Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100,000, 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, 1922, for the Cost of certain Miscellaneous War Services.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Herbert Fisher)
I do not think that it is necessary for mo to dilate at any length upon the special causes which have induced the Government to propose this Supplementary Estimate of £100,000 for the purpose of enabling a gift in kind to be made to the British agencies which are now engaged upon the task of relief in the famine-stricken areas of Russia. The dimensions and the horrors of the Russian famine are familiar to all Members of this House. It is no exaggeration to say that in order to find a parallel to what is going on in Russia now we have to go back to the great Indian famine of the eighteenth century, the famine which ravaged Bengal in 1770 and which carried off no fewer than 10,000,000 inhabitants of that teeming population. It is quite conceivable— nay, it is even probable—that the calamity which is now proceeding in Russia may exceed the dimensions even of that terrible famine. According to a recent report of Sir Benjamin Robertson, a well-known Indian official of great experience in Indian famine work, some 15,000,000 or 16,000,000 inhabitants in the Volga country alone are in dire straits for food. Sir Benjamin reports not only that the famine in Russia is infinitely worse than anything which he has experienced in India, but that there is no food whatever left in the famine area and that the people who are not being fed either by the Russian Government or by the relief 2546 organisations have to exist on tree-bark and grass.
Two British organisations are working in the field—the Save-the-Children Fund, in the province of Saratov, and the Society of Friends, in the town and district of Buzuluk. These organisations are, as I say, British organisations. Their work has been inspected by Sir Benjamin Robertson and has been well reported on. We are informed that all supplies destined for this famine stricken area, for the area, that is to say, in which these Societies are operating, reach their destination, and there is no loss of stores in transit, the goods all being placed in sealed wagons, properly checked on leaving the coast and re-cheeked at Moscow and at their destination, so that the Government have no doubt that the stores which the passage of this Supplementary Estimate will enable them to send to these districts will reach their appointed goal. There will be, of course, delays, for there is a great and lamentable shortage of fuel on the Russian railways, but the stores will eventually reach the districts which they are intended to supply, and will be distributed widely, economically, and efficiently by the British agencies working therein.
I can understand two opposite views being taken of this Estimate. I can understand some hon. Members holding the view that the Government is not entitled, having regard to the heavy burden of taxation, the urgent need for economy, and the wide prevalence of want and distress among our own people, to assist the starving peasants of the Volga famine. The Government fully recognise the weight of these considerations. We realise the objections that have been felt in many quarters to giving aid to peasants thousands of miles away when many of our own people are suffering from want, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was compelled only the other day to inform the public that the Government did not see their way to provide a grant from public funds; but, on the other hand, there is a strong case for making good our promise of assistance to this great charitable British enterprise from the stores which now lie at our disposal. The British societies who are carrying on such splendid work in the Volga district, and who have been supported hitherto by the private charity 2547 of English men and English women, have received, I am informed, a sum not far short of £500,000 from private benefactors in this country. These societies appear to the Government to deserve support. It will be remembered that the Prime Minister issued a most eloquent appeal to the British public to subscribe to the Save-the-Children Fund. The contributions that have poured into that fund have been made with the enthusiastic encouragement of the Government, but the societies which are now working in Russia find that unless they can obtain a further and fuller measure of support before the harvest all their work will be undone. I venture to think that when we consider the sacrifices that have already been made in this country, when we consider the work that these British societies have put into the task of famine relief under most distressing and difficult circumstances, we must all realise that the complete failure and breakdown of that work cannot be viewed, either by the Government or by the British people, with indifference.
Let me explain to the Committee what the actual situation is in these areas. In the province of Saratov 250,000 children have to be fed for three and a-half months at an estimated cost of £145,000. In the district of Buzuluk 75,000 children must be fed for a period of six months at a cost of £75,000 if they are to be tided over until the harvest has been reaped. If, then, the work of the British agencies in Russia is not to be entirely wasted, an additional expenditure of £220,000 must be incurred. Towards that expenditure the societies have in hand £50,000, of which £20,000 is needed for the cost of forwarding supplies to Russia, leaving a balance available for payment for extra supplies of £30,000. There is also in hand wheat valued at £44,000, comprised of the Societies own purchases to the amount of £l5,000, and the balance of the previous £100,000 gift from the British Government, to the value of £29,000. To this should be added £16,000, which has just come in from private subscriptions, and the additional gift of £100,000 of Government stores which we are now asking the Committee to vote. We have, therefore, in sight £190,000 out of the £220,000 necessary to keep the children in the two British areas 2548 alive until the harvest has been garnered in.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
Might we have that quite clear? The stores to be granted are not food, are they? They are medical stores?
§ Mr. FISHER
No—food. All the new stores will be food. There is thus left a balance of £30,000 for the children in these two areas until the harvest has been reached, and I have been informed by those who have opportunities of knowing that there is good ground for thinking that this sum can be raised by private subscriptions in this country.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
Do we understand, then, the Government is not prepared to find enough money to keep the children alive?
§ Mr. FISHER
I have told the noble lord exactly what the facts are. We are making this offer of Government stores to the extent of £100,000. We think it reasonable to expect that an additional £30,000 will be contributed from private sources. Now I come to the question of the adults. It may be said—and said with great justice—What is the good of keeping the children alive until the next harvest if you can do nothing for the adults? If the adults perish, then the harvest will not be reaped, and, in spite of all your efforts, the children will ultimately die. The American Relief Organisations which have done such splendid work in a much larger area than those in which the British agencies are operating, have now woken up to the necessity of feeding the adults if the new harvest is to be garnered, and, in view of the fact that the adult population in the two British areas is between one and a quarter and one and a half millions, the importance of the problem of saving the adults in these areas may easily be realised. It is indeed vital to success. The two British societies earnestly desire that this problem should be dealt with promptly. Their proposal is that about one half the adult population should be fed from British funds, and a half from the supplies which Dr. N arisen may raise. According to the estimate of the Societies, the cost to be borne by British funds would come to about £260.000.
Now I think it is very doubtful whether this sum of £260,000 can be raised by 2549 private charity in this country. I do not think it probable. I think we have to assume the possibility that the sum will not be reached, and, in view of the uncertainty of this sum being forthcoming from private sources in this country, the American Relief Administration has been approached and asked to undertake the adult feeding in the two British areas. We have not yet received an answer from Moscow, but it is hoped that arrangements will be made which will enable some 300,000 or 400,000 adults to be kept alive in those districts.
Lieut. - Commander- KENWORTHY
Who approached the American Relief Organisation—our Government or the British Relief Organisation?
§ Mr. FISHER
Our Government. I now pass to consider the surplus food supplies in the possession of the Disposal Board which are available for Russian relief. These stores have been inspected by Sir Benjamin Robertson, who has come to the conclusion that they are acceptable, though in the case of some of the stores— they are all food supplies—he would have preferred wheat to meat. I understand from him that the food supplies are in good condition, and, although not ideal from the point of view of feeding children, they will be of the utmost service. Let me now endeavour to meet the opposite criticism that this additional gift of £100,000 from the Government does not go any way whatever to meet the situation.
§ Mr. FISHER
It will be remembered that when Dr. Nansen was in England, he asked for a contribution of £3,000,000. When we consider the vast range of the famine, a sum of £3,000,000 goes a very little way. But I think we are fairly entitled to limit ourselves to the regions that are now being worked by British agencies, and endeavour to save the situation there. We can do it, but it will require an effort; we must call upon private charity for a further contribution, and it is hoped also to get American assistance. Moreover, we must remember that a very strict limit is placed upon the potentiality of British charity by the deplorable situation of the Russian railways. I have a Report dated 2nd March with which Sir Benjamin Robertson has furnished me, and it brings out the fact that the main railway between Moscow and the famine areas is prac- 2550 tically without fuel, and that the stories of congestion in the Southern ports are only too well authenticated. Indeed, I have the authority of Sir Benjamin Robertson for saying that it would be quite impossible to get stores to the value of £3,000,000, or anything in the nature of £3,000,000, to the famine areas within the allotted time.
§ Mr. FISHER
I hope the Committee will vote this Estimate, far short though it be of what, in prosperous times, the Government of this country might have offered towards the alleviation of so huge a calamity. This is not a contribution to enable an ill-considered and ill-conducted enterprise to go on. The supplies which we are proposing to furnish will be well employed by capable and devoted men of our own nation who have already proved their worth in this field. We can rely upon it that these supplies will reach their destination, and will be distributed skilfully and thoughtfully according to a pre-ordained plan that will form part of the general scheme of relief to enable life to be carried on till the autumn. If through British agencies these two areas are rescued from ruin and annihilation, the memory of British benevolence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]
§ Mr. FISHER
If we fall short by a small amount of the minimum which will enable the population of these two districts to survive, then I venture to think that we shall have suffered in national self-esteem quite apart from the shock to humanitarian sympathies. We have in these Russian districts a great problem with which to deal, and that is how to keep alive the adult and infant population for the next few months. The Government have already made one contribution to the Russian famine. It now offers a second contribution equal to the first.
§ Mr. FISHER
About £80,000 worth of stores have been given in aid of the 2551 Russian famine; £20,000 in relief to the Russian refugees in Constantinople, and now we are giving an additional £100,000 in food supplies.
§ Mr. FISHER
The first hundred thousand includes £20,000 of stores for their refugees at Constantinople, and £60,000 of food and £20,000 of medical stores for the famine areas in Russia. The present contributions will consist of foodstuffs only. I want to make that clear. The second contribution, assisted, as we hope it will be, by a further contribution from British private charity, and helped, as we have every reason to hope, by a further contribution from the American Relief Organisation, will be sufficient to deal with the problem in the two stricken areas of Russia in which the British societies have been working.
Lieut. - Commander KENWO RTHY
Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes, will he say whether the approach to the American Relief Organisation by the British Government was by diplomatic channels to the American Government, or did we approach them through the private organizations?
§ Mr. FISHER
I asked Sir Benjamin Robertson to telegraph to the American organisation at Moscow to ask whether they would help to alleviate the distress in these two areas, because it appeared to me to be uncertain whether we should be able to raise the requisite sum from private charity in this country.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Will the assistance, if given by the American Association, mean the deprivation of other starving parties in the American area of the assistance which they otherwise would get?
§ Mr. G. BARNES
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £10.
May I be allowed to take note of the apologetic tone—[HON. MEMBERS: "So you should!"]—of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education. He delivered a speech which to me indicated 2552 that while he was putting the case for the Government, if he had had his own way the case would have been a much better one. Before we go further, let us understand what the case is. The first thing that strikes my mind is that the British Government undertakes no further liability for increasing the area under the charge of the British agency. Let us try to visualise that area. There are two areas, as a matter of fact, carried in my mind, as I saw them on the map a few weeks ago shown upstairs by Sir Benjamin Robertson. Let Members imagine a circle of about at least 12 inches diameter that represents the area as a whole; then the two British areas spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman might be represented, one of them right in the centre of about the size of sixpence, and another on the outskirts of about the size of a shilling. Without going into anything else, it occurs to me that the British Government and the British people might very well take over a much larger area. As I gather the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation, the intention of the Government is to give up to the value of £100,000 in stores. These stores are to be handed over to the British agencies to distribute in these two smaller areas I have mentioned. There is another thing to be noted. The British Government do not even undertake to provide for the needs of these two small areas.
§ Mr. BARNES
My hon. Friend can give his reasons in due time. They do not even make any suggestion for taking charge of these two areas in a complete form, but they are going to give an invitation to the American Government to fill up the gap. That is another thing which seems to me to be exceedingly unsatisfactory. However, I daresay that those brave souls who are now there, and who have braved the rigours of the cold and the dangers of disease, will receive the relief that is now going out gratefully, and will gladly distribute it to the sorely distressed people. My point, however, is that it is miserably inadequate. In view of the resources of this country, the figure that we cut as compared to other countries is bad. I shall still cling to the lingering hope that the British Government may yet realise the immensity of the disaster that has befallen the world, and take part in some more 2553 comprehensive way of dealing with it. We are face to face with a famine which, I suppose, has no parallel in recorded history, although the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the famine of 1770 which had eaten up 10,000,000 of people. At any rate, at least 10,000,000 people will suffer by this famine in Russia, and unless some adequate stops are taken to prevent it the total will be a great deal more. Putting it in round figures we are face to face with a famine which has engulfed 30,000,000 of people, 20,000,000 of them are facing death daily, and at least 10,000,000 will suffer and die this year unless adequate steps are taken to feed the survivors and provide seed for the next harvest. Those figures are not exaggerated, in fact I am told they underestimate the real position. To visualise the conditions in the famine area shows a mass of human suffering, the recital of the details of which would probably unnecessarily harrow the feelings of the Committee, and would involve a task altogether beyond my powers. But after all the humanitarian aspect of this problem is the one which transcends all others, it is one upon which an appeal must be made. Therefore, I propose to do this, although I feel that I shall do it very inadequately.
I say, in the first place, that to think of the Volga Valley at the present time in the quiet watches of the night is painful to any sympathetic man, especially when we remember that pestilence has followed famine and both have been intensified by cold. I was reading the other day a document issued on behalf of the League of the Red Cross Societies, and I culled a paragraph from that report. It said of the area affected:There is to be found neither grass because it has been eaten nor domestic animals because they have perished of hunger. Entire villages have been isolated for weeks because the inhabitants have been too weak to fetch the cereals which would have saved them from starvation. Typhus is raging everywhere and the cold is intense.That is an extract from a report over the name of Dr. Rene Sand, the Secretary-General of the League of Red Cross Societies, who has been deputed to make a special investigation. Let me, figuratively speaking, raise a voice from the dead. Doctor Farrar, an Englishman bearing an honoured name, went to Russia a few months ago, risking his life and sacrificing his pleasures and comforts 2554 at home. He was attacked by typhus and ultimately died there, but a few days before his death he wrote:It would need the pen of a Zola to do justice to the reality and the appalling intensity of the famine in those parts. It is getting steadily worse and is moving westward. The stream of refugees has eaten their last stores and sold everything that would buy bread and they are wandering they know not whither.Just another quotation. I have here a letter written on 28th January, addressed to my daughter from one of the small band of Quakers who have taken charge of a mission operating in Bazuluk. This man writing on 28th January, two days after he had reached there, says:Some appalling things have come before my eyes, for instance, yesterday morning when going out we found at the gateway the prostrate form of a man frozen stiff. Apparently he died in his efforts to get relief. I am told that is quite a usual thing.… With fifty degrees of frost such as we had yesterday I found myself ravenously hungry towards night time, and I can quite understand how the cold aids in the starving of the people.… The cemetery here is a ghastly sight to see. Piles of naked bodies lay in heaps waiting to be buried, the clothing having been removed for those poor creatures still alive. The area now affected comprises 30,000,000 people, of which surely 6,000,000 to 7,000,000 must surely die before June.…. Can the British Government do anything? It is simply beyond description.That is why we venture to ask the British Government, can they not do something more adequate than what has been indicated by the Minister of Education? I cannot dwell upon the results that must follow because disease stalks behind hunger and cold, and this march of the famine is westward. Therefore even putting it on the low ground of self-interest, surely it is up to us to stop that westward march. I appeal to the Government, however, and to the Leader of the House, not on the low ground of self-interest, but on the higher ground of pity and Christian charity.
I want to say a few words now on the causes of the famine. Those who want to find excuses for doing nothing in this matter have frequently said—not so much here as outside, because they can be answered here—that the causes of the famine, are Bolshevism. I am no Bolshevist; I believe Bolshevism is a combination of perverted idealism and greedy rascality. I spent some little time and money in fighting the main representative of Bolshevism in this country at the 2555 last election and I beat him. I described myself then as an anti-Bolshevist, and I am quite content to be described as an anti-Bolshevist now. But even Bolshevists are entitled to fair play, and when it is said that this famine has been caused by Bolshevism I say that is untrue. I am not going to say a word in extenuation of the criminal lunacy of the Bolshevists requisitioning these areas four or five years ago. That may have had a great effect upon the mentality of the people of those areas. It must have made them less disposed to look forward to the future. The people, by the requisitioning of the food, were bereft of all that they had in store or, at all events, of a large proportion of it, and naturally they said to themselves, "Well, if the more we produce the more is taken from us, we might as well produce only sufficient for our own needs." Probably that was the mentality that followed the requisitioning. Therefore, it may be, and probably is, that to some extent the famine is due to the fact of those stores having been lessened as a consequence. I take it, however, that is only a minor cause. There is another minor cause, and that is the war at home, both before and after the Armistice, and the inarching backwards and forwards of armies. Again, I say that in all probability that is a minor cause, because, after all—this is what struck me in my journey through France—the effects of war are very soon made up by industrious people. Within a few months the trenches in France were filled up and ploughed over and people began again to raise food. It would have been so in this area, but for the main cause. What is the main cause? It is the absence of rainfall. Taking the average of the 17 years prior to last year, the rainfall has been 106 mm., and last year it was seven. What, then, is the good of dwelling upon these infinitesimal supplementary causes? This land is no longer fertile; at least, it has not been fertile for the last year. The main cause is that that stream from above which fertilises the land has ceased for the time being. That has made the famine. As a matter of fact, the famine would have come about if there had been no Bolshevist Government at all.
It is said that it is the duty of the Russian Government to deal with the 2556 matter, and that, instead of doing so, they are squandering their resources upon a big army and in propaganda. I am not going to say anything in justification of big armies or of propaganda, but, after all, they have not been shown a very good example. Those who put themselves upon a moral pinnacle as compared with the Bolshevists ought to show them a better example. What are the facts? There are France and Poland upon their borders, and together they have a number of men under arms equal to the army of the Bolshevists. As everybody knows, France and Poland are not at all animated by the kindliest feelings towards the Bolshevists. If, in addition, one considers the armies of which we were told the other day by the late Chief of the General Staff (Field-Marshal Sir H. Wilson), who, speaking from this very spot, said that there were as many men under arms now as in 1914 before the War, and, if one considers, in conjunction with that, the fact that these States that are maintaining these men under arms are not at all favourably disposed toward? the Bolshevists, and that they are on the Bolshevist borders on the other side of Poland, one finds some excuse if not justification for the fact that the Russians at present have an army of about 1,000.000 men, an army only equal in numbers to the combined armies of France and Poland with about half the population of Russia. Therefore, I think it is true to say that the Bolshevists, if charged with keeping a large army, might say that there is need for that large army from their point of view, having regard to the armies outside and also to the fact that part of their territory is actually now under occupation.
I am not going to say anything in justification of the propaganda of the Russians. They ought to let other people alone, and we ought to let them alone. I look forward to the Genoa Conference as perhaps affording a means by which all the nations of Europe will be brought together and an understanding reached so that mutual suspicion and distrust may come to an end and there be no further need for propaganda. It is a great mistake and a common fallacy to think that the Bolshevist Government are not doing something to relieve those in the famine area. As a matter of fact, they are doing a great deal. I have here a report issued to the International 2557 Relief Committee, and I find that the Bolshevist Government have given seed for autumn sowing amounting in value, translating the Russian currency into our own on the basis of the golden rouble, to £3,063,000. The Soviet Government have also given seed for spring sowing amounting to £7,688,000: 200,000 tons of grain, 27,000 tons of meat, 160,000 tons of potatoes, and, in all, the relief already given by the Bolshevist Government amounts to £18,277,000. There is a note here which says that there are no statistics at present available showing the total amount of relief obtained from abroad, but the largest item up to the present is the $20,000,000 allocated by the United States Government, and it is fairly safe to say that the total value of the foreign relief is between something like one-quarter and one-half of the monetary value of the relief provided by the Russian Government itself.
It is germane to consider for a moment what we are doing as compared with what the Bolshevist Government itself has done, and as compared with what other Governments have done or are doing. I say nothing about the voluntary relief agencies, because I do not think, there are any figures available showing what has been done through these agencies. I fully endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said as to the credit due to our own people. They have made very considerable advances in the way of relief distributed by our own people, who have sacrificed themselves in this work. Coming to Governments, however, I find that we cut a very sorry figure, having regard to our resources and our population, as compared with the resources and population of other countries. First of all, we have this $20,000,000 from the American Government. I admit that the American Government are in a better position than our own Government to do something, but we have very large sums of money from other countries. France has given 6,000,000 francs.
§ Mr. BARNES
I take it that the sum having been voted is a sufficient indication of the intentions of the French Government.
§ Mr. FISHER
I believe the right hon. Gentleman will find that most of it is represented by bully beef.
§ 12 N.
§ Mr. BARNES
At all events, 6,000,000 francs have been voted by the French Government. Our resources are immeasurably greater than those of France. Then, the small Scandinavian countries have voted large sums. I suggest to the Leader of the House and to the spokesman of the Government we should make that £100,000 half a million. I believe the people of this country would readily agree to that. Here we are, in round figures, 50,000,000 of us. Is it too much to ask that this great country, with its glorious traditions, should vote half a million sterling for this world catastrophe? If divided amongst our population it represents a very small sum per individual. I hear an hon. Member say there is no precedent for such a Vote. If there is not let us make one. Then we are told we have a large number of unemployed to look after and that our resources are taxed to the very utmost to meet the needs of those out of work. But the grant of the money, I suggest, by this country might be accompanied by conditions which would secure as one result that something should be done for the relief of our own unemployed. There are 2,000,000 people unemployed in this country. Probably each one is costing us £2 per week, and if that be the case every week the industry of this country is paying a charge of £4,000,000 for the relief of its unemployed. We are not asking for this sum to be given to Russia every week. I am suggesting one lump grant of £500,000—one-eighth of what we spend weekly in the relief of our own unemployed. I venture to say that that half-million, if employed in improving transport in Russia, and if there be some application of the principle of credit in order to get the corn which now lies in Rumania across the border in return for agricultural machinery from this country, it would necessarily benefit our own unemployed. If those who are au fait with finance, who know about the credits of the different countries, would only give their mind to this problem, it seems to me that by the application of the principle of credits to it we might get machinery sent over to Rumania and Russia in time to garner the harvest when it comes, and it could be done in such a way as will lessen 2559 unemployment in this country. It would be a case of bread being cast on the waters probably to be returned in happiness and prosperity to this country after not very many days. It is said we cannot afford to do this. Yet only last week we voted immense sums of money for the relief of Russian refugees and refugees of other nationalities. I did not object to that. On the contrary, I spoke in favour of relieving these poor people. I suggest that our obligations towards these poor starving people are just as great as our obligations to the Russian and other refugees.
§ Mr. BARNES
Then it is said that if we send relief it will only go to keep the Red Army. That is untrue. We have the testimony of Sir Benjamin Robertson, Dr. Nansen, and Miss Ruth Fry and others, who say that relief dispatched from the Baltic gets into the famine area in Russia without very much loss. Sir Benjamin Robertson tells us it is very often found that there is in the van a little more than had been invoiced, and in other cases a little less, but on the whole there is no loss at all. Therefore we have testimony from people who know that there is nothing in this idea of feeding the Bed Army with what we are sending for the relief of starving Russians. I heard an hon. Member of the House, who has recently returned from Russia, say that the Red Guard actually protect the food on the way to the famine area, although they may be starving themselves. We could make conditions with regard to the protection of the food. No one would object to that.
Finally, let me say a word about public opinion. It has been indicated on more than one occasion within the last three or four weeks that opinion in this House is not in favour of doing something in this direction. I say without the least hesitation that the House of Commons' opinion as indicated during the last three or four weeks is not a true reflex of public opinion throughout the length and breadth of the land. Labour, I know, is sound on this question. I am daily receiving resolutions from trades councils and other bodies representing organised Labour in favour of relief being granted. 2560 That was to be expected, because the heart of Labour is always sound in matters of this kind. We cannot but note too that the commercial classes are taking an interest in this question. Less than a week ago we had a deputation from Liverpool of influential commercial men voicing the heart as well as the mind of that great commercial centre in regard to this matter and pleading for something to be done. Only a fortnight ago the City Council of the second city in the Empire unanimously passed a resolution asking that something more should be done for the relief of these people. One cannot but feel there is a growing volume of public opinion throughout the length and breadth of the country—an opinion growing impatient at the little support we are giving in this matter. I hope today, as a result of this Debate in the House of Commons, we shall induce the Government to open its heart and the purse of the country to a larger extent than hitherto, that it will put itself in line with this growing volume of public opinion outside, and that it will look at this great human tragedy in a great spirit of human sympathy. I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £10.
I hope there is no need for me to ask the Committee to extend to me that traditional courtesy which is shown to a Member who rises with difficulty to address it for the first time. I was in the House last week when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House made an announcement which caused regret, I think, among many hon. Members, and certainly caused dismay throughout the country. The refusal of His Majesty's Government to assist at this critical time was heard with the most dismay among the many people in this country who for some time past have worked with a good deal of sacrifice in order that something might be done in this country to meet the needs of these unfortunate people in the South East of Russia. The effect of the refusal will be, I am afraid, that a great deal of the voluntary effort that has already been shown will be seriously affected. I happened myself to be associated with a local committee, and I found that, when an appeal was made on similar lines for suffering children in Europe, some 12 or 18 months ago, the fact that the Government was contributing £1 for every £l contributed by the people themselves, was 2561 a very great encouragement to local effort. If the Government contributes, a very effective sanction is given to all this local effort, and the effect of the refusal now will not only be serious in itself but will be serious as regards the sums which are being raised to meet this desperate need.
I suppose it is common ground in the House of Commons that this is a great calamity. We are all agreed as to the extent of the calamity. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken quoted figures, I think those of Dr. Nansen, showing that there are 33,000,000 people affected, and that 19,000,000 of them are in immediate danger of death from starvation. May I direct the attention of the Committee to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House last week, when he announced the decision of His Majesty's Government? I think the grounds he gave for our not giving any further assistance at this time, except for such stores as we were lucky enough to find, were that we have already given assistance, and that there is considerable distress in this country. As to the assistance we have already given, I put a question just now to the President of the Board of Education, and I understood from his answer that, so far, we have contributed in stores to the value of about £80,000. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is dealing with the matter later on, how he can account for the statement that was made by the Prime Minister in answer to a question put to him on 3rd November, 1921? The Prime Minister said:His Majesty'6 Government, whose policy in the question is in no way influenced by political considerations, desire to encourage voluntary assistance to the utmost of their power; and they have themselves contributed £250,000 worth of surplus stores to the British Red Cross."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1921; col. 1918, Vol. 147.]That reply of the Prime Minister followed upon similar replies made by other Ministers of the Crown, stating quite definitely that at that time £250,000 worth of stores had been contributed to meet the needs of the starving people of Russia.
At any rate, the £250,000 worth of stores which at that time had been contributed are now estimated to be worth £80,000. As to the existing dis- 2562 tress, I, of course, am painfully aware of it. I am associated with a county where there is heartbreaking distress at present, and I hope that those claims may be brought before the Government later on. But I have found that those who have hunger in their own midst are the most likely to help others who are starving, and the most immediate and ready response to the appeals that have been made by the Save the Children Fund and the Friends Relief Committee have come from the poor themselves. I am not at all convinced by what has been said by the President of the Board of Education that there is anything in our public or private expenditure that should convince us that the resources of this great nation are unequal to this small demand that is now being made. Take even the case of private expenditure. I hope I may be allowed to say that we are spending in this country every day some £1,000,000 upon intoxicating liquor. Surely it is not beyond the resources of this country that we should be able to contribute, to meet this outstanding need, something equal to half a day's indulgence in that direction. Sir Benjamin Robertson's scheme, which was put before the country only within the last few weeks, is a scheme which is compassable, which is practicable; but the extraordinary part of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was that, after commending Sir Benjamin Robertson's scheme, he informed us that the Government were not prepared to support it to the extent of the £300,000 required. I think that Sir Benjamin Robertson in his appeal does ask for Government assistance to that extent, and it would in such circumstances depend now simply upon private charity whether these people in the south-east of Russia are to live or not.
As to the political aspect, may I direct the attention of the Committee to one or two statements that have been made by the Prime Minister? At the meeting of the Supreme Council in Paris on 10th August a statement was made by the Prime Minister, and was quoted in the "Times" newspaper of 11th August and elsewhere. He said that they had to recognise that the relief of the people of Russia was impossible without the collaboration of the Soviet Government, which controlled transport and the whole official machinery. For the purpose of 2563 this relief, and for this purpose only, he said, the Allies should make some arrangement with the Soviet Government. He was informed that some of the Russian provinces had surplus grain, but the peasants would not part with it except in exchange for goods that they required. He suggested that the Supreme Council should consider whether steps could not be taken to secure grain from those provinces for the famine-stricken areas. The question was not political, he said, but humanitarian. When a house is burning, you do not ask questions about the owner; you make efforts to save it.
During the following week a very striking declaration was made in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister—a declaration which stands out in very mournful contrast with the announcement made by the Leader of the House on Thursday of last week. The Prime, Minister, speaking in the House of Commons on 16th August, said:This is so appalling a disaster that it ought to sweep every prejudice out of one's mind, and appeal only to one emotion—that of pity, and human sympathy.He went on to say:I are trying to avoid controversial matter. Those who believe that this is due entirely to Bolshevism—although that cannot be, because it is the drought that is responsible—even those who believe it is due entirely to Bolshevism must admit that this area, at any rate, is not responsible for Bolshevism. They fought Bolshevism right to the end, and were only overcome by force of arms. In fact the first fight with the Bolshevists was in this area. Whatever the view of hon. Members may he, I ask the House to remember that this area is beyond controversy in that respect, and that it demands the sympathy of men, whether they be pro-Bolshevists or anti-Bolshevists or whether they are men who are indifferent to both."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th August, 1921; cols. 1237–1238, Vol. 146.]Later in the same speech he said:No one in Paris wanted to introduce a political element. Whether you are for trade with the Bolshevists or against trade with the Bolshevists, whether you are for recognising or against recognising them, there was not a word said in Paris which would justify the belief that anyone was anxious to make use of this famine for political purposes—not a word from any quarter. There was only the one sole desire —how to save these millions of people, and, of course, how to prevent the spread of the epidemic that must follow."—[OFFICIAL REPOBT, 16th August, 1921: col. 1239, Vol. 146.]2564 I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that contrast between the speech of the Prime Minister, speaking for His Majesty's Government, and the announcement made last week. What has happened in the meantime to change their view so substantially? Apparently the GovernmentSpeak the word of promise to our ear, And break it our hope.I hope there may be some explanation of this lame and impotent conclusion. If we put this appeal upon the lowest ground, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. G. Barnes) has done, it may so easily be said that we have in this province the granary of Europe. Before the War, 15 per cent, of Britain's wheat supply came from the Samara province. We know that there is no possibility of the restoration of Europe unless there is a restoration of Russia, and although this is a very slight step that it is proposed to take even if £500,000 is granted, it is a step in the right direction. But I would put it upon a higher ground. I was a little astonished at the statement of the Leader of the House last Thursday, when he spoke of the expenditure we might have to make in order to save typhus from spreading to the Western nations. That, surely, is the lowest ground on which we can act. It almost suggests that in the parable of the Good Samaritan a fourth figure should have been introduced—not merely the priest and the Levite and the Good Samaritan, but the man from the neighbouring village who, fearing the danger of an exposed body, brought not oil and wine but a plentiful supply of disinfectants. At any rate, I was born in a town where the Navy gave us the best traditions of chivalry, and we know it is the tradition of the British Navy, when they have sunk an enemy craft, that they will put their own lives in jeopardy if need be in order to save their struggling foes. The appeal is being made in this case in particular for the children. The child is international, and hunger has pretty much the same bite all over the world.
I think sometimes we are a little deadened in our sympathies by statistics. I think the quotation of so many thousands of children suffering acts as a narcotic upon our imagination. May I quote a passage which bears upon the 2565 matter from the earlier part of the "French Revolution?"Masses indeed! and if you will follow them through all the broad lands of France into their clay hovels and hutches and garrets, you will find, strangely enough, that the masses consist all of units, every unit of whom has his own heart and sorrows and stands covered there with his own skin and if you prick him he will bleed.The appeal is not simply to-day in this nation for the hundreds of thousands of children in Russia, but it is rather for the one child, remembering that every child in Russia—and some of them will die, whilst this Debate goes on—has an equal claim to life and happiness with the children in our own homes. The question was put just now by the right hon. Gentleman: "Can we afford it?" I answer that question by putting another: "Can we afford not to do it?" America has set us in this respect a very great example. It was a humiliating thing, was it not? I do not know that this country has ever been more humiliated than in the appeal which was made last week that after America had fed millions of these people, and are actually proposing to extend the number who are brought under their beneficent intervention, when this question was put to our Government, whether they would assist to the extent of a few hundreds of thousands of pounds and we went to America again and asked them even to extend it. A more humiliating incident I never heard of. It may be we can hardly say what names will stand out most in future years, but I am sure in these dark days there are just a few names which will shine out. When many other names have passed into oblivion, the names of Hoover, Dr. Nansen, and Dr. Farrar will be remembered because of the part they played.
I understand that in time of war the first concern is for the outposts. I ask the Government to consider whether we have not in Saratov and Buzuluk outposts which ought to be assisted, and it will be a shameful humiliation if we withdraw our forces there who are fighting against an enemy far more ruthless than the Red Army, and far more deadly than those that swept across Europe—the enemies of hunger and disease. The Government are, indeed, the custodians of the wealth of the country, but they have also in their keeping its good name, and I think it would be a very terrible record for this 2566 generation through which we are passing that this country could spend £100,000,000 for war in Russia and could not find one two-hundredth part of that sum to sustain these people, most of whom are frail women and weak children.
During the War so many changes have been effected, and it may be we have lost our primacy in certain directions. It may be that owing to vast and excessive expenditure we have lost our financial primacy for some time to come. Is there any reason why we should lose our primacy in other directions, and why this nation, which was spoken of so long ago as "a bulwark for the cause of men" should step behind its highest and best traditions? I have read with the greatest interest a speech of the President of the Board of Education outside the House of Commons about a fortnight ago in which he urged upon the country the advantage of a long-range investment. I ask him, at any rate, to apply that phrase to this question. Would not this be a long-range investment? We have been dealing since the time I have been in the House with the expenditure of public money in one direction and another. I am inclined to think that if this £500,000 were now granted, if the Government came back to their best and first thoughts upon this matter, there would be no investment which would bring so great a return, a return, perhaps, not of material things, but of the goodwill of the Russian people. After all, I suppose, we can only hope to build up a new world upon goodwill, if it is to be built up at all, and if there arts to be ties between us and the Russian people, they must be achieved in this way, and not by the method we adopted a year or two ago, "ties as light as air and strong as links of iron."
§ Mr. MILLS
The Committee will unite in congratulating the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) on the maiden speech he has just made. It is one of the redeeming features of modern Liberalism that it still retains that glowing fervour of the international spirit which in later years has reverted largely to the custody of the party for which I speak to-day. I am perfectly certain that my Son. Friend's speech will stand in the records of the House in comparison with any other maiden speech which has been made within the last few years. I want to approach this question as a Member of 2567 the Labour party, as a man who had the privilege or the horror of visiting the famine area and with a real desire to put before hon. Members, many of whom are actuated by prejudice, some reasons why they should support this Vote. The mist of lies regarding Russia has now been broken through. It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war, and certainly the public has had a long and weary period of misrepresentation of the position in Russia brought before those whose business it is to act as the stewards of British honour. But if we start off by looking upon this problem from the point of view of a long range investment, it would be as well to look back at the pre-War record, and for that purpose I have gone to the "Times Year Book," a most respectable organ, free from the taint of Bolshevism or any other ism. It is the Russian Year Book of 1914. It says with regard to flax and hemp:Russia practically monopolises the European flax and hemp markets, reckoning third in the production of these articles, being exceeded only by the United States of America and Argentine. Linen: Russia is the premier linen producing country in the world. Russia's natural resources—Fruit: Russia has unlimited possibilities as a fruit-growing country. The Caucasus and the Crimea are distinctly indicated for the production of every kind of fruit. Fish: The supplies of fish from Russian seas, lakes and rivers are practically inexhaustible, and unequalled in possibilities throughout the world. Seal fisheries have enormous possibilities for the Russian trade. Animals exported in 1913 were 83,882 horses, long horn cattle over 5,000, sheep over 41,000, pigs over 73,000. No other country in the world has such a wealth of manganese as Russia. Russia produces the bulk of the world's supply of platinum, the output being derived from alluvial deposits in the Urals.The Russian Year Book for 1914 says:The Russian Empire stands first amongst the nations as regards the extent of timber resources. Russia is second only to Denmark as a source of supply for butter needed in Great Britain, her progress in the butter industry having been extremely rapid. Russia's export of poultry is considerably larger than that of other European countries.In that brief recital of the pre-War assets of Russia and the post-War potentialities of a revised Communist system of Government, one might well hope that even the argument of a long-distance investment might sink into the minds of those who apparently are implacable in their hatred of anything Russian. Some people even 2568 in the midst of this crisis are willing to let millions of people die in order that that might prove somewhat to the detriment of the Russian people; but, as the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) has said, it is often true, in fact it is true throughout the ages, that the poor have always helped the poor, and that those who have been poorest have been among the first to offer and to give help to starving and necessitous people in other countries. I have here copy of a resolution passed by a mass meeting of unemployed men and women in Coventry, a resolution which has been reproduced and passed by no fewer than 600 gatherings of unemployed persons in this country.This mass meeting of Coventry unemployed, recognising the terrible sufferings of men, women and children in the famine area of Russia, earnestly call upon all those whose circumstances allow to support the voluntary agencies which are striving to alleviate some of the misery, until such time as the Governments of other countries take united action to restore the economic condition of Russia by the granting of substantial credits, or by some other means. We do this, in spite of the fact that many of us are suffering deprivation and anxiety, knowing that in the famine area of Russia they are absolutely without the necessaries of the, and believing that such assistance will help Russia again to enter the markets of the world and by reciprocal trade contribute to the restoration of industries which should give us employment.Last Wednesday the Leader of the House, in a most pitiful reply as one who has the guardianship of British honour, went out of his way to suggest that the Russian people might very well contribute towards the relief something out of their resources which at present are being spent in measures far less justifiable. The right hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes) has pointed out that we should be the very last to speak, that by the policy of the Supreme Council, by the taking of one vital part or another, by the spending of more than £100,000,000 of our own taxpayers' money in order to prevent the possibility of the Russian Government getting the start, we have done more than any other nation to mobilise the armies of Russia and to keep them in being. I challenge the Secretary of State for War, and I challenge the whole of the people who are responsible and have access to the statistics of European armies, to deny that the Russian army consists at the moment of 1,370,000 men, 2569 which, in proportion to its population, is only two-fifths the size of the French army. In proportion to the national territory that it has to defend, land territories, the French army is 18 times stronger than the Russian army. Before people take advantage of all sorts of expediencies and shifts to make excuse for not doing something, they should at least, when they quote statistics of needless expenditure, have regard to the needless expenditure that is going on in their own country long after the period of war has passed, and should attempt to get down to some of the real concrete facts upon which they base their arguments.
§ Mr. MILLS
In proportion to the amount of land—land territories. If hon. Members take into account the provinces and seaports that have been taken away from the Bolshevists by the Supreme Council, even with that shortening of the territory of Russia its land territory more than justifies the retention of the army that Russia has at the present time. That army is only kept in being, as the right hon. Member for Gorbals said, because of the menace from without. Many of the most bitter opponents of the Bolshevist Government are outside Russia, and it is this menace from without that is keeping the Bolshevist Government in power—If the Government had to stand upon its merits, in spite of having that protection of bayonets because of the persistent menace from outside, we might have a chance; but what can any Russian do but support his Government in the face of outside aggression?That statement was made to me by one of the most famous of the younger school of composers in Russia, a man who in the days when the territories and boundaries of Russia are open once more will make his name in the history of music. The hon. Member for Bodmin said that when the history of this famine was written the names of certain men would go down to history. Probably he forgot, or probably I have overlooked it, to mention the 2570 work that has been rendered by the women members of the Society of Friends, and by those who have laid down their lives. There is another name which I might mention. I have the honour to be a member of the British Famine Relief Section, and I suggest that the name of Lord Emmott will be remembered in generations to come in connection with this matter. That gentleman was the Chairman of the Commitee appointed to collect information about Russia. It started its labours in 1919, and the results of those labours have been published in a most exhaustive booklet. I advise the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) and other hon. Gentlemen who so often intervene in debate, and never by any chance quote from a Blue Book, that before they set out on their devastating and corrosive arguments they might at least wade through this Report, collated after months of research, a Report which redounds to the impartiality of the men who sat on the Committee and collated the evidence. If the hon. Member will turn to that Report he will find that there are even more cogent arguments in support of our appeal today. The Report of Lord Emmott's Committee remains unknown to the great mass of Members of this House, and it has never been made known, to my knowledge, to the public outside. Dr. Nansen stated at the Queen's Hall—when the right hon. Gentleman was seated near me on the platform as an interested spectator, with a former speaker of the British House of Commons on the platform and dozens of Noble Lords in the building—that in all his attempts to let the people of Europe and America know the truth he has been up against an absolute boycott of the truth and a systematic cultivation of lies. He said:Every statement I have made has been twisted by the correspondents in our European Press and it makes one almost despair of the mentality of those who guide the opinions of the leading public.Here is the Report of Lord Emmott's Committee and it does not deal with the famine of 1921, but with the famine of 1920. When I point out that this famine is not the result of Bolshevist rule, but is due to two successive famines, one as bad as any in the last 50 years' history of Russia, and the other without precedent in the known history of the world, I take as my authority Sir Benjamin 2571 Robertson, the present Chairman of our Business Commission. He has been to Russia. He is a man of wide and large experience of Indian famine, and yet he has stated that never in his experience has he known such a famine with such devastating results as is operating at the moment in this horrible region of Southern Russia, and this terrific famine of 1921 was preceded by a very bad famine in the year 1920. Instructions were issuedas a result of the drought during the spring and summer of 1920 there has been a great failure in the harvest of corn, hay, roots. It is essential, without delaying a single day, to supplement the bad harvest of corn and food. With regard to corn nothing can be done during this season. The only means of salvation from starvation is to grind up the whole stock of corn in Siberia and the Ural.If we are going to give this amount of relief to-day, and I hope in a very brief time to supplement it, we should take into consideration the fact of the previous famine followed by a still greater famine, for it means that people were already short of food before the snow began to melt in 1921, before there was any sign that there would be any famine in 1921, and therefore misery had already been piled upon misery before the greater famine broke out. Sir Benjamin Robertson has pointed out, as I saw myself in Russia, that in this particular connection it is idle to say that the famine of 1920 was the result of requisitioning. Here in Lord Emmott's Report are proofs that requisitioning was conducted by every one of the White Armies as well as by the Soviet Army, that civil war was raging after Russia had dropped out of the other greater War, and that the civil war had used up millions of acres that formerly had been cultivated. I myself have seen the gun emplacements and the barbed wires all over the area within a motor drive of Samara, where the peasant has cultivated up to the edge of the barbed wire and the gun emplacements, and where the result of the cultivation was simply black earth with here and there a piece of straw standing in the ground to indicate what in normal years would be a decent crop. I could quote page after page from the Report of Lord Emmott's Commission to show that they had overwhelming proof that the economic industry and productive life of Russia have been 2572 strangled by civil war following upon Russia's part in the Great War in which Russia lost more in killed than Britain and France put together during the whole period of the War. That should be taken into account by Members before they proceed to pass blame upon those who are at present the Government of Russia. It says in No. 5:In the summer of 1918 the outbreak of civil war, accompanied by foreign intervention, caused the Soviet Government to divert to military purposes all its energy and the residue of Russia's industrial capacity. In these circumstances the collapse of all other than war industries became complete. The uninterrupted fall of production in the towns was accompanied by a further decline in the supplies of food received by the towns from the villages, which were unable to obtain anything else in exchange for their product. The disorganisation of transport also made it impossible to move with speed and regularity to the towns, where supplies were available, from the country districts.One could quote the whole afternoon from this report, and every quotation is one which proves up to the hilt that people who talk in terms of Bolshevist misrule are merely guided by malice and not actuated by any impartial attempt to get at the facts. The Minister for Education has put the measures of relief that have already been given at £250,000, but upon analysis it came down on last year's values to £100,000. Lord Emmott, in another place, had to call the attention of the Government to exactly what had been sent, and as the hon. Gentleman who is responsible for sending those stores, the Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade, is here, he will be able to correct me if this quotation is wrong:I think I ought to make known to your Lordships the facts. A gnat many of these stores were issued from the point of view of famine relief. We received about £30,000 worth of foodstuffs. We were to have re-received, I think, £34,000 or £35,000 worth, but we have not been able to get some £4,000 worth. We have to collect them at a terrible expense from Army dumps and to pay all the freight charges and send them out to Russia. Among those stores were 200 tons of lime-juice, and lime-juice, after all, cannot be a great physical relief or moral comfort to people who are starving. Pork and beans and tinned beef were less useful than grain, but still they had a value from the point of view of feeding adults. With regard to the balance of what was said by the Disposal Board to be worth £100.000, we obtained £21,000 worth of stores in Egypt and brought it to Constantinople, and they consisted of moth-eaten clothing and secondhand things, 2573 with some medical comforts. We found that it was really of so little use sending them to Russia that we arranged to divert them for the purpose of the refugees in the Constantinople district, of course with the consent of His Majesty's Government. These stores, which were said to be worth £21,000, were valued by Lloyds at £8,000. The remainder, £41,000 worth according to the Disposal Hoard valuations, were handed over to us and consisted of medical drugs, hospital equipment, and so on. It is impossible for us to value these stores, but I am credibly informed that many of the drugs are what is known as time-expired. They were handed over to us only yesterday after 2½ months delay. There are some 300 tons. I suppose it will cost at least £1,000 to send them to Russia, and we have had two or three of the staff waiting to receive them for two or three months. One feels that from the point of view of famine relief, something more digestible is required than operating tables, of which there are a good many in this medical equipment.Such is the truth given in another place by the Chairman of the British Famine Relief Committee as to the "tripe" that was sent out in the name of real help to these starving and destitute people. I hope that if the next £100,000 is to be spent at all, at least it will be handed to Sir Benjamin Robertson's Committee in order that they, as famine experts, may make the best use of the money.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)
It is fair to say that the stores which were given in the first gift were not selected merely by the Disposal Board, but were selected by representatives of the Red Cross in consultation with the Disposal Board. I am not suggesting that they were the most suitable stores that could be found, but it is fair to the Board to say that the selection was made by a representative of the Red Cross. As regards the value I agree that there was a dispute, and the Treasury have given instructions that the value is to be made up to an independent valuation in all cases.
§ Mr. MILLS
In answer to that I can only say that possibly the best choice was made of the supplies available in the Disposal Board, but the point to be remembered is that public opinion, acting as always in advance of its Legislature, expressed a wish for help to be sent. In response to the lead given by the Prime Minister in this House, £100,000 was voted, or as it was stated, £250,000, and that because it was taken from the Dis- 2574 posal Board supplies; and because it was not allowed to be used in other directions it had to be expended in items which were absolutely useless items, which claimed the energies of relief workers whose efforts could have been expended to a far greater and more useful extent. I want to deal next with the Report of the American Commission that went through Russia. I had the good fortune to meet the members of this Commission. They were sent out by the United States Government. Three of them had already rendered wonderful service in Arabia, in the Caucasus, and in Eastern Europe generally in the work of relief. The Commission included Mr. Albert A. Johnson, director of the New York State Institute of Applied Agriculture; Captain Paxton Hibben, Secretary of the American Embassy, Petrograd, Fellow of the Royal and American Geographical Societies; Captain E. A. Yarrow, Director-General of the Near East Relief in Transcaucasia; Mr. Frank Connes, official interpreter of the Supreme Court of the State of New York; and Mr. John Voris, Associate General secretary of the Near East Relief.
They were sent out by a Government which viewed with almost as deep suspicion as the British Government the Bolshevik Government of Russia, and they were by no means disposed to take a rosy view of the activities or merits of the Russian Government. I met these gentlemen. Together we saw some sights that I think would make the blood of hon. Members of this House run cold. They very kindly sent on to me from New York a copy of the Report which they presented to the United States Government. The terms of reference of the Commission were:to assemble information as to economic conditions and reputed destitution in Russia in co-operation with the Russian Government, with a view to placing thin information, when gathered, before such American organisation or organisations as might be designated to represent the American people in extending relief to Russia; or, if no such organisation be designated, to place the findings of the Commission before the American people through whatever channels may be available.
§ Mr. MILLS
The Commission left Tiflis, Georgia, on 16th August, 1921. I met the Commission coming down from 2575 Moscow to the famine area. They report as follows:For seven years the imports of agricultural machinery, spare parts for repairs, tractors to take the place of draught animals used for war purposes, and power machinery to replace the loss of man power due not only to the losses by war but to the fact that some of the most densely populated sections of Russia have been ceded to other countries — Poland, Roumania, Latvia, Lithuania, etc.—by the terms of the various peaces entered into by Russia, have been negligible.These are agricultural experts, men who talked to me as experts on agricultural work in America. They gave the following table of comparative climatic conditions between this year and the previous 17 years in the State of Samara, in the heart of the famine district. The following are the details:
|AVERAGE TEMPERATURES (CENTIGRADE) OF THE SOIL.|
|Average of past 17 years||6||17||25|
|AVERAGE RAINFALL (MILLIMETBKS).|
|Average of past 17 years.||21||38.8||46.9|
§ These are facts which probably will interest those who are of agricultural experience.
§ Mr. MILLS
Centigrade. The Com mission made this further comment:This Commission is ignorant whether the Soviet Government of Russia still possesses a reserve of gold with which it can purchase the supplies or any part thereof, of which mention has been made in this Report hitherto. But one thing is certain, namely, that Russia is a solvent country—that is, given the known natural resources of Russia, mineral, agriculural, arboreal, in mineral waters, in oil, etc., it is always possible for Russia to pledge this or that industry for a period of years for a sum sufficient to pay for any supplies which she may wish to obtain abroad.I have quoted very little. I have done it because I feel that many Members of this House have not yet gone into the known facts, as stated by Committees set up by the British Government and by the United States Government. The report of the latter body has received wide publicity in the United States. With the gentlemen I have mentioned, 2576 I saw the Samara horrors at close quarters. On getting off the platform at Samara during the last days of August, 1921, we walked into three dead bodies of infants covered with flies in the waiting room of the station. In order to get out of the station we had to pick our way through hundreds of people who were camping there with their baggage, waiting for the trains to take them away. The ordinary population had been quadrupled, and the numbers of those who had been given permits to leave by various trains had been swollen by people who were panic-stricken to see their fellow villagers going, and who were not waiting for tickets or anything eke, but simply following. It was almost impossible in that one city to deal with the terrific number of refugees who did not wait for the ordinary methods by which they could have been taken away systematically. The result was beyond description. As the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) put it, in the words of the late Dr. Farrar:It would take the pen of a Zola to do justice to it.1.0 P.M
I represent a constituency which has many thousands of engineers out of work and where one of the greatest firms in the manufacture of chemical supplies has discharged a large number of its workpeople, and yet in Samara what I have described is only part of what is happening there, and I suppose that what obtains there obtains in other parts of Russia. I have seen these clearing stations where they were bringing in children already beyond hope of living. Miss Fry of the Society of Friends, Mr. Paxton Hibbin, Captain Yarrow and others were also witnesses of the sight. I myself saw a compound where there were 300 children waiting to be examined, too weak to brush the flies off their noses and mouths. Surely whatever may be our bitterness towards this particular Government of Russia we do not include in it the children of that country. Surely we have no enemies under 16. Surely if we are going to carry on the traditions of British generosity and hospitality we should do something more than merely say, this is due to Bolshevist misrule. It is said that if we help we shall be helping the Bolshevist Government. I say, if we abstain from helping we shall be doing more than the Bolshevist Government could ever do to convince the people of Russia that the 2577 peoples of the West are soulless and commercial, and only concerned about the making of profit. I refuse to believe that. I am perfectly certain those who have hearts, those who have made fortunes in industry but have still hearts; the men and the women who have served on the British Famine Relief Committee; those who are engaged in the ordinary processes of private profit, and who still view with disgust any economic theory that will reverse those processes—have still enough of human kindness to do the best they can to awaken the consciousness of the West to its duties in the East. The latest statement issued is full of hope. A ghastly paradox is to be found here. By the terrific winter, and by the accumulation of snow which they still have, it means that the sowing season will be delayed and the very fact of the unmentionable horrors which are being suffered by those who are now dying, makes it more possible that the famine will not recur later on. It means that given the seed, and given the opportunities of sowing, those who are suffering from the terrible climatic conditions of to-day are suffering from conditions which give the greatest hope for the future. After all, this is a great Empire with 130 odd millions of people. I have described what is a comparatively small part of Russia, yet it is housing 30,000,000 people, and should not be allowed to become a desert. Some of the best minds of Europe and America, irrespective of social status, have determined that it shall not be. If they have taken the lead, and forced the Government to make this concession, let us hope the Government will do something to prove that after all the fountain of British honour has not yet dried up.
Sir J. D. REES
Having complimented the hon. Member- for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) upon his effective maiden speech, may I say that only a sense of duty, reinforced by the unreasoning humanitarianism of the hon. Member who has preceded me, enables me to get up and say that I can only support this proposal because it is small, and I really doubt in my heart whether the Government of this country has a moral right to divert to the succour of the people of a foreign nation, however sorely afflicted, any of the money collected with such difficulty from the over-burdened taxpayers of this country, 2578 for the national requirements of our own people. It is disagreeable to check the flow of unrestrained humanitarianism to which we have listened from the hon. Member who has just sat down. I think it was in his anti-penultimate peroration that he referred to his visit to Russia. The hon. Gentleman has been, I gather, conducted round Russia by an interpreter.
Sir J. D. REES
The hon. Member has taken up the time of a patient Committee for three quarters of an hour, yet he will not allow me to proceed with the few remarks I wish to make. As I said, in his ante-penultimate peroration, he referred to his visit to Russia. If that moved him, what must be my feelings, who lived in the buts of these Russian peasants, talked to them like themselves and got to know something, at any rate, of the emotional, lovable, unpractical, un-dependable, Slav temperament. If I may mention it, on the first night I spent in a Russian ut, I was bitten to death.
Sir J. D. REES
The old lady, the wife of the peasant, in the morning saw me ruefully uncurling myself off the stove. She went up and took me by the chin— —I was not very youthful, either—and said: "Did they bite you, my little pigeon? "It is not possible for anybody who knows Russian peasants to do other than love them. I love the Russian peasant, but I represent the British tax- 2579 payer, an individual who has not been mentioned during this long and discursive Debate.
May I refer quite briefly to the speech of the President of the Board of Education, with whom I seem destined to be in a kind of congenital opposition. He referred to the extent of the disaster which has overtaken unhappy Russia, but he did not see that the extent of the disaster made the help offered of course trivial, negligible, and pointed to the indisputable fact that nothing less than an immense grant, such as no Member of this House would dare to recommend, is of the slightest use to deal with a disaster of these dimensions. Reference has been made to the Indian famine. It could only be by those who knew nothing about it. An Indian famine is not a famine of grain. There is always plenty of grain in India; it is only a question of bringing it to people who have not the money to buy it, owing to successive failures in their own area, and there is now no famine. When famine is announced in India, it means that the famine code has come into operation and that grants are automatically given to people who are our own subjects. What folly it is to talk about an Indian famine, which, as I say, is no famine, and how ridiculous it is to compare that with a famine like this, which is a famine, whether due to misgovernment or to the failure of the rains —a totally irrelevant matter, though so much attention has been paid to it—or whether due to other causes. There is a desperate famine, a real famine, of grain The question is, can the overburdened British taxpayer, who staggers along in this country and tries to deal with his own people, take upon his back 30,000,000 people in Russia? What folly it is to talk about any grant being possible that can be made by the people of this country. When people refer to the so-called Indian famines, which used to be famines and are now not famines, we must remember that no British Government grant was ever made to help the people of India, our own suffering subjects. Mansion House Funds there have been, and should be now, and may be, and private charity, of course, can deal with these matters.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals referred to public opinion and said that public opinion condemns the 2580 supineness of the Government and the meagre effort they are making. If public opinion is thus stirred, why does not public opinion provide the money, as it has on every other occasion? Why are we to pursue this fatal course of endeavouring to put, not only our own people upon the rates and taxes, not only to encourage pauperism amongst ourselves, but even to lay it before this House seriously that it is their duty to feed the distressed people of foreign countries? To me it is amazing that anybody can seriously put forward any such plea, and it throws a very sinister light on what would be the finances of a party which seems committed to a man to disapproval of this small grant because it is small, and in the smallness of which I find the only possible excuse for supporting it. We must remember that this is London on the Thames, not Nijni Novgorod on the Volga nor Petersburg on the Neva. To listen to the speeches that have been made one would really imagine that these vast areas in a distant Empire—now alas not an Empire—were a part of the British Empire and that the overburdened taxpayer of this little island, holding some 40,000,000 people, could take upon his back 30,000,000 in Russia. We are told that we ought to do this because other countries have come forward, because America has come forward—America, which has all our gold! Could anything more absurd be said before a House consisting of representatives of the British taxpayer? We have heard a great deal about the Bolshevists. It seems to me to be totally irrelevant, whether or not this famine was caused by Bolshevist misgovernment. No doubt it was to a great extent, but it is a terrible calamity. There never was any cause more appealing to the pockets of the charitable; there never was anything more remote from the pockets of the British taxpayer. I have received, like other hon. Members, certain letters upon this subject. Letters have been read, and I will not apologise for referring to a very short one myself. One of my constituents wrote to me and said I must support this. I wrote back, "Tell me whether the money spent on Russians now is to be met by a tax upon tea, tobacco, sugar, beer, or Income Tax." In reply, he said:Other countries have shown Britain the way. Can we not apply the principle 'Bear ye one another's burdens? If we have a will, we can find the way.2581 I commend that to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The letter goes on:I hesitate to suggest means of money raising, as that is a matter for the politician, but £1,000,000 a day is spent on interest on the National Debt, and there are ships and guns, and what we really want is helpfulness and generosity.This is all the assistance I have received from my earnest, charitable constituent in trying to solve the problem as to how I was to stand up here and endeavour, with any regard for common sense, justice, and the rights of the people of this country, to support a Vote of this description.
I come now to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals. I know, of course, that he is a man overflowing with the milk of human kindness, and I have the profoundest regard and respect for him, but I am bound to say that his speech did far more credit to his heart than to his head. He took no account at all of means, and I have not heard any speaker yet pay the smallest attention to the cost. I have no doubt the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) will probably produce a lilac pamphlet under the auspices of the League of Nations Union, which seems for some reason or another, having been unable to accomplish any of its own functions, to have taken upon its back the raising of money and the circularising of Members regarding this Vote. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals committed himself to the statement that this was the greatest calamity in history. It is a terrible calamity. I do not minimise it, and I wish everybody in this country would give something out of their own pockets, but I wonder whether my right hon. Friend ever heard of the post-War influenza in India, which was something quite comparable with the disaster now taking place in Russia. Has he ever heard of the overflowing of the Yangtse and the drowning of millions of people there? Has the British taxpayer even been asked to put his hand in his empty pocket to help these stricken subjects of his own in India, or the subjects of a foreign power in China? Then we hear that it is to our self-interest to help the people of Russia. We know that sort of argument. It is the kind of argument that, with every advance of social reform, says, "We shall get this back in the improved conditions that will follow," 2582 but we never do get back to anything like the taxation we had before, and we shall never hear how we are ever going to get back this money that it is proposed to spend. Let us be honest and truthful about it. We ought to help the starving Russians, but out of our own pockets, and we ought not to make palpably false and ridiculous assertions that it is going to pay us in doing it. It will not pay us, and I deprecate—let me also take a high humanitarian ground—this material manner of looking at generosity. Then my right hon. Friend referred to the unemployed in England, for the purpose of suggesting that we should take upon our backs the unemployed in Russia. At least, I could follow no other argument.
§ Mr. G. BARNES
The argument was in answer to one that had been used that we had the unemployed on our backs, and could not afford to pay anything to the starving Russian people. In answer, I say we are now paying £4,000,000 a week to the unemployed, and that by paying something to the starving Russian people by way of goods, machinery, locomotives, and so on, we might lessen the unemployed in our own country.
Sir J. D. REES
I am substantially correct. The argument is that, because we are paying £4,000,000 a week to the unemployed in this country, we should do something for the unemployed in Russia. My right hon. Friend reinforced that argument by instancing the money we have spent on Russian refugees. He argued that, because we spent money on Russians outside Russia, why should we not spend money on the famine sufferers in Russia? His argument is that, because we spend money on one head, why not spend it on another head? Because we support one class of Russian, why not support another class of Russian? I say, why not feed people everywhere, since we have a bottomless purse? I repeat, my right hon. Friend's arguments do far more credit to his heart than to his head. As one who has pity for the Russians, whom I know probably better than anyone in this House, and as one who is, I believe, the only man able to enter into personal conversation with them, and who has lived amongst them, I say that to divert taxes collected for the purposes of our own people, and to hand them over to foreign people, however afflicted, is perilously approaching misappropriation of public money. 2583 You may say it is a good object. Does not every man—does not a clerk, for instance, who appears before the magistrate, say, "I took the money with a good object —for a starving mother, or a girl I hope to marry—and was going to put it back"? Good intentions are no defence against misappropriatian of public funds, and I should like to know upon what principle are we, the representatives of the British taxpayer, entitled to spend any of his money, even if he were not at the last gasp, on suffering nationals of any other Power? There is a fatal facility in dealing with our money, which is collected with the utmost difficulty. The man who is healthy, who has his limbs, who works, is the man I pity in this country, staggering along with the burdens piled upon him every Friday by hon. Gentlemen opposite through all the years I have sat in this House. It is the industrious citizen, who does not occupy his time otherwise than in supporting his family, and paying his taxes, who is the victim of all this. If anyone went round his constituency and said, "Will you vote for giving half a million to Russia? "where would he get support for that now?
Sir J. D. REES
It is true there would be support from agitators and idealists, and amongst Bolshevists.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY rose—
Sir J. D. REES
I thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman's withers were unwrung, and he did not own he was a Bolshevist. I do not object to his interruptions. Addressing this House has become such a habit with him, that it must have become irksome to him to listen to anybody else.
Sir J. D. REES
I really hope I have not been betrayed into speaking with any undue heat, and, if it be difficult for anybody to oppose humanitarianism in any case, surely no man ever did it under circumstances of greater difficulty than 2584 I do to-day, being, of all the Members of this House, the one best acquainted with Russia, and, so far as I know, the only Russian interpreter in this House, a man whose love of Russians is not based on politics, sentiment or leagues and associations, but who has a real love of them, and a desire to save them, and an equal determination to remember that this is not his money, but the money of the British taxpayer.
Mr. J. W. WILSON
I am not one who frequently troubles the House in Debate, but I do think, in a matter like the subject before the Committee to-day, it is in the interests of fair consideration of this matter to have as many and as varied views put before it as possible. I have some personal knowledge, although I cannot claim, as the last speaker, any intimate knowledge of Russia. But I am inclined to look at this matter more from the economic position than only from the humanitarian. The last speaker has poured considerable contempt upon the confusion of heart and head in this matter. In my opinion, the judgment of this Committee ought to be dictated, not only by the heart, but also by the head, especially where we are handling the nation's finances, and in this connection I have been very much struck by the amount of support of the assistance from the Government in the Russian catastrophe received from various business quarters in this country, from chambers of commerce and large corporations and other bodies not accustomed to be appealed to in this respect. I do feel that, even from a business point of view, the whole of Europe is crying for greater stability, and a return, if only gradually bit by bit, to a more settled condition of exchange. You cannot overlook the fact that a huge proportion of the potentially productive part of Europe is affected by the famine in Russia. I think it does appeal to the commercial and the business side of Europe, as well as the humanitarian side, that this huge tract shall not be allowed, before the eyes of Europe, to go substantially out of cultivation and out of production.
I listened with great interest to the right hon. Member the Minister of Education in his able setting of this case before the Committee and also to the right hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes). I think those two 2585 speeches put the ease very completely before the Committee. I thought the Minister's statement was a framework which would justify a very much better setting. That is to say, it was a, framework from which I expected the deduction to be at least, half-a-million instead of £100,000. When I heard Sir Benjamin Robertson showing to the large number of Members collected together the map to which my right hon. Friend has already alluded and realised the enormous tract of land which the American Government were already undertaking to deal with and the two very little red spots in the middle which the Society of Friends and the Red Cross and the Nansen Fund were dealing with—although they have done substantial work—yet having regard to these two proportions, whilst the Government are prepared to assist in carrying on the work of feeding the children, which have been conducted by these organisations, the request to America to feed the adults seemed to me rather a painful confession on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, Really, the only thing that would seem to me likely to justify our attitude would be that the Government were hard pressed—as we all realise in view of the finances of the country—but it might have been contemplated that at any rate if the invitation was refused now, they would be open to another invitation at the end of this month, and to support at least an effort not only to help the living, but to put in the seed so that later the corn might be reaped, thus reinstating this fertile part of Russia before August. Now is the time of need and opportunity. Personally I hope, if this appeal is set aside to-day, that in the months to come Parliament may yet have another opportunity of reconsidering its decision and of, at any rate, assisting these three or four great societies which have been doing so substantial a work during the last twelve months. Let us not have these efforts thrown away, the seed not sown and the harvest not reaped, and the economic position of Europe, of the world, likely to be such that we will have to face another state of things worse than the present.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. HOARE
I am, I suppose, one of the few Members who have had any personal experience of this gift of military stores, and the difficulties 2586 to which gifts of this kind have given rise. On that account, in the course of the few remarks I desire to make, I shall, amongst other things, press the Government further as to the manner and method that they intend to adopt in making the present gift. Firstly, let me make one or two general observations upon the Vote. The issue is not so simple as some of the speeches that have been made appear to make it. We have had very eloquent speeches from those who have spoken in favour of a much larger grant. On the other hand, we have had a speech of the kind we should expect from him, from the hon. Baronet the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees), in opposition to any grant at all. My own personal point of view is that the issue is not quite so simple as either of these sides seem to make it. Take first of all the contention urged very eloquently by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. G. Barnes). It did seem to me that he did not fully realise the very grave difficulties which the Government have had to face in dealing at all with this question. There is the financial difficulty. It is idle to deny the economic difficulties, or the fact that at the present moment we have got 2,000,000 unemployed, or that at present Ministers, like the Minister of Education, have to make serious cults in great social services. The right hon. Gentleman did not do full justice to the Government's difficulties in this respect, neither did he seem to me to do full justice to the grave difficulties that have been placed in the way of those of us who wished to give a generous grant for famine relief by the Bolshevist Government.
I do not want to introduce anything controversial into this Debate, and I should not have made allusion to the action of the Bolshevist Government had it not been for the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division and the hon. Gentleman for Dartford (Mr. Mills). As, however, they have made these observations, let me in one or two sentences refer to what I mean by speaking of the difficulties that the Bolshevist Government has placed in the way of those who, like myself, wish to give a grant to the relief of the famine in Russia. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals scoffed at the idea that the famine was due to Bolshevist misgovernment. I am well 2587 aware that the primary cause of the famine was the drought. None the less, I am quite convinced that the gravity of the famine is due to Bolshevist misgovernment. If I wanted it, I could quote evidence that every Member of this House would acknowledge to be impartial, the evidence of Sir Benjamin Robertson. On page 13 of Sir Benjamin Robertson's Report there are these words:That there are no stocks of grain whatever left to the peasants in the Russian famine area is mainly the result of the requisitions made by the Government in 1919–20. Private trade is not coming in to help private efficiency, whilst the deterioration of the railways renders the situation one of the utmost gravity.In view of that evidence, I say that the gravity of the problem at the present, moment is directly due to Bolshevist misgovernment. In the past there have been famines in Russia and droughts in Russia, but the railway system and the methods of the Government were sufficient, and efficient enough, to enable one district to support another district. Owing to the misgovernment that has taken place, the present state of affairs is a direct result of the Bolshevist Government, and the gravity of the famine is ten times worse than it would have been otherwise. Let me give the Committee another example of what I mean when I say that the gravity of the situation is due to Bolshevist misgovernment and indifference.
Last December there w7as held in Moscow a meeting of all the Soviets to discuss the economic condition of Russia. The Congress sat for several days and discussed every conceivable economic question, but during the whole of these Debates nobody said a word about the Russian famine. Let me give the Committee another example. The right hon. Gentleman for the Gorbals Division alluded to the fact that the French Government had made an offer of 6,000,000 francs worth of supplies for relief in Russia. If my information be correct, the Bolshevist Government, in spite of the terrible state of affairs in Russia, has refused that gift. That surely shows that if my information is correct, the Bolshevist Government itself is singularly callous to the state of affairs now in existence in Russia. Dr. Nansen asked this country to make a 2588 grant of £3,000,000 sterling, and since then Sir Benjamin Robertson has reduced the request to £350,000. The request made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals was for £500,000. I find it very difficult to understand why, when so small a sum as this is needed, the Bolshevist Government cannot raise it itself, because there are still gold roubles in Russia. Even during the last few weeks the Soviet Government has made a vote of 15,000,000 gold roubles for munitions, and that proves that there are gold roubles in Russia. But even if there were not, I cannot see why, when so small a sum as £350,000 or even £500,000 is needed, the Bolshevist Government should not raise it.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I think the hon. Baronet has understated the sum, because the amount was £480,000 as the final sum required, taking everything into consideration, to deal with this area. I would like to point out that this deals only with that portion which1 has hitherto been relieved from British sources, and there is a very large area not dealt with at all.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I do not see that that affects my argument in the least. On this point I must contradict my Noble Friend, because I have had a good deal of conversation with Sir Benjamin Robertson, and I know that the demand he made was for £350,000; but whatever the amount my argument is that I cannot see why the Bolshevist Government should not do what the Austrian Government has done in similar financial straits and raise money upon some of the national art treasures. The Austrian Government only during the last few months has been obliged to raise money on its Gobelins tapestries, and the Bolshevist Government might do the same with the art treasures in Petrograd or Moscow.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman is right, and if he is that will remove the objection I (am now Urging. These questions must be taken into serious consideration. I do not think myself that those hon. Members who have so far spoken in favour of a larger grant have fully realised their strength. I imagine that the Government has to some extent realised their strength in making 2589 the proposal which they have made to-day. Let me now come to the Government proposal. The Government have come to the Committee and have said: "We cannot make a money grant, but we will make a grant of military stores. "I do not think that is a good proposal, and it would have been better to face the issue quite clearly, and decide whether they can give a grant or they cannot, and if they can they should give it in the way in which it will afford most help, and that is in the way of a money grant. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I have had some experience in regard to gifts of stores.
Let me suggest to the Committee the kind of difficulties which arise in the case of gifts of this kind. In the first place there is the fact that the kind of stores wanted is a uniform and simple food such as wheat, maize, or rye. The Minister of Education implied that this grant was going to be made in foodstuffs. Perhaps in the Government reply they will give us a few details as to this grant, and satisfy the Committee as to whether what is suggested is going to be the kind of foodstuffs which are actually required. The experience I had myself in Constantinople was that many of these foodstuffs, whilst one could not say they were not actually required, because foodstuffs of all kinds were required, were certainly not the kind of foodstuffs that would be of the greatest use. Miscellaneous stores are always difficult to deal with, and in small quantities of foodstuffs they are very difficult to administer. I imagine that in Russia itself, where the situation is more acute than it is in Constantinople, the need for simple foods is much greater even than I found in Constantinople. Further, there is a very important question of valuation. Something has already been said in the Debate as to the valuation of the grant which the House made for famine relief last November. My experience in Constantinople was this: I obtained from the British Government a grant of £20,000 worth of military stores for the refugees in Constantinople. When we came to examine these stores, a great many of them were not the kind we required, and I was asked to take these stores over at a valuation three or four times as high as the best valuers in Constantinople would have put upon them. I think we ought to know something more about the valuation of this £100,000 worth of stores which we are asked to vote. 2590 Otherwise, we shall have just the same kind of difficulties and delays that I found at Constantinople. Let me say, in justice to the Government offices, and particularly to the Disposal Board, that they did everything in their power to meet my views. Eventually, we came to an agreement under which the stores were taken over at an impartial valuation. That took from December until a week or two ago, and it shows that, with all the good will in the world, unless this question of valuation is satisfactorily settled from the start, there will be difficulties and delays that will go on for months. Seeing the practical difficulties that arise from gifts of stores of this kind, stores that the Committee should remember are in the hands of the Disposal Board because they have been condemned as useless for military purposes, I have come to the conclusion, even after admitting all the criticisms that I have urged against the attitude of the Bolshevist Government, that the Government would be better advised not to come to this Committee with the offer of £100,000 worth of stores, but with a definite offer of a sum of money, and I put that sum of money at £250,000. I listened with great interest to what the President of the Board of Education said as to the immediate future before the harvest, but I was not convinced that there would be sufficient resources to carry on until the month of August, and I believe that from every point of view, even after admitting the Government's difficulties, and the difficulties that have been put in their way by the Bolshevist Government, it would be better here and now to vote a definite sum of money.
I have come to that conclusion for two reasons. First of all, there is the reason of British prestige. In Russia to-day, apart from the American relief, the only effective relief organisations are the British organisations. I have not always approved of their methods of collecting money in this country, but from all the inquiries I have made I have come to the conclusion that in Russia they have done their work admirably. I understand that they have only money to carry on until the month of May. If some such sum as I have suggested were voted by the Government, they could then carry on until the new harvest. It would seem to me to be a great blow to British prestige if that British work had to come to an end. 2591 I owned that I heard with great regret the remark of the right hon. Gentleman that it would be necessary to call the American relief organisations into the British area. I should have liked to have seen the Government face the clear issue and definitely give to these organisations sufficient help to enable them to carry on until the new harvest. Secondly, and I need not expand upon this theme, there is the cause of humanity generally. I criticise the Bolshevist Government, and I hate the Bolshevist Government as much as anybody in this country, but I say that the need far transcends criticisms of that kind. There is the Government of the United States even more definitely pledged against the Bolshevist Government than we are, and yet the Government of the United States comes forward with a gift of 20,000,000 dollars. The United States, I admit, are far richer than we; yet I should have thought that we might have afforded one-tenth of the gift of the United States Government. In view of these contentions, I have come to the conclusion that if my right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division goes to a Division, I shall support him in the Lobby, but I still hope that at the end of this Debate the Government may go somewhat further, and may, at any rate, give us some of the details for which I have asked, and give the Committee an assurance that, if sufficient money be not forthcoming to ensure the British effort until the new harvest, they will come to this Committee again and ask for a further grant.
§ Captain O'GRADY
I am sorry that the hon. Baronet the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) is not in his place, because I want to refer to his speech. I have never heard a question discussed in this House during the 16 years that I have been here as Member for Leeds without the hon. Baronet speaking all the languages under the sun, knowing all the peoples under the sun, and having lived with all the peoples under the sun. He is constantly talking of his knowledge of Persia, and his knowledge of the language they speak in Timbuctoo. It is quite clear, however, that he does not appreciate the psychology of the Russians although he has lived among them. I have some little knowledge of them, particularly since 1917 at 2592 the end of the first revolution, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not listen to what the hon. Baronet says. I would suggest that he does not speak the views of his own constituents. As a matter of fact, East Nottingham has a large working-class electorate, and I am hoping that a protest may come from the electors there, although a number of them are unemployed, against the contentions of the hon. Baronet. We know something about the unemployed in this country and everyone admires the fortitude of the British working man. I have still a greater admiration that, in his own time of stress and trouble, and, if you like, of hunger, there should have been meetings of unemployed which have passed resolutions pressing the Government to make a grant to the Russians.
I want to deal with certain statements made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). If I suggest that on certain points he has not altogether got the facts, I am sure he will forgive me. The question is what the Bolshevist Government are doing for the people in the famine area. I regret that the facts are not known in this country, but, from my awn personal knowledge, I know what they are doing in the Chuvash area in which my own mission is operating. I undertook at the request of the Soviet Government to be the sole mission operating for famine relief in that area. Hitherto, it has not been touched by the American Relief Association, or the Friends, or the funds raised to feed the starving children. It has a population of about 900,000, and an area of about the size of the county of Gloucester. There are no railways, except one from Moscow to Kazan, and one has to travel about the country on sleighs. The children between the age of three and 12 months in the whole of that area are being fed and looked after by the Central Government in Moscow. Of course the difficulty is to got the food to them, but alas 90 per cent, of the children between these ages die in spite of the good feeding. I mention this fact in order to show what the Bolshevist Government is doing in the Chuvash territory. All the relief organisations in Russia, including that of Dr. Nansen and the American Relief Association, get their transport free and are not called upon to pay anything for labour and distribution. The authorities in the locality provide 2593 them with help free. In the case of my own mission we have not paid a red cent. for horses, sleighs or drivers, or anything which had to do with the work of administration. The hon. Baronet mentioned a conference which took place in Moscow. He did not give a date, but I rather gather he referred to a conference of Soviet representatives on the 20th December. Those delegates were assembled to discuss questions of general policy. The hon. Baronet complained that no mention was made of the famine question. The conference as I say was called to deal with general questions of policy. I attended a conference in the early part of December, called exclusively for the purpose of considering how best to grapple with the famine. It was held in the Kremlin, and there were delegates representing various areas in attendance. Talk about suppression of free speech in Russia, why during the three hours which that conference lasted, the most fierce denunciatory speeches were delivered against the Soviet Government and its representatives. I want my hon. Friend opposite to believe me when I say that the subject of famine relief and the duty of the Soviet Government in regard thereto is always present in the minds of the local authorities, who give the Central Government of Moscow no rest. It was suggested by the hon. Member that the gravity of the famine was due to the policy of the Bolshevist Government. That is not my view. I am an anti-Communist and an anti-Bolshevist, and the Soviet Government in Moscow were made well aware of that fact when I met them to discuss the question of famine arrangements. I wish the facts were, better known in Western Europe than they are. Incidentally, I may mention that I never went to see anything which the Soviet Government wanted me to see. I took a course of my own. I happened to have as companions two young British officers who could speak the Russian language fluently, and we went where we chose. Let me remind the House that this area where famine is now decimating the people is the same which was visited by famine in 1892, when in the City of London a relief fund was started by the Lord Mayor. It is due, not to the Bolshevist Government, but to a visitation of nature, and it is quite clear 2594 that no Government, neither a Czarist Government nor a Bolshevist Government, could have prevented it.
The transport has never been perfect in Russia. It was bad in the time of the Czar, it is bad now, but, if anything, I think the Bolshevist Government, since they have ceased to employ State troops in fighting counter revolutions, have improved it. Of course they have no coal and they have not been able to repair the railways and the roadways, but they are gradually improving matters and they are getting more engines. Still, the transport system of Russia at the best is very bad indeed. When I came back from the famine area I reached a point 45 miles from the city of Kazan. I wanted to get back to Moscow, because I had an appointment with Lenin and Trotsky. I had to travel a considerable portion of the distance by sleigh in order to pick up a certain train on a Sunday afternoon. But that train did not reach that point until the Monday morning, and, as a matter of fact, I was two days and two nights late. Needless to say I could not keep my appointment, although I only had to cover a journey of 560 miles. Indeed, it is not an infrequent occurrence for railway passengers, unless they are careful to carry sufficient food with them, to be themselves smitten with famine.
The hon. Baronet stated that the gravity of the famine in Russia has been increased by the action of the Bolshevist Government, giving a quotation from Sir Benjamin Robertson's Report indicating that this was owing to the policy of requisition. I do not wish to give an opinion, but I put this same point very strenuously to the representatives of the Bolshevist Government, and here is their answer? Whether it is worth acceptance or not, I leave to the Committee. They said that for the last five years they had been kept busy suppressing counter-revolutions by Denikin, Koltchak and Wrangel, and fighting our own troops in the Murmansk area, and had not had time to deal with or operate other functions of Government. It was true, they said, that they had to make requisitions even upon this area, but that was long before the famine was so acute, and that they had taken away a certain amount of foodstuffs from it. They admit that, but now that no more revolutions apparently, are coming along, they are 2595 devoting their energies to replacing as far as they can the requisitions they had made upon the famine areas. The hon. Baronet also stated that the Bolshevist Government were not raising money from art treasures. If he will look at some of the continental newspapers— not Bolshevist papers—he will find that recently the Bolshevist Government did make a requisition upon all the art treasures in Russia, including even those-of the Greek Church and the Church of my own faith—the Roman Catholic Church. They have to yield up in each locality a certain proportion of their treasures, but lists of the things that were yielded up will be printed in the local papers, and when they are sold the price will be declared. That is in the main— I do not say solely—for the purpose of providing the means for dealing with the famine.
If the Committee will permit me, I should like just to relate a few of my own experiences in the famine area. I went to the Central Department in Moscow, and a map of the famine area was shown to me. I had only a small mission at that time, and only had £52,000, collected from the coffers of very poor workpeople in Czecho Slovakia, Germany, Austria and other countries of Western Europe—very little, I regret to say, from the working people of England at that time, because they were not aware of the necessity. I chose the area I did because in that particular sector the famine was not so bad as in the Samara area, and with my small funds and small staff I thought the most effective work I could do would be there. I travelled over practically the whole territory in a sleigh, and investigated it personally as far as I could. I went to the various towns and villages—there are very few towns—and I came to the conclusion that, unless I could get my foodstuffs down by the last week in December, although the conditions were not so bad then as in the Samara sector, they would develop in much the same way. Unfortunately, I could not get the foodstuffs down until the second week in January. What happened? I had a telegram from the President of the Chuvash Territory declaring that matters had become much worse. Parents were murdering their children, and children were murdering their parents, and the shrill scream of jungle life was 2596 now the dominant note. It is true that in the towns themselves the famine is not so apparent, although if one inquired closely evidence of it would be found. As regards the villages, however, as a boy I read Dante's "Inferno" and the recollection of it was a constant nightmare to me for many years; but there is nothing in that book that ever equalled what I then saw. Sixty per cent, of the population of the Chuvash territory are suffering from trachoma, an Asiatic eye disease. There is, the doctors tell me, a very simple remedy for it, namely, atropine, but there is not a saltspoonful of atropine in this area the size of the county of Gloucester. The people I saw were going blind while they were dying of starvation. There was just the old Asiatic fatalism in them when they got to a particular point. They simply lay down and died. At that time there were 2,000 deaths weekly among this small population, and I regret to say that the rate has trebled since I left. There they are, going blind, they are starving, the children are dying; and you cannot get any record of the deaths, because there is no system of registration in the sense in which we have it here. The figures given are, I am sure, minimum figures.
Let me cite a case. I had a photograph taken of a boy aged about 16, who was suffering from the effects of eating the food substitutes that they are driven to use. One effect is that the lower portions of the body—the stomach and legs-swell very badly. We questioned this boy as to whether his father and mother were living, and he replied, "No. "We asked what his father died of. "He died in the War." What did the mother die of? "Hunger' How long ago was that? "Four days ago. "Then I asked, "What happened? What did you do? "and he replied, "I slept for a while in the cottage with my mother, and then I had to go out and dig roots and get what I could from below the frozen ground in the forest to keep myself alive." I asked whether he did not report to the local authorities. "No," he said, "I simply went to tell the neighbours, who came in and buried my mother." There is a case of which the local authorities could get no knowledge, and I regret to say that in the area where I am operating there are hundreds, if not thousands, of such cases. The figures as to-the death-roll of which we hear can in my own particular case— 2597 I do not know about Samara—be accepted quite readily. I think they are underestimates.
At that time the bread, or rather the substitute bread, was, as I have indicated, made from roots and acorns that they got in the forest, with dried grass ground up and sometimes straw with it. It is quite clear that you cannot make a mess of that kind into the form of a loaf that will bake in the oven, so they used to mix it with a little rye flour in order to make it adhere in the form of a cake. After a while, however, the rye flour ran out, and they went and broke the ice at the side of the streams and rivers and dug up a kind of sweet clay, and used that instead of the rye flour to obtain the adhesive properties. Here is a piece of it.
§ Captain O'GRADY
It is the ground-up roots and straw and the adhesive property of it is the clay. I said at that time that if the food did not get there they would take the straw off the roofs and eat that. That is happening. There is no dry grass now. It is all used up. The frost prevented them getting the roots and they cannot hunt for acorns in the forest. They are taking the thatch off their roofs and grinding that up.
I come to the practical point raised by the hon. Baronet. I am afraid the Government stores are not really of much use. When I went there I had the intention of buying packets for making soup, and things of that kind, and I desired to give them clothes and boots. Dr. Nansen, whose advice I took, declared definitely that there ere four great things they want, and those only. They axe people who have been used to living on certain kinds of foodstuffs. They simply want rye grain, which can be milled in the area, lard, sugar and cocoa. The representative of the Government on the Front Bench will note the point that Lord Emmott in another place is right to a very large extent. If you grant stores, 75 per cent, of them will not be of much use. It is much better to grant a sum of money than to give stores, because you can then insure that the food purchased by your representative in Russia will be of the character required. I wanted to state facts on this occasion and not to indulge in any rhetoric, but I am very jealous of the honour of this country. I 2598 have done a lot of work for the Government during the War, and though I have my quarrels with them, when I am out of the country it is my Government, it is the Government of the country in which I live and was born, and I am very jealous of its prestige. I am afraid we have depreciated in the estimation of the Russians. Probably the work of other people, like the Americans, for instance, and some of the Germans in Russia, has just allowed our moral stock to depreciate a little. I am anxious that we shall reestablish British status on the humanitarian grounds. Moreover, if I were a business man I should look at the matter from the point of view of a balance sheet. Whatever money may be granted by this Government will be paid back a thousand fold later on. On the top of that you will get the goodwill of the Russian people, who will say, "Whatever our quarrel with Great Britain or theirs with us, in the time of our need they came to our aid in relief of the hunger that is devastating our country. "The French and the American Governments have made grants. Incidentally the American Government made a grant of 20,000,000 dollars on condition that the Soviet Government contributed 10,000,000. Their need is very great, but to get that 20,000,000 dollars and to show- the American people what anxiety the Soviet Government had for the welfare of the people in the famine area they themselves contributed 10,000,000 dollars. A not inconsiderable number of the people in this country regret that their Government have not grants in like degree. Having regard to these facts I submit it would pay us as a matter of £s. d. to make the grant suggested by Dr. Nansen. I am going back at the end of this month to resume my work. Apart from the famine, it is the opinion of the doctors there, the German and American doctors as well, that when the thaw sets in it will not only be very difficult to get foodstuffs, but they will be swept with typhus and cholera. One of my own little staff three weeks ago was swept away with typhus. I want to get the food out there in time to build up in the people sufficient physical resistance to withstand the terror of typhus and cholera when the thaw sets in. That is why I am glad this subject has come up to-day. I hope it will be possible for 2599 the Government to increase their grant. Let it be money rather than stores and give it to the people who will spend it wisely and well and I am certain we shall save hundreds of thousands of lives. I said to my own fellow trade unionists in these Islands, "If you will give me £10,000,000 I will give you 15,000 lives for it. "I say to the Government to-day if they will increase their grant of money we will give them back lives numbering hundreds of thousands. There is no more precious thing on the face of God's earth than a human life. I do not want to calculate what you are going to do in terms of money. But if it must be in terms of money, I am sure the Russian people will thank us with a gratitude deep-seated.
§ Colonel MILDMAY
I should like to compliment the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) on his maiden speech. He and I have been closely acquainted in the past under strenuous circumstances, and I am glad to be able to congratulate him on having so ably acquitted himself. I have listened with the greatest interest to the Debate and especially to the last speech, which was most impressive and cannot fail to have gone to the hearts of everyone in the Committee. I yield to none in my deep sympathy with those who are undergoing such appalling sufferings in Russia. It really wrings one's heart to hear, as we have heard to-day, from several who can speak of things they have seen themselves, the straits to which these poor people have been reduced: and all who have children, I should think, must have been deeply moved by the recital, and by the evidence which comes from Russia day by day. There can be no doubt whatever that the whole world lies under a moral obligation to give such help as can possibly be given. On the other hand these are times, we all know, of great pecuniary stress and terribly high taxation, which brings great suffering to the poor classes of this country, and many are suffering silently but none the less most acutely. I agree that these facts should not impel us to turn a deaf ear to such moving appeals as have been made to us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes), and those who have followed him. But there is another consideration. I have said that a moral obligation lies on the 2600 whole world to give such assistance as can be given. In our desire to alleviate the conditions in Russia, which are really quite appalling, we must not forget that we have at our very doors an obligation in a pecuniary sense to the scattered Unionists in the South of Ireland, which is not only a moral obligation but which is also in equity a prior debt which no honourable Government can evade, and which I do not believe for a moment this Government or this House of Commons wishes to evade. I do not think that this House and the country realise what is the position of isolated Unionist families in the South of Ireland, to what extent they have been deprived of their all, and to what extent they are faced with conditions of absolute starvation. This is not a political question. This is not a question whether you approve of the Treaty or not; but it is a case of ruined, homeless loyalists which cries out for help and justice. Unlike the position in Russia, we are responsible for these conditions, and ours is the immediate duty to cope with them. There, I maintain, lies the first call upon our pecuniary resources. As I understand it, the position is that these unfortunate owners of Small shops, farms or business-premises have a right to compensation, without question, for personal injury. They have a further right of compensation for the burning of their homes, and for the loss of their farm produce and business premises, but they cannot get payment in this respect. There is a further consideration, that for the loss of livelihood they receive absolutely nothing. I imagine that I shall be out of order— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I can assure hon. Members that in presenting this case I feel that the claim is so urgent that it should be brought forward as against the claim that is being made upon us from outside this country. Without giving details, I may perhaps be allowed to quote one single letter written recently:The burning of an Irishman's home by the armed secret societies was a sign of personal danger which the victims could not ignore. Men of middle age with young children, and men of advanced years, were compelled to abandon their native place and fly to England to commence life anew in absolute penury. Their farms and lands were in many cases rendered derelict or confiscated. The farmer, the resident gentleman, the country shopkeeper, their 2601 country homes destroyed, were reduced to beggary in exile. AU that the law gave in compensation was a decree for an amount that would restore the actual things that were destroyed. For the loss of his livelihood, for the loss of the means to support himself and his family, he received nothing.There are many who are not able to leave these districts where they are persecuted. They cannot afford to get away. They are still there in penury and in fear of their lives, and they are suffering these ills with a patience which is all the more pathetic in that it would seem to be the patience of despair. They have trusted us. That is the thought that is always in my mind when I read of these occurrences, and I am convinced that the whole of the English people, if they knew to what straits we have reduced these Irish loyalists, would say that this is a debt of honour which has first claim upon our resources. In view of these stern facts, I cannot find it possible to support the right hon. Member for the Gorbals Division.
§ Major COLFOX
We have listened to a number of speeches, all of which have shown the absolute necessity for this country doing something for the sufferers from the famine in Russia. Several speakers, including the hon. Member for South-East Leeds (Captain O'Grady) have painted a terrible picture of the conditions in Russia at the present time. I suppose there is nobody in this House who does not feel that the British people ought to do something to assist the sufferers from the Russian famine, but when we admit that the British people should do something, that is by no means saying that the British Government should do something. The right hon. Member for Gorbals, in a very eloquent speech, said that he was quite sure that the British people would willingly grant £500,000 at least for the relief of the Russian famine. I noticed that when he said that, there were cheers from the Labour benches, and cries that much more would be granted by the British people. I say to those hon. Members, "By all means lot the British people do so. By all means let the British people subscribe as far as they will. They have had the cause ably, eloquently and fully put before them, but up to the present time, with a few comparatively negligible exceptions, the British people have shown that they do not consider this a 2602 worthy object of their charity. I am convinced that they are wrong.
This grant is urged by hon. Members mainly on the ground of pity and Christian charity. I hold that charity is of all things the greatest virtue that can exist in a man, but charity, if it means anything, means voluntary self-sacrifice on the part of the charitable, and it is an absolute negation of charity to spend the taxpayers' money, which has been raised from him by compulsion, and not because he has any charitable motive, on the support of destitute people in Russia. The right hon. Member for Gorbals said that, in his opinion, the people who were opposing this grant from our Government to the Russian victims were trying to find excuses for themselves doing nothing. The position is exactly opposite. Those people who are urging the Government to make this grant are really doing so because they think by such means they can find excuses to avoid their own personal responsibility and do nothing. Surely it is the function of Governments to be just and the function of individuals to be charitable, and when the positions are attempted to be reversed we get the absolute opposite of any charity.
We have been told that the main cause of the famine was the lack of rainfall during last season. I doubt whether that really is the main cause of the famine and the trouble at the present time. I believe that the real cause of the famine is to be found in the fact that all the available capital resources of Russia have been consumed. The capital which is represented by the seed for sowing has been consumed. The capital which is represented by the railways and the transport facilities has been allowed to go because it has not been repaired and kept in a proper state. Therefore I am convinced that the real cause of the Russian famine is the fact that the capital resources of Russia for one cause or another have been consumed. It probably has been hastened and made worse by the lack of rainfall, but that is not the main cause.
The right hon. Member for Gorbals said that public opinion in this country was in favour of granting this support to the victims of the famine. I believe that a certain amount of public opinion is in favour of it. But it is the public opinion of those who consider that it is the duty of the Government to be charitable. It is, in other words, the 2603 public opinion of those who try to pass their own personal responsibilities on to the shoulders of the State. I submit that it is one of the many duties of Members of Parliament to do their quota towards leading the public opinion in their own district, and I submit that it is a very useful way in which Members of Parliament can assist the victims of this appalling famine. I propose myself in my own constituency to institute a fund for those who feel that it is a worthy object for charity to assist the victims of the famine. I submit that all hon. and right hon. Members who feel, as I believe most of them do, that this is a worthy object for charity, should urge the Government not to make any substantial grant from Government funds, but should do their utmost to assist private and personal and individual charity, and then I am sure that a much more profitable result would be achieved than by voting a comparatively small sum from Government funds.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I must express deep regret at the decision of the Government. I felt sorry even for the Minister of Education, for whom I have a great respect, when he made his statement, because I could not help feeling that he himself regretted deeply the decision of the Government. The facts that emerge from his statement are that, acording to the very limited and immediate demand that help should be given in a limited area, the sum of £220,000 should be provided for the purpose of keeping 325,000 children alive. The Government has not courage enough to ask the taxpayers of this country to vote even £30,000 for the very limited task of keeping children alive. If the Government undertook to keep 445,000 adults alive for the sum of £336,000, that amount, if divided among the population of this country would not come to more than 2½d. or 3d. per head. The hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees), who is a great champion of the beer drinkers of this country, if it were put to him in that way, would hardly refuse to contribute 3d., which is not the price of a glass of beer, for the sake of keeping 400,000 adults alive in Russia.
Before we refuse this small contribution per head, ought we not to reflect whether we have not some responsibility in this matter? What had we to pay for the 2604 activities of Denikin and Koltchak? How much did that amount to per head of the population? And how much per head of the population did we spend in coming to the aid of potentates in Arabia, who are probably spending the money in adding new wings to their harems. The position of the Government is doing great injury to the reputation of this country for honour and humanity. I feel certain that it is contrary to the wishes of the people, and that if the people of this country realised the horrors now going on in Russia in this huge area of the Volga basin, where millions of people have already died, and millions are destined to die, while children are gathered up in public buidings and their fathers and mothers die in the streets, there would be a unanimous cry that help should be given.
I know that there is a great deal to be said on the point that the system of requisition adopted by the Soviet Government is to a considerable extent responsible for the destitution in that area. But when it is a question of this Government, are we in a position to throw stones? Have not we contributed by helping Denikin and Koltchak and other filibusterers to bring about this destruction and disorganisation in Russia? But is it not up to us now to put aside all these controversies in face of this appalling tragedy, and as a nation to do the right thing at the right time? After all, have we not the assurance of that very credible witness, Sir Benjamin Robertson, that the Soviet Government itself is doing its best, and is unable physically to cope with this terrible tragedy? It is not altogether a question of humanity. There is a closer connection between the claims of humanity and idealism and sound business considerations than is allowed for in certain quarters of this House at the present time. I cannot help feeling that the great failure of the Government to keep its popularity, its great failure during the whole course of its existence and one of the causes of trade depression in this country, is the failure of the Government to recognise the close connection between humanitarian and ideal considerations and business prosperity.
Ever since the Armistice has been signed the world, in Europe particularly, has been crying out for goodwill, friendship, co-operation and fraternity. It has 2605 been crying out for bread, and the Government has given it stones. The cause of trade depression in this country is the economic collapse in Europe. That is due to the fact that while we wanted goodwill and friendship, the Prime Minister went to Versailles and gave expression to feelings of stupidity and ill-will, and when the election comes, the cause of the Government downfall will be its lack of imagination and of the power of realising the needs of the world. Do not forget that this area affected by famine is twice the size of France and is, potentially, one of the most fertile districts in the world, and that we are suffering now from high prices on account of this Russian famine. Take the last 20 years. Whenever harvests have failed in other parts of the world, whenever importation has fallen off from the United States, the gap has been well filled by greater importations from Russia. I beg the Government, in view of the almost unanimous feeling in the House and in the country, to reverse a step which does not do it credit and which inflicts an injury, not only on the honour, but to the self-interest of the people of this country.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I believe this is the first occasion since this Government began its life that I have stood in my place and suggested that they should spend more money rather than less. Therefore it is fairly obvious, on the assumption that my votes have been honest and straightforward on the whole, that I am moved by some special consideration this afternoon in supporting the pleas made from all parts of the Committee and from representatives of all shades of opinion in it. As far as my observation has gone, there have been only two speeches made in direct opposition to the request for some addition to the amount proposed to be granted by the Supplementary Estimate. The first speech came from the hon. Baronet the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) and the second from the hon. and gallant Member for North Dorset (Major Colfox). One of the points on which most stress was laid was that such public opinion as there was in favour of this grant was the public opinion which had neglected to do its duty in private channels of charity. I thought that was rather an extraordinary statement to make in view of the remarkable con- 2606 sensus of opinion which has been gathering force very swiftly among representative bodies of great business men. No one will deny that this country has never yet failed to respond to an appeal from any part of the world, however distant, where the claim was well grounded, and invariably these great business men have headed the subscription lists. It is precisely those men, with this traditional reputation worthily maintained, who have been moved recently to petition the Government to take some action on the very lines suggested to-day.
Further than that, the support that has been given to this movement indirectly is an international support. What we are asking the British Government to do to-day, the Government of the United States has done, the Government of France has done, the Governments of Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Norway have done. There is, therefore, an international governmental movement in the matter. There is another rather striking point by way of reply to those who urge that we should do nothing to repair any damage that might have been done by the Bolshevist Government. If there are two countries in the world which officially have taken a very strong anti-Bolshevist line, they are the United States and France. Strange to say, both those Governments have waived that conviction of theirs and have taken steps to relieve the suffering. There was one point which impressed me very much to-day, and that was the general concensus of opinion that, whatever relief may be granted by this Government, it should reach the sufferers intact. That objection has been disposed of finally. Nobody need fear that any relief given by this country individually or by the Government is in any sense detached from the objective which the donors desire. Sir Benjamin Robertson has gone to very great pains in making that clear from his own personal investigation. Let me take another point. The area in which it is asked that our relief should be given is a relatively small part of the famine district and is already covered by an efficient operating organisation and organisations. You have not to set up anything new. No part of this relief is to go into fresh administrative machinery, or very little of it. Almost 95 per cent, of it will go direct to the 2607 sufferers themselves. Those responsible for the administrative machinery are of the very highest class, not only by reason of their sympathy and knowledge, but also because of their remarkable efficiency.
I have had the advantage of hearing at some considerable length the story of the conditions in Russia, the machinery in operation and the means of relief proposed by Sir Benjamin Robertson. It is most important that hon. Members who may be rather doubtful as to what line they should take should, at any rate, have this fully on their minds—that any sum which the Government grant would of necessity go through the hands of such a man as Sir Benjamin Robertson. Who is Sir Benjamin Robertson? He is one of the most capable Anglo-Indian officials who has left the service for many years. He came back to this country seeking the rest he had well earned, and seeking a rest from official duties which were on the exact lines of the problem with which we are now dealing. He was asked by the Foreign Office, in view of his special qualifications, to go to the famine area and make a report. The requests which are put before the Government are really what are known as the Robertson scheme. Stripping it of all the talk of millions that might be involved, it really comes down to that. That is the plea made to-day from all parts of the Committee to His Majesty's Government.
It it admitted that millions must starve. Indeed, as we sit here, they are starving. Hundreds of men, women and children will have died in Russia since this Debate began. There it is going on, every minute and every second. Every time anybody speaks here, some person is dying in the famine area and we cannot stop it. We can do something however. We can save some of the children and some of the adults. It is no use simply trying to save the children, because if you want to save the children you mu6t save adults with them. That is what the case is cut down to, and I am anxious we should all understand how relatively little the Government is being asked to do. What-is the Robertson scheme? To save these relatively few there is a sum required of £480,000. There is in hand in various societies a sum of £50,000. A sum of £20,000 is needed for the forwarding of supplies to Russia. In this connection I 2608 may point out the commonsense which is linked up with the desire of Sir Benjamin Robertson to do everything possible. As he says, there is no use piling huge supplies into Russia, because the transport has completely broken down and there are tens of thousands of wagons lying in various parts which cannot be moved. There is through this machinery a chance of getting these supplies into this very limited part of a great province. Thus £20,000 is required for that purpose which, out of £50,000 leaves a net sum of £30,000. There is also in hand wheat valued at £44,000, and to add these two together makes £74,000. Couple that with the £100,000 which the Government are willing to grant by way of stores to-day, and that makes a total of £174,000. You take that from the £480,000 of Sir Benjamin Robinson, and it will be seen that what we are asking the Government for is a sum of £306,000. Is it possible that after the Debate of to-day His Majesty's Government can refuse? I find it very difficult to believe that it is possible. I will not repeat the arguments which have been advanced here to-day with very much eloquence, and by no one more eloquently than the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). I think he touched a responsive chord when he said in one very beautiful sentence, "The child is international." That is what this movement is really based upon. It is not only that the question of the saving of the child is international but that it is a real help towards greater agreement, and towards the establishment and furtherance of goodwill among the peoples of this world. The world sadly needs that to-day and never needed it more since the days when it was said that "A little child shall lead them."
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Lord R. CECIL
The Debate this afternoon has been of great value and has shown a considerable advance in public opinion compared with what existed some time ago. Many of the arguments which were formerly used have disappeared and comparatively few objections—although I do not deny their weight;—are now raised against the cause which we are advocating. It has been said there is no precedent for a grant of public money in this country for the relief of distress among foreigners. I cannot pretend to have searched in the books for precedents, but some occur to me and will occur to 2609 any Member of the Committee. Everyone knows that in the time of the great French war very large sums were given for the support of French refugees. The same thing has been done in our own time. Only the other day we voted a sum of £1,100,000 for the relief of refugees from Russia not only in this country, but in other countries, and the Committee will observe that that is a very much larger sum than is being asked on the present occasion. It cannot, therefore, be said that there is no precedent for such a request as this. It has also been said that there is no public support for this proposal. That is a very difficult thing to test. Each must form his own judgment. I can only form an opinion from my own constituency. It is several months since I ventured, in public, to advocate assistance for the sufferers from the Russian famine. Since that time I have received no protest from any single one of my constituents against what I have done. I have visited almost every part of my constituency since then, and have invited questions from a number of audiences, but no question has been addressed to me in any way challenging the action I have taken. More than that I have received in common with every Member of this House, numbers of communications partly in the form of resolutions, and partly in the form of personal letters urging the desirability of this course. I do not say that is conclusive, but when I am told there is no public support I venture to ask what evidence is there which in any way controverts my argument that that view is inaccurate?
There is one other argument, a familiar one, which was used by the hon. and gallant Member for Northern Dorset (Major Colfox). He strenuously denied that the cause of the famine was the drought. He cannot have had an opportunity of looking into the facts of the case, and in saying that, I do not wish to be in the least offensive to him. Had he heard the description of the soil and the crops, which are absolutely burned up; had he seen the photographs of them, he would not have seriously maintained that the approximate cause of the famine is not the drought. There is no doubt that, even allowing for every possible mistake and error which the present Government of Russia has com- 2610 mitted, there would have been a very serious famine in this district, whatever action had been taken, and whatever Government had been in power. From the point of view from which I approach this subject, it does not make a great deal of difference what is the cause of the famine. The point is that there are millions of people starving, whether that starvation has been produced by the errors of a Government, or by the action of some force of nature. That does not appear to make the very great difference in the problem with which we have to deal.
I turn to the attitude which the Government, as I understand, take up on this matter. I listened very carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, and if I understand him rightly the Government, at any rate, have no doubt at all as to the greatness of the calamity. They admit that a most terrible state of things exists in the Volga region, that there are millions Of people starving, and all the rest of it, and, without saying it is the greatest calamity that has ever occurred, which I would not say, it is now admitted, by those who have studied the thing and by those who have studied it from official sources also, that it is, at any rate, comparable to the greatest disasters that have ever taken place in the world. My Noble Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck), who shares with another hon. Member (Sir J. D. Rees) the representation of Nottingham—and, I hope, to some extent neutralises the views which the other hon. Member sometimes expresses—pointed out that the area involved was twice the size of France, and that the population is not very far removed, that it is some 33,000,000 as against the 39,000,000 or 40,000.000 in France. The actual death-roll which by everybody's admission must now take place, some nine or 10 millions, is, after all, twice the population of this city, or, let us say, twice the population of Scotland. That is a tremendous disaster, and when people say that this is a matter that does not concern us, that we have no right to spend the taxpayers' money in relieving or attempting to relieve these people, will they just try and imagine in their minds this case?
Suppose this had taken place in France; suppose the whole population of France was smitten by famine, and that 2611 nine or 10 million Frenchmen were dying; suppose the Government came down and asked us to make some grant to relieve a disaster of that kind taking place just across the Channel, would there be a single Member of this House who would not vote it with both hands? Yet because it takes place in a remote part of the world, and because the matter cannot be brought home in the way it would be brought home if it were in France, there is some doubt in the matter. I am sure that in such a case, if the French nation were really smitten by a disaster of this magnitude—I take the French because they are close by— there would be no doubt at all on the subject. However, the Government admit the greatness of the disaster; they admit—and I need not elaborate it—that the stores, whatever is sent, will reach the sufferers. The stories that it will be taken by the Red Army they sweep aside, and are confident that anything we send will reach the actual sufferers, will actually save women, children, men, from death by starvation. They admit and claim that the distribution will be made wisely, prudently, and economically. The Minister of Education said that all supplies destined for the famine-stricken area reached their destination, that the Government have no doubt about this, and have no doubt that the distribution will be wise and economic. Therefore, they admit the greatness of the evil and the possibility of relieving it. They recognise there is a duty on this country to help. They do not share the view that we have no duty at all.
Again, my right hon. Friend said that the grant he was proposing was far short of what, in more prosperous times, the Government of this country might have offered to deal with this appalling catastrophe. Therefore, we are in the position, so far as the Government are concerned, that though they get as far as that, they limit the amount which they think ought to be given in this respect by several considerations. In the first place, they say that comparatively little can be sent, that the railways are congested, and that there is great difficulty in working the railway from Moscow because of want of fuel. I admit that limitation. I do not want to be controversial to-day, but I am bound, in fairness and honour, to remind the Committee that that was not 2612 the condition of affairs six months ago. There was no difficulty in sending supplies before the frost came in that district. The Volga was open, providing a great waterway right through the district. There was no difficulty in sending in time when the matter was first raised, and supplies were first asked for, and, to tie honest, it must be said that the refusal of the Government to grant assistance is, unfortunately, responsible for the deaths of millions of people. However, I admit that now it is no use going back on these things. The unhappy creatures who have died cannot be brought back to life whatever we do, and I quite admit it is no use asking for very large sums or very large stores.
What is the next limitation? My right hon. Friend says he can send some stores, but he cannot give any money. I confess I thought what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea said about that is perfectly sound. If you are going to do the thing at all, it is far better to do it in the best way and the most serviceable way, and to give stores, meat and what not, which are not very suitable for purposes of relief, but will do some good, seems a foolish plan. If you are going to do anything at all, you had better give the money and allow it to be used in the best possible way, and I confess that I share with a great many Members profound regret that this country should be put into the position of saying that we recognise we ought to do something to meet the evil, that we recognise we have a special duty to a certain section which the British relief agencies have been working, and we go to the American relief agencies and ask them to help us out of this obligation. I do hope the Government, on reflection, will not put the country into that position.
That brings me to the great limitation my right hon. Friend puts on any assistance that he can give. Ha says that we are clearly entitled to limit our assistance to the area of British effort, since that is a British interest. You must not give money except for British interests— a very sound doctrine indeed. The question is, What are British interests?
That is the vital point. This is an aspect, I know, where I am conscious I do not see eye to eye with every hon. Member. But I do really think it is a profound mistake to suppose that the 2613 starvation of a large population in Russia is a matter that has no bearing upon British interests. Really it cuts at the root of what I believe to be the only doctrine on which you can re-establish the world. I believe it is a profound mistake to say that there is only so much as it were, national prosperity available in the world, and that we have to get a share of it, and, if possible, increase it, and that what happens to other countries does not really matter—that if they suffer we may even get a larger share of national prosperity. All that doctrine, which used to be very common, is not often avowed now. Still it lingers on in fragments. It has done infinite harm in the last three or four years. I will not say it is as much our interest to save the lives of the Russian peasants as it is to save the lives of British subjects; I will not put it as high as that; but I put it as high as this: that it is an essential interest of this country that other countries should be prosperous, and happy, and wealthy, and that if you allow this gigantic tract of one of the richest countries in the world to go out of cultivation, if you allow it to be seriously injured in its prosperity, it is going to cause a profound economic injury to the whole of Russia, which will make it more difficult for Russia to recover, may prevent its recovery for years to come, and the failure of Russia to recover will be a millstone around the neck of British prosperity. That is my very strong view.
There is perhaps another version of this argument, and one which is urged with force, and urged even by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). That is that the Bolshevist Government have not done their duty in this matter; that they have wasted a lot of money or used it for purposes of which, at any rate, my hon. and gallant Friend and I do not approve, and that, therefore, it is improper to ask us to help. I do not think you ought to put the matter on that limited basis in asking for contributions from this country —that the Russian Government have acted in this way. I admit that it adds to the difficulty, because there are undoubtedly a number of people who hold that view. I am not going to stop to assume whether or not the various expenditures and actions of the Bolshevist Government can or cannot be defended. Some of them can and some of them 2614 cannot. I will put that aside for the moment. I say this: Let us assume for a moment that it is true that the Bolshevist Government have shown themselves insufficiently sensitive to this great evil, and have done too little, or less than they ought to have done, to give assistance to the peasants. Assume that. What does it come to? That the Bolshevist Government, in viewing this matter from the point of view of their own interests, are taking a very narrow view as to what are those interests in assuming that it does not matter what happens to these peasants. That is perhaps putting it too strongly, because it is admitted that they have done something; that they have done a great deal more than hon. Members are prepared to admit. But whether they have done less or more than they ought to have done is the assumption on which we are proceeding. That means that they have not recognised that this is a matter that affects the Bolshevist Government very much. These peasants are anti-Bolshevist to a man, and it is conceivable that an exceedingly brutal and heartless Government might say, "Let them starve and be wiped out." Is that any reason why we should not help them? On the contrary, the more you are opposed to the Bolshevist Government the greater the reason why you should assist these people, who, on that hypothesis, are the victims of the Bolshevists. That is the real answer to that argument, and it is evident that I have been stating it in the absolute form because it is clear that the Bolshevist Government do not take that view. They are ready to do something for these people, and they are ready to allow us to come to their assistance if we will do so. The real point is whether it is right that we, having the means to prevent these millions starving, should stand by and allow them to starve. That is the real point. These peasants are starving, and the question is whether we ought or ought not to go to their assistance. The want of action on the part of the Bolshevist Government has not any bearing on the matter at all.
We are asked on the present occasion— is this all the Government ought to do if they were wise? All we are asking now is that the Government should definitely take upon their shoulders the burden of the £500,000 which they propose to share 2615 with the American Government or the American Relief Fund. We say it is our duty to save these people. If we do recognise our obligation to them surely we are not going to ask the American Government to help us out with this obligation. I agree that, after all, it is the humanitarian aspect of the case which is the most important. I am not going to conceal that it is a humanitarian appeal which gives to me such energy as I have in supporting this matter. I am not going into the religious aspect of the question, because this is not the proper place to deal with that subject. I do want, however, to say a word in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Northern Dorset (Major Colfox) who said that charity is an admirable thing but that it cannot be exercised by imposing a compulsory payment upon the taxpayers. Did the hon. and gallant Member ever hear of the poor rate?
§ Lord R. CECIL
I have dealt with that part of the argument, and I am not going back upon it because the hon. Baronet was not present to hear of it. I am now dealing with the question whether it is true to say that the State is incapable of charitable action and can only act by compulsory means.
§ Lord R. CECIL
That is what I have already stated to the Committee. I do not believe that is the view which has ever prevailed in England, at any rate, since the days of Elizabeth, when the Poor Law was established definitely to deal with cases of charitable appeals.
§ Lord R. CECIL
It is a question of charity. I am prepared to traverse my hon. and gallant Friend's view. I think it is a fatal doctrine. It amounts to this, 2616 that the State is a non-moral entity altogether; that the moral law does not apply to the action of the State. That is precisely the doctrine that was put forward by the Germans, by Treitschke, Bernardi, Bulow and all the rest of them. It is the fatal heresy with which the German Empire split. It is the most disastrous opinion that any State can entertain. It is quite true that you can argue in favour of it. No one who has read the writings of Germany can doubt the many admirable arguments that can be urged in support of it. The practical answer is that it does not pay. When you come to put it into operation as your rule of policy, you bring your State to destruction sooner or later. I would say very earnestly to those who hear me that, if the doctrine is to prevail and if we are really to say that no moral consideration is to guide our international conduct—[HON. MEMBERS:"NO!"] That is what it comes to. You cannot have it both ways. If the State is a non-moral entity, then the moral law does not apply to it, and moral considerations can have no bearing on its policy at all. If that be the view that is to be held, we fought the War in vain, and, though we beat Germany, it is the German policy which is to rule our country.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House)
I cannot help thinking that my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), in the conclusion of his speech, attempted to draw a distinction, or to raise an issue, which is not really the issue in this discussion. I do not know that it is very profitable to enter into the arguments between my Noble Friend and my hon. and gallant relative the Member for Northern Dorset (Major Colfox) on the subject of what is and what is not charity For myself, I should say that when I pay my taxes, I am not performing an act of charity, but when the representatives of the British people in tie House of Commons vote the money of this country for the relief of suffering elsewhere, that is charity; and I believe that really is the difference between my Noble Friend and my hon. and gallant relative. The question now is not whether we ought to vote something. The question is, what is the amount that we ought to vote. Every argument that my Noble Friend has used carries him far beyond the 2617 proposition which he ventures to make. A great many of his arguments are perfectly true. I entirely agree with him that the collapse of any part of the civilised world, and of some places which are not what he calls "civilised," acts and reacts upon other nations and upon ourselves until the disaster spreads like the circles of a pond into which you throw a stone. I agree that more and more the world become inter-dependent, but is that to say that it is our bounden duty to be a kind of Mrs. Jellaby among the nations? Is our first care to be for peoples not our own, and our last care the burden that we place upon our own people, or the resources which they have? That is the real issue we have to decide, and not the moral issue.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
Does the right hon. Gentleman say it is fair to allow many millions of Russians to starve?
If my Noble Friend will listen to my arguments, he would not find it necessary to interrupt. I have just been dealing with the arguments of my Noble Friend, and I was pointing out—as I will now point out to my Noble Friend who has interrupted me, since he requires a personal reference in order to convey the idea—that the arguments which both have used carry them far beyond the demands that they are putting forward, to the expenditure of countless millions, not only on the relief of Russians to-day, but on relief, it may be, of distress in China, should there be a new flood in the Yellow River, or on the relief of distress caused by any great cataclysm, wherever it may occur.
I ask the Committee to consider what we have done and are doing, to measure our efforts by our resources, and to say whether they do not think that we are putting as heavy a burden upon those whom we represent as under present circumstances we ought to call upon them to bear. May I first associate myself with all that has been said by those who have spoken to-day as to the skill, wisdom and devotion of Sir Benjamin Robertson and of the staff of men and women who are working in the district where the English organisation is at work? I think it is impossible to speak without expressing what every one of us must feiel for their devotion, and without 2618 a deep feeling of sympathy with their anxiety and, indeed, almost despair, as they see how large a mass of misery and suffering must in any case escape their attention. There is no dispute about the immensity of the catastrophe. It is almost impossible, I think, to exaggerate it. There is some difference of opinion about the causes of the disaster. I do not want to be contentious on this subject any more than my Noble Friend. It does not come easy to me. I think it is worth while, however, to examine for a moment the root causes of this disaster, and I have an observation to make which has not come from any of the speakers in the course of the Debate. Although it may have been present to their minds, they have not given expression to it, but I think it is fundamental to an understanding of the matter. The immediate cause of the famine was the drought—an appalling drought which burnt up the crops. But the fact which has not been remarked upon by any speaker is that this is an area of recurring drought, which, in a greater or less degree, will destroy the harvest. It is an area in which famine recurs periodically on a larger or a smaller scale. Hitherto we have heard very little of it. Hitherto it has never reached dimensions comparable with those which it has reached to-day. Why is that? My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) suggested that this country of which we are speaking had been ravaged by the troops of General Denikin and General Wrangel—
By General Denikin or Admiral Koltchak. I am told that that is a mistake—that their troops did not penetrate into the area of which we are speaking.
Perhaps I may If I be allowed to make my own speech, can, I will sit down in time for anyone else to add a few words; but the Government is generally allowed to wind up a Debate like this, and perhaps I may be allowed to make my speech first. What is the cause which has made this famine so much worse than any previous visita- 2619 tion in the same place? It is that in previous famines there were always great stores, accumulated in the fat years, which were available for the peasants to draw upon. Why are not those stores available on this occasion? It is because, in 1919, the Soviet Government made great requisitions on the stores of the peasants.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir Edwin Cornwall)
The hon. Member for Dartford has had a good opportunity of contributing to the Debate, and I must ask him now not to interrupt.
As I was saying, in 1919 the Soviet Government made a great requisition on the stores of the peasants. What was the immediate effect? It was that in 1920 they sowed less. They were not going to work when they did not reap the fruits of their labour, and accumulate stores merely to have them swept away. Accordingly, in 1920,they sowed less, and the crop was a less good one. Again there was a requisition. Then came 1921, with the drought and the failure of the crop, and the stores which would, had they been full, have at any rate kept the disaster within manageable limits, were empty. That is why this famine differs from all the other famines that have affected this district, and why the calamity is of such an immense and unmanageable nature.
The difficulties of coping with the famine are aggravated by the complete disorganisation of transport. I am told that the Americans are only obtaining half the number of trucks which they were promised, and the consequence is that the quantities of grain at their disposal far exceed what they have the power to transport; that, owing to this disorganisation of transport, the seed corn that is there may not reach the districts where it is required in time for sowing. That is, I believe, a true statement of the causes of the famine, what is called a visitation of God, following upon a singular and disastrous example of the folly of man. What then are we to do? The right hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. G. Barnes) quoted figures as to what the Russian Government were doing. I would advise him to use those 2620 figures with caution. We can obtain no reliable figures as to what the Russians are doing. Their figures vary constantly, and none of them are reliable.
Let me turn to what we have done. In judging whether this country is performing its part in matters such as this, you must not look at its contribution in a single instance only. We have been called upon to do an immense amount for other people since the War ended, and it is pertinent to the argument I am addressing to the Committee and the subjects which are now before us that I should give a summary of what we have spent in recent years in relief of various kinds. There were first in 1918–19 grants and loans to Belgium, for relief and reconstruction after the German occupation, of over £15,000,000. The first relief credit for central Europe in 1920 was £12,500,000, and in 1921 for £10,000,000, a loan to Czecho Slovakia in 1920 for £2,000,000. We bore with the United States the whole cost of repatriating the Czeeho-Slovaks from Siberia, which cost us £1,500,000. For the maintenance of Russian refugees driven from their own country we have paid over £1,300,000. We have spent something like £5,500,000 on the supply of foodstuffs to North Russia. We have spent £5,250,000 on the relief of Assyrian and Armenian refugees in Mesopotamia. We have given over £500,000 in relief of refugees and destitute persons in Syria and Palestine, and we have granted £50,000 as a first instalment for the relief of typhus, and to prevent the spread of typhus out of Russia into Poland and Western Europe.
There is always a section of opinion in this House which is inclined to depreciate the performances of its own country and to hold its own country up to opprobrium. I have not the material to attempt a comparison with the principal countries of the world in respect of all the items I have mentioned, but take the case of typhus. We have given £50,000. It was intended as a first advance of a sum of £250,000, on condition that other great countries gave similar grants. All the other countries combined. Sixteen countries, have contributed £76,000 against our £50,000, and of that £'76,000, £40,000 comes from the British Dominion of Canada. The items which I have enumerated amount to over £54,000,000 In addition, although I do not put it on the same footing, there are the export 2621 credits of £26,000,000, and the guarantees under the Trade Facilities Act of £25,000,000, available to help people to purchase goods from this country who have no immediate credit to purchase them elsewhere—a sum of over £105,000,000 which we have spent in general relief, apart from anything that we are spending in this special relief.
Coming to Russia, we have given already £100,000. [HON. MEMBERS:"£80,000!"] Of that £100,000, a sum of £20,000 was used for the relief of Russians in distress in Constantinople, not brought there by us, whom we were unwilling to see starve in that country, and whose lives were not safe in their own country. We have given £100,000 in stores already. It is quite true that some of the stores were originally badly chosen. They were chosen by a representative of the Red Cross. I do not know how the mistake arose, but the stores were badly chosen. What was badly chosen has been made good, and in effective and useful stores we have given already £100,000. We now propose to give another £100,000. It is true, as was pointed out by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), in an interesting and, as always from him, well-informed speech, that not all the stores was of a kind which would be chosen by anyone with money to spend as that which they would purchase. There is a great deal of milk, which is very valuable; there is more beef than those who are administering the relief would wish, and if they would like to sell some of it, and purchase with the proceeds an equivalent amount of what they consider more useful stores, we would raise no objection to their doing so. Here is another £100,000 of effective help.
My Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals spoke of this as if it were something mean and contemptible compared with what other countries are doing. Let us say frankly, and at once, that America stands alone, and in a class by herself, both in the amount of help given from public funds and private charity in that country. All honour to her for the effort that she has made. Next to America comes this country. No other foreign country—none of the rich neutrals who piled up money during the War—according to my information, has 2622 given so much from Government funds as we have done in these two grants, and no other country has made a contribution comparable to ours from private charity. Private charity in this country, I am informed, has contributed £470,000 to the relief of Russian distress. The contribution of this country from public and private funds is something in the nature of £700,000. Is it so poor, so mean a contribution from a country burdened like ours?
§ Lord R. CECIL
I did not say that at all. What I did say was that, if you recognise that you are under an obligation at all—I understood the Minister of Education to recognise it—not to allow the British effort to fail in these districts, it was not consonant with the dignity of this country to ask the Americans to help us out of the difficulty.
That was in another part of the speech, but I understood the Noble Lord to say that France had done more, and certainly my right hon. Friend behind me said that, being a little confused, I think, about the value of a franc and the translation of 6,000,000 francs into English sterling. The British representatives have in hand or in sight £190,000 out of the £220,000 required for the children in the area with which they are concerned, leaving £30,000 still to be collected. I earnestly hope that this appeal for public funds and the speeches made in this House to-day will not, as too often happens when contributions from public funds are made, dry up private charity. I believe that those who are collecting from private sources think that they can collect that £30,000;. and I was very glad to hear the hon. and gallant Member for North Dorset (Major Colfox) say that while he was not willing to vote the taxpayers' money, he would try to organise a contribution from the constituency which he represents.
That means the provision of half the amount required for those adults within the same districts where the British representatives are working. It is believed by them that the American relief organisation can spare the funds to deal with them. They hope that the American organisation will consent to do so. We, at any rate, do not think that it would be right through the Leader of the House to ask any further contribution from public funds 2623 at present. I know of no contribution comparable to this £220,000 in our long history. In our history this country has stood at the head of the list of every charitable effort on behalf of suffering, even outside our own bounds. There was a grant, I do not know of what amount, in the eighteenth century to the Lisbon area. The next highest grant I can find was a grant of £60,000 for the re-victualling of Paris after the siege of 1871. In other cases there have been generous funds, raised very often at the instance of the Lord Mayor, contributions from public sources being limited to such stores as might be conveyed by His Majesty's ships from the nearest naval depot and to such assistance as these ships might be able to give.
I do beg the Committee to consider a little our own position. How these gentlemen who press expenditure to-day will to-morrow, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer produces his Budget, blame him for the high level of taxation, and for the gross total of the expenditure! It is so easy to vote money in detail, and so disagreeable to pay the bill afterwards. The Government has to consider not only what it would like to do, but the means at its disposal. We have 2,000,000 of our own people out of employment. That number may be seriously increased by the unhappy conflict which has already opened, and which threatens to extend. We do not, and we cannot, see the end of this period of depression. The privations which our own people will have to undergo, even though the calls on the Exchequer are large, will be heavy and serious. The Government has bared and scraped, and has taken serious risks, not without some anxiety, but with a great sense of responsibility on the part of its
§ members, in order to make the reductions which have been announced, and it cannot accept the responsibility, limited; for the moment to the grant of another £200,00 or £300,000, but, as indicated by the arguments and illustrations used, capable of expansion into millions, and likely to be turned into a demand for millions in a very short time. Men may be as generous as they like with their own money. But when they are administering, the money of others they must be prudent; they must have regard to the obligations which they have already undertaken, and to the burden which they have placed upon their countrymen—a burden which their countrymen are beginning to find it almost impossible to endure.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
In the minute remaining I wish merely to draw attention to one point in the speech we have just heard. In telling us the amount of money that this country has spent in relief throughout the world, the right hon. Gentleman said the sum was £54,000,000, to which he added the export credit. That brought the whole sum to over £100,000,000. I do not in any way wish to decry the efforts of this Government. I welcome all the relief given, but we have a moral responsibility upon us as a country and as a Government by our blockading of Russia for a long period, and by our bringing about certain of the consequences in Russia to-day, and also by spending, as we did when the present Secretary of State for the Colonies was Secretary of State for War, £100,000,000 in financing Denikin.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £99,990, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 80; Noes, 150.2625
|Division No. 5o.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adkins, Sir William Ryland Dent||Davies, Rhys John (Wosthoughton)||Hancock, John George|
|Ammon, Charles George||Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.)||Harris, Sir Henry Percy|
|Armitage, Robert||Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Hartshorn, Vernon|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Doyle, N. Grattan||Hayward, Evan|
|Barrand, A. R.||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Hills, Major John Waller|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Hinds, John|
|Briant, Frank||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Hoare, Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. J. G.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Hogge, James Myles|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Irving, Dan|
|Clynes, Rt- Hon. John R.||Entwistle, Major C F.||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Fildes, Henry||Kennedy, Thomas|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Finney, Samuel||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M|
|Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely)||Forrest, Walter||Klley, James Daniel|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Galbraith, Samuel||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Halls, Walter||Lyle-Samuel. Alexander|
|Macdonald, Rt. Hon. John Murray||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D.|
|Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D.(Midlothian)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Wignall, James|
|Malone, C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Rose, Frank H.||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Mills, John Edmund||Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)||Wilson, James (Dudley)|
|Morris, Richard||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Stourbrdge)|
|Mosley, Oswald||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Myers, Thomas||Sutton, John Edward||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Naylor, Thomas Ellis||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Norman, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|O'Grady, Captain James||Thorne, W. (West Ham. Plaistow)||Mr. G. Barnes and Mr. Johnstone.|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Fell, Sir Arthur||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Parker, James|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Flannery, Sir James Fortescue||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Frece, Sir Walter de||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Goff, Sir R. Park||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Gould, James C.||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon, Sir Hamar||Purchase, H. G.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Greig, Colonel Sir James William||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar (Banff)||Gretton, Colonel John||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Bartley-Denniss, Sir Edmund Robert||Hamilton, Major C. G. C.||Reid, D. D.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Remnant, Sir James|
|Beck, Sir Arthur Cecil||Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Renwick, Sir George|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Haslam, Lewis||Richardson, Sir Alex. (Gravesend)|
|Benn, Capt. Sir I. H., Bart. (Gr'nw'h)||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith-||Hood, Sir Joseph||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Bowles, Colonel H. F.||Hopkins, John W. W.||Rutherford, Colonel Sir J. (Darwen)|
|Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.||Hudson, R. M.||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Seager, Sir William|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Hurd, Percy A.||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Hurst, Lieut-Colonel Gerald B.||Simm, M. T.|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Jesson, C.||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.|
|Burdon, Colonel Rowland||Lloyd-Greame, Sir P.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Burgoyne, Lt-Col. Alan Hughes||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Sugden, W. H.|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Carew, Charles Robert S.||Lorden, John William||Sykes, Colonel Sir A. J. (Knutsford)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Birm., Aston)||Lowe, Sir Francis William||Terrell, George (Wilts, Chippenham)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Lowther, Maj.-Gen. Sir C. (Penrith)||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W).||Loyd, Arthur Thomas (Abingdon)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Colfox, Major Wm- Phillips||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, Canterbury)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Macpherson, Rt, Hon. James I.||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)|
|Davies, Sir Joseph (Chester, Crewe)||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Waring, Major Walter|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Marks, Sir George Croydon||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Mildmay, Colonel Rt. Han. F. B.||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Mitchell, Sir William Lane||Wills, Lt.-Col, Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Dean, Commander P. T.||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Wise, Frederick|
|Dockrell, Sir Maurice||Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J.||Wood, Major Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Edgar, Clifford B.||Morden, Col. W. Grant||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Ednam, Viscount||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Elveden, Viscount||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Young, Sir Frederick W (Swindon)|
|Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Murray. William (Dumfries)||Younger, Sir George|
|Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Neal, Arthur|
|Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Newson, Sir Percy Wilson||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr. McCurdy.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.
§ Committee to sit again upon Monday next (20th March).
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.2626
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Nine Minutes after Four o'Clock till Monday (20th March).