HL Deb 18 February 1932 vol 83 cc629-48

LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can give any information with regard to the serious situation in Shanghai and the policy which is being adopted by His Majesty's Government for the protection of life and property, and whether any decision has been reached by the League of Nations in view of the present position. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I placed this Question on the Paper two days ago. Even since then events have moved very rapidly and the situation has changed. My reason for putting the Question down was that the country might have fuller information than it has at present regarding the course of events in Shanghai and the Far East. I think your Lordships will agree that it is of the utmost importance, when matters of such gravity as are taking place in that part of the world occupy public attention, that the fullest possible information should be given by the Government in order that we may realise the position and judge the dangers that attend it. Moreover, it has another beneficial effect. It prevents people from swallowing alarmist rumours which may appear from time to time in the Press, which may not be authentic, which may unnecessarily arouse popular indignation and which, therefore, ought to be corrected. It has not been possible recently to raise this question in another place, and it is hardly fair in a matter of such gravity as this that the Government should only be able to give the information which can be extracted from them by Question and Answer across the floor of the House. Therefore my reason really for putting down this Question was that your Lordships' House should perform one of the functions which it can very properly perform—namely, have a debate on an important public question, for which the time cannot be found in another place.

I want in the remarks that I make not for one moment to say anything which will embarrass the Government, or which will rouse animosity on one side or the other. But I think it is necessary to make some survey of the situation which has culminated in such a very grave dilemma as we see in Shanghai at the present moment. Great Britain is involved to a very great extent in the events which are taking place in China. Our obligations seem to fall into four categories. I will first of all just enumerate them, and then say a word about each. In the first place we have an obligation for the defence of our nationals and for the safeguarding of our trade interests. Secondly, as partners in the preservation of the neutrality of the International Settlement at Shanghai, we have certain duties to perform. Thirdly, we are co-signatories of the Nine-Power Treaty of 1922, and of the Peace Pact of 1928. And, lastly—and on this I shall lay particular stress—we have very special obligations as defenders of the Covenant of the League of Nations.

With regard to the defence of our nationals, that is a matter with which I shall deal in more detail when I come to the question of our obligations in the Settlement. With regard to the question of the safeguarding of our trade interests, that is a matter to which the Government appear to have paid very special attention, and on that point I would draw your Lordships' attention to the Note which was sent to the Japanese Government on January 7 by the Government of the United States. That Note contained a passage which I will read. If I am obliged to make several quotations, I feel it is very necessary, because I find that in what I may call the diplomatic jargon of to-day people refer to clauses of treaties and to Articles of the Covenant by numbers, and the general public are not fully aware of the actual text of which, as events have proved, it is very necessary that they should have full cognisance. In this Note the United States Government said that: it cannot admit the legality of any situation de facto, nor does it intend to recognise any treaty or agreement entered into between those Governments or their agents which may impair the treaty rights of the United States or its citizens in China, including those which relate to the sovereignty or independence or territorial and administrative integrity of the Republic of China, or their international policy relative to China, commonly known as the open-door policy. The United States does not intend to recognise any situation or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the covenants and obligations of the Pact of Paris of August 27, 1928, to which Treaty both Japan and China, as well as the United States, are parties.

That was a forcible Note, reminding the Japanese Government of their obligations both under the Nine-Power Treaty and under the Pact of Paris; but His Majesty's Government did not support the United States Government in this Note. They addressed a communiqué which is dated January 9, in which, without referring to either of those instruments, they merely pressed that the open-door policy should be observed by Japan. I venture to say that that made a very bad impression. It looked as if the British Government at that time thought that the one foremost interest was their own trade interest in China, and the ignoring of the far more serious matters mentioned in the Note of the United States was, if I may venture to say so, a very serious error. Moreover, the United States have shown a desire to co-operate with the other Powers and with the League of Nations. Their readiness to do so is a matter for congratulation, and every opportunity should have been taken to co-operate as closely as possible with them.

Now with regard to the second point, the neutrality of the Settlement. Protests, I think, have been made, which have been quite ineffective, against the use of the Japanese section of the International Settlement as a base for the Japanese operations. The fact that the Japanese have done this has placed the Settlement in a very dangerous position. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with the area known as the Settlement will understand that the Japanese position is now of such a character that a section of the Settlement—and that for which the British are mainly responsible—finds itself in the direct line of fire between the combatants, and, as we know, there has been loss of life in consequence. The danger in which our nationals are placed seems to be getting graver and graver as time goes on.

I would read to your Lordships a message which has been received from four British subjects in the Settlement in the last two days, and which gives us a very clear idea of the extreme difficulty of the situation. They say: The geographical conditions are such that the further use of the International Settlement as a base by Japan must almost inevitably drag us all into active military operations to protect our nationals. We feel sure that morally and materially the consequences of this must in the end be disastrous all round. Almost equally deplorable would be the position wherein we may also drift by becoming beneficiaries of military measures which we ourselves avoided despite great provocation. Before I leave that point I would ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who will reply to me, whether His Majesty's Government have come to any decision with regard to the evacuation of the Settlement by British nationals, or whether they consider that danger is past.

Now I come to the two Treaties, and here, with your Lordships' permission, I will read out the articles, because I think it is of the utmost importance that public attention should be drawn to the actual text of these instruments that have been signed. Article I of the Nine-Power Treaty, 1922, says: The Powers agree to respect the sovereignty, the independence and the territorial and administrative integrity of China. That is quite categorical and clear. The Pact of Paris, 1928, says in Article 2: The high contracting parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or Conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means. I think we all agree that the validity of these collective Treaties is now in danger, and if one of the signatories is at liberty to repudiate them their whole value is lost.

I now come to the Covenant of the Leagne of Nations, and this is to my mind the most important of all the considerations which we have before us. The Covenant of the League produced the League. On the Covenant the League of Nations must stand, and the non-observance of the Covenant of the League of Nations must not only undermine the authority, but destroy the very existence of the League. There are three relevant Articles to which I would draw your Lordships' attention. They are often referred to, but always by number, and the text is not given. It is supposed everybody knows the text, but everybody does not, and it is very necessary that they should be reminded what these Articles say. Article 10 says: The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled. Article 12 reads: The Members of the League agree that if there should arise between them any dispute likely to lead to a rupture, they will submit the matter either to arbitration or to inquiry by the Council, and they agree in no case to resort to war until three months after the award by the arbitrators or the report of the Council.

There is an obligation on all the signatories to carry out these Articles, and I think at any rate the first paragraph, of Article 16 is relevant to the present situation and should be remembered. It says: Should any Member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants under Articles 12. 13 or 15, it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other Members of the League, which hereby undertake immediately to subject it to the severance of all trade or financial relations, the prohibition of all intercourse between their nationals and the nationals of the covenant-breaking State, and the prevention of all financial, commercial or personal intercourse between the nationals of the covenant-breaking State and the nationals of any other State, whether a Member of the League or not. Anybody surveying the various stages of the negotiations that have taken place, the various protests and Notes until the last one which was sent two clays ago, would not find that the Foreign Secretary has shown any very great disposition to champion the cause of the League Covenant, and to put first and foremost the authority of the League. I cannot help thinking that the right honourable gentleman, although his hands must be very full with his anxious work, would even now perhaps be in a better position to continue the negotiations if he were with the other members of the Council of the League of Nations in Geneva rather than remaining here, but no doubt he will return there very shortly.

At any rate we have here a test case which seems by its extreme nature to be one that is easier to resolve than a very complicated and difficult and involved case about which there was a considerable difference of opinion. One must remember that the very serious situation which has arisen in Shanghai is the natural consequence of the League of Nations handling of the situation in Manchuria. There again there was an absence of any firm lead—a lead which Great Britain could very easily and very properly take, considering her position on the Council of the League of Nations—and the consequence has been that the Japanese, finding that they could behave with only a protest, as they did in Manchuria, have taken advantage of the situation to go a great deal further in the neighbourhood of Shanghai. There is no question that if the Covenant of the League of Nations is going to be set aside, it will not only undermine the authority of the League but, by forming a very unfortunate prece- dent, it is calculated to encourage any other nation on a future occasion to flout the League with impunity.


Will the noble Lord forgive me interrupting him to ask whether he will say what he thinks the League could have done in Manchuria?


If the noble Viscount will allow me to continue my argument. I will make very humble suggestions later in my remarks as to what might have been done. For the time being I only want to point out, what I think is obvious, that the latitude which was allowed to Japan in her actions in Manchuria encouraged her to believe that she could go a good deal further in the present situation in Shanghai. Before I come to more recent events I want in all fairness to say that I believe the people of Japan are being misled. I think the facts are being hidden from them. I think they are in entire ignorance of the proceedings in their true light, and that the militarists of Japan have for the time being got the upper hand. But I for one believe that there is still in Japan a great deal of right feeling which might be appealed to. I am strengthened in that belief by the utterance of Baron Shidehara, who was then Foreign Minister, on January 21, 1926. He has made utterances more recently than that. I will not trouble your Lordships by making a further quotation but his utterance was of such a character as to show that there was in Japan, and I believe there still is, a desire to respect international instruments and an opposition to the high-handed measures which have been recently taken by the militarists.

In the last twenty-four hours a Note has been addressed by the Twelve Powers to Japan. There we have a reference both to the two Treaties that have been broken and also to Article 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. There is still a note of appeal and a certain reticence on the part of the Powers who are addressing Japan, but undoubtedly it carries the matter a good deal further. The regret is that a step of this sort was not taken very much earlier in the day. I think that that is how I should answer the noble Viscount who just now interrupted me. When a resort to arms has been taken, as was the case in Manchuria, when there was a refusal to sub- mit the dispute to the League—all these eventualities are taken into account in the Covenant—the Articles of the Covenant ought automatically to come into operation. It is not a matter of standing in judgment over any nation. It is a matter of a nation which infringes certain instruments being subject to a course of procedure to which that nation itself has agreed. There can be no question that had the League acted with greater promptitude, and had such a declaration as has now been made at the eleventh hour been made at a very much earlier date, we should not have seen the extremely dangerous situation which has arisen in Shanghai to-day.

I do not know if the noble and learned Viscount will be able to tell us what reply the Japanese Government have made to the Note. Perhaps it has not yet been received. We have seen in to-day's news that there has been a breakdown in the negotiations between the Chinese and the Japanese. When we recall the attitude of the Japanese Government in their reply to the five points which were presented on February 4 by the British and American Governments, we may perhaps feel some doubt as to what will be the reply to this very formal and strong appeal from the Twelve Powers. But may I suggest to the noble and learned Viscount who will reply that in further negotiations—and I hope they will continue in spite of everything; we should never relax our endeavours—no attempt will be made to bargain with the Japanese Government, allowing them a free hand to do what they like in Manchuria provided they relax their stranglehold from Shanghai. I think that would be a very unfortunate method of negotiation and I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will not entertain such an idea.

I would ask the noble and learned Viscount whether any decision has been come to with regard to a meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations. The Chinese Government throughout this business have endeavoured to keep in very close touch with the League of Nations. They have appealed to it at every opportunity and they have asked now for the Assembly to deal with the question. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount will be able to tell us what decision has been come to on that point. A further question I should like to ask is with regard to the supply of munitions—whether the League of Nations or the Powers watching these proceedings have come to any decision as to the continued supply of munitions by the Western Powers to either one or other or both of the combatants. I do not know if any decision has been come to on that point, but it is an important point because people are apt to say that in the Far East wars will always arise because undeveloped nations have the combatant instinct so strongly developed and will always settle quarrels in this way. It is often forgotten that the undeveloped nations are supplied with their munitions, with their weapons and with their new inventions by the Christian Western nations in this part of the world. The supply of munitions, therefore, is not a question that can be overlooked.

I have been as careful as I possibly can not to say anything to aggravate the delicate situation in which the Government find themselves. My object has not been in any way to embarrass the Government, but to strengthen their hands, and to ensure that they may be aware of the large body of feeling in this country that is watching the proceedings and is hoping, I trust not against hope, that the League of Nations will succeed in stopping hostilities. I want also to press that the Government may go forward more boldly and more surely in taking the lead more than they have in raising their voice in the League of Nations, as the outstanding champion of the League, and in order that the nations of the world may insist on the establishment of the rule of law, may condemn the barbarity and what is proved to be in the long run the futility of force, and be ready to penalise any nation, however powerful, which disregards and breaks its pledge.


My Lords, having lived at Shanghai from 1923 to 1928 I should like to make one or two observations, and in doing so to ask for the indulgence always accorded to those addressing your Lordships' House for the first time. It is not, I think, necessary for me to go into the extreme gravity and delicacy of the present situation. It almost seems at the moment as if we ought to refrain from general comment or criticism. We ought to be most careful to avoid trying to deal with what is essentially an Eastern situation by Western ideas and methods. It is extremely important for us to realise the effect any of our criticisms or remarks may have in Japan or China, and that criticisms are apt to make a settlement more difficult than before. I think it is possible that the situation has become a little more difficult because we in the West did not at the initial stages take into sufficiently sympathetic account the grave underlying causes which have given rise to recent events.

I have a great many friends who are still in Shanghai and I shall be very anxious to learn from the noble and learned Viscount what are the possibilities now that further conflict may be avoided, because any conflict that arises, should hostilities be renewed, will have extremely serious consequences. I shall also be glad to learn whether anything can be done regarding co-ordination between the different forces at present in Shanghai. We have had a similar situation before—to some extent in 1925 and again in 1927, when the situation was very ably dealt with by the British Expeditionary Force which was sent out there. I should like also to learn whether the municipal services, such as police and fire brigades, have again been able to function freely in the northern sector of the Settlement. It is impossible to over-emphasise the danger of the situation and I hope we shall have reassuring news from the noble and learned Viscount.


My Lords, your Lordships will appreciate that in answering the Questions on the Paper and those which have been addressed to me this afternoon, I am speaking under a considerable sense of responsibility which is not lessened by the fact that the Department which is charged with the administration of these matters is not that for which I am directly responsible. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition began his remarks by justifying his action in raising these matters in debate in this House. I do not desire to quarrel with what he said on that head. I quite agree that these grave matters deserve the careful consideration of Parliament and that there can be no better tribunal in which they can be discussed than your Lordships' House, provided always, of course, that they are discussed with discretion and moderation. At the same time your Lordships will appreciate that when a matter has reached the acute stage which the present controversy unhappily has attained one has to be very cautious in the use of language lest anything is said that might, even unintentionally, tend to exacerbate or extend the area of the dispute.

The situation which has arisen in Shanghai is naturally one which has given the very gravest concern to His Majesty's Government, and it has done so on two quite distinct grounds. Taking them more or less in the order adopted by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, there is first the immediate effect upon British interests in Shanghai itself. Your Lordships are well aware that Shanghai is a Settlement which owes its inception to British enterprise and which, thanks largely to the energy and ability of our traders and great commercial houses, has grown to its present position as one of the greatest ports in the world and the centre of commerce in the Far East. To-day it must be true to say that the International Settlement contains British property which is worth many millions of pounds, and that within its borders there is a large number of British subjects who are lawfully carrying on their business there under the Treaty provisions which entitle them to commence and to maintain their trading operations within its borders. Anything which imperils the safety of British lives and risks the British property so engaged is naturally a matter of grave concern to His Majesty's Government.

There is also, as the noble Lord has quite rightly pointed out, another aspect which engages our most serious interest. The state of affairs which now prevails in Shanghai is one which it is very difficult to reconcile with the provisions of the Pact of Paris or of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Peace is the greatest interest of the British Empire to-day. The League of Nations is an institution to which we have contributed and upon which we rely as a bulwark of international peace, and anything which tends to throw doubt on the sanctity of the Covenant and to bring the League of Nations into disrepute must necessarily be a matter of the gravest importance to the Government and to the people of this country. It is on both those grounds that His Majesty's Government have viewed the position with grave concern and have made every effort to protect the Settlement, to prevent its becoming involved in the area directly affected by the hostilities which, unhappily, have taken place, and to effect a cessation of acts of violence on either side.

It would be difficult within any reasonable limit of time to give in detail the steps which His Majesty's Government have taken to this end. Indeed, most of those steps have been made public property almost as soon as they have happened. In Tokyo His Majesty's Ambassador has made repeated representations to the Government of Japan. In China His Majesty's Minister, who was actually starting for a very well-earned holiday in this country, cancelled his leave and returned first to Peking and then to Nanking and ultimately went to Shanghai in order to make similar representations to the Government of China. In Shanghai itself the Consul-General worked in collaboration with the Brigadier and later on with the Commander-in-Chief of our naval forces in China and with the cordial and close co-operation of the civil and military representatives of other Powers, all devoting their efforts to protecting the safety of the Settlement and to bringing about, if it were possible, a cessation of hostilities between China and Japan.

Perhaps I may be allowed to say as one of the satisfactory features in this melancholy situation, that the relations between those responsible civil, military and naval authorities alike of all the foreign Powers in Shanghai—the relations between all those persons have been of the most cordial and friendly character, and they have been working in complete accord and in the greatest possible harmony to carry out whatever steps they thought were possible or expedient. We have now at Shanghai, in addition, the Military Attachés to China and to Japan, both there in order to ensure that any communications to the respective forces of China and Japan should be made by persons who are familiar with the language and are in the closest possible personal relationship with the Chinese and Japanese authorities respectively.

So far as the protection of the Settlement itself is concerned we have, as your Lordships have no doubt seen in the newspapers, increased our naval and military forces, and the British forces at Shanghai now consist of four cruisers, one gunboat, a destroyer, and four battalions of troops and a mountain battery which has been brought from Hong-kong. I was asked a specific question by my noble friend Lord Addington with regard to the co-ordination which was taking place in Shanghai. May I say in answering him how pleased the whole of your Lordships' House I know is that he should have taken part in our debates for the first time. We hope that this certainly will not be the last time, and we are particularly fortunate in that he is able to ask questions based on personal experience and personal knowledge of the place in which these events are happening. The co-ordination, as I have told him, is very close and very complete.

He asked me as to the functioning of the municipal services in the northern portion of the Settlement, in what is sometimes called the Hongkew salient. I have not any specific information with regard to that, but, in view of the fact that this is a part of the Settlement, or a part outside the Settlement to be more accurate, which is held by the Japanese forces and which has been the subject of very considerable fighting, I do not think it is probable that the municipal services are able to function there at the present time. I am afraid I cannot be more definite in my answer than that. That is the situation and those are the efforts which we are making and have been making so far as the Far East is directly concerned. But while carrying on those efforts in the Far East His Majesty's Government throughout has been keeping in the closest possible touch with the Government of the United States and with the friendly Powers which form our colleagues on the Council and in the Assembly of the League of Nations.

The noble Lord opposite criticised the action of His Majesty's Government in January last in not signing the same Note as that which was despatched by the United States Government to Japan on January 7 and in only sending a Note of our own on January 9, and he suggested, if I understood him aright, that the Powers ought to have taken sterner action at an early stage—I suppose he means in September last when there was trouble in Manchuria; and he suggested that if we had taken action under certain Articles, which he specified, in the Covenant of the League of Nations, some more fortunate results would have been attained.

With regard to the first of those two criticisms, I would point out that the position of His Majesty's Government is not quite the same as that of the Government of the United States, for the reason that we are Members of the League of Nations and the Government of the United States is not. We have throughout this unhappy controversy been working in very close touch with the United States Government. So far as I have heard, there has been no suggestion of a complaint or criticism from them with regard to any action or inaction upon our part, and, on the other hand, of course it is necessary to remember that it would not be wise or, I think, proper for His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to take action which would seem to separate it from the other Members of the League of Nations, and to identify it with the United States in any sort of opposition to other Members of the League to which we belong. Our effort has rather been, while keeping in the friendliest touch with the United States, and while acting in every way in collaboration with that Government, at the same time to remain constant to our own duty to the League of Nations, and to endeavour to ensure that the Council of the League should as a whole be the body which was co-operating with the United States in the endeavour to put a stop to the situation which has arisen in Manchuria and Shanghai.

And I would also point out to the noble Lord that the suggestion which, I gather, he hinted at, that the right course would have been automatically to put into operation the provisions of Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, would be most improper and highly dangerous. It would be improper because it involves prejudicing an issue which the Council of the League of Nations, and now the Assembly of the League of Nations, have to determine. You do not put into operation the sanctions of Article 16 until you are satisfied which is the nation which is to blame and against which those sanctions have to be invoked. The noble Lord knows that it is the contention of the Japanese that in the action that they have taken they have been fully justified; that no legitimate criticism can be levelled against them and that no breach of their obligations can be imputed to them. That is a matter which the Council was taking into consideration in regard to Shanghai under the provisions of Article 15 of the League of Nations, and which, for reasons which I shall indicate in a few moments, is as yet undetermined. And therefore any suggestions of a threat to either of the parties of this controversial character which the noble Lord suggests would, in my judgment at any rate, be as improper as it would be unwise.

But there is a further criticism which I venture to make to that suggestion. The noble Lord has alleged—I am not accepting it as accurate, but I am assuming for this purpose that it is accurate—that the militarists in Japan have got the upper hand and are taking a highhanded action, and that the people of Japan as a whole have been misled. If that were true, and if this country were thereupon to take the action which he suggests under Article 16 that would be a declaration that this country deemed Japan to have committed an act of war against the other Members of the League. Does the noble Lord really think that to suggest that Japan has committed an act of war against this country would be a way of limiting or moderating the scope of the hostilities which are taking place at this moment? Might it not well be that it would have a most serious effect in extending that scope, instead of limiting it, as the noble Lord, I know, desires? That was the first criticism—the non-participation in the Note of January; and I would only observe in passing that that dealt with a period anterior to the commencement of the situation in Shanghai. It dealt simply and solely with the position in Manchuria, because the Shanghai trouble did not begin until, I think, January 29, and it is only with regard to Shanghai that the Question at any rate purports to deal.

Then I was asked a question with regard to the evacuation of British nationals in Shanghai. At present at any rate I certainly cannot say, as the noble Lord would like me to say, and as I would be glad to be able to say, that the danger with regard to those in the Settlement is past. If necessity should arise evacuation would no doubt be considered, as the situation might demand, but evacuation would be a very difficult process. It would be a very disastrous process, because it would mean the abandonment of the British property and interests—sometimes the whole livelihood—of those who were taken away, and I should doubt whether a great many of our nationals would be willing to be evacuated, even if they were so advised. At any rate at present I have no reason to believe that any such course is either practicable or prudent, and I hope that circumstances will not render any such desperate course necessary.

Then I was asked whether any date had been fixed for the meeting of the Assembly. What has happened with regard to that is this. The Council of the League of Nations had taken this matter into their consideration in accordance with the provisions of Article 15 of the Covenant, and, having taken the matter into consideration, they had invited each party to the dispute, China and Japan respectively, to submit a statement of their case; and, in addition, the Secretary-General, with the co-operation of the Members of the Council who had officials available in China, had asked for an emergency report from those officials in Shanghai in order to assist the Council in coming to a determination as to the responsibility for the dispute. Your Lordships probably know that two reports have been received, each of which has been published in the public Press, on February 9 and 15 respectively. Last week the representative of China claimed the right under Article 15 to refer the matter from the Council to the Assembly. The Japanese representative challenges the validity of that reference, and I believe that what has happened is that the Council of the League has remitted the question to a Committee of Jurists who are expected to report within a day or two, and that the Council will take that report into consideration either to-morrow or on Monday—at the earliest possible moment. I cannot of course predict what the report will be or what the decision will be, but until that report has been received and until that preliminary question is determined, it is impossible to say when the Assembly will be summoned. I have no doubt myself that, assuming that the reference is valid, the Assembly will meet at as early a date as can conveniently be arranged. That is only my personal opinion. I am not speaking with the authority of the Council.

If the claim to refer the matter to the Assembly is upheld, it follows that the jurisdiction of the Council to decide the question is automatically concluded. Its jurisdiction is ousted when the matter is removed from it to the Assembly, and accordingly the Council has been very careful to come to no decision upon the merits of the matter, on which it has not yet heard the contentions of the two sides, with regard to which its power to determine the question has been taken, or is alleged to have been taken, from it by the action of one of the two sides. If the matter falls to be determined by the Assembly, or if on the other hand it has to be determined by the Council, in either event the representatives of this country will form part of the tribunal before whom it falls to be determined, and I think your Lordships will agree with me when I say that His Majesty's Government would regard it as a breach of their duty to the League of Nations, as well as a breach of their duty to their fellow members—China and Japan, who are the disputants in this case—if they were to express any opinion or come to any decision as to the responsibility for the situation which has arisen, until they have heard the contentions of both sides and investigated the evidence which will be laid before them by one side or the other. Therefore it is that I cannot answer the third part of the Question which the noble Lord asks—if any decision has been reached by the League of Nations in view of the present position—except to say that the British Government, and I believe all their colleagues, are most anxious to avoid reaching any decision until they have given both sides a fair opportunity of being heard, and until they have examined the evidence which either side is in a position to adduce.

The noble Lord referred to the appeal which has been addressed to Japan by the twelve Members of the Council. I want to make it quite clear—as no doubt your Lordships will appreciate if you have studied the terms of the appeal in the Press this morning—that that appeal does not involve any condemnation of Japan. It does not involve the uttering of anything in the nature of a threat to Japan. It is, as it purports to be, merely an appeal from friendly Members and collaborators with Japan in the League of Nations, to a friendly sister nation, to do all in her power to assist in what ought to be, and what I hope is, the object of everyone of us—namely, to preserve the peace and to maintain the sanctity of the covenants to which we have affixed our signatures.

The noble Lord is quite right in supposing that whatever may be the issue of our present endeavours we shall not relax our efforts to attain a peaceful and satisfactory solution, and to put an end to whatever hostilities are going on. Only this morning it was found possible to arrange for a meeting between the Chinese and Japanese military authorities in the hope of achieving a settlement for the time being. I have no official information as to the outcome of that meeting, but such reports as have reached us indicate that unhappily it has not proved successful, and that there is at any rate a serious risk of a recommencement of hostilities. If that unhappily should prove to be the case, I can only say that that failure is not going to discourage us from going on with our efforts, but I do hope, in fact I feel confident, that every member of this House, as well as anybody in a place of responsibility in this country or in another place, will abstain from affirming or expressing any opinion as to where the responsibility lies for the situation which has arisen, until a full opportunity has been given for the Council or for the Assembly to determine that issue.

I am quite sure that nothing would be less likely to bring about peace and to bring an end to the position of tension, indeed of active violence, which unhappily prevails than the feeling by either side that it was being unfairly treated by its colleagues in the League of Nations, or that its case was being prejudged before it had had a full opportunity of stating what it had to say. We are appealing to both those nations on the basis that they are as determined as we are to act in good faith and to carry out the obligations upon which they have entered. We shall do our very best to bring the present state of affairs to an end, to prevent unnecessary damage to British property, to protect as far as may be the safety of our own nationals, and we believe that we are more likely to achieve that end by methods of conciliation, trust and confidence than by anything in the nature of threat or of partisanship in a dispute which we deeply deplore.


May I ask the noble Viscount if he could say whether any reply has been received from the Japanese Government to the Powers' Note and, if not, whether when it is received it will be immediately published?


So far as I know no reply has yet been received, and indeed I think the Note was only handed to the representative of the Japanese Government yesterday, so that there really has hardly been time for their reply. The reply will no doubt be addressed to the Council of the League of Nations from whom the appeal emanated, and the decision as to publication must rest with them and not with this Government, but I should be very much surprised if they do not give the reply the same publicity as has already been given to the appeal.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past six o'clock.