§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I wish to raise a point regarding the procedure of the House. I find from the record of the proceedings of the House for Monday, 4th August, that there are these entries with regard to Russia:11. Russia (No. 1, 1924),—Copy presented,—of Draft of Proposed General Treaty between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. London, August, 1924 [by Command]; to lie upon the Table.There is another entry of the same kind immediately following, "No. 2, 1924." It, therefore, appears from the Records of the House that there were presented upon that date two documents which were to lie on the Table of the House. Obviously those were the draft Treaties then under discussion, upon which negotiations broke down. We asked yesterday to see those drafts, and by some inadvertence a paper which was quoted from was not immediately demanded. But since it appears on the Records of the House that these papers were actually presented, and were to lie on the Table, obviously they ought to be in the possession of the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sorry that I have not had any notice of that question, and I do not feel capable on the instant of dealing with it. I will look into the matter at once.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The Government surely is in possession of the document which they affected to present to the House for the purpose of its lying on the Table, and they are in a position to give it. I have inquired for it at the Vote Office, but it is not there.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Ponsonby)
The position is that the first procedure is to present such a document in 3132 dummy form, and that is an assurance that the full document will be presented. In that interval there was a renewal of negotiations. Therefore, it would be only fair to the House to have the full Treaty in its correct form rather than any misleading document.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Obviously, the two documents are different documents. Upon the acknowledgment of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, this draft Treaty is now a new document that has been altered from, the original, the original having been presented to the House in dummy form according to the usual practice. The original document is nevertheless a document in the possession of the House, and we are entitled to have it before us.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I suggest that this was an Order of the House; it was a Command. When the House commands that a document which is presented to us shall be printed, it does not command that a document which is not in existence should be printed. It gives an Order on a document which is in existence at that moment, and which is supposed to have been presented. As a matter of practice it may not be presented for a few hours, but it is generally supposed to be a document which is in existence at that time, and an Order of the House can be cancelled only by the House. The House having commanded that the document then in existence should be printed, I submit that it is not within the power of anybody to alter that Command, except the House of Commons itself.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is perfectly clear that there has been an Order of the House. I notice the entry "by Command"—by His Majesty's Command. Therefore, I think that unless this Order be rescinded, it is necessary that the document should be presented.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald)
I am very sorry that this matter has been sprung upon me, with no notice at all. The position is, that if any technical mistake, has been made, of course, we will rectify it. The intention was that the document should be presented as it was when the notice was put in. There is no doubt about it. There is no use either arguing about it or quarrelling about it. That was the intention. Between the notice being put 3133 in and the fulfilment of the intention, the negotiations were re-opened, and, as a result of the re-opening of the negotiations, certain alterations were made. So far as we are concerned, we do not mind what documents are presented.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend knows I cannot answer that question, for reasons which I will explain at a later stage. The intention was there, and had I only received half-an-hour's notice, I should have looked up the position. I am not prepared now, on the spur of the moment, to be any better than Mr. Speaker himself. I give an assurance to the House that if any technical mistake has been made, as far as the laying of papers are concerned, it will be remedied.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The episode which has just taken place illustrates the condition of ignorance in which the House is in regard to material matters in connection with this very important Treaty. The point which I have just raised is not raised for the first time this morning. A request was made to the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs last night that the draft of the abortive Agreement should be laid upon the Table, and that demand was also made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Everyone heard it, and the right hon. Gentleman, as I say, also raised the point. It was submitted that as a quotation had been made from a document in the course of a speech, then, according to the procedure of the House, we were entitled to have that document laid upon the Table. You, Mr. Speaker, ruled in connection with the matter that the demand should have been made at the time. But that the House desired to see that very important document, and to see what changes had been made between Monday and Wednesday. It was perfectly obvious and was made plain at the time. It was only this morning that I discovered that upon the records of the House there appeared on 4th August a notice that this document had actually been laid upon the Table, and I raised the question as soon as I had the opportunity of doing so. Accordingly, I do not think it lies with any member of the Govern- 3134 ment to claim that they had not had notice in regard to this point. The desire of the House to see the document was made plain throughout the discussion yesterday, and it remains our desire to-day. As I say, this illustrates the difficulties under which we are at present conducting this Debate. We are dealing with a very important document. If it would suit the Prime Minister better to address the House now, I shall be glad to give way.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman. Quite candidly, I am in this fix. I am presiding at this Conference, and I have adjourned it for half-an-hour in order to come here. But, of course, I am in the hands of the House if the House wants any explanation which I can give. But the whole negotiations were conducted with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who has, I may say, shown great patience. I understood last night, after the Conference over which I was presiding adjourned at nearly 11 o'clock, that the House had got into a bit of a tangle, and I was asked to come this morning to see if we could not straighten matters out. I am sorry to say I have not been able to give very much time here, but we have been sitting all the morning. I would be very glad, if there be anything the House wants, to see that it gets the necessary material.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am afraid the Prime Minister has not entirely apprehended the condition of mind in which the House was yesterday. We all recognise the great demands which are made upon the Prime Minister's time, and the important issues with which he is dealing in other places. Accordingly, as far as I am concerned, I would do anything at all to meet the right hon. Gentleman's convenience, but I think we must let him understand that at any rate those who sit with me on this side of the House regard this matter as being of an importance which requires a great deal more discussion than it has obtained. We desire that the Prime Minister should be fully acquainted with the issues which we are going to raise upon this matter, and that he should be in a position to give us some satisfaction before a Treaty is signed which is obviously in a very imperfect form, as anybody who reads this document can see. I venture to suggest to the Prime 3135 Minister that, looking to the fact that in any case this Treaty has to lie on the Table of the House for 21 Parliamentary days before it can be ratified, you are sacrificing no time at all if you adjourn the signature of this Treaty and its discussion until the beginning of the next Session. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
§ Sir R. HORNE
The Treaty will not become operative in any event. You have to await the expiry of 21 Parliamentary days, after the House assembles, before the Treaty can be ratified. Accordingly you will lose no more than one day in the ratification of the Treaty by adopting the course I suggest. On the other hand, if the Government be determined to take up the attitude of signing this Treaty to-day, they will be faced by a somewhat prolonged discussion, and, it may be, by very awkward and embarrassing consequences as far as concerns the business of the Session. Accordingly, I appeal to the Prime Minister in these circumstances, and having regard to the obviously very imperfectly drawn document which we have before us, to adopt this course. Many of the passages require careful elucidation. We have only had time to glance at it cursorily this morning. It is only now presented to us in typewritten form.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Some of us have business to do before the House meets. We cannot always have the time available, and I am sure it is acknowledged by the Government themselves that the House has had a very imperfect opportunity of studying this important question. We have only now seen this document, and are asked to sanction its signature by the Government to-day. If the Labour party has stood for anything, it has stood for what they called in the past "open diplomacy" and for giving an opportunity to the House of Commons of deciding important matters such as this Treaty. They are departing from all the principles they have hitherto enunciated if they are going to force this matter to-day and sign a Treaty for the study of which we have had no real opportunity. There are many matters to which I can 3136 direct attention, and I will if desired. In the meantime, I appeal to the Prime Minister, looking at the state of public business, the importance of the document, and the inadequate time which he himself is in a position to give to this matter, to adopt the course I suggest.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend, quite properly, on a previous reference to the records of the House, raised the point of precedents. He says the custom has been so and so, and so and so, and the Government, inadvertently or otherwise, departed from custom. I admitted to a very considerable extent the force of his case. Now will he do the same with me? A signature attached to a treaty does not carry with it the sanction of the House of Commons. Nobody knows that better than he does, and nobody has quite properly exercised it more than the party to which he belongs. I have never objected, and I will tell you why. If one is engaged in very intricate negotiations, and then, when they finish, one says: "Very well, good day, nothing has been approved, nothing really has been settled," you will never settle anything at all. One side will go away and begin to amend, the other side will go away and begin to amend, and your negotiations will go on and on and on. What is the change that we propose to introduce here? I want to sign the Treaty to-day. If my signature is attached to this Treaty, I shall not be labouring under the foolish delusion that the House of Commons has sanctioned it—of course not—because the House of Commons has not sanctioned it. It is simply the signature that the Treaty in this form was the agreement that emerged from the negotiations, which under these conditions would then be ended. That is all. Now the Government say: "So much are we aware of that that we pledge ourselves to produce the Treaty before the House of Commons and that the Treaty shall lie on the Table of the House of Commons, not 21 days, but 21 Parliamentary days." Very well, is not that ample? Surely that is enough. Is not that the usual practice, or, in so far as it is not the usual practice, is it not an evidence that the Government are most anxious that not a Clause, not a, provision, not a line of this Treaty should become operative until the House of Commons has sanctioned it?
3137 That is the situation, and I do think the House ought, in all fairness, to allow this to go on. I would warn them that if they set the precedent to-day it is an extraordinary precedent. If I conduct negotiations, not with Soviet Russia, but with anybody else, as Foreign Secretary, and then, when I have finished my work, I must say to the delegation concerned: "I am very sorry, gentlemen, I cannot give my signature to this to prove that I am willing to accept it, provided the subsequent proceedings go through. I am not even allowed to say in the proper constitutional way that I am going to do my best now to carry this through, and this is the document, these are the provisions, to which I agree," nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentlemen opposite that that state of things would be absolutely intolerable. Of course, they may say this is a very special case—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—but when do special cases become the rule? Who is going to decide when special cases are going to become the rule? I put it, in all fairness, to hon. Members on all sides of the House, that if a negotiator, a Foreign Secretary or anybody else, feels that, after he has put his signature to an agreement, not only may the agreement be cancelled or overthrown—because that is all in the day's work, and he has no business to object to that—but if he feels that, after having done his best to make a bargain, a bargain which may not leave him very happy, but a bargain which he honestly believes is good for his country and is the best that he can get, he will not have to face the House of Commons to defend his bargain, but that he will have to face the House of Commons to defend himself for having put his signature to the Treaty, then he will never put his signature to anything at all.
I am putting a very serious argument to all sides of the House, because once this is done, if the House says that, if a signature be put to a document, by putting that signature it is implied that the House sanctions it, according to the theory—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Surely; the word that I used I took from the mouth of my right hon. Friend opposite. I do not want any misunderstanding. Did he mean it, or did he not?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is a case which I do not think we need trouble to send to an arbitrator, because I am in the recollection of the House. Signing a Treaty or an agreement in the way that we propose to sign this to-day, let me repeat, does not imply that the House of Commons has sanctioned it. It implies that those responsible for the negotiations, in this case the Government, are willing that that agreement should be put before the House of Commons for rejection or acceptance. Certainly, and in order to show that that is so, I would like the right hon. Gentleman opposite to point out one single thing which comes into operation as the result of a signature to this document to-day. If it were merely an accommodation, I would meet you, and be very glad to meet you. But it is not an accommodation; it is the setting of a precedent. Let there be no mistake about that. If this House to-day says these documents must not be signed this House is setting a precedent which must be observed in future.
Take the Treaty of Lausanne. Right hon. Members know that, regarding that Treaty, there were certain provisions with which I, personally, did not agree. But it was an agreement; it was a serious agreement certainly, and nobody did more than I did to carry it out. Supposing there had been another course taken, and no signature had been affixed, what would have been our relations with Turkey in the interval? What would have been the position of this country and of our Dominions? All that happens is this: A signature puts an end to negotiations. The results come before the House of Commons. If the Minister in charge considers that everything must be taken into account, that he must take the whole or leave it, he is absolutely free to come to his own judgment.
I give the House this pledge, that we will not do what was done in the case of the Treaty of Lausanne. We shall not put a Clause into this suggested Treaty of ours that every word of it, every line of it, every provision of it, every annexe of it, must be taken en bloc, or rejected altogether. It can consider it, it can amend it, it can pass it or reject it after all has been done. To the Conservative party in particular, I would appeal that 3139 in a rash moment, or in a heated moment, the last day of the Session, they do not set a precedent in negotiations.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend cannot settle that. It is not in his power to do it. If he does what, I believe, he intends to do to-day, he does, I believe, set a precedent. Well, creation was not made for the political convenience of the right hon. Gentleman. I regret it, because if it had been, he might have said, after having taken a certain step to-day, that he sets no precedent for similar steps being taken in future, and this being quoted as a reason why they must be taken. Therefore, I leave it there with the House. If the Treaty be signed, the House is not committed; the House will be absolutely free with regard to these Treaties to which, I understand, objection is taken, when they come before the House. The House is absolutely free, irrespective of what is done to-day, to use its judgment and discretion regarding this Treaty.
§ 12 N.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I am very sorry to take part in a Debate of this sort, but I feel very strongly on this point, and I think the Prime Minister will sympathise with me in putting it forward. The Prime. Minister has told us that nothing whatever commits us or the Empire if the Treaty be signed to-day. Has he considered the terms of the Treaty placed in our hands to-day?—Great Britain and Northern Ireland, of the one hand, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, of the other hand.…have decided to conclude a treaty with this object—It goes on:Those plenipotentiaries"—What is the meaning of plenipotentiaries if they do not bind the nation?—having communicated their full powers, found in good and due form, have agreed as follows:—The right hon. Gentleman's signature is to be put to that, giving full plenipotentiary powers on behalf of Great -Britain and Northern Ireland to bind the nation. What will be the effect in Russia when this Treaty is read? I ask the Prime Minister whether he thinks he is not committing this nation far further 3140 than he has admitted? How does he get rid of the words "plenipotentiaries having communicated their full powers"? Are the Russian delegates not entitled to quote those words, and to say, "After those words, you are not entitled to go back, and if the House of Commons does go back, and refuses to ratify this Treaty, it is breaking faith with us"? That is the danger, and no words of the Prime Minister will remove that danger.
§ Mr. MOREL
What Government of this country have ever before brought a treaty to the House of Commons for discussion without signing it? I think the Government are being asked to do something that no Government lit fore has ever been asked to do. It is suggested that our Prime Minister should be placed in a position of inferiority as compared with anybody else. He refuses to be placed in that position, and, in so refusing, he has the enthusiastic support of every Member of his party in this House. I beg to be allowed, as a back bencher in this party, to congratulate most heartily my hon. Friend who has negotiated this agreement. Those of us who know him well, know he has spent many anxious days and many sleepless nights in producing an agreement, which may have defects, but which has an immense advantage. It has been a task of immense difficulty that has been laid before the British negotiators, a task of settling disputes which have lasted five years, disputes of every sort and kind—a great complex work needing immense labour, immense trouble and immense patience, and we believe that it has been accomplished in a satisfactory way on the whole. But what an amazing spectacle this Debate has been! Here is a chance, at last, of satisfying British interests, which have been neglected. What did the Conservative Government do for the interests of the bondholders? You did nothing at all, and we are doing something, and we have done more than you ever attempted to do.
§ Mr. MOREL
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Here is a chance at last of settling this long quarrel with Russia which, from the point of view of British interests, is going to achieve that which has never been achieved before. We have heard a good deal from hon. Gentlemen opposite about 3141 the bondholders, but I was speaking to the chief British bondholder in the City, and I may say that he is delighted with this, and he is making arrangements with Russia himself. I believe that something like 25 per cent. of the British bondholders have already made satisfactory arrangements with Russia. But this is a much bigger question than that. I cannot understand the attitude of hon. Members opposite, and one would think that they considered that it was a bad thing that the relations between this country and Russia should be placed once more upon a normal basis.
Do they believe that it is a bad thing that these two great nations, touching one another all over the world, should continue to be kept asunder by this chasm which we are trying to fill up? Where is the patriotism and good sense of a policy like that? As for the attack made upon the Under-Secretary and the Treaty by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), I have listened to a great many speeches of his in this House, but a more—I was going to say hypocritical—I will say a more disingenuous or ingenious speech I have never heard. The right hon. Gentleman said that he sympathised with the Russian people, but over and over again the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was the head subsidised civil wars in Russia, and maintained a cruel and destructive blockade of Russian ports for years and years. How can the right hon. Gentleman talk about sympathy with the Russian people whom he destroyed by tens of thousands? What a revolting attitude it is to come to this House under those circumstances and pretend to be sympathetic with the Russian people. Is it not absurd to pretend at this time of day that the present Russian Government, with all the faults it may have, does not represent the people of Russia? When Lenin first came into power he promised the Russian people bread and peace within 12 months, but he gave them neither. The Soviet regime has had to withstand attacks from outside by some of the most powerful nations in the world. It has had to withstand civil war fomented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] If that is doubted I will quote the exact words. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Car- 3142 narvon Boroughs said on 17th November, 1919, in this House:We cannot undertake the responsibility of financing civil war in Russia indefinitely.… There is no country that has spent more in supporting the anti-Bolshevik element in Russia than this country has, and there is no country approaches this in the sacrifices that have been made—not one. France, Japan, America—Britain has contributed more than all those powers put together."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1919; col. 721, Vol. 121.]The Soviet regime has had to withstand that, as well as pestilence and famine, and it, has had to withstand such a series of calamities that no Government of modern times has had to withstand, and yet that regime has endured, and what is the use of attempting to suggest that its roots are not in the hearts of the Russian people. I would like to endorse the appeal of the Prime Minister, and I would like to go even further and say that, while we agree with what the Prime Minister has said as being absolutely satisfactory to-day, we hope that before this House rises we shall get a clear, definite, and emphatic declaration that this Treaty is going to be signed to-day. I say that as one who has protested against secret diplomacy for the last 15 or 20 years. There is nothing of secret diplomacy about this Treaty at all. What do we mean by secret diplomacy? What have we always meant by it on these benches? That no Government shall commit this country to Treaties with foreign Powers without this country and this House having the right to pronounce upon them. That is exactly the reform which the Prime Minister has already introduced. Therefore, I hope we shall get that assurance, and I am perfectly certain that every one of us on these benches—and many of us have spoken on this subject from Lands End to John o'Groats, and we know the feeling of the country—is perfectly prepared, if necessary, to go down on this issue, and then I am sure we shall come back to this House with double our present numbers.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am in a position of some embarrassment in addressing the House again, and I can only do so by leave of the House. I gave way to the Prime Minister, because I thought it would suit his convenience better, but I now understand that he cannot make it possible to be present. I should like in 3143 my initial sentences to direct attention to what the Prime Minister is urging when he denies that we were dealing with any special case in connection with this Treaty. But, indeed, if we are not in a special case, we are at least in very exceptional circumstances. The Prime Minister himself and the party which he leads recognise, and, indeed, have laid down rules to fit the case, that they are a minority Government; and, therefore, they do not attach the same force to the conventions of Parliament which other Governments do. For example, the Prime Minister, in his opening speech as Prime Minister in this House, announced that he did not intend to be moved from his position by any vote which really was not a vote of "no confidence" or was, not one which he considered went to the very essence of his Government. That was a new rule which he made for a minority Government.
There are considerations attaching to the signature of Treaties which are just as important in connection with a minority Government. What has been the practice which has been usually followed? The Government of the day, having in most cases a majority whose confidence they could command, was accustomed to sign Treaties in the confident belief that the House of Commons would confirm what they were doing, and there has grown up in the world a steady and confident belief that the signature of British Ministers entrusted by the British people with negotiations would be confirmed by the Assembly of the House of Commons. That has been the old convention, but, perfectly obviously, it no longer obtains in the case of a minority Government which cannot confidently say that it will have the support of the House of Commons to the signature it gives.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
In the absence of the Prime Minister, I feel I am bound to draw the attention of the Tight hon. Gentleman to what would be the effect of the proposition which he has now laid down on the negotiations for European peace.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am not only appreciating that fact in connection with matters dealing with the European peace, but I am certain that it equally applies to the arrangements which are being made. The House will recollect that the Prime Minister has been careful throughout all these negotiations to make plain from day to day what has been going on, and there have been persistent debates indicating the position of the various groups in the House. What are you faced with to-day? You are faced with the fact, indicated by speeches made in connection with this Treaty, that the majority of the House is against you.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There really is no need for any heat. This surely is a matter for reason and argument.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I venture to say that, unless you have complete confidence that your signature to this Treaty is going to be confirmed by the House of Commons, you are embarking upon a very risky course. The people of Russia, without doubt, will take the signature of the British Prime Minister to this Treaty, if he appends it, as indicating the support of the British people to this Treaty, and nothing will ever make them believe, if it be overturned by a vote of the House of Commons later on, that they have not in some way or other been tricked by the British people. The Prime Minister will acknowledge, I am sure, that it has neon the almost inveterate custom of the popular assembly of the British people to support the signature of Ministers to treaties, and he gave an illustration which completely confirms my argument. He said, because an agreement had been arrived at at Lausanne, and because British Ministers had given their adherence to the agreement, he, in spite of the fact that he disagreed with large portions of it, nevertheless passed it through the House of Commons, because ho thought the agreement should be adhered to. Now he is asking—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My point was that that blocked my way, and made it impossible to change any word without destroying the whole Treaty, and my pledge is that that will not happen in this case.
§ Sir R. HORNE
It is done with regard to the most important part of this Treaty, because it provides that a series of articles in Chapter 3 constitutes a single and indivisible unit. If you start to amend any portion of that part of the Treaty, the immediate result is that the whole of that chapter falls. Accordingly, the Prime Minister is not on very firm ground in the interjection which he has made. In fact, what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said yesterday is irrefrangibly true. If you sign this Treaty now, and if we decide in future to depart from it when it comes to be put before the House and is the subject of a vote, you will not only not be creating peace with Russia but you will be creating a feeling of irritation which may lead to the impossibility of amicable relations with them. [An HON. MEMBER: "You do not mind that very much."] I do mind it very much, and I would venture to remind the Prime Minister of what the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs not so long ago said in answer to a question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare):Will the Government undertake to enter into no treaty until this House has had an opportunity of discussing it?The Under-Secretary replied:Certainly, Sir. This House will have a full opportunity of discussing the findings of the Conference.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1924; col. 1518, Vol. 176.]Discussion means nothing if, in spite of what we say you are going to sign the Treaty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] There is no advantage in discussion unless the views of the House of Commons are going to have effect, and, accordingly, I would, on these grounds alone, seriously suggest to the Prime Minister that even now he would be well advised to postpone the whole of this matter until the beginning of the next Session, especially as he agrees that it involves no delay at all in the beginning of the operation of the provisions of the Treaty. I was speaking of some other points in connection with this matter. How is it possible for us to consider a document of this character in the short period of time which has been afforded us? For example, it involves the annulment of a large number of Treaties which none of us have had an opportunity of looking at. We know nothing of the terms of these 3146 Treaties, but we are being asked to sanction the signature of the Prime Minister to this Treaty to-day, even although it involves the abrogation of a very large number of Agreements and Treaties of which we have no cognisance.
It goes further, and it makes a whole series of arrangements with regard to the fishing industry in this country in relation to their rights in certain waters. I do not know whether there are other Members of this House who feel more competent than I do to judge as to the terms of these fishing arrangements. But one thing is certain. It is impossible to give adequate consideration to the rights of our fishing people in the short time which the Prime Minister has put at our disposal. I would ask the House, in answer to an interjection made from the other side, to believe that I am not speaking upon this matter in any spirit of hostility. My record in connection with our relations with Russia stands already before the House of Commons, and as early as the year 1921, when I was President of the Board of Trade, I entered into a long series of negotiations with Krassin for the purpose of arriving at certain results, and I think we did arrive at very important results on that occasion.
I always held the view, which I hold to-day, that, in spite of all the loathing and horror that one has for the methods which the Soviet Government of Russia took in order to construct its new system, nevertheless, you were not going to bring any advantage to the world by permanently seeking to ostracise a people; and I held the view, which I hold to-day, that the best way to create a change in that country, if you disbelieve in their methods and in their principles of government—the best way to create the changes that you desire to see would be to enter into the, amicable relations which trade gives with her people. After all, trade is a great binder as between nations, and it seemed to me that the world would gain in benefit if we, at least, started to resume some sort of relations with that great country. That on the ethical side. On the material side I took the view that it was a disadvantage to the world to leave out of action a country which was so great a producer of the world's food. If you restricted that production, the result would be that food 3147 would be dear; and the cheaper you could make food for Europe, the better would it be for your people.
In the second place, I thought also, on the line of material advantage, as I think to-day, that Russia was a consumer of the kind of products which we made, and, accordingly, it was of importance to revive that market if we were to do anything to re-establish our own prosperity as a trading country. It is possible to exaggerate what would flow from this last consideration. Many very hectic speeches have been made which would seem to suggest that the millennium would arise as soon as you could begin to trade with Russia again. Of course, everyone knows that that is all nonsense. Even when Russia was trading peaceably before the War, and when she had a much larger population than she has to-day, your trade was not very large in volume, and it is ludicrous to suggest that the mere resumption of trading relations with Russia is going to bring about any very great difference in our unemployment figures. But, when you have so much depression and unemployment as we have, every little helps, and, accordingly, anything that can be done to revive that market is of advantage to our people.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him, as he interrupted me nine times last night—I have counted them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Is he aware that, before the War, there was a tremendous amount of trade with Russia in German hands, and that the figures to which he is now referring do not give a true picture of the potentialities of the Russian market?
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am quite well aware that a great amount of our trade with Russia went through Germany, but, even assessing it at as high a figure as you like, it does not make such a difference in the vast volume of our trade as would justify one-half of the speeches that have been made as to what would be the result of resuming relations. Having explained my own attitude as being one of friendliness towards resuming relations with Russia, I look at this proposed Treaty and I ask: Does it do anything at all to help this movement? I am forced to the conclusion that the answer must 3148 unequivocally be in the negative. I do not really know whether this is the final Treaty or not. It is headed:Draft of proposed General Treaty between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Union or Soviet Socialist Republics.But in the time that I have been able to give to it, I find that there are omitted from it three important, things of which the Under-Secretary spoke yesterday. There is, for example, the complete omission of the Most-Favoured Nation Clause in our favour. There is nothing at all, so far as I can find, which deals with that important point. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is in the White Paper!"] Really, is it fair to ask us to discuss a Treaty in these circumstances, when we have handed to us—[Interruption.]—
§ Sir R. HORNE
There is no reason why I should not make a speech, provided that I make the right speech. What I desire to put before the Prime Minister is that he guaranteed us an opportunity of discussing this Treaty, and it really does not offer an opportunity for discussion when we get the papers connected with it handed to us in the middle of the Debate.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I would venture again to appeal to the Prime Minister to take the course I have suggested. It may be that this new document contains the omitted matters to which I was going to refer, such as the arrangement with regard to export credits, and other matters, which are entirely omitted from the document which was handed to us this morning. But let us suppose that we have here, in the Third Chapter of the proposed Treaty, the provisions which the Government intends to make.
§ Major BARNETT
May I interrupt my right hon. Friend to ask if the Front Bench will kindly tell us which is the later of these documents' They are entirely different.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
The Commercial Treaty, I think, was laid in printed form before 11 o'clock, and, as I was very anxious that the House, after yesterday's Debate, should have the main Treaty at 3149 the earliest possible moment, I kept the typists at the Foreign Office up all night in order that they might produce this Treaty at 9 o'clock this morning, which was done. The printed version of it, which is, of course, identical, will be here very shortly.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Let us consider whether, in this Treaty before us, there is any advance upon the previous arrangements which had been made or were in process of negotiation by earlier Governments. I turn to the Third Chapter of the Treaty, and I find there laid down the proposed arrangements which are now to apply in dealing with the question of the bondholders and with the property owners to whom compensation is to be paid. The Prime Minister, in welcoming the Russian delegation, laid down three principles, or, rather, he set forth three objects which the Conference was intended to achieve. The first of these was to get peace with Russia; the second was to settle all the rights and obligations as between the two nations; and the third was to get into a position of fruitful trade. Those were the three objects which the Prime Minister laid before the Conference. With regard to the first and the third, they are objects of general desire which no one would question, and they will be attained, no doubt, in the process of time, if the second object can first be accomplished. But what has this proposed Treaty done to settle the rights and obligations of the parties? It has done nothing whatsoever.
If one looks at Chapter III one sees that everything in connection with these matters is postponed to some later day, to be dealt with by some other Committee and to be endorsed by a Government upon terms that are never disclosed. If you take, first of all, the situation of the bondholders, what this document provides is that the Government of the Union agrees to meet claims other than certain holdings; but that is to be done, not by this Treaty, not by this document, but after negotiation between the parties: and if, after negotiation, 50 per cent. of the bondholders agree to some terms which are undisclosed, His Majesty's Government will then make an agreement the terms of which are entirely undisclosed and the conditions of which are entirely unknown. There is not the 3150 slightest indication of the terms on which any agreement is to be arrived at with the bondholders. I should like, in passing, to ask why it is that holdings which were acquired by purchase after the 16th March, 1921, are to be excluded from any consideration and from any benefit? I suppose the date that is taken is the date of the trade agreement. I should imagine that the result of the trade agreement would be to make people all the more certain that by purchasing Russian bonds from people who are willing to sell they would be getting better security than it had been previously regarded. But why are these people who have spent their money in the purchase of bonds held by others to have no benefit while those who sold them should have obtained their money? I should like from the Prime Minister some real explanation as to what is the discrimination between one form of property and another.
§ Sir R. HORNE
If the right hon. Gentleman would agree to postpone the signature we should be perfectly willing to meet his point, but I am afraid, since we are here to discuss this matter, the issues which are raised by this Treaty must be dealt with before we part from them.
I pass to the next matter, which is the question of the compensation to be given to people who have suffered damage. It is provided that a Commission of six people, three from this country and three from Russia, are to decide with regard to the claims that are made, and if they disagree they may present separate reports. A lump sum, it is said, is to be paid. There is no indication of what the lump sum should be. There is no indication of what is to happen when the two sets of Commissioners present separate reports or how any result at all is going to be arrived at in these circumstances, and accordingly again with regard to this matter everything is postponed to some future day and to some future agreement. In the matter of the property owners we are again to have a Commission which is to deal with the assessment of the damage to property. There is no arrangement for any arbitra- 3151 tion. An indication is given that the Commissioners may disagree, but nothing is said as to what is to happen when they disagree or what action the Government is to take. I put it to the House as to whether this document makes any advance whatsoever upon previous negotiations or agreements. It involves, no doubt, that the Russians give a formal recognition to their obligation to meet the claims of bondholders, of dispossessed property owners and of people who suffered damage through their action, but if the Under-Secretary were to read carefully even the Trade Agreement which we made in 1921, he would find that recognition is not absent. That Trade Agreement provided, even at that early stage of the negotiations, for the recognition by the Russian Government of all claims for goods sold and services rendered, but it went on to say, in the next paragraph, that these were not to be regarded as taking priority of the rights of bondholders and other debts, and accordingly the whole gamut of Russian obligations was already recognised in the Trade Agreement. There is nothing in this document at all which gives you any advance upon the recognition which Russia then gave of her obligations in these matters, and certainly nothing is done by a single phrase or line in the whole of this statement which arrives at a conclusion in regard to any particular claim or by which you can judge what your rights are.
Under these circumstances those of us who are anxious to see some advance made in trading arrangements with Russia can only feel the greatest disappointment at the result of these months of labour. It was said by the Under-Secretary last night that at least, whatever other results this Treaty will have, it will allay ill-feeing as between us and Russia. For the reasons I have already stated, as it seems to me, so far from doing anything in that regard, it will only come as a profound disappointment and disillusionment to the Russian people, if this Treaty is signed and they afterwards discover that nothing practical emerges from it. They will certainly say they have been betrayed. With regard to the possibilities of trade I do not see any paragraph in this document which is going to help trade with Russia, and if 3152 anyone can point to one I shall be glad to hear it. I am considerably interested in this matter. I happen to be a member of one of the companies which has been a pioneer in resuming trade relations with Russia since the War, and I am doing everything in my power to help the increase of that trade. I find it much more easy to buy things from Russia than to sell anything to Russia, but nevertheless I have a certain definite interest in increasing by every means in my power the trade that goes on between Russia and this country, but I cannot find a single help in any line of this document. It is a complete illusion to put before the country that you are doing something by it to start better relations or to increase trade with Russia. There is no provision whatever in any page of it which seems to me to give a single chance of increasing the trade we are at present doing with that country.
One is not really surprised to find that this document is of that character. Up till Monday, after three and a half months of negotiation, no conclusion had been arrived at. There was apparent on Monday, when the Conference broke up, a complete irreconcilability of ideas as between the representatives of this country and of Russia. Was it to be imagined that when that was the state of affairs, after three and a half months' of negotiation, anything real or material was going to be built up in the course of 24 hours? We learn to-day what the source of the new influence was. The "Daily Herald" is claiming that but for its intervention the Government would never have done what it has done. It describes how, by its proclamation that the Anglo-Russian Agreement must go on, they had frightened the Government and induced certain trade union Members to act, with the result that we have now before us this extraordinary document. Does anyone believe, in these circumstances, that you are going to find a real substantial provision, which is going to enable trade to develop between Russia and this country or to make the relations between the countries better? The whole thing is fantastic. The only conclusion we can come to is that it is an attempt to save the faces of a large number of people who have been putting forward the view that if only something could be done with Russia great advantages were 3153 to be obtained by Britain. They made it one of the chief points of their election platform that they were going to get an agreement with Russia, which previous Governments had never been able to achieve. They have got no agreement with Russia which previous Governments have not already got. This is not even an agreement to agree in the future. It is only an agreement to postpone to the future all subjects of difficulty. Everything about which they have been fighting for three and a half months is postponed to some future occasion when it has to be considered by some different people, and there is no indication whatsoever that there will be more chance of these others arriving at results than there was when the case was in the hands of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
There is one very significant part of this document, which awakens memories in the breasts of all of us who had to do with these negotiations in the past. A guarantee is to be given by the Government, under certain circumstances, for a loan. But what are the circumstances? All the other things which are dealt with by these various Commissions and Committees have first to be settled, and then the question of the guarantee is to be considered, but no consent is to be given on the part of Russia to any arrangements with regard to any of these other things until the guarantee of the loan has been given, that is to say, until the guarantee of the loan to Russia no obligations will be taken with regard to any other single item. It is an undertaking to acknowledge certain claims only in the event of a loan being guaranteed.
There is no laudable interpretation that can be given to this very hurriedly patched-up document achieved at the last hour after three and a half months of negotiations, and after a complete break seemed to have occurred. It is an attempt upon the part of the Labour Ministry to put before the country something which will represent at least some portion of the promises they made to the electorate in the course of the last election. When the document is read, and when its provisions are analysed, one can only come to this very definite conclusion, that here there is no agreement which is of any advantage to anybody, but that the whole thing in its essence, in its nature, and in its construction is a makeshift, a sham, and a pretence.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. Clynes)
I am going to address only a few observations to the House, but I think it is clear that in what has been the main issue in this Debate, namely, the order of procedure, the statement of the Prime Minister has carried conviction, being submitted in the form of a very reasonable plea indeed. All that I would say about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) is this. The main burden of his argument is that the agreement is wholly valueless and unsubstantial. That line of argument seems to take away all the points of his speech, so far as there were any, as to their being an objection to the Prime Minister signing it. The Prime Minister is asking for this Government—minority Government, as it is, neither more nor less—the freedom and right, in relation to treaties that all other Governments have exercised. The right hon. Gentleman believes that when later on the other aspects of this Treaty, the real substance of this Treaty, the sanction of this Treaty, when those questions come before this House of Commons, the House of Commons will be against the Government. We are quite prepared to await that moment. We are willing to abide by the decision of the House of Commons and the decision of the country when those points have arisen. But as to procedure, we are certain of the constitutional right of this Government to act as all other Governments have done. Why, the truth is that innumerable treaties have been signed by hon. Gentlemen represented on the Liberal Benches and by the Opposition on the other side without any documents either typed or printed. We are perfectly entitled to proceed to complete the initial stage of this honest endeavour to establish and restore better relations between Russia and ourselves. Last night the Government assented to the Debate being adjourned until to-day to hear a statement from the Prime Minister in the hope and belief that at an early stage of this afternoon's proceedings we could proceed to the discussion of other subjects on the Motion for Adjournment. I, therefore, suggest that the House now should allow us to secure the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill in order that it may go to another place and in order that we may proceed with the discussion of other subjects.
§ Mr. JOWITT
As many Members in different parts of the House have arrogated the right to say what we think here, I feel that one Member from these benches should be allowed to speak his own mind. I find myself in agreement with the Leader of the House in his criticisms of the right bon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). The two speeches which he made were entirely contradictory. I agree with one of them, but not the other. It is unfortunately a fact that this Treaty really means singularly little. It is an elementary principle among lawyers that an agreement to make an agreement is ludicrous. When one looks at this agree man, one sees that it is nothing substantially more than an agreement to make an agreement. It may be an expression of good will. I make no apology for saying that I have, at any rate, in the past attached, and do at the present time attach, the very greatest importance to the resumption of trade relations with Russia. I am quite certain we shall never get rid of the present state of unemployment unless and until we start credit trade with Russia. If I can contribute one iota to that end, I will. I am perfectly certain the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has shown the greatest patience and tact in dealing with these gentlemen, but, notwithstanding that patience and tact, he is unable to come to anything like an agreement at all. It is an expression of good will and nothing else. You first of all start with the fishing convention, and there you find an important Clause relating to the superintendence of fisheries and the functions which shall be exercised as may hereafter be agreed. I hope that they will come to an agreement. I am sorry that they have not been able to do so yet. When we come to the really important part of this document, we find Clause after Clause dealt with in this way: "The parties shall meet together and discuss, and see if they can agree." Take the question of the bondholders. What do you find there? You do not find any agreement, you find that there shall be "negotiation between the parties concerned." I hope the negotiation will result in something. Take the claims with regard to the Government of the Union against our Government, and vice versa. There, again these are reserved for discussion 3156 on a later date. Take the claims of nationals; they are to be finally settled as between the contracting parties by the payment of a lump sum. How, and by what machinery, is the lump sum to be ascertained and distributed? You are to have three arbitrators appointed by each side. If they agree, well and good; if they do not agree, they will each present separate Reports. How does that get you any forwarder in this agreement? Then we find solemnly put into the Treaty this Clause:Article 11—'A second treaty will be entered into.'Well, it is a pious hope, but supposing the parties cannot agree? What is the good of saying we will eater into a Treaty when you do not know if you will be able to I Finally, I want to ask this question. Article 13, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, says that the provisions of this chapter constitute "a single and indivisible unit." I think it is important that we should have an answer in regard to this question. One of the Articles of this chapter is that which provides that all agreement re claims in respect of loss—and they are interventionist claims—shall be reserved. Another Article of the chapter is one which provides that a second Treaty shall be entered into which shall come to a conclusion about all these various matters. Then you get another Article in the chapter dealing with the loan. Frankly I do not think we need to be very concerned about the loan, because an agreement for a loan of an indefinite amount and on indefinite conditions is, of course, no agreement at all. But at the same time, to remove misapprehension, I should like to ask this question of the Under-Secretary. Will he tell us, approximately, in order to avoid misunderstanding, what is the amount of the loan which the Soviet representatives have in their minds? Secondly, I should like to ask this question. I observe that the question of our loan is one of the reserved matters. Is it contemplated that we should be called upon, or might be called upon, to make a loan to them while at the moment of the loan their obligation to us was left outstanding and unsettled? It seems to me that those points ought to be cleared up.
For the rest, I desire, although I regret that this agreement is not much more definite—I do not attach the smallest 3157 blame to the Under-Secretary for that; certainly he did what he could under very difficult circumstances—but for my own part I do want to say quite definitely that I find myself in complete agreement with the Prime Minister. It seems to me that it Will be a thoroughly bad precedent, and contrary to all precedents, if the Prime Minister—after all, he is the Prime Minister of this country—is to come to the House and present, not a treaty which he has signed, but a kind of draft treaty, which may be cut about in red ink and green ink, and so on, going through Committee. That is wrong. I at any rate will support the Government in this matter. I should think the Prime Minister is perfectly entitled to sign the Treaty. It has no effect unless and until we ratify it. I cannot see much objection to ratifying it. I only wish there was something more tangible to catch hold of—and if there is nothing to catch hold of there is nothing to object to. I do ask the Under-Secretary to reply to those two questions which I have raised as to the amount of the loan which the Soviet representatives had in their minds, and the question whether it is contemplated that the loan should be advanced unless and until a settlement has been come to in regard to their indebtedness to us. May I answer the right hon. Gentleman opposite who raised objection to this Treaty being signed because the Russian representatives described themselves as plenipotentiaries. For better or for worse—for my own part I think for better—we have recognised the Russian Government not only as de facto rulers, but as de jure rulers, and that being so, we must recognise these persons as their plenipotentiaries.
§ Mr. G. BALFOUR
I do not propose to deal with any of the Clauses of the Treaty but for a moment or two to deal with the observations that fell from the Lord Privy Seal. He, in common with others, says that they have a perfect right to sign this document as a preliminary to a Treaty. In my view, this document cannot be dignified with the title of a Treaty. It is merely a general agreement which is committing this country and future Governments to sign a treaty, and I simply rise to utter an emphatic protest against the Government's claim that they have a right to sign this document which, 3158 as has been stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, is not an agreement, and cannot pledge this country because it does nothing. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite intend to say to this House that this great country is entitled to sign any scrap of paper committing this country to sign a treaty, without the country having had an opportunity of knowing to what it is being committed? I, for one, entirely contest that proposition. Let the right hon. Gentleman come down here with a treaty, let him come and say: "We, in our discretion, have signed this Treaty, as we have indeed the right to do, and the Government, having given proper criticism and judgment, we signed this Treaty, and we take our lives in our hands," and nobody in this House will contest their right. But I absolutely contest their right to make any kind of a document up, and by simply printing on it the word "Treaty" to say that they then have the right to exorcise those powers which in the past have been exercised with so much discretion by the Governments of this country before they committed this people in such a vital matter.
§ Mr. RATHBONE
I wish to say two or three words on this matter. First of all there has been the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Morel), who referred to the fact that the present Government does not believe in secret diplomacy. Well and good, and so far as the Allied Conference is concerned it is quite apparent that the Government will consult this House. We all recognise that as regards the proposed Treaty of Agreement with the Russian Government His Majesty's Ministers have had great difficulty in coming to any kind of conclusion, and it has only been come to at the very end of the Session. We do not blame them for that. We can understand their difficulties. It appears to us on these benches that you cannot have it both ways. If you are going to disbelieve in secret diplomacy, and if you say that the House of Commons should be consulted largely in the issues of a Treaty that it is proposed to sign, then surely you ought to give the House of Commons time to consider and reflect and decide whether they should. I am not saying for one moment that the Prime Minister is wrong in his contention. Of course he is absolutely right, as my hon. 3159 and learned Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Jowitt) has just said. Is it not a case of having spoken too soon or too late? Is it not a case where the Treaty, if it had been signed—if it be a Treaty, but my hon. Friend says it is not—that the Government and the Prime Minister need only tell us that these are the provisions, and that however much we may protest in this House by speeches it is quite impossible to seek to oppoe it. Then surely the Russian Government and the world at large will consider that this has been adopted in the House of Commons and has its tacit consent.
Three months hence the Treaty is to come to the House of Commons. Then we shall have to decide, when we shall know the Treaty in extenso, and it may be that we shall think that we ought to reject it. That is a most dangerous position for this House to be placed in. Although I am very new to the House of Commons I think I am right in saying that no such Treaty or agreement, whatever it may be called, has ever been offered to this House in such a form as this, because it provides nothing definite. It simply provides that such and such is to happen if an agreement is arrived at afterwards. What seems to me to be a great danger in regard to this Treaty is that when it comes for ratification this House will be in the position of having to agree to something with which, apparently, from the speeches delivered last night and to-day the House of Commons does not agree. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes"] The House will be in the unfortunate position of either having to reject the Treaty or to agree to it although, apparently, the majority of the House does not agree to it.
It is a most dangerous thing and a most unfortunate thing that after the Treaty has been discussed in this House and then signed, the Russian people, who do not understand our language or our ways, and who do not understand the House of Commons as a free chamber of debate, because they have never had one, will see that we talk about tearing up the Treaty. That would make it clear to the Russian Government and, what is almost worse, to other parts of the Empire and the world at large, that the Britisher's word is no longer as good as his bond. That is what I am afraid of. This Treaty 3160 is to be signed, more or less, in the dark. The fact that we have had it before us for a few hours' debate will. I fear, result in our hands being tied when the Treaty comes for ratification. Hitherto, Governments have had power to make Treaties and have expected that the House would ratify. I do not want to allude to the fact that the present Government has not a majority in this House; but I do want to raise the point that this Government have drawn up a Treaty which they have brought before us at the last moment—I am not complaining of that, because it was inevitable if the matter was to be dealt with at all in this part of the Session—we have discussed it, and the speeches have shown that there is not by any means agreement that the Treaty in its present form ought to be signed. Yet the Treaty is going to be signed. Apparently, the Russian Government and the Russian people will understand that the Britisher has given his word, that the Treaty is to be ratified, and that the details are to come up for settlement later.
I do not want to deal with the financial side of the matter but, surely, if we are going to contribute a large sum in the form of a guaranteed loan, there will be a question on that ground alone whether the Treaty will fail, because the loan may not be forthcoming and the House may not agree to it. Apart from that, the proposals in the Treaty are so uncertain that any of them may fail to work, and if they fail to work will not the Russian people, who are not accustomed to our ways, misunderstand the position. Then, for the first time in the history of our country, a treaty brought forward by a British Government will be rejected, and the result will be that the name of Great Britain will be besmirched, and we may never get over it. In that case, shall we feel that never again can the world believe that when Great Britain says she will do a thing it will be done when the time comes for ratification?
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am not entitled to make another speech, and only desire to put two questions. The Deputy-Leader of the House has asked that we should close the Debate on the Appropriation Bill and proceed with the Adjournment Motion. I assume that on the Adjournment Motion speeches which could not be delivered on this subject, of Russia can be delivered, and that we 3161 do not close the discussion on that subject. I understand that the agreement come to in the House last night was made on two grounds. One was that the Prime Minister should come and make a statement, which he has done, and, secondly, as was stated by you, Mr. Speaker, in your ruling last night, the desirability of having Papers. The Papers have been laid. Therefore, the grounds for the adjournment of the Debate last night have been complied with by the Government, and I would appeal to hon. Members that it would be desirable to close the Debate on the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill at this stage, and that any further discussion on the question of the Russian Treaty should be taken on the Motion for the Adjournment. I support the appeal of the Deputy-Leader of the House in that respect, because it does not preclude speeches being delivered on the subject which we have been debating this morning.
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
On the Motion for the Adjournment, I understand that the subjects to be discussed are more or less arranged beforehand with you, Mr. Speaker, through the usual channels, and that, therefore, any hon. Member who wished to speak on this question of Russia would only be able to get in on the Motion for the Adjournment if he was lucky enough to catch your eye.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Hitherto, the Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment has been looked upon largely as an opportunity for Back Bench Members to raise points. If the course suggested by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to be adopted—I agree that he has suggested it from the very best motives—the result will be that speeches will be made on the subject of Russia, and the Back Bench Members who desire to raise grievances will be completely cut out. In view of the fact that this is one of the few opportunities that the Back Benches have, I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to safeguard our rights in this matter.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Unless an agreement be arrived at to take the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill now, the Debate will continue on the Third Reading, so that it cannot make any difference in that respect to hon. Members. It will equally 3162 be in order to discuss Russia on the Motion for the Adjournment as on the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
In my opinion, as this subject has proved such an over-riding question, it would be right for the Chair to give precedence to it on the Motion for the Adjournment, if the House now agree to the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill, because the House will only be doing that, in lieu of carrying on the discussion on the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill, which it has a right to do.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I hope I shall not be considered discourteous, but I wish to raise a very strong protest against the course which you, Sir, suggest. It is a fearful thing that Back Bench Members should come here with their minds made up to raise particular points which are as vital to them as this other question, and that time after time they are cut out and their rights are lost. I utter my strong protest against this happening, as it takes from the Back Benches all opportunity of criticising administration in various Departments.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
In considering what the terms for the Motion for Adjournment should be, to meet the case raised by my hon. Friend, may I suggest that we should have a Motion to adjourn to-morrow at 5 o'clock, similar in its term to the Motion which we passed yesterday, with the insertion of the necessary date.
§ Captain BERKELEY
If the House propose to sit to-morrow to deal with the Adjournment Motion, would it not be better to continue the Debate on the Appropriation Bill?
§ Mr. MAXTON
I wish to test the question of the right of Back Benchers in this matter with reference to the Russian Debate. Do I understand that if we pass the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill now and go on to the Adjournment Debate all persons who have previously spoken on the Russian question on the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill 3163 will now be at liberty to repeat those speeches on the Adjournment Debate? Would not those of us who have had no opportunity of taking part in the Debate and are very anxious to do so have a prior claim over those who have already spoken on the Third Reading?
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Before you put the question of the Third Reading am I right in supposing that domestic questions can be raised on the Question, "That the Bill be read a Third time"? Is it not the fact that two occasions are given by the Appropriation Bill for a considerable amount of discussion, the Third Reading generally for the discussion of foreign affairs and the Second Reading for the discussion of domestic affairs? On the present occasion would it be in order to discuss domestic affairs on the question that the Bill be read a Third time?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I have a strong feeling in regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). Certain Members have made speeches on the Russian issue. If we proceed to the Adjournment Debate will they be at liberty to speak again on the same issue? That would be taking an unfair advantage of the rules of the House. I ask you if we are going to discuss Russia on the Adjournment? If we are, then fair play requires that in the Debate on Russia, hon. Members who have not had an opportunity of putting their views before the House should be called.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
if the Third Reading takes place now and the Motion for Adjournment is taken, and it is arranged that the most interesting speeches on the arrangement with the Soviet should have precedence, then there would remain some hours for dealing with domestic matters on the Motion for Adjournment.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
My sole desire is to meet the general sense of the House. I think that it will meet the case if, supposing the Third Reading be concluded, it be understood that there should not be more than two reasonably short speeches further on the Russian question, and that then we should proceed to other matters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed."]
§ Viscount CURZON
On a point of Order. I do not know whether I shall have a chance to get in a reasonably short speech on Russia on the Adjournment. I want to ask one or two questions, and if I might be allowed to do so—[HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed."]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid that if one Member were given an assurance that he would have an opportunity, others would ask for a similar opportunity.
On the question of the Adjournment, if the line which you have been good enough to suggest be adopted, there will still remain two or three hours for all the questions which in ordinary circumstances would be discussed during two days. I think that the House Will be glad to agree to dispose of this Debate now if we could be assured by the Government that we might have another day to-morrow for the ordinary adjournment discussion, but if we adopt the other course we shall be robbed, not only of the ordinary discussion on the Appropriation Bill, which naturally had to give way to this very important matter, but we shall also lose all the time which is usually taken on the discussion of the Motion for Adjournment. I would suggest that the Leader of the House might respond to this appeal by being willing to give a day for the discussion of the Motion for Adjournment.
§ Mr. THORNTON
Why not have the two short speeches which have been suggested now, and so clear the track?
§ Mr. CLYNES
The real reason for seeking the Third Reading of the Appropriation Bill now is that it is desirable that the Bill shall proceed another place, and that steps shall be taken to secure the Royal Assent by commission to it and various other Bills. I am in the hands of the House as to whether it be the desire to sit longer to-day. The only observation that I make now is that the House might prefer to proceed to hear the other speeches on various topics.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
Surely the House is bound by its decision taken yesterday? It was pointed out plainly that by Members occupying the House until half-past one the result would be that there would be only two hours for the discussion of 3165 ordinary matters on the Motion for Adjournment. The House, after hearing that, decided to support the Government and made this arrangement whereby only two hours would be available, and, that being so, the House is bound by that arrangement.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.