HL Deb 05 May 1948 vol 155 cc637-70

2.36 p.m.

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK had the following Notice on the Order Paper: In view of the forthcoming meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, to ask His Majesty's Government what instructions have been given to their representative on the Commission; and to move for Papers. The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, some eighteen months ago I brought before this House the question of minorities, and I then laid a certain amount of emphasis on the rights of minorities who were subjected to certain disabilities and, in some cases, threatened with actual persecution. To-day, I propose to cover a wider field, and to discuss the question of human rights, with some special reference to the meeting of the Commission on Human Rights which will be held, I believe, within a few weeks at Lake Success. The problem has become much more acute, I think, since we last discussed it in this House. Both in theory and in practice there is a strong political movement to destroy and even to deny human rights. The individual is looked upon merely as an instrument of the State, and it is claimed that any rights which he possesses are conferred upon him by the State, at its discretion and in its wisdom. The totalitarian State gradually sucks away from the individual all his initiative. It is like a kind of gigantic octopus. There is a striking phrase in one of Mr. Charles Williams' plays The House of the Octopus in which he makes the Marshal of the victorious country say of the conquered people: We must creep deep into their minds and swallow them there. Even non-totalitarian States are increasingly inclined to make encroachments upon the freedom and the rights of the individual. It is, therefore, a matter of great importance that a very definite stand should be taken, and that that stand should be taken with moral and spiritual as well as with material and economic weapons. It is important that we should know what are the human rights for which we are standing, and also by what particular means we propose to state them and vindicate them.

It was with this in mind that the United Nations appointed a Commission to go into the question of human rights. That Commission have held two meetings—one at the beginning the other at the end of last year—and, as I have already said, the third meeting will be held shortly. The Commission appointed three committees, one to draw up a Declaration of Human Rights, another to draft a Covenant which would be submitted to the various nations, and the third to deal with the extraordinarily difficult question of how to implement—or using, as I prefer to use, a simpler phrase—how to carry out the recommendations of the other committees. I shoud like to pay tribute to the remarkable work which has been done by our representatives at the meetings of the Commission, and those of us who are interested in religious freedom owe a special debt of gratitude to the Foreign Office for the care and trouble which they have taken over this matter. I am sure that all in this House would agree that there are certain human rights which ought to be respected, and that those human rights are not confined to any one particular class or nation or race but are universal rights which ought to be respected everywhere.

I remember Thomas Carlyle's statement, made, no doubt, in one of his fairly frequent moments of ill-temper: Human beings have got no rights, only duties. If I am asked what is the justification of human rights I shall feel bound to give the Christian answer, that all men are of value in the sight of God their Father; they have been created to obey Him, to serve Him and to love Him, and they cannot fulfil the purpose of their being unless they have freedom and other human rights. But although we may all agree that men have certain rights, it becomes more difficult to define what these rights are, and there is the tendency to increase considerably the list of human rights. I think that sometimes the tendency is to confuse the elementary human rights which belong to everyone with what is desirable for the development of human personality. I cannot say that I regard all the rights included in the proposed Declaration or in the proposed Covenant as essential human rights, though they axe all most desirable.

I group them under four heads. First, there are the rights which belong to a man as an individual, rights which are legal—that is, liberty, including protection from arbitrary arrest, from slavery, and from torture. Those rights would have been taken for granted in a civilised country at the beginning of this century. Every country in Europe which claimed to be civilised would have recognised all those rights. Since then, however, the police State has come into existence. The police State is the denial of human rights erected into a system. It is a hateful system, with its arbitrary arrests, its torture and its various other powers. But personal liberty is not enough. At one time, people were inclined to feel that personal liberties were everything. But other rights are necessary if personal liberty is to be used fully—separate rights which may be grouped under the heading of social and economic rights. Some of these rights are more disputable than those which I have mentioned. They include the right to work, the right to marriage and the right to have family life and, many would add, the right to education and the right to property—the last as a safeguard of freedom. It is easy to insert these rights in the Declaration, but technical and legal difficulties might make it rather difficult to include them in the more formal Covenant.

Thirdly, there are the rights of freedom of speech, of freedom of discussion and of freedom of the Press. The recent Conference on Information held in Geneva has shown how important these rights are. That Conference passed its first resolution on general principles in these words: Freedom of information is a fundamental right of the people and is a touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is dedicated and without which world peace cannot well be preserved. Here again, I think I ought to pay tribute to our representative, Mr. McNeil, who set forth with great ability the British view of freedom of discussion and freedom of the Press. I only wish that it were possible for the Government to allow us more newsprint, so that there might be a larger area of possibility for discussion in the Press. That, however, is not a comment to which I expect an answer; it is an impromptu interpolation.

Fourthly, there are the various freedoms connected with religion. These are of the utmost importance. Freedom of religion goes to the very conscience of man, and any infringement of the freedom of religion at once evokes passionate resistance and indignation. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote the proposed Article of the Draft Covenant: Every person shall have the right to freedom of religion, conscience and belief, including the right, either alone or in community with other persons of like mind, to hold and manifest any religious or other belief, to change his belief, and to practise any form of religious worship and observance, and he shall not be required to do any act which is contrary to such worship and observance. And, secondly: Every person of full age and sound mind shall be free, either alone or in a community with other persons of like mind, to give and receive any form of religious teaching, and in the case of a minor the parent or guardian shall be free to determine what religious teaching he shall receive. That is a very satisfactory definition, with one exception. There is an omission which I and many others would like to see remedied. In the original draft there was a statement expressly permitting the right to endeavour to persuade other persons of sound mind of the truth of his beliefs. That phrase has now been altered to: to hold and manifest any religious or other belief. That seems hardly sufficient. To the Christian, the right to propagate the Gospel and to attempt to make converts is inseparable from his faith. It is as well to be perfectly plain about this matter. Many of the persecutions in the first centuries would have been avoided if Christians had abstained from evangelist work. The Christian Churches, without exception, would agree that it is their obligation to endeavour to extend Christianity, and that on this there can be no compromise. The form of words used is of secondary importance, provided that it is made perfectly clear that this right is claimed, both for Christianity and, I would add, for all other religions. We admit, of course, that religious propaganda must not be conducted in such a way as to be a danger to public order or an excuse for subversive movements; the Church, in exercising its religious freedom, must use restraint and, except when conscience forbids, obey the injunctions of the State.

I want to add one or two observations on the importance of these clauses about religious freedom. Here again, at the beginning of this century it would have been recognised in every country that religious persecution was a relic of barbarism. But, unfortunately, the changes have been very great. First, there was the persecution in Russia immediately after the Revolution and during the years that followed. No doubt that was political, but the persecution was severe. It is only right to add that, so far as I know—and I have reliable sources of information— there is no religious persecution in Russia now, and not only the Orthodox Church but also the Protestant Churches there have greater freedom than they had under the Czars. Then there followed the persecution under Hitler, with the horrible massacre of millions of Jews. There was persecution, also, of Roman Catholics and Protestants in Germany, and many went to their death rather than deny their faith. Even now, there are occasional rumours of persecution in Europe. In Spain, the Protestants complain that they are not adequately protected in their public worship. The Roman Catholics in the Balkans, and to some extent in Poland, assert that they suffer from various disabilities and even, in some cases, from persecution.

But at the moment the most serious threat to religious freedom comes from the East, rather than from Europe. I am not thinking of India. There is every reason to hope that both in Pakistan and in India freedom will be granted to Christians and others. It is not so certain that this will be so in other Moslem countries. In some of them there is religious freedom, but in others it is threatened; and in Egypt it is more than threatened. Both Christians and Jews in Egypt are suffering from various forms of discrimination. Permits for building churches are delayed or refused. No Christian is ever appointed to an important administrative post. It is alleged that official pressure is brought to boar on firms to employ Moslems only. The convert to Christianity is subjected to many harrowing disabilities. A recent law gives the Ministry almost unlimited power to close any school, refusing to allow parents to decide what religion their children should be taught and insisting on the provision in Christian schools of Moslem teaching for Moslem pupils. Already, in certain Egyptian Christian schools the Ministry have insisted on the erection of a place of prayer for Moslem pupils within the school premises. Both the ancient Christian Churches and I he more recent missionary work in Egypt are now threatened by legislation and administrative action which is in direct opposition to religious freedom. I stress the importance of religious freedom, for its violation strikes most deeply at mar's conscience. Human rights not built on the strong rock of religious conviction, freely accepted and expressed, are built on sand, and will be shaken by every storm. I therefore hope the Government will tell us which of the human rights their representatives are pressing for inclusion in any Declaration or Covenant, and that they will assure us—as I am certain they will—that foremost among them is religious freedom.

I now go on to ask in what way it is proposed that human rights should be generally accepted and protected. I know that some of those with whom I usually agree would like to see special protection given by treaty to minorities, either religious or racial, within a State. I am very doubtful about the wisdom of including in treaties with individual States special clauses dealing with their minorities. Experience has shown that that is not a satisfactory method. The special treatment of a minority imposed by a superior force from without may even excite prejudice against it. A proud and sensitive nation will feel humiliated and irritated by the presence of groups, either large or small, protected by regulations which the nation has been forced to accept. It is far better, in my opinion, that both individuals and minorities should be protected in exactly the same way as everyone else—namely, by the international acceptance of a Declaration of Human Rights, reinforced by a Covenant freely entered into by the State concerned. In this country no special regulations are required for the protection either of racial or religious minorities. Their members, I am informed, dislike special treatment which would separate them from their fellow citizens. But there are minorities less happy, and it is for their sake that all States should be asked voluntarily to enter into an international Covenant which would recognise and respect the rights of well-defined communities within their borders, to preserve their religion, their language, their culture and their schools. I would press, therefore, both for a Declaration and for a Covenant.

I know that there are many who are sceptical about the value of Declarations, and I sympathise a good deal with this hesitation. I often wonder about the value of the statements, letters and appeals which occasionally we see in the Press, signed by a number of distinguished people. I cannot help noticing that again and again these appeals are signed by the same people. As one of my friends irreverently said: "The same old circus." I doubt very much whether that kind of general appeal is effective. But it is entirely different when you have a Declaration, carefully drawn up after months of deliberation, signed by responsible people and presented to responsible nations. That is almost certain to have a considerable influence and, after all, history shows that some Declarations have had a great influence on the future course of events. I believe that a Declaration of Human Rights, stating what the human rights are, would help to create an international conscience in the matter and, by so doing, raise the whole subject to a higher level. I agree that it would not be sufficient merely to have a Declaration of Human Rights. It ought to be supported by a Covenant, into which nations would freely enter. I assume that at first probably only a small proportion of those who signed the Declaration would enter into the Covenant. But if a few of the strongest nations entered into it, and acted upon it, I am sure that in the course of time other nations would do likewise. We must not be discouraged if at first only a few of the nations enter into the Covenant.

I do not propose to say anything about the third committee, which deals with the implementation of these recommendations. For one thing, I do not know what the recommendations are, and if I did I should feel that the matter was so difficult and so controversial that I was incapable of dealing with it. I rely much more upon the creation of an international conscience in the matter than on sanctions which are to be enforced against those who disregard the Convention. I have every reason to believe that the Government will be able to give a satisfactory reply on the various matters I have raised. The Government, with the full support of the nation, are now doing their utmost to persuade the various nations of Europe to co-operate in defence of the values which are common to them all. But the values of mercy, truth, justice and freedom are not mere abstract ideals. They have to be expressed and worked out in human lives. Even the poorest and humblest should appropriate such values, but he cannot do so unless he has the elementary human rights. Therefore, when we are urging that human rights should be respected and safeguarded, we are asking merely that the essential values upon which our civilisation is built should be respected. Without these values we could no longer describe our civilisation as a Christian civilisation. I beg to move for Papers.

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, once again I feel sure the House is grateful to the most reverend Primate for raising this important question. I have a personal reason for being grateful to him. After the debates last week he has almost reconciled me to the Episcopal Bench. The most reverend Primate rightly pointed to the changes that have taken place in connection with this question since last he raised it several months ago. Some of those changes have been good and some have been bad. Upon the good side, there is the fact, as he has already stated, that we now have in draft both a Declaration and a Covenant. Further, we have suggestions for an organisation to carry the Covenant into effect. We have also the very effective support which has been given to the question by His Majesty's Government. I have in mind, particularly, the fact that some months ago they issued a White Paper that has obviously provided instructions for the Government representative upon the Commission. Further, there has undoubtedly been a considerable increase of interest in the whole of this question, particularly in the United States. I had the chance of visiting Lake Success during the winter, and of discussing some of these questions with the representatives of the various Governments on the Economic and Social Council. I own that I was greatly impressed by the keen interest which was taken in the question, and my impressions have been further confirmed by the distinguished and enthusiastic part taken by Mrs. Roosevelt, both at Geneva and in the United States. So far, so good. The question is exciting greater interest and it is also attracting to itself a greater volume of support.

On the other hand, since our last debate there have been certain sinister features upon the debit side. There has been in these months a still more flagrant violation of these rights in many of the countries of Europe. These violations have been all the more flagrant by reason of the fact that they are in direct contradiction to the obligation undertaken in the Peace Treaties with Hungary, Bulgaria and Roumania, which were ratified only a few months ago. I well remember those debates and the emphasis which was put upon the clauses specifically guaranteeing human rights. Let me remind your Lordships of the clause that appeared in each of the Treaties, and to which, during the debate, more than one noble Lord drew specific attention. I take the extract from the Treaty with Roumania, but the clause is uniform with all three Peace Treaties: Roumania shall take all measures necessary to secure to all persons under Roumanian jurisdiction, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, the enjoyment of human rights and of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, of press and publication, of religious worship, of political opinion and of public meeting. Each of those three Governments, Roumanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian, undertook that specific obligation, and from that day till now they have violated the obligation in every direction.

In view of these violations, the question arises as to whether it is any good going on with a plan based upon the universal acceptance of certain obligations when it is quite clear that the representatives of many of the Governments taking part in the discussions have not the least intention of carrying them into effect. In view of this undeniable fact, we might be led to the conclusion that the attempt has failed, that we had better abandon the idea of a Declaration, a Covenant, and a Bill of Rights, and leave it to the public opinion of the countries of the West to insist that their Governments carry out these obligations, each in its own country. I am inclined to think, although there is a good argument to be used for that line of action, that it would be a mistake, after all these discussions, to abandon the attempt. I agree with what the most reverend Primate has just said about a Declaration. I believe that it would be good for the world if a Declaration of these rights were reaffirmed, at least by the countries that believe in them. I agree with him that although Declarations may often be mere scraps of paper, there are Declarations that have had a great effect upon subsequent history. I remember that Lord Acton said of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, that it had been more effective than all the armies of Napoleon. There is a case where a Declaration had a very impressive effect upon the public opinion of future generations.

I would therefore go ahead with the present plan, preparing a Declaration, preparing a Covenant and, going a step further, preparing a Bill of Rights; and, perhaps most important of all in my view, creating a permanent organisation for collecting information and stimulating public opinion. I agree with the most reverend Primate that the time has not arrived when we can contemplate sanctions. I believe, however, that an organisation of this kind, by stimulating public opinion and circulating information, would make it less easy for an unscrupulous Government to repudiate these rights. I would, therefore, as I say, go on with this present plan of the Declaration, the Covenant and the Bill, frankly accepting the fact that a number of countries whose representatives are now discussing the question at Geneva are not in the least likely to carry out the obligations. That being so, I would concentrate upon the countries, particularly the countries of Western Europe and of America, which think alike upon these subjects.

I would not only concentrate their attention upon these human rights; I would put every possible pressure upon them to set their own houses in order, here and now. I believe that there is a good deal to be done in the further protection of human rights, even in some of the countries of the West and of the American Continent. I will give your Lordships a single instance of what is in my mind. In the Draft Declaration of the Draft Covenant there are specific provisions about the right to speedy trial, the right to know the accusation made against a citizen and the right to regular judicial processes. I am fully aware that as a result of the war it was impossible to safeguard these rights in the way that they would have been safeguarded in time of peace. At the same time I feel that the time has come, particularly in Western Europe, to clear up this aftermath of the war and to ensure that the thousands of men and women who are still waiting untried in the countries of the West should be tried without delay and should have the right to effective judicial processes.

I have here certain figures about the number of political prisoners—not behind the Iron Curtain, for there as we know, there may be millions—but in the countries of Western Europe. My figures, I admit, are not up to date: they are figures of a year ago. They show that a year ago there were still 30,000 Frenchmen awaiting trial in France, a great many of them in camps and prisons; there were 40,000 people in Belgium and there were 50,000 in Holland. I do not wish in any way to be misunderstood: it may be that against many of these men and women there was a strong case to be made. But what I am saying is that the time has arrived for the Western Governments to put into effective action these rights, and to guarantee under the Declaration and the Covenant that one of the most urgent human rights is this right to quick trial by regular judicial processes. That is a step which the countries of the West can take immediately. Secondly, I urge that the countries of Western Europe should make it quite clear that no country can be allowed to accede to what we now call the Western Union unless it loyally carries out these obligations and respects human rights as we understand them.

I have said something about countries behind the Iron Curtain—the dictatorships of the Left that outrage these human rights. But I have also in mind the dictatorships of the Right. I have particularly in mind the question of Spain. I am sure that we should all like to see Spain re-established in the comity of Western countries, on every ground: historically, economically and strategically. We all want the Spanish people to be recognised as essential members of any Western Union of the future. Unfortunately, the Spanish Government are still a totalitarian Government, in the hands of a dictator who was undoubtedly hostile to the Allied cause during the Second World War. As a result, Spain is still a police State, in which the human rights embodied in the Draft Declaration and Convention are constantly ignored and outraged. Only last week I noticed the case of a very prominent Spaniard, one of their best generals, who was, incidentally, consistently on the Allied side during the Second World War and one of the few Spanish generals to take that view. He was arrested not for any overt act against the Government of the day, not for stirring up civil commotion, but for saying in a private conversation that he was anxious to see a constitutional régime in place of the existing dictatorship. He was sent off for three months' detention in a fortress. I quote that case to show how even to-day the Spanish Government are outraging these very rights that have so prominent a part in the Declaration and Convention now being drawn up.

The most reverend Primate quoted the provision about freedom of opinion. What better case could one have of the repudiation of a right such as that than the incident that I have just quoted? I would therefore say that the Western countries, whilst going on with the present plan of the Declaration and the Convention, should issue a clear statement saying that a recognition of these rights is a fundamental condition for entering the Western Union, and that until these rights are guaranteed in Spain, whether under a Republican Government or under a Monarchical Government, Spain can have no part in this particular association; in other words, that the guarantee of these human rights should be the "club rules," if I may use that expression, for the civilised countries of the West. Let me end by offering the Government my congratulations upon the steps that they have already taken, by wishing them success in the future steps that they may be able to take and, particularly, by drawing their attention to the point that I ventured to make at the end of my speech—that the acceptance of these rights ought to be the condition for the admission of States into the Union of Western Europe.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, the most reverend Primate has certainly put before your Lordships a subject of the highest importance and one which may play a really vital part in the future of our civilisation. And I would like to associate myself with the last speaker in expressing our gratitude to the most reverend Primate for so doing. Apart from that, I would associate myself with nearly everything that the most reverend Primate said. That is particularly true of his remarks about minorities. When I was Secretary-General of the League of Nations, I had considerable experience of minority treaties and their workings. I am clearly convinced that the system then adopted was a mistake. The minority thought themselves segregated from the rest of their compatriots. Not only that; they were often looked upon as the scapegoats if anything went wrong in the country. Things may have gone wrong for which they were in no way responsible, but immediately there was an outburst of "Ah, it is due to that minority." A further point is that minority treaties are likely to be used by people outside for improper political purposes. Therefore, it is much better to have a general Convention applying to all the inhabitants, without any special reference to minorities as such. I entirely agree with what the most reverend Primate has said.

The Commission on Human Rights, with the assistance of their Working Party who are deserving of oar warmest thanks for all that they have done, have now, after eighteen months' work, framed a Draft Declaration and a Draft Convention or Covenant. Those two documents, which are not yet completed, will shortly come before the Commission. I imagine that after that, they will have to go before the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, and it will then be for the Economic and Social Council to put them before the General Assembly of the United Nations. Therefore, it must take a little time before any progress can be made.

As your Lordships probably know, the Charter of the United Nations, after expressing the determination that succeeding generations shall be spared the scourge of war, reaffirms faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and value of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations, large and small. It is to give effect to that particular passage in the Introduction to the Charter that the two documents which have been referred to have been drawn up. I do not intend to weary your Lordships with any detailed criticisms of those two Drafts, but I should like to make a few general observations about them, The draft Declaration consists of thirty-three Articles, the text of some of which has not yet been settled. It endeavours to deal with every possible contingency and, frankly, to my mind it is much too long and much too complex. May I quote two Articles which I feel quite sure His Majesty's Government if they accept the Declaration, will find extremely difficult to put into force, though their principles are admirable. Article 9 says: Everyone shall be entitled to protection under law from unreasonable interference with his reputation, his privacy and his family. His home and correspondence shall be inviolable. One could not open another person's letters, even if that person were suspected of improperly sending money out of the country. These matters cannot be applied in the sense of these highly technical phrases. There is another Article to which I should like to refer. I do not know whether or not it concerns human rights. Article 24, paragraph (2), says: Women shall work with the same advantages as men and receive equal pay for equal work. That is a great principle, and His Majesty's Government will probably agree with that point of view though in our present economic position it is hardly practical to give effect to it.

It is well worth noting that at the beginning of the Second Session of the Commission, which started on December 2 last year, the representative of the United States put forward a shorter and non-technical Draft, consisting of only ten Articles. That Draft seems to me to be preferable to the longer one, and it does, in fact, cover all the essential points; so much so that if it were adopted, accepted and carried into effect by the various States comprised in the United Nations, the Iron Curtain itself would be completely swept aside and the prospect of "One world" would again become apparent. But to hope for such a result from the adoption of a Declaration of this kind would be to display excessive optimism.

I cannot forget that the original constitution put forward by Stalin was a magnificent work in theory and gave to all those who were to be affected by it a high degree of freedom and liberty, but, so far as I know, it has never, even nominally, come into effect. It remains a tombstone, a memorial of ideas and ideals which have, alas, in this case been consigned to oblivion; and I fear that even a Declaration such as is now proposed will not bring them to fresh life. But I agree with the most reverend Primate that Declarations of this kind must not be too lightly considered and dismissed as meaningless, since, if they are accepted by numerous nations, they do afford a certain standard. Therefore I trust that His Majesty's Government will give their support to the Declaration though, as I say, I think the draft as at present put forward is far too long, and that the shorter one put forward by Mrs. Roosevelt is more acceptable and would be much more likely to be adopted by a larger number of nations.

I now turn to the Draft Covenant, which to my mind is a proposal of far greater importance, because it will be definitely binding upon those States who sign and accede to it. On the whole, the Articles are fully adequate to secure the adequate observance by the signatory States of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Again, I do not propose to enter into any detailed criticism, but there are two points upon which I should like to comment. Article 3, which was referred to by implication, gives the power and the duty of supervising the execution of the Covenant to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and of requiring from any Government who are a party to the Convention explanations as to the manner in which the law of that State gives effect to the provisions of the Covenant. I think that is really a wise plan, because otherwise the situation might be invidious, in that if the duty were not entrusted to the Secretary-General, and a State, a party to the Covenant, believed that its provisions were being violated, then it would have to act as a prosecutor, which is not a happy position. Of course, the State would still have the opportunity of passing to the Secretary-General the information it has as to the violation of the Covenant, but it will not be compelled to act as the accuser.

I come now to the last part—namely, Part III—Article 23, of the Draft Covenant, which deals with the accession of States, members of the United Nations, and how and when the Covenant will come into effect. Frankly, on that point I am not at all happy. The Article lays down that so soon as two-thirds of the States members of the United Nations have acceded to the Covenant, the latter will come into force between them. It seems to me that the proportion of two-thirds is unduly high, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will ask for a reconsideration of that proportion. As the representative of His Majesty's Government said at the second session of the Commission, the Covenant is in so precise a form that it will not be easy to achieve, and he added that only a limited number of the member States of the United Nations might be willing to subscribe to it immediately. Assuming that is so, the two-thirds majority now required seems to make any swift progress almost impracticable. What I fail to see is why for instance, if one-third of the members were prepared to subscribe to the Covenant, it should not come into force at once between them. I do not know if the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will be able to give me any assurances on that point, but I earnestly hope that it may receive careful consideration.

My Lords, that finishes all I have to say about the Declaration and the Covenant; but in conclusion there is another aspect of the question upon which I should like to dwell—namely, what are the distinguishing features of what we call Western civilisation and our way of life? Surely it is our respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms—a respect which we derive from Christianity. In a recent debate on foreign affairs in your Lordships' House I pleaded for an extension of the agreement happily reached between France, the Benelux countries and ourselves, so that arrangements could be made for the constitution of a wider Western European Union. I had in mind in particular those countries which have accepted Marshall Aid. It may well be that some of those countries are not prepared, at present at any rate, to accept all the implications of adhering to the Five-Power Agreement, but they might be prepared to make arrangements of a less formal character. I share the hope of the noble Viscount, and I suggest that a Covenant on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms might play a very important part. If a considerable number of Western European States were prepared to conclude a Convention on the lines laid down by the Commission, then a further step forward could be taken towards cementing existing ties and establishing a true community of ideas and actions. A Covenant of this kind would form an admirable pendant to the Convention for European Economic Co-operation which was signed in Paris last April by sixteen nations. Of course, it would be necessary to adopt some of the administrative clauses of the Covenant for such a purpose. This, however, is a minor problem. If this step could be taken, there would be definite progress towards that lager Western Union for which we all hope. In that regard I agree with the noble Viscount that it might well become the test for entry into the Union of other countries—even those who are not at present participating in the European Recovery Programme. I am not going to follow the noble Viscount in all he said about Spain. Some of the things I should like to challenge seem at the moment to be rather outside the sphere of our discussion to-day. No doubt all these matters will be debated at the forthcoming Conference at the Hague, and I hope that all those who take part in the discussions there will keep their feet firmly planted on the ground—if I may put it so—and not indulge in giving expression to theories which may not be practical. In this connection, and in conclusion, I should like to repeat, for the benefit of those noble Lords who sit on the Government Benches, a statement which I made on March 3. I said on that occasion: If a Western European Union is to be secured, it cannot be through the Socialist Parties alone. All Parties who favour it must be allowed to join in its promotion. Surely, the happenings in Italy and elsewhere have given added strength to what I then said. If the Government refuse to listen to warnings given in your Lordships' House, I trust that, at least, they will pay heed to events which are proving those warnings to be accurate.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that the most reverend Primate has introduced this Motion, and I am sure that the tribute which he paid to His Majesty's Government for their conduct of foreign affairs in relation to this matter of human rights was justified. I agree with noble Lords who have already spoken, that human rights are of paramount importance, that they must take precedence over property and over material things generally. Further, I agree that human rights, whether hey affect the well-being and the lives of few or of many, constitute a matter upon which it is well to focus our attention at the present time. We should do so in order that we may be the better able to stir up public opinion, and to ensure that human rights are upheld.

For the moment, instead of speaking of human rights in relation to the many, I would refer to the rights of a very small number of people—the dozen or so Russian wives of British subjects, whose case has been so ably put before your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart. He has pleaded most ably for those people, and I have no doubt that he will do so again. To me, having seen some of the husbands, it appears that this is essentially a human problem. Had the Russian Government seen fit to treat this matter of human rights in the proper way, I am sure that a better feeling would have been created in this country and, indeed, throughout the world. In passing, I would like to remind your Lordships that this matter, which concerns only twenty-four human beings, has occupied the attention of Mr. Ernest Bevin, in Moscow and elsewhere. He has personally approached the heads of the Soviet Government to see whether anything could be done; but so far, as your Lordships are aware, he has been met with blank refusals. That is one matter in which fundamental human rights are affected.

Some time ago I visited Austria. In Carinthia, I saw an internment camp in which 1,213 Croatians were living. These people dared not go across the border, which was only a mile or two away, because they knew that if they did they would assuredly come to an untimely end. Some of them spoke English, and I had with me a very able interpreter. I found that some of the men, women and children in that camp were suffering because they had stood up for their right to worship as they wished. The only asylum which they could find was under the British flag. Our people were looking after them and caring for them. At another camp I found some 200 or 300 children suffering acutely from various diseases. They were children of many nations—excepting our own. His Majesty's Government were doing their best to encourage people to care for those unfortunates and to rescue them from the prospect of an early grave. It is the human rights of people such as those to whom I have just been referring that we should seek to safeguard. I speak not only of one nation; later, I shall mention another.

In these internment camps, containing in all, it may be, 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 men, women and children, the inmates were deprived of their human rights. I could not help wondering if—whether we go to Lake Success or not—we shall be able to do one scrap of good; whether it would not be better for us to withdraw from the United Nations, instead of waiting for its collapse. Would it not, perhaps, be better for us to pull out before the inevitable frustration occurs? There are many ordinary folks—ordinary "blokes" as the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, calls some of us—who would prefer that we should withdraw altogether from the whole set-up, when it seems that we are hardly likely to meet with any success.

One Sunday, accompanied by a competent interpreter, I spent nearly the whole day going from one village to another in Carinthia. First they were Slovene, then Austrian, then again Slovene and once more Austrian. During the afternoon I went into some of their Roman Catholic chapels. The only difference that I noticed between the Slovene and Austrian villages was that the parish magazine of the Slovenes was published in their own tongue; and these peoples were living on terms of complete harmony. Now, at the present moment, 200 or 300 yards away from here, men are scrapping and quarrelling as to what is to happen to the remains of what was once a great Austria. And apparently the only suggestion they can make is to put into practice what was done with the 3,000,000 people from the Sudetenland—to carry out a forcible evacuation! The suggestion, in fact, is that these people should be, so to speak, dug up by their roots. That, in my opinion, is a total denial of human rights. I could go on in this strain at length, because I received a very liberal education when I made my pilgrimage to the country which is to-day the Cinderella of Europe, the country which is richest in culture, religion and art. It is a country which is surely worth preserving.

May I remind your Lordships of another incident—this time on the frontier of Yugoslavia? A week ago last Sunday three persons strayed across the invisible border, and went for a peaceful picnic. Now, the wife has become a distraught widow, and the other man was severely manhandled. It is such human rights as were involved here that we have to try to protect.

In talking about an international Bill of Rights, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said that a two-thirds agreement before the Covenant could be implemented was too much I am a little cynical about being able to get two-thirds; if we get one-fiftieth, it will mean that there is a prospect of real peace in this stricken world. One man, a Russian refugee, said to me this morning—with sorrow, not with hatred—that this was a pleasant world, except for those who were making it bitter by their denial of human rights. I would say as a Back Bencher—and I do not suppose that anything I say will upset international relations, although it would do them no harm if they were upset a little by a robust public opinion—and I ask your Lordships to agree with me, that if one man, the most powerful leader in the world to-day, would agree to recognise human rights, then there would be a better prospect in the world. That one man, in the opinion of the "ordinary bloke," is Mr. Molotov. Upon Mr. Molotov rests a terrific power of being able to do good instead of evil. I wish that our words could reach him.

Some of our friends abroad exploit public opinion in this country. They think that we are afraid of war because we hate it, and that because we do not threaten war we are soft. Quite frankly, I do not believe that the United Nations can be successful so long as it is based upon its present administration. This country is ready to declare that world peace must be based on the acknowledged right of human beings to live decent ordinary lives, but we want other countries, and especially the Soviet Government, to realise that we want their agreement and friendship. We do not want their fists, but the palms of their hands to clasp in friendship. If we could achieve that, we could go to Lake Success with some chance of achieving agreement. But if I were a Member of another place I would be prepared to vote that Supply be reduced, to save wasting money on a venture which cannot be successful.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to intervene, but during the course of the speeches one or two considerations occurred to me which I would like to put before your Lordships. This is certainly a subject of immense importance. I lived my adolescent and early adult life between the wars, when nations were constantly adhering to Covenants and Declarations, and perhaps it is with that memory in my mind that I am a little sceptical about more Covenants and more Declarations. It always seems to me that people are apt to think about general ideas but are unwilling to concentrate heir minds and attention on the nearer and more practical aspects of those ideas. Human rights are difficult to define, but we can recognise them often by heir absence. It seems to me to boil down to this: Is our civilisation to continue to exist under the rule of law, or not? I know that in speaking of the rule of law in a House which contains so many eminent legal luminaries, I am, to use a vulgar phrase, "slicking my neck out," and if challenged I should find it difficult to give precise definitions.

It is no good blinking the fact that there are profound differences of philosophy in Europe to-day, and not only between Eastern and Western Europe, but in Western Europe itself. Even in Western Europe we have not yet made up our minds upon the important and difficult question of the extent of the powers which the Government should have as against the individual. I believe that, until some generally accepted philosophy is created among the nations of Western Europe as to the proper sphere of the State, we shall not achieve any common doctrine about human rights. It is when we come to look at particular things that we find difficulties arise. I am sure that tyrants, or committees of tyrants, are perfectly certain in their own minds that they are doing their best, not only for themselves but for the people they rule. People do not necessarily become tyrants because they are bad. They sometimes become tyrants because they wish to do too much good to other people. It is a sense of conscious rectitude which often does so much harm to the rule of law, because once you think you know more than the people you are ruling about what is good for them, then you immediately set about trying to acquire powers in order to do them that good against their own will.

I cannot refrain from recalling an article which I recently read in the New Statesman and Nation entitled "Peasant Democracies." On the whole, it approved of the economic development which is taking place in the Balkans, and particularly in Yugoslavia. It stated that the peasants generally did not particularly appreciate being collectivised. It remarked philosphically that it is often extremely difficult to persuade people of the good intentions of the Government in trying to do them good against their own will. I have paraphrased, but that was in fact what was said; and they said it quite solemnly and without their tongue in their cheek. I think the people who direct that periodical really believe it. That is a point of view which is current on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and while that point of view subsists, while there are a number of people who, often from the highest motives—though sometimes, I fear, merely from love of power—are in favour of control by the State, and while present tendencies are, as I believe they are, towards allowing the State vastly increased powers, then it seems to me that a debate on International Conventions to preserve human rights is a discussion in vacuo. I suggest that in this matter we should, to some extent, be introspective. We should apply the rather vague generalisations of the Declarations which have been drawn up and see how they work out in our own economy and our own institutions. When we have cleared our minds by that kind of action, and if, having done so, we can come to a common basis for agreement, then we may proceed in the international field with some chance of success. But while we are divided among ourselves, however much we may try and conceal that division, I do not believe that any useful international instrument will be forged—not one, at any rate, that will prevail for any length of time.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting debate, and I am sure all your Lordships will agree that we owe a real debt to the most reverend Primate for raising a subject which is clearly of importance to every one of us. In rising to address your Lordships, it is not my intion to follow the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, in the very interesting argument which he advanced. I only wish, briefly, to support in particular what has been said by my noble friend Lord Templewood with regard to human rights. Clearly, all of us, in whatever part of the House we sit, wish, like the most reverend Primate himself, to see the general acceptance by members of the United Nations of a civilised and humane standard of conduct by Governments towards those who live within their borders. But equally, I feel very strongly with Lord Templewood that to have a document which is signed by people who have not the slightest intention of acting in the spirit of that document would be a hollow mockery. We all remember our melancholy experience over the minority treaties in the years before the war to which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, referred. As I think he very truly said, it was found in practice that one unfortunate result of those treaties was that they perpetuated the division of the countries into majorities and minorities, each of which became, as it were, a vested interest of its own. Therefore, instead of welding the countries together, they had the opposite effect. But, in addition—and this is perhaps more relevant to our discussion this afternoon—in one country after another affected by the treaties the Government ultimately repudiated the provisions. They did not do it quite openly, but in effect they refused to pay the slightest attention to them. The League of Nations could do nothing, and, in fact, did nothing, to help the minorities. Therefore, the only result of those minority provisions, which had been so well meant by those who framed them, was to show up the weakness of the world organisation. We do not want that all over again.

I notice that in His Majesty's Draft Bill, which I understand was submitted to the Drafting Committee of the Economic and Social Council, Article 7—to which I think reference has already been made—provides that if a party to the Bill is found, by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly, to have violated the provisions of the Bill, they will render themselves liable to expulsion from the United Nations. Personally, I do not think horrific threats of that kind are much good. The nation in question will only snap their fingers at the United Nations, and, in fact, they are very unlikely to, be expelled on those grounds alone. The real truth is that if nations—whether members of the United Nations or not—are barbarous and uncivilised, and have a low standard of honour, justice and general morality, you cannot ensure even a minimum standard of human rights unless you are willing to go to war with them; and if their offence is committed within their own borders, I do not think anybody will go to war. It is far better not to ask those countries to sign a document of this kind, but to confine the Bill of Rights to those who really intend to act in accordance with its spirit. For that reason, I agree with my noble friend Lord Templewood that it would be far better at present to limit a document of this kind to the free nations of Western Europe—to the United States, to the British Commonwealth, and to those other countries who accept the basic principles of Western civilisation.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, that what has happened in the last few years, unhappy though it has been, would justify us in repudiating our membership of the United Nations. I think that would be going too far. But in a case of this kind, where a new document is being negotiated, it might be better, at any rate in the initiation of the document and in the first years, to confine it to the nations who are signatories to the Western Pact, with power to take in other countries as and when they apply for membership; or even to go outside the United Nations altogether for this particular purpose and to formulate a separate Bill of Rights which would be adhered to by the nations who supported the principles for which it stood. I hope the Government will not take too rigid an attitude about this question, but will consider the best course of action. I should like to see the Bill of Rights, but it is no good starting it upon a false and crumbling foundation. I am quite certain that to invite the signatures of nations who are at present breaking every principle underlying the Bill would be an absolute absurdity, and a tragic one at that.

Finally, I hope that we shall impress on all countries the fact that rights also involve duties. I would not go so far as Carlyle, to whom the most reverend Primate referred, and say that there are no rights but only duties. That is a very austere creed. But I do believe that at the present time far too much emphasis is laid on rights and far too little on duties. It is only if there is a proper balance between the two that we shall ever achieve real advance in civilisation. For that reason, in particular, it is surely desirable that the rights which are incorporated in the Bill should be fundamental rights; they should be real rights, real basic rights. I have no complaints of the list which was enumerated by the most reverend Primate; I thought that the rights which he described were both fundamental and comprehensive. But there have grown up others of a rather different character to which reference is sometimes made.

I think I am right in saying that the Human Rights Commission, which sat in December, 1947, decided to consider a Declaration of thirty-three Articles. One of the rights was to be the right to rest and leisure. I fully agree that the provision of rest and leisure for the whole population is a most desirable objective, but I should have thought that it was not possible to argue that everybody has a right to rest and leisure. There are a good many of your Lordships who have very little rest and leisure. Take, for instance, the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. As I understand it, he is working all day and most of the night; but I am sure he would not suggest that he was, by that fact, deprived of a primary human right. What he is losing is an amenity of life—which is quite a different thing. It is an important thing, but it is not at all the same as a right.

I hope that none of us will fall into the error of confusing fights and amenities, as is done only too often to-day. It we stick to essential rights, and if we confine the signature of this document to countries which intend to honour their word and which will not need to be compelled to do so—indeed, I think they cannot be compelled to do so—I still think that this proposed Bill of Human Rights might be a valuable contribution to maintaining the standards of civilisation. But if we try too much, then I am afraid we shall utterly fail. I therefore beg the Government, with very real diffidence, to see that in this matter their policy is both sensible and practicable. Speaking on behalf of those who sit on these Benches, I am quite certain that if the Government show that spirit they will receive the support of all of us to whom the maintenance of fundamental human rights and liberties is one of the most important things in the world.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven for seeking to intervene in an impromptu way in a debate of this character, but one or two points occur to me which I would like to express, and they will not take long. With reference to the point made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that those nations which cannot be expected to carry out the principles of human rights should not be asked to agree to do so, and that it should be left to those nations which accept in the main the principles of human freedom, it appears that by such a course we should be rather beating the air. After all, the nations which accept are just those that hardly need put pen to paper to emphasise the agreement which they accept. Nations which are willing to carry out their policies upon the lines of human freedom are the last to be required to sign any document of this character.

A further point which occurs to me is this. I feel that in dealing with a subject of this kind, in the rather abstract way in which it has been introduced by the most reverend Primate, we are really beating the air. I do not think you can settle any question of this character by merely passing resolutions about it. You have to go a little further than that. There is an article in the current Quarterly Review—one of the important reviews—which points out that at the time of the French Revolution the revolutionary parties in France—at any rate, those which were more in touch with the peasantry—did not base their revolutionary demands or aspirations solely upon abstract liberties, but always combined with them the notion of land reform, and the notion of some economic basis for human liberty. I am not for a moment going to take the line that the economic basis of human life is always the most important, and necessarily the most fundamental, at any particular time. I would stand for certain liberties, as I understand them, even though it meant, not economic advantage but economic disadvantage. You might, by means of some ideal form of society, allow all the economic plums to fall into my lap; but if that were possible only by the sacrifice of personal freedom I should not wish to have those plums. I think there is something much more important than economic advantage.

But I invite the House to consider whether, willy nilly, we must not take into account the economic factor in human life and development. My noble friend Lord Calverley has spoken about Mr. Molotov, about the Russians and their attitude. It is a remarkable fact that our conception of democracy—which I suppose dates in this country more or less from the time of John Stuart Mill—is peculiar to this country; indeed it is unique. I do not want to exaggerate or generalise upon the question, but our conception of Western democracy is not the same as that in even those countries which we call Western. Still less is it the same as that in what we call the Eastern democratic countries—to use the distinction that is frequently made between Eastern and Western democracy. The Russians, for instance—unless they feel that it will serve their political purpose, in which case they will do anything; the majority of them have no political conscience at all—will not sign documents with the idea of supporting abstract rights of human freedom. They sneer at what they call a bourgeois morality and bourgeois democracy. Why? Because they take the line that until there is a fundamental economic freedom, it is impossible to have a democracy or morality worth having; that, so long as there is any form of monopoly of the means of living and of the land of the country (as the revolutionaries of France, to whom I have referred also believed) so long as people have not the freedom of the world in which they live to carry on and maintain their rights, and to express their duties one to another, it is a little idle to talk about political freedom, let alone about religious freedom.

That is the Russian view, and we ought to give it a little more concrete attention, because there is something in it. I am not defending the Russian attitude. I believe in liberty and democracy, as we understand the term here. I am old-fashioned enough to believe in John Stuart Mill. But it is a fact that large numbers of people, in large areas of this world, are beginning to suspect this abstract talk about freedom, human morality and relationships, and the rest of it, when at the same time there is not the opportunity to work, and to obtain by work and effort a reasonable and decent kind of economic life. I am merely inviting noble Lords to recognise the fact that there is an aspect of the question to be considered which has more relation to economics than to abstract generalisations. There is not much to be gained by merely putting documents before nations to be signed. We know from experience, in regard to questions of war and peace (I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Temple-wood, knows from his own experience during the last decade, especially in foreign politics) how little such documents are to be relied upon, if something goes wrong behind—if, in spite of all the scraps of paper that have been signed, some question of economic or trading interests intervenes.

Therefore, before we talk vaguely and generally upon morality and democracy, we ought to pay attention to the necessity for considering economic morality—the right of individuals to live a proper economic life. We must do that before we can expect the whole world to join with us in a faith in that kind of political freedom which in this country is the result of a thousand years of Parliamentary government and of the development of democratic life. Such a history does not exist in other countries, and we must take this into account. Particularly must we recognise, without supporting the Russian attitude towards political and world affairs, the amount of reality that there is in the fact that economics and morals stand fundamentally together.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my sense of indebtedness to the most reverend Primate for raising this matter to-day. My only quarrel with him, if indeed I have a quarrel, is that he, like the other speakers, has given me nothing to quarrel about—because on the broad issue we here are of course all agreed. The most reverend Primate and I get our answer to the question from the Christian faith; but from whatever philosophical or other source that answer comes, it is surely clear that there cannot be civilised or indeed a decent society unless a man is allowed to work out his own salvation in his own way, according to his own lights, controlled only in so far as is necessary to prevent his interference with the freedom of others. We are all agreed about that. When the most reverend Primate gives me instances of lack of religious freedom in other countries, I can only say that I have no precise information about it. I regret, however, that such information as I have leads me to suppose that what he says is not at all unlikely to be taking place. It is deplorable. There certainly should be in any Covenant some statement of the right of any religious body to propagate its own religion—subject, of course, to the question of avoiding disturbance, or anything of that sort. With that we all agree.

It seems to me that the dilemma we are in at the present time is this. We can either have a vague and general statement in the form of a Declaration which will be full of fine-sounding phrases, and get everybody, or at any rate a large number, to agree to it—conscious, at the same time, as we must be, that there is a great risk that a large number of those who do agree will never honour it—or we can come down to precise particulars; and if we do that, I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, that there is something to be said for trying to get some statement dealing with the economic side. At the present moment the position is that we contemplate that there shall be a Declaration. But a Declaration in itself is really nothing more than a statement of ideals. I certainly do not write it down as useless merely because it is a statement of ideals; I think it is valuable from time to time that we should state what our ideals are. Let us, by all means, hitch our wagon to a star—but let us not overlook or forget that there are ruts in the road.

Accordingly, His Majesty's Government attach great importance at the present time to a Covenant, if we can get a Covenant, and to the machinery of enforcement if we can get that. We want to get, if we can, this Declaration, this Covenant and this machinery assented to by a substantial number—I quite agree with the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that the exact number is a point that should be considered—of the United Nations; and it should operate through the machinery of the United Nations. This must be a proposition made by member States of the United Nations. We have a Declaration in draft, and also a Covenant, at the present time. Here let me deal with a point that the noble lord, Lord De L' Isle and Dudley, raised. My experience, and I think our experience, leads me to say this: if we do in fact accept Covenants—which, of course, we mean to honour—for goodness' sake let us see that we set out in precise terms what it is we are going to honour. Do not let us have vague terms which may be interpreted by one person in one way and by another person in another way. There is always a strong temptation to do that, and to have a vague form of words with which everybody will agree, when you are trying to get an arrangement between two persons or two nations.

I am quite in favour at this stage of trying to get a Covenant, but I want to have the obligation in respect of the Covenant set out in precise language. I do not mind using what the noble Earl, Lord Perth, called untechnical language, such as Mrs. Roosevelt used; but though I am by no means wedded to legal language, I am bound to say that this so-called non-technical language is often dangerous, in that it conceals all sorts of ambiguities. There is a mass of small points involved. None of these points is of great importance; but it is well that they should be cleared up. Let me give an illustration. Here is one of the proposed clauses which reads as follows: Any person who is not subject to any lawful deprivation of liberty or to any outstanding obligation with regard to national service shall be free to leave any country including his own. This is a matter which commonly arises in law cases over here, particularly where the custody of children is concerned, or sometimes where a man is allowed out on bail and has to surrender his passport. We must have a word put in to deal with points of this sort, otherwise we shall find ourselves committing ourselves to an obligation which we could not honour and which we have no desire to honour.

Here is another illustration. Article 12 says: No alien legally admitted to the territory of a State shall be arbitrarily expelled there-from. Everything depends upon what that word "arbitrarily" means. If we assent to that without getting some exposition of what the word means, I can quite understand different people thinking different things. Then we have Article 13 (2) which says: No person shall be convicted or punished for crime except after public trial. From time to time in this country we think it necessary to have a trial in camera, although it should be seldom done. Certain classes of matrimonial disputes, for instance, are heard in camera. I do not want to commit ourselves to a Covenant of this sort without putting in all the necessary qualifications. The same applies also to the freedom of the Press, a point which arises later. There is one restriction on the freedom of the Press which I very much hope we shall observe, and that is the obligation that the Press shall not comment upon pending trials whilst those trials are on, because otherwise one gets into a state of "trial by newspaper" instead of trial by a Judge. That state of affairs fortunately we have so far avoided in this country. All those matters are quite unimportant in themselves, but, if we are going to try to work out a Covenant imposing precise obligations upon us, we have obviously to see that those obligations fit in with what we have discovered to be necessary.

Therefore, more time being required, I may tell your Lordships this. As your Lordships are aware, the Drafting Committee are, in fact, meeting this very day. The Human Rights Commission will meet at the end of this month. Their first meeting is to take place on May 20. They will report their work to the Economic and Social Council, who meet in July. It is for that body to decide whether the Draft Bill shall be submitted for the approval of the next session of the General Assembly. His Majesty's Government feel quite definitely—and I may tell your Lordships that the Canadian Government take the same view—that, having regard to points of the kind I have been raising, it would be undesirable to submit this matter to the General Assembly during 1948. We hope to be able to do so in the course of the year 1949, but we think that much more work needs to be done upon the Covenant in order that it may be precise. We are still aiming at that. We are going on with the scheme of the Declaration, the Covenant and the method of enforcement which can be put before the United Nations in the hope that a substantial number of member States will adhere. Of course, it is quite possible that that scheme will not come to fruition. If it does not, it will not be for lack of trying on our part, but because the circumstances of the day may prove too strong for us. If is at that stage, I venture to think, that the force of what the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, said expressly comes into play. Suppose we cannot get this wider provision to which many nations will assent, would it not be desirable that what we have done here should be, as it were, one of the "rules of the club," as I believe the noble Viscount called it—one of the standards which we apply to ourselves in the group of nations who are united together to affirm and to re-establish these fundamental rights? That is a matter which His Majesty's Government would certainly desire to bear in mind.

The Motion from which we have rather strayed asks "what instructions have been given" to our representatives. The answer to that question is that we have told them to go on, for the time being, with the preparation of the Declaration and of the Covenant and to try to get precision before we undertake any obligation. And, in view of the time that will be taken in securing the necessary precision, we have told them that we think it desirable that this shall not come before the General Assembly this year.

One or two other matters have been raised in the debate, and I should like to mention them, if I may. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, in particular raised a question which interests me in view of my duties. He referred to the number of people in Europe who are still awaiting trial. May I say that, in so far as it concerns me at all and speaking for myself, I look forward to the day when, at long last, those trials can come to an end. I think that the indefinite prolongation of the trials—although, of course, there may be exceptional cases where the delay is necessary—is no longer performing a useful or a desirable purpose. If justice is spread out over too long a period, it begins to look like vengeance, which is very different from justice. I hope that in the course of not very many months His Majesty's Government will be able to let it be known that the time has come—I am not committing myself to any particular date—when, so far as we are concerned, we think that, save in wholly exceptional circumstances, the trials should be ended. It is not for us in any way to dictate to anybody else, nor would we desire to do so; but if we set what I venture to think is a good example in this matter I hope that other people may follow. In saying what I have said, I feel fairly certain that I shall have the support of an overwhelming body of opinion among all Parties in this country.

That finishes the particular subjects with which I wanted to deal. I agree with the phrase that has been used: "We must keep our feet on the ground." But we must not lose our idealism. It must be tempered with practical real sm. I can give the most reverend Primate the assurances for which he asked me as to the general attitude of His Majesty's Government, and I can assure him that, notwithstanding the rather chequered course that we have had to follow and the rebuffs which we have had, the enthusiasm of His Majesty's Government for some statement of these fundamental rights is not abated. It means to us as much as it ever did, and it is still something which we believe constitutes a necessary foundation for the happiness of the world.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to thank the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack for his reply. I wish to assure him that I am not in the least disappointed that the Declaration may not come before the Commission until next year. In my view, it is much more important to have a concise, careful and thorough Declaration than one hurriedly brought forward which might have to be altered afterwards. I entirely agree with what has been said from the Benches opposite, that it is useless to have a Declaration or Covenant signed by people who do not intend to observe it. It is far better that a few should sign it who intend to observe it, rather than that a large number should sign who do not so intend. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.