HC Deb 07 August 1925 vol 187 cc1803-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Commander Eyres-Monsell.]


I desire to draw the attention of the House and of the Government to points concerning our foreign relations which, I think, are of very great importance, in which we are now concerned, and which also ought to have the attention of the Government and the House. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has been unable to be present to-day, because in addition to asking for some information, I shall ask also for a statement of policy. I know my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs may find it rather difficult to reply. It would have been better if the Foreign Secretary had been able to be present with us.

The first question that I want to raise is that of the relationship of this country and Russia, or to put it more accurately, the relationship of His Majesty's Government with the Soviet Government. It has been noticeable ever since the advent of this Government to power that there has been an estranged relationship between the two countries. I would like to lay down two propositions with which I do not think anybody would disagree.

3.0 P.M.

The first is that strained relations between the two countries, if allowed to remain for too long a period, are bound to grow worse and lead to eventual trouble. I do not think I need give any illustrations of that, because I think it is a self-evident proposition. The second pro- position I would put before the House is that the desire for European recovery, and for the establishment of durable peace between the nations, will inevitably be frustrated if any one nation, especially so potentially powerful a nation as Russia, is deliberately excluded from friendly intercourse. During the nine months in which the present Government have been in office nothing at all has been done. The Government turned down the Treaties that were signed last August, but during nine months they have not even had the courtesy to tell the representative of the Soviet Government in London the points to which they objected in those Treaties. They have repeatedly said in this House that they were waiting for propositions from the Soviet Government. The Soviet Government's propositions are contained in the Treaty of August last, and it was for His Majesty's Government to say in what respects they disagreed with those Treaties, in order that negotiations might be reopened.

I think many will agree that the tone of the Foreign Secretary, whenever he has been confronted with any questions connected with Russia, has been always one of studied disdainful indifference and hardly - concealed unfriendliness. On every occasion he has, more or less, snubbed those who have ventured to suggest that the renewal of normal relations with Russia was advisable, and so it has gone on. He has got nothing to complain of as to our troubling him, except with occasional questions, and he has been able to pursue his frigid indifference to the necessity of renewing friendly relations with Russia, till at last, on 6th July, he informed this House that our relations with the Soviet Government were critical and dangerous. He was surprised after that that there was something of a scare. The scare was caused by the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and other members of the present Government, and by the tone of the replies of the Foreign Secretary himself in this House. The Minister for Labour, in a speech on the Appropriation Bill in this House the day before yesterday, said: It seems to be thought by many hon. Members opposite, and by those who sympathise with them, that trade with Russia is stopped or hindered by action taken by the British Government. I can assure them that that belief is based on a complete misapprehension of the facts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1925; col. 1441, Vol. 187.] The right hon. Gentleman was entirely wrong in that conclusion. Our trade relations are governed very largely by our political relations. That answer of the Foreign Secretary on 6th July had an immediate effect in one particular instance that has been brought to my notice. An English co-operative society, which was on the point of concluding an agreement for the establishment of an Anglo-Russian grain company, for the sale of grain, found that there were political obstacles in its way, and could not continue with the business. It stands to reason that when any commercial body is on the eve of coming to an agreement with a foreign country, and from Parliament and from other authoritative quarters there come pronouncements which show that our relations with that particular nation are not friendly, are strained, are spoken of as dangerous and critical, that there is no business to be done. Our trade with Russia has been frequently frustrated in that way. The result is that the trade is going elsewhere. The trade with Italy is on the increase, and I see negotiations with France are being renewed, and that they are coming to an agreement. Meanwhile our claimants, our creditors, though they may not have been pleased with the treaties of August last, are very much more disappointed now when they find that no attempt is being made to meet their claims, and that no advance at all is being made by the present Government.

What is at the back of this attitude towards Russia and the Soviet Government and Bolshevists? I think there are four reasons, and that they really comprise the whole situation. First of all, there is the argument, "If you cold-shoulder them for a long enough time, it is only a question of time for the Soviet Government to fall." I do not believe that that is at all a wise way of looking at the situation. The Soviet Government have been in power since 1917. They had overcome the most abnormal obstacles both from within and from without. They have lost their great leader, and yet, in spite of that, they are now reconstructing their country, and they are the only Government that have stabilised their currency without the assistance of a foreign loan. I think those who bank in the fall of the Soviet Government are making a great mistake. The second reason is that there is this feeling in the minds of a greet many people: "Leave the Bolshevists alone, and sooner or later they will come cap in hand, and then we shall be able to get far more favourable terms than the Labour Government got in August, 1924." I think that is very improbable. So far as I can see, the Soviet authorities have no desire to come to us cap in hand. If we do not want friendly relations, if we do not want trade with Russia, they will go elsewhere; but the estrangement of a large country like that affects us every bit as much as it does them.

Now I come to the third reason, and I think that is the most potent reason. It is that nothing should be done to mitigate the enormous electoral advantage of an anti-Bolshevist cry. There is no doubt that is a supreme asset. At the Conservative headquarters they have got their Bolshie bogies stacked by the dozen, by the hundred, by the thousand for the next Election. It was a most valuable asset to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I do not think they will be allowed to show any sort of friendliness to Bolshevists during the next four years, in case that very valuable card should be withdrawn from their pack when the next Election comes. The fourth reason is, "It is impossible to have friendly relations with a Government which are directly responsible for anti-British propaganda." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, I thought that would receive a cheer from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I want to go into this question of propaganda rather particularly. Another hon. Member from these benches will go more particularly into the commercial and trade side of the question, and I want to deal with this political side. There is no question about it that the existence of the Soviet Government is in itself a menace to the Western capitalist Governments in other parts of the world. That the Third International have propaganda I do not doubt for a moment—they have. That this Government or any Government are going to close down the propaganda of the Third International is out of the question altogether, but if we are on friendly relations with the Soviet Government and with Russia we get a very much better chance of making representations in a friendly way, and of re- straining their propaganda, if it is really against us, and altogether acting in cooperation with them—a very much better opportunity of doing useful work than if the attitude is an unfriendly, frigid, disdainful attitude.

But there is an amount of gross exaggeration about this propaganda which must be used, obviously, for purely party purposes. The Home Secretary, in a speech only last Saturday, said he was convinced that Zinovieff was still in communication with people in this country and was using all his arts to destroy the Empire. It is all very well for someone at the street corner to make a remark of that sort, but when the Home Secretary says that, we think he has got some proof of it. What we have always been asking for, and what we never get, is proof positive of this anti-British propaganda. It is quite well-known that in Berlin and in Vienna there have been factories for forgeries. People have been found with the imprint of notepaper headings imitating the Soviet Government headings in their possession, with a view to circulating false documents, and pretending that they come from headquarters in Russia. We have not been able to get any proof positive, of this propaganda.

Major-General Sir ALFRED KNOX:

Read the Russian Press.


The hon. and gallant Member says, "Read the Russian Press. "I believe they read our Press, and the unfriendly articles against Russia in our papers are infinitely stronger than any articles against us.


The Russian Press is a Government Press.


When we ask for proof positive, we are told to wait. We are told the Secret Service cannot divulge these things. Frankly and honestly, at this time of day, I think we could dispense with the Secret Service. I do not think I am the only person who thinks that the Secret Service is a very unreliable source of information in peace times. I am not the only person and we are not the only party who think that, and that opinion is not only held outside the Civil Service itself. We should like some proof. We should like the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary to come to us and say, "Such and such a document was found and it has been proved to be authentic." But the only things we get are vague insinuations, and statements that the source cannot be divulged. It was laid down in the Trade Agreement that these matters should be dealt with. Article 13 provides that Nevertheless it is agreed that before taking any action inconsistent with the agreement, the aggrieved party shall give the other party a reasonable opportunity of furnishing an explanation. This was after propaganda in Persia and Afghanistan, and a memorandum was handed to M. Krassin, and his reply stated that the Soviet Government would be quite willing in the event of any further infringement of their pledge that the cases should be immediately brought to the attention of the Governments concerned, rather than such incidents should be allowed to accumulate. That was the statesmanlike way in which to deal with this matter, but the Foreign Secretary has not brought any instances to the notice of the Soviet Government, he has made no complaints, and he is merely allowing these instances to accumulate That is rather a curious way of dealing with this matter, and surely it would be better to bring these cases before the attention of the Soviet Government. That, however, is not the view of the Foreign Secretary, because on the 27th July he said: I cannot think that I am called upon to give details of particular occasions or disclose the information which is in mypossession."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July. 1925, col. 15. vol. 187.] I will now pass as rapidly as I can to the other point to which I desire to draw attention. I want the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to give us some information as regards the situation in China. The exchange of ratifications of the Treaty of 1922 has taken place at Washington, but we have had no statement from the Government saying exactly what is going to be done in regard to China. It is a long time since the 30th May when the Shanghai incident took place, and all the information we have had has been contained in a speech made by Lord Balfour in another place, which the "Times" characterised as showing a depressing detachment, and treating the problem as something remote. This problem is one that may shoulder and blaze up into something extremely dangerous, and the Government are showing a supine inertia, and are taking no action in the matter. They seem to have an incorrigible habit of allowing a situation, both at home and abroad, to come to a head before taking any action at all. We have seen accounts of the evidence taken at the inquiry in China into the case of the arrested students at Shanghai. Then there was the Report of the Diplomatic Commission at Shanghai, and we have lately got a full account of the proceedings showing that the French Minister withdrew from that Commission because the British Government took a view opposed to the rest of the Diplomatic Commission, and the whole story is set out in the Shanghai papers.

I should like the Under-Secretary to say whether the accounts we have read, which bring rather a grave indictment against the attitude adopted by His Majesty's Government and the actual instructions they have sent out to China, are to be relied upon, and if they are false we should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman the real facts of the case. This report tells us that the Diplomatic Commission found that the police commandant should be dismissed, that the muncipal council of Shanghai should be censured, and that the police inspector should be tried, and if necessary punished according to law. Now these are extremely serious charges, and we should like to hear why His Majesty's Government gave instructions that those findings were not to be carried out by the Consular body which is in supreme control. I must say that I think it is of enormous importance for the credit and honour of this country that the Government should not by their action show, or pretend, that they are unwilling to face the truth in this matter, and are desirous of shielding those whom an impartial committee considers to be guilty. Our trade has been adversely affected, and nothing has been done, and I think it is time that the Government took a bold initiative, and took some steps to see that a full inquiry is made by an impartial tribunal set up to investigate the matters at Shanghai, and I hope the Government will not shirk the issue, but face the truth and show the Chinese that we are ready to see that justice is done.

In the next place, I wish to refer to the exchange of ratifications of the Treaty of 1922 which makes it possible for an international Conference to be held. I think His Majesty's Government ought to take the initiative in seeing that that Conference is called together at which the whole question of extra-territorial rights could be discussed, as well as the Customs tariff question and other points which may be raised by the Chinese. I do not want to go back to the question of Bolshevik propaganda, or to the suggestion made in this connection that the disturbances in China are due to this cause, because that has already been disproved. It is true that some Communists were there, but to say that this movement is due to Communist propaganda is farcical in the extreme. This trouble has been going on ever since the Western exploitation of China commenced in 1840, and the breaking-point has been reached on account of the way the Chinese have been treated as being inferior people.

The only thing we seem to have taught the Chinese is how to use arms, and we have forced upon them some of the worst faults of our industrial system. I do not think the Chinese have anything to be very grateful for in this connection, and is it to be wondered at that they are now feeling sore and troubled at the present situation? I hope in this connection the right hon. Gentleman will not fall back on the excuse that there is no stable Government in China, and no competent authority to speak for China, because that is mere subterfuge to shield us from the obligation of playing our proper part. If the Western Powers, and more especially Great Britain, desire to deal honestly by China, it will not be long before a strong Government will rise up in China, and then they will be in a better position to deal with their own internal affairs.

All these questions are closely connected with one another. The Foreign Secretary from his watch-tower at the Foreign Office can see over the whole field of international affairs, and he knows how important it is that our nation, together with the various countries in Europe, should be uniformly friendly, and if any corner of the field is neglected it must have a deleterious effect upon the whole. If we, by our policy, estrange the whole of the vast population of China, and if we are rousing up, for what reason I do not know, a sort of suspicious feeling against Japan, the struggle in the future will not be between the nations of Europe for the balance of power, between groups of nations but between the two great continents of Europe and Asia. These things have small beginnings, and the unfortunate action of to-day may culminate in great catastrophes years hence. We must not forget that the war fever still exists, and on this side of the House at any rate we consider it necessary to draw the attention of the country to our relations with those two potentially powerful nations. We believe that so long as our relations with them are unfriendly as they are now, and so long as His Majesty's Government do nothing to improve those relations, we think that this House and the country should have fair warning, and should have full intimation as to how matters stand.


I venture to intervene in this Debate for a short time because I have had some knowledge of one of the countries to which the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has referred, having spent nearly nine years in Russia. Out of that time I spent only two months under the Soviet regime. I always had a keen regard for the Russian people, and I loved the country, but I think we should be particularly careful in this House when considering questions relating to Russia not to confuse the present regime with the great Russian people. Hon. Members opposite are continually pressing for closer relations with Russia with the ostensible object of improving our trade and finding a solution for unemployment in this country.

Of course one rather doubts that they really want to have trade relations with a form of Government which is considered to be the greatest Socialist experiment the world has ever seen, but we call it by a shorter and more appropriate name. We are told that hon. Members opposite want Russia to buy more of our goods. The Minister of Labour pointed out the other day that in 1924 we brought from Soviet Russia £20,000,000 worth of goods. Soviet Russia took from us, including re-exports, £11,000,000, and that left them with a favourable balance of £9,000,000. Why could they not spend that £9,000,000 here? I submit that a certain proportion of that £9,000,000 was spent in invisible exports, in subsidies to communistic propaganda in many countries, and especially in the British Empire. The Foreign Secretary a few weeks ago said that he had definite information of Soviet activities in China. If hon. Members opposite really want to extend our trade in Russia, especially in Soviet territories, the right way is to approach the Soviet Government and induce them to modify their methods. At present they have all the foreign trade of the country in their hands, and our own traders cannot get at the people in Russia who desire to buy the goods which we can supply. A friend of mine who went out to Russia in order to get in touch with the fur people found that he could only do so through the Soviet authorities, and then the prices he was asked were such that it would not pay him to bring the furs into this country.

Take the case of the tea trade. Before the War we sent 200,000,000 lbs. of tea annually into Russia. Anyone who knows the habits of the Russian people know that they cannot live without tea. It is a necessity here, but in Russia it is far more of a necessity. We sent only 3,500,000 lbs last year, and I can contend that if our traders could get into touch with the Russian people our trade would prosper there. Hon. Members opposite are no doubt concerned with the unemployment question here, and if they want to help it they had better go to their friends in Russia and try to get them to modify their communistic system.