§ Commander OLIVER LOCKER-LAMPSON
Hon. Members opposite are under the impression that we on this side of the House have always been indifferent to the fate of Russia and careless as to the future of that great country. The facts really are that many of us know Russia very well, some of us lived there and fought there, and all of us who know Russia and its people love those people and lament that so large a quarter of the globe should at this moment be sunk in slavery, and we pray for the opportunity of striking the shackles from their limbs. There is another argument used against us by hon. Members opposite. It is often alleged that we are indifferent to any increase in trade with Russia. Nothing could be more untrue than that. There can be no one on this side of the House who does not wish to revive trade in any part of the world. We are as desirous of increasing our markets in Russia as anywhere else. The time has gone by, if, indeed, it ever existed, when we could inquire into either the political views or the ethical standing of those to whom we wanted to sell our goods. We should never dream of asking a Russian trader whether he belonged to the Primrose League before we would sell him our goods. But we must make certain, before we sell our goods, that those who buy them have got the cash and the credentials and the credit. If they have got that we will not be over-fastidious as to their morals.
It is one thing to wish for an increased trade with Russia, and it is quite another thing to recognise the Soviet, and we think the worst way of increasing and improving the trade of this country is by giving peculiar facilities to this State at this moment. If you are going to select any country to which you would like to grant trade facilities, why select Soviet Russia, and grant to it facilities which you deny to any single one of our 2582 Dominions? If you wish to give peculiar gifts, benefits, and boons why, for instance, do you not select countries like New Zealand, or one of our Dominions that stood by us in the Great War and paid all their own obligations, instead of selecting a State which deserted us in the Great War and robbed our nationals of every single farthing they possessed in Russia? Perhaps I shall be told that that is only an historical argument, but I cannot help that, for it seems to me that the historical argument against recognition at this moment is overwhelming.
What was the position? The Soviet Government, alone of our allies, deserted us during the Great War. Germany gave Lenin £2,000,000 to return to Russia to debauch the armies which were fighting for the common cause. Hon. Members opposite imagine that Lenin returned to crush the monarchy. But nothing could be more incorrect. The monarchy disappeared before Lenin reached Russia. It was Kerensky who set up a free State, and it was Lenin who returned to Russia with German gold and stole from Russia the first freedom she had known. Lenin took from Russia the free republic which she had won. The Soviet Government next signed the most treacherous of treaties which sold millions of Russian souls into slavery to Germany and which had the effect of prolonging the War for another two years. In this disgraceful way the Soviet sold not only her own countrymen but our chances of victory, and to-day there must be hundreds of thousands of people mourning British dead who would be alive if Lenin had not sold the pass. Having done that Lenin set up this regime, persecuting religion and abolishing property.
Hon. Members opposite may ask what has that got to do with us? [An Hon. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] In reply to the hon. Member who said "Hear, hear!" I would like to point out that the Soviet Government, having expropriated all their own people, then turned their attention to every one of our citizens and there was not a British citizen in Russia whom they did not either imprison or drive out. They took every farthing which those British citizens possessed. They drove them out and imprisoned them and then the official representatives of the Soviet State entered our embassy one day and murdered our representative, Captain 2583 Cromie.[Interruption.] That is on record, and it has never been denied. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not true!"], An hon. Member opposite says that statement is not true, but one of my officers was present on that occasion, and I have a written and signed document from him which I am ready to put up against any statement on this question which the hon. Member can bring forward. That British officer was murdered simply because he stood up for England and for the common rights of our citizens.
In these circumstances, can hon. Members wonder that we were rather slow in recognising Russia? Is it to be wondered at that we were slow in recognising this chivalrous and courteous Republic? Yet such is the good will of John Bull, that he is easily moved to sympathy. Soon after that we find him beginning to forget and forgive, and within a very few years a Government came in power which decided to recognise the Soviet Government. What Government was it that decided to recognise the Soviet? Was it a benevolent Labour Government? No, it was just a Coalition Government with a majority of Tories that decided to recognise the Soviet, and we gave them trade facilities in our markets and diplomatic immunity and other rights. It was a generous experiment and how has that generosity been repaid? I hardly like reviving certain old animosities or mentioning anything which may tend to stir sullen and slumbering emotions. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are doing it!"] But our generosity on that occasion was badly repaid at the election which followed when we suddenly found the representatives of the Soviet interfering in the General Election and there appeared the famous Zinovieff Letter. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was a forgery!"] It was exactly like thousands of other letters which came from the same Moscow mint: and that so-called forgery was believed in by the Prime Minister. At that time Lord Haldane said it was true and the Foreign Office said so as well. [Interruption.]
§ Commander LOCKER-LAMPSON
I am sorry to provoke hon. Members, but it is well known that that letter converted 2584 a good many people in the country, and the result was that my party was returned with a bigger majority than we should have had but for the publication of that letter. That was a mandate to clear out these propagandists. But we kept them in and we permitted them to exercise trade facilities and other privileges. Yet all the time they were abusing our hospitality. Is it to be wondered at that under those circumstances after a few months we were faced with the worst possible disaster that any country has had to meet since the War. We suffered what was called the General Strike. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite may not like any references to the General Strike. I do not think that it was a strike at all: It was an installment of revolution. It was not even general and it was not a lockout. It was technically known as the General Strike. That strike was manufactured in Moscow. It is a form of import on which we are going to put a tax when we win tariff reform at the General Election.
What happened after that? We had hardly got out of the general strike when we were plunged into the most calamitous of all difficulties, a lock-out in the mining world. I am not one of those who feel happy about the result of that mining struggle. I do not like to think that the miners were allowed to return humiliated and beaten after so many months. But I would ask, why was it that they lost the good will of the country? It was simply because they took money from the Soviet, simply because £1,500,000 came through that tame tool of the Soviet, Mr. Cook, their leader. They lost, not only the good will of the country, but the support of their fellow trade unionists because they accepted money from a tainted source. But still we stuck to the Soviet. Even then we never did anything to drive them out, but presently—I hardly dare mention this subject for fear of exacerbating the sensibilities of hon. Members opposite—a couple of secret documents suddenly disappeared. They were traced to a house called Arcos. We found the agents of the Soviet masquerading as merchants. We found Arcos itself to be nothing more or less than a Communist clearing house in these islands. Quite rightly, we turned and said, "We have had enough of these false friends; out they must go," and we cleared them out.
2585 Were we wrong? [An hon. Member: "Not half!"] An hon. Gentleman says "Not half!" I suppose he means by that that we lost trade by clearing them out. May I ask how much trade we lost by keeping them in? How much did the general strike, the mining lock-out, and the other troubles cost? It is alleged by hon. Members opposite that we can increase the trade of this country by £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, even by £6,000,000 a year, by reviving relations with Russia. How much did we lose in those few months of strike and lock-out? We lost £600,000,000, on an official estimate. I would rather lose £6,000,000 in trade with Russia than lose £600,000,000 by depletion of the stock of our wealth owing to this poisonous vendetta of the Soviet. May I, in that connection, quote certain figures? We alleged that the presence of these enemies in our midst at that time produced that result. If we examine the statistics of hours lost during this time, we find the following formidable figures. In the three years before these enemies were cleared out, we lost on an average nearly 50,000,000 working hours a year. That figure dropped to 1,500,000 during the two years after they left these shores. Again, consider the money spent in strike pay by the trade unions. The year before these enemies left our shores, the trade unions paid £5,500,000 in strike pay, while they only paid a little over £100,000 the year afterwards.
These are the facts, and nobody can deny them. They prove conclusively that it costs more to have the Soviet agents here than to keep them out. And yet, regardless of this lesson, the present Government decided to recognise the Soviet, and the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary opened their arms and welcomed these old friends in. I wonder whether they are quite as happy at the present moment as they were then? There is a note of doubt, sometimes, in the answers of the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary to some of our questions. I wonder whether they are contented with these new friends? I wonder whether the embraces of the Soviet are not rather like those of the octopus—a little too endearing to be altogether comfortable! Nevertheless, although His Majesty's Government have invited these so-called friends back, their associates 2586 and representatives in Moscow continue the foulest abuse of His Majesty's Government. We do not much mind anybody abusing the present Government as such. But, after all, the Prime Minister of this country is England, and we do not like to see the representative of England called a hangman by the people he is trying to be good to. What is the argument in favour of allowing them in? Once again hon. Gentlemen tell us that the reason we must allow them in is to increase our trade, and yet, as a result of allowing them in already industrial troubles have increased in the United Kingdom, and racial difficulties have grown throughout the British Empire. Let us look into our hearts and compare the present political position, the national and international position, with the position when our party and our Government were in office. When we left office, China was pacified. [Interruption.] Yes, we defeated the roubles of Lenin there. Egypt was no longer disaffected. Under the wise rule of Lord Birkenhead, India was a calm and contented country.
What has happened now? Within three months of our recognition of the Soviet, the long arm of revolution stretched out, and our Viceroy was nearly assassinated in India. That was the first attempted assassination for half a generation. While we were in office, nobody ever heard of Mr. Gandhi, but, the moment the Soviet was recognised, Mr. Gandhi revived, and, prodded on by the bayonets of the Bolshevists, he advanced on his ridiculous salt march.
If we turn our eyes to England to-day, what do we find? We find that even in the North we have troubles, which are nourished by whom? We have the words of Mr. Alfred Inkpen himself, telling us by whom. Writing in the "International Press Correspondence," which is the Moscow official organ of the Communist International, Mr. Alfred Inkpen, the general secretary of the Communist party in England, said this, among other things:The value of the 'Daily Worker'"—which, again, is subsidised by our friends overseas—is seen in the party's compaign in the woollen textile lock-out, where for the first time a huge industrial dispute, involving tens of thousands of workers, is being 2587 conducted to a considerable extent under the leadership of the Communist party and the Minority Movement,both of whom draw their sinews of war from this subterranean foe. That is the positions. Nations today do not make war by declaring war. They used, as we know, to march against each other with arms and ammunition; but rifle bullets have become obsolete to-day. There is a far more useful weapon, if you want to ruin a friend or an enemy, than any bullet or bomb. Money exists in a million forms for that purpose, and money can come in anywhere. It can cross any trenches. It can jump over any dividing sea. It can penetrate and percolate through any defences, until it has got into the heart of the citadel and undermined the garrison. Money pays for what? It pays for that distortion of truth and that perversion of it which is called propaganda. Propaganda is the poison gas of peace. The Red roubles are busy at this job.
May I ask hon. Members finally to consider for one moment what exactly the State is which we acclaim to our hearts to-day? I will leave out the past. We will not remember that it is founded upon murder and pillage, that it lives still by persecuting religion, that it has made an art even of kidnapping. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] Only the other day a Russian General disappeared in France, kidnapped by the Bolsheviks. [An HON. MEMBER: "Prove it."] I can prove it easily if I am ever given the opportunity, and if I am challenged again by the right hon. Gentleman, I certainly will. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen may say, why should the Soviet permit people, who are against them, to return to their country? Yet we have this staggering fact that to-day there are more exiled Russians outside Russia who cannot go back than there are people living in Australia. To-day none of the so-called Whites can return, but also a great many of the Reds cannot return and some of the Pinks, even, are not permitted. Mr. Kerensky, the Ramsay MacDonald of Russia, cannot return. Even Mr. Trotsky is in exile. He is, I suppose, the Mosley of Moscow. He cannot get back. That is the State which hon. Gentlemen opposite want to recognise. All I can say is that that 2588 State is founded, not upon the rights of man, but upon the wrongs of man, and it is our duty as a great country not to recognise wrong, not to place a premium on fraud. Our oil wells in the South of Russia were stolen by the Russians—oil wells belonging to our people in which quite humble Englishmen were working. We, nevertheless, recognise the State that took them. Near the border of Southern Russia we happen to have oil wells in a place called Persia where we share the profits with the Persian Government. The Persian Government have no trade delegation with diplomatic immunities in this country. What is going to happen if one day the Soviet says to Persia, "Steal these oil wells; we did, and got recognised twice over". The conscience of England is against our shaking hands with shame. Public opinion is against our grovelling to the Soviet, and we on this side protest against bartering our birthright for a mess of Bolshevist porridge.
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR
The hon. and gallant Member has once again attempted to scare us with all sorts of wild misstatements as to the position of the Soviet Government in relation to certain matters. I did not propose to follow him through what purported to be a historical survey of the Revolution and the action of the Bolshevists. I will deal only with one statement he made, not for the first time in this House. I happened to be present on the last occasion when he made it in this House, and I remember quite well that a member of the Liberal party at once contradicted the statement. I propose, with the permission of the House, therefore, to quote from the Debate of 7th July, 1924. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that, after this statement relating to the alleged murder of Captain Cromie had been made by the hon. and gallant Member, Mr. Lessing rose in his place and used the following words:I only desire to intervene in this Debate for a very short time, and, before I address myself to certain points that have been raised in the Debate so far, I should like, if I am in order, to refer to something which fell from the hon. and gallant Member for the Handsworth Division of Birmingham (Commander O. Locker-Lampson), who referred in rather pointed terms to the death of Captain Cromie … I think that possibly it may be of interest to the Committee if I throw a little light on the subject, because, first of all, I was present on the occasion 2589 of the alleged murder of Captain Cromie. There has been a great deal of misconception about a good many of the happenings since the Russian Revolution took place, and particular reference has been made before in this Chamber to the death of Captain Cromie. Whatever doubt there may be as to whether it is to be described as a murder, I should like, if I may, to correct the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth, and to say that there is not the slightest doubt that Captain Cromie was buried in a proper way.And so on. Then he went on to say:I do not think it is out of place to say … that the death of Captain Cromie would never had occurred had it not been for the fact that, admittedly owing to the unwarrantable attack on the British Embassy which took place, Captain Cromie was carrying fire-arms, and as a matter of fact, shot two of the assailants before he was shot himself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1924; col. 1847, Vol. 175.]
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
The general opinion in the Navy is that Captain Cromie was murdered. Had Mr. Lessing any trade interests in Russia?
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I am not concerned whether Mr. Lessing had interests or not in Russia. It is customary in this House to accept an hon. Member's statement, and as that hon. Member told us that he was present at the time this incident took place, I prefer his testimony to that of the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Commander LOCKER-LAMPSON
Really, the point is this: In our view Mr. Lessing, although in the building, was not present when Captain Cromie was shot. Captain Bucknall and his wife were both present when Captain Cromie was shot, and they say that he did not shoot anybody, but was foully murdered.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I do not propose to pursue this matter. I merely dealt with the statement in order to discount a very large portion of what the hon. and gallent Member has said, because it is quite impossible to take a reasoned view of the relationship between two great nations by a recital of a number of incidents which took place many years ago, and about which there is some disagreement. For instance, when I was in Baku I noticed the graves of 27 Bolshevist commissars. 2590 A very large number of the Russian people believe, and assert, that those commissars were shot by the orders of certain British officers who were in Baku at that time. I do not accept that story. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why mention it?"] Because there are two sides to every question, and, if we are going to continue to have this constant vendetta against Russia by the Conservative party and the raking up of old history, it is obvious that the peace of the world is going to be menaced and that the proper relationships which should exist between the two nations will be rendered impossible. Therefore, it seems to me to be of little use to rake up these old difficulties. What we need to do is rather to turn ourselves to the future, to see how far the mistakes of the past can be remedied and what can be done to promote the mutual interests of both countries.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is constantly making statements in the country and in the House to the effect that the Government are giving to Russia credit and other facilities which are not being given to other parts of the British Empire, and to other foreign countries. That statement is absolutely incorrect. It is not in accordance with the facts. All the credit facilities that are being granted by the Government are available for the British Dominions and for every country in the world, exactly as they are available for trade transactions between Russia and British traders and, therefore, it is totally unfair to say the Government are granting facilities to Russia which they deny to the British Dominions. I can assure him that Members on this side of the House would be only too glad to see our factories filled with work from the British Dominions and Colonies, or anywhere else, but because that is not forthcoming, we are most anxious, in so far as we can on sound lines transact business from Russia, to provide work for our unemployed people, develop the most cordial relations between the two countries, as that must necessarily be the basis of successful trade.
I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman was really serious when he referred to the general strike, which he told us had cost us some £600,000,000, as having been caused by Bolshevist intrigue. He knows perfectly well that that state- 2591 ment is quite untrue. He knows that negotiations were broken off, not by the Bolshevik's but by the Conservative Government, at the very hour when a settlement was in sight. We had in this country a great upheaval in 1911. We had a great railway strike. Does he suggest that these industrial upheavals were due to Lenin or the Bolshevist Government? He does not in his more sober moments. He knows that these great industrial issues arise from economic factors in modern society and, whether there was a Bolshevist movement or not, industrial difficulties and upheavals would be likely to occur. I was most interested to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman mention his friends overseas. He was referring to the "Daily Worker." I have often wondered exactly where the funds come from to run this newspaper. I have suspected that the Conservative party has much more interest in maintaining its publication than Members on this side of the House. Now at last I know that his friends overseas are subsidising it and enabling it to carry on its propaganda.
It is constantly stated by Conservative propagandists that the Russian Government has consistently repudiated its trading liabilities. I want to make the same challenge to-day that I have made on many previous occasions. I ask any hon. Member to rise in his place and to point to one single instance in which the present Russian Government, or any of its trading organisations, has ever repudiated a single trading obligation it has ever entered into.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware that the Lena Goldfields have a concession in Russia. I believe arbitration is proceeding. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman has later information than I have.
§ Major KINDERSLEY
It is not proceeding at the moment. I understand it is going to continue, but without the arbitrator who should be appointed by the Russian Government.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
Obviously this question of a concession being operated in Russia is not quite the transaction that I had in my mind. I ask again for one single 2592 instance of any trading transaction in this country by a Russian trading organisation.
§ Mr. ALBERY
I do not rise to give the hon. Member the exact answer he has asked for but to remind him that no one at any time has ever said anything to that effect.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
Very well. Then it is clear that a very substantial volume of business, amounting to over £200,000,000, has been done between traders in this country and the present Russian régime and its trading organisations without one single penny of loss falling upon British traders since the signing of the trade agreement of 1921. If that is so, it is obvious that those who seek to disturb the confidence of those who are carrying on Anglo-Russian trade by all sorts of statements that cannot be substantiated are really going a very bad thing for the country. They are preventing men being employed, they are undermining confidence, and creating anxiety in the minds of those who have substantial commitments in Russia.
May I refer to pre-War trading departments? It is not true that the present Russian Government has consistently refused to recognise its liability in this connection. In the Trade Agreement of 1921, signed by the Coalition Government with Russia, the preamble distinctly stated that the Trade Agreement was to be regarded as a provisional arrangement until such time as a full general Treaty covering all outstanding questions between the two nations could be negotiated, and in an addendum to the agreement it is laid down in express terms, to which the signatures of both sides are attached, that Russia recognises in principle her liability to pay compensation for trading debts and for pre-war indebtedness in respect to loans.
All the fault in this matter is not upon one side. It is true to say that during the lifetime of the Conservative Administration they steadily refused to make any approach to Russia with a view to initiating a new treaty in order that this principle already admitted by Russia in 1921 could be worked out, and, if anybody is responsible for the traders in this country not receiving any compensation for what they have lost in Russia, it is the Conservative Administration, who for four 2593 years and a half refused to make any move towards a settlement of this problem. These debts are an important factor, and, as far as I am concerned, I have never hesitated to say both in this country and in Russia that a recognition of the principle of the payment of trading debts and pre-War loans must be made by Russia if we are to get a real settlement in the relationship between this country and Russia. Once you admit the principle of repudiation in relation to debts arising out of trade, you strike at the very foundation upon which international commercial intercourse is based. Therefore, I yield to no one in my stand for the recognition of that particular principle. That is true not only with regard to myself but with regard to my right hon. Friends who are in charge of these negotiations.
We never hear from the Conservative side that in this matter there is a Russian case as well as a British case. We do not hear, for instance, of the enormous damage, speaking in an economic sense, which was done to Russia as a result of the prolongation of civil war by the aid of British money and by the financing of one string of adventurers after another. Millions, and many lives—some say as many as 3,000,000 lives—were lost during that struggle. It is clear that that struggle could not have been prolonged as long as it was if it had not been for the intervention of Britain and other countries in the internal affairs of Russia. If it had not been that we had provided money to finance the anti-Bolshevist movement in Russia, civil war would have ceased and much of the loss of life and the economic damage and disorder and dislocation created in Russia would have been avoided.
I hope that neither this country nor the Government will unduly be disturbed by another speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson). There are in this country a number of people who take him seriously. I happened to be in the office of a manufacturer whose works, as far as they are working at all, are engaged almost entirely upon the execution of Russian orders. The first thing that he said to me last Saturday morning was: "Have you seen this morning's Daily Mail'"? When I saw the "Daily Mail" I realised that we had in this country very powerful interests 2594 who for some reason or other conceive it to be their duty to create every possible difficulty they can in order to prejudice the growth of Anglo-Russian trade. Although my friend is a very staunch Conservative he very strongly disapproves of the attitude of many members of the Conservative party in relation to this question. I hope that the Government will not modify their policy or show the slightest weakness because of this constant vendetta on the part of the Conservative party against Russia.
We in industrial Lincolnshire, like other parts of the country, have struck a very bad patch. Countries like Spain, full of political unsettlement, are unable, owing to those conditions to give us the normal quota of trade. In Egypt, and the Sudan, very important markets for us, similar conditions obtain. In India, a period of political excitement and disorder has practically closed the orders from one of the greatest outlets for the products of our factories. We have an amount of disorder and unsettlement in China. We have the adverse economic conditions in our Dominions and in the East and West Indies due to the fall in the price of foodstuffs and raw materials, and at the moment the one market where we are making any sales at all is in Russia. We want the Government to face up to the great difficulties which are involved. We do not want them to surrender to unreasonable demands. We do not want them to throw about British credit as though it were water which could be thrown about in unlimited quantities without proper safeguards. That kind of action can be done much more efficiently by hon. Members on the other side of the House when they are in charge of the finances of the country. We ask, in so far as unemployment can be decreased by a wise use of increased credit facilities on sound transactions, that the Government should face up to the problem and help to get every available man at work.
§ Dr. BURGIN
A debate on the question of Russia raises many important points. Russia, an unhappy country, is in almost as much danger from the over zeal of her friends as she is from the attacks by those who cannot believe anything good of her. It would be a great pity if in this discussion to-day we had an overstatement on the one 2595 side or an understatement on the other. I wish to offer a few observations to the House upon the subject of the recognition of Russia and trade with Russia generally. Far more questions are raised by this debate that the mere question of trade. Russia, almost a continent in herself—160 times as great as our own country with a population of 130 odd million souls—is of far greater consequence to this country as the leader of Western civilisation that she is merely as a buyer for our merchandise. I am sure that, the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of Foreign Affairs will agree with me that the interests of a great country of that kind are Europe's interests and are the world's interests and that we are not merely talking of it in terms of finding a market for goods which we cannot otherwise sell. There are far bigger principles at stake. If we are to debit to that country or to any country the acts of any irresponsible nationals of that country, we shall indeed compile a heavy balance. The Government of Russia is not the only Government in Europe to-day which appears to transgress many of the elementary rights of individual liberty. There are many other Governments which appear to us both in commercial matters and in the manner of dealing with their own nationals to transgress the British idea of liberty and freedom.
We on these benches do not propose to take part in the debate to-day with a view to debiting to Russia a number of events in the past which have been caused by individual Russian people. We prefer to approach the question of recognition from this standpoint: Have you anything to gain by blinding your eyes to the fact? Is there anything to gain by affixing the bandage to your own eyes? Here are the Russian people. Here is the established Government. It is admitted that it is no concern of ours, whether we like it or not. There is no suggestion that we should intervene to alter it. There is no suggestion from any responsible person or party that we should take any part in counter-revolutionary propaganda. Some of the sentences that were used by the hon. Member who opened the debate sounded singularly along those lines, but I am sure that there is no one who 2596 seriously suggests that we should attempt to control our relations with Russia by in any way countenancing revolutionary activities. That being so, we are faced with the fact of an established government ruling in a country close to us, and offering to do business.
The two alternatives are either to do business with recognition or to do business without recognition. That is a matter for His Majesty's Government, with the advice at their command, to select and determine, and they have proposed, and there is no sign in the country as a whole that their proposal is not welcome, that we should both do business and recognise. That appears to me simply to take into account the very obvious fact that the Russian Government is there, is likely to continue, is continuing at the present time and cannot be altered by anything that we do. Therefore, all these facts are in favour of the recognition of Russia as a State, and we think that recognition is a fact which imposes itself upon the intelligence. We are in favour of that course because we share with hon. Members in all parts of the House, and particularly with hon. Members opposite, the desire as export traders to do as much trade as possible with anybody who is willing to buy from us and capable of paying for their purchases.
§ Lieut-Colonel FREMANTLE
Is it not a fact that America, who does not recognise Russia, does a great deal more trade than we do?
§ Dr. BURGIN
It is true that down to the present time America has done an extensive trade and has declined to recognise. Our anxiety is that our own proportion of trade should enormously increase, and we are endeavouring to propose a method which in our view will have that result. Russia, an extraordinary congeries of peoples talking a large number of different languages, has two great difficulties as a country; one is the enormous length of the winter and the other is the vast expanse of territory which has to be covered, and the consequent difficulties of transport. The way in which the standard of living of the Russian people is most likely to be raised is by some alteration in domestic conditions and in the method of transport between the different sections of peoples and the towns. Something like 2597 75 per cent. of the entire Russian people are non-urban. There are remarkably few towns with any really large centres of population. It is a country which is really too big to manage. We are not unfamiliar with the case of the machine which is bigger than the man who controls it. The real difficulty in Russia today is the organisation of its communications, its food supplies and its raw materials, and it is precisely in the realm of domestic requirements that this country can so enormously increase its trade with Russia. Clothing, boots and shoes, tools, every mortal thing connected with transport are precisely those articles in which our export manufacturers specialise, they are precisely those things in which there is at the present time a comparative dearth of orders, and we are ready to undertake large external shipments in these very things which Russia requires.
Common sense seems to indicate that we should be very slow to do anything which might act as a deterrent upon Russia from placing large orders with us and allowing us to co-operate in giving her a helping hand with some of those questions of distribution and administration. I ask those who know the geography of this part of the world to think of Russia beginning with the Eastern Polish frontier and running right through to the Chinese Seas—an enormous area. If Russia wishes to buy goods, to which side of the compass must she turn her eyes. Not to the east, because there lies the sea, although no doubt she must do some trade with Japan. If she wishes to do purchases on a large scale the eyes of Russia must be turned towards the west. [An HON. MEMBER: "America!"] Whether they are turned towards America or towards ourselves is entirely our affair. I decline to subscribe to the suggestion that our salesmen are a wit less capable than American salesmen. It is entirely a matter of the control of affairs on the Floor of this House whether we sell more goods to Russia or not. [Interruption.] I hear expressions of dissent. I do not say whether they are capable of repetition. There were expressions of extreme dissent behind me. I can give to the House detailed illustrations. I am talking as a theorist but with a good deal of knowledge of practical examples of large and heavy contracts which can and will be 2598 placed and which depend to some extent upon the temper of the House as shown in a discussion of this kind, and the way in which the country receives and approves the consequent vote.
If and when Russia looks towards the west, and looks towards us, are we going to be ready to reply to that look, or not? The Russian people with their long winter and with the tremendous distances between them and urban facilities and urban joys, are a people of curious psychological outlook, and the danger is not as hon. Members above the Gangway on this side of the House appear to imagine; it is not that America will be the country that will supply Russia, but there is an infinite greater probability that it will be Germany that will supply Russia, not only because the Germans are there cheek by jowl with the Russian people and because large areas in the New Poland were formerly German, but because Germany is putting forward an enormous sustained effort to gain from Russia the trade that is European. There is a tremendous European market for the supply of Russia's needs and it will be our fault if we allow the major portion of that market to pass to Germany instead of getting it in this country.
We are of opinion that recognition will help rather than hinder trade and that recognition is essential to those of our citizens who go in for extensive export trade. There are, however, certain difficulties about trading with Russia which it is well that the House should appreciate. They are not always peculiar to trade with Russia but are also common to trading with certain other countries that infringe liberty. May I give from personal experience of my own examples of two acute difficulties in Russia at the present time which have happened since this matter was last discussed in this House. The first difficulty is that the Russian authorities are in the habit of interfering, as an Executive, with purely commercial transactions between Russian nationals and British nationals. You find this type of interference, that if it is the Russian desire to exclude a particular British trader from Russia they will do so by withholding the visa for a period of time. They may do it on these grounds that are not in the ordinary sense political and they may pull an oar in the Russian trader's boat and say: 2599 "We will assist you in some measure by declining to allow your opponent to come to Russia," thereby depriving him of any remedy in the Russian courts.
That is a real danger. I do not want to exaggerate it, but I put it forward as one who has special inside information of the way in which that difficulty is arising, so that there shall not go from this House a sort of assurance that trade with Russia is like falling off a log. It is nothing of the kind. There are special difficulties to overcome, and one of these difficulties is the fact that Russia might play a hand in the matter by declining a visa to a British trader. Another difficulty is covered by what is called the doctrine of "restraint of princes"—an act of State. It is well known to hon. Members that in a contract between individuals impossibility of performance is an effective answer and one of the grounds of impossibility of performance that might be pleaded is that the performance had been rendered impossible by the Government of the country in which the trader lives. I want to warn British traders that one of the risks they may encounter, and which traders do encounter is that at a particular moment in a commercial transaction Russia, for reasons of her own and over which we have no control, may simply say "Thou shalt not" and if Russia by a decree in such a form as the constitution permits cares to prevent the exportation of money and prevent the payment of goods in kind or cash it would be perfectly competent for the Russian State to do so and there would be no remedy in the hands of the British trader.
Again, I do not wish to exaggerate that point, but some of us who have trading operations with Spain, and Italy and Russia are finding in an increasing measure that attitude of the restraint of princes, an act of State, a matter of considerable difficulty. You are left absolutely powerless. You have entered into a private contract. If you make your contract subject to Russia law you are in the hands of the Russian authorities. If you make your contract according to English law you meet with the same difficulty because English law says that you cannot sue if an act of State is pleaded against you. It is a matter which must be dealt with by an insurance policy against the risk or on the ordinary 2600 trade footing that there are some risks against which you cannot provide and that you must take into account in determining whether you are going into the transaction.
We on these benches attach enormous importance to the greatest possible development of our trade with Russia. Does that necessarily mean that we as a country are going to stand by and accept any rebuff or interference with what we understand to be the basic conditions of the Treaty? We are as jealous of the rights of this country as hon. Members opposite and we have no intention of subscribing to any doctrine which will give Russia the right to commit any illegality and carry on any form of propaganda which may be of a dangerous or damaging character. We do not suggest that. We suggest recognition, carefully watched with open eyes, and if there is a breach of the law then will be the time to take steps to remedy it. We do not subscribe to the idea that if there is a serious breach we should do nothing at all. That is over-caution. I have heard accusations regarding propaganda, and there is one instance of a real case of propaganda having been brought home to the Russian Government; in connection with the North West frontier of India. If Moscow, knowing the feelings of this House and this country chooses deliberately to try and sow discord amongst the simple tribesmen and peasants of North West India steps will have to be taken to counteract it. The Foreign Secretary will, I am sure, agree that if instances of actual participation by Moscow in the sowing of discord and discontent amongst the peasants of North West India were brought to his notice he would make adequate representations to the Government of Russia.
§ Dr. BURGIN
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has sufficient means at his disposal to see that any representations he may make are taken at their face value and backed up.
§ Dr. BURGIN
It means exactly what language is intended to mean, and conveys I hope the same thing in Woolwich as elsewhere. This trouble in the North 2601 West frontier of India was occasioned by, certain leaders of the peasant movement being trained in a foreign city in the art of sowing discord. That city is well known to hon. Members if, at the present time the use of the placard, the spreading of discontent, the art of sowing discord and the method of spreading dissatisfaction is in reality being taught to chosen representatives of the peasants of the North West Frontier of India by Moscow with any sort of State approval then it is time to protest and to intimate that all our friendly relations and our desire to trade will be seriously affected by a proved instance of that kind. Friends as we are of Russia and desirous of recognition, anxious as we are to trade on proper and sensible lines, we will not tolerate for one instant proved cases where Russia, or any other country, oversteps the lines of what are peaceful dealings with other States.
§ Major-General Sir ALFRED KNOX
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Burgin) on a thoroughly liberal speech.
§ Sir A. KNOX
Yes; a statesmanlike speech. He has given a little bit of sympathy and comfort to the Government benches and a little bit to us. My object in addressing the House is, if possible, to extract from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs or his representative some account of the secret negotiations which led up to the recognition of the Soviet Government of Russia. We recognise that there was at least one promise made by the Socialist party before the General Election which would be fulfilled. The Prime Minister said he would recognise the Soviet, Government by hook or by crook, and as he had a majority in the House since the Liberal party supported the idea of the diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Government. Therefore, it was no surprise when on the 15th July the first approach was made to the Soviet Government. In due course M. Dovgalevski arrived here and saw the Foreign Secretary, on the 29th and 30th of July. Then on the 1st August we were astonished by the Foreign Office announcement that the negotiations would not continue for the present. We were at a loss to understand what had happened. 2602 There was a rift for about six weeks. The House rose at the beginning of August and hon. Members went abroad, some to take a cure, others to places overseas, some no doubt Went as far as Vienna, perhaps some of them even to Moscow. I ask, Was there any left wing influence brought to bear on the Government in order to bring these two negotiations together? I am only asking for information. My impression as a man in the street is that the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in his first meeting with M. Dovgalevski, took a fairly British point of view. He probably said: "We have got claims against you for debts, pre-War and War. We do not want any more propaganda. We want to discuss with you before we recognise you, diplomatically and officially, what arrangements you will make to recognise those debts; and we want you also to undertake to give us security that in future you will not engage in propaganda against this country."
As far as we know, that proposition was turned down by M. Dovgalevski. But, owing to some occult influence—perhaps owing to some meeting in a hotel in Vienna over a glass of tea or, may be, a glass of vodka—a friendly arrangement was made. No doubt our left wing representative there was met by whoever it was from the other side, who said to him, "Well, how are you getting on? How is you new Foreign Minister?" "Ah," was the reply. "He is a stupid fellow; be cannot understand your system over there, but I will do my best when I get back. I will bring you together." And the other, no doubt said, "Thank you very much, we will have another glass. When Great Britain becomes a Soviet republic we shall see that you will be Prime Minister and Chief Commissar." Then what happened afterwards? On, I think, 8th September the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs sent another invitation to the Soviet Government to begin conversations again, and they sent a representative, and then we had that charming idyll at the White Hart Hotel at Lewes when, on the way to the Labour Conference at Brighton, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State—I hope not over another glass—signed this agreement.
2603 When the terms of that agreement became known there was naturally a good deal of anxiety in this country, not only among out-and-out Tories, such as I am proud to be, but also among the ordinary people of this country who are not as advanced, and who do not know Russia as I do. Those people wondered what had happened. The right hon. Gentleman in debate in this House on, I think, 5th November, did his best to calm our fears. He said this:We stand by the declaration we made in 1924 to the effect that we would not allow any direct intereference from outside in British domestic affairs and would insist that the promise given by the Soviet Government to refrain from any act liable to endanger the tranquillity and prosperity of the British Empire, and to restrain from such acts all persons and organisations under their direct or indirect control, including organisations in receipt of any financial assistance from them, such as the Communist International, which is organically connected with the Soviet Government, should be carried out both in the letter and in the spirit. This is, in fact, an undertaking that Soviet propaganda will not be tolerated in any form or at any time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1929; col. 901, Vol. 231.]Excellent. We could not have anything better. But then we turn to the Soviet Press, and what do we see? A statement was promptly issued by the "Izvestia"—I am not quoting from "Our Riga correspondent" I am quoting from the "Daily Herald." This is the statement in the "Izvestia," which followed that statement of the right hon. Gentleman here:The Soviet do not and cannot promise to curb the activities of the Communist International, which is an independent organisation outside Soviet control.1.0 p.m.
Four days later the Prime Minister went to the Lord Mayor's banquet at the Guildhall (on 9th November), and he then said:We want to stop propaganda, which it is illegitimate that one country should countenance against another.Again the "Pravda," this time the official organ of the Communist Party, replies and says:It is now necessary to make clear that Mr. MacDonald may give promises, at a Lord Mayor's banquet and Mr. Henderson may juggle in Parliament, but this does not bind the Soviet Government.We want to know where we stand. The right hon. Gentleman makes a very brave speech in this House, and tells us he 2604 looks upon the Soviet Government as bound to control the Third International. We do not specifically attack the Soviet Government; we attack the Third International and its harmful activities all over the world, which are preventing the constituents of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor) from getting orders from China, India and other places. We want to control those activities, and we contend that until the Soviet Government acknowledges in writing that it is responsible for the Third International we shall have no cessation of propaganda in this country.
I would like to draw attention to one or two things that have happened since this official recognition of the Soviet. M. Sokolnikov arrived here on December 12th. Here are one or two things—portentous things—which have happened since then. There has been an intensification of Communist propaganda in this country. First of all, the Communist party in this country have been thoroughly reorganised. The weekly Communist organ has been turned into a daily, and I would like to know where the funds come from. They do not come from the Conservative party as the hon. Gentleman opposite suggests. It costs no small amount of money to run a daily paper in this country, as the representatives of trade union organisations no doubt know, from their experience of the "Daily Herald." Then, in December of last year, there was a plenary session of the Young Communist International, and instructions were sent to this and other countries to intensify the nuclei in all factories and to intensify Communist propaganda among the troops. As a result of that in the last two or three months we have had the distribution of seditious literature to soldiers and sailors at Chatham barracks, at Aldershot, Catterick, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Colchester, and Newcastle. These are sent out in racing tipsters' circulars, and are signed "The Communist soldiers' cell." Then there has been a great effort by Communists in the North of England to intensify the bitterness of the textile dispute. Lastly, we have the report—I do not know what truth there is in it, but the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Gentleman who replies will tell us—that the Third International has an idea of transferring its chief headquarters in Western Europe from Berlin to London.
2605 However, these are only matters concerning England. I would like to say a word about the propaganda in India, because that to my mind is far more serious. The House will remember that for many years past a constant cause for anxiety to successive Governments in this country has been Russian encroachments towards India. That, happily, was put an end to, for the time being, 23 years ago, when the Liberal party, which was then in power, signed the Anglo-Russian Agreement, which divided Central Asia into spheres of influence. That—which is really, I believe, the greatest pact for peace that the world has ever seen—was scrapped some years ago after the Bolshevist Revolution in 1917. Now we have a situation in India which is quite different. As I happen to have travelled on both sides of the frontier of Afghanistan and served on the North-West frontier of India, and travelled through Central Asia, I know perhaps a little of the conditions. After I had been in Central Asia, I saw some of the enormous difficulties that any invading army would have to contend with in trying to get through Afghanistan into India. But it is quite a different thing for one germ-laden propagandist to cross those high passes where an army corps could not penetrate. It is very easy for one propagandist to get through. That is the danger from which we are suffering. I believe that in the defence of India, we have a far more real danger now than we have had for 60 or 70 years. We have abundant evidence that our foes in the Third International are fully alive to this fact.
I recently saw a Russian paper, the "Pravda." It did not come from Riga. I translated myself an advertisement of a college in Leningrad for the instruction of communists as "active workers in the countries beyond our borders in Asia," as they were described. The advertisement called for recruits to go to the college for a two years' course of instruction, among other things in Pushtu, the language of Afghanistan and the language of Peshawar, where the recent disturbances took place, in Bengali and in Urdu, the general language of India. This advertisement was signed by Lunacharski, Minister of Education of the Soviet Government. Is not that a direct case of incitement to the preparation 2606 of propaganda by the Soviet Government itself? I would like the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs to reply to that question when he speaks.
Then we had mention only the other day of the organisation of Red Shirts all along the frontier. I do not know what the intelligence officer in the frontier provinces have been doing in allowing this sort of thing to go on. It is due to the extraordinary leniency and apathy of Governments ever since the War. They have been so busy in trying to find out some modus vivendi or to get an agreed formula that they have forgotten the primary duty of Governments. Why they have allowed this propaganda amongst an ignorant and credulous people I do not know. The present leader of this Red Shirt Organisation is a man called Mian Jaffar Shah, who is said to have got his Communist education and instruction in the Tashkend School of Instruction. These are some of the things upon which I want a reply.
I appeal to the House in this sense: I have the same anxieties as the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor) about the extension of our trade. He wants trade. But while you are trading with Russia you ought to remember that you are really helping to equip what is neither more nor less than a slave State, which is employing compulsory labour in its timber forests, which is compulsorily organising all its farms into collectivist farms, and which is going to be an enormous danger to employment in this country, because if their so-called five-year plan proves a success they will dump to an extent such as has never been heard of before. Rather than worry about increasing exports to Russia, we should take thought of our trade with India amounting to £82,000,000 in a year. If we lose that trade, as we may owing to Communist propaganda, what is going to happen to this country?
§ Mr. MALCOLM MacDONALD
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken will not expect me to follow him in his speech. He has addressed certain specific questions to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and no doubt he will receive very decisive and effective answers. It is a thousand pities that this question cannot be considered by many hon. Members opposite without 2607 a great deal of prejudice. Their detestation of a political party in Russia which believes in principles opposed to their own will not permit them—
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I am not discussing that now. The detestation of hon. Members opposite of these principles will not permit them to come to a cool judgment as to what our policy towards Russia should be. We had a classic example of how prejudice warps their view in the speech of the hon. Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) this morning. He built up a case for the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Russia which was founded on the accusation that the Russian Government is responsible for the trouble in China, responsible for the trouble in India, responsible for the trouble in Egypt, responsible for the trouble in Palestine, responsible for all the other racial troubles which this and other countries are facing to-day. If it were worth while to go into those arguments in detail and to devote one's speech to the question, I believe the arguments could be shattered completely. Take the case of China. The hon. and gallant Member drew attention to troubles which have been continuous in China ever since we recognised the Russian Government last year. What is the fact about China? The fact is that the Russian influence, which was very prevalent in China two or three years ago, came to an end long before the Labour Government came into office last year. Borodin, previously political adviser to the Chinese National Government, was dismissed many months before that event, and ever since we recognised the Russian Government last year the political adviser of the Chinese National Government has not been a Russian subject but has been a British subject, Sir Frederick Whyte. Since then the predominant influence in China has been British influence.
Then come to an example of racial troubles within territories for which we ourselves are responsible. Take the question of Palestine. As a matter of fact a special Commission was sent out by this Government to inquire into the real 2608 causes of the trouble. That Commission analysed the situation and discovered the causes, or is supposed to have discovered them, and declared that the causes were very far removed from Bolshevist propaganda amongst Jews and Arabs. If one were to devote one's attention to the various examples of the mischief done by Bolshevist agents which were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member, one would find that nine-tenths of what he said could not be established by the evidence. It is quite true that there are difficulties in facing this problem. There are peculiar difficulties because of the peculiar nature of the Bolshevist government in Moscow. Hon. Members opposite have concentrated on the difficulty with regard to propaganda. Let us isolate that question of propaganda; let us try to deal with the problem as though it was the most important consideration with which we are concerned this afternoon. Would that propaganda come to an end or would it even be lessened if we broke off diplomatic relations with Moscow to-morrow? Would the number of pamphlets issued or the articles written be lessened? Would the friendly tone of those articles be increased from the day on which our Ambassador left Moscow?
As a matter of fact, the very opposite would be the case. Propaganda would be intensified and would become much more bitter. I contend that the very honourable agreement to which the Government came with Russia last year has had a tendency to restrict and limit that propaganda, and that we are faced with less propaganda against Great Britain to-day than we would have been facing if we had not come to an agreement with the Russian Government last year. The Secretary of State has made his position perfectly clear. He has stated in the agreement which he signed, his view of the propaganda for which the Russian Government is responsible. He has left himself a certain amount of discretion, and we, on this side of the House at any rate, have perfect confidence in his discretion. He has authority by his own signature to warn the Russian Government and, if necessary, to break off relations with the Russian Government if that propaganda which he has defined takes place and tends to defeat the purposes of the agreement as a whole. But I maintain that to break off relations on this question of propaganda alone, in 2609 order to lessen propaganda against Great Britain, is a policy which would defeat its own end and result in a great increase of that propaganda.
I believe that the House would be making a great mistake if it regarded the question of propaganda as the most important of the questions which we are considering to-day. Reference has been made in this debate to the larger question of trade between Russia and Great Britain. That is a matter of first-class importance, but I do not believe that even that larger question is the only thing with which we are concerned in this debate. The relations between this country and the Russian Government affect the still larger questions of harmonious relations between one nation and another throughout the world and of friendliness and peace among the various communities around the globe. Assuming for the moment that the argument of hon. Members opposite is correct and that propaganda is taking place for which the Russian Government is responsible and which that Government could prevent, what should our policy be? Should it be one of cold-shouldering and isolating Russia and excommunicating Russia from the society of nations; of denying ourselves the means and the power, by sending our representative to Moscow and receiving a Russian representative here, of influencing the Russian Government and trying to get it to agree more with our ideas of what diplomatic relations should be and how they should be conducted? I do not believe that even if the accusation regarding propaganda could be established by evidence, it would justify us in breaking off relations with the Russian Government. If we were to withdraw our Ambassador we should be withdrawing our influence from Russia altogether.
I believe that our proper policy is to be prepared even to close one eye if propaganda takes place, because we recognise that it is the price which we have to pay in order to make a gigantic and, I hope, successful effort to bring Russia back into the community of nations where she will be influenced by other nations and where she can influence other nations in the direction of establishing friendliness and peace among all nations. I think everybody agrees that if the great efforts now being made to establish a 2610 proper machinery for maintaining peace in the world are to be successful, no nation must remain outside that machinery. We have to try to bring every nation and especially a large and important nation like Russia within that machinery, but by cold-shouldering and isolating Russia we should not pursue a policy which would persuade her to co-operate with the other nations in that great work. By isolating Russia, instead of encouraging co-operation we should be encouraging non-co-operation; instead of encouraging Russia to be friendly towards us, we should be encouraging her to be still more hostile towards us.
If we are going to consider these larger questions of propaganda, of trade, of harmonious and peaceful relations among all nations, we should be prepared even to put the telescope to the blind eye when we are trying to discover propaganda. It would be worth while doing so where these larger problems and larger interests are concerned. I believe that the action of the Labour Government in recognising Russia has brought nearer the day when mutual trust and confidence and perfectly correct diplomatic relations will exist between Russia and ourselves. I spent a short time in Russia at the end of last year. I hasten to say that I am not the Member of the left wing of the party who was responsible, according to the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox), for setting the seal to the agreement over a glass of vodka. I am not saying that because I spent a few days in Russia I know all about Russia. I have not written any newspaper articles entitled "The Truth about Russia," nor have I published a book entitled "The Real Russia as I Saw It." I claim no authority at all, because it is obvious that one can get very few impressions even from an extended visit to Russia during these very enigmatic and curious times in that country. But one impression I got very clearly. I arrived in Moscow on the day after our Ambassador reached that city, and I got a very clear impression of what the arrival of our Ambassador meant to the ordinary man and woman in the street.
The Russians whom I met had not any idea that I had any relations sitting on the Government Front Bench in this House. They had no idea that I had ever 2611 been within 10 miles of the Palace of Westminster. I happened to be travelling with a party of Canadians and I was taken to be a Canadian, but the travel agency men who met us at the station, the porters and the waiters at the Grand Hotel where we stayed in Moscow, and the people with whom we came in contact in the opera house, the theatres, the shops and the streets spoke freely to us without any idea that any of us had any special connection with this country at all. These common men and women were enormously grateful to this Government for what had been done. They suddenly felt that a hand had been extended to them and they were willing to adopt an attitude of great friendliness towards this country as a result. I have no doubt that, on the ordinary men and women in Russia, the policy pursued by His Majesty's Government has already had a tremendous effect and has created a new feeling of friendliness and trust towards this country.
We must not stop there. The people who matter even more than the common people are the men and women responsible for carrying on the Government of the country, and, admittedly, we cannot see great results as regards increased friendliness and confidence on their part in the course of a few months. But I hope that the Government will stick unflinchingly to the policy on which they have started. One very wise and knowing person in Moscow said to me, "If you are going to get the good result which should come in the end from the policy of recognising Russia; if you are going to get friendship and trust between the Russian and the British Governments you must have patience. You will have to wait one or two years before you begin to get those results, because distrust of Great Britain has become so elementary in this country and so much a part of the obvious outlook of the people." That distrust was the result of the policy pursued by hon. Gentlemen opposite who are now trying to add one more to the difficulties which they have already created in connection with the relations between Russia and ourselves.
If we are to get a new spirit towards this country on the part of the rulers of Russia we must allow our Ambassador to sit in Moscow and to meet the people and 2612 we must not expect enormous results in the first year or two. If our Ambassador meets the Russian people and talks to them and out of his experience influences them, perhaps at the end of two years we shall have established at least decent friendly personal relations between the representatives of this country and the representatives of Russia. On that foundation of decent, friendly, personal relations, the other big things to which I have tried to refer will result. Therefore, I urge the House to give this Government its support and its entire confidence, in keeping in view those larger issues involved and at no cost allowing relations to be broken off with the Soviet Government of Russia.
§ Mr. BUCHAN
I do not propose to follow the several hon. Members who have spoken to-day into the realm of ancient and rather dubious history, or, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Wycombe Division (Sir A. Knox) into the realm of detective romance. I should like to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. M. MacDonald) in dealing with the first topic which he touched upon in his most interesting and valuable speech. I find myself in complete agreement on one point with the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Sampson), who first spoke. I have very little admiration for what seems to be the policy of the present regime in Russia. I do not admire their economics or their public doings. They seem to me to be a return to barbarism. There was a phrase of Mr. Gladstone's which he used about the rule of King Boroba in Naples, which, to my mind, might well be applied to the present regime in Russia. He called it "the negation of God erected into a system of government."
If you take that view, there are two possible policies. One is the policy of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Handsworth, to regard Russia as a plague spot and to cut off all relations with her. The other is keep communications open between Russia and the more sane and wholesome currents of the outer world. That is the view which I take myself. There may be coming out of this present chaos something of value to the world. I do not know—I am not in the least inclined to dogmatize—but if the future is 2613 so uncertain, I think it is wise to keep the communications open. If Bolshevism is merely sewer gas, then the fresh air will dissipate it, but if it has something of value in it, the fresh air will encourage it.
But whatever view one holds on this question, I cannot feel quite happy about the present relations between this country and Russia, and the point that I want to touch upon very briefly is the point that was raised by my hon. Friend, namely, the question of propaganda. I confess that I was never greatly enamoured of the arrangement made last Autumn by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in which the control of propaganda was made one of the terms of the recognition of Russia. I cannot understand how any Government can purport to control propaganda. It is a very vague word and a very vague thing. Even if you are innocent, you will be suspected. To-day there are thousands of people in America who believe that the British Government spends sleepless nights and days spreading broadcast anti-American and anti-republican propaganda in that country—a preposterous idea—but they can always provide some reason for their suspicions. In the same way, if you are guilty, you will nearly always be able to find an excuse to ride off upon. I cannot see how you can expect an amorphous and inorganic Government like the present regime in Moscow to control a thing like propaganda, even if its intentions were honourable.
I am not very much alarmed about Communist propaganda in this country of Britain. We are an old, a stable, and, on the whole, a rational people, and if Communism and Communist efforts get beyond a certain point, the common law of this country is perfectly able to deal with them. As for the ordinary Communist declamation, I regard that as a real support for constitutional government. Just as Russia's economic misfortunes are the best possible warning against revolution by violence, so I regard the ordinary Communist nonsense as likely to sicken the ordinary man of Communism altogether. But, while I think that is true in a stable country like this, there are other parts of the Empire where Communism may be a deadly poison—in India, for example, 2614 and among the native races of Africa. But in countries like that, it should be far more easy to detect the hand of another Government in such propaganda and, having detected its hand, to prove a case against it; and if that were done, clearly it is the right and the duty of this country to treat the matter as a grave breach of international comity and to break off relations altogether with the guilty Government.
That seems to me a reasonable and common-sense position, but that is not the position of His Majesty's Government at the present time. We have this undertaking on the part of Russia not to engage in propaganda, an arrangement which, I think, it is simply impossible to carry out. There have already been apparent breaches of that undertaking, and our protests have been met with levity or contempt. How could it be otherwise? What is the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State to do? The country at large expects him to hold Russia to her engagements, and foreign nations are watching curiously to see what will happen. But what is he to do? Is he to sit down and do nothing? Is he to protest, with the certainty that his expostulations will be disregarded? Or is he to seize the occasion for recalling our Ambassador from Moscow?
There are very real objections to any one of those courses. If he takes the first or the second, he will be open to the charge of weakness, and if he takes the third, he may find himself compelled to break off the policy of the Government for what may really be a trivial reason. I agree with the hon. Member for Basset-law, who has just spoken, that it may very often be wise in diplomacy to turn a blind eye to some things that are happening, but as we have this agreement, it is almost impossible to turn a blind eye. You have a watchful public and Press beside you. Moreover, every time the British Government shows itself apparently otiose and inert in minor cases, the more difficult it will be to act with resolution when a real case is proven.
It seems to me that the British Government is in a position where it is perfectly impossible for it to behave with real dignity. I greatly sympathise with the position of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. He is a good man 2615 struggling with adversity, an adversity not of his making. He reminds me of President Wilson before America came into the War when he protested against Germany's sinking of ships. First he protested mildly, then he protested violently, but Germany paid no Attention. He was compelled alternately to shake his fist and to wag his finger, which is not a dignified position for the head of a great Government. My right hon. Friend is rather in the posture of a man who is always fingering a pistol but never dare shoot. I am told by those who understand these things that it is never wise to handle a pistol unless you mean to shoot. But, indeed, there is one exact parallel. My right hon. Friend will remember Dogberry in "Much Ado about Nothing." Dogberry called the watch together and gave them their charge. He said:You shall comprehend all vagrom men; you are to bid any man stand, in the Prince's name.One of the watchmen said:How if a man will not stand?Dogberry replied:Then take no note of him, but let him go; and presently call the rest of the watch together, and thank God you are rid of a knave.I would suggest that Dogberry is not a dignified parallel for the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
I would really press upon the Government the need for a revision of the whole situation on this particular question of propaganda, for it seems to me that as things stand the Government is bound progressively to lose prestige. I am chary about the use of the word "prestige." Much wild and foolish talk has been used concerning it. Many follies and a certain number of crimes have been committed in its name. But it has a meaning. No private individual, no private business, can afford to lose caste, to enter upon a course which means a progressive loss of dignity. Reputation must still count for much both with the nation and with the individual, and a reputation for vacillation will not strengthen the authority of our Government in the counsels of the world. The one thing it seems to me that we cannot afford is that our Government and our nation should become comic figures.
Mr. FRANK OWEN
I rise to supplement the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Dr. Burgin) and the calm and reasoned plea put forward by the hon. Member above the Gangway for maintaining and, if possible, improving our relations with the Russian people. I do not subscribe to the Communist faith, and I do not approve of its practice in Russia, but it seems to me that at a time like this, when we are looking all round the world, not only for customers, but for lessons, that we ought to take both wherever we can find them. Without, as I say, being an ardent admirer of the Russian system, I must say we have in Russia both a great lesson and a potential customer, and we should do well to pay attention to both. What is happening in Russia at the present time is very well known to Members of this House. They are trying to plan the whole of their country for a vast development, to make of their country a State in which industry and agriculture are properly balanced, as they should be in any well-conducted State.
I think they have much to teach our present Government. They, too, had a declining coal industry, but they did not put their coal industry into a strait jacket when it is at its lowest point, and they did not set about trying to extract from a limited market the profits which should accrue from an ever-expanding market. They set about cutting twice as much coal as they cut before, and to-day they are producing twice as much coal as they produced before. They found a vast new market for that coal in new electrical developments all over their country, and to-day they supply four times as much electricity across the Russian Continent, for it is almost a continent, as they had in the years before the War. They are developing old canals and making new canals. They are putting £86,000,000 worth of machinery on to the land in order to benefit and cultivate more intensively their soil. They are developing a vast tractor hire service over the whole of the country. In their villages they are setting up, or trying to set up, a central electricity supply whereby cheap and abundant power shall be radiated to the whole of the countryside. On their railways they are putting new 80-ton locomotives and introducing big wagons. I think they did it just before the last 2617 election, in time for Lord Beaverbrook to advance it as a considerable plank in his programme at the election.
In all these things the Russians have much to teach us. When we consider the energy, the ability and the imagination with which, as I believe, those detested rulers are planning the economy of a great nation, and compare them with the village-green mentality of our own rulers, the comparison is too painful to be pursued. The point I wish to make is that they are not only giving us in this country a lesson in planning a nation upon a better basis than it was before, but they are raising there a new and immense potential market for our goods. I subscribe to the opinion advanced by my hon. and gallant Friend above the Gang-way when he told us that within a few years—as I believe, within 20 years—we shall find in Russia the most formidable industrial competitor this country ever had to face. He painted rather a doleful picture of this country's industries being swamped by the products of cheap slave labour in Russia. I think that is a very considerable fear. But that is the war view of trade, the view that trade development in one country must necessarily harm the trade in this country.
There is another aspect of that question. The very development which is taking place in that country calls for an increase of British products. The electrical machinery, the tractors and the other new plant they require should be and could be manufactured in this country, and therefore it is very important for us to maintain the most friendly relations with Russia.
Like the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) I deplore the propaganda which the Russian Government have conducted ever since the signing of the Treaty. Putting party questions aside, there can be no doubt that there has been a, considerable amount of it; but there, again, there is this point of view which has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. M. MacDonald) and should be stressed. In the present condition of Russia, in the curious form which their Government and their industry take, I believe we shall have this propaganda whatever 2618 happens, and therefore we should at least have the trade as well. The more trade we do with Russia the less propaganda, we shall have. If we try to shut the Russian nation within a Chinese wall, try to make of her a plague spot in the rest of the world, we shall only intensify those sources of hatred which find their expression in fresh propaganda. Russia is beginning to come within the comity of nations. In 1927 the Russian Government, for the first time, sent their delegates to the important economic conference held at Geneva. Some very remarkable people appeared there, not only the members of the League of Nations, but the representatives of Turkey, Mexico, and the Soviet Government—a somewhat mixed assembly. Then for the first time these people who had been regarded as outlaws came into the comity of nations, and we hope that good will spring from it. I think it would be a very unfortunate thing if we did anything at this juncture to turn back the movement which was begun at Geneva three years ago, and I beg this House to do nothing this afternoon, or at any other time during the lifetime of the present or any other Government, to jeopardise the good will which was then created, and which has been considerably stimulated by the statesmanlike attitude of our Government during the last few months.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I hope the Foreign Secretary will permit me to open my few observations by complimenting him on the honour he received yesterday at the University of Cambridge, an honour which is not merely a tribute to his own personal distinction, but also a compliment to the office over which he presides. The debate has covered a much wider ground than I propose to travel. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson), who opened the debate in an interesting and very moderately-worded speech, made an historical survey of our relations with the revolutionary, or at least with the Soviet Government of Russia which certainly has a bearing on our present relations with that Government. I am not concerned to-day with travelling once more over the ground which has so often been covered in this House, and on which 2619 parties have always taken up their positions. It is with the immediate situation that I wish to deal.
In passing, however, I cannot help noting one feature of this debate which forms a singular contrast with similar debates which I remember four or five years ago. There is no longer, in any quarter of the House, as far as I can see, much sympathy with the Soviet system of government. We used to hear speeches from hon. Members who now sit on the benches opposite which seemed to indicate that the Soviet Government then in power was a prelude to the millennium and really a model example of popular democratic government. Nobody has been found to voice that view to-day. In fact, those hon. Members who have spoken in this debate from the benches opposite have expressly repudiated that view. I was very interested in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor), who has shown himself in many ways to be so sympathetic in his outlook towards the Soviet Government as to become their apologist in this House. The hon. Member for Lincoln has laid it down as an axiom common to all parties that the Soviet Government doctrine of the repudiation of debt is one which it is fatal to public policy either to accept or to tolerate. Coming from that source, it is of some interest, and it is worth calling attention to the fact that that statement was definitely made, not only on behalf of himself and his friends around him, but as being the opinion of His Majesty's Government.
There are two things which it seems to me induce hon. Members in various quarters of the House to try and disregard acts of hostility by the Soviet authorities against the British Empire. The first is a motive with which I have a good deal of sympathy, and with which, indeed, I should have had almost complete sympathy if the experiment of attempting to resume relations with Russia by giving formal recognition to the Soviat State had not already been tried and proved inefficacious. That motive has been expressed by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) and by other speakers. It is contended that, by developing commerce in its widest sense and cultivating commercial relations, Russia will learn the 2620 futility of many of her aspirations, and will be brought to a sweeter and healthier frame of mind, and it is contended that by cultivating these relations with Russia we shall gradually wean the Soviet Government from their bad habits, and induce her to develop her own institutions without attempting to upset the institutions of those countries with whom she professes to be in friendly relation.
That motive has a great deal of sympathy. That motive and the desire to preserve as far as possible and as completly and as long as possible continuity of policy, irrespective of any change of Government in this country, was what led me to refer to what happened while I was at the Foreign Office when for months and years, weekly and almost daily, I was conscious of the infractions of the engagements entered into with us by the Soviet Government. It was that feeling which led me as a Member of the Government presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to associate myself with the plan for resuming trade relations with Russia. But before the ink was dry on our trade relations agreement, we had begun to complain of the action of the Soviet Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who had been passionately desirous of renewing relations with Russia and bringing her back into the comity of nations, before the ink was dry on that document found himself obliged to protest in the most solemn way against a breach of the Convention which the Soviet Government had signed.
In those circumstances, I thought it was rash to sign a new Convention giving further recognition to the Soviet Government while that Government were in open default on the previous Convention, and it was still more rash when that Convention, with its formal recognition of the Soviet as the de jure Government of Russia, had failed to restrain them from adopting a hostile policy. After the previous Government had been forced to send away the Russian diplomatic representatives and to break off diplomatic and commercial relations with Russia, it was still more rash on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to resume diplomatic relations by an agreement which at the time he signed it he knew was differently 2621 interpreted—interpreted in one way by himself on behalf of the British Government, and in another way on the part of the Soviet Government. How can it serve good relations between two countries that their representatives should solemnly put their hands to a document, one of them knowing perfectly well that it is not going to keep that which has been demanded by the other and is professed to be secured? It must lead to trouble, as is agreed by two hon. Gentlemen at least, and I think by the hon. Member who spoke last from the other side, if I followed aright that part of his speech which I was fortunate enough to hear. It must be humiliating to the British Government to continue day by day relations with a Power which professes to accept a principle which in fact it does not intend to honour.
There were two alternatives open to the present Government when they came into power. I say only two, because the third and the wisest they had precluded themselves from adopting by rash action and speech in Opposition and by unfortunate pledges during the Election. They had bound themselves to renew relations, and they were not, therefore, in a position simply to continue the policy of our Government, which was simply to say, "You cannot renew these diplomatic relations which you have abused until you give us an earnest, by abstention from the acts of which we have complained, that you mean not to repeat them in future." From that policy they were precluded by their Election pledges. They had promised to break with the policy of their predecessors, and to renew relations. That being the case, they had two alternatives. They might have said, "We are well aware that no agreement to abstain from propaganda will be observed by the Soviet Government, but we are not afraid of the results of Soviet or Communist propaganda in this country; we rely on the good sense of our people." It is only necessary to look around to see that the Communist party comprises very few people, that their speeches produce very little impression, and that even the Socialist party, which at one time hoped to secure them as recruits, has now found it necessary to cast off them and their doctrines together. Therefore, there are no great dangers, and we can afford to ignore 2622 them. It would have been more difficult, but it would have been possible, perhaps, to argue that the rest of the British. Empire is equally immune from this poison, and that we need not trouble ourselves about it; that we did not expect it to stop, and that we were not going to ask in particular that it should be discontinued, but relied on our inherent strength and on the gradual evolution of time to cure the Russians of this bad habit. That was possible, and, having regard to what has passed since, it really was the only logical position for the right hon. Gentleman to take up. If he bad taken up that position, he might have been criticised. Members on this side of the House might have thought that he underrated the danger in other parts of the Empire; they might have thought that it was not, on the whole, in the interests of comity or peace to be in formal diplomatic relations with a Government which broke all the rules which ordinarily govern the conduct of nations one with another; but the right hon. Gentleman would have been in a position which was logical and dignified. He did not do that, and he now finds himself in a position which is neither logical nor dignified. What was the position that the right hon. Gentleman took up? He must forgive me if I read a slightly lengthy quotation from one of his speeches, but it puts the position of the Government as it then was. I refer to his speech of the 5th November—not so very long ago—and it repeated with perhaps greater precision and more conciseness what he and the Prime Minister had said on earlier occasions. He said:We stand by the declaration we made in 1924 to the effect that we could not allow any direct interference from outside in British domestic affairs, and would insist that the promise given by the Soviet Government to refrain from any act liable to endanger the tranquillity or prosperity of the British Empire; and to restrain from such acts all persons and organisations under their direct or indirect control, including organisations in receipt of any financial assistance from them, such as the Communist International, which is organically connected with the Soviet Government, should be carried out both in the letter and in the spirit.He went on to say, summarising the effect of his long and explicit statement, that: 2623This is, in fact, an undertaking that Soviet propaganda will not be tolerated in any form or at any time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1929; col. 901, Vol. 231.]That is the policy that the right hon. Gentleman declared.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
That is the policy which the right hon. gallant Gentleman declared seven months ago, and repeated on behalf of the Government. Does he pretend that, for a single day of the existence of the Government, that policy has been carried out? He has been questioned a great deal on this subject, and not unnaturally. Can he answer that the Soviet Government are not merely refraining from propaganda in any part of the British Empire, but are restraining those with whom they are connected, financially or otherwise, like the Communist International 7 Is that his answer? Not a bit. He does not pretend that propaganda is not going on; he does not pretend that these activities are not daily continuing; but he says, "I must be left to judge when there is sufficient ground for the Government taking action." That is an entire recantation of all the assurances that he gave to the House. It is grave from that point of view; it is humiliating from that point of view; but it is far graver and more humiliating when you consider that he definitely made that announcement, not merely to this House, but to the Soviet Government, in the face of all the world, of what he expected of them and what he would insist upon from them.
I am a critic and an opponent of the present Government. I have some hard things to say from time to time, but I hope they are couched in Parliamentary language. I confess that whatever view I take, and whatever criticisms I make as a Member of the Opposition, I resent as an Englishman the habitual contempt with which we are treated by the Soviet Government, and the outrageous character of the language applied to the British Government by a Government which professes to be in friendly relations with them. That, I think, is an outrage on international relations. But I go further. I say that 2624 propaganda of which successive Governments have complained ever since the Trade Agreement was signed, has never ceased for a day, that it is as active to-day as ever it was, and that as you see disturbance, unrest or uneasiness in any part of the British Empire, or, indeed, of the world, so you find the food on which that propaganda feeds, and so you see the danger of allowing your solemn words to be treated with contempt by a Government from whom you have professed to have exacted an honourable engagement to refrain from these acts.
The other day in the House my Noble Friend the late Under-Secretary for India called attention, on the Adjournment, to an official communiqué of the Government of India. The Foreign Secretary was not at the moment in posession of full information. Does anyone doubt that, according to the measure of their ability, be it more or be it less, wherever there is trouble or the possibility of trouble in the British Empire, the Soviet Government, with which formally we are in friendly relationship, is through one or other of its authorities attempting to foment that trouble and increase it. I have read through a number of papers. I am not going to read incident after incident here. It is not necessary. This is a case in which the Soviet authorities boast of the actions of which we complain, and which the right hon. Gentleman has said he would not tolerate.
I am ready to make all allowances. I am ready to admit that the right hon. Gentleman and his Government, having decided to resume relations, have got to give the experiment a fair trial. I am ready to admit that if I had been in his position, and with his obligations, I would have overlooked minor breaches; but I say, very earnestly, that I think the time has come when he ought to say once and for all, is he going to maintain the pledge he gave to the House, the statement which he made in the face of the Soviet Government, is he going to insist on the cessation of this propaganda here at home, more important, in India and elsewhere, where conditions may be disturbed? If he is not, then I beg of him, for the credit of the country, not to go on professing to deal with the propaganda which, in his heart of hearts, he knows 2625 is going on the whole time, and which his party, their Election pledges, or whatever it may be, render incapable of fulfilling the assurance given. The time has come when the right hon. Gentleman has either to say, "I have borne with this so long, the limit has been reached and I now act as I said I should," or at once get rid of that pledge, tell us it meant nothing, wipe it off the slate, and say that he has come to the conclusion that he must tolerate all they may seek to put upon us, in the hope that, here and there, a manufacturer of machinery may get an order.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
At the outset, I should like to make just one brief allusion to the very kind reference made by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to my position yesterday. I appreciate his reference, and I appreciate, as much as anything in my public life, the fact that the nomination came from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.
I regret that I was unable to be here at the beginning of the debate, but my hon. Friend beside me has put me in possession of the general outline of the speech delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson). He, as also the right hon. Gentleman, based, at any rate, part of his speech upon the very distinct difference there is between the official Opposition and the majority of this House with regard to Russia. The deep, fundamental difference between us is this. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to lay great stress that we who are associated with the Government committed ourselves at the General Election. But we were not alone in so committing ourselves. I think that pretty well the whole of the Liberal party committed themselves just as definitely and, may I say—without any offence whatever—without even the remotest idea that they would be called upon to form a Government. Yet they committed themselves as definitely as we did with regard to the importance—and the essential importance—of our changing the policy of our predecessors, or the policy of the late Government, shall I say, with regard to the recognition of Russia.
2626 Therefore, we cannot expect in a debate like this—and it has been the same in the debates that we have had since this Parliament began—speeches on different lines from those to which we have listened to-day. They are opposed to recognition; we are in favour of recognition, and we had better begin by appreciating that there is that deep gulf between us if we are going to approach the question before us. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this debate has got very much wider than what we were led to expect it would be when it was first hinted that this subject would be taken on the Adjournment, and I do not propose to follow hon. Members in their general references. We had a fairly long and comprehensive debate as recently as March, and these general questions were referred to, and, to the best of our ability, they were replied to.
I only intervene now because I understand there is a desire to discuss other questions before the sitting closes. But that is not all. I intervene now because, if the debate goes for the rest of the sitting, and I have to wind it up, I cannot say very much more than I said in the last debate, or than I have tried to convey in the numerous replies to questions which I have addressed to the House from time to time. Since the signing of the Protocol on 3rd October, 1929, there has been 389 questions dealing with Russia one way or another replied to by my Department. Asub-department of my Department has also replied to 95 questions, and the Home Office 10, making a total of 494. We had a debate on 23rd March and since then my Department has replied to 155 questions and other Departments have replied to 35, making a total of 190. Is it to be expected that, when you have replies amounting to 500 or 600, we can give any new information?
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I can only repeat what I said in reply to a question two days ago. We have given replies, but not the replies that hon. Members wanted. It might be a decent holiday occupation though it will call upon them to a certain extent to make a sacrifice, for hon. Members to analyse these questions, and they will find that the replies contain very 2627 much more information than they are prepared to admit, and, what is more, the replies are very much nearer the point than are some of the questions.
I should like to say one word as to why we changed the policy. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think we only did it because of our election pledges. It is not a bad position to be in. It is a year to-morrow since we were handed our Seals, and it is not bad to be told that we have done something to redeem our pledges. I have been long enough in the douse to know of Governments which have been in, not for one year but for several, and the charge against them has been that they have failed, notwithstanding their majority, to redeem their pledges. So, if we stand condemned for having done something in the way of redeeming our pledges with regard to Russia, so much should be accounted to us for righteousness.
But there were other and very much higher motives behind the position we took up. Does anyone try to persuade himself—if I were to be contradicted on this point I could quote the right hon. Gentleman in statement after statement—that if you outlaw a country like Russia it has no effect upon you? I do not think anyone would dare to challenge that position. We were influenced very considerably to promote good relations with Russia, because, as I have endeavoured ever since I went to my department to show, it was the policy of the Government to do everything in their power to facilitate and expedite the highest possible standard of good relations with all countries.
There was another reason which cannot be ignored, a reason which was very eloquently put by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. R. A. Taylor); that is, the vital importance of doing everything within reason to facilitate trade between ourselves and the respective countries where we can find markets. Has that not influenced me in pushing forward, first of all, the temporary modus vivendi with regard to commercial affairs rather than wait until we went through the whole of the procedure to get a final commercial agreement? Has that not influenced me, as I reminded the House two days ago to set un a temporary agreement with regard to fisheries, 2628 which I believe has met with almost universal satisfaction in the nailing communities of our country? These were the factors that influenced us in the change in policy which we adopted in the early days of this Government and which led to the signing of the Protocol of October last.
I want to come right up to the point that occupied the attention of the right hon. Gentleman during nearly the whole of his speech. That is our present position with regard to this question of Russian propaganda. I am not going to burke the position. [Interruption.] If the hon. and gallant Gentleman has anything to say and he rises, I will make way for him.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I can never hope, if I live to be as old as Methuselah, to put the position to the satisfaction of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. That settles that point. The right hon. Gentleman correctly stated the position. He quoted from a speech that I delivered in November. He might have gone further back and quoted the speech of the Prime Minister on the King's Speech, or my own speech repeating the Prime Minister's statement on 5th July. That has been our position. That is our position to-day. But, because we have made those statements, the right hon. Gentleman and his party desire to be the judges. They want to decide when these conditions that we laid down have been broken to an extent to compel us to take action. That position cannot be accepted. They accepted the responsibility when they were a Government. We must accept the responsibility so long as we are a Government. All we are doing is to try to give effect to the decision of the majority of the House. Hon. Members seem to forget that this question has been debated. The Protocol of October was debated and divided upon, and one of the best majorities we have had since we came in was given to us on that occasion.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
The right hon. Gentleman might give me the opportunity, 2629 as I gave him the opportunity, of finishing my speech. I am not going to run away. I know what the right hon. Gentleman says. He says that, though we signed the Protocol and though we made our declaration in November, we are failing to carry out the conditions which we laid down. I would remind the House that we are not the first Government which made very emphatic statements on this question of Russian propaganda. If hon. Members will do as I have had to do, read the papers that have been issued, not by us, but by the right hon. Gentleman, they will find that, under the then Foreign Secretary, the late Lord Curzon, most emphatic language was used with regard to the question of propaganda. But, despite the use of that language, the trading agreement was signed in 1921. It took two years, despite the strength of the language, before the ultimatum was issued by the Conservative Government to the Russian Government.
That is not all. The right hon. Gentleman brought us up to 1924, and he tried to state our position with regard to 1924. I want to remind him of his position and the position of his Government in 1924. The first thing which the right hon Gentleman and his Government did when they came into power in 1924 was to deal with the historic letter which had proved such a valuable asset in the General Election that had just closed. He dealt with it in this way. I believe he appointed a committee and that the committee came to the conclusion that the letter was genuine. I may say that I was a member of a committee that wanted to find evidence of its authenticity or its genuine character, and I could not find it. But far the purposes of my argument they convinced themselves that the document was genuine, that it was written by the people whose names were attached to it. What happened? One would think that when the Government came to such a decision, and were so convinced of its genuineness, they would have taken action. In the light of the very serious appeal which the right hon. Gentleman has made to me to-day, I think I am entitled to say that I would have expected, at any rate, from one who could make such an appeal to which I have listened, that the first thing he would have done would have been to cut the painter.
2630 What happened? To the right hon. Gentleman's credit—and I want the House to note this—despite the badgering from the same Members who are giving it to me twice a week—and they do not know how much I like it; I am not going to name them; I see them sitting in front of me—he resisted for two years and a half. I think that if he were telling me about something which I did not believe in my heart of hearts I should take a lot of convincing, but at the end of two years and a half the right hon. Gentleman consented to the change of policy that resulted in the Amos raid. Suppose that I were to respond to the right hon. Gentleman; suppose that I were to yield to him the power of deciding; suppose that I were to allow hon. Members opposite who have put these 500 and odd questions to me in the last eight or nine months to be the jury, and the right hon. Gentleman to be the judge, and we accepted the verdict? We should know what the verdict would be before any evidence was given to the jury, especially if the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) and the hon. and gallant Member sitting behind him were part of the jury. We know what it would be. We have known for several years what their decision would be. They would not try the case on evidence. Their minds are made up. Suppose that we accepted their verdict and we broke off relations—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member is not getting impatient. I know that he has been waiting for a turn to get off a speech which may never be delivered.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I am doing my best, but I cannot answer in your way. Suppose that we accepted the decision of the jury and the judge and we cut off relationship, is there a single Member opposite who could persuade himself that that would change the position in regard to propaganda? There is no guarantee that it would alter the position in the slightest degree. It might—and I want to appeal to hon. Members on this point, on which, I think, there ought to be agreement—stop the flow of orders which have begun to come in and are more likely to come in within the next few months, it might stop them to the detriment of this country and the punishment of our people who are suffering from un- 2631 employment. That is the position which we have to face. If we could all persuade ourselves that the line of policy which has been suggested would for ever wipe out this propaganda there might be something to be said for it.
I have never denied, and I am not going to try and persuade the House, that propaganda is not going on. I have to bring that propaganda home to the Government before I can take action. The right hon. Gentleman knows just as well as I do that, if this or any other Government at this stage in our present economic position broke off relations with Russia on the question of propaganda without being satisfied beyond all possible doubt that the Russian Government were responsible, were even inspiring, were even financing this propaganda—if before we could satisfy ourselves on these points we acted with undue haste we should not be worthy of our position. As far as I am concerned, I will be no party to the Government taking such a step as that. The position is much too serious. We have not denied that there is a good deal with which to be dissatisfied. Again, I am going to refer to the position that I have frankly put before the House on more than one occasion. I remember, then, that in reply to one of the five hundred questions to which I referred I said something about taking the House into our confidence. I would remind the House that it is only a short time since we had a debate. We welcome this one. We have never shirked the issue. We said that we would be prepared to take the House into our confidence, but we also said—and this comes back to the point with which I have been dealing—that the Government have the responsibility and that they must consider Russia in its relationship to world peace and in its relation to British trade, and that they must, in the first instance, be the judge. I have gone further. Only a few days ago, in reply to a question, I informed the House that the Government had set up machinery. I have almost committed an unpardonable sin in the eyes of some hon. and right hon. Members opposite because I have not told them what that machinery is.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I am not going to take the Noble Lord into my confidence by way of question and answer about the piece of machinery that we have set up, before we have tried that machinery.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I do not know what the hon. Member means by "output." All I can say is, that we have set up machinery and we will at the right time take appropriate action. One would have thought that the mere fact that we had so indicated as a Government our dissatisfaction with the present position that we had set up this machinery, would have given satisfaction to hon. Members. We have started inquiries in our own way, and in such a way as we believe is best calculated to lead to the result that we all desire. The result that I hope we all desire is to bring about the cessation of propaganda and, certainly, to satisfy ourselves that if it continues the Government with whom we are in friendly relations is not responsible. One would have thought that the mere fact that we had set up that machinery would have been satisfactory to hon. Members, and that they would have been prepared to wait until the time when the Government, as I have said more than once, would have been willing to take the House into their confidence by telling them the actual position.
I have said that there was very little that one could add, in view of what I have said in reply to the many questions that have been asked. I have been covering or recovering the ground that has been traversed from time to time. The position which the right hon. Gentleman quoted from the speech delivered by me in November is still our position, and I must ask the House to continue its confidence. We are determined that the 2633 machinery we have set up will test every piece of information that is available to us, and I think I said the other day that if hon. Members opposite have information other than that picked up in a dozen lines or so in some morning newspaper, which is not evidence, we shall be glad to receive it. We know perfectly well, and I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well, that for years there has been circulated all sorts of information, all sorts of statements. The difficulty is to divide the wheat from the chaff; it is nearly impossible to do so, but we are trying to do it. If we are successful in getting, after the examination, such a clarification of the position as to bring it home to us that the Soviet Government is responsible, I think we shall do one of two things—we will either come down to the House, and tell the House that we are going to break with the position, or we will do as the right hon. Gentleman said, we will ask the House to release us from the statements that we made in the early stages of debate on this subject.
§ Sir A. KNOX
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the one question I put to him? How can he explain the discrepancy in the interpretation of the Treaty? He says that he still holds to the idea that the Soviet Government is responsible for the Third International, but the official Press of the Soviet Government continually repeats the statement that they are not responsible for the Third International. If there are two parties to a Treaty, obviously their interpretation of the Treaty ought to be the same.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I am only responsible for the interpretation which His Majesty's Government place upon it, and it is part of our case that if we find that these things are going on, and they are ignoring their responsibility, it will be the greater reason for us to deal with them.