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26 Minutes of First Meeting of Principal Delegates to Imperial Conference

E (PD) (37) 1 (extract) LONDON, 19 May 1937


MR LYONS suggested that the question of Abyssinia was urgent and
that it should be considered at the present meeting.

MR EDEN said that his information was that the problem was now
more difficult than it had been last September, when the
Credentials Committee had examined the credentials of the
Abyssinian Delegation. There were now two alternative problems
depending on whether or not an Abyssinian Delegation was present
at Geneva. If the Delegation were present the Credentials
Committee would have to decide whether the Delegation's
credentials were in order, that is to say, whether they
represented any territory. There would have to be discussion and
some decision.

He had, however, no idea what the Emperor intended to do. If no
Abyssinian Delegation were sent, it might be suggested that no
question would arise, but he felt that some countries would bring
the matter up, particularly having regard to the position of their
diplomatic missions in Rome, where, for instance, France and
Sweden had no Ambassadors. If the question were raised, it seemed
clear that no one contemplated that the League should rescind the
decision that Italy was the aggressor. Many, however, contemplated
that it would be necessary to recognise the reality that Abyssinia
had ceased to exist. The Swedish Foreign Minister [1] had pointed
out to him, in this connection, that if the League took no action,
the Italians might bring to Geneva a second Delegation purporting
to represent Abyssinia. It was very difficult to come to any final
decision without knowing what aspect of the matter would come up
at Geneva but, whilst it seemed undesirable to ignore the present
situation, it seemed equally clear that the United Kingdom ought
not to take the lead in raising the matter. One of the objections
to our doing so was that the problem intimately concerned the
smaller Powers who were ready to believe unfounded rumours that
the United Kingdom and France as large powers were ready to push
Abyssinia out of the League.

MR SAVAGE said that he felt that it would be desirable to
endeavour to decide what ought to be done.

MR EDEN felt that this depended on the form in which the question
came up. If the question was whether the Emperor now represented
anything in Abyssinia, the answer was clearly 'No.' If the
question was whether the League should rescind the declaration of
Italy as the aggressor, the answer was also 'No.'
GENERAL HERTZOG said that the difficulty with regard to the first
question lay in its relation to Article 10 of the Covenant.

MR EDEN agreed, though he said that there was an argument on this
point which he would like to present on Friday. Article 10 would
not, however, affect the Credentials Committee, which would only
have to say whether or not the Abyssinian Delegation represented
the territory in question.

MR NASH asked whether anyone would raise the question of the
continuance of Italy as a member of the League after she had
broken the Covenant.

MR EDEN thought that there was nothing in the Covenant which
provided that a member should be turned out of the League for
having broken its rules.

MR NASH pointed out that the effect of the present situation was
that the country attacked went out of the League whilst the
aggressor stayed in.

MR SAVAGE suggested that the members of the Conference should
agree to some definite line on this question before Mr Eden left
for Geneva.

MR EDEN said that it would be helpful to him to have the general
views of the members of the Conference, though it was difficult to
visualise now the exact situation which would arise at Geneva.

MR SAVAGE said that if the Abyssinian Delegation was not entitled
to be at Geneva, the representatives of the aggressor were also
not entitled to be there. He felt that it was impossible to
overlook the annihilation of a country by the breaking of every
League rule. He drew attention to Article 16 (4) of the Covenant
whereby any Member of the League might be declared no longer a

MR EDEN agreed that the present position was not a satisfactory
one and that though action might be taken under Article 16 (4) he
was doubtful whether this would be a helpful contribution to

MR SAVAGE pointed out that other countries which had broken the
Covenant had left the League, but that Italy had remained a

MR MACKENZIE KING drew attention to the fact that the members of
the British Commonwealth were separately represented at Geneva and
that it was possible that Canadian and New Zealand views might
differ on questions before the League. He felt that Mr Eden should
have a free hand to speak for his own Government at the League,
but he was doubtful whether it was possible for the Conference to
frame a common policy on the subject.

MR SAVAGE suggested that a united stand on this question was

MR MACKENZIE KING said that this might be difficult. The Canadian
position with regard to the League was now very different from
that which obtained when the League was constituted and when it
had been thought that the United States would be a member.

GENERAL HERTZOG said that he understood that if representatives
with credentials from the Emperor of Abyssinia presented
themselves at Geneva, the Credentials Committee would say that, in
view of the de facto position, the credentials of these
representatives could not be accepted.

He feared, however, that such a decision might have the effect of
killing the League, having regard to Article 10 under which all
members undertook to respect the territorial integrity of other

If the annihilation of Abyssinia were recognised by the
Credentials Committee, this would amount to the cancellation of
Article 10 which was the heart of the League, and the position of
the members of the League would be no different from that of
signatories of the Kellogg Pact. [2]

MR BRUCE said that he had been a good deal at Geneva during the
last four years and that his experience there might be of
assistance to the Conference. Whilst it was true that recognition
of the de facto position would conflict with Article 10, a similar
state of affairs had prevailed as regards Article 16 ever since
the Italian aggression more than a year ago. The logical position
with regard to the Covenant would not therefore be seriously
affected by whatever action was taken next week. He felt that the
matter should be considered in the light of the report on proposed
changes in the Covenant when this was ready, and he thought that
it was generally agreed that it would be best not to attempt any
decisions with regard to the Covenant until that report was

With regard to Mr Mackenzie King's remarks, he felt that the
members of the Conference should regard themselves, when
considering the question of Abyssinia, as representatives of a
group of countries with common interests who were endeavouring to
ascertain whether they could support any helpful policy at Geneva.

Such consultation would in no way prevent each country taking its
own line at Geneva, and he strongly urged that the matter should
therefore be discussed, particularly in view of the fact that
there was often considerable confusion in the League proceedings.

He thought that the best course would be to consider on Friday
whether anything could be done to clarify the issues, so that the
representatives of the members of the British Commonwealth could
have the various alternatives in their minds next week when the
matter came up at Geneva.

(1) the Principal Delegates should meet at noon on Friday, when Mr
Eden would make a statement dealing with certain questions in
(2) that a decision whether or not the Principal Delegates should
meet on Saturday morning should be deferred until it was seen what
progress was made on Friday,
(3) that a press communique in the terms of Appendix 1 [3] hereto
should be issued.

1 R. J. Sandler.

2 See Document 17, note 6.

3 Not printed.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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