No. 414 NAI DFA 26/95

Letter from Francis T. Cremins to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Geneva, 9 September 1930


Sir Harry Batterbee, accompanied by Mr. Clutterbuck,1 called this morning to see Mr. Blythe. In the absence of Mr. Blythe, I saw him. He chatted casually for a few moments when I had explained that the Delegation had not yet arrived, and then, quite suddenly, asked me how our candidature for the Council was progressing. I said that it was going strongly and that we regarded ourselves as being in a very strong position. I laughingly added that, of course, we had a good start in the whole-hearted support of the other Members of the Commonwealth. He smiled at this, and said that that was so.

I mentioned that we seemed to have all-round sympathy in the League, even though it was naturally difficult to find that definite promises were forthcoming in every case. Again, he suddenly asked 'what about the South American group?'. I said that we certainly had their sympathy and that we expected strong support. He then asked whom we regarded as our chief opponent. I replied that, up to a few days ago, we regarded China as being our chief opponent, but that now it seemed fairly generally understood that China was not a strong candidate and that she had no chance of obtaining the necessary two-thirds majority required for re-eligibility. In this view he appeared to assent.

In turn, I asked him whether he knew who the other likely candidates would be, and he said the only other candidate he had heard of was Portugal. I said that we had heard of Portugal also, but, in addition, Belgium and Greece had been mentioned to us as likely candidates. I added that I presumed that Guatemala would be elected as a matter of course, and he quite agreed that that was a closed seat. I enquired as to what he thought of Norway's chance, and he expressed the view that Norway also would be elected. Mr. Clutterbuck then remarked that really there was only one seat to be fought for, and he thought that it would be better for us if there were two or three strong candidates going in order that the balance of votes would be split up amongst a number.

The discussion regarding the Council ended there but, before they left, both Sir Harry Batterbee and Mr. Clutterbuck expressed the view that we were very likely to be elected, and their attitude seemed to indicate that, in their opinion, we would have not only the support of the Dominions, but that of the British.

Sir Harry Batterbee referred to the General Act and stated that Mr. Henderson was very anxious that at the Assembly this year all the Members of the Commonwealth should take a common line, and, in fact, make the same statement as to their attitude towards that instrument. He stated that the British Government regarded the General Act as a thoroughly bad instrument, very complicated and almost unworkable, but, at the same time, it should be borne in mind that the Labour Government are committed up to the hilt to all-in arbitration. He said that, accordingly, while it was quite definite that the British Government would not accede to the Act this year, it was very essential that nothing should be said which would outrage the feelings of other Members of the League regarding the General Act, and that, therefore, it was necessary that great caution should be observed in regard to any statement that would be made.

He said that, accordingly, while it was quite definite that the British Government would not accede to the Act this year, it was very essential that anything2

I said that our position on the General Act was in effect somewhat similar to theirs in as much as we had very definitely promised at the League last year that we would seek parliamentary approval for accession, but that, actually, we had, owing to pressure on parliamentary time and other reasons, been unable to bring the matter before the Dáil. I added that, in view of our very definite statement at last year's Assembly, I thought that the best thing we could do at this year's Assembly would be to say nothing at all on the matter, and that we had hoped that it would be possible to adopt this attitude. Mr. Clutterbuck here interjected that we had really cut the ground from under their feet last year in expressing ourselves so categorically in favour of the Act, as he said our acceptance would naturally be used by other Members of the League as a lever to bring in the other Members of the Commonwealth. Sir Harry Batterbee then said that, in order to give me the atmosphere resulting from consideration by the other Members of the Commonwealth of the General Act, he would refer to a discussion which he had with Sir Robert Borden3 on the subject. He mentioned that Sir Robert Borden had asked that he should convey to us unofficially what he, Sir Robert Borden, thought of the Act. Sir Robert Borden considers that the General Act is altogether too unwieldy and complicated to be workable. He states that instruments designed to secure peace should be capable of being understood by the man on the street, a condition which could not possibly apply in the case of the General Act. He regards as especially bad the chapter dealing with arbitration, in so much as it permits the reference of non-legal disputes to legal minds. He thinks, as a jurist himself, that such disputes should be left in the hands of statesmen. He is against the Act lock, stock and barrel.

Sir Harry went on to refer to the attitude of the other Members of the Commonwealth. General Hertzog will not touch the General Act as he fears that in some way it might be possible for a colour question affecting South Africa which he would regard as within the jurisdiction of that State to come before an international court. Australia was at first inclined towards the Act, but they have lately come to the conclusion that they could not accede, and they are willing to take any common action that may be decided upon between the various Members of the Commonwealth. New Zealand views the General Act and all such instruments with suspicion. Sir Harry wished me to mention to Mr Blythe as early as possible that Sir Robert Borden and Gen. Hertzog both expressed the view that the whole matter of the General Act should be discussed at the next Imperial Conference.

The British Government are anxious, accordingly, that the various Members of the Commonwealth should take a common line towards the General Act in their speeches at the Assembly this year, and should indicate that the question will be discussed at the Imperial Conference and every effort made to achieve something big for Peace. It appears to be the intention that Mr. Henderson will seek, at or after the dinner tonight, an opportunity of discussing the question of the General Act with Mr. Blythe and the other first delegates of the Commonwealth with a view to the arrangement of concerted action between the various Members of the Commonwealth at the Assembly. I will report how the matter progresses.

Sir Harry Batterbee also referred to the proposed amendments to the Covenant designed to bring that instrument into harmony with the Pact of Paris.4 I said that we were in agreement with the various amendments just as the British delegation were, and that the confidential information which the British Government had conveyed to us regarding the attitude of the United States Government to the proposal that it should be possible for the Council under Article 15 to obtain an advisory opinion from the Permanent Court by a simple majority vote had given us the line we were anxious to obtain regarding the proposed new Article 17 (7 bis.). I asked him if he had any information as to the attitude which was likely to be adopted by those States who were Members of the League but had not signed the Pact of Paris, and he replied that he did not think that those States would be likely openly to oppose the proposed amendments to the Covenant.

[signed] F.T. Cremins

[The remainder of this document is handwritten]

3.30 pm. - The Delegates have just arrived.


There was no discussion regarding the General Act after the British Delegation's dinner, but it has been arranged that a meeting of the Commonwealth Delegations will take place tomorrow (Wed.) at 3.0 pm. at the Beau Rivage. The Irish Delegates are naturally against any joint declaration or any 'covering' statement in the British speech which would implicate in any way the Irish Delegation. I shall report progress.


1 P.A. Clutterbuck, Dominions Office, London.

2 Crossed out in the original.

3 Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada (1911-20), Delegate to the League of Nations (1930).

4 The Kellogg-Briand Pact of August 1928.

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