HL Deb 19 June 1928 vol 71 cc508-46

VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD had given Notice that he would call attention to the recent meeting of the Arbitration and Security Committee of the Preparatory Commission for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments at Geneva, and move, That it is desirable that the Preparatory Commission should meet again at an early date, and in any case before the meeting of the next Assembly of the League of Nations.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise in pursuance of the Notice that is on your Lordships' Paper. I need hardly say that I am not going to trouble your Lordships with a discourse on the value or importance of international disarmament. I take that as generally admitted by all Parties and by all responsible persons in this country and I hope not to occupy very much of your Lordships' time. It is essential, however, in order to make my Notice clear, that I should remind your Lordships, I hope very briefly, of some of the facts that have led up to the present situation. Your Lordships will see that my Notice says:— To call attention to the recent meeting of the Arbitration and Security Committee of the Preparatory Commission for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments at Geneva and to move, That it is desirable that the Preparatory Commission— that is, the Preparatory Commission itself and not the Committee of the Commission— should meet again at an early date, and in any case before the meeting of the next Assembly of the League of Nations. Your Lordships will remember that by the Treaty of Versailles and the other Treaty negotiated at Paris this country entered into obligations to pursue a policy—I put it very generally—of international disarmament. Those obligations were contained not only in the Treaties themselves but, perhaps even more specifically, in the correspondence that preceded the Treaty between M. Clemenceau, as representing the Allied and Associated Powers, and the German Delegation. The obligation, as I read it, was quite specific and clear that we, the Powers concerned, would pursue a policy, not of individual disarmament, but of international disarmament, a general policy of disarmament, and the League of Nations itself was charged with the duty of formulating schemes for that purpose.

That was the scheme that was adopted, with the ratification of this country and of others, at Paris, and during the first years of the League considerable efforts were made in various directions to clear the ground for the purpose of carrying this policy into effect. It was thought at the time that the great obstacle—and I am not sure that it is not so still—to any scheme of international disarmament was the existence of international suspicion and the want of complete international security. The object was to find some scheme or other which would increase, morally or materially or both, the sense of international security. This culminated in the proposal of the well-known Protocol of Geneva, which, after being very generally accepted in 1924, was rejected by the British Government in 1925. I dare say that other Governments were sympathetic but in fact it was the British Government that actually took the step of rejecting it. Undoubtedly this established considerable—perhaps "anxiety" is too strong a word, so let us say want of ease, want of satisfaction, amongst many of the Powers of Europe; and perhaps it would be right to say that the country that felt most nervous in consequence of that action was France, for the excellent reason that undoubtedly, unless the hopes that were held out of the carrying out of a scheme of international disarmament were fulfilled, Germany would have a very strong ground for saying that their obligation to remain disarmed was no longer binding upon them. Unquestionably they will put forward that contention—they have made no secret of it—and it is one for which a good deal may be said.

In those circumstances, and for that reason and very likely for many others, I believe the French Government was amongst the most urgent that a further step in the direction of international disarmament should be taken in view of the failure of the Protocol. Accordingly, in December, 1921, I think it was, the French Government proposed the setting up of the so-called Preparatory Commission, a body representative of all the Members of the League. It was established towards the end of that year. The whole of the following year was taken up by preliminary technical inquiries, and in the spring of 1927 the Commission had a meeting at which—I do not want to dwell on all the details of the matter—a draft skeleton disarmament treaty was put forward. When I say "skeleton" I mean that it was a draft treaty which dealt with the means and principles of disarmament, but did not put in the figures of disarmament, which would afterwards have to be agreed upon. There were very long discussions about it. I will not go into the details of it—I have already had occasion to tell your Lordships that I found myself placed in a rather difficult position in connection with it—but in the end, although we were unable to reach agreement on a good many points, we did reach agreement on the general outline of the treaty, and, for instance, in regard to Air Force. The agreement was less in the case of the military and still less in the case of the Navy, but nevertheless there was a considerable measure of agreement, and there was very good hope, as I thought, that after further discussion at that time we should reach, at any rate, agreement on that stage of the very laborious task in which we were engaged.

Then came the failure of the Naval Conference last August at Geneva. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with that, or to discuss who was to blame for the failure. The failure is a fact, and one of its most serious consequences, in my view, was that it greatly added to the difficulty of the general cause of international disarmament. There is no doubt that those who were anxious for disarmament were exposed to the observation of those who were not anxious for it: "If you and the Americans cannot agree upon what is, after all, only a part, and not the most important part, of naval disarmament, how do you suppose that all the countries will agree upon a general scheme of disarmament?" That was a very powerful observation, and although I do not myself regard it as in the least conclusive, it was one which, for the time being at any rate, made it, I thought, very difficult to proceed, with any hope of success, with the immediate consideration of the skeleton treaty. Therefore, when, in December of last year, the Government and other members of the Committee decided not to push that part forward, but to appoint a Sub-Committee on Arbitration and Security, which should consider once again whether something could not be done to clear the ground for disarmament, and for the moment, at any rate, to adjourn the consideration of direct steps towards disarmament, I did not myself feel inclined to question the decision which had been arrived at.

Your Lordships, however, will realise how unfortunate the whole state of things up to then had been. No doubt the difficulties have been enormous, but the result is that no progress in the direction of disarmament has been made since the spring of last year, and we are being taunted by those unfavourable to the League, like the Soviet Government and other people, and a great many American publicists too, that the general body of the League are not really in earnest in the desire for disarmament. It is a very serious and very disagreeable state of things, and therefore I personally looked very anxiously for some clear and definite advance to be made when the Sub-Committee on Arbitration and Security met in the spring of this year. I hoped that we should be able to show to our critics that we had actually taken a clear and decided step forward. The Sub-Commitee sat for a considerable time, and in the end it produced some draft model treaties, which anybody might or might not accept, on arbitration. There were a great many alternatives, and I understand that there are still more to be added to those alternatives at some future period. There were also some resolutions, the most important of which, as I thought, was one which recommended very strongly the adherence of all the States who were Members of the League to the well-known so-called Optional Clause, which provides for the compulsory settlement of legal disputes between the countries. Before I deal further with that I ought to state that at the conclusion of the meetings of the Sub-Committee there was a meeting of the general Preparatory Commission, which I think I am right in saying did nothing at all, except to reject proposals put before it by the Soviet Government. The full report has not yet been printed and circulated and so I am unable to refresh my memory, but I do not think they did much else.

Coming back to the resolution about the Optional Clause, my noble friend Lord Cushendun, acting no doubt on instructions from His Majesty's Government, took this attitude. He said he was unable to accept it so far as the British Empire were concerned, but he admitted that by signing it other States would contribute to the security of the world—a very imporant admission—and he further urged all other States, except the British Empire, to sign it. I cannot help feeling that that is a rather difficult attitude to defend in the face of international opinion. It is all very well to say that our interests are so complex, and all the rest of it, that we cannot agree to settle them by reason, but must reserve the right to settle them in other ways, but that attitude does not appear to be quite so reasonable to other countries as it does, perhaps, to some of ourselves. I cannot pretend that it appears reasonable to me. It seems to me that the more our interests, the greater our difficulties, the more complicated our arrangements, the more important it is that none of them should, as far as we can prevent it, be submitted even indirectly to the hazard of war—even to the threat of the hazard of war. Anything is better than that for the purpose of arriving at a right decision, and the more questions that are likely to arise in a country the more essential is it for that country to adopt arbitration.

I do not wish to argue that at any length, because I have had my opportunity of expressing my views to your Lordships before on that point. But I do venture very respectfully to ask the Government whether they think that an attitude of that kind is really one that it is possible for this country to maintain for any length of time. It was to some extent typical of the whole attitude which my noble friend was instructed to maintain during the meeting of that special Committee. He recommended—it was one of the few constructive propositions which he was authorised to make—the adoption by a great number of other States (as many as would do so) of regional agreements similar to the Locarno Treaties, but he accompanied that recommendation with a very clear intimation, with which we are all quite familiar, and which I do not desire unduly to criticise, that the British Government was quite unable to extend in any degree the liabilities which it had accepted under the Treaty of Locarno. I am not arguing for the moment whether that was reasonable or unreasonable, but for the British Government perpetually to be saying: "We can do nothing more; we object to this, we object to that, but you other States go and do this, that, and the other for promoting disarmament," is to adopt an attitude which does not appear to me really to conduce to the reputation and position of this country.

With regard to the other propositions submitted to this Committee, I have done my best to make myself acquainted with the various propositions and discussions which took place by reading the Minutes of the Committee, and I think my noble friend will not think me unduly critical if I say that his attitude was predominatingly negative. He expressed a general disapproval of all general treaties—anything except bi-lateral treaties, that is, treaties of arbitration and security. He rejected a German proposal, as I understood it, for establishing an armistice when there was danger of war.


Not when there was a danger of war. You cannot have an armistice until war has been declared.


I am much obliged for the correction. I should have said in case of a war in which the League was called upon to intervene. He rejected another proposal—a resolution or something of that kind—which recommended the establishment, where it was possible under proper safeguards, of neutral zones between countries. He opposed the establishment—at least, so I understood him—of permanent conciliation bodies; he thought it better that conciliation bodies should be elected ad hoc in each case, though I think it was the Rapporteurs of the Committee who had made the proposal that where you are going to rely on conciliation rather than arbitration you should, have a permanent existing conciliation body, rather than one—always very difficult to agree upon after a dispute has broken out—appointed for the purpose of a particular dispute.

He rejected—no doubt it was impossible for him to do otherwise in view of the policy of the Government—the so-called closing of the gap; that is to say, the prohibition of war in all cases, even where the delays and discussion indicated in Article 15 had been carried out. The only exception that I find that he made to this attitude which he was instructed to adopt (apart from the model treaties, of course) was his acceptance of the Finnish proposal aiming at financial aid being given by the Members of the League in case one of their number is illegally and improperly attacked by another. That was a proposal which had long been before the Committee, and to which the British Government were already in principle agreed and had stated their agreement; and my noble friend repeated that general statement of agreement, though the details of the matter were adjourned for further consideration.

I must say that, though I fully recognise the great difficulties in which any one is placed who has to discuss these questions, I do regret so uniformly negative an attitude as that which was then assumed. I do feel that it must have a discouraging effect on those who are anxious to get something effective agreed to. If it had been accompanied by an alternative set of proposals, by which disarmament would have been carried out, that, of course, would have been a complete answer to what I am now saying. But merely to sit still and say: "The British Empire cannot accept this, the British Empire cannot accept that," is likely, it seems to me to convey an unfortunate impression. I am not for a moment questioning the zeal of my noble friend and the zeal of his colleagues for the League; I know that they believe in it quite as much as I do myself, and that they are anxious to make it a success. It is a question of what procedure they have decided it, is better to adopt. They seem to me, if I may say so, to be beset with the fear of action in this matter. They see lions in every path.

We are perpetually being told on very high authority that the great danger of the League—the warning which is most commonly uttered—is that the League should do too much, should take upon itself too many or too great responsibilities. I confess to a considerable doubt as to the wisdom of that attitude. No doubt it is true that a body like the League may try to do too much. I think it is a much greater danger that it will try to do too little. It has to achieve reputation and authority: we are all agreed about that. If it is really to stand in the way of a great cataclysm it has to achieve a great position, to give the world the right to believe in it, to attract support and authority from the world. I cannot think that a purely negative attitude will ever do that. I think it must do something; that is the essential condition of the growth of the League. It must show that it is capable of dealing not only with the non-contentious part of its work, important though that is, but that it is capable of dealing with those great problems which really go to the root of the matter and without the settlement of which we cannot hope for permanent and secure peace.

Foremost among those problems, in my humble judgment, is ultimately the question of international disarmament. It is not a question of whether we have done our duty in disarming or lessening our forces more or less than any other country. That is not the point. The point is to get some agreement by which all the countries will begin simultaneously and by agreement with one another to lessen their armaments, and to look towards the goal of the reduction of armaments, rather than towards the goal of competition in armaments so as to secure superiority over one another. That seems to me to be, perhaps, the most important object that we could have in view. I cannot believe that we shall ever get on with that unless we are prepared to say: "This is a great political object in the widest and largest sense of that term. It is one of the foundations of the foreign policy of the British Government. We do desire the reduction and limitation of armaments by international agreement. That is our policy. We are prepared to strain every nerve to get the other nations of the world to agree upon that policy. Without it we do not believe that peace is safe." Unless we can get some agreement of that kind there is a great question whether the other machinery of the League will withstand the tremendous shock which a time of excitement may produce. If we can say that that is our policy then we can turn to our technical advisers and say to them: "That is the policy. We do not want to hear you raising difficulties as to whether it can or cannot be done. That is settled. What we want now is to know from you how best it can be done; and what are the methods by which this great policy can be carried out." The functions of the technical advisers ought to be confined, I venture to suggest, to that.

Taking that view—it may be wrong or it may be right, but it is the view I take—I venture to submit to your Lordships the hope that the Preparatory Commission will meet again before the next Assembly. It has done nothing for more than a year, the Preparatory Commission itself—practically nothing. It has got out this draft treaty which is awaiting further consideration or, as they call it, a second reading. It is not what we call a second reading; it is further consideration. Some of those present at the last meeting were anxious to go on. The Germans were anxious to go on then and there. The Russians of course (whether honestly or dishonestly I do not express any opinion) joined in the demand for action of some kind. But the majority: decided to adjourn and they adjourned without fixing a date for their meeting, leaving it to the Chairman to call the meeting. Of course the Chairman would instantly call a meeting if he was asked to do so by so important a Power as the British Empire. Therefore that is the suggestion I make to your Lordships, unless, of course, there are reasons of which I know nothing and about which my noble friend will be able to satisfy your Lordships. On the face of it, it seems to me that we ought to get on with this job if we mean business. To leave it hanging fire for months and months does not convey the impression that we are really in earnest in the matter. However blameless our own consciences may be. I feel sure that it will produce a very unfortunate effect in the opinion of Europe unless we go on and do something more before the meeting of the next Assembly.

That is all I desire to say to your Lordships on this matter. I am, I admit, uneasy and unhappy about the position of this particular question and, perhaps to some extent, even about the position of the whole League itself. I see that my noble friend Lord Newton intends to raise the question of Hungary and Rumania at a future date and I notice that questions were raised at the League about that matter and about the Polish-Lithuanian dispute, about neither of which was any conclusion, as I understand it, arrived at. It may have been inevitable, but it is unfortunate that all these things should come together, and I hope that we shall hear from my noble friend that the Government are anxious to press for a meeting of the Preparatory Commission as soon as possible and that they will do their utmost to get on with the business, to press for the adoption either of the skeleton treaty or anything else, or take any other step which they may think desirable; that they will not, if I may respectfully say so, continue to adopt a purely negative attitude, but will recognise that if the League and this Commission are to secure the authoiity which is necessary for them to deal with the great emergencies which may arise, they must show that they are worthy of the trust that we hope will be placed in them. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That it is desirable that the Preparatory Commission for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments should meet again at an early date, and in any case before the meeting of the next Assembly of the League of Nations.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in hearty support both of the Resolution which stands in the name of the noble Viscount and of the arguments which he has brought forward to-night in your Lordships' House. I think it is quite clear that a matter of this kind can be grappled with practically and actually at Geneva, particularly after the Assembly itself has appointed a Committee to deal specifically with it. Without doubt it is not only the particular question but the whole prestige of the League itself that may be unfortunately affected. I use the term "League" although I much prefer the foreign expression "Society"; because what the League really means is the association of a very large number of national Governments for international purposes and their determination to press forward, through their common association, certain international questions, foremost among them the question of disarmament.

I should like to add a word or two to what was said by the noble Viscount on the question of disarmament. That is not only dealt with, as he pointed out, in Article 8 of the Covenant, but it was dealt with in a very special manner at the time of the signature of the Treaty of Versailles, when Germany, as we know, undertook to disarm. That disarmament has, in fact, been carried out. Not unnaturally that was one of the objections of the German Delegates in the first instance to signing the Treaty. In consequence of that a solemn undertaking was given on behalf of the Allied and Associated Powers that immediately—I use the word that is used in the letter—after the signing of the Treaty steps should be taken in the same direction as were insisted upon for Germany for the general disarmament, or the relative disarmament, of international forces. I regard that as a very solemn debt of honour. It is not in the Treaty itself, but it was really incorporated into the Treaty by the document which was signed at the time. I do not think the noble Lord who is answering for the Government will throw any doubt whatever on the statement that no obligations could have been undertaken in a more solemn form than those obligations of general disarmament at the time of the signature of the Treaty of Versailles.

It is quite true—and I agree with the noble Viscount—that the matter has always been one of great difficulty. No one probably has done more in assisting the solution of the question than the noble Viscount himself, who, at any rate up to 1924—I am not going to refer to 1924 in any derogation of what he has done—took the foremost place in formulating suggestions, based on arbitration and security, sufficiently effective to admit of a practical system of disarmament. In the sequence of events, in 1924 the Protocol was accepted at Geneva—not at home, but at Geneva—in the sense of its being unanimously recommended to the attention of the various Governments. I see the noble Lord (Lord Cushendun) smiles when I say that. The particular Governments who were in power when the recommendations were considered in particular countries is a different matter altogether. I do not want to go back into questions which have been in dispute, but it is notorious that the view taken of the Protocol by the present Government differs from that of the Delegation for the time being who approached this matter purely from a national standpoint at Geneva in 1924.

Let me say one other word upon that. The principle was, as was stated by the noble Viscount, really a very simple one. It is always easy enough to suggest difficulties, but the principle was simply this. If you wanted to disarm as a means of getting rid of war as an arbitrament—a barbarous arbitrament as it has been called—in international disputes, you must have a comprehensive alternative applicable to all kinds and characters of international disputes or conflicts. The difficulty is how to deal with that position, but I do not think any one can doubt—the noble Viscount either indicated it, or I know what his opinion is—that to get a sufficient security in order to obtain a general basis of international armament you must have a complete alternative or what is called judicial decision or conciliation or arbitration which can deal with all international disputes. I think there are two very good illustrations of what I mean, if the Government would follow them. First of all there is the principle of Locarno as regards a particular Treaty. There was a comprehensive undertaking into which we entered—we were guarantors of that Treaty, and were not immediately benefited by it—that all disputes of an international kind should be settled by friendly means, and that a special method should be adopted in what are called justiciable cases.

There is a further illustration of what I am saying, and perhaps the noble Lord will answer the point I put to him. In Article 2 of the American proposal for draft treaties for the renunciation of war we find this:— The High Contracting Parties agree that a settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever character they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means. Any one who is cognisant of drafting knows that you cannot put a principle wider than it is put in terms of that character. It implies, obviously, that although in the first instance you may accept the Treaty, as I hope wholeheartedly it will be accepted, yet in the long run, in order to make it effective, you will be bound to have a method of pacific means for determining all disputes and conflicts of an international kind of whatever character or origin. I am a very strong advocate of the adoption of that Treaty without any reservations or limitations. In paragraph 10 of the British answer certain limitations and reservations are suggested. I am not going into that to-day, for this is not the occasion. I hope the limitations and reservations will disappear.

Although there are those limitations and reservations, there is no objection that I have ever seen taken to the general principle of Article 2, which will bind in honour and in fact every consenting nation never to resort in international conflicts to settlement by other than pacific means. That is the principle of the Covenant. The Covenant itself, in the Preamble, states that the contracting nations—that is the signatory States—undertake not to resort to war. It is quite true that when you come to the body of the Covenant you do not find the whole field completely covered, but that is exactly the point to which all countries who have taken an interest in this matter have been directing their attention ever since. They say the principle is admirably stated, but there is what is called a gap in the Covenant itself, and further provisions are required and are necessary. That being so, the disputes or conflicts are generally divided into what are called justiciable and non-justiciable disputes.

I want to say a few words under each head in order to see what the opinion of the Government really is. I think there is no doubt whatever that a very large majority of the nations represented at Geneva are prepared to sign the Optional Clause of the Statute of the International Court, and that the only reason which holds many of them back is that Great Britain has not yet exercised that option. There is nothing very new in this matter. In the Covenant itself four specified matters are declared by the contracting countries—and, no doubt, with perfect bona fides—to be suitable for arbitration. It is only those four specified matters that are to be found in the Optional Clause of the Statute of the International Court. Therefore, surely there can be no reason why, as regards those specified matters—there are only four but they are very definite, very determined—there should be still irresolution and dislike of submitting them to justiciable arbitration. I think that the attitude of the Government upon this point has been perfectly explicit—although I regret the form in which it is explicit—in the Memorandum which was sent under the title of "Observations of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain on the programme of work of the Committee on Arbitration and Security of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference."

His Majesty's Government give the reasons why, even in justiciable cases, they are unwilling to adopt the principle of the Optional Clause of the Statute of the International Court. The reasons they give, I suggest, are rather curious. They suggest first of all that they may not be supported by public opinion when the conflict or dispute comes close at hand. I join issue there immediately. I say you will find peace in public opinion. It is not only by educating public opinion but by telling the public what it is that you have undertaken as regards the preservation of peace, that you get the greatest security we can possibly have for a peace settlement in the future. I do not want to find fault with particular Governments. I say Governments at large in the past have not been sources of peace. Quicquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi. If you want to get real support for peace in international affairs it can be solidly founded on public opinion. I know of no case, and I have looked carefully into this matter, of arbitration in which we were engaged in the last century where public opinion was of a character to upset the award. I am not going into the Alabama Case, because I am afraid I could not agree with what the noble Viscount said about it, but apart from that in every instance, without exception so far as I can find, where we had undertaken to submit matters to arbitration, public opinion assented to it, and I cannot find any objection raised from that source. I am not going into the Alabama Case where there were some exceptional incidents. I do not agree with the noble Viscount, but I will not ask him to go back into it, nor will I go into it.

May I compare that with the observations upon this point made by the German Government, the importance of which appears to me to consist in this, that they are rather late arrivals at the Assembly at Geneva. I should like to read one paragraph and to ask the noble Lord whether he is prepared to assent to it or not:— As regards a number of disputes between States, namely, justiciable disputes, the problem can be regarded, in principle at least, as adequately solved. The Optional Clause in the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice provides a satisfactory means of settling all disputes of this nature peacefully. It will be the task of the Committee on Arbitration and Security to ascertain in which manner a larger number of States can be induced to accept this method immediately.


What is the noble Lord reading from?


From the "Observations of the German Government on the programme of the work of the Committee on Arbitration and Security." I suggest that that is the right spirit and I suggest that it is sound in principle. I go one step further because I feel very strongly on the point. Naturally, one wants one's own country to be in the forefront of a great progressive movement. I feel very strongly indeed, as was indicated by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that if we assented in the same spirit and in the same terms as I have quoted from the Memorandum of the German Government, all difficulties as regards justiciable disputes would be practically ended. I believe that no progress can be made until the obligation is accepted of judicial decision in justiciable disputes. It was made an essential part of the Protocol in 1924 and, as your Lordships know, the whole problem—that Clause amongst others—depended on a successful scheme of relative international disarmament. The opinion of the statesmen there—I am not talking about the position of the British Delegates—was universal that it would give sufficient security to enable a disarmament scheme to be carried out, and I recollect very well M. Briand saying he thoroughly endorsed that view and that without it he thought we might as well have a Tower of Babel as a discussion on disarmament.

One word on the other matter—non-justiciable disputes. Of course that is a much more difficult problem. I do not deny that. No one would deny it for an instant. I believe that the best approach in that direction is probably the method of conciliation and that, of course, has been brought very much forward in the Locarno Treaty. If the principle of the Locarno Treaty in that respect could be more widely adopted, I think that perhaps at the present time progress in conciliation would meet the rest of the arbitration difficulties. If you have a wise system of conciliation you get the public opinion of the world concentrated on the particular dispute and, what to my mind is of infinite importance, you direct attention rather to the prevention of war than to subsequent sanctions. If we are to have any progress in disarmament, and I think it is most desirable, I urge these two points at least. I urge that the Government, as regards justiciable disputes, should say they are willing in these disputes to be guided by justice and not by policy. That is what it really comes to—what is just and right between the nations, whether great or small, as regards rights, Treaties and matters already ascertained, defined and agreed to between them. As regards disputes other than justiciable, I have always advocated an entirely comprehensive system of arbitration. I hope that the Government will at least go so far as to do all they can in the direction of conciliatory procedure in order to prevent difficulties in the future.

There is only one other point that I should like to mention, and it is one to which, I think, the noble Viscount did not immediately refer. I have often heard it put forward, I think by the noble Lord opposite, that some objection may be raised by the Dominions to the principle that I have indicated. At Geneva in 1924, after the fullest common consultation, the Dominions voted entirely in favour of the scheme that was then projected. More than that—I have often offered a challenge on this point—I want to make it as clear as I can that in every Dominion, in such a great Dominion, for instance, as Canada, subject to doing nothing to oppose the foreign policy of this country there is a large consensus of opinion in favour of matters of right being referred to a judicial body. My noble friend has more than once quoted the last meeting of the Imperial Conference. I do not think that this carries the matter any further in favour of the arguments that he adduced. The word "premature" is used, and it is pretty clear that the compromise, whatever it was, that was adopted was not brought about by the Dominions not being in favour of arbitration and security in matters of disarmament. That is shown by the answers sent by the Dominions to the American proposal. I believe that all of them are prepared to accept that proposal without either limitation or reservation.

I do not want to blame any Government, and particularly in these international matters I do not want to blame our own Government, but I do think that we are the obstructive body in the world at the present time as regards this particular matter. I say this with regret, for we ought to be in the vanguard. But it is still open to the Government to take that attitude if they assent to the propositions put forward by the noble Viscount. I do not know whether in a matter of this sort there is likely to be a Division in your Lordships' House but, if there is, I shall certainly give my vote in favour of the noble Viscount's Resolution, because I feel that on every ground it is desirable that this Commission should meet again and do what it can to bring its labours to a successful issue.


My Lords, as I have read the Official Report of the proceedings of Congress on the American Navy Bill, perhaps I may be permitted to make a few remarks on the Motion that is before the House. In the first place I should like to remark on the fair way in which the speakers in Congress treated our naval needs. But there was one remark to which I take exception, a personal remark against the noble Viscount. Lord Cecil. Mr. McClintic said:— I want to say that Viscount Cecil, in his speech before the House of Lords, explained why the Geneva Conference broke down and why he left the Government. Briefly, he said, it broke down because of three reasons, the first, of which was hostility of the Admiralty toward disarmament. Now, either Viscount Cecil did not know what he was talking about or he is not a square shooter. I am sure that your Lordships would join with me in registering very strong protest against this accusation. We all know that the noble Viscount is neither a fool nor a knave, as is insinuated here. The speaker went on to say:— I want to say that under date of January 17, Admiral E. A. Taylor, retired, made this statement concerning the reasons there was no agreement at this Disarmament Conference: 'So preposterous and contrary to the spirit of the Conference which the United States herself convened, that I only can assume that she had no intent of limiting our armaments, but that her policy was dictated solely by political considerations. America neither would say what she wanted in the number of ships nor why she wanted them.' I turn to some remarks of Mr. La Guardia as to the relative strength of the American and British Navies, and when you read this you really become almost nervous, because many people think that submarines are very much more important than any other form of naval armament. This is what he says:— Now as to the relative strength of our Navy. May I point out that comparisons of all classes of ships have not been made? I want to show here, for instance, that in submarines of the first line we have fifty, with a tonnage of 43,822 tons, to England's twenty-nine, with a tonnage of 24,150, and Japan's forty-five, with a tonnage of 36,497. As to submarines of the second line, for coast defence, we have sixty-five, with a tonnage of 31,282; England has twenty-three, with a tonnage of 9,928; and Japan has ten, with a tonnage of 3,259. Surely these figures, which are official and which I obtained from the Navy Department, indicate that our Navy is well ahead in these classes of ships. It has been said by the experts that the destroyers are what we need to protect the merchant marine, which, by the way, we have not got. When we come to the destroyers, we have two hundred and sixty-two, with a tonnage of 312,479; England has one hundred and sixty-four, with a tonnage of 187,150; Japan has 83, with a tonnage of 193,470. Then Mr. MeClintic is reported as saying:— Nearly all of the comparisons that have been made with respect to this legislation referred to England and the number of cruisers that England has in comparison with those of the United States. Now I want to tell you something, and I hope you will take out your pencils and figure a little with me, and if I make a wrong statement you will correct me. England has forty-nine cruisers, with a tonnage of 246,776. Of this number forty-two have a tonnage of less than 5,200, with a maximum speed of twenty-nine knots; a total tonnage of 186,410, leaving a balance of only seven cruisers with an aggregate tonnage of 60,366 tons.' At this point Mr. O'Connell interposed to ask: Where is the gentleman getting those figures? Mr. McClintic replied:— From the Navy League, the organisation that always asks for an adequate Navy. Referring to the seven cruisers, there is the 'Vindictive,' with a tonnage of 9,996; the Hawkins,' with a tonnage of 9,820; the 'Frobisher,' with a tonnage of 9,860; the Eppingham,' with a tonnage of 9,770; the 'Emerald' and the 'Enterprise,' each with a tonnage of 7,100; and the 'Adventurer,' with a tonnage of 6,740; making a total of seven cruisers, and all of them but two having a speed of less than thirty-three knots per hour. On the other hand, the United States has ten of the 'Omaha' type, cruisers of 6,600 tons, with a speed of thirty-four knots, as against an average of twenty-nine knots to those belonging to England, and twelve six-inch guns in comparison with seven six-inch guns on the English cruisers. You are bound to admit this fact, that if the United States has cruisers which have on them twice as many guns of the same calibre that they exceed in efficiency the ships which belong to England, and if the United States has ten cruisers that have a speed of thitry-four knots as against seven cruisers that have a speed of less than twenty-nine knots, and with double the efficiency when you consider the number of guns, then we must admit that we excel England on that basis. Further on he said:— I want to state to this House that when you talk about a parity on cruisers you ought to give all the facts, and not one or two facts. Every single, solitary destroyer we have in our Navy to-day has an excess of speed over forty-two of the forty-nine cruisers belonging to England. In other words, all of our destroyers can exceed them in speed, and can move away from them or move up on them, so long as they have these little tiny ships called cruisers—I have classed them as cruisers because they are in what I term the destroyer class. So flinch for the cruisers … I will put in the names of these little, tiny ships that this nation uses in comparison, calling them cruisers, because they average less than 5,000 tons. When you make a comparison with the seven cruisers that England has remaining, which are a part of these cruisers built, every one of them is far less superior when a comparison is made of their strength from the standpoint of guns and speed. If there is another Conference on this subject, it will simply mean a scaling down on our part, and I submit a dangerous thing, and I hope the Government will not accept the Motion moved by Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.


My Lords, when I saw the Motion of my noble friend upon the Paper I confess that I did not think it would involve a discussion, in detail, of some of the matters which have been touched upon by the noble Lord opposite. He has gone at very considerable length and detail into the arguments for dealing in one way with justiciable disputes and in another way with non-justiciable disputes—matters of great importance and interest, but not matters, I submit, which are really raised by the Resolution which is before the House. I have several times already, I think, in this House, explained so far as was necessary the views of the present Government on those particular matters, but I do not think I really in any way dissent from the views of the noble Lord opposite. I followed very closely what he said, and although I do not want to commit myself to every word, substantially speaking I think my view is very much the same as his, as regards the best method of dealing with these various classes of disputes.

The noble Lord also referred again—and it was that which provoked my smile—to the Protocol, which is a sort of King Charles's head to him, and also to the Optional Clause. My noble friend Viscount Cecil of Chelwood also referred again to the Optional Clause, and mentioned the resolution which was passed at Geneva, and the way in which I, on the instruction of His Majesty's Government, attempted to deal with it. The criticism of my noble friend, which he has made before and which I have attempted to deal with before, was merely, I think, that there is some impossible inconsistency on the part of the Government in giving its blessing to a provision like the Optional Clause without being itself ready to take advantage of it. I can only say again that I do not see any inconsistency in that. We have explained over and over again the reason why, in the particular circumstances of the territories for which we are responsible, it is not possible for us, consistently with our view of the responsibility that we hold, to resort to the particular method set out in what is known as the Optional Clause.

We have also explained that there are other countries—many other countries—which have quite different circumstances. It is not for us to judge for them, and all we say is this: "If your circumstances are such that you feel you can accept the Optional Clause without danger, and think it will supply you with a possible method of arranging disputes, by all means adopt it." We have said that the more countries feel themselves in a position to adopt it, the better we think it will be. That does not in the least interfere with our own position, or make it in the least degree inconsistent for us to say that, fortunately or unfortunately, our circumstances are different, and as at present advised, for the reasons which I have several times given in this House, we are not prepared to adopt that particular clause. I hope there is nothing offensive in it if I once more remind the noble Lord opposite that before he can expect to convert me or the Government he must attempt to convert the noble Viscount who sits beside him, who is, or at any rate in the past has been, as strongly opposed to the signing of the Optional Clause by the British Empire, owing to its particular circumstances, as I or any other member of the Government.

This Resolution, my Lords, taken generally, is an expression of my noble friend's disappointment with the progress, or want of progress, which has been made at Geneva in the matter of disarmament. I share his disappointment. I do not see anything unreasonable in his feeling that disappointment. I feel it myself, but it does not quite follow, because he says that very little has been done in the direction of disarmament—I admit it—that anybody is at fault. No one has more candidly admitted than he has the very great difficulties which surround this question, and when it is acknowledged that there are these great difficulties it must not be assumed that those difficulties are soluble. I hope that we shall not be driven to that position—I am not by any means in despair—but you must not assume, because a course has been recommended, that the difficulties with which you are confronted are difficulties which can be overcome. I hope they may be overcome, but they cannot be swept aside, and although it may require very great exercise of patience I do not believe that we are going to arrive at a solution by any means except the method of quiet discussion and attempts to arrive at agreement between the different parties concerned. The difficulties, or one of the difficulties, of arriving at an agreement of this sort among a number of different States is that once you think you have got over a point of dispute with one—you may have made some concession, you may have made some change in your attitude in order to conciliate somebody else's point of view—you immediately find that by doing so you have antagonised some third party. You have then almost of necessity to begin the process all over again.

I do not disagree with anything that my noble friend said as regards the history of the Preparatory Commission and the Security Committee, which were devised last autumn in the hope that it would assist the policy of disarmament. The noble Lord opposite has referred particularly to the solemn obligation to disarm. I agree with him. There is a solemn obligation set out in the Covenant, but let us be clear as to the extent and the limits of that obligation. The noble Lord knows quite well that what the signatories to the Peace of Versailles undertook was to disarm so far as is consistent with national safety. It must always be a matter of opinion as to the exact line where national safety is to be placed, and it is one of the difficulties that you cannot coerce anybody else. If a country, which we will call X or Y or Z, says, "Our national safety requires such and such armament," we have no power to coerce them. We have no power even in logic to say that they are wrong, because the only obligation imposed upon any of us by the Treaty is to disarm down to the point which national safety dictates.


That point must be determined by the Council under Article 8.


No, that is not so at all. The noble Lord is quite mistaken, if I may respectfully say so. All that the Council has to do is to formulate plans. No one is under any obligation to accept those plans. And it is a matter also of agreement: the Council consists of a number of representatives of different States. It is not easy to formulate plans. That is exactly what we are trying to do. The very thing that the Preparatory Commission was set up to do by the Council was to formulate plans in accordance with the terms of the Treaty—to form a framework within which the various countries might fit a scheme of agreed disarmament. Well, we have not yet been able to arrive at any agreement upon it.

I entirely repudiate the view expressed by the noble Lord opposite that this country is obstructive in this matter. I boldly claim that both in the matter of disarmament and in the matter of arbitration or conciliation in all its forms, so far from being obstructive, this country has led the van. We have done infinitely more to promote arbitration and resort to arbitration than any other nation, with the single exception of the United States; and we have certainly done a great deal more in the way of practical disarmament—as I pointed out to your Lordships in March—than any other nation. And therefore we are certainly not open to the reproach of the noble Lord, or of anybody else who follows him, in saying that in those matters this country has proved obstructive. But my noble friend (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) reproached—not me personally; he treated me with his usual kindness and courtesy—His Majesty's Government, and me as its representative at Geneva, with having taken up a purely negative attitude. Well, I do not repudiate that with the same vigour that I do the charge of the noble Lord opposite. I can understand that there is some plausibility in complaining that our attitude was a negative attitude, though I shall show in a moment that it was not quite so negative as my noble friend thinks. But to a certain extent it was negative by the very nature of the case.

The view that we have always taken about these matters is that it is no use merely passing resolutions because somebody, perhaps with no very great knowledge or experience proposes some scheme or device for promoting disarmament; and when, with unexampled experience, such as the British Admiralty, for example, have, the difficulties, or the impossibilities, or the dangers are pointed out by those who are qualified to do so, it would surely be the height of folly, merely for the sake of some idealistic demonstration, that we should accept a proposal of that sort, which we know perfectly well in our inmost hearts would do nothing to promote the peace of the world, and, on the other hand, might promote the danger of this country, for which we are responsible. And therefore, I think that although we may not accept a great number of these schemes that are put forward—not always with a great deal of knowledge or a great deal of responsibility behind them—although it may leave us open to the charge of being negative, that is not a form of negative from which I should shrink, or which I think is in any way dishonourable to us.

My noble friend gave us some examples. He complained that I had, on the instructions of the Government, refused to accept a proposal put forward by the German Delegation, by which, after war has broken out, an armistice might be imposed upon the conflicting nations with a view to localising the war that had broken out and restoring peace as quickly as possible. Well, I did refuse to accept that proposal on behalf of His Majesty's Government. Why? It is not a matter upon which I had personally any opinion, or upon which my opinion would be of the smallest value, but all the best technical advice that I could obtain went to show that in the circumstances (you must remember ex hypothesi that war has actually broken out) the idea that any third party—I do not care how illustrious the Assembly or the Council of the League of Nations may be—could actually impose an armistice upon two nations one of whom had had its frontier crossed by an aggressor, without any means to enforce that armistice, was one that we could not accept; and I, acting on the advice that was given to me, came to the conclusion, first of all, that it would be perfectly futile as a practical measure, and that, being utterly futile, it would really be misleading, because it would lead people to imagine that there was some security for localising and minimising the war, which really did not exist at all.

In the same way there was a proposal—again, I took what my noble friend calls the negative attitude—that if war broke out steps should be taken under the machinery of the League of Nations to restore the normal status quo, the peace status quo, as rapidly as possible. I do not think your Lordships would have any difficulty, if you followed out how that might work, in arriving at the same conclusion as I reached under advice—that to do that might very likely work out in favour of the aggressor in the hypothetical war and against the aggressor's victim. It is perfectly easy to imagine the circumstances. You must assume an aggressor. An aggressor is one who will not neglect to prepare the ground some time beforehand and to make his dispositions accordingly. If the dispositions made up to the moment of the outbreak of war are to be regarded as the status quo which is to be restored by the authority of the League of Nations, that might, and in many cases probably would, prove to be to the advantage of the aggressor—the very party that of course we all wish to disfavour as far as possible.

My noble friend also reproached me because I expressed at Geneva very great preference for particular treaties—bilateral treaties and regional treaties—rather than general treaties. It is quite true. I explained to your Lordships, I think, last March the very reason why I personally, and I think the Government of which I am a member, took the view (I am not laying down any general rule) that having a great number of quite wide, general treaties for adhesion by everybody is really not so good a method for securing the peace of the world as having bilateral treaties between two nations who undertake obligations each towards the other, and, still more, regional treaties of the nature of that signed at Locarno. My noble friend seemed to think that even in regard to Locarno the attitude we have taken up is not a very honourable one.


Oh, no; I do not say that.


What word shall I use?—insufficient. He seemed to make it a matter of reproach that we have said that we could not undertake further obligations of the same sort. I must say I was surprised that he took up that attitude. After all—


I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but if he is quoting me I am sure he wishes to state exactly what I said. What I said was that to recommend such Treaties to other people strongly and at the same time to say that we were not prepared to do anything more in the same direction as we had done at Locarno, did not seem to me to be a very useful proposal.


Exactly, and I must say that surprises me enormously. What, after all, have we done regarding the Locarno Treaty? We have assumed tremendous liabilities.


Hear, hear!


We have assumed tremendous liabilities in order, if we can, to secure the peace in a very important part of Europe—on that historic frontier that has been the cause of so many great wars in the past. That liability is a tremendous contribution to the preservation of the peace of the world. Does my noble friend really suggest that we cannot consistently, honourably and usefully say to other nations: "We do not want to boast, but look at what we have done; look at the contribution we have made in the most critical part of Europe!" We have incurred all this great liability and we say to other people: "Follow our example, if it is possible in some other part of Europe to have a Locarno Treaty carried out on the same principles as that to which we are parties in the west or Europe." If we have any influence and if we are entitled to give advice, surely, the best thing we can do is to point to the example we have set and to ask any nation which feels able to undertake the same sort of liability to do it in their own part of the world. That is the attitude we have taken up, and it is one which I am not at all ready to agree is a difficult position to maintain or which may not be of very great influence in securing peace. I am glad to believe that our example and influence is having some effect and that there is a great desire to devise pacts of the same sort in other parts of Europe.

I laid great stress at Geneva on the usefulness of these regional pacts, and for this reason among others. I do not want to weary your Lordships by going into it in any detail, but it is not difficult to see that with regional pacts on the principle underlying the Locarno Treaty, there is no danger, because of the limitation of the obligation each to the other and the incurring of no obligation to nations which are not parties to a particular treaty, of the treaty becoming a mere defensive treaty such as the old-fashined pre-War treaties were. It cannot become an ordinary defensive treaty, the danger of which, as no one knows better than my noble friend, is that you are liable to provoke a counter group somewhere else and simply to restore the old system of groups or alliances, each one directed, whether avowedly or not, more or less against some opposing and rival group. With treaties of the Locarno type you are not in any danger of doing that, and they are, therefore, much more in accordance with the true spirit of the Covenant than are treaties in which the obligations are not restricted to the parties to them. In the other case, it is quite true that defensive treaties may not be in any way at variance with the spirit of the Covenant, but they are not so certainly in accordance with it as those based on the principle of the Locarno Treaty. A curious circumstance arose at Geneva in connection with this point. When the Soviet Delegate came to speak upon the report of the Security Committee, he made the complaint that the model treaties which were accepted would merely lead to groups of defensive alliances on the old lines. He was immediately corrected by the very able Rapporteur on security, M. Politis, who showed him most convincingly that he had quite misunderstood the character of the treaties accepted by the Security Committee, and pointed out that distinction which I have just tried to explain to your Lordships.

There was another matter. I said I hoped to show your Lordships we were not so entirely negative as my noble friend led you to suppose. I do not think he gave us quite as much credit as we can claim with regard to what is known as the Finnish proposal, which, as your Lordships know, was a proposal, and a very valuable one, for bringing financial assistance to the help of a nation which is in danger of becoming the victim of aggression. It is quite clear that very often the question of money, at a particular crisis, may be a very important one, and that financial resources placed at the disposal of the victim of aggression may, first of all, have a deterrent effect upon the aggressor himself and, if it does not do that, at all events it may enable that aggression to be successfully repelled. My noble friend rather slurred over our share in that. My noble friend need not look so surprised. I was surprised at the way he spoke of it. He said: "Well, it was a matter which had been accepted in principle before," and rather implied it did not go very far.


I did not.


If the noble Viscount does not think so, I got that false impression from the way he spoke of it. At all events, I say it is a very important contribution to the whole matter of security, and that we were the main leaders in the support of that particular proposal. It was the strong support given from the first by the Foreign Secretary and, secondly, and of course under instructions, by myself, that really has brought this Finnish proposal into the position in which it now is, where it may be regarded as a real practical contribution to the whole of this subject. I do not think there was any other representative of any great Power—some may have done so since—who accepted that proposal. My noble friend is always laying it down that we have only to take up an attitude and the thing is then almost carried through. I do not accept that view. I do not think our example or our influence is quite so great as he thinks, but at all events in this matter we did give our whole-hearted support to it, and, if it becomes an important element in the machinery for the prevention of war, the chief part of the credit, I think, will belong to us. I will not in detail go through some other matters which my noble friend brought up merely as examples of what he considered our negative attitude. I do not accept the view that we take a negative attitude, but I do accept the view that the difficulties are so great, the disagreements are so deep-rooted, that we cannot expect to arrive at any useful decision except with very great patience and perseverence. I quite admit that we have not yet reached a solution of this question.

Now I come to the Resolution of my noble friend itself. I do not object to it, and if he would consent to a very small alteration of words, I would be quite willing to accept it, if he attaches any importance to it. The Resolution reads: That it is desirable that the Preparatory Commission …. should meet again at an early date, and in any case before the meeting of the next Assembly of the League of Nations. The Amendment I would ask him to accept is to leave out the words "in any case," and substitute for them the words "if possible." I will tell your Lordships why I ask him to do that. I have no wish to resist my noble friend's Resolution, but I could not accept the words "in any case" for this reason. The original draft of the resolution which was passed at Geneva by the Preparatory Commission itself had those words "in any case." There was a very considerable debate upon those words. The lead was taken by the Delegate of the United States, who pointed out that it really was a contradiction and an absurdity to give discretion to the Chairman to call the Committee together again when his information shows that some useful result might follow and then to put a definite limitation upon him. It was proposed that this discretion should be given to the Chairman, and my recollection is that the American Delegate was opposed even to the expression of the wish which appears at the end of the Resolution, that the Committee should meet before the Assembly. That view was supported by a number of other Delegates. Japan, Italy, Sweden, and Canada all supported that view.

I think that there is a great deal to be said for leaving complete discretion to the Chairman as to when the Committee should be called together. I think the history which my noble friend has rehearsed to-day and the experience that we have gone through point in that direction. I am not at all sure that harm has not been done—I think some harm has been done—by the number of times that a date has been fixed and then when the Committee has met it has been found, owing to circumstances, that no definite result followed. My noble friend has pointed out, quite truly, how it would become a taunt in the mouth of the Soviet Delegate and some others, and how it brings the Committee and the whole movement rather into discredit when time after time you fix a meeting three months ahead, or four months ahead, and when you go to Geneva you find that the difficulties have not been overcome, and that it is impossible to arrive at any definite conclusion. If I might use an analogy I will take a Cancer Research Committee. Supposing some great Committee was set up, as I believe one has been, and has been working for a long time, to discover a cure for cancer. What would be thought if some authority entitled to do so were to say: "Now you have to find a cure for cancer before Christmas"; or, "You must find it before Easter"?

Surely the only sensible plan is to allow this Preparatory Commission to investigate the whole question of disarmament unless you distrust their bona fides, but if you do not, if you think the members of the Committee are really anxious to arrive at a solution of their difficulties, why tie them down to this month or that month? Why not say to them: "When you have arrived at a position which offers a prospect of some definite move forward intimate that to the Convener or Chairman, and then you can fix a suitable date for the reassembly of the Committee." I do not think I spoke myself on the subject, but that view was elaborated by the American Delegate, and his argument something on those lines commended itself to the Preparatory Commission. Therefore, if my noble friend will follow the example and the lead of the Preparatory Commission itself, and will express the wish that it should meet, if possible, before the Assembly, without any expression of your Lordship's opinion as to its meeting in any case, whatever the position may be, before the Assembly, I certainly have not the slightest wish to resist the Resolution that he has put on the Paper, agreeing, in the main, as I do with it, with the exception of these particular words, and agreeing very largely and sympathising very largely, as I do, with the case in which he supported the Resolution.


My Lords, notwithstanding the happy harmony between the two contending parties I do not think that this debate ought to close without a few words further being said. I have listened to repeated debates of this kind where much the same questions have come up and much the same things have been said, with the eloquence enforced with a great deal of knowledge, of my noble friend Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, and with the same qualities of my noble friend Lord Parmoor, who sits by me. They put the same case time after time, and what does it all come to? We never get to precise points upon which the Government can say that they are instructed, or that they have met an adversary. We land in generalities and neither is this House nor the country any further forward than it was before the debate took place. That is the evil of this kind of discussion.

Now I have a word to say to the Government. One of the great vices, I think, in the way in which the Government have conducted their business in this matter has been the conventionalism which they have shown and the want of enterprise in striking out in, I will not say new, but appropriate methods. Take this case of the Preparatory Commission. Take what is at the root of it and what it really involves, that is, the question of naval disarmament. I take very strongly the view—and there I am in complete agreement with Viscount Cecil of Chelwood—that a wrong course was taken in approaching this question originally. It is a delusion to think that you can turn it over to the Admiralty and ask their advice as to what should be said. It is not less a delusion to say that you can neglect the Admiralty. If you do, whatever good you may have in your apparent grasp you will be beaten in this country, which lives on the tradition of sea power. But there is another course altogether. The question was as to the number of ships. Why should that be treated as a matter of arithmetic? In one of the speeches this afternoon, in the speech of Viscount Bertie of Thame, it was treated as a matter of mere arithmetic. That is misleading. It was never the method of Nelson, who had the greatest insight of all our naval commanders into what real naval strength means. It is a question that can only be solved if we study the whole situation in its strategical meaning, the position of the Empire, the position of the United States and a variety of other things. We have men among us who are better than any in the world at this task. They publish books on it, they speak on it, they are among our experts.

But instead of dealing with this question as one which is pre-eminently one that is semi-diplomatic, that involves not merely abstract sums in arithmetic but conclusions to show where the real naval strength of this country rests, you send the First Lord of the Admiralty to represent us at the Conference, whereas really we ought to send some one who is not merely a diplomatist but capable of taking the large strategic view of the Empire in its relation to the rest of the world. It is very difficult, standing here, in a few sentences to put the substance of that into clear form, but it has been done. In books which have appeared lately the thesis is worked out. What I complain of is that I can find no trace in the attitude of the Government of adequate consideration being given to that subject. The question is, in other words, not one merely for the Admiralty. It is a question for the Committee of Imperial Defence, and it is a question on which the Committee of Imperial Defence should not merely register conclusions which the Admiralty may have come to, but on which conclusions should be worked out by the Committee of Imperial Defence in close contact with the Foreign Office.

My objection, therefore, to what Viscount Cecil of Chelwood said is that you cannot brush aside the views of the sailors in the way suggested by the noble Viscount and, on the other hand, I think it is equally true that you cannot take the views of the sailors in the easy-going fashion in which the Government appear to have taken them. I pass from that point as simply being one of general policy. I think that the Conference turns on the solution or the approach to a solution of the naval question of the United States and that ground must be prepared in the first instance.

The other question raised was arbitration. It is asked: "Why do you not sign the Optional Clause? Why do you not do these things? The Dominions are very willing and there would not be much trouble." I have referred, I think, before, in this House—at any rate I will refer now—to the difficulties which surround this question. Take Canada, with which I have had much to do, and where I have had to consider the very kind of question with which we are now dealing in great detail. Canada has as its neighbour Japan. Japan naturally wishes to get as much employment for her surplus population as she can, and she likes to send over that surplus population to British Columbia. British Columbia stoutly objects. Canada with great courage endorses a Treaty which the Imperial Government entered into with Japan giving equal rights to Japanese citizens. Canada passed an Act declaring that Treaty to have the force of law in Canada; and what happened? At once questions were raised as to the enforcement of its provisions in British Columbia and it fell to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to dispose of this question in such a way as not to cause a revolt and at the same time to conform with the law. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was fortunate enough to be able to do it.

But there are other such cases. I have spoken of Canada. The same question arises in equally acute form, or even in more acute form, in the Western States of America. They, too, have questions with Japan. How are you to get the United States to sign a general reference of all justiciable questions or non-justiciable questions between themselves and the Japanese Government? They cannot do it. Their people have such hot feelings on this subject that it is impossible. I am not sure that we should not have similar questions as regards Australia and as regards South Africa if we tried to put this Treaty into force. I am not saying that I do not like the principle. I do like the principle. I should very much like to bring it into operation, but I think it is very difficult to bring that into operation, and there is only one way of doing it—namely, to proceed step by step. The short cuts of which we have heard tonight, the heroic Resolutions, will not in the end help. They may seem to help at the beginning, and they may even enable you to sign, but they will not enable you to carry out. I think it is evident from what I have said that I am not satisfied with the energy or the acuteness which the Government have displayed over these questions. On the other hand. I am not prepared to condemn them on the broad ground on which they have been condemned to-night and, speaking for myself, I shall be very glad if the Resolution is accepted in the form in which the noble Lord is willing to assent to it.


My Lords, I certainly am very unhappy in the criticisms of my noble friend Lord Haldane, who began by accusing me of generalities and ended by accusing me of advocating heroic Resolutions. I do not quite see how the two observations can be consistent, but, as a matter of fact, if he will be good enough to read my Resolution—and the whole of my argument was directed to my Resolution, as it ought to be in this House or elsewhere—he will find that it gives a perfectly definite proposal of an extremely moderate kind. It is that the Preparatory Commission should meet again as soon as possible. There can surely be no objection to the wording on the score of its being too general or too heroic. It seems to me to be a moderate and a perfectly definite proposal. With the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Haldane, I really do not think that the charge is justified. He must settle his own quarrel with Lord Parmoor as he can. That is a matter in which I should be very indiscreet to intervene. But, so far as I am concerned, it is not really fair to say that my observations were of an unduly general character. They were perfectly specific. I took the particular observations which my noble friend Lord Cushendun had been instructed to make, and I made my criticisms of them the basis of an argument to show why we should not delay but should proceed with a further meeting of the Preparatory Commission.

So far as the naval difficulty is concerned, I think that my noble friend Lord Haldane has fallen into an entire misapprehension of what the Preparatory Commission is doing at this moment. It is perfectly true that the naval difficulty is a great one, but it has nothing whatever to do with the proportion of ships. That was part of the difficulty that arose between us and the Americans at the Geneva Conference, but the Preparatory Commission has not got anything like so far as that. It is at present engaged in trying to lay down the principles on which disarmament should take place. The proportion will have to be dealt with at a later stage—I almost said at a much later stage. This is really the answer to my noble friend Viscount Bertie of Thame. There is no question at present of settling the proportions of the forces. I regret to say that we have not got anywhere near that. We are at present engaged on laying down the principles on which the reduction should be made, and that is a matter on which, unfortunately, a difference of opinion between us and the French did arise.

Before I leave the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, let me say a word about arbitration. The noble Viscount pointed out a difficulty with regard to Canada, but I think he has not observed the attitude which the Canadian Government themselves take on this point.


Oh, yes, I have.


Senator Lapointe, speaking on behalf of the Government, accepted the principle of the Optional Clause in the warmest terms and desired that it should be signed. There is no dispute about that, so that the difficulty, if any, does not arise from Canada. Canada must be the judge of her own difficulties, and she does not raise that point. With the greatest respect to my noble friend, I think it is very dangerous from an Imperial point of view for this Government to hide behind difficulties which may or may not really be raised by the Dominions. The Dominions speak for themselves, and I think that, until they have spoken, it is much better that we should not put difficulties into their minds.

With regard to my noble friend Lord Cushendun and the Amendment that he was good enough to suggest, I hope that he will not think me ungracious, after the kind way in which he spoke, if I venture to ask him a question, so that we may know where we are. It is perfectly true that we cannot fix in this House when the meeting of the Preparatory Commission shall take place. That is entrusted to the prerogative of the Chairman. What we can do is to ask the Government to urge upon the Chairman that a meeting should take place as soon as possible. I quite agree that we cannot do more. Do I understand that, if the Government accept this Resolution, that is what they will do? I agree that the Government must be more or less the judge of what is possible, but will they urge upon the Chairman that a meeting should take place as soon as possible? That seems to me to be the essential thing. When we discussed this matter some little time ago my noble friend said that there had been discussions, or conversations or something of that kind, going on between the French and the British and that further procedure on disarmament depended a good deal upon those conversations. He did not tell us anything about those conversations today. Very likely that was discreet, and I do not want to press him unduly about it. But, having in view what he has previously said, may I take it that, if I accept this Amendment, as I am very anxious to do if I can, this will mean that the Government will really honestly and genuinely—I am afraid I am using rather clumsy language, but my noble friend will not think that I am saying anything discourteous to him—do their best to get this meeting before the Assembly, if possible? If it is not called before the Assembly, it means that nothing will be done until October, November or December, or some such time, and that would, I think, he very unfortunate.


I could not give any pledge in relation to the Assembly. What we should do is to communicate with the Chairman—not only ourselves but others—whether before or after the Assembly, as soon as we think that a meeting would be of any use. We do not want to have a meeting, either before or after the Assembly, when it is merely a meeting to adjourn again, as it might very well be. That was the reason put forward by the American Delegates and others. They pointed out that, when a meeting is fixed for a certain date, they have to bring their experts all the way from America, and they come over here and then they may find that there is not enough agreement to make the meeting worth while. That is why the Preparatory Commission have now taken their stand on leaving it to the Chairman to call them together when there is a prospect of their doing useful work.


That does not help very much. I am sorry, but that is making the thing rather difficult, because the Government do not give us any assistance at all. They do not indicate whether they think the position has arrived when another meeting can be called. They do not indicate to us at all what position the conversations, or whatever they are, have reached, or what the situation really is.


I do not want to hide anything about that. The noble Viscount did not ask me anything about the conversations, and consequently I did not want to go into them. I have very little to say. All I can say is that, if the Preparatory Commission were called together to-morrow, which is as early as possible, I do not think that we should be any further forward. I think that behind the scenes we may have done some good work, but we could not go into the Preparatory Commission tomorrow and announce any agreement which would enable us to sign the Draft Convention. I think it may be possible to do that before the Assembly, but I cannot say for certain.


I think there is a lot to be done, beyond that, by the Preparatory Commission, if they meet. If the Government tell me that the adoption of the Resolution will come to nothing whatever, it is very difficult for me to do otherwise than say that I could not accept the Amendment. If, however, my noble friend will indicate to me that the adoption of the amended Resolution will really carry matters any further, then I should be very much disposed to accept the Amendment.


It is very difficult for me to do anything of the sort. I have tried to explain the situation to my noble friend, and I do not want to mislead him. As a matter of fact we have not at the present moment reached any agreement sufficient to give any useful prospect of progress. How soon we shall be in a better position I cannot say. It may be before the Assembly, although I cannot be certain, but I want to be certain that we shall not meet uselessly. I will make this appeal to my noble friend. Does he really think the Preparatory Commission is wanting to evade its work, and not anxious to get on with it? If he thinks the Commission is honestly trying to do its work, what possible good can it do to pass a Resolution in this House? Why should Parliament here in England attempt to lay down the date upon which the Commission shall meet? The only assurance I can give him is that the moment it becomes apparent that a meeting of the Preparatory Commission is likely to lead to useful results, the Commission will be called together.


In the meantime will His Majesty's Government do their best to get on with the conversations?




In view of that statement I do not think I should be gracious in pressing my noble friend further. He has already gone a long way to meet me. May I in conclusion make one observation, and one only, about his speech. He told us that he had rejected the proposals for an armistice, because he was advised that they were useless. May I point out to him that that shows the extreme danger of relying solely on technical advice, because it was the imposition of an armistice, both in the case of Greece and Bulgaria and that of Serbia and Albania, which prevented a serious breach of the peace. It was quite easily done, without the slightest difficulty, by telegrams from the President of the Council, and for military gentleman, however eminent, to tell me in face of those two examples that the possibility of an armistice should be utterly rejected and ruled out, is asking me to accept something which it is beyond my powers of credulity to accept. I will not attempt to deal with the rest of what my noble friend said, except to say that he entirely misunderstood my observations about the Finnish proposal. I never doubted its importance, and I said that we were pledged to it long before the meeting of last spring, and before I left the Government, and although I did mention it as showing my noble friend's attitude had not been entirely negative, I wished to add that it was only carrying out what had previously been resolved upon. In the circumstances I accept the Amendment which has been moved by my noble friend.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("in any case") and insert ("if possible").—(Lord Cushendun.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.

The House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before seven o'clock.