HL Deb 05 July 1922 vol 51 cc258-68

My Lords, I desire to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, organised associations, working to subvert the Constitution and suggesting violent measures, are lawful bodies in this country. When I first drew attention in this House to this subject the noble Marquess who leads the House fully admitted its importance, and said that it was occupying the attention of His Majesty's Government. Again on June 15 of last year I asked if powers existed in this country to prevent the importation of either money or valuables to be used for the purposes of subversive propaganda, and the noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Health replied, and said, on the authority of Lord Halsbury's classic work, that broadly speaking, it is illegal to attempt to influence the Government of this country by any violent means, or to incite others to do so. Thus, it would certainly be seditious to carry on a propaganda with the object of throwing the deliberations of Parliament into confusion. He added that "the dissemination of any views is not illegal unless it is accompanied by incitements to enforce those views by violence." He also said that the Government was at that time considering the introduction of legislation to prevent foreign funds from being brought into this country.

More than a year has passed since then. There has been no legislation, and nothing effective has been done, though there has been, in the meantime, a great increase of revolutionary activity with the object not of throwing the deliberations of Parliament into confusion, but of destroying Parliament and setting up a Communist Government of a Bolshevist type. Individuals here and there have been arrested for particularly seditious utterances, but some worse speeches have passed quite immune. There has been no attempt to deal with organised associations working to promote revolution, and, apparently, freely provided with funds. It is not the individual revolutionary that matters nearly so much as the factory which trains him and pays him, and which issues subversive literature in large quantities. It would take at least an hour to give even a general view of the activities of the revolutionaries in this country since the Armistice, but I can assure your Lordships that I am not going to inflict so much upon you. I will be as brief as possible.

Since the Armistice there have been currents and counter-currents, new combinations and affiliations, splits and fresh groupings, and also several quite new organisations have been started. The whole proceedings, the more you try to study them, are astonishingly complicated, but so far as I can judge one tendency has been for the so-called Socialists, who have done so much to popularise revolution and to render it respectable, to become alarmed at the action of the more violent bodies. At the recent Labour Conference at Edinburgh, though there was a great deal of revolutionary language, affiliation with the Third Internationale was rejected, as your Lordships know, by an overwhelming majority. That I consider a very significant sign.

Further, the intellectuals of the Second Internationale, among whom Mr. Ramsay Macdonald is a prominent person, have been much exercised of late because of the treatment of the Social Democrats by Bolsheviks in Russia. These persons were not greatly moved by the murder of 1,243 bishops and clergy, 193,000 workmen, and 815,000 peasants, according to the Bolsheviks' own statistics. I need not say that those figures are quite incomplete, and do not include the millions of peasants who perished from famine and disease directly due to Communism in Russia. But when it was evident that the Social Democrats were either being murdered or were in danger of being murdered, then the moderate revolutionaries began to feel misgivings, as well they might. That is one tendency.

The other is a marked increase of the activities of the Communist organisations under inspiration from Moscow, and apparently provided with funds, either from Russia or Germany, or from both. What was the British Socialist Party in this country has now become the Communist Party, and that Party is active in very many forms, such as Labour colleges, the Plebs League, Socialist and proletarian Sunday schools, efforts to raise the nucleus of a Red Army, and subversive movements in our Universities, of which I could say a great deal. The Young Communist League works with the Communist Party, and under instructions from Moscow it has lately been developing an intensive campaign with a view to corrupting the youth of this country. The main objects of the Communist Party, as explained by themselves, is to link up all extreme sections, to co-operate with the Sinn Feiners and with the Irish Republican Brotherhood which, as your Lordships know, is an American asssociation, and also with the Irish Self-Determination League here. At the same time, they seek to penetrate and control the Trade Unions, and they have been mainly responsible for the disastrous strikes since the Armistice which, combined with the crushing taxation from which we suffer, have tended to produce the present deplorable unemployment. They have helped to produce unemployment, and they have then exploited the distress so far as they could for subversive purposes.

Three notorious aliens have been deported by His Majesty's Government, most wisely, from this country, after they had done a great deal of harm. Chicherin is a Russian of very ill-balanced mind, and his exploits in this country were explained by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. He was in prison in Brixton goal, and then he was deported. Litvinoff is a Jew of the name of Finckel-stein, and he was in active co-operation with the Sinn Feiners and with the Irish Republican Brotherhood when he was here. Kameneff is a Jew named Rosenfeld, and he was deeply engaged in intrigues with the revolutionaries in this country. On his advice, the Council of Action was set up, and Soviets were detailed in many of our large towns. All these three deported revolutionaries appeared at Genoa as the representatives of the Russian people, whom they have ruined, and I believe all of them enjoyed the hospitality of the Prime Minister. That, my Lords, is the new diplomacy in full operation. Finckelstein is now masquerading as a Russian at The Hague, and making, as your Lordships have seen, the most ridiculous demands.

The Third Internationale is managed by Lenin, and the two Jews Trotsky (Bronstein) and Zinovieff (Apfelbaum). That has a branch here in the Red Internationale of Trades Unions, which has its office and its subsidies. The Scottish Workers Committee made a report to Moscow not long ago, and it was published in the Socialist newspaper. This Committee summed up its activities as follows: Above all, the mapping up of the district from the strategic point of view, and the secret arming and drilling of carefully selected workers—that is, roughly our policy. I think your Lordships will agree that that statement suggests violence in the plainest possible way. The Young Communist newspaper gives some very interesting details of the great progress of the Young Communist League. I need not trouble the House with them. Speaking at Manchester on November 4, 1920, a Mr. Leckie explained his objects. He said:— I might as well tell you my greatest ambition is the destruction of the British Empire. … Sinn Fein and Communism will smash up the British Empire, so I say, Up Irishmen. Up the Irish Republic. Of course, the ambitions of Mr. Leckie are not of the slightest consequence, but we can see his policy in full operation all round us to-day.

A secret Communist Conference was held at St. Pancras Town Hall very recently, and the Communist newspaper reported what went on:— From this conference the Communist Party goes forward no longer formally united but welded into a homogeneous whole—one body, and that a revolutionary body. It went on to point out that in India, Egypt, Ireland and South and East Africa the authority of Britain was being broken by revolt. This shows the aims of the Communist Party to which I have referred. In the Communist of December 31 last the executive of the Party is reported to have declared:— We join with cur comrades in Ireland in repudiating this Treaty— That was the Treaty so stoutly defended in this House— Where the men of Easter week stood, Ireland still stands. Workers of Britain, workers of Ireland, unite your forces in unfaltering hostility to Britain and Irish imperialism. This was at least prophetic. The Third Internationale is now financing an international union of unemployed in London, which organises the processions and demonstrations against boards of guardians, of which we have had several examples.

I have only touched the fringe of this subject and I am most anxious not to weary your Lordships. The points I wish to emphasise are two. First, the propaganda now carried on is enormous in extent and poisonous in kind. The effects, culminating in the state of Ireland and in the foul murder of a great soldier whom the Empire can very ill spare at this moment, have been visible for some time. All this, and more, has been arranged by associations which have local habitations, paid officials, and all the paraphernalia necessary for organised operation The headquarters of all these bodies are known to the police, but the police have never, apparently, been permitted to take action until some great crime has occurred. In the second place, to a great extent all this is the work of aliens, and money is provided from foreign sources, as Mr. J. H Thomas stated in the Law Courts the other day. Some of the literature, which is very cleverly written, is printed in Berlin, and aliens are freely employed as officials, paid agents and speakers.

Most earnestly do I beg His Majesty's Government to see if they can put a stop to this wholesale corruption by foreigners of our own good people, and especially the demoralisation of our children, to which I tried to draw the attention of the House some time ago. In a democratic country like this, where nearly every adult has a vote, it cannot be necessary to permit organised subversive movements which have already had the most grave conse- quences. Surely, it is our clear duty to protect our people, and especially to protect our helpless children, against a moral poison which is more deadly than the products of the chemist. No one can tell how far this poison has spread, but its effects and the influence of this horde of undesirable aliens, which is helping to destroy some of the best characteristics of our national life, are painfully visible in many directions. I beg the Government to do something, and if they have not the power, as I believe they have, to take that power. There has been legislation in America of rather a drastic kind. I believe also there has been legislation in France, and I feel certain that the Government would have the support of the great body of out manual workers who do not wish their young men to be corrupted by foreign influences, or their little children to be taught atheism and Communistic immorality. All your Lordships who have seen what is taught in Socialist Sunday schools will quite well understand what that means.


My Lords, the noble Lord has ranged with active pinion over a wide sociological field. I may perhaps call your attention to the more limited terms of his Question. It is: To ask His Majesty's Government whether, in the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, organised associations, working to subvert the Constitution and suggesting violent measures, are lawful bodies in this country. The noble Lord is a man of many activities and wide experience, but, I do not know that a considerable study of the law has been one of his activities, and the difficulty the Law Officers of the Crown find is in the lack of terms of precision in his Question. It is as though I may be putting a long question on the subject of appendicitis to a specialist, with such power as an unassisted personal acquaintance with appendicitis might give, as to its origin and pathological circumstances. My learned friends, the Law Officers of the Crown, find great difficulty in answering this Question.

The noble Lord asks whether in the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown organised associations are lawful bodies in this country? What are "organised associations"? The language is general. What is an association? I suppose an association is a collection of people who are working together. What do you add to it by using the word "organised"? You add this to it: that their working together is not the result of accident. If a man dropped from an aeroplane on to a steamer it would be an association, but not an organised association. The addition of the word "organised" implies that the association is the result of endeavour. Almost all associations are the result of endeavour. There are many organised associations in this country. The independent Peers in this House, over whom Lord Salisbury presides and who cause so much trouble to His Majesty's Government, are absolutely an organised association.

But the noble Lord continues, and uses these words "working to subvert the Constitution." They are most menacing words, and no well-equipped member of this House could give any countenance or encouragement to those who they were satisfied were "working to subvert the Constitution." Here we find ourselves in the dubious language of debatable controversy. When the Parliament Act was being passed in this House I certainly was most clearly of the opinion that those who organised that association—I see many noble Lords present who were members of it—were working to "subvert the Constitution," and when you put a question to the Law Officers as to the proper view to be taken of "organised associations, working to subvert the Constitution," we become convinced of the extreme importance of using precise language which has received the imprimatur of high legal authority.

The noble Lord also adds the words: "suggesting violent measures." "Suggesting" is a vague word. I do not like it. It has no precise meaning at all. What does he mean when he says "suggesting violent measures"? If he means openly teaching and advocating that the authority of the lawful Government of this country should be violently subverted by revolution, of course even the Law Officers would have no difficulty in making an answer to that question. But what are "violent measures"? For instance, those who banded themselves together in an organised association to secure the passing of the Parliament Act, certainly, in my judgment, and on a reasonable construction, suggested violent measures. They suggested the creation of an enormous number of Peers. I should regard that as a violent suggestion. We have had recently a debate regarding the creation of one or two Peers, but on that occasion there were ninety or a hundred ready to start the moment the flag fell in order to add to the numbers of your Lordships' House. I should consider that an attempt to subvert the Constitution by violent measures.

So far as the Question itself is concerned—I will add a word or two as to its merits later—I would really give a word of very friendly advice to the noble Lord. That is, that it really is not worth while submitting a question for the consideration of lawyers of great experience, unless you think it worth while to take advice so as to put your question in terms which are intelligible. It is exactly the same as if, knowing nothing about pathology, you put a question of intimate medical interest to a specialist, addressing him with the I unassisted knowledge of a layman. The question will not be helpful, and the answer will be even less so. So much for the noble Lord's Question.

As to the merits of the case which the noble Lord has raised, I cannot help saying, in this connection, that it is always helpful if grave matters dealing with grave events are put before the Government, so that anxiety and apprehension, if they exist, may, if possible, be allayed; but I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord has I not, perhaps, been extremely happy in the moment that he has selected for making public the great and growing apprehensions which, I can see, are harassing his mind and engaging his attention. The noble Lord, in this connection, really does remind me—if I may say so with very great respect, and, of course, I mean only intellectually—of the Fat Boy in Pickwick Papers, because he is always attempting to make our flesh creep. I do not think he is happy in the particular moment he has selected, though, like every other reasonable person, all of us are really appreciative of anything which excites apprehension. Aristotle long ago noted that the feeling of apprehension was really agreeable to human nature, if it was not associated with the imminence of too great a personal peril, and, in that sense, all of us like listening to the narration of horrors, but this moment is surely a very unfavourable one to treat us to this Bolshevist peril.

The noble Lord has spoken with great evidence of enjoyment of the fact that many persons whose names he mentioned were Jews. He added with unction, if I may say so, in reciting the names of those who particularly excited his apprehension: "And ho is a Jew." I did not happen to be born a Jew, but it is a thing that might happen to any one. It has happened to many distinguished persons to be born Jews, and I cannot feel that it adds anything to an indictment, though it may contribute something to an identification, to say of any one whom you have mentioned that he is a Jew. I am by no means sure that it was not the object of my noble friend, not so much to contribute to an identification, as to add a specific count to an indictment.

Let us see where we stand in relation to this Bolshevist peril. We have now gone through nearly four years since the Armistice. I will not conceal from your Lordships that there have been moments of grave anxiety in those four years. I will not conceal that the propaganda of which the noble Lord has spoken had many opportunities in which, if they were really, in the true sense of the word, formidable, must have borne poisonous fruit. We have had in that period unrest in the Army. There was never unrest so long as there was fighting to be done; unrest and discontent arose only the moment that peace was to be endured. We have had unrest in the Army, and, what is not less formidable—perhaps, it was even more formidable—great unrest, and even a strike, among the police. When you are faced, in this old, stable and organised country, with active strikes, dissensions and discontent in the armed forces of the Crown and in the police services, then, indeed, there is occasion for legitimate anxiety, even among persons who are not prone to premature despair. But those difficulties were most completely surmounted. Today, there is no more loyal and admirable and contented force in any country of the world than the police, both in the Metropolis and in the provinces, and to-day every noble Lord knows the complete reliance which we may justly place on the historic loyalty of the armed forces of the Crown.

Observe, also, that in the last few years we have gone, through crises greater almost than any which our history supplies, unless you go back to the troubled five years which followed the battle of Waterloo. We have had strikes, and immense and pervasive unrest in the labour world. We have had almost the reality of a triple alliance of labour. What has happened? I say confidently that the essential stability of the institutions of this country and the fundamental and traditional common sense of the citizens of this country have been vindicated, month by month and year by year, until we are in a position to-day to see these things in their true proportions, and to know that we shall not appeal in vain to that common sense which has been inherent in the British nation now for so many years, which has acted as a steadying force in the world, and which is at this moment in Europe the one bright hope and light which leads us to believe that we need not yet despair of the civilisation of Europe.

Let us, indeed, watch, as the Home Office does most constantly and attentively, the presence and the activities in our midst of undesirable persons, and let us not forget other circumstances not less vital and menacing of which the noble Lord urges consideration. But is it of no importance that the Labour Party, meeting in its annual congress, and after an inflammatory speech by its President, which I am certain did not represent the true opinion of those who attended that conference, should by an overwhelming majority have repelled from among themselves that inconsiderable Communist fragment and segment of which the noble Lord is so unduly apprehensive? It is to the credit of organised labour of this country that they have recognised the spurious philosophy and the insidious danger of these doctrines.

Whether or not they might have been a grave risk in the last four years, I do not too confidently pronounce, but I am too strong a believer in the British character to believe that any danger might have actually arisen with which we could not have successfully dealt. To suppose that the people of this country, in which trained political education has become an ingrained tradition, were likely to be impressed by these crazy doctrines, and, at a moment when they have seen the great Empire of Russia in devastation and in ruin—to suppose that the working classes of this country are to be deceived by these mischievous, new, and pernicious doctrines, is, believe me, to pay far too inattentive a regard to the part which political education and intuitive common sense have played in the history of our country.


My Lords, I ask the pardon of the House for the very bad wording of my Question. It is only due to my utter ignorance of legal terms. From the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, I should really think that there was no revolution in Ireland, and that there had been no conspiracy leading up to that revolution. One thing I regret in his speech is that he did not hold out any hope of stopping the poisoning of our young children, which is going on, as I am sure he is aware.

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