§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, after the announcement that has just been made by my noble friend the Leader of the House, I shall not say anything about the death of Lord Oxford and Asquith, except to express my deep sense of the irreparable loss which the country and this House have suffered and my profound feeling of the sense of personal bereavement which many of your Lordships will experience. I rise to move the Resolution which stands in my name on Paper—That this House hopes that His Majesty's Government will press forward a policy of international disarmament and will, after consulting the 105 Dominions, accept the jurisdiction of the Permanent, Court of International Justice in justiciable disputes by signing the Optional Clause, I wish to make this quite clear at the very outset, that my Motion is not in any sense designed as a vote of censure on His Majesty's Government. That is very far from the purpose with which I have brought it before your Lordships. My object is simply to have an opportunity of presenting to your Lordships the case for an advance in international disarmament, and, if I am so fortunate as to secure the sympathy of your Lordships in that policy, we hope it may not be without effect on the policy of His Majesty's Government.
It is sometimes suggested that in advocating international co-operation, whether by the League of Nations or by disarmament, we who feel strongly on that point are not perhaps following in the strict traditions of the Conservative Party. I really think there is no foundation whatever for any such charge. I happened the other day to come across an extract from a speech made by the late Lord Salisbury in 1897, and it appears to me so germane to these discussions that I shall, if your Lordships will permit me, read the extract from that speech which I think may well form the text, of the observations which I wish to address to your Lordships. Lord Salisbury had been discussing the then Balkan situation and defending the Concert of Europe, as it was then called—he prefers to call it, I observe, the Federation of Europe—from various charges of slowness and inability to deal with the matter, and he proceeded in these words:—But remember this, that this Federation of Europe is the embryo of the only possible structure of Europe which can save civilisation from the desolating effects of a disastrous war. You notice"—this was in the year 1897—that on all sides the instruments of destruction, the piling up of armaments, are becoming larger and larger, the powers of concentration are becoming greater, the instruments of death more active and more numerous and are improved with every year, and each nation is bound for its own safety's sake to take part in this competition, These are the things which are done, so to speak, on the side of war. The only hope that we have to prevent this competition from ending in a terrible effort of mutual destruction, which will be fatal to 106 Christian civilisation—the one hope we have is that the Powers may gradually be brought together to act together in a friendly spirit on all questions of difference which may arise until at last"—I call your Lordships' special attention to these words—they shall be welded in some international constitution which shall give to the world as the result of their great strength a long spell of unfettered and prosperous trade and continued peace.In that utterance there are two points. There is the statement, the very strong statement before the event—and therefore all the more valuable on that account—that the competition of armaments was a terrible danger to peace, that it must result in a destructive war; and secondly, that the only remedy for that state of things was some international organisation which should be able to order international affairs, in Europe at any rate, better than heretofore.
I am not going to trouble your Lordships with any argument on the first proposition. I am going to assume for the purposes of what I am going to say to-night, that the late Lord Salisbury was perfectly right in saying that competition of armaments was a grave and serious danger and that that danger, though certainly not so great as it was then, still exists and still requires the earnest attention of the Governments of the countries of the world. But I do want to say this about it, that I most heartily agree with what has constantly fallen from my right hon, friend the Foreign Secretary—and other members of the Government I think, but I am sure that he has often given utterance to that opinion—that moral and material disarmament must proceed together, that you cannot hope for a great reduction in the armaments of the nations of the world unless you can diminish or remove that sense of fear and suspicion, culminating in a sense of hostility and jealousy between the countries, which is the true foundation on which armaments are built. And the utterance that I have just read from the late Lord Salisbury in every respect confirms this. Therefore I do feel and I do submit to your Lordships that if we are to make progress in the direction of material disarmament—and without that peace cannot be secure—we must also make 107 progress in the direction of moral disarmament at the same time and pari passu with any efforts we may make towards material disarmament. And for this moral disarmament, this appeasement of the feelings between nations, I think international arbitration—using the word arbitration in the largest possible sense, that of pacific settlement of international disputes—is an essential ingredient.
We cannot conceive of any real moral disarmament unless the nations abandon the idea—diminish the idea at any rate—of fighting with one another. You may put it in another way: if you are going to take away war as a means of settling disputes between nations, you must supply some other means of achieving the same end, or achieving that which war at any rate pretends to achieve—namely, the settlement of international disputes. When a dispute takes place between two nations, there are only the traditional three courses, as it seems to me, open. Of course there is the attempt to put an end to a dispute by agreement. I am not considering that; we are all agreed that that should be done if possible, that every effort should be made to bring the nations to an agreement. That is the ordinary process of diplomacy. It is the business for which all Foreign Offices exist, it is continually going on in Europe and in the world, and I am only dealing with the case where agreement has turned out to be impracticable. How is the dispute then to be settled? There is, of course, war, or the threat of war. I treat those as the same thing, because I submit that nothing is more disastrous than to utter threats in international matters unless you are prepared to carry them out, and if you are to threaten war that means that you are in certain events prepared to go to war, and it is therefore only an inchoate form of war. It is really settlement by force and violence, and not settlement by any species of agreement. I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with any argument to show that that is an extraordinarily bad and futile form of settling disputes. It is almost incredible that it should have gone on so long.
When you look at the nominal cause of the Great War—I agree there were deeper underlying causes—it was a dispute as to the exact terms of compensation 108 which were to be made by Serbia to Austria for a murder. There was no dispute that some compensation must be made and no dispute about the main terms; but some details could not be adjusted and the consequence was that 10,000,000 people were killed, many millions more were maimed, and many millions more were wounded, the whole commercial and economic structure of the world was overset and all for what appeared at any rate to be a fantastically inadequate cause. I do not think it is necessary, it would be insulting to your Lordships, for me to develop that theme any further. We are all agreed that something better than war ought now to be devised, if it can be.
There is another course that may be taken with an international dispute. It may not be settled; it may be hung up. I do not think that is a good plan. It has happened sometimes, and happened with considerable success sometimes; but I venture to submit to your Lordship that it is always a dangerous expedient and commonly a disastrous expedient. I will take what is in some ways a favourable example, the dispute between Britain and France over the Newfoundland fishery. I do not know, but there may be some of your Lordships who can say what the exact dispute was. I am certainly not one of them, but it lasted, I think, for more than a century, if I remember aright. It is true that it never brought us near to war with France, but I venture to say this, which I could not prove without a very elaborate examination of history, but I believe it is true all the same, that during all the time that dispute existed it was a focus of ill-feeling. Whenever our relations with France began to get tense the existence of that dispute added something to the tension. Whenever they seemed to be getting better the dispute retarded the improvement. Certain it is, though it may have been only accidental, that the definite improvement of our relations with France coincided more or less with the settlement of that lengthy dispute.
I need not go back into history for disputes. There are disputes which are at present unsettled between different countries in Europe. There is the dispute between Poland and Lithuania. There is the dispute between Hungary and Rumania. There is the dispute or 109 the difference and difficulty between Italy and Jugo-Slavia. I am certain that no one connected with foreign affairs will say for a moment that it is in the interests of peace and good relations between countries that those disputes should continue, but that, on the contrary, it is the first duty of Foreign Ministers to take every opportunity they can to bring about a settlement of those differences. So that I think the plan of leaving disputes unsettled must also be ruled out as a proper way of dealing with international disputes.
What, then, remains? Is there any way except arbitration in some form? I am not aware of any way. Very recently, as your Lordships are aware, the Government issued a Memorandum defining their attitude on arbitration and security. I have nothing to say about security—it does not come out of my Motion—but I may be allowed to say in a sentence that I do not wish to offer any criticism as to what they have said about security. But about arbitration I feel certainly that the result is an unhappy one and I will ask your Lordships and the Government, if they will be good enough, to follow what I am about to say, to see what exactly, as far as I can understand it, is the attitude which we have taken up on this matter. In the first place, I understand the Government to approve in principle of arbitration in particular cases. They have often said so. I do not find anything to contradict their statement in the Paper and I assume that that is still their view. Indeed, the Paper obviously implies it, I think, in more than one passage. Indeed, we could not take, and no British Ministry could possibly take, any, other attitude. We have been pioneers in international arbitration. We were parties to the first considerable international arbitration that ever took place, I believe at the end of the eighteenth century. Since that time we have engaged in arbitration, as far as I can make out from the figures—they are not very easy to get at—a great many more times than, approaching to twice as many times as, any other nation. It is, therefore, impossible for any British Government to say a word against arbitration in particular cases.
When this subject was discussed a week ago something was said about the 110 Alabama case, My noble friend Lord Parmoor cited it as a good example of a case where arbitration, though the result was not popular in this country, was yet accepted. My noble friend Lord Cushendun said that in considering the Alabama case we must always remember that the issues had been very much narrowed by displomatic action before it was heard. My noble friend Lord Haldane supported that view by calling attention to what, I think, he said was the difficulty of getting rid of the indirect claims. It seems a very bold thing for me to say, but I cannot help thinking that both my noble friends were a little bit misled about what actually happened in the Alabama case. I have tried to look it up, and, as I understand, what happened was this. There had been a continuous diplomatic exchange about the Alabama claims for six or seven years, causing very considerable bitterness between the countries. A suggestion was then made by the British Government that we should go to arbitration and, at the request of the American Government, a Submission was in form drawn up reciting the particular cases, and then there were some general words at the end about any claims which might be put forward in International Law.
I am bound to say I think it was true that we believed that nothing except the Alabama and the case of its consorts was coming before the Tribunal. But that was not the view taken by the American Government, and in their case before the Alabama Tribunal they put forward the whale thing, including both the claim with regard to the premature recognition of the Confederation and the so-called indirect claims to which my noble friend Lord Haldane referred. They were all there, and they claimed them as coming under the general phrases about International Law. The British Government protested, but they did not withdraw from the arbitration. On the contrary, they put in an answer. Then, at the first meeting of the Arbitral Tribunal, a very remarkable thing happened. The President of the Arbitral Tribunal took the opportunity of saying to the representatives of the two parties that he was not going to attempt any interpretation of the words of the Submission, but that the Tribunal (including the American member of it) had 111 unanimously arrived at the conclusion that the indirect claims—including everything, that is, except the actual claim for damage by the Alabama and her consorts—did not constitute, upon the principles of International Law applicable to such cases, a good foundation for an award or computation of damages between nations, and it was then and in consequence of that expression of opinion that the Americans withdrew all their claims, excepting claims for the damages caused by the actual ships themselves.
So far from this being a case where diplomacy first narrowed the issue and then arbitration took place, what happened was that diplomacy had completely failed, that the parties were absolutely apart, and until they came before the Arbitral Tribunal there was no hope even of getting a reasonable discussion. But the moment they got there the first thing the Arbitral Tribunal said was: "This is an absurd claim as it stands; you must cut it down to reasonable limits and then we can discuss it from a business point of view." They did so discuss it and arrived at a decision on the question of damages which may or may not have been excessive—T do not know anything about that—but which was a reasonable and a fair decision. I venture respectfully to say that, so far from there being any qualification to be made in citing the Alabama case as an excellent instance of arbitration, you could not find in the whole history of arbitration a better instance of how admirably arbitration works and what an excellent plan it is for smoothing over and deciding even the most bitter disputes.
Next the Government say that they approve of general arbitration treaties for other more fortunate countries—those are the words used—but they do not think that they can adopt them themselves. It would be quite impossible for a British Government, I venture to say, to take any other attitude so far as approving arbitration between other countries is concerned. At Locarno they had not only approved such a general treaty but they guaranteed it. Locarno, as your Lordships will perhaps remember, consists in an engagement between France and Germany—I take those two, but there were others—absolutely to abide by a decision of all legal or justiciable 112 cases between them. All questions of right are to be submitted to arbitration by the Permanent Court of International Justice or some other similar court and the decision is to be accepted by the two parties. In addition to that, so that it was as general as signing the Optional Clause as between France and Germany, they undertook that they would submit to conciliation and ultimately to the Council of the League any other cases and that whatever happened they would not go to war about it. That is the material difference and the great improvement which the draftsman of the Memorandum has, I think, a little overlooked—the great improvement on the system that exists between any other Members of the League.
I do not want to be unduly critical, but I confess I am a little puzzled by this phrase, that the system of arbitration may be applicable to other countries who are more fortunate than ourselves but is not applicable to us. Let me read the exact expression:—As nations get to understand each other better, as the respect for International Law gets stronger, and as a sense of security increases, it will become more easy for States—even for those whose interests are world-wide—to accept comprehensive engagements to arbitrate justiciable disputes. Some States are already in that fortunate position. Others less fortunate must approach thereto by degrees.I do not quite understand what that phrase means. It certainly appears to suggest that we are rather inferior to other countries in understanding other countries, that we have not got so great a respect for International Law and that our sense of security is less than theirs. I can scarcely think that is what my noble friends really mean, but I should be very grateful to them if they would point out what they really do mean by the phrase "less fortunate" as applied to ourselves.
Though the Government approve arbitration in particular cases and approve general treaties of arbitration applied to other countries but not ourselves, they then go on to reject for us all general treaties of arbitration, even those which only apply to justiciable disputes and all treaties of every kind, general or specific—that is to say, general or bilateral or anything in the nature of what is called "all-in" arbitration. The most they will hear of in those cases 113 is conciliation. I do not want to decry conciliation in any way. I am sure that it is better than nothing. All Members of the League of Nations have a machinery of conciliation in the Council of the League and that has been very often employed. Beyond that I am bound to say that as far as my researches have gone the history of conciliation treaties has been rather unproductive. There are a great many such treaties. There are all the group of treaties known as the Briand Treaties and there are other treaties all providing for conciliation and nothing more. My noble friends will correct me if I am wrong, but so far as I can find out none of those treaties has ever been used at all. I may be wrong; there may be cases that I have overlooked; but, broadly speaking, it is true that, though conciliation has been agreed on beforehand, it has generally not been employed when it comes to the point. One can understand that because when it comes to the point people are angry and think conciliation is no good and as they are not bound to have any arbitration, are not bound to do anything, they just put aside conciliation and nothing happens. At any rate that is what has happened so far as I know.
The Government, therefore, rejects arbitration in general treaties and arbitration whether on justiciable or non-justiciable disputes and it gives, I think I am right in saying, substantially the same reason in both cases. Indeed the one falls with the other. There is a rather mysterious reason, to which Lord Parmoor alluded the other day, about oar relations with other countries—that our relations are such with some countries that we might agree to arbitration whereas with others we could not agree to it and therefore that is a good reason against any general treaty of arbitration. I am bound to say I do not quite follow that reasoning. Assume our relations are good with another country that is no reason making it more important to have arbitration. If anything it is a reason for making it less important, for we are less likely to get into dispute. It is a good thing to have it—I am not suggesting for a moment it is not—but I do not see that it is a reason for having it with that country more than with a country which is in less good relations with us. 114 On the contrary, I should think that the other was the more reasonable conclusion. Or take the case of one country being less trustworthy than another. Even so, I should think that it is all to the good that we should obtain a legal decision upholding our rights, if we are right, or a legal decision pointing out we have not any rights and, therefore, that we had better pay in accordance with justice, if that is to be the case. I do not see that the character, so to speak, of the other party to the arbitration has much to do with it, but there again I may have, misunderstood the point that is intended to be made.
In any case, I do not think that that argument of my noble friends, as I read the Memorandum, really amounts to very much. They put their case on two grounds, mainly. They say there are certain cases which no country would submit to arbitration. They are covered, no doubt, by the old phrase of cases involving honour and vital interest. They may think there should be some modification. They do not tell us exactly what, on this particular point, is meant, but I think the phrase indicates clearly enough for the purposes of this debate the sort of things which I imagine are in the minds of my noble friends. Very important matters cannot be submitted to arbitration. Why? I presume because the hazard of arbitration is too great. But is it anything like the hazard of war? After all, even if you had a very bad arbitration court, there would be some effort to do justice, some dependence upon reason and right. In fact, we have a very good arbitration court in the Permanent Court of International Justice. I believe it is an admirable tribunal. To say that the hazard of submitting important matters, vital to us if you like, to the Permanent Court of International Justice is greater than the hazard of submitting it to war, seems to me, I must say, a fantastic view. And it is no better not to have any decision, to have a deadlock upon the dispute, because it is precisely matters of vital interest which excite a nation and cause danger of war. I never have understood that argument in the least.
Then there is another argument, which seems to me a far better one, if I may say so with all respect—that is, that public opinion would not support them 115 in submitting these cases to arbitration even if you confined it to justiciable cases, legal cases. They even go so far as to suggest—at least so I read the Memorandum—that there might be danger if such cases were submitted and a decision was given against them, that the people of this country would decline to comply with that decision. With the greatest respect I cannot think that that is even in the remotest degree probable or even possible. The whole training of our people is against it. Their whole conception of sportsmanship would be up in arms against such a movement. "You must accept the verdict of the umpire" goes down to the very root of the feelings on which the best part of the nature of my fellow-countrymen is based. I do not believe for a moment that there is the remotest probability that the nation would refuse to accept such an award if it were given. But even if that be a true fear, it applies not only to arbitration treaties but to a number of other treaties. We are all admirers, I believe, in this House of the Treaty of Locarno, but just consider the obligations we have undertaken by that Treaty. We have undertaken in certain events to put the whole force of the country, the whole Navy and the whole Army, at the service of a foreign Power in a certain quarrel, though it might be that the whole of our sympathies were on the other side, but the action of the foreign Power had been such as to make it impossible for us to do other than oppose it. That is conceivable under the Treaty of Locarno, quite as conceivable as any of the possibilities conjured up by those who are opposed to arbitration. We have undertaken, and I believe perfectly rightly undertaken, very serious obligations in such a case, and I am perfectly certain that our people would fulfil that undertaking without the slightest hesitation, whatever their personal inclinations or sympathies might be.
My judgment—I know that here I am on very difficult ground—of public opinion is entirely different from that of my noble friends. I believe that public opinion, if they will allow me to say so, is miles ahead of them in this matter. I believe the English people, or the great majority of them, are passionately anxious for any decent solution of international difficulties which will render war 116 improbable or impossible. I cannot prove that, but I can give some reasons which seem to me to make it probable. A great number—I will not say all, because I should probably find there were some exceptions—of the organised religious bodies of this country have declared in favour of an advance in this direction. A very large number of organised women's societies have similarly declared in favour. I believe I am right in saying that a considerable number of organisations of teachers—a very important body nowadays—have declared in the same direction. The co-operative movement, also a very important body, no doubt not politically exactly of the same opinon as myself, is warmly, almost enthusiastically, in favour of the whole of these proposals that we are venturing to put before you. The trade unions, I believe, take the same view. Politically two of the Parties of the State, I understand, are also in favour. I do not say that any of these facts are conclusive. It may be that they all, taken together, represent a minority, and a small minority, of public opinion in this country, but it does not seem to me to be likely.
An organisation with which I am connected, the League of Nations Union, has been carrying on a considerable campaign in the country for the last three or four months on this subject. No definite conclusion can be drawn from it, I agree, but so far as we can judge the case we have ventured to put before the meetings has been warmly received and warmly accepted. What is very interesting to me is that very large numbers of people attend these meetings. That shows a tremendous interest in the subject, even though it may be said that, once they are there, the natural courtesy of the English would induce them to support what is said from the platform. All I can say is that I have had some little experience of speaking on League of Nations subjects, because I have been doing it for the last eight or nine years, and I have never addressed meetings at all comparable with the meetings I have addressed during the last three or four months. That has nothing to do with what I have said to them. They have attended the meetings without knowing, or only knowing quite generally, what I was going to say. No member of your 117 Lordships' House who has had anything to do with public meetings needs to be reminded that, public meetings are by no means a safe guide to public opinion. I agree; but when you find that in great centres of population, such as Glasgow, for instance, the temper, the size and the enthusiasm of the meetings are quite different from what they were on this same kind of topic a few years ago, that, I think, goes to show that public opinion would support the Government if they felt able to take a stronger line than they are taking and to advance further in the direction of arbitration.
Let me try to put my view in a particular way. Suppose the Government decided that the time had come when it was possible for them to sign the Optional Clause, and suppose they presented this decision to the present House of Commons without the Whips and without any Party pressure. Suppose they merely said: "We propose to do this, we present the case to you and it is for you to say whether you approve or disapprove." I venture to say that there would not be twenty members of the House of Commons who would vote against that proposal. I cannot prove it, but I feel perfectly confident that it would not be more than twenty and that, of those twenty, fifteen at least would find considerable difficulty in retaining their seats at the next Election.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am coming to the question of reservation in a moment. What is this Optional Clause? Your Lordships probably know all about it, but for the sake of the clarity of my argument allow me to remind you of the broad facts. When the Permanent Court of International Justice was set up by the labours of my noble friend Lord Phillimore and his colleagues, there was included in the Statute of the Court a clause providing that it should have what I may shortly call compulsory jurisdiction in legal disputes between nations. This, however, was not accepted by the Assembly of the League, owing to the opposition of one or two countries, and instead thereof there was inserted a clause whereby this provision need not be signed by the nations who were in favour of setting up the Permanent 118 Court but might be signed if they chose to do so. That is why it was called "optional." This Clause provides for the compulsory reference of legal disputes to the Permanent Court on the basis, of course, of reciprocity.
A very considerable number of nations have signed that Clause. I see it is suggested in the Government Memorandum that only a very small number have signed. Let me quote the exact words. The Memorandum speaks of "the cause of the somewhat small measure of acceptance that Article 36 has hitherto met with." That is the phrase. As a matter of fact I have been looking at the official records and I find that twenty-seven nations have actually signed the Clause, but that in only fourteen of those twenty-seven has that signature, so far, become actually effective. It is waiting for ratification, or something of that kind. But I do not think there is any reason to doubt that the ratification will follow in the great majority of those cases. Of those fourteen countries twelve are European countries. They are not merely small and insignificant countries, as is sometimes suggested. They include Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, Bulgaria, Austria, and others. They now include also, or will include within a day or two, I am told, Germany, which has signed the Clause, though the ratification is not quite complete. France also has signed, but subject to a considerable reservation. I am told—my noble friend will probably be able to tell me whether my information is right or wrong—that there is very good reason to hope that this reservation will be removed in the near future. I do not think that Italy has signed, nor have some of the Balkan States, but there is a very large measure of approval for the Clause.
My noble friend said the other night that these signatures were "peppered with reservations." I envy the phrase, but it is not quite accurate, if he will allow me to say so. In the majority of cases there is no reservation except that the Clause is not accepted for more than a limited time—perhaps for five or ten Years—subject, of course, to renewal. There is also a reservation on reciprocity, but I cannot imagine why that is put in, because it appears to be provided for already by the Optional Clause itself. No doubt there is some technical reason 119 why it is thought desirable to insert it expressly. The great majority of the signatures, however, are subject to no other reservation. In four or five cases there is a reservation restricting the application of the Optional Clause to future disputes, but beyond that there is only the French reservation that is of importance. That is a reservation that, I quite agree, is of importance. It depends upon events which are not now likely to take place, but, unless it is removed, the signature of France does not come to very much. But there is nothing in the least resembling the picture that my noble friend has had presented to him by some of his advisers—namely, that the signatures are of such a character and subject to so many reservations that they really come to nothing. That is not so. They are perfectly genuine.
I am sorry to have detained your Lordships so long, but I am anxious to make the case intelligible and it is not very easy to do so without being a little elaborate. What is the policy that I venture to press upon the Government? In the first place, I agree that they have to consult the Dominions. We are pledged to do that and we obviously must do it. I do not anticipate the slightest difficulty. Canada has already practically said that she is in favour of signing the Optional Clause. I believe that the Irish Free State is in favour of signing the Clause. I have every reason to hope—I cannot put it higher than that—that South Africa is also in favour of signing. There remain Australia and New Zealand. I do not know what their attitude may be, but they have always taken the view that they would accept in such matters as this the guidance and the suggestions of the Mother Country. I do not believe, therefore, that there will be the slightest difficulty in the case of the Dominions; but, if there were, it could be got over with the greatest case by a reservation saying that we must preserve the interests of the Dominions if they were affected. I do not believe that this is a difficulty.
Where I think I really differ from my noble friend most is that he does not think that there is any great advantage in signing the Optional Clause. If he is right, then all of those arguments 120 which seemed to me—I hope he will not mind my saying so—rather flimsy become important. The whole question is whether it is of advantage to do it. In the first place, I think that a general agreement, an agreement made beforehand, is a great advantage because, when the crisis arises, that is just the time when it is most difficult to induce a country to come to arbitration. That is what we found at the outbreak of the Great War. We did our utmost to induce Serbia and Austria to agree to some form of arbitration, but by that time the tempers of the different countries were excited and it was just the worst time for such an attempt. On the other hand, when you have your agreement beforehand, it is quite easy to say: "Now act up to your agreement."
Further—and this is the point to which I attach by far the most importance—if you had it really established that with respect to all the Members of the League (that is, with the exception of Russia and America, all the principal countries of the world) it was recognised that in regard to a large mass of international disputes war is an illegitimate manner of settling those disputes, you would have struck an enormous blow, as it seems to me, at the whole conception on which war rests. The real difficulty in dealing with war is that it has existed for such a long time. It has become part of the ordinary way of thinking of so many people. They all assume that in the last resort the ultima ratio is war. If you could get rid of that and set up in opposition to that an alternative system people could see that it is all very well to say that war is inevitable but with regard to the great mass of international disputes there exists a much better way of settling them. That, I believe, psychologically would be of enormous advantage, and do remember it is psychology that does matter in this question of peace or war.
My noble friend is a very good judge, and speaks with authority behind him, no doubt, on the point, and has given a great deal of attention to this subject. He says that he does not believe it would make any difference to peace or war whether we signed the document or not. The League of Nations have appointed a Committee of very able gentlemen to 121 prepare the subject for consideration. I observe that we are asked to read the whole of these reports of the Rapporteur as one document—that they are all agreed on everything in them and we must treat them as a general statement by all of them. It is a distinct and definite recognition of the Optional Clause as a great measure for peace. The various countries have been asked to express their opinion. Five have expressed their opinions as to what ought to be done—Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Germany and ourselves. With the exception of ourselves, each one of those countries is strongly in favour of the signing of the Optional Clause, and I recommend, if I may, your Lordships to read the German Memorandum, which seems to me a perfect model of what a State document ought to be—clear, concise, cogent. They say in the strongest possible way that they cannot see any reason why they should not sign the Optional Clause, and that they believe it will be of the greatest advantage to the peace of the world to do so.
Finally, of course (and I do not pretend to your Lordships that I hope we shall rest there), I regard the signature of the Optional Clause as the first step either to establish the Locarno system generally or to go further still. I am sure that you have to establish arbitration if you wish to disestablish war. I ventured to begin my observations by reading from a speech of the late Lord Salisbury, made in 1897, in which he advocates strongly international co-operation as the only method of dealing with the difficulties which he saw before him. Your Lordships do not need to be reminded that it was not an isolated observation of his, but that he strove hard to bring the nations together, and that no one was a warmer advocate of arbitration than he was. He did his utmost, but he failed, with the consequences of 1914. Why did he fail? He failed because he found against him the great militarist Powers of Europe. Germany at that time—it is very different now—resisted every step in advance towards arbitration or towards disarmament. At that time we were in the position of struggling for disarmament, and struggling for arbitration, against a reluctant Germany. It would really be, as it seems to me, tragic if the positions were now reversed and we were to take up the position in the 122 councils of the nations that Germany then occupied—that it should be due to our opposition and the difficulties we feel that at any rate what they regard as a great advance in the direction of peace should fail to be made. It does seem to me a terrible responsibility for us to take, and I venture from my heart to appeal to my noble friends to reconsider this matter, and to see whether they cannot do something a little more effective than the policy which is outlined in their Memorandum. Is it not possible that they have considered too much the dangers, which are after all of a minor character, and axe so losing a great opportunity of accomplishing a great international reform?
§ Moved, That this House hopes that His Majesty's Government will press forward a policy of international disarmament and will, after consulting the Dominions, accept the jurisdiction of the Permanent Court of International Justice in justiciable disputes by signing the Optional Clause.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (LORD CUSHENDUN)
My Lords, my noble friend, as he always does on any subject which he brings before your Lordships, has made a most persuasive speech. Indeed, I do not think that I ever heard my noble friend speak when it would not have been true to say that of him. Therefore it is a great satisfaction to me to find with what a very large part of his speech I am in complete agreement. To begin with I have no objection at all to the first part of his Motion—"That this House hopes that His Majesty's Government will press forward a policy of international disarmament." If my noble friend had paused there—if that had been the whole of his Motion—then there would have been no dispute, and I should have given my support to the Motion. He hopes that the Government will press forward a policy of international disarmament. That is precisely what we are doing. It may be that differences of opinion arise as to the precise method and the precise pace of pressing forward, but it is inevitable that there should be differences of opinion upon details of that sort. I cannot imagine any policy of pressing forward for anything about which there would not be differences of opinion among 123 reasonable men, both as to the pace of doing it and the method of doing it.
My noble friend referred particularly, in the course of his speech, to an organisation with which he is connected and with which he has great influence: I mean the League of Nations Union. I notice that a gentleman who is a member of the executive of that society was recently a candidate at a by-election for Parliament. In his election address he did not refer, of course, to the League of Nations Union—it would have been a very improper thing for him to have done so—but he did make a good deal of use of the fact that he was interested in it, and he put in his election address that what he particularly thought ought to be denounced was what he called the armaments policy of the Government. As my noble friend knows, the whole question of international agreement for disarmament has been under consideration for some considerable time, and no one knows better than himself the very great difficulties that stand in the way of getting any agreement among a large number of nations on any particular proposal for that purpose.
But what I should like my noble friend, and your Lordships also, to give a little more attention to is what we have done. After all, it is only fair to recognise what the British Government—I am not speaking now only of the present Government—have done in the direction of disarmament. I am not proposing to trouble your Lordships with detailed statistics of what has been done in one or other of the three Fighting Services. It has been referred to by the responsible Ministers time after time. But, speaking quite generally, the point I should like to make, and I think it is a fair one to make, is that the main difficulty that I find myself in, and that the British Government finds itself in, in discussing these matters at Geneva, when I have the honour, as I hope to have, of going there to represent the British Government, is due to the zeal and the haste with which we have disarmed. That is not too strong a way of putting it.
Would your Lordships just imagine the sensation I could make if I went to Geneva and announced that I had come charged by the British Government to take the following measure of disarmament, 124 and had then said what we have done since the War. Supposing I could go there and say: "I am sent here by the British Government, to begin with, to say that we are about to put on the scrap heap about 1,000 fighting ships, amounting to over 2,000,000 tons of shipping. In addition to that, I am charged to tell you that we are going to reduce to caretaking proportions two of our great naval dockyards." And supposing I were to go on to show what has been done by agreement at Washington, and the further proposals made, in which my noble friend bore part last summer—proposals which unfortunately were not successful, but which, at any rate if they had been accepted, would have amounted to a very large reduction, both in fighting strength and fighting expenditure; and supposing I were to show with regard to the Air Service that we had reduced that Service by hundreds of squadrons, down to almost a handful of squadrons; and, as regards the Army, that batteries of artillery had been scrapped, and twenty-two (I think that is the number) infantry battalions taken out of our small Army—nothing to do, of course, with going back to the voluntary system—batteries of artillery, cavalry regiments, infantry battalions, all dissipated and gone, in disarmament!
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
Exactly. That is the strength that we had after the demobilisation when, from compulsory service, we went back to voluntary service. And other nations have not done corresponding things—that is the point. Supposing that the Government had had the foresight and the disregard of economy to say: "Well, in a few years there is going to be a great deal of discussion among the nations on the question of disarmament, and we had better have something to bargain with." If we had kept all these batteries of artillery, these great fighting ships, these millions of tons of shipping, and all the rest of it, if we had not got rid of them for our own purposes, both from the 125 point of view of economy and also from the point of view of being in favour of disarming so far as we possibly could, and in pursuance of the clause in the Covenant to which we were a party, which pledged us and everybody else to disarm down to the lowest level compatible with national safety—if we had kept all that armament until we could use it in bargaining with other nations, to show our bona fides in the matter of disarmament, what a tremendously strong position we should be in to-day, and, as I repeat, what a sensation I should make by announcing it at Geneva to-morrow.
Other nations are not making, have not made, any corresponding reduction in their armaments. One of the great difficulties with which we are confronted, and will continue to be confronted, is that the Continental nations, for reasons which seem to them imperative, have no intention, of course, of departing from their army system by which the whole manhood of their country is available in time of war. It has come up in various ways—as to whether trained reserves ought not to be counted in the tale of effectives if a reduction of effectives were to be the method of disarmament; and I think it was Mr. Lloyd George who said only the other day that there could be no real disarmament as long as you kept the system of conscription. And of course there is an aspect of that which is incontrovertible. It is so; as long as a nation is in a position in case of war to call upon the whole manhood of that country, whatever they may do in other directions, obviously that is a form of armed strength which, as long as they maintain it, is very difficult to reconcile with any real system of disarmament. And it is very difficult to call upon us to dispense still further with our very depleted sources of fighting defensive strength when we have to compare them with those of other nations who are maintaining this system of universal service. Therefore, so far as disarmament is concerned, I think that we have no difficulty in showing we are acting, and have acted, and intend to continue to act, entirely in conformity with the desire of my noble friend that we should press forward in a policy of international disarmament.
Then I come to quite a different side of my noble friend's Motion, in which he 126 deals with the Optional Clause. As I have referred to the League of Nations Union, I think I am entitled to refer to what the executive council of that body has said with regard to the policy of the Government. My noble friend began his speech quite candidly by saying that there was no intention to censure the Government in what he was saying, and it is a great satisfaction to see that the executive council of the League of Nationswelcomes the resolutions passed by the Eighth Assembly of the League of Nations with a view to initiating a general reduction of the armaments of all nations, an extension of the practice of arbitration, and an increase of security"—and it finishes with these very satisfactory words:—and notes with satisfaction the share taken by His Majesty's Government in bringing about the unanimous adoption of the resolution.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
I am very glad to hear that my noble friend supports that. So that we start, so far as all branches of this subject are concerned, with my noble friend's statement that he does not wish to pass any censure upon the Government and a statement by the executive council of the League of Nations Union that they view with satisfaction what the Government have done in this respect. My noble friend has made a very eloquent appeal to us entirely on this point of the Optional Clause. In the comparatively short time that I have had the honour of being a member of your Lordships' House I think this is the fourth occasion on which I have had to address you on this subject of the Optional Clause. If I weary your Lordships on the subject I can only say it is not my fault; I have been obliged to do so. Towards the end of his speech my noble friend said, and I think said truly, that probably where he and I most radically differ on this point is that I do not believe that the signing of the Optional Clause would have any real material bearing upon the question of peace. If I agreed with my noble friend on the facts, if I agreed that the signing of the Optional Clause either by this or by any other country would really be an immense practical step forward in the 127 direction of establishing peace and of making war, if not impossible, at all events much less likely for the future, I confess that, although there would still be very serious difficulties and objections to be overcome, I agree it might be, and in that case would be, worth a supreme effort to overcome those difficulties and objections. I really cannot see, and my noble friend utterly failed to persuade me, that it would have that effect.
Let me remind your Lordships that, as I think my noble friend said, we have already in existence a great number of arbitration treaties with different nations. He said that the important thing was when the crisis arises to have an existing agreement which could be appealed to. Of course, I agree with him that if a crisis arises making war a danger, that menace would be much greater if you had no existing agreement. But that is not the alternative. The alternative is between having separate and individual agreements with all the different countries with whom a crisis may arise and having a general treaty of arbitration which everybody signs together. That is really the difference. Of course, there are differences in the contents of the treaties.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
I will come to that in a moment. All I mean is that there is no point in holding out to your Lordships the danger there would be in approaching a crisis without an existing agreement. It may be that your existing agreement is, in itself, insufficient. That may be; it is a matter of opinion; but to have an existing agreement is, to my mind, the important point. I think I might say we have practically covered the field with individual agreements. There are, I think, eleven existing at the moment. That excludes ex-enemy countries. We had arbitration agreements with them which, of course, lapsed on the outbreak of war. We have, I believe, eleven existing at the present time, and this country is always ready to make arbitration agreements. We have made a great many, and I have no doubt we shall make a great many more. Therefore, apart from the provisions of the treaties—a different point, to which I will come in a moment—so far as the 128 field of danger is concerned it appears to me to be almost, if not quite, as fully covered at the present time by the arbitration agreements which we have made as it would be if we substituted for those agreements a signature of the Optional Clause which the other nations might similarly sign.
There is this very important provision in these individual agreements which is, and would be, absent from Clause 36, the Optional Clause. In these agreements there is, I think, in every case a provision that when an arbitral case arises there shall then be a special agreement entered into carefully defining the matter in dispute, the exact scope of the powers of the arbitrators and the periods for the various stages of the procedure. I do not know, of course, whether your Lordships agree as to the importance which I attach to those special agreements. I think we ought to remember—my noble friend has referred to it—that this country has an infinitely larger experience of arbitration, its procedure, its limitations, and its advantages, than any other country in the world with the single exception of the United States. These special agreements which are provided for in our treaties of arbitration are the outcome of that experience—of the experience we have had in entering into arbitration treaties and going to arbitration from time to time.
My noble friend referred to the advantage of our example. The noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Parmoor), the last time he spoke, also, if I remember rightly, laid stress on the advantage that would be derived from our setting an example by signing this Clause. I do not minimise the advantage of our example, and I certainly would be very proud of our country for setting an example in a direction of that sort if it could do so with practical advantage and without danger. At the same time I am inclined to think the effect of example is sometimes exaggerated. We have, for instance, set a very distinct example with regard to the Treaty of Locarno, and the Assembly of the League of Nations has very pointedly exhorted other people to follow the Locarno example. Yet, so far as I am aware, up to the present time our example has not been followed and the exhortations of the Assembly have fallen upon deaf ears. It is true that we 129 intend to do our utmost at Geneva and by diplomacy and in any way we can to get other nations to follow the example of Locarno; but when we are exhorted to take a step altogether irrespective of our own benefits and our own interests in order to set an example, I think it is very material to scrutinise those cases in which our example has not been followed up to the present time.
My noble friend has given, as the first of our grounds of objection to the clause, that it does not exclude vital interests. That is quite true. The main objection to signing the Optional Clause is, I think, that there is no way except by extensive reservations, about which I will say something in a moment, of excluding from the arbitration agreement matters of vital interest. This is really a matter of very great importance. It is easy to say and my noble friend did say—it is dialectically a very persuasive way of saying it—"Can there be any risk that you may run of having a vital interest attacked so great as that of war?" I am not going to-night to follow my noble friend in what he said about the Alabama case. It may be that he is accurate in his details, though they certainly do not altogether agree with my recollection. I want to refer to another case. My noble friend and the House will see in a moment my reason for referring to it. Curiously enough it is a case which also involves the illustrious man whom my noble friend quoted and even his filial relationship does not give him more profound respect for that great man than I have.
It occurred in the very same year as the speech from which my noble friend quoted a statement by Lord Salisbury. It was in 1897 that a difficulty arose between us and America arising out of the Venezuela dispute. The question was one of the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. I ask your Lordships to mark what happened. We were in this great difficulty. There were large districts of our Colony of Guiana which had been long occupied by Englishmen and settled by Englishmen but, if you examined the title by reference merely to old documents dating back from the time respectively of the Spanish and Dutch Colonies, it appeared that we might not be in a position to prove a good title. 130 If it had come before the Permanent Court as a justiciable dispute probably—I do not want to be dogmatic on the subject—the Court, acting as a Court of Law, would have strictly construed the title constituting the boundary. What did Lord Salisbury do? Lord Salisbury, when the American Government pressed us to submit the matter to arbitration, in effect, said that he was prepared to submit the matter to arbitration, but only if, by diplomacy, he first could get an agreement that fifty years of occupation should give a good title. It was only when that particular difficulty was cleared out of the way by diplomacy, when the point had been conceded that fifty years of occupation and settlement gave a good title, that we submitted to arbitration the remaining point as to where the boundary should lie.
As my noble friend has quoted Lord Salisbury I should like to do the same: what he said is very material on this question of vital interests. Lord Salisbury, in a note to the American Government, said:—The claim of Venezuela is so far-reaching that it brings into question interests and rights which cannot possibly be disposed of by an unrestricted arbitration …. It covers two-thirds of the Colony of British Guiana; it impeaches titles which have not been in question for many generations.… The view of Her Majesty's Government is that where the matter in issue is of great importance and involves rights which belong to a considerable population and are deeply cherished by them, special precautions against any miscarriage of justice are required.I merely quote that to show—because it is long past and gone—the sort of case that in a complicated world-wide Empire like ours—the unforeseeable case—may sometimes crop up touching our vital interests. No war resulted from that.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
Yes, but we did not go to arbitration on the whole case as originally submitted by America. That is just the point. Supposing at that time we had been signatories to the Optional Clause, we should have been taken to arbitration at the very beginning on the whole of the matter which Lord Salisbury said was a matter of vital interest, and upon the whole of it he was not willing to arbitrate. The moment disagreement 131 arose we should have been taken into the arbitration court and the beneficial result which followed from skilful diplomacy arriving at an agreement would have been impossible. It is impossible for any Government of this country and this Empire to say for certain, or even with moderate probability, that in the future no case can arise of a similar nature where a vital interest of this country may be touched. You cannot deal with that difficulty by reservations. If my noble friend and other advocates of the Optional Clause say, as they very often do say, that the object of signing the Optional Clause is to avoid gaps, to cover the whole ground—my noble friend may not say it, but a great many others do—
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
The noble and learned Lord opposite is one, I see. What they say you want to do is to sign the Optional Clause, which means that no disputes can arise which are not covered by the necessity to arbitrate. That argument goes once you have a reservation. Those who say that you must cover every case that arises by arbitration cannot at the same time say that you are quite at liberty to take a great number of matters out by reservation. The two things are utterly inconsistent. But supposing it is said that we could provide for our vital interests by reservation, I come now at this point to my answer to my noble friend who said: "Why differentiate between one nation and another? How can you tell other nations to go forward and sign the Clause when you do not do it yourself?" The answer is, I think, perfectly simple. I am not at all surprised that Sweden and Norway and Belgium are willing to sign the Optional Clause. Their interests are very great and just as important to them as our interests are to us, but they are very simple.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
Certainly. I do not think there is any nation, not even the United States, whose interests are so complex as ours. It is not a question of magnitude; it is a question of complexity. To begin with, as I pointed out the other day, there are more than half 132 a dozen Governments in our Empire to be considered. I do not lay any exaggerated stress upon the views of the Dominions. It may be that some one or more of them would be willing to sign to-day—although they were not willing to sign a little time ago—if we pressed them to do it. It may be that the Government of India would do the same, although the Government of India did enter a caveat. They said they had a very special point of view and intimated that if the Government proposed to sign the Optional Clause there were various Asiatic questions which would have to be very carefully considered. But if all these interests of the various Dominions were excluded from the Optional Clause by reservations, even supposing that you could foresee what they all are, to my mind it would simply make a mockery of the Clause. It would negative the clause altogether, and it seems to me, therefore, that it is much more straightforward and much more simple to say, as we have said, and as we propose to say, that we will deal with this nation or that nation by special arrangement, subject to such reservations as we may think necessary, in disputes which may arise with particular nations. To sign this particular Clause, with all the disadvantages to which I have referred, and, as I repeat, without seeing any real advantage to be gained by it, seems to me a policy which has very little to recommend it and a very great deal to be said against it.
My noble friend has referred to the fact that when this Clause was originally drafted it was put in a compulsory form. Why was it not left in a compulsory form? It was amended by the Assembly of the League itself. The Assembly after, no doubt, very full consideration and discussion, came to the conclusion that a compulsory clause might prevent people joining the League.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
I do not know what the reason was, and I do not much care, but the fact remains 'that the compulsory nature of the Clause was removed and the Optional Clause as we now know put in its place. Therefore, that is the policy of the League. Before I sit down I want to make a real complaint to my noble friend with regard 133 to the League of Nations Union. I venture to submit to your Lordships that the League of Nations Union, professing to be a non-Party organisation, is acting with impropriety when it presses its adherents to support this particular policy of my noble friend. I do not think my noble friend is entitled to use the League of Nations Union as a means of putting forward his own particular policy. In this comprehensive resolution from which I have already quoted, the executive of the League of Nations Union urges the Government, among other things, immediately to sign the Optional Clause with any reservations that may be necessary. I am a member of the League of Nations Union. I have been a member of it for a long time, ever since it began I think, and a great many of my friends belong to it too. I have always understood that the object of the League of Nations Union was to inform public opinion with regard to the League of Nations, to popularise it, and to convince people of its necessity and of the good it can do in the world. If that is so, it has no right to dictate a policy either to the League of Nations or to the Government. I do not admit that my noble friend is any better League-ite, if I may use the word, any more devoted to the League, than I am. He wants to sign the Optional Clause. I do not, and there are heaps of members of the League of Nations Union who do not in the least believe in signing the Optional Clause.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My noble friend is making a rather unexpected attack on the League of Nations Union on a matter which does not appear to me to have much to do with the subject of this debate, but since he has made it, let me inform him that the resolution was adopted, not by the executive, but by the general council which represents the whole of the League of Nations Union and that it has been approved continuously at meetings all over the country. His friends could have attended those meetings if they had pleased, but so far there has been no opposition, or none of importance at any rate. To suggest that the League of Nations Union is not entitled to 134 express an opinion on what ought to be the policy of the League in future seems to me absolutely absurd.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
What my noble friend has said amply confirms what was in my mind, that the League of Nations Union is being used, not for its original purpose, but for pressing on a particular policy. As that particular policy is the one which my noble friend has brought before your Lordships, I cannot in the least understand how he can think my reference to it irrelevant. However, I will not pursue it any further. All I can say is that I do not believe myself, in spite of the array of authorities which my noble friend brought forward, that public opinion in this country is anxious that this Clause should be signed. Under the compelling and persuasive influence of my noble friend and a few others, they may be prepared at public meetings at present to throw up their hats for the Optional Clause, but I feel certain that on very slight reflection and a little more mature consideration of all the pros and cons of the case public opinion, which is very fickle, may turn round and rend those who first of all misled it. However that may be, I must conclude by saying that while, for the reasons I have given, we are entirely in accord with my noble friend in pressing on, to use his own phrase, the policy of international disarmament, I cannot hold out any hopes that, at any rate in the immediate future, we shall change the policy of the Government, which has been consistent, not merely during the tenure of the present Government, but from 1920 up to the present time. It would be a very unwise step to go beyond the system of arbitration to which experience has made us accustomed and take what is something in the nature of a leap in the dark by signing the Optional Clause.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I often think that the danger of debates such as this is that they may be thought to be in some way prompted by hostility to the Government, that it is an opportunity for girding at them and that the opportunity is used for that purpose by people who do not approve on general principles of what the Government do. Although I cannot help being profoundly dissatisfied with the promises that we have just received, I would at least beg the members of the Government to realise 135 that my desire to support the arguments of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, is not due in any way to any feeling about the Government, but simply to a sincere desire to pursue the course which I think all men of good will are anxious to follow, a course that will make war and the tragedy of war more and more remote, until at last we may hope—though it will be long after we have ceased to be interested in these worldly affairs—that it may be removed from the face of the earth. It is with that object in view, as I understand it, that the noble Viscount has put down his Motion, and I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, overlooked the real meaning of both the heads under which that question was raised.
In the first instance, the noble Viscount desired that the Government would press forward a policy, not of our own disarmament, but of international disarmament. The whole dispute between the noble Lord who has just spoken and the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, seemed to concern what we had done in disarming ourselves, a matter which really has only a small relation to this point, which concerned the steps that the Government have taken to press forward a, policy by which all peoples shall disarm. I must say that the figures that the noble Lord gave us were not, to me, very satisfying. To reel out in thousands the numbers of ships and squadrons and guns that we had got rid of since we ceased to be at war does not seem to me to be a very good way of explaining what we have done with regard to placing our Forces on a solid peace foundation. But I am not anxious that this question of disarmament should be approached by the simple process of our getting rid of our Forces. That is a most unwise thing, nor does any one think that the principles applicable to other nations are necessarily closely applicable to ourselves, any more than those that apply to us apply to them. We have great commitments over the whole earth, commitments far greater in extent and in responsibility than those that any other nation in the world possesses, and we should be guilty of weakness and treachery if we betrayed those interests by reducing our Forces below that level which would enable us to maintain them in case of need.
136 But that really is not the point. The point is that, from the moment of the Treaty of Versailles right through, there have been solemn obligations that we have entered into to secure that international disarmament shall be an accomplished fact; and, indeed, when Germany was disarmed, it was disarmed under the condition that this was to be the first step towards a general reduction and limitation of armaments. What we want to know is what the Government have done for the purpose of securing that this general reduction and general limitation of armaments shall take place. Unless something is done, the future will be nothing but a repetition of the past. We have only to look back over a few years to see what it was that caused the War. The War was not really caused because an Archduke was assassinated in a town in Serbia. That was a mere pretext. The thing that caused the War was that the armies and the navies had kept on competing with each other in extending growth until at last, like the gathered snows of some mighty avalanche, they hung for a moment in uncertain equipoise and then fell down in ruin upon the homes below. And that will happen again and again until the end of the world if armaments are permitted to continue to be based upon the footing of each nation seeing that it is secure by measuring its strength against the nation with whom it fears that it may in the future have to contend.
What we desire to show is that international security can be accomplished without these means, and in this connection I would ask your Lordships to look for one moment at the position of Germany. At the present time Germany has 100,000 men under arms and no guns above a 4-inch calibre. I would ask any one of you whether Germany is not to-day far more secure than she ever was when her Armies were numbered by millions and her guns shook the foundation of the world. The truth is that it was the great Armies of Germany that led her to her ruin, and it is the smallness of her Army to-day that will secure her in peace until these conditions have once more broken down. I say, therefore, that to approach this matter merely by saying that we can assert that we have done this or are going to do that is not enough. We should press forward incessantly, through the instrumentality of 137 the League, the necessity for international disarmament. I do not think that it is right to suggest that the League would be reluctant to help us, seeing that, as a preface to that much-discussed Protocol, there was an arrangement that there should be a world-wide conference to secure disarmament, and it was only when that was put into effect that the Protocol was to come into operation. I do not desire to discuss for a moment the question whether the Protocol was wise or not. That is another matter. I want to point out that the whole machinery for arranging a world-wide conference on disarmament was in preparation three years ago, and that it has been allowed once more to slide away.
Let me turn to the second question. Here I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Cushcudun, has once more misunderstood what it was what the noble Viscount asked. He asked, not that there should be an acceptance of universal arbitration, which was the argument to which most of the noble Lord's speech was directed, but that the Government should accept the jurisdiction of the Permanent Court in justiciable disputes. I hate the use of the word "justiciable," which appears to me to have no warrant either in beauty or in history. But what does it mean? I will tell you exactly what it means. The matters that are referred to this International Court of justice can be summarised under these heads: (1), the construction of a Treaty; (2), any question of International Law; (3), the settlement and determination of any question of fact; and (4), the assessment of damages arising by virtue of a breach of any one of these undertakings.
To hear the noble Lord talk, you would think that we were going to commit to that International Court of Justice all the vital interests of the country. What are spoken of as the honour and the vital interests of the country are not involved at all. The points involved are pre-eminently matters which lawyers should decide, and when you have set up an International Court of Justice and have taken the opportunity of strengthening it by appointing some of the most eminent men in all the countries to decide these matters, and when further you have found that it has in fact operated well and has saved us from disputes which, 138 but for its existence, might have grown and magnified themselves to our very grave disadvantage, it is an astonishing thing to say that, because of the honour and vital interests of the country, you are not going to let these people decide disputed questions of fact, of law, of the construction of documents and the assess-merit of damages. The reason given in this Memoramdum does credit to the ingenuity of the draftsman. It says:—In contracting an international obligation towards another State a country must take into account the nature of its relations with that State. Obligations which it may be willing to accept towards one State it may not be willing to accept towards another.I ask your Lordships to translate those words into relation to those four simple headings of matters to which I have just referred. What are the peculiar qualities of one State which will prevent your having disputes on questions of fact between you and that State settled in this way? Remember that the States concerned with you in a dispute are not to be the judges. The judges are independent people, and if so, how in the world can you have certain qualities which prevent your settling questions of law with one State and not with another?
Upon that the noble Lord was discreetly silent. He gave us no indication of what it was that was meant. Does it mean that we are not to enter into a settlement with a little State because we can crush it without the necessity of going before the International Court? Or does it mean that we will not enter into a settlement with a bigger State because it has influences which will prevent the judgment going as we would desire If that is not the explanation, what is the explaaation? If only because of the utter failure to elicit any answer to that question I think the Motion is most abundantly justified, and when the noble Lord tells us, as they tell us in this Paper, that you have got to be very careful that public opinion is behind you, I would suggest to the noble Lord, and to the Government, that if they want to find public opinion they should look ahead of themselves and not behind, and that then they are more likely to find it.
What reason have they for saying that public opinion is not behind this question? Viscount Cecil of Chelwood gave 139 strong reasons for thinking that public opinion was behind it. What has the noble Lord got to say the other way? His reply degenerated into something like an attack upon the League of Nations Union for focussing attention upon this subject, and his argument strikes me as a very strange one. I only know that the last time I spoke at a meeting there was on the platform a Conservative member, a Labour member, and myself. The meeting was summoned from anywhere, and it was held in a hall holding three thousand people. There was no doubt about the enthusiasm or unanimity of the meeting. Lord Cecil of Cheiwood says that you might repeat that again and again, and from the requests which I have had to go and speak I should say that is probably true. Public opinion on this matter cannot be tested by a by-election, because it is most vital and essential that this whole movement should be kept free from political struggles. Public opinion on this matter is behind the Government, and the Government need not have any fear, if they will sign the document, that they will not find themselves abundantly supported in the country.
That is really the whole of what I want to say. I do think we are in danger in these matters of not looking sufficiently far ahead. Everything about us always seems permanent, and the temptation is to think that the future will be nothing but a copy of the past, and a faded rather than a bright copy. That is not true. There is no permanence in the things about us. We have only to look around to see how fleeting and how vain are the things which to-day appear to be most solid and permanent. The future is full of the most immeasurable possibilities, and if we believe that in our short passage from the cradle to the grave we are endowed with free will, it is within our power to shape those future possibilities for the future welfare of mankind; and in no way can it be better done than by taking steps to secure that justice shall reign over the earth and the sword shall devour no more.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I am sure we must be grateful to the noble Viscount for having once more given this House an opportunity of discussing alternative ways to war of settling disputes. I should like to bear out entirely 140 what the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken so eloquently stated, and what the noble Viscount also said—namely, that public opinion in this country is changing to an extent which many of your Lordships probably do not yet realise. Whereas before the War a large number of people thought that war was inevitable as a means of settling disputes, so they are now realising that there are other ways of settling disputes, but that unless in times of peace, when public opinion is quiet in the various countries, we set up some alternative machinery for so settling disputes, then in fact war will become inevitable.
But, although I think public opinion is changing very rapidly, and that it is quite prepared to support the Government in any practical and constructive step which the Government are prepared to take, in order to substitute some other form of settling disputes than by war, yet undoubtedly it is the fact that a large number of people are not fully cognisant of the steps already taken. I tested this quite recently. One constantly hears people discussing the possibility of surprise attempts on the part of one country against another, and of capitals being wiped out by surprise bombing aeroplane attacks. If we seriously discuss such possibilities we are either forgetting, or not attaching sufficient importance to, the fact that under Article 12 of the Covenant the signatory Powers have in fact agreed not to embark upon war without a previous interval of delay. I do not think we attach enough importance to this period of delay. If in 1914 we had known there would be a period of six or nine months delay, I believe it would have been possible to stop the outbreak of the War, which in fact became inevitable as soon as one of the great nations ordered mobilization.
Not only do we have to contemplate the possibility of disputes between nations which have signed the Covenant and are Members with us of the League of Nations, but we have also to devise machinery for settling disputes between ourselves and nations which are not yet members of the League of Nations; and I think this a very opportune moment at which to discuss in this House the possibility of coming to some arrangement for ruling out once and for all, and altogether, the possibility of war between 141 ourselves and the other great English-speaking nations of the world. In another place, the other day, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that in his opinion and in the opinion of most people, war between ourselves and the United States was unthinkable. If it is unthinkable, then we should take every step that is open to us to make it impossible, and I should be sorry to let this debate go by without calling attention to the very big step forward—the very substantial contribution which has been made by the United States Government recently in a document addressed to France. I understand that a somewhat similar document has been addressed to the British Government. In it the following statement is set out:—The Government of the United States is prepared for the conclusion of a treaty condemning war and renouncing it as an instrument of national policy in favour of the pacific settlement of international disputes.I consider that that is one of the most substantial contributions which have been made in recent times to the cause which the noble Viscount has so much at heart, and which has been put before your Lordships' House to-day. I trust that we shall take every opportunity open to us to do what we can to welcome that proposal and to help to carry it into effect.
But just as with the other nations which have accepted the Covenant, we have agreed to a delay of six to nine months before we can possibly go to war with each other, so I think it is just as well to realise—what is apt to be forgotten—that in 1914 a Treaty was signed by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice and Mr. Bryan, whereby the United States and ourselves agreed that "all questions of whatever character and nature (without reservation) in dispute between the two countries shall, when diplomatic efforts fail, be submitted for investigation and report to an International Commission, and the contracting parties agree not to declare war or begin hostilities until such investigation is made and a report submitted." And in another part of the Treaty it is agreed that there shall be an interval, of I think it is twelve months, before war can be declared between the two countries. I hope that until we can give effect to the proposals which have been put before the world by the Secretary of State, Mr. Kellogg, 142 and conclude, as I understand it, a general all-in arbitration treaty, we shall do what we can to give effect to the Bryan-Spring-Rice Treaty of 1914, because I think that if the people of this country realise that they have taken that step—and I am convinced that a large number have forgotten it—we shall be doing a great deal towards educating public opinion to accept all constructive alternatives to war.
I agree entirely with what has been said by previous speakers that it is vital to take steps for an all-round simultaneous proportional reduction of armaments, if we ate to look forward to peace, and I think that the noble Viscount, when he was speaking, helped substantially by making it clear that we must deal not merely with material but with moral disarmament. I believe that the real impediment at the present moment to the signing of the Optional Clause lies in suspicion. I believe that if we were convinced that all the nations of the world would carry out their obligations in good faith, all the objections which are now brought forward against the signing of that Clause would vanish. Having watched the various efforts and attempts which have been made by this and other Governments to bring about a general reduction of armaments, I am convinced myself that they must be coupled simultaneously with a policy of arbitration.
Take the recent effort for naval disarmament at Geneva. That Conference failed because we could not agree on each other's interpretation of parity. If the United States and the British Empire had ruled out war and had a treaty of arbitration it would have been immaterial which definition of parity had been accepted, it would have been quite immaterial who had the extra cruisers. Therefore it seems to me inevitable that, if we are to rule out war and substitute for it alternatives, we must proceed along the lines of disarmament, conciliation, and arbitration. It would be unwise for the Government to go forward unless the public realised the proposals to which they were committing themselves and more prepared to endorse them; but I am convinced from my experience in addressing a considerable number of audiences in different parts of the country that public opinion is 143 becoming increasingly ready and anxious to take any and every step to substitute alternative means of settling disputes in place of war.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
My Lords, there was so much debatable matter in the speech of the noble Lord who spoke for the Government and in the White Paper that we have been discussing that if I were to travel over it all I should trouble your Lordships at undue length. I must therefore confine myself to one or two points. First of all, about the League of Nations Union. I come from a part of London, which is, I suppose, as strong for the Unionist Party, the party of the noble Lord, as almost any part of the United Kingdom, the Borough of Kensington. I am, and have been from the first, chairman of what I believe is the largest branch of the League of Nations Union which exists, the branch in the Borough of Kensington. I have, so far as an old man can, been about the country from time to time speaking on behalf of the League of Nations. I have no hesitation in saying that all those with whom I have had to deal are in favour of the Optional Clause, and it is not I who push it on my people, it is my people who push it on me, and who will not endure its not being brought forward and pressed upon every occasion.
With regard to the history of the Optional Clause, the noble Lord said he was not very clearly informed about what happened. The Commission set up by the League of Nations to frame the International Court of Justice, of which I had the honour to be one of the members, and of which that great American, Mr. Elihu Root, was also a member and the principal member, carried by a large majority—one hesitating and one opposing—the scheme under which the Court we set up should be a real Court, with powers to cite before it nations complained of, and to meet the case framed by the complaining nation and deal with it. When that scheme, so framed, went to Geneva, there was opposition, and unfortunately some of the strongest opposition came from the British Government—more shame to them. The result was, of course, that you could not carry that entirely new proposal of a Court of Justice against any serious opposition, and the opposition of Great Britain and one or two 144 other nations prevented its being passed. Fortunately there were two representatives at Geneva, national representatives of their nations, who had also been representatives of their nations on our Committee of International Justice, the Norwegian and the Brazilian, and they invented the scheme of the Optional Clause, which was then accepted by the nations.
Now, what harm can any self-respecting country do to itself by signing the Optional Clause? As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, has pointed out, it confines itself to strictly legal questions. But it may be said that you may have vital questions affecting national honour. I agree with Lord Buckmaster that it is difficult to see how there can be either vital questions or questions affecting national honour which will arise upon the points left for judicial decision—the interpretation of a treaty, a point of international law, a question of fact, and the amount of damages, if any. I fail to see how any question of national honour can be involved in submitting those points to a legal tribunal. But I know that if a nation gets into a temper or is beginning to get wild and excited the most trivial thing in the world will become a question of national honour. If you once say that questions of national honour or vital interests are to be excluded, you practically say that whenever a nation wants to go to war it will go to war notwithstanding these provisions. You want to make them compulsory. The noble Lord was right when he criticised one interjection of mine. You do not close the gap if you leave any reservations. I would leave no reservations. I would close the gap, and if I could not close the gap I would make it as narrow as I could. I would have at least the Optional Clause with as few reservations as possible. Questions of domestic interest would be ruled out at once by the Court and you can trust the Court to do that.
In regard to the noble Lord's reference to Venezuela I should like to ask him this question. Does he think that the British Government were right in their claim to that portion of the territory in British Guiana or does he think they obtained an unfair advantage by the diplomacy of Lord Salisbury? If he thinks they were right, there could be no 145 harm in submitting the question to the International Tribunal. The International Tribunal would have found that fifty years' possession was better than any title deed. There can be no reason why a matter of judicial construction should not be submitted to the Permanent Court of International Justice.
I come now to another complaint that I have against this White Paper. It is a belittling of the Permanent Court of International Justice. The suggestion of arbitration and of sometimes going to the Court patronises and belittles it. Putting aside the question of arbitration, go to the Court, make the Court what it should be, help it to be strouger than it is and send everything to it. Do not talk of international arbitration except in the sense in which the Court is the arbitrator. Then the noble Lord says that the advantage of these treaties of arbitration is that when there is a dispute you make a fresh treaty of arbitration, a treaty ad hoc, a convention regulating what shall be the subject-matter to be decided, who shall be the arbitrators, how long the delays shall be, and what shall be the provisions. You do not want any of those things if you have the International Court. The Court settles procedure and it settles who the Judges are. They are there.
Above all things, remember that it is not so easy to state the questions for arbitration. Mr. Root pointed that out to us when we were at The Hague. It was in one of the fishery disputes between Great Britain and the United States, and Mr. Root said: "Lord Bryce and I tried for a year to state the question. Each time we thought we had got towards stating it some interest arose and said, 'Do not state the question in that way; you are giving up our case if you do it in that way.' And then some interest on the other side arose and put the opposite view." Ultimately they had to agree to throw the papers into the hands of the arbitrators and tell the arbitrators to find the question and then answer it. Every practising lawyer knows that if you can state a question in the way you wish you have gone half way towards winning your battle, and that nothing is more difficult than to state a question. That is the advantage of a Court of Justice. A man or a State 146 comes and complains. He puts his complaint in his own way. If he is right not only in the facts but in the way he puts his complaint, he wins. If he puts his complaint, in the wrong way he probably loses. Instead of having an agreement as to how the question shall be put, let the complainant put it in his own way, let the defendant answer and then you get a real decision. That is one of the great reasons why a Court of Justice is far preferable to a Court of Arbitration.
Of course, if nations want to agree you have gone three-quarters of the way to agreement and arbitration is a very nice way of settling it. When States have agreed to arbitrate they have gone halfway towards agreeing for peace. If States are in a condition of aggravation against each other they will find every reason in the world why arbitration shall not come off. They will not agree about the arbitrators. They will not agree about the questions to be put. They will not agree where the arbitrators are to sit, and they will not agree as to the time in which the arbitrators are to decide. If once nations are exacerbated with one another all those questions immediately make arbitration almost useless. The real thing is to have the Optional Clause by which you agree to go before the Court at the suit of any nation which, in its turn, is willing to be sued by you. During the first half of the noble Lord's speech I thought that the real objection to the Optional Clause was that it would not save the faces of some permanent members of the Services who had committed themselves to a dislike of it, and that he was prepared really to have the Optional Clause under another name. In fact, a good deal of his speech was devoted to telling us that the Optional Clause was really unnecessary. But when we came to the second part it was another story. It was the fear of Great Britain submitting questions to the Court unless she was quite certain that the Court would decide her way and the determination that as Great Britain has the big battalions she shall not go to the Court unless she is certain it shall be decided her way.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, at this late hour I ask the indulgence of your Lordships for a few 147 moments only. I approach this matter entirely from the standpoint of one who believes the Government to be entirely sincere in their desire for peace and that if they do not sign the Optional Clause it is, of course, because they believe that not signing it at this time is more conducive to peace than signing it. But I profoundly believe they are entirely wrong in that opinion. I was interested to hear the noble Lord who spoke for the Government refer at the beginning of his speech to disagreements on questions of detail as though the signing or not of the Optional Clause were merely a question of detail. On the contrary, I believe it is a matter of the profoundest importance and I should like to tell your Lordships, in very few words, why.
It is a matter of common ground that one of the dangers to peace is the competition of armaments. You cannot get rid of armaments unless you get security. You cannot get security unless you get greater reliance upon International Law. One means of building up International Law and the sense of security amongst the nations is the Permanent Court of International Justice, and that is why signing the Optional Clause would give an enormous leg-up to the formation of a reliance on International Law. Individual citizens in a country rely upon the law of that country and derive their sense of security from it. The only way in which you will get international security is by a reliance on International Law and upon the decisions of the Permanent Court. Moreover, the sanctions behind the decisions of the Permanent Court have to be moral sanctions. It is no use preparing a law to prevent a war that has broken out. You must have an international court which will carry moral sanctions in the same way as the courts of a country carry not only force but moral sanction. One of the sanctions behind the law is the force of public opinion. In the same way there must be an international public opinion behind the Permanent Court.
I am bound to say that I did not think the noble Lord who replied for the Government dealt at all with the case put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood. There was, to begin with, the objection in the Government's Memorandum about ether Powers—why we could accept obligations to some and 148 not to others. I hope we are going to hear something from the noble Marquess who leads the House on that point before the debate closes, because it is one of very great interest. Another objection of the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, was that this signature would not do us any good because the field was already covered. In proof he cited the fact that we had eleven independent arbitration arrangements. If you sign the Optional Clause and if the other nations do so, we shall have fifty-five. Moreover, in the arrangement of every one of those eleven there is the reservation about vital interest and honour. I gather that is what particularly endears those eleven arrangements to the Government. Again, the noble Lord, in reply to the argument that our signature would be an example which would be followed by others, said that no one has followed our example in coming to other arrangements like Locarno. But the reason for that is not far to seek. Locarno imposes upon us an enormous responsibility and potential liability. The signing of the Optional Clause, so far as I can make out, imposes upon us no parallel obligation of that kind. The things are not analogous. It is no use arguing that because other people have not made Locarnos other people would not follow our example in signing the Optional Clause. Of course they would. If we, as a leading Power in the world, signed the Optional Clause a large portion of the remaining people outstanding would do the same.
As to public opinion, it is remarkable, if public opinion in this country does not approve of the signing of the Optional Clause, that it has not been represented in this House to-day except by the spokesman for the Government. That strikes me as quite remarkable considering that your Lordships' House is certainly nothing if not loyal to the Government and Conservative. I cannot help thinking that the real difficulty about signing the Optional Clause is that really it might be inconvenient. In not signing it we are either throwing doubt on the justice of our own case or upon the impartiality of the tribunal. When you peel and boil it I believe the real difficulty is this. We know our case is perfectly just and I do not believe we distrust the tribunal, but we do think it might be extremely inconvenient. It is much more convenient to be able to disregard it and 149 not to be bothered. I believe that when the Government realise that public opinion really does demand this and attaches importance to it, they will alter the decision which they have made. Unless we are going to make a greater advance than we have done the outlook is not promising. I think the Government are clutching at a shadow if they are attempting to preserve our material interests by not signing—they are clutching at a shadow and rejecting the chance of obtaining the substance, which is a better prospect of a lasting peace among; the nations.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the great regret which I feel in respect of this debate is that it may mislead the public mind as to the real attitude of the parties who have been in dispute in your Lordships' House to-night. Noble Lords who have spoken on one side and on the other have used arguments of strength one against the other and it might be thought by those who do not know the real inwardness of our political life and proceedings that we are opposed to one another. But the honest truth is that as regards the greater part of the case we are absolutely united. There is no question of a difference of opinion between us on the main case. We listened just now to a very eloquent speech from the noble and learned Lord (Lord Buckmaster)—I may say very eloquent even among the eloquent speeches of the noble and learned Lord. He declared that he had been before audiences in the country, or was prepared to go before them, and that he was quite satisfied public opinion was entirely on his side. Of course it is. We, too, are in agreement with the greater part of what he said, with all his splendid oratory, about the horror of war and the necessity of baying it replaced by some other methods of settling disputes, and we sympathise with his great aspirations and hopes that there will be no more war.
We all hope that, and I am not a bit surprised at the support noble Lords get from public meetings and audiences in the country when they make admirable speeches of that kind. Everybody, of course, agrees with them. Moreover, people will agree with them in going much closer to the question than that. 150 When they say: "Surely arbitration is preferable to war," of course people agree with that. Equally they get agreement when they say: "Surely this country ought to go to the very furthest point it can go with safety in order to secure arbitration rather than have war? "Everyone throws up his hat at that. We are all of that opinion. But the public opinion with which one has to deal at a moment of crisis is not the public opinion that one gets in a public meeting. There is no difficulty about public opinion at such a meeting, but what the Government is afraid of is public opinion at the critical moment when it is called upon to fulfil the obligations into which it has entered. I quite agree that one may be too timid in matters of this kind, but the one thing which it appears to me the experience of the recent terrible years has taught us is that we should do our utmost to enter into no engagement which we do not think we shall be able to fulfil. I think nothing has been more demoralising in recent years than the number of treaties which have been torn to pieces when the critical moment came. It is not one treaty; I think I have been told there were at least a dozen which were ignored in the recent Great War.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
We ignored a great many treaties, but we did so on grounds which we could defend, because it was necessary, when other people ignored their treaties, that we should have a free hand, too. Therefore, we should be very careful, in the interests of the highest morality, not to enter into promises that public opinion will do certain things unless we are satisfied that it will do them. I am not at all surprised at the enthusiasm of public opinion for the attitude of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Buckmaster) and other noble Lords in this debate. They come here, I have no doubt, in the earnest desire to find some way out of the terrible arbitrament of war—some alternative to war. In a great measure we agree that arbitration is desirable. It is only a question of hew quickly we ought to go. There is nothing more in it than that. It is not a question of what the ultimate aim is. I suspect if we got into a room together we should agree absolutely as to the ultimate aim. But 151 the question is, can you here and now go beyond a certain pace? That, I believe, is the only issue which is really between the parties.
Let me say one word about the disarmament problem. The noble and learned Lord rather despised the plea of my noble friend (Lord Cushendun) that this country had disarmed. I think he was very unjust to my noble friend. Surely we could not go on advocating, as we have done and as we are doing, disarmament for all other countries unless we had shown that we were prepared to disarm ourselves. Our action has placed us in a position of great authority on disarmament. I do not want to go into actual figures, but the broad fact is undeniable that we have disarmed as far as we possibly can. We have reduced our Army, we have reduced our Navy and we should be very glad to cheek our Air Force in the interests of disarmament. Everybody in Europe and in America knows—or ought to know, perhaps that is the better way of putting it—that that is the case. The noble and learned Lord asked: What have you done to produce international disarmament? My noble friend is about to proceed to Geneva in the course of two or three days to take part in one of the great efforts for disarmament. I am not very familiar, I am sorry to say, with all the procedure at Geneva, but Geneva is simply littered with Committees and Commissions and Conferences, all more or less directed to disarmament. It is very heavy procedure no doubt, very unwieldy, but that belongs to the nature of the case. You cannot have a great international organisation without its being unwieldy. It is working very slowly, but so far as we are concerned, I cannot think of any failure on our part in advocating disarmament. We see, certainly, among other countries a strange reluctance to help. We have observed that over and over again, but though we may make mistakes, so far as motive is concerned, I think it cannot be doubted that those of us who have addressed you to-night from this Bench are in favour of disarmament, and that we have pressed it and are going to press it still further at Geneva.
I turn from disarmament to the other matter which has been the great theme of discussion this evening. We have been asked: Why do you not sign the 152 Optional Clause? I wonder whether I shall be thought very impertinent if I say that I think a great many of the speakers to-night, belonging as they do to the legal profession, have taken too professional a view of this question. To hear them speak, you would think that the International Tribunal was very like a British court of justice, equipped very much in the same way, with very much the same material to work upon. I am not a lawyer, and very likely in what I am going to say I shall make a mistake, but my information is quite different from that. My information is that the Judges of the International Court are very distinguished men, but that they have to work at present—please underline the words at present—under very great difficulties. In many parts of this subject there is no settled system of international jurisprudence at all. It is not a fully-nourished, well-equipped system of law, which distinguished lawyers can easily administer. On the contrary, many parts of International Law are almost chaotic. That is not a charge of want of impartiality against the Tribunal—quite certainly these distinguished gentlemen do everything they can—but it is a reason why you should hesitate before you commit yourselves absolutely to referring to the International Court anything, whatever its nature, whatever the stake which is involved, whatever the difference of opinion may be amongst your own fellow-countrymen upon the subject, whatever doubt there may be whether Parliament in this country or the Dominions will see you through supposing the verdict goes one way or the other.
It is easy to say that English men, whether here or overseas, will do their best to accept the decision of the umpire. That is quite true. But when it is brought home to them, as it would be at the critical moment, that a decision had been taken in circumstances making it extremely difficult for the Judges to arrive at a conclusion at all, that they had no precedents to work upon, that there was no legislation which could be easily moved in order to modify obvious mistakes in the law, that they had not to administer an ordinary legal system, then matters might become difficult. That is not to say that arbitration is a bad thing, or that we ought not gradually to approach a full, complete system 153 of arbitration, but it is a reason for a certain caution before you absolutely bind yourselves to refer everything to a Court which, however good its intentions and however magnificent its personnel may be, is not and cannot be quite certain to be in a position to afford justice to the litigants before it. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that it is wise not yet to bind ourselves.
But if the noble and learned Lord and others ask me what future I contemplate, I suspect that the future I contemplate is exactly the same as the future they contemplate. We look forward to the day when it will be possible to refer without reserve every matter which is justiciable at any rate to an International Court. That time, perhaps, will not be in our lifetime, but hereafter, when time will have confirmed these great Courts in their great work and furnished them with all they require in order to do complete justice, no hesitation need be felt. Perhaps I am unduly pessimistic. Perhaps it will come much sooner than I have indicated. But the Government, with all their responsibility, cannot risk great national disasters as the noble and learned Lord and others might do in a position of independence. We are responsible not only to this country but to public opinion in our Dominions. As far as the present is concerned, we are absolutely bound by a decision of the Imperial Conference. That of course might be set right at another Imperial Conference. But as matters stand, I venture to leave it to your Lordships as I have tried to put it. We look to arbitration, we try for arbitration, wherever it is possible, but to ask us to make a solemn pledge which we are not sure we could perform is more than the Government are prepared to do.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I cannot pretend to be even moderately satisfied with the replies that have fallen from my noble friends on the Government Bench. I am afraid they look at the European situation entirely differently from the way I look at it. I look at the situation as precarious, with no immediate danger threatening, but not likely to be long continued in this condition. I believe that if we are to erect barriers against war, it must be 154 done within the next three or four years—five or six years at the outside. That is the time when we shall have the feeling of the late war to back us and enable us to erect these barriers. If we do not do it then, it will not be done at all. I am afraid that the spectacle that possibly in our children's lifetime we may go so far as to sign the Optional Clause does not, encourage me very much. I regard the Optional Clause as a very small step forward We have agreed to the principle of it already in the Covenant; we have agreed that this kind of question ought to be referred, and would be generally suitable for reference, to the Court. To ask us to agree definitely to refer them seems to me a very small step forward.
I am afraid that the decision of the Government will be very unfortunate from many points of view, and I am afraid that the arguments that they have used will not commend themselves to the general opinion in this country. It is all very well to say that there is only a difference in point of time. So there is, but time is absolutely vital in this matter. We have not very much time before us. The great defect of the Conservative mind—it has very great merits—is in believing that it is safer to do nothing than to do something. It is not necessarily so. It just depends on circumstances. This is a case in which, in my judgment, it is safer to do something than to do nothing. It is quite evident that it would be unbecoming in me, in the first Motion that I have had the honour to submit to your Lordships, to press for a Division, and I shall not do so. I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.