§ THE EARL OF MAYO had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government how long the Anglo-Soviet Conference is likely to continue, and to move the following Resolution, "That this House is of opinion that the Anglo-Soviet Conference should be now discontinued."
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence and attention for the Question which I have placed upon your Lordships' Paper. I hope to deal with the Resolution later. For weeks this 710 Anglo-Soviet Conference has been with us, and from time to time Reports have been published—all of them, no doubt, agreed Reports. Various Sub-Committees of this Conference have carried out preparatory work with a view to reporting to the Conference itself. On Thursday, May 15, there was a full meeting of the Conference, and there was one on Tuesday, May 13—I think I am right in my dates. I ask His Majesty's Government how long these representatives of Russia are going to trouble us with their presence, and I use the word "trouble" because there is no doubt that directly these representatives of Russia and of the Soviet Government came to this country their agents, as is usual in such cases, got to work. They felt that at all events their friends had come under the ægis of the present Government to sit in London.
§ During the present Conference the Soviet Press and the heads of the Soviet Government have used the occasion to make direct and continuous attacks on the British Government, on the British nation, and, indeed, on everybody who at all acts counter to their ideas. Trotsky has returned to Moscow after an absence of many months, and from what one can gather he has recovered his influence with the Government, and he has, with Kamenev, Stalin and Zionev, reviled every Government in Europe with whom the Soviet Government are supposed to be negotiating. I ask: Is that a state of affairs to be suffered without protest from any one? Are we to say nothing in this country while this is proceeding? Every sort of speech and invective has been used against our Government while carrying on the Government of this Empire, and I may say, with regard to that matter, that my experience here during the short time that this Government has been in office is that this House, at all events, has been helping the Government to carry out legislation, including a somewhat lengthy programme of domestic legislation. To use an expression which was used at the beginning of the Session, there has been no factious opposition whatsoever. Here, in London, we are going on as usual in the Session, doing, I hope, our duty here, and enjoying the season's amusements.
§ I am not going to embarrass the Government. My experience of Governments, 711 and I have known many in my life, is that they are never embarrassed. There is generally an answer for everything; but may I hope, and be permitted to say, that flirting with Bolshevism is not correct—I do not go further than that—and I am sure it does not commend itself to those who live in and are part of this great Empire? It certainly does not commend itself to me. Let me deal for a moment with the Conference and what has resulted from the Conference. The results are really amazing. The Soviet Delegation have made it perfectly clear that they are not prepared to pay the pre-war debt in full. What is their proposal? Your Lordships will remember what is known as the Bankers' Memorandum. That still holds good, but before I deal with that let me say at once that there must be first of all a formal cancellation of the Decree of Repudiation passed in 1917 by the Russian Republican Government. That is not in the minds of the Anglo-Soviet Delegation. Not at all.
§ The Bankers' Memorandum was sent to the Prime Minister, and it was signed by the leading bankers of this country. There were six articles in it, and I am going to read the first two:
- "(1) That a recognition of debts, public and private, should be agreed upon acceptable to both countries.
- "(2) That an equitable arrangement for the restitution of the private property of foreigners should be made."
§ In the circumstances I doubt whether the Government will get much out of the Soviet Government, and I bear in mind 712 —I was in the House at the time—that the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, dealing with recognition of the Russian Soviet Government by the present Labour Government, said that Stinnes, now dead, King, and another German whose name I do not remember, tried to do business in Russia, but had to drop the matter altogether. You must remember that after the war we heard that Germany was going to capture Russia in the true sense of the word "capture," and was also going to capture the trade of Russia, and these three captains of great industries in Germany, whose activities were not only felt in Germany but extended to other parts of the world, had visions of great trading enterprises. They were only visions, and for this reason. They found out that if they put their money into Russia, Russia could not deliver the goods. That is the simple truth, and they dropped the whole thing.
§ Now, as to the Resolution and my reasons for moving it. I say this, and I do not know whether anybody will be able to contradict me: Wherever there is, in Europe, civil war, strife or civil disturbance, as it is called in legal language, the agents of the Russian Soviet Government get to work, and it is most difficult to trace these agents. They work secretly, cunningly, and generally with ready money in their pockets. That money is for the purpose of paying their dupes. Supposing the dupe spends it in amusing himself, or on betting or something of that sort, that is struck off as a bad debt, and they go on again. They have plenty of money.
§ Let me tell your Lordships something of their activities. We know something of them in the country from which I come—Ireland. An ex-official of the British Government in Ireland was making a long journey the other day, and a Russian gentleman was travelling with him. I am not going to mention names for a very good reason. A shrewd remark was made by an American statesman when he said: "You do not hunt foxes with brass bands." This Russian gentleman, who spoke perfect English, had only lately got away from Moscow. When I say "got away," I think your Lordships will understand exactly what that means. He did not travel in the Orient Express, or any other express.713
§ During a long conversation with my friend he said: "Any amount of money was sent from Russia to help on rebellion in Ireland". Of course, I allude to the 1916 Rebellion, and also to what is called in Ireland the Four Courts Rebellion. We had some knowledge of the activities of these gentlemen, and how they played their game, when things were very bad in Ireland. My friend said to the Russian gentleman: "Are you quite sure of what you say?" "Yes," he said, "I was in Moscow at the time. I know it." He had friends among the Bolsheviks, who helped him to get away. This Russian gentleman had everything taken from him, and had to pawn some of his garments in order to obtain food. This is no old story; it only happened a few weeks ago, and the ex-official of the British Government in Ireland (I have handed his name to Lord Parmoor) is not likely to be taken in. I hope your Lordships will permit me to say that there is an anxiety growing up all over the country and elsewhere concerning these negotiations with the Bolshevists. Their efforts, I consider, will be futile. In conclusion, I wish to say that if I get support for the Resolution I should like to divide your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House is of opinion that the Anglo-Soviet Conference should be now discontinued.—(The Earl of Mayo.)
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I should hardly have thought that the noble Earl would have said, as he has done, that there had not been a fairly serious and sustained criticism of these people since the Delegation of the Soviet Government came to this country. No doubt he has added a new chapter of criticism. But your Lordships will recollect that not long ago the same subject was discussed in this House on a Motion or a Question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Emmott, when various quotations were made—more quotations, I believe, than the noble Earl himself has made—which I think everyone felt were lamentable and unfortunate. But, as I said then, there was no reason whatever for not having instituted the present policy towards Russia, or for not carrying on the negotiations which have now been entered upon. The noble Earl seemed to think that you ought at once to give up negotiations if the other party said to you: "Well, we 714 cannot give you all that you want, because it is impossible. It would neither be right, nor do we intend, to make promises which, in the existing condition of Russia and Russian finance, we know it is absolutely impossible to fulfil." I should have thought that the noble Earl might have regarded that as a laudable frankness in itself. Whether in these circumstances, and how far, negotiations can be carried on—negotiations which are spread over a very wide field of financial matters—I think it would be impossible to discuss in any detail on an occasion of this kind.
On the question of credit and loans I may put this to the noble Earl. I think everyone would admit that any credit or loans in the first instance granted to Russia must be utilised to solve some of her present liabilities. That is not in itself a disadvantage, because the object of the credits and loans, if they are to be successful, is to resuscitate the whole industrial position in Russia, or at any rate to resuscitate it to such an extent that they may be able to fulfil a large number of those obligations which at the present time, everyone is agreed, they cannot fulfil owing to the conditions of Russian industry and Russian poverty.
The noble Earl, in his Question, asks His Majesty's Government how long the Anglo-Soviet Conference is likely to continue. His Majesty's Government hope that the Conference will continue until an arrangement is reached satisfactory to both countries. I want to go further and to read evidence in a moment for what I have said. There is no reason why this result should not be reached if outside partisans, who cannot have sufficient information about negotiations of this kind, would abstain, at least for a time, from interference. His Majesty's Government are working in every way to speed up the negotiations, but, as the noble Earl knows, there is a very large number of issues involved, and several of them—some he has pointed out himself—are of great importance.
The noble Earl has already said that from time to time official communiqués have been issued, with the assent of both parties, on the progress of these negotiations, and in The Times of to-day a very important communiqué appears. It is nearly a column and a half in length—a very encouraging communiqué for 715 those who desire that these negotiations should have a successful issue, and a communiqué which at any rate should be studied very carefully by the noble Earl and those who are occupying the position of critics. I have had extracted just one passage from the communiqué in to-day's issue of The Times, regarding the progress of these negotiations. It is headed: "Considerable Progress." Considerable progress is being made. That is the heading of one of the portions of the communiqué in The Times. This is what it says, and it is very frank.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It is certainly official. I presume that while negotiations of this kind are going on you can only have an official communiqué. It would be a very gross interference with the ordinary conduct of a pending negotiation that one of the parties should make an ex parte statement. I cannot imagine any one in your Lordships' House suggesting an attitude of that kind. It would be wholly inconsistent with the first principles of friendly negotiations such as these, and would inevitably wreck such negotiations, if either party put their own gloss or their own interpretation upon the state of negotiations at any given moment. This is what the communiqué says:—The Soviet Delegation, after registering satisfaction at the expressions of good will of the British Government, deprecated the pessimism with which in some quarters it was attempted to surround the Conference.I think no one will deny that this is a very accurate statement. There has been an attempt in some quarters to surround the Conference with what I might almost call a destructive pessimism, which is most unfortunate in my view when two great, countries are attempting to enter into negotiations of this kind.
The communiqué proceeds:—It was natural that the negotiations should be cautions, and yet during the past weeks there had been considerable progress. Real results should undoubtedly be reached if the British Delegation would take into full consideration the position of Russia. …Something positive would have been accomplished if the Soviet Government were put into a position even to begin payment to bondholders who had not received a penny for over five years. Orders placed with British industry would have practical results. An economic settlement was at any 716 rate far nearer than it was five months ago, when even discussion was impossible. Now, thanks to the British recognition of the Soviet Union, discussion was actually in progress.The British Delegation expressed satisfaction that the Soviet Delegation should show such willingness to co-operate in disappointing those who wished the Conference to fail.Those are very notable words. I believe the noble Earl would do the same when negotiations of this kind are proceeding, when it is undoubtedly for the advantage of this country that they should be brought to a successful conclusion.
I am not now carried away with the prejudice of a young counsel who, in cross examining the plaintiff, asks whether his father was a disreputable Jew or not. That is not the sort of matter you consider in important negotiations between two great countries. Obviously, it is to the enormous advantage of this country that these negotiations should be carried, if possible, to a successful issue, and with the notion underlying what the noble Earl has said—that they can only be carried to a successful issue by giving away principles which ought not to be sacrificed—I entirely join issue. There is no ground whatever, I think, for suggesting any concession of that kind on behalf of the British Delegation or the British Government.
If I may follow one or two words that I put down in order that I might be quite certain of what I said, His Majesty's Government regard the attainment of agreement as of extreme importance to the prosperity of the whole of Europe as well as to the prosperity of Russia and Great Britain. On unemployment—about which much has been said and rightly said, partly no doubt in criticism of the present Government—the Government have stated more than once, and I think with perfect accuracy, that if there was one direction in which the evil of unemployment might be cured it was by reinstating a true business position, if possible, between this country and Russia. Russia is ardently in need of the goods which we, before all others, are in a position to manufacture and supply. It may have been forgotten perhaps (I have not the actual figure before me, but it comes to mind) that before the war 40 per cent. of the cereals necessarily imported into Western Europe for the food of the people came from Russia. It was about 717 400,000,000—I am not sure whether I ought to call them poods or lbs. and I am afraid I must not say which because I might make a mistake: but the quantity was very large indeed.
One of the great difficulties of our whole trading position would be overcome if this business and this exchange were reinstated as against the great difficulty which has arisen owing to the abnormal and extraordinary status which the United States has attained since the war largely, amongst other reasons, owing to the defalcation and the impossibility of the industrial recuperation of such a country as Russia. At any rate, in urging that sympathy should be offered, instead of pessimistic opposition, to the attempt of His Majesty's Government to carry out successfully negotiations of this kind with Russia. I urge that everyone in this country, of whatever Party, who desires to get rid of the evil of unemployment must, recognise that if these negotiations could succeed the largest step would be made in that direction which could be made by any Government, whatever their opportunity might be.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord, but is it not the fact that our trade with New Zealand before the war was more than equal to our trade with Russia?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am not the least concerned either to deny that or to admit it, if I may say so. It seems to me an irrelevant consideration.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The noble Earl asks why it is an irrelevant consideration. Supposing I am carrying on a successful trade with one country, is that any reason either for or against my attempting to regain a trade with some other country which was of great advantage to me? The two things are not inconsistent; they are, supplementary. Not only are they supplementary—perhaps I look at these things rather differently from the noble Earl—but it is because they are supplementary that I, personally, regard the trade of the whole world as even more important than the special trade between this country and our own Dominions. But that is a matter upon which I do not desire to embark. At any rate it appears 718 to me to be no argument whatever against, what I am saying in regard to the advantages of trade with Russia, that there has been a larger trade, if you like, a more satisfactory trade and a more beneficial trade between this country and one of our Dominions, such as the noble Earl has indicated.
Now, I think I have said what I had to say on the Question, and I come to the terms of the Resolution. I seriously hope that, having regard to the conditions and to the traditions of this House, this Resolution will not be accepted; at any rate, the Government is bound to give to it its determined opposition. The reasons why I ask that it should not be accepted are these. First of all, it is quite impossible, on the information which this House has before it, that your Lordships can justly come to a determination that these negotiations, which have been carried on for a long time and, according to some views, with considerable success, should be suddenly terminated. What information have your Lordships got which would justify any one in coming to a conclusion of that kind? It is not that your Lordships could not appreciate the information if you had it, but that it is impossible to have it. This House, however desirous it may be of serving public interests and performing public duties, could not give a satisfactory answer on a question of this kind, for the simple reason that the issue could not be tried before you. I would ask the noble Lord opposite whether he feels within himself that he has sufficient knowledge to answer a question of this kind. How can he have obtained it? It is impossible for him to have done so.
We have had communiqués from time to time, but those, communiqués did not suggest that these negotiations should be, suddenly terminated. They suggested exactly the contrary. But I am not asking this House to give, an opinion that, these negotiations should be carried on. That would be equally out of place. I should like to appeal to the noble Marquess opposite, the Leader of the. Opposition, to say whether, in regard to negotiations for Treaty purposes or for purposes that are chiefly industrial—such negotiations as those that are now proceeding between Russia and this country—which are carried on through the Foreign Office, it would be right, when 719 negotiations of chat kind have been set on foot by the responsible Government and when that Government thinks it is advisable that they should be carried on, that this House should intervene and suggest that they should be suddenly broken off. It is a matter of great responsibility, and one in which you must have regard to wide public influences, and wide public desires. I cannot understand how your Lordships could think that you have the information which would enable you to determine an issue of this kind.
In the second place I should like to say this. I am the last person who would use any words disrespectful of this House, or of its traditions, but what would be the result if this Resolution was carried? It would clearly have no weight, if I may put it in that way, so far as the actual negotiations are concerned. No Government in the position of the present Government, which first of all recognised the Soviet Government de jure, and then asked them to come and enter into these negotiations, could, so long as it remained a Government, accept even a vote of this House that those negotiations should be suddenly broken off. I hope this House will not put itself in that position, and that whatever happens the noble Earl will not press his Resolution. I do not want to urge that on behalf of the present Government; that is not my intention. The policy of the present Government has been determined, and must be continued so long as they are in office. There is no question about that.
Why I do press it is for this reason. When a Government is in power and is carrying on negotiations of this kind, those negotiations must be left in responsible hands, and it would be a misfortune for this House to pass a Resolution of this nature, which, I frankly say, no self-respecting Government could possibly act upon under the conditions which I have mentioned. I hope I have not addressed your Lordships at too great a length, but I think I have dealt with all the points raised by the noble Earl.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I think that the noble Earl, Lord Mayo, has rendered a public service by raising this Question. Nor do I think that your Lordships' House can have derived either much information or 720 much consolation from the rather vague and not always relevant generalisations of the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, to which we have just listened. In the opening passages of that speech the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, expressed a hope that persons whom he called outside partisans would abstain from interference in these matters while this Conference is going on. I hope he did not mean to suggest either that my noble friend Lord Mayo, or even that I, because we intrude at this stage, deserve his censure. It surely is a part of the duty of Parliament, and of members of Parliament, to keep a watch over these matters, and from time to time to seek information from the responsible heads of the Government.
What has happened in this case? His Majesty's Ministers have now been in power getting on for four months. One of their first acts—I think, as a matter of fact, it was their first act—was the recognition without conditions, and, as many of us thought, entirely prematurely, of the Russian Soviet Government. They then proceeded to convoke this Conference, and it is, I believe, almost two months to the day since we had in your Lordships' House a discussion, inaugurated by Lord Emmott, in which I and other noble Lords took part. The Russian Delegation was then on the eve of reaching this country. It has now been here, therefore, for the best part of two months. During that time I venture to say that your Lordships have shown a most extraordinary reserve, and a most remarkable consideration for His Majesty's Government.
What have we had in the interval? From time to time there has been a communiqué in the newpapers. I have followed all those communiqués, and have read them. To my mind they have been without exception lengthy, ambiguous and obscure. And those adjectives apply entirely to the lengthy communiqué which appeared this morning in the newspapers, and which the noble Lord hugged to his bosom with almost passionate affection this afternoon. He seemed to think that the communiqué had official value. It is perfectly obvious to anybody who roads it that it is a composite document which represents at one point the views of one of the two parties, and at another point the views of the other, and when the 721 noble Lord read out those passages about not being unduly pessimistic, and about the excellent intentions of the Russian Government, he was obviously reading that part of the communiqué which had been contributed by the Soviet Delegation. But it does not in the least follow that that has any correspondence to the truth. If the noble Lord had said that the British members of the Conference deprecate a pessimistic tone, or that the British members of the Conference think this or do not think that, I would attach very much greater importance to what he said.
In that communiqué which, as I said, I studied very carefully, there seemed to me to be one observation, and one alone, of commanding common sense. It was this:A further exchange of memoranda and declarations seemed unlikely to advance things.And when I read this passage about this interchange of notes not being likely to advance things I remembered a passage in Don Juan which runs as follows—But now I'm going to be immoral; now I mean to show things really as they are. Not as they ought to be.In my few observations I shall endeavour to show things not as they appear to the Conference but as they appear to myself.
Pray believe me, I do not desire to say anything unfriendly or harsh; I do not desire to say anything that will interfere with the success of the negotiations, if they can be successful. I therefore will not pursue the point which was taken, not unfairly, I think, by the noble Earl when he said that this is indeed a curious situation, that you have here the representatives of a great nation sitting in amicable conference in the Foreign Office with the Foreign Minister, or at any rate with his Parliamentary Under-Secretary, and yet at the same time you have a stream of daily vituperation turned upon our Government, and upon the heads of our Delegation, by responsible persons in Moscow. The leaders and heads of the Soviet Delegation here are persons of no authority at all. The real men are in Moscow, and it is from the real leaders in Moscow that this stream of vituperation comes which I can only describe as disgusting. That is a situation which, I think, is very discreditable, but about which I will say nothing more than this, 722 that it is a situation in which His Majesty's Government have placed themselves by the premature action in which they embarked as soon as they entered upon Office.
I pass from that and I will deal with the proceedings that have so far taken place, in so far as we can gather them from the columns of the Press and in the main from the communiqué of this morning to which I have already referred. What is the situation? When we had the debate on Lord Emmott's Question two months ago I ventured to prophesy that the first thing, and the main thing, that the Russian Delegation would seek would be a long term loan, and, accordingly, it is no surprise to me to find that they have put that in the forefront of their programme. But what are the conditions under which they seek that loan? The noble Earl said that it was a somewhat unusual business transaction to seek a loan in a country, to ask money from people, which is immediately to be devoted to covering a debt which is due to the latter. But there is no question of its covering the debt; not for a moment. If you read the Soviet Declaration you will find that only a small portion of this loan is to go to the payment of a small portion of the pre-war debt. You will find that the Soviet lays it down that all back interest must be written off, that the principal must be largely reduced; and the only encouragement they offer, as a sort of bribe to those who find the money here, if such are forthcoming, is that a portion of the money that is given in the loan is to be spent in the purchase of agricultural machinery and other manufactures in this country.
I am not surprised that when the suggestion of a loan amounting to many million pounds was made His Majesty's Government refused, indeed they could not do otherwise, to consider anything like a Government guarantee of the loan, but they accompanied this declaration by an expression of their wish not to be unreasonable, not to press for immediate repayment, and to adopt a sympathetic attitude towards a private loan. When the noble and learned Lord got up just now, instead of indulging in generalities about the beauty of trade, the magnitude of Russia and the desirability of dealing with unemployment, I was hoping that he would tell us the precise form of the sympathy which His Majesty's Government 723 were going to extend to the Soviet Delegation in order to enable them to get a private loan. It would have been most interesting had he told us that, and surely it involves no partisan outside interference on our part if we press, as we shall press, for information on that point.
The second point that I gather from the communiqué is this. It relates to the private claims, the claims of British subjects and British nationals in Russia whose money has been seized and property confiscated in the course of the war; claims which, as your Lordships know, amount to an enormous sum of money. I think the figure is £180,000,000. I naturally look to this comrnuniqué, which the noble and learned Lord finds so encouraging, in order to ascertain what is going to be done with regard to these private claims. And what do I find? The situation seems to me to be just as ambiguous and unsatisfactory as it is with regard to the question of the loan. The Soviet Delegation apparently say that they are prepared to consider small claims, not large; and your Lordships will see at once that this is an attempt to drive a wedge between the two different classes of those to whom they owe money, the large and the small, proposing only to deal with the latter and ignore the larger claims on the ground that they are of a capitalistic character. Secondly, they say that they are prepared to pursue negotiations with the owners of the confiscated property by giving them concessions. I doubt whether anybody will be prepared to fall into that trap. In my view that suggestion is merely a dilatory one and will have no effect but to protract the negotiations.
Then they further say, and I ask your Lordships' attention to this because it is ominous, that they desire to repeal Article 10 of the Trade Agreement. I remember that Trade Agreement very well, because I was partly concerned in drawing it up. It may, at first sight, seem an innocent thing and to mark no sinister purpose. But what is the object? The object of repealing that Article of the Trade Agreement is to enable them to get hold of property existing in this country. There is a sum of money amounting to several million pounds, I think about £15,000,000, which is in the hands of this country and which 724 was derived from various sources in the pre-Soviet days, a good deal of it belonging to the Imperial Government. This money has been here ever since; and now you see the meaning of the proposal to repeal that Article of the Trade Agreement. It would at once place in then hands this sum, £15,000,000 or £16,000,000, or whatever it may be and they would use it either as a security for the loan which they are endeavouring to raise or to pay off a portion of the private claims to which I have referred. That is the real meaning of this particular proposal.
Those are the two main categories of proposals that appear to be occupying the attention of the two Delegations in the Foreign Office at the present time. The noble and learned Lord, when he was asked by the noble Karl to express the opinion of His Majesty's Government as to the future of these negotiations, replied that he hoped the Conference will continue until arrangements are made which are satisfactory to both parties. There was a period of time known in former days as the Greek Kalends, and when you postponed a thing to the Greek Kalends everybody knew exactly what you meant. If we are to wait until an arrangement is arrived at that is satisfactory to both parties, I think His Majesty's Government will have perished long before that period is reached and that other occupants of that Bench will then have to say whether the proposed arrangements are satisfactory to them.
My fear is this. I do not take the line of saying that I hope the negotiations will break down. I have indicated that, in so far as I have been able to follow them, they appear to me to involve a grave danger. If the Government of my country embark upon negotiations with representatives of another Power, I would never go so far, standing in this place, as to say that I hope they will come to nothing. On the contrary, I hope, although I do not believe for a moment, that the negotiations will result in success But what I am afraid of—and I must openly confess it to the House—is this. Your Lordships will remember the conditions under which this invitation has been given. Recognition was given without any return whatsoever. Now His Majesty's Government can scarcely afford to allow these negotiations to break down. 725 because they would make themselves ridiculous before the whole world.
That is the real danger, and the fear therefore, is that, in order to save their own position, in order to make out that they were not such fools as they appeared to be, and in order not to infuriate their extreme supporters, they may be driven to conclude something which they ought not to conclude, and which we shall presently see is not a genuine agreement, not a bona fide settlement, but what I may call a camouflaged agreement, an agreement put up in order to deceive the world into thinking that something has been concluded when it has not been concluded at all. That, I venture to say, is the real danger of the situation, and my noble friend Lord Parmoor must pardon me and pardon my friends who sit on this side of the House if from time to time, at the risk of being rebuked by him, we do continue to ask for information and press His Majesty's Government in order to know how things are going on.
The only other point that I need notice is the actual terms of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Mayo to the effect that "this House is of opinion that the Anglo-Soviet Conference should be now discontinued." What I said just now will, I think, indicate to the House that I should be reluctant to support the Motion in that form, because, as the noble Lord said, in the first place, even if carried, it will be inoperative, and therefore would have rather the impression of being a brutum fulmen. In the second place, I should not like to bear a share of the responsibility of telling the Government, who have assumed full responsibility in the matter, that they must close the thing down to-day, or to-morrow, or next week. But there is so much force in the case made out by my noble friend Lord Mayo that I should like to suggest a modification of the terms of his Resolution which, I think, will carry general consent. I think your Lordships will be willing—will you not?—to say that "this House is of opinion that the Anglo-Soviet Conference should be brought to as early a conclusion as possible," or some words to that effect. That gives expression to our feelings without seeming to dictate conditions of time to His Majesty's advisers.
The object of this discussion this afternoon has really been, not to embarrass, not to score points—I think I have 726 refrained from doing so—but to indicate to the country that we are in the face of a situation which is quite likely to develop into one of real difficulty and real danger, and to warn His Majesty's Government, if they will allow me to do so, in their anxiety to come to an arrangement, not to come to an arrangement that is illusory and vague and unsatisfactory, and, for the sake of what may appear to be a momentary success, not to sacrifice the genuine interests of their country.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, it is with the deepest interest that I have listened to the speech of the noble Marquess, and I will say at once that I was not surprised when he indicated that he did not feel able to vote for this Motion. He is far too experienced in these matters to think that it is possible, on so fundamental a question of foreign policy that a Motion like this, a Motion which demands that the Conference which is now going on should be put an end to at once, could really commend itself to your Lordships. It would be impossible to carry on the Government of the country if Motions of that kind could succeed, or even if they were very extensively supported. This policy may be right or wrong, but it is a new policy and a policy which the Government have deliberately adopted and are now carrying on, and the noble Marquess said quite truly that it was not in accordance with the principles on which the Government of this country is carried on for an Opposition to take the course of demanding the conclusion of such a Conference as this.
The noble Marquess went on to give us a warning, as he was quite entitled to do, that this Conference may break down. We know that. It is impossible for anybody to say either how long this Conference will continue or whether it is going to be successful. It was part of the deliberate policy adopted when the Russian Government was recognised as the de jure Government of Russia that a Conference should be summoned to see whether, as the result of conversations or of negotiations, it was not possible to bring the parties nearer to each other. We may or may not succeed in solving the numerous problems which have come before that Conference, but at least we hope that we shall meet with a better 727 understanding with each other. No doubt we are very wide apart. No doubt the speeches of M. Trotsky in Russia are very different from that which is said here, for instance, by M. Rakovsky. But what does that matter? That is a common experience in international affairs. We are taking, I hope, such means as will afford a prospect of coming to an agreement. We have had a long experience of trying to deal with the Russian Government. I can look back upon several years of such efforts, attended with no success. We have adopted a new method. It may be a disagreeable method, it may be disappointing to M. Trotsky and his friends in Russia, but at least it is our intention that this Conference should go on, and that an attempt should be made to see whether any common ground can be found on which we can meet.
I rejoice to think that this Motion is not likely to have the support of the noble Marquess, and I can supplement his view that it is impossible to speak with any certainty as regards the future. But that need not discourage us, or lead us to think that, among the points which are being discussed by the Conference, there are not at least several with regard to which it may be possible to put things in a better position than they were before, if it be only by negativing suggestions which have been made. In such a way, at least, something will have been attained, and it may be that if the conditions are better understood, if a point is reached at which it becomes possible for business men to transact with business men—I mean private business men here with private business men in Russia—something at least will have been done in the direction which we desire. Do not let us be deceived by words. Situations never last. The hand of time is always moving on, and if there is to be a chance of success do not let us hesitate to take every means in our power to make those with whom we are in controversy understand our position.
For these reasons I rejoice in the intimation which appeared in the Press, and which my noble friend quoted, that the tone of the Conference was not-pessimistic. For my part I should be extremely sorry if this Conference came to a premature end. How long it will last I do not know. How little or how 728 much may come of it I do not know, but to try is the only way to give yourself a chance of success, and at least it id preferable to the policy of doing nothing.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, before the debate closes I should like to ask the Government a question which may appear to be very unimportant, but which I think has probably more importance than might be supposed. I want to know whether these Russian Delegates are being paid for by the Soviet Government or whether we are paying for them. Are they ordinary Delegates, or are they in the position of being our honoured guests? If the Soviet Government is paying for them, then there seems to be some reasonable possibility of negotiations terminating within a reasonable period, but if His Majesty's Government have been simple enough, first to invite them to come here, and in the second place to pay for them, then there is every prospect of the negotiations lasting indefinitely. I hope that I shall be able to obtain an answer to this question.
§ LORD PARMOOR
With the permission of the House I will answer the question. I believe they are here entirely as Delegates, at their own expense.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I state that as the information that I have. I have not the slightest notion of any limitation upon that statement, nor has it ever been suggested to me.
§ LORD EMMOTT
My Lords, I want to say but a few words upon this subject. When he refers to the speeches of the real leaders of the Russian Government as mere words, and as matters of no importance, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack is really saying what is absolutely remote from reality. These men, the real rulers of Russia to-day, are not only taking this stand of criticism of the Conference, not only of abuse of our present Prime Minister—I have here a speech in which he is called a social traitor, and so on—not only, I say, of belittling the Conference and of abusing the Prime Minister and other members of the Government, but they are carrying on what is clearly propaganda work, hostile to and destructive of the work which the Conference is doing. The 729 Delegates are only their henchmen and subordinates, and may be recalled at any moment. They are only doing what they are told to do, and the real rulers of Russia, day after day, and week after week, are making these provocative speeches.
I will give one example. It is a speech by Kamenev. It was reported on May 16, and was probably made the day before. Your Lordships must remember, of course, that the dominant Party in Russia is bitterly disappointed that there was no Bolshevist outbreak in Germany last autumn. They had hoped and worked for it, and they did not get it, and this is what Kamenev is saying about the European position:The victory of the so-called Left Bloc in France—that is, of the more calculating bourgeois—over the National Bloc creates certain complications for us. There is a possibility that an understanding may be reached between France and Germany on the basis of the electoral results in both countries: that the disagreements between France and Germany, which to some extent have enabled us to play off one against the other, will be smoothed over.That is the view of the European situation taken by one of these prominent men. I say that this Conference, whatever it does, must be a farce if these men of whom I have spoken are expressing their own genuine opinions, and no good can come from this Conference so long as that is their state of mind.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, the Leader of the Opposition has dealt so fully with the answer of the Lord President of the Council that I shall only say three or four words. I was very much pleased when the noble and learned Lord said that the negotiations at this Anglo-Soviet Conference should be cautious, and I was also heartened by the fact that he said that principles were not to be given up. That was not mentioned by the noble Marquess. Now I agree with what the noble Marquess said when he told the House that my Resolution went a little too far. It is not right that we should entirely put a stop to negotiations, whatever they are, and I beg, with your Lordships' leave, to withdraw that Resolution and in place of it to move the following: "That this House is of opinion that the Anglo-Soviet Conference should be brought to as early a conclusion as is possible."
Original Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House is of opinion that the Anglo-Russian Conference should be brought to as early a conclusion as is possible.—(The Earl of Mayo.)
§ LORD PARMOOR
No doubt the amended Resolution is less open to my criticism, but without attempting to say over again what I have already said at, I am afraid, too great length, the Government could not assent to any Resolution which would interfere with the discretion which ought to be left in the hands of the responsible Government in matters of this kind. Therefore, whatever view the House may take, the Government could not accept the amended Resolution.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.