§ Question again proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton
I was saying before this House went to another place that 15 out of the 30 Russian wives who had married British subjects had been permitted to leave Russia. I went on to say that the position of the others, as evidenced by the correspondence which I have here and with which I do not propose to trouble the House, was a most grievous one. I will select only one or two points from this correspondence. Four of the wives in the provinces have great difficulty in communicating with their husbands. One of these ladies has been ill, and she recently wrote to her husband to ask if he wished to divorce her, as she had received no letter from him for three weeks. The husband writes without fail every week. This is one of the many general complaints, that letters sent to and written by these Russian 2482 wives fail to reach the wives or husbands as the case may be. The economic situation in the Soviet Union makes living extremely difficult for these separated wives and their children. They cannot get work in ordinary circumstances, although the Embassy is employing some of them.
May I take the opportunity of saying, as I see an hon. Lady opposite who has taken a very humanitarian interest in this matter as, indeed, Members in all parts of the House have done, that I am assured by these gentlemen married to these Russian wives that they deeply appreciate the sympathy which hon. Members have shown to them. Some of these girls—and they are only girls, many of them 19 or 20 years of age—I understand, have received demands to pay the childlessness tax, which is payable by ail women over the age of 20 in the Soviet Union. Of course, this only applies to girls over 20, but some, married before they were 20, are now being charged with the tax, which amounts to some 1,500 roubles a year. My informant says, speaking on behalf of these husbands:The irony of this is obvious, and we feel this to be the cruellest blow of all. One girl has been threatened with imprisonment if she does not pay.I could quote a great many other cases of hardship, but I will not do so.
I want to say, at the outset of my speech, that I wish to confine my remarks solely and simply to this one issue, and not to Anglo-Soviet relationship in general. That, so far as this bench is concerned, is within the purview of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). I think that I shall be more likely to succeed in my object—that is to bring this matter to the attention of the House—if I confine myself directly to the question of these Russian wives and not to Soviet policy generally. I think that it is not for me, and that it would be a gross piece of impertinence for me, to suggest that should be the line followed by other hon. Members, but I would suggest, if I may do so in the most humble manner, that is the line that might be followed.
What is the justification for us, on both sides of the House, raising this question? I would like to put it in three or four contentions. I would say, at the outset, that this matter is only a drop in the ocean of misery in the world today in which men and women have forsaken the teaching 2483 of Christ and the leaders of every other religion, and in which justice, tolerance, truth and mercy are even rarer than food and housing. But, although this is only a drop in the ocean of misery, it is poignant enough for those concerned. I would go on, secondly, to say that this country has, to its eternal credit, ever asserted the cause of justice and right in the case of an individual or individuals, however humble. Thirdly, I would say that the formidable corporate protests of Parliament have sometimes resounded round the world and caused, in the past, nations, far more materially powerful than these Islands, to pause and think again where injustice has been done or was about to be done to British subjects. The same influence may have some effect on those whom we still call, very properly, our Soviet Allies.
I would ask, on behalf of those Members on both sides of the House who are interested in this matter, for the strongest possible support for our protest from public opinion outside. Particularly, may I say without offence—and I am very anxious to say nothing to offend—that there is a duty that rests on the Christian churches in this matter. They place the very highest importance on husbands and wives not being separated, and I would suggest that someone, for example a man like the Dean of Canterbury, who has spoken very strongly on Anglo-Soviet relationship, and who is possibly of the opinion that the Soviet system is analogous to Christianity—I would like to see him speak up, and others who have taken an interest in this matter. I put this to you, Mr. Speaker, to him and to others outside this House that I think that he has a duty to the church to which he belongs, and others who have spoken on this matter who belong to the churches have a duty to express an opinion on this question.
Perhaps one reason, as important as any of the reasons which I have given, is that I think that we in this House and the country generally are entitled to know the reasons for the Soviet action, which seems so extraordinary in the case of the relationship of one country to another. Those reasons have never been given publicly. I do not know why the Soviet has done this. I have heard very unflattering suggestions as to the real 2484 reason for their action, which I am not even going to hint at, because I do not know whether the Under-Secretary will feel that he ought to give the reasons. I do not know what they are, but I think that I am entitled to propound a question, and to ask him: What are the reasons, and what fault have these people committed?
Is there any other action which His Majesty's Government can take, or any other pressure which they can apply? I suggest that there are two, possibly three, further courses which they could take. First, I think that the official correspondence on the subject should be published—I think that very important—in the form of a White Paper, so that we may know the alleged reasons for the Soviet action. Then, I think, that His Majesty's Government should consider who is the appropriate international authority to which an appeal should be made. I cannot believe that with the existence of U.N.O., the Supreme Council, and all the other means which there are for exchanging views between the Allies, and for getting the protests of the Allies or any country considered, it would be right to refrain from bringing this matter before the appropriate international body, whatever it may be. It makes nonsense of the talk of international co-operation if when what is regarded by hundreds and thousands of people in this country as a plain injustice is done to British subjects, that injustice could not be considered by some international body.
Finally, I make this suggestion, although I do not want to embarrass the Government. I have carefully refrained from making any hostile references to the Soviet Government, and I do not want to end my speech on that note, but I think that here a very delicate and embarrassing position arises. I think that if the Soviet Government continue to take up this attitude, pending the hearing of the question by some international body, the Soviet Government should be informed that it is embarrassing—I put it no higher than that—to His Majesty's Government to provide visas for the wives of members of Russian delegations. Obviously, they could not refuse visas to members of the actual Embassy. We are always reading of Russian delegations 2485 coming to this country, such as trade delegations, and delegations from the Soviet Parliament. Some were received in this country, and in this House, I believe. I think it should be said that so long as these British wives—British Soviet wives, because we regard them as British subjects—are treated in this way, it is embarrassing to His Majesty's Government, and to Members of this House also I should have thought, to receive the wives of members of Russian delegations. I am quite prepared to be told that that would not be a proper way of doing things and would only irritate the Soviet Government.
I am most grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the attention which they have given to this matter and I think they will acquit me of any intention to make cither party capital or international mischief out of it. Relying, as I have always done in the 42 years I have been in this House, upon the generosity of hon. Members, I would like to add that this matter almost keeps me awake at night. I hate to think of the anguish through which these people are going, and I hope that hon. Members, whatever their political opinions may be, will agree that this separation is quite unnecessary and only adds to the general horrors of today's world.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I agree with everything that has been said by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) in relation to this question. I have in my mind grave doubts about the effect of any Debate in this House upon the subject of these British Soviet wives, and whether the Kremlin is prepared to listen to the voice raised in this Parliament on almost any issue of which one can conceive. I hate the regime in Russia. I make no bones about that. I hate the methods that are adopted. If the Russians are to have international co-operation of any kind with the outside world one would expect that arrangements would be reciprocated by the Soviet Government and that they would attempt to deal humanely and justly with issues of this description.
The Soviet Government and the Kremlin have sent it out to the world that they are the internationalists in the world, 2486 that they have thrown over the old capitalist moral code and instituted a more humanitarian code and process. But events like this give a direct lie to statements that are made by those individuals and by their defenders. It was always said, in my early days in the Labour movement, that Governments and regimes were known mostly by the things they did to isolated citizens, injustices and acts that lacked humanitarianism. These women have committed no crime. Their husbands have committed no crime. Indeed, they have been moderate in their attitude on this question. They have resisted the more extreme denunciations regarding the regime and its behaviour.
Statements have been made from time to time that the regime in Russia cannot allow this moderate number of women to leave Russia. Those statements become just a lie. Why should any nation with 180 million human beings require the retention of some 30 women? The Russians have shown lack of reason as applied to these women. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) intends to add his voice in appeal, so that the Russians will know that Members of this House, although closely tied to the Soviet Government, are not bound hand and foot, and tongue, to that Government, and can stand up for the rights of British citizens as well as defend the interests of the Soviet Government in all its actions throughout the world.
Therefore, I say, realising, reading, studying and knowing the activities in Russia, that I really begin to fear for the safety of individuals who raise matters in this House. If one is to accept even moderately the statements in Jan Valtin's "Out of the Night" and "I Chose Freedom," by Kravchenko, and others, one knows that the punishment of individuals, who may have had nothing to do with the raising of an issue, may be of a very severe character. Therefore, I wonder. I believe that the Soviet Government do not intend to listen to the voice of reason from any part of the world and that there is a great fear operating. I believe that the Soviet Government are determined to smash through all agreements, frontiers and incidents, in order to achieve their will.
2487 With the noble Lord, I am driven to ask for what reasons the Soviet Government refuse to allow these 30 women to come into this country? If the Soviet system is such that it would attract supporters among the workers in every part of the world then the Soviet Government should be delighted to have such missionaries going into those countries, praising the Soviet system and saying in a propaganda sense, "You ought to have a similar system to ours, because it is superior to the British, American and other so-called democracies," but they do not say that. Are the Soviet Government lacking in faith about their own system? Have they a fear that no case can be made Out for the superiority of their system? Indeed, do they fear these 30 women coming as missionaries to this country, telling the truth of what is actually happening in the Soviet Union because what they would say might do more damage to the Soviet Union than anything they might say in praise of the system they had left behind?
I am driven, through all the sordid things that are happening in this war-weary and torn world of tragedy, to believe that the Soviet Government are afraid to allow these individuals to come to this country to tell the truth about this Soviet El Dorado and New Jerusalem that is in operation in Russia. Not only that: I say further, when the noble Lord suggests that we might consider reciprocal action of some kind, that although I do not believe in unjust punishments I want to know whether this country is to take all the kicks, the hidings and all the false propaganda, and is to be always on the defensive, accepting it all, and at the same time to get down, grovelling, before the Soviet State?
§ Earl Winterton
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member. I am sure his reference to me is intended to be friendly. No one has made more violent speeches in this country against the Soviet Union than I, yet I refrained from doing it in connection with this case. I confined my remarks to the narrow issue. I had very much in mind the position of these unfortunate people.
§ Mr. McGovern
I am taking my own line on this issue. I have never been a believer that grovelling before any State did any good. I believe that if we are 2488 against any form of injustice we should stand forthright and state the things in which we believe. We must consider whether or not things have come to the stage where the word or attitude of the State can be depended upon on any issue. The issue of these 30 women is a small one. The ordinary member of the public is absolutely amazed that the Soviet Union refuses to allow them to come here. This country has been generous in allowing every form of national to enter the country and allowing her own people to leave to go to the uttermost ends of the earth. The public cannot understand why we should have footballers, diplomats and delegations here and that at the same time these women should be denied the opportunity of coming to this country.
People may say that it is a small sentimental issue. Any man or woman who has no sentiment is completely dead from the shoulders up. I refuse to agree that any individual, the most hard-boiled—even the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith—has no sentiment in his being. I am quite satisfied that everyone has. There is the sentiment of love for our wives and our children. We can, surely, understand the feelings of individuals who have fallen in love with young women, become attached to them, lived with them and, in some cases, had children by them. This is a tremendous issue for them individually. These individuals are perplexed. They feel that their whole aim in life is being defeated by the refusal of a so-called great State to allow this action. That State cannot be great when it stoops to actions of this kind in the case of a number of young men and women, many of whom have served in the war in the purpose of the Allied cause.
I have seen the stupid acts which have been perpetrated both by the Soviet Government and by their fellow-travellers in this country, and by the Communist Party, and I have wondered from where they got their advice. Their actions were stupid and against popular and public opinion in this country. But if their defenders in this country can make their voice heard—if they are not afraid to do that—it would be of assistance. Hon. Members should note that the people who defend the Soviet Union are closely allied to them. I do not blame them for that. They attack everybody in this country 2489 but their voice has never been heard criticising anybody in the Kremlin because they dare not do that. Therefore, I say that if they can make their influence felt, if they can show to the world that they are not tied hand, foot and tongue to this regime, if they can dare to stand up for British citizens as well as Soviet citizens, if they can raise their voices urging the Soviet Government to reconsider this issue, then, much as I am opposed to the regime, I would like them to succeed. I think they have great opportunities if they act differently and attract the eyes and the ears of the world to the system of which they are laying the foundations. I refuse to accept the view that the attitude adopted is anything in the nature of a humanitarian attitude. If these people, by word or action, can get a reconsideration of this issue and persuade the Soviet Government to act more humanely and intelligently and give these young people an opportunity to go through life as they ought to be, united in marriage, I am sure that even at this late date, it will redound to their credit. There will be general acclamation, no matter what may be the point of view of any hon. Member of this House, that they had at least taken one intelligent action on the road to building up a humanitarian State in Russia.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
I am sure hon. Members will agree that we are fortunate to have had a speech on this issue from the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). He expressed his feelings with that great depth of humanity which we know him to have. Also I would like to pay my tribute to my right hon. Friend the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) for raising this issue and for introducing into the Debate such an atmosphere of dignity and depth of feeling. I merely wish to refer to one case. I do not propose to give the name of the person concerned but I wish to make one point about it The uncertainty and doubt which arises when letters are posted and no answers are received is well known to most hon. Members; but, in addition to that, there is the uncertainty which follows from sending money remittances and not knowing for a long time whether they have got to the right people. That is an uncertainty which becomes almost too hard to bear 2490 when, from time to time, one is told that the money has been refused.
Here is a case where there has been much difficulty in getting the money through. The Moscow Embassy has been helpful but on the last occasion when money was sent, after several months it was returned because the wife had not been located. This is what the man concerned says:I am thus left without any knowledge of whether my wife has been moved from the place in which she was, whether she is still there but has changed her mind and so refused to accept the allowance any longer, or whether she is there and has been told by the N.K.V.D. that she has to lay off, and fears the consequence of non-compliance. Personally, I believe that the last is probably the case but this may be no more than personal conceit.In such cases, is it the fact that there has been pressure from that sort of organisation which we in this House despise, or is it that there has been a genuine change of mind? It is that sort of uncertainty which is pulling at the heartstrings of my correspondent. I believe that a similar state of affairs exists in the other cases. I hope that this Debate will be of some assistance to the men concerned in that they will gain greater strength, knowing that they have the people of the country behind them. Also, I hope that it will be of some assistance in that it will increase the chance of His Majesty's Government being successful in getting the wives released from Russia. When the Under-Secretary of State replies, I hope that he will be able to say that his right hon. Friend has changed his mind since a few days ago when he answered Questions on this subject in the House. Whether it was an aside or whether it was part of a considered statement, I do not know. On that occasion he said something to the effect that he had given up hope of getting these wives cut of Russia.
That is what I heard him say. It may have been that he had given up hope, but, anyway, the Under-Secretary is going to reply and can tell us the Foreign Secretary's views. If he has given up hope, we want to know what other steps can be taken. If he has not given up hope, there is one other way in which this Debate might help, and that is if those who have shown themselves consistently friendly to Moscow, if even one of those, will state clearly in this House that 2491 he agrees with the opinions expressed by the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) in deploring the attitude of the Soviet Government, and will join with us in demanding that the Soviet Government should change their minds.
One more point. There has been discussion already about reciprocal action in the nature of reprisals. I am sure that it is part of the British spirit that we never do "tit for tat" just for the sake of doing "tit for tat," but we have now waited a long time, and, in dealing with the Soviet Government on other things, it seems to be the case that firm action has a better chance of success than sitting back and taking kicks. If that is so, I have no doubt that the Foreign Office have considered whether it might be wise to refuse visas. They might have considered whether it would be wise to reduce the facilities so generously offered to Soviet Delegations of all kinds. They must have considered that, and I would like to hear the results of their considerations. What were their decisions about it, and what is in their minds? I am one of those who hesitate a long time before doing "tit for tat," but it may interest the House to know that we are very generous to Soviet delegations. If any hon. Members have looked up the London Telephone Directory to see how many telephone numbers the different offices of the U.S.S.R. have—and we know how difficult it is to get telephones—they will have found that they number up to 48, in different trade offices, but where is the trade?
Hon. Members may not know that, contrary to the normal practice, I believe, the Soviet Embassy in this country does not employ British subjects but mans that Embassy entirely from its own subjects. That is the position, and we should bear this in mind, since one reason given for the detention of these wives in Russia is that Russia is short of manpower. If that is the real reason, His Majesty's Government might consider that we should ask them to withdraw the 30 women who are in this country for various reasons, and that, in return, the Soviet Government might consider releasing these wives. His Majesty's Government must have a view on all these matters, and, although I do not want, in any carping or critical spirit, to put any more proposals forward, I hope 2492 the Under-Secretary will give us and the men concerned some further hope that he will be successful. If he has to tell us that there is going to be no hope, it is incumbent upon the Government immediately to make the future happiness of these men possible, and immediately to take such legal steps so that the damage which has been done in the past by the action of the Soviet Government should be repaired, and that their chance of happiness in future may be restored to them.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Miss Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
I hope the House will bear with me if, following a recent throat operation, my voice is not quite as strong as usual, but I do not want this Debate to pass by without adding my word to what has been said already, because I believe I am the only hon. Member of this House who has actually spoken to one of these Russian brides in Moscow. Exactly a year ago, I was in Russia, and I had not been there for more than a few days before I became acutely aware of this difficulty. In fact, I had been in Moscow only two or three days when I had a letter sent to me from one of the Russian wives. I do not want to weary the House by reading the whole of the letter but I want to make one or two extracts. It begins by saying:As the wife of a British subject, I am, though Russian by birth, a British subject by marriage, and, as such, I am anxious to exercise what I understand is a privilege enjoyed by Englishmen in England, namely, the privilege of being received by a Member of Parliament.The letter goes on to state the writer's case, and at the end, she asks me not to approach the authorities in this matter on her behalf alone:I would ask you to do it in general terms on behalf of all wives in my position, of whom there are a number in Moscow, and without any mention of my name, as you will appreciate that the Soviet authorities may not regard favourably my approaching British Members of Parliament. I should add that the British Embassy has made efforts on our behalf.Two or three days later, another of the wives came to see me, and she also told me the terrible position in which they were situated. She also had been to the British Embassy, and she spoke very highly of the help given to her there.
§ The question has been raised time and time again in this House, and again in 2493 this Debate, why the Soviet authorities have taken up this attitude. Because of the fact that these women had approached me, I took the liberty of approaching, quite unofficially, a member of the Soviet Government on the matter, and I asked him why these wives were not allowed to go to Britain, and he gave me a number of reasons. The first reason was that, according to him, the British men had not chosen the best type of Soviet women for their wives, and he said the new idea was that only the best was fit for export. He said that the Soviet Government wished that only the best type of girl should go to this country. I told him that the women I had seen were a really good type of Russian citizen, as I am sure the others are, too. Next, he said that they had allowed a few wives to come, but they had been ill-treated by their husbands and had decided to go back to Russia. When I "pooh-poohed" that, he said that he himself had married a Russian woman when he wanted to take a wife, and that he believed that everybody else should do the same. I reminded him that that was a very strange argument to be put forward by a representative of a country so international in its outlook as Russia, and that I really did not know how far we could get in this matter.
§ The fact is that the Foreign Office and the British Embassy have done all they possibly can. The noble Lord, in his speech, appealed to someone like the Dean of Canterbury to do something about it. I am given to understand, though I do not know whether it is correct, that the Dean of Canterbury approached Generalissimo Stalin himself on this matter, but that no further progress was made, so that it is difficult to know what we can do in order to get these wives over here. We all know that the reasons given to me by the member of the Soviet Government were not the real reasons why the wives are being kept in Russia, and I want to say in conclusion, that I do not believe that we shall get any further in this matter until we can convince the Soviet authorities that there is nothing to be lost, but everything to be gained, by contact between the people of Russia and the people in the outside world.2494
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
I would not intervene in this Debate, but for one rather singular fact. Being a bachelor, I think that standing up for the wives of men who have married, either in this country or abroad, is a thing which a bachelor should try to do, because, not being married myself, I do see the great attachment there must be between a man and a woman who marry and live abroad.
The case I want to bring to the attention of this House is a very singular one, pertaining to a very important and very beloved past Member of this House—no less a person than George Lansbury. I was in Russia in 1933, and, when in Moscow, I met George Lansbury's daughter and the professor with whom she was living. At that time, I thought that they were married, and when I came back—I was a great friend of George Lansbury—I went to see him and told him that I had spoken to his daughter and her husband. He corrected me, and said, "No, not her husband; they are not married." I was a little surprised at that, because, after all, we all know what a very religious man George Lansbury was. Yet, there he was, boldly correcting me on the error which I had unwittingly made. Naturally, I would not have mentioned a thing like that to a person for whom I had such a terrific respect as I had for George Lansbury. He told me that they could not marry because, if they did, his daughter would not be allowed to come to England to visit him.
There is an entirely different outlook in Russia from what there is in other countries on the question of marriage. People who want to get married in Russia go to a sort of little office and just say that they are going to get married, and they get married. At the time I was there, much the same sort of process was adopted if a person wanted to be divorced. I think the system is rather different now. George Lansbury was a great friend of Russia, and nobody stood up more for that country than he did. Even when Russia was down and out and had no friends, George Lansbury remained her friend. And yet, even this great man had to submit to the position that his daughter could not marry the man with whom she had fallen in love because, if she did, she would not be 2495 allowed to return to England to visit her father.
I am not going to say anything to disturb the relations which exist between this country and Russia. I have heard it said by hon. Members opposite, and, indeed, I have heard my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary himself say, that he had given up hope. But that does not mean that he has given up trying. I believe that he is still trying to straighten out this difficulty. I appeal to Russia from these benches to allow these wives to come to this country. It is a small matter to a country of nearly 200 million people to lose 15 persons because they are short of workers, as is asserted, but it is a great matter to the husbands of these women and to this country that these men should have their married state destroyed by a version of marriage that is alien to us. I appeal to Russia to give way on this small point. If they do, they will find that millions of people in this country will again become friends of Russia, and will be only too willing to pardon their sins.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
I think it is most unfortunate that neither of the two Communist hon. Members are here this afternoon, because, surely, as Communist Members of this House, the one thing they want to do is to improve the relations between this country and Russia. I should have thought it a most suitable occasion for one of them to be here to see what he could do to assist in solving the problem which confronts the Government.
I am not quite clear whether the number of women concerned is 15 or 30. My information is that 30 were originally married, that 15 have come over to this country, and that 15 still remain in Russia. As ray noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said, these marriages were contracted with the permission of the Soviet authorities. Having given their permission, why do they now go back on it, and not allow these wives to come to this country? Has that ever been explained? I would be very grateful if the Minister would give me some explanation on that point. The 15 wives still in Russia have five children, and, as one hon. Member has already said, we do not know how they are being cared for. We 2496 know that the Embassy is taking a considerable interest in the matter, but do they know the whereabouts of all the 15 wives and how the children are getting on? I should also like some information from the Minister on that point. I understand that one of the officers already referred to, has not heard from his wife for 18 months. Is the correspondence being destroyed, or deliberately held up? Even if these women cannot come over to this country, surely, they can be allowed to correspond freely with their husbands, even if the mail is sent through the diplomatic bag to Moscow, and then distributed personally.
How many of the wives are employed in the British Embassy? Could more such employment be given to others, who, I understand, are having a difficult time in sustaining themselves and their children? The Soviet authorities have said that these wives were not suitable women to go abroad. If that is so, why on earth did they allow the marriages to take place? They knew the girls concerned before they were married, and if that is really their objection, they should have said, on some pretext or another, "No, we are not going to allow these marriages." I am told that, at the present time, there are over 130 Soviet officials in this country who are here in connection with trade delegations, and that many of them have their wives and children with them. I also understand that special schools are run—and quite rightly—for their education.
I agree with the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that it is about time we really stood up and said what we thought in this matter. It has been too noticeable in the past that, in such matters, we have not adopted a strong enough policy. I say that even though I have a great respect for the Foreign Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary. Have we, so far, used the radio to any extent in explaining our point of view to Russia and the world? If not, I suggest that we do so right away, because my experience of dealing with such countries is that when one stands up to them and deals with them by their own methods, one makes progress, whereas, if one sits back and allows oneself to be dictated to, no progress at all is made.
I implore the Minister, to take up the matter with our Ambassador, and, instead 2497 of writing polite diplomatic letters to adopt a forceful attitude, and to insist as a right on the provisions of the international law. Surely, if the Russians want friendly international relations, they will meet us on the point. I refuse to give up hope that these women will be allowed to come to this country.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)
I would like to address myself mainly to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). I am sure he will not mind my saying that I thought he displayed admirable restraint. I dare say he did not find it easy to do that, and I dare say that I shall not; but I propose to do so. There is a danger of this Debate developing into a general anti-Soviet tirade. I rather agree with what has been said in this House and elsewhere that we should sometimes speak up and say what we mean, even if we do not achieve our object. But when one sets out to achieve an object, it is better to try to achieve it, and I have some anxiety as to whether this Debate will not do more harm than good.
I would say, first, that I would be very happy indeed if these 15 ladies were allowed to come to England, but I want to deal with the matter generally and in its proper proportion. The theoretical position, as I understand the procedure, is that we are discussing on the Adjournment something which is the duty of the Foreign Office. I suppose it is the duty of the Foreign Office—it is certainly the right of the Foreign Office—to use every possible persuasion, in the manner which they think is best calculated to achieve the object, with any foreign Government. As far as I know, they have been doing it; I have not the least tittle of evidence to show that they have not. That is really all that this Debate should strictly be about; but necessarily the matter has ranged a little wider, and so I want to deal with it as I understand it.
Let me say, first, that it is not really light to think of 15, or even 30, Soviet wives. The problem of mixed marriages, which has been a problem for a century or more, has got to be faced. The problem of Soviet citizens marrying British wives is one which, to my knowledge, has been going on for 25 years, and it is certainly 20 years since I was first asked to intervene in such a case. I will not give 2498 the name of the people concerned, but I persuaded the Soviet authorities to let a young woman come to this country, and the only people who bitterly regretted the act within a year were the young lady and her husband. Some people say that it is a question of international right. The Under-Secretary has, no doubt, been into all this, but, as I understand my law, it is not a matter of law at all. These ladies are Soviet citizens, and the Soviet Government can exercise jurisdiction over them. They are also British citizens, and our Government could exercise jurisdiction over them if they were here. But so long as they are in the jurisdiction of the Soviet Government, the Soviet Government can withhold their permission. I do not believe it is the slightest good discussing this matter on legal grounds. We should discuss it on humanitarian grounds—on grounds of humanity, good sense and what can fairly be done.
It is said, perfectly truly, that the Soviet authorities raised no objection to these marriages. Of course, there would have been a frightful outcry if they had. Why should they, if British subjects in the Soviet Union seek to marry Soviet citizens? I do not think any permission was required by Soviet law, and certainly not by British law, unless the girl was under a certain age. Therefore, these marriages were contracted; but everybody concerned must have known perfectly well that it is the practice in the Soviet Union not to allow the permanent export of its citizens, unless they choose in a particular case to do so. In some cases, at any rate, the British subjects concerned knew that they were in danger of being sent back to England at once by the British Embassy in Moscow if they married Soviet girls. They all married—the 30 people involved, and the 15 people directly involved—and they took the risk with their eyes open. I dare say I would have done the same, and then fought as hard as I could to get my wife over here.
I am rather surprised to hear the noble Lord say that the total number involved was as small as 30. I thought the number was larger. But be that as it may, I am right in saying that in every case in which a British subject working or fighting in the Soviet Union married a Soviet girl during the period of hostilities, the Soviet Government waived their natural ordinary objections and allowed the export of the wives, if I may so put it. The cases with 2499 which we are now dealing concern entirely people who married after hostilities ceased, and the Soviet Union have not so far chosen to give way. It is a matter for them. I would very much like to see them give way, but they have not done so, and that is that. I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord say that no Government had ever behaved in a similar way before——
§ Earl Winterton
As the hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to me, perhaps I may interrupt him. My information is that there is no discrepancy between these cases and the cases of those who have been allowed to leave. I have been consulting my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) and I understand that the officer previously mentioned married in 1942. I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman is correct. The distinction is that the Soviet Government chose to allow 15 wives to go away, and for reasons of their own they did not choose to allow others to go. There is no official distinction.
§ Mr. Pritt
There may be no official distinction, but my information is that the wives concerned in the marriages which were contracted during hostilities, were all allowed to come away. I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord say that no other country had ever behaved in such a way. I have said that mixed marriages are a difficult problem. I myself, in the course of the last five years, have dealt, with far more than 15 cases, on behalf of constituents of mine alone, in which our humanitarian Home Secretary was deliberately keeping wives and children from their husbands because it was part of his settled policy that where Frenchmen or any other refugees in this country married English citizens, and of course did not thereby acquire British nationality at the end of the war, they had to go back.
§ Earl Winterton
But, surely, this is a completely different point. I do not think I shall be giving away an official secret when I say that I myself protested in the case of the refugees. But they were not British subjects. I said that as far as I know—and I would be very interested to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman on the subject—there was no 2500 case in which a British subject had been refused permission by a friendly country to bring his wife to this country.
§ Mr. Pritt
I am not interested on such a point as this, in whether a man is a British subject or not. I am trying to get this unhappy matter into proportion by showing that, in truth and in fact, the British Government, which I support, have in fact treated far more than 15 people with at least equal severity. [An HON. MEMBERS : "How?"] By allowing men and women—and really, a woman is a woman and a man is a man whatever the colour of their passports—of, say, French nationality, who have been here during the war as long as they were useful making munitions, to marry and have children, who are British subjects like the noble Lord and myself, by the accident of birth, and then turning the husbands out at the end of the war and separating them from their wives and children.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey) rose——
§ Mr. Pritt
No, I cannot give way to the hon. Member, I have made no charge against him. I was asked for an explanation, and I gave one. I do not wish to be recorded in HANSARD as having spoken for 30 minutes when, in fact, I spoke only for 15 minutes and other hon. Members interrupted for 15 minutes. The noble Lord says that he knows of no case where a British subject has been so treated. What about the case of the Australians and the Indonesians? A number of Australians, fighting for their country and for ours, in and around the Southern seas, returned to Australia with their Indonesian wives. What did the Australian Government do? They sent the wives back. The men said, "Let us go with them." "Oh, no," said the Australian Government, "you are Australian subjects. You must stop here." I only give these illustrations to remind hon. Members——
§ Mr. Pritt
So long as I have the venomous hatred of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) I am satisfied 2501 that I am on the right path. We are complaining, quite rightly, that we would like to see the 15 Soviet girls come and join their husbands in this country. But there are many more than 15 Soviet citizens in the British zone in Germany, whom the Soviet Government would like to go back. [An HON. MEMBERS: "Do they want to go back?"] Some of them want to go back, and some of them ought to go back just because they do not want to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly. We in this country—[Interruption.]— Well, children, cannot you keep your mouths shut? We in this country have demanded that a few traitors we had lying around in Germany should be brought back to this country. Why should not the Soviet Union have their few traitors back? Very largely, the Soviet citizens in the British zone who are wanted to go back are very anxious to go back themselves.
It is one of the necessary tragedies of a discussion like this that it is important——
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Is it in Order for the hon. and learned Gentleman to refer to traitors, with the inference that there is some implication of these ladies?
§ Mr. Pritt
If any hon. Gentleman thinks that when I was referring to a few British traitors in Germany and a few traitors in the Soviet zone of Germany, I was referring to the young women in Soviet Russia, for whom I have expressed sympathy already, should he not see a doctor? One of the inevitable tragedies of a discussion like this is that feelings are aroused amongst various Members of the House, almost all of whom are entirely ignorant of the Soviet Union. [Interruption.] I am not going to be goaded into saying anything hostile or provocative. I am going to follow—I think I shall succeed in following whatever happens—the noble Lord's example and thus put the matter calmly. I am glad to say there is not very much more that I need discuss.
§ Mr. Pritt
—sometimes called a professor because he was one—I wish the hon. Member would keep quiet; cannot he go and get married or something—the professor, as he was sometimes called because he was a professor, and Miss Lansbury, the reason she did not marry him then—she did later—was indeed because she wanted to come to England freely; and, if she had married, obstacles to her coming to England would not have been raised by the Soviet authorities but would have been raised by the British authorities.
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. Is there not something rather disgusting in the discussion of this lady's private affairs? What has it got to do with this Debate? These are most wounding charges being made against her.
§ Mr. Speaker
On the Adjournment I cannot stop these things. They may be very unpleasant, but they have been raised, and so I cannot stop them.
§ Mr. Pritt
I did not raise this question. All I was saying is that the reason the lady wanted to retain her British nationality was in order not to be prevented from coming to England, not because of obstacles placed by the Soviet authorities but because of obstacles which would have been placed by the British authorities. Quite frankly, to the hon. Member who is so free in calling me a liar, which convinces me I am telling the truth, I would say that there is no inconsistency. What Mr. Lansbury said to him was that she was keeping her British nationality in order that she should be able to come here; but he did not say what Government would stop her.
Hon. Members have said that in Russia they do not take the same attitude to marriage which we take. Their attitude to marriage has varied a good deal. So has ours. But while theirs has been getting better and better, ours has been-getting worse and worse. At one time the number of their divorces was about 10 times as bad as ours; now, ours, is about 2503 10 times as bad as theirs. Men and women in both countries love one another and get married. We are pretty good in this country in keeping the marriage tie, and we are pretty good in this country in looking after our children. So they are in the Soviet Union, and I do not know why the matter was brought up at all.
The only other thing I want to say, because I do not want to get into too much controversy, is that a good deal has been said about the fear and anxiety these ladies may have for their own safety in the Soviet Union. I have been in the Soviet Union. People have come up to me publicly and abused the Soviet Union in English or German, both languages understood by the inevitable hordes of the N.K.V.D. of which hon. Members talk, for hours and hours, and nothing has happened to them. People are really worrying unnecessarily; and when they complain of the difficulties of correspondence and the difficulties of remittances getting through, all I can say is that that is, unfortunately, a very usual feature. I do not know whether it is due to the British Post Office, or to the Soviet Post Office, or to the inefficiency of some country in between us and the Soviet Union, but it is in fact notorious that the percentage of casualties in all types of correspondence between here and the Soviet Union is very high indeed. Somebody complained to me the other day that a relative of his—perhaps, I had better not give the name, it was a prominent Englishwoman married to a prominent Soviet citizen who was married, I think, some 35 or 40 years ago—had not communicated with him. He said he had had no news of her, and wondered if she had been done away with in the usual mysterious fashion. I was able to reassure him that I myself met the lady and talked to her in Moscow.
The Foreign Office have no power to do anything but persuade the Soviet Union of this matter of these wives. I hope that they will succeed in their persuasion. I hope the wives will come here. For myself, I feel almost certain that this Debate will have hindered their case rather than helped it, but I wish the Foreign Office all success in their efforts.
§ Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
The hon. and learned Gentleman made two 2504 very grave charges indeed which I am sure he would like to substantiate if asked a question about them. He made a charge, first, that there are traitors—Soviet citizens who are traitors—being sheltered in the British zone and that the British Government are refusing to hand them back. He also said that there are Soviet citizens who wish to return to their own country who are not allowed to do so by the British Government. I challenge the hon. and learned Gentleman to give the name of one single Soviet citizen coming within that category, and to give the name of the camp he or she is in now, or else to withdraw.
§ Mr. Pritt
The charge comes singularly ill from that particular individual. All I can say about it is that I have not such names with me. I am assured on the highest possible authority that there is a large number of cases, and I cannot help thinking that it would be useful if the Under-Secretary, who is possibly informed on the matter, would tell us about them.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Mayhew)
I am sorry that the tone and usefulness of the Debate should have been ruined by this last speech. The hon. and learned Member said he wanted the 15 wives to come to England, and he hoped that this Debate would do more good than harm to their cause. But that cannot be reconciled either with the tone or with the substance of his speech. I do not propose to follow 2505 all the points he made. Some of them were familiar questions which have been answered time and time again, with full evidence and full substantiation by the Government. For example, he raised the question of Soviet citizens being prevented from returning to Soviet Russia from the British zone of Germany. There is no substance whatever in that charge. On the contrary, we are under an obligation to return people of certain categories who are Soviet citizens to the Soviet Union; and, repugnant though it is to our whole conception of these things, we do honour such obligations to the Soviet Union. If the hon. and learned Member has any specific evidence at all, or any specific case, I will look into it immediately. But these charges have been made, and unless he can substantiate them he has no right to bring them forward in this fashion.
Before that speech I think I may say, without presumption, that both sides of the House appreciated the moderate and responsible speeches that were made on this occasion, and particularly the deeply felt but very responsible and helpful speech of the noble Lord. I would like, too, to join with previous speakers in expressing sincere sympathy with the husbands of the wives, who find themselves in this unhappy plight. There is the tragedy of enforced separation; there is all the agonised uncertainty; there are aggravations such as the tax on childlessness, which must be hard to bear; and, over all, there is the widespread publicity and high level diplomatic activity over what any normal person regards as his purely private and personal affair. In view of all the stress and provocation, I think the House will agree that the conduct of the husbands has been admirable in every way.
I was particularly glad that speeches were made on this subject from both sides of the House. Frankly, when I saw the notice to raise this matter on the Adjournment signed by 12 Conservative Members of known downright views, I was afraid that it might give the impression that all concern at the Soviet Government's attitude was the monopoly of one particular section of the British people. That is not so. Concern is shared by all parties, and by the vast majority of ordinary men and women in the country. The truth is, the Russian attitude on this 2506 problem does violate all the democratic ideas and convictions of the British people.
I now wish to answer one or two of the specific points put to me in the Debate. Reference was made to the Dean of Canterbury. In the past, I have on many occasions disagreed strongly with the Dean of Canterbury, but it is only fair to him to tell the House that on this occasion he did make an appeal to Stalin on this point, and we were very grateful to him for his intervention. Then I was asked whether we could not use international machinery in some way in this matter. The answer is that no international machinery exists to which, we could appeal. The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith was right on several of his legal points; it is a fact that in Soviet law these wives are Soviet citizens, and the relations between a sovereign country and its nationals cannot be brought before any existing international organisation. However, we are considering working into the Bill of Rights, which is to be considered by the Human Rights Commission, possibly some Clause relating to the rights of individuals to leave their countries; but I do not think that will have any bearing on the present issue. Apart from that, I am afraid there is no help to be sought from international institutions. I was also asked about what might be termed the policy of reprisals; that is to say, as stated by the noble Lord, that we should refuse visas to the wives of Soviet representatives visiting this country.
§ Earl Winterton
I want to be quite plain on this. I did not put it quite as strongly as that, although other hon. Members did. I would not presume to put it like that. I said that we should indicate to the Russian Government that it was disagreeable, or embarrassing—which was my actual phrase—to give visas to persons who were not actually members of the Embassy. I thought that might, to use a vulgarism, do the trick.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I appreciate the point. I had forgotten the precise standpoint of the noble Lord, which was slightly warmed up by subsequent speakers. We have considered matters of this kind, of course, in the Foreign Office, but I am myself doubtful whether there is anything helpful which we could work out along these lines. The essence of reciprocity is that it should be exact, and the noble Lord will appreciate that there is by no 2507 means an exact parallel between the refusal of an exit visa for the Soviet wives of British citizens and the refusal of a visa for the wives of Soviet representatives visiting this country. It is not an exact parallel, and, therefore, much of the case of reciprocity goes. Furthermore, I think it rather undermines our whole attitude to this problem. After all our whole point, surely, is that the lives and liberties of individuals should not suddenly be disrupted in this way by State policy, and we should be very careful not, by our actions, merely to increase the area of injustice and difficulty. Therefore, I am rather doubtful whether anything could usefully be done along the lines suggested by hon. Members.
§ Mr. McGovern
I can see the difficulties involved, but could not the Under-Secretary consider prohibiting any British subjects in this country who are politically interested in the Russian ideology from going to Russia?
§ Mr. Mayhew
Again, I think that is a very doubtful suggestion indeed. Without thinking about it, I should not like to give a decision, but it strikes me as very unusual, and it would need very careful consideration.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The third main point about which I was asked by the noble Lord was whether we would issue a White Paper summarising the diplomatic exchanges, which have gone on in relation to this problem, so as to show the reasons for the Soviet attitude. The first thing I have to say about that is that I am afraid that publication of these documents would not reveal any statement of the Soviet reasons. Reference was made, as I will show later, to the conduct of two of the Soviet wives who did reach this country, but there is nothing in the correspondence to indicate the reasons for the Soviet's refusal, and there is nothing official I can say about it. We have had evidence from the hon. Member for North-East Leeds (Miss Bacon)—and here let me say how glad we were to see her back in good form again—but nothing official has been stated about the Soviet reasons. Therefore, I do not think it would help to publish all this correspondence.
Perhaps for the record, and because it would interest hon. Members, I could give 2508 a fairly full account of the series of negotiations, partly to show that the British Government have made the utmost efforts to solve this problem along diplomatic lines. I should like to tell the House of the continuous negotiations since the war. On 25th May, 1945, our Embassy in Moscow wrote to Mr. Vyshinski urging the Soviet authorities to consider releasing the Soviet wives from Soviet citizenship, and also to consider applications of six of the wives for foreign passports with exit visas. On 12th June, our Ambassador spoke personally to Mr. Molotov, and reminded him that during the war we had made many appeals on this subject and had received no satisfactory answer. Then, at the end of the Potsdam Conference, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke to Marshal Stalin himself, and was told that the necessary instructions had already been issued that the Soviet wives should be allowed to leave the Soviet Union immediately.
Shortly afterwards, our Ambassador was led to believe that the matter had, in fact, been satisfactorily concluded, when, after an interview with Mr. Vyshinski, he was told that work was in hand on the lists of Soviet born wives which we had sent to the Soviet authorities. Two days later, to ensure that no slip should be made in the nominal roll, our Ambassador sent to Mr. Vyshinski a fresh and complete list of cases. On 1st September, the first apparently firm decision was reached by the Soviet authorities when Mr. Vyshinski informed our Ambassador that it had been decided to allow eight of the wives to leave the Soviet Union at once on Soviet foreign documents—that is to say, to receive exit permits but not to relinquish their Soviet nationality—and promised to send a further letter about the exit from the Soviet Union of the other women. This division of the wives into two categories was made because some of the wives had applied for exit permits on Soviet foreign documents, while others had applied for release from Soviet citizenship, which can only be obtained by decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. On 4th October, we again approached Mr. Vyshinski who explained that the outstanding cases were still being examined.
On 26th November, 1945, our Ambassador wrote another letter to the People's-Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. In 2509 January he spoke once more personally to Mr. Molotov. On 23rd October the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs wrote to our Ambassador authorising three more of the wives to leave the Soviet Union, but mentioning that Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Liddell, two other Soviet born wives, had met with difficulties with their husbands on reaching the United Kingdom. Further correspondence was exchanged during January, 1946, but in April our Embassy reported to London that no progress had been made, but that we had done what we could with Mr. Vyshinski to dispel the allegedly bad impression "created in Soviet public opinion" by the alleged difficulties of Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Liddell.
On 30th May our Ambassador handed to Mr. Vyshinski a revised list of 15 outstanding cases, and urged that early action should be taken. In spite of this, on being approached personally by our Minister on 23rd August, Mr. Dekanozov of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs could give no indication that any immediate or general settlement could be expected. Just after Christmas, 1946, our Ambassador spoke again personally to Mr. Molotov, who, accepting the list of outstanding cases, promised to see what he could do. On 10th January, 1947, Field-Marshal Montgomery spoke personally to Marshal Stalin, but we know of no action being taken. On 15th March, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary wrote personally to Mr. Molotov. On 25th March, in an interview with Mr. Stalin, he informed him that the Prime Minister had specially asked him to raise the question again on a personal basis. Mr. Stalin replied that he had twice been hardly dealt with by the Supreme Soviet for raising this subject, and that he did not think that anything could be done.
Since then the Minister of State has written to Mr. Kuznetsov, the leader of the Soviet delegation which recently visited this country, and our Ambassador has written again to Mr. Vyshinski—as recently as 18th July—but all to very little effect. The Soviet authorities have remained completely un-co-operative, and despite this formidable list of approaches by His Majesty's Government, have persisted in refusing to grant this very small concession. We had the feeling that throughout, from beginning to end, we were knocking at a very firmly closed 2510 door. For the future, the position is that we have still not heard from Mr. Vyshinski in reply to the letter we sent on 18th July.
I was asked about the statement of my right hon. Friend that there was no hope. If I understood him aright, I think he was saying that there is absolutely no hope in rashly trying to prophesy or foretell the future. At present, there is no evidence whatever of any change in the Russian attitude, and it would be merely raising false hopes to give any indication that there was such a change in attitude, or that there was likely to be such a change in attitude. It is, I think, my duty to make that quite plain. When we receive Mr. Vyshinski's reply, we shall have to consider whether there is anything further we can usefully do. But the position is thoroughly unpromising, and it would not be improved by any particular action which we could take at the moment. We are always open to suggestions, and I only wish that I could suggest to the House some new method we could try to deal with this problem.
§ Earl Winterton
As I think the Under-Secretary is about to conclude his speech, may I say how grateful we are to him for what he has said, and that I agree that none of the suggestions I have made can be pursued? I hope, therefore, that the Debate itself will have done some good.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am glad that the noble Lord appreciates the position so well. I think our record shows that we have done our utmost in the past, and that if we are not coming forward now and suggesting new measures, the House will not think it is because of lack of sympathy or indifference on our part.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
The Under-Secretary has referred to the recent proceedings in connection with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. I believe I am right in saying that the United Kingdom Government have submitted a draft text of a Bill which does not contain any reference to the fundamental right of a man and wife to live in the same country, or for a wife to join her husband if they are separated. Will my hon. Friend consider inserting a Clause to that effect in the United Kingdom draft which is now being considered by the Commission on Human Rights?
§ Mr. Mayhew
I think I have indicated that we are trying to arrange something of the kind. Our Bill of Rights was perhaps in too general terms to cover this particular point, but we will consider whether or not we can do anything of the kind, either in connection with this particular draft, or of some other. I should like to echo what other speakers have said and say that I am absolutely certain the Russians, if they could even at this stage change their minds on this point—and there would be no embarrassing questions because they have now passed a law forbidding marriages with foreigners—would be doing good to Anglo-Russian relations. It is the small things which sometimes tell in these matters. It seems a very small concession to make to bestow this great blessing, particularly when so few people are involved.