HC Deb 24 May 1927 vol 206 cc1842-54

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he can now make a full statement with regard to the raid on Messrs. Arcos and the Russian Trade Delegation, and make a statement of the result of the search?


Yes, Sir. For many months the Police, in collaboration with the military authorities, have been investigating the activities of a group of secret agents engaged in endeavouring to obtain highly confidential documents relating to the Armed Forces of Great Britain. From information received and evidence obtained in the course of these investigations it became increasingly difficult to resist the conclusions that the agents were working on behalf of the Soviet Government and that they obtained their instructions from members of the Russian Trade Delegation, working at Soviet House, who arranged for the conveyance to Moscow of photographs or copies of the documents obtained.

These suspicions were confirmed when, early this year, a British subject employed in the Air Force was convicted of stealing two such documents as have been described. The documents were recovered and the individual is now undergoing imprisonment. The secret organisation on behalf of which he had obtained the documents is known and its connection with a similar Russian organisation has been established.

A further document of an official and highly confidential character, so marked, was recently found to be missing, and from information secured, and supported by documentary evidence, it became clear that this document had been conveyed to Soviet House and there reproduced by means of a photo-static apparatus, the character and location of which were described. Upon this information application was made to the magistrate for a Warrant for the search of the premises, which was granted and executed on the 12th instant. Armed with knowledge of the above facts, certain police officers, specially detailed, went, immediately after effecting their entry, straight to the photostat room and to the room occupied by the cipher clerk, Anton Miller, who was known to be one of the persons intimately concerned in the activities of the secret agents. The subterranean photostat room answered exactly to the description previously given to the Police.

The man in charge of this room, Robert Koling or Kaulin, who was found at work, is described in a document discovered amongst the secret staff records in another room. This document, which is in Russian, dated 23rd December, 1926, and signed by Jilinsky, who, until his return to Russia the other day, combined the duties of head of the Staff Allotment Department of the Russian Trade Delegation with those of principal espionage and secret propaganda agent for Europe, is addressed to the manager of the secret section, and consists of a recommendation of Koling, together with a history of his past activities. It states that Koling was previously engaged in carrying on illegal Communist agitation as a member of the Red Trade Union of Sailors, and indicates that in this capacity he was concerned in the conveyance of secret communications abroad, and now discharges, among other duties, that of carrier of the diplomatic post between Chesham House and Soviet House. It finally states that he was recommended by three persons knows to us to be in control of the secret espionage groups previously referred to. This man's qualification for continued employment under the Russian Trade Delegation thus consisted in the fact that he had been engaged in illegal activities.

In the possession of Koling were found a number of closed envelopes addressed with the names of well-known Communist individuals and organisations in this country and America. These envelopes contained information and directions from the Red International of Labour Unions to the Communist organisations in this country and America, including the National Minority Movement, all of the most recent date, and a comparison of these letters with the list of addresses, to which I shall refer later, shows that the office of Arcos and the Trade Delegation has been habitually used as a clearing-house for subversive correspondence of this nature. Among the subjects dealt with in this correspondence are Communist Seamen's Clubs, the Hands Off China Campaign, Anti-Trade Union Bill agitation, the distribution of Communist propaganda, and industrial affairs in America.

In Koling's possession also were found a number of printed application forms for membership of the National Minority Movement, which had been filled up by seamen who had been canvassed for that purpose in Russian ports, and whose applications, together with their membership subscriptions, were in process of transmission through this Russian official channel to the National Minority Movement. Further interesting light is thrown upon this particular phase of Soviet activity by a letter dated 3rd November, 1926, addressed to Jilinsky, and describing arrangements made for the training of Communist agitators on Arcos ships, with a view to the subsequent dissemination by them of subversive propaganda among the crews of British ships. The letter is a long one, and I will give only the following extract:

"I consider the only solution to lie in making these ships of ours a base for training politically conscious seamen, who, after preliminary training, could be sent to other British ships. Instruction could be given by such seamen as cannot obtain employment for Communistic agitation on any British ship. The choice of men should be carefully made, preference being given to negroes, Hindoos and other oppressed nationalities, but it would of course be necessary to investigate to what extent such material would prove appropriate for future work. As soon as a seaman is taken on he should be trained and then made to go and work amongst British sailors. This has been the practice I have so far followed and my preliminary results were apparent during the seamen's strike when those who had passed through our school occupied the most prominent positions."

The room occupied by Anton Miller was adjoining that of M. Khinchuk, the Chief of the Trade Delegation. It had no handle on the outside of the door, ingress being obtained solely by means of a key. On arrival the police found that the door was locked and there was a light in the room. Demand was made for admission, whereupon the door was unlocked. Anton Miller himself, with one other man and a woman, were found in occupation. Miller was engaged in hurriedly burning papers, some of which appeared to have been taken from an open despatch box on the table in front of him. On the police attempting to take possession of this despatch box a struggle ensued. Miller resisted, and in the course of the struggle a paper fell from his pocket. This document was found to consist of a list of secret cover addresses, or, according to the document, "illegal" addresses, for communication with the Communist parties in the United States of America, Mexico, South America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Other documents were found on the premises, but it is unnecessary to describe them, as the documents already referred to sufficiently prove the existence under the direct control of the Soviet authorities of a regular system whereby documents of a subversive character from various organisations in Russia were conveyed secretly to various persons engaged in Communist activity in this country and elsewhere.

In conclusion, it may be pointed out that the evidence now in the hands of the authorities proves that:

  1. (1) Both military espionage and subversive activities throughout the British Empire and North and South America were directed and carried out from Soviet House.
  2. (2) No effective differentiation of rooms or duties was observed as between the members of the Trade Delegation and the employés of Arcos, and both these organisations have been involved in anti-British espionage and propaganda.

The Soviet Government cannot escape responsibility for the actions of the Trade Delegation and the abuse of the facilities afforded to it. But the matter does not rest there. It would, in any case, be difficult to believe that whilst one organ of the Soviet Government, namely, the Trade Delegation, was thus breaking the solemn undertakings on the faith of which it was received, the other organ of that Government in this country, namely, the Soviet Mission and the Government itself, were not parties to these proceedings. But the case against them does not depend upon inference.

The Trade Agreement provided, inter alia That each party refrains from hostile action or undertakings against the others and from conducting outside of its own borders any official propaganda direct or indirect against the institutions of the British Empire or the Russian Soviet Republic respectively. His Majesty's Government have on several occasions found it necessary to draw the attention of the Soviet Authorities to the breach of this engagement by Soviet emissaries in China. These have always been denied.

On 1st February last, M. Rosengolz, the Soviet Chargé d'Affaires in this country, informed his Government that it was essential to give a short explanation to the Press saying that Borodin was not a Soviet representative and was not even in the service of the Soviet Government, but that he was a private citizen in the service of the Chinese Government and that the Soviet Government were not answerable for his actions; and this message was followed up three days later by another one stating that an announcement of Borodin's recent visit to Moscow, where he received instructions, had been previously published, and that, if possible, it would be desirable to contradict this. On 3rd February, M. Rosengolz published a statement in the "Daily Telegraph" to the effect that Borodin is a private individual who is not and never has been in the service of the Soviet Government, and that

in view of the fact that M. Borodin has no relation whatever with the Soviet Government, it is therefore self-evident that the Soviet Government can in no way be held responsible for his actions and speeches. On 11th February, Sir Robert Hodgson made inquiries of M. Litvinoff himself regarding Borodin, to which M. Litvinoff replied that he did not know much about Borodin except that he was a Russian Communist and had been a friend of Sun-Yat-Sen, and that, as for the allegation that Borodin was a representative of the Soviet Government, that was without foundation, and that the Soviet Government had no kind of connection with him or responsibility for him. Yet there is in the possession of His Majesty's Government a telegram dated 12th November last year from the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs to the Soviet representative in Peking in the following terms:

I herewith communicate department's decision for your execution.

  1. (1) Until a Soviet representative is appointed to Peking Comrade Borodin is to take his orders direct from Moscow.
  2. (2) The Far Eastern Bureau to be informed that all its decisions and measures regarding questions of the general policy of the Kuomintang in China and of military political work must be agreed on with Comrade Borodin.
In the event of differences of opinion arising on these questions they must be referred to Moscow for investigation. Borodin and the Far Eastern Bureau must keep Moscow's representatives in Peking informed of all their decisions and moves with regard to these questions. (3) Comrade Borodin's appointment as official Soviet representative in Canton is considered inadvisable. Borodin is to remain (in charge) of the work in the provinces under Canton rule, and an official representative to the Canton Government is to be appointed. The denials of any responsibility for Borodin's actions made by the Soviet Chargé d'Affaires here and by M. Litvinoff in Moscow were therefore untrue and were made only in the hope of deceiving His Majesty's Government and the British public while under their cloak Borodin was, in fact, carrying on his anti-foreign and anti-British activities as the authorised agent of the Soviet Government and by their orders.

Nor have these illegitimate activities been confined to China. There has come into the possession of His Majesty's Government a telegram from the Soviet Chargé d'Affaires in London to the Com missariat for Foreign Affairs, Moscow dated 1st April last, i.e. some five weeks after the solemn warning conveyed in our Note of 23rd February. It is in the following terms: Copy to Berlin for Tomsky. One of the principal obstacles for conducting a campaign of protest against British violence in China is the appalling supply of information and the way in which the wide labour circles are misled. It is necessary:

  1. (1) To send by telegraph the official reports of the Nationalist Government on events at Nankin. In particular facts which deny the information about Nankin given by Chamberlain in Parliament on 30th March, copies to be sent to the Independent Labour Party and the Daily Herald.'
  2. (2) A message of the Shanghai United Trades Unions addressed to the President of the General Council, Hicks, describing the situation and in particular pointing out that, as a result of the British bombardment of Nankin, a large number of members of trades unions lost their lives. If possible—it would be desirable to cite a number of instances, emphasising the fact of British repressions against Chinese trades unions and their members. It is desirable to lay stress on the——
there is one word missing— and to call upon British trade unions to help the Chinese labour movement.
  1. (3) Would it not be possible to make use in a favourable way of the encounter between the Commander of the torpedo boat 'Woodcock' and the Chinese—at Changsha. Both in England and with us there is only very vague information on this subject.
  2. (4) I shall wire subsequently on the best way of organising the supply of information."
The House will observe that the Soviet representative was soliciting information for the purposes of a political campaign in this country and giving the substance of the messages which he desired to see retransmitted as news from China.

Finally, on 13th April the Soviet Chargé d'Affaires telegraphed to the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, Moscow: I very much doubt the possibility of a raid on our Embassy. I would, however, consider it a very useful measure of precaution to suspend for a time the forwarding by post of documents of friends, 'neighbours' and so forth from London to Moscow and vice versa. Telegraph your decision immediately. In the telegram sent in reply it is desirable to mention that the instructions emanate from the institutions concerned. It is unnecessary to speculate as to the character of the documents about which he showed such anxiety.

His Majesty's Government, as the House knows, from their repeated declarations have not been unaware of the active hostility of the Soviet Government elsewhere or of the illicit activities of their representatives here. In face of these breaches of the Trade Agreement and of international comity, His Majesty's Government have shown a patience and forbearance which is probably without a parallel in international relations. As late as last February they renewed in the most solemn form their protest and warning. It is clear that neither have had any effect.

Diplomatic relations when thus deliberately and systematically abused are themselves a danger to peace and His Majesty's Government have therefore decided that unless the House expresses its disapproval on Thursday, they will terminate the Trade Agreement, require the withdrawal of the Trade Delegation and Soviet Mission from London and recall the British Mission from Moscow.

The legitimate use of Arcos is unaffected by these decisions and His Majesty's Government are prepared, whilst terminating the privileges conferred by Articles 4, 5, and 6 of the Trade Agreement, to make all arrangements necessary for ordinary trade facilities between the two countries.


The temptation to put a number of questions is, of course, very great, but that temptation must be resisted in view of the discussion on Thursday, and, accordingly, I want just to put two or three questions to the Prime Minister. First, the Prime Minister will, of course, himself observe the laughter which even on his own side was indulged in on the reading of certain parts of the more lurid passages of his statement. I want to ask whether we are to have any further documents or statements or letters or communications printed and issued as a White Paper before Thursday. I think such papers would make a fitting companion volume to the volume of Communist literature the Government issued some time ago. Will the Prime Minister also say whether, after the raid and after the discovery of these documents and before the provisional decision which evidently the Cabinet has reached, the Government made any representations to the Soviet Government with a view to discussion and conference that might lead to what we all desire, I hope, a better understanding between Russia and this country?


I quite agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said as to the reason for not asking questions at this moment. The reason I made a statement of such length was that I was desirous of giving all the information I could in view of Thursday's Debate. It is quite obvious that we cannot prepare and print a White Book by Thursday. Such a collection of papers shall be prepared as quickly as possible. There is a large amount of material before us and such papers as we may produce will support, but cannot add materially to the statements I have already made this afternoon. It is quite impossible to do it by Thursday but it will be prepared as soon as possible. With regard to the second question, the answer is in the negative.


No doubt it would be impossible to print, say, a complete volume of all documents and letters, but could the Members of this House not have before Thursday the more material and relevant documents which have caused the Cabinet to reach their decision?


I quite agree that all the documents cannot be printed by Thursday, but I should like to press this point—that a little further information could be made available. Take the documents from which the Prime Minister has quoted. From one, in particular, he only quoted a part. I do not suggest in the least that he has left out anything that is relevant, but I do think it is important that the full body of the document—at any rate, the one from which he quoted and which contains the substance of the case-should be printed in full, including the headings—they are important-as indicating the quarter from which they come. Could not the Prime Minister undertake to print the documents from which he quoted?


Certainly. That is a very reasonable request. I am answering the questions of the two right hon. Gentlemen together. We will do the best we can to produce something—[Interruption]—I cannot say quite how far it may be possible to bring in material not already used. We will do the best we can, and the document from which I quoted in part shall be issued in full.


With regard to the Prime Minister's reply to the effect that no representations had been made to the Soviet Government and no attempt made to arrange a conference on this matter, is that step not entirely without precedent, and can he inform us before Thursday of the terms of the conversations between the Foreign Secretary and M. Rosengolz a day or two after the raid began?


Before the Prime Minister replies, is it not also without precedent for the representative of a foreign country to conspire against the Government to which he is accredited?


The answer to the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) is that if he will be good enough to put down a private notice question, my right hon. Friend will give the answer he desires.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The Prime Minister was not quite clear in his statement when he said that if the House approves on Thursday Sir Robert Hodgson will be recalled from Moscow and the trade delegation and the trade agreement will be broken in this country. Are we to understand that the Diplomatic Mission and the Russian Chargé d'Affaires here will be requested to leave and be handed passports? If so, how will it be possible for British people to do business with Russia? That is tantamount to a rupture of relations. [HON. MEMBERS: "America !"] It is quite a different thing with regard to America, because America has never had any relations with the Soviet Government.


I think that is a question which might be raised pertinently in the Debate on Thursday.


May I ask the Prime Minister whether the statement which he has read to the House contains the whole of the data on which the decision of the Cabinet was based, or is there anything in addition to that?


It is quite obvious from what I have said that this statement does not contain all the information in our possession, but having regard to the communications which have hitherto passed between the two Governments there is ample in what I have said, in the view of the Government, to support them in the action which they have taken.


May I ask whether on Thursday we shall be able to have before us any data by which we can compare the working of the Russian Secret Service and our own Secret Service?


May I ask the Prime Minister whether any arrests have been made of the spies of whose existence and activities he says he has proof or, alternatively, whether it is proposed to institute any prosecutions?


The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. As to the second part of the question, I am not in a position to say anything.


Can the Prime Minister say whether the document which was used as a pretext for the raid has been discovered?


No, Sir.


I did not understand or, at any rate, I was not very clear on the point, whether the trading organisation of Arcos will be requested to leave London or whether they will be allowed to remain.


I think all these questions had better be dealt with in Debate.


Have any representations been made to the Prime Minister by employers in the engineering industry, expressing the opinion that it would be very detrimental to the interests of business between this country and Russia if the Government took this step, and can the right hon. Gentleman say whether those representations have been made during last week?


I cannot answer that question without notice.


Has Sir Allan Smith made any representation?


It is quite possible, but I have no recollection of it at the moment.



The matter is to be debated by the House on Thursday, and I think it would be much better that further questions should be postponed until then.


On a point of Order. May I take it that a question asking for further information regarding the Debate next Thursday, and based upon the statement made by the Prime Minister, would not be allowed, quite irrespective of any opinion or any argument, but merely a request for information?


That would be quite in order.

Mr. S. SAMUEL rose——


Does the hon. Member for Putney rise to a point of Order?


Yes. May the House know whether the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition represent the Russian Government in this House, or do they represent the electors in this country?


The hon. Member ought not to make an allegation of that kind. I hope he will withdraw it.


It was for the information of the House.


Withdraw !


It is not proper to suggest motives for the acts of hon. Members in this House other than that they are representatives of constitutencies in this country.


I did not impute motives. I wanted to know definitely what their position was.


I take it that the hon. Member withdraws any imputation.


Certainly, Mr. Speaker.


Can the Prime Minister say whether the information that he gave to the House with regard to matters in China was obtained in connection with the Arcos raid, or has been obtained through other channels?


That was contributory to the activities against this country by the Soviet Government. It was not obtained during the Arcos raid.


Can the Prime Minister tell the House how he came into possession of the telegram which passed between the Soviet Charge d'Affaires and——[Interruption]


This is becoming a Debate.


May I ask permission to ask a Supplementary Question?


Does the hon. and gallant Member rise to a point of Order?


Yes. May I ask a question which is essentially preliminary to the Debate on Thursday, but does not arise directly out of the statement made by the Prime Minister to-day?


I think further questions and Debate might properly be postponed until Thursday.