HC Deb 11 June 1917 vol 94 cc696-732

It being a quarter-past Eight of the clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.


I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn." I do so in order to call attention to the question of the passports which have been granted to the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) and the hon. Member for West Bradford (Mr. Jowett) to visit Russia. Fortunately, owing to circumstances not under the control of the Government, these two hon. Members have not been able to leave the country. I am very glad of it, because possibly after the Debate tonight the Government may consider it necessary to alter the view they have taken in this matter and cancel these passports. I raise this question because I venture to think it is most undesirable in times like the present that gentlemen like the two hon. Members should be allowed to leave the country at all. We have to consider their record in the past in connection with the defence of the country, and the attitude which they have thought fit to adopt in connection with the prosecution of the War. In pre-War days they took a very active part in opposing everything in the nature of armaments that were necessary for the protection of the country. I think it is within the knowledge of most hon. Members that they hardly missed an opportunity of recording their votes in favour of the reduction of armaments for the Navy and the reduction of the Army. Since the War, I think, it is also within the knowledge of Members in the House they have by every possible means in their power harassed the Government in the vigorous prosecution of the War. There are, of course, many others who opposed armaments before the War, but I am glad to say that the great majority acknowledged the mistake they had made, and since the War have done their best to make amends by helping the Government by every means in their power. It is quite the opposite with the hon. Members for Leicester and West Bradford. In season and out of season they have shown bitter opposition to the Government. We all remem- ber how eloquently and with what truth and justice the late Prime Minister in the early days of the War justified the part which our country was taking in the War. The hon. Member for Leicester, if I may quote from a newspaper, took the very opposite view. He is reported to have stated: There is no doubt whatever that when all is over and when we turn to it in cold blood and read Sir Edward Grey's speech carefully so as to ascertain why England has practically declared war on Germany, we shall find that the only reason from beginning to end in it is that our foreign Office is anti-German and the Admiralty was anxious to seize any opportunity of using the Navy in battle practice. Never did we arm our people or ask them to give their lives for a less good cause than this That was on the 7th of August, a few days after the declaration of War. I do not want to trouble the House with quotations from the speeches and letters of the hon. Member for Leicester, but I think it is necessary on an occasion like this just to bring all these circumstances to the attention of the House. That hon. Member made a speech at Merthyr on the 25th of October, 1914, and is reported to have stated at a meeting which he addressed: I ask you honestly between man and man fairly, did you have hand, act or part in creating the situation which has brought War about? Omitting some sentences which are not necessary for the purpose of my argument, the hon. Member for Leicester goes on: Is there one single reason why you are sending your sons to kill Germans and Austrians in the North of France at the present time? That marks his bitter opposition to the War then. That was not enough. At that time, or nearly after that, Australia made preparations to help us, and again the same hon. Member contributes a letter to an Australian paper, in which he states, by way of discouraging the Australians in the help which they were rendering to the Mother Country: I believe that the War could have been avoided, I believe that it was the creation of diplomats. I believe that far and away the greater part of the stuff that is being hawked and published about its origin is mere balderdash. He says it is absolutely untrue to say that we are fighting because Belgium was invaded. That is his contribution towards helping the country in Australia.


So the "Times" says, too.


We all remember how splendidly the Labour party came forward, and with what vigour they, and particularly my right hon. Friend whom I see opposite (Mr. Crooks) helped the recruiting movement which the country was undertaking. These two hon. Members did their best, their level best, to discredit recruiting throughout the country. I refer to the annual meeting of the Independent Labour party which was held at Norwich on the 6th of April, 1915. The hon. Member for West Bradford was in the chair, the hon. Member for Leicester was. present, and other hon. Members were also present. At that meeting a resolution was passed in these terms: This Conference expresses its strong disapproval of the Labour party in taking part in the recruiting campaign, and of the Independent Labour Members of Parliament speaking upon platforms on which attempts were made to justify the War and the foreign policy of the Liberal Government which led to the War. Further, this Conference instructs the Independent Labour delegates to the Labour party Conference to-call attention to the attitude of the Labour Members on the War. That Resolution was put, and carried by 243 votes to 9. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Leicester took part in the division, but the hon. Member for West Bradford, as we remember, was in. the chair. Here was a Resolution condemning their colleagues and other members of the Labour party for having helped their country in obtaining recruits for our forces at the front. Let me carry matters on just a year. At the next annual meeting of the Independent Labour Party the hon. Member for West Bradford, who was again in the chair, delivered a speech in which he made this statement: Had the British Government been trying to keep out of the War it would almost certainly have prevented the violation of Belgium. We all know, or I think we all know, that that was a most reckless and inaccurate statement. It was a statement which, I think, was not made for the purpose of in any way helping, but rather for the purpose of creating mischief and trouble. A few months later, when the question of military service was under consideration, the same hon. Member, in another speech, said: I am dead against conscription. I would not touch the unclean thing alike on moral and on practical grounds. I say there is no case to be made out for it. Those are the views expressed by these two hon. Members. The House is with me, I think, in the opinion that these are not the views shared by anything even approaching a respectable minority in the country. They are the views of two extremists who are hampering and thwarting the Government by every means in their power. They are certainly not the views of two hon. Members whom we should like to see going to visit an Ally. There is a strong feeling in the minds of most hon. Members that if they do go to Russia they will only go there with the object and purpose of creating more trouble and mischief. The hon. Member for Leicester has issued a pamphlet with no date on it, but I believe it is a comparatively recent date. The whole object of the pamphlet is to add to the labour unrest and trouble which exist to-day. I will read to the House a few lines. After dealing with various labour questions, the hon. Member says: Moreover, the relaxation in the rules of employment forced upon the Unions by the War is not to end with the War. It is responsible for raising these questions which are causing a great deal of trouble at the present time. For instance, the engineers have been fighting for years against the employment of unskilled labour upon machines. If this were permitted every engineer knows quite well how much harder his struggle for life is to be. As I said before, it is a very serious matter. The attitude and object of the hon. Members is apparently to make mischief. At every step and stage of the Military Service Bills, when they were passing through this House, we find the two hon. Members opposing the Government. Even the other day, when it came to an amendment of the Munitions Act the same hon. Members were again in the Lobby against the Government.


The Government are going to accept their view.


It seems to me that this opposition is not the opposition of men who are trying to help on the War. Perhaps, when the War is over, the question may be put to them: "What did you -do to help on the great War?" What will their answer be? The only answer they will be able to give is: "Oh! we helped the conscientious objectors." We know very little as to what is going on in Russia. There has been a Revolution. We were told that there was a bad Government. Apparently the bad Government is now succeeded by no Government. We are told that the Russian Government has asked for representatives of the Independent Labour Party to attend a conference which is to be held in Petrograd.


No !


I rather gathered from an answer to a question given to me as I entered the House—and with which I will not weary the House—that the position was that the Russian Government had asked that representatives from the Independent Labour party should be allowed to visit Petrograd.


was understood to assent.


My Noble Friend agrees. The answer the Government should have given is this: That the Independent Labour party as a party is an absolutely insignificant party in this country. Numerically it is very, very small compared with the great trade unions represented in this House. The Government should have frankly told the Russian Government that these Members who so loudly voice what they call the views of the Independent Labour party in reality represent no substantial body of opinion in the country. They are simply representatives of themselves. If the Russian Government had asked that representatives should be sent from Holloway Gaol or Bedlam—


Mrs. Pankhurst represents Holloway.


The answer should have been the same, that these are not representative people at all, and they are not in any way authorised to voice public opinion or any shade of public opinion in this country. The action which the Seamen's Union have taken in connection with the stopping of these two hon. Members seems to me to be the right one, but very unfortunately—


I ought to point out that that matter does not arise on the Motion of which notice has been given. It is confined solely to the action of the Government in granting certain passports.


Certainly I do not mean to dwell upon it at any length. I merely wish to point out that the action of this Union in forestalling the Government really makes the Government look a little ridiculous, and it would have been very much better for the Government to have told Russia what the real position was, and not to have granted passports to these hon. Members. In granting these passports it seems to me that the Government are taking a very grave risk indeed. They have no guarantees that these two hon. Members, once they are out of the country, will not make speeches in Russia of the kind which they have delivered in this country. I cannot help thinking that if they take that attitude the very greatest possible harm will be done to the cause which we all have at heart, and, as no good can possibly come from the actions of these two hon. Members, the proper course, as I have already urged, was that the Government should have told the Russian Government that these two hon. Members were not representatives of any section of responsible opinion in this country, and that they regretted they could not agree to the granting of passports. In these circumstances I think that our Government have made a great mistake. Fortunately, it is not to late to remedy that mistake, and. I hope and trust that, as the result of the Debate which is now being raised, steps will be taken to cancel these passports.

Mr. R. McNElLL

I rise to second the Motion of my hon. Friend, but in doing so I am very much alive to the very great difficulty in which the Government have found themselves placed by the position of these two hon. Members whose passports are now in question. My hon. Friend has told the House—and I think the House and the country are fairly familiar with the facts—of the way in which these two hon. Members, since the beginning of the War, have devoted all their energies and their abilities to frustrating the action of this country and making it difficult to carry on the War. I will make no attack whatever upon thebona fides, or the sincerity or the honesty, of those hon. Members. It is just one of those difficulties with which a democratic country must almost inevitably be confronted in time of war, because, in the first place, it is one of our most cherished traditions, which none of us wish to see "violated, that people of all kinds of opinion, no matter how extreme, no matter how strongly we may differ from them, are entitled to express those opinions freely in the ears of their own countrymen and of the world.


No, they are suppressed.


But there is another side to the question, and the difficulty is to know when the danger to the State in time of war may become so pressing and so great, if that freedom of expression is allowed to continue unfettered, that we have to abandon the tradition of free expression of opinion in the interest of self-preservation. When the question of allowing these two gentlemen to go to Petrograd came before the Government they no doubt felt themselves rather in a dilemma. They may very well have said to themselves, "These two gentlemen will certainly, unintentionally or otherwise, misrepresent in Petrograd what is the true sentiment of the British nation. They may do very considerable damage to our cause by what they may say and do among the Russian revolutionaries and the Russian Government. Therefore policy would seem to dictate to us that we should not allow them to go." On the other hand, the Government may have have said to themselves, ''Is it not possible that we may do more harm by preventing these Gentlemen going than by giving them permission to go? It will, of course, be known everywhere that they were prevented from going. That in itself may give an importance to their personalities and to their opinions which they otherwise would not possess, and If we do not allow them to go and be found out by our Russian friends for themselves, we shall give them a spurious reputation, and, in the ordinary phrase, we shall confer upon them the dignity of martyrdom." Those are the two opposing lines between which the Government had to choose, and I should like to give very shortly the reasons why, in my judgment, at all events, the Government have taken a mistaken course in allowing these two hon. Members to go, making full allowance for the difficulties which I quite realise would have confronted them by refusing.

Now, I think that these two Gentlemen should have been kept at home mainly for two reasons—first of all, in the interests of the Russian revolutionary people and the Russian Government. There seems to be a very widespread tendency at the present time to depreciate British liberty and British tradition as compared with other free nations of the world. I have seen it in all sorts of ways. We have seen it in too much deference to the opinions of one or other of our Allies, we have seen it in too little disposition to take our own straight line of policy in reference to the United States, and we have seen it more than ever in relation to Russia since the Revolution. We have seen a desire on the part of many people in this country to stand well in the eyes of our revolutionary friends, and that is quite right, but I think we carry that too far when we think it necessary to form our ideas of what is democratic freedom and policy from what may for the moment commend itself to any group of opinions in Russia. After all, we owe a great deal to our Russian friends. We are a nation which for generations has boasted that we were the type of liberty loving and liberty enjoying races with a government more free than any other nation, and therefore we ought to regard ourselves as a guide and example to our Russian friends. They are for the moment in the throes of a revolution in many curious respects following the course which France went through more than 100 years ago, and from the very nature of the case in a chaotic state of opinion and organisation. They are a people with none of our traditions of self-government, without any idea either of administration or of policy, a nation very much behind ourselves in general education, and therefore it is the most natural thing in the world when we find a welter of different groups of political opinion, a counterpart of the Jacobin Club, when there was no definite seat of authority acknowledged anywhere, and all these various bodies and committees are spending their time in providing innumerable resolutions of a high-sounding character, giving expression to general principles, and upon those resolutions founding a specific policy.

It is also quite natural that those resolutions and policies should be constantly shifted and constantly conflicting one with another. Under these circumstances, surely it is the duty of this country to offer that guidance which might be given by a nation long governed by democratic institutions and experienced in the administration of self-government. It appears to me that we are neglecting that duty by the course the Government are pursuing with reference to these two hon. Members. It is all very well to say they are entitled to their views, that they represent an influential minority and that nevertheless they are entitled to be heard. I can imagine that argument having great force if it was a question of their going to the United States, the Republic of France, or to the Kingdom of Italy, where the importance or unimportance of their views might properly be gauged with a certain amount of accuracy. In that case no great harm would be done if they put forward opinions which those Allies would very well know represented a small minority of our people. But a totally different sort of case arises in Russia, owing to the circumstances which I. have endeavoured to describe, because the Russian people have no knowledge of the comparative value of political groups and their representatives in this country.


That is just where you make a mistake.


The hon. Member fox-Blackburn is not so omniscient as he> thinks he is, and I do not think he has any more knowledge than I have of Russia. I have a great deal of information on this-subject, and I can tell the hon. Member for Blackburn that I am not going to accept reproof from him. It is a fact that the views of these two hon. Members will inevitably be misunderstood, for those views will probably go forward amongst a very large illiterate population in Russia. They will conclude that these two hon. Members come with the permission of the British Government, and that will be construed as carrying with it some measure of authority from the Government. After all, the Resolution has not eradicated, and could not eradicate, all the traditions and prejudices of the Russian people. They probably look upon us—and I dare say they do, because they are encouraged to j do so by our enemies—as a nation still I left in the fetters of monarchical tyranny. The Russian people will say that these hon. Members under such a Government as we have in Great Britain would never have been allowed to come here unless the Government, avowedly or otherwise, had a desire that their views should be made known in Russia. Having regard to the undoubted intrigues which are being carried on by the German Government and the unquestioned fact that the German Socialists are being used by the German Government for their own ends, all the more natural is it that our Russian friends, bemused as they are by their idea of liberty, what more natural than that they should conclude that, just as-the German Government are using the German Socialists for their own end, that our Government are using our Socialists for their own ends. It is not fair to the Russian people that we should subject them to the misguidance which I am afraid would be the result of those hon. Members going to Russia.

My second reason is in the interests of the Allies. Does any hon. Member doubt that, whatever their intentions may be, the aim and object of these hon. Members will be to spread a doctrine among the Russian people which will not be for the furtherance of the Allied cause, and not for pressing on the War? Those hon. Members themselves would not be sincere if they did so, because their whole avowed opinion, expressed often enough in this House, is that we might obtain all the things for which we are fighting by negotiations at the present time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] There may be some hon. Members who share that view, but at any rate it is not the view which represents the opinion of the country, and therefore I say that the Government have no right to allow two prominent and able emissaries to go to Russia at the present time and spread the opinion among the Russian people in the very critical stage at which the War is on the Eastern front, that they could obtain all the objects they desire if they would only negotiate with the German Kaiser to-day. Therefore, it is in the interests of the Allies and of this country as well that these two gentlemen should be kept here.

When we are told that this country should show itself alive to the desires of the Republican nations with which we are in alliance, and that we should have regard to the wishes of the two chief Republics with whom we are now lighting, does any hon. Member question that the attitude of the Government in permitting these gentlemen to go has caused the gravest dissatisfaction and disappointment, both in France and the United States. I only wish that our Government had had the decision and the courage to act in this matter as the French Government has acted. I only wish that they would even now give the House of Commons an opportunity of passing such a vote as was passed the other day in the French Chamber of Deputies, because then, without any fear of a misunderstanding arising, there would be the opportunity of showing to the world, to our Allies, whether in the West or in the East, as well as to our enemies, that the overwhelming opinion of this country, as shown in the House of Commons, and as felt out of doors, was for carrying on this War, not as these hon. Members would wish, by negotiations, but carrying it on until the object for which we started to fight have been attained by victory in the field, which is the only method by which they can be obtained.


The hon. Member who has just spoken said that the Government of France refused passports to the representatives of the minority Socialists there. I think that was a mistake on the part of the Government of France, but I would point out that the effect in France of what I regard as a mistake is far less serious than would be the effect of similar action by this country. A refusal of this sort in this country would come as the climax of a series of very unfortunate episodes which have already done a good deal to weaken the relations and to undermine the confidence between the Russian Democratic Government and ourselves. Before the Russian Revolution broke out I believe the leaders of progressive opinion in Russia looked to this country with more admiration and affection than any other country in the world.


They do now.


I do not think they do so now.


I am speaking about that which I know.


I doubt whether the hon. Member is the best authority on the Russian revolutionary movement. There have occurred a series of unfortunate events, some of which have been mentioned in this House. The speech of the Leader of the House in welcoming the Russian Revolution was an unfortunate event which created very much resentment over there, and there have been other events. If you were to read the comments in the Russian papers you would see that they notice that during the first two years of the War, when they were living under what they regarded as the most hideous tyranny, there was scarcely one criticism in this country upon the Russian Government of that time, and they also noticed that no sooner did the Revolution break out and the new Government come into existence than from the organs of our Press, from papers like the "Times," which, I believe, they regard as in some way officially connected with this country, and others, there was not only criticism, but there was a continual stream of abuse and vituperation which has done the greatest mischief and already imperilled the whole of our relations with that Russia with whom we have now to deal. If hon. Member's question that I cannot say that I have the actual quotations here, but, speaking from memory—I only looked at it two days ago, and I read the "Times" for five days to see what it was saying about the Russian revolution— there were references to the Council of Soldiers' and Workmen's Delegates and to the leaders of the Russian revolution, which at any rate called them ignoramuses, fanatics and dreamers, and said that they were playing the German game. As my reference to these papers has been questioned, may I tell the House something of the contents of a document which I hold in my hand, and which has been published in this country? It is a resolution passed by the Council of the Journalists of Petrograd, signed by the president and their committee.


It has nothing to do with the Committee of the Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates.


The hon. Member has stated that I do not know anything about Russia.


I do not think you do.

9.0 P.M.


I claim that what I am stating does not rest on my own authority. The Council of the Journalists of Petrograd know more about Russia than the hon. Member.


How many of them?


The entire committee, with the secretary and president. This document accuses the correspondent of the "Times" of certain lying telegrams to this country. It accuses the correspondent of the "Times" of working for a counter revolutionary movement. It accuses the correspondent of the "Times" of representing the only journal which now in Russia is trying to revive the pograms against the Jews. I regard that as a series of unfortunate episodes, and the action of the Government with regard to these passports has to be viewed in the light of what has already occurred. In my view, if the Government had refused these passports, they would have done what this Debate and such disparaging remarks as have been made with regard to the revolution by the Mover and Seconder of this Motion—


I myself warmly welcome the revolution in Russia. I think it did untold good, and I take exactly the same attitude as I believe the "Times" has taken. The hon. Member may find occasional phrases such as he has mentioned, but I have read the "Times" regularly since the revolution began, and, speaking from recollection, I say that from the first the "Times" has warmly welcomed the revolution.


I must contest my hon. Friend's facts. The "Times" has made a very rapid change of attitude since these representations arrived from the Council of the Journalists of Petrograd, and I believe their correspondent now lives in lonely isolation out there. If the hon. Member will read the "Times" before then, he will see that the protests of that Council were justified up to the hilt. The Mover described the revolution as substituting no Government for bad Government. That is not a remark which will do any good when it is telegraphed out to Russia. The Seconder says he has made no remark of that sort. But the Government of Russia is now largely in the hands of the Council of Soldiers and Workmen's Delegates. We may not care for that fact, but, as a matter of fact, the Government of Russia is now a kind of dual Government; it is a Provisional Government and the Council of Soldiers and Workmen's Delegates are acting in co-operation with it For the Seconder of the Motion to describe the Council of Soldiers and Workmen's Delegates as a "Jacobin Club" is exactly the kind of thing which creates ill-feeling between this country and Russia. We on this Bench are supposed to represent rather extreme views. We ourselves initiated a Debate on the Russian Revolution only three weeks ago, and anyone who reads the two Debates will agree that the language used by hon. Members who spoke from these Benches during that Debate did nothing like the amount of damage to the relations between this country and Russia as the language already used by the Mover and Seconder of this Motion.

The hon. Member who moved the Motion said that if you sent the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett) out to Russia, they would do nothing but mischief. I do not believe they will do any mischief. On the contrary, for reasons which I will give, I believe that you will find that when they get out there they will do more good not only to the cause of peace but to the cause of the Allies than any other representatives who have yet been sent. Take the hon. Member for Leicester. Everybody who knows him and who has had experience of him in past years knows that when it comes to matters of conference and negotiations, he is one of the most moderate and cautious leaders of labour in the country, so much so, that although I was not in his party, I do know that he was imperilling his whole position for years before the War began by his actual or apparent timidity when it came to great practical issues. The advice which the hon. Member for Leicester will give in Russia is perfectly clear to all who know him and have discussed his views with him. His advice will be this: He will tell the revolutionists that he wishes Russia to take the lead in a movement for securing peace in Europe. He will tell them that, but he will also tell them that if they wish to do that they will find that their influence in the councils of the Allies will be proportionate to their effective strength. From conversation I have had with him, I know he will tell them that if they wish to bring about not only peace for themselves but healing and salvation for Europe as a whole, that then they must make themselves an effective force, able to pull their weight in the Allied combination.

After all, that is the practical advice that this country wants any representative to give. The special advantage of having him over there is that he can give them this advice with ten times the weight of any representative that has ever been sent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question !"] He can give them this advice because they will know it comes from a man whose war views are the same as their war views and were the same before the Revolution. As a matter of fact, the views of the hon. Member for Leicester are very similar to, although not quite so extreme as the views of one whom I believe to be the most representative man in Russia to-day—M. Kerensky—who, only a few days before the Revolution, was ejected from the Duma by force for protesting against the Imperialistic ambitions of the Russian Government. For that reason, because the Russian democracy knows both these men, I believe that as it listens to M. Kerensky now as being first in Russia, so it will listen to the hon. Member for Leicester more than it would to any other living Englishman. I hope that the Government will not withdraw these passports. The action which has led to this Debate and the very reason of this Debate is full of peril to the relationships between this country and Russia. If the Government were to withdraw these passports, I believe they would be playing straight into the hands of men against whom M. Kerensky is contending at this moment, straight into the hands of those extremists who are arguing that this country has something to hide, and straight into the hands of that section in Russia which is working for a separate peace.


I wish, first of all, to say that I regard the raising of this question as a serious mistake. I take that view from a totally different point of view from that of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Lees Smith) and those who act with him in this House. I take it from the point of view not only of the prosecution of the War but of the achievement of the aims towards which both we and the Russian democracy are striving. The two hon. Members who opened this discussion took it both on too narrow a ground and on too insular a ground. I am quite sure we shall not be able to treat the subject matter of to-night's Debate with the fulness which it deserves unless we can get rid of the idea that all our propositions necessarily find an echo in Russia. When I say that, no one will dispute that at bottom the aims in this War of the Western democracies are identical with those of the Russian democracy, I do not mean thereby, for instance, to challenge what the hon. Member for the St. Augustine's Division (Mr. R. McNeill) said, that whereas we have had many generations of political education and of practice in self-government, the Russians have not enjoyed the same privileges; but I do think it is singularly unfortunate that the hon. Member for St. Augustine's should have put his thought just in the way in which he did. It was not exactly an essay in the tactful handling of the Russian democracy to tell them, in. somewhat harsh terms, that they were politically uneducated and unable to step abreast with us in modern political practice. That is perfectly true, but it is quite unnecessary to say it at this moment. Not only is it unnecessary, but it is positively harmful. My reason for hoping that the Government will stick to their guns in the matter of issue of passports to these two hon. Members rests on the broad ground that I believe they will succeed, as the hon. Member for Northampton has said, in interpreting the British will in this War more accurately than any other messenger whom we can send.

Perhaps that seems an extraordinary thing to say when you remember that the hon. Member has been throughout the War one of the most stalwart of pacifists. He is, but being a co-national of my own, he has an eye for facts, and I believe that the rough account which my hon. Friend (Mr. Lees Smith) has given of the way in which he will try to influence the Russian revolution is a true and accurate account, and if I did not believe so I should be found alongside the other two hon. Members attacking the Government for the issue of the passports. I do not think we should pay too much attention to the argument from the action of the French Government or the American Government. In this matter we have to decide for ourselves, and we have to remember that neither the French Government nor the Government of the United States has such a deep stain to wipe out in Russia as we have. The lion. Member (Mr. McNeill) said that we cannot possibly be held up in Russia as still groaning under a monarchical tyranny, and that they, having emancipated themselves from autocracy, might possibly regard us as lingering far behind. But surely he has forgotten that every Liberal Russian and every revolutionary for generations past has looked to Great Britain as the home of domestic freedom, and does he imagine that, because probably many Russians believe that there is a taint of Imperialism in the War aims of the British and French Governments, therefore the ancient memory of this country as the home of freedom will disappear? Surely not, and, if not, then how are we to explain to the Russians the behaviour of certain official emissaries whom we have previously sent, and also the behaviour and the words used by many British journals?

I will not use the same terms in criticism of the "Times," for instance, as my hon. Friend (Mr. Lees Smith) has. I think he grossly overstated his case against the "Times." If he had confined his argument to the misrepresentation of the Russian revolution by the dispatch sent by the Petrograd correspondent of the "Times" he would have been on firm ground, but when he says the "Times," as a great organ of British opinion, has persistently misrepresented it in its leading articles and in its home comments on the revolution, I think he is mistaken, and has overstated his case. But in this matter of our endeavour to persuade the Russians on what we think of the War and what we think of the revolution, there is a much more serious case than the "Times." It is a case which has hardly been mentioned in this House, but which, to my mind, justifies up to the hilt the Government's straining every point in order to send those to Russia who can properly interpret our feelings. Was the last official mission sent to Russia just before the revolution such a triumphant success that the Government can rest upon the laurels won by its chief emissary? Newspapers friendly to this country published articles upon speeches delivered by at least one member of that mission which were so violent in their terms that not even the domestic enemies of the Government in this country dared to publish them; and if that is the case, I think the Government will realise that there is a distinct stain to wipe out in our recent record of dealings with Russia.

There is a further point that arises. Those who attack the Government for having issued the passports seem to forget that the presence of the hon. Member (Mr. Macdonald) in Petrograd was deliberately invited' by the official representative of Great Britain, and not only by Sir George Buchanan, but by M. Albert Thomas and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henderson) in conjunction; and if it rested on no other ground, I am sure the Government would be able to carry their point with ease in simply placing those facts before the House of Commons. Indeed, we must judge a question of this kind in relation to the facts. The hon. Members who have raised this Debate judge it in relation to the particular political feeling which the hon. Member (Mr. Macdonald) happens to arouse in their breasts. But he is not being sent as an emissary to the St. Augustine's Division. He is being permitted to proceed—though I am not sure the Government will not find they have yet to send him if they are to carry out their undertaking—on a mission to a country which is peculiarly difficult to understand, and which those are best able to understand who have adopted the kind of attitude which the hon. Member has adopted throughout this War, and the attitude I refer to is not only his attitude to the War itself but to the kind of new Europe which we hope will arise out of this War. These are two entirely distinct points, because I believe there will hardly be any difference in any quarter of the House as to the ultimate ends which we wish to see established in Europe, whereas the crucial difference which there has been between lion. Members opposite and us has been "whether those aims can be established in Europe by war or not. If you remove from the hon. Member's record what he has said and done about the carrying on of the War and about the means by which Great Britain should carry it on, and fix your gaze solely on his interpretation of those principles which ought to govern the reconstruction of Europe, I think everyone must admit that he is a proper emissary to send to Russia at this moment.


I join with the last two speakers in regretting very strongly that it has been thought wise to raise this matter on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House. In so far as it is a domestic policy with regard to the Labour party, I should like to say one or two words about it. I think there is a good deal of misunderstanding with regard to the point. I should think it is not necessary for me to say that the hon. Members (Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Jowett) are not going to Petrograd, if ever they get there, as the representatives of the Labour movement in this country. They go quite openly and quite fairly as the representatives of the Independent Labour party, or, if you like, of some new body which is called the United Socialist Council, and, therefore, having made it clear that they speak for the United Socialist Council and not for the Labour party as a whole, I hope there will be no further misunderstanding on that point. On the wider point I do not accept all that has been said on this side so far with regard to the opinions of the hon. Member for Leicester or the kind of statement that ho would make when he got to Russia. With regard to that I would only like to say that the hon. Member for Leicester has evidently confided much more in his new friends than he has in his old friends. The hon. Member (Mr. F. Whyte) who has just sat down put the thing very clearly. It h certainly critical. The representative of the Labour party in the Cabinet, who was sent over to Russia, has asked that the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member for West Bradford should be allowed to proceed there. We believe that even if it is only the balancing of evil—and for my part I am perhaps a little inclined to take it that way—it is far better that the two hon. Members should be allowed to proceed than that any action on the part of the British Government at the present tine should prevent them from proceeding to Russia. The party with which I am associated differs from the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member for West Bradford as to the means by which the new Europe can be brought about, but I will do the hon. Member for Leicester the credit of saying that he wishes, as I do, to see a new Europe in which peace would be established on right, definite, lines—the lines of nationality, and on lines which would prevent, if possible, the recurrence of the grave and troublous times through which we are passing; but I profoundly differ from him as to the means, and, therefore, I have taken the view that I have previously stated in this House.

I am not so sure about Russia as some people seem to be in this House. I do not know what is going to happen there, but if any action on the part of our Government, or if the sending of the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member for West Bradford will help this country at all, by all means let us not put any obstacles in the way. For the life of me I cannot see that the hon. Members who have raised this matter have made out any case how it is going to injure this country in any shape or form, and that is what they must do. If it does not injure the country, it may help, and the Government is wise in seizing any instrument or taking any steps whatever in its power in order to bring order out of chaos and in order to succeed. This, at any rate is pretty sure, that there will be no advice given for a separate peace. If we can keep Russia away from a separate peace, and if we can keep them allied to us for some time, I believe that eventually order will come out of chaos, and we shall have, as a result of not putting obstacles in the way of these hon. Members, a rebound in Russia, and the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council there, and the Provisional Government will remain on the side of liberty and justice and seek to bring about by resumed offensive that alliance and that power to help which we hope will succeed.


The Leader of the Labour party has said that those who have raised this Debate must show in what way the granting of these passports intended to facilitate the hon. Member for Leicester and the hon. Member for West Bradford going to consult with the leaders of the Revolutionary party in Russia will injure this country. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Lees Smith) just now told the House that he has confidence as to what the hon. Member for Leicester would say when he arrived there, and the House particularly noticed that the hon. Member (Mr. Wardle), commenting on that, said it was quite clear that the hon. Member for Leicester had taken much more into his counsels his new friends than his old friends. I want, before I can answer that question of the Leader of the Labour party, to look at the rosy picture of the stalwart Member for Leicester advising the Russian Government that they must pull their weight with the Allied cause, and that their influence will be only in proportion to their military efficiency, and that if they wanted to secure freedom that is the only way to obtain it. Those are views which are indistinguishable from the views of the vast majority of the people of this country, who believe that if we want to save civilisation and Europe we have to fight for it. The hon. Member who spoke last (Mr. Wardle) was agreed on that. Let us compare that picture with the telegram prepared by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) at the Leeds Conference ten days ago, which was sent over to Russia as the forerunner of this mission from the Independent Labour Party which, I am assured by those who really represent labour, is not independent and does not represent labour. This was the telegram which declared the aims and objects of this mission, as defined by the Conference which ordered them to go: The largest and greatest convention of Labour Socialist and democratic bodies held in Great Britain during this generation has to-day endorsed Russian declaration of foreign policy and war aims and has pledged itself to work through the newly constituted Workmen's and Soldiers' Council for an immediate democratic peace. Where does the fighting come in? Where is the argument which the hon. Member for Leicester is going to put before the Workmen's and Soldiers' Council? They are pledged to work through that Council and to try to permeate it with the poison they will take from this country and which is in themselves, and to urge them as far as they possibly can to go straight for an immediate peace. When that telegram is their credential, what are we to think of the story which the hon. Member for Northampton has told us about the splendid representation which will be made of the views of the democracy in this country by these two delegates, who are not owned to by the Government, who are disowned by the Labour party, and who are utterly disowned and discredited throughout the country. Permission has been granted by the Government for them to go if they can find their way there, which is quite another thing, because the granting of the passport does not involve the Government in any obligation to get them to their destination. The whole country is united in the view that the Government have made a very grave mistake in allowing the feelings of the country to be misrepresented by anybody whom the Russian authorities may think represent this country because they arc permitted, or at any rate are allowed and encouraged by the Government to go to represent us. The hon. Member for Northampton said that if these passports were withdrawn very grave effects would follow, and he said that he wished the Government to weigh the effect of the refusal of these passports in this country. I want to deal with this country and not with Russia, about which I do not pretend to know anything at all.


Hear, hear.


I am going to talk about the passports granted to these gentlemen, for that is the subject upon which the Adjournment of the House has been moved, and I am not going to be put off by any jeers from the hon. Member for Lanark. Let us consider the grave results in this country of the withdrawal of these passports. Two communications have been made to the Prime Minister to-day, one by the Secretary of the British Workers' Union and one by Captain Tupper, the organiser of the Seamen's and Firemen's Union. Mr. Tupper, in communicating with the Prime Minister, says that if the Government take any steps by putting a naval crew on board a vessel or giving a destroyer or other vessel of His Majesty's Government to convey these peace delegates to Russia, the seamen and firemen throughout the country will refuse to work the ships.


On a point of Order. Does this arise on the Adjournment Motion?


No. I indicated earlier, when perhaps the hon. Member (Mr. Peto) was not in his place— [Mr. PETO: "I was."]—that the discussion must be kept strictly to the definite question on which leave to move the Adjournment was granted, and that is, the granting by the Government of certain passports.


Would it also be in order to point out the dangerous consequences that are likely to arise from preventing both hon. Members from going away?


That again is raising a further point which is quite separate and distinct.


I think it would be quite in order to point out what consequences might result if the Government were to withdraw the passports.


If it is in order, as it was for the hon. Member for Northampton, to point out what grave consequences would result in this country if the Government do withdraw the passports, why is it not in order to point out what results would happen if the Government do not withdraw the passports?


No arguments can be derived from what I said, because I made no reference to what would happen in this country but only to what would happen in Russia.


All I want to make clear is that the Debate must not diverge from the specific point which was raised on the leave granted by the House, and if the hon. Member will confine himself to consequential results I think that he is entitled to refer to them.


I do not want to say anything more than refer to these two objections: To one I have referred sufficiently. On the other I may point out that the granting of these passports was stated to be contrary to the overwhelming mass of British opinion. The secretary of the British Workers' Union, which includes such an important member of the Labour party as the Minister for Labour himself who 13 its president, ought to know quite as much as, if not more than, any other hon. Member who has spoken in this Debate so far as to what is the view of British democracy as a whole. Quite apart from its effect in Russia, with which I do not want to deal, I think that it is a very dangerous thing for the Government to have pursued the course of giving permission to proceed to two hon. Members of this House whose record in this War they know, whose ends and objects in going to Russia are set forth clearly by the hon. Member for Blackburn in the telegram which I have read. What has already happened has aroused a storm of protest throughout the country, which is absolutely nothing to what will happen in the course of the next week or two if the Government do not recede from the unfortunate course which they have taken. We are told that they think that the withdrawal of these passports will be misunderstood in Petrograd. Is it quite certain that the going of these Gentlemen to Petrograd will not produce a much more grave misunderstanding? One hon. Member—I think the hon. Member for Northampton—said that democracy in Russia had followed the career of the hon. Member for Leicester, and would regard any advice which lie might give as far more important than any that could be given from any other source. Supposing that is so, is it possible that the Government do not see that that is a two-edged sword? It must be either true or untrue. If it is true, then the Government are allowing them to proceed, though their opinion has such immense weight with the democracy in Russia, and that opinion is diametrically opposed to the opinions of 99 per cent., or even a larger percentage than that, of the working classes of this country; or, on the other hand, if it is not true that the hon. Members for Leicester and West Bradford are so unimportant in this country that it does not very much matter whether they are allowed to proceed, if that view is true, then you are going to allow them to upset the military as well as the political policy of the newly-constituted Russian Government.

Our Government, with their 500 years experience of how democratic Government should be carried on, rapidly developing as it is, might say in their wisdom that they think it is wiser that delegates should go at this moment from this country who represent the views of the vast mass of people in this country. I think they should consider that aspect of the question. I do feel confident that not only will the effect of what they have done—unless the, as I think, patriotic influence of the Seamen's and Firemen's Union has the effect of preventing this great mistake being made—be most unfortunate, because I am quite sure that not only should we be misrepresented in Russia, but that an absolute storm of opposition to the Government's action will be aroused throughout the country. I believe they have struck an absolutely false note. I do not believe that in granting these passports they have interpreted the wishes of even a minute fraction of the people of this country. I believe that if they persist in not cancelling these passports, and, above all, if they give facilities to these men for travelling to their destination in one of His Majesty's ships, they will find that they have done more damage to the strength of the Government of this country, which is so essential to the conduct of the War, than by any other action which they could have taken. I do not say it because of the importance of the action itself. What gives it its importance is that it strikes an utterly false note. The Seamen's and Firemen s Union represent the opinion of the country in the action which they have taken. The Government have utterly misunderstood the opinion of the people of this country, or they would never have allowed the feeling to get abroad that with the connivance and consent of the Government two Members who have opposed them in everything which is necessary for our strong concerted action against the enemy since the intiation of the War should have been allowed to proceed to Russia. Therefore, even although the matter may be small, the result is of the utmost importance, because no Government can afford utterly to misrepresent and misinterpret a great mass of opinion of the people whom it is supposed to govern.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)

The speeches to which we have just listened have shown that the point under review is within a small compass, and important though it is, I do not intend to occupy much of the time of the House in stating the reasons for the action which has been taken by the Government, So far as this House and the country are concerned, I do not think any harm has been done by the discussion which has taken place tonight. It is well that the view of those who are opposed to the action which we have taken—and which I believe taken by itself, and without hearing the other side, would represent the feelings of the majority of the people—should be taken in conjunction with the motives which have induced the Government to permit passports to be given to those Gentlemen. But I am not quite so sure that it is equally good from the point of view of its effect upon Russia. Before I deal very briefly with their action, and the cause of that action, I should like to refer to one or two points which have been raised in Debate, and in regard to which I think there has been some misconception. It has been assumed, for instance, that in what we are doing we are acting against the interests of our two republican and democratic Allies, the United States and France. That is not the case. The issue, so far as the United States is concerned, has never, in my belief, been presented to them. The point that was discussed by them was the question of sending delegates to an international conference at which the enemy would be represented — an entirely different case—and so far as I am aware no invitation has been sent to the Russian Government to representatives of the United States asking them to be allowed to come. As regards France, the position is precisely the same. The Prime Minister, the President of the Council, in France, opposed permission to these minority Socialists, or any Socialists to have intercourse with enemies. But at the same time he stated that as soon as that danger was removed he would take precisely the same course as was taken by this Government, and would allow their representatives to proceed to Petrograd to meet the Socialists in the Russian capital.

There is another misconception which I should like to correct, and that is in the speech of the hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill). He says that the German Government used the Socialists to serve their own ends. I am sure they try to do it, but I am not quite sure that they are always successful. At all events, this is the fact, that all the German newspapers which represent, if I may say so, the same clear- cut determination in regard to the War which is represented by my hon. Friend, take the view that the German Government, in permitting these Socialists to meet their Socialist enemies, is playing into their hands, and destroying the German game, which is to carry the War to an end. But in one respect there is no difference between my two hon. Friends who moved and seconded this Motion and myself, or the Government of which I am the representative. The hon. Member for St. Augustine's presented the dilemma in which the Government was placed in, as I think, a perfectly fair way. He did see both sides of the question, and I think I am not transgressing the bounds of truth in stating that, so far as I am concerned, at least I looked upon it, as the hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Wardle) has said, as a choice of evils, and the reason we had was simply this: What is the best course, from the point of view of the prosecution of the War? That we considered, and that alone. I do think there is a little absence of a realising of what the actual situation is in the speeches of my two hon. Friends. They talked about the views of these Gentlemen, they gave us extracts from their speeches, they showed us how far these hon. Gentlemen are from representing either the opinion of this House or of the country, but they hardly touched at all upon what is the real question— that is, the position in Russia, and the effect which the action of Russia will have on the success or failure of the War in which we are engaged.

I do wish the House, and especially my lion. Friends, who hold views with which I have a good deal of sympathy, to try to keep themselves in the real atmosphere of the War. What is the position? A revolutionary Government has sprung up in Russia. I think the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Lees Smith) indicated that in some speech made by me I was not sufficiently sympathetic with the new Government. I am, perhaps, naturally rather cautious, but I do wish him and everyone else to understand that no one brought up in the atmosphere of this country, who has read from his childhood, perhaps, the accounts of the horrors of Siberia, has ever had any other feeling than that of relief that a system of that kind has come to an end. There is no doubt about that. But we are in the middle of a war on which our existence as a nation and, as I believe, the future of civilisation and freedom for the world depends, and in my belief on nothing does the final issue of the War so much depend as upon the attitude which is taken by Russia in the new circumstances which have arisen. I wish the House to throw themselves into the atmosphere of Petrograd. Let them remember that, as the result of the dislocation which has taken place, enemy views are spread everywhere throughout Russia, and what is the line they are all taking? It is this, "This War is being continued by you poor Russians for the benefit of England. It is her interest alone which is making you. fight; it is far England you are all dying." That is the attitude in Russia. The hon. Member for St. Augustine's said, "Why do you not say to the Russian Government, when they have invited us to allow these Gentlemen to go, 'They represent no one, and we cannot allow them to go.'" Does the hon. Gentleman really think that that would be believed in Russia, or that the use which would be made of that would not be that what the Germans are saying is true, that we would not allow the minority to go because we were afraid to allow them to express their views?

I was interested to hear the account given by the hon. Member for Northampton as to the views of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald). I was glad to hear it. if they really represent his views, and I hope they do, they show this, that the one danger which is to be feared from Russia to-day is, not the part that may be played by the Russian Government in trying to get a general peace, but the one danger is that Russia should be induced to go for a separate peace; and if we can rely on the hon. Member for Leicester to do what the hon. Member for Northampton said he would do, to point out to Russia that her own freedom in the future depends on the strength with which she fights the battle of freedom now—if that is the case he will not do harm to the Allied cause in going to Petrograd. But it is not on that ground that we have agreed to allow him to have his passport. Not at all. I disagree as much as my hon. Friend with all the views of those who are called Pacifists that have been expressed since this War. I do not question their sincerity, but, in my opinion, they are entirely wrong, and it is not as the representative of any shade of British opinion that I would allow passports to be given to the Gentlemen to whom they have been given. Why, then, are they given? Remember this. A revolution such as has taken place in Russia is a very difficult thing to guide, and the result of it nobody can foresee. But this we do know, that there is a possibility of the new Russia playing in this War a part as effective, or more so, than was ever played by Russia under the Czar. That is possible. I do not say that it is likely to happen, but anyone who remembers the history of the French Revolution, who remembers what a terrible force these men became when they believed they were fighting for their liberties, has some reason to hope that under proper guidance the new Russia may be a real help for us in the struggle for freedom in which we are engaged.

What is the position? There is a Government in Russia which is trying to bear up against all these conflicting waves of revolutionary feeling. What is the aim of it? From our point of view this stands out clearly, that that Government does realise that the freedom for which it exists has got to be fought for, and that that Government does intend to use Russia in the fight on behalf of the cause for which we are all fighting. Under these circumstances is it not clearly our duty to try if we can to make the path easier for the Government which has this aim, and which is our Ally, and which we hope may help us in this War? Let me tell the House exactly what has happened. Though I am not as a rule fond of reading extracts, I think perhaps it will enable the House to understand more completely the motives by which the Government were actuated if I do read the exact words of some of the telegrams. What is the position? Here is this Government in Russia which deliberately sends an invitation not to the majority Socialists alone, not to those who represent the vast mass of the working class of this country, but to the minority Socialists as "well. It invites them to come to Petrograd. When that position is put to any Government at home what would they naturally do?-They would, I think, in the first place ask for the advice of the men on the spot in whom they had confidence, and request them to help them in coming to a decision as to whether this step should be taken or not. They took that course. I ask the House to remember these three things: First, this Russian Government, which, with all its difficulties, at all events wishes to help us in this fight—not to help us, but to help the common cause —desire that these men should come. We have, in the second place, an Ambassador at Petrograd, who has been accused, very unjustly, of being too much on the side of the old regime, one of the ablest of our diplomats, and when this, question was first raised he, like my hon. Friends, was against it, but when it was pressed upon him, and the reasons for it were given by the Russian Government, he took strongly the opposite view and urged upon us that we would do great harm if we refused passports to these Gentlemen.

10.0 P.M.

Finally, we have in Petrograd a member of the present Cabinet. Everyone in this-House knows that his relationship and the relationship of the party which he represents is not very favourable to the party-represented by these minority Socialists, and at first in this country, when we discussed it, he was against giving the passports, but when he gets to Russia he sends us in the strongest possible way the advice that, in the interests of the War, we ought to allow these men to go. That is our case. This is important, for I agree with those who have spoken on the other side, that no Government which is charged with the duty of carrying on a War such as that in which we are engaged can safely do anything which arouses the hostility of those who are bent on the some purpose. We cannot safely do that, if we can help it. For that reason I will read some of the telegrams, so that the House may have before them a picture such as we had of the motives which induced us to take this course. I will take first the one of 28th May. This is from Sir George Buchanan, our representative: I have just received from the Minister for Foreign Affairs a note to the effect that an invitation has been dispatched by telegram from the Executive Committee of the Workmen's Council in which the four parties in England mentioned below are a.4.ed to visit the Council. It is hoped by His Excellency that the proposed visit will he agreed to by His Majesty's Government On the 27th May Sir George Buchanan was. calling upon the Russian Foreign Minister. That Minister said to him, "Some of ray-colleagues here with me now would like to interview you." He gives us this account of what took place between him and these members of the Government: After discussing the question of our agreements, Mr. Tereshtchenko referred to the necessity of maintaining close contact between the British and Russian democracies. He expressed satisfaction when I assured him that this wish was cordially shared by His Majesty's Government. When I told him Mr. Henderson was leaving for Petrograd immediately he expressed satisfaction, but at the same time he said that it was feared here that His Majesty's Government did not wish representatives of other Socialist groups, such as Mr. Macdonald, to come. He wanted me to authorise him to tell the Council that this was not the case, and that His Majesty's Government would give them all facilities. I replied that my personal conviction was that they would do so, and that I would not fail to repeat and support the views which had been just expressed. I then told him I was not in favour of Mr. Macdonald coming to Petrograd when the question was first raised by the Council, as I feared that his visit might encourage the pacifist movement, but, from what I have since been told by Mr. Vanderveldt and Mr. O'Grady, I had changed my opinion and thought his visit would do good. There have been many telegrams, but I will only read two more. Here is one sent by the War Cabinet in order to have clearly and definitely the views of our representatives: The War Cabinet are anxious to know immediately the opinion of Mr. Henderson and yourself as to the matter of Mr. Macdonald's visit to Petrograd, as a strong feeling has grown up here against allowing him to proceed on the ground that his pacifist opinions entirely misrepresent the opinions of the working class here. That is the 5th of June, and on the following day we received this telegram from Sir George Buchanan: With reference to your telegram No. 1154 of 5th June. Mr. Henderson and I are strongly of opinion that it would be a great mistake to refuse permission. Not much harm need be anticipated from his visit, the danger of seriously indisposing the Workmen's Council at a moment when its relations to the Government show a distiuct. sign of improvement is far greater than any expression of pacifist views at the present juncture. That is the position. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. Ronald McNeill) said there was something to be said on both sides. The only difference is that His Majesty's Government having weighed the conditions on both sides, came to the conclusion that, in the interests of the prosecution of the War, it would not be wise to refuse the permisson that was asked for by our Allies the Russian Government, and in my belief to have taken any other course would have been to accept a great responsibility, which, in our place, I do not think my hon. Friend himself would have exercised.


I want, if the House will allow me, to ask its attention to another point of view which has not been referred to by previous speakers, and which before this Debate ends it seems to me ought to be mentioned. I listened, I need hardly say, with very great respect and with agreement to the words which have fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but there was one point of view to which he did not refer which it would be valuable that the House should have the opinion of the Government upon. A great many reasonable people in this country, I am sure, object to the issue of these passports, not so much because they are issued to these two Gentlemen as because the Government have not secured, as a part of their policy, that passports should be issued at the same time to other shades of free opinion in this country. The feeling is that you have sent majority Socialists and minority Socialists to-Russia, and that it is open to pro-German intrigue to suggest that only Socialists in this country, whether majority or minority, are in real sympathy with the Russian revolution. It appears to me that that position, which I am perfectly certain obtains to some extent from what I hear from Petrograd, is a position containing; within itself a very considerable amount of danger. The majority Socialists, I say it without offence, in all countries are to some extent suspect on the part of certain people in Petrograd. The majority Socialists in Germany are notoriously considered to be the weapons of the Government. The majority Socialists and the minority Socialists-have strong differences in Italy, in France and in this country. The Government by sending these two groups of people, and these only to Russia, have practically intervened in a Socialist squabble that is European. I recognise to the full the position in which the Government were placed by the telegrams which have been read from our Ambassador in Petrograd.

I recognise also that these passports are issued for Petrograd and not for Stockholm. But it is essential if the older democracies of the West are to be able to lend the hand that they might to the new democracy of Russia that our democracies as a whole should be thought of in Russia as loving freedom and as having pursued it through the centuries. I venture to think that hon. Members opposite who say that the situation in this country is known in Petrograd judged from travelled Russians who have come to this country. What have most of them been? Men who have been persecuted, men who were threatened with Siberia by the old regime, men who necessarily were thrown into an extreme position and who, when they came to this country, concerted with those who held extreme views amongst us. These are the men who have returned to Russia these are the men who represent the opinions of this country in Russia at the present moment. They came in contact with a particular element in this country, not with fair samples of society of the country as a whole. I feel that our Western notions were wrong from the very beginning in sending to the Russian Revolution representatives of particular parties, and not a fair delegation of the free parties of our free country. Think of the position in which these delegates have been placed. It has been my good fortune of late to have to do with the organisation of delegations of semi-official representatives from this country in the neighbouring Republic of France. We have taken them from Members of the two Houses of this country, representative of all the chief opinion within this country, Conservative, Liberal, Nationalist, and Labour representatives of whatever shade of opinion, and those delegations when they found themselves in a foreign country talked together and presented a united front in a foreign country. They represented different shades of opinion, and they came in contact with different shades of opinion in the other country steadied one another and were not swept away by particular party views in the foreign country. If that was the condition in a country under the stable and historic condition like our neighbour Prance, how much more would it not have been an advantage in a country in the condition Russia finds itself to-day?

Instead of that you send over representatives of a particular shade of opinion, and you send them into a great revolution. You send them as the steadying help of others from their own country, with different ideas of freedom in their minds, because it was essential if Russia is to understand the sympathy with which we regard her at the present moment she should know and realise—and those who have not travelled here should realise— that in this country, as compared with the tyranny which lately existed in Russia, our whole people are lovers of freedom and know how to maintain it. Our object is to help the Russian revolution in the days of reaction. Reaction is vital to us. Reaction means that the old German influence which was formerly dominant in Petrograd is opposed to every interest of this country and our Allies. Our object should have been to prevent that being done. My feeling is very strong, but what is really resented in this case is not so much that these passports i should be issued to these particular men, but that the Government aid not look at the position as a whole and secure that when they issued these they should also issue other passports so that there might be a fair representation of the free thought of this country in Petrograd face to face with the elements of that country. The harm you do by it is that you weaken those elements of stability which are present in Russia. Let us not forget that there was a great revolutionary movement in Russia in 1905, that there were men then who won terrible experience in the cause of revolution. You sent no one from here who would meet these men, coming from a similar class with a similar experience. You sent from this country only one or two particular types of thought and experience, and what is the result? That the people of Petrograd naturally say, "Those who have come, those who would have given us a constitutional revolution, these people from France and Britain are not in sympathy with our revolution. Only those are in sympathy with our revolution who believe as we believe, in the extreme." I believe that this Government, and the Governments of some of the Allies, had a tremendous responsibility in the matter, that they should have looked at it in a broader spirit, and the objection in the minds of many of our people is not that they are using these passports, but that they have not had a larger and more constructive policy. I believe that frequently when two great democracies come against one another, if the Government of one attempts to stifle and hold back even a streamlet of opinion you cause suspicion in the other democracy. Repression in democracy is open to cause suspicion. Therefore I am not with those who would have refused these passports, but I do say the Government is to blame, because people are afraid to express their opinion lest they should do harm. The real attack on the Government in this matter is not because they have attempted to suppress opinion, but because they have not taken a larger view of their duty and secured a just and broad representation of opinion in Petrograd. That is a view which it seems to me has not been expressed, and a view which I hold, and others hold, strongly.


I do not think, after the powerful and convincing speech of the Leader of the House, that it is necessary for those who approve of the action of the Government to say any words in support of that action. I rise to deal with one statement which has been repeatedly made in the speeches of those who have opposed the granting of these passports, and a statement which has come even into one of the telegrams read by the Leader of the House. It was to the effect that the two hon. Members to whom passports have been granted had no considerable following in this country, and that they represented, to use the words of the Mover of this Motion, not even a respectable minority. I would like to explain a point which, I think, has not been made quite clear in the course of this Debate, and that is that the two hon. Members do not go to Russia and passports have not been granted to them in their personal capacity. The request was made by the Russian Workmen's Council for representatives of the Independent Labour Party to be sent to Petrograd. The Independent Labour Party, I may explain, is an integral part of the International Socialist movement. It was a part of the International Socialist movement before the Labour Party came into existence, and the two hon. Members were selected by the Council of the Independent Labour Party to represent that party on this mission. In regard to the statement which I heard just now that these two hon. Members carried with them no representative authority, I would like to read to the House an answer to the speech of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, and which was placed in my hands the very moment that he sat down. That hon. Gentleman warned the Government in the gravest tones of the terrible consequences which may follow if these passports were withdrawn. But if the passports were not withdrawn equally grave consequences may result. A very amusing incident of this Debate to one Like myself, who knows something of the attitude of the members of the Tory party to trade unionism in the past has been the way in which hon. Members who have supported this Motion have cited trade union opinion in their support. In supporting syndicalist methods the hon. Gentleman who made this Motion and the hon. Member for Wiltshire, are raising a dragon which it may be very difficult for them to slay in the years to come. The War has brought many changes, but surely it has brought no change so remarkable as to find the old enemies of trade unionism—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!]—quoting it to-day in support of their policy. The evidence which was placed in my hands at the moment the hon. Member sat down comes from Glasgow. I venture to give it to the House and the Government, because it is an indication of what may happen should they think, under the pressure being brought to bear on them, of reconsidering their present decision. This is a telegram from the Glasgow Trades Council, which represents 120,000 organised workmen of Glasgow. It protests against the action of the Seamen's Union, and it demands that the Government shall grant facilities for the Labour deputation to proceed to Petrograd; further, the Seafarers' Union offer to supply crews; the feeling in the West of Scotland is very strong in this matter, and say that Macdonald and Jowett must go to Russia.

There is just one further matter that I should like to mention in support of one point made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He justified the action of the Government by the representations which have been made by our Minister in Petrograd and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle. It is important that the Government realises that they should conciliate the opinion of the Workmen's Council in Petrograd; but it is of equal importance that the Government should take no action which is likely to alienate sympathy with us in this War in neutral countries. I should like to remind the House that a very remarkable manifesto was issued two days ago by the Danish and Scandinavian Committee now sitting in Stockholm. Amongst many wise things! said in that manifesto, it was pointed out that a very bad feeling would have been created in neutral countries if the Governments of the Allied Powers refused passports to representatives of the minority sections in the various Allied countries. The first signatory of that manifesto was Mr. Branting, who was described only recently by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs as a distinguished Swedish statesman not unfriendly to the Allies. I should like to point out Further that that manifesto was also signed by a friend of my own, the secretary of the International Socialists' Conference, a Belgian, and one who therefore cannot be expected to have much sympathy with pro-Germanism. I need add no more than this, that I thank the Government not only for having granted passports to my two hon. Friends, but I thank them for the stand they have taken in the course of this Debate. In the interests of Russian democracy, in the interests of liberty, in that interest which we all have in common, whatever may be -our difference of opinion upon the causes of the War, namely, the interest of civilisation and human liberty, I believe the Government have taken a wise stand in the course they have followed.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir HEDWORTH MEUX

What will be thought of all this in France, in Mesopotamia, and other places? What will be thought in the Navy? In the Army? What will be thought in the Merchant Service? What about Captain Fryatt? What happened in the Leeds Conference the other day when someone—I do not know who—got up, and proposed that these Gentlemen should not go out unless they promised to vote for indemnity and reparation for the seamen who had lost their lives? Were those who got up not received with jeers?


The hon. Member—:[HON. MEMBERS: ''Order, order!"]—the hon. and gallant Member asked me a question and I am entitled to answer it. If the hon. and gallant Member means that the Conference jeered at the suggestion that compensation should be given to the men of the merchant service who have lost their lives, then the statement is utterly without foundation.

Admiral Sir H. MEUX

Well, I only go by the newspaper account. All I know is that the Seamen and Firemen's Union have my thorough respect in the action they have taken, and I believe they have the respect of nine-tenths of the people of this country. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last time, that you get from Naval men, even although only common seamen or firemen, action of this sort. Of course, I know the difficulty of the Government—we can all see that—but surely they might do that which they have not done. Have the Government instructed our Ambassador to tell the Russian Government that these two Gentlemen going out have no following of any sort or kind in the Army or Navy, and do not represent a single soldier or sailor? The Army and Navy are winning the War—not the politicians. I do not say more—you understand what I mean.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion—[HON. MEMBERS: "No! "] In view of the statement and the telegrams which have been read by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which throw quite a different light on the whole matter, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion— [HON. MEMBERS: "NO! "]

Question put, and negatived.