No. 33 NAI DT S4834B

Speech by Desmond FitzGerald to the tenth plenary meeting of the Seventh Assembly of the League of Nations

Geneva, 15 September 1926

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen - I think this resolution may be described as a facing up of the situation. I do not think that, in principle, the proposals are desirable. For instance, fourteen is too large a number for the Council, seeing that each Member possesses a veto. I think also that the provision debarring elected Members from re-election is theoretically undesirable, as it limits the Assembly's choice in selecting representatives.

The League has to be guided to a large extent by practical experience. We know that an enlarged Council became necessary or practically necessary in order to overcome some of the difficulties that arose during the last year, and we know that non-eligibility is practically desirable though in theory wrong, because our short history shows that elected Members regard their seats as theirs by prescriptive right, overlooking the fact that those seats were the free gifts of the Assembly, to be given to whomsoever the Assembly chose. Consequently, the Assembly was placed in an invidious position when it came to remove one Member and to replace him by another. It was not only placed in an invidious position but had, possibly, to face a crisis and the withdrawal of the aggrieved nations from the League.

The position being what it is, I think we may be justified in agreeing to the resolution, but in doing so we must be watchful that we do not create a situation worse than that which existed before. The difficulty of the fourteen vetos is overcome, to some extent at least, by Article III, which allows the Assembly to recall an elected Member of the Council who exercises his veto against the wishes of the Assembly. It is, on the whole, better to limit our power of choice rather than to have the elected Members regarding themselves as permanent Members who are merely to go through the formality of an election from time to time, with the threat of withdrawing from the League if the Assembly exercises its undoubted right to change its representatives. On the face of it, then, I agree with the resolution as practically worthy of support.

But let us face the situation frankly. Are we getting rid of the claims of prescriptive right to a seat? Is it not common property that alongside of the proposals in the resolution is the division of the League into geographical constituencies, with seats allocated to them? Are there not behind the suggestions which are placed before us other plans calculated to give certain States or certain groups of States very good grounds for saying hereafter that if they do not get the seats they now have, but have no particular right to expect, they have a grievance? I say that there seems to be behind the present proposals a proposal which may be interpreted as giving a right to certain seats to particular groups of States, geographical groups or groups based on alliances or understandings.

We recognise the desirability of having a Council on which there is representation of the different States and civilisations comprised in the League. At the same time, we think that we must never lose sight of the fact that the Assembly as a whole elects the non-permanent Members and that accordingly the non-permanent Members must represent the Assembly as a whole. Every effort must be made to preserve to the Assembly the greatest possible freedom of choice as to the States that shall from time to time be appointed to the Council. Accordingly, while we hold that all shades of opinion and every sort of interest in the League should from time to time be represented on the Council, we deny the right of particular groups to be at any time represented thereon in any specified proportion, and we deny more emphatically still the right of any group to choose from among themselves a State which the Assembly would be under an obligation to elect.

Such an arrangement means that not only will there be a hierarchy in the Council, itself undesirable but practically necessary, but a hierarchy in the Assembly. It means that in the Assembly the continent of Atlantis has the right to three seats and the country of Ruritania has a right to one seat, and there are certain other countries with no right whatever to a seat. The Assembly will be divided into a hierarchy of States which are due to be Members of the Council once in every two years or every three yeas or every four years, and States that are only due to be Members of the Council once every ten years, and those others which, with these States revolving in their orbits, will never get a seat at all.

I say that we cannot stand by now and see such a situation created either by resolution or by the establishment of precedent. It may be said that no such arrangement is made; but last March we saw a situation arise whereby a country deemed that, because it had been elected by the Assembly on a number of occasions for a number of years, it held its seat by prescriptive right.

The whole history of the League shows that the establishment of prescriptive right tends to take away entirely all the powers of the Council. What is the chief power of the Assembly? We know perfectly well that we come here every year unorganised. We have only one power that is really vital and that is really great, and that is our power to control the Council. We control the Council by our power to elect the majority of its Members. That I consider to be the greatest and the most important power possessed by the Assembly.

I hold the view that the conscience of the world as a whole is always going to be right, but I do not think that any one nation will on every occasion be right; I will not even claim that quality for my own country. I do not think that any group of nations at any one time will always be right. I think, therefore, that for the proper exercise of the Assembly's power, for a proper implementation of the world-conscience, the Assembly must retain as one body, representing almost all the nations of the world, the power to choose freely from year to year, without any consideration of established prescriptive right, whatever representatives it likes. It must also, at any time, be able to say that it is not satisfied with any Member or Members of the elected Powers on the Council and to tell those Members that they must make way for another. It must be able to do that with a perfectly free hand and not be called upon to weigh the possibility of fresh crises, the possibility of the League breaking up as a result of its action or the weakening of the League and of the power of the League through crises arising when nations - because they have a grievance or feel that they have a grievance which we consider imaginary but which they, with a certain amount of right, consider to be real - decide that they will have nothing more to do with the League because the Assembly has not voted for them. To our minds, the very essence of voting is choosing, and it seems to us that behind all these arrangements is an attempt to let us veto but not to let us choose those who are to represent us on the Council.

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