HC Deb 14 July 1920 vol 131 cc2368-75


49. Sir J. D. REES

asked the Prime Minister what arrangements have been made during recent negotiations to safeguard the interests of British investors in Russian bonds and municipal stocks and of holders of Russian securities in general.

55. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty's Government has suggested the conclusion of an armistice between the Japanese army in Siberia and the Russian and Siberian forces in Eastern Siberia; if not, whether it is the policy of His Majesty's Government to only propose armistices on those fronts where the Russian forces are winning; whether His Majesty's Government has proposed an armistice to the Russian Government between its forces and the troops operating under General Baron Wrangel in South Russia; and whether General Baron Wrangel advanced into South Russia without the permission of His Majesty's Government and after putting himself unreservedly into our hands for the making of peace.


In answer to a question of which I have received private notice, I am giving to the House the exact terms of the communications with the Soviet Government on these subjects.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Will the right hon. Gentleman's later answer include the question of General Wrangel's forces and the Japanese forces?


Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will listen to the text of the answer.

Mr. ASQUITH (by Private Notice).

asked the Leader of the House whether he can give the House the text of the communications with the Russian Soviet Government on the question of re-opening trade relations and the proposal for an armistice?


I have here a statement as to the conditions on which the British Government would begin trade relations, the reply of the Soviet Government, and a dispatch sent subsequently in regard to the armistice. I propose to read the last. As the documents are long perhaps the House will allow me to circulate the two former.

The text of the Note, dated 30th June, addressed by His Majesty's Government to M. Krassin for transmission to the Soviet Government is as follows:

The British Government has given careful consideration to the Memorandum produced by M. Krassin of the 29th June on the negotiations which have been proceeding since the arrival of the Russian Delegation at the end of May. The British Government has, during the course of these negotiations, shown its sincere desire to end the isolation of Russia from the Western world, and to reach an agreement for the resumption of trading relations which might pave the way to a general peace. They do not think that any useful purpose will be served at this moment by attempting a detailed reply to the Russian Trade Delegation Memorandum, or by entering into arguments of a recriminatory character. The negotiations have now reached a stage where it is necessary to bring them to an issue. It is not clear from M. Krassin's Memorandum whether the Soviet Government really desires the restoration of trading relations or not, or what are the conditions upon which it is willing to resume them. In order, therefore, to arrive at a definite decision, the British Government now repeats what it has declared throughout, that it is willing to make an agreement for the mutual cessation of hostility and the resumption of trading relations with Russia, and asks for categorical replies, yes or no, as to whether Russia is prepared to enter into a trade agreement with the British Empire and other Powers on the following conditions:

First, that each party undertakes to refrain from hostile action or undertakings against the other, and from conducting any official propaganda, direct or indirect, against the institutions of the other party; and, more particularly, that the Soviet Government will refrain from any attempt by military action or propaganda to encourage any of the peoples of Asia in any form of hostile action against British interests or the British Empire. For reasons already given, this, in the opinion of the British Government, is the fundamental condition of any trading agreement between Russia and any Western Power. Trade is only possible under conditions of peace or armistice. The British Government pro pose what is tantamount to a general armistice, as the condition of the resumption of trade relations, in the hope that this armistice may lead ere long to a general peace.

Second, that all British subjects in Russia should be immediately permitted to return home, all Russian subjects in Great Britain or other parts of the British Empire who desire to return to Russia being similarly released.

Third, that the Soviet Government in return for a corresponding undertaking from the British Government agrees to recognise in principle that it is liable to pay compensation to private citizens who have supplied goods or services to Russia for which they have not been paid. The British Government ask for some declaration of this kind at the present time. because it believes something of this nature is essential to the effective starting of trade between the two countries. It considers it a matter of simple justice, for instance, that where a merchant has supplied the Russian people with a thousand ploughs, which have been used, or are still being used, by the Russian people to their own great benefit that the Russians should admit that they ought to pay that merchant and the workman who manufactured the ploughs for the goods and services they have rendered. Unless Soviet Russia is prepared to admit that it must deal with those with whom it now wishes to trade on some recognised principle of justice, trade on a large scale, such as is desired on both sides, will be found to be practically impossible. The British Government does not ask that these debts should be settled now. It is prepared to leave the determination of Russia's liabilities under this head, as Well as all other questions relating to debts or claims by Great Britain on Russia or by Russia on Great Britain, to be mutually settled at the negotiations of peace. But it considers it necessary that the Soviet Government should make a declaration on this point in order to give the necessary confidence to Western merchants, manufacturers and workers to embark upon manufacturing and trading operations.

Fourth, the British Government agrees to the conditions laid down by the Soviet Government in regard to commercial facilities, communications and so forth, provided they are mutual, and excepting that it cannot agree to surrender the right possessed by every civilised Government, and which it freely accords to the Soviet Government also, to object to the entry as an official agent of any Government of any person who is non grata to itself. It asserts, however, that it has no intention of debarring any Russian on the ground of his Communist opinions, provided the agents of the Russian Government comply with the normal conditions for friendly international intercourse.

The British Government now awaits a definite statement from the Soviet Government as to whether it will accept these principles as the basis of an agreement to re-open trade relations between Russia and the British Empire and any other Power willing to accept the same conditions. If an answer is returned in the affirmative, the British Government will be willing to discuss details with any experts or representatives which Soviet Russia may nominate, except such as have already been refused. Should, however, no affirmative reply be obtained within one week of the presentation of this Note, the British Government will regard the negotiations as at an end, and, in view of the declared unwillingness of the Soviet Government to cease its attacks upon the British Empire, will take counsel with its Allies as to the measures required to deal with the situation.

30th June, 1920.

The following reply was received by wireless from Tchitcherin on 8th July:

Complying with the desire of the British Government in purpose to arrive to an early peace between Russia and Great Britain, the Russian Soviet Government accepts the principles as laid down in the Memorandum transmitted on July first by the British Government to the President of the Russian Delegation, Krassin, an agreement between Russia and Great Britain which will be the object of negotiations between both Governments that have to begin without delay. The Soviet Government agrees that the plan proposed by the British Government will have to be considered a state of armistice between Russia and Great Britain, and shares its expectation that this armistice will pave the way to a definite which at (?) a time protesting against the affirmation, contrary to the real facts, relative to presumed attack of Soviet Government, realises once more that as to Soviet Russia in her relations with Great Britain desires nothing but peace, and that the absence of the same disposition on the other side was the only cause preventing it from being as yet attained.

His Majesty's Government despatched, on 11th July, a further telegram to the Soviet Government as follows:

The British Government notes the acceptance by the Russian Soviet Government of the principles laid down in its Memorandum of 1st July, as the basis of an agreement for the resumption of trade regulations and the cessation of mutual hostilities, and it therefore agrees to continue the negotiations for a definite trade agreement as soon as the Russian delegates return. The British Government has a further proposal to make. The Soviet Government of Russia has repeatedly declared its anxiety to make peace with all its neighbours. The British Government, which is no less anxious to restore peace throughout Europe, therefore proposes the following arrangement with this object in view:

(A) That an immediate armistice be signed between Poland and Soviet Russia whereby hostilities shall be suspended: the terms of this armistice should provide on the one hand that the Polish army shall immediately withdraw to the line provisionally laid down last year by the Peace Conference as the Eastern Boundary within which Poland was entitled to establish a Polish Administration. This line runs approximately as, follows: Grodno, Vapovka, Nemirov, Brest-Litovsk, Dorogusk, Ustilug, East of Grubeshob, Krilov, and thence West of Rawa Ruska, East of Pryemysl, to Carpathians. North of Grodno the line which will be held by the Lithuanians will run along the railway running from Grodno to Vilna, and thence to Dvinsk. On the other hand, the armistice should provide that the armies of Soviet Russia should stand at a distance of 50 kilometres to the East of this line. In Eastern Galicia each army will stand on the line which they occupy at the date of the signature of the armistice.

(B) That as soon as possible thereafter a Conference, sitting under the auspices of the Peace Conference, should assemble in London, to be attended by representatives of Soviet Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, with the object of negotiating a final peace between Russia and its neighbouring States. Representatives of Eastern Galicia would also be invited to London to state their case for the purpose of this Conference. Great Britain will place no restriction on the representatives which Russia may nominate, provided that they undertake while in Great Britain not to interfere in the politics or the internal affairs of the British Empire or to indulge in propaganda.

The British Government, as a separate proposal, suggests that an armistice should similarly be signed between the forces of Soviet Russia and General Wrangel on the condition that General Wrangel's forces shall immediately retire to the Crimea, and that during the armistice the Isthmus be a neutral zone, and that General Wrangel should be invited to London to discuss the future of troops under his command and the refugees under his protection, but not as a member of the Conference. The British Government would be glad of an immediate reply to this telegram for the Polish Government has asked for the intervention of the Allies, and if time is lost a situation may develop which will make the conclusion of lasting peace far more difficult in Eastern Europe.

Further, while the British Government has bound itself to give no assistance to Poland for any purpose hostile to Russia, and to take no action itself hostile to Russia, it is also bound, under the Covenant of the League of Nations, to defend the integrity and independence of Poland within its legitimate ethnographic frontiers. If, therefore, Soviet Russia, despite its repeated declarations accepting the independence of Poland, will not be content with the withdrawal of the Polish armies from Russian soil on the condition of a mutual armistice, but intends to take action hostile to Poland in its own territory, the British Government and its Allies would feel bound to assist the Polish Nation to defend its existence with all the means at their disposal. The Polish Government has declared its willingness to make peace with Soviet Russia, and to initiate negotiations for an armistice on the basis of conditions set out above directly it is informed that Soviet Russia also agrees. The British Government, therefore, would be glad of a definite reply within a week as to whether Soviet Russia is prepared to accept the aforesaid proposal for putting an end to further unnecessary bloodshed and giving peace to Europe.


I should like to ask two questions arising out of that answer. The first is, to whom was this communication made? Secondly, the words "British Government" have been used throughout. Are we to understand that it is made on behalf of the British Government alone, or on behalf of the British Government in conjunction with its allies?


The message was sent by wireless to the Soviet Government in Moscow, but it was sent with the knowledge and approval of all our allies.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

May I ask now why an armistice has not been proposed between the Soviet Government and Japan in Siberia, and does the Government only propose an armistice when the Russian arms are winning?


No. The problem with which we are directly faced, more immediately than the other, is, of course, Central Europe. I have no doubt after the armistice has been concluded with Soviet Russia the other consideration will be dealt with.


Had the Cabinet the permission of the House to do what they have been doing with Soviet Russia without any consultation? It is disgraceful.


The Government of the day must always take a responsibility of that kind. We have taken it on the assumption that we had the approval of the House of Commons, and I think that assumption will prove to be correct.


No, it will not.


Would the Leader of the House agree that having regard to the fact that Poland deliberately took the offensive, there is a case for compensation to the Soviet Government?


How are the delegates for Eastern Galicia to be selected? Will they be selected by the Polish Government or by the Ukraine? Secondly, is Eastern Galicia held to be part of Poland or not?


Under this arrangement will M. Litvinoff be allowed to come as one of the delegates?


As regards the two questions of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wedgwood), I do not think it is possible for me to give an answer to either. As regards the last question, it means that they can send any representative they please, not to take part in a conference with us, but to take part in a conference for securing general peace.


Will the delegates from Eastern Galicia not be selected by the Polish Government?


It is obvious that as I was not present and the information is only sent by telegram, I cannot answer a question of that kind.


Did the British Government consult Mr. Lansbury and the "Daily Herald" in regard to their action?


No, Sir.

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