HL Deb 10 June 1931 vol 81 cc52-76

LORD NOEL-BUXTON had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government if they will make a statement as to their action at the recent meetings of the Council of the League of Nations in regard to the protection of national minorities.


My Lords, unfortunately my noble friend Lord Noel-Buxton is confined to his house by a feverish attack. At the last moment he asked me to take his place and to address the Question he had placed on the Paper to the Leader of the House. No one more regrets my noble friend's illness than I do, particularly as it places upon me a burden which I had hoped he would have been able to bear himself. He has particular qualifications for dealing with this Question because, during almost the whole of his life, he has been specially interested in the condition of the people in South-Eastern Europe and he took a very great part in the movement which resulted in the deliverance of some of those people from the dominion of the Austrian Empire. I should have been glad if he had been able to put before your Lordships the facts and arguments upon which he has thought it right to ask His Majesty's Government to give a definite statement to-day. I have not got the same qualifications he has, although I do know these countries very well; but I have another qualification and that is I have for some years past been acting as Chairman of an International Committee of the League of Nations Societies which has been concerned for certainly eight years now with the question of minorities.

I fear that some people may think that I am infected with the minority germ but, although I have heard in this capacity many complaints by individuals forming part of one minority or another, I have had also the advantage of hearing the other side, because on the Committee over which I preside we have representatives of the majorities and the minorities, and I have often heard these very difficult questions debated between them, not without a certain amount of warmth.

I think it is right that we should give your Lordships some justification for bringing this particular problem to your notice this afternoon. Many people will say that this House has really nothing to do, or should have nothing to do, with the conditions of these minorities. How does it concern us as to whether there should be a dozen or two dozen or three dozen schools in a particular part of Poland in which the German language ought to be taught and is not taught? How does it concern us as to how far a particular Government is justified in insisting upon a change of name of some of its subjects in parts of Macedonia?

Many people will say, no doubt, that we ought not to trouble the British Parliament with anything of this nature. But as a matter of fact, this question is very specially our affair because the British nation has guaranteed the minorities' rights. We are signatories to these Minority Treaties. They were Treaties entered into by a certain number of States immediately after the War, by which, as your Lordships know, they undertook to give certain rights to racial and religious minorities. They are also Treaties signed by representatives of this Empire and others of the great Powers, and they were produced under circumstances which I think it is important that we should never forget. M. Clemenceau, when he presented to the President of the Polish Republic the Polish Minorities Treaties for signature, explained that this was not the first time when Treaties had been drawn up for the purpose of protecting racial or religious minorities. And he said this: The principal Allied and Associated Powers are of the opinion that they would be false to the responsibility which rests upon them if on this occasion they departed from what has become an established tradition. In this connection I must also recall to your consideration the fact that it is to the endeavours and sacrifices of the Powers in whose name I am addressing you that the Polish nation owes the recovery of its independence. It is by their decision that Polish sovereignty is being re-established over the territories in question, and that the inhabitants of these territories are being incorporated in the Polish nation. It is on the support which the resources of these Powers will afford to the League of Nations that for the future Poland will to a large extent depend for the secure possession of these territories. There rests, therefore, upon these Powers an obligation which they cannot evade to secure in the most permanent and solemn form guarantees for certain essential rights which will afford to the inhabitants the necessary protection whatever changes may take place in the internal constitution of the Polish State. It is in pursuance of that declaration that the Minority Treaties were concluded, and they are now, either in the form of Treaty or in the form of voluntary acceptance, binding on some fourteen or fifteen States. They lay down certain very definite propositions. Take the Polish Treaty. I take it mainly because it is one example. I have no particular reason for picking out Poland as distinguished from any other nation. In the Polish Treaty, after having recited that the Allied and Associated Powers have restored to the Polish nation their independence, and that certain portions of the former German Empire are to be incorporated in Poland, there come a series of undertakings. The first one is that Poland agrees that the stipulations constitute obligations of international concern, and shall be placed under the guarantee of the League of Nations; then, that any member of the Council of the League may draw the attention of the Council to any infraction or danger of infraction, and that any question of law or fact may be referred to the Permanent Court of International Justice. Further, Poland undertook to recognise as fundamental laws the stipulations in the Treaty, and promised that no law or regulation should be inconsistent with those stipulations. The stipulations were very definite. They were that all nations should enjoy the same civil rights without distinction an to race, language, or religion; that differences of creed should not prejudice any one; that no restrictions should be imposed as to language; that adequate facilities should be given for the use of language in the Courts of Law, that nationals of racial, religious or linguistic minorities were to have the rights to use their own schools; and that where there was a considerable proportion of the minority race, the State would provide schools of minority language.

In order to secure these rights, I submit to your Lordships that the British Government have not only the right to intervene, but a very important duty of intervening laid upon them by the terms of those Treaties, and certainly the minorities all over Europe look to us and to the other great Powers who signed those Treaties for protection through the operation of the League of Nations. It is not only in cases where the Treaties were entered into that this moral obligation—at any rate so I think—rests upon us. There are cases, as for instance the case of Italy. When the Treaty of St. Germain was being negotiated, Austria protested against the inclusion of certain sections of German-speaking and Slav-speaking populations formerly belonging to the Austrian Empire. Austria protested against this and the Powers refused to admit their protest, but in doing so they said: As appears from the very clear explanations given by the Italian Minister-President, the Italian Government intends to pursue towards its new subjects in respect of their language, institutions and economic interests a large and liberal policy. There were at that time many declarations made in the same sense whereby it was certainly understood that the general obligations that were included in these Minority Treaties would also be carried out in those parts of the Austrian Empire which had been transferred to Italy.

I think, my Lords, there can be little doubt that these provisions formed a very important part of the basis of the Peace settlement. In fact we may say that in the division of Germany and Austria which took place after the War the arrangements then arrived at were upon the understanding that the transferred races were to be left in the possession of their old languages, their schools, their churches, their habits and their customs. In fact it was more than once stated that it was desirable that the change should be made as little irksome as possible. The reason for it was obvious. The only way to bring about a real reconciliation and real peace was to have such arrangements made in these countries as to assure these people transferred against their will from their old allegiance that they were not thereby going to be deprived of all that they held most sacred—their language, their religion, their habits, their culture and everything of that kind. But unfortunately it was not so easy to put these ideas into operation. Even in those cases where the statesmen of the country recognised the necessity for it, the people were not inclined to act up to these ideas, and, of course, in those countries where the statesmen announced, as they did in one or two cases, that their policy should be to denationalise these transferred minorities as quickly as possible, what happened could only be expected—namely, that officials and the people above took it as granted that they were entitled to make minorities as uncomfortable as they could. The result was that almost everywhere—I think I may certainly say almost everywhere—minorities became discontented, and in my belief they are discontented and uneasy now.

This is the real danger that Europe has to face. I do not say that there is any particular country in which any minority is a real danger from the military point of view to the State in which it now lives. They are not indeed strong enough to bring about rebellion, but I think it is not over-stating the case to say that if any trouble arises in Europe—and trouble can at any moment arise in many parts of Europe—there are many minorities who would gladly take the first opportunity they could to relieve themselves from a yoke which ought to have been made more endurable and which has not been a light yoke put upon them. That dissatisfaction in some places is growing. We have seen only recently—and no doubt the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, will say something about it—the two cases of the Ukraine and Upper Silesia which have assumed very serious aspects, so much so that they have had to be dealt with in a special manner by Committees of Three. I hope Lord Parmoor will say something this afternoon about the efforts of those Committees, and on behalf of minorities I think we are all extremely grateful to the Foreign Secretary for having taken an active interest in those inquiries.

There are other cases. There is the situation of the Hungarians in Rumania. No one can say that they are a contented minority. No one can say that they are not a real danger, not only to Rumania but to the peace of Europe. In Hungary one of the chief props upon which they base the agitation for the revision of the Treaties is the condition of the minorities in the countries that surround that State. If you search for the cause of the troubles that exist in the Balkan States, especially between Yugo-Slavia and Bulgaria, you inevitably find that troubles arise from this question of minorities. I will not attempt to elaborate the question this afternoon, but I think any one who knows those countries will say that the real cause of the trouble which exists—and it is by no means a diminishing trouble—is the fact that this minority question has not been settled satisfactorily.

Minorities constitute on the whole a very considerable population. Taking the whole of Europe, although it is difficult to ascertain the exact number, I do not think I shall be over-stating it when I say that, in one country or another, there are at least. 30,000,000 people who belong to a racial or religious minority. If you add the minorities in Russia and Turkey you can easily double that figure. These minorities exist in almost every country. You will hardly find a single country in Europe in which this question of minorities is not a burning political question and one fraught with considerable danger. It shows itself when trouble arises. Your Lordships have seen the situation in Spain. There the Catalonian minority compelled the rest of Spain to recognise their right to self-government. The moment the Catalonians did that another minority, the Basque minority, also claimed to be separately governed from the rest of Spain. So we find in almost every country of Europe there are different races who speak different languages and who have to be differently dealt with.

Not only are they situated everywhere, and not only do they in the aggregate possess this large number of members, but they are drawing together. In the last few years there has been formed a new organisation, an organisation which calls itself the Conference of Nationalities. It consists entirely of representatives of minorities from twenty or more than twenty different countries. There you will find minorities of Germans and Poles and minorities of other countries sitting side by side, all complaining of the injustices of majorities in their respective countries. It is particularly the case with the Germans. There we have a very special danger to face. The minorities of German speech—I will not say German nationality because they did not all belong originally to the German Empire; but the minorities of German speech and German customs and habits number at least eight millions and are spread over some twelve different countries. Whenever one of these minorities is suffering from any injustice, it is natural enough that all the others sympathise with it and, indeed, the whole German-speaking population in Europe.

The question, therefore, is one that urgently needs attention, and I think that the League of Nations has not yet given it sufficient attention. The Council of the League of Nations from the very first did occupy itself with the question, and they appointed a very efficient branch of the Secretariat, though still merely a branch composed of officials, to deal with this subject. From time to time the League of Nations investigated specific complaints made by or on behalf of individuals belonging to different nationalities. They set up Committees of Three, but these Committees were not satisfactory and complaints were brought against the method of procedure, especially towards the minorities, who complained that they could not get their petitions heard or, at any rate, that they could not get any knowledge of what took place after their petitions had been heard. The position was recognised as being so unsatisfactory that two years ago the Council decided upon a new procedure, and that procedure is still being tried. I do not know that it has had any very great result, except that last year, for the first time, there did take place in one of the Standing Committees of the Assembly a four days' discussion on the question of minorities which was in itself very illuminating.

But the League has never really examined this question from its general point of view. When they first approached the problem they had a report from Signor Tittoni pointing out that the guarantee of the League of Nations ought to be defined, and they defined it as meaning that the League must ascertain that the provisions for the protection of minorities are always observed. I believe that is the right construction of the Treaties, but as to the general investigation that is necessary in order that the provisions for the protection of minorities should be ascertained as being always observed, no attempt has been made to carry out anything of this nature. For this reason those societies that have been interested in this work have from time to time for many years urged upon the League that they should constitute a special advisory commission for the purpose of dealing with this particular problem. Unfortunately this proposition was laid before the Committee that met in London in 1929, presided over by M. Adatchi, in which Sir Austen Chamberlain took part, and it was at that time turned down on the ground that it was said that the Secretariat was quite capable of bringing all the necessary information before the League.

Nevertheless, I believe that this is really the only solution that can meet the requirements of the case, and I hope that, now that His Majesty's Government have been intervening more actively than hitherto in this question at Geneva, they may find that it is worth their while to give their attention to this particular proposition. All that the minorities require, I believe, is that they should be assured that their case can be looked into, that there can be a genuine investigation into the subject as it presents itself from all points of view. The minorities are not particularly irredentist. In the main they are humble folk, living in their own homes, accepting the situation to a very great extent and only desirous that they should have their own customs and their language and religion safeguarded under all circumstances. I am particularly glad that our Foreign Secretary has been able to give his personal attention to the two questions of the Ukraine and Upper Silesia, and I also welcome the statement that he made before the Council the other day—namely, that questions concerning the application of Minority Treaties are not national but international questions, and they are questions in which all have a common duty and a common interest. That would seem to be a truism, but it is the first time that it has really been formally announced as being the principle by which the application of the Minority Treaties is to be guided.

I hope, in fact, I am sure, that the Foreign Secretary and all Foreign Secretaries will continue the policy that has now been adopted by insisting upon a thorough investigation into all these questions when they arise, whether they seem to involve great issues or small, and I hope that the noble Lord, when he replies to my noble friend's question, will give us an assurance that this is what is intended and that there will be some opportunity now of bringing to a satisfactory conclusion a question which, in my own opinion, ought to have been settled many years ago, immediately after the War. By so doing we shall have taken, I believe, a very great step towards assuring the peace of Europe.


My Lords, I think that the House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, for raising this matter, and I am sure they all share my noble friend's regret that he has not been able to be present in order to put it before your Lordships in person. If anything could diminish our regret it would be that the task has fallen into the hands of one of your Lordships who is so very well acquainted with all the details of the subject. I say that we ought to feel gratitude to the noble Lord for raising the question, because it really is an immensely important question. I do not think it is often realised how very important for the peace of the world this question of minorities is. It is not so much that it is the obvious interest and duty of everyone to hope for just treatment of all human beings in all parts of the world. That is an ideal which many of us would like to see realised, but of course we all recognise that it is quite out of the question at the present time. There are injustices—they are very deplorable and we should like to see them corrected—but we have to recognise that, even in this exceptionally favoured country of our own, injustices still take place from time to time. It is not, therefore, so much the question of injustice that seems to me important in this matter as the actual international effect of the misgovernment of racial and, perhaps even more, of religious minorities in the different countries of Europe.

If your Lordships will cast your eye over the history of the last eighty years, I think you will realise how very many of the disturbances in Europe have been due to this cause. I suppose the Crimean War was largely a question of the ill-treatment of religious minorities in a certain part of Europe, and the whole Eastern question, with all that the question implies, the continual disturbances to which it has given rise in Europe, the Russo-Turkish War and the other Balkan Wars that have taken place—all these have more or less involved this question of the misgovernment of minorities. At the present moment I think it would be true to say that a very large proportion of the difficulties and dangers that exist in. Europe centre round this question. The controversies that have taken place between Germany and Poland on this question are well known. The controversies that take place sometimes between Italy and Yugo-Slavia are very largely dependent upon the same cause, and the particular instance which occupies an immense, or at any rate a very large part of the time of the League, the Government of the City of Danzig, almost all turns round this question of different races which are minorities in one country and majorities in another. I believe you may say, if you take a broader view, that even the greater questions of Alsace-Lorraine and Italia Irredenta, and all that they involve, are more or less involved in this question. Therefore it has been recognised, I believe, by European statesmen, very generally for many years past, that it is one of the major interests of international peace to find some solution of this question.

It is very unfortunate that it should exist so largely as it does, but your Lordships are aware that, particularly in Central Europe, you have numerous minorities existing in different States and they are very often, rightly or wrongly, in a condition of discontent with the Government under which they live. It is not an invention of the Treaty of Versailles or of the League of Nations that there should be international engagements on this question. I believe that even in the Congress of Vienna, which is not generally thought to be unduly progressive, provisions were inserted, with respect to some countries, that they should give an undertaking to treat reli- gious and racial minorities with fairness, and very soon after that, if not at that time, two principles were laid down. The first was that when a new State came into existence, as a result of some international action, then it was reasonable to require that the new State should give undertakings that it would treat its minorities fairly, and so prevent disputes taking place.

That principle was afterwards extended, and I remember reading some very strong statements on the subject made at the Congress of Berlin, one of them being, if I recollect rightly, by the late Lord Salisbury, and another by M. Waddington, who represented the French Government. They laid down the proposition, in general terms, that where a State as a consequence of alterations in boundaries received a considerable acquisition of territory, then it was reasonable to enforce minority obligations upon that State. My noble friend read the well-known observations of M. Clemenceau on this subject, and no doubt he had in mind these facts when he said, in effect, that it was the established international action in this matter. All that happened at Paris was to try to make the machinery more effective for seeing that the principle was carried out.

The Treaties, as your Lordships are well aware, which were entered into were not part of the Covenant of the League of Nations, but Treaties entered into apart from the Covenant of the League of Nations and as part of the territorial settlement of Europe. The only way in which the League came into it was that in the Treaties the League was made to guarantee the provisions of the Treaties and certain powers were given to it to enable it to do so. Broadly speaking, what the Minority Treaties did was to require the States which entered into them—and there were a good many of them—to undertake that they would give equal treatment to racial, linguistic and religious minorities within their borders. There was a number of detailed provisions, but that was the substance of them—to treat all their subjects alike and not to make any difference between minorities and majorities. Then three things were provided. The first was that the League should guaran- tee the observance of these Treaties. As to that, I agree that there has never been a very clear understanding as to what the guarantee amounts to. The second was that in the case of a difference of opinion, either on law or fact, as to the treatment of minorities, there could be a reference to the Court of International Justice. The third was that if one member of the Council of the League brought a minority question before the Council, the Council would be bound to consider it and give a decision upon it.

It is very important, in estimating the action of the League on the whole of this question, to observe the principal provision. I happen to remember the matter because I was on the Committee which had something to do with the drawing-up of the terms of the Minority Treaties, and there were some people who urged that it would be right to give larger powers of complaint and allow the minorities themselves to make a complaint as to their treatment. It was, however, decided that on the whole that was not desirable, and that there ought not to be anything in the nature of litigation between a minority and the Government to which it owed allegiance. They thought that that was an undesirable state of things to set up, and therefore they provided that this was to be a matter between the Council and the State, and not between the minorities and the State, and only when the Council takes action at the instance of one of its members can the machinery of the Minority Treaties be set in motion. It is not that the minority—at any rate in form—sets in motion this machinery, but it must be done by the action of the Council, and if for no other reason the statement of the Foreign Secretary, that this was a matter which concerned each and every Member of the League, was fully justified.

That is the literal and actual fact. It is the duty of all members of the Council, when matters are brought to their attention showing that the Minority Treaties are not being fulfilled, to bring the matter before the Council, if they think it desirable to do so. It was early in the League's existence that it was pointed out that this was an exceedingly difficult and in some ways invidious task for the members of the Council; that it was difficult for a member representing one State to come to the Council and make a complaint about the way in which another State was discharging its duties in governing its own territory. It was also said that it was not very easy for a member of the Council to know what was going on within the territory of another State, and exceedingly difficult for a State of that kind to institute inquiries into the subject. Accordingly, it was suggested that where any petition was sent in by a minority it might in the first instance be examined by the Secretariat, and that if the Secretariat was satisfied that it complied with certain broad general rules—that it was couched in proper language, for instance—then it could be examined by three members of the Council specially delegated for that purpose and if, after communicating with the State concerned, they were satisfied that the complaints had substance in them, then they, as members of the Council, were entitled, and indeed bound, to bring the matter to the attention of the Council and place it on its order of the day for its consideration. That was the procedure, and is indeed the procedure at this moment, as I understand it, except that there were some small modifications made nearly two years ago.

It is obvious that this is an inquiry set on foot by the Council in order to enable its members to do their duty and—though I personally regret that view—it was thought very important that they should discharge this preliminary work in complete secrecy. There are evidently difficulties about publicity in such circumstances, but the extent to which secrecy was carried until quite recently was, I am satisfied, one of the causes of the discontent of the minorities. They did not know whether their case was really being considered or not, or whether it was being considered properly. I understand, under the resolutions which were arrived at two years ago, they are to be informed more or less of what happens, and at any rate a minority will know what has been the result of its petition. That is a step in the right direction, and I think it may make a difference. But the broad principle still remains that there is not to be anything like a litigation between the minority and its Government, but merely an inquiry by the Council to see whether circumstances have arisen which require it to take action.

My noble friend has said, and I have no doubt quite truly—because he has mach more knowledge of this subject than I have—that there is a very considerable number of cases in which the minorities in Europe are still discontented. I think that was to be expected. You had very considerable territorial changes made by the War, and very considerable tracts of country passed from one sovereignty to another. In those tracts of country there were inevitably minorities, because, if you look at the ethnographical map of Central Europe, you see that that must be so; and the change of sovereignty inevitably created a certain amount of discontent. And, of course, it was not only that. In many cases the new minority belonged to the same race as the majority in a neighbouring State, and you had all the feeling excited in the neighbouring State about what they conceived to be, and what probably was in some cases, the ill-treatment of their fellow nationals in a neighbouring State. Those things were, I think, inevitable from any settlement after the War which was conceivable. Some people think that they were aggravated by some unwise changes of frontier that were made. I am not myself satisfied that any changes of frontier would have eliminated that difficulty.

There has, therefore, undoubtedly been a very considerable amount of discontent. But I think it would be quite wrong—and I am sure my noble friend would not wish—to suggest to your Lordships that there is not another side to the picture. He says that the League has not given sufficient attention to this subject. I would not like to say that he is wrong, but he will agree with me that a very considerable number of petitions have been presented to the League by minorities, and they go on being presented. If the machinery of the League had been shown to be quite useless I imagine there would have been signs that petitions were diminishing, and, though no doubt they are diminishing to some extent as things get more settled, yet in point of fact I see no real ground for thinking that the minorities do not believe that there is some considerable hope of justice arising from a petition to the League. I have some figures here which I believe are accurate. As many as 345 petitions have been presented to the League, and although that does not mean 345 separate cases, yet something like 188 cases have been actually brought to the League's notice and of those 143—that is, all but forty-five—have been declared receivable, and have been considered in some form or another.

When they come to be considered what happens is this. I think my noble friend Lord Parmoor also has sat on Committees of Three. I have done so. The Secretariat looks very carefully into all the figures and all the facts that are presented, and it makes a report to the Committee of Three and says: "This is, so far as we understand it, what has happened." Then the Committee of Three decide whether it is right to take any action. If they decide against that, of course, nothing further happens; but if they decide, as they very often do, that there seems to be a prima facie case, then the next step is to present their view of the case to the country concerned, and very often that is all that is necessary to be done. Some kind of modification of the evil is promised or carried out—promised in the first instance, but, I believe, always carried out after the promise; and in a few cases, where there is violent dispute or they have not been able to suggest any satisfactory solution, it has gone to the Council.

Now, I believe that on the whole considerable advance has taken place. I say that because I am going to say in a minute that I do not think the situation is altogether satisfactory yet. But before I come to that observation which I wish to make, I do want to submit to my noble friend, as I am sure he would agree, that minorities are not always right. There are cases when minorities are exceedingly unreasonable. I remember a case, in which I happened to be sitting myself, in which a minority, a racial minority I think it was, complained about some education laws that existed in the State in question. There was a discussion between the State and the minority. An arrangement was arrived at with the minority, and then the minority tore up the arrangement and came to the League with a fresh complaint. The Committee of Three thought—and I think rightly—that in a case of that kind it was altogether an abuse of the procedure of the Minority Treaties to ask for the intervention of the League.

And it is not only that they are not always right, but it is important to remember that you may do harm, and not good, by encouraging action which is not really a complaint against injustice so much as a complaint against the political conditions which were attached by the Treaties of Peace. That is very reasonable and natural from one point of view, but to encourage it is merely to encourage disturbance in the country. And therefore, though it is very right that we should watch, and watch closely, to see that these Treaties shall be administered in the true sense, and in order to secure real justice for the minority—I attach immense importance to that—we must be careful that they are not utilised for other purposes than that by the minorities or their friends outside the country. Therefore, we must be careful in this matter.

But, all the same, I do feel that there are two points at any rate in which changes might with advantage be made. In the first place the Committees of Three have always seemed to me to be unsatisfactory. They are selected by the Council for that particular case, or particular group of cases. There is no continuity about their proceedings, except such as is furnished by the Secretariat. Many of them come perhaps for the first time to the consideration of a minority case. They have to sit—I believe a change is to be made in that respect, but they had when I had anything to do with it—during the progress of the Assembly or the Council. All of them were probably very much occupied in other things. They might be presented with a great mass of papers and be expected to master those papers in order to give an intelligent opinion on what might be a very complicated dispute. In those circumstances I feel that it must have happened frequently that the decisions were rather perfunctory and more in the acceptance of suggestions made, and very properly made, by the Secretariat than real exercises of independent judgment by the members of the Committee.

Personally—I only speak for myself in this matter—I have always wished to see a rather more permanent system, to have a regular Committee or at any rate regular advisers of the Committee who would sit and get into the habit of dealing with these matters, who would know the kind of points they must look out for, and would give a greater element of continuity and, I think, of justice than can possibly be achieved in existing circumstances. That, I believe, would be for the advantage of everybody. I think it would be for the advantage of the minorities, and I believe it would be equally for the advantage of the States in which the minorities live. It is for the advantage of nobody except the wrongdoer that the machinery should be imperfect and liable to hazardous and chance decisions. That is one thing I would do.

Another thing I would do unquestionably is to utilise more commonly (and this has been suggested on more than one occasion by the Council itself) the power to send matters of dispute to be decided by the Court at The Hague. Whenever that course has been taken in any international dispute as far as I know, it has always resulted in an appeasement of the passions of the parties, and they have always accepted absolutely and without question the decision to which the Court has come or the advice it has given. I cannot help feeling that it would be desirable to utilise that power more frequently.

Finally, I would like to see an even greater extension of publicity than that which was sanctioned recently. I believe it would be of advantage also to all the parties concerned. I do not wish your Lordships to understand that, so far as my opinion is worth anything, I desire to suggest that the operations as to the minorities have been futile or useless. I am confident that they have done a great deal of good. I am satisfied that the conditions of racial, linguistic and religious minorities in Europe are on the whole very much improved from what they were before this machinery came into being. I hope and believe that as we get further and further from the passions of the War that condition of affairs will gradually improve still more, and that, with or without the reforms which I have ventured to suggest, we may look forward to the time when the minority difficulty will cease to be one of those which give serious anxiety to the statesmen of Europe.


My Lords, you have had the advantage of hearing this matter broached and discussed by two members of your Lordships' House who have a special and particular knowledge of the nature of the difficulties involved and of the methods which have been tried, at any rate, to deal with them on a fair and just basis. I should like to add to what the noble Viscount has said my personal regret that Lord Noel-Buxton was not able to be present to-day although he has been more than adequately represented. I am sorry on two grounds. First of all, this is a matter in which he has taken a very particular interest; and, secondly, we are sorry that illness confines him to bed, as I am told, so that it is impossible for him to be here.

I need not go into certain matters at any length because they have already been fully discussed and, personally, I accept the views which have been put forward. But we must, I think, draw a distinction between the old conditions to which the noble Viscount referred and the special obligations laid upon the League in connection with minorities since the era of the Versailles Treaties, in order to see whether those obligations, as distinct from any general obligation, have been satisfactorily carried out. Therefore, I shall confine myself to the two categories referred to by my noble friend Lord Dickinson. They were the Minority Treaties to which we were parties and under which we are liable to very definite obligations and, outside the Treaties, cases where undertakings were given. So far as the difficulties of a minority case are concerned, it really does not matter very much whether, in the particular instance, it is a question of a Treaty or a question of national obligation. Every one, too, must admit what has already been pointed out to your Lordships—that these cases are essentially cases of difficulty. No one wants to encourage a complaint, and I agree entirely with what the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has said. On the other hand, everyone would desire that where a complaint is made there should be a just and fair hearing as to whether; it is a justifiable complaint or not. It is rather on that point that I wish to speak to your Lordships this afternoon.

May I make one further general observation and not refer to it again? I think that our country has taken throughout a prominent position in attempting at any rate to introduce fair treatment as between a minority and a national Government. It is not an easy matter. As the noble Viscount has pointed out, it is a matter in which there is a good deal of prejudice; in fact, history is full of prejudice based on racial difficulties, linguistic difficulties and religious difficulties. Those are the three special points on which a national Government has to fulfil its obligations in regard to these minorities. I want also to refer to what is the fact, that not only have the British Government and people concerned themselves in a special way to secure as far as possible just treatment, but we are all particularly indebted, I think, to the present President of the Council for the attitude he has taken, not as our representative but as President of the Council, to ensure as far as possible that the duties of the Council shall be properly fulfilled. I think we should all take some pride in that and it is, in my opinion, a matter of considerable importance.

I would shortly describe to your Lordships the nature of the procedure and the manner in which it has grown and developed. Under the various Minority Treaties (I need not refer to special ones) any member of the Council may draw the attention of the Council to an infraction or danger of infraction. There is no limit whatever to that right. Any member of the Council can not only draw the attention of the Council to the matter but can demand as a matter of right that the Council shall discuss it. I turn for a moment to a case which the noble Viscount mentioned. He referred to the time when I happened to be at Geneva and on a Committee of Three. On that occasion a very acute difficulty arose as between the optants in Poland and Germany; but by agreement and arrangement—I think much to the honour of both the German side and the Polish side—it was arranged that real matters in dispute should be referred, as the noble Viscount has indicated, to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, and it was under their decision—which was adopted I am glad to say—that a very reasonable settlement was arrived at in that particular case. Not only did the Court lay down the principles to be observed, but we were fortunate in having the late Lord Phillimore to see that the principles that the Court laid down were properly carried out. So far as I am concerned, I have not heard from that day to this that any serious difficulty has arisen in what was, from its inception, a very difficult matter indeed. I think that enforces Lord Cecil's view—which is entirely my view from experience—that whenever it is reasonably possible, it is a right course of procedure to get the assistance of the Court, which everyone must admit is a thoroughly impartial body, to deal with questions of this kind.

Early in the history of the League it was realised that it would be difficult for the members of the Council themselves to obtain reliable independent information—I am sure your Lordships will realise that—in regard to the treatment of minorities in the countries concerned. It would be very invidious on their own responsibility to accuse another Government before the Council of the League of not having met its obligations. Your Lordships will recollect that the Council consists, as regards its permanent members, of representatives of the great Powers, and as regards other members, who are selected triennially, they are men of eminence in the particular nationality from which the selection is made. I think you will realise that unless there was some machinery by which the allegations of a minority could be carefully sifted and considered, it would be a very invidious thing to bring an accusation against one of your colleagues in the Council without having some means of adequate preliminary inquiry.

A procedure was accordingly evolved at a later date whereby minorities themselves might address petitions to the Secretary-General stating their grievances. That was an entirely new principle. The only way of access to the Council in the first instance when this matter was attempted to be dealt with was through a member of the Council. I have stated what difficulty a member of the Council might feel in matters of that kind. I think that was obviously insufficient. There was obviously ground for a feeling amongst the minorities that they could not bring their case adequately before the Council under those conditions. Now they can petition the Secretariat, and if their petition is in proper form it should be forwarded by the Secretary-General to the Government concerned—that is the Government alleged to be in default—for its observations. That is quite right. You make to the head official body the complaint, the complaint is referred back to the particular Government against which the allegation is made, and that Government is asked to make a statement of the facts in the particular instance. After that the statements are circulated, with the observations of the Government, to the members of the Council. That is a very important step if you realise what the difficulty of the position was, and how the minorities not unreasonably thought they had no fair access, no fair tribunal to which they could bring the complaints about which in many cases they felt very deeply indeed.

Then the acting President of the Council—at the present time he is our own Foreign Secretary—with two other members nominated by him, formed a Committee of Three—it is not like the old Committee of Three—to examine such petitions. What happens when that examination is gone into? If the Committee come to the conclusion that the petition makes out a prima facie case—the Committee only have comparatively slight evidence before them at that date—they demand the insertion of the matter in the Council agenda. That seems to me to be an enormous improvement on the original method by which the matter was brought to the notice of the Council. If the Committee of Three consider, after their preliminary consideration, that no prima facie case is made, the matter is dismissed. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that it is important in cases of this kind not to encourage in any way what may be not well-founded allegations, and certainly the way of sending them in the first instance to this Committee, and the Committee sending them on if they consider there is a prima facie case, appears to me to be a great advance in procedure.

The whole of this procedure was reviewed by the Council at its June session in 1929. Various complaints had been made as to the inefficiency of the procedure, principally on the ground that the proceedings of the Committee of Three were entirely private. I do not believe myself that inquiries of this kind which are entirely private and without publicity will ever get the confidence of the parties who wish to bring their grievances forward. Those who had made the complaints did not know what the answers of the Government were, they did not know whether their allegations had been properly answered or not. It was also a matter of complaint that the minorities themselves had no means of making themselves heard before the Committee. I have had very carefully to consider the procedure. Your Lordships will see that all those three points are to a very large extent met. It is a difficult and complicated subject, but, having regard to its nature, I think the complaints are very fairly met. Certain small changes since that date have been introduced, but I need not trouble your Lordships with them. Nowadays the Committee of Three, to which I have referred, always render a written report of their conclusions to the other members of the Council, and the statement of the ease may be issued for publication with the consent of the Government concerned.

I do not say that that procedure is completely satisfactory. It is not likely to be. It has been gradually evolved. But if you add to that what the noble Viscount has suggested—reference to the Court at The Hague—and what my noble friend Lord Dickinson referred to—something in the nature of a Permanent Minorities Commission—I think you would have a procedure which, as far as possible, might ensure justice in this very difficult subject. I may say as regards a Permanent Minorities Commission, that the British delegation last year at Geneva, through Mr. Roden Buxton who represented it, then expressed an open view, and the more general view at the present time is that under existing conditions it is not possible. I have to deal with this matter carefully, as it might give rise to suspicion and difficulties as between different countries, but that is at the present time the position as I understand it. A method has been gradually evolved which is undoubtedly working much better now than it did in its origin.

I should like to say a word or two as to what has actually taken place In the cases to which Lord Dickinson referred. Lord Noel-Buxton sent me a note of the cases to which he intended to refer, and so far as I followed them they were the same as those referred to by my noble friend Lord Dickinson. First of all there was the question—and a very difficult question—of the German minority in Upper Silesia. That was the only minority question actually discussed at the last two meetings of the Council. A summary of the proceedings of the January session will be found on pages 4 and 5 of a White Paper which has already been issued. It is the report of the Right Hon. Arthur Henderson, Command Paper No. 3804. I will not trouble your Lordships by going through the actual acts of the case again, because there they are in print, but I must say that I regret sometimes to feel that these reports from Geneva are not studied so carefully as the importance of Geneva demands at the present time.

In that document this statement was made by Mr. Henderson: When the Report had been adopted"— that is the report brought forward at that time— the United Kingdom delegate"— that is Mr. Arthur Henderson— expressed the satisfaction of the Council at the solution which had been reached, and its appreciation of the conciliatory spirit which had been shown by both parties. He expressed the opinion that the execution of the Minorities Treaties was a vital element in European stability and security, and he felt that the action which the Council had just taken would constitute a valuable contribution to this important aim. That is the result of the President of the Council and the President of the Committee of Three bringing about a, conciliatory spirit between the two parties. In a most difficult subject a solution was found which appeared to be fairly satisfactory at any rate, to both.

But since that date there have been further difficulties. The Polish Government undertook to make certain reparations for past abuses as regards complaints in Upper Silesia and to draft certain safeguards against repetition in the future, and they were requested to report to the May session of the Council—that is the last session of the Council—the measures taken by them for this purpose. The Polish Report was only received on the eve of the opening of the May session and was distributed to the members of the Council while the session was actually in progress. I am sure that members of your Lordships' House who take the trouble to read what passes at Geneva will recollect the very late stage at which the Polish document arrived. In these circumstances the German representative demanded that the matter be adjourned to the next session in order to give time to examine the facts in detail. This request was supported by Mr. Henderson and the question will, therefore, reappear on the agenda of the September Council. That account, I think, will bring two matters to our mind—first of all the difficulties of a position of this kind; and secondly, when you have a President of the Council of conciliatory and sympathetic spirit, how much he can do to help a solution of these international difficulties.

The next matter to which Lord Dickinson referred was the Ukrainian minority in Poland. The Ukrainian minority in Poland is really a minority in the South-Eastern part of Poland, but I need not go into geographical matters. It is not a large minority because most of Ukraina is outside Poland. Nine petitions relating to alleged abuses which occurred in the Ukraine last autumn have been pronounced receivable by the Secretariat. That is to say the matter is sent on from the official body which examined this question prima facie, to be further considered, and the petitions are being examined by a Committee of Three of which Mr. Henderson is President. I should like to say one word before I pass from that. I think it is almost impossible for a President to deal with the large number of matters which he has to deal with nowadays on these international questions and there is a great deal in the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that you should have some more or less permanent body in which certain traditions of right and justice would come into operation in dealing with these very important and vital matters. The Committee met in London on April 18 and again at Geneva during the recent session of the Council, and a report was made explaining the decision to adjourn the matter, and further efforts were made to settle the point at issue directly with the complainants. To attempt to settle such a matter if possible in a direct way is undoubtedly the best method if you can succeed.

The other question to which Lord Noel-Buxton called my attention was the Macedonian minority in Yugo-Slavia. I cannot say much about that at the present time. I believe that Yugo-Slavia declares that there is no minority and that this so-called minority does not differ either in race or any other particular, although they speak not a different language but a different dialect from that which they use themselves.

I do not know that I can say more than I have already stated, but I should like to make it quite clear that I agree with both the previous speakers as to the extreme importance of dealing with these matters in a way which, without encouraging complaints, yet leaves the complainants with a feeling that their complaints, whatever they are, have been dealt with in a right and just manner. It is an exceedingly difficult problem which has to be dealt with with great tact and ability. A number of these matters have already been settled, as the noble Viscount has already told us, and I sincerely hope that these other matters, or at any rate all the more important ones, will be settled satisfactorily to the parties concerned. We all know that the great purpose of the League is to encourage peace and cooperation and co-ordination in international life, and the noble Viscount himself knows what the difficulties are in the great question of disarmament and other questions of that kind with which he has been so intimately concerned. Let us try to introduce into this question of minorities the principles of justice, adopt the method of publicity and not privacy, follow a careful procedure by which both parties can have an adequate hearing, and in cases where it is suitable resort to the Court at The Hague. I think I have dealt with the matters about which the noble Lord asked me and have given him all the information I have, and I thank him and the noble Viscount for the speeches they have made.

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