HL Deb 04 December 1946 vol 144 cc592-614

2.37 p.m.


had given Notice that he would call attention to the position of minorities under international agreements; ask what steps His Majesty's Government propose to take to secure the adequate protection of the civil and religious rights of minorities under existing and future agreements to which they may be a party; and also move for Papers.

The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, the problem of minorities has always been one of great difficulty and perplexity. It entered largely into the treaty-making after the last war and one of the pretexts of the recent war was the alleged ill-treatment of the German minority. During the course of the war from time to time there were discussions in this House on the future of minorities, and in 1944 a number of notable speeches were made in a debate here on the subject. There is, of course, nothing new about this problem; it goes back to the days when the Hebrew minority was ill-treated by the Pharaohs and possibly far beyond that. The problem may always arise in an acute form when in a State there are found considerable groups of people of a different race or of a different religion, and sometimes both, from the majority of the people occupying that country. They may be settled there because they are the survivors of the original owners of the country. They are often little islands in the midst of a great ocean of invaders. Sometimes they are there because they have come in through voluntary migration, occasionally they are there as the result of compulsory migration. When they are few in number, and when they assimilate themselves to the surrounding country, they are no danger to the State in which they dwell; but when they retain all their national characteristics and their religion, and when they retain them in a more or less aggressive manner, or when they increase largely in numbers, they may very easily become a great danger to the State. This is what has occurred from time to time.

States have dealt with minorities in very different ways. Sometimes they have attempted to destroy entirely the minority which they have found in their midst, and they have done so either by compulsory expulsion or by compulsory massacre. An illustration of the former policy is to be found in the treatment of the Moors by the Spaniards when two or three centuries ago half a million Moors under conditions of gnat hardship and cruelty were expelled from the country which they had occupied for so long. I suppose a far worse example of the treatment of a minority by massacre is the one which has taken place in our own time, in the wicked and vile policy of extermination adopted by Hitler who succeeded in massacring millions of Jews, and who would, if he had had his way, have exterminated the whole of the Jewish race. Other nations have adopted another policy in connexion with the minorities in their midst. They have retained them but have regarded them and treated them as "hewers of wood and drawers of water"; they have been the slave labour of the country.

To check any undue growth of population the most vigorous among them are murdered, and at all times the people are subject to various restrictions and conditions from which the citizens of the country are free. This was, of course, the policy of the Pharaohs. They compelled the Hebrews to submit to forced labour and they kept down their population by murdering their children. This was for a long time the policy of the Turks towards their minorities. They ill-treated them and oppressed them and occasionally, when their populations were becoming too large, they massacred them. Occasionally, of course, mass compulsory migration has been carried out under different conditions. There was a remarkable illustration of this at the close of the Greco-Turkish war when very large numbers of Greeks were moved from Asia Minor to Greece. On the whole the results of that have been good, but undoubtedly at the time it caused great hardship and terrible suffering. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the sufferings which recently have been caused by the compulsory migration of millions of people from the centre of Europe.

Then there is the third policy which has been adopted by, I think we might say, the most civilized nations. The minority has been allowed under that policy to remain and it has been granted all the privileges which belong to the citizens of that country. That is the policy which for many years past we have adopted in this country, though it is true to say that for a long time there was discrimination against certain minorities in our midst. That is the policy adopted to-day by the United States towards the vast numbers of immigrants who have entered their country, though even there social discrimination is found against the negro population brought there originally for slavery.

The position of minorities to-day is one of very great anxiety. In the past various attempts have been made to protect them. From the Berlin Congress onwards treaties were made which were intended to safeguard the civil and the religious rights of the minorities, and after the First World War various safeguards were put into the different treaties. Those treaties are now practically out of date and it is doubtful if they were of any very great value as far as these safeguards were concerned. A rising tide of nationalism in almost every country throughout the world makes the position of the minorities very precarious and there is a danger to-day that any safeguards which once existed may be swept away or entirely ignored. The anxiety to make a State totalitarian so that all its citizens are moulded in the same pattern is a very great danger to any minorities which find themselves under its sovereignty.

I want now to speak chiefly of the danger to religious liberty. Religious minorities are always exposed to special perils and they are exposed to those perils not only because of their religion but also because their religion is very often associated with their race I am therefore most anxious to impress upon the Government the importance of using their influence in the peace discussions so as to secure the adequate protection of both the civil and religious rights of minorities. Religious freedom is far more than the freedom of worship and teaching within the actual building. There is, of course, a real gain in that, but it is a very small step towards full religious freedom. Freedom, as we understand it, must include the right to propagate a religion—or, as the Christian would say, to evangelize—as well as the right of individuals to accept it or reject it as instructed conscience directs.

A widely accepted definition of religious freedom runs as follows: "Freedom to worship according to the conscience and to bring up children in the faith of their parents; freedom for the individual to change his religion; freedom to preach, educate, publish and carry on missionary activity; and freedom to organize with others and to acquire and hold property for those purposes." I understand a step has been taken towards the implementation of this wider definition of freedom of religion by the acceptance recently in Paris of a clause in which the various countries concerned undertake not to discriminate between persons of their nationalities on the grounds of their race, sex, language or religion, whether in reference to their persons, property, business, professional or financial interests or status, political or civic rights or any other matters. This freedom has not always been recognized, and even where it has been recognized in theory it has sometimes been neglected in practice.

I take Egypt as an illustration. Nothing I will say has any relation to the present negotiations with that country. I am not suggesting that there should be any mention of religious or civil rights in what, through the very nature of the case, will largely be a military agreement. In that country there are Coptic Churches—the Churches of the people before the Moslem invasion—and there are Greek Orthodox Churches under the Patriarch of Alexandria. There are other ancient Christian Churches and there is active missionary work. When we occupied Egypt we recognized that these minorities should be protected. When the Montreux Agreement was being negotiated, the President of the Egyptian Delegation gave in writing an assurance (which was printed with the agreement) that while the agreement was operative, educational, scientific, medical and charitable institutions of the United Kingdom in Egypt should continue free to carry on their activities. But this convention comes to an end in 1949 and it is doubtful if we can assume that the ancient Christian Churches and the missionary societies in Egypt will continue to possess special religious rights. Most emphatically there is no question of asking for them special privileges—only equal rights with any other citizen in that country.

The Christian fully recognizes the duties of citizenship in the country to which he belongs and has no wish to clamour for special rights. But there have been in recent years some ominous signs; various attempts have been made by Egyptian Governments to restrict and to interfere with the work both of the ancient churches and of the missionary societies. If need be I could give full proof of this statement in great detail. Both from a recent visit to Egypt and from correspondence with responsible persons there I know that there is great anxiety over the attitude of the State to Christian minorities when the Montreux Convention ends. I know there are some who also feel anxiety over the future of Christian minorities in India. Personally, I think that there is little cause for anxiety in this direction. There is every reason to believe that the new Government there will fully respect the civil and religious rights of Christians. Various publications and various public utterances made by Pandit Nehru justify this expectation. There is, however, considerable anxiety over tendencies which in recent years have developed in some of the independent States in India which appear to be directed specifically against any religious minority and were designed to make it as difficult as possible for any subjects of the State to change their religion.

It would be easy to give other illustrations of the threat to religious liberty. Turkey, for instance, took advantage of her neutrality during the war to restrict in various ways the freedom of the Œcumenical Patriarch and, consequently, of the Greek Orthodox Church. At the present time there is great anxiety felt, not only by Roman Catholics, but by all who believe in religious freedom, over the attitude of the governing party in Yugoslavia towards the Roman Catholic Church, and especially over the trial and sentence of Archbishop Stepinac. I am not asking the Government to make any statement about these special points of difficulty and danger. What I do press strongly is that the Government should make it clear, through their representatives at international conferences and in the framing of future treaties, that Great Britain stands definitely and unequivocally for civil and religious freedom.

Sometimes I think we are inclined to confuse neutrality with impartiality. We cannot ask the convinced Moslem to be neutral on matters which, to him, are more important even than life or death. We can ask him in his judicial and administrative capacity to act impartially. It is useless to have a constitution which contains liberal language about religious liberty, when the Law Courts of the country allow no appeal to it. As a nation which still claims to be Christian, we should approach this problem of religious freedom, not with a cold and aloof neutrality—we ought not to be neutral on these matters—but with strong conviction which does not prevent us from acting impartially towards those whose religion and culture are different from our own. Of course the practical question is: "What are we to do?" I am doubtful now—although many will disagree with me on this—if it will be of any value inserting clauses concerning civil and religious liberty in treaties. There is always the danger that if such clauses are inserted, the nation, or the parties in the nation, will feel that these clauses suggest their subjection to some stronger power and that they express some limitation of their own sovereignty.

In any case, it is extremely difficult to enforce any such treaties. I can remember many years ago, when there was great discussion about the ill-treatment of the minorities in Turkey, the Lord Rosebery of that time said we could not go to war to enforce the treaties. There was a great and loud outcry in the country, but I am sure to-day that most practical people would recognize that, however strongly we feel about the religious and civil rights of minorities, it would be impracticable to go to war to enforce them. Therefore, speaking without any great experience on these matters, I am very doubtful whether it would be wise to press for any clauses in the treaties dealing with civil and religious rights. But, on the other hand, I believe there is real value if a place is found in the proposed Charter or Bill of Human Rights for a declaration insisting on civil and religious freedom for individuals and minorities. I understand that the proposed Charter is in preparation.

The Anglo-American Committee on Palestine made, as its first representation: That our Governments endeavour to secure that immediate effect is given to the provision of the United Nations Charter calling for universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedom for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. I am encouraged in urging the importance of such a declaration by words which were spoken by the noble Viscount opposite, Lord Cranborne, in a previous debate in this House on minorities: and may I here congratulate him and the noble Vis- count,the Leader of the House, upon the honour conferred upon them by His Majesty? I ought perhaps to say that the noble Viscount guarded himself by explaining that he was thinking aloud. I hope further thoughts may have confirmed what he then thought aloud. The noble Viscount then said: Possibly a solution might be found in some general declaration by the United Nations repudiating ill-treatment by a State of its minorities: some general statement of a standard to which they would be expected, as members of the United Nations, to conform, and indicating that if they did not conform to it certain sanctions would have to be applied to them. But even if no sanctions are attached to such a statement—and I see difficulties in the way of this—I believe it would be of real value. It would express the standard to which civilized nations were expected to conform. Any nation which flagrantly departed from it would, by that act, be falling below the minimum of civilized action and conduct accepted by the more progressive nations of the world. This may not be very much, but at any rate it is something, and it would undoubtedly be a gain if as many nations of the world as possible could be brought to give their consent to such a declaration safeguarding the civil and religious rights of minorities. From many past failures and errors we in this country have discovered the way to freedom through toleration. We believe freedom to be a boon of incalculable value. I therefore hope that the Government, in their reply, will be able to assure the House that they have given instructions to their representatives to press in the most uncompromising way for the international recognition of civil and religious freedom as a right to which minorities, as well as individuals, are fully entitled. I beg to move for Papers.

2.58. p.m.


My Lords, the most reverend Primate has, as usual, made a very impressive speech with which I believe the House will be in very general agreement. I thought those passages in which be dealt with religious liberty were particularly impressive. The time was overdue when such a statement should be made in one or other House, and I am grateful to the most reverend Primate for having made it to-day. The most reverend Primate has raised a very urgent and a very difficult question. I am afraid that past history shows how very difficult it is to give international protection to minorities. Looking back, although perhaps not so far as the most reverend Primate looked back to-day, but to more recent history, two lessons seem to me to emerge. First of all, there is the great danger of emotional agitation in favour of minorities without any effective plan to find a remedy. I think if we look back to the history of the nineteenth century we shall find that, though there was every reason that one could imagine for the protests that were made in this country against Turkey for her treatment of the Armenians, upon the whole in actual practice—it is hard to say this—the protests did more harm than good. The protests increased rather than diminished the suffering of the minorities. I think that is the first lesson we should keep in mind when we are looking to the future and seeing whether we cannot find some new provisions of protection.

The second lesson we should not forget is a lesson taught by the experience of the League of Nations. Your Lordships will remember that in the Covenant there were specific proposals for dealing with minorities. Minorities were, so to speak, to be treated as international political entities. I am afraid that these provisions proved to be ineffective. They proved to be ineffective in detail. Questions connected with minorities could only be brought up by a member of the Council, and in actual practice members of the Council hesitated to put this question upon the Council's agenda. Perhaps a more important obstacle was the fact that several of the countries most concerned, those countries, in fact, in which the minorities problem was most urgent, were most anxious to side-track these provisions. Let me give the House two examples that will illustrate the two different lines of opposition. There was a country like Czechoslovakia that definitely set itself upon a programme of absorbing these minorities into a national State. That was one line of opposition. The other line of opposition was particularly noticeable in the Balkans, especially in Macedonia, and it is worth while recalling what happened in Macedonia. Territory in Macedonia was transferred to Yugoslavia. Bulgaria was dissatisfied with the arrangements and the Bulgar Government, as a result, and in- cited probably by the Italian Government of the day, did its utmost to stir up the minorities in Macedonia. As a result of this two-fold opposition and as a result of the detailed provisions in the Covenant, I think we can say that, speaking generally, the provisions for protecting minorities did not work. If that be so, the question arises whether any better proposals can be found that are more likely to work than the provisions of the Covenant, or whether it is impossible to deal with minorities and one had better, therefore, regard the question as insoluble.

I agree with the most reverend Primate that, whilst taking advantage of the lessons of the past, we still ought not to adopt a counsel of despair but to try to make some provisions that may be more successful than the provisions of the past. I was very much interested to hear what the most reverend Primate said about the need for a new restatement of human rights. I believe that that is the line of advance for the future. I am inclined to think that we must abandon the idea of treating minorities as political entities that need some special kind of protection, but that we must deal with individuals and ensure, so far as we can, that all the individuals in a State are able to enjoy what are called the fundamental liberties and freedoms.

Some of your Lordships may remember that two years ago I ventured to make proposals upon these lines in this House. I should like today to recur to them for a moment or two, and to ask the representative of the Government what is the attitude of the Government towards them. My proposals—I say "my proposals" but they have been adopted by a great many people in various parts of the world—went definitely further than the proposals of the most reverend Primate. It seemed to me that what was needed was, first of all, a Bill of Human Rights, a restatement of this standard for any civilized country, but I do not think such a statement by itself is sufficient. You want an international organization that will keep the question of human rights continuously before the civilized countries of the world. I gave the analogy—I know it is not an exact analogy in many ways—of the International Labour Organization. That is an Organization with out sanctions but none the less exercising a considerable influence by collecting complaints, by stimulating public opinion, and by providing the countries of the world with the kind of data upon which there is so much ignorance at the present time.

I venture to recur to these proposals to-day, and I do so reinforced by the fact, to which the most reverend Primate has already made allusion, that statements tending in this direction have been made in the Social and Economic Council and in various of the international gatherings that have taken place in recent months. I should like to ask the Government to-day what is the present position in this matter, and what actions the representatives of the Government are taking specfically about it. I know very well the difficulties. I know the criticisms that are made that this would mean interference in the internal affairs of different States. I know equally the objection that is made that these pronouncements are little more than scraps of paper. At the same time, I do believe that, with all these terrible horrors in our minds, with the knowledge of all that has happened to minorities in recent years, we ought to avoid a counsel of despair.

We ought to try—even though it may take time and we may not succeed as completely as we should wish—to take some definite action to restore these standards of civilization and make it possible for members of minority communities to enjoy the fundamental human rights of life and not have to face a prospect of black persecution and, possibly, eventual elimination. It is on these accounts that I cordially support the proposal which has been made by the most reverend Primate. I ask the Government definitely what is their attitude towards these questions and how far can they go in support, not only of a restatement of human rights, but of the institution of some organization which, working on the basis of the International Labour Organization, and, if necessary, at first without sanctions, will help to keep these rights before the minds of the peoples of the world and aid what we all so much desire—a return to tolerance and the Opportunity for these persecuted peoples to live their own lives in their own way.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, the most reverend Primate, in bringing forward this Motion, has I think shown how desirable it is that this problem which is of really great importance for the future of Europe and of the world should be discussed in your Lordships House. I do not intend to follow the Archbishop in the historical exposition which he gave of the story of minorities going back to the days of the Pharaohs, but before proceeding to my main points I would like to express my very warm appreciation of the action taken by the British Delegation in Paris with regard to this question of fundamental human rights and freedoms. I do not know if your Lordships are aware that that delegation secured the adoption, by majorities of at least two-thirds, of a recommendation that a clause should be inserted in all the draft peace treaties enjoining on the ex-satellite States respect for the fundamental rights and human freedoms, Further, that the delegation obtained, as the most reverend Primate pointed out, an extension of that clause which is really of very great value. The extension was accepted by a two-thirds majority in the case of Rumania and Hungary, and in the case of Bulgaria by a simple majority. That extension provided that the laws of the country concerned should not discriminate either in their content or application between nationals on account of their race, sex, language or religion.

These recommendations—and I think that the Government ought to be very warmly congratulated upon them—have now gone forward to the Council of Foreign Ministers for consideration. I trust, and feel confident, that we can rely on the Foreign Secretary to do his utmost to see that they are definitely inserted in the treaties of peace. The insertion of such clauses in the peace treaties introduces a system for the protection of minorities rather different:—in fact, completely different—from that adopted at the time of the Versailles Conference. Then we had specific treaties for the treatment of minorities in various; countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and so on, and the minorities themselves were entitled to petition the Council of the League of Nations if they considered that the rights given to them had been varied.

Here I must join issue for a moment with the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, with regard to the description he gave of the minority system under the League of Nations. It is not really the fact that the minorities were treated as political entities. Any single individual in a country concerned who thought he had not received the treatment he was entitled to receive under the minority treaties, had the right to appeal. Further, that appeal was considered by a special committee of the League of Nations. That was done in order to avoid any specific country having to bear the onus of a little committee being set up to consider each case. The special committee of the League of Nations, having considered a case, presented an impartial report. In view of what I have just said, I think that the account given by the noble Viscount was not altogether accurate.

I consider that the system was not altogether badly devised. It might have worked once the rancours of the war had vanished, provided the minorities themselves were prepared to become loyal citizens of the country of which they became nationals. In various cases, however, while the minorities paid lip service to the new they really cherished the old loyalty. This was particularly true in the case of the German minorities in Upper Silesia and the Sudetenland. The natural result was that the Governments knew about this and they tightened their control—it was natural that they should do so—over the minorities. The result of this, in turn, was a rising discontent among the minorities themselves. Thus you got a vicious circle which could not be broken. The whole system broke down at the time when the Polish Government refused to honour any further the minorities treaty which they had definitely signed and, above all, when Hitler began to use the German minorities as an excuse for his plans of aggression.

On the whole, I am rather glad that the old system has not been renewed and that something fresh is going to be adopted. There are, however, one or two points on which I feel that we require additional information before we can assess the merits and demerits of the new plans. I would like to ask how, for instance, the clauses which are now to be inserted in the peace treaties are going to be implemented? That is to say, what will happen supposing they are violated? Will each individual signatory of a peace treaty have the right to make diplomatic representations to the country concerned if the clauses are being violated? And, if they continue to be violated, will the signatory be in a position to bring the matter of that violation before the United Nations? Frankly, I am troubled by a provision in Clause 7 of Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations, which prohibits that Organization from intervention in matters which are essentially within domestic jurisdiction. I will revert to that point in a moment.

There is another question which obviously arises. These minority provisions in treaties affect only the ex-satellite States. What is to be the position of minorities in countries for whom no treaties are concluded, such as Yugoslavia, Albania, and so on? Your Lordships probably know that the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and value of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women. Article 55 of the Charter states that the United Nations shall promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedom for all, without distinction as to race, language or religion.

I understand that the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations have entered into the task of framing a Bill of Rights, to give effect to these admirable purposes. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, made a most eloquent plea in this House two years ago for such a Bill of Rights, and I think the fact that the Economic and Social Council are considering the terms of such a Bill shows a very considerable advance. But if that Bill is to succeed in its main purpose, which is, obviously, the protection of minorities and the rights of individuals, arrangements must surely be made in the Bill for the establishment of some body—it may be a Standing Committee of the Economic and Social Council—to watch over the fulfilment of the provisions, with power to report to the Assembly if those provisions are being violated or neglected. Should a State so accused, to avoid discussion of its misdeeds in the United Nations, invoke the domestic jurisdiction clause, then something must be done to overcome that difficulty. That is a point which I hope the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, may be able to answer. I trust that His Majesty's Government will bear the point in mind, during the discussions which are now taking place in the Social and Economic Council; otherwise, I fear the proposed Bill of Rights would simply become a dead letter, although it may be inspired by the most admirable sentiments.

Here I rather part company with the most reverend Primate. In my view, you must have some kind of supervision if the clauses in a Bill of this kind are to be effective. I do not say that you should have any material sanctions, but a State which persistently ignores the clauses of the Bill of Rights must be brought before the bar of public opinion; and the only place to do that is the forum of the United Nations. This question of domestic jurisdiction is really one of great difficulty. If we accept the doctrine to its fullest extent where shall we be led? We should be prevented from protesting officially against such a vile persecution of the Jews as took place under Hitler, and I cannot believe that His Majesty's Government would accept a proposition of that kind.

I fear that it is certain that persecution of Catholics is going on to-day, and has taken place, in Yugoslavia. Various pretexts are put forward for the executions and imprisonments there. The fact is that the victims, who are Christians, while they are ready to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's are not ready to render to Tito the things that are God's. They refuse to accept the doctrine that the State is the be-all and the end-all of human existence, and that the individual is of no account. They hold that the State exists for the individual and reject the Nazi and Fascist creed, that the individual exists for the State. It is because they hold this view, and because they adhere to it, and put it into practice, that they are being persecuted. I trust that His Majesty's Government will reconsider their attitude about this problem, and will examine whether the Atlantic Charter and, more particularly, the Charter of the United Nations, in spite of the doctrine of domestic jurisdiction, do not give them sufficient ground on which to base an urgent appeal to the Yugoslav Government to observe the undertakings contained in those two great documents, to which both His Majesty's Government and the Yugoslav Government are parties.

Finally, I want to say two or three words about Yugoslav refugees in Italy. Strictly speaking, this is not, perhaps, a question of a minority, but it is a very analogous problem. In the first place, I most earnestly hope that as long as His Majesty's Government have any responsibility for happenings in Italy, no Yugoslav, whether he be a Slovene or not, will be forced to return to Yugoslavia against his will. I believe that in 1945, under our instructions, a large number of Slovene refugees were handed back to Yugoslavia, and terrible stories are going round about the fate of those unhappy people. I do not know whether His Majesty's Government are in a position to say anything about that to-day but I hope they are prepared to give the assurance for which I have just asked. Even that assurance will not be sufficient, because the time will come—and it may come shortly—when His Majesty's Government will have no further responsibility in such matters in Italy, and they will pass solely to the Italian Government. It may be that direct negotiations between the Italian Government and the Yugoslav Government will take place. The Yugoslav Government may ask for the return of these refugees, and may offer a bargain. I earnestly hope that the Italian Government will not accept any offer of that kind, and will not succumb to temptation. If they do, they will alienate the sympathy of many of their best friends in this country—and I happen to be one of them—who feel that Italy is receiving a harsh settlement under the peace treaty, and who would like to see various provisions of that treaty modified, so that really adequate account can be taken of Italy's cobelligerency, according to the promises that were made to the Italian people as a whole.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, but I think it would be unfitting if no one rose from these Benches to support the most reverend Primate because he has raised a question about which, like many other people, I am much concerned. Clearly all noble Lords who have spoken are concerned about it and I should imagine indeed that everybody in this House has given thought to the matter which we are now considering. The difficulty is to find a practical solution. The noble Viscount suggested that in the past some of these regulations had done more harm than good. I am not sure that I altogether agree. They were always disappointing, of course, and occasionally some worsened the situation. But I should have thought that in the long run they helped. I should have thought it would have been an evil day if we said, "Because these things are no good, let us say nothing, and not take a stand." That is not the line, of course, that the noble Viscount takes.

We must think pretty hard about sanctions, and we must realize that things have worsened in the last few years. In some ways the United Nations are in a much worse position than were the League of Nations. The League of Nations consisted of nations all to a considerable extent believing, or professing to believe, in toleration. The United Nations now contains certain nations for whom toleration is not a virtue but a pestilential heresy. There is no good in not facing that situation. I do not feel very hopeful that you will get very much out of things read into a Covenant going to be implemented in any way by the United Nations as at present constituted, so long as certain Powers who are members of it hold the views they do. I am sorry but I am afraid that is true. I think you might possibly get a unanimous declaration of the rights in the Charter as long as it is perfectly clear it is not going to mean anything. That would have to be perfectly clear. The moment that there is any prospect of its cutting any ice one will be reminded, as we have been reminded on numerous occasions, that there is such a thing as the veto.

What can we do? I think we can do something, which may in the long run, amount to a good deal. We ought in season and out of season to proclaim that what we mean by democracy involves toleration, and in so far as democracy is taken to mean anything else, we do not agree. There is some point in that. I hope that we in the West will go on asserting that again and again. When the time comes, and it may come more quickly than we now think, when Eastern nations who do not believe in toleration, want something from us, I hope that, instead of using rather clumsy machinery, we shall say: "We are very sorry, but we do not like you. If you want a loan or anything of that kind, treat your Jews differently. I do not think it will happen in any other way. The noble Viscount talked of people being unwilling to go to the sanction of war. Two alternatives are spoken of: You go to war or go on being nice and smiling and doing nothing. But of course there are other sanctions. You can say: "All right, if you want something out of us, who believe in democracy, behave differently." With the toleration line in the hands of the people who believe in it and who go on believing and asserting it, I believe that in time something may happen.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but there have been one or two things said about which I should like to make a comment. I was very glad to hear from all sides of the House the general consensus of opinion that the old system of minority treaties did not work. From my own personal experience I am sure that is so. These Minority Treaties, as I am sure the House will remember, were limited to what were known as the Succession States, that is to say, States created as the result of the last war. That was an utterly illogical position. If you have minority provisions for these States why not have them for every other State? Indeed that was constantly pressed upon the League of Nations by various enthusiastic people, but when experts came to look into the position, they found that to extend minority provisions to every other State in the world would create a situation almost approaching chaos. Supposing an attempt was made to extend the minority provisions to India, which is a patchwork of various minorities of every kind, racial and religious, a strain would be put on the international organization which it would not be able to stand.

There was also another danger with regard even to the Succession States; a vested interest in minorities tended to be created. There was for instance in the Sudetenland a man named Henlein, I think it was, who was the leader of the German minority, and who became the leader of a political party whose main purpose was propaganda. As a result, so far from these people being readily assimilated into Czechoslovakia the various divisions in the country were perpetuated. That happened in all the Succession States. Therefore, I am convinced from the little experience I have had of the subject, that the effect of minority provisions was exactly the opposite of that intended, and I think the old system by which minorities were gradually assimilated into the various countries was a much better one. There have been times in this country when there have been minorities—after the Danish, Saxon, and the Norman invasions—in the territories which they conquered. They gradually were welded together, and assimilated; they intermarried and gradually the British race as we know it was built up. I believe that is the only final solution for any minority problem.

The noble Earl, Lord Perth, was, I think, worried about the alternative system of the Bill of Rights, because he said that the power of the United Nations was very limited in dealing with any infraction of such a Bill of Rights. He referred in particular to one provision which does not allow the United Nations to deal with matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of member States. As he knows, that particular phrase was the subject of endless discussion at San Francisco. I fully admit that I do not think it is a satisfactory phrase, but the subject is an extremely complicated one, for if the United Nations were perpetually to intervene in the internal affairs of States, it would put so great a strain on the Organization that it would not be able to stand it. There are some nations, as we know, which would be delighted to have the locus standi to interfere everywhere in the internal affairs of members of the Organization. But that would hardly be a situation which any of us would welcome.

I personally believe in the general principle of the Bill of Rights to which the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, and the most reverend Primate have referred. It is, at any rate, a means of establishing an international standard of conduct. It would lay it down that there must be equal justice for all, within the territories of any State, of whatever race or religion: It would lay down that there must be no imprisonment without trial; and there are many other provisions which your Lordships can think of for yourselves. That should at any rate have a valuable effect in crystallizing the views of the civilized world upon the conduct Of States towards their citizens. I do not personally believe it would be possible for the United Nations actively to intervene in the internal affairs of others. Supposing a State did something which was clearly contrary to civilized conduct, it is extremely improbable that any nation would be willing to go to war about it, or even to impose economic sanctions; for our experience of economic sanctions is that they only too frequently lead to war. What might happen, however, is that, where there was a flagrant breach of the Bill of Rights,. the matter would be brought before the Assembly of the United Nations. In that Assembly there could be a full and free discussion and nobody would be able to stop it. As a result the nation in question would be held up to public obloquy.

It may be said that that is not very much, that there are nations who would not very much mind such an exposure: but I believe it would be something achieved. It would at any rate be establishing a standard of public conduct, and gradually, I believe, that would come to have an effect on recalcitrant States. We shall, my Lords, make a great mistake if we try to solve this problem too rapidly. It is a problem of gradually raising the standard of civilization of certain States, and the solving of that problem is bound to be a very slow procedure. I do believe, however, that on these lines something can be done, and I do not think there are any other lines on which it is worth while making the attempt.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, I nearly always find myself in sympathy with everything which falls from the most reverend Primate, and when he deserts his accustomed seat and goes to speak from the Dispatch Box it is really putting an undue strain upon me. I need only say that I have on this occasion, as I have on other occasions, the most complete and absolute sympathy with what he has said, and I thank the other noble Lords who followed him and who spoke on the same lines. The most reverend Primate views the matter with anxiety. So, I may say, do His Majesty's Government; they view the matter with the greatest anxiety. Speaking for myself, and I think for His Majesty's Government, I think that tolerance is not only the essence of democracy but the essence of civilization. I can imagine no better test of civilization than the way in which you treat your minorities. And, of course, this tolerance should extend not only to civil liberties but also to religious liberties, and it should extend to religious liberties to the full extent to which the most reverend Primate referred. Therefore I may say at once—and this perhaps will give the most reverend Primate some satisfaction—that on this matter His Majesty's Government are not neutral. We are protagonists for this cause, and we desire to be the antagonists of anybody who goes against this ideal.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for what he said with regard to the actions of His Majesty's Government in respect to the draft peace treaties which have already been made. I agree with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that the minority treaties of the League of Nations were not satisfactory. It is the fact, of course, that they related only to the Succession States. I think perhaps that was the crucial fact, and I think they came to be regarded as a kind of badge of inferiority, or something of that sort. I think that is one reason why they did not work. In all the peace treaties which we have been drafting in Paris we have been very careful to put in some clause so that if and when the various States become members of the United Nations Organization they will find themselves already committed to a statement of principle similar to that to which all members of the United Nations will submit. It has not actually been read. Your Lordships might like to know one of the clauses in the Italian Treaty, and will read the words: Italy shall take all measures necessary to secure to all persons under Italian jurisdiction, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, the enjoyment of human rights and of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, of press and publication, of religious worship, of political opinion and of public meeting. That is our ideal. It is one thing for us with our history and tradition to be able to support, maintain and stand for that ideal, but if we are going to be realists we must appreciate that it may be difficult to get that ideal accepted by all members of the United Nations. In the immediate future I think it will probably be impossible. But if this ideal of ours be of God, as I am sure it is, surely in the long run it will come about, and to-day we must do all we can to press forward with this ideal. The view of His Majesty's Government is that the protection of minorities must be dependent upon action by the United Nations and its members in fulfilment of the relevant provisions of the United Nations Charter. The Charter to which the members have already subscribed compels every member Government to promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedom for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, and the Economic and Social Council is empowered by the Charter to make recommendations on this subject and to prepare draft conventions. Accordingly the Economic and Social Council is appointing a Commission on Human Rights, and its immediate task is to try to draft an International Bill of Rights. The Commission has been requested by the Economic and Social Council in particular to make suggestions about the methods to be employed to ensure that the undertakings of an International Bill of Rights would be effectively observed.

The noble Earl, Lord Perth, said that any Bill of Rights proposed must contain provisions for its enforcement, and steps must be taken to see that these provisions are observed; and he referred in particular to the possible conflict between the international concept of a Bill of Rights and, I think, Article 2 (7) which deals with matters fundamentally of domestic jurisdiction. So far as the law is concerned, it is plainly established by International Law that if you have an international obligation and a question arises whether you have fulfilled your international obligation, that is never a matter of domestic jurisdiction. That must always be determined from the international point of view. Your Lordships will remember that that was laid down clearly in the case about the Tunis nationality.

Accordingly, members of the United Nations, by agreeing, if they do agree, to the provisions which will be set out in this Bill of Rights, would thereby take out of the field of domestic jurisdiction something that was previously within it. That makes it all the more necessary to define with precision and care what should be the context of this International Bill of Rights, because unless we succeed in doing that with precision we shall not get many members to adhere to it. It is, therefore, a matter requiring great judgment and political skill. Your Lordships may be assured that His Majesty's Government for their part will go as far as they possibly can and will only be deterred from going to greater lengths by practical realism, which will make them understand that if they go too far they might lose that which they otherwise would gain.

I was asked some other specific questions. In particular, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, referred to the case of the Yugoslav refugees in Italy and said he hoped His Majesty's Government would do nothing to force them to return to Yugoslavia. His Majesty's Government have no intention whatever of authorizing, and still less of requiring, the forcible repatriation of innocent political refugees for whom they are responsible. His Majesty's Ambassador in Rome has been instructed to request the Italian Government to adopt the same principle in dealing with refugees for whom they will ultimately be responsible. The suggestion that the Italian Government would "do a bargain" at the expense of these unfortunate people is one which would, I think, if carried out, involve discredit to the Italian Government. All I can say is that His Majesty's Government fully appreciate the plight of these people, but at the same time we must realize the burden which is cast upon the Italian people by the presence of these refugees. We are most anxious that all practical measures shall be taken for the safe and satisfactory solution of this problem.

The noble Earl also asked me whether I had any information as to what had happened to those Slovenes who were sent back to the Yugoslav Government. At the very end of hostilities—in fact, before hostilities actually ceased—there were discovered a considerable number of Slovenes who were fighting, in German uniform, against us. They were handed over by the military commander, through the lines, to the Yugoslav Government. Their number was considerable; it was something of the order, I think, of 900. His Majesty's Government have had no official information as to what happened to those people and therefore I am not in a position officially to deny that they may have been executed. I do not know.

I would conclude in this way. We sincerely hope that this system of an International Declaration of Human Rights will be effective, but until that Bill of Rights is drawn up there is no standard of rights under the Charter. At the present moment, therefore, it is largely a matter for individual States to determine. It would be impossible to enforce action against any State unless and until machinery had been created by the United Nations to which appeals might be directed if it were considered that the minimum standard land down was not being observed. It is the desire of His Majesty's Government that there shall be some body to which such an appeal could be made—some body which could at least bring the full floodlight of publicity to bear on all the relevant facts so that if there was anybody who was ill-treating minorities, at least he might be arraigned before the bar of international opinion.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, for the reply he has given on behalf of the Government. I feel it is very satisfactory that the Government are taking this very definite line on this matter. I feel that the whole debate has been satisfactory because it has shown that on all sides of the House there is a great concern for the civil and religious rights of minorities. There is general agreement that the old treaties failed and, I think, there is general agreement also that the new method of dealing with this is much more likely to be successful. I, for one, would certainly support the suggestion made by the noble Earl opposite when he said there ought to be some organization—it has been supported by the Lord Chancellor—which would see that the clauses in the Bill of Human Rights were carried out faithfully and which would arraign before the public opinion of the nations of the world any nation which deliberately was breaking them. I thank the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.