Philip Noel-Baker


The Right Honorable Philip John Noel-Baker (November 1, 1889-1982) is a man of strong and steadfast convictions. To a reporter who interviewed him after the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that he had been awarded the Peace Prize, he said, «War is a damnable, filthy thing and has destroyed civilization after civilization – that is the essence of my belief.»1

Noel-Baker, who formally joined his wife’s surname with his own in 1943, was reared in an atmosphere of affluence, religious observance, and political activism. He was one of seven children of a Canadian-born Quaker, Joseph Allen Baker, who moved to England to establish what became a profitable machine manufacturing firm. The elder Baker was a pactfist and humanitarian who held a seat on the London County Council from 1895 to 1907 and in the House of Commons from 1905 to 1918.

Noel-Baker excelled in school. After attending Bootham School in York and Haverford College in Pennsylvania – both of them Quaker-affiliated institutions – he took honors in the history tripos in 1910 and in the economics tripos in 1912 at King’s College, Cambridge, and in both 1911 and 1913 was named the Whewell scholar in international law. Before the First World War he also studied for a brief time in Paris and Munich. At Cambridge in 1912, Noel-Baker was president of the debating society and from 1910 to 1912 president of the Cambridge University Athletic Club. A stellar performer in the middle distances, he ran in the Olympic Games held in Stockholm in 1912 and captained the British track team at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp and at the 1924 Games in Paris.

From 1914 until the present day, Noel-Baker has three times accepted academic posts but has left them to pursue a career in public service. Having completed his M.A., he accepted the post of vice-principal of Ruskin College at Oxford in 1914, but with the onset of the war, he organized and became the commandant of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit attached to the fighting front in France (1914-1915) and subsequently became adjutant of the First British Ambulance Unit for Italy (1915-1918). In France he won the Mons Star (1915); in Italy, the Silver Medal for Military Valor (1917) and the Croce di Guerra (1918 ). In 1915 he met and married a field hospital nurse, Irene Noel, the daughter of a British landowner in Achmetaga, Greece.

Noel-Baker participated in the formation, the administration, and the legislative deliberations of the two great international political organizations of the twentieth century – the League of Nations and the United Nations. In 1918-1919, during the Peace Conference in Paris, he was principal assistant to Lord Robert Cecil on the committee which drafted the League of Nations Covenant; from 1920 to 1922 a member of the Secretariat of the League, being principal assistant to Sir Eric Drummond, first secretary-general of the League; from 1922 to 1924 the private secretary to the British representative on the League’s Council and Assembly. Meanwhile, he also was acting as a valued adviser to Fridtjof Nansen in his prisoner-of-war and refugee work. From 1929 to 1931 he was a member of the British delegation to the Assembly of the League and then for a year an assistant to Arthur Henderson, the chairman of the Disarmament Conference.

For a brief period notable for its scholarly productivity, he returned to academic pursuits. He accepted the invitation issued by the University of London to become the first Sir Ernest Cassell Professor of International Law, occupying this chair from 1924 to 1929. Out of his League experience and further research, he wrote and published The Geneva Protocol f or the Pacifc Settlement of International Disputes (1925), The League of Nations at Work (1926), Disarmament (1926), Disarmament and the Coolidge Conference (1927). From his research for a course of lectures in the summer of 1927 at the Academy of International Law at The Hagué came Le Statut juridique actuel des dominions britanniques dans le domaine du droit international (1928). Except for a year spent as Dodge Lecturer in 1933-1934 at Yale University, Noel-Baker henceforth devoted his life to politics and international affairs.

For four decades Noel-Baker was prominent in the Labor Party. He was unsuccessful in a 1924 contest for a seat in the House of Commons, but from 1929 to 1931 he sat as a member from Coventry, from 1936 to 1950 as a member from Derby, and from 1950 to 1970 from Derby South. He was elected to the National Executive Committee of the Labor Party in 1937 and in 1946 succeeded Harold Laski as chairman of the party.

From 1936 to 1942, Noel-Baker was in the Opposition in the Commons, but accepted the office of Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of War Transport proffered by Winston Churchill in 1942. In the Attlee government elected in 1945, he was, successively, Minister of State in the Foreign Office (1945-1946), Secretary of State for Air (1946-1947), Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (1947-1950), and Minister of Fuel and Power (1950-1951). When the Labor Party lost power, Noel-Baker became a member of the «shadow cabinet », was named vice-chairman of the foreign affairs group of the Parliamentary Labor Party in 1961 and its chairman in 1964.

At the close of World War II, the functions which Noel-Baker discharged in connection with the United Nations were analogous to those he performed for the League of Nations a generation earlier. Having been in charge of British preparatory work for the United Nations beginning in 1944, he helped to draft the Charter of the UN at San Francisco the next year and in 1946 was appointed to membership on the British delegation.

In the formative days of the UN, Noel-Baker was concerned with the selection of a site for UN headquarters (he favored Geneva) and with outlining privileges, restrictions, and responsibilities of members of the UN staff – the ground rules, in a sense, of a world civil service. A delegate to the Food and Agriculture Organization at Quebec in 1945, he helped give viability to that imperilled organization by delineating a compromise between pure research programs on the one hand and relief operations on the other. As the United Kingdom delegate to the Economic and Social Council, he called for an action program to abolish poverty in an affluent world. In the General Assembly, he supported regulation of arms traffic, plans for atomic controls, economic aid for refugees and re-institution of the «Nansen passport», the economic unification of the Allied zones in Germany, and wide-ranging plans for economic development and organization in Europe.

In the decade of the fifties, Noel-Baker returned to his studies on disarmament. He had published a long book in 1936, The Private Manufacture of Armaments. In The Arms Race: A Programme for World Disarmament, published in 1958, he summarizes the results of extensive research combined with «personal experiences which began at the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919». This comprehensive, historical, and analytical study won the Albert Schweitzer Book Prize in 1961.

Although his days of active participation in track have long since passed, Noel-Baker retains the lean look of the athlete and an absorption in athletics. He was commandant of the 1952 British Olympic team and in 1960 became president of the International Council of Sport and Physical Recreation of UNESCO.

Noel-Baker has continued to reside in London since the death of his wife in 1956. For about twenty years he had the pleasure of serving in the House of Commons as a colleague of his only child, Francis Noel-Baker.

Noel-Baker died in 1982.

Selected Bibliography
Baker, Elizabeth B., and Philip John Noel-Baker, J. Allen Baker, Member of Parliament: A Memoir. London, Swarthmore, 1927.
Current Biography, 7 (1946).
The New York Times (November 6, 1959). Announcement of Prize, pp. 1 and 4. «An Athletic Pacifist», p. 4.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, The Arms Race: A Programme for World Disarmament. London, Stevens, 1958.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, Disarmament. London, Hogarth, 1926.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, Disarmament and the Coolidge Conference. London, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, 1927.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, The Geneva Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes. London, King, 1925.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, Hawkers of Death: The Private Manufacture and Trade in Arms, London, Labour Party, 1934.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, The League of Nations at Work. London, Nisbet, 1926.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, «A National Air Force No Defence» and «The International Air Police Force», in Challenge to Death, ed. by Storm Jameson. London, Constable, 1934.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, «The Obligatory Jurisdiction of the Permanent Court of International Justice», in The British Year Book of International Law (1925), pp. 68-102.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, «Peace and the Official Mind», in Challenge to Death, ed. by Storm Jameson. London, Constable, 1934.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, The Present Juridical Status of the British Dominions in International Law. London, Longmans, Green, 1929. English version of «Le Statut juridique actuel des dominions britanniques dans le domaine du droit international», in Académie de droit international: Recueil des cours, Tome 4 en 1927, pp. 247-491. Tome 19 de la Collection. Paris, Hachette, 1928.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, The Private Manufacture of Armaments. London, Gollancz 1936.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, «UN, the Atom, the Veto.» Speech at the Plenary Assembly of the United Nations: 25 October, 1946. London, Labour Party, 1946.
Noel-Baker, Philip John, The Way to World Disarmament-Now! London, Union of Democratic Control, 1963.
Russell, Bertrand, «Philip Noel-Baker: A Tribute», in International Relations, 2 (1960) 1-2.

1. New York Times (November 6, 1959), p. 4.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

Philip Noel-Baker died on October 8, 1982.


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1959

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