HL Deb 31 May 1927 vol 67 cc680-710

LORD PARMOOR rose to ask whether His Majesty's Government can give any information on the questions which have arisen in connection with Arcos and the Trade Delegation of Russia. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there has been no opportunity of considering in this House the very important matters which arise in connection with Arcos and the Trade Delegation of Russia. The noble Earl will recollect that Lord Clinton, on the adjournment a day or two ago, asked why it was the matter had not been brought forward simultaneously in this House with the other place. After all, we are as much a portion of Parliament as the other House. I do not want to go back into that question except to emphasise the fact that a matter of this kind ought to be discussed, and should be discussed in your Lordships' House, before a final decision has been arrived at. That is not possible now and we have to discuss matters as they stand.

The importance of this question is that, except for an actual declaration of war, there is no more serious step in international affairs than the breaking off of diplomatic relations. As the noble Earl himself has pointed out more than once, it is quite a different matter not to enter into diplomatic relations and to break them off after they have been entered into. The latter is in many cases the immediate and direct cause of a declaration of war itself. I do not think there is any mystery in the relations which have led up to what I may call the Arcos and the Trade Delegation raid.

A NOBLE LORD: Hear, hear.


I will not be led away by that "Hear, hear." I cannot imagine any one not understanding what the conditions were before that date. Whether we draw the same conclusions as regards the policy to be followed is an entirely different question. The Labour Party policy was stated quite clearly by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in the Labour Government, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, as long ago I think as April, 1924. I have never heard any politician in this House or in any other place finding any fault with the statement of the principles of policy which Mr. Ramsay MacDonald then laid down. As I see in the House Lord Newton, who on more than one occasion has interested himself in this matter, I will remind him of the words he used in regard to that. He said that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald's statement of policy was unimpeachable. I noted the words at the time and I have refreshed my memory, and I rejoice that that expression should have been used by an authority like Lord Newton. I think that terror-stricken people—here probably I should differ from the noble Earl—should take courage in the knowledge that in this country the Labour Party stands a stalwart barrier against Communist propaganda.


Mr. Cook does not.


He is not a member of the Labour Party.


But he is a trade unionist.


I do not want to discuss that with the noble Earl, but the mention of one name——


It is a great name.


—thoroughly substantiates my argument that the fact that the Labour Party is a stalwart barrier against Communist propaganda is a real safeguard as regards the future of this country. Sometimes I fancy, although probably noble Lords opposite may not agree with me, that the danger, if any, consists in the attempt which is sometimes made on this question to weaken the power and cohesion of the Labour Party. It was curious to note when a raid was made on the Communist headquarters in this country and certain papers were published—I think in the form of a White Paper—that at that time the recommendation from Russia was that they should adopt merciless measures to fight the Labour Party in this country and in a special manner to destroy the influence of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald.

I want to make it quite clear—I think it is a matter of first importance—that there is no chance whatever of the stability of this country being in any way affected adversely so long as the Labour Party maintain the strictly constitutional position which they have held and are now holding. In confirmation of that I should like to quote a passage from the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, opposite. I think that if the noble Earl's statements in this House had been followed we should not be in the position in which we stand at the present moment. These are the words used by the noble Earl in this House and I quote them with absolute agreement:— On our part, we are confident that, with this nation behind us, with its traditions, its common sense, its love of law, its power of seeing to the essentials of a question through all the mists of arguments by which it may be surrounded, we have nothing to fear from the contrivances and intrigues of any nation under Heaven. I cannot sympathise with those people who, because of Russian espionage or some Russian documents, seem to tremble. I cannot think that a country like this, with an overwhelming sense of order and law, supported practically unanimously by the Labour Party, should have occasion for the slightest fear either that Russia or any other country under Heaven could in any way substantially affect our security and development. In the same speech the noble Earl said that the Government were under no illusion as to what was going on. That was what I meant when the noble Earl—I will not say interrupted me but made a remark. It is quite true, as the Earl of Balfour said, that the Government was under no illusion as to what was going on. When the noble Earl said that it was in a speech in which he expressed his opinion that it would be folly to interfere or to take such action as has been taken at the present time.

I do not want to delay your Lordships longer than I need, and I come now to my point that the only new factor since the Earl of Balfour made this notable statement in this House is the raid on Arcos and the raid on the Russian Trade Delegation. This raid, if I understand it aright, was carried out under a warrant obtained under the Official Secrets Act. I have not got the date, but I think that Act was passed in 1911. The document in regard to which the warrant was granted was said to be some document from the War Office. It was never found and never traced. If, however, incriminating documents had been found the Courts were open to the ordinary course of criminal procedure and any one implicated would have been liable both to punishment and deportation. In my opinion it is absolutely essential owing to the great interests involved that police action and diplomatic action should be kept wholly distinct. Not to do this may in my opinion undermine a foreign policy carefully built up on the lines indicated by the noble Earl and adopted by successive Foreign Ministers, on the basis of patient conciliation—I am quoting again, if not the actual words, the sense of the speech made by the noble Earl—which is essential if world peace is to be assured. A Home Secretary acting from the police point of view is nothing but a cuckoo in the Foreign Secretary's nest and may be a very dangerous cuckoo, as I think he has been on the present occasion.

The documents published in the absence of inquiry and investigation, although I have carefully read them, bring to my mind no conviction. At least we ought to have adhered to the principle of hearing the other side and considering what their explanations might be. We are not told the source of the documents published by the Foreign Office, but I am afraid there is more than a suspicion that they are due to that worst of all sources, the spy source. The documents published as found during the raid are in themselves wholly inconclusive. What is there in the documents? Perhaps those which have been most referred to are those relating to British seamen, which are practically stories of a few drunken men who either deserted or were discharged almost on the morrow of their engagement. This is a summary I take from the document itself: The few satisfactory British seamen, Communists, who are rarely found, never dream of darkening the threshold of the Communist Party on the score of work, and a good sailor has always so far been sure of finding work. That is not an alarming statement. It is a testimony to the good sense and right action of the whole mass of our sailors, foremost as they are in discipline and courage among all the nations of the world. There is no class less likely to be led astray by these will o'the wisp notions that come from the Communists and any attempt to deal with them is shown, on the face of the documents themselves, to be utterly illusory.

The consequences of the Government policy may be far-reaching and disastrous. It is a matter of extreme regret at the present moment in the history of the world that a great country like ours should take such an attitude upon this matter. It will not stop propaganda unless it is followed by war, and that may God forbid! It is a futile gesture, if it is not to be followed by practical action, and a gesture unworthy of our great country, which has an overwhelming influence which ought to be exercised in all cases for good in the world at the present time. Secondly, it will not stabilise the general peace outlook in Europe. The only chance of a stabilised peace is not that we should break off diplomatic relations with Russia, but that we should use all our influence to bring Russia within the area and influence of the friendly atmosphere of the League of Nations at Geneva. They did come there for the purposes of the Economic Conference. I believe that by kindly and friendly treatment they may be brought into the community of the European nations for the great benefit of all.

I may quote once more what was said by a leading Minister of the Government, speaking against any breach of diplomatic relations:— Look where you will, at the condition of what country you will, on this side of the Atlantic, and you will feel that the last course which any responsible Minister would like to take is one which, without adequate object, will add a new source of disturbance to this over-disturbed world. That was a considered opinion stated in this House by the noble Earl opposite. We on the Opposition Benches at once expresed our agreement with everything the noble Earl had said, and there has been no change from that time to this except what appears to me to be the futile outcome of the raid on Arcos and the Trade Delegation. It is quite certain that, since that statement was made on behalf of the Government in this House, the atmosphere has not become clearer nor have the clouds disappeared in Europe, or in China, or in Egypt.

Then there is the trade question, which is a question of infinite importance to our great industrial working-class population. I wonder how many of your Lordships who are now present were present some time ago to hear the speech of Lord Emmott. I am not sure that it was not one of the last speeches which that noble Lord made in this House. Lord Emmott in a special sense had a knowledge of Lancashire interests and was the representative both of Lancashire producers and Lancashire workers, of views on the capitalist side and on the side of the workers. There could be no greater authority and no one could indicate more clearly than he did how a breach with Russia, closing to a great extent the Russian market as it will, was likely to affect the great industries of this country and especially of Lancashire. He expressed his profound satisfaction with the speech of the noble Earl and with the fact that His Majesty's Government had come to the conclusion not to break with Russia. I do not want to quote at any length, but I do feel that if any member of this House wants an unbiased judgment, carefully stated by a man of full authority and full knowledge, he should read the speech of Lord Emmott on that occasion.

The statement made by Sir E. Turton in another place confirmed in all essential particulars the report of a credit arrangement with one of the great banks to assist Russian trade to the extent of £10,000,000. It is quite immaterial, and it does not affect the question for trade purposes, whether the security was found by the manufacturers or by the Soviet Government. The fact was that arrangements had been made and that that credit could be found, and to that extent further Russian orders were assured. Then we had the statement of the President of the Chamber of Commerce in Manchester. We had quoted in another place the same figures which I have quoted in your Lordships' House—namely, that the inter- change of trade between this country and Russia had amounted to about £180,000,000. A director of Platts' great machine works at Oldham, employing 10,000 workers, has stated that the breach may deprive 50,000 workers of employment in the course of a year. That estimate is based on the credit of £10,000,000. Is that a matter we can contemplate without great anxiety, having regard to the conditions of employment in this country and to the acknowledged necessity of cultivating markets wherever we can in order to find a sale for the produce of our workers at home?

We should revert to the policy of the Labour Party in 1924, not a policy of pinpricks—nothing is worse than that, especially when they are not followed up by resolute action—but it policy of bringing about the outlawry of all forms of aggressive war. It is a good hope that the other day M. Briand, promoting, as he always has done, this policy, suggested that it should be furthered in association with America. There is no other way of exterminating once for all the spy curse which now, in peace, contaminates the whole atmosphere of international intercourse. It is on the grounds that I have shortly stated that I base my Question, and I earnestly hope that the noble Earl, in dealing with matters of principle, will be able to confirm and re-state the principles to which I have referred and which, in my opinion, are of the utmost importance to the future of this country as a great power for peace and the greatest industrial country in the world.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will desire me to rise without delay in reply to the speech which the noble and learned Lord has just delivered. He began by criticising, as I understood him, the silence of the Government on this subject in your Lordships' House, when in another place there was a statement made by the Prime Minister and a debate arose two days afterwards on the Motion of Mr. Clynes. On the facts there is no dispute. There was no statement made in this House, and there was a statement, followed by a debate, in the other House. But who is to blame for that, if there be blame? I am not criticising noble Lords opposite, but they had only to ask a Question to get a reply, and if they refrained from asking a Question in this House when their colleagues in another place took all the Parliamentary steps that they could take to have a full discussion on this subject—if they refrained from following a similar policy in this House, surely it is not those who sit on this Bench who are to blame, but those who sit on the other Bench.

Upon that branch of the noble Lord's speech I can only repeat what I said to your Lordships a few days ago, and say that the last thing that His Majesty's Government desire is to pass any slight on this House or to withdraw from consideration and debate in this House any question that is of interest either here or in another place. However, the noble Lord, who refrained from asking for information when information was sought elsewhere, thinks—and perhaps he is right—that we ought not to separate for the holidays without a debate in this House. But observe that there is a great distinction between a debate taking place to-day and the debate that might have taken place a week ago. All the facts have now been brought before the public; there has been an extremely full discussion of a Parliamentary character, every newspaper in this country and in every other country has been occupied with this subject, and it is, of course, impossible that I should have anything new to say to your Lordships or any fresh facts to bring to your notice.

The second part of the noble and learned Lord's speech seemed to me not very closely relevant to the topic which he first raised. He explained to your Lordships with great emphasis that the Party to which he belongs (and of which he is an ornament) has nothing whatever to do with Communism. I do not for a moment suspect the noble Lord of Communism. There is not any noble Lord in the distinguished row of politicians whom I see opposite to me whom I should think in my wildest moments of describing as a Communist. But the noble Lord and his friends will allow me to say that, while I rejoice, as I think everybody rejoices, that the great bulk of the Party to which he belongs formally repudiate Communism, and while nobody would, I think, undervalue that statement, it is true when it comes to the point—we have had experience of it in the last two years—that in the great occasions of opposition in which not noble Lords opposite but their Party in the other House took a share, in the General Strike, in the coal strike, in all the disturbances that have threatened the commerce of this country in a way in which it is certainly not going to be threatened by anything that we have done with regard to Russia, in these crises in our domestic history there has been a nearer approach between members of the Party of noble Lords opposite—I do not mean to say the individual members whom I am now addressing, but honoured members of their Party—and the Communists than those who feel the importance of real agreement on the fundamentals of social stability between all the great Parties in the State can look at without feeling some legitimate anxiety.

I do not in the least suggest that the great body of working men in this country are Communists. I know perfectly well that they are not. Broadly speaking, I have a profound confidence in the common sense, honesty and directness of vision of the people of this country. But let not noble Lords opposite flatter themselves that the Left Wing of their Party is wholly untouched and uncontaminated by some of the Russian heresies. I am afraid that is not so, and, though I do not wish in the least to exaggerate it, we have too many examples in history of a great Party being swayed by its extreme wing to look without some uneasiness at the intimate relations which exist between the Left Wing of the Party of the noble Lords opposite and those who claim their assistance when they are carrying out some of the doctrines that are preached and paid for in Russia.

I leave that part of the noble and learned Lord's speech and I come to what is, I suppose, the immediate subject of our debate. The noble Lord, rather hesitatingly, I think, and with considerable diffidence, indicated in one part of his speech that, after all, nothing had been found by the investigation at the Arcos premises and that we were acting from documents of doubtful value and on information coming from doubtful sources. I am sorry that the noble Lord lapsed from the general moderation of his statement to make that insinuation, because he knows perfectly well, and every noble Lord whom I am addressing at this moment knows perfectly well, that there cannot be a more certain fact in history than the fact that the Soviet Government and those parts of the administration of Russia which, whatever they may call themselves, are an integral part of that Government, have systematically promised not to interfere in the affairs of this country, and have systematically broken that promise on every possible occasion. That is the broad fact of the matter, and it would really be folly at this time of day to endeavour to argue the point, seeing that I am certain there is not a noble Lord sitting on that Bench opposite who does not wholly agree with what I say. They have themselves, as Ministers, had experience of it.


I do not argue it, and I said there was no mystery about it.


If the noble Lord did not want to discredit the evidence on which the Government acted I am unable to understand the purpose of one passage of his speech. If I misunderstood what the noble Lord desired to say I regret it. We are all agreed on the broad facts of the case; that is to say, upon the broad fact that year after year, ever since the Trade Agreement, ever since diplomatic relations were re-knit with Russia, down to the present moment, the British Government, to whatever Party it belonged, has been constantly offering remonstrances to the Russian Government as to the way in which it was behaving, and that steadily and throughout every Russian Government, and every Russian statement, has been lavish in promises of amendment, and not a single one of those promises has ever been kept. I am confident that nobody is going to rise after me and throw doubt upon the accuracy of that statement.

The only question therefore between us is: Ought this long period of toleration under increasing provocation to have been allowed to go on indefinitely? I have always been, as the House knows and as the noble Lord has been very careful to remind us, one of those who have been most desirous of not breaking the situation until further tolerance became absolutely impossible. It is, after all, a question of degree. Is there in history—in our history or in the history of any other great country—an example of such continuous and untiring toleration of promises made and steadily broken as we have tolerated, not we on this side only but noble Lords opposite—the Coalition Government, the Conservative Government, the Labour Government and the Conservative Government again—is there any parallel of the toleration which all those Governments have successively shown under this provocation, throughout all these years? Observe that in all these cases it is a question of the cumulative effect. A thing which might be tolerated one year, if it goes on to two years becomes more difficult to tolerate, but if it goes on three years and longer at last it becomes quite impossible of toleration.

You can always argue as to whether the exact moment has come when toleration is impossible. Noble Lords opposite evidently think that the moment had not come. I cannot show—of course you never can show in these cases of gradual effect and cumulative provocation—the exact point at which further provocation is not to be borne. Whether it is seven times or seventy-seven times—I think we have reached seventy-seven times myself—there is a point at which a steady course of deliberate and authorised perfidy is intolerable in international relations, and the point is whether we have reached that stage or not. The noble Lord appears to think that things are exactly as they were last year, and that last year they were exactly as they were when he and his friends were responsible for public affairs. They are not just the same. They are worse, and they are worse in part because they are the result of this accumulating mass of false professions. The noble Lord regrets the rupture of diplomatic relations. I also regret the breaking off of diplomatic relations, but he will allow me to observe that diplomacy which consists of nothing but false promises is diplomacy which leads to very little good.

Can he point to a single case in which the Russian Government kept its word with regard to interference in our affairs? Can he point to a single effort of their public and international policy which has been in the direction of maintaining and augmenting the feelings of international security? Can he deny that all their most eminent statesmen have made no secret of their hatred of the British Empire, and not merely a general aversion but a particular effort in different districts to do everything in their power to destroy the country of which the noble Lord ended his speech with an eloquent laudation? The noble Lord thinks, as I think, that this country is the home of freedom and the best hope of peace and world security. The Russian Government is never tired of talking nonsense about Imperialism and aggression, and using all the catchwords which unscrupulous people use in order to take in foolish people.

Does the noble Lord forget, or allow himself to forget, what infinite injury, to our knowledge, Russia has done and is doing in China? I do not for a moment accuse the Soviet Government of being responsible for all the miseries of the warring and contending factions now tearing that unhappy country to pieces—the Chinese must bear their fair share of the responsibility—but the Russian Government have done everything they can to promote and augment the trouble. They have done it because they thought that through China they could strike at Great Britain, and leading members of their Government have openly said that not merely through China do they desire to strike at this country, but through India and all the far-reaching parts of our widespread Dominions. I quite agree with the noble Lord that I share the faith that all these efforts are going to be foiled, but they are serious efforts, and in the meantime they do infinite harm in all those areas where they are exercised, and surely the noble Lord, when he talks of gradually shepherding the Soviet Government into the peaceable circuit of the League of Nations, was expressing not what he thought would happen but what he hoped might happen—not an end which he would recommend to practical men in a practical world, but an aspiration, which may sound very well in a debate, but which has very little value in the council chamber or in the chancelleries of diplomacy.

We have had six years to watch the progress of this Trade Agreement. We have watched it with unfailing patience. The position has not got better; it has got steadily worse so far as Russia is concerned—not the slightest symptom of any diminution in their theoretical or practical hostility, not the slightest suggestion that they were going to relax their efforts, whether in China or elsewhere, to effect the destruction of this country. The broad issue is so clear that I do not think anybody can have the slightest doubt, I will not say as to the wisdom of the moment chosen—we take one view, it is legitimate, if noble Lords think so, to take another view as to the moment; but they cannot suggest any alternative policy if they came into office to-morrow and they were to be consistently treated as we have been treated by the Soviet Government—if they were to go on remonstrating, as they themselves did remonstrate when they were in office, and as we have remonstrated since they left office, and every time their remonstrances were met by professions, every time those professions were broken, and the total result of this accumulated mass of diplomatic falsehood left the general situation worse than it found it. That is not a situation that can go on for ever. It is a situation which I suspect will sooner come to an end after what has happened than if we had gone on in our course.

I do not for a moment suppose that this is going to lead to war. That was suggested by the noble Lord, I think, in the early part of his speech as a possibility. I do not think it is a possibility. If it is, it is not our fault. For what is our position now? It is exactly the position of many other States with whom nobody suggests that there is going to be war. We have given no provocation to the Soviet Government, we have not interfered in Russian affairs: all the provocation is from the Soviet Government to us, all the interference is by the Soviet Government in our affairs; and I see no reason why that should end in any different international relations from those which now prevail between the Soviet Government and, let us say, the United States. I quite agree that it is a more serious thing to break off relations than not to enter into them. I expressed that doctrine last year, and I repeat it. But, although that doctrine be true, now that relations are broken off there is no conceivable reason why the Russian Government and ourselves should not be as the Russian Government and the Government of Washington are. I therefore put that entirely on one side.

As for trade, on which the noble Lord dwelt a great deal, I regret as much as he does anything which may diminish trade. It is not the Party to which I belong which has contributed to the immense industrial and economic difficulty under which this country has been labouring during the last twelve months. That responsibility rests elsewhere. But as regards the trade with Russia that need not be and, so far as we are concerned, will not be interrupted by what has occurred. If the Russians, against their own interests, refuse to trade with us, that is their affair. No doubt we shall suffer, probably they will suffer more; but I should imagine, and I should hope, that they will have the sense to do with Great Britain what they have done with other countries—to trade with them as far as they think their interests are concerned, not to trade with them so far as their interests are not concerned. If they follow their interests, the trade lost will not be of a very serious kind, and in any case it sinks into insignificance by the side of the broader considerations which I have laid before your Lordships.

The noble Lord, quite rightly in my opinion, dwelt upon the possible international effect of a diplomatic action such as that which we have taken. I think that at one time there was a danger that the condition of Europe was of so doubtful and uncomfortable a character that the smallest diplomatic incident might lead to serious results, but the efforts in favour of peace, the efforts in favour of mutual international confidence, the feeling of security that has been growing up in Europe have, I believe, changed the situation, and a, diplomatic step which might have frightened all the world a year and a half ago has, as far as I can observe, produced no deleterious consequences whatever; nor does it carry within itself the seeds of any deleterious consequences. That is a consideration which, I am sure, ought to be present to the minds of all those who are in any way inclined to doubt the wisdom of the course which the Government have taken. We have taken it under the greatest provocation. We have taken it at a moment when, so far as we can judge, no international ill-consequences will follow.

And I would say as my last word that if the state of Europe is better than it was when noble Lords opposite were responsible for the conduct of our foreign affairs, if men are less nervously anxious about the military, the international, and the economic position of Europe than they then were, that is largely due to systematic efforts of successive British Governments, and not least of the Government to which I have the honour to belong, and there is not, one single step that we have taken in the direction of mutual peace, mutual confidence and the general security of the world but has been hampered as far as possible by the Government whom the noble Lord opposite thinks we ought to treat with even greater tolerance than he and we have been able to do. I do not imagine the noble Lord means to divide the House.


I have not put down any Motion.


I thought there was a Motion on the Paper. I apologise to the noble and learned Lord. I am sure he is right. I am equally sure he is not right in thinking that we have shown reckless indifference in our conduct of international affairs in this case. It is only under circumstances which no Government could continue to tolerate that we have taken the course which he has criticised this evening. I think that is all I have to say to your Lordships and I hope it meets with your approval.


Lords, no one can doubt the importance of the subject under discussion, involving as it does action taken by His Majesty's Government which must affect our relations with the whole world. I have found myself, as I think have all those who are associated with me in political views, in almost complete agreement with the noble Earl who has just spoken. I have some feeling of regret that I cannot go all the way with him. Since I have been in this House after my return from India I have had the opportunity of hearing the noble Earl on foreign and international affairs, and, listening, as I always do, with the greatest respect and, may I add, admiration to the observations made by the Lord President of the Council, I have found myself generally in agreement with him.

What I would desire your Lordships to keep clearly in mind is that in any observations I may make I am not seeking in the slightest degree to palliate or minimise the actions of the Russian Government or of those associated with it. There is not one word that has fallen from the noble Earl from which I would dissent and, if I may be permitted to say so, I think he was studiously moderate in the description he gave of the action of the Russian Government and of those associated with it. My difficulty is of another character. Since March, 1921, when the Trade Agreement was made, every Government, of whatever political Party it was composed has always adopted the same line, that of suffering what was happening while knowing that Russia was committing acts which were a breach of faith, that statements were being made which were quite untrue, and that action was being taken in order to penetrate this country by means of propaganda for the purpose of disseminating the notions at the root of the Soviet system of government.

We have known that all along. I do not pause to go into detail, neither do I wish to analyse in the slightest degree the material that was placed before another House or before your Lordships. I am unable to take the view put forward by my noble and learned friend (Lord Parmoor) in some remarks which seemed to indicate that the disclosures were not really of important consequence. I only agree with him in one respect and that is that they are of no real consequence so far as any effect they will have upon the people of this country is concerned. But for the rest I disagree with him entirely. I may be pressing what he said too far when I say that he stated that the disclosures that have been made are really not matters of serious weight and that we could afford to pass them over. I am not of that opinion, and yet I am not fully in accord with the observations made by the noble Earl and the action taken by the Government. I may therefore venture to express my views upon the situation and to give reasons for saying that I do not go all the way with the noble Earl.

I doubt whether we shall find anywhere expressions so well rendered and yet so terse as those used by the noble Earl in June of last year when dealing with this very subject in debate. I am sure he will accept it from me that I am not seeking to make any mere dialectical point. If I were to attempt at this moment to put before your Lordships all I think on this subject and the reasons why I am so impressed with the undesirability of going the full length of rupturing all diplomatic relations, I could give your Lordships no better argument than is afforded by the language of the noble Earl on that occasion in June, 1926. I agree that that is not to be pressed too far and am not suggesting that it should be. There does come a point at which you must take action. For a long time the noble Earl's Government and other Governments have been extraordinarily tolerant. No reproach can be made against any of the Governments of this country, since the Trade Agreement came into force and since diplomatic relations were more formally established with Russia, that they have been guilty of a want of tolerance or forbearance. There can be no argument based upon that, as I think your Lordships will agree.

But what puzzles me—and I confess I have tried to find an answer from all such means as are open to me—is: What is it that has made the noble Earl, to whose views I pay so much deference, change his opinion from that of June, 1926? I will go further: What has made him change his opinion since March 3 of this year, when there was a debate in your Lordships' House? Although the noble Earl was not present himself, much to our loss, nevertheless the Government made a reply based upon the noble Earl's views, for he generally speaks, I understand, for the Government on Foreign Affairs in your Lordships' House. What has happened to change him? I will not trouble your Lordships by reverting to what was said then but I will recall to your memories that at the beginning of March a very similar kind of discussion arose and opinions were expressed by His Majesty's Government. The Government had addressed another Note, a formidable Note, to Russia, and had made it quite clear that they could not tolerate repetition of the actions disclosed. We were dealing then with the disclosures of the Soviet or at any rate of those associated with the Soviet Government in China.

I have asked myself why, and I would ask your Lordships why, such a change has been made. I am not suggesting that some action should not have been taken. On the contrary, I would go all the way with His Majesty's Government that it was necessary to take action. I do not stop for a moment to argue that nothing should be done. I disagree with the noble and learned Lord and his Party in that view. I would go the full length of taking away all diplomatic privileges granted under the Trade Agreement of 1921, because again and again gross breaches of faith have been proved against the conditions upon which the Trade Agreement was made. I would go further. Do everything that you can for the purpose of enforcing the view upon the Russian Government that we will not tolerate this kind of action of which we have complained, but will take steps to vindicate our position if it does take place. We have not done it hitherto.

It may be asked: How could you stop it? What would you do? Well, I am not in the Government, but I say quite frankly that I would not hesitate. This Trading Agreement, made in 1921, gave under Clauses 4, 5 and 6, diplomatic privileges which never before existed under a Trading Agreement. The reason for that was obvious. We were not in diplomatic relations with Russia, and we were anxious to trade with Russia and so gain the advantages of trade with a country of from 140 to 150 million people. Consequently, rightly or wrongly—I will not pause to inquire into that—the Trading Agreement was concluded, and in order that it should be made easier for proper relations to exist and because there were no diplomatic relations, we granted the diplomatic privileges conferred under Clauses 4, 5 and 6. I would, without hesitation, withdraw them, as the Government have withdrawn them. I would give Arcos liberty to go on trading so long as it trades legitimately, but without the diplomatic privileges, putting it in the same position as any other trading concern and leaving it to do the best it can in the circumstances without the advantages which hitherto it has had. Thus our position would have been most definitely marked, having regard to the disclosures made.

I do not think we should even have stopped at that. Those who have taken part should be deported. "Deportation" may be too strong an expression; they should be asked to remove themselves from this country because they had so deliberately broken faith with us. And if it were proved that the Chargé d'Affaires, who has represented the Soviet Government in the diplomatic relations which have existed since 1924, had taken part in and had been responsible for these activities, he also should be asked to go, and if the Russian Government wished to continue relations with us they must appoint someone with regard to whom we had not proved breach of faith. Even prosecution could be instituted under the law of the country against those who dealt with official secrets. You could proceed against them and it would be a very effective measure if you could prove the case. I agree that it could not operate in regard to those who actually get the benefit of diplomatic privileges, but it was not they who did the mischief. I have only given this indication because I might properly be asked: What would you have done after all the forbearance of the Government? which, I quite agree, will stand the test of every examination. My answer is that I think the time has come, as the noble Earl said, when something had to be done.

But why should you—this is the part that has puzzled me and I confess puzzles me still—at this stage not only have taken the steps which I have indicated and withdrawn the privileges under the Trade Agreement, but also have gone the full length of severing all diplomatic relations? I certainly hope, as the noble Earl said, that breach of diplomatic relations does not necessarily mean war. It is idle to pretend that it does. But it is true that when you have broken off diplomatic relations you have no other means open of compelling a Government or a people to follow you, because you have stopped all intercourse and there is nothing left. I would not urge for one moment that in no circumstances and under no provocation should you ever break off diplomatic relations, even with a country of 140,000,000 people, with its great development still waiting and with all the opportunities of trade and advantage that may come if you can get into proper relations with her. All I am doubting is the wisdom of proceeding as far as the Government have gone, and I am wondering whether perhaps the action is not a little precipitate, whether it might not have been sufficient to have withdrawn the concession of diplomatic privileges under the Trading Agreement, removed those who were responsible, however high they were placed, and left a Trading Agreement which no longer gave special privileges but was subject to the law of the land as any other trading concern—and kept other diplomatic relations as they were.

It would have been difficult, no doubt, very difficult, but one more opportunity might have been given. The Government have given many. My criticism is that when they have followed this policy of forbearance not merely this Government but every one of our Governments—and have pursued it up to this moment, it is difficult to understand why, because of what has happened, it was necessary to take every possible step open to them instead of proceeding as I have indicated.

May I put another question which I have addressed to myself? What is to be gained by the rupture of diplomatic relations? That is the test. There is no other in my view, and I have high authority for that as it is what the noble Earl himself said last year. He was then against breaking off diplomatic relations. He explained why, and he said, in effect: "You must never do it unless you see real advantage. You must see that you will get benefits from it. You must not do it merely as a gesture." I am paraphrasing, but in substance that is what the noble Earl said. The reason is that we are not attempting to punish. It is not as if you are trying a person. When you sever diplomatic relations it is really in vindication of your own position, partly, it may be, because you think your own dignity and honour demand it, partly also because you have come to the conclusion that in the circumstances it would be better and more advantageous to you if you had no diplomatic relations. I trust, our honour and dignity will never be judged by whether or not we withdraw diplomatic privileges under a Trading Agreement and content ourselves with that, or whether we break off relations.

What do we gain by the decision of the Government? I wish I could see the advantage. Trade? Again I find myself in agreement with the noble Earl. I say trade will not stop, but it will be very much hindered. Trade will go on through individuals, as we know, but they will not have the same security. Now that we have severed diplomatic relations, no one will come forward and advance £10,000,000 sterling on the credit of orders of the Russian Government. I do not hesitate to say of the banks and big financial institutions, although many noble Lords know them better than I, that no one of them will enter into business relations or give credit to Russia once it has become clear that the Government will have nothing to do with Russia. They will refuse partly because of their business acumen and also—I speak with some slight knowledge of the City—because in the City the mere fact that the Government have taken this step would cause men to refuse to take action even though it might be profitable. Those of whom I am thinking are the heads of great concerns. We cannot afford to lose trade, though I am not forgetting the case of the United States.

I find myself once more quoting the noble Earl. He said, that there is all the difference between not entering into relations with a Government and, having entered into them and carried them on for some time, breaking them off with a deliberate accusation of breach of faith. No one has expressed it better than the noble Earl, and again I paraphrase him. He said: "One of the reasons why you must not do it is that, when you rupture relations which have existed between you as distinct from a refusal to enter into relations, you cannot calculate the consequences of your action." It is difficult to foresee the result, the effect upon the peace of Asia, the effect, generally speaking, upon the world's peace. Then I ask myself again: Why are things so changed? What is the reason? Arcos no doubt gave the information, but information of that character was already in the possession of the Government—not only of this Government but of previous Governments. I do not mean in so much detail, but they knew it. They were content to let it go on, and why? Because they knew perfectly well that it would be more mischievous to break off relations than to let things continue, feeling assured that no great injury would be done to this country.

Finally, I come to the other question. Trade certainly will suffer as a result of this action of the Government. Nevertheless, I agree with the Government in withdrawing the privileges under the Trade Agreement even if trade does suffer. Trade would not suffer much if diplomatic relations were continued at the same time. Again I ask myself why has the Government changed. Arcos disclosed certain things, but the position with Russia is not worse to-day than it was. The only element of doubt I had when the noble Lord spoke was that he probably knows the facts better. It has been my impression throughout that, although Russia has maintained this system of propaganda and has continued these various regrettable actions, the position is no worse now than it has been all these years; indeed, if I can accept what has been told me—I admit not officially—it was much worse in the first two or three years than it is at the present time. China? What has happened there? Borodin, who must be taken as the hero of Sovietism, has been proved an utter failure for the time being. What else is there that Russia is doing?

Therefore, I come back to the question I was putting. It is really the foundation of the opinion I have formed, acting upon the tests which the noble Earl himself, with all his vast experience and wisdom, laid down in this House, that "before you break off diplomatic relations be sure you are getting an adequate gain; be sure of the advantages you will obtain." In spite of all attempts to answer that question—and I should have liked to be able to follow the noble Earl on this occasion—I have come to the conclusion that the Government have taken one step which they should have omitted, and that it would have been more statesmanlike, have shown greater wisdom and higher appreciation of the difficulties of the situation, both in Europe and in Asia, had they been content to mark their displeasure and their distrust, legitimate as those were, by requesting the removal of those who have taken part in those actions, withdrawing privileges, and leaving the future to determine whether or not it would become necessary to sever diplomatic relations.


My Lords, it is only out of respect for the noble Marquess and lest it should be supposed that no answer was forthcoming to the point of view to which he has given such interesting expression, that I rise for a very few brief moments. Let me be one of the first of those who dissent entirely from the form in which he presented more than once the question whether or not we should actually gain from the step which we have taken. I think that, if he reads more carefully the interesting speech which my noble friend Lord Balfour made some months ago, he will perceive that it was not quite so baldly exhibited for it must be quite plain that you cannot examine every situation and decide upon your action by simply asking the question: What do we gain for the simple reason that there are some situations which do not present the possibility of gain. You must also ask yourselves, if you cannot gain from any treatment of the situation: Are we avoiding mischiefs by the course we adopt? If you are avoiding mischiefs, which you are certain otherwise to incur, then, in a kind of obscure and metaphysical sense, you may be said to be obtaining a gain because the avoidance of mischief and calamity is itself a gain.

The main thesis of the noble Marquess can be exhibited almost in a sentence. He is of opinion that we should have brought to an end the diplomatic privileges of the trading company known as Arcos, but that we should have retained our diplomatic relations with the Union of the Soviet Republics. I was greatly puzzled, while he was speaking, to know whether, in his opinion, there is any degree of provocation which would render it expedient to suspend diplomatic relationship. Suspension of such relationship, as both the noble Earl and the noble Marquess pointed out, is an act falling short of war, and therefore the provocations which in history have produced such a suspension have been on the whole provocations naturally less than those which have led to the outbreak of war. The question which I should have liked to hear answered, either by the noble Marquess or by somebody, is: What conceivable provocation in the whole history of the world has a civilised nation ever sustained that we have not sustained from the Union of Soviet Republics? I affirm, having given some slight attention to history, that on no occasion in history have there been provocations of the sort that have not been held sufficient to render necessary or expedient an outbreak of war comparable to those which this country has sustained from the Union of Soviet Republics.

The noble Marquess has asked further what new thing has happened. Several things have happened which, in my judgment, are entirely new. In the first place, we now enjoy fairly complete knowledge of the activities of the Soviet in China. We had none of that knowledge when my noble friend made his speech some months ago. The raiding of the Soviet premises at the headquarters of the Northern Government in China, as the noble Marquess is probably aware, produced and published to the world a series of documents of a very remarkable character which were quite unknown to this Government, and indeed to the world, until they were discovered and photographed. In the second place we know that the injuries that were sustained, not only to the property of British nationals but also to British lives, were the direct result of the incitements directed from Moscow to the agents whom they had falsely disavowed, but who nevertheless were proved clearly to represent them. In the third place, we have the events which followed upon the raiding of these premises in London.

I imagine that your Lordships will think that these events in themselves have introduced a change in the situation. My colleague, the Home Secretary, informed the House of Commons a day or two ago that there had been discovered a photograph of a secret document—a photograph that had been taken in the Arcos premises. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, says: "Where is the document?" I assure him that it is not the habit of Soviet agents to keep these documents. If it was photo- graphed, it was photographed for a purpose.


Can the noble Earl give us some indication of the evidence that it was photographed?


The noble Lord asks me to give him the evidence. I will only assure him that, in the opinion both of myself and of those of my colleagues who were engaged in the matter, the evidence was conclusive. The noble Lord understands as well as I that to give the name of the witness would be as destructive to that witness as it would be destructive to the political position of the noble Lord. No Government has ever made such revelations, nor did the Government to which the noble Lord belonged ever give the names or disclose the identities of those from whom they in their turn, as the noble Lord very well knows, derived information. That of itself, again, is a new point.

I confess that my difficulty in fully appreciating the attitude of the noble Marquess is this. Surely you cannot strike at the subordinates only in a matter of this kind. Arcos and the trading body who are to lose their diplomatic position were the tools who were obeying the instructions of the Soviet Government. It would surely be an impossible act on our part to send away from this country men who had been obeying orders, while at the same time maintaining an appearance, an outward semblance, of friendly relations with the men who gave those orders. The noble Marquess does not even exclude the hypothesis of prosecutions, though the diplomatic difficulties which occurred to him are evident, and the difficulties of finding evidence and of producing and publishing it are equally plain. He does not exclude this course in relation to the men whom I call the agents; but this Government which has outraged every diplomatic rule, every principle of morality, this Government we are to continue to receive! Its representatives are to be present at those ceremonial occasions which in the past have contributed much to the genuineness of spontaneous friendship among the diplomatic representatives of the different Powers. The representatives of this nation, which is plotting disturbance all over the world, are to be retained here while at the same time we are depriving its tools and those who must take its orders of such privileges as they have possessed.

I do not believe for a moment—although I do not count myself an authority on such matters, but found myself on the experience and belief of those who know more about them—that there will be any trading disadvantage as the result of the step that we have taken. Does any one really suppose that the Soviet Government traded with us and our nationals because they wished to benefit us? They traded only because they wished to benefit themselves. The motive of benefiting themselves will continue. And on which side was the trading balance? We have paid so much gold to the Soviet in the course of the last five years on a balance of exchange as has assisted enormously to sustain their currency. But for their trade with us, I doubt whether their currency could have been sustained. Are they going to cease from carrying on that trade, which is indispensable to them and comparatively trivial to us, in order to punish us, if by doing so they punish themselves more? It is well worth noticing that the United States Government, which has always refused to recognise them, does a great deal more trade with them than we do.

The noble Marquess said, and I am not sure that my noble friend did not say also, that there is a difference between never entering upon diplomatic relations and suspending those relations when once they have been formed. Of course, in one sense, there is a difference; but in my judgment there is no difference in regard to the relevant matters now under discussion. There is no difference for this reason. The question is one of irritation and of the results produced by irritation. Is the Union of Soviet Republics likely to be more irritated with the United States than with us? We have seen that the results of its irritation with the United States have not in the least interfered with its business with American citizens. Why should the Soviet Government be more irritated with us than with the United States? The United States told them from the very start: "You are people so dead to all civilised principles, you have so little conception of the decencies of international life or the meaning of International Law, that we will not even attempt diplomatic relations with you." We were at least less crude than that. We have given them four years of it, we have enjoyed of their best, and if, at the end of it, we find that the more we know of them the less we like them, why should they be annoyed with us because we tell them that we should be very glad if they would go back to their own country and stay there? Why should they be more annoyed with us than with a country which never gave them a chance? I cannot take that view. They will trade with whatever country it pays them to trade with. They will injure us in any part of the world in which they see an opportunity of injuring us.

With all his great experience of Asia—it is far greater than my own—I cannot assent to the view taken by the noble Marquess that the course adopted by His Majesty's Government will react unfavourably to British interests in Asia. I claim confidently on the other hand that British prestige, not only in Europe but all over the world, will be immensely increased by the certainty that we have torn aside this veil of imposture, that we have told the whole world, as the United States of America told the world years ago: "Until this people has reformed its fundamental conceptions of international morality it is not possible for nations which hold other views to continue the pretence of diplomatic relations." If there was the slightest prospect of any word I said reaching those quarters whose activities have so much inconvenienced us in the last few years, I would say to them that there is small prospect indeed for a future in that school of revolutionary doctrine which has now antagonised not only Great Britain, not only the British Empire, but also the whole of the vast North American Continent. They have indeed a great field for their revolutionary propaganda. Let us at least rejoice that the agents of that revolution are no longer forced upon us with the appearance of friendship.


My Lords, I think a word or two must be said from this Bench on the speech to which we have just listened. The noble Earl, the Lord President of the Council, began the debate in a very conciliatory speech, with much of which we were agreed until he got to his main point, which was to show that some advantage had been got from the step which has just been taken. In that I do not think he quite succeeded. The noble Earl who has just sat down has taken a very different line. He has mounted, as he is fond of mounting, on his battle-charger and galloped about. He has been doing that all over the country for many weeks past, and has made himself a valuable asset of the extreme wing of the Labour Party. I am not myself much concerned with the fortunes of the extreme wing of the Labour Party, but I do grudge them the asset which they are securing in the noble Earl, who stirs up people to antagonism with himself at every turn by his speeches, and I grudge very much that the extreme people should have the advantage of that asset any longer. I regret very much some of the phrases which the noble Earl has used on this occasion. I turn, therefore, to the real point.


I hope the noble Viscount will not turn so suddenly. I should like him to tell me the expressions to which he takes exception in my speech.


Certainly I will tell him.


But you said you would turn to another point.


The noble Earl, to-night, used strong expressions about Russia, stronger than it is usual to use about a nation even when you have broken off diplomatic relations but are not at war with her.


What expressions? The noble Viscount is not entitled to make the charge unless he tells me the expressions to which he takes exception.


The noble Earl spoke of Russia, through her agents, as going all over the world up and down, and as identifying herself with crimes of violence.


I never used any such expression. I said that Russia was going about, through her agents, stimulating revolution all over the world. Does the noble Viscount deny that?


That depends upon what you mean by revolution. It is not customary when dealing with another nation, with which you are not at war, to use expressions so violent, such as have been used by the noble Earl in the course of his speech. He will see to-morrow, when he gets the OFFICIAL REPORT, the sort of language that he has been using.


I know now, and I shall repeat it.


So do we. I will turn to what is the real and only point in this debate. What advantage have we got, or have we any prospect of getting, from the step which has been taken? To that the noble Earl, the President of the Council, who is a very careful dialectician and does not unnecessarily give an advantage to his adversaries, addressed himself. The noble Earl had a difficult task, which was more difficult because only a very short time ago he had laid down what unquestionably was a wise principle in these matters. It was: Be sure you know when you leap where you are leaping to. Therefore, the noble Earl had refused to identify himself with the very kind of step which has now been taken, and my noble friend Lord Parmoor pressed him for an answer to the question: What has happened that is fresh? What materials are there which are new? I waited in vain for an answer to that point from either the noble Earl, the President of the Council, or from the noble Earl who sits beside him. There was none.

We have known all along what Russia was doing. If you like, it was very wrong. If you like, I make you a present of this, that you were justified in taking any ordinary means to stop it; but when you take the kind of step that you have now taken you have taken a step the consequences of which you cannot foresee. It is childish to go and break into offices and look for papers when you have no certain knowledge of what you will get. We have now the papers before us, and I listened to the tale which the noble Earl told about the secret paper photographed. I have had long experience of these matters, and have heard so much about secret military documents that I absolutely distrust them. If they amounted to anything great we should have heard about it already. I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, that the Government have gone too far. Their proper course was to have been patient, to have been tolerant, and to have pursued what is a sure method with the great conservative democracy of this country—of leaving it to be appealed to, if possible exercising a little pressure on the Secretary of State for War to moderate some of his expressions on the platform, and at the same time letting the people hear what the Russians or anybody else have to say to them, and judge for themselves.

That is not the course which has been taken. The course taken was a resort to violence and a sudden suspension of diplomatic relations on no new or fresh materials that we have heard of, and with results which have not so far been of a character to compensate for the disturbance which has taken place. We are in a minority of seventy to one in this House and you must take your own course, but do not let it be said hereafter that we did not point out as early as we could the danger of the step you have taken, the importance of seeing the ultimate consequences, and the mischief of departing from the sane and sound principle which the Lord President of the Council himself laid down a year ago.