HC Deb 02 June 1930 vol 239 cc1923-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]


I desire to raise a matter which I gave notice at Question Time to-day that I should raise, and it has reference to a communiqué issued by the Government of India on the 5th May last. In this communiqué for the first time there was a disturbing reference to the effect of Communist propaganda on the North-West Frontier of India. Since that date there have been, in certain statements in the Press and, I believe, in an official statement issued by the Government of India, further references to another form of this propaganda, and in particular to the activities of an organisation called the Red Shirts, who have caused a great deal of trouble in the North-West Frontier Province and who have been responsible for the lamented death of a very distinguished British police officer.

At the time that the communiqué was issued, or two or three days afterwards, I asked the Secretary of State for India if he could ascertain from the Government of India some further particulars in regard to this reference, and the extent to which this agitation was taking place. The right hon. Gentleman told me that he would get the information as soon as possible, but it has not yet been forthcoming. I have no doubt the Government of India are very much preoccupied, but I should have thought that, in view of the importance of the matter, it would have been possible to obtain the information by telegraph. The matter was again raised in the course of the Debate on the Indian Estimates on Monday last, and I would point out that we, on this side, and particularly on this bench, gave general support to the Government of India in the course of that debate, but we were desirous of having further information about one or two matters that caused us anxiety, and this was one of them.

To-day, at Question Time, I asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in reference to a question which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), in regard to a statement issued by the Communist International, if he had received from the India Office a copy of this communiqué of the Government of India dated 5th May. To my astonishment, and that of my friends on this side of the House, the right hon. Gentleman professed to have no knowledge of the matter, or, at any rate, he said that he must have notice of the question. One would have thought that, on a matter of such vital importance, which undoubtedly indirectly affects his Department, he would have been aware of what the communiqué was, and of its contents, namely: For several months past agitators of the Congress and the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (Youth League) have been attempting to produce unrest in the Frontier Province.… Naujawan Sabha also disseminated Communist doctrines.… The organisations have meanwhile carried on active revolutionary propaganda in the city and surrounding villages. It is apparent that the Congress and Naujawan Sabha organisations have been engaged in fomenting open rebellion. Nothing could be much stronger than those words. Now we have, a few days ago, a statement issued by the Soviet State Publishing Department, which is a Government organisation, as being a stenographic report of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in Moscow last month. These are the relevant words: We have a difficult path in India. In spite of everything, we are not idle. Prom the platform of the National Congress, in the military camps, in the workers' quarters, in the peasants' fields, everywhere where we can penetrate, we are at work in spite of heavy Imperialist pressure. I will ask the House to put these two statements in juxtaposition and compare the communiqué of the Government of India with the statement issued by the Comintern. It is impossible for him and the Foreign Secretary to go on suggesting that these activities of the Sixth Communist International are of no importance, have had no effect, and are mere idle words. It is impossible for him to go on putting off from day to day a decisive answer to the questions put again and again from these benches, which, translated into the vernacular, may be described as "What are you going to do about it"? I promised the right hon. Gentleman that I would explain that he could not be here owing to the fact that he is taking the chair at a banquet, but he is represented by the Under-Secretary. I would ask two very simple questions. Do the Secretary of State and his Department receive copies of these communiqués and, in reference to this Communist agitation and boast and the Communist International that they are fomenting trouble in India, does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate bringing the matter to the notice of the Russian Government on the ground that their promise to refrain from hostile propaganda has been broken? I do not suggest that Bolshevist agitation has had much effect. I base my question on the communiqué, and it is impossible for the Government to ignore the very serious words which the Government of India have used and which I suppose the House fully accepts.


The Noble Lord is aware that my right hon. Friend is unable to be present. The communiqué of 5th May dealt generally with disturbances at Peshawar. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, in answer to questions, has stated that he requested the Government of India to report to him as to the allegations made in the course of that communiqué and in particular about the so-called Red Shirts. Up to the present, as I understand the matter, although this question can only be answered with up-to-date knowledge by the India Office, according to information which is in my possession the Government of India have not yet made the full report for which the Secretary of State has asked.

I may, in passing, say that the mere fact that the Komintern has claimed that it is responsible for various events which have been taking place is not, to me at any rate, nor, I think, to my right hon. Friend, conclusive evidence that they have, in fact, been responsible. I am sure that the Noble Lord will agree that until we have the full report from the Government of India on these matters it would be premature to come to any definite conclusions about them, or as to the part, if any, that the Komintern or any of their agents may have had in these manifestations at or near Peshawar.

The Noble Lord asked whether the Foreign Office is kept fully informed by the India Office of the various communiqués which concern us. The answer is "Yes, we are." All the India Office communiqués are automatically forwarded to the Foreign Office. It is the case that my right hon. Friend, in reply to a supplementary question asked for notice, but it is difficult for any Minister without notice to bear in mind particular dates when they are raised as they were raised in the supplementary question to-day. Had the Noble Lord put the question in a slightly different form and asked my right hon. Friend whether he received as a matter of routine, all these communiqués I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend would have answered him in the affirmative. Certainly these communiqués do come to us and are properly weighed by us and there is constant touch between the India Office and the Foreign Office with regard to affairs which concern both Departments. I suggest that until my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India has received a full report on these matters it is really not possible for us to say, on a matter which primarily rests with the India Office more than has already been said. As far as the Foreign Office aspect of the matter is concerned the Noble Lord will recollect that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made two statements, both of which hold good, and both of which are applicable to this matter. In the first place, my right hon. Friend stated some considerable time ago that he would not hesitate to take this House into his confidence in the event of a grave breach of the propaganda pledge coming to his notice. That undertaking still holds good. My right hon. Friend went on to say on that occasion that His Majesty's Government must be the judges in the first instance as to whether any given breach of this pledge was serious or not, and as to what action might be taken in the event of such breach of the pledge taking place. That was one statement made by my right hon. Friend which still holds good.

The second statement to which I was referring was even more recent. My right hon. Friend informed the House that His Majesty's Government had recently set up appropriate machinery for examining all the allegations which have been made so plentifully, supplied by hon. Members opposite and from other sources, in which the Comintern have also greatly assisted—allegations as to propaganda of all sorts, whether real or imaginary. That machinery has been set up, as my right hon. Friend has indicated to the House, and quite clearly, if, after the Secretary of State for India receives the full report of these proceedings to which the Noble Lord referred, the report seems to show that prima facie evidence is forthcoming from India that these events seem to bear upon them the mark of Communist instigation, then that evidence will also be handed over for further examination in connection with the other evidence which is already being dealt with by the appropriate machinery referred to by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the other day. I hope I have now answered the two specific questions put to me by the Noble Earl.


Does the statement of the hon. Member mean—


Sir Kingsley Wood!


We have had a thoroughly unsatisfactory reply from the Under-Secretary of State, one of a series which have been given in this House during recent months. I was amazed to hear the hon. Gentleman state that the Government have yet to inquire whether the allegations contained in the Government of India's communiqué can be verified or not. It is a strange thing to come from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. If anything is perfectly plain, it is the statement in the communiqué which has come from the Government on the spot, which knows the full facts and states quite plainly and openly exactly the state of affairs that is going on there, and who is responsible for them. In these circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman has again permitted the Soviet Government to humiliate us and to stir up trouble. Men are daily dying in India as the result of this course of conduct and the only thing that the Under-Secretary has to say on that course of conduct is that some committee or other is going to be set up by the Government to inquire into the matter. He has not told us what that Committee is. It is quite apparent that this is merely another device for delay, and to save the face of the Government. I suggest that the whole course of events ever since the right hon Gentleman the Secretary of State put his signature to this agreement has shown that the Soviet Government have not been prepared to keep it. Every week in this House, as is apparent to any one, instance after instance has been given—


On a point of Order! I would like to ask whether it is in order for the right hon. Gentleman to make aspersions against a friendly Power— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I submit that it has been repeatedly ruled that no Member must make aspersions against a friendly Government—[An HON. MEMBER: "A hostile Government."]—and the right hon. Gentleman is certainly doing that just now.


No point of Order arises.


I want to add this in conclusion, because we shall have an opportunity of dealing with this matter on Friday, that it again shows the unfortunate position in which this country has been placed by the action of the Government in this matter. On Friday we shall have another opportunity of showing to the House and to the country the unfortunate position in which we now find ourselves.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.