§ LORD RENNELL had the following Notice on the Paper:—To ask His Majesty's Government whether any steps are contemplated or under consideration for revising the constitution and functions of the League of Nations so as to make its action more effective than the light of experience has shown it to be and its practice more consistent with its principles; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the interesting debate which took place in your Lordships' House yesterday, certain points came up touching upon matters which I also propose to raise. The two questions are, however, to my mind wholly distinct. I have no intention whatever of discussing the merits of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, but rather of confining myself to the general reactions of the League of Nations and to some of the problems which that dispute has accentuated. May I begin by saying that the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper was not framed with any intention of finding opportunities for criticising His Majesty's Government, or, indeed, any particular Government. It was rather designed to draw attention to a matter which is, I think, of very general concern to all those who, like myself, have trusted that the League of Nations will become an instrument for 677 securing international peace. It must be of very particular concern here, where so many millions of people have subscribed their names to a kind of unofficial plebiscite without, I imagine, in all probability having very fully realised all the consequential implications of maintaining the Covenant as it at present stands, and also because of the very emphatic pronouncements of His Majesty's Government in upholding the principles of the League of Nations.
§ At the same time there are a large number of people who have given this matter a good deal of study, and who have been unable to convince themselves that the League can really exercise an efficacious influence over the future, or even perhaps survive as an important political factor, without a good deal of revision. In any case considerable divergence of opinion appears to prevail here, and has manifested itself in the action taken by certain States as to latitude in interpreting the prescriptions of the Covenant, which to the plain man who reads them do not seem to admit of any latitude. And the guarantee of security anticipated from a collective action by all those Members who adhered to the League, who have pledged themselves to take combined action wherever a breach of the peace occurs and even wherever there is a menace of such a breach, cannot continue to inspire confidence if those Members, or a certain number of them, are at liberty to regard themselves as only under obligation of adhering to their pledges in so far as it suits their particular interest to do so.
§ I do not wish in any way to appear to be pointing the finger at any one. I am simply talking of the fact that as we know very well the prescriptions of the League have not in every case been carried out, and certain nations have remained outside its decision. In such circumstances as those the Covenant might conceivably become not only a disproportionate liability but even a positive danger to those who take their pledges seriously, and find themselves thereby evolved in international obligations of a very far-reaching character. I know that may be told that I am over-rating this danger, because we should only contemplate collective action, which presumably means majority action. I stand subject to correction, but I have yet to 678 be convinced that the Covenant admits of majorities or minorities with regard to obligations which are equally binding upon all its Members. The idea of a collective guaranteed security was a fine and noble idea, and worthy of universal support, but to my mind it has been considerably misused since the settlement of 1919, and has accordingly been criticised for being regarded in some quarters as an instrument for perpetuating a status quo arising out of very exceptional conditions.
§ Before, however, considering the lessons of experience, may I recapitulate some weaknesses inherent in the actual constitution of the League itself, which I think a certain minority foresaw at first, but which the experience of more than fifteen years has emphasised. Of these, one of the most obvious is that while universal adherence to the League proved unrealisable, various nations with very different degrees of social evolution, and with differing ethical standards, were admitted to membership with equal voices. It has indeed been pertinently asked whether any League of Nations could function successfully without a common code of moral principles, which as a matter of fact does not exist. It has further been contended that the contracted horizons of certain small self-concentrated countries must not only diminish their capacity for judging issues in countries geographically remote from them, and with which they have no political contacts, but also indispose them to accept risks or make sacrifices for securing peace beyond their own immediate orbit. Thirdly, the objection has been raised that disparity in the distribution of the adhering nations over the surface of the world has tended to give the League of Nations a preponderatingly European character and to attenuate its influence in more distant countries. Last, but not least, to my mind an unrestricted liberty to enter into alliances within the body corporate when those alliances may be not merely pacts of non-aggression but directly designed to isolate, if not to intimidate, other nations, must necessarily prejudice the free and unbiased judgment of those allies in certain issues. Such particularist groupings, which in reality are a form of extended armaments, have always seemed to me to be contrary to the spirit in which the League was conceived.679
§ After more than fifteen years of existence the League has failed to give practical effect to a principle of general application which stands in the very forefront of the Covenant—namely, the obligation to reduce national armaments. One result of this has been that Germany, concluding, perhaps not altogether unjustifiably, that other nations had no intention whatever of implementing their undertakings, has, after admission to and subsequent resignation from the League, proceeded to rearm. Another result is that it must tend to diminish the influence in the collectivity of any who, in the misplaced and somewhat naive belief that other nations were going to follow their example, have reduced their own defensive machinery below the limits of safety. Happily at last, as I have good reason to think, in this country at any rate, the majority has begun to grow aware that you cannot afford to be guided exclusively by sentiment in a world of vigilant and very active realists.
§ In some cases of particular application the League may claim full credit where its intervention has contributed to the solution of difficulties which might otherwise have involved the risk of being settled by force. In others its direct action has been quite ineffective. But no case had hitherto presented itself precisely analogous to the present very clear-cut issue for which Articles in the Covenant laid down the procedure to be followed. By Article 10 Members undertake to preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. And even where there is danger of such aggression the Council is bound to advise upon the means of fulfilling this obligation. In Article 11 any war or menace of war is declared to be "a matter of concern to the whole League," which should take action which it deems wise and prudent to safeguard peace. Article 15 lays down that, should a dispute arise between Members which is not submitted to arbitration or judicial settlement, the Council shall endeavour to effect a settlement, failing which provision is made for further and perhaps more drastic action.
§ Now as early as January, 1935, Ethiopia represented to the League of Nations that a danger of war existed, and that indeed was evident to any one who had carefully studied the situation; but she was in 680 duced to withdraw this, as well as a further subsequent, appeal in favour of a Conciliation Commission for which the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1908 had made provision. I am not contending that the Council would not have been acting perfectly in accordance with the prescriptions of the Covenant in promoting any procedure calculated to lead to a settlement. But in this case it was obvious that the terms of reference were going to be restricted to the consideration of a frontier incident and that the real issue, the menace of war, which existed before the frontier incident took place, was going to be excluded by one party. The two Conciliation Commissions which met in succession, the second one after the first failed, therefore entailed only the loss of many months' time, during which the continued despatch of armaments to East Africa brought still nearer the imminence of war.
§ Any further action was anticipated by the outbreak of hostilities and, having failed to avert war, the League was then confronted with the obligation of imposing the conditions laid down in Article 16 of the Covenant. That Article, as I read it, is quite unambiguous. It was framed to make it clear that any Member resorting to war in disregard of the Covenant had committed an act of war against all the Members of the League, and must take the consequences as there laid down. Let me once more make it clear that I am not discussing the merits of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute to-day, or how far indeed such steps as actually were taken may or may not have been opportune. What I am concerned to point out is that the actual prescriptions of the Covenant, already evaded in respect to the menace of war, were again not fully observed after the act of war, and were altogether rejected by certain States. And here, as not infrequently when foreign questions have come to be discussed in your Lordships' House, I find myself in considerable agreement with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby in what he said yesterday. It seems to me that if you nail your colours to the League of Nations you cannot abandon them with credit. Hesitations and reserves only lead to a concentration of national animosity against those who are unhesitatingly loyal to a most unwelcome obligation, and they impair the efficacy of the League.681
§ For the reasons which I have stated and others perhaps, some of which were adumbrated yesterday by my noble friend Lord Phillimore, the Covenant in its present form can hardly be recognised to my mind as a practical working document. How, then, do we stand, who have avowed ourselves upholders of a League pledged to maintain the territorial integrity and political independence of all Member States? In the present issue we have, as I see it, been quite ready to assent to compromises in regard to the rigid obervance of its prescriptions. We have, on the other hand, felt obliged to withdraw proposals of practical compromise in regard to the actual problem in which loyalty to the League is involved. Must we not then recognise that some revision of the League is necessary? The only alternatives can see are either to uphold the Covenant as it stands, and risk the consequences involved in defending the responsibilities which have not found universal acceptance, and the liability for which will certainly fall upon ourselves; or else to supplement the Covenant, which certain people seem to regard as a sacrosanct document, with glosses and marginal notes recording precedents and justifications for its nonobservance, which will not be a very satisfactory process. It is no use trying to deceive ourselves with phrases which tend to become clichés, like "working within the framework of the League." How far are you going to expand that framework and, when you have done expanding it, how much will be left inside the frame?
§ Those who criticise the League as it is constituted may reasonably be, asked what they would propose for its reorganisation. A well-known writer has recently suggested that the Members should endeavour to come to some agreement as to the principles to be applied for settling international disputes of different kinds. I think myself that such an agreement would be extremely difficult to conclude, and, if it were possible to conclude it, it would certainly have a result considerably to restrict the field of activities of the League. Others again, while ready to maintain sanctions, are anxious to see then; restricted in their character and their application. My own view, for what it may be worth, is that a proposition for which I have found a very considerable measure of support among foreign states 682 men to whom I have submitted it would have, at any rate, a practical effect in eliminating some, if not all, of the objections which have been raised to the League as at present constituted.
§ Broadly stated, it is that instead of one single Council, meeting at Geneva, there should be at least three Councils—one for Europe, one for America, and one for Asia. Whether there should be a fourth Council for Africa would be a matter for discussion, but as so large a proportion of the vast area of that Continent is intimately associated with Europe, African affairs might still most conveniently and practically be dealt with at Geneva, where the European Council would, of course, meet. Geneva would also continue to play its part as the world's Court of Final Instance to pronounce upon the equities if the Regional Councils failed or were unsuccessful in finding acceptable solution, and, with its efficient organisation, it would remain the permanent bureau for the registration of treaties and the collection of State documents. The regional mentality, it seems to me, is much easier to arrive at than a world mentality, and if you can bring about the former it may, in due process of evolution, lead much more easily to the adoption of the latter.
§ I think it is possible that out of Article 21 of the Covenant, without too largely changing its present constitution, means might be found to evolve such a process as I have submitted. Such a reconstitution of the League would ensure that disputes arising in one of the sections would first be investigated only by representatives of the countries which, through relative vicinity and a certain knowledge of conditions, would be best qualified to appreciate the merits of conflicting issues. The ultimate reference of unsettled differences to a still higher Court would gain additional time—one of the most valuable coefficients in regulating international differences. It might also, perhaps, effectively contribute to eliminating one of the main disadvantages of the present League, which is that it has failed to secure universal acceptance. Other suggestions have been made which may be well worthy of discussion, but I do not propose to enter into them this afternoon. My present purpose has been only to establish that there is a strong case for revision, and I should like to receive some assurance that we are not going to be for ever committed to the 683 support, in all circumstances, of an unworkable instrument in which the main liabilities seem doomed to fall upon us. It is in the confident hope that the matter to which I have drawn attention may be receiving also the earnest attention of His Majesty's Government that I have ventured to submit this Question. I beg to move for Papers.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I was rather reluctant to get up quite so soon in the debate, and I had hoped that the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, would speak before me. I also feel that there is some danger of traversing some of the ground which was covered yesterday, but I hope in the remarks I make that I shall not provoke speeches from my own Front Bench. I think that I may deal with this subject which has been raised by my noble friend Lord Rennell in a mariner with which all my colleagues will agree and in a manner which will bring general agreement from many quarters of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord who proposed this Motion has made, if he will allow me to say so, a most admirable survey of the situation as we find it to-day. I do not think that in anything which he claimed I find anything with which I disagree.
I think that his description of the League as it is at present constituted really is one for the serious attention not only of His Majesty's Government, but of all—and that practically comprises everybody—who takes an interest in international relations. In judicial language, and without any over-statement, he pointed out the dangers which are obvious, I think, to anybody who studies the question. With regard to his suggestion at the end I will say a few words later on. The noble Lord said that the League was being misused, and I entirely agree with him. I think there has grown up a sort of tradition about the League rather too rapidly among the great admirers of the idea of a League of Nations. We all admire the idea. I think the League has rendered admirable service in a great many ways, and I have always insisted that the very fact of the statesmen of Europe meeting together and talking things over, instead of the old method of telegrams and Despatches and messages, was an enormous improvement in international 684 relations. I do not think we ought to forget the good work that the League has done because we find that in certain crucial instances, after only fifteen years of its existence, there are certain points where quite obviously it has failed and where, as I ventured to say yesterday, the attempt to strain its powers beyond what is possible or probable has done the League a very bad service.
The noble Lord mentioned one thing which I would like to emphasise. I think one of the most serious drawbacks which has been shown up by the present situation is the fact that supporters of the League have led the weaker countries to suppose that a united force not only of opinion but possibly of armaments will be at their disposal when they are in trouble, and they have very naturally and innocently believed that that would be the ease. China was disillusioned, and, whatever may be said about the wrongs and rights of the present war between Italy and Abyssinia, there is no doubt whatever, even if the Abyssinians misgovern their country or wnatever may be said against them, that the Abyssinians, trusting to the interpretations which had been given by enthusiasts of the League and the Covenant, believed that they would get the united backing of the Members of the League of Nations. It is distressing to think that these countries should have been misled, and I think it is due to the misinterpretation of the Covenant as it was originally drafted.
The noble Lord went through the various Articles of the Covenant which either are obsolete or have failed or have not even been tackled at all. I do not know if he specially emphasised Article 8, hut clearly the reduction of armaments has failed, and I am not at all sure that the attempt made by the Disarmament Conference did not aggravate the situation there. The evils of the private manufacture of armaments have really never been seriously tackled. The noble Lord pointed out, and I need not repeat it, how a series of Articles which led up to action against a declared aggressor has either not been carried out in full or has been inapplicable. One point that the framers of the Covenant omitted to take into account when they laid down what seemed to them admirable abstract rules was the fact that they involved a very serious question for the first time, and I do not think this has ever been 685 sufficiently taken into account. For the first time they involved the renunciation of a certain amount of sovereignty by the nations. That is a very serious matter, and it is a matter which becomes impossible the more these nations drift towards nationalism and dictatorship and away from free democracies. They resent renouncing any of their sovereignty, and the idea of international action becomes entirely foreign to them. Too much was expected.
I do not want to emphasise the failure of Article 16, but I think that after the present period has passed—and let us hope that it will pass without any extended conflict—the Governments of Europe will realise that Article 16 is impracticable. You have got to find out why that is, and I think we are learning why that is. Therefore I am just going to ask myself a number of questions and, if I can, humbly supply the answers. To what is this failure due? Looking at the world to-day, we do not want to say the world is in its present state because the League of Nations exists. That would be a grotesque travesty of facts. The world is in its present state to-day in spite of the League of Nations. We had hoped that the League of Nations would prevent us from finding ourselves in such a terrible pass as we do to-day.
Is it the inability of Governments composing the League to carry out these principles or is it their unwillingness to carry out the principles? I think that is the first question that has got to be asked. We are at once confronted with the first great difficulty in the constitution of the League. You have a voice speaking for a country in one year, and in the following year, sometimes indeed in the following few months, another voice with another policy comes to Geneva and speaks for that country. We have seen instances in which policy has been advanced by prominent French statesmen, their Government has fallen, and another policy has taken its place. It is extremely difficult to conduct deliberations where representatives drop out, not at fixed periods, but at any moment during a discussion. One does not want to say anything disparaging at all about any single other nation, but we must face the fact that there are nations in the League who very quickly and very willingly subscribe to a course of action in which they will have to mike very little sacrifice, 686 but in support of which they see sufficient power without their taking any particular part. They add to the numbers so often quoted. When we are told that fifty nations are in favour of this or that, we have to analyse those nations. I do not think it is unwillingness on the part of these Members to help, but they must be governed by self-interest—every Government is governed ultimately by self-interest—and they are going to count the cost. Resolutions will not carry the matter very much further if you have not got a sincere intention of complete cooperation in the eventual action.
Is the League handicapped by its Members or by its constitution? One frequently hears that the League is really as strong as its Members make it. I think that its constitution—that is to say, the Covenant—is largely responsible for the weakness of the League. It was drafted in a moment of triumph; it was drafted by men who really had not got the quiet vision of peaceful times to be able to see all the conditions under which an international, or rather a super-national, body could act; and it was drafted in a hurry in order that it might be included in the Treaty of Versailles. The very fact that it was part and parcel of the Treaty of Versailles made it be regarded by certain Powers with distrust from the very outset. I would say that the constitution—that is, the Covenant of the League—was more responsible for its failure than all the deliberations of its Members who have been trying to act under this incomplete and unsatisfactory constitution. Did the framers expect too much? I certainly think they did. They thought that this, which was received with such enthusiasm, was likely to settle future differences between nations.
Was it right that force should have been inserted as the basis? I am very strongly of opinion that that was a mistake. I said so in a pamphlet written actually before the League came into full being. I was perfectly certain that force ought not to be the basis of international authority. The noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, yesterday in his concluding remarks said something which I did not like to interrupt at that late hour. He said it would be all very well when we were all more moral and my policy could be carried out, but that the world was not ripe for it yet. I had not mentioned my policy at all. I was talking then 687 about the dispute in Abyssinia and I am now talking about the Covenant of the League. I would like to say that my policy, such as it is, has never been based on either religion or morality. Never. It is a pure matter of expediency. If any one could show me that force might give effect to a useful and lasting purpose and ensure peace, I would be in favour of force to-morrow. But force is futile. The greatest orgy of futility the world has ever seen came in the years 1914 to 1918, and look where we are now! Force does not accomplish what we want to accomplish, and it is because of that that I have always said that force must never be used as a basis of any international authority.
Have not the supporters of the League placed too much confidence in the capacity of an incomplete League? I think that is certainly true. The supporters of the League in this country and in other countries have rather forced the League down our throats. They have invented, if I may so call it, a sort of League jargon by which they can always dish one in an argument—to use a vulgar phrase—because they have all the League Covenant and all the League operations and all the League Committees at their fingers' ends; they say that in this difficulty and that difficulty you have only to look to Article 22 and so on and the thing is settled. We want greater simplicity of language. I am very much mystified often by the language used by supporters of the League. I think this incomplete League is in danger of collapsing altogether unless such a revision as the noble Lord who moved the Motion suggests is brought into being.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, in speaking of the Members of the League, referred to difference in size. I do not know that I attach such very great importance to difference in size, because some of the smaller nations are extremely enlightened, and I do not know that the big Empires and the great nations have contributed very much to civilisation as we have it at present. Therefore I dismiss the question of size. But circumstances, conditions, geographical position and tradition, and the economic position of nations, make very serious differences of outlook, and although a unanimous voice, a harmony is hoped for at Geneva, it may often be extremely difficult to get a genuine harmony which is based 688 on a determination to adhere to obligations. The noble Earl in his remarks yesterday admitted that there were loopholes. He was talking then about the carrying out of Article 16. I think he meant by loopholes that there were two or three nations that would not impose sanctions; but the loopholes are much more serious than that. The loopholes consist in, I will not say the insincerity, but the unwillingness of a great many who have laid their names to agreements, to carry out to the full the obligations imposed on them by the Covenant.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, suggested Regional Councils for the Continents, either three or four. I think that would be complicating matters. I think it would make a still further intricacy of procedure, and I feel that we want to make for far greater simplicity. It is quite true that the major failure of the League during these fifteen or sixteen years is the fact that while it has worked for collective action, for corporate action, for harmony between the Powers within the membership of the League, this habit of making alliances has grown up. This shows that the old policy of the balance of power is operating as it did in the old days, behind the screen of the League, so that when you cross-question Ministers in various Parliaments as to what the policy of alliances really is, they can always tell you that the policy is under the protection of the League, that it is within the scope of the League and that the alliances are merely precautionary. Every time I see a new pact and a new treaty of alliance, I know that it is really a weakening of the collective system and a return to the policy of the balance of power. The policy of the balance of power is operating to-day just as much as, although more secretly than, it operated twenty or thirty years ago. Twenty or thirty years ago we knew what the balance was; we knew why it was there. It did not stop wars; on the other hand, it did not get us into the condition in which we are to-day. Now we have a shifting balance; now we have Powers waiting to see which way this Power or that other Power is going, in order that it may put its weight either with a particular Power or against it. We have a most unsatisfactory condition of affairs, and yet we cannot discuss this, because the Foreign Secretary, or the Foreign Minister, in another country can easily say: "Oh, we 689 are only taking precautions, always within the ambit of the League of Nations."
There is no question about it that the noble Lord has rendered a service by bringing this Motion forward, and I am sure he will find a great deal of agreement among supporters of the League, as well as among its critics, for his view that there must be a drastic revision of the Covenant. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, is not here to-day, because I am sure that he would have added a great number of useful suggestions from his intimate acquaintance with the League and with League methods and League history. Nobody has a greater knowledge than he of those subjects. I am sure that he sees where the shoe pinches, and sees the weak points. His opinion would have been of very great value. I am sure the Government do not think that any of us expect that they can proceed to a revision of the Covenant within the next few weeks. That is not the question. The question is whether we should examine, and examine openly, where the weakness lies. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, has laid it most clearly before your Lordships' House, and I feel that if the Government can bear this in mind, at the earliest possible moment when international affairs become more normal, this urgent matter of a complete revision of the Covenant of the League of Nations at Geneva should be undertaken with keenness and ardour by His Majesty's Government.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I am not sure that I agree altogether with either of the last two speakers. I venture to think that, with all its difficulties, the Covenant of the League of Nations has worked far better than most people expected. As is so often the case in human affairs, it is not always the letter of the law that counts; it is the conventions, the will, the practice which lie behind the law. The difficulties in the way of agreed revision of the Covenant are almost insuperable, but it does not seem to me at all impossible that, if the nations of the world made up their minds that they were going to apply the principles which are embodied and implicit in the Covenant, the Covenant itself should work very well. If you come to analyse it, the main objection to the Covenant which has been raised to-day is in Article 16. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, admittedly regards that as the 690 main cause of offence, and he has said, in the ancient Liberal phrase—an echo, perhaps, of his earlier affiliations—that force is no remedy. But the alternative to Article 16, with all the difficulties—prodigious difficulties—in the way of its application, is the old alliance system, the old balance of power. You are certainly not going to get, even on the high and noble ground of expediency which he recommends, a world of peaceful nations which is also a world in a state of complete anarchy. You are certainly not going to see the elimination of force in that kind of world. You are inevitably going back to the alliance system and to the old balance of power, which admittedly, invariably and eventually explode in a world war.
No, my Lords, the alternative to the alliance system, to using force in its most naked and destructive form, is the League principle. That is the alternative, and the real question we have to consider is why it is that those general ideas which are embodied in the League, which commanded universal assent when they were first framed and which, in theory, still command general assent, are not working. I venture to draw, if I may, a short historical parallel, because it seems to me that it does teach us some lesson as to the changes in outlook which we have to adopt if we are going to make the League system, however slowly and after however many mistakes, a progressive alternative to that anarchical balance of power which ruled the world for so many centuries. One hundred and twenty years ago there met in Vienna a very remarkable gathering of statesmen which tried to draw up a peace system for the world after the revolutions and the imperialist wars of the Napoleonic era. There were at this Conference some very remarkable men. Not the least, and perhaps the most sagacious of all, was the Duke of Wellington; nobody can read his Despatches without feeling the massive sense that underlay everything that he wrote and did.
The Congress of Vienna, after drawing frontiers with the object of establishing such a balance in Europe that no one Power could presume to dream of reestablishing that ascendancy over the whole of Europe which had been enjoyed by the France of Louis XIV and afterwards by the France of Napoleon, drew 691 up a system of peace based upon the balance of power on the one hand, and upon frequent meetings of the Great Powers, acting as a Concert, on the other. That system preserved peace for some time, but the settlement had within it a single fatal blemish; it paid no regard to what was then the dominant and growing force in the world, the force of political nationalism. Gradually, step by step, political nationalism, sometimes by war, sometimes without war, finally blew the Vienna settlement to pieces, and the ideas which rested on the fact of political nationalism found their final and complete expression in the famous speeches of President Wilson and the doctrine of universal self-determination which triumphed at the end of the World War of 1914, that principle of political nationalism having precipitated the War by blowing the Austro-Hungarian Empire to pieces.
The Peace Settlement of Paris, repeating the acts of a century before, proceeded to redraw the frontiers of the world, the best political frontiers ever known in human history, on the basis of nationality, and, with the single exception of the Anschluss, every nation in the world to-day which is at all capable of self-government has independence and autonomy. But on the top of that system—quite rightly, because self-determination increased the amity among sovereign States by increasing their numbers from about 49 to 61—the Peace Conference created the League of Nations with a view to bringing the beginnings of the reign of law and some measure of law and order among these sovereign States. But the Paris Peace Conference also made a fatal omission; not the omission which is generally attributed to it—it is not that the frontiers drawn at Paris are fundamentally wrong, and no mere remedy of frontiers drawn at Paris would do anything at this moment to diminish the risks of and pressure towards war—the fatal error made at Paris was the error of believing that you could establish a stable world by allowing politically independent nations complete economic independence as well.
It is the force of economic nationalism to-day which is blowing the settlement made in 1919 to pieces. That is the real cause of the pressures which are making for war to-day. How is it conceivable, with Europe divided into twenty-six 692 States each with tariffs to the sky, each with endless restrictions on the movement of trade, most of them with no opportunities of obtaining either raw materials or foodstuffs, that there can be peace and stability in the world? There are two fundamental possibilities. Either you can return to something like a free trade world such as we saw in the middle of the nineteenth century, under which capital and labour can move freely where they are needed and where the price system can bring about those continuous adjustments of supply and demand over the whole world which are necessary to a steadily rising standard of living, and which leave economic stresses to be adjusted by economic law instead of by Parliaments and politics; or we shall have to go in for economic empires, for great zollvereins within which nations are politically independent but in which there are manufacturing raw materials and tropical products enough to give an adequate standard of living for all.
If we are going to solve the League of Nations problem it will be because we find a way of relaxing the economic pressures which are the real causes of the rearmament of the world. No nation to-day is rearming merely to alter her frontiers. It is rearming because it feels its national future is at stake and it sees no hope without military action. That is why we see the youth of countries submitting willingly to discipline and to marching and training in order to free them from their bonds. One remedy is to return towards a free trade system. I confess that the signs are not very good at this moment for that universal movement. An alternative, and the only alternative, is by some means to enable those countries which have not got access to the markets of the world to buy in their own currencies raw materials and foodstuffs, or to obtain these in exchange for their own manufactured products. Otherwise you are going to see the world grouped in great economic zollvereins each of which has some possibility of enabling its people to live at continually rising standards within the limits of their own economic organisation.
If the League of Nations is going to succeed it must prove its capacity to deal with the economic pressures which are the real cause of rearmament in the world to-day. I venture to ask His Majesty's 693 Government whether it is not possible for them to open once more, and a little wider this time, the door opened by Sir Samuel Hoare in his famous Geneva speech, when he said there ought to be examination into the possibility of giving certain nations which felt themselves to be suffocated better access to the raw materials of the world. Is it not possible that we could get discussion at Geneva or elsewhere—and I think a public discussion—between as many nations as possible, but certainly between those nations who feel themselves economically hemmed in to-day, and other nations in a more prosperous condition, as to what are the methods by which the economic tension, the pressure of which is making for war to-day, can be relieved?
A great deal of superstition and a great deal of false economics surround this question. In my view the much advertised colonial question has very little to do with the problem at all. If you could restore, to-morrow, international trade to the level which existed in 1928, mostly between the greater nations of the world, you would immediately put in work in all countries hundreds of thousands of people on whom the question of territory and colonies could have no influence at all. I do not suppose that the noble Earl will be able to give me any definite answer to-day, but I do commend to the Government for their consideration whether it is not possible at an early date to begin such a discussion—as I have said, I hope in public—as to how this economic tension can best be relieved. I suggest a discussion in public in order that public opinion, not only in one country but in all countries, may begin to understand the fundamental nature of the problem, and eliminate from their own minds short cuts and blind alleys which are no solution.
Much the more serious problem to-day is not Italy but the German problem. We have still got at some time to deal with the German problem. I have seen in the newspapers that a demand is being launched in Germany for colonies. Are you going to give full time for that demand to reach the tremendous strength of those movements which we have seen in Italy and Germany in recent times, when that problem obviously will be much more difficult of solution? I suggest that the much more important thing to-day is that we should get a discussion on how those economic tensions, which are causing the 694 pressure leading to rearmament, are to be relieved. If we could get that discussion there is some chance of moving the world away from the competition in armaments which is now going on, and back into the much more fertile field which recognises that economic problems cannot be solved by war, and that it is only by relaxing the barriers of trade that some breach in the pressure that is making for war can be made.
If the League of Nations can begin to bring about a discussion on the real causes making for armaments, I think it will recover authority in the world today. The people who have left the League have riot left it because they dislike the terms of the Covenant but because of a feeling that it is becoming an instrument for their own destruction. The American Powers are leaving the League, or have never joined it, because they feel it is becoming an instrument for making war in defence of the status quo. It is only when you convince people that the League can remove the real causes for aggression and war that you have any chance of getting all the nations of the world back into the League. And if you can get all the nations of the world back into it because they feel that it will remove the causes of war, I think you will find that the Covenant is not an inadequate instrument with which to confront it.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, the noble Marquess has introduced a new and very interesting element into this debate, but, if he will allow me to say so, I was not quite clear what the precise bearing of his observations was on the point of League revision brought forward by my noble friend; unless it was that he is quite satisfied with the situation as it is at present, and that if only these economic questions were more frequently debated in the League it would be a great advantage. But he did not enlighten us at all, as to whether, for instance, Article 16, with all its implications as to the use of force, should be revised or not. I have risen to support the plea that has been so well advanced by my noble friend, I will not say for revision of the Covenant of the League, but for an examination of the present situation in order to see whether the provisions of the Covenant, drawn up as they were sixteen years ago, are really applicable to the situation as it exists to-day.
695 That, I think, is not an unreasonable plea., because without in the least criticising or depreciating the services which the League has rendered in its career, it surely is time to have a little stock-taking of what might be done in that way. No doubt it would have been very difficult to deal with it before. All these difficulties and troubles have been lurking in the Articles of the Covenant all these years, but until the strain is exhibited by such a situation as we have been living through for the last few months it is impossible to rouse public opinion to interest in them or to any revision of those provisions. We discussed yesterday the immediate practical question of how to deal with the Italian situation, and I think the collective opinion of your Lordships' House was pretty fairly demonstrated to the Under-Secretary, who, with the natural reticence of an Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was able to say nothing at all in reply. He said it with great skill, and made us think he was saying something, which is the highest tribute to what a member of the Government can be expected to do.
But, leaving that, I should like to say a word on the subject which my noble friend has introduced. All suggestions of the kind which he has made seem to me to be of great value, because the question is so complicated that it must be a matter of public debate for many months before you can expect the Government to take action. I make allowance, too, for the extraordinary difficulty in which the Government have been placed because they are bound to collective action under the League, and I realise that the boldness required to suggest that the Covenant should be altered is very great indeed. My noble friend brought forward a very interesting suggestion, but I want to put one or two points to him about this, because I am not sure whether I perfectly understood him. I am not sure whether these different Councils that he speaks of really amount to those regional arrangements or agreements of which we have heard so much, and some of which exist already; or whether it is a new type of Council that he suggests. There are many obvious difficulties in the general outline which he gave. One of the criticisms we have all made, and must make, of the action of the League is 696 that, although it is remarkable that it should have acted in many ways with such promptness, its very constitution prevents it from acting with rapidity. As I understand his proposal, these new large Regional Councils, representing different continents, will discuss and try to settle a matter in dispute among themselves by all the well-known methods of conciliation, and then, if they fail, there is going to be a sort of appeal to the League at Geneva. That suggests a long time, and the delays and difficulties which we have seen already in the case of the League at Geneva will surely be considerably multiplied if you had this Court of Appeal at Geneva from those other Councils.
Nor do I quite see whether, dividing into continents, you would get that very good balance of interest that would be expected from a Regional Council. The British Empire, which is divided among a good many continents, would, I suppose, have a seat on all these different Regional Councils, and that might be an advantageous thing. But what my noble friend did not explain was whether these methods of force were still to be applied both by the Regional Council and, if necessary, by the League of Nations itself. Because I think there is something to be said for the application of force if it is applied under this regional system. If you have force applied in Europe or America, you do anyhow isolate the war to some extent. And the great danger of a League war is that there is no limitation; all the nations may be brought into it. Not only that, but a number of contiguous nations understand far better each other's difficulties, understand far better their own problems; and if it does come to the test of war it is far easier to get two or three nations into line than to mobilise all the nations in the League.
I think that a noble Lord said yesterday that he did not believe in force at all. It suggested to me that he was thereby borrowing ideas from another Party. My complaint against the League of Nations as regards the use of force is that it cannot mobilise its force sufficiently. You cannot use half-force. If you are going to have a League of Nations using force, then it seems to me you must adopt the principles of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Davies, and have an organised world force which you 697 are ready to use; and I think there are very few of us here who would support an arrangement of that kind. Therefore it surely comes back to this, that the great problem for debate is whether force should be one of the attributes of action of the League of Nations or whether it should not. It becomes a question in my view of whether the revision of Article 16 should take place or not. Personally I have not very much doubt on the subject, because I think the whole action of the League has been vitiated during these fifteen or sixteen years by the fact that the idea of force was always bound up with the League of Nations, whereas, if it had been a purely conciliatory body through these years, I believe it would have attained a far stronger position than it has to-day.
But there is another difficulty—namely, that it must necessarily act with such a tremendous degree of publicity. What happens? There is a discussion, and the great ban of fifty nations is applied to one particular country. That is a form of ex-communication, and ex-communication implies some moral condemnation of the nation concerned. If you once get into the sphere of morals and away from that of expediency, your hands are tied, because it is quite clear that you cannot conciliate a miscreant, you cannot compromise with a scoundrel, you have got to fight him. As a result of this publicity, it seems to me you get a wrong angle, a wrong situation altogether. Whereas before a less public tribunal you might be able to make compromises or arrangements which would have the effect of checking war, at any rate, when you have once got this system of public proclamation it is extremely difficult to see what you can do without carrying the matter to the last resort. If you do that you are in this dilemma: either you have involved a great number of people in war or you adopt a half-hearted policy in which you use a little force, but not much, in the hope that that will carry you through to peace; or probably, instead of that, you give further provocation to the very State you are trying to coerce.
Therefore I strongly support a League constituted solely for conciliation and for peace. I am confident that if that were so, and if you could get rid of the combative element in the League, you would 698 be far more likely to get the other Great Powers of the world into it. If you did that, the collective opinion for conciliation, or whatever phrase you like to use, would be a far more effective restraint on nations that threaten to break the rules of International Law than a smaller combination of countries ineffectively and half-heartedly making use of force. I believe such a League would be widely effective, far more effective in my judgment than a truncated, sabre-rattling, limited sort of League which really cannot enforce all the regulations and pacts which it is supposed to put into action. Holding that view I strongly support my noble friend, and I hope that in due time—the Government have got so many difficulties that they must naturally be the choosers of their own time—it may be considered when the proposed revision of the Articles of the Covenant should be taken in hand. At any rate, whatever the Government may feel on the subject, I am quite sure that this House is right in trying to do its best to mobilise public opinion in this direction, and I believe that the events of the last few months have had greater force in moving public opinion in that direction than many of your Lordships best informed on this subject can suppose.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby seemed to be under some apprehension lest he should be admonished from his own Front Bench for his speech this afternoon. I only desire in that connection to say this, that in my judgment discussions such as we are having this afternoon in your Lordships' House are exploratory and of the very greatest value, for if we can get our ideas right on the general principle, then what we should do in regard to those ideas would, I think, not be so difficult to find. The first question in our minds is whether an institution with great prestige is working satisfactorily, and, in the second place, if it is not working as we hoped it would work, in what way it can be adapted so that the end which it exists to serve may be reached. I do not know that anybody had the right to assume at any time that an institution created as the League was created, at the time it was created, could have been perfect from its beginning. It would have been miraculous if either its structure had been perfect or if the experience of those called 699 upon to work it had been entirely adequate to the task before them; but we may say also that we ought to have learned something of value regarding both the structure of the League and the way in which it has worked during our experience of the last sixteen years. So far as we in the Labour Party are concerned we have never said that the League was sacrosanct in the sense that it must not be touched; that it must be adored, but not disturbed or modified. We support the Covenant of the League, but we support its general principle, and we are never against considering how that general principle may be further advanced.
At the same time I should like to remind noble Lords that the League, with all its failures, has functioned, and though we hear a great deal about its failures we hear less, I think, than we should hear about those matters wherein it has succeeded. I think our duty is to reaffirm our belief in the general principles of the League, to keep the ideal of collective arrangement before us, and to try to understand how that ideal may be made operative in practice. There are new forces operating in the world to-day that were not so evident when the League was created. We have to choose, as I think, to-day, not remedies, but what our attitude towards that great institution is going to be. We might fall back on the old idea of peace by preponderance of power in the hands of one nation or a group of nations. We might fall back on another idea, the balance of power. I could argue in favour or against both of these, but it seems to me that the third idea is the one immediately before us—namely, government by the forces of co-operation and understanding, and we must not fall back on the first two until our hopes for the third have to be entirely abandoned.
I shall not go into the suggestions made by the noble Lord who has introduced this Motion, but his experience entitles anything that he suggests to our most serious consideration. Finally, I should like to say also that there is much in what the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said, that if you have these great trade barriers abolished, and if you have a free flow of goods and services, a good many of the difficulties with which we are confronted will be found to exist no longer.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but after the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, with most of which I profoundly disagree, I should like to suggest that all the points which have been made as to the revision of the Covenant should undergo very careful examination. Therefore I might suggest to the Government the possibility of setting up some kind of Commission or Committee which would go into all these points, perhaps take evidence, and see whether it would be possible for the Government to put forward, with the support of Parliament, definite propositions for the amendment of the Covenant and the reconstitution of some of its Articles. After all, the basis of the Covenant, the document upon which the Covenant was originally founded, emanated from the Foreign Office on the Report of the Phillimore Committee presided over by a member of this House. It was the Report of that Committee which was the basis of the first draft of what eventually became the Covenant. Therefore I imagine it would be appropriate that the whole question of revision might be considered very carefully by His Majesty's Government and by the Department concerned in order that some concrete proposals might be put forward.
I entirely agree with what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Snell, that we should not regard the Covenant as sacrosanct. After all, it is only a human document drawn up in the stress and strain immediately after the War and, as its founders made quite clear at the time, it was only regarded as the basis of something which they hoped would in course of time be developed in the light of later experience. I would like to put this to your Lordships. Are we going to develop and strengthen the League, are we going to try and make it into an international authority which can make effective the rule of law, or are we going to whittle it away until eventually it becomes little better than The lingua Tribunal to which we were accustomed before the War? Either we have to advance or go back. The League must develop in its authority and power and prestige or its authority and power must gradually wane.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, talked about conciliation. He apparently forgets that conciliation and mediation was the idea prescribed by Lord Castlereagh before his Quintuple Alliance was formed 701 and the Conference took place at the beginning of last century. "Conciliation and negotiation" was the slogan during the late War, and it was only when the League emerged at the end of that most disastrous episode that for the first time we had at any rate the rudiments of what several speakers yesterday described as the rule of law. Therefore I venture to suggest that the real problem is how to develop the League, and to make these institutions workable so that they may express the, determination of the nations who compose the League to establish the reign of law at any rate in Europe if not in the rest of the world.
May I make one or two remarks about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby? He said that force was the basis of the League and of the Covenant. I think that was an entirely misleading and untrue statement. Force is not the basis of the League. The League was established to exert moral force. In the first instance it was intended to discover a peaceful procedure for the settlement of international disputes instead of a resort to war, and I think that was made perfectly clear by President Wilson when he introduced the Covenant to the assembly of nations after the War. I have not the precise words he used but they were something like these: Force is in the background of this programme—but it is in the background; and if the moral force of the world will not suffice the physical force of the world shall. I think that made it perfectly clear, and all the Articles of the Covenant bear this out, that force is merely a complementary factor in carrying out, or in endeavouring to establish, what we call the reign of law.
Then I think the noble Lord said that there must be no force in connection with the action of the League, and he added that as far as he was concerned it was a matter of pure expediency. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that no institution in this world has ever succeeded unless it has been based upon some definite and clear principles which commanded the moral support of all the people who co-operated to establish the institution. We know perfectly well that every civilised community has gradually developed the idea of law supplemented always by the principle that force should become the servant of the law and should be limited to the policing function, and 702 that force should no longer be used by one individual to assert his authority over his neighbours. It seems to us that the same principle should operate in international relationships.
There is one other point I should like to mention. It really arises out of the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, who said that one of the great problems we have to face is the relationship to the League of the nations who are at present outside its circle. I think it is one of the great drawbacks of the League and of the Covenant that the Covenant was part and parcel of a Treaty which was imposed upon a vanquished country at the end of the war. After it had been drawn up it was included as an integral part of the Treaty of Versailles, and Germany was told to sign the Treaty of Versailles whether she wanted to or not. That Treaty was imposed by the victors upon the vanquished, and it seems to me that we have to get away from that position before we can ever make the League the success that we want it to be.
I cannot help remembering that as recently as last May Herr Hitler made a very important speech in which he emphasised the importance of separating the Covenant from, and taking it bodily out of, the Treaty of Versailles, in order that, from the German standpoint, it might not be regarded as part of what they consider to be a, most unfair Treaty. This is what he said:A clear separation between the Treaty of Versailles, built on the distinction between victors and vanquished, and the League of Nations which must be built on equal valuation and equality of rights of all its Members.I venture to suggest that some attempt should be made to go back sixteen years to the moment when that Treaty was signed, and to try and discover whether it is possible to bring Germany back into the League, if she is treated on a basis of equity. She might be asked to express what in her opinion would be a suitable form for the Covenant to take, and what amendments or alterations are necessary in order to secure her adherence to it.
I would like also to remind members of the Government that in that speech Herr Hitler threw out a great many suggestions of which, apparently, the Government have taken no notice. At any rate we have heard nothing about them. For 703 instance, he suggested that the question of war guilt might be disposed of, and that the Memel controversy should be looked into. One cannot help feeling that if an equity tribunal was appointed to go into the whole of that question and endeavour to arrive at a just and fair solution, it is quite possible that that very acute controversy might be removed from the list and better relationships established in Europe. Herr Hitler also said on that occasion:The German Government are ready at any time to take part in a system of collective co-operation—he did not call it collective security, but collective co-operation—for the safeguarding of European peace, but hold it necessary to conform to the law of perpetual evolution by keeping open the way to treaty revisions. They perceive in a regulated evolution of treaties a factor for the safeguarding of peace, but in the throttling down of every necessary change the cause of future explosions.There were three points at least—the discovery of some peaceful procedure for revision of treaties, the question of separating the Covenant from the Treaty of Versailles—after all, the Covenant is not a mere treaty but the constitution of an international body for the prevention of war and the establishment of the rule of law, and in that sense is entirely distinct and separate from any treaty—and also the Memel dispute. I venture to suggest to the Government that those points should be taken up and that we should try to discover how far there is common ground between the views of His Majesty's Government and those 'expressed in the speech to which I have alluded. I apologise to your Lordships for having taken up so much of your time, and I conclude by suggesting that Herr Hitler's speech is one which should be most carefully examined if we want to make the League into a really effective instrument for the prevention of war, which, after all, is the greatest task which confronts us at the moment. We must give it greater prestige, greater power and greater authority in order to achieve the task for which it was created.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, the Motion upon the Paper raises a very large issue, and I think that, although there are many who are accustomed to criticise your Lordships' House, nobody will disagree 704 with me when I say that up to now we have had a series of brilliant and most valuable speeches. I imagine that now that a representative of the Government has got to his feet the noble Earl, Lord Peel, at any rate expects nothing further. Therefore I very carefully confine myself to saying that the speeches up to now have been good. The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, gave us a brilliant historical summary of the attempts which have been made in the past towards getting combined action on the part of nations in order to secure peace. Although I am afraid I should not personally go quite so far as he did—and he had a good deal to do with the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles—in saying that the frontiers under that Treaty were the best ever drawn, I certainly agree that alteration of the frontiers would by no means solve the difficulties and dangers with which the world is confronted to-day.
The question of raw materials, and still more that of economic nationalism, is one into which I cannot follow him now for very obvious reasons. It raises an even larger issue than the one which appears on the Paper. I may say, however, that His Majesty's Government are giving constant thought to the matter. It is one of supreme difficulty, as the noble Marquess himself said, and it is not confined by any means to raw materials which come from colonies. There are raw materials in other countries than colonies, some of them of tremendous importance, like cotton, oil and wool, but this whole question of raw materials and economic nationalism is one which we are considering with very great care. I might remind the noble Marquess that Sir Samuel Hoare, in the great speech he made at Geneva last September, when he touched upon that question, said that a matter of this kind—I forget his exact words—required to be considered without the disturbing influences of war, and therefore it was essential to try and get the Abyssinian conflict brought to a conclusion if we were to deal with a matter of that kind satisfactorily. I know from my experience in the Department in which I work that that is a true statement, and I doubt very much whether we shall get a subject of that kind dealt with satisfactorily until we have a different situation from that of to-day.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
I would like to suggest to the noble Earl that consideration of economic questions may have more to do with the solution of the Abyssinian question than is perhaps immediately realised.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I may agree with that, but at any rate we have not now the quiet waters in which one desires to be floating in order to deal with that matter satisfactorily. I agree that the whole question of economic nationalism may come in. I do not know whether the noble Marquess supports the suggestion of Italy, that all her difficulties will come to an end when she gets the untold and unfound wealth of Abyssinia, but it is a suggestion with which I am afraid I cannot find myself in agreement. Nor am I quite sure whether I can quite follow him in advocating a public discussion at Geneva on the matter. As he knows, it might be difficult to get some nations to go to confer at Geneva at all, and it might be better that discussions should be held elsewhere. That, however, is a comparatively minor point and one that could be solved when the occasion arises.
A much more difficult question, I think, is the situation in regard to over-production. I do not of course want to go now into the whole question of Protection and Free Trade and the like, but I would point out that the situation now is very different from what it was in pre-War days. A very large number of countries, partly as a result of the War, have found it necessary, or have thought it to be necessary, to make themselves much more self-supporting than in the past. They realised during the War that supplies of essential products, as they regard them to be, might be cut off if great nations were at war and wished to use those products. Therefore they began to make them for themselves and that has tended to much over-production. Even if we succeeded in getting trade—and by that I mean not only trade between countries but also the home trade in each country—back to the figure before the War, we should still find that great difficulty of over-production of wheat, meat and other things and we should also still have the difficulty of the increasing disparity between wages in the West and wages in the East. I say that in passing, to show 706 that the Government are seriously turning these matters over in their mind, and that, though the difficulties in these questions are very great, they are not such as we are attempting to evade.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rennell for having been kind enough to send me a short précis of what he was going to say, so that I might be able to prepare something of my reply. May I say that the League falls very far short indeed of what any of us would wish it to be, and still shorter of what its authors visualised? When the League was set up it was hoped and believed that every nation of the world would become a Member of it; that the moral pressure of the whole world against any nation which proceeded to take action contrary to the provisions of the Covenant would be sufficient to cause the offender to refrain from its action; and that, if the moral pressure were not enough, at any rate the economic sanctions alone and the threat of sanctions generally would be enough to stop any action contrary to the Covenant of the League. Unfortunately, we all know that that is not the situation to-day. We have four great nations, the United States, Japan, Germany and Brazil, all outside the League, and the effect of any action which the League may feel impelled to take is thereby very materially weakened. It is obvious that much of what the League would like to do is not possible while these four great nations are outside, and it is therefore natural that from many different sources we should get demands that the constitution and functions of the League should undergo revision.
Demands for reform come mainly from two widely-differing points of view. First, they come from those who feel that the obligations of the Covenant are too onerous and, indeed, incapable of fulfilment, and that therefore the Covenant ought to be amended and watered down. But there is a second point of view, to which my noble friend did not refer, which is held by those who feel that the powers of the League are not as strong as they ought to be and who desire to make the Covenant more stringent than it is to-day, to define aggression in precise terms, and to lay down that, the aggressor having been designated, action against that nation should follow automatically and as a matter of course. I think the House will realise that, with 707 these two opposing points of view, it becomes extremely difficult to obtain any chance of agreement for a major reform of the constitution and -functions of the League. I would remind your Lordships that any reform of the Covenant requires in the first place the unanimous approval of all States Members of the Council, and in addition the approval of a majority of the States who are Members of the Assembly. For this, if for no other reason, His Majesty's Government are not contemplating or considering any step towards formal revision.
That, of course, is not the conclusion of the whole matter. We in this country have often rejoiced that we have no written Constitution. We have found it of great value in changing conditions to be able to change our methods in order to suit the situation, and we have sympathised with those nations who, having in past times drawn up a written Constitution going into considerable detail, now find themselves saddled with that written Constitution and in great difficulties under the very different conditions which prevail to-day. The League, short as its life has been, has already adapted its practice to the conditions under which it has to work. It has to some extent met the views of those who feel that the obligations of Article 16 are too onerous. It will be remembered—and I should like to remind your Lordships of this,' because more than once in recent debates it has been forgotten—that in 1921 the Assembly produced a series of Resolutions recommended to the Council and Members of the League as rules for guidance, and in 1922 the Council intimated that it would take these recommendations into account. The main effect of these Resolutions is to permit of the progressive application of economic and financial measures under Article 16 instead of the total and immediate severance of economic relations with the Covenant-breaking State. That has been the plan which has been adopted in regard to Italy.
On the other hand, the views of those who desire that the action of the League should be more effective in regard to military assistance have been also met to some extent by regional agreements in harmony with, but going beyond, the terms of the Covenant. Lord Ponsonby, in referring to the pacts which have been made, remarked that he felt they were a 708 weakening of the collective system and were really contrary to the spirit of the Covenant. May I point out, my Lords, that that is very far from being the case? The best known example of this type of Treaty to which I refer is the Five-Power Locarno Treaty, Which was signed between Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and the United Kingdom in order to safeguard the common frontiers of Germany, Belgium and France. That was dealt with by these five nations on an exact equality, and, of course, it not only received the blessing of the League but, in common with other treaties of a somewhat similar kind, it has also been registered at Geneva. It is obvious that if any pact was made which had an encircling and perhaps a threatening effect on other nations, the League would undoubtedly take notice of the pact and would probably say that it was not in accordance with the terms Of the Covenant. Therefore, so far from being contrary to the terms of the League, the idea of these regional pacts is really to strengthen the action of part of the Members of the League in one certain area where the nations concerned wish to go rather farther than the Covenant itself provides.
The House will see, from the examples I have given, that the procedure of the. League has undergone variation. It must necessarily be so if common action is to be assured in a changing and changeable world. As I have several times stated to your Lordships, His Majesty's Government are prepared to play their part in collective action, but they are not prepared, either now or in the future, to take action under the League which, while nominally collective, is in fact nothing of the kind. Nor is it prepared to adopt the argument which was used by Lord Mottistone yesterday—and to which I am afraid I forgot to reply at the end of a very long debate—in which he suggested that if a nation did not fulfil its obligations, it automatically ceased to be a Member of the League. I understand that the legal point of view is very different from the one which the noble Lord put to your Lordships yesterday. Quite apart from that, however, it would obviously be a hopelessly unworkable proceeding. All that a nation would have to do if it wished to rid itself of its obligations under the Covenant, of which at present it cannot 709 free itself in less than two years, would be to refuse to carry out some obligation, possibly with regard to the drug traffic or something of that sort, and inform the League of that fact. Then, immediately, it would cease to be a Member and be quit of all obligations. Put in that way, your Lordships can realise that would be quite impossible.
As regards my noble friend's suggestion for dividing the League up into areas by continents, it was only a short time before he was good enough to send me his notes that a friend of mine came and asked me whether it was true that various nations were bringing forward a proposal of that kind. I said that it was the first time that I had heard of it, and therefore I rather suspect that my noble friend is at the bottom of it and has been influencing other nations in that direction. There is, of course, a good deal to be said in its favour. Nations now outside might be prepared to join a Regional League. On the other hand, there is a good deal to be said against such a proposal.
As the noble Lord will know, a great deal of the work of the League is of a non-political character. It does a great, deal with regard to social betterment, the drug traffic and other subjects of that character, and it would be very unfortunate, I think, and certainly not as effective, if these matters were dealt with in a continental way—a European way or an American or Asiatic way rather than a world way. These matters, as a rule, concern the world as a whole, and we should not get effective action unless they were dealt with in this way. Apart from that, on the political side there is this disadvantage. It often happens, and I know my noble friend could quote many more cases than I can, that it has been found really valuable to get a citizen of some State very far removed from the area in which a difficulty which is exercising the mind of the League is taking place—if there is a European question, for instance, to get some member of an American State—to come and act possibly as rapporteur or mediator in that dispute. It would be unfortunate if we were unable in future to adopt that procedure.
There is this further difficulty. Supposing the European League were to come to the conclusion that an act of aggres- 710 sion has taken place, and that sanctions ought to be imposed. Would that automatically bring in the American and Asiatic Leagues? If it did, it would mean that neither the American League nor the Asiatic League had had any opportunity of considering the matter, or of discussing it and taking part in the decision; and therefore it would be a great deal to expect them to come in and impose sanctions. If, on the other hand, they did not come in, then we should find sanctions ineffective, probably quite useless, and in that way the League would be weakened a good deal. I think, for those reasons, the suggestion which my noble friend has made, that there should be separate Councils for Europe and Asia, so far from strengthening the League and bringing other nations in, might work in the opposite direction. My noble friend referred to the unrestricted liberty to make agreements which prevails at present, and I think the remarks which I have made with regard to Locarno and other treaties may perhaps have met his point in that direction.
Lord Ponsonby, in the extraordinarily interesting speech which he made, dealt with a great many points which I am bound to admit in the way he put them sounded very attractive. I admit that if I was wrong hi imputing his idealism either to religion or high morality, I fail to see with what I am left, and I shall be interested to know whether his own Front Bench can supply the deficiency. If force is not to be used, and action is to be taken, not because of high moral purpose but only on the ground of expediency, then I think, as Lord Davies remarked, we are left with a cause of action such as never succeeded in previous times. In one thing I certainly agree with him. Lord Ponsonby remarked that there was great difficulty in getting continuity of representation from nations which attended the League. I think this may be a case also where the Front Bench opposite will not support him; but he at any rate honestly believes that the National Government should continue to represent this country at Geneva. He asked me what I meant with regard to loopholes, to which I referred yesterday. I did not mean the interpretation exactly which he placed upon my words. What I meant was that 711 certain nations are, of course, not carrying out sanctions in the same way as others, and therefore experts are putting questions to find out whether the legislation enacted in these areas is being as effective as it ought to be, or whether trade or financial relations are taking place with Italy, which neither they nor the League as a whole would desire should be continued.
Lord Peel suggested that the League should limit itself to conciliation. I think Lord Davies dealt with him quite as well as I can. I agree that if you simply leave conciliation to the League, sooner or later you will find somebody who is not prepared to accept your offer, and then you either have to take no further action, and so the League is flouted, or you take some action by economic sanctions or in some other way to endeavour to see that the League's views shall prevail. Lord Snell remarked that this debate was, to a large extent, an exploratory one. I agree with that view, and I am afraid—no doubt Lord Peel will again say that I have said nothing—that my remarks are in fact of a negative character, because what I have really to say is that, in view of the great difficulties which would exist if any proposals for reform were brought forward, and the fact that any proposals for reform at this moment, so far from strengthening the League would tend to weaken it, His Majesty's Government have no idea or intention at this moment of pressing forward any reform of the functions or constitution of the League.
§ LORD RENNELL
My Lords, I have received in fact the answer to my Question which I expected to receive. I did not anticipate that any immediate action was contemplated, but this debate has enabled me to raise a question which will no doubt only receive attention from His Majesty's Government when it has been a good deal more publicly discussed and threshed out than has been possible hitherto. It was rather in the hope of placing this issue before the public that I raised the question. I am quite satisfied with the results obtained, and grateful for a certain amount of support that has been given me.
I should like to mention, both in regard to what the Under-Secretary has said about my proposal for three Continental 712 or Regional Councils, and with regard to the questions asked by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, that I of course contemplated in the Sectional Councils that only the nations territorially represented on the continent would send delegations. The Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva would continue, and all those matters in which it does such admirable work—the questions of the drug traffic, the white slave traffic and so on—would be carried on there. My idea was that the Regional or Continental Councils should deal in the first instance with matters in their own particular sections of the world, and I believe that they would rather accelerate a solution than prolong it. But if they did not come to any conclusion, the matter would go to the World's Court of Final Instance at Geneva and nothing would be changed. I only threw out this little idea to-day—it did not really belong to the Question that I brought forward—but I have found a very considerable measure of support for it among Continental statesmen.
The habits of my lifetime in the profession to which I belong have always led me to take a long view, and not a short one. And I am one of those who are anxious to see the League preserved, strengthened and made what its idealist founder anticipated. Among the things which I foresee as far from improbable, especially when I notice the tendencies of the speeches made with regard to a new Pan-American Congress that is to take place, is a great possibility that some day all the nations of that Continent may disconnect themselves from the League of Nations and form a League of Nations of their own. I wish to preserve association, not to promote dissociation, and to anticipate any movement of that kind which may be possible. I may be entirely wrong, but these ideas passed through a perhaps now senile brain, and I ventured to suggest them to-day. I think the idea has more in it than can be readily discussed in a few minutes, and I hope that other people will perhaps take it up later on. I have only to thank the noble Earl for his reply to the points I raised, and, with your Lordships' leave, I will now withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.