poles wanted to get rid of them, and they passed an agrarian law the effect of which was to turn out all these German farmers, who had only inchoate rights and had not paid all their money. The law was carefully drawn to touch them. The Germans complained. This was at a time when Germany was not a Member of the League of Nations—unlike Hungary, which is a Member—and they got their complaint heard by the Council. The Poles said, just as the Rumanians say now: "This is a matter of internal legislation; it is our agrarian law." What did the Council do? It sent the matter to the Permanent Court of International Justice. The Court heard it and said that the Poles were wrong and that this was only a device to injure the German minority, who were protected. Thereupon the Poles, though they could not reinstate the farmers because they had put other tenants in, consented to have determined by the Council of the League the amount of damages that they were to pay.

I speak with great knowledge on the subject because at the time the Labour Government was in power the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, asked me to take his place for the moment as representative on the Council of the League and, with the Brazilian and Italian representatives, we sat in Paris and arrived at a determination which was ultimately worked out as to the amount of compensation to be paid to these German farmers in Poland. I fail to see the difference between the case of the German farmers in Poland and the Hungarian landowners in Transylvania. By hook or by crook it seems to me that they ought to have their case heard, and, strictly speaking, they are entitled to be heard by the Mixed Arbitral Tribunal. If there be a question whether that Tribunal is competent, then it should go before the Permanent Court of International Justice.


My Lords, I am sure you will sympathise with me, because in the first place I know nothing about the question on which I am going to say a word in a moment, except what I have learnt from this debate, and in the second place I find the Government are the object of an attack by four of the most eminent ornaments of the highest Court of Justice in the Kingdom. It is a very serious thing to get up and express, upon a question which they declare to be a legal question, any opinion which is inconsistent with what they have stated. As everybody who knows me is aware, I have the most profound respect for the legal intellect, but I am not sure that the legal intellect has been displaying itself to the best advantage in the course of this debate.

What is the position? The position is that the representative of the Government who speaks for the League of Nations has got up and clearly indicated to your Lordships that this is an extremely complicated question, and a question which with all its complications is going to be thoroughly investigated by a competent Tribunal in about three weeks' or a month's time. Thereupon four of the most eminent legal authorities in the world get up and explain that the matter is as simple as possible, and that you have only got to say "Yes" or "No" to a series of questions—hardly any of which, I may say, are on the Paper—and everything will be plain. I used to be told that nothing was more misleading than to suppose that every question that could be put could have a perfectly clear answer given to it, "Aye," or "No." Everybody is aware that there are innumerable questions which cannot be answered "Aye" or "No" without leaving a very misleading impression upon those who listen to that answer.

My noble friend near me, who is acquainted with this problem, tells me that this question cannot be answered quite simply, clearly and explicitly, so as to cause no misapprehension in your Lordships' House or in the mind of the public who read our debates by simply an answer of "Aye" or "No." But if your Lordships can restrain your impatience for three weeks or a month it then appears that you would, with full knowledge, be able to say what questions could be answered simply "Aye" or "No," and what questions would require qualification or amplification in order to make their real bearing known to the public. Surely the legal talent in this House can restrain its impatience for that time. We cannot, I am told, give your Lordships any further information on the present occasion, and in those circumstances I hope that none of the eminent and learned noble Lords who have spoken to-day, and certainly no other member of the House, will think I am guilty of any disrespect either to them or to the cause that they are advocating, if I venture to suggest that we had better refrain from further debate on this subject until we are able to debate it with full knowledge.


My Lords, it is only the fact that I am not a lawyer which emboldens me to rise after that appeal. The noble Earl has told us to restrain our impatience, on the ground that this matter is going to be investigated, I understand, by a competent legal tribunal in the course of a few weeks. Most unfortunately that is precisely what we learn from, the Official Report of the Council of the League of Nations is not going to happen, and the simple point which noble and learned Lords have been trying to impress upon the attention of the Government is that a matter, a complicated matter doubtless, which dons require legal sifting, seems to be deprived of any chances of ever being sifted at all upon what I venture to suggest are the legal grounds which alone should apply to it.

May I briefly put what seems to the ordinary unlearned reader of the Reports of the Council of the League to be the clear sequence of events? Here was primâ facie evidence that a wrong had been done, contrary to the provisions of the Treaty of Trianon. Here was a Tribunal set up by that Treaty which was the proper body to sift these things, and if it were going to sift them all of us would be well content. The action of that Tribunal is paralysed for the moment by the withdrawal on the part of the Rumanians of their representative. It was within the power, and it had been the practice, of the Council of the League of Nations, in such a case, to set the Tribunal upon its legs again by the appointment of another member of the Tribunal. That simple course, after prolonged debate, the Council of the League of Nations has omitted to take, and it was conveyed to us that they refused to do so not because of any consideration of the rights or wrongs of this matter, but because of larger political considerations beyond it, which affected the peace of Europe.

I am not going to ask what those considerations are. I am sure they are weighty ones, but on the other hand, may I venture to say this, that, apart from any legal wrong done, surely from the point of view of international politics it is a grave and, if a necessary, a most melancholy step, that this plain question of legal right or wrong should apparently be kept from coining before the Courts that are competent to decide it, for fear of what the consequences might be of faithfully adhering to, and enforcing, the provisions of the Treaty. I have some idea of what the difficulties are to which the Foreign Secretary, to whom all supporters of the League are most grateful for the work he is doing on the Council of the League, has alluded, but at least we would ask that the Government would bear in mind, and would cause to be represented in the Council of the League, what grave consequences the course now being pursued by that Council is likely to have, not only upon opinion in Hungary but in other countries as well, in regard both to the belief which those countries hold in the capacity and the reliability of the League of Nations, and in the respect which they will hereafter entertain for the Treaties by which they and we are bound.


My Lords, I cannot pretend that I am disappointed with the result of the discussion, because I never imagined that I should get any satisfactory statement, so to speak, out of the Government, but I think my noble friend Lord Balfour somewhat incorrectly described the discussion. He complained that a concerted attack had been made upon the Government by four most eminent lawyers. I submit with respect that nothing of the kind has taken place. There has been no attack upon the Government at all. There has been criticism—not, I hope, of too unfriendly a kind—of Sir Austen Chamberlain and the League of Nations. Sir Austen Chamberlain is not here to give his own explanation of his position, and apparently has not thought it worth while to take the trouble to instruct anyone here to speak for him, and therefore we remain as we were. Personally I am at the end of my resources. I have made two attempts to elicit information, and there is nothing more to be done as far as I am concerned. But I do take some consolation from this fact, that, strange though it may sound, the debates in this place on foreign questions are followed with great attention on the Continent, and I am convinced that what has been said here this afternoon has not been a waste of time. I cherish the hope that the views which have been expressed by the eminent lawyers already alluded to will carry some weight in other countries besides this, and that they may exercise some effect on the ultimate decision of the League of Nations in regard to this matter.