HL Deb 23 March 1927 vol 66 cc708-21

had given Notice to call attention to recent publications issued by the Communist Party in Great Britain with reference to affairs in China, and to ask His Majesty's Government what action they propose to take in relation thereto; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, my object in bringing forward this Motion is to call attention to the campaign of malignant falsehood which has been carried on for some time past with regard to affairs in China by the Communist Party in this country. That campaign is part and parcel of a far larger conspiracy which is conducted throughout the world by the Soviet Government of Russia with a view to injuring and—if they dare to hope so—bringing down the British Empire as part of the world revolution which they advocate. That conspiracy has been inspired, financed and engineered by the Soviet Government of Russia. No opportunity is lost by them of compassing their object.

There was one remarkable illustration of it when, last year, the Soviet Government, with the assistance of the Communist Party in this country, carried on a nefarious agitation for the purpose of supporting the General Strike and making it effective and for the purpose of inducing the miners to prolong the coal strike. There was another and even more significant illustration seen in the Soviet intrigues which, with deadly ingenuity, they have been carrying on for many years past against us in China. Time does not suffice to-day to give even the barest outline of the long-drawn-out manœuvres by which the Soviet Government have sought to convert the anti-foreign movement in China into a Bolshevist revolutionary scheme for the extermination of British commerce, trade and influence in China. Suffice it to say that, as in the matter of the coal strike these efforts were made not in the interest of the miners—their interests were wholly disregarded—so in this agitation in China the interests of China are entirely set aside, the real objective being the downfall of our country.

But the Soviet Government were not content with carrying on this agitation in China alone. The Communist Party in this country, under the instructions of Moscow, are engaged and for months past have been engaged in a ceaseless orgy of calumny with the object, and sole object, of inflicting injury on this country and, if they can, of driving the British out of China. The general purport of the facts to which I am going to refer more in detail in a moment may be summarised thus. What they say is this: The British in China are the oppressors of the Chinese; the British Government are determined to perpetuate that oppression, and the real object of sending troops to China is not to protect British lives—of that, of course, there is no hint—but to make war in China and reduce the Chinese to perpetual slavery in their own selfish interests. Those are the charges made, and I propose to show, firstly, that this campaign has been cunningly and malignantly organised, and, secondly, that it has been persistently and skilfully carried out.

I will deal first with the organisation of the campaign. The real genesis of this particular phase of Communist agitation is disclosed in a report, which I have here, of the Fourth Congress of the Young Communist League of Great Britain which was held in Sheffield on December 18, 19 and 20, 1926. The document is published at the headquarters of the Young Communist League of Great Britain at 38, Great Ormond Street. It is a very well-got-up pamphlet. I will take one or two extracts from this pamphlet. For instance, on pages 25 and 26 they say:— The Nationalist revolution in China is dealing terrible blows to British Imperialism…. —that of course is what they desire— This Congress [the Young Communists League Congress] decides to carry on a special campaign in support of the glorious revolution in China and against the British Imperialist attempt at intervention. That is followed up by very careful and minute instructions as to the methods of the campaign. Then, on page 32, they say:— This Congress greets the revolutionary youth of China and its leaders, the Young Communist League of China, in their determined struggle against world imperialism…. We [the Young Communist League of Great Britain] pledge ourselves to continue to fight against the British governing class and to do our utmost to assist the Chinese people to achieve victory. They end with this rhetorical outburst:— Demand the immediate formation of 'Hands-Off-China' Committees throughout the country and compel the British Government to withdraw all armed forces from Chinese territory. I might perhaps at this point remind your Lordships of a fact that you doubtless have not forgotten, and that is that on February 10 of this year the Labour Party in the House of Commons, include-all the leaders—the whole of the Labour Party, with one conspicuous exception—supported a Motion for the withdrawal of our troops from China, which is exactly the object that this Communist League, under instructions from Moscow, have been urging with every variety of calumny and scoundrelism for adoption by this country. I am glad to see that some of the most prominent leaders of the Labour Party are here to-day, and I am sure that they will rejoice to take this opportunity of repudiating the action of the Labour Party in the House of Commons and of saying that they in this House, at any rate, have no sympathy with that astounding and discreditable demand for the withdrawal of the troops that were sent to China to protect British lives. I hope that at a later stage this evening we shall have that repudiation.

I have indicated to your Lordships how this scheme was organised. Let me now, if I may, show you how faithfully this organised campaign has been carried out in this country by the Communists. My quotations are all from Communist papers published in this country. Take the Young Comrade of December last, which is described as "a paper for all working class children." Your Lordships are aware that these people not merely distil their poison for adults but have a special department that is devoted to corrupting children, and this is one of their activities. This paper, like the last document that I quoted, is published at the headquarters of the Young Communist League of Great Britain at 38, Great Ormond Street. I quote from page 1:— The cruel capitalist Government which at present rules this country is now plotting and planning to launch a war on China. They want to capture this country with its great natural wealth and to make the people slaves, making profits for themselves. British warships, troops and bombing machines are being sent out— I ask your Lordships to mark the purpose for which they are sent out, according to this document— to murder harmless men and women and children. This theme is carried on by the Weekly Young Worker of January 29, 1927. This is described as "a newspaper for all young workers" and is also published at the headquarters of the Communist League. I find the following on page 1:— The Tory Government is determined to wage war on China. Then comes the following invocation:— Stop the Blood Bath…. Demand the withdrawal of all troops. I turn to the Sunday Worker of February 20, 1927. This is a Communist penny Sunday paper for adults, published in London. In this number is published what I can only call an atrocious and malignant libel upon our Indian troops, for they say this:— Indian troops threaten mutiny and are being sent back to Hong-kong from Shanghai. We know that this is a pure and malignant fabrication, but that matters nothing to them if it will forward their purpose. Let me quote two or three words from the Worker's Life of February 25, 1927, which is another Communist paper, chiefly for the consumption of adults. I find on page 1:— British Troops Shield Murderers…. Where the Union Jack and the militarist standards fly in China, labour is suppressed and its leaders murdered…. Withdraw the troops…. No support of Baldwin. In the Young Comrade for March of this year—I am giving these quotations as shortly as I can, but this is to indicate that the campaign is carried on up to the present date—I find these headings:— British bosses aid murderers…Scores of English warships and thousands of British soldiers are now at Shanghai. What for? To maintain the child slavery. Stop the war on Chinese children. These appeals, as your Lordships will see, are made to every class in the community, to adults, children and workers, but now we come to something that I venture to think is even more serious. The next appeal is made to soldiers on their way to China to protect the lives of British subjects in China. I find in the Weekly Young Worker of February 5 of this year the following passage:— Communists have been distributing leaflets to the dockers and soldiers trying to stop the war…. Particularly round the Albert and Victoria Docks, where troops were to leave next morning, enthusiastic Young Communist Leaguers were active in chalking up slogans calling on the dockers to refuse to work on ships carrying troops or ammunition and urging the soldiers not to be made the tools for crushing down the Chinese Labour movement. This is perilously like incitement to mutiny. They boast of it, and it is not an empty boast. I have here a copy of a leaflet which, according to my information, was one of a bundle of similar leaflets discovered on board a troop-ship about to sail for China. It is addressed to the "Workers in Uniform on the way to China," and attention was prominently called to this pamphlet in the National Citizen, the organ of the National Citizens' Union, in March of this year.

Here is their appeal to the "Workers in Uniform":— Workers in the Army and Navy, refuse to murder and crush the Chinese workers and peasants for the benefit of the exploiters— "Exploiters" is, of course, their name for the British— The Communist Party of Great Britain appeals to you to stop the murder of the workers. Stop the War. It is murder. Refuse to be used by your exploiters against your own class. To put a document like that, with its statements against the Government and people of this country and the suggestion that we are slave-drivers and so on, telling the young soldiers who are going to protect British lives in China that they must refuse to be used against their own class, the Chinese workers and peasants—to put such a document into the hands of young soldiers is as criminal and as scoundrelly an act as I think any British subject could be capable of.

But that is not all. I have here another leaflet of a somewhat similar character. This one is intended for children, and was sent out from Great Ormond Street, the headquarters of the Communist League, in February of this year, addressed to "Every Young Comrade in the League" and headed "Help to stop the War." It contains the usual stuff, and finishes up in this way:— And now the Baldwin Boss Government has sent out working class soldiers and sailors to shoot down Chinese workers and peasants…. The British working-class soldiers must help Chinese workers to beat the British bosses. There is a certain similarity about the composition and contents of these mutinous and rascally pamphlets which, apart from all other evidence, would show a common origin, and unquestionably all this poisonous stuff comes from the brains of some traitors in this country, bribed, or forced it may be, to it by the Soviet Government of Russia. I can produce any amount more of material of this sort, which is launched out upon the British public. There are many leaflets besides these pamphlets which have been sown broadcast, and the last publication to which I need refer to-day is an elaborate pamphlet of some 24 pages, recently published by the Communist Party of Great Britain.

It is headed "The War on China" and "How British Imperialists stole the concessions, paid for civil wars, sweated Chinese workers, massacred thousands, and why the troops and warships were sent to Shanghai." The colour of the pamphlet is appropriate to the contents. That pamphlet devotes many pages to a scandalously inaccurate historical survey of British doings in China. A more complete perversion of the history of British action in China it is impossible to conceive. It is impossible for me to attempt here and now to refute those lies in detail. It is sufficient to say that in this pamphlet there is not one single suggestion showing what is the undoubted fact with regard to our actions in China—namely, that trade, commerce, factories, workshops, dockyards, railways, schools, colleges, and even the postal services, have been established in China largely by British enterprise and capital, to the great advantage of China, and leading to the employment of hundreds of thousands of Chinese. I only propose to quote one short passage from this pamphlet—namely, on page 13, as to the reasons they give for sending out troops to China. They say this:— The Shanghai expedition is the advance guard of a much larger force intended to break for ever the claim of China to complete independence of foreign control. They then quote the same calumnies from the other Communist papers here.

Some people may say: "Why do you give publicity to this garbage? Why do you advertise it? No one will believe it." My answer is two-fold. It is well, I think, that the quiet, right-minded people of this country should know what is going on in our midst, and should take the necessary steps to counter that propaganda; but more than that, this is a poison that reaches many quarters where no antidote is supplied, and uncontradicted lies must, I fear, in time penetrate people's minds. It is for us to supply the antidote. You might as well tell me that you advertise a criminal when you put him in the dock and convict him.

To finish my remarks, and I thank your Lordships for the kind hearing you have given me, what then can be done to expose these falsehoods and make the truth known? Apart from Government action I think that much can be done. I have given some indication of the poison, and where it can be got. May I give a short advertisement as to where the antidote may be obtained? Those members of this House, and those of the community elsewhere, who desire to know where effective and complete detailed answers can be got, would do well to go to the Conservative Central Offices in Palace Chambers, where a large number of really valuable pamphlets on the Chinese question have already been issued. There is yet another thing to be done, apart from Government help. To my mind there is no more valuable method of exposing falsehood, and making known the truth, than by open air meetings addressed by people who know the subject. Some of those anti-lie meetings have already been organised in Hyde Park, and I have seen myself the speakers talking on China and other matters for the purpose of opposing Communist literature and lies, at enormous gatherings. They were well listened to and largely drew away the crowds around some of the Socialists at other platforms. I have no doubt whatever that such meetings and such speeches are most valuable, because they reach the minds of many people who never read a paper and probably never go to any indoor meetings. I hope that the system of open-air meetings will be organised on a large scale both in London and throughout the country so that the minds of our people I may not be contaminated by the sort of stuff that I have ventured to bring before the House.

Now I ask, and this is my last question: What can or ought the Government to do in this state of affairs? There is one thing the Government can do and I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Desborough, who I understand will reply for the Government, can nail these lies to the counter. Also I think by speech on every possible occasion, both in and out of this House, they can make known the real facts of the case, answer their enemies in the gate and prevent the contamination of the minds of the public which might otherwise take place. There is yet another thing. I believe, and indeed I am confident, that whenever it is possible the Government will prosecute these offenders. I am aware that there are a great many cases in which that cannot be done. You cannot prosecute for a mere lie, there must be something contrary to the law—something illegal, or something of the nature of sedition. Nothing struck me more in reading through this mass of literature from which I have quoted than the extraordinary ingenuity with which they have for the most part kept themselves outside the Criminal Law. One could imagine that they had been advised on the subject. At any rate, in so far as they have brought themselves within the Criminal Law, and I believe in some cases they have done so, I trust and believe the Government will prosecute the offenders.

There is a further thing which the Government can do. We had a debate in this House not long since on the question of ending diplomatic relations with the Soviet Government and of bringing the Trade Agreement to an end. We had a remarkable speech from the Government Benches, in which the Leader of the House declared that there was already ample ground for breaking off diplomatic relations, if the Government chose to do so. He said that their patience was not unlimited and that they would have to consider what action should be taken at an early date. May I express the hope that when they come to consider that question of breaking off these relations—and they must consider it at an early date, unless the Note which was sent by Sir Austen Chamberlain is to be a dead letter—they will take into account all the recent activities, some of which I have referred to, of the Communist Party in this country acting under Soviet inspiration. I trust that they will remember that behind these Communist activities here there stands the sinister figure of the Soviet of Russia.


My Lords, I rise to reply briefly to the very eloquent speech which has just been delivered by my noble friend behind me and I should like to compliment him on his industry and on the service he has been to the Home Office in bringing many of these publications before their notice, for which they are grateful to him. This question affects the Foreign Office and the Home Office. I think I should best deal with the matter if I very briefly show the attitude of the British Government all through. It will show how unfounded those accusations have been which have been published notwithstanding the possibility of acquiring the true facts of the case with very little trouble to themselves.

In the first place, when the Chinese position became acute, the Government addressed a general statement regarding British policy in China to the nations representing the Washington Treaty, parties other than China. That was as long ago as December 18 last year. It put the position of this country perfectly plainly. It called upon the other Powers who were parties to the Washington Treaty to combine with the Government in trying to come to some arrangement with China on very liberal lines. Unfortunately it was found impossible to proceed. It is very difficult to get eleven different nations to agree to one course of policy and there the matter remains. That is the first plain indication that the British Government was not going to try to enslave children or do any of the very dreadful things which Lord Danesfort has shown by his industry that they are accused of. That document, I may say, was published in all the papers.

The British Government then took more active steps on their own behalf and on January 27 this year they addressed specific proposals to both Peking and Hankow, with the object of making an arrangement of the various questions outstanding both with Peking and Hankow. That declaration of policy and these offers were productive of some result, for at Hankow an arrangement was come to. The terms are still open for Mr. Chen, to whom this was addressed, to make an arrangement of a similar kind at Shanghai and we only hope it may have a result. At present the whole of China is in such a state of disintegration that I suppose the hands of Mr. Chen are very fully occupied. The Government still hope that some arrangement on the liberal lines they proposed then may be come to. Sir Miles Lampson finished up the communication of our proposals by saying: So liberal and generous a step cannot in the view of the Government be regarded as otherwise than an earnest of the fair and conciliatory spirit with which they are animated. That was the second communication which was open to the world to read. Then there was another attempt made. A communication was sent to the League of Nations, in which those very proposals were embodied, and a very explicit statement of the whole of British policy up to that time was put down in black and white. Anybody who wanted to publish pamphlets on the question of China had only to study these documents to know what was the official attitude of the British Government at that time. Those statements, therefore, which my noble friend has very copiously supplied, are absolutely contrary to the known facts of the case.

I will now deal for a moment with certain suggestions which my noble friend has made. They are four in number and I shall attempt to give a reply to them. First of all, he suggests that a definite contradiction should be made, in a reply in the House, of the blazing untruths which he has detailed in these various publications. As far as I am concerned and in so far as I represent the Government for the moment, I can certainly give an absolute contradiction to all these statements—and there were some very much worse which have been brought to my attention—and I can say that they are untrue and known to be untrue. They are absolutely contrary to the statements and policy of the Government in the last six months. He suggests, too, that every opportunity should be taken by public speaking and otherwise to expose the falsehood of these statements. There have been several debates and speeches made by members of the Government all over the country for some time past. I have no doubt that practice will be continued. There have been very full statements made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. There have been debates in Parliament, and I have no doubt that, should the occasion be sufficiently important, these statements will be repeated and these calumnies and lies will be again refuted.

My noble friend also suggests that wherever possible the offenders should be prosecuted, but at the same time he said that you cannot prosecute merely for telling lies. The Home Office have gone very carefully info all the cases which have been so kindly submitted by my noble friend and into several other cases, but, as he said himself, the published statements which you can trace home to their authors are drawn up with such skill that, in the opinion of the Law Officers, a prosecution would not have been successful. My noble friend will, I am sure, agree with me that much more harm than good would be done by instituting a futile prosecution.

But I have come across one of these leaflets which, it is believed at the Home Office, is a direct incitement to mutiny. These secret documents are either typed or printed in some private place, and distributed privately. Although the authorities have a pretty good idea from where this particular leaflet emanates, they have not sufficient evidence to warrant bringing an action. But I can assure my noble friend that, should they be able to trace any document of this kind to its real authors and bring it home to them, they will not hesitate to prosecute these men, who have attempted to incite the soldiers of the King in uniform to be untrue to their colours, as they most directly do in this leaflet.

The fourth matter which my noble friend raised was that the question of breaking off relations with the Soviet Government should be considered. That subject has already been very fully and amply discussed in Parliament in connection with the Note issued by the Foreign Secretary with regard to the action of the Soviet Government in encouraging Communism in this country. The position now is that the warning has been given, and no further warning will be required; but it is not considered at the moment that it would serve any useful purpose, either in the direction of diminishing these Communistic attacks in this country or of securing better relations, which we hope for, with the Soviet Government, to break off trade relations, and still less absolute relations, with the Soviet Government. I have dealt with the points raised as briefly and succinctly as I could, and I hope I have answered my noble friend. I can only again congratulate him on his industry, and say that he has certainly performed a useful work in bringing this matter before your Lordships.


My Lords, I only wish to say one or two words in answer to the noble Lord. I think he is quite right in saying that the general subject was discussed quite lately in this House, and we had a long debate upon it. The Government stated their view, and, as I understand, the noble Lord (Lord Danesfort) did not challenge that view, and I think the statement was very much to the satisfaction of members in all parts of the House. Nor do I think it is necessary, with great deference to the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, to go into what he calls the question of public speaking and offering definite contradiction. You will always find that in matters of controversy. There are, however, two points to which I should like to refer. We, of course, entirely agree—every good citizen would agree—that if grounds are found sufficient to justify criminal prosecution on matters of this kind, it is for the Home Office and those by whom they are advised to institute such criminal proceedings. I think it is a further satisfaction that these matters, as far as I can understand from what the noble Lord has said, have been under the consideration of his advisers at the Home Office, who so far have not found any adequate reason for instituting a prosecution. I have no doubt that when the time comes the Home Office, even without the instigation of the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, will take such steps as it is their duty to take, and institute such proceedings.

On the previous occasion when this subject was before us I pointed out the view, which was stated from Russia, that they wanted to take merciless measures because the greatest opponents of Communism and Bolshevism were the Labour Party in this country. I do not want to emphasise that; I gave the quotation on the former occasion. But the underlying suggestion that members of the Labour Party can have any possible sympathy with actions which are liable to criminal prosecution has constantly been denied. It is hardly necessary in your Lordships' House to say that they are denied absolutely again this evening.


My Lords, I have to thank the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, for the very clear and satisfactory statement which he made in answer to my Motion. The assurances he gave me are entirely satisfactory. I only wish to add one word in answer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor. I invited him and the other leaders of the Labour Party on that Bench to do what I should have thought they would be only too delighted to do at the earliest opportunity, to repudiate the infamous demand made by their colleagues in another place that we should withdraw our troops from China and allow British subjects to be murdered there, which would have been the undoubted effect of such a withdrawal. I fully anticipated that the noble Lord either would have repudiated that action, taken by his colleagues in another place, or would have given some reason for supporting them. He did neither, and I can only suppose that he, in common with the leaders of the Party in another place, still approves of the Communist lie, circulated in all these documents to which I have referred, that we were not sending our troops to protect British lives in China but to make war on China. I can hardly believe that noble Lords opposite accept as correct the document put forward by the Communists, but, unfortunately, their action in this matter has been entirely in accordance with the advice given in those Communist documents, under instructions from Moscow. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.