HC Deb 26 March 1930 vol 237 cc526-69

Although hour is rather late I should like to raise a question which I think is not only important in principle but which has roused a great deal of comment and feeling in this House and elsewhere. I refer to the hostile propaganda against this country not only by official organisations and an official Press under the control of the Soviet Government, but also to the hostile propaganda by the Soviet Government itself. The issue is a comparatively simple one, and the duty of the Government is quite clear and staightforward in this respect. I should like to take the House over the story of what is known as the Protocol. At the risk of wearying the House I must quote the original statement made by the Prime Minister in 1924. I do not think that statement can be quoted too often, because on it depends, or should have depended, the whole policy of the Government in this matter since it has been in power. It seems to me that on this question the Government have no loophole of escape. Their pledges, their statements of faith and convictions, are perfectly clear and definite. This is what the Prime Minister said in 1924, in a Note which he addressed to the Soviet representative: His Majesty's Government mean that these undertakings"—(regarding propaganda)—" shall be carried out both in the letter and in the spirit, and it cannot accept the contention that whilst the Soviet Government undertakes obligations, a political body, as powerful as itself, is to be allowed to conduct a propaganda and support it with money, which is in direct violation of the official agreement. The Soviet Government either has or has not the power to make such agreements. If it has the power, it is its duty to carry them out and see that the other parties are not deceived. If it has not this power, and if responsibilities which belong to the State in other countries are in Russia in the keeping of private or irresponsible bodies, the Soviet Government ought not to make agreements which it knows it cannot carry out. It was said in the same Note: No one who understands the constitution and the relationships of the Communist International will doubt its intimate connection and contact with the Soviet Government. No Government will ever tolerate an arrangement with a foreign Government by which the latter is in formal diplomatic relations of a correct kind with it, whilst at the same time a propagandist body organically connected with that foreign Government encourages and even orders subjects of the former to plot and plan revolutions for its overthrow. Such conduct is not only a grave departure from the rules of international comity, but a violation of specific and solemn undertakings repeatedly given to His Majesty's Government. Those two statements, taken together, make complete the case which I want to put before the House. It may be said that those statements by the Prime Minister in 1924 were made six years ago and that conditions have changed since then. But I do not think that argument can be used, because since those statements were made they have been repeated on several occasions. In answer to my right hon. Friend, the late Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister in the Debate on the Address of last year used these words: These conditions"— the conditions of recognising diplomatically the Soviet Government— are laid down in a published despatch. Everyone who has read the despatch knows what they are. My colleagues know, my opponents know, and the representatives of Soviet Russia know. We stand by them; of course we do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1929; cols. 68 and 69, Vol. 229.] Three days later the Foreign Secretary repeated that pledge. He said in the same Debate: In 1924 I think the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of that date made it unmistakably clear that we were not going to tolerate any form of propaganda that interfered in the internal affairs either of this country or of any of the Dominions of this country or of any part of the British Empire. I have no hesitation in saying that that is our position to-day, and that it will continue to be our position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th July, 1929; col. 420, Vol. 229.] That is perfectly explicit and clear. Since those statements were made the present Foreign Secretary has deliberately signed a Protocol on behalf of His Majesty's Government, binding the Soviet Government to cease from hostile propaganda against this country. In case hon. Members may have forgotten the words of the Protocol I quote its terms: Immediately on the actual exchange of Ambassadors, and not later than the same day as that on which the respective Ambassadors present their credentials, both Governments will reciprocally confirm the pledge with regard to propaganda contained in Article 16 of the Treaty signed on 8th August, 1924. That refers to Article 16 of the General Treaty of 1924. The words of Article 16 are as follows: The contracting parties solemnly affirm their desire and intention to live in peace and amity with each other … to refrain and to restrain all persons and organisations under their direct or indirect control, including organisations in receipt of any financial assistance from them, from any act, overt or covert, liable in any way whatsoever to endanger the tranquillity or prosperity of any part of the territory of the British Empire or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or intended to embitter the relations of the British Empire or the Union with their neighbours or any other countries. Therefore, in signing the Protocol the Government's intention is abundantly clear. If in any way we require further proof of their intention, the present Foreign Secretary provided it in the Debate which we had in this House on the question of the exchange of Ambassadors. On that occasion, he used these words: 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. 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.] It seems to me that nothing could be more explicit or satisfactory than that statement. The only pity is that the Foreign Secretary did not extract an equally clear statement from the Soviet representative. What has happened since? The ink on the Protocol was hardly dry when a Communist daily paper in this country published a message from the Presidium of the Third International, greeting it on its inauguration.

The message described the newspaper as a new and powerful weapon in the hands of the British working class in its fight against capitalism, against rationalisation and the Social-Fascist Labour Government. The paper, the message stated, was to be a rallying point against the Labour Government of rationalisation, anti-Soviet intrigues, Colonial brutalities, and preparations for another Imperialist war. [Interruption.] This is not the only instance. I could give others, but if hon. Members do not think it important that I should give the terms of this message, I will not proceed with it. I say, however, that that message is a direct breach of the Protocol. This is not an attack by the Third International on the Tory party. It is an attack by the Third International, which is organically connected with the Soviet Government, on the Labour Government in this country and on the right hon. Gentlemen who occupy the Front Bench opposite. That is not only my opinion. This was so clearly a violation of the pact, that the Foreign Secretary himself drew the attention of the Soviet representative to it. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman did so only too mildly, and what was the reply of the Soviet Government? I quote from the "Isvestia," which is the official organ of the Soviet Government. Sometimes it is said that the "Pravda" does not express the official view, but the "Isvestia" can undoubtedly be taken as the official organ, and a few days later that paper stated that the reply of the Soviet representative to the British Foreign Secretary was unequivocal. This is what appeared in the "Isvestia": Mr. Henderson's slippery attitude exposed his complete helplessness and confusion on the question of propaganda. It was rendered all the more conspicuous by the fact that, in spite of the reiterated questions of the Conservatives concerning the nature of the Soviet Ambassador's reply to Mr. Henderson's representation, the latter by his silence implied the absence of one, whereas, in reality, the Soviet Ambassador gave him a definite and wholly unequivocal reply to the effect that Mr. Henderson's point of view, on the activities of the Comintern, never was and never could be accepted by the Soviet Government, and therefore was always repudiated by its representatives abroad. There was no mincing of words there. It was a brutally frank statement and, a slap in the face to the Foreign Secretary, if ever there was one. When the Foreign Secretary was asked in the House to give us the reply which lie had received, he not only refused to give us the words of the reply, but even refused to give us the substance, and, ever since, he has evaded all questions on the subject. He told us that it was not in the public interest to give us the terms of the reply. Why is it not in the public interest? Is it in the public interest, or does it redound to our national reputation, that our Government should be publicly insulted and flouted by the Government of another country? Surely we have a right to know from our own Government and not indirectly from another Government the reply of the Soviet representative.

Personally, I have little doubt that the Soviet representative told the Foreign Secretary that the Soviet Government refused to exercise any control over the Third International. I have very little doubt that the Soviet representative declared that it was not the business of his Government to do so, and that he declined to give any guarantee that hostile activities in the way of propaganda against this country were going to cease. I think we ought to be told where we are. It is the right of the House to be told how we stand in this matter. It is not in the public interest to withhold information affecting the reputation and credit of this country. But this is not all. A little over a month later a further breach of the Protocol took place. I hope I am not speaking in any bitter or inflammatory manner, because this is a serious subject, and I wish to put serious arguments to hon. Members opposite. Replying to a group of students of the Communist University Mr. Stalin used these words: The present policy of converting the peasants into farm labourers hired by the State must increase Soviet military power, shorten the lull, and hasten conflicts of the Soviet State with foreign capitalist States. It was not intended to wait until the revolutionary situation developed, but to urge the proletariat abroad to decisive revolutionary battles now. That report has never been contradicted, and it is not the statement of an underling. It is not even the statement of the Third International but is a statement by one who is the autocrat of all the Russians at the present moment. There is no circumlocution about that statement. It is a bare and brutal affirmation of Soviet aims and determination. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is it from?"] I was quoting a report of Mr. Stalin's own words and they have never been denied. [HON. MEMBERS: "From where?"] It was a telegram from Riga. [Laughter.] I have no doubt that those words were used. When the Foreign Secretary was asked about the matter in this House he himself said that a certain importance was to be attached to the words used by Mr. Stalin. He did not doubt the accuracy of the words. His argument was that those words were not sufficiently bad for him to make a protest in the matter. If a statement of that kind, by the head of the Soviet Government, is not enough to make the right hon. Gentleman enter a protest where shall we go to find one? At least two breaches of the Protocol have taken place since then. The Third International early this month published an inflammatory statement calculated to stir up unrest, not only in India but in South Africa, Palestine and Egypt. I am not exaggerating my case but understating it. The Third International said that the terrorist regime in India had been intensified; that the negroes in South Africa were being suppressed; that Arab pogroms were organised in Palestine, and that an enslaving treaty had been made with Egypt—every word of which was slanderously untrue. Only a few days ago the official "Izvestia" accused our police, under our present Home Secretary, of charging thousands of people with naked sabres, when fighting with demonstrators in the London streets. It called attention to the fact that the Communist programme for England was not completed yet, and was intended to include a burger march on London at the end of the month.


; Doer that also come from Riga?


No, but there is no doubt about it. These facts have not been contradicted by the Soviet themselves, and I should not have quoted them unless I was certain they were true. The Foreign Secretary, in his answers to questions, has never tried to deny the facts. All he has said is that they are not sufficiently bad to warrant protest. Apparently these things do not go far enough, but I would like to ask how much farther does he want the Soviet to go? I would like to ask him—and I wish he were here—how long he is going to stand this almost weekly humiliation, and how long he is going to make his Government and this country cat dirt at the hands of the Soviet? The whole difficulty in which we find ourselves is due to the omission of the Foreign Secretary to get a clear understanding from the Soviet when he was conducting his negotiations regarding propaganda. The pledge in the Protocol rests on Article 16 of the Treaty of 1924. The pledge, therefore, means that the Soviet must restrain all persons and organisations under their control, direct or indirect, from hostile propaganda against this country. But the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, unfortunately, neglected to get a definite statement from the Soviet that they recognised the position of the Third International as being under the control of the Soviet Government. He neglected to insist on a guarantee than henceforth the activities of that body should cease.

The whole of the negotiations were conducted, to my mind, with incredible innocence on his part and with a sinister determination on the other, and it resulted in a diplomatic defeat as complete as it was humiliating. He first of all insisted he then climbed down, and has remained down ever since. That is the root of the whole of our present difficulty. Until the Foreign Secretary—and I say this seriously, without any hesitation—gets that understanding with the Soviet Government, and until he receives that guarantee, the pledge in the Protocol is waste paper, and by now I am sure he is perfectly aware of that fact. What is the Foreign Secretary going to do? Is he going to keep up the pretence of friendly relations with the Soviet, and swallow humiliation after humiliation, week by week, for it is clear from the facts—and hon. Members opposite if they could really speak from a non-party point of view would absolutely agree with me—that it is sheer pretence? There are no friendly relations between the Soviet Government and the Government of the Foreign Secretary.

The only honourable course for the Government to pursue is immediately to set about to try to arrive at a definite understanding. The Soviet may refuse to give the guarantees that are asked for. If they refuse, the only proper course, if the Third International or the Soviet official Press, or the Soviet Government themselves continue their hostile propaganda, is to revert to the situation of a year ago, to withdraw our Ambassador from Moscow, to bring to an end the hypocritical farce of friendly relations with a Government which all the time is wilfully trying to undermine this country in every part of the world, and not to resume diplomatic relations until it is made perfectly clear that the Soviet are going to treat us as all civilised and friendly States are accustomed to treat one another in their daily intercourse. That is my last word. Any other course seems to me not only stupid but humiliating and cowardly, and if persisted in will not only make this Government the laughing-stock of the Soviet Government, but a matter for jest in every Chancellery in Europe.


The last speaker has been talking about hostility existing for years between this country and Russia. There is no question that ever since the November revolution there has been hostility, and that hostility has been based on rumour and propaganda, and on the fact that ever since then there has been nothing but lie after lie told about the Soviet Government of Russia. Since the Bolsheviks were installed, I think Mr. Kropotkin has been murdered at least 17 times. They murdered him one week, and tore him limb from limb. He was murdered again and again until he died a peaceful death. Then the Empress Marie was murdered time and time again. Her limbs were torn off, and her eyes gouged out, and it was a terrible slaughter. She was murdered one week, and the "Daily Mail" murdered her at least four times, and the only way the dear lady could save her life was to leave the country altogether; so she came to this country and then went to Copenhagen. I remember looking in the illustrated papers to see her funeral there, though her funeral had taken place many times in Russia before.

Propaganda, and lie after lie, was waged during the War between this country and Germany. The Germans were cutting the hands off Belgian babies, and then some wicked Germans cut the breasts off Belgian nurses. They tattooed men and when the wicked Germans were short of glycerine, they boiled down their corpses to get it. Whenever we want a certain policy pursued, then the lie factories get busy, and not even a Government Department has been free from it. I would remind hon. Members of the fact that Scotland Yard, a Government Department, was at that time controlled by Sir Basil Thomson. I know of nothing more serious that has been done than that which was done by a responsible Government Department controlled by a responsible Government official. In order to prove that the Russians were incapable of civilisation and were super-devils they arranged for the importation of Russian type and headlines and so on, to forge a complete issue of "Pravda," and in that "Pravda" there were all sorts of stories to show that the Russians had no interest in family life, that they believed in free love, that they believed in murdering priests, that they were a lot of impossible bounders. The whole story was beautifully complete, and everything was lovely until the London printer who set it all up, on the orders of Sir Basil Thomson, made one little mistake. He put the name and address of the London printer in the last column. But even then Sir Basil Thomson carried on and ordered that the name and address should he cut off. Those forged "Pravdas," forged by a Government Department, forged by Scotland Yard, forged under the inspiration of Sir Basil Thomson, were put on a British gunboat and sent to Riga, whence the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has given us some more rumours, for world consumption. Everything would have gone according to plan, if two compositors in this printing office had not come into the "Daily Herald" office with two copies of the original forgery. It was then brought up in this House; there was no answer, the game was up, Sir Basil Thomson was retired.

I am trying to tell you that there has been nothing but propaganda, lie after lie. Just as we were told lies about the Germans, lies about the Boers, and lies about everybody where our policy was not altogether acceptable, so we are now told lies about Soviet Russia. If we criticise Soviet Russia, if we believe that Soviet Russia comes short of the glory of complete liberty, if we believe that Soviet Russia is not all that Soviet Russia ought to be, then, for Heaven's sake, let us remember what Soviet Russia displaced, and even when we talk about religious persecution, let us realise what took place in Russia before the Revolution. There was no liberty for anything or anybody but the Russian Orthodox Church, an immoral Church, a Church that had nothing to do with the four Gospels, a Church that had nothing to do with the Sermon on the Mount, a Church that did this sort of thing: Do you know that in Russia, brothels were kept by the State, and the Russian Church and the Russian priests poured the holy water on the beds in those brothels—the Rasputin brigade that ran the Church in Russia before the War.

When we talk about the questionable items of the Soviet régime, let us remember that the law of prima noctis was in force in Russia until 1917, when any Russian landlord could command that any girl born on his estate, on the first night of her marriage, had to go to him. This may be very dreadful, and may not be nice to talk about, but it is true that this law, this right of prima noctis, was in force in Russia until 1917, till the Russian Revolution. We had in Russia, in the Tsarist Russia that the Soviet Government displaced, a cesspool of persecution and corruption, with no liberty except for the Orthodox Church. Baptists and others who just stepped over the line were sent off on a long walking tour to Siberia. I know, as I happen to be a Canadian. I remember seeing the Dukhobors coming through Canada, and the Quakers of this country subscribed to take the Dukhobors out of Russia. There was no liberty at all, good, bad, or indifferent, for the Baptists, the Dukhobors, or the Catholics. There was no liberty except for the Orthodox Church, and, as far as the Jews were concerned, it would make your blood run cold to know what took place.

I have read a lot of atrocities in history, I know something of the atrocities perpetrated by Philip II, I know something of the atrocities that took place at the time of Nero, but I know of nothing so horrible, so inexcusable, as the atrocities perpetrated against the defenceless Jews, particularly during the time when Denikin was subsidised by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), behind the back of Parliament and of this country, which had no control. We spent our millions of money, we poured out money like water, backing Denikin, to whom they gave the K.C.B.

The armies of Denikin went, backwards and forwards, forwards and backwards, and over 100,000 Jews were murdered in cold blood. If you want to read something about it, read what Rabbi Hertz has to say. There you had pogroms that lasted, not one day, two days, three days, but one week, two weeks, three weeks, and a month. You had old, helpless Jews—the young Jews were at the front—old men and old women, flogged to death. Young Jewesses, 10, 11 and 12 years of age, were outraged again and again and again and again, and then thrown helpless to die, and death was a relief. A very great friend of mine married a Russian Jewess, and this Russian Jewess told me that she saw her own sister outraged. She escaped. She spent three nights in a cemetery, and then got away. No protests from the Archbishop of Canterbury; no protests from hon. Members opposite; not a word! Not only did we spend £100,000,000 backing these monsters, but we have to find £5,000,000 interest on that money, and we gave Denikin the Order of the Bath. He ought to have had the order of a very, very cold bath. I ask you to time down to earth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I challenge any hon. Member opposite to dispute anything I have said. I have not overstated, I have understated the case.

In the old days when we had the régime of the Tsar, when we had the most blood-curdling régime that the modern world has even known, when there was no liberty of expression, no liberty of the Press, when there were no trade unions, when anybody who tried to advocate any reform went in danger of his life, when they asked for the most modest of reforms, we all remember—everybody who has been baptised, so to speak, in the Labour cause will remember—that in 1905, St. Petersburg, as it was then, the people wanted a Duma, some sort of democratic Parliament. They gave the police warning that they were going to hold a procession. They gave the police warning for a week, and they arranged to hold that procession, and this is what happened. They got together, they walked through the streets, and they sang patriotic hymns. They were not organising anything in the nature of a revolution; they were going to appeal to the Tsar, whom they called "Little Father." They walked through the streets singing hymns, patriotic songs, something approximating to our "Britain rules the waves," and when they got to Tsarskoe Selo, under the windows of the Winter Palace, they shouted for the Little Father. The Little Father did not appear, but the Cossacks appeared, and they shot into that unarmed mob, and 2,000 were shot dead.


I must remind the hon. Member that the Consolidated Fund Bill deals with moneys that have been voted by this House, and the discussions that take place upon it are confined to criticism or otherwise of the Government with regard to subjects for which the money has been voted. The hon. Member is entitled to a certain extent to go back a little way, but we cannot have this long rigmarole of past events.


Before the hon. Member resumes, may I ask him whether, when all these terrible things were taking place in Russia in the days of the Tsar, any organised religious body in this country protested?


I do not want in the slightest degree to transgress the Rules of this House. I was merely trying to prove that certain gentlemen who strain at a microscopic gnat can swallow 20 menageries, and that persecution in Russia to-day is a very much smaller thing than ever it was in the days of the Tsar. [An HON. MEMBER: "But it is still wrong!"] Of course it is wrong, but two wrongs do not make a right. I only want to point out that we made no protest, and the Archbishop of Canterbury made no protest, but the Labour movement did.


The hon. Member is, up to a certain point, in order in drawing comparisons, but he must remember that we are dealing with the present day and not with the past.


We will deal with the present day then, and leave the pre-War and post-War persecutions alone. If we want to think in terms of persecution, we need not go to Russia, but to Czechoslovakia, Hungary and to other countries. I want to talk in terms of actual politics. Let the dead bury its dead; I am trying to throw a few clods of earth in the grave of old rumours and old scaremongerings. I believe that there is a mutual agreement that we are not to indulge in propaganda, but for weeks and weeks there have been questions on the Order Paper—hostile, suggestive and untrue in their implications—and we have had nothing but propaganda week after week from the benches opposite. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen want war with Russia or not; I do not know whether another little war would do any harm. I do not know what they want. Do they want the Foreign Secretary to repeat the mistakes of the late Home Secretary? There is not the same Russian organisation in thin country that they had then, but shall we get out the dynamite, shall we get out the pneumatic drills, shall we commit an act of burglary, and tell the Russians to walk away. When the Russians were turned out and given their marching orders, they merely took their orders to Germany. Incidentally, we have financed these Russian orders from this country. [interruption.] I would remind the editor of "The Banker" of that fact. The Germans got the business, and we got the experience.


What business?


I believe 60,000 tractors went to General Motors, and all kinds of business went to the United States. [Interruption.] I am asked a legitimate question, and I am trying to say that the Russians cut down their orders in this country, and that German and American trade with Russia increased. The managing director of one of the greatest engineering firms in this country—Mr. Loris Mather, of Mather and Platts—at the annual meeting of the company, tried to tell the shareholders that business was not quite so good as it ought to have been because the Home Secretary had usurped the power of the Foreign Secretary. The result was that we lost business. Things are not very flourishing at the moment, and we are in for a terrible time. If we do not get customers, we cannot live. We live by exports, and, if we do not find somebody to buy our goods, we cannot live. We are an island nation; we are not really a country at all, but a great big city, and we are not in a position to turn down orders.

All that a merchant asks of his customer is, "Can he pay, and is his credit good?" We do not want to know anything about the religion of the Russian people, but we want to know whether they will buy our goods and pay for them. It is an actual fact that the Russians are the best payers since the War. I challenge any hon. Gentleman to give evidence of the failure of the Russians to pay 20s. in the £ in any of their commercial obligations. I was tailing to a director of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, and he told me that the society had done £13,000,000 worth of business with Russia, and that Russia had met their obligations to the minute and to the penny. Do we want business? We find it more and more difficult to get business, but we have to sell goods if we are to live. Russia ought to provide the best market for us; there is our natural market, and Russia ought to be our very best colony. [Interruption.] I mean, of course, commercial colony, because there is a difference between a political colony and a commercial colony. Russia should be one of the greatest outlets for our commercial enterprise in the world. She is one-sixth of the world, she has a population of 140,000,000, she has wonder- ful natural resources, she is a producer of raw materials, and there is no earthly reason why we should not extend enormously the trade we do with her. We need Russia and Russia, needs us.

Great difficulties confront us at the present time. We know that Canada, instead of being a customer, has become a competitor, that our previous customers are becoming competitors, and that we are no longer the Workshop of the world. It is not necessary for us to be the only workshop of the world, but we are not even the main workshop. Behind tariff barriers, other nations are trying to become economically self-sufficient, and it has become more and more difficult for us to pay for our imports. In Russia there is a wonderful market. We ought to ignore political propaganda and, realising that the great Russian people ought to be our best customers, do everything we can not merely to co-operate with Russia but to think in terms of a generous peace with Russia, with credits to Russia, which will mean benefits to the Russian people and benefits to ourselves. I know what hon. Members opposite want. They have had one war with Russia. We spent £100,000,000 on war with Russia. They would like another war with Russia. If there are going to be any more wars with Russia, let the people who want the war do their own fighting and their own paying, and let the common, decent people in Russia and in this country live in peace.

Commander BELLAIRS

May I ask why no Cabinet Minister is present, and no one to represent the Foreign Office?

Mr. GILLETT (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I may explain that an intimation was sent to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary were both detained elsewhere by the arrival of the Egyptian delegation in this country, and I understood from the right hon. Gentleman that he agreed that in the circumstances it was impossible for them to be present.

Commander BELLAIRS

. But why should the Under-Secretary be there to receive them as well as the Foreign Secretary?


I did receive that intimation privately, and I gave my promise that I would not make any personal complaint.


On that point of Order.


I have heard no point of Order raised.


On a point of precedent


Mr. Brown.


It is quite obvious that immediately the question of Russia is raised it is hard to get a reasonable and quiet Debate 10.0 p.m.—[Interruption]—from either side. The hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Haycock), when he thinks of the old régimé in Russia, sees blue, and it is quite obvious from the questions on the Order Paper during the last month that many hon. Members on this side see red whenever they think of Russia. But Members of this House have a responsibility as representatives of one nation towards another friendly nation. The question of the Baptists has been raised, and I am taking part in this Debate in order to say something about the Baptists in this country and in Russia. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) interrupted to ask why, in pre-War days, religious leaders in this country made no protests. My answer is that they did. If his memory had been as accurate as it usually is, he would remember that two great Baptist leaders, the late Dr. John Clifford and the late Dr. J. H. Shakespeare, the father of one of the hon. Members for Norwich, did make representations to the pre-War Government of Russia as regards the Baptists, and, as a matter of fact, there was some alleviation in persecution as a result of those representations. It is because of that precedent and of the fact that the Government of the day, through the usual channels, did make representations, that I venture to intrude in this Debate, not to ask that we should break off diplomatic relations with Russia, but to advocate that we should use our diplomatic relations to the full in order that the real feeling—not the political feeling, but the real religious feeling of Baptists and other Christians—in this country about their fellow-religionists in Russia, should, in a friendly manner. be brought to the knowledge of tile representatives of Russia in this country.

An hon. Member said the persecution to-day is a trifle as compared with the persecution of pre-War days, but I cannot agree with him. I agree that if we try to compare it in terms of violence that is so. The evidence to-day as to actual terrorism in terms of violence is very small; but the evidence about a subtle technique, a deadly technique, more deadly to religion than to those who practise religion than any outrage would be, is overwhelming. I refer to the technique of the slow suffocation of all religious organisations. Those of us who hold religious views similar to those held by our fellow-Baptists and members of other denominations in Russia are entitled to ask for an assurance—and that is all I do ask for—that the real feelings which are held so strongly in this country about this matter have been brought, or will be brought, to the notice of the representative of Russia in this country. I realise that it is extraordinarily difficult for one Government to interfere with the internal affairs of another Government. As a Baptist, and as a member of the Baptist Union Council, I have been asked to take part in protest meetings outside, but I have refused, because I do not desire my own religious convictions to be used by anybody in any movement which may be anything other than purely spiritual. I have not the gift of writing a sonnet equal to that written by Milton: Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints and I am not willing to ask the present Government to emulate Cromwell—in one way. Cromwell did order a national fast. The Government might do that. Cromwell did order a national contribution of £40,000 to be made to the persecuted Christians of those days. Cromwell did more than that, more than I am willing to ask the Government to do, although the First Lord of the Admiralty is a Baptist. Cromwell did say that British warships should be sent in order to make a demonstration against those who were persecuting Protestant Christians. [Interruption.] No, I do not want to be involved in even a friendly wrangle with the hon. Member for West Salford. I want to do my best to put the case, as we know it in the Baptist Union, as clearly as I can, and I hope I shall get the assurance I ask for when the Minister speaks. I take it no Member of this House, neither the right hon. Member or his friends, contemplate any action of that kind with regard to Russia. We can rule violence out, but how best can we serve the cause of those we advocate? My own view is that we can serve it best by keeping in diplomatic relations with the Russian people; and if any hon. Member above the Gangway holds a contrary view I shall be pleased to hear his reasons in support of that view.

What are the facts? The Baptists are on strong ground, because under both regimes they have been persecuted. They were persecuted under the old regime and they are persecuted now. The effect upon the Baptist denomination in Russia now is very serious indeed. I am now stating what can be proved up to the hilt by evidence. According to the latest figures given to our World Alliance we have in Russia 3,219 churches; we had 800 pastors and we had 1,356 other preachers, some of whom exercised their ministries over wide areas, because they were evangelists. The ablest of all Russian Baptists, the Rev. P. V. Ivanoff-Klishnikoff, when reporting to the World Congress in Toronto, said: The Constitution of our country decrees and realises in practice the complete separation of the Church from file State—a principle of peculiar value for Baptists at all times. Further, in accordance with the Constitution of the Soviet Republic every citizen can propagate any religion. Religious freedom and anti-religious propaganda is the right of all citizens. The freedom of worship with any religious rites is guaranteed in so far as they do not violate social safety, and do not involve infringments of the rights of citizens of the Soviet Republic. In view of this, we have the full right to hold meetings and teach in them the Word of God; and our evangelistic work has already spread beyond the confines of the Russian people and is gradually spreading among the heathen and Mohammedans living in our country. That statement was made two years ago, and I regret to say that to-day the eminent Baptist who made that statement is himself in exile and none of those statements is true. We are fortified in our private information by the official decree published on the authority of the Foreign Secretary. We point out to the House that what is happening in Russia now is as follows: You have a Government imbued with an entirely dif- ferent theory of life and economics to those held by any other Government, and it is under the domination of men who are atheistic. The life of religious communities was tolerable until two years ago when a policy of subtle ruthlessness has been exercised against all religions, and Baptists have suffered especially. We get in Russia worship without witness. I am justified in saying that, active members of the Baptist denomination are, first of all, barred from electoral roll and from the membership of trade unions. The teaching of religion to young persons under 18 is denied to religious denominations. Baptists are not concerned in their form of worship with rights and ceremonies and shows of that kind and what is described as man millinery, and we depend upon the preaching of the word for its effect upon congregations. Therefore it is one thing to worship in a ritualistic church where no word need be spoken to satisfy the desires of the worshippers, but it is another thing to interfere with a preacher who believes that what he is preaching is the bread of life. It is not public worship which is the deadly thing that is having its effect upon the Baptist and other Protestant bodies in Russia. It may be said that when there is interference with Baptist pastors and members of that body that it is being done on political grounds. When celebrated Communists write upon this question, they talk as the Baptist denomination was organised by capitalists. I have here a report of a book published by the Soviet Press and written by an eminent Soviet writer, who says in a chapter about the Baptist world organisation: An inquiry as to who are the real leaders of the Baptist denomination, which brushes aside a world alliance. shows that the big four are Rockefeller, Henry Ford, David Lloyd George and William Green. William Green was the president of the American Federation of Labour. I mention that very amusing episode, because it was seriously published by the Soviet Press and it shows the kind of argument put up when it is held that Ministers and Baptists who are exiled and taken by administrative order without trial and committed to prison are so taken, not because of their religious convictions, but because of their political views. Let me say two other things. There have been appeals for prayer for Russia, and especially for the victims of religious persecution, in this country in recent days. May I point out to the House, however, that in May, 1929, while the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) was still Prime Minister of this country, so that there can be no question of bias or political influence here, the Executive Council of the Baptist World Alliance, meeting in Detroit, passed the following resolution: It appeals to Baptists of every race and town, and to all other lovers of freedom in all parts of the world, to offer continuous and united prayer for their fellow believers in Russia, and for all others who in that land in the 20th century are denied religious liberty and exposed to disabilities and persecution because of their loyalty to their consciences and to their Lord. That was in May, 1929, before there was any organised movement in this country appealing to the spiritual forces of Christians here on behalf of their fellow Christians in Russia.

Let me briefly sum up what I understand to be the situation. It is that services can be held, but any other kind of religious activity is barred; that the Baptists are steadily losing their places of worship; that persecution is widespread, carefully organised, and more effective to-day than ever before. I am speaking now up to within a month—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member knows anything about the Tsarist days, he will allow me to say that there is evidence which we have and which we cannot publish, and he will respect my reasons as I respected his and those of his friends in the old days. I am not making any statement that cannot be proved, and, indeed, every one of the statements that I have just made can be proved by the decree published by His Majesty's Government in the White Paper No. 3511. The campaign is against religion. Atrocities are rare. The Baptist appeal has nothing to do with politics; it is purely religious, and it points out that there have been three policies advocated during the last 11 years in Russia—firstly, to treat religion with utter contempt; secondly, to fight it by counter-propaganda; and, thirdly, to crush it gradually and by legislative and administrative machinery.

I want to add one other point to the decree. Information about these matters must be sought, not only from the decree, but from the change which was made in the Constitution of the Soviet Republic in the month of May last. Up to that time there had been liberty of conscience and of propaganda both for and against religion, but, by the alteration in question, that was removed from the Constitution, and, instead, the phrase "liberty of worship"—a very different thing—was inserted. Hon. Members must bear that in mind in trying to weigh evidence about the statements which are made, some of them very casually and carelessly.

With regard to individual cases of suffering, we can say that there are definite cases of imprisonment and exile. Definite statistics are not available, but there are people coming out of Russia who make names known to us gradually one by one. We know of our friend, Ivanoff-Klishnikoff, and we know of at least 15 other names, which have reached us during the last 12 months, of Baptist pastors in prison and exiled. We know that somewhere about 200 people have been arrested, some of whom have since been released. We know that the pressure of arbitrary taxation upon the preachers is so heavy that they are reduced to utter privation and poverty, or forced out of the ministry, because there is discrimination against them with regard to taxation. We know of the closing of churches in Moscow. My friend Dr. Rushbrooke tells me that, of six churches where he previously worshipped, three have been closed within the last two years. We know of seminaries which have been closed, and closed very simply by the arrest of the teaching staffs. We know that the whole foreign missionary work of the Baptist denomination in Russia has been stifled because of the new organisation on the basis of worship as a local unit, as apart from a general denomination. We know, further, that the method of arrest is a legacy from the bad old days—it is by administrative order without trial, but a political pretence is often made.

There is a good deal more that I should like to say about Sunday schools, about the forbidding of women's prayer meetings and meetings for women, and about literature. With regard to the last, I might mention that there was a Baptist national magazine circulating 25,000 copies regularly. We do not know how many Baptists there were in Russia, but they numbered somewhere between 700,000 and 1,000,000. The circulation of that magazine was recently cut down by nine-tenths to 2,500, and at the moment it has ceased to circulate at all. I desire to put this to the Minister, with no desire to hamper him or the Government, with no desire to make this a political question, and with no desire to cut off diplomatic relations, for certainly there is no Member sitting, as I do, for a distressed area on the East, Coast of Scotland, and especially for a port opposite to the Baltic, but would long to see the proportion a pre-War trade between Russia and ourselves restored to us. We are entitled, since inquiries are being and have been made, to ask the Minister to represent to the Soviet Ambassador, quite apart from all questions of propaganda and of what the hon. Member called lies, that there is a deep and sincere religious feeling in this country among Baptists, and, indeed other denominations, and to ask him to convey that to his Government, in order that we may have done all that we can do from outside the country to help our brethren, who are in desperate spiritual need, to religious liberty in that sorely tried country.


We have listened to a very interesting and moving speech from the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown). He, however, started his speech rather in what I may call the Liberal self-righteous manner. He first of all pointed the finger of scorn at the party opposite, and he addressed some reproof to the party here on the subject of questions which have been addressed to the Government recently in this House. In these circumstances, I cannot help reminding him and his party that they might study with some effect a speech which was made by their own Leader on the 5th November. I propose to read a short extract from it. With reference to the resumption of diplomatic relations with Russia, he said: There are two things which we want. She may not behave at the table in the same sort of way as older Governments, who are more trained in methods of restraint and of concealing their thoughts and of doing their propaganda against each other. Make no mistake, there is a great deal of that, but it is done in such a way teat they can repudiate everything. It has been done in the past, and it will be done again. The Russian Government do it more crudely and more roughly, I think more stupidly, but the old Russian subtlety will come back again and they will be able to beat the most exquisite master of that art by doing it in such a way that nobody will be able to point a finger at any particular Minister who has done it at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1929; col. 917, Vol. 231.] If the Government have any excuse, if they want any excuse, for showing an inability to make any real progress in the matter of a better relationship with the Russian people and the Russian Government, they might well find some excuse in that speech. I certainly do not, and I am sure no one on soy side of the House would admit that the last Government ever conducted foreign diplomatic relations on that basis, I do not believe for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman who is now Foreign Secretary would ever conduct any diplomatic relations on that basis.


What basis!


The basis that I have just read out.


What has that to do with the subject?


It has a good deal to do with it. If that is the way diplomatic negotiations are supposed to be conducted, if the leader of the Liberal party makes a statement of that kind suggesting that that is the way in which negotiations have been conducted and in which obligations have been carried out, we cannot expect very much from the Russian Government.


If you have views of your own, why do you not give them?


Some complaint has been made in the matter of questions. I have addressed a good many questions to the Secretary of State on the subject of our present relations with Russia. Although I am one of those who voted against the Motion for the resumption of diplomatic relations with Russia, I did so entirely because I did not believe the best time had arrived or that, conditions being what they then were, and I fear still are, any real good would result from it and that possibly some harm might result from it. It is, however, undoubtedly the opinion of nearly every Member on this side of the House that the time must come—and the sooner it comes, the better—when we shall again have friendly relations with Russia and shall again be able to trade with her in a normal manner. I do not suppose there is any member of the Conservative party who does not share that view.

Many questions which have been put have lent themselves to an answer which would have helped matters forward, but that answer has not been forthcoming. One of the first questions put after the resumption of negotiations, was the question whether the Russian Government understood the propaganda agreement in the same way that our Government did, and the first answer that was given had to show, not only that there was some doubt about it, but that there was already a complaint about it, Questions of a similar kind have been put since and, as far as I remember, not on one single occasion have we received, I will not say an entirely favourable reply, but we have not been given even a reply which would justify us in believing that, at any rate, some progress was being made. In most cases it has been extraordinarily difficult to get a reply at all, and one is bound to believe that the Government are anxious to show that their action in resuming relations with the Russian Government was justified, that it has been a success, and that some progress is being made. In that case, I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman who will reply presently, if he can tell us why it is that on no single occasion has he been able to give us any evidence or even any assurance. I hope that possibly he may be in a position to do so this evening.

There is another question which I want to ask on this subject. In a Debate on the 5th November the Foreign Minister, in his speech, especially stated that all the British Dominions, with the exception of one, had asked that the agreement concerning propaganda should be made to apply to those Dominions, and that as regards the one exception a reply had not yet been received. Will he tell us whether he has received any representations from any of those Dominions since that time, and whether any complaints have been received from the Dominions, or, on the other hand, if any favourable reports have been received from those Dominions?

There is another point I wish to touch upon concerning trade with Russia. Also in the Debate on the 5th November the Foreign Secretary, when speaking on the question of trade, quoted from a report of a trade delegation which had recently been to Russia, to the effect that a considerably increased trade could be done, and, further, that in the opinion of the trade delegation it depended largely on the question of whether arrangements could be made for the financing of the business on long-term credits. As far as I know, unless I am mistaken, although that, apparently, was the considered and stated opinion of the Foreign Minister at that time, the action taken by the Government since is in quite a contrary sense. I understand that far from giving long-term credits, it has been found necessary to limit those credits to a period of one year. Can the hon. Gentleman give us some explanation of that, because, otherwise, it seems that we are almost forced to draw the conclusion that His Majesty's Government have to-day a less hopeful view of trade relations with Russia than they had at the time when they made their statement on the 5th November and asked this House to sanction the resumption of diplomatic relations.


The Debate to which we have listened to-night makes me think very forcibly of that old French cynical saying that "Life is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think." For some extraordinary reason, whenever the word "Russia" is mentioned in this House the appeal, unlike the appeal on most of the subjects which come up for discussion, is immediately directed straight to the emotions and very seldom indeed to the intellect. I have listened to what has been said from the other side of the House. I have been brought up in a school which regards religious questions, especially from the Noncomformist point of view, as questions deserving the highest consideration and reverent treatment, but I am bound to say that, after this Debate, with the one exception of the very sincere hon. Member who sits for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), and after the questions that are constantly put in this House, were I a man who could transcend for the moment and get outside my religious upbringing and my natural tendency to regard religion as a thing to be treated reverently, I should feel that, perhaps, the Russian Government is right when it takes steps, not violent steps, as has been admitted by one fervent believer in religion in this House, to stamp out religious prejudice and superstition from the minds of the people. The attitude displayed and the spirit of hatred underlying the questions that are continually addressed to Ministers in this House, make me feel that if that can be regarded as the spirit of true religion, I had better follow the tendency of the Russian Government and try, as far as I can, to emancipate my mind from any such influence.

Shall we not judge religion by the effect that it has on the conduct and the speech of men? When I apply that test here, I am bound to say that I have had very grave misgivings as to whether, after all, religion, if the way in which it is shown here is the true method of exhibiting it, is that elevating influence that I have been brought up to believe it to be. To prove the second part of my quotation, that life is very often a comedy, I could not do better than take quotations, if I could remember them, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Debate, and also from the speech of an hon. Member on this side, who evidently allowed his emotions to get control of him, and the hon. Member opposite, who has very conscientiously and very courageously admitted that, in these days, when so many people are falling away from their particular conventicles, he remains a true Baptist. From those speeches I should have ample proof of the fact that when you allow your emotions to operate in your mind, you make things tragedy when they are only comedy. Take the hon. Member for Leith. Losing a sense of proportion, he said, not in defamation but rather in criticism of the Russian Government, that the Baptists at one time had their missionaries out there, but that those missionaries to-day found it impossible to carry on the Baptist missions in Russia.


The hon. Member is wrong. I said nothing of the kind. I was not referring to missions from this country. I was referring to Russian evangelists, Russian citizens inside Russia.


I misunderstood the hon. Member. In his fervour, he did not make it clear. He spoke about the missions to Russia. When one talks about missions to Russia, one assumes that they are missions sent to Russia.


That cannot be accurate, because I quoted the number of persons concerned.


If the Russians tried to send missions here, we should consider it a breach of the Agreement which has been entered into. Let me also draw attention to another statement which has been made. It has been said by hon. Members opposite that nothing has ever been said about the Russian Government equivalent to what the Russian papers have said about the Government in this country. That is rather a discovery; one of those extra little touches of the comic side of things. Hon. Members opposite are so anxious about the reputation of the present Government that they complain when it is called by some outrageous person over in Russia the "Fascist Labour Government." The idea in the minds of hon. Members opposite apparently is that anybody, any paper, or official in Russia who makes use of a statement of that kind about the Government here was a man. or an official who was breaking if net the letter at least the spirit of the undertaking that has been entered into.

I have here, carefully preserved, the headlines of a speech made by the hon. Member for Handsworth (Commander O. Locker-Lampson) at a public meeting and reported in papers which have a large circulation. He used two choice expressions about the Russian Government. He said that the Soviet Government of Russia consisted of bounders and crooks. That is from a man who is a Member of this House; and it is not very easy for those who are away from the British House of Commons, who do not know the British House of Commons, when they read that statement in the way in which it will be put in the papers in Russia not to feel that the Government here are allowing the very spirit and letter of their side of the same agreement to be broken in this country. I should hesitate to say that even about the Fascist Gov- ernment in Italy. Having been honoured with a place in this House I should feel that it was not acting in accordance with my responsibility in international matters to use such expressions. But hon. Members on the other side of the House have been so badly bitten by this mad dog[Interruption.]—I mean the mad dog of Russian hate—that they forget very often their international manners. An hon Member of this House applies the words "bounders," "cads" and "crooks" at a public meeting, largely attended by the elite of one of our provincial centres, to a Government with which we have just signed an agreement. People who ass that sort of language are not in a position, until the Conservative party has purged itself of such irresponsible conduct, to turn round and accuse the Russian Government of using such moderate language in calling our Government a "Fascist Labour Government."

I could multiply this instance; and notice this. So pleased are the papers in these days of propaganda by headlines to get hold of these phrases that they always put them in the largest headlines. That is the sort of thing which a foreign correspondent, not necessarily at Riga, but in this country, is only too pleased to translate into Russian and send to the Russian people. Whether they intend it or not the net result of their spirit of hate, giving way to their emotions in this matter, is to sow the seed of international discord between the Russian people and ourselves. If it is not a spirit of hate on their side it is a spirit of fear, because they naturally think that all these things are a prelude to an armed attack upon them. It is time that this House acted in a more responsible manner.

Let me take another thing. I do not know whether the statement that was read was from "Pravda" or not. One has to be very careful, because not only is the origin of the newspaper lying at the root of this matter, but there is also the question of the translation. A comparison of some of the translated passages that have been quoted in this House with the original has disgraced hon. Members opposite and shown their carelessness in using such totally inadequate and misleading translation. In this particular case we were assured that we were being given an account of what was happening here in London. It did not strike the right hon. Gentleman who read the passage to think for one moment that if what took place in London could be so solemnly caricatured in Russia for consumption by the people of Leningrad, the reverse process could take place and that the stuff that was served out to the British public was just as likely to be a caricature. Hon. Members opposite have lost the balance of their minds. One feels that the Mental Treatment Bill which is to deal, not with those who have completely "gone," but with those who are on the margin, had better be passed quickly, and applied to a large part of the membership of this House.

It is time that we dropped this perpetual nagging at everything that is Russian. Why should hon. Members opposite go out of their way to discover anything in the shape of a stone to cast at the Russian Government? We blame the Russians for accusing us of being bloodthirsty capitalists. We ought at least to begin by showing that we are actuated by a different spirit, and should approach them, not by epithet, but by friendly gesture. If we set a good example very likely they will follow, and the agreement that has been cited to-night will be implemented in practice and our relations with Russia will be duly cemented. I frankly confess that the Soviet doctrine would not suit me. I want very much what the Soviet Government seeks to attain, but the way in which it uses its power does not appeal to me. Nevertheless, if hon. Members want to cement the very foundation of the pedestal on which that Government rests, they cannot do better than arouse the spirit of fear in the Russian people and give colour to the constant propaganda that the capitalist nations of Europe are some day going to attack Russia. I really doubt whether at this moment the Russian Government would be in its position of power—a comparative handful of people among 100,000,00n peasants and other people—were it not for the attacks on the Russian Government by hon. Members opposite.

To me it is an astounding revelation to find the party opposite, which boasts of being the party of patriotism and which asks us to become patriotic—I presume in the same sense in which it is patriotic—showing by the actions, as well as by the speeches of its Members, that its patriotism consists not so much of love of this country as of hate for some other country. All the way through English history one hate has succeeded another. For a long time, at the beginning of the last century, it was a hatred of France and of Napoleon. Later on it was a hatred of Russia under the Tsarist regime inspired by real or imaginary threats of attempts upon India. In more recent years that hate was translated into a hatred, first of the Boers and then of Germany. All through, the patriotism of the party opposite has been punctuated by these hatreds. I suggest that a patriotism, worthy of the name, does not depend upon hate, but that on the contrary hate has been the undoing of the policy of this country. The time has arrived when as well as disarming in ships and men and Air Force, we ought to disarm in our minds and show that though we differ from other nations, at least we are prepared to give them a straight and fair deal in international matters.

Commander BELLAIRS

I think it is an astonishing thing that a Debate of this character should have gone on from before nine o'clock until nearly 11 o'clock without a single Cabinet Minister, without a single representative of the Foreign Office, being in attendance. The excuse that the Egyptian delegation has to be met may avail for the Secretary of State, or for the Under-Secretary, but it cannot avail for both, and there should be a representative of the Foreign Office here. I hope that whoever represents the Government will give a more direct answer than we have had in this Debate so far. A very serious indictment has been put forward supported by quotations of official utterances and from official newspapers, and it is no answer to bring forward the unofficial utterances of people in this country. We have constantly asked for information, and the reason why we have had to repeat our questions is because we did not get the information. I have asked questions about the State Universities for training in revolutionary propaganda and about the number of students belonging to the British Empire at these Universities, and I have been told to produce the evidence myself. I have referred to cases in India where students who have been trained in a Moscow university have beer tried and sent to prison. This is a university expressly designated for training in revolutionary propaganda. Surely that is a breach of the Treaty, but. it is going on at this moment.

I have also asked a number of questions about prison-made goods corning to this country, in connection with the Russian timber trade. I first asked a question on this subject in July of last year, and the Secretary of State then said that he was unable to give me any information because we had no diplomatic representative in Russia; he added that it was precisely one of those cases in which, when we had a diplomatic representative in Russia, he would be able to get the information. When we recognised Russia, after a considerable interval, I asked my question again, and the Secretary of State then invited me to produce evidence myself. I then secured sworn affidavits made before public notaries by escaped prisoners from Russia. I have five of them here, and they testify to the fact that thousands of Russian prisoners are employed in the timber trade, on goods intended for this country. I have had no assistance whatever from. the Government it regard to this matter, although it is strictly against the law of this country. We passed the Foreign Prison-Made Goods Acts of 1897, in which it said there would be added to the table of prohibitions and restrictions contained in Section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876, the following: Goods proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Customs by evidence tendered to them to have been made or produced wholly or in part in any foreign prison, gaol, house of correction or penitentiary except goods in transit or not imported for the purposes of trade and of a description not manufactured in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the law is quite clear in regard to this subject. I also asked a question of the Minister about forced labour. Everybody knows that there is an enormous amount of forced labour in Russia both in the timber trade and on the State farms. I could get no information whatever. The Minister refused to apply to the Ambassador for information, and so we are left to get the information ourselves. Now the Government are granting export credits, and, if hon. Members believe in the doctrine that exports are paid for by imports, it is a moral certainty that the products of forced labour and prison labour will be coming into this country. Certainly, hon. Members who have made a great cry about not allowing any imports from sweated labour coming into this country must object still more to the product of prison labour and slave labour, for slave labour is forced labour. Surely, the Government ought to have some regard to the prestige of this country. They have seen the opinions expressed in the Finnish papers about this country importing Russian timber produced by prison labour or forced labour. I have here two extracts from leading journals in Finland. One of them says: The greater part of the Russian timber output is being offered to Great Britain. One cannot help finding it a little strange that in Great Britain more attention has not been paid to conditions in Russia which are incompatible with the principles adopted by British trade ethics and sanctioned by the British Empire. Great Britain has never favoured products of forced labour and we do not believe a change in this respect is taking place. Another paper says: What is it but slavery in a modern sense that in peace time great numbers of peasants and workers are deported to be utilised for forced labour? Recent reports of German, Swedish and other nationals who recently escaped from Soviet prisoners' camps have made it clear that previous news from Russia was by no means exaggerated. In one camp alone, Solovjetsk Island, 45,000 prisoners are employed entirely on timber cutting and loading and so on. Hon. Members object so much to stories of horrors being given and they pour disbelief on them, but from those given on the testimony of the prisoners it is perfectly clear that hundreds of them die. They have to submit to terrible privations, and in every respect the tales which are told of these prisoners' camps are tales which would excite the horror of the whole of Europe. The men are not paid, but are given food according to the work they do, the hardest workers being given the most food. The official journal itself has described the conditions of these prison camps as appalling. That is the actual word used by the official journal. There is one other point which I wish to make. It may be the case that people in this country do not mind timber coming in. It does not come home to them, because we do not produce much timber in this country, but we are rapidly ap- proaching the time when the products of the State farms in Russia will be coming into this country. The Soviet Government, in order to create credits, will export grain, even though the people in Soviet Russia may be starving. The whole idea of the timber trade is to create credits in this country. Forests are being recklessly cut down, without replacement, and they realised about £7,500,000 in this country last year. They hope to realise more this year, but they are having considerable difficulty with labour, in spite of the forced labour.

I now come to the question of the State farms. On 21st February a "Times" telegram said: The Labour Commissariat has contracted to mobilise 1,500,000 peasants for the collective farms. We have the testimony of Lenin's widow in the Soviet Press at the beginning of March, when she wrote an article based on letters she had received from the villages, of which these are extracts: It is a Stormy time, this second Revolution, and quite as fierce as 1917. Then she goes on to say: The Kulaki (that is, the comparatively well-to-do peasants) are being liquidated resolutely and mercilessly. Those are the words of Lenin's widow, not the words of an observer hostile to Soviet Russia. What is going to happen in agriculture?


I told an hon. Member earlier in the Debate that he must not speak on questions that have nothing to do with the Consolidated Fund Bill or the Government of to-day, and I cannot connect the hon. and gallant Member's arguments with anything with which the Government have to do,

Commander BELLAIRS

The point I was going to make was this, that the State farms have increased to 110,000. They have increased from liquidating 4,393,000 peasant holdings by 20th January, 1930, to a present figure of 14,264,000 by 1st March. The products of those State farms under compulsory labour are going to arrive in this country, and I venture to tell the Government that it will be a very different proposition from the compulsory labour in regard to timber that is coming to this country when the agricultural industry of this country realises that the products of compulsory labour on the Soviet State farms are coming to this country. I ask the Government to deal with this matter at the earliest possible opportunity and also to raise it at the League of Nations.


I rise to answer the various points that have been put forward by hon. Members. The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) complained that I did not represent the Foreign Office, which shows a lack of knowledge on his part of the constitution of Parliament and the Government offices, because if he looks at the list of the Foreign Office officials, he will see my name appearing there connected with that of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He also told us that, in spite of all the questions which he had put to the Foreign Office, he had never got any answer, and therefore, at any rate, he will be none the worse off to-night when he has heard my speech. I do not wish to complain of the introductory speech made by the right hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson). I understand that his line of argument was based, first of all, on the position which the Government took up as a result of the Protocol which was arranged in October of last year. It was settled on that occasion that notes should be exchanged when the Ambassador arrives, and he has stated, at any rate, he has given us quotations, that it was solemnly affirmed by each party to be their desire and intention to live in peace and amity with each other, scrupulously to respect the undoubted right of a State to order its own life within its own jurisdiction in its own way, to refrain and to restrain all persons and organisations under their direct or indirect control including -organisations in receipt of financial assistance from them, from any act overt or covert liable in any way whatsoever to en-danger the tranquility or prosperity of any part of the two countries. That, I understand, was the principle that was agreed to by both our Government and the Russian Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, when speaking in this House on 5th November, 1929, affirmed this position. 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 tranquility 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 pirit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1929; col. 901, Vol. 231.] That, briefly, is the position that the Government have taken up, and which we are endeavouring to follow. The question naturally arises; what acts do the Government think will be sufficient to be a violation of that understanding? The first thing I want to point out, to the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite is that my right hon. Friend distinctly stated that he was not going to be rushed into any hasty judgment in these matters. By that decision, we certainly stand more strongly than ever to-day. I am indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the kind sympathy which he indicated for the Labour Government in some attacks that have been made upon them by the Columnist party in Russia. I can assure him that we do not mind them, and he need riot give us his sympathy on matters of that kind. If that is the only complaint, it is a very small one.


Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is a friendly action on the part of the Russian Government?


I am going to deal with that. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have always felt in regard to this Russian problem that a great deal of the information which we receive and a great deal of what we read about Russia is so coloured, either intentionally or unintentionally, by those who are giving the information or writing the articles, that it is quite possible that some Members like myself hardly believe anything that we see or hear, but that we gather up these different views and expressions of opinions, and try to find between them what may probably be the real truth. That is one of the reasons why we are not prepared to accept everything that comes from hon. Members opposite and their supporters, and immediately to rush in and say that we are going to raise questions with the Russian Government as to whether this is a violation or is not a violation of our understanding.

Complaint is made that the Russian Government or their representatives, or members of the Communist party, are working against us in many parts of the world, especially in our Dominions. Like other hon. Members, I am old enough to remember that exactly the same thing was said about the danger to India from the Russian Empire and representatives of the Tsar's Government who were supposed by the alarmists of those days to be trying to undermine the position of the British Government in India. After all this time, we get the same thing again to-day, only it is a different Russian Government. The tales are equally alarmist and the object is very much the same. Our position remains, therefore, exactly as my right hon. Friend has stated, that so far we are not satisfied that anything sufficiently serious has taken place since we entered into those relationships with Russia to induce us to break off the diplomatic associations that we have at the present time. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) has said. The claim he made on behalf of the Baptists is immensely strengthened by the fact that he distinctly stated that he was not using it for any political purpose or to try to bring to an end the relationship existing between the two peoples. Many of us sympathise with the appeal he made. My right hon. Friend recently stated that he recognised the difference of the position, and said of the decree respecting religious associations: I have no doubt it indicates a continuance of the anti-religious pressure which has consistently and for many years been a notorious feature of Soviet policy. But when we arrive at that position then we have to answer the question which the hon. Member put as to whether it is possible to make representations to the Russian Government. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that in public life, as well as in private life, representations can be made in cases where relations are very close such as would be quite impossible if the parties were not on such a footing of friendly relationship. Therefore it seems to me that whilst we have going on in this country propaganda in our newspapers, propa- ganda that is so continuously supported in this House by hon. Members opposite, it is virtually impossible for the Government to make representations to the Russian Government such as the hon. Member for Leith would like. After all, you cannot entirely dissociate the words and actions of different Members of the House of Commons from, perhaps, the policy of the Government.


I am sorry to interrupt, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that he has just informed the House distinctly that our relations with Russia are not sufficiently bad to justify us in breaking off relations with Russia, but he has said nothing to show that the relationship has improved in any way, and on the whole his speech tends to show that the relationship is worse.


I think the hon. Member might have allowed me to finish before attempting to give a résumé of my speech. I was dealing with the point raised by the hon. Member for Leith about the sufferings of the Baptist Church. I would like to assure him that having made this statement, which is my own view of the position, I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the speech of the hon. Member. It is needless for me to assure him that my right hon. Friend will look into the matter with the very greatest sympathy, because he has been for many years closely associated with one of the Nonconformist Churches.

The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Albery) put one or two questions to me. He asked whether the Dominions had made any complaint in regard to Communist propaganda in the Dominions. I am informed that there have been no formal complaints, but there have been suggestions which have not been submitted in the formal manner which is needed if any action can be taken upon them. A point has been raised in connection with long-term credits. The hon. Member who raised that question will understand that the statement which has been referred to was only a general statement made on that subject. The Government are guided in any contracts entered into of this nature by an advisory committee composed of business men in the City of London. Therefore, if there seems to be a dif- ference between what was said then and the policy that is now being followed, it may be put down, at any rate to some extent, to the fact that, in spite of the general expression of opinion when the scheme began to work, it has been felt by this advisory committee that it was better to keep the time short for the present in connection with any contracts entered into. This need not necessarily be taken as entirely representative of the views of the Government, but it must also be borne in mind that we are being advised by this Committee.

The hon. Member also made the statement, which I was very interested to hear, that the time would undoubtedly come when the party with which he is connected would be only too glad to enter into friendly relations with the Russian people. He did not follow that up any further than by explaining what would be the conditions which would induce him to come into line with us on this matter, but at any rate I was glad to hear some assurance from one hon. Member opposite that they recognise that it is desirable that, if possible, we should enter into closer relationship witch Russia. I look upon this attempt, however difficult it may be to work out, as one that it is absolutely essential that we should try to carry through. Anyone who studies the trade position of Great Britain to-day as it is constantly brought before me in connection with oversea trade, must now know that we cannot afford to leave out of the scope of our business connections this great country of Russia. Every effort should be made, in view of our trade depression and the large number of our unemployed, to improve our export trade with that country, and when we consider that Germany last year exported to Russia goods to the value of £19,000,000, and the United States goods to the value of 15,000,000, and when we compare that with the fact that in the last full year, 1928, when right hon. Gentlemen opposite were responsible for their policy of dissociation from Russia, we only exported a little over £2,000,000, I think it is evident that there is scope for a larger trade with Russia.

When I say that, I am not merely saying what I hope or think, but what our policy, so far, has proved to be the fact. All this confirms me in the policy which the Government have entered into. There may be difficulties, there may be obstacles, but the object is great, for the well-being of the world it is essential that we should work amicably with other nations, and it is utterly impossible that we should go and examine into the lives, of nations and say that we not have relationships with this one or that one because we do not believe in their system of Government. If we were to follow that policy, the whole of our international relationships would come to an end. We must apply the same principle here, and especially in the case of Russia it is important that we should so improve our relationhips that we may look for a larger exchange of goods, and greater and recurring trade prosperity for the two peoples, so as to benefit; not only the people of Russia, but many people in the business world and amongst our unemployed in this country, who sadly need the assistance which improved trade will afford.


I should not have troubled the hon. Gentleman with a further speech if he had answered one or two questions which were put by the hon. and gallant Member who spoke just before him. He has dealt in no way with the very perinent question of prison labour. Has he taken the trouble to investigate, with his colleagues in the Foreign Office, whether there is any substance and truth in the allegations of the hon. and gallant Member? Surely this House, after the questions which have been put, is entitled, on the occasion of a Debate of this sort, to the courtesy of the presence of a Foreign Office representative supplied with full information on matters which are of great importance to us. The private Members of this House, whatever wrong views they may hold, are entitled to a proper courtesy and a recognition of the questions which we desire to put. The hon. Gentleman laughingly says that he is connected with the Foreign Office, hut we know quite well that he has no responsible position at the Foreign Office.

There are only two Gentlemen who are supposed to advise His Majesty's Government with regard to foreign affairs. One is the Foreign Secretary, who is conspicuous by his absence tonight. He was afraid to answer. He desired to keep the Debate at the level of something that was not worth his notice to come into the House to answer. That will not cut any ice on this side of the House. Until we get a proper answer to our questions, we shall persist with them. The hon. Gentleman has given us no information at all as to what the Government really think of the Russian situation. What is the good of saying exports are more than they were last year? He tells us nothing about what we imported to the destruction of the British farmer. What is Russian wheat doing in this country? If the Government applied their mind less to the spectacular idea of Holy Russia and did something for the British farmer they would do some good. The hon. Gentleman has given us no information as to what the Socialist party think of the Russian question. The country wants to know. Hon. Members opposite represent certain classes in the country. The Press is most important to them. They know it, and they are afraid of it. It was secret propaganda which largely brought into being the iniquity of the general strike. I can produce a list of hon. Members connected with the trade unions who put that tragedy down to Communist propaganda engineered in Russia. Hon. Members of the extreme left of the party opposite, the gallant 24, may laugh but it is a serious matter for the Government. If the hon. Gentleman desires to see closer co-operation with us he should suggest to his right hon. Friend to supply us with some information which would make them secure in the belief that there was a genuine desire on the part of the Soviet Government to stop meddling in our affairs. If he would be frank and would give us the information we require, he would have some chance of getting us to co-operate with the Government with regard to a policy of closer relationship.

I was surprised after listening to the eloquent speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), a man whose sincerity is appreciated on all sides of the House, that the appeal which the hon. Member made was not supported in any way by hon. Members opposite. I saw the hon. Gentleman the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr) in the House during a portion of that speech, but not one word have we heard from the Socialist benches.


My hon. Friend should know that I have been absent from the House for a reason I would not state, otherwise, I should have taken part in the Debate. The first thing I did was. to go out and congratulate the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) on the speech which he had made in this House.


I accept the hon. Member's explanation, and at once unreservedly withdraw my remarks. On an issue of great importance to the Christian religion, and after we had listened to, such a speech, we ought to have had some support from hon. Gentlemen on that side-of the House who are supposed to take a keen interest in the freedom of every thing. The Conservative and Liberal parties are always taunted that they stand for class or party and have no interest in freedom. The party opposite are the apostles of freedom. They are the very people who ought keenly to resent this sort of thing. There has not been one speech on these lines. Practically the whole speech of the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Haycock) was an appreciation of the Soviet measures; it was practically a justification of everything that is going on. Another hon. Member went even further and practically brought the whole question of religion into the melting pot. If the charges which have been brought by the hon. Member for Leith are true in substance, the fact that the hon. Gentleman is connected with the Wesleyan Methodist Union is not a ground for putting forward anything at all. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, who is. the foreign representative of the biggest Christian Power in the world, ought to have come down to this House. I say candidly that it is an insult to the intelligence of hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House merely to say that the Foreign Minister is sympathetic because his church is connected with the Baptist Church; it brings the whole Assembly into disrepute. I hope that the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department will convey to him that, far from his former statement having satisfied Members of this House, we shall persevere in this question until we get satisfaction.


I came here this evening in order to have the opportunity of asking the Foreign Secretary a question which at Question Time would not be in order. I hoped, as we found very little satisfaction from the very large number of questions on this Russian subject which have been put from this side of the House, that in this Debate the House, and particularly the Opposition, would have had the privilege or advantage of hearing a Member of the Government representing the Foreign Office, and that he would have been able to answer us in debate on questions which we have not an opportunity of putting at Question Time. The hon. Member represents the Overseas Trade Department, and we make no complaint of his answer as far as his knowledge—which, no doubt, is extensive—of oversea trade is concerned. He dealt with that aspect of the subject. I would ask him at least to make a representation of this question, which he cannot answer himself, and in regard to which the House has a right to receive an answer, to the Foreign Secretary.

When we resumed relations with the Soviet Government there was an understanding that what I can only term a bargain should be made. We were going to enter into diplomatic relations with the Soviet Government on two conditions—that propaganda in all parts of the British Empire should cease and that negotiations should take place for the settlement of the just debts of British subjects which were owing to us by the Soviet Government. Diplomatic relations were resumed in October. We are now in the month of March and, in spite of questions put to the Foreign Secretary, we have not been able to ascertain the nature of the bodies who are to negotiate the debt settlement question, or when the negotiations are going to begin. We do not know anything about it. I do not suppose the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department can answer. Has the Foreign Secretary, through the usual diplomatic channels which ought to convey the information to him—On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I desire to know whether I can protest that the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department, who is supposed to represent the Foreign Secretary to-night, persistently refuses to listen to anything that I put to him?


I was asking if it was possible for me to give an answer, and I understand that it is not possible.


I prefaced my remarks by saying that I did not think the hon. Member could answer, and that I would like him to convey my questions to the Foreign Secretary. They cannot be put at Question Time, and must be asked now. We have a right to put the question and to receive an answer. The relations were entered into on the basis of a bargain, and our part of the bargain was fulfilled last October when we accepted the Soviet representative in this country and sent our representative to Moscow. As negotiations for debt settlement have not begun, I hope the Foreign Secretary will take an early opportunity of informing the House and the country whether, through the ordinary diplomatic channels, he has been made aware of the following fact—I take it to be a fact—as revealed in a telegram published in the Press, and issued from Moscow on the 27th February: Mr. Briukhanoff, the Financial Commisar of the Soviet Union declared in a speech delivered at Leningrad that the Soviet Government has no intention of taking over or of recognising any debts whatsoever of the Czarist Government. The negotiations for the resumption of diplomatic relations were broken off and restarted, and, finally, last. autumn we waived the conditions that we had made in the earlier negotiations, and we submitted to whatever terms the Soviet Government chose to put upon us, and without any undertaking that the matter of debt settlement should receive anything more than consideration. We felt that the Government had been imposed upon. However, the Government thought that it was necessary to enter into relations with the Soviet, because a certain meeting connected with their party were getting impatient, and it was necessary for the Government to carry out the pledge that they had given at the General Election to resume relations with the Soviet Government immediately. The matter became urgent and they had to do it, no matter what indignity was put upon the Government of this country by the Power with whom we were to resume diplomatic relations. We are entitled to know whether the quotation which I have read is a fact and represents to final view of the Financial Commissar of the Soviet Government, that under no circumstances although they have their representative here, do they propose to carry out that part of the obligation which lies upon them to deal with this question of debts due to British subjects. They have confiscated the property of British subjects, and they say that they are never going to reconsider the matter or make any recompense. That being so, we are entitled to ask how long we are going to continue our side of the bargain; how long we are going to submit to what is simply an insult when responsible members of the Soviet Government openly make speeches saying that they have not the slightest intention of carrying out what they have undertaken to carry out. How long is this going on? We cannot expect the prestige of this country to be very high abroad under the present Government in any quarter of the world, and I think it is time our Foreign Office declined to make itself a doormat for the Soviet Government to wipe their feet on.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

I only want to make one comment on a remark of the Secretary for Overseas Trade. He made the extraordinary suggestion that the Foreign Secretary should take steps to protect one form of religion in Russia, because he has an interest in that form of religion. Apparently it does not matter if Jews or Roman Catholics are murdered or how much members of the Church of England or of the Orthodox Church are persecuted. He will only interfere to protect members of a Church which is in the alliance to that to which he himself belongs. I hope he did not mean what he seemed to imply in his speech. I think it would be a bad thing if the foreign policy of this country was influenced by personal considerations of that kind.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.