HL Deb 11 March 1936 vol 99 cc960-1000

LORD CHARNWOOD had the following Notice on the Paper:—To call attention to the further commitments (apart from any immediate obligations in regard to Italy and Abyssinia) in which the Covenant of the League of Nations unless revised may involve this country; and to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House (a) the Covenant of the League of Nations now stands in need of revision for the purpose of removing any unconditional guarantee by Member States of the territorial integrity and existing political independence of other Member States and any necessary obligation on the League or on Member States to enforce the Covenant by any kind of sanction in cases in which it is disregarded; and (b) pending a convenient time for such revision the continued adherence of this country to the League should be made subject to reservations framed with the same purpose.


My Lords, at the request of the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, in whose name this Motion stands, I am moving it on his behalf. I regret for two reasons that this honour should have fallen to me to-day. The first is the reason for which the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, is unable himself to move it. He is seriously indisposed, being in fact confined to bed, and I am sure that all of your Lordships will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery. My second reason is a feeling of my own total inadequacy to perform this very important task, lacking both the experience of the noble Lord and sufficient time in order to work up a case, although I shall be able to prove to your Lordships that the case is on its own merits, and possibly despite my own feeble advocacy, an absolutely overwhelming one.

Your Lordships will observe that the noble Lord wishes to draw your attention to the further commitments under the Covenant of the League of Nations in which this country may find itself involved. In order to appreciate the position I think it will be necessary for me to invite your Lordships to go back, although only for a very short time, to the circumstances in which the League of Nations came into being. I do not suppose there is anyone in this country who would quarrel with the idea for which the League of Nations was instituted—that is to say, the maintaining of peace throughout the whole world. But there are very distinct differences of opinion, firstly, as to whether the League of Nations, in the form in which and with the Covenant with which it was set up, is really an appropriate or convenient instrument to achieve this most worthy end; and secondly, as to the success that the League has had in the efforts it has made to bring this about.

We must realise that there are two very definite schools of thought who hold totally opposite views as to what should be the scope and power of the League of Nations. There is an opinion which would like to see it formed into a Super-State. able, by means of a formidable international so-called police force, but more accurately an international army, to dictate its will to recalcitrant nations—a state of affairs in which all the nations belonging to the League would have to surrender a very considerable part of their sovereignty, at least so far as regards external affairs, and even to a certain extent as regards internal affairs. This philosophy is one which neither my noble friend Lord Charnwood nor I share. The second view is that the League of Nations can do and has indeed done admirable work as a body for purposes of conciliation, to act as a permanent secretariat to a diplomatic council, to provide a basis for co-operation in non-controversial international matters, and, if controversial matters do arise between two Member States, to act as a conciliatory body and seek to avert a war which might otherwise well come to take place. A worthy example of this was when, not very long ago, there was a threatened outbreak of war between Hungary and Yugoslavia after the murder of King Alexander.

It is obvious, I think, to all people who look deeply into the matter that the League of Nations as constituted at present is not the League of Nations that was in the minds of President Wilson and the others who originally conceived it. A League of Nations which has never had the United States as a Member, and which to-day has lost Germany, Japan and Brazil, cannot be regarded as a real League of Nations. Furthermore, many of the States, including very important ones, which are within the membership of the League, are houses divided against themselves and have within their borders very different schools of thought regarding the policy to be pursued. There are others in which, although the Government may be sincerely desirous of acting in accordance with the ideals of the League of Nations, the Government cannot possibly get anything like the overwhelming support of the majority of the population. There are in Europe to-day only too many countries who regard the League of Nations purely from the point of view of what they are likely to get out of it and who are not willing to undertake any obligations, let alone run any risks, except in the interests of their own countries.

But the most crushing indictment which can be brought against the League of Nations is, I submit, that it has come to be regarded—and with very considerable justification—as a mere means for the preservation of a certain status quo, that is, the status quo that was set up mostly in central Europe following the end of the hostilities of 1914–18. It is hardly a secret that the Little Entente regards it entirely from that point of view. Many injustices were contained in the Treaties drawn up in the years immediately following the War and little, if any, effort has been made by the League of Nations to sweep away those injustices. I will take only one example of many, but perhaps the most flagrant—the way in which, by the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary, a country whose boundaries had remained practically unaltered for nearly a. thousand years, was so partitioned among three of her neighbours that to-day there are several million more Hungarians living under foreign hegemony than under Hungarian government.

As long as the League is regarded as a mere instrument for the preservation of an unfair status quo, one which cannot be maintained ethically, economically or politically, so long must it be regarded with the very greatest suspicion, if not with actual aversion, by those who have to suffer under the provisions of these earlier Treaties. I submit that, for that reason alone, His Majesty's Government would be well advised to take steps to have a more satisfactory state of affairs brought about. It is quite true that that would take time and would require most delicate negotiation; but unless and until it is done we are always going to be faced with the menace of war, a menace which is only too likely to become a potentiality, if not a certainty, before very long. I must apologise to your Lordships for making more reference to notes than is my usual wont in view of the circumstances in which I have had to collect material, having myself all the natural aversion of a Scotsman from any form of written declamation.

Now, from the theoretical aspect of the past, let me turn to the practical aspect of the present. It was not the intention of my noble friend Lord Charnwood, I understand, to say very much about the actual Italo-Abyssinian dispute, but it has to be borne in mind that not only are we face to face to-day with a new and secondary aggression, but that the primary aggression of Italy against Abyssinia is still there and unchecked. We have tried various forms of persuasion, we have tried various forms of coercion, and it cannot be maintained that the League has been very successful. Not only has it failed to prevent war breaking out, but it has failed up to the present time to shorten that war. It has certainly failed to punish aggression, and in the unfortunate—well meant, no doubt, but misguided—intervention of certain friends of Abyssinia and of the League in this country, all that they have succeeded in doing by forcing the rejection of the Hoare-Laval proposals, has been to make it perfectly certain that Abyssinia will have to endure infinitely worse terms than could ever have been obtained for her in December

But, my Lords, what the group to which Lord Charnwood and I belong—the Imperial Policy group—have been preaching in your Lordships' House and in the country for a good many months past has now definitely come to pass. That is to say, that not only have we had an act of primary aggression by Italy, but it has been followed up, as was only to be anticipated, by an act of secondary aggression by Germany. I think there is little doubt that Germany, although she undoubtedly intended at some period to reoccupy, whether with the consent of the other Powers or not, the hitherto demilitarised areas by the Rhine, would have been unlikely to undertake that great adventure at this particular moment had it not been for the fact that the virtual alliance between the other Great Powers of Europe had been scattered by the imposition of sanctions on Italy. There was no reason or justification for Germany taking this step at the present time. All that she could produce was the flimsy and specious excuse and one which will not stand investigation, that France, by instituting the Franco-Russian Pact, was performing an encircling movement of a character definitely hostile to the newly-constituted Reich. No such movement was contained in the Pact and no such intent is proved.

We have here a case of secondary aggression, but is there any reason why we should not anticipate a tertiary or quaternary case, or as many other aggressions as one may like to imagine? If the League of Nations adopts the same procedure as it did against Italy, and I think it may well have as much justification, we shall be invited to inflict economic sanctions upon Germany, sanctions which cannot and will not have very much effect from a material point of view but will merely do what was clone in the case of Italy: solidify more than ever the whole country into a mood to resist all foreign interference. While this is going on, it is perfectly likely that other countries in Central Europe or in the Balkans, where there is a good deal of ill feeling, may have a most suitable opportunity to put into operation plans for their own rehabilitation as countries, which they have long cherished at the back of their minds. Now if we are to be compelled in order to honour our obligations properly to enter on a system of sanctions against any country which may be declared to be an aggressor, it is quite obvious that no system of armaments which this country could possibly afford would ever suffice for us to fulfil all those demands, which I submit to your Lordships we might quite easily be invited to undertake. That is why we suggest that this country cannot afford any longer to subscribe blindly to the coercive clauses in the Covenant of the League of Nations, simply because by so doing we are going to endanger not merely the security of our Empire but also the peace of the world. Sanctions up to the present have proved to be a miserable failure except so far as stirring up international trouble is concerned; there, at least, they have been a magnificent success.

The noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, invites you—and I most certainly am with him in this—to agree that: (a) The Covenant of the League of Nations now stands in need of revision for the purpose of removing any unconditional guarantee by Member States of the territorial integrity and existing political independence of other Member States and any necessary obligation on the League or on Member States to enforce the Covenant by any kind of sanction in cases in which it is disregarded; and (b) pending a convenient time for such revision the continued adherence of this country to the League should be made subject to reservation framed with lie same purpose. I suggest to your Lordships that it is imperative that we should recognise the justice of these two contentions, and that in the interest not merely of our own country and of our own Empire—for heaven knows that is an interest strong enough—but also in the interest of world peace as a whole we ought to be able to express our agreement with this Motion. I hope very much that His Majesty's Government will accept the Motion, but if they are not inclined to do so, then I most respectfully and most strongly urge on them that they shall give us some really good reason why we should be compelled to be in the invidious position of having to honour agreements which our strength certainly does not enable us to honour—at least in the spirit, but not in the letter—and to put ourselves in a position where all the defences of this country may be dissipated over a world conflict, taking part in quarrels in which we have no direct interest, while we ourselves in this country and in our own Empire are at the mercy of anyone who chooses to take advantage of our condition. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House (a) the Covenant of the League of Nations now stands in need of revision for the purpose of removing any unconditional guarantee by Member States of the territorial integrity and existing political independence of other Member States and any necessary obligation on the League or on Member States to enforce the Covenant by any kind of sanction in cases in which it is disregarded; and (b) pending a convenient time for such revision the continued adherence of this country to the League should be made subject to reservations framed with the same purpose.—(The Earl of Mansfield.)


My Lords, it is not often that I intervene in a debate of this kind, but I saw so much of the last War that I cannot see my country drift into another European war without uttering one or two words, in an attempt to liberate my soul on this matter. Among other visits I made during the War one was to that splendid man whom we have lost to-day, Admiral Beatty, and I am certain that we ought to pay in our hearts a tribute to that splendid Admiral and great man, of whom it was said by his colleagues that he was "Nelson come back." I shall always treasure as a very great possession his last letter, probably the last one he ever wrote, four days ago, to thank me for my visit and for a letter of mine. I shall treasure that with the other letters that he wrote to me during the War.

I am not at all sure that I can actually vote for the Motion which is being put before us because I am enthusiastically in favour of the League of Nations. I think it is the one Christian thing that came out of the War. But I think that there are three cautions, if I may venture to give them to your Lordships, which we ought to bear in mind. One is that we must not let these smaller nations imagine that we are going to be the Scotland Yard of the world. I am sure that if they read the Covenant of the League of Nations properly they will see that we never promised to do that. During the last few months, however, collective security has been the British Fleet, and that is all. As Sir Samuel Hoare said, not another nation has moved a man or a ship at all. It is therefore really a most serious thing if every little nation thinks that it has the British Fleet, the British Army and the British Air Force all ready to come to its aid. We must make it perfectly plain, as Lord Mansfield has said, that we cannot undertake this. I am all for standing by the Covenant in every way that we possibly can, but it is a misapprehension amongst smaller nations that we are going to do more than we possibly can do.

The second thing—and this I noticed when I went round the world—is that we must take some measures with regard to those bursting populations of Japan and Italy. I wrote a book—no one ever read it, as far as I know; people never do read the best books!—called World Problems, compiled from articles in The Times which I wrote when I went round the world; and in it I pointed out ten years ago, though no one took the smallest notice, that unless we did something for the population of Japan there would be trouble, for her 68,000,000 people could never maintain themselves in those two tiny islands; but we did nothing about it. Italy was the same, I said, with a bursting population in a tiny country. Look at ourselves! We have an empty Empire. Over and over again, as Chairman of the Church of England Council of Empire Settlement, I have pointed out the dangers of an empty Empire. We have only six million people in Australia, where there is room for 100.000,000; only ten millions in Canada, with room for another 100,000,000; only two millions in New Zealand, where there is room for ten millions. We do not even fill them up with British people; we leave them perfectly empty. I say that an empty Empire is a great cause of danger to the peace of the world. I have myself seen in Australia an Italian colony there almost hounded out. In British Columbia, also, they say "No" to the Japanese. Something must be done for these bursting populations somewhere, and we are sitting on the safety valve if we do nothing.

Now we come to Germany. I know that it is not a popular thing to say, but the Germans are a very kindly people and very sensitive to kind treatment. We made the greatest mistake about Germany after the War. When you live there you see that they are all in terrible fear of the Army. Everybody gets out of the way of a soldier as he walks about, and the wonderful thing was that the bourgeoisie of Germany threw over the Kaiser and the Army. We ought to have taken them by the hand then, and said: "We will build up a good nation with you." Then we should never have heard anything about Hitler. Even Hitler has offered several olive branches. Now he has offered another. It is true that it is an olive branch discharged from a catapult, but still it is an olive branch, and I hope that your Lordships here, and the Government, are not going to refuse this fourth olive branch which he has offered. I do not excuse for one moment what the Germans have done in breaking the Locarno Treaty, but I do think they were getting encircled, and therefore they had some excuse for saying that they would not stand by the Locarno Treaty.

Whether they were right or wrong, I hope that we shall seize what I believe to be a perfectly fair, firm, honest offer of a twenty-five years peace to the nations around them. Of course the details must be left to the Government, whom I absolutely trust in the matter, but I hope that they will not allow France to cast away for a fourth time an olive branch from Germany. I have often disagreed with noble Lords opposite, but I have never had a nasty word with them, and I ask them to reconsider their view with regard to armaments. They have urged us to take action against Japan, and to make war all over the world, and yet they are opposed to our having an adequate Army and Navy. It seems to me that their attitude is quite inconsistent. Lord Ponsonby is thoroughly consistent, although the Lord knows where the world would be if we followed him; but I think the Party opposite are inconsistent. When I was in China they said of this country: "The tiger has lost his teeth." I say: "Let us give the tiger a new set and let him use it to maintain the peace of the world."


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has said cogent things about a revision of the Covenant, but absolutely in contradiction of what was said by Lord Mansfield. His arguments would certainly support the use of revision as forecast by Article 19 of the Covenant, but I take it that the Motion before us to-day deals rather with Article 16 and the whole principle of collective peace. Noble Lords who would modify the Covenant in that direction seem to me to be forgetting history. My noble friend Lord Snell said, with great force and I thought with absolute acceptance the other day, that "With all its failures the League has functioned." The number of speakers in this House in favour of a revision of the collective system might, give the impression that public opinion was gravely divided on the question. I think that would be a very misleading impression. At all events, with regard to the vast majority of the Labour Party there is no wavering at all.

I have been asked why it is that the Labour Party appear to be so specially keen on sanctions with regard to Abyssinia. Is it because they hate Fascism as represented by the Italians? I suggest that there is a much more real reason, and that it is because the Labour Party are profoundly devoted to peace. Holding views of that kind the idea of using force under Article 16 is only arrived at with profound reluctance. The question may be asked whether, holding such views, I would fight in a war of that kind or wish my sons to fight in such a war. That question has been faced in a special degree by those who are very much in earnest in regard to tile preservation of peace. The idea of isolation—Lord Beaverbrook's propaganda—is very attractive on that ground, if only avoidance of war were possible. In the view of the Labour Party it would gain very many recruits, but the conviction that force must be used to preserve peace is only arrived at after very searching thought, and therefore it is not easily changed.

Less fervent friends of peace naturally feel that doubts arise when we reach the first moment in which the League is attempting a system of collective peace, because of course it does involve the risk of hostilities. Superficial supporters of the League are very naturally falling away in these days. I suggest, however, that the reason is not the failure of the League but really the success of the League. It is because there is a decision to face the risks of action, and action is being taken. If that action had not arrived, and nothing had been done under Article 16, many supporters who are now wavering would still be supporters of the League of Nations Union. To feel cold feet is very natural when you arrive at the test of the system, but it was fully shown by the Peace Ballot that in spite of the imminence—as it was last summer —of the application of Article 16, the conviction was very widespread that the risk of using force must be faced.

I would like to suggest that history is being forgotten by the noble Earl. Speakers have shown the difficulties of the present time, but they have failed to recall the achievements of the League. Are they prepared to say that Article 16 has effected nothing in the past? My noble friend Lord Ponsonby bases his position on the opportunist argument. I think his position would be stronger if his appeal was to moral principle, a view which the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, thought that he was using, when Lord Ponsonby insisted that his argument was that from experience.


Expediency, he said, not experience.


Expediency. Let us by all means take the argument from expediency. Consider the records. In the first ten years of the history of the League there were no fewer than twenty-three disputes settled by League action which, otherwise handled, might have led to war. It is true that they dealt with the affairs of small States, but we know very well that small wars easily develop into great wars. The action of the League was not less useful because it did not achieve the most difficult of all the aims of a collective peace system—namely, the restraint of a Great Power. I do not think it is irrelevant to recall to your Lordships one or two of those occasions when the League prevented war. Your Lordships will remember the crisis of 1921, when Lord Balfour was representing this country at Geneva. The invasion of Albania by the Yugoslav forces might very easily have developed into a great war, because it would almost certainly have brought in Italy. Part of Albania was devastated, and a bogus republic was set up in the north of Albania. Let me remind your Lordships what happened then.

Mr. Lloyd George, acting for the Council, convoked a special meeting of the Council to consider the situation and agree upon measures to be taken, under Article 16, in the event of the Serb Government refusing or delaying to execute their obligations under the Covenant. The effect of that telegram was such that there was no need of a direct telegram from him as President of the Council to the disputants. You may say it was the prestige and power of this country which had such a remarkable effect upon the Yugoslav Prime Minister. Well, the League of course requires a leader; it was not unnatural that this country should be the leader on such an occasion. But no action could have been taken if there had not been a League system which included Article 16. Before the formation of the League such an aggression would almost certainly have remained unhampered. We saw such an aggression in 1912 when the Balkan States made war upon Turkey. There was an intense desire on the part of the Powers of the Concert that war should be prevented, but they did not succeed in preventing it. They failed because there was no machinery, no Covenant under which to act.

The noble Earl who introduced the Motion referred to the dispute between Hungary and Yugoslavia two years ago. It was widely thought that war would almost certainly arise. And could it have been avoided if there had not been in existence the machinery of Article 16 behind the efforts of Mr. Eden and the others who prevented war? I would remind your Lordships of one more very striking case, the case of the invasion of Bulgaria by the Greek Army in 1925. On that occasion M. Briand telegraphed, pending the meeting of the Council, in these words: I exhort the two Governments to give instructions to the troops at once to retire behind frontiers. The Council requested the two Governments to inform the Council within twenty-four hours that unconditional orders had been given to withdraw behind frontiers, that all hostilities had ceased, and that all troops had been warned that resumption of firing would be visited with the severest penalties. The war ceased. The Bulgarian commanders gave orders that not a shot was to be fired while retiring before the Greek Army, solely in reliance on the orders and power of the League because Article 16 was in the background. Your Lordships will remember that Sir Horace Rumbold was sent as the head of a Commission of Inquiry, and he reported that throughout the operations the Bulgarian artillery did not fire a shot, solely because the Council of the League was intervening. That surely was a momentous and inspiring incident in the history of the League's activity.

It seems to me not useless to recall these events because to abrogate Article 16 would preclude similar use for the prevention of war. To throw away successful machinery because it has not yet produced perfection would savour at least of short-sightedness. The failures, such as they have been, point equally to the need to strengthen the Covenant. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." But to throw away such authority as the League derives from the existence of a system of collective coercion would surely be to let go one bird because you cannot get the two other birds also. "Shortsighted petulance" would be a mild term, it seems to me, for such action in these days. Mr. Herbert Morrison a few days ago recorded what experience teaches when he said: The League must so re-shape its procedure and organisation that collective action for peace can be taken with greater speed and decision. I think, looking at historical facts and the achievements of the League, the arguments used for weakening the Covenant have in fact been reasons for strengthening it.


My Lords, I confess that the terms of this Resolution fill me with a considerable amount of misgiving. As to the first part, I will deal with it directly, but I have no objection to that in principle, though I think it would be a very unwise procedure in fact. But as to the second paragraph, the paragraph which says: Pending a convenient time for such revision the continued adherence of this country to the League should be made subject to reservations framed with the same purpose"; I wonder what my noble friends really mean by that suggestion. Do they mean that we are to imitate Hitlerian diplomacy and simply, by a unilateral action on our part, declare that we are no longer bound by certain Articles of the Treaty which we have made. If they do not mean that I do not think they mean anything at all. If they do mean that they seem to me to be preaching a doctrine which is not only extremely dangerous but in my judgment highly immoral. We cannot do that. That is out of the question. We can give notice of resignation from the League, of course, and we can say we can only withdraw our resignation after certain changes are made in the Covenant: that is perfectly possible. But as long as we are Members of the League and signatories of the Covenant we are bound to carry out our obligations under that Covenant. And I am perfectly certain that if we depart from what I am anxious to believe, and do believe, to be in that respect the traditional policy of this country—namely, rigid adherence to our obligations and a determination to fulfil them—then indeed I think we are entering upon a. path which can only end in disaster.

I am grateful to my noble friend who moved this Motion for not having entered into the urgent questions of the day, and I do not propose to enter into any of them beyond saying this, because I think it is necessary to clear our minds. The question that has arisen with regard to the conduct of Germany is not a question under the Covenant of the League. It is a separate matter altogether. It arises under certain treaties—the Treaties of Locarno—and it is a question entirely of what course these Treaties oblige us to take and what, course it would be most judicious for the other signatories to take. The only way the Leagues comes into it is that under the Treaties of Locarno, as I understand, in certain cases the Council of the League is made, as it were, a kind of arbitrator as to whether a breach of the Treaties has, or has not, occurred. In the present case it is not suggested that there has been "resort to war," which is the phrase which brings into operation Article 16, and therefore, as far as the Covenant is concerned, that is not in question at the present time. Beyond that I do not think it would be judicious or helpful for me to enter into that question.

May I very respectfully remind your Lordships of what is the general scheme of the Covenant it is very often, I shall not say misunderstood, but misunterpreted. The object of those who were concerned with framing the Covenant was to create a barrier against war, and in doing so to interfere as little as possible with the sovereignty of States. Not that I, personally, have any fetish in the matter of the sovereignty of States, far from it; but it is obvious that if you are to expect a large number of States to agree to any proposition of this kind you must not interfere with their sovereignty more than you can possibly help. That was the object, and accordingly, if you read the terms of the Covenant, you will see there is no attempt in the Covenant to force upon any disputants any particular solution of their controversies. There are indeed facilities for negotiation and for discussion; there are indeed opportunities for the decision of disputed points of law; but as far as the Covenant is concerned oven the clauses dealing with that matter only come into operation with the full agreement of the States concerned. It is quite true that supplementary decisions have been arrived at on that point, and that in certain cases it is a matter of obligation to submit points of law to the decision either of the Court or of arbitration; but so careful were the framers of the Covenant to avoid going beyond what was strictly necessary that they did not make it obligatory to submit any question to external decision at all. Their whole and only purpose, which comes out in every clause of the Covenant, was to prevent resort to war.

Your Lordships will, of course, have in mind the conditions under which those who were framing the Covenant were working. It was the morrow of the Great War. The Great War had only just ceased, and they had in mind the strenuous efforts which had been made at the outset of the War, particularly by Lord Grey of Fallodon, Sir Edward Grey as he was then, to avert war. Most earnest appeals had been made to the disputants to refer the matter to some kind of arbitration and discussion, and those appeals had been rejected. It was therefore natural that those who were framing the Covenant should have that example very strongly in their minds. They said, and I think rightly said, that the first thing to do was to get agreement amongst all the nations of the world as far as they could that they would not proceed to war until they had referred the matter to some form of arbitration or mediation, and had allowed sufficient time to elapse to permit of the passions which had occasioned the dispute to cool. That was the conception. Beyond that they did not go.

This Motion seems to be a confusion, a certain mixture, of two quite different provisions in the Covenant. There is Article 10 which enacts that every Member of the League undertakes "to respect and preserve the territorial integrity and political independence" of all other Members. But for a breach of that provision no sanction, in the ordinary word of the day, is provided except a voluntary sanction. The Council are thereupon, if such dangers arise, to take counsel with one another and see what can be done to avoid the danger which is threatened. Every Member of the Council is quite free to agree or disagree to any proposal that is made. There is no attempt to coerce anybody to take action to preserve political independence and territorial integrity. Even that is not insisted upon in the Covenant. But I imagine that my noble friend will agree that a violent disturbance of territorial integrity or political independence is a dangerous thing wherever it occurs.

It is not really true to say that this Empire particularly can afford to allow any form of war to break out if we can possibly prevent it. Our interests are so large, so scattered, that it is really almost impossible to suggest that any particular war will have no effect upon those interests. Not only so, but once war breaks out, no one can tell where it will spread to. The example of the War of 1914 is an admirable one. I imagine that it would have been difficult to conceive of a dispute less likely to embroil the British Empire than a political assassination in the extreme south-east corner of Europe. Yet it did involve us, and there are very few people now left in this country who deny that our interests were fundamentally affected before the War actually broke out, because that quarrel which began in this extreme corner had stretched over the whole of Europe and had embraced country after country, with the consequence that it was quite plain to us that if victory remained with the country which we thought was in the wrong, a very serious injury would have been done to the whole of the interests committed to our charge. I am sorry the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has left the Chamber, but I confess I am a little regretful of his suggestion that we were to be the Scotland Yard of the world. That is not so. There is an impression abroad that by the Covenant we have entered upon an agreement to protect other people from the consequences of their folly or their wickedness or their misfortune. That is not so. The purpose of the Covenant is to prevent war, not only because I hope we shall all desire to prevent war wherever it may break out, but because it is our supreme interest to prevent war. There is no national interest which can compete for a moment with the importance of preventing war wherever it takes place.

I have heard people say that our frontier is on the Rhine, and that we have no concern with wars which take place elsewhere. I am utterly unable to agree with that proposition. I am quite sure that the moment you admit that it is a legitimate way of settling international differences that one country by its mere motion should levy war upon another, you are striking a very serious blow at the safety and prosperity of all the other countries, and certainly not least at the safety and prosperity of the British Empire. That is the thesis on which the Covenant proceeds, and, as I have explained, Article 10 is only part of that thesis; it is to respect and preserve integrity and independence, not against any private internal disturbance but only where that disturbance is caused by external aggression. And even there the actual sanctions are left to be determined after the matter has been considered by the Council of the League. It is no doubt true that if the purpose of that Article and other Articles, or the result of that Article and other Articles was to stereotype for all time the actual arrangements which were made at Paris, that would be a very bad thing.

Therefore undoubtedly there ought to be machinery, and there is some elementary machinery, provided for altering by agreement the existence of any condition of the law, whether it arises from the Treaty or in any other way, but it must be done regularly and lawfully and by consent—because that is the only way in which it can be done—of those who have a right to insist on the present state of things. I will not elaborate that, but that is the conception. That is the conception which is referred to, apparently, in a part of this Resolution, but I gathered from my noble friend that he was much more concerned with a different part of the Covenant altogether—namely, Article 16. Article 16 does not pledge you to go to war in order to preserve the territorial independence, integrity or political independence of another country. It does not pledge you to take any action in respect of that. What it says is that those who have agreed to it have undertaken to use every effort they can to stop a resort to war by any country for the remedy of any grievance that it may have.

It belongs to the same order and to the same conception as the Kellogg Pact, only that Pact did not provide any sanction; therefore, I am afraid, it has been almost useless. But that Pact, as your Lordships are well aware, said you must not use war as an instrument of national policy. It is the same conception, and that is, I think, the only possible line of advance we can make. If I am right in believing that another outbreak of world war would be a terrific danger to us, then I think it is quite plain that if we are to make any advance at all we must attack war as an institution and not be satisfied with anything less than that. That is the whole conception of the League.

I listened with interest to, and had some difficulty in following, my noble friend. He set out a number of cases which he thought were likely to result in aggression. I think he talked about Austria and a number of other cases. What does he propose to do about them? Does he propose to take no action at all to prevent such things happening? Does he remember what happened in 1914? Can we afford to allow these controversies to break out and to result in fighting? Are we to do nothing at all to stop it? Are we simply to sit quiet until it has sprung into a vast flame involving the whole world? Surely, that is madness. If we are to do anything we must do something at the very start, just as we proceed in dealing with a fire. You must put it out before it has got a hold of the building. Therefore, you must act the moment war takes place, and you must act with the full strength of everybody else, just as you do for the suppression of crime in a community, in order to make it impossible for the aggressor to go on. I do not see what else you can do if you are to make any effort really to get rid of war.

I know the suggestion that you should confine yourself to remonstrances and con- ciliation and the like. I wish I could believe that that would be effective, but it seems to me clear that it cannot be. We tried everything we could in the way of conciliation and mediation and remonstrances in the case of the Japanese aggression on China. They produced no effect. Japan went on. We were not prepared—I do not want to go back into past history; there is something to be said no doubt on both sides—to take any further action, nor to urge the League to take any further action. The result was Japan went on, and anybody who has any acquaintance with the subject knows that there is to-day a most threatening and menacing condition in the Far East which may at any moment result in our having to take action far more drastic and far more dangerous—at least so I think—than we should have had to take if it had been possible to take action when the original dispute between China and Japan became acute.

I do not know what my noble friend proposes to do. He says conciliation and persuasion, but he is one of the people who is most strenuous in favour of rearmament. I am not going to say a word against rearmament; but why is he in favour of it if he believes that these disputes can be settled by persuasion and conciliation? What do you want armaments for? You want armaments because you know—my noble friend knows and all his friends know—they are required in order to back up that persuasion and conciliation, that behind persuasion and conciliation you must have armed strength. The only difference between us is this. We both agree in the present state of the world that you cannot rely on settling international difficulties without some appeal to force sooner or later. I think—and those who believe in the League of Nations think—that it is a far more civilised and a far more effective conception that that force should be the force of all the nations—I will not say all, but as many as you can get—exerted on the side of peace rather than the force of a single nation which will independently fight at a much greater disadvantage.

I look at this broad question in the way that I used to look at a great number of questions of domestic interest. I remember in my youth that one of the great foundation beliefs of the Conservative Party was the necessity for law and order, and that even though it might involve considerable suffering immediately, perhaps even suffering for innocent persons, yet the advantage of maintaining law and order was so great, so essential, for the progress and liberty of the community that you must maintain it at all costs. That was the doctrine in which I was brought up. I apply that doctrine absolutely to international affairs. It seems to me equally true, indeed ten times more true, of international affairs than it is of national affairs, and it is because I believe in that which has been perhaps more accurately called the supremacy of the law, it is because I believe in that principle, because I am certain that we have got to strive for that in international affairs if we are ever to get a real advance, ever to get anything like stability in international affairs, that I, personally, could not accept the particular changes which my noble friend suggests.

I think that to say that if you are to have any peace-keeping machinery in the League it is to be divorced from force, is to put forward a proposition which the teaching of history and the teaching of common sense shows cannot be maintained. That does not mean that I am against change of the Covenant altogether. I remember very well that when the Covenant was first submitted to the Conference at Paris, President Wilson explained—and indeed I said so myself—that it was put before the Conference as a first step. He recognised that in process of time it would have to grow. He called it, I remember, with the kind of imagery in which he delighted and excelled, a living thing which was born. I agree. I think there are certain changes at any rate which ought to be made in the Covenant. I am not sure that the machinery for the prevention of an outbreak of war is sufficiently strong. I think that is a matter which ought to be considered. On that point and on similar points, some of them referred to by the right reverend Prelate, I think changes are desirable, but I do not think the present moment is the right one. I think we must get into calmer waters before we attempt to reconstitute our instrument of safety. It is for that reason that I hope your Lordships will not accept the Resolution.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has made, as he usually does on these occasions, a speech of almost perfervid zeal in support of the League of Nations and of the Covenant. Personally I feel, as I have felt for some years when he has been speaking on these matters, that his attitude is removed from reality. He still speaks as if the League of Nations were the all-inclusive League that it was intended to be. He still speaks as if collective security were a reality. As a matter of fact, as we all know, it does not exist in even the remotest degree. He still speaks as if at its first real test in the stopping of war—that, of course, had to do with the Italo-Abyssinian war—the League had succeeded in stopping the war instead of absolutely failing to stop the war. He still speaks as if, having failed to stop the war beginning, the League was succeeding in stopping the war continuing; and it is not doing that. We have regretfully to recognise that in all these matters the League of Nations has completely failed.

As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said in the last debate on the League not very long ago, the noble Viscount really does not do the League any good service by coming here and making the speeches he does make. He is putting upon the League and upon the Covenant more than the League or the Covenant will or can bear. It would be much better to face up to realities and look at the situation as it really is. He talked about rigid adherence to our obligations and to the Covenant, and he referred to Article 16. What does Article 16 say? Let me refresh your Lordships' memories with the actual words of paragraph 1 of that Article. 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. That is what we ought to be doing now, if we had the rigid adherence to obligations of which the noble Viscount speaks. I am not saying that that should be done. All I am saying is that it is to that that we are pledged. So far from doing that we are supplying Italy with oil to enable her aeroplanes to bomb Abyssinia. Yet the noble Viscount still talks about it being our duty to insist on rigid adherence to the Covenant and he uses very censorious language in regard to other nations which may not have strictly observed their treaty obligations.

I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, who put down this Motion, and the noble Earl who has so adequately taken his place, if I may say so, at very short notice, have rendered real service in bringing this matter to a head for discussion. I have felt for a long time that in regard to the League of Nations and the Covenant there is a great deal of make-believe, and that what we want to do is to get back to realities. I am not without hope that the events of the weekend just passed will help in that direction. As I have indicated, and as your Lordships know, there is no League of Nations as was originally intended. In fact, so far as the Great Powers are concerned, there is barely half a League. Therefore our commitments under the Covenant, which are great enough in all conscience if we had an all-inclusive League, become almost terrifying when they are apparently to be implemented, according to the noble Viscount, by half a League. It is not surprising that America keeps outside the League. In a letter to The Times not long ago the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, pointed out in effect—and we all know it is true—that there is a danger of this half League becoming half of a new Balance of Power. That is one of the most dangerous; situations which could possibly be established in the world.

We are faced with a very grave situation quite apart from the commitments and obligations of the Covenant. But with those commitments in mind—if you take them literally—hardly anybody could sleep at night for thinking of what we might very easily be involved in if we were to implement our obligations rigidly as the noble Viscount apparently urges should be done. Take the question of collective security. I will quote a sentence which has been quoted again and again. We know very well that Mr. Baldwin said less than eighteen months ago: A collective peace system is perfectly impracticable in view of the fact that to-day the United States is not yet a Member of the League of Nations and Germany and Japan have both retired from it. It is hardly worth considering when these are the facts.


I do not think it is fair to take that sentence alone. You must read the whole passage.


I have no intention of detaching anything from its context, and if I had the whole passage here I would read it, but I do not think I am misrepresenting what Mr. Baldwin said. The quotation has been given again and again and I have not previously heard it challenged. It accords with the facts. The right reverend Prelate referred to the statement of Sir Samuel Hoare in what I thought was a great speech. The right honourable gentleman said: It is essential that we should have actual proof by action from the Member States that are concerned…We alone have taken these military precautions. Not a ship, not a machine, not a man has been moved by any other Member State. We know that that is perfectly true. In practice there is no collective security, because we have only half a League and because the Members of this League, when put to the test nearly three months after war had broken out, would not implement their obligations. So I say, if we look at the facts, that collective security is largely make-believe. There is no collective security.

Happily, my Lords, in practice the situation is not so serious as the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, suggests in his Motion, or as the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, would indicate, simply because the Covenant will never be carried out in anything like its entirety—we all know that is true—either by Great Britain or by anybody else. We have heard a great deal of talk during the last few days about the breaking of treaties, some of it from people who are burning with moral indignation about the iniquity of Powers who break treaties. This talk leaves me quite cold. In fact, I am getting very tired of this "I am holier than thou" attitude. The fact is that all nations break treaties if it suits them. We do ourselves: we are at this moment breaking Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and it is not going to be implemented, as I have already indicated. Lord Rennell, in a very fruitful debate which he initiated here three or four weeks ago, on February 19, pointed out that the Allies have not carried out their undertakings to reduce armaments under Article 8 of the Covenant. That is not being carried out; that is being broken. The noble Lord said this: After more than fifteen years of existence the League has failed to give practical effect to a principle of general application which stands in the very forefront of the Covenant—namely, the obligation to reduce national armaments. One result of this has been that Germany, concluding, perhaps not altogether unjustifiably, that other nations had no intention whatever of implementing their undertakings, has after admission to, and subsequent resignation from, the League proceeded to rearm. That has been broken.

Take the Treaty of Locarno itself: similarly that has undoubtedly, in effect, been broken, and it has been broken by France particularly. In the final Protocol of the Locarno Conference the signatories affirm that the Treaties would hasten on effectively the disarmament proposals provided for in Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the signatories undertook to give their sincere co-operation to the work relating to disarmament already undertaken by the League of Nations, and to seek the realisation thereof in a general agreement. My Lords, that has not been done. France has not refrained from rearming by a single rifle because of Locarno. So far from disarming, ever since Locarno she has been rearming as fast as ever she can. I can give other instances where treaties are being broken at the present moment. Treaties have their place; if they are fair, just and right, and if conditions remain more or less the same, then they are kept. If they are not fair, just and right, and if circumstances change, they are not kept.

We know quite well that there are certain wars in which, whatever the Covenant says, we shall not take part. The noble Viscount referred to Japan we are not going to war with Japan because of her aggression on China. It is not going to be done, and other Great Powers in the League are not going to do that. There are other wars in which the British Government would not take part, Covenant or no Covenant, and if they did the people of the country would not support them for a week. I say, let us face realities. There is a great deal of make-believe in the Covenant, and that reinforces the plea of the noble Lord in this Resolution that the whole matter should at any rate be reviewed. If anybody could have foreseen in 1919 what the position is to-day, or what the League of Nations—or half of the League of Nations—is to-day, he would not for a moment have dreamt of signing the Covenant. Your Lordships know that that is true. As time went on it became clearer and clearer that the League of Nations policy, however good may have been the motives that prompted it, would not and could not be carried out. I should make it quite clear that, in saying these things, I am speaking for myself; I am not speaking for the noble Lords who sit on these Benches.


That is a comfort!


I have never troubled your Lordships before about these matters, but I have listened to the debates, and so I hope that you will allow me for some time longer to speak about these facts. It is quite true that the policy of the League of Nations has been a complete failure. That we have seen, particularly in regard to the Italo-Abyssinian War. The League of Nations, with all these commitments under the Covenant which cannot be fulfilled, is like a false and inflated balance-sheet, the stock and assets of which ought to be written down. We ought to get on to a real basis. A severe writing-down process is overdue. Let us get back to realities and start again. I much hope that the events of this week will make this more possible than it has been for a long time. If so, that is all to the good. Nothing will work for any length of time in any international affairs, or in any human affairs, unless, firstly, it is just and right, and secondly, practicable. The League of Nations has not been able to satisfy those two conditions. The League has been greatly handicapped from the start—that fact has been referred to, and naturally we all know it is true—and has been tied up with the Versailles Treaty right from the very beginning; and the Versailles Treaty was not just and right. On the contrary, it was unjust and wrong; so unjust and wrong that it has now practically all gone. You now, therefore, have the opportunity of a fresh start, not only as regards Versailles but also as regards the League.

The second conthtion—and this is very important in human affairs—which the League Covenant roust satisfy, if it is to endure, is that it must be practicable. In this matter I am with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby; I wish to say that, because I am convinced that a League of Nations based on Article 16 is not practicable. One reason why it is not practicable—leaving out of account. altogether moral or humanitarian objections to the use of force—is that any attempt to carry out League policy by force is bound to be inequitable as between the various countries making up the League. Take one class of difficulty which is very important: the geographical difficulty. These difficulties alone make League policy impracticable and inequitable, not only as regards the representative contributions which the Powers are expected to make to collective security—I mean the naval and military contributions—but also as regards the great risk of retaliation run by countries contiguous to the aggressor State as compared with the little or no risk of countries which are remote from the aggressor State. You can never, whatever you do, get away from these geographical difficulties, which will always lead to complications. We have had them very clearly evidenced; we have had them at work in this matter of the Italo-Abyssinian War. That is one reason why the Covenant in regard to that war has not. worked. No covenant can bridge over these geographical difficulties.

That is all I want to say. I repeat: I am more and more convinced that to try to base this Leagus on force, with these disproportionate contributions of the Great Powers, will never work. A new League based on treaties which are just and right, and on moral authority, would work and have great influence in the world, far greater influence than many persons as yet suppose.


My Lords, it was not my intention to intervene in this debate, but the speeches of the defenders of the League impel me to say a word in support of the Motion brought forward by the noble Earl behind me. The noble Earl was careful to pay a tribute to the work done by the League in the past where, so to speak, secondary matters were concerned. That is the whole point. Nobody with any sense in his head would ever dream of denying that the League has been of invaluable assistance upon certain occasions; but those were minor occasions. I observe that one of the defenders of the present system, Lord Noel-Buxton, cited in evidence the difficulties which have occurred in the Balkan States. All that he said was perfectly true; the League was an invaluable instrument on that occasion for achieving a peaceful settlement. But that is the whole point. The League is quite capable of dealing with minor matters of that kind, but when it comes to deal with real, serious emergencies then it absolutely fails.

My noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood made a speech—if he will allow me to say so a speech which I have often heard before—in which he said that whatever happens we must stand by our obligations and rigidly observe the Covenant. I have not either the knowledge or the ingenuity of my noble friend. I look at the present position of affairs as a plain, and perhaps I might say as a stupid, man, and the confirmed impression which I get, and which I believe is felt by many other people, is that the history of the League since the inception of the Abyssinian difficulty has been nothing but a record of entire futility. I do not think there has ever been a more conspicuous example of failure than that which has attended the action of the League of Nations during the last six months. It may be idle to repeat it, but you cannot get out of the primary fact that the League has shown itself absolutely powerless. It has been unable to prevent war; it has been unable to stop it; it has not saved a single life, nor has it shortened, nor is it likely to shorten, the war by a single minute. That is literally the fact.

The explanation is simple enough. It is that the League, as has been pointed out, is not what it purports to be. It is not a real League. In the course of the Abyssinian question the League has consisted of ourselves, relying upon the doubtful support of France and, I might add, the wholehearted support of Mr. Litvinov. Things have come to a pass when we have to recognise Mr. Litvinov and the Soviet as our friend, and Italy as our enemy. The League has shown itself in the present position to be perfectly impotent to deal with a serious and real emergency. All that it has done is to demonstrate that the theory of collective effort and the principle of collective defence do not exist. It is pure verbiage to pretend that there are such principles in existence. It really is not necessary for me to add much more on the subject. It seems to me that the Motion is obviously a practical and commonsense Motion, and I can see no reason whatever why the Government should not accept it. The whole point is that with its present constitution the League is expected to do the impossible. It may have the will but it has not got the capacity to do it. The sooner we recognise that fact, and the sooner my noble friend upon the Cross Benches recognises that fact, the better it will be for civilization generally.


My Lords, I will not keep you for more than a few minutes, but I would suggest to the Government that there is no real difficulty in their acceptance of at any rate the first part of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Charnwood. I do not suppose that at the present time there are very many people who think that every jot and tittle of the Covenant is sacrosanct. I think even the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) admitted that there may be a possibility of amendment in the Covenant.


I have continually urged amendments.


I am glad to hear that the noble Viscount has continually urged them, but they do not seem to have got very near the forefront of politics—


They are not your amendments, perhaps.


—nor are they in the direction of justice to those who are the under-dogs at the present time, which alone will help to bring peace to the world. Whatever the noble Viscount may think, there is no doubt that facts are now shouting that the League of Nations Covenant must be revised, and I only wish to refer the House to the speech of Mr. Baldwin on Monday last, which shows in every line that the position hitherto taken up by the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches is no longer tenable. Nor am I willing that the noble Viscount should leave the House with the moral principle tucked under his arm. Moral principle is our property. We claim that it is a dishonourable thing to enter into commitments which you cannot fulfil. By next Friday we shall see whether or not the warnings that we have given, and which might have been accepted, would have left us in the position which I am afraid we shall find ourselves in. We shall see whether as a matter of fact this bond, this rigid adherence to obligations of which the noble Viscount spoke, can be fulfilled.

If it cannot, how can it be claimed that the principles which have directed the foreign policy of this country, under the guidance of the noble Viscount amongst others, have been consonant with the maintenance of that highly important principle, the fulfilling of obligations which you undertake? That can be no longer claimed, and if that is so, is it not high time that we got to grips to reform and revise the Covenant of the League of Nations? Is it a very immoral suggestion to say that we might do something such as Sir Austen Chamberlain did when the Geneva Protocol was under consideration—make a public pronouncement that circumstances having altered our policy must perforce be altered too? I hope it is not too late for us, or indeed a bad moment for the noble Earl who is going to reply, to say something to the effect that our rigid adherence to the principle of collective security at our own expense must be modified in the future.


My Lords, I would not have intervened in this debate but for some of the things to which we have just listened. I am glad to learn from Lord Arnold that he did not speak on behalf of his Party, and that the views which he expressed were entirely his own. I cannot help feeling that what he wants to do is to wreck the League entirely, but he has not told us what he intends to put in its place. Does he intend to go back to the old system of the balance of power and competitive armaments, or what system does he suggest as a substitute for the existing system of the League and the existing system of collective security? Until he has told us what alternative he has to suggest, the only thing we can do is to support an institution which is growing and developing slowly, and which has only been in existence for about seventeen years. Either we have to go back to the old system which is bound sooner or later, as all experience teaches us, to end in war, or to develop this new instrument, created at the close of the most terrible and disastrous War in history, into an effective means of preventing war. There was one remark of the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, to which I must refer. He said that it was wrong to enter into commitments which we cannot fulfil. Well, I imagine that most of us would agree with that general proposition. But the question for us at the moment is whether we are really anxious and determined to fulfil our commitments. If we are, then it can only be through the League, and by honouring our obligations under the Covenant; and if we are fully determined to give that system a chance, and to put all the power and authority of this country behind it, we shall in the end succeed.

I think that the noble Earl who moved this Resolution said something about a Super-State. I imagine that all depends on what we mean when we talk about a Super-State. If it were suggested that we were going to convert the League into a sort of Empire State, probably most of us would dissent. If, however, it were suggested that the League should be developed into a federation based upon the voluntary assent of all its Members, then I imagine that most of us would support a Super-State of that kind. Surely that is the problem which confronts us in Europe at the present moment. It does not seem to me to matter very much whether the League is universal. What we have to do is to make it an effective League for Europe, and that can only be done through some kind of federation, the sort of federation which was proposed some years ago by M. Briand and others, in which he envisaged a state of affairs which would consolidate Europe in such a way as to create an effective barrier against war.

I think the noble Earl also suggested that, the other Members of the League were only in it for what they could get out of it. I do not know that we can blame them if they look at it from that point of view. The League, after all, is not merely an ideal; it is not an institution which we support because we think it ought to have our moral backing, but it is an institution which we all support because we believe it to be in accordance with our true interests, and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, pointed out, our greatest interest is the interest of peace. Therefore, if our object is to secure peace, and a peace based upon justice—because justice is the foundation of peace—then surely it is our duty not to weaken, but to strengthen and develop, the League. What the noble Earl really wants to do when he talks about altering the status quo and about security and the interests of the British Empire, is, I think, to make the League, at any rate so far as Europe is concerned, a real and effective international authority. I entirely agree with his remarks about the necessity of preventing the League from becoming merely a machine to maintain the status quo.

Obviously unless the League is able to bring about the peaceful revision of treaties from time to time, then those treaties become out of date, and it will not have served the purpose for which it was intended. In Article 19 there is the intention at any rate that the League should be able to bring about peaceful changes in the relationships of States. We believe that that Article does not go far enough. We believe that the appropriate machinery has not yet been provided, and that in order to secure justice and in order to secure the peaceful revision of the public law, there must be in addition to the existing institutions some kind of Equity Tribunal which would be able to approach these problems from an entirely disinterested and impartial standpoint and would endeavour to bring about an agreement which would be just, fair and impartial as between the disputants.

I think the noble Earl also said that the sanctions imposed by the League have been a miserable failure. It is quite true that those sanctions did not produce a deterrent effect in preventing the outbreak of war. Why? Simply because no one knew the extent to which these sanctions would be applied, and no one really knew beforehand whether they would be applied or not. That, I venture to suggest, is very largely clue to the policy of this country during the last seventeen years, when we have given the impression at any rate that we regarded Article 16 as a dead letter. That was an invitation to any aggressor to defeat the Covenant and defy the League. But I do not believe for a moment that those sanctions have been such a miserable failure as the noble Earl suggests. Obviously financial and economic sanctions work slowly. It takes a very long time for those particular sanctions to have a real and decisive effect. That is evident from the experience which was derived from the Great War. Therefore it is rather early to tell your Lordships that these sanctions have been absolutely ineffective and have had the effect of consolidating public opinion in the aggressor country against the Members of the League.

I would like, in conclusion, again to ask all those noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the Motion, what alternative they have to suggest in place of the League? Have they any alternative at all which has not in the past been proved to be utterly inadequate to prevent war from breaking out in Europe or in the world? I am quite willing to admit that the League as it is at present constituted is not universal, but why cannot we, at any rate, apply it to the problems which concern us in Europe? After all, Europe is the danger point. It is in Europe that these matters affect us and affect us vitally, and if they affect us in this country they affect every part of our Empire. Therefore I would plead with the Government to oppose this Motion, to stand firmly on the policy which they have pursued during the past six months and to support, without fear and without hesitation, the policy of collective security and of support for the League.


My Lords, I do not want to reflect on the relevancy of the speeches which have been delivered in this debate. Personally—and I think I speak for a good many of my noble friends—I regard this debate as somewhat inopportune. The position is extremely critical. The situation is one of great delicacy and difficulty for, the Government, and although many of us believe that there ought to be revision, at the same time we do not think this is a moment when the Government should be pressed, and we hope the Government will not accede to the Motion that has been placed on the Paper.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord who has just sat down for the remarks he has addressed to your Lordships. Those who realise the present situation will agree that it would be quite impossible for me to follow several noble Lords into the remarks they have made with regard to it. Therefore I only propose to deal with this Motion in the very general terms which I hope your Lordships will consider appropriate on this occasion. We all regret that the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, is unwell. I am indeed sorry to hear that he is seriously unwell, and I certainly echo the wish of my- noble friend Lord Mansfield that he may be very speedily restored to health. I particularly regret his illness because he was good enough to send me full notes of what he proposed to say, and I have based all my remarks on the speech which lie would have delivered. I am thus bereft of a good deal of what I had intended to say. My noble friend followed in some measure what Lord Charnwood had proposed to say, and I hope I shall be able to reply to some extent to the speech which he made to your Lordships' House.

It is quite true, as several of your Lordships have said, that at the beginning there were two schools of thought in regard to the League of Nations. One was that it should be an entirely advisory body without any powers of bringing its views into force if any nation should refuse to accept them. The other was that it should be a Super-State. I imagine—and my noble friend on the Cross Benches (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) will no doubt correct me if I am wrong—that when the League was actually set up it was the compromise which we so often get on these occasions. It did not go for the complete Super-State which could redraw boundaries as the Super-State might wish to do, and indeed as several noble Lords have always suggested should be done. Still less did it propose to interfere with the internal government of nations. But it did suggest that in one particular, and in one particular only, sanctions should be available. That particular was the prevention of war. It was for that reason that sanctions only appear in the one Article and that the League has comparatively little power in other directions to bring pressure to bear on those who refuse to accept its views. It is quite true, as my noble friend said, that the League is far indeed from being the body which we all hoped it would be. I ventured to make that same remark in the debate we had about a month ago. The fact that the United States refuses to join it and that three other great nations are no longer Members has made a very material difference to the powers that can be exercised by the League as a whole. Some of your Lordships regretted that it appears to be a body which is regarded as a means of maintaining the status quo. That view, I think, is only the natural consequence of the compromise which was accepted at the beginning.

Obviously, if a change is going to be made, and a change is to be made against some unwilling nation, then you are going to provoke war rather than the reverse. I see that the noble. Lord, Lord Davies, shakes his head. How he proposes to change the boundaries of a State which objects to any change being made I do not know, unless he brings in his panacea for everything that goes wrong—namely, the International Police Force. That means using force, and probably very drastic force, as no doubt he would find if he were to talk to some of the nations in Central Europe. Several of your Lordships have remarked that the League, although it has been successful in small cases, has failed in large ones. If there had been no sanctions, do your Lordships really believe that these small nations would have agreed simply to the persuasion put forward by some of the nations at Geneva? It was because they realised that these nations at Geneva had power behind them, and might be prepared to exercise it, that the agreements which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, became effective, and the world was preserved from the beginnings of wars which, as he rightly said, might very well have become large wars out of small ones. The noble Viscount on the Cross Benches, with the greater part of whose speech I must agree, said that a war anywhere would affect us. I am not prepared to go quite so far as that.


I said "might" affect us.


With that, of course, I must entirely agree, if only from the trade point of view. It is obviously to our great interest that we should have security and peace all over the world because, without that, our trade cannot be improved as we would wish. When some of your Lordships were addressing the House I asked myself, as was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, what alternative they proposed to put forward to the League if it were abolished. I know that some noble Lords favour the policy of isolation. It is perfectly true that for a nation like the United States the policy of isolation may be a wise one, looked at solely from their own point of view. The United States happens to be almost entirely a self-supporting nation, and it is several thousands of miles away from any possible opponent; but that is not the position of this country. Those who favour isolation in this country and suggest that we should follow the lead of the United States forget, as Lord Davies reminded the House, that geography must necessarily play its part. Anybody who looks at the map of Europe, and looks at the situation as it is to-day, will see that a policy of isolation is one that this country cannot possibly follow.

And why? It is held up, I think, as an accusation by my noble friend Lord Phillimore that many small nations go into the League for what they can get out of it, but I am not at all certain that this country is not in the League partly for what it can get out of it. We recognise that being Members of the League possibly increases our risks, that there is a possibility of being dragged into war, or at any rate into collective action, in various parts of the world; but unless you undertake collective obligations you cannot hope for collective security. My view, and the view of His Majesty's Government, is that the risk is worth taking, because, although collective security is not yet what we hope to make it, at any rate it does bring in a good deal of support to us, a good deal of military force in the wider sense of the term, in the event of our being attacked by some other nation.

Your Lordships will remember that we are indeed a rich plum, that we are looked upon, perhaps with some exaggeration, as being an extremely rich nation. At any rate we are richer than many of our neighbours. We have certainly a very much wider trade, and we have great possessions in our Dominions and our Colonies overseas. Those are things which are coveted by many other nations. Therefore, if we were to stand in a position of isolation, entirely alone, we should have to provide ourselves with sufficient arms not only to resist any one nation which might attack us but a combination of nations which might be brought against us. It is very largely to safeguard that position that His Majesty's Government warmly support the League of Nations as it exists at the present time. We cannot pretend that the League of Nations is yet perfect. If I may I will refer to a speech that was made two days ago by the Prime Minister in another place, which shows quite clearly that his views of collective security were by no means accurately represented in a quotation that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold. The Prime Minister—I am only giving the gist of what he said, not an actual quotation—said that collective security cannot be worked effectively by one nation or by two, but the Members of the League would have to consult together to realise what is involved in collective security and take such steps as are necessary to make it a reality. That shows that the Prime Minister, at any rate, does not feel at the present moment that collective security is the reality that it should be made.

But if you are going to sweep away the whole idea of collective action under the League, you are also going to take away all possibility of collective action towards the security of nations. I think some of your Lordships forget the interpretations and the amendments which have been proposed to the Covenant. There is a considerable one in regard to Article 16 by which it was proposed that instead of economic and financial sanctions being imposed together at one moment, they might be put on gradually as has been done in the case of Italy. Similarly, a proposal was made to amend Article 10 in order to make it clear that the obligation which some believed existed under that Article was in fact not so severe as many people supposed. Neither of those amendments was in fact carried; in the case of Article 10 simply because of the hostile vote of one nation, Persia; but I have very little doubt that the League, if it has to consider implementing that Article, will certainly take into account the fact that every other Member of the Council of the League has accepted that alteration.

The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, who I see is no longer in the House, as usual seemed to rejoice in being a pessimist. That is not my creed. I thought at one moment that he had forgotten he was talking about the League of Nations and thought he was talking again about the Budget. I heard the usual phrases about equality of sacrifice and terms of that kind with which I have had to deal on former occasions when speaking on an entirely different subject. As the noble Lord is no longer here I perhaps need not follow him further in those remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, quoted the case of the Geneva Protocol having been refused by the then Secretary of State, Sir Austen Chamberlain, and suggested that that should be an example of the action which we should take now. I would point out that that was an entirely different case. The Geneva Protocol had not been accepted by the Powers in general, and anyhow had not been ratified. In regard to the Covenant, we are in an entirely different position. We have signed our names to it, we are Members of the League, with the full obligation of membership, and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, pointed out, there cannot be two kinds of membership. There is only one kind of membership, with the full obligations and the full claims that might be made upon any Member of the League.

Therefore, you cannot make a reservation and say you will continue your membership of the League but only provided you are not to be called on to do this, that and the other. There is only one way out of it, and that is to leave the League altogether. That would mean the, this country would have to give notice that it wished to cease to be a Member of the League, and then it would take two years before that notice took effect. Therefore my noble friend will realise that His Majesty's Government cannot accept the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, for the simple reason that we have signed our name to this Covenant, and we can neither make a reservation about it nor can we withdraw without giving the full notice. Although the League, as has been said by many speakers, does not fulfil all the hope that we entertained for it, we still think that it is of value to this country, and we hope your Lordships will agree with us and will not approve of this Motion. I hope my noble friend, having put the case before the House, will not feel it necessary to press the Motion to a Division, because, as I have indicated, it is not one that His Majesty's Government can accept.


My Lords, may I interpose for a moment? The noble Earl quoted me as having referred to the Geneva Protocol. The reference I really made was to Sir Austen Chamberlain's statement at the time of the Protocol, which statement at least modified the construction hitherto placed on Article 16.


I am quite sure that was not the intention.


My Lords, a large number of points have been raised during the various speeches, to a few of which I feel I must reply, but. I shall do so as briefly as is humanly possible. The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, quoted Lord Snell as saying that with all its faults the League has functioned. Well, no one denies that the League has creaked on, but I submit that its functioning is about as effective as that of a motor car which succeeds in traversing a mile of distance in about an hour and a half with two plugs misfiring and water in the petrol tank. I do not think that its mere continued existence is any very satisfactory evidence of proper functioning.

Then we had the question of our old friend the Peace Ballot raised again. I must say quite frankly, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, that, without in any way accusing the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, or any other person as being in any way consciously involved in it, that Ballot was nothing more nor less than a gigantic swindle, because it purported to express the views of some ten million electors in this country having asked them a series of questions which they did not understand, and it did so to re-affirm what has been obvious from time immemorial, that the people of this country like peace, want peace, and do not like being deprived of peace. But I will challenge the League of Nations Union to issue another ballot paper on which should be printed a question something to this effect: "Are you in favour of sending British troops overseas to take part in hostilities in which neither this country nor our Empire has any direct interest" The noble Viscount laughs. If the noble Viscount and his friends will send out such a ballot paper, I will for once—it is rather rare on my part—be rash enough to make a prophecy and say that they will receive the surprise of their lives. The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton, spoke of twenty-three disputes having been satisfactorily settled by the League. No one has ever disputed that. It is, indeed, an added argument in favour of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood. That is what conciliation has been able to do, and I think it is very doubtful indeed if, in any of these cases, it was the underlying threat of Article 16 that had any effect.

I would say to the noble Earl who replied for the Government, and to one or two other noble Lords who spoke, that there is no suggestion in the Motion, and I think there was no suggestion in any of my remarks, of abolishing the League of Nations. We are all fully conscious that it has done good work in certain minor matters and good work in conciliation. All we say is that to put our trust in it as a means of preventing war in the last resort is to put trust in something less substantial than a broken reed. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, took exception to the right reverend Prelate's description of this country as a Scotland Yard. I think no better description could have been given of the position into which we are forced by strict adherence to the Covenant of the League. We are not merely the Scotland Yard but the Flying Squad of Europe. It all comes back to the old question: How much support are we going to get from any other nation? Sir Samuel Hoare stated, and stated without contradiction, that we alone had taken active steps, and I submit there is no jot or tittle of evidence to lead any of us to suppose that in the event of trouble breaking out anywhere any country other than this is going to bear more than a very small share of the responsibility.

The noble Viscount challenged me on the question of Austria—a country which, incidentally, I did not mention by name, but that does not matter. He asked what would I do. I am afraid in the circumstances I must resort to the schoolboy's tu quoque and ask what would he do. Would he be prepared to dissipate our still lamentably small naval and military resources in interfering in Austria and Central Europe at a time when we might be compelled to interfere also in the Mediterranean, in the Balkans and on the Franco-German frontier Under no possible rearmament, as I have already stated, that this 'country could afford, could we, have sufficient armaments to make ourselves the policemen of Europe. In regard to what I hope I may be permitted to term the wholly admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, there is only one thing which I would criticise. That was when he said that the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, and I myself were unnecessarily apprehensive and that the full provisions of the Covenant would never be put into effect. I entirely agree that those provisions could not be put into effect, but the trouble is that a good many small nations in Europe think that they could be and are relying on us to put them into effect. With all the good will in the world we may be compelled to let those countries draw a conclusion which will not be conducive to the raising of British prestige.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, questions whether sanctions have been a failure. I have a certain amount of information from inside Italy and from the neighbourhood of Italy, and I do not think it can be maintained that sanctions are going to stop the war in any measurable distance of time. The noble Lord may say that eventually they will be effective. I think that is open to question. At any rate I submit that a system which cannot stop war and shows no sign of appreciably shortening a war is a system no sane person can really support. The question has been raised as to this debate being inopportune. It was simply because my noble friend Lord Charnwood thought the time more than opportune that he asked me to move this Motion to-day rather than postpone it until he himself was restored to health, simply because of the danger of our being involved not in one, but in two or three or four causes of action all over the world.

The noble Earl who replied for the Government made one of his characteristic speeches, and I can only congratulate him on his ability to make bricks without straw, even although I cannot but say that the bricks are not of first class quality. That is not the noble Earl's fault. He has to explain the Government policy in regard to the League of Nations, a policy which some of us view with very great trepidation. But I am bound to say that he carefully skirted round the really vital points, the reason why the debate is so opportune, that never before has there been such danger of this country being driven into war with which it has absolutely no connection. He contradicted himself when he asserted in one breath that the Government is an enthusiastic supporter of the League as it is to-day and admitted that all nations, including our own, except Persia, were in favour of the modification of at least two Articles.

There is no reason why the Government should not have accepted the Motion. It does not bind them to any immediate action. It only asks them to recognise what is becoming more and more clearly obvious to nearly everyone in the country, that our position under the Covenant is very perilous and that we may well be called upon to undertake obligations which we cannot possibly carry out and by not carrying them out we may well cause great distress to other nations who have been our friends and who are relying upon us. I have no wish to be unreasonable. I must say that I regard the noble Earl's reply as entirely unsatisfactory, and I must also state that some of us are becoming more and more dissatisfied with the attitude of the Government towards foreign affairs. The time may well come, and in the near future, when we may have to challenge that whole attitude more directly, but at the moment, while expressing great dissatisfaction with the reply, I shall not ask your Lordships to divide, but beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.