HL Deb 07 February 1945 vol 134 cc927-44

2.12 p.m.

LORD VANSITTART had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That "the rights of neutrality" do not extend to the granting of asylum to Axis war criminals. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not propose to-day to endeavour to elicit any inconvenient information; I am here rather to register a widely-held point of view, and I hope that its timely expression may avoid some subsequent and possibly dangerous misunderstandings. Some time ago His Majesty's Government sought from the Government of Eire an assurance that they would not give asylum to Axis war criminals. From the reply I have extracted certain salient passages to serve as a peg on which to hang an intimation which I think is the more necessary in that the flight of the guilty is already beginning. The Government of Eire in their reply say that in their view the right to grant asylum is not in question. Not only is that right very much in ques- tion, but I hope to show to-day that it does not really exist. Millions of people in this country, and in many other countries too, will vehemently deny that in a radically altered world—and it is on those words particularly that I wish to lay emphasis—any neutral countries have the right to grant asylum to Axis criminals beyond the pale. We have experienced the greatest convulsion in human history. Rivers of blood have flowed beyond the ken of the backwater of the neutrals, and in these circumstances it must surely be for the belligerents and not for neutrals to decide who is qualified for asylum and who for retribution.

The Government of Eire go on to say that they can give no assurance which would preclude them from exercising this right in the name of charity, or some other noun. I have high regard for abstract nouns; they are part of the indispensable equipment of humanity; but in this case we are not concerned with abstractions, we are concerned with preventing a third world war, which is very far from being an abstraction. Then the Government of Eire go on, I think, to give the whole, case away. They refer also to the absence of any comprehensive international agreement which covers this matter. I do not think I need comment on the admission; it speaks for itself. And this matter of neutral rights has, in effect, really been a chameleon. It has continually changed. Professor Brierly, in his new book on the outlook for International Law, has written that all the ideas that we now associate with neutrality are modern and he goes on to add a warning that neutral countries cannot expect to have things the way that they see them. Now that, in both these world wars, has been a very frequent phenomenon and if one were to take the Eire note on its face value it would apparently be what the Government of Eire would expect to continue. I am afraid that we shall have to disappoint these expectations.

Grotius, in a well-known passage—and I am sure your Lordships will agree that most famous sayings are platitudinous—says that neutrals ought to do nothing to strengthen the side which has an unjust cause in a war or to impede one that is waging a just war. But over and over again in these two world wars neutrals have taken action which has strengthened the side which is waging an unjust war; and that is something that we really should not overlook. They may have felt not only impelled but compelled to do so; and within reason I understand that attitude. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will remember better than I do that in the last century there was a general and rather vague impression that neutrals were, somehow, more virtuous than belligerents. I do not think that even the Victorians pushed that theory so far as to suggest that neutrals were more virtuous than victims, and yet some of our modern non-belligerents have pushed it that far. (Very frequently in the course of this war they have vaunted the virtue of their dispassion, particularly when they thought that there was a prospect of sitting at the Peace Conference). Then the first world war came and destroyed that theory of virtue. Those of the younger generation—and I was one of them—who had just a little knowledge of International Law were somewhat disconcerted to find that neutrals, well-knowing the difference between good and evil, well appreciating the distinction between the "just" and the "unjust" causes of Grotius, continued in effect to "sit pretty' and to profit from both sides. That, speaking with all moderation, I find both comprehensible and reprehensible.

But they really pushed it rather far, for they afforded cover and camouflage to enemy companies and organizations, they aided our enemies to avoid the blockade and the Black List, and such a system of cheating grew up that for the first time in history we were obliged, in a world whose complexities have infinitely grown since the last great conflagration, to set up everywhere large counter-organizations to counteract that cheating. Now that left a certain amount of irritation so that when the last war was over and the League was founded and the Covenant drafted, and we were all given to understand that there would be no more neutrals, we were all, I think, inclined to say, "and high time too." And I have no doubt that if that promise had been fulfilled we should have had a better world. But the promise was not fulfilled. The chameleon took on a different colour and semblance, indeed the ink was hardly dry on the Treaty before some of the members of the new club, by sheer force of bad habit, were again back at the old game and were in fact assisting the aggressor of the past, the aggressor of the future, to evade the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles.

At that time, too, the Kaiser took refuge with the Dutch, who refused to disgorge him, and the eyes of the world were upon us to see whether we should stand firm. We did not stand firm, as your Lordships are well aware. But the reason for the concession on our part, as I well know, because I saw that from the inside, was far less any real consideration for the theories of neutrality than the fact that we were war-weary, rather spineless, and we wished to wash our hands. We said—I often heard it said at the time—"Well, perhaps it is just as well, because it would really have been rather embarrassing to try him." Then there came the second world war and the chameleon took another turn, took another step along the road, if I may quote Grotius again, towards strengthening the side with the unjust cause. To quote the words of the Prime Minister, Eire rendered substantial disservice to the Allied cause; or, if you prefer the dispassion of an international jurist here it is: In the present war the Allies have respected the neutrality of Eire although it has been wholly favourable to their enemies. And he goes on with a second censure: It could not be tolerated that any State which had agreed to enter the system, even with limited obligations, should supply, or allow its nationals to supply, an aggressor with the kind of assistance that neutral Swiss factories have been affording to the aggressor in this war. From what I have seen in the Press it would appear that the United States Government have arrived at somewhat the same conclusion.

But of course these censures do not apply only to these cases—and I say this without any rancour or recrimination: the past is the past but we have got to have regard to the past if we are to form and found a sane future—these censures apply to all the neutrals. Our very Allies, Turkey and Portugal, supplied our enemies with vital war material. The Swedes did the same and even allowed the passage of German troops. For that matter, the Turks also allowed the passage of German warships. Spain not only afforded support, moral and material, to our enemies, but actually sent troops to fight our Allies. The Governments of Eire and Argentina must certainly bear some responsibility for the loss of life among our merchant seamen by the fact of having maintained, in the name of neutrality, the spy nests disguised as Axis Legations. Never has such a medley of dereliction been collected in one threadbare doctrine. The neutrals, with their own hands, have very largely destroyed the ancient edifice, and if we are going to rebuild it nearer to our hearts' desire, that building must certainly not contain any room or even an attic which would shelter Axis war criminals. We can never again run the risk or court the certainty of a third world conflagration by letting the guilty live, intrigue and prepare in the safe refuge of countries that have not shared our sufferings, and in the light of this hard reality the claim of the Government of Eire, or any other neutral, that the right is not in dispute, or that it can be exercised in the name of charity or any other noun, simply disappears, in my submission. The interests of mankind still have a priority over any changing paper theories.

It is perfectly true that many of the neutrals have given assurances in this respect, but in assessing the value of those assurances we have to remember that a good part of the loot is already there. Apart from personal loot, a whole network of device and entanglement has been built up to conceal industrial theft, and on the purely personal side there has also been dereliction. I personally have the names of certain, as I think, very sinister Germans who have been getting out lately with false passports, and I happen to know not only the names on those passports but the identity of the creatures that they conceal. I suggest to your Lordships that that fact alone shows that we are in effect at the cross-roads. If we are going to admit any neutral right in this particular sphere, these men and others like them will use neutral countries as cover and bases for organizing sabotage, political assassination and subversive activities, not only in Germany but elsewhere, and they will also use those countries as bases for the organization of a new German war potential.

On that point I would like your Lordships, if you will, to listen to the very uncomfortable words of so high an authority as Mr. Sumner Welles. He writes: The majority of the agents of the German General Staff are being trained to appear as men of large commercial or financial interests who will be able to dispose of considerable amounts of capital derived from the reserve which the German General Staff has already, during the past years, deposited under one guise or another in neutral countries. Now, we shall be wanting not only the German General Staff but the agents of the German General Staff. These are the men who have prepared two world wars; they are the worst of the war criminals, and if we are not prepared to be stern and explicit at this stage we shall find them, as I have already indicated, quoting the concrete cases, slipping through our fingers. There is another, perhaps even more urgent, illustration. I happen also to know the names of a good few of the worst of the Gestapo butchers and torturers in Norway. That country is being, I believe, denuded to bolster up the failing Fatherland, and when that process of denudation has gone a little further it is most highly improbable 'that those creatures will go back to the Fatherland. They also have their false papers ready, and unless we make our position very clear they will be slipping across the border into Sweden and will be lost to us. That surely we are not prepared to contemplate, and that is why I said earlier on that we are in fact, at the cross-roads.

Now I would like to quote, as a further reason for some doubt in assessing the value of these assurances, an extract from one of the many reports of a Sub-Committee of the United States Senate, which runs as follows: The Germans have made careful preparation to continue and rebuild their industrial domination as a preparation for another war. When the German guns are silenced in Europe, the principal German industrial combines plan renewed activity from bases in the Argentine. There are plain indications that the Nazis have planned to use Argentina as an industrial base of operations in the Western Hemisphere. The Senate Sub-Committee's report continues: Members of the Thyssen family are now established in the Argentine. German interests have been placed at the heart of the country's economy. In all a dozen Thyssen representatives have been acting as technical advisers to the Government of Argentina. That is all an extract from the report of a Sub-Committee of the United States Senate. And I ask myself—I do not ask the Government because I want to give the reply myself—what value, what confidence can be reposed in the promises of countries already riddled with German penetration, in some cases enjoying a near-Nazi régime and in others having already broken their word? And I give my answer. I think it is this: that we ourselves must be prepared to reinforce those assurances or, where we have not received assurances, to reinforce our requirements, by suasion if possible and by more direct measures if necessary.

In contemplating those measures, I submit to this House that we need not feel ourselves to be handicapped by any of the old conceptions—although to-day I am speaking on bile issue and one issue only—by old conceptions which have been very largely, as I have shown to you today I hope, self-slain. At the Moscow Conference the three great Allies pledged themselves to pursue the war criminals to the uttermost ends of the earth. Those were the words used, and I submit to you that if words have any meaning, and we are not to be mocked again, those words mean acquiescence in the Motion I have brought before this House to-day, and I think an explicit declaration in that sense may save a lot of trouble later on. In our contemplations and actions we must be guided by one clear fact. It is this. The Germans are not only cannon fodder, they are war material when deliberately exported, and exports of German war material must be as strictly controlled as imports of German key war materials like copper and nickel. On that latter phase I think we are all agreed. I submit we should also be agreed on the former.

If your Lordships will be so good as to cast your minds back over what has actually happened during our lifetime, I think you will see that these points emerge very clearly. Firstly, as admitted by the Government of Eire, these neutral rights repose on no fixed foundation; secondly, that in the course of this century those rights have been distorted beyond recognition; thirdly, that this distortion is due —and I want to lay special emphasis on this point because to my mind it is the explanation of the whole business—to the fact that Germany has been allowed to start both these world conflagrations with an overwhelming initial preponderance of force; fourthly, that has, in consequence, driven the neutrals, or some of them at least, to consider that their interests—not their rights, their interests—entitled them to strengthen the side of the unjust cause, to strengthen the aggressor until he became clearly the loser; fifthly, this rather sorry tale points in my mind to the necessity of a redefinition of neutral rights.

I am only speaking about one of them, one that has been claimed to-day, but I think it highly probable that at the peace settlement that redefinition will have to take place, although I personally have not yet abandoned the hope that we may at least enter the promised land where there will be no more neutrals. In any case I am sure that this time at least sufficient measures will be taken to make it impossible for the aggressor ever again to start with that initial preponderance of force and in those circumstances it may be that less need or emphasis will be laid on neutral rights as a whole. In the last war M. Clemenceau said war was too serious a thing to leave to soldiers—to my mind a highly contentious proposition. But I think that most of us will be agreed that one of the most vital things that belong unto our peace is too serious to be left to neutrals. We are on the eve, I hope, of a new world. We are already on the threshold and those who think as I do wish to cross that threshold un-trammelled by any obsolete fiction. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That "the rights of neutrality" do not extend to the granting of asylum to Axis war criminals.—[Lord Vansittart.)

2.34 p.m.


My Lords, I wish I could say that I think the Motion of my noble friend is, as he thought in his first sentence, well-timed, but I do not think so, and I must briefly put the matter before the House and ask your Lordships to consider one or two reflections which find no place in my noble friend's speech. He began by saying that there was no right of asylum and that nobody was qualified for asylum, and so far every sensible and well instructed man will agree with him. The circumstance that a fugitive, whatever his past record, tries to enter a country other than his own gives that individual no right whatever to be admitted. The right does not attach to the fugitive at all and I am not aware of any competent person who suggests that it does. So we may get rid of any idea of that sort. But a wholly different question arises in the case of a sovereign State—and I suppose the neutrals are sovereign States; Switzerland, for instance, is a sovereign State—when the matter that is raised is whether the sovereign State can be compelled to surrender any portion of its sovereignty. Hitherto at any rate it has been part of the sovereignty of a sovereign State that it might receive, and it might refuse to give up, a foreign fugitive. In times past that claim has been made by this country, when it has chosen to receive men whose record we thought was a record of courage and of true patriotism, in spite of all the knocking at our gates by other Powers to compel us to surrender those who had come here.

I must say that I am surprised that my noble friend with his long and close acquaintance with these matters and his lifelong connexion and training, should really come forward and move, as though by a Motion of this House you could somehow alter International Law, that rights of neutrality did not extend to the granting of asylum to Axis war criminals. I hope my noble friend will forgive me for saying that I think he has adopted the very worst means of securing the object which we all have at heart. I cannot imagine a worse way of persuading Irishmen that they have no right to admit a crime-stained fugitive than by shouting at them that the British House of Parliament, or one House of Parliament, has resolved that they have no right. I cannot imagine a situation which is less likely to produce the result desired.

What in practice happens is this. Nobody knows much better than my noble friend, but I must remind the House of it. I claim that what the Government have done in this matter is perfectly right and we have every reason to think it will be effective. Twice over we have had debates in this House already—elaborate debates—on the subject. Twice over the attitude of this country has been explained. We have not proceeded by the method of informing neutrals that they have not got any rights. That is what Hitler did. He told a lot of neighbours they had no rights and he proceeded to act accordingly. We have not told these neutrals they have got no rights. What we have told them is this. We have said, to give asylum or refuge to these crime-stained scoundrels would not only be utterly opposed to our notions as to how we all may make our contribution towards building up a better world, but it would be a course of action utterly opposed to the whole purpose of those who have had to fight to establish liberty, your liberty and ours, that having preserved your liberty you should take so deplorable a course. That has been done not only by this country. It has been done in the United States by messages from President Roosevelt. It is not by a method of writing down a resolution which denies one of the matters which has hitherto been one of the attributes of national sovereignty, that you will build up a sense of reason and wise policy in neutral countries; it is not by that method that the results will be secured which we all whole-heartedly intend by every means legitimately in our power to achieve.

Let me remind your Lordships a little more in detail of what has been done, because it is not a new subject to the Government at all. First of all, in the summer of 1943 as the result of developments which were then very rapidly producing their effect in Italy, the Allies undertook communications to the neutral States on this subject. We were specially concerned—I think everybody was concerned—lest Mussolini and others who shared guilt with him might attempt to take refuge in some neutral country. We did not put our appeal on some assertion of legal right, which would at once have raised a controversy between all the international authorities in the world, and which I must say, from such small knowledge as I have on the subject, might very likely have turned out to be a not very good argument. What we did was to publish this statement to all the neutrals involved. I am reading the actual words: In view of developments in Italy and the possibility that Mussolini and other prominent Fascists and persons guilty of war crimes may attempt to take refuge in neutral territory, His Majesty's Government feel obliged to call upon all neutral countries to refuse asylum to any such persons and to declare that they will regard any shelter, assistance or protection given to such persons as a violation of the principles for which the United Nations are fighting and which they are determined to carry into effect by every means in their power. It would ill-become me to bandy words with the noble Lord as to the preferable methods of diplomacy, but I must say I should have thought that that method of presenting the plain situation to the neutrals was a good deal to be preferred to the Resolution which he has put upon the Paper. The United States, at the same time, made parallel representations. The authority of the United States goes with that document addressed to neutrals. The Soviet Government also addressed such neutral countries as were proper, those with which they had relations. I do appeal to the good sense of your Lordships' House that that is the proper way in which to present this most urgent demand to neutrals, and that it is not the proper way first of all to write down something as though it was the law of nations which is not the law of nations at all, and secondly, to deal with neutrals as though they were not sovereign Sates.

That was what happened in 1943 more particularly, as I have said, in reference to events then going on in Italy. But further communications between the Allies and further reflection made it necessary to consider whether a wider communication ought not to be made, not in reference to Italy but of a much more general character and indeed more largely referring to Germany and, I suppose, to Japan. In the summer of 1944–I think the actual occasion was in connexion with events then happening in France—the United States Government took the first step in this matter, a step in which we immediately concurred. The United States Government deemed it advisable to make further representations at Berne, at Madrid—my noble friend Viscount Templewood will remember when he received the intimation—at Lisbon, at Stockholm and other places. President Roosevelt made, first of all in Washington, a public statement of the firmest character on this very subject. That statement having been made in Washington, the American Government proceeded to transmit it to the neutral Governments at the places I have mentioned.

The substance of it was this. The President declared that it was difficult to believe that asylum or protection to any such persons would be given by any neutral countries, and that the United States Government would consider the harbouring of any of the Axis leaders or their henchmen by a neutral Government as contrary to those principles for which the peoples of the United Nations were waging war. We proceeded gladly to adopt and countersign that declaration. It lies in the Foreign Office of every neutral in the world and I apprehend that it is not likely to be overlooked. The results were by no mean discouraging. The declaration did not call for any answer—it was not in the form of a communication which invited a reply, any more than was our declaration of the previous year—but none the less neutrals lost no time in assuring us of their own intentions. One of the neutrals, I think, pointed out that this trenched very nearly upon their rights of sovereignty, but your Lordships will appreciate that it does not do so because it is not denying to them their sovereignty; it is saying what we and the Allies, who had fought and suffered in this war, expect of them as good members of the human society. It was in that spirit that the neutrals replied.

I will give one or two examples. Portugal, in a note handed to His Majesty's Ambassador in Lisbon by the Secretary-General of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: The Portuguese Government has no hesitation in affirming that it will not, by granting asylum in its territory, permit war criminals to escape the decision of the national, or international, tribunals competent to try them. Spain, my noble friend Viscount Temple-wood will remember, communicated with us, and His Majesty's Ambassador received an assurance that it was not the intention of the Spanish Government to provide asylum for war criminals in Spain. Then Sweden. At a meeting of the Riksdag, the Legislature, the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs said: It must not be concluded from our generous policy towards refugees that Sweden is also open or will offer asylum to persons who have defied the conscience of the civilized world. Next the Argentine. In a memorandum of the Secretary of State, which was handed in by the Argentine Ambassador, it was stated: Firstly, in no event will persons accused of war crimes he allowed into Argentine territory. Secondly, neither will they be allowed, to create capital deposits or acquire property of any kind. That communication is not novel to the House. In a speech on this subject which I made some time ago I quoted it as an example of what might be clone by our method of treatment. Then there is the case of Switzerland. Switzerland is entitled to regard itself as a sovereign State, and I do not think that we shall ultimately promote the unity and happiness of mankind if we claim that it is only we who have been fighting who are entitled to decide these matters. In a written reply, dated November II, to a councillor in the Swiss Federal Council, the Government said: It is clear, in particular, that asylum could not be granted to persons…who have committed acts contrary to the laws of war and whose past conduct reveals them as possessing notions irreconcilable with the basic traditions of law and humanity. My noble friend, very naturally, in a great part of his speech, dealt with the case of Eire. It is an unhappy case. Eire received the same communication, and they first asserted that as they understood it the right to grant asylum is not in question. But they went on to say that it had been "the uniform practice of the Eire Government to deny admission to all aliens whose presence would be at variance with the policy of neutrality, or detrimental to the interests of the Irish people." In these circumstances the Dominions Office thought it was right to send a reply to the Eire Government which your Lordships may be interested to hear read. This phrase "detrimental to the interests of the Irish people" was a striking phrase, and therefore the United Kingdom Government replied by saying that, for their part, they would wish to make it clear to the Eire Government that it would certainly, in the words used by the Eire Government, "be detrimental to the interests of the Irish people" were war criminals to be harboured in Eire. That seems to me a very proper retort to the communication which we received.

This is a question which is not to be decided in heat or passion at all. The question is whether the methods which are thus followed by the British Government in this matter are all wrong, half-hearted, namby-pamby and milk and water, and whether in place of them your Lordships should adopt unilaterally this bold Resolution which I should think would cause all the International Law books in the world to he rewritten, and therefore give some comfort to some people, but which, in my humble opinion, would be a most unwise way in which to proceed. You do not get the result you want always by announcing that you are the person with the big stick, and that you are going to have your way whether it is right or not. And you certainly do not get it by passing resolutions, pious or otherwise, which, in themselves, have no result at all. I am convinced—and I hope that I have convinced your Lordships by what I have said—that the proper and wise way to behave is not to deny that neutrals have rights—though it would be a most extreme and fantastic exercise of them if they treated these criminal emigrants as an acceptable addition to their population. That is not the way to do it.

Surely according to the best dictates of diplomacy—that great science which my noble friend Lord Vansittart has for so many years practised and expounded—the right thing is to say to these neutrals, as we have in fact said: "You people are standing by while we have bled and suffered and fought and endured tortures, in order to rescue liberty for the world. You will enjoy the fruits of these efforts although you have never bled or suffered. If you feel that you are a member of this new community which we hope will result in producing a better world, well then, behave as such, behave as a member of the club, for he sure that if you do not you will be acting in a manner contrary to the whole objects which we have had in view in fighting this war. You will get no good out of it; nothing but trouble and, it may be, disaster." That is the language which should be used in these communications to the neutrals, and I appeal to your Lordships, exercising, as we always do in this House, perfectly free and unfettered judgment, to say whether that course, taken by His Majesty's Government, is not really wise and politic.

I regret very much if I seem to be critical of so old and valued a friend as the noble Lord, but he will see that he puts me, and puts us all, in rather a difficulty. What is to happen to this Motion now on the Paper? Should it be carried? I think it inconceivable that we should carry a Motion which contradicts the whole method of President Roosevelt and of all our Allies. It raises, to say the least, a most dubious proposition of International Law, and it provokes these very neutrals into asserting that, small as they are, unimportant as they are, they, too, have their rights of sovereignty. It seems to me that that would be a very unhappy result of this afternoon's excursion. Are we to reject the Motion? For my part, I am most unwilling to go and register a clean negative that may almost seem to be encouraging them to do the very thing which no roan in this House, for one single moment, wishes them to do. There really is, if my noble friend will forgive me for saying SD, only one course which can be wisely taken here, and that is that he should ask leave of the House to withdraw the Motion. We are grateful always for the illumination he brings and for the brilliant speeches he contributes to our debates. But this thing is a mistake, and I hope very much that—if only as a matter of responding to a personal appeal —my noble friend will think it right, whatever his immediate feelings may be, to withdraw the Motion.

3 p.m.


My Lords, it is difficult indeed for me and the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to argue this question at any length, because we start from diametrically opposed standpoints. He has argued the matter mainly from the legal and theoretical point of view; I have confined myself strictly to the practical point of view. I think that the argument need not be prolonged. He says, if I understand him rightly, that we are going into the new world with the old conceptions and (as I consider them) the old handicaps. Unless I misunderstood him, he seemed to think that I was attacking neutral rights as a whole, whereas I confined myself very explicitly to denying this particular one in, as I said, a radically altered world.

This is a point on which millions of people feel very deeply indeed. We do not feel that words alone will suffice. The noble and learned Viscount talked about the reprimand which would be administered to any member of the new club if he misbehaved. I think that I showed in my speech that some members of what was the new club after the last war did not behave too well. I omitted to mention that some of them did not even pay their subscriptions. I do not think that we can pin all our hopes to that. This is a vitally serious matter. I should like to point out that I showed in my speech that abuses are already taking place. I do not know what action the Government contemplate to meet those abuses, and I carefully refrained from asking that; but I emphasize again that they are taking place. I would venture to ask—though I expect no answer—what the Allied Governments meant by saying that they would pursue the war criminals to the uttermost ends of the earth, if the interpretation which we have heard to-day is the right one. Does that mean that they will sit at home and send a few notes and expect the goods to be delivered? I maintain that if we once admit this particular right in this radically altered world it will be abused; and signs of abuse have already been manifest.

The noble and learned Viscount suggested that I should withdraw my Resolution. I have in this House, I think, withdrawn almost every Motion that I have ever brought forward, but in this case I do not see my way to do so. This is a subject on which too many of ifs feel too deeply for me to do that. In order to meet the convenience of the Government —and this is as far as I can possibly go in this vital matter—I am prepared to leave my Resolution on the Paper. I shall not withdraw it. I am prepared to leave it where it stands to-day, and, if I get any further evidence of abuse, I shall come to this House again and take up the matter where I left it and divide the House. To-day I shall refrain from doing that.

3.4 P.m.


My Lords, I think that the course which the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, suggests will not be congenial to the general body of the House, nor do I quite understand how such a course can be taken. He could move that this debate be now adjourned, and, if the House agreed to that, the subject could be discussed on another day; but that the debate should come to an end without any decision of any kind in any direction, and that the matter should be left in the air, is, I think, not possible according to the rules of this House. The noble and learned Lord Chancellor appears to have given conclusive reasons for the inadvisability of passing this Resolution, and reasons also why it would be very inconvenient to allow it to be voted against and negatived. In these circumstances I would appeal to the noble Lord not to press his Resolution now, or to endeavour to deal with it in the manner which he suggests. If he does so, I think it probable that the House would prefer to pass a Motion for the previous question, which I believe is in accordance with the rules of this House, although a course which has been very seldom used of recent years. Perhaps the noble Lord, on reconsideration, will not put the House to the inconvenience and disability of being compelled to adopt that course.


My Lords, in answer to the noble Viscount, I should like to say that I am ready to adopt any course convenient to the House short of withdrawing my Resolution. If it will suit the House better for the debate to be adjourned, I am prepared to agree to that course.



If the House prefers to negative the Resolution, that must be done.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, I hardly think it would be in accordance with the wish of the House that this debate should be merely adjourned. There are only two good reasons for adjourning a debate: either that time does not permit it to be finished, or that the House requires more information to enable it to be finished. Neither of these reasons is present in our discussion to-day. I deeply regret the action of the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, whom I have always regarded with very great respect as an experienced diplomat, but I do not think that on this occasion he has shown the same experience of our Parliamentary system. The whole Resolution is ill-framed. He asks your Lordships unilaterally, without consultation with our Allies, without consideration of the effect on neutrals, on the Motion of a private member to pass a Resolution the result of which would be fundamentally to alter the ordinary course of International Law. I really do not think that the noble Lord can expect the House to take action of that kind. If he insists on pressing his Resolution to a Division it will have to go to a Division, and I hope that your Lordships will show in no uncertain manner what you feel about this procedure.


My Lords, if there is no middle course between this Resolution going to a Division and my withdrawing it, I shall feel myself compelled to ask leave to withdraw it. I leave myself in the hands of the House on that point.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.