HL Deb 11 July 1928 vol 71 cc932-63

LORD PARMOOR rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can give any further information on the position of minorities or on the ratification of Conventions at Geneva; and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said; My Lords, the Question that I am seeking to raise before your Lordships is one of much nicety and complexity. It concerns a problem that has come to the front in a special manner since the Peace Treaties, because those Treaties, by altering some frontiers and rearranging and extending others, have made the question of minorities one of extreme and immediate importance. In one sense the question of minorities is an old one and has been with us for centuries in Europe, but in its present phase it is a new question, dependent, as I shall show, almost entirely, though not in all cases, upon the terms of Treaties which give to minorities rights, as I think, guaranteed by us and by those of the Allied and Associated Powers who signed the Treaties. I may say at once to the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, who I understand is going to answer me, that I do not seek to bring anything like an indictment against the League of Nations. On the contrary I am a strong supporter of the League in other directions, and I think that in this difficult case they have done what they can under the conditions obtaining, though there are certain points to which I shall call attention later.

What I want to have considered is the attitude of the Government on these questions—I do not speak of the Government qua Government, but as representing, as it must in questions of this kind, the national interest of Great Britain as a Great Power. I say this because noted that in the interesting discussion that we had a short time ago on the Trianon Treaty and the questions raised between Rumania and Hungary, it was said that this House had not much to do with the attitude of the League of Nations itself. That may or may not be true, but the question raised then and the question that I raise to-day are not immediately questions of the conduct of the League of Nations but of obligations that this country has undertaken and the manner in which they have been fulfilled. There is one other point that I should like to make clear. As the noble Lord will know, I put this Question down several weeks ago, before the noble Lord, Lord Newton, had put down his Question regarding minority interests as between Rumania and Hungary. Not only do I not complain of that—I could have no reason for doing so—but the very thorough and exhaustive examination by Lord Birkenhead on that occasion in his speech regarding the differences between Rumania and Hungary makes it quite unnecessary to seek to raise that question again. There are just two points that I should like to mention before I leave this matter. I think it was shown in that debate that what had passed with a view to bringing about a settlement between those two countries had really been a long-drawn-out failure. After a long series of attempts nothing was done. Perhaps I may add again that this was an example of the Council, instead of performing an administrative act, embedding itself in questions of politics and in political dissensions.

Finally recourse was had to Article 11 of the Covenant. This is a most important Article in itself, but it is not intended to be applicable to these minority questions. I do not deny that possibly a minority question might raise itself into a question coming under Article 11, but Article 11 is not directly in point. If, when a question of minority rights is raised, it is put on one side under the provisions of Article 11 because one of the parties refers to that Article, you are liable indirectly to stop the whole course of minority procedure, and I am sure that nobody would desire to do this who understands the difficulty and complexity of these questions at Geneva. It is quite reasonable that there should be these difficulties and complexities. On one side you have provisions in a Treaty which are intended to protect the rights of minorities and, I think, do protect those rights to a very large extent; and on the other hand you have the claim of the national sovereignty, which is always a potent claim, which dislikes the whole idea of a minority subject to special provisions and protection, whereas those provisions, as I shall point out, undoubtedly imply and, indeed, in terms enact that, where those protective obligations are inconsistent with national legislation or official administration, then the latter must give way. That is a strong point, as the noble Lord opposite will understand, but it is in the forefront of the Minority Treaties, and when we have an obligation of that kind in the forefront your Lordships will always protect yourselves by saying: "We would obey the regulation which we find in the Minority Treaties but we claim under the powers of national sovereignty within our Legislature to treat this matter as we like."

I think the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, has had a note of what I intend to say on the minority question. The minority question is one which affects minorities in rare or in religion. I will take the words from the definition clause of the Minority Treaties. Probably the noble Viscount (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) would know the exact number of these Treaties better than I do but there are between fifteen and twenty of them. In substance, though not necessarily in terms, they are all in the same form and therefore it would be only necessary to call your Lordships' attention to a typical Treaty in order that the argument I am endeavouring to put forward may be understood. The importance of this question may be further gauged by the fact that on statistics which have been carefully prepared and collected—this must no doubt to a certain extent be a matter not of absolutely accurate statistics but of the nearest possible statistics that can be obtained—the minorities which are protected by the Minority Treaties are in the aggregate between 32 millions and 35 millions. The two estimates have been given by different people.

I have gone through all the statistics. I have them here, but I need not trouble your Lordships with them because statistical accuracy is not obtainable. It is sufficient to show by particulars such as I have given the great importance of the proper protection of minorities under the Minority Treaties. A population on the whole not much less than the population of this country is affected. Not only that, but they are affected in a way that requires settlement under the new regulations which have succeeded the War and before a really peaceful spirit can generally be said to have settled down in Europe. I am not suggesting the alteration of those Treaties. I think it is far too early to make any suggestion of that kind. But, taking that view, it is more important that those who have minority rights solemnly granted to them by Treaty to which this country is a party, should have the advantage of those rights, which have been given to safeguard their lives and interests.

The principle, I think, was very admirably stated to the Second Assembly by the then representative of Great Britain, Lord Balfour. Lord Balfour took a great part in the early years of the life of the League and of the Council of the League. What he said is so important that I copied it out in reading again through the speech which he made to the Second Assembly of the League in 1920. He said:— We have set up a machinery for the protection of minorities and we mean that that machinery shall work.

I do not suppose any one would dissent for a moment from that statement, but the words I want to call attention to are these: "we mean that that machinery shall work." The question which has been raised and ought to be carefully considered in view of our obligations, is whether, after experience and experiment, the machinery does work so as to give the protection to which the minorities are entitled.

I am afraid that in many respects the machinery wants alteration and the alteration is a thing which I should hope this country would take part in planning out. It does not, however, affect the principles of the Minority Treaties themselves. I think that something should be done in order to make the protection of these minority rights more assured and less open to friction and dispute. For that purpose you want to arrive at two results. First of all you must have a method by which those rights, if called in question, can be decided one way or the other—that is, between the minority and the national government. That, I think, is quite clear. Secondly—and this is hardly less important—the minority should be satisfied, whatever the decision come to may be, whether in their favour or against them, that their interests have had proper, impartial and fair consideration. Although I do not want to criticise those who give the consideration, I shall be bound to point out, when I come to deal with the matter, that in my view at the present time the minorities have some reason to say: "Whatever our rights may be we should be satisfied that, if they are to be enforced, the method of enforcement is satisfactory."

I may give one other fact in passing. I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, is cognisant of it and certainly the noble Viscount (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) is. Professor Gilbert Murray, who then, I think, represented South Africa, took a very foremost part in helping to formulate the machinery by which the minorities could be protected under the Minority Treaties. The main proposals were partially accepted in 1922 and 1923, but since that time, so far as I know, very little change has been made, although I think experience and experiment have shown that changes must be made if the minority rights are to be effectively enforced. I think it would be the shortest way now if I called your Lordships attention to a typical Minority Treaty in order that I may show what, at any rate in my view, the position is, and then I will make suggestions as to any ameliorations in procedure—there is no amelioration necessary, I think, in principle—which I hope this Government may do its best to bring about at Geneva.

I have with me a valuable book on this subject by Mr. Mair, who is assistant in international studies at the London School of Economics. I only want to refer to it because it contains, printed in a convenient form, a typical Minority Treaty. There are three or four points in that Treaty to which I know the attention of Lord Cushendun has been drawn because I was able to send him the notes from which I am now speaking. The first of them is Article 1, and it is an extremely important Article, although I do not think it has been sufficiently insisted on as a direct consideration. The State—that is, the State where the minority rights are given—the State undertakes that the stipulations contained in Articles 2 to 8 of this Chapter"— they are the real Articles which define the position of the minority in the State— shall be recognised as fundamental laws"— Then there is this provision, which I think will strike any one who knows the difficulties that surround this question as being of the greatest importance:— and that no law, regulation or official action shall conflict or interfere with these stipulations, nor shall any law, regulation or official action prevail over them. That means that the international protection and the international rights conferred upon the minorities cannot be overridden or interfered with by internal legislation.

Your Lordships, of course, know that there is considerable jealousy over any interference with internal legislation within the area of a sovereign state. We can all understand that, although I think in some cases there must be some such obligation, but what is stated here positively and distinctly in this case, where certain minorities or a large number of minorities were placed for the first time under new sovereignty, is that their international protection is to prevail as against any attempt to diminish or weaken it by internal legislation. I have a recollection that that point was raised in the Rumano-Hungarian case, but I have said already that I do not intend to go back on that case. It is a prominent matter in a large number of these minority discussions, discussions that are not all published, although a great number of them are dealt with at Geneva largely through the Secretariat and the Council. Here we have this specific statement that internal legislation by any State is not to override the international obligation or the international rights which the minority have had conferred upon them.

I do not wish, of course, to read the terms of the Minority Treaty. It is between the State on the one side and the Allied and Associated Powers on the other and, of course, we were one of the Allied and Associated Powers. The provisions all tend in this direction, that there shall be no inequality in the sense of harsh treatment of the minority which has the protection of a Minority Rights Treaty. Whether in language, in social status, in education or in law, they are to have equal treatment and equal rights and, indeed, are in every way to be regarded in the same way as other nationals of the State. We are all agreed that that is a most important and necessary provision, having regard to the terms of the Peace Treaties and the number of minorities who are now resident in these different countries. I must, however, call your Lordships' attention a little more definitely to Article 12, because Article 12—it is the same Article in all the Minority Treaties—confers a most important obligation which the signatories to the Treaty (and we are one of them) have to see carried out in relation to these minorities. The country affected agrees that— the stipulations in the foregoing Articles, the stipulations for the protection of minorities— so far as they affect persons belonging to racial, religious or linguistic minorities"— those are the three classes I refer to— constitute obligations of international concern and shall be placed under the guarantee of the League of Nations. I want to make a statement on that point. I think that apart from the League of Nations it would really be impossible to devise any method by which protection could be given under these Minority Treaties. Attempts were made to give protection, as we know historically, when there was no League of Nations, but they failed and to my mind it is one of the great advantages of the League of Nations, one of the reasons why we should support it to the utmost, that any matter of this kind where a solemn international Treaty has been entered into—and it is a very solemn Treaty indeed—can be referred to the League of Nations to see that the conditions are carried out. The conditions cannot be modified without a majority of the Council of the League.

There is one other provision in the Article to which I wish to refer. I will not detain your Lordships by reading more than I need. That provision is that where discussion arises between parties who are entitled to bring the matter forward—I am obliged to put in that limitation because I think further powers in that respect ought to be given, as the reference in all cases is to Article 14 of the Covenant—if either party asks for it, it is an absolute obligation that such dispute shall be referred to the Permanent Court of International Justice. The decision of the Permanent Court shall be final and shall have the same force and effect as an award under Article 13 of the Covenant. That is a most important provision. It brings to the front what I think every speaker in this House expressed as his view in the Rumano-Hungarian case that in all matters of this kind, which are matters of interpretation of an agreement and the facts relating to them, it is most important that we should remove the dispute, whatever it may be, from the political arena and have it settled in a judicial manner by an impartial Court. I may say in passing, merely to make my point quite clear, that that application, if one of the parties desires it, is applicable not only to questions of law but also to questions of facts. Indeed the whole question of protection under these Minority Treaties can be brought in that way before the International Court at the Hague. The only difficulty is that at the present time the parties who can do that do not in my opinion include all the necessary parties. On that I wish to say a word later.

I want now to point to what I may call the difficulties which have arisen in putting into force this clause for the protection of minorities, and here I must say I think that after experience and experiment reform and change are necessary. It is in this direction that I hope the Government may exercise its influence. In the first place, the aggrieved minority, who obviously are the persons or parties especially interested, cannot approach the League at all. There is no machinery whatever by which the aggrieved persons can approach the League directly. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, will agree with me in that. There is machinery by which you may ask some other country to take up your case or something of that kind, which is entirely different. But the ordinary principle ought to prevail and there ought to be machinery by which the aggrieved minority should be able to bring forward their case and state it—do not say whether before the Assembly or the Council of the League—before the competent body which is to give the decision. But they are not really recognised as competent parties to the process at all.

They have to stand on one side to a very great extent, and entirely so far as their right is concerned, while matters are discussed in which they have critical and immediate interest. They take no part and are not allowed to take any part in the examination of their grievances. In the ordinary way in the examination of grievances the best opportunity is given so that the aggrieved people themselves shall be able to explain any question which may arise. But these people do not know, and they have no chance of answering, the case for the defence—that is, the case for the country in which the particular minority is situated—nor do they see the case for the defence until it is given in the judgment. They cannot in fact take any part at all in the negotiations or the consideration. When Professor Gilbert Murray—I merely mention this by way of illustration—was seeking to lay down what he thought would be a convenient procedure, he proposed that the Council should have power to send an individual to the spot to see whether the complaints were justified or not. That would be a very convenient procedure in some cases, but I will not go into details because it was not adopted.

Then, Members of the Council who are really interested—although they are not interested against a particular minority they have the same minority questions in their own sovereign areas—of course are biased. I do not want to make any attack. I want to see whether we can reach a solution which will properly safeguard the national sovereignty on the one side and the right which has been given to the minority on the other, regarding their race, their language and their religion. To put it quite shortly, what I want to know is this. Cannot these questions be brought directly before the Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague, and cannot one of the parties be, as they ought to be, the aggrieved persons themselves, and the questions decided on judicial grounds? It is all a question as to whether a Treaty has been observed or not. That, I agree, may be a question which raises a good deal of interest and what we call partiality or bias. But that is always the issue, and surely there can be no better tribunal to decide such a matter. I hope as a result of experience and experiment that a system of this kind may be adopted.

A Congress of National Minorities was held at Geneva in 1925. That Congress asked for three things in order that their rights might be properly protected. Apart from the wider questions to which I have referred, I would also ask Lord Cushendun in regard to these three matters whether further consideration might not be given to the procedure in connection with these minority questions. That is enormously important if you are to have a generally friendly and peaceful attitude throughout Europe—not created at the moment; it can only be created after a long process of careful and sympathetic treatment. One of the things that Congress asked for was the publicity of documents.


Who asked for that?


The Congress of National Minorities which sat at Geneva in 1925. The noble Lord will see it in the notes that I sent him. At the present time I do not think there is any part of the procedure at Geneva which is less public than that dealing with minorities. I found great difficulty indeed in ascertaining the necessary facts; although after I had placed this Motion on the Paper of your Lordships' House a mass of information was sent to me which I should not otherwise have obtained. Secondly, and this is a point to which I have already referred, the Congress of National Minorities asked that minorities should be treated as parties to the case. It seems to me obvious, I must say, that this should be done in the cause of justice. Thirdly, they asked that any Member of the League, whether a Member of the Council or not, should have the right to bring a case before the Council and so start it on its way to the Permanent Court of International Justice. At the present time that can only be done by a Member of the League who is also a Member of the Council. Surely the question arises, why should not any Member of the League, any Member of the Assembly, be allowed to take a step of that kind?

I will not go into such matters of detail as those connected with what is called the Committee of Three, because I do not think that your Lordships' House is a place in which detailed procedure can be properly discussed. What I have dealt with are substantial matters of principle, not of detail—matters which I think ought to be dealt with in order that minorities may substantiate their rights in the manner stated by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. May I call your Lordships' attention to his statement? We have set up a machinery for the protection of minorities and we mean that that machinery shall work. It is not very likely that machinery of that kind should, in the first instance, be found to be perfect and complete and not capable of adjustment and amendment, and I hope the influence of His Majesty's Goverment may be used in the direction which I have indicated.

Some minorities are not under the Minority Treaties. For instance, the Germans in the South Tyrol have not the advantage of the protection of Minority Treaties. I do not want to go into questions which may involve possible difficulties between different nations. I have been speaking generally and I am very anxious to avoid any reference to particular cases. That is why I am glad that the case of Hungary was discussed the other day. But Signor Tittoni, who was, I think, Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 or at any rate held high office, in speaking on the point which I have been discussing, said, in 1919—that is very near the time—that though Italy was not bound by Minority Treaties to apply their provisions she was under a moral obligation to do so. As I say, I do not want to go into particular cases, and I am not anxious, because I know the noble Lord does not place much weight on their opinion, to refer to a resolution recently passed by the General Council of the League of Nations Union, but surely we should all sympathise with Signor Tittoni's statement, and hope that whatever the present conditions may be those views may ultimately prevail. The same view was taken by successive Prime Ministers. Signors Giolitti and Bonomi. That is all I want to say on the question of minorities. I only want to say one or two words on the other question which I brought to your Lordships' notice, the question of Conventions.


Before the noble Lord leaves the question of Minority Treaties—I do not wish to leave anything that he said unanswered if I can meet him—I do not know what he means with regard to the Italian question. What does he suggest that we can do with regard to any question between Italy and some part of the Italian Dominions?


My view is, quite frankly, that in the absence of Minority Right Treaties we have no position or power to intervene directly in a matter of that kind, and that is why I expressed the hope that Signor Tittoni's view, which he expressed at the time that the arrangement of the new Italian frontier was made, would ultimately prevail as regards the treatment of Germans in the Southern Tyrol. I am much obliged to Lord Cushendun for asking that question. Where we have no Minority Treaties the position is of course essentially distinct. In the case of Minority Treaties we have in terms come under certain solemn obligations and we do not wish to escape from them—we cannot do so whether we wish it or not—and it is as regards the position of minorities under Minority Treaties that I am really addressing the House and the noble Lord this afternoon. I mentioned the Italian position because I felt, and I do feel, that it is of the utmost importance that ultimately and in the long run the statement admirably made by Signor Tittoni should be the governing factor in the dealing by the Italian Government with the Southern Tyrol. I do not wish to divert attention beyond that point.

I want to say one word on Conventions. I thought at one time that it would be necessary to take up a little time in discussing Conventions, but the course of modern history on the Conventions point has lessened very much what I have to say. Your Lordships will recollect that one of the most important documents ever produced at Geneva was the World Economic Report. M. Theunis was the President of the Committee, and the preamble of that Report, signed by M. Theunis himself, is of the very greatest importance. To summarise it quite shortly, it said that under modern conditions industrialism could never reassume its pre-War status unless by the sweeping away of all unnecessary obstructions and interventions which interfered with the interchange of industrial products between different countries, emphasising the view that you must regard all industrial countries as one unit if you want to get the best industrial results.

I notice that in The Times, to-day, there is a statement headed "Freedom of Trade: League Convention to be signed to-day." The League Convention to be signed to-day was based upon the Report of the World Economic Conference for the Abolition of Import and Export Prohibition and Restrictions between the various industrial countries. The correspondent continues: All that remains is the signing of the Convention, which will take place tomorrow. I presume that means to-day, or yesterday. I am glad to see, although I am sometimes critical of the action of the noble Lord and of the British Government, that it is stated that we are going to sign, and sign unreservedly. Then the correspondent goes on:— The result of the Conference is regarded by those competent to judge as a marked step towards the freedom of trade. I must say that I think that is an enormous advance in the right direction, and one by which the League of Nations can primarily claim the honour of having initiated a great forward movement. I hope that after that is signed there will be a real advance in getting rid of obstructions which do good to no one but on the other hand interfere with the freedom of industrial exchange. That is the first Convention, and it is no longer necessary to call further attention to it. I am delighted to read that it has been unanimously accepted, and that it is to be signed to-day, and signed by us unconditionally.

The other matter I can deal with very shortly, because it has already been discussed, certainly a year and a half ago, and it is the Eight Hours Convention. It really is a scandal, I think, that we are still withholding our signature and approval from that Convention. It started about nine years ago, there being a number of meetings and especially a London Conference at which full understanding, as we thought, was come to with regard to its meaning and intent. I want to say a word upon a particular point. If you want free international trade you want equality in international conditions of labour. That is, I think, one of the most important matters of the day and of the age. You want to level the conditions of international labour up to our level in Great Britain and to a higher level, and if you do that you will get great results. You do not get what I may call the prejudice of underselling by means of goods produced by labour living at a low standard and paid at a low rate of wages, and in international trade that ought to be prevented, as it is sought to be prevented by these international Conventions from the International Labour Office. If you think of the world as an industrial unit surely this is of the utmost importance. It is of increasing importance, and the efforts of the International Labour Office in that direction should really have the strenuous support, it seems to me, of all people who have at heart the unity of industrial effort and the common advantage of labour throughout the world. I not only find no fault with international capital, I believe it is necessary; but I think international labour is equally necessary for the protection of the working classes, particularly for those in this country who have a high standard, and necessary in order that international exchange may be carried out, not to the disadvantage of some parties, but to the advantage of all. I beg to move.


My Lords, the noble Lord has made an interesting speech with regard to Minority Treaties, but I am a little doubtful as to the particular points on which it is necessary for me to say anything by way of reply, though it would not be very difficult perhaps to make some comments on his speech. I confess that I am still not very familiar with the atmosphere and procedure of your Lordships' House. I have been more accustomed to the necessity of rising to repel an attack, or something in the nature of an attack, but that is just what the noble Lord has very kindly avoided to-day.


Might I say that on matters of this kind, which are national matters, one does not rise to make an attack, but to suggest what is best for the country as a whole.


I am not complaining at all of the noble Lord, I am rather trying to excuse my own inexperience. It appears to me as if I had to come down to the House this afternoon to engage in a pleasant little conversation with the noble Lord on this question of Minority Treaties, and I welcome the opportunity of doing so; but not only is there nothing in the nature of an attack to repel, but there is nothing really which calls for any sort of reply from me, with one exception. I must say I was a good deal surprised by what the noble Lord said with regard to Italy, and that is why I interrupted him in order to make sure that I was not forming a false impression as to-what was passing through his mind. The noble Lord explained that when he referred to Italy in connection with the subject of minorities all he meant was that some speech which he had quoted from an Italian statesman, made some time ago, announced a general course of policy which would be followed by the Italian Government, and the noble Lord expressed a hope that that policy would be carried out.

Is not that a rather strange step for the noble Lord to take? He cannot divest himself altogether of responsibility. He is an ex-Minister of the Crown. What would he think if a member of the Legislature in Rome were suddenly to begin discussing some statement by the Prime Minister in this country, and in a rather patronising way to say that that announcement by the Prime Minister in this country had his entire approval, and that he hoped very much it would be carried out? I think myself that it is really a very unwarrantable interference with the domestic affairs of a friendly nation, with which we have no concern whatever. The noble Lord quite frankly said that there was no question of Minority Treaties there, it was merely that the Italian Government are fortunate enough to have earned the approval of the noble Lord, and he thought, I suppose, that it would be gratifying to the Italian Government that they had his approval. At all events, so far as I am concerned I do not intend to make any comment of that sort at all.

As regards the Minority Treaties generally the noble Lord said that he had no intention of making any criticism of the League of Nations, and at a later part of his speech he intimated that what he had in mind in raising the question at all were the obligations of His Majesty's Government. I listened with great attention to the rest of his speech, and I must say I found it very difficult to gather what he thought were the obligations of His Majesty's Government in this respect, and especially what obligations, if any, have not been completely implemented by the Government of this country under the Minority Treaties up to the present time. I thoroughly agreed with one thing that was said by the noble Lord when he expressed the view that Article 11 of the Covenant should not be in any way associated with the Minority Treaties procedure; in that respect I entirely agree with him. As he is aware, some attempt has been made to use Article 11 by way of bringing into play the Minority Treaties machinery, and I agree with him—I am glad to have his support in that view—that that might lead to very unfortunate results. I think the Council have done right in laying it down that that attempt ought not to be encouraged, and that they could not allow themselves to be influenced by it.

The noble Lord says that because he does not suggest any revision of the Treaties it is all the more important—because the time has not come for revision of the Treaties—to see that the machinery is effective for carrying out the purposes of these clauses. He quoted a statement by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, at an earlier period that it was the intention that this machinery should work. But there were two things conspicuously absent from the noble Lord's speech, which I was waiting and expecting to hear touched upon by him, but which he passed over entirely in silence. I thought that when he brought before your Lordships' House the question of Minority Treaties he would have some example to give us of the breakdown of those Treaties—some example to show that the procedure, which he has told us is in his view unsatisfactory, had proved insufficient for the purposes for which it has been devised. Now, with the exception of a passing reference to the Rumanian and Hungarian question, info which I do not wish to go, he never gave the slightest hint that the Treaties as they stand and the procedure which has been followed are not amply sufficient for the purpose in view. I think that this was a very great omission on his part because, unless you can show that machinery of this kind, which is not of very old standing, has in some way been proved to be insufficient, I should have thought that there was no case whatever for attempting at so early a period to devise any improvement or alteration of it.

The noble Lord, with two exceptions to which I shall refer in a moment, really did not suggest any great improvement in the machinery that exists. He was, of course, in this difficulty, that, although he might indicate changes such as those that were asked for by the Congress at Geneva to which he referred—changes resting on purely theoretical grounds—while it was not difficult to bring those forward, he has no experience to point to as showing that these particular changes, if they were carried out, would really effect any improvement in the procedure. I am not prepared to admit that the procedure requires any reform or addition. I do not wish to make any dogmatic assertion of that sort, because I really do not know that I have a sufficiently intimate knowledge of all the workings of the procedure in the different countries where Minority Treaties are in force to justify me in making any such positive statement. Certainly until it can be shown that the Minority Treaties as a whole have failed, and failed conspicuously, to produce the protection of the minorities for whom they were devised, I think it would be very objectionable to attempt revision of the procedure now, and quite unnecessary.

The noble Lord was quite mistaken in one very important respect. He was quite mistaken, as I intimated to him, I think, in the course of his speech, in saying that the minorities themselves have no means of making their case known to the Council. That is really a complete misconception. A Report was adopted in 1920 by the Council to the effect that minorities themselves, or States not represented on the Council, were not debarred from bringing to the notice of the League any infraction or danger of infraction of the Minority Treaties and the procedure that is now in force, under the Committee of Three to which the noble Lord referred, is that any minority that thinks itself aggrieved has the right to present a petition to the Council. That petition is examined by the Committee of Three, consisting of the President and two other Members of the Council, and according to the judgment that they form of the justice or otherwise of the petition that has been presented they may move the Council to take it into consideration. Unless they do this, the petition is not, of course, considered by the Council itself.

The point on which I chiefly differ from the noble Lord is this. He seems to think that, in order to carry out these Minority Treaties, it is desirable that there should be the greatest possible freedom of approach to the Council, either by petition or otherwise, that every aggrieved minority should have easy access to some tribunal, either the Council or the Permanent Court, and that there should be the greatest possible publicity allowed. That was one of the points on which the noble Lord laid stress. I am bound to say that I take a very different view. The noble Lord must be perfectly well aware that it would not be difficult for these Minority Treaties to be used for purposes very different from that for which they were intended by the framers of the Peace Treaties. It might perfectly well be that they could be used for irredentist propaganda for raising all sorts of minor questions with which they were not intended to deal; and if on any occasion some perhaps quite inconsiderable minority were to raise some case in which they alleged that their rights under these Treaties had been violated, very likely without any evidence whatever to support them, and if that sort of thing were to grow general, it would probably make these Treaties impossible to carry out and would also be a source of friction and of bad blood, not only between minorities and their own Governments but between one Government and another, in cases where one Government makes representations on behalf of a minority of their own race under another Government. All that sort of case might very well develop into a cause of friction and become objectionable if it were not very much safeguarded by some such procedure as is at present in force under the œgis of the Council of the League.

I do not at all say that the present procedure is the best possible and that it may not prove in the future to require alteration, perhaps to meet circumstances that have not yet arisen, but I certainly do think that it would be a very great mistake, when no real breakdown of these Treaties has been shown and therefore no case has been made for any alteration of procedure, to agitate the question at the present stage. Even if it were to be done, I do not quite know what steps the noble Lord thinks that His Majesty's Government in particular could take. They have no separate responsibility in the matter. They have responsibility, of course, as a Member of the Council which has guaranteed these Treaties.


Surely they have an obligation as parties to the Minority Treaties?


Yes, as parties, but not parties acting alone. Our responsibility is shared with a number of other Powers and we cannot act separately. We cannot take action except in agreement with a number of other Powers. The noble Lord has not made any suggestion as to what exact step we should take. I gather generally that he thinks that the procedure is open to improvement. He has not made any definite proposal as to what His Majesty's Government would do. I can imagine several ways in which they might approach the question if they were convinced that justice and right required it to be done, but that would demand very careful consideration. I do not know that there has been as yet devised any procedure or precedent by which one of the contracting Powers under these Treaties other than the State responsible for the minority could be guided as to what action to take in the matter. However, I put the case on higher ground than that. Of course, I admit that if there was any crying case for reform of procedure, no doubt the way of doing it could easily be devised, but I do not think, so far as we are concerned, we have any special responsibility in the matter. Nor do I think that any case has been shown which would justify us in approaching our co-signatories and asking them to combine with us in devising some better and more effective machinery.

The noble Lord, in addition to his reference to these Treaties, spoke on the question of Conventions. I was very glad to find that one Convention referred to in the Press this morning has his entire approval, and, therefore, it is quite unnecessary for me to say anything about that Convention. The only other one to which he referred was a very old friend—the Eight Hours Washington Convention. All that it is possible for me to say to him in reply to his speech is that the policy of His Majesty's Government has in no way changed from that which was laid down by the Minister of Labour, and I think the Parliamentary Secretary, in the debate in the House of Commons last February. The matter was very clearly and, I venture to claim, very convincingly laid down, and if the noble Lord wants to refresh his memory—


I have refreshed it.


Then I am afraid there is nothing I can do further to enlighten him. The only thing I could do would be to point out what the Minister of Labour then said, and to add that, really, there has been no great change of conditions since then and that we are practically in the same position. But there is one observation I should like to make on this subject. The noble Lord, and those who act with him politically, have rather frequently pressed for the ratification of this Convention, and have expressed their dissatisfaction with the desire of His Majesty's Government to have it revised. What is the objection—that is what I have never been able to make out—to revision? The real fact is that this Convention was drafted at Washington, I think ill 1921, as I am informed rather hastily drafted, at any rate it was drafted necessarily without any experience of post-War conditions of industry which could act as a guide in framing the terms of the Convention. It was very soon found when it was examined by those best qualified to judge in this country that the actual terms of the Convention were very far from appropriate in many instances to the industrial conditions of this country.

The Government have never at any time been opposed to the principle of that Convention. They have expressed their agreement with it time after time, and I cannot understand the attitude of those who think that because the principle is unexceptionable therefore a country like this, very highly industrialised, with very complicated industrial conditions, ought to sign merely as a token of its agreement; that we ought to ratify a Convention of that sort not only without satisfying ourselves of its suitability but when we know quite well that in important respects it is very unsuitable. Surely it is the most reasonable thing that we should say: "Well, let us, instead of indulging in a great number of interpretations—for that is the alternative—and a great number of reservations to show what we mean by the Convention, get the actual text such as we could accept without reservation and then we are perfectly ready to ratify it." That, it appears to me, is the only course for any nation like ourselves to take. It really does not lie in the mouth of the noble Lord, or in any of those who resist revision, to criticise the Government for refusing to ratify, because the answer is perfectly convincing and quite straight. If you want us to ratify, join with us in demanding a text which would be admittedly suitable to our conditions; if you do not do that, then we cannot ratify the Convention as it stands.

Our case has been, if anything, strengthened since the debate to which I have referred, because, since that time, the governing body have adopted a general procedure for revising Conventions. All the International Labour Conventions contain a provision to the effect that they shall come up for reconsideration at least once within a stated period of years. I need not elaborate that. The fact that the governing body have now devised a definite scheme of procedure for revision strengthens our case, I think, when we say: "Let us at all events adopt that procedure and revise the text and then we will be perfectly willing to ratify." I am not suggesting there is any real change in this respect, because I must repeat that the policy of the Government was laid down by the Minister of Labour and to that I have really nothing to add.


My Lords, I do not rise to gratify my noble friend by making an attack upon him which, I understand, is what he earnestly desires should be done.


Not from you.


I am much gratified by the implied compliment from my noble friend. I do rise to say one or two things arising out of his speech. In the first place, I really hope the Government will not think that the uneasiness caused by our attitude on the Eight Hours Convention is confined to members of the Labour Party. There is a considerable amount of uneasiness on that point and I can tell my noble friend quite shortly what it is. I do not want to go into it at any length. I see that my noble friend Lord Lytton has a Notice on the Paper in which he desires to raise the question specifically. I do not want to anticipate that debate, and I should not have said a word about it normally but for the debate that has arisen.

Broadly speaking, the uneasiness is caused by this. We signed this Convention in Washington—that is to say, we voted for it, which is equivalent to signing a Labour Convention, for it has the same effect. We voted for it, and not only voted for it, but voted for it after express instructions so to do from the Government at home. Having done that, there has been—I do not want to go over the history of the matter—more than one occasion on which in public utterances of responsible Ministers hopes have been held out that if this or that were done some step forward would be taken, either actual ratification of the Convention or some material step forward towards it. Then, when it has come to the point, it has turned out that it has been impossible to take that step. The result has been—I am sorry to say so, but I think it is true—deleterious to our prestige and position in connection with these international gatherings and it is not rendered less serious by the constant claim we make that we are so very scrupulous in the way we discharge even the lightest international obligation. I do not want to go into that further, because it is a long and complicated question, but I should not like it to be thought that uneasiness Over our political attitude on this, apart from the industrial effect of the Convention, which is another matter altogether, is confined entirely to members of the Labour Party.

Beyond that I have nothing but praise for the attitude of the Government on the question of the ratification of Conventions generally. I think that our Delegate, and particularly Sir Austen Chamberlain, has taken a very useful part in pressing on the League of Nations the importance of not making Conventions or coming to agreements and then leaving them in the air, and that it is very important that when the League agrees upon a Convention, or puts one forward, or advocates it, it should be signed and ratified as soon as possible because otherwise it gives an impression of futility. I am very much gratified to see—in consequence, I venture to think, very largely of the attitude which the British Government have taken up on that subject—that it was announced only at the last meeting of the Council that the Opium Convention had now been ratified by a sufficient number of Powers to come into force. I think that is a very satisfactory result, and I trust that the Government will go on with their admirable work in that direction.

As to the other question which has been raised, the question of minorities, I am not sure that I can quite subscribe to my noble friend's doctrine that we have no special responsibility in the matter. It is, of course, quite true that our responsibility is the responsibility of a Member of the League and of one of the Permanent Members of the Council, but after all there are only five Permanent Members of the Council. Our responsibility, therefore, is that of one of the five more important Powers on the Council, but it is rather more than that, as my noble friend knows quite well. For various reasons our influence is very important in these matters. Therefore, since our influence is very great so is our responsibility. We cannot quite say that we have no more to do with the question whether these things work well or not than one of the smaller Republics of South America. That really is not the position. We are much more responsible and have a greater duty to discharge in this matter.

I do not gather that my noble friend Lord Parmoor advocated any alteration in the Minority Treaties. That certainly would be a very laborious negotiation to undertake and I agree entirely with what Lord Cushendun said, that it would be a great mistake to try to uproot these Treaties which have been so recently signed. Moreover, there is not the least probability that the other parties to them would agree to any considerable modification even if it was desirable. I agree also with my noble friend Lord Cushendun that there is not any case at present for any change in the Treaties, but the question of the procedure by which these Treaties are worked at the League is rather a different matter. My noble friend must be well aware that there have been several debates in the Assembly, and I dare say in the Council also, raised by various countries who think that the present procedure is very unsatisfactory and inadequate, I think myself the question is an extremely difficult one and I am not going to express any decided opinion as to whether there ought to be a modification of procedure at present, but I do think it is a matter that requires very careful weighing and I do not gather that my noble friend Lord Cushendun disagrees with that.

At present the procedure, as I understand it, is this. A petition from a minority is sent to the Council and it is considered in the Secretariat. I do not think—my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong—that every such petition goes to any Committee at all. It is only certain petitions that do reach the first stage—namely, the Committee. I rather think they have to be sent there by direction of the Council. I do not think they go automatically. Then, when they get to the Committee of Three, the first duty of the Committee of Three is to consider whether any answer is required, whether the matter is sufficiently serious to take up at all. If they decide that it is, then before the matter is further considered they ask the Government of the country concerned whether they desire to make any observations on the petition or whatever document it may be. All that seems to me to be quite legitimate and right, but I think there is a weakness after that stage in the procedure. The answer from the Government of the country concerned goes to the Committee of Three, the Committee of Three being a special Committee appointed for each particular petition and not a standing committee. The answer of the Government in question is not communicated to the minority, on the formal ground that the minority are not parties to the matter at all. The parties to the discussion are the Government of the country concerned and the Committee of Three, as members of the Council who have to consider whether the matter is worth considering and worth bringing before the Council. These are the parties contemplated by the Treaty.

Therefore no information is conveyed to the minority, formally at any rate, though very often they acquire knowledge as to what is the answer of the Government to their complaint. That means that the matter has to be dealt with without knowing the criticisms the minority have to make on the answer of the Government concerned. I think that is the procedure which certainly requires careful watching. It may be that if, as I agree it is, it is carefully administered by the Committee of Three no injustice is done, but it is evidently a little awkward that the League may have to decide or may be asked to decide without really knowing the full facts of the matter in dispute. At the same time I do most heartily agree with my noble friend that this is an exceedingly delicate matter. Instead of protecting a minority we may easily incite a minority to be unreasonable and that will end in a much greater misfortune for the minority than that from which it was previously suffering. I agree that the greatest care and caution must be exercised and that you must weigh one against the other, the advantages of complete publicity and complete examination against the danger of creating difficulties in the Governments of various countries. On the whole I am bound to say that in my judgment no sufficient case has been made out for any modification of the minority procedure, but I do feel—and I do not gather that my noble friend disagrees with me—that it is a delicate matter which ought to be carefully watched. I trust that my noble friend will give it his closest attention and that my right hon. friend the Secretary of State will do so also, because I am sure it is well worth while as an important part of our duty.

There are only two other observations that I desire to make. I do not quite agree that Article 11 can never be used for the purpose of minorities. Article 11 is designed to bring before the League any question that is likely to produce unrest among nations. It is impossible to say that the real apprehensions of a national minority belonging to a neighbouring country may not produce such unrest. And in that case I certainly think it is a matter in which Article 11 may be properly employed in order to bring the question before the Council. I certainly should regret it very much if the Council laid it down absolutely—I do not think they have yet laid it down—that Article 11 was not suitable for that purpose. I think it would be going beyond their powers to do so, and I am sure it would be unfortunate. But that, of course, is not to say that you are simply to get round the fact that there is no Minority Treaty applying to a particular country by using Article 11 instead of the provisions of the Minority Treaty. It is a question of degree in each case, and I certainly should not be prepared to say that in no case must Article 11 be used for the purpose of bringing before the Council a real and serious apprehension of a minority.

I only want to add one word on the very delicate matter of the Tyrol. My noble friend said that he did not think we had any right to say anything at all about the Tyrol and its government I cannot subscribe to that. When the question of handing over the Tyrol to the Italian Government was considered at Paris, very strong representations were made by Austria against that being done. It was said: "This is a very ancient part of the Austrian dominions. It is very strongly German in its national feeling. It has a great history of struggles for independence against countries of a non-German character." And they made a very strong case against its being handed over to the Italian Government, right or wrong. In consequence, I forget exactly who it was that said it, but somebody, speaking on behalf of the Allied and Associated Powers, pointed out that the Italian Government intended to carry out a wide and liberal policy towards its new German subjects in respect of language, culture and economic interests. That was, in effect, I will not say a pledge but an assurance given by the Italian Government to the Powers who were settling this matter that they were going to carry out what may be called a liberal policy in the Tyrol. If it can be shown that they are not doing so, I cannot admit that the signatories to the Treaty of Versailles or of Trianon, whichever it is, are without the right to address representations of remonstrance to the Italian Government. Whether that should be done in a particular case is a matter which must be judged on the actual facts; but I certainly could not accept the view that it is altogether a national matter and not in any respect an international one.


Before the noble Viscount resumes his seat might I ask him whether he acknowledges any limit at all to that principle? Does he seriously maintain that for all time to come, because an announcement was made that a liberal policy was to be pursued, this or any other country would be justified in making protests to the Italian Government if at any time, in our judgment, we do not think they are carrying out their promise to maintain a liberal policy? Is that to go on for ever and to give us a continual right to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation?


I am certainly not prepared to say that it is to go on for ever. These things like everything else are questions of degree. But it seems to me that if a country comes to an international Conference and receives a certain territory on the faith of an assurance given to that Conference then those who signed the Treaty which gave them that territory have the right at any rate for some period—indeterminate I agree—to say: "You really got this territory on a certain assurance. You are not carrying out your assurance. We think that is a very undesirable and unfortunate state of things." Whether it is desirable to make that representation must depend on the facts. I quite agree that you would have to have a very strong case and that a number of other circumstances would have to be considered before you made any such representation. But to say that we are not entitled to make it seems to me to be going a great deal too far.


My Lords, there are one or two points on which I should like to make an answer to the courteous speech of the noble Lord opposite. Although I cannot agree with the inferences he has drawn in respect of certain matters, I do not want to reopen the Italian question. I said that I thought it was surrounded with very great difficulties. But I do not differ from the view put forward by the noble Viscount, that you cannot in the circumstances submit that under no conditions are we responsible at all. You cannot, as it were, shake off all responsibility when it is to be exercised under conditions. I purposely did not attempt to go into the case, because I thought this was not an occasion when such a question could be raised. But on the general principle, so far as I understand what the noble Viscount has said, I certainly agree with him and that is the view I desire to put forward. It is clear, of course, that on these international questions we do not divide ourselves in this country according to the Parties to which we belong. It would be very unfortunate if we did, and I am sure the noble Lord would not desire it on international questions.

Therefore I agree with what the noble Viscount has said regarding the Eight Hours Convention. I am not sure, however, that the noble Lord stated the position quite clearly. Surely, the question of the meaning and understanding according to what was said on one occasion by the Prime Minister was settled after the London Conference, I think about 1925 or 1926. With regard to the other point, I am not quite sure that I am correct, because anything the noble Lord says on a matter of this kind makes me doubt whether my memory is accurate; but surely the principle of the ten years' revision is part of the Convention. You do not want to advocate revision in order that we might have it at the end of ten years; but I think I am right in saying that all these Conventions, this Convention among them, come up for revision aften ten years. But that is no reason whatever for the delay which has taken place. The real point which the noble Lord has put forward is that there are some persons in this country, interested persons, who do not desire a universal eight-hour limitation. I think that is right, and I acknowledge and admit it. But I think, as the noble Viscount has said, that—I was going to say a majority but it is very difficult to talk of majorities and minorities in these matters—there is a very large proportion of public opinion which desires the adoption of the Eight Hours Convention.


Nobody more desires it than the Government.


If the Government desire it, which I am delighted to hear—I often hear that they desire things but we do not seem to get them—I cannot understand any argument which the noble Lord has put forward against showing that desire by means of signature and ratification. I think it is only ratification that is wanted: I am not sure, but I think that the signature has been given. That is the more important as the noble Viscount has pointed out that other ratifications in large numbers have been given conditionally upon this country or rather the British Empire, as it is called, ratifying. For instance, the Germans have ratified unconditionally as matters stand, but I think France, a very important country in a matter of this kind, has ratified but the ratification is not to come into force until this country has also ratified. I take it that the noble Lord has said that the Government want to ratify. Then why not?


It is not a question of whether anybody else is prepared to ratify as soon as we do, but it is a question of whether the text of the thing is suitable. The text of the Convention is not suitable to British conditions, and therefore we will not ratify it until it is in a form which may be suitable to our conditions. It may be suitable for other countries—for Germany, for instance—but it is not suitable for us.


I am sorry to be argumentative, but I should have thought that the noble Lord had given the best possible reason why the Government did not ratify. He stated that there was something in the terms and conditions and provisions of the Eight Hours Convention which did not suit this country. That is a matter which has been discussed and considered, and if that is so, how can he come down here and say that the Government want to ratify? They do not want to ratify.


I should like to put that right, though the noble Lord may wish to make a small debating point. I should have said that the Government are anxious to ratify a Convention which is suitable to us. I ought not, perhaps, to have said that they are anxious to ratify this particular Convention, which is bad drafting from our point of view.


I do not want to take advantage of a small debating point. It is sufficient for my purpose that this Eight Hours Convention as it stands is not one which this Government will ratify. I think that is quite clear. He may say that you can devise one which the Government will ratify. I dare say, but this particular one will not be ratified, and I assume ought not to be ratified by the Government if they hold the view which the noble Lord has stated. I think he will accept my assurance that that in my opinion is a point of real substance, and not a debating point at all. As regards the matter of revision, I think, although I am not quite certain, that the ten years provision in regard to revision would apply to the Convention if ratified as it now stands.

On the other point I want to say a word or two with regard to the minority question. The reason why I did not mention particular cases was that I was anxious that the matter should be discussed without a word of what I may call the prejudice of particular cases. It is a very unpleasant thing to have to criticise particular cases on these international questions if you can avoid it. I think, as the noble Viscount pointed out, there is a clear defect in the procedure which does not allow the persons or parties really aggrieved to be thoroughly heard and to be parties to that procedure, and you can hardly find fault with minorities if, in those circumstances, they are not satisfied that their interests have been understood and sympathetically considered. That is one of the essential features of really settling any question of this kind—namely, that both parties should be satisfied that they have had a full and straight hearing. I regard that as more important than the noble Viscount does, but I agree that you do not want to stir up matters of this kind. I think the time has come when this country might initiate, as it undoubtedly could, a reconsideration of the points that I have mentioned.

There is one other matter only. Surely the noble Lord does not mean that we have not a great, what I call special, obligation under the Minority Right Treaties that we have signed? I thought it was stated, and stated rightly, that since America is not a party to these Treaties, and did not sign these Treaties, our name, which comes first after America, gives us not only the ordinary obligation of a signatory but really makes our obligation of a special character. The noble Lord, who has been at Geneva, I am sure appreciated that our authority there is very great as regards influence and leading on matters of this kind. You cannot divest yourself of your influence even if you wish to do so, and I hope that we shall never wish to do so, but will use it in the right direction.

There is one matter on which the noble Lord did not touch my point, and that is the Committee of Three. It does nothing to allow an aggrieved party to see that his own case is understood and appreciated, and until you do that I am afraid that a large measure of existing discontent will still continue to exist. As I have said, I should have thought that cases of that kind were sufficiently obvious, and I did not refer to them because I did not want to raise the sort of question which is always raised on these occasions if you seek to bring in particular nations and particular cases. I thank the noble Lord for his answer, although I hope that what he said at one part of his speech—namely, the words "no reform"—will not be the text on which His Majesty's Government will act, but that they will really look into this critical and complicated question and see what is best to be done.


Does the noble Lord press for Papers?



Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.