HL Deb 15 November 1928 vol 72 cc143-63

LORD PARMOOR had given Notice to call attention to the recent meeting of the Assembly at Geneva, and to move, That this House regrets that the British Delegation to the Ninth Assembly at Geneva did not give effective support to further the policy of disarmament and all-inclusive arbitration. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, has not been tempted to come here at too early a date for the pleasure of crossing swords with me, but I am glad to see that he is in his place and I hope that he has recovered. The Motion that stands in my name does not end, as do so many Motions in your Lordships' House, with a request for Papers, but it contains a substantive Resolution regretting that the British Delegation to the Ninth Assembly at Geneva did not give effective support to further the policy of disarmament and all-inclusive arbitration.

I regard the issue as one of very great importance, because disarmament is the real gist and difficulty of a settled peace policy, and I hope to show, not by insinuations but by facts, partly historical and partly found in published documents, that the Government have failed to give this effective support in not giving sufficient weight to what I may call international opinion as expressed at the Geneva Assembly. The real novelty in the constitution of the League of Nations under the Covenant of the League was the creation of a new Parliament among nations and, that Parliament having been created for the sake of encouraging international reconciliation and friendship, it is essential that its views should be closely appreciated and, if possible, accepted by the leading countries at Geneva.

I think I may go so far as to say—I do not want in any way to exaggerate my case—that from the very commencement of the discussion of questions of disarmament at Geneva, in the days when a great part was taken by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, it came to be an axiom amongst those concerned in the consideration and discussion of these problems that the enemy to disarmament was the fear of aggression, which in pre-War times led to competition in armaments and had so potent an effect in bringing about the outbreak of war. To put it as shortly as I can—I shall have to refer to one or two documents presently—my point is that the British Delegation or the British Government (it does not matter which term I use, because the Delegation is the mouthpiece of the Government) tended to overlook what I think has been the almost universally accepted opinion in the international atmosphere at Geneva, that you must first of all get rid of aggression and substitute some universal means of alternative settlement of disputes without resort to war. Until you have done that, attempts at real disarmament under the terms and conditions of the Covenant are not likely to be successful, and, as I say, my point is that the Government have overlooked that side of the question in the attitude that they have adopted at the Ninth Assembly.

Now the view accepted up to 1924 was further emphasised in 1924. I regret—I do not know how far I was responsible for it—certain friction which arose at that time and which further consideration convinced me was not quite justified. I think in the same way Lord Cecil of Chelwood has said that perhaps he over stated at one time his objections to the Geneva Protocol. The Geneva Protocol was an attempt, which was accepted by unanimous opinion at Geneva itself—that is, unanimously by all the Delegates of the nations represented—to introduce a system of the universal settling of disputes without resort to war; the settling of judicial disputes by a judicial authority under the Optional Clause and all other disputes under the arbitration terms which were to apply universally. It is not necessary for me, nor have I any intention at the present time, to go in detail into the Protocol question, but what I think has not been observed is this, that the Protocol was in truth intended to bring about conditions which would allow the Disarmament Confer- ence to meet with every chance of success. The Protocol would have become null and void altogether unless it were followed by an accepted scheme of general disarmament, and that is a most important consideration, because since the Protocol was overthrown, as it was as an historical fact, by the British Government, there has been no successful attempt at obtaining a basis on which a Disarmament Conference can be properly summoned.

That is a very strong point indeed and I go one step further. These are all links in one chain. If the Protocol basis for a world conference on disarmament had not been thrown over and that conference had been held in the Spring of 1925, I believe there is every reason to suppose that a scheme of disarmament might have been success-fully formulated. Of course, I do not mean by disarmament what I think the noble Lord referred to as certain reductions in the British Naval Estimates and so on. I use the term in the sense in which I think it is used in the Covenant itself—namely, a general reduction of the armaments of all the countries affected, so that armaments should represent a defensive force and not be capable of being used, or not intended to be used, for purposes of aggression. I think it is only in that way that you can get the security in which, as I have said, you can formulate an adequate disarmament scheme. That is a very important point, and I will ask the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, to say whether he thinks from his own experience there is the slightest chance for a world policy on the question of disarmament, so long as security has not been obtained, by counterbalancing what is called fear of aggression by applying methods under which international disputes can be satisfactorily settled without recourse to war. Indeed, I go a little further. We have heard a good deal lately of the outlawry of war, and I rejoice in the Kellogg Pact, but the Protocol itself enunciated the outlawry of war and declared that recourse to war was an international crime, and until you have got so far not only in general expression but in the formation of a plan capable of practical application, I doubt whether any real progress can be made on the question of disarmament.

The next step—I want to pass quite shortly over these matters—was Locarno. I thoroughly approved, and do approve, of Locarno, but this country, of course, carefully avoided giving any sanction, so far as we were concerned, either to the general settlement by judicial methods of questions of right, or to any system of general arbitration as regards other outside questions. So the result is this, that whereas if the Protocol basis had been accepted—or if it were accepted now; it is not too late, and I am not jealous as to what name is used—if the basis had been accepted of obtaining security before disarmament, the problem would have been comparatively simple. We have now got into a morass of difficulty from which it is not easy to see any immediate escape. Of course, on this occasion I do not seek to go back to the discusson of the Anglo-French Compromise, which was thoroughly discussed and explained by my noble friend Lord Thomson, during the discussion in this House recently, but what I want to say is that it indicates that if you embark upon the principle of disarmament without first obtaining security, you are likely to end without any real solution of the problem.

I have read as carefully as I can more than once all the printed official documents in connection with the last meeting of the Council and the Assembly, and the conclusion I have come to is that, with the question to which I have referred outstanding, there is not much use in attempting to get satisfactory results, either by calling together the Preparatory Commission or by seeking to fix a date for the Conference itself. As far as I can understand, that is the conclusion that the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, also has come to. I do not think he will disagree when I say that his position is summarised in these words: I do not think it is any good pressing forward the Preparatory Commission at this stage, and, as regards the final Conference we are a long way off getting any agreed basis which would make it wise to call that Conference. I agree with him on the ground—a different ground, I think, to that which he takes—that the difficulty has arisen from not following international opinion, and not seeking first of all to get security, and, when the fear of aggression has been modified, then attempting a general all-round disarmament.

On September 29 the questions with which I have been dealing were brought before the Assembly at Geneva. They had been already discussed, first of all in two separate Committees, and then by a body composed in order to settle the difficulties between the Committees, and an agreed report had been obtained. This agreed report was accepted by the Assembly on September 29. It suggested what was called a General Act, and certain Bilateral Acts which should he open for signature, as the Optional Clause was, and of which the signature should be recommended if countries would adopt it. The General Act was called a Multilateral Treaty, and included terms of conciliation, terms for the determination of judicial questions, and an all-inclusive system of compulsory arbitration, subject only to the possibility of searching reservations, which any particular country might make. They, of course did not alter the general principle. When that matter was discussed some remarks were made in Committee by the representative of the Foreign Office on the Delegation. I need not mention his name, although when I was at Geneva we were extremely indebted to him for his support, because, of course, he was merely speaking as the mouthpiece of the Foreign Office. He said it was not very important from the point of view of the British Delegation to consider the terms of this General Act or the Bilateral Treaties because the Foreign Office said publicly, as I understand, there and then that they never intended to assent; that is to say, they never intended to assent to what has been universally recommended by international opinion as the only reasonable basis for a project of disarmament—namely, judicial decision of judicial questions, if conciliation failed, and ultimately a resort to arbitration.

In the preamble to that Resolution I find one or two expressions which I will quote. This is the first clause: The Assembly; Having considered the work of the Committee … Firmly convinced that effective machinery for ensuring the peaceful settlement of international disputes is an essential element in the cause of security and disarmament;"— in other words, unless you adopt the peaceful settlement of international disputes you cannot obtain security on which you can found an adequate disarmament plan. Does the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, agree with that statement or not? It is of the utmost importance; it is the key-note of success or failure. Note the words: "essential element"—that, is to say, unless that element is introduced you cannot make progress in the cause of security and disarmament. And if might pause here for a moment—although I think that in these matters, having set up an international Parliament, you must be largely guided by international feeling—I would ask why not? Surely, I should have thought that of all people in the world, with our respect for law, we might have desired to place a legal opinion before an adequate court, in the place of the gamble of force, the gamble of what Kant called "the bar-barity of force." Of course, there is some risk. You cannot have universal peace without risk. No great action of any country, or individual, is done without some risk. But the risk of arbitration and the risk of judicial decision in the cause of peace is infinitely less in every direction than the risk of a future war.

Then let me look at the second matter which was assented to by the whole Assembly on this occasion. The Resolution continues: Considering that the faithful observance, under the auspices of the League of Nations, of methods of pacific settlement renders possible the settlement of all disputes: There you have all the nations combined assenting to the proposition—and, I think, rightly assenting to it—that it is possible to settle all international disputes under the auspices of the League of Nations by methods of pacific settlement. I do not know whether the noble Lord has this Paper from which I am quoting, and which I obtained from Geneva. I am bound to admit that I find it a great advantage to have all the documents which are printed sent to me from Geneva, in order that I may read and understand them. A little lower down they say this: The Assembly being desirous of facilitating to the greatest possible degree the development of undertakings in regard to the said methods of procedure": That is to say, international opinion at Geneva desires to facilitate in every direction the method of procedure in the cause of security and disarmament. Then it goes on to invite all States to sign the document so as to become parties to what is called a Multilateral Treaty. It is known technically as the General Act, I think, and there are Bilaterial Treaties as well.

What can be more conclusive than the general trend of international opinion as there expressed? Is it possible that we can come to a true international policy of conciliation and peace without paying due attention to the opinion expressed in this great Parliament of Nations? Yon could never secure it unless you had representative institutions of this kind. You are never likely to secure it unless you pay attention to the views expressed, after great consideration and after full discussion in Committees, at the Assembly at Geneva on a great occasion of this kind. I do not want to go back to what I said in 1924; but the merit of the provision then was that it was unanimously accepted in the public Assembly at Geneva after long public discussion in which, I think, the representative of nearly every Government or people took his proportionate part.

I do not think it is possible to carry the case which I desire to make further than by the quotations which I have made. They are conclusive if you agree on the principle of following international opinion if you are to get a satisfactory international decision. But there are one or two other matters to which I wish to refer. It has been suggested more than once that some difficulty would arise from our Dominions. I know what was said at the Imperial Conference, but it does not seem to me to touch the matter to which I am going to refer.


in regard to what?


In regard to bringing the Dominions into agreement with our policy on this point. In 1924 the representatives of the Dominions were consulted every day during many hours and they universally assented to the Protocol of Geneva. Since that date I think the most notable speech made at Geneva and the speech of probably the most far-reaching importance was that of the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Mackenzie King. It has, I think, a very strong bearing upon the view I am putting forward. I believe that what I call the peace policy in our Dominions and amongst the people of our Dominions is at least as far advanced as it is in this country. If you could ascertain the public view in this country I think it would be largely in favour of meeting what I would describe as the fears of aggression by a sufficient security to enable an all-round scheme of general disarmament to be adopted, not only on the ground that it is right and that every principle points to the encouragement of peace and the discouragement of war, but that to a great industrial country such as ours the conception of world-unity and world-peace is essential if we are to maintain our great world-industrial position and to get rid of the continuing curse of unemployment.

I have here the actual words used by Mr. Mackenzie King, but I have summarised them and have taken great care to summarise them accurately. He said that Canada was a land of reconciliation. Then he stated what, of course, is common knowledge and ground, that it had an undefended frontier with the United States of more than 3,000 miles, and that a disarmament arrangement made in 1818—more than a century ago—had remained in force ever since. There is an answer to the suggestion that humanity is not capable of a peaceful outlook because centuries of war have distorted opinion on this point to a large extent in the Western European States. He said there had been differences at times with the United States—we know historically that there have been—but all were settled by conference, conciliation or arbitration. That is what I am suggesting is the way to deal with matters without going to war, which I consider a terrible misfortune. I ask your Lordships to listen to this:— Canada had no fear of aggression, not a single dollar had been expended through fear of American aggression."— There is the result of disarmament and of the substitution of conciliation or peaceful arbitration for war. Then he adds:— All resources thus saved from armaments could, therefore, he devoted to productive industry. I should like to be able to apply to ourselves what he stated with regard to expenditure. He went on to say that the prevention of waste in warlike equipment and in the upsetting of industrial organisation was one of the great causes why, at the present moment, the new world was more than equipped, or at any rate well equipped, to come into competition with the old and was making huge strides in its industrial development. I need hardly say that I have no objection to that. My view is that the more other countries develop on peaceful lines the larger is our opportunity of successful industrial organisation. It is a total fallacy to suppose that poverty in another country is of advantage to us. We want all-round prosperity and, as M. Theunis said in his report on the Economic World Conference at Geneva, both trade and industrial prosperity were increased by developing in every sense the idea of world unity and removing all obstructive elements which might make the progress of trade between countries more difficult.

In conclusion, I should like to take one quotation, and only one, though there are a great many applicable, from a statement made at the September meeting by the French Representative, M. Paul-Boncour. I quote it because those who take the same view as I do, take no exception whatever to what I may call friendliness in every possible way between the French and ourselves, and the best form of friendliness, because we want it to be a friendliness held out not only to France but to other countries in a similar position. This is what M. Paul-Boncour said: Two attempts—the Treaty of Mutual Assistance and the Protocol—had been made in order to achieve the complete security which would enable complete disarmament to be carried into effect in accordance with the hopes of the nations. … There could be no reason to reproach those who had constantly inspired these great efforts to achieve general security, and who had first affixed their signature to the Protocol, which they had no intention of repudiating. Whatever might be the changes in the political majority of France the signature which she had affixed to the Protocol would always remain valid. It was for ohers to revive that Protocol if it seemed good to them to do so. France was always ready. That means to say, France was always ready to accept the great principles between all nations of conciliation, judicial decision on judicial matters and all-round universal arbitration. That is a better basis for a thorough understanding with France and at the same time with America and all other countries than any negotiation, even if it succeeds, and much more so if it end in misunderstanding and disappointment. Why cannot we deal with this on the new grounds of promoting international security? Why do we still cling to the old views of diplomatic procedure, which tempt that wrong competitive spirit between countries which ended in the misfortune of the Great War, brought about by the undue growth of competitive armaments? I propose the Resolution which stands in my name.

Moved, That this House regrets that the British Delegation to the Ninth Assembly at Geneva did not give effective support to further the policy of disarmament and all-inclusive arbitration.—(Lord Parmoor).


My Lords, I would like, if I may at the outset, to thank the noble Lord opposite for his very kind consideration to me personally in having deferred his Motion from last Tuesday for my convenience. I am grateful to him for it. This Motion is in a form which at all events in the other House, which I am more familiar with than this one, would be a Vote of Censure on the Government. I do not know whether that is the intention of the noble and learned Lord or not, but at all events that is the form which his Motion takes.


May I say it is not my intention? I desire always to make this as much a non-political question as possible.


I am not, then, to take it in the technical sense that the expression of regret at something which we did or omitted to do is a censure. I hope I need occupy a very short space of your Lordships' time this afternoon. The noble and learned Lord has practically confined his speech to variations—slight variations—on two main themes, the Protocol and the Optional Clause. I was looking through the debates on these subjects recently, and I found that in February, when I had had the honour of being in your Lordships' House for only a short time, I made the comment, in reply to the noble and learned Lord, that (already in February last) it was the fourth time which I had replied to his observations about the Protocol and the Optional Clause. I am not quite certain whether since February I have had three or four further occasions of replying to the same speech in the same observations from myself and, therefore, I do not think I could make a more effective reply to the noble and learned Lord than to give him the columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT where he will see my answer to this case.


I do not wish to interfere unnecessarily, but of course the point of what I say is in the Ninth Assembly. It has never been discussed before in this House and never could have been.


I do not suggest for a moment that the noble and learned Lord has not a perfect right to make the speech he has made.


It is a new matter.


The noble Lord has made this speech with regard to what happened at the Assembly; the last time I think it was with regard to what had happened at the Council; the time before that it was probably with respect to what had happened at the Preparatory Commission; but the subject is the same on all occasions. This is really the gist of the noble Lord's position. For reasons which we can all appreciate he is under the amiable delusion that 1924 was a golden age, that 1924 was really the zenith of all that makes for peace and prosperity in the world, and that there has been a sad decline ever since. He has told us to-day, I think for the fifth or sixth time since I have been in your Lordships' House, that if only the Protocol had been accepted everything else would have successfully followed. He has told us to-day that we should have had security with the Protocol and consequently that we should easily have had disarmament if we had only had the Protocol. He quoted in the concluding portion of his speech an expression of opinion from a friend of mine, M. Paul-Boncour, who takes something of the same view as the noble Lord, and it is not very surprising, if one knows all the circumstances, that he does so. But I take a totally different view.

The noble and learned Lord referred in the course of his speech to what he called the international atmosphere. He seemed to think that at Geneva not only M. Paul-Boncour but almost everybody, except the representative of the British Government, was sighing for the lost Protocol. That is not my view. I think that probably in 1924 there was a considerable body of opinion, though by no means unanimous, which held that the Protocol would give security. It certainly would have given security in some quarters, but it would have meant immense liabilities in others, and it is for that very reason that this country refused to accept the Protocol. Although, undoubtedly, we might have contributed to the sense of security of some other nations, we should only have done so at the cost of accepting a very far-reaching and heavy liability for ourselves. We have already done the same sort of thing, though on a much more limited scale, happily for ourselves. By the Treaty of Locarno, we have incurred a liability for the sake of giving security; but my view for what it is worth—perhaps it is not worth much less than that of other noble Lords—is that if the Protocol, by any misfortune, had been carried, so far from helping disarmament, we should have to be increasing both our Army and our Navy at the present time. Otherwise, unless we were in a very strong naval and military position, we should not have been really in a position to make good the undertakings which our liabilities would have put upon us owing to that instrument.

The noble Lord said that you cannot have disarmament without security, and he asked me whether I accepted that proposition. I do. I quite agree that without security it is almost hopeless to think of getting disarmament. But the problem upon which we are constantly engaged at Geneva is to devise some system which will sufficiently give the sense of security to enable the various nations to carry out a system of disarmament. The noble Lord said, with regard to the Preparatory Commission, that nothing is being done, and he asked me whether I had not myself taken the view that it would be useless to name a, date for the next meeting. I am rather surprised that the noble Lord should have had what I can hardly refrain from calling the assurance to make this sort of reproach against me or the Government in connection with the Preparatory Commission, because it was for the very purpose of enabling the Preparatory Commission to meet and get on with its work that we came to an arrangement with the French, for which we have been roundly belaboured and denounced ever since. I quite agree that at the present moment it does not seem as if there was a very hopeful prospect immediately before us with regard to the Preparatory Commission, for the very simple reason that the various points of view which find expression there have not been reconciled, have not been brought to such an agreement as will enable the various nations there represented to put their signatures to a draft Convention. To that extent I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord.

The only thing I cannot the least understand is how he tries to bring home to us any responsibility for this, because, so far from our having failed to give effective support to further the policy of disarmament, we have taken every possible step. We have made concessions to others, we have given up positions which we were advised were of very great importance to this country, we have given every possible demonstration of our desire to go to the furthest possible limits in order to bring about agreement for the purpose of disarmament. Therefore, I entirely repudiate the idea of the noble Lord that the backward position with regard to disarmament, which I deplore quite as much as he does, is in any way due to any action or omission on the part of His Majesty's Government. Then the noble Lord tried to support his case by representing that we were also backward in the support of the principle of arbitration. He read to me parts of a Resolution passed by the Assembly, and asked me whether I agreed with it. Of course, I agreed with it, because I voted for it. We supported it at the Assembly. But what is the argument?


On the ground I stated, that it was part of the General Act which this country would not accept.


That is not the point I am dealing with. I am dealing with the Resolution of the Assembly of which the noble Lord read part:— The Assembly; Having considered the work of the Committee on Arbitration and Security; (1) Firmly convinced that effective machinery for ensuring the peaceful settlement of international disputes is an essential element in the cause of security and disarmament … The noble Lord asked me whether I agreed with that, and the way he asked it almost implied that it was impossible, in view of the action which we had taken, that we could sincerely support that part of the Resolution. It is not so at all. Of course, we do. We quite agree that machinery for ensuring the peaceful settlement of international disputes is essential. The whole difference, and the only difference, between the noble Lord on the one hand and myself and the Government on the other, is as to what are the best, the most effective and the most feasible methods of peaceful settlement of disputes.

The noble Lord seemed to think—he was quite mistaken, but he seemed to think—that that necessarily involved the acceptance of what he quoted as the General Act. It does not do anything of the sort. If the noble Lord had looked a little further down the Resolution which he quoted, and had come to the eighth sub-clause, he would have seen the means which the Assembly recommends for the purpose of securing effective machinery for ensuring the peaceful settlement of international disputes. What are the means? It invites all States, whether Members of the League or not, and in so far as their existing agreements do not already achieve this end, to accept obligations in pursuance of the above purpose"— I call attention to the following words:— either by becoming parties to the annexed General Act, or by concluding particular Conventions with individual States in accordance with the model Bilateral Conventions annexed hereto, or in such terms as may be deemed appropriate. The whole difference between the noble Lord and us is simply that. It is quite true that the representative of the Foreign Office, speaking under my direct instructions, did say—and I have myself said also—that between these various Treaties, for reasons which I have explained, but with which I will not trouble your Lordships now, we prefer Bilateral Treaties or Regional Treaties to these larger instruments like a General Act, which is left open for signature to any States as they come along.

I have given very fully at Geneva the reasons why His Majesty's Government have taken that view, but I have candidly recognised that, so far as we are concerned, it is a view which we take because of the very peculiar circumstances of this country, which are not quite paralleled anywhere else. But we have equally candidly said that we quite recognise the value of these more general instruments for those who feel that their circumstances enable them to accept them. We supported in the Committee the preparation of these various model treaties to suit all sorts of circumstances, whether of those who, like ourselves, prefer Bilateral or Regional Treaties, or of those who feel that, their circumstances being ranch more simple than ours, they can safely and rightly sign one of these General Acts, something on the lines of the Optional Clause. I say that in both eases we have given our support, and our cordial support, to the whole of that policy at Geneva. I submit to your Lordships that the noble and learned Lord has utterly failed in his attempt to show that we were in any way slack or backward in the support of that policy, and I feel confident that your Lordships will refuse to accept this Motion.


My Lords, I do not propose to enter into the controversy that has once again been raised as to the advisability or inadvisability of what is known as the Protocol. I stand in a somewhat central position I am not so completely convinced of the wisdom of all its provisions as are some noble Lords, but, on the other hand, I have never been able to see that it involves the dangers for this country that other noble Lords have supposed it to involve. T think, however, I have the right to say that my noble friend Lord Cushendun perhaps went a little too far, if he will allow me to say so, in suggesting that the result of the Protocol would have been to increase armaments. The Protocol could not have come into force at all except after an agreement for general disarmament. That was one of its provisions, and accordingly I say that it could not have had the particular result that my noble friend fears.

I am not so much concerned in these debates in the question whether what has been done in the past has been right or wrong as to try and see what are the possibilities of advance by any method towards achieving that which my noble friend says, I have no doubt with absolute truth, is as much the policy of the Government as it is of any other member of this House—namely, a policy of the reduction of armaments by international agreement. It seems to me that there are three lines which it is still possible to pursue and which might be pursued with great advantage. First, there is the question of arbitration. It would be absurd for me to repeat to your Lordships, as I fear I have already done on more than one occasion, my reasons for the conviction that I hold that it would be right for the Government of this country to accept what is known as the Optional Clause. It would not be right for me to do that. I have explained my views and my noble friends have explained their views. Unfortunately, we still remain absolutely convinced that we are right. I do not appear to have made the slightest impression on my noble friends, and I am afraid that they have not yet succeeded in altering my opinion.

There are, however, two circumstances which do seem to me to be novel. I do not want to press them in a hostile spirit, but I suggest to my noble friends that they might carefully consider (I dare say that they have done so) the acceptance of the Kellogg Pact—not the first clause, but the second clause. It is perfectly true that the signatories of that clause do not bind themselves to settle disputes by pacific means, but they do bind themselves not to settle disputes by other than pacific means, and from what I would venture to call the national point of view—I do not speak in any political sense, but of the view that would naturally commend itself to those who live in these Islands—surely it is desirable to settle disputes. To leave them unsettled is a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with international disputes. It may sometimes he the best way in the circumstances, and it is possible to hold that view, but normally a policy of leaving disputes unsettled cannot be a good policy. Since we are now quite determined not to settle them by non-pacific means, and we have so announced, it seems to me that this provides an additional reason for considering once again whether there is any practicable method by which we can advance towards a general system of pacific settlement of disputes. It is in that connection that I venture to ask my noble friend once again to look at this question and to see whether there is any conceivable method which they honestly and in their hearts believe would advance that question to the same degree and to the same extent as the signing of the Optional Clause.

In that connection I should like to mention one other consideration. I was present at a very remarkable meeting in the Albert Hall the other day. It was addressed by the Prime Minister, under the presidency of the noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon. I do not attach undue importance to public meetings (I have seen so many of them) but this was certainly one of the most remarkable meetings that I have ever had the honour of attending. I was intensely gratified to hear from the Prime Minister a most elaborate and eloquent eulogy of, and expression of confidence in, the Permanent Court of International Justice. I will not attempt to quote it, but if my noble friends will refresh their memories as to what the Prime Minister then said, I am sure they will agree with me that no one could have put the case for the Court of International Justice higher than he did. This did seem to me, perhaps, an encouragement to hope that at some not too distant date my noble friend will be able to consider more favourably what would be, after all, the greatest vote of confidence in the Permanent Court that could possibly be given—namely, the signing of the Optional Clause.

The second obviously possible way of obtaining progress would be by means of another meeting of the Preparatory Commission, and an attempt once again through that medium to approach this very difficult problem. The Preparatory Commission itself, unless I am mistaken, has not met since Easter of last year. My noble friend will correct me if I am wrong.


Since Easter of this year.


That was only a sub-committee of the Preparatory Commission.


The Commission last met in April of last year.


I do not think that any effective work has been done by the Commission since the spring of last year. If, as my noble friend tells me, it did in fact meet this year, it was a purely formal meeting and no business was done. At any rate there has been a long interval since the last effective meeting of the Preparatory Commission. I am not disposed to deny that there is in existing circumstances considerable difficulty in hoping for any favourable result from a meeting of the Preparatory Commission. I am anxious not to make a contentious speech on the present occasion, and therefore I can only allude vaguely and very gently to the circumstances, but no doubt the failure of the Three-Power Conference last year and the failure of the Anglo-French Compromise this year—I mention it without expressing any opinion upon it—are both circumstances that militate against the probability of a successful meeting of the Preparatory Commission. But, even so, I have the greatest difficulty in believing that it would not be possible to find a solution of the difficulties that met the Preparatory Commission last year.

I was not at all satisfied, as I have told the House in previous debates, with everything that occurred on that occasion. I thought that we might have displayed far greater willingness to go forward, and I thought that the attitude taken up by the French Government on the question of naval disarmament was very unfortunate and, so far as I could see, very difficult to defend. But, after all, it is very easy to exaggerate the differences between the two Governments, even on the naval question. They are not very profound. There was an agreement that you must have naval limitation as part of any general disarmament scheme. Both Governments agreed to that. Both Governments agreed that there must be a limitation of the total Fleets, somehow. The only point upon which they disagreed was that the French Government thought it would be sufficient to have a limitation of the total tonnage of the Fleets. The British Government contended warmly for the limitation not only of the total tonnage of the whole Fleets but of the total tonnage of each category of the Fleets.


A fundamental difference.


A fundamental difference, as it turned out, but it does not appear to me to be a difference which ought to be insoluble. I cannot bring myself to believe that that question is really going to be a thing which will prevent such an enormous reform as agreement on the limitation and reduction of armaments generally. I have never been satisfied, either on one side or the other, that there was sufficient ground for making it an absolute stumbling block in our way. I agree with my noble friend that it is not of much use for the Disarmament Commission to meet again unless there is some prospect of a solution, and so far I am in agreement with him that at the present moment, in view of all that has occurred, it may be doubtful whether it will be really useful for another meeting to take place. The Government of the day are in a far better position to judge of this than any outsider can be.

A third avenue by which the question may be approached is by a naval agreement with the United States. That is, know, very delicate ground on which to touch, particularly at the present time. Yet there, too, it does seem to me that the measure of agreement is very considerable. As I understand, the Government of the United States are prepared to proceed with discussions at Geneva in the Preparatory Commission and elsewhere. As I understand, that is quite definite and clear. They assert that they are anxious for a real reduction. I agree. I understand that that is also the policy of the British Government. They assert that all parts of naval armament must be included. That seems to me to be unanswerable. The one point on which conceivably there may be a difficulty, although I hope not, is the claim of the United States for parity—for equality. I cannot believe that that is going to be a serious difficulty. We were authorised last year at Geneva to say that it was not a serious difference, and although some isolated Ministerial statements do seem to throw some doubts upon that, I cannot believe that any responsible Government, at this stage and in the condition of affairs which has now been reached, is going to make that a serious difficulty in the way of such an enormously desirable result as agreement with the United States on this point.

I do not desire to press for any reply on that point or on any other part of my observations. I quite recognise that the matter is very delicate and difficult, and that the responsible Government may at this stage, and in these conditions, desire not to commit itself by any public statement on the point. I do earnestly hope, however, that the Government will not allow any predilection or prejudice to prevent an advance in this direction. I do feel most profoundly that the position of world peace is not really secure, in the sense that we may be quite certain it will never be broken again. That would be a very great exaggeration even of the very favourable results produced at Geneva and elsewhere. I feel that there is in human probability a comparatively short time before us which we may use to erect barriers against war in the future. It will not last so very long, and no barrier that I can think of will be as effective as a general agreement for the limitation and reduction of armaments. I earnestly hope that the present Government, or any Government that may succeed it, will weigh carefully whether there is not still something they can do, some line which they can take, and, if need be, some sacrifice which they can make, in order to achieve a result so vital to this country and so vital to the whole civilised world.


My Lords, I will only say one or two words in answer to Lord Cushendun, because the views which I would have expressed have been already put forward by Lord Cecil of Chelwood. I am sure that Lord Cushendun must have forgotten for a moment, although I stated it, that disarmament was a condition of the Protocol, and therefore the fear of increased armaments was impossible. I deliberately abstained from discussing the Protocol, because this was not an occasion for discussing it, and I do not think the noble Lord really made a very strong point in saying that I had been rather insistent—I think I have been; I am proud of it—in trying to, bring about general peace and conciliation between the nations through the agency of Geneva. There is one other point. The noble Lord says that the difference between us is a difference of method; but a difference of method means everything. He has not made any advance as regards the signing of the Optional Clause. There has been no advance on the question, which I brought to his notice, of the scheme of solving all international disputes by pacific means, as the noble Viscount pointed out, carrying

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