HL Deb 25 April 1934 vol 91 cc723-57

LORD MESTON rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any information they can give to the House in reference to the position in Liberia; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, some little time ago I heard it said half in jest but probably more than half in earnest, that ever since the League of Nations has been established we have all become atrocious busybodies constantly prying into each other's affairs. It is in the rôle of a very conscious busybody that I am asking your Lordships to interest yourselves for a few moments this afternoon in the affairs of the Republic of Liberia. My excuse for doing so is that your Lordships' House has never hesitated to express the strongest disapproval of gross misrule in whatever part of the world it has occurred, and still less when that misrule has had the result of causing unnecessary suffering and misery to friendless and helpless people. Now that is the position in the Republic of Liberia to-day. It is being exposed to the gravest misrule, and the indigenous races are enduring a great deal of perfectly unnecessary misery and almost deliberate injustice.

The language which was used in this House two years ago by the then Lord Privy Seal, Lord Snowden, recalled to some of us the historic denunciation by the late Lord Grey when he was Foreign Secretary of what was known as the red rubber scandals of the Belgian Congo. What Lord Snowden said two years ago is, unfortunately, still perfectly true to-day. There are noble Lords in the House who will be able with far greater personal authority than I can claim to tell the story of the abuses which have characterised Liberian administration in recent years, and all that I need do is to allude in the briefest possible fashion to some of the more outstanding events. It is quite unnecessary to go into ancient history.

As your Lordships know, Liberia was founded over a hundred years ago to be a home for the emancipated negro slaves of the United States who wished to return to their own native Continent. In 1847 it became an independent Republic, and since then it has been under the Government of the descendants of those emancipated negro slaves, a community now of about 15,000 strong, who exercise unquestioned dominion over some two million indigenes of mixed aboriginal tribes. Almost from the very start there has been trouble and no real progress in civilisation has been made. There is a pretentious imitation of American political institutions, but beyond that it hardly goes, and, although we ought to recognise the labours of a few high-minded and patriotic Liberians them selves to improve matters, the position of the country to-day is wholly deplorable.

If a description is required perhaps your Lordships will allow me to quote a few sentences from a message to The Times which was sent by a thoroughly informed correspondent. This is what he said: This beautiful country is seen to be in a worse condition than it was 100 years ago. After 100 years of Americo-Liberian government it is; without a mile of railway, with no roads to the interior, without a medical or telephone service. The Treasury is in a bankrupt condition and the volume of trade is rapidly declining. The twin evils of corruption and indolence are too glaring to be denied, while the 2,000,000 natives are suffering oppression and cruelty at the hands of the 15,000 Americo-Liberians. This charge of oppression and cruelty was not purely haphazard. The Commission of Inquiry upon which Lord Snowden based his denunciation, known as the Christy Commission from the name of its president, Dr. Cuthbert Christy, had reported, after the most careful examination on the spot, that it found slavery rampant in Liberia, and there are in that Report the most alarming and disgusting descriptions of forms of slavery which succeed in evading the law. Small children of five and six years are pawned in perpetuity in order to pay taxes, and there are still worse things. That was one of the findings of the Christy Commission. They also found that natives were being shipped overseas under conditions which are scarcely distinguishable from slave raiding and slave trading. They found that, though it may seem a minor conclusion, there was a great deal of forced labour and corrupt practice. That was in 1930. That Commission was followed by another one presided over by M. Brunot, an eminent French administrator, which dealt with the financial rather than the social scandals. M. Brunot's Commission reported that the finances of the Republic were in a desperate condition and that the state of the public health was a danger to the rest of the Continent of Africa.

Liberia is a Member of the League of Nations, and the attention of the Council of the League has, of course, been drawn, and drawn very forcibly, to these inquiries. Repeated endeavours have been made by the Council to help Liberia to put its house in order, and to endeavour to make it realise how far short it falls of the standard which is expected of civilised nations. That thankless task has been largely carried out by a Speciai Committee of the League, presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. It culminated in the presentation to the Government of Liberia by the League of a plan for the reform of the whole administration, with the generous financial assistance of a Finance Corporation of America. The plan included, among many other suggestions, primarily the appointment of a Chief Adviser to the Liberian Government. It then recommended the division of the country into proper administrative districts, properly controlled and administered. It recommended the appointment of a Financial Adviser who would be designated by the President of the United States, and of a number of health experts to advise in their particular sphere. It recommended the preparation of a State Budget which, apparently, had been unknown before, and some control of the revenues of the State. Finally, it advised that the League should be allowed to arbitrate in cases of serious difference between the Government and the advisers as appointed.

Your Lordships will readily admit that this is hardly the sort of project that would be presented to a country that had shown the most elementary sense of responsibility for its own ditties of good government and the just treatment of the natives entrusted to its care. The mere fact of the League having delivered—I do not think I am using words that are too strong—such an ultimatum, and having delivered it on the clearest evidence before it, does clearly indicate to your Lordships the extreme gravity of the situation. That was in 1932. So far as we know, nothing has been done by Liberia, but a great deal has been written. In particular, Liberia has handed in at Geneva a long list of reservations to the plan—reservations which, if they are accepted, would go a long way to render the plan wholly nugatory. They talked bombastically about their sovereign rights. They refused to be bound by any advice they might get from the experts appointed. They refused the arbitral decision of the League. They refused to allow their so-called gendarmerie—who incidentally are the worst agency for the oppression of the native tribes—to be brought under any form of external control. They refused any limitation of their pernicious practice of selling concessions in native lands and native rights to outsiders. Finally, they stipulated—and here I quote the very words of their reservation: That the Chief Adviser shall not be appointed from any State to whose nationals the Liberian Government has financial obligations, or is under economic commitments, nor from any State having territory contiguous to Liberia. That reservation, if accepted, definitely seems to limit the scope of selection of the Chief Adviser to Iceland or Manchuria.

In other words, my Lords, they virtually reject with contumely the efforts of their colleagues in the League to help them to achieve the status of a civilised people. What is even worse, they insist in effect on a continuation of the grave scandals which now exist in their treatment of the native races, scandals which are offending the public conscience of the world. Obviously, the matter cannot rest here. Presumably, it will come before one of the approaching meetings of the Council of the League who are bound to consider the whole situation. What I venture to suggest that your Lordships would like to know is how far the British Government are going to throw their great influence into the scale, to induce the Council of the League to take proper arid adequate steps towards the restoration of good government and ordinary humanity in this derelict State. The other request which stands in my name is that the Government will be pleased to publish any Papers connected with this long controversy. We know that there have been Papers. In the annual messages of the President of Liberia there are extracts from Despatches from His Majesty's Government. Whether those extracts are complete or authentic it is impossible to tell. It would help enormously all those who are interested in this difficult subject if the Government would publish the Despatches which have passed, the Consular Reports which undoubtedly have been received as to the state of affairs, and anything else of an official character bearing on the matter. I ask that these should be published in the form of a White Paper so that at least public opinion may be informed as to the actual facts, and, if it is informed, may he in a position to be brigaded in support of the Government and the League in removing an intolerable blot on civilisation.


My Lords, there are two aspects of this Liberian question to which I desire to direct your Lordships' attention—in the first place the great length of time which it has dragged on without any result, and secondly the part which the British Government have taken in it. In order to do so I will recall as briefly as possible the sequence of events. It is just on five years since the United States of America in June, 1929, used these words in a note to the Liberian Government. It called attention to the "reliable evidence" of the existence of a system hardly distinguishable from organised slave-trade, in the enforcement of which the services of the Liberian Frontier Force and of certain high Government officials are constantly and systematically used. There had been a large number of American citizens in Liberia prior to that date—some as Advisers to the Liberian Government, others engaged in educational or mission work—so that the United States Government had reliable sources of information, and it is important to remember that this very grave indictment was made on information which had reached that Government before any Commission was sent by the League of Nations to make inquiries.

In reply the Liberian Government were compelled to demand an inquiry and stipulated that it should be undertaken by the League of Nations. A Commission of three men was despatched, two of them negroes appointed by the United States of America and Liberia respectively; the third, Dr. Christy, the nominee of the League, was a man of sound judgment with exceptionally wide experience in many parts of Africa, including some time with me in Nigeria. The terms of reference were drawn up by the President of Liberia himself. The Commission began its inquiry on the spot in April, 1930, and submitted its Report to the League in December of that year. It more than confirmed the worst allegations. The Liberian Government resigned. His Majesty's Government at once refused to recognise the new Liberian Government until there should be evidence of some sincere reform and in January, 1931, directed the British Chargé d'Affaires to inform the Liberian Government that it regarded the report as a "shocking indictment" and was convinced that without assistance from outside … no Liberian Government would be able to carry into effect the full programme of reforms and His Majesty's Government gives the fullest support to the suggestion that the Government of Liberia should be committed for a time to an International Government. The Liberian Government hastily passed several measures prohibiting slavery, etc., but since it had been the first, I think, to ratify the Slavery and Forced Labour Conventions, while itself exporting labourers as slaves, not much importance could be attached to these Acts. For the rest it pleaded financial inability to carry out the proposed reforms, and appealed to the League for assistance. Thereupon, in March, 1931, the League decided to send a Commission of Experts consisting of M. Brunot, formerly Governor of the French Ivory Coast, with M. Ligthart, a Dutch financial expert, and Dr. Mackenzie, of the Health Section of the League. The Commission was in Liberia in June and July, 1931.

In spite of the despatch of these Commissions reports were received of continued misrule and of reprisals on natives who had given evidence before the Christy Commission. Towards the close of 1931 the Liberian Government sent what they called a "peaceful patrol" to visit the tribes. It was under the command of a negro—not I believe of American extraction—who called himself Colonel Davis. The troops burned many villages and the people were in a state of panic. His Majesty's Government, on receipt of this information, considering the matter to be urgent, approadhed the American and French Governments in March, 1932, without awaiting the Report of the Brunot Commission, with a view to demanding the immediate discontinuance of these practices. In that same month, on a Motion by the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, there was a debate in your Lordships' House on this subject, and the noble Viscount, Lord Snowden, who spoke for the Government of the day, informed your Lordships that the reply to that joint protest by the three Governments was not satisfactory. About the same time I am informed that Assistant Consul Ryding was sent by the foreign Government into the interior to report on the condition of affairs. The Liberian Government sent a guard with him on the excuse that his life would be in danger from the tribes, but he escaped at night and went to the villages. His report has not been published.

The League then despatched Dr. Mackenzie to endeavour to restore peace. He arrived in July, 1932, and found that several Kru tribes had risen against the Government, but inter-tribal quarrels involving eighteen or twenty tribes had broken out, and he reports that "four tribes comprising some 12,000 men, women and children had been driven into the bush and were in a state of advanced starvation." The whole Kru coast had become engaged in inter-tribal fighting, which Dr. Mackenzie states had been instigated and supported by the Liberian politicians, and that the unrest had spread to the large settlements of Kru-men in the British Colonies of Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast, who were trying to smuggle arms and ammunition to their fellow tribesmen and were themselves anxious to join them. In the space of two months Dr. Mackenzie achieved the almost incredible feat of inducing these warring tribes to agree to keep the peace for the space of a year—namely, till August, 1933. Recognising the temptation to fight so long as they retained their weapons, he reports that they surrendered them of their own accord, and 500 rifles and guns were handed over to the Liberian Government, which Dr. Mackenzie as an official of the League was bound to recognise as the de facto Government. His action received the full approval of the League Council.

Those who know the African will agree that (as the saying is) it is easier to get butter out of a dog's mouth than to get a tribesman to part with his weapons, or to agree to proposed tribal land boundaries, and it is no wonder that the Liberian Government were anxious that Dr. Mackenzie should extend his peaceful Mission to the other large tribe, the Grebes, who had sent seventeen Paramount Chiefs to meet him. But the time at his disposal did not admit of his undertaking this task. The United States had also sent a distinguished American—General Winship, the Judge Advocate-General of the United States Army, and now, I believe, Governor of Porto Rico—to Liberia to report. He returned to America early in 1933. His report has not been published but is believed to be in the same sense as those already received.

Reverting now to M. Brunot's Expert Commission, towards the end of 1931 they submitted their Report and proposals for a reorganisation of the Liberian Administration with foreign assistance which the noble Lord who preceded me has described. The Report was published in May, 1932, and considered by the League in October, 1932. The Report stated that Liberia was completely bankrupt. Salaries, bills, and interest due on loans were unpaid. The Liberian Government professed to accept the scheme, but made reservations which I need not describe in detail, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has stated the purport of them. It suffices to say that they were wholly incompatible with the fundamental basis of the reforms. The adoption of the proposals depended in any case on the result of the negotiations which had been begun with the Finance Corporation of America, with which Mr. Firestone, the Concessionaire, was closely associated. It had made a large loan to the Liberian Government, on very onerous terms. Mr. Firestone was ready to co-operate with the League Commission and to give generous financial assistance. By June, 1933, the negotiations were successfully concluded, and the League Committee was able to report that a slightly modified plan had been accepted by the United States Government and the Finance Corporation. It was pointed out that the plan safeguarded the political independence, the territorial integrity, and the sovereign rights of the Liberian Government, while affording a means of financial assistance. If it was not accepted in its entirety without reservations by the time the Council met in January, 1934, the League would be compelled to withdraw from any further attempt to deal with Liberia's appeal for assistance. In order that there should be no misunderstanding Dr. Mackenzie was again despatched to Liberia on behalf of the League in order fully to explain the plan.

In December, 1933, the United States addressed another Note to Liberia stating that she expected her to accept the League's recommendations, in which the American Government would co-operate. When the Council assembled in January, 1934, the Liberian Government made practically the same reservations as before, which the Experts Commission of the League had said were quite incompatible with the execution of the plan. The League Committee was therefore dissolved, and the League's activities in the matter ceased, but as a last chance the Liberian Government were told that if before the Council meeting next May they should decide to change their attitude, their representations would receive consideration then. The latest information is that the Chiefs arrested by the negro Colonel Davis are still in prison and some are said to have died, that access to the sea on which this sea-faring and fishing tribe depend has been closed; that President Barclay is on his way to the interior, and troops sent in advance to prepare for him have fired on villages and committed various outrages reported in a recent communication published in The Times from its correspondent in Geneva. The tribes appeal to the League for help now that their arms have been surrendered in reliance upon the intervention of the League. The Chief who sends this appeal says that he is in a dilemma. The President will summon him on arrival. If he refuses to come, it will be regarded as a reason for attack. If he obeys he has reason to fear that he will be arrested as the other Chiefs were, and perhaps share the fate of the 75 Chiefs—I am told the right number was 84—who were executed in 1917.

That, my Lords, is I believe a fairly accurate account of the history of this matter and the present position of affairs. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, will correct me if in any particular I have been in error. Indeed, the principal facts were confirmed by the noble Viscount, Lord Snowden, speaking for the Government of the day in the debate in March, 1932. He said that the charges of continued misrule were corroborated by Consular Reports. There had in fact been what be described as "a recrudescence of cruelty and oppression." He informed the House of the decision of the British and United States Governments to withhold recognition of the new Liberian Government pending reform, and he added that His Majesty's Government would "continue to take a very active and prominent part … to put a stop to this grave and cruel maladministration." Liberia had for over a hundred years enjoyed the protection of the American Government, which had on more than one occasion sent warships to support the Monrovian Government against the tribes. These League inquiries have at least had one good result in that the United States Government has withdrawn its recognition and informed Liberia that unless comprehensive reforms are loyally and sincerely put into effect it will result in the final abdication of her friendly feelings.

Following the example of their fathers, who announced their neutrality in the Franco-German War of 1870, Liberia declared herself on the side of the Allies in the Great War, and she thus became an original Member of the League. She claimed sovereignty over 2,000,000 natives in the hinterland, among whom no Liberian dares to show his face unless supported by troops—though by the Berlin Act of 1885 effective occupation alone constituted a claim to sovereignty. It is surely a tragic paradox that the Liberian Government, should now rely on her membership of the League for immunity from intervention. As long as she remains a Member she boasts that her independence is guaranteed, and no one can prevent her from doing as she pleases, for by Article 10 of the Covenant 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. The League itself, as Lord Cecil told us, has "no material means of coercion." All it can do is to say: "No reform, no money," relying on Liberia's financial straits.

But we now have definite information that she is proposing to grant to certain Dutch and Danish syndicates concessions of the land or minerals which belong to the people of the country. I imagine that the prospect of what the Liberian Government can realise by the sale of these concessions is the real explanation of the defiance by the Liberian Government of America and the League. The negro community in the United States appears to be misinformed regarding the true state of affairs in Liberia. We can understand and even sympathise with their desire to prove to the world that the negro race is capable not only of self-government but of governing a subject people; but the fact that Professor Johnson, an American negro, was one of the Christy Commission which exposed the slave-dealing and misrule, should show them that so far from establishing the prestige of the negro race in the eyes of the world by championing the cause of the Liberian oligarchy, they are seriously injuring it. Their assistance in carrying out the League plan would be welcomed.

The tribes, partially disarmed and torn by internal disputes, are powerless to throw off the yoke, and the Monrovian Government will continue to foment intertribal quarrels. The League, having satisfied itself that this grave misrule exists, is compelled to declare that it can do nothing without the willing consent of Liberia, and that its activities must now cease. The American Government, which is unhampered by membership of the League, cannot evade the responsibility of her long connection with and support of the Liberian Government in the past, or the share which men claiming American nationality have had, and I believe still have, in the conduct of Liberian affairs. It would seem that she is in the best position to issue that ultimatum which would at once produce acceptance of the reforms which this costly discussion for five years has failed to secure. All are agreed that nothing short of the fear that worse may befall will induce the Liberian Government to agree, and as His Majesty's Government very truly declared three years ago, they are themselves incapable of putting it into execution.

We know from the statements made in both Houses of Parliament—no less by the late Socialist than by the present National Government—that our Foreign Office is deeply concerned about the state of affairs in Liberia. No appeal is needed to stimulate that interest, and I am sure that if the noble Lord who replies consents to lay Papers it will be found that nothing is wanting in the shape of displomatic protests. The question is whether anything more effective can be done. I venture with diffidence to make the suggestion that His Majesty's Government should in the first place, jointly if possible with France, invite the Council of the League to declare that failing the acceptance without reserve of the League's plan any steps which the United States Government may consider necessary to put an end to present conditions would be welcomed; and in the second place to exert British influence, jointly with France, in pressing the American Government to take the initiative in compelling the Liberian Government to accept the scheme of reform which has been prepared sympathetically and disinterestedly by the League Commission, or failing acceptance to put it into execution herself so far as the interior is concerned, leaving the Government of Monrovia to enjoy autonomy in the coast enclave which they actually occupy, and so avoid bloodshed which may have repercussions beyond Liberia.

If this course is not practicable, I would like to call attention to certain articles in the Covenant of the League, which may be applicable to the case of Liberia. Article 23 (b) binds all Members of the League to "undertake to secure just treatment of the native inhabitants of territories under their control," and paragraph (f) adds that they "will endeavour to take steps in matters of international concern for the prevention and control of disease." Both of the Commissions appointed by the League have definitely and categorically declared that Liberia has violated these pledges for years past and is still violating them Article 16 says: Any Member of the League which has violated any Covenant of the League may be declared to be no longer a Member by a vote of the Council concurred in by the representatives of all the other Members represented thereon. I suggest that it is open to His Majesty's Government to propose such a vote. Alternatively, I would remind your Lordships that His Majesty's Government have since 1931 refused to recognise the Liberian Government, and we now have no accredited representative there. This I presume means a rupture of diplomatic relations. Article 12 of the Treaty of Versailles says: 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…. It would therefore seem open to His Majesty's Government to submit the cause of the existing rupture with Liberia to an inquiry by the Council. Such an inquiry would put the question on a different basis. Hitherto the inquiries conducted by its Commissions have had their origin in the request by Liberia for financial assistance. But an inquiry based on the Reports of the League's own Commissions would in effect be to decide whether Liberia should remain a Member of the League or not.

Even though Geneva may question whether the clauses quoted are applicable, or even though the suggestion that Liberia should be invited to leave the League may not be accepted—and I am well aware that there is likely to be opposition to that—the fact that it has been made by His Majesty's Government, which has always been a strenuous supporter of the League, will at any rate dissociate Great Britain from participation in a policy which allows membership of the League to be used as an obstacle to reform. It will probably impress the United States Government, and will no doubt have a considerable effect in Liberia. It seems inconceivable that the Council of the League, confronted with the scathing Reports of its own Commissions, and with the fact that the Governments of the United States and of Great Britain had withdrawn their recognition, should not only refuse any redress to tribes who had given up their arms relying on its assistance, but should allow membership of the League to prevent any effective assistance to them from outside.

Suppose that the United States or any other State declined any longer to be flouted by Liberia and resorted to force, is there any Member of the League which would be prepared to champion the cause of misrule and put in force the sanctions prescribed by Article 16 of the Covenant? Would not the critics of the League once again accuse her of delaying to face realities until the situation had passed beyond her control? The matter brooks no delay, in order to prevent the sale of land and minerals to which the vendors have no right, to do away with a focus of yellow-fever which is a danger to the whole West Coast, and to save the tribes who have appealed for help.


My Lords, I desire on behalf of my noble friends to give our most emphatic support to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, in the Question that he has put to His Majesty's Government. The conditions in Liberia have been fully stated both by Lord Meston and by Lord Lugard, whose authority on African questions is nearly always decisive for my own mind. I do not desire, therefore, to detain your Lordships by going over ground that they have traversed, and I only want to say that, although this problem is one of great difficulty, and that great care has to be taken not to do the wrong thing, something at any rate must be done. It seems incredible that the conditions which now prevail in Liberia can go on with the sanction of the civilised world. I feel that they can no longer be ignored. I am sure that if the conditions were well known they would create alarm throughout the Continent of Europe, and equally sure that if the people of our own country realised what they were there would be an outburst of moral indignation.

I cannot help feeling that His Majesty's Government have some real claim to interfere—if that is the right word to use in regard to this matter. Liberia is stationed very close to Colonies for whose welfare His Majesty's Government are in the main responsible. There was a time when Sierra Leone was regarded as "the white man's grave," but, owing to expert administration and the careful building up of sanitary conditions there, that state of things has been altered. Yet we have contiguous to that Colony Liberia, concerning which we are told by the Brunot Commission that the only hospital in the place has no electric light, that there are no sanitary arrangements, that there is no notification of infectious diseases, and no accommodation for patients suffering from leprosy, tuberculosis, smallpox, yellow fever or scarlet fever. So that, as the Brunot Commission further states, it is clear under these conditions that Liberia constitutes a serious danger on the West Coast of Africa. That is, I suggest, a practical reason why His Majesty's Government should feel increasingly alarmed at the conditions which prevail in Liberia.

I do not feel called upon to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lugard, in the suggestions that he has made as to what might be done. I feel it right, however, to make the suggestion, purely on my own account, that pressure might be brought to bear upon Liberia by European Governments to accept the League's plan. If Liberia persistently and deliberately refuses to accept that plan then her position as a Member of the League should be very seriously questioned, with the understanding that, if she were excluded from membership of the League, the territory would become suitable for rule by a mandatory Power. The noble Lord, Lord Lugard, thought that the United States of America might take steps. Well, so they might; but it is right that as practical politicians we should remember that there are 2,000,000 negro votes in the United States of America, and that therefore it is not easy to assume that that does not present a problem to the United States Government.

I feel that the United States Government has a great responsibility; but there is also this, that an appeal to the negro peoples of the world might be made. This matter very closely touches their honour, as the noble Lord has suggested. We all know who have had contact with the negro peoples that they are a generous-minded race, and I am sure they would be stricken with horror if they realised all that is happening in Liberia at the present time. The condition has got so bad that, according to the Brunot Commission, the native is beginning to leave his village and crops and to take refuge in the forests. It seems to me, facing as carefully as I can the practical difficulties and the seriousness of taking any step at all, that there are limits below which no nation ought to be allowed to fall and at the same time retain her place among the civilised nations of the world. Therefore my noble friends and myself have pleasure in giving our support to the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has asked of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I have very little to add to the very full statement of the facts of this appalling problem which has been laid before your Lordships, especially by Lord Lugard, who has such exceptional knowledge and authority, but for many reasons and in many ways I have such a solicitude for the peoples of West Africa that I cannot on this occasion be altogether silent. I do not propose to detain your Lordships with any further details of the position of affairs in this most unhappy part of the world. I would only say this, that surely it is one of the most lamentable tragedies of history that those who went forth 100 years ago as the liberators of the members of their own race bearing the motto, "Love of liberty has brought us here," should be continuing there in the face of the civilised world as the oppressors of these people—about 15,000 Americo-Liberians tyrannising over 2,000,000 members of inoffensive native tribes.

Though I have many details at my disposal which, if they were widely known in this country, would raise the greatest possible indignation, I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with them. I have risen now in the hope that my noble friend Lord Cecil will follow me and explain exactly what is the position of this matter in reference to the League of Nations, because plainly this is an affair that concerns not only this unhappy country itself but concerns our own responsibilities in West Africa. The disease and disorder are spreading from Liberia into Sierra Leone and elsewhere, and it concerns indeed the credit of the whole of civilisation. Most rightly the League of Nations has interested itself in this matter, and I should like very much to know from the noble Viscount whether we may take it that the League of Nations definitely declines to pay any attention to reservations which were made to its own plan by the Liberian Government, and whether if the Liberian Government persist in these reservations the League of Nations will no longer render them any sort of assistance. I do not dwell upon these reservations. Lord Meston spoke of the main ones, and it is needless to dwell upon them if we may have the assurance of the noble Viscount that the League of Nations is not in the least likely to acquiesce in them.

But the matter goes a little further, and it would be a very great relief to those of us who feel deeply on this matter if the noble Viscount, or the noble Earl who will reply for the Government, could give us some assurance that the resources of the League of Nations in this matter are not exhausted. I have spoken about one lamentable tragedy. Surely it would be a tragedy even more lamentable if the fact that technically Liberia is a Member of the League of Nations should make the whole operation of the League of Nations, as the only guardian we have not only of the peace of the world but of the care of native races, completely inoperative. I should be glad if the noble Viscount would give us some assurance that so far as the League is concerned its resources are not wholly exhausted. I know the difficulties about requesting Liberia to cease to be a Member of the League, but if the facts were really known I almost wonder whether the possibility of such an invitation to leave would be in doubt. Surely there is no question that in more than one respect it has disqualified itself from membership of the League and any reassurance, if it can be given, which the noble Viscount can give will be most welcome to those who care, and care deeply, for the welfare of the peoples of West Africa.

So far as the Government are concerned I know how deeply this matter lies upon their conscience, and I am sure that the noble Earl will be able to reassure us on that matter. There was a time when, if these facts about Liberia had been known to the people of this country, there would have arisen such a storm of indignation as would have compelled the most drastic possible action. But times are different now; men's minds are preoccupied with other things. We cannot rest still, however, while this blot upon the whole of the civilised world remains, and it would be a relief if we could know that His Majesty's Government, possibly in close co-operation with the United States of America, will do all that is possible to terminate a state of things which has become intolerable.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the most reverend Primate for the reference he has been good enough to make to myself. I think the case has been very fully stated by Lord Meston and Lord Lugard, and I do not propose to go over again what they said, but to my mind the essential facts really lie in a fairly narrow compass. As one of the noble Lords explained, Liberia became automatically a Member of the League of Nations by reason of the fact that she declared herself an ally of the Allied and Associated Powers. She thereby entered into certain covenants; Lord Lugard has referred to some of them. Under Article 23 of the Covenant she undertook that she would endeavour to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labour for men, women and children. She further undertook, as my noble friend told your Lordships, to secure the just treatment of the native inhabitants of territories under her control, and she also no doubt undertook to endeavour to take steps for the prevention and control of disease. Therefore, whenever it was that she was charged by the United States Government, acting on the report of certain United States travellers, with having connived at slavery or slave-trading, she was charged with a breach of her solemn covenants under the League, and she was aware no doubt of the other Article to which Lord Lugard referred—Article 16, paragraph 4, which enables the League to eject from membership any Member who has broken any of the covenants into which it has entered.

It was no doubt for that and similar reasons that Liberia warmly denied the truth of the charges made against her and demanded an inquiry. As your Lordships have been told, the result of the inquiry was to show that the charges against her were absolutely true. Accordingly—and this has perhaps not been sufficiently emphasised in the discussion this evening—she expressed her willingness to carry out reforms, but stated she was in this difficulty, that she had no money with which to carry out reforms. She asked the Council—and that is how the Council came into it—to assist her in finding the money necessary to carry out the reforms to put an end to these abuses. That was the starting point of the intervention of the League. A Committee was thereupon formed of which the representative of this country was Chairman, first Mr. Arthur Henderson and, when his other duties compelled him to abandon it, I was asked to take his place. We sat very frequently and for a long time to answer this request of the Liberian Government for means to carry out the reforms. It was for that purpose that we sent out the Brunot Commission, which has been described, and received its very valuable and full Report of what would be necessary in order to carry out the reforms, because there was no question of asking for assistance for Liberia until we knew what reforms it was necessary for her to carry out.

The objects that we had in view, and the Brunot Commission had in view, were first of all, of course, to put an end to this mis-government of the natives and the slave trading and everything of that kind; secondly, to assist in finance; and, thirdly, or as a consequence of that, to be quite sure that the League should not lend its authority or influence in order to obtain finance unless it was quite satisfied that the reforms to be carried out would effectually achieve the main purposes for which they were to be instituted. Therefore the whole discussion took place on the basis that the Committee of the League were prepared to do their best to secure the money necessary for Liberia provided she carried out these reforms. It was, in form, always an offer to Liberia which she could reject if she liked.

When we came to look into it, it was claimed that the only source from which money could be obtained was the American Finance Corporation, which had already invested considerable sums of money in developing Liberia and which, therefore, had an interest in securing some amelioration of the government of Liberia. There was no other source of money. We looked everywhere, and no other source of assistance could be found. It was a time when adverse economic conditions oppressed the world at large. No Government was prepared to advance any money, nor was any private individual prepared to advance any money, in the circumstances. The result was that we had negotiations with the financial interests on one side and the Liberian Government on the other. That had certain great advantages, and the chief of them was that it was one of the reasons—not the only one, but one of the reasons—why the United States Government was continuously represented on the Committee and took an active share in the discussions.

When we came to look into the matter it was plain there were three currents. The Liberians wanted as little interference as possible, and as little cost as possible. The Finance Corporation wanted some security for their money. The League wanted real genuine security for the better government of Liberia and nothing else. They had no other interest in the matter. They wanted sufficient alterations to make the government of Liberia a decent government, which it certainly was not, and some direct supervision by the League to see that the reforms, once instituted, were continuously carried out. It was after very long negotiation and hearing—I think with great patience, or I hope so —the representations made by the Liberian Government and others on the subject, that the plan of assistance, as it was called, was devised. It was not exactly what we should have wanted if we had been free to do anything we liked. It did not go nearly as far as some of us would have liked to have gone. We cut it down more than once in order to prevent it being too costly and in order to meet the difficulties and objections felt by the Liberian representatives. I think we cut it down to what we regarded as the absolutely irreducible minimum. Indeed the financial interests of the United States and the United States Government thought we had gone almost too far; and we made some slight modifications in order to make it more effective and to meet their criticisms.

Broadly speaking, it consisted of what Lord Meston has described. We proposed to set up white administration in the six Provinces—the six Provinces which comprise the whole of the native population—so as to secure for that native population decent government. We proposed, in particular, that no armed force should be used in those Provinces except with the assent of the administrators, and we also proposed certain very minimum reforms. We had gone to the very limit of what was reasonable, to the very minimum of reforms in the direction of health, and we had to abandon several other things which we thought were most desirable, such as educational reforms, and even judicial reforms, leaving them to be worked out by the new Administration when it was set up. We also—and this was the suggestion of the Committee itself—desired the appointment of a Chief Adviser who should be in touch with the provincial administrations on one side and with the League on the other, would report to the League, would be capable of being dismissed by the League, and would be the essential feature of the Government. That was the vital thing. That was the broad outline of the plan we suggested.

I venture to assert to your Lordships that if any criticism could be made of it, it certainly is not that it disregarded the liberties of Liberia too much, but that, if anything, it did not go far enough to make really certain the good government of that country. I am sure that anything less than that would have been futile and dangerous. I agree most fully with what has been said by noble Lords who have preceded me that, in effect, the reservations suggested by Liberia amount to a total rejection of the plan. They really cut at the very root of it, because they propose that the Chief Adviser and the other administrators should be entirely under the control of the Liberian Government, and should have no kind of jurisdiction except that of tendering advice to the Liberian Government. I am sure that any plan of that kind would be utterly futile, and the League would be most ill-advised in my judgment if it consented to he responsible in any way for a new reform on lines of that kind.

Some reference has been made to the Kru incident. That was really a separate matter and had no direct bearing on the discussions about the plan of assistance, but it was felt by the Committee to be of great importance. It was an object lesson on what was happening and what was the condition of the government in Liberia which we were trying to improve. I need not recount again what my noble friend Lord Lugard has so well described as the successful and very self-sacrificing efforts made by Dr. Mackenzie which were crowned with such a very large measure of success. But what is more important is that during the very time when the plan is being offered to Liberia, when Liberia has made these reservations, she has so acted as, apparently, to stir up trouble again in these very Kru territories. Many of us have received very touching appeals from the Chiefs of the Kru country, urging that some measure of protection should be granted to them against the extraordinarily brutal methods of the Liberian soldier.

The most reverend Primate asked me what the position was so far as the League was concerned and what it could do. I have tried to describe the position so far as the League and the plan of assistance are concerned. Liberia is obviously free if she likes to reject the plan. I do not quite agree with one thing which was said by my noble friend Lord Lugard. I doubt whether her intention to reject it in effect is due to the possibility of getting money elsewhere, because I do not believe that she will do that. I think it is due to this. Her financial position is governed largely by the amount of money she owes to the Finance Corporation. For a long time she went on paying some part or the whole of the amount that she owed to that Corporation. But at a given moment she observed that in other countries there was a practice of declaring what is called a moratorium when you do not wish to pay what you owe. She thought that was an excellent plan, and she declared a moratorium on the whole debt to the Corporation. Thereby she greatly relieved her financial situation. I think that since she did that she has cared less for financial assistance. But of course that is only a temporary solution. She will, undoubtedly, get into the gravest financial trouble in the immediate future, and although that may ultimately lead her to adopt a more reasonable attitude, in the meantime it will make the situation for her unhappy subjects even worse than it is now.

I think the present situation is this. Unless at the last minute Liberia alters her attitude the Council will be bound to declare at the next meeting that the plan of assistance has failed, and that as far as the request for assistance presented by the Liberian Government is concerned it cannot he granted, because Liberia has declined to carry out the only conditions on which it would be safe, or decent or proper for the League to assist her to get money—and without the assistance of the League she certainly will not get it. That disposes of that particular point, the point of the plan of assistance, but I agree with the most reverend Primate that that is not the whole thing. There remains the covenant into which Liberia has entered, to give, putting it broadly, fair, decent and healthy government to the native tribes and others under her control.

My noble friend Lord Lugard has suggested that the League might invite the United States to coerce Liberia. That would be a matter for the League to consider, but personally I should have some doubt whether that policy would have any great prospect of success. He also suggested that we might demand a further inquiry under Article 12. I really do not think there is much to be gained by a further inquiry. I think we know the whole of the facts and, though it might have some moral effect, I am afraid that if Liberia is prepared to defy the unanimous opinion of the Committee—for the Committee was absolutely unanimous right through, and so was the Council—a further inquiry would not he very likely to produce much effect on Liberia.

There is a question which the Council will have to consider and which His Majesty's Government will have to consider, and that is whether in the circumstances Liberia has not brought herself within the provisions of the fourth paragraph of Article 16, whether she has not broken her covenant, as she certainly seems to have done, and whether in those circumstances it is right that she should continue a Member of the League any longer. If the Council decided that she was riot entitled to continue as a Member of the League then she would be in the position which any country was in before the League came into existence—at least so I think—and whatever could have been done under those circumstances could be done when that change had taken place. That is a matter which I think the Council will have to consider very carefully, because undoubtedly, this matter having been brought to their attention formally and the Council having considered it deeply and very carefully, it will be a very grave misfortune not only to Liberia and to her subjects, but, as I think, to the civilised world as a whole, if it turns out to be impossible to take any action in order to reform the government of Liberia and bring it somewhere near the standards of government which prevail in other parts of Africa.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain you more than a few minutes, but as I raised this question in a rather different form two years ago I should like to say a few words. I think your Lordships' House is much indebted to my noble friend Lord Meston for bringing forward this Motion if for no other reason than to show that here—and I am sure it will be the same in the other House—there is entire unanimity in regard to the position of Liberia and the way in which the Liberians have behaved. If you will allow me to say so I agree with the most reverend Primate that if the facts which have come out this afternoon, which are familiar to many of us, were known to the country generally, there would be such an outcry that the Government would have to take action in a way which perhaps in present circumstances it is impossible for them to take.

Since I brought forward this matter about two years ago, not only, so far as I can understand, has nothing been done in Liberia to improve the position, but matters have gone from had to worse. I might say they have gone from very bad to very worst. I am sure that noble Lords have listened with the greatest interest to the speech by my noble friend Viscount Cecil, who speaks with authority as Chairman of the Committee. In regard to two things at least I entirely agree with what he said. I agree that any one who has studied the proposals made to the Liberian Government by the League of Nations and who has also studied the reservations which the Liberian Government made to those proposals, must regard the reservations as quite incompatible with the proposals of the League. If they were adopted they would entirely destroy the benefits which would otherwise accrue from the proposals of the League. The League have no alternative but to reject these reservations and to insist on the full proposals that they made themselves. As my noble friend says they are the minimum requirements of good government and proper treatment of the natives in Liberia.

I was a little disappointed that he was unable to answer fully the questions put by the most reverend Primate. He did say—and I think the House listened with interest and appreciation and agreement —that if, as appears possible, these negotiations break down and Liberia will not accept the scheme of the League without reservation, then it will have to be considered whether Liberia ought to remain a Member of the League of Nations. I should have thought, speaking as a layman, that the extracts read from the Covenant by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, make it quite clear that Liberia has in every possible way shown her unfitness to be a Member of the League, and that she certainly ought to be "struck off the rolls." But the question is, what can be done after that? The difficulty appears to most of us to lie in giving a proper answer and a conclusive answer, or even any answer at all, to the question: What will happen if that position arises? I do not know whether it is fair to ask the Government to make some suggestion in regard to that matter; but after all they, with France and America, will be responsible for the future of Liberia.

I think it is clear that in the circumstances indicated Liberia ought to be struck off the League. She then becomes an independent country entirely apart from the League. The League ceases to have any jurisdiction over her; and who is then to undertake her protection and her suzerainty? Really the only country which is in a position to undertake that is the United States. She was responsible for Liberia's creation, and from the very inception of Liberia she has been responsible, both politically and financially, for her existence. I do not know, of course, what may be the views of the American Government, but I understand that they take a very serious view of the position, that they are very anxious to co-operate with England and France and other countries concerned, and that if they were pressed and if it were understood that they would have a free hand, they would be prepared to undertake the protectorate of Liberia. So far as I can judge the United States appears to be the only nation who can undertake it.

I think that it was my noble friend Lord Snell who suggested that in these circumstances Liberia, under the League, might be made one of the mandated territories. How far the League now has power, under its present conditions, to declare that a certain territory shall be a mandated territory, and to hand it over to a certain Power, I am unable to say. If that were possible, however, that would be a fairly simple solution. Liberia then would become a mandated territory and could be handed over to sonic possibly rather unwilling protector. But that is to my mind the difficulty at the present moment. I quite agree that the steps taken were the right steps and had to be taken; but what are we going to do afterwards? So far as I am concerned, except for the suggestion which I have made, I am afraid I am not able to throw any light upon it. I am glad that we have had another opportunity of discussing this Liberian question and of giving it the consideration which this House does give to these matters. I hope, and indeed I am sure, that this debate will be of value from the point of view not only of Liberia itself with its 15,000 Americo-Liberians but, still more important, of the 2,000,000 people under their care.


My Lords, you have had the advantage of listening to speeches from several noble Lords who have a very wide and deep knowledge of this subject, and therefore I hope that I shall not have to weary your Lordships by speaking at any great length. Much that I had intended to say has already been said both by my noble friend Lord Lugard and by the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches, Lord Cecil, and your Lordships will not wish to hear it again. But I can say on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that the very serious reports to which your Lordships have listened this evening from all the noble Lords who have spoken are not in the least exaggerated. I can conceive of no country where a tale of such misery and illness and of such misgovernment can be told as is told by every noble Lord, and rightly and faithfully told, of Liberia.

Your Lordships have not discussed this question since the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, raised it a little over two years ago, and, as he said, things have gone from bad to worse since that time. I may remind your Lordships that the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches, speaking in 1932, said that the Government of the Americo-Liberian minority had been a complete failure and the administration had been completely bad; and that is equally true to-day. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Snell, who made a comparison with the neighbouring country of Sierra Leone. That is a Colony and Protectorate under the British flag; and I can imagine no comparison which shows the effects of good and bad government so clearly as that comparison. You have Liberia, of an area of some 43,000 square miles, I think about one-and-a-half times larger than Sierra Leone, with its population also somewhat larger. Its import and export trade, however, is barely one-eighth that of Sierra Leone. The natural products and the development which might be expected from either country appear to be very much the same; and yet when you come to compare the two you find, as one noble Lord said, that there is not one inch of railway in Liberia; that there is in fact one road of fifty-five miles throughout a territory which extends for 350 miles along the coast and 120 miles inland, and that all the rest of the country can be traversed only along the coast by surf boats or by following native tracks with everything carried by head porterage along those tracks.

But that is not the end of the story. Several noble Lords have referred to the question of disease in Liberia. If your Lordships would allow me I should like to go somewhat further, and to tell your Lordships a little more about it. The country is riddled with malaria; in fact, it is definitely stated by the committee of experts that in Monrovia, the capital, malaria is practically universal. Dysentery occurs widely; tuberculosis exists; elephantiasis and hernia are common in the interior; yellow fever is practically endemic throughout the coastal area; and if plague ever starts in Monrovia there is no question but that it will spread with appalling rapidity. Not only is Liberia a danger to herself and to the West Coast of Africa, but she is a danger to the health of the world. So far, fortunately, ships are unable to lie alongside, and therefore the whole of the connection with the outside world has to be effected by surf boats out to ships at anchor in the bay. To that extent there is some protection against the spread of yellow fever and the introduction of plague into that country; but if any package arrives with a plague-infected article in it, and one of the innumerable rats in Monrovia becomes infected, then the plague may spread with great rapidity throughout the whole of the West Coast of Africa. As several noble Lords have said, there is no attempt at any sort of medical service. There are a few medical officers in the country, working in a private capacity with the most magnificent self-sacrifice and enthusiasm, but of service organised by the State, which is the only way, of course, in which such a service can be made to be effective, there is no sign whatever.

The noble Viscount on the Cross Benches said, and of course quite truly, that the Government of Liberia had stated that they would like to make some of these reforms but that there was no money. That is still the case to-day. In spite of their having declared their moratorium, I think the situation there financially is just as bad as it could possibly be, and that that, therefore, is the foundation of the reason, as my noble friend has said, for their appeal to the League. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read (it is quite short) the actual terms of the plan which was agreed by the Committee of the League of Nations of which my noble friend on the Cross Benches has been so long the Chairman. And may I take this opportunity on behalf of the Government of thanking him for his services as the Chairman of that Committee? I think that we all agree that the appeals to which he has had to listen over a long period must have taxed the whole of his patience and the whole of his forbearance. I can imagine many of us in that position having lost our tempers and our self-control when faced with the situation that he was faced with for a long period of months. We are most grateful to him for what he has done.

This is the plan that was made, and, as my noble friend has said, it was the minimum which the Committee felt would be effective to get a proper government instituted for the first time in Liberia. Your Lordships will recognise that it gives power to the foreign advisers to have executive control. It is quite useless, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, to have foreign advisers attached to a Government if that Government is able to take no notice of the advice given, and to go on in its own sweet way as before. It was, therefore, advisable that these advisers should be given executive power. The main characteristics are these: (1) The appointment of a foreign Chief Adviser, three foreign Provincial Commissioners and three Assistant Commissioners, to reorganise the administration of the country: the Provincial Commissioners to be responsible to the Chief Adviser and to the Secretary of the Interior, who would, however, only issue instructions after consulting and obtaining the approval of the Chief Adviser: the Chief Adviser himself to be responsible to the League Council, who would appoint him with the agreement of the Liberian President. (2) The appointment of two medical officers for hospital and health work, responsible to the Chief Adviser and the President of Liberia. (3) The continued appointment of a Financial Adviser, together with assistants as provided for in the loan agreement with the Finance Corporation of the United States. (4) The negotiation with the Finance Corporation of an agreement supplementary to the 1926 agreement, under which the Corporation would make very considerable concessions.

Now the Liberian Government, as several noble Lords have said, made all sorts of reservations with regard to that plan, and in particular with regard to the financial proposals. They proposed also to cut down the powers of these advisers until they ceased to have executive power, and therefore would not be able to effect any real changes. The whole plan in the eyes of the Finance Corporation of the United States depended upon these advisers not being in this position, and therefore unless they were satisfied that these advisers had executive authority they themselves were not prepared to go into the plan at all. The matter was brought before the League by my noble friend's Committee and, of course, they entirely agreed that the plan was reasonable and sound and should be carried through without amendment. They so reported to the Council. When the Council met in 1934 it was clear that the Liberian Government intended to reinstate reservations similar to those previously rejected by the Council. The actual representative from Liberia said he had not received instructions, but he anticipated that the reservations would be very much the same as before.

The result was that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, speaking at this meeting of the Council, made it quite clear that the Liberian Government had had the full measure of consideration and help which the Council were willing to give, and that the plan was their final and definite offer. He hoped that the Liberian delegate would telegraph to his Government making this plain to them. The Council of the League then decided that they would be prepared to consider any new factors, but that the whole question would have to be closed in the May session—that is to say, a month from now. When these reservations were received they were found quite definitely to be such as had been refused before, and His Majesty's Government have no hesitation whatever in saying that unless the Liberian Government produce some new plan before the Council meet in May next, this country will definitely refuse to assist in giving any further financial assistance to Liberia, and will recommend that the plan be withdrawn.

Your Lordships may perhaps like to hear something also of the other side of the question, which was that referred to by several noble Lords—namely, the oppression of the native races. It was referred to on several occasions in the debate in this House two years ago by several noble Lords, and Lord Lugard particularly referred to it again to-day. Lord Snowden, on the last occasion, told your Lordships that His Majesty's Government had made representations to the Liberian Government through our Chargé d'Affaires, that the United States Government and the French Government had also protested, and that the German Government had subsequently associated themselves with us. The Liberians again sent a quibbling reply, saying that they saw no reason why we should have made those representations, but they gave an explicit assurance that no definite action would be taken against the Krus so long as the Krus maintained a peaceful attitude.

His Majesty's Government, as your Lordships may imagine, were not satisfied, and so we asked our Vice-Consul at Monrovia to go and make an investigation himself, in April, 1932. He made the journey mostly by surf boat and on foot through the bush. He got no assistance from the Liberian Government, who, indeed, put as many obstacles in his way as I think they dared. He went out at the charge of the four Governments interested in this question: the United States Government, the French and German Governments, and ourselves. He found that the Liberian Frontier Force had in fact ravaged the Kru country, burned forty-one villages, and definitely killed sixty-nine men, forty-five women and twenty-seven children. The Liberia Committee considered this Report of Investigation and decided to send out a League Commissioner to negotiate a truce. The League Commissioner was Dr. Mackenzie. I am sure my noble friend has studied this Report of our Vice-Consul. If it had the same effect upon him as it had upon me, I think he agree that it is a terrible Report. In my view it proves conclusively that the Report is founded on careful investigation, and, in spite of all the denials which the Liberians may make, it is absolutely correct.


Further inquiry was made, and proved that it was correct in every particular.


I only drew my noble friend with regard to that Report because the Liberians have again stated that there is no foundation for the Report. Quite definitely, in my view, that is untrue, and I am glad to get his confirmation of it. Dr. Mackenzie went out and found the tribes fighting amongst themselves and also against the Liberian Government itself. He went out with the assistance of His Majesty's Government. We provided a sloop for him, and also a native police force as an escort, with the result that he was able to get through his work there at a most amazing speed and to make a truce in a very short period. Your Lordships will, I think, realise the advantages of his action. These native tribes were fighting each other. There was a good deal of killing and burning and destruction going on, and I think you will agree that Dr. Mackenzie was justified in persuading these natives to hand in their rifles. But the result has been quite deplorable.

Dr. Mackenzie impressed on the Council when he returned to Geneva that this truce was only for a short period, and that action should be taken before that period lapsed. Thanks to the opposition and the obstinacy of the Liberian Government action, in fact, has not been taken; with the result that the Liberian Frontier Force has again crossed the boundary, and the Kru tribes are now entirely at the mercy of that Frontier Force. The sinister significance of this fact is made clear by Reports which have recently been received from His Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires, and confirmed by appeals from the Kru chiefs to the League of Nations, showing that Liberian forces have arrested a number of Krus and destroyed their property with a view to enforcing submission to the President of Liberia, who is making a tour of the provinces at this moment.

In the light of this information, and although His Majesty's Government are not in full diplomatic relations with the Liberian Government, His Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Monrovia was instructed on March 16 last to draw the President's attention to the assurances given by the Liberian Government in March, 1932, which I have read out to your Lordships, that the tribes on the Kru coast should be secure from molestation by agents or forces of the Liberian Government. His Majesty's Government were seriously concerned at the reports received, and in requesting a categorical assurance that the measures would be discontinued, desired to remind the President that the reports of barbarous treatment of the tribes in 1931 and 1932, which the Liberian Government had previously denied, were entirely confirmed by the Mission of Investigation which was subsequently sent to the Kin coast. His Majesty's Government trusted that on this occasion the Liberian Government would not content themselves with an empty denial. The moment at which the Liberian Government had laid themselves open to a renewal of these charges was singularly inopportune, since the May meeting of the Council was to afford them what could scarcely fail to be the last opportunity of accepting assistance in the reform of their administration. The text of the Liberian reply to the League proposals seemed to His Majesty's Government to indicate their intention to reject the League's offer, and, if such were indeed the case, they could not hope or believe that civilised opinion would countenance unchecked the continuance of those abuses which the past few years had brought to light.

His Majesty's representative reported March 27 that he had presented this Note to the Liberian Secretary of State in the absence of the President on his tour through the Kru district. In his reply the Liberian Secretary of State stated that he had no knowledge that any such events were happening, and he denied that the assurances given in the Liberian Note had been disregarded. He made rather impudent suggestions that the protest was made in regard to Liberian subjects and not in regard to British subjects, and therefore he did not quite see what cause we had for interference. I think your Lordships will agree that the efforts of the League have been a complete failure. That is obviously not due to any lack of action on the part of the League, but solely to the continued obstinacy of the Liberian Government. I think you will also agree that His Majesty's Government have done their very utmost, both as a Member of the League and independently, in regard to this matter. But that is where the situation rests at this moment.

Noble Lords have asked me: What about the future? The position is that the Council of the League meets to discuss this question in May. We are only one Member of that Council, and do not constitute the Council as a whole. Therefore it is impossible for me to lay down what action the League Council will take. I think it is quite obvious that the fact that Liberia is a foundation Member of the League will not protect her from the very grave view that I anticipate the Members of the League Council will take, as does His Majesty's Government, in regard to this situation. This much, however, I can say, that His Majesty's Government will be fully prepared to co-operate with other interested Governments in seeking by other means to ensure a more efficient and more humane administration in that unhappy land than exists at present. I am afraid I cannot be more definite at the moment than that, because, as I have reminded your Lordships, we are only one Member of the League Council. But we are anxious that the whole of the Members of the League should realise what is happening in Liberia, and that those clauses of the Covenant which were read out by my noble friend Lord Lugard have in fact been broken by Liberia, and that therefore drastic action should be taken. We hope that other Members of the League may take the same view of the seriousness of the situation as we do, but of course I cannot say whether that will be the case or not.

As regards the question of Papers, my noble friend the Secretary of State will be very glad to lay Papers. We suggest that we should wait until after the meeting of the League Council, so that we can lay the Papers in a complete form. The reply of the Liberian Government was made to the League, and not to His Majesty's Government. Therefore, until that has been placed before the League Council we are not in a position to publish it. After that I imagine it could appear in the White Paper. Similarly, the Despatch which was sent to our Chargé d'Affaires in Monrovia and the reply which has since been received could appear. Therefore, if I might suggest it to my noble friend, I should like him to agree that, while we will lay Papers, we should not lay them forthwith, but wait until after the meeting of the League Council in a month's time.


My Lords, we recognise the difficulties of the situation, but we hope that in the event of the League of Nations finding it necessary to exclude Liberia from the League the Government will take steps with other Powers to see that an end is put to this abominable cruelty which has been going on in Liberia. I feel that the whole of this country and the whole of America and the civilised world would rise against the continuation of these horrors if they knew what was taking place. It is important that the Government should themselves be prepared to take definite action with other Powers to stop these things in the event of the League having no longer the power to exercise the authority, which they are prepared to exercise if Liberia is reasonable, as we believe that it is not at the present time.


My Lords, I am sure that all who are interested in this matter will be sincerely grateful to the noble Earl for the very full and sympathetic consideration which he has given to it, and more especially for his promise to publish Papers. If I may venture to say so, it seems a very reasonable thing that publication should be delayed until after the League Council has met next month. We are all extremely grateful to the noble Earl and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.