HC Deb 08 March 1920 vol 126 cc1063-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Overseas Trade.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I am very much interested in Item G, which provides for temporary Vice-Consuls in Russia. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut.-Colonel Sir H. Greenwood), who has already delivered two charming and delightfully fluent speeches, will be able to enlighten me. What is the policy with regard to Consular representatives in Russia?


This Supplementary Estimate is for temporary Vice-Consuls, and that point would be beyond the purport of this Estimate.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Temporary Vice-Consuls was all I meant. Who were those temporary Vice-Consuls, I do not mean persons, but what parts of Russia were they sent to? There was a very full and, I believe, efficient Consular service in Rusisa before and during the War up till the time of the second Russian revolution, when they left in spite of the fact that several neutral nations and also the Americans kept their Consuls on many months after we did. Might I ask if one of the temporary Vice-Consuls whom we are paying is a Consul at Odessa? We were told this afternoon that forty-thr e British subjects have remained in Odessa after the evacuation by our gallant Allies the White Russians. I would very much like to know if a Vice-Consul is remaining in Odessa and will look after their interests, because if not I think it is a very scandalous thing. These gentlemen stayed on their own account, obviously for very good reasons. I hope they will lay the foundation of a flourishing trade to be opened up presently with South Russia, and I want to know if a Vice-Consul has remained to assist them in this very important task. If not, I propose to move the reduction of the Vote. At the same time, perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will let me know whether the Vice-Consul at Archangel has remained there. We had a Vice-Consul there at any rate up till the time that the British forces evacuated. I do not know whether the Vice-Consul remained on, but I think it is very unfortunate if he did not. I should also like to be informed if one of these Vice-Consuls is at Novorosisk, and if when Novorosisk is evacuated he will remain to look after our interests. These temporary Vice-Consuls apparently have been sent to Russia to carry out their duties in the parts that are supposed to be freed from the horrors of Bolshevists. We know that there has been practically no trade at all carried on with those parts, that the organisation was so terrible, the transport so bad, and the risings were so frequent, that no trade could be carried out, and if these Vice-Consuls only went to these so-called liberated territories, they could have been of no use, and if they have not remained now, when there is a chance of doing some trade, I submit that we are being asked to spend £6,000 for which no good return can be shown.


I would like to ask the representative of the Government whether he will make it clear that the money we are asked to vote is to pay Consular servants who are not in any sense representing British interests in the Bolshevist régime. So far as I understand the policy of the Government, it is not to recognise the Bolshevist régime and therefore I would like the hon. and gallant and learned Baronet (Sir H. Greenwood) to make it quite clear to the House exactly what the duties of the Consular service are for which we are asked to vote this money. I, for one, unlike the hon. and gallant Member who preceded me, am opposed to the British Government identifying themselves with, or officially recognising, the Bolshevist régime, and therefore I trust the representative of the Government will make that quite clear.


There is an important item in this Estimate about which I think we might have some explanation. Does Item J, referring to the British Industries Fair, refer to the fair which has just closed and which has been held in the Crystal Palace; and, if so, is the explanation of the Appropriations in Aid—of £26,340—an indication of what has been received from those who have been exhibiting there? The fair at the Palace is an attempt on the part of the British Government to substitute something in this country for a similar undertaking abroad, and I am certain the Committee will be glad to know some details in regard to the success of that undertaking.

Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS

Might I ask one or two questions with regard to the temporary Vice-Consuls in Russia? Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us exactly what reports are sent back to us, the number of individuals replying, and, in particular, if they are British, or from what nation they are drawn? There is a further point which has interested me considerably. I notice in Section 3 j £20,000 for the British Industries Fair, and in 3 k £26,000 odd as receipts. Does this really mean that a Government Department has actually made a profit at last? If my interpretation of the figures be correct, the House might well be told how it was done, and the hon. Gentleman might give us some information which would be of some little guidance to some of the Departments which are so busy spending money at the present time.


The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken worthy) has asked me certain questions about the consular system of Russia. Russia, until quite recently, was largely under the control of Admiral Koltchak and General Denikin, and it was impossible to send Consuls there officially. Originally, there were four Vice-Consuls estimated for and passed by the Committee. This Supplementary Estimate provides for two more, making six temporary Vice-Consuls, and the expenditure has gone up from £4,000 to £10,350, because of the extra Vice-Consuls and the unexpectedly long time that they had to draw salaries, allowances, and so forth. When the original estimate was presented nearly a year ago, it was impossible to foresee the development of Russia historically. These Vice-Consuls are not permanent members of the Consular Service, but they were accredited to Vladivostok, Irkutsk, and Murmansk during troubles and terrors at those places. Two have since resigned and the others will terminate their engagements as soon as their functions are exhausted.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Are those Vice-Consuls for whom we are asked to pay now at Irkutsk, Vladivostok, and Murmansk carrying on their duties?


As to the Vic-Consuls at Vladivostok and Irkutsk I think the gentlemen covered by the Supplementary Estimate are there, but I cannot speak as to the Vice-Consul at Murmansk. The plain fact is that in the rapid movements of men and troops, and the changing political control, it is exceedingly difficult for Vice-Consuls, or any kind of representatives of a civilised Government, to carry on the ordinary duties of the office. Many of them have gone for a long time without any pay, but all of them have upheld the best traditions of the British race, and wherever there has been a sweep, or an ebb and flow of the different forces of the Russian civil war, every person in distress has always collected under the ægis of the British Consul or British Vice-Consul, and, with one or two exceptions, has always been able to be protected by that officer. This Vote does not apply to Odessa or Archangel or Novorosisk, and therefore I am not able to deal with the points raised by the hon. Gentleman in reference to those places.

So far as the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Tavistock (Lieut.-Commander C. Williams) is concerned, may I say that this Vote of the British Industries Fair does represent a profit? I am glad to say that, owing to the efficiency of the officers of my Overseas Department, all of whom are underpaid and badly paid, this British Industries Fair has been for the past six years, and this year more than ever, a very great success. I estimate myself that some £10,000,000 worth of orders have been taken by buyers without costing this country a shilling, and approximately equally good results have been obtained from the Fairs in Glasgow and Birmingham. I am glad to be able to say I am very proud of a Government Department which can run an undertaking at a profit. I am asking the Committee to give me a token Vote of £10 to enable me to extend the revenue of the British Industries Fair in paying the outlay necessary for carrying on that Fair. The money is essential before the end of the fiscal year. The reason I am asking the Committee to give this is that a transfer was made to the Department of Overseas Trade of the administration of this Fair during the last year, and therefore it does not come upon the original estimate, but upon the Supple mentary Estimate. I hope the Committee will show its approval of a Department which is paying its way in this regard.


The Committee is glad to note that my hon. and gallant Friend's Department has made a profit, but what I do not understand is how these accounts can have been printed and circulated to the House of Commons on the 10th February, which is a month ago, and the Crystal Palace British Industries Fair, to which they refer, closed only on Saturday, and the sales and other industries in connection with the fair could only be made out inside the last month. How my hon. and gallant Friend manages with so much jubilance to tell us that they have got that amount of money seems to me to be rather curious. I would really like to know what he means when he says that £26,000 has been obtained by the Crystal Palace British Industries Fair. He also mentioned Glasgow and Birmingham. Are they closed yet? I am not sure whether or not they are still open. Were they closed on Saturday? The one in London only closed on Saturday and we have these papers circulated on the 10th February, prepared and printed a fortnight before. Will the hon. Gentleman explain the efficiency of his Department; how it was that, weeks before the time, he was able to get information as to the rosults of these industries fairs?

With regard to the temporary Vice-Consuls in Russia, he said there were six, but he only located three and said nothing about the others. We were told they were sent because Generals Denikin and Koltchak were in charge of that part of Russia, and therefore we were able to send Consuls. I never knew that we were associated in any sense with Generals Denikin and Koltchak. It is quite true that, surreptitiously, and without the consent of this House, £100,000,000 was sent to them, to supplement their armaments, but so far as we know we have never had any agreement with them. I want to know what the Government has been doing. On what conditions were those officials sent out to places under the control of these two generals? Are they to be maintained there; No one grudges their salaries, but we want this information. Has their engagement terminated? Is it to be terminated? Or are they to be re-appointed?


I should like to know why the hon. Member has refrained from answering a printed question which I put to him; whether this token Vote or any part of it is to be used directly or indirectly in the payment of officials who are now in the Bolshevik part of Russia. He endeavoured to ride off by telling us of the swings and the roundabouts, in order to divert our attention from it. It is a matter of infinitely more importance than the profit he imagines he has made from the exhibitions. It is most important to know whether we are sending or retaining representatives in that part of Russia now in the hands of the Bolshevists. The Committee is asked to vote £10. No one will consider they are controlling the National Exchequer if they vote that. But it is not so. This is a blind door for a blind policy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman told us that no Government could foresee the trend of events in Russia. If he had said that the Government of which he had at present the pleasure to be a Member could not foresee the trend of events, the Committee would have believed him. A number of Members here did foresee the trend of events: therefore, though what the hon. and gallant Member has said may be a reason, it is not an excuse for the attitude he takes up to the Committee.


In respect to the Vice-Consuls at Vladivostok, they are now in that city, which is under Bolshevic control, mainly looking after the safety and property of British subjects. It is beyond the rules of order under this Vote to answer further the questions put. The question of the capacity of any Department to estimate the revenue of the British Industries Fairs at the time these Estimates were prepared, put by the Member for East Edinburgh, can be answered. This is the 6th year of the Fair in London, and all the spaces were let for a long time in advance. This Estimate, in my opinion, will be under that based by efficient members of the Department of Overseas Trade on the actual and certain receipts before the Estimates were printed in the middle of last month.


If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is so confident they will exceed, why ask for £10?


I will tell the hon. Member. Because the British Industries Fair was not in the original Estimate of the Department of Overseas Trade. It was in the Board of Trade Vote. My Department took over the Fair during the year. Under a Treasury rule, when a transfer like that take place, the new-Department controlling must have the consent of the House of Commons for a Supplementary Estimate before it gets the money. The fairs at Birmingham and Glasgow were quite independent of the Crystal Palace Fair. Both, I am glad to say, were run, with what assistance the Department of Overseas Trade could give them, entirely by the chambers of commerce and municipalities of each of these respected and progressive cities. My hon. Friend questioned me as to Consuls. I said there were three posts, with six Consuls and four Vice-Consuls at Vladivostok, one at Irkutsk, and one at Murmansk. The one at Murmansk and four of those at Vladivostok, have resigned, which leaves four. These four, and the Vice-Consuls, will continue their excellent work in the future, as they have done in the past, as long as it is in the public interest to continue their salaries and their engagements.

Question put, and agreed to.