19 Sir Thomas Inskip, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Commonwealth Government

Circular Cablegram F3 LONDON, 10 February 1939, 2 a.m.

SECRET

Following is proposed note to Secretary General of League of Nations. [1] Begins.

I am directed by Viscount Halifax [2] to inform you that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have had under consideration the fact that under Article 45 (1) and (2) of the General Act for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes drawn up at Geneva on 26th September, 1928, the next period of five years for which the Act runs, in the absence of denunciation, commences on 19th August, next.

2. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom remain firmly attached to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes and they would be most unwilling to make use of their right to terminate their participation in the General Act as from next August. They recall, however, that in the Memorandum on the proposed accession of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to the General Act, which was issued on 23rd February 1931 by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs-the late Mr Arthur Henderson-it was stated as follows:

'The initial currency of the General Act is a period of five years from the first accessions. Since these took effect in 1929 the General Act will be binding upon those who now accede to it up to 1934, when it may be either continued in its present form, or revised in the light of experience and of changes in public opinion'.

It was thus made clear by His Majesty's Government at the time of their accession that the General Act might require revision in the light of experience.

3. The time has now come for His Majesty's Government to decide whether, and if so under what conditions, they are prepared to continue to be bound by the General Act for a further period of five years.

4. So far as concerns the settlement of disputes arising in peace- time, His Majesty's Government are ready to subscribe fully to the General Act.

5. But His Majesty's Government are bound also to bear in mind that the General Act, though aimed at securing the pacific determination of disputes between nations, is by its present terms applicable also in the possible event of disputes arising during war. In particular they cannot exclude from consideration the changes which have occurred in regard to the League of Nations, and the position of its members in relation to their obligations under the Covenant.

6. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have therefore reached the conclusion that in the unhappy event of their finding themselves at war at any time in the future they could not continue to be bound by the Act as regards disputes arising in such conditions.

7. His Majesty's Government would be ready to consider any proposals which might seem likely to secure general acceptance for the revision of the Act so as to bring it into conformity with present conditions.

8. I am, therefore, directed to notify you that, availing themselves of the provisions of Article 45 (4) and Article 39 of the General Act, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will continue, after the 16th August, 1939, to participate in the General Act for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes subject to the reservation that, as from that date, the participation of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in the General Act will not, should they unfortunately find themselves involved in hostilities, cover disputes arising out of events occurring during the war. [3]

9. I am to add that the participation of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in the General Act after the 16th August, 1939, will continue, as heretofore, to be subject to the reservations set forth in their instrument of accession. Ends.

1 Joseph L.A. Avenol.

2 U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

3 Circular cablegram B50, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to Commonwealth Government, 11 February 1939, advised that the words 'This reservation applies also to the procedure of conciliation' had been added to the end of paragraph 8 (on file AA A981, Disarmament 46).

[FA: A2937, PACIFIC SETTLEMENT OF INTERNATIONAL DISPUTES]