May 26, 1930 (16th Parliament, 4th Session)


James Layton Ralston (Minister of National Defence)


Hon. J. L. RALSTON (Minister of National Defence):

Mr. Speaker, the importance of
the subject perhaps would justify one in devoting more time to this question than is possible at the moment, in view of the lateness of the session. I am aware, of course, that it is not to any extent a contentious matter, but it is one in connection with which perhaps the members of the house and the country would desire some information from one who happened to be more or less closely associated with the negotiations.
Let me say at the outset that I greatly appreciate the words of the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) and I am fully sensible of the honour which was conferred upon me in giving me an opportunity to be present on that momentous occasion. I am glad that apparently what was done will approve itself to the country and to this house and I can only say that the efforts which were put forth and the work which was accomplished was due not to any one man or any group of men but to the spirit of cooperation which seem to pervade that whole assembly.
Just here may I say that the coming over of the Hon. Mr. Roy, Canadian minister to France at a time of inconvenience to himself, to take up the threads of a discussion with which he had not been at all familiar except through press reports, was a matter of great satisfaction to me and to the delegation, and on behalf of the delegation and on behalf of Canada I want to express our appreciation to Mr. Roy for having taken up that work at that late date in the progress of events, and having seen it through successfully. He grasped fully and rapidly the great many intricate points which had been the subject of discussion, and which required to be known and understood in those final days in order that definite progress might be made.
When speaking of the delegation I want to acknowledge the fine services of our advisers,
26, 1930
Naval Conference-Mr. Ralston
Commodore Hose, Chief of Naval Staff; Mr. Pearson, First Secretary of the Department of External Affairs; and Lieut. Colonel Vanier, our representative on the committees at Geneva; and of Major Brown, the secretary of the delegation. All of these gentlemen gave efficient and unfailing cooperation in connection with Canada's part of the work of the conference, and their help and constant interest were invaluable.
It is difficult just at the moment, so close to the conference, for one to back off, as it were, and get any sort of perspective to give to this house and the people of Canada regarding the progress of these negotiations. May I just divide-and this is my own personal division for the purpose of clear thinking, and perhaps for the purpose of easier understanding -the conference into four periods. The first period was during the first three weeks in which discussions were had with regard to procedure and method. By procedure I do not mean simply the way in Which the conference itself was to proceed, but I mean the system which was to be adopted for the purpose of carrying out the objects of the conference. As we all know, the objects of the conference were the limitation and if possible the reduction of naval armament, and one of the important questions which arose was the method whereby that was to be done. The first three weeks were taken up with procedure, with deciding how the affairs of the conference would be carried on and deciding the method and system whereby the objects of the conference were to be carried out. There were of course at the same time many informal discussions regarding the naval needs of the powers represented. As a result of these latter discussions it was possible in the next two weeks, from about February 9 to February 19, for the various powers to formulate and publish their statements, showing their respective naval needs and also the position which they took with regard to the objects of the conference.
The third period was one of some difficulty during which we were faced with the situation that one of the great powers, France, was not represented by any delegate directly authorized by its government. The French government had been defeated, and for the time being that country was represented by His Excellency M. Fleriault, the French ambassador and M. Massigli, one of the experts of the foreign office.
The last stage was the final four weeks when the French delegation returned newly authorized, and during which time definite decisions were arrived at as to the matters which had
Naval Conference-Mr. Ralston
been the subject of discussion, and the final treaty was signed.
Concerning the method of procedure, although there were plenary sessions, the real work of the conference was largely carried on in the offices of the members of the various delegations. One or two heads of one or two different delegations would meet together for informal discussion; meetings were held in the office of the Prime Minister at the House of Commons, others at St. James palace, others at 10 Downing street, and others at the offices of the delegations at the various hotels. There could not have been a more fluid or elastic or adjustable system for a conference. It was, I believe, due to those informal discussions that the success and progress which is recorded in the instrument now before us wTere achieved.
I will not say anything as to the first formal meeting of the conference, but I will proceed directly to the matter of method, which required considerable attention during the early stages of the conference. The points at issue with regard to the method to be adopted were simply these; one set of powers said, "We believe that limitation should be achieved by simply allotting to certain powers a total global or world tonnage;" the other set of powers said, "That is all right, we are perfectly willing that a total world tonnage should be allotted but we want specified the classes of ships into which that tonnage is to be divided, and the maximum tonnage provided for each class." In other words, there was a contest or controversy between the advocates of the "global" and the advocates of the "category" systems. After considerable discussion the matter was referred to a committee of experts and a solution was arrived at which seemed generally satisfactory to all concerned but which, owing to certain reservations, has not been formally embodied in the treaty. That solution was embodied by the committee in a very simple sentence: "that each power represented at the present conference shall indicate, after an exchange of views with the other powers, how it will allocate its global tonnage." In other words, the principle of global tonnage was accepted, but each nation was to indicate to the others how it proposed to allocate that total into the different categories. It followed naturally that if this indication as to how the tonnage would be allocated among the different classes was inserted in the treaty then the advocates of global tonnage and the advocates of category tonnage would both be satisfied. As I have said, this proposed solution has not been em-[Mr. RaM'** |
bodied in the treaty but it has been forwarded by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the chairman of the conference, to the league disarmament commission and will be considered by that body.
The next question was that raised by Italy. Italy contended that the thing to be settled first was not the amount of tonnage to be held by each particular nation or the amount of tonnage in a particular class which was to be 'held by any particular nation, but the proportion or ratio of tonnage to be held by those nations; in other words, whether nation A would take the same amount of tonnage as nation B, or would nation A have two-thirds or some other proportion of the tonnage of nation B. That was the question which Italy contended should be settled first, and it was put on an early agenda for consideration. However, at the request of the other powers, Italy agreed finally that the discussion might go on with regard to tonnage and classification, reserving always to Italy this matter which Italy contended was a question of first principle, that of ratio.
As I have said, while these discussions were going on during the first three weeks, the matter of program in informal discussions came up. The heads and members of the various delegations were meeting and discussing the statements which would be made as to their absolute or relative naval needs. The time came, on February 7, when the nations one after another submitted their statements to the world and to the conference. If we could adopt the analogy of a court of law, one would say that at that time the nations submitted their pleadings or their statements of claims.
On the morning of February 7, the United States published its statement, and perhaps the outstanding feature in that statement was the fact that that nation was willing to abandon its claim for twenty-one 8-inch gun cruisers, and to reduce that claim to eighteen 8-inch gun cruisers, but asked the right to reduce to fifteen 8-inch gun cruisers and to make up the difference in order to maintain parity with the British commonwealth of nations by additional 6-inch gun cruisers. An hour or two could easily be consumed in analyzing these statements, but my time is limited.
The statement of the United Kingdom was published on the same day. It dealt with general principles, pointed out that there mutt be a transition period when naval armament must be maintained, and it particularly urged reduction in capital ships.

Naval Conference-Mr. Ralston
The French statement followed on February 13, and called for a tonnage something like
724,000 in 1936, and pointed out that this was a great reduction from France's 1913 tonnage.
The statement of Japan followed on February 17. An examination of the statement showed that it offered an opportunity for discussion and a basis for possible agreement.
Italy published her statement on February 19, in which she reiterated her position, namely, that she felt that she must claim a parity with the strongest European power; secondly, that she was willing to reduce as low as the strongest European power and, thirdly, that she was willing to consider the abolition of submarines along with the abolition of battleships.
Using the analogy of a court of law, that brought the powers "at issue."

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