HC Deb 24 July 1929 vol 230 cc1423-46

I apologise for not being in my place when the Adjournment Motion was moved, but, in view of the Debate which has taken place and the speech which has been delivered by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I do not regret that Debate. I think we all realise the extraordinary personal knowledge which the hon. Member for Gorbals possesses upon the subject with which he has dealt, and I am sure we ail appreciate the valuable contributions he has made to our Debates. I gave notice a week ago that I would draw attention on the first available opportunity to the decision of the Government to refuse M. Trotsky permission to enter this country. I raised this question with very great reluctance. It is not a pleasant task for anyone speaking from the Government Benches to be critical in regard to a decision which has been arrived at by the Government, but I feel that such a great principle and issue is at stake in this matter that I should not be acting conscientiously if I remain silent upon this subject.

I do not think it is necessary for me to point out that I am not approaching this matter primarily from the point of view of sympathy with M. Trotsky. Those hon. Members who know my attitude and record know that so far as political methods are concerned there are very few Members of this House whose political method is more different from that of M. Trotsky. Any change which is secured by force and violence must be of a temporary character and can have no long standing results. So far as political methods are concerned I am not pleading for M. Trotsky because of the views which he has expressed. I am raising this question rather because of the illustration it is of the changed attitude which has been adopted towards the right of asylum as compared with the attitude which existed in this country before the War. Before the War it was the recognised policy in this country—not only of one party, but of all parties—that we should provide an asylum to those who were driven from other countries for political reasons. As long ago as 1858 Lord Campbell, who was then Lord Chief Justice, referred to this recognised right of asylum as a glory which, I hope, will ever belong to this country. He went on to define it in these words: Foreigners are at liberty to come to this country and to leave at their own will and pleasure, and they cannot be disturbed by the Government of this country so long as they obey our laws. They are under the same law as native-born subjects, and if they violate them they are liable to be prosecuted and punished in the same way as native-born subjects. I think I am right in saying that it was in the early years of this century that that recognised right of asylum was seriously challenged in this country. In 1905 there was a Debate in this House, but even on that occasion not only the Liberty party, which was then in the minority, the Labour party, which was in a smaller minority, but the leaders of the Conservative party, advocated the principle which I am applying to the case of M. Trotsky to-night. Lord Balfour, for example, speaking in that Debate, said: There was no difference of opinion in the House as to the desirability of admitting aliens into this country who were genuinely driven out of their own country on the ground of their being accused of political crime or involved in political agitation. In reading those Debates I can recollect one of those rare speeches which have made almost historic certain Debates in this House, delivered by the right hon. Gentleman who still represents the University of Oxford (Lord H. Cecil) in which he asserted, in very moving language the same principle which was expressed by Lord Balfour in the quotation to which I have referred. If that has been the general conception of the right of asylum in this country, I wish to draw attention to the new conception which is expressed in the answer of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs to the question which a number of Members of the House, including myself, put to him last week. In answer to our question he said: In regard to what is called 'the right of asylum,' this country has the right to grant asylum to any person whom it thinks fit to admit as a political refugee. On the other hand, no alien has the right to claim admission to this country if it would be contrary to the interests of this country to receive him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1929; col. 603, Vol. 230.] [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I imagined that that sentiment would be cheered on the Conservative benches, because it is excellent, modern Conservative doctrine. It is not the Conservative doctrine of the great Conservative leaders in this House and in the country prior to the War. The minds of all of us have become demoralised by the hatreds and antagonism which arose out of the War. That demoralisation has taken place most seriously in the minds of those who were once led so nobly on the subject by Lord Balfour and by the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford and who are now falling such a long way behind the ideal on this subject which they held. But if it is good modern Conservative doctrine, may I suggest that it is very dangerous Labour doctrine, because if you examine that statement it really means that the right of asylum is no longer a general right of political refugees. It has become the exceptional right of the Government to admit them when the Government think fit. Does the right hon. Gentleman apply that same doctrine to other rights? Does he apply it to the right of free speech? Have the citizens of this country the right to speak freely, or have they only the right to speak freely when they speak what is convenient to the Government? Have the people of this country the right to freedom of meeting, or have they that right only when it is convenient to the Government of the country that they should meet? Have the people of this country the right to the freedom of association, or have they that right only when it is convenient to the Government that they should associate? Have the people of this country the right to trial by jury or have they that right only when it is convenient to the Government that they should be tried by jury? In the doctrine of the right of asylum which is expressed in the answer of the right hon. Gentleman I suggest that the right of asylum exists, not as a general rule to political refugees, but only when it is convenient to the Government of this country.

From those general principles, I turn to the case of M. Trotsky. I want to suggest that there is not the least doubt that M. Trotsky can fulfil the definition which was laid down by Lord Balfour, and which I have already read. There is no doubt that he has been genuinely driven out of his own country, on the ground of his being accused of political crime or involved in political agitation. There he was, whatever our views may be of him, one of the most distinguished statesmen in Europe. There he was, a great figure who has had an extraordinary personal influence upon European affairs. By the Government of his own land he is first exiled and then deported from his country. He is at the present moment in Turkey. He is suffering from chronic malaria. Turkey is a malarial country. He requires expert medical advice and treatment which he cannot secure there. He asks our Labour Government for permission to enter this country for that medical advice and treatment. He is prepared to lay down the strictest limitation as to his activities. He is prepared to live where the Government may desire him to live. He is prepared to accept any conditions of this kind which the Government will lay down. He is prepared to give an undertaking that he will remain in this country only for one month for the medical advice and treatment which he desires. When M. Trotsky, with that experience of his and with that request which he makes, is refused admission to this country by our Government, we can only regret that we have gone so far away from the principle of the right of asylum which used to apply to such cases.

May I just examine for a moment or two the case which is made against the admission of M. Trotsky in the answer given by the Secretary of State for Home Affairs? He states that, if M. Trotsky were to come here, persons of mischievous intention would unquestionably seek to exploit his presence for their own ends, and if, in consequence, he became a source of great embarrassment, the Government would have no certainty of being able to secure his departure. I very much hope that, when the right hon. Gentleman replies, he will indicate to us who are these people of mischievous intentions whom he has in mind. Does he mean the Communist party of this country? If he does, he knows how utterly feeble, how utterly futile, how utterly uninfluential the Communist party is. But, in addition to that, I think he will recognise that M. Trotsky has been expelled from the Communist party, and if it be such people that he has in mind when he speaks of mischievous intentions, he will know that, if M. Trotsky came to this country, the discipline of the Communist party is so stern that no member of that party would dare to have any communication with him because M. Trotsky has been expelled from it. But there is a second alternative as to people of mischievous intent. That expression may refer, not to the Communists, who are not in this House, but to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite benches. I suggest to the Secretary of State for Home Affairs that our Government should pay no more attention to the prejudices of this small-minded panic-stricken attitude of hon. Members on the opposite benches than they should pay to the Communist party. We have gone through a General Election, in which the party on these benches, and the party on the opposite benches which takes a similar view to that which I have been expressing to-night, have overwhelmed the Conservative party by the votes they have received in the country. I suggest that, when a great issue like this is at stake, it is our duty to make it clear that the decision of the electorate should determine our policy, and if the intentions of these people be mischievous, to let them carry out their intentions, because they can be safely ignored by the Government of this country.

As to the second point, regarding the embarrassment that might be caused if M. Trotsky at the end of the period declined to depart, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman of one interesting precedent which I know will appeal to him? That precedent is the case of Karl Marx. Karl Marx was a political refugee. He was denationalised; he had no country to which he could return. There was some opposition to his entrance into and his remaining in this country, but the Government of that time was big enough to take the view that this country should serve as a refuge to those who had been politically excluded from other countries. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not regret the fact that Karl Marx was welcomed to this country and for many years lived here in our midst.

I conclude with an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, I can understand that during the last few days there may have been a great desire that no step should be taken which might prevent events which are now likely, happily, to occur; but under present conditions I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his decision. I ask him to remember the traditions of this country when we admitted Kossuth, Victor Hugo, Garibaldi, Karl Marx, Mazzini, and others. At that time there were small voices terrified by fear which raised opposition to their entry, but now we all recognise that our country is the greater because they have been in our midst. We all recognise that our country is bigger and more dignified in the mind of the world because of the attitude which we then assumed; and I am perfectly certain that, if our Government will reconsider its decision, it will go forth to the world big and dignified, because it will be recognised that in our power we do not fear the entry into our country of one man who has been hounded out of his own country for the political views which he held.


I rise to say a few words in reference to the case which has been raised by the hon. Member opposite. I do so without any personal interest in the individual concerned, who may be most undesirable, and certainly without any interest whatever in his views. But I think that a very great principle is at stake, because for hundreds of years in this country we have been willing—and I think it has been a wise policy—to allow political refugees who for that reason have been driven from their own countries to come here, and it has been on many occasions to our very great advantage. I venture to think that no reason has yet been shown by the right hon. Gentleman for not acting in the same way on this occasion. I know he says that it might possibly cause the Government a great deal of inconvenience if M. Trotsky were to come; but, surely, that is not the issue at all. There has always been a risk of inconvenience in political refugees coming here, and it seems to me that it is not taking a very high line to say that, because we are going to be put to some trouble, therefore we are going to give up this old tradition. When the Huguenots came over here there were probably some very troublesome and nasty customers among them, who made things very difficult for the people in charge of affairs in this country at that time, but I do not think that anyone would desire for a moment to go back on that great act of policy, which has enriched enormously the people and the commerce of this country.

With regard to this particular case, the right hon. Gentleman has said that if M. Trotsky were once to come here there would be great difficulty in ever getting him to go away, but a very good precedent has been set by the late Home Secretary. There was a Rumanian Prince, Prince Carol, who came here and incurred the displeasure of the late Government, and he was in a very summary way, probably rightly, ordered to leave this country. I cannot see why the present Home Secretary, who in these matters seems to be modelling himself on his predecessor, could not act in the same way if M. Trotsky were to give trouble in this country. In view of the fact that he has given definite pledges, for what they may be worth, of good behaviour, I venture to think that it is a timid and really unworthy policy to take up the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman has taken up. It is an attitude which seems to me to be in no way dissimilar to that which his predecessor would have adopted if he had been placed in the same position. I cannot see in this, and I am sorry to say in some other matters too, any very great difference between the attitude of the present and that of the late Government.

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the matter from the point of view, not of the difficulties inherent in this case but of the great historical tradition for which this country has been known for hundreds of years all over the world. Up to the time of the War it was part of our national tradition and custom but in the years since the War there has been a great setback, and we have receded in many other respects. It was reasonable to hope that when a Government came into power with the programme, policy and pledges associated with the Labour party, they would not, when faced with a problem of this kind, immediately give way to the safety first principle, which is certainly what has taken place here. I hope if the right hon. Gentleman and the Government finally feel that they cannot see their way to allow M. Trotsky to come into this country, it will be for some reasons very much better and more cogent than anything we have had laid before us yet.


I hope the House will remember that we are, in a sense, not merely representatives of our constituencies for the moment but custodians of the traditions of this House, which go back for many hundreds of years. It is so easy to take a line which may be popular on such a question as this. It is so easy to say, "We do not like Trotsky. We do not want him here." That has been said over and over again, not only by people in this House but by large parties in the country, about all sorts of persons whether they came here or not. There was a time, I have no doubt, for instance, when the large majority of the House, and indeed the large majority of the country, disliked the late Mr. Keir Hardie so much that they would gladly have seen him sent to prison, not for any crime, but because they disliked him. That may have been the overwhelming feeling in the House and in the country but it was ruled out as quite impossible, because in this country we do not imprison people because we do not like them. We never have done and I hope we shall not begin to do so. That is the old tradition and, in spite of temporary brainwaves, we stick by the old traditions. You have here an old tradition which is almost peculiar to England. Of course, in the past Switzerland to a large extent shared with us the honour of being a country where refugees could go, knowing they were safe. Switzerland and England have always been the homes of liberty, the land of the mountains and the land of the sea, and here we are carried away by a momentary feeling of intense personal hostility to M. Trotsky to support Government action which is directly contrary to the whole of these traditions that we have supported.

Think for a moment what would have been our position if, in very similar circumstances, 100 years ago this country had refused permission to Danton, when he was outlawed by the Triumvirate, to come to England. If that had happened, history would be denouncing England and English policy at that time as being thoroughly un-English. I cannot help thinking that we are now dealing with M. Trotsky, a man in a position very similar to that of Danton, on very much the same lines and that history hereafter will judge us just as we should have judged Pitt's administration 130 years ago if they had refused permission to a man fleeing from the Terror in France to take refuge in this country. It is not a question of persons. It is a question of our historical tradition. "Safety first" is an easy way out. The late Government lost the election because the people of this country instinctively know that safety first is not the right motto for Englishmen. We have always to put one thing before safety, and that is honour. "Honour first" is a much better motto, and our honour is directly involved in this. If it goes out to the world finally that the Labour Government refuses to allow M. Trotsky to come here, and follows the example set, I am afraid, in Germany recently, then immediately we shall lose, in the eyes of all the other nations of Europe and America, some part of the glamour that attaches to the English name. I hope, particularly now when the negotiations with the Soviet Government, Trotsky's enemies, are going so well, we shall take this opportunity to change our mind towards the admission of this refugee and allow him to come here, where he may be a nuisance but where, in any case, we are capable of looking after our own nuisances in our own country. The most admirable speech that we had from the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway) ought to auger well for the result of this debate. We do not want to import into this question the slightest bitterness or party feeling. This is not a question of party. It is a question of English tradition and sound principle. That was the keynote of the speech of the Secretary of the Independent Labour Party. I am glad he spoke here to-night for the Independent Labour Party and I hope when we read our papers to-morrow we shall find that he also spoke for the Labour party as a whole.


I agree with my right hon. Friend that we do not want to import any bitterness or party feeling into this discussion, but we want to import a little common-sense. I should like him, and those who have spoken in this discussion, to ask themselves whether this right of asylum that they have spoken of is an absolute, unqualified right admitting of no exception whatsoever. I have never understood it in that sense. I am sorry indeed to differ from my good friend, whom I have recognised already as being a most excellent type of Radical, but I cannot share with him the view that in present circumstances we ought to admit M. Trotsky into this country. My right hon. Friend has talked about honour and safety first. Suppose we tried to draw a parallel of what might happen in this country. I am a strong believer in the bottom dog. I always like to defend him and to make sacrifices for him, and if a man came to my house to-night who was a fugitive from justice, it is quite likely that I should give him shelter. Certainly if he were a fugitive from tyranny I would give him shelter and protection. But if I knew that that selfsame man had already proclaimed his bitter antipathy and hatred towards me and had declared that he would seize every possible opportunity of doing me harm, it would alter my attitude towards him very much indeed. That is the real issue in the case of M. Trotsky. We have had cited to us the cases of Mazzini, Garibaldi, Kossuth, and others. All these men who came to this country to seek our protection and refuge were people who admired and loved British institutions.

I submit that M. Trotsky is not in that class at all. As far as I know M. Trotsky's views—and I am speaking now with particular reference to the Labour Government—he despises the Labour Government. He hates the Labour Government. He would not scruple by means fair or foul to destroy the Labour Government, because it is part of M. Trotsky's philosophy that the end justifies the means. His pledged word would count as dust in the balance—it is the ordinary Bolshevist theory—if when he got over here he saw a suitable opportunity of doing harm to or destroying the Labour Government I am quite certain that although my hon. Friend the Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway), said he might come here and make pledges and that he would not do us any harm, if he got over here and the capitalist newspapers—the "Daily Express," or the "Daily Mail" or any other of those papers—saw a suitable opportunity of getting in an effective blow against the Labour Government, they would not scruple to use M. Trotsky for that purpose.

Finally, I want to put this point. In spite of my feeling that M. Trotsky has no title to come here and would seek to use his powers to do us harm, I would overlook all that if M. Trotsky really were in the position of being some desperate-hunted fugitive who had no place in which to lay his head. But M. Trotsky is in no such desperate condition. I understand that he is living in Turkey in comfortable conditions in a very comfortable hotel, and is not in any desperate plight at all. As far as the plea of the hon. Member for East Leyton is concerned, that M. Trotsky is in acute need of special medical attention which he can only get in this country, I would submit that if he has the money which would enable him to travel to this country and to stay in this country for at least a month for the purpose of receiving that medical attention, he has the necessary money in order to enable him to invite an expert medical man to go from this country to Turkey and give him the necessary treatment there. For these reasons, I hope that the Government will stand firmly to their guns on this matter.

10.0 p.m.


I listened with great attention and a good deal of admiration to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway). I, like him, or rather, I would say, like the school to which we both belong, have been fed upon lofty and high principles which we attempt, I believe, as far as we possibly can, to live up to and advocate, but both of us, I am certain, have from time to time to recognise that these lofty and admirable principles have to be modified to meet special circumstances. At least I have learnt this, and I want to put before the House one or two reasons why I associate myself with the point of view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle). I am certain that if anyone were to stand up and advocate at the present moment that the German Emperor, who is not allowed to go back to Germany, should be allowed to come to England, there are many people who agree on this side with the abstract principle splendidly enunciated by my hon. Friend the Member for East Leyton who would vote against the admission of the German Emperor into this country for very sound and practical reasons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am not going to argue why. It is perfectly obvious why. There is another point to which I want to refer. M. Trotsky is not the only man who has been exiled from Russia. Over Europe there are millions of men and women holding the same faith as my hon. Friend and myself, who are not allowed to go back to Russia, but they are not allowed to come to this country either. Why? Because if they tried to come in large numbers—I believe that some hon. Members are smiling because I said "millions." There are millions of Russians who are exiled.


The phrase used was that there are millions of Russians who hold the views of my hon. Friend and myself.


I ought to say many of these millions hold the views of my hon. Friend and myself. They are not allowed to come to this country, because they cannot give the necessary economic guarantee that they would not fall upon our charity and assistance. I have never heard of a Member of this House getting up and asking that these poor people, many of them peasants and mechanics, should be given right of asylum, for the very reason that since the War we have not been able to afford to give right of asylum to these people on account of our unemployment problem. That is perfectly true. It is not a laughing matter. There are many of us who would like to advocate it. A part of the work of the International Labour Office is to try to find asylum for these poor people. We dare not approach England for the purpose of finding asylum because we know that the working people in England, through their trade unions, would say that we ought not to admit these poor working people into England while we have so many of our own unemployed. I am a democrat, and what is good for the unemployed Russian peasant is good enough for M. Trotsky. I do not believe that there is any danger that M. Trotsky would do anything to revive—"revive" is hardly the word—or help build up the Communist movement in this country.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Leyton that it is a negligible quantity in English politics. We have been very fortunate; we have had just sufficient of the Communist movement in this country to vaccinate ourselves against the real Trotskyism. I do not believe that M. Trotsky would be able to form a party in this country. There are no Trotskyites in the Communist party in this country, and for the very good reason that the Communist party here is entirely dependent upon Moscow. It dare not have a Trotsky element in it, otherwise the necessary sinews of war would be cut off immediately. I said that it was entirely dependent upon Moscow. That is not quite correct. In my Division, the Communist movement in its most dangerous element is partly subsidised by the local Conservative Association.


I should like to invite the hon. Member to substantiate that statement.


I can elaborate it, quite easily.


Substantiate it.


I do not know whether I shall be in order in going into it, but I will do so, with the permission of the House. We have in Battersea a branch of a notorious Communist organisation, called the National Unemployed Workers' Association. It is notoriously Communist. Everybody knows that it is part of the Communist organisation. It is a special organisation for what right hon. and hon. Members opposite fear most—they fear it most unnecessarily, but they do fear it—propaganda amongst children. A part of their propaganda is to collect funds for the purpose of taking children out to the country and, side by side with giving them entertainment, providing them with the necessary Communist views. The poster for that particular activity can be found posted outside the offices of the local Conservative Association. If hon. Members would look at the subscription list in support of this Communist activity they would find the names of the late Conservative candidate for North Battersea, and the late Member of Parliament for South Battersea. They will find that these gentlemen say openly that, in organising this business as members of the National Unemployed Workers Council, they are under the patronage of a certain Noble Lord who formerly represented South Battersea.


I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It would appear to an impartial listener to his observations that he bases his allegation against the Conservative party on the fact that one or two people who are anxious to help the unemployed have been so unfortunate as to do so through the local Labour party organisation. It seems to me that when the hon. Member reads his speech to-morrow morning he will appreciate that the evidence he has put forward is such as will not be given credence by most people in this country.


Unfortunately, I have been dragged away from the main current of my argument. I would add that this particular activity is deliberately organised by the National Unemployed Workers' Council in order to keep money from being given to a similar undertaking, which is non-party, non-religious, open to all the people of Battersea, and run by a Battersea council of Conservatives, Liberals and Labour people. I did not refer to the Conservative party as a whole: I said that the Conservative party in my district support this Communist activity by putting the bills relating to its activities outside the offices of the Conservative Association. I will now come back to my main point. I do not think that the Government will be embarrassed by the Communist or anti-Communist activities of M. Trotsky if he is allowed to come to this country, but I do think that they would be embarrassed in another way.

May I recall to the House a very lamentable tragedy that took place in Switzerland, a year or two ago. Unfortunately, owing to the War, there is a spirit of revenge, barbaric and cruel revenge, to be found in many parts of Europe, and probably existing in this country, against the Bolshevist revolutionists. It is hardly to be wondered at, although it is to be deplored. Everybody who has followed international politics will remember that international complications arose between Switzerland and Russia, because one of the Russian envoys to a conference in Lausanne was murdered by a man who thought, and probably it was true, this his family had been cruelly injured and barbarously treated by the Bolshevists.


That is an argument against having a Russian Minister here.


Possibly, but the only thing to be said in that regard is that, probably, the Russian Minister will be able to protect himself out of Russian funds. If we have M. Trotsky in this country, I believe that the British taxpayer will be compelled to pay heavily in order to protect him, if he is to be safe from the fate of the gentleman who died at Lausanne. It would be a most deplorable thing from our point of view if by allowing M. Trotsky to come into this country a tragedy similar to that which happened in Switzerland took place, apart altogether from the fact that we have no right to ask the British taxpayers to provide guards for a man who might be the victim of private enemies. For the reasons I have stated, I associate myself most heartily with the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), and I trust that the Home Secretary will decide not to modify his decision with regard to this application.


I had not intended to intervene in this discussion but for the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Shoreditch. I remember the hon. Member siting on this side of the House, in the corner seat above the Gangway, and making very remarkable speeches championing the opening of relations with Russia. No one was more indignant than the hon. Member at the withdrawal of the Russian Ambassador from this country, and I remember his bitter resentment at the alleged unfairness in the treatment of Arcos. There was no reference then to the hostility of the Russian Government, and its opposition to our institutions and our Constitution. The present Government of Russia has shown the same hatred as M. Trotsky; indeed, I understand that M. Trotsky is more ready to modify his views. One of the reasons why he was banished from his country was that he was prepared to adjust Soviet ideals to the principle of capitalism and a modified freedom. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] I do not pretend to be an admirer of the views of M. Trotsky, but I object to the hon. Member for Shoreditch after the many speeches he has made in this House—


May I submit to the hon. Member that in the case of the representative of the Russian Government we were giving a very considerable quid pro quo, because we were establishing trade and diplomatic relations with Russia and the Russian people. In the case of M. Trotsky, as far as I can see we are getting no quid pro quo whatever.


The hon. Member is prepared to swallow his principles apparently. When a man is out of power, driven out of his country, he has no use for him; but if a Government standing for views which are hateful and distasteful to him are prepared to do business with this country he is prepared to swallow his principles. That is not the Liberal way. Liberals dislike the views of M. Trotsky just as much as they dislike the views of the present Russian Government. It has always been one of the great principles of this country that a man political refugee could be sure of a home in England if he conformed to the laws of this country. For the last 50 or 60 years this country has stood by this principle. It is unfortunate that one of the first acts of the new Home Secretary, with little justification and little explanation, is to refuse an entry to this political refugee, who has been driven from country to country in search of a place where he can get restored to health and who can give reasonable guarantees. It remains to the right hon. Gentleman to deny him the right to enter this country. We await his reply with interest.


I am rather torn, because naturally the principle of giving fair play to any individual appeals to hon. Members on these benches. I find myself in a very difficult position. If my knowledge of the situation is correct M. Trotsky is a gentleman who has repented of his past folly. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, at all events, it is immaterial. We have had eloquent speeches by hon. Members on the Liberal benches who have said that hon. Members opposite have always believed in giving fair play to the Soviet administration in Russia, and it seems to me very peculiar that the first act of the Home Secretary is to refuse to allow to enter this country a person whose every act is personified in the present régime of the Soviet Government. I should like to know in what way M. Trotsky differs from the gentleman whom the Government proposed to see when he comes here to conduct negotiations? It seems to me that what the Home Secretary proposes to do is absolutely inconsistent. If you are prepared to claim friendship and renew negotiations with the Soviet administration in Russia one of the first acts on the part of the Government should be to hold out a friendly hand to a gentleman of such fame as M. Trotsky.

The present Home Secretary has made extreme speeches in the past in favour of the world's democracies, but those speeches were as nothing compared with the speeches that M. Trotsky has made. Surely it would be one of the fairest and most proper things for a Government of the calibre of the present Government to show good will towards future recognition of the Soviets by letting M. Trotsky come in. The right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is a man whom we know as an individualist who maintains a tradition of giving everyone, apart from party politics, a fair chance in this country. I hope that he will enforce his point on the Government. He has always stood for the recognition of the Russian Government; in fact he loves the sort of administration that is going on there at the present time. I am certain that he is going to bring whatever influence he has to bear on the hard-hearted die-hard Government which he supports.

I would like to have one really coherent reason given why M. Trotsky should be refused admission. We have a reputation for fair play. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were the first to criticise us if permission were refused to a musician of doubtful German antecedents to seek asylum in this country. Here we have a respectable gentleman—at all events respectable in the eyes of hon. Gentlemen opposite—who embodies some of the promises that they made at the Election, a gentleman who has always maintained that the world was made for the workers. Those who know the workers in Russia know that they have had very little of the world up to date. However, would the Home Secretary give a really definite reason for refusing M. Trotsky admission to this country—a reason different from that which he is prepared to accept in admitting an ambassador of the Soviet administration into this country. I see no difference between a man who comes here under the cloak of semi-respectability because the present Government desires to get something out of him, and a man who has fought in the past for what the present Government say is their ideal, and has been disgraced. Let us have one definite reason for the refusal to admit M. Trotsky.


I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was in the House last Thursday, when, at considerable length, I answered a number of questions on this subject. In that answer will be found a set of reasons for the Government's policy upon this question.


I was in the House and heard no reason given.


I do not want to make any comment upon the hearing of the hon. Member, but I suggest that he should read the replies that I gave. I shall now try briefly to supplement what I then said and to make some comments upon the course of this Debate. The House will agree that many things have been said in this discussion which are not very closely related to the policy of the Government on this subject. Comment in respect of those matters will not be expected from me. I do not in the least complain of the subject being raised, and I compliment the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway) on the form, the manner and the spirit in which he began this discussion. He made an eloquent and earnest appeal to both our intelligence and our sympathy, and I shall endeavour to do justice to his appeal. Though I sympathise very largely with his view, I cannot accept any one of his arguments. I am not quite clear indeed as to which of the two grounds he stood on. Does he want to admit M. Trotsky as a political refugee or as a sick man who can find, in this country alone, the medical treatment of which it is said he is in search? I can only say that we have had from no medical quarter any evidence of any kind as to M. Trotsky's physical condition, and that aspect of the question has not weighed with the Government in reaching their decision. I would say, to begin with, that the Government are asserting no new theory and laying down no new principle whatever in the decision which they have reached on this subject, and, on reflection, I think my hon. Friend the Member for East Leyton will, when he returns to this subject, see that there is no analogy whatever between the right of free speech and the right of asylum. Free speech is a right possessed by the individual, but the right of preventing the incoming of an alien is the right of the State. I have not spoken of any inconvenience falling upon the Government. I have not said that the Government would be embarrassed. Governments exist to be inconvenienced and to be embarrassed. I have spoken of the embarrassment which would be caused to the country, in our judgment, if, in the circumstances now existing, M. Trotsky were admitted. Nor is there any comparison between the instance we are discussing and the case of Prince Carol. Prince Carol came to this country possessed of papers enabling him to return to other countries when this country was so minded. There is no analogy whatever between Prince Carol's case and that of M. Trotsky.


What about Karl Marx?


Karl Marx has long been dead, and we are dealing with the present situation. On the question of the right of asylum, I have asserted, and I hope I shall prove, that no violence has been done to that right, and that we are setting up no new principle of any kind. The Home Secretary should be the last man to presume, himself, to state what is the law upon this question, though of course the Government have paid some attention to the legal aspect of this case. The right of asylum is defined in the Encyclopædia Britannica as the right in international law which a State possesses, by virtue of the principle that every individual State is sole master within its boundaries of allowing fugitives from any country to enter or sojourn in its territory. The right is therefore that of the State into whose territory an alien seeks to enter, and is not in any sense whatever the right of the immigrant himself. Oppenheim in his standard work on International Law says: The so-called right of asylum is certainly not a right possessed by the alien to demand that the State into whose territory he has entered with the intention of escaping prosecution in some other State should grant protection and asylum. For the State need not grant these things. The so-called right of asylum is nothing but the competence of every State … to allow a prosecuted alien to enter, and to remain on, its territory under its protection, and thereby to grant an asylum to him. The admission of an individual refugee or whole classes of refugees to any country is accordingly not at the will of the refugees but at the will of the State, which is free to judge whether or not it is expedient to admit them and has perfect freedom to act accordingly. We need not, for the purposes of our action and policy, question the good faith of M. Trotsky himself, and while opinions have been indulged somewhat under that head in this short discussion, I do not enter into that field. If it be true that M. Trotsky wished to come to this country for purposes of health and for the undertaking of certain literary work, then I think more persuasive reasons would have to be adduced under that head than have been furnished yet to the country or to the Government from any quarter. M. Trotsky is an extraordinary and a compelling figure, not only in Europe but in the world at large, and in our view his personality would inevitably be the centre of mischief-making and intrigue, which probably would eventually be the cause of serious embarrassment to this country. That might be so, even though he did not desire it himself, and that conclusion has been reached by His Majesty's Government.

No one, I am sure, on this side of the House at least, will desire to take any step which would add difficulty in any form to the endeavours which the Government have now in hand and are prosecuting with a view to establishing better relations between Russia and this country, and that, of course, has been before the mind of the Government in reaching their decision. A point of real force in this Debate has been the point that M. Trotsky does not stand alone. There may be many other Trotsky's. The position in Russia, as we see it, is such that many others formerly of position and power in Russia may also desire to come to Britain or to England, and we have to consider the Trotsky case in relation to those other possibilities that might follow—[An HON. MEMBER: "Tomsky")—Yes, and there are others. The Government feel that should any undesirable consequences ensue from Trotsky's presence in this country, the Government would certainly be held responsible and would find it very difficult to justify their action to the country. There is no doubt, however willing M. Trotsky himself might be to carry out any undertaking given by him on his own behalf or by other persons on his behalf, that there are in this country many evilly disposed persons whose activities might result in serious mischief if M. Trotsky were to be made a centre of intrigue in this country. I urge that these are adequate reasons for the conclusion reached by the Government, and I say finally that no great principle is at stake and that no great principle has in any sense been damaged by the decision which we have reached. The right of asylum has not been impaired, and in our judgment the decision of the Government is in the best interests of the nation.


I do not want to challenge the definition of the right of asylum given by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, because no doubt he is quite correct in defining it as the right of the State, but if he means by the right of asylum that the Government are entitled to let in whom they like, that no claim shall be made upon them to let in anyone who would in any way be inconvenient to them, that no one can object, that they have only to state that it might be awkward and that that is a sufficient answer, that is not the sense, whatever it might be in law, in which the right of asylum has Been claimed as being a peculiar privilege of the British nation which they have afforded to all people. When they have claimed that, they have meant that those who, for one reason or another, could not find a resting place in any other country of the world have been able to find it on these shores. We are told that M. Trotsky might be a centre of intrigue of evilly disposed persons who might take advantage of his presence, but that might be said of every well-known person who, from time to time in our history, has taken refuge in our land. It might be said with the greatest emphasiss that the Emperor of the French, Napoleon III, when he came here, was a man who was likely to be the centre of conspiracy. That has happened again and again with many people in our history, and if we had refused to admit anybody whose presence might be inconvenient to another State, and incidentally to our own authorities, we should not have gained our illustrious reputation for admitting people even if they were inconvenient to other Powers and to ourselves.

It is that right, and not a mere abstract legal right of asylum, which the Home Secretary has correctly defined, which I should like to vindicate here to-night. I daresay that the presence of this exile would be inconvenient to the Soviet Government. I do not wish to be hostile to them, but I fail to see why we should consider them, any more than we should consider other governments of a similar kind in the past. They are not entitled to any peculiar priviliges in our eyes. They are just entitled to that consideration which we have afforded to other nations in the past, and this has been a privilege which we have afforded to individuals. We have recognised here a right of individual safety and refuge, sometimes against our own convenience and that of other nations. Surely it is not the place to deny that right in the case of M. Trotsky. It may well be that Members opposite may say that they have suffered more by attacks from the Soviet Government, and M. Trotsky himself, than from anybody else. The language that has been used in those quarters against the Labour party has been as strong as against anybody in this country, and if they were seeking any party advantage they might well say that he was an inconvenient person to admit, but I appeal to them on higher grounds than that, and I believe I can do so with confidence. I appeal to them to disregard any cause of complaint that they may have against M. Trotsky, as we all ought to do, and that they should recognise a right of this individual, and I ask that it shall be vindicated.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-two Minutes before Eleven o'clock.