HL Deb 13 February 1930 vol 76 cc574-92

LORD HAYTER rose to ask whether His Majesty's Government has called the attention of the Soviet Government of Russia to the fact that the action of the Soviet Government against the Christian Churches and people of Russia is not in accord with British principles of justice, and does not assist in maintaining friendship between Great Britain and Russia. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that I ought to apologise for putting upon the Order Paper a Question on a subject which I had hoped would be brought before your Lordships by a, much more experienced member of this House than I can claim to be, but it is probable that most of your Lordships agree that some explanation might be asked of our Government as to their passive attitude regarding the Russian Government's organised persecution of the Russian Church and the Russian people. Has the Russian Ambassador at the Court of St. James ever been informed that we have heard of 300 or 400 sailors and soldiers being executed in time of peace and without fair trial, or that it is against our instincts as a Christian nation not to protest when an apparently overwhelming attempt is made utterly to destroy Christianity in Russia and when millions of poor Russian peasants are being persecuted and exploited by Government agents?

A few days ago a member of His Majesty's Government said:— The most blessed gift that God could give to any one of us is the gift of putting ourselves into the other fellow's place, for we are here to co-operate with one another in order that life, and life more abundant, may be brought to all the children of men. Has the First Commissioner of Works ever said this to his colleagues in the Cabinet? Has he, or any one of them, realised that this excellent sentiment applies to the millions of Russian peasants who are the victims of a persecution as bad as the world has ever seen? We have no evidence that our British Socialist Cabinet has done anything to explain to the Russian Soviet Government that the policy now pursued in Russia is abhorrent and detestable to the mind of the British nation, as it must also be to every free and enlightened nation throughout the world. To me, and I believe to many other people, the subject seems too terrible to dwell upon at any length, but enough facts are known, and have been published by the British Press, to awaken our profound sympathy with these unfortunate people in a vast country not very far from us, and it is to be hoped that His Majesty's Government will act, and act promptly, according to the common dictates of humanity, and protest against the continuance of the present organised official persecution of the Russian people.


My Lords, I feel bound to offer a few observations as the Question which has just been raised by Lord Hayter concerns me very directly, officially and personally. Everyone in this House, every right-minded man in the country, can feel nothing but the strongest indignation when he considers the organised persecution now going on in Russia against every form of religion. Yesterday, elsewhere, I tried to give expression to that indignation, and as President of the Convocation of Canterbury I made a solemn protest in the name of the Church of England, and I am satisfied in the name of multitudes of our fellow citizens throughout the country. When this matter came before your Lordships, I think in December, I said that I hoped there might be some evidence of at least some mitigation of the barbarity with which any profession of religion is pursued by the Government in Russia. I fear that my hope has not been fulfilled. So far as I can learn the policy continues unabated. I think it has lost some of its grosser barbarities, but in point of persistent oppression it remains.

Decrees have been published by the Soviet Government aiming at the extinction of every means by which any religious society in Russia, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Mahomedan, or Hebrew, can maintain its corporate existence. It is prescribed that if any persons of any religious group, sect, movement, or other cultus, of all kinds, desire to use any buildings which are the property of the State, then permission must be given by the local Soviets, who are required to be enemies of all religion. Religious unions—that is, now, only parishes—are only entitled to meet to pray or hold religious services if they have obtained permission from the police, and a religious union in that restricted sense can only be recognised after meeting an exhaustive questionnaire, whose object is evidently to obtain the political opinions of those who desire the permission.

These religious unions, by these decrees, are forbidden to give material or even medical help to their members, thus destroying the whole charitable fellowship of the parishes in Russia. They are forbidden to organise meetings for children or young people, or for the teaching of religion, and yet in the schools the teachers are required by the Government to "create in the children a moral aversion to religion." The destruction and spoliation of churches and monasteries, so far as I can understand, is still being pursued, and last Christmastide there was a special exhibition of these blasphemies and sacrileges, which are encouraged if not organised by the Government. In these circumstances how can any one fail to have the deepest possible sympathy with the multitudes of people who live from day to clay, unless they renounce their religious belief, in terrorism, if not of actual destruction certainly of loss of employment and possibly imprisonment?

We who live in a country which has a long heritage of civil and religious freedom can scarcely realise what it is when from day to day a man holds his religious opinions at the cost of almost certain suffering, disability and abuse. The Bishops of the Church of England have desired to mark in a special and corporate way the strength and reality of our sympathy, by asking that a day of prayer shall be observed throughout this country, and that God may be pleased to restrain the fierceness of man and to uphold these poor people by His mercy and protection. But the very strength of our sympathy makes it necessary that as far as possible—it is not altogether possible—we should dissociate ourselves and our protest in the name of civilisation and religion from the more directly political issues raised this afternoon by Lord Cushendun, and which will be raised, I hear, next week by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead. I think the force of our protest in the name of religion and humanity will be the greater if it cannot be regarded as part of any political movement. I have only too much reason to know that if it was supposed that the sufferers in Russia are in any way even indirectly concerned with the political aspects of our relations with Russia their sufferings may be increased. We have always to bear in our minds that the main object is not that we should relieve our feelings, but that we should as far as may be effect some protection of those whose sufferings excite our sympathy.

I am taking steps to see that a full inquiry into the real facts of the situation as regards persecution of every form of religion should be undertaken by responsible and trustworthy men. I hope that in the meantime, perhaps, in view of the remarkable expressions of public opinion in this country, the Soviet Government may, even now, see fit to make some mitigation of the cruelties which they encourage or perpetrate. But in any case, if the facts, so far as I can understand them, justify the belief that this persecution is continuing unabated, I shall feel bound again, and more fully than is possible this afternoon or has been attempted by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, to call the attention of this country to them and, if need be, of the noble Lords who sit on the Bench [the Government Bench] behind me. But if I do so it will be with the desire to keep that issue separate from those other political issues which quite naturally and, from their point of view, justly have been, or may be, raised by other noble Lords.

But there is one thing which I ought to say before I close, and it is this. The very fact that I am trying to keep this matter free from those political associations entitles me and those who share my view—and they are multitudes throughout the country, of every religion and persuasion—to press upon the Soviet Government, which has its representative in this country, the grave risks which it is incurring if, on the one hand, it desires to obtain advantages from associations with this country, and on the other hand violates every principle and instinct for which this country in the whole course of its history has consistently stood. I venture here to repeat some words which I used yesterday, that the Soviet Government should take note that a strong public opinion is rising in this country, shared by persons of every class, party, and creed, which will insist that satisfactory relations must depend, not on material advantages only, but also, and even more, upon the common acceptance of those principles of justice, liberty, and humanity on which all international intercourse must be based.


My Lords, many in the Upper House of Convocation at Canterbury yesterday were grateful to the most rev. Primate, and many in this House to-day are equally grateful to him, for his fine words on this painful subject. Throughout the length and breadth of the land there are those who will hail with pleasure the lead that the most rev. Primate is giving to us. But I do not think that on a matter of this kind it is quite fair to leave the whole burden on his unaided shoulders; and therefore I venture myself to add a few plain words on the whole issue that is engaging our attention.

When these disclosures were first made I was travelling to Jerusalem and was out of the way, and there were many things that deterred me at the moment from taking an active part in the matter. One of the things which deterred me I have no doubt deterred many others in my position, and in other positions too; I felt that more harm than good might come if we exacerbated feeling against our fellow Christians in Russia. I was also afraid that it might be largely a newspaper enterprise, though subsequent reflection and developments have made it plain to me how very much we owe to some of the great newspapers for the way in which they are bringing this matter before the minds of the public. I felt, as one often does on these occasions, that one might be carried too far by the misguided enthusiasm of those with whom one in the main desired to work. Then facts had to be verified, and I think your Lordships will all have been pleased to hear from the most rev. Primate of the pains that he has taken to get the accurate facts of the case. There are no doubt many forms of exaggeration, but I believe all your Lordships must be satisfied with the plain fact that at this time the persecution in Rusisa is something quite terrible. Then again, it is not for us who sit on this Bench to interpose in strictly political issues. That perhaps has kept some of us silent longer than otherwise would have been the case. There are always those who say: "It is not your business."

But I emphatically feel to-day that this is not a political issue but a grave religious issue. Of course, the Foreign Office necessarily has secrets of its own, and no one wishes to pry into them, or to ask for premature disclosures of foreign policy. We are more or less pledged, perhaps quite pledged, against raising any protest against the erection or continuance of any form of government in Russia. With all that I quite agree. I think it is a common fault of ours to suppose that British institutions are the ideal for the whole world. But we are not politically denouncing any form of government. What we are speaking of is the casting to the winds of all the restraints and the decencies of humanity. Such persecutions as we are hearing of to-day would have been denounced in heathen Rome long ago as contra jus gentium, which I suppose means not International Law but against the very standards of civilisation. And I claim that we are entitled to protest when we hear of these things going on almost before our eyes.

"But what good would come from such a protest?" people ask. Well, I think that stronger than law is public opinion. The noble Marquess opposite said a few minutes ago that public opinion was of the greatest importance. It is so in private, and it is so in public life at home. The easy growth of communications in the present day, I believe, gives to public opinion a much larger scope than it used to have in years gone by, and the pressure of public opinion can be felt from one country to another. Why, then, should we despair of the expression of public disgust in England doing some good over there in Russia? This public opinion, informed not by diplomacy but by Christianity, is a rising tide denouncing all this cruelty and savagery, this persecution and debauchery and the defiance of all that is best and uplifting in human nature and the affairs of men. Every atom of respect for things human and things divine urges us to lift up our voice in this dreadful hour, to lift it up in compassion and appeal among men and in prayer to God.

I am one of those who very much believe in the alliance in our country between Church and State. I value it that our State is bound up with our Church, that it is not in the least out of place that a Bishop with a seat in your Lordships' House should speak here not as a politician but from the Christian standpoint. I do not speak this afternoon as a Bishop on behalf of the martyred Bishops of another church. I speak primarily as a plain Christian man, a plain man, and I believe it is the business of every Christian man and woman to condemn these things in public and in private. Your Lordships will remember the old story that when, long ago in a Roman theatre, a play was being given and the actor in his earlier lines said: "Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto"—I am a man and nothing that concerns men is outside my concern—the whole audience instinctively sprang to its feet. I believe that in the same spirit to-day the Christian world and the world of humanity is springing to its feet and saying that it is its concern when these outrages on humanity are committed. And the Christian world rises to its highest and endorses that and agrees that by every possible way and by every possible means an end should be put to these ghastly religious atrocities.


My Lords, certainly we on the Government side raise no objection to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, and I personally should like to thank him for bringing forward a matter which to all Christians is undoubtedly one of supreme moment. With regard particularly to the speech of the most rev. Primate, I think, as he told us very truly, he was speaking to us in the words he spoke yesterday in the Upper House of the Convocation of Canterbury. I read that speech with great attention. There is in it an immense amount with which I am in entire agreement, and I am certainly not here either to join issue with him in his presentment of the case or to deny as a Christian—for I hope I may speak in that spirit—the enormous importance of this question to the whole basis and future of Christianity. We have also the speech of the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Norwich who, in eloquent terms, reinforced a point which needs no reinforcement in your Lordships' House, the general outlook as regards what are called the outrages in Russia. There are one or two points which are matters of great difficulty and great responsibility, to which I intend to refer. I desire also to say quite shortly that I think it is much too early to take a pessimistic view of the outlook in Russia upon these matters. I agree entirely with what the most rev. Primate said—I noticed that he said it in his speech yesterday—that he considered it his duty from the religious standpoint (I admit that I rejoice to hear this) to make inquiry as to the accuracy of certain of the statements which have been made.

The primary difficulty, of course, from the political standpoint is this—I do not suppose that anyone in your Lordships' House would doubt the statement I am making—that, on the one hand, it is part of our political tradition to stand for religious liberty against religious persecution (so we have said very constantly) and also as a matter of constitutional tradition that we ought to be supreme in matters of internal policy, and that we ought to allow the same liberty to other countries as we claim for ourselves. Your Lordships know that in this particular case it has been made the basis of any arrangement or agreement which might be come to between Russia and ourselves, that we are not to interfere either on one side or the other with matters of entirely domestic and internal concern. I do not want to say that these serious questions are merely matters of domestic or internal concern, but they are very largely so. You really cannot effectively touch the political questions involved in religious tolerance or religious intolerance without coming very near to a claim, which might be insisted on against us as well as in our favour, that you are dealing with matters of internal and domestic concern. I will in a moment, if your Lordships will allow me first of all to show the position in which we stand, state more specifically what I understand to be embraced within that very large difficulty and responsibility so far as the Government are concerned.

There are two other matters that I should like to make clear at the outset. I say that not because in this House we misrepresent one another for a moment; of course we do not; but because I think it is of the utmost importance—at least I consider it of the utmost importance—that the outlook on one or two of the leading principles involved so far as the Government are concerned should be stated with absolute clearness. Let me at the outset say that His Majesty's Government, in common, as I believe, with all other Parties in this country, are fundamentally opposed to any form of religious persecution. I say that without any restriction or limitation. Of course, the extent to which religious persecution is carried in any particular case becomes necessarily a matter of consideration. I make no limitation, I do not desire to place any limitation of any kind on the statement that I so make On the other hand, on the positive side may I say this? His Majesty's Government would desire to promote by every legitimate means the sacred cause of freedom and liberty in all forms of religious thought or religious action. That is the standpoint from which we start in this important and difficult question.

I do not for a moment desire to call in question on this point the statements which the most rev. Primate has already made. I do not think it is necessary to try to re-state them. It would be impossible for me to re-state them in the same language. I do not say that by way of attacking that language, but rather approving it. So far as I could tell, so far as I could hear, and so far as I have read the address of the most rev. Primate the other day—it is only when we come to the practical side that the difficulties in dealing with a matter of this kind arise—I do not see that any difference arises between the views he has stated and the views of the Government, or that there is any room for discussion as between the address and the attitude the Government has assumed. The strong expressions of the most rev. Primate were accompanied by a full re- cognition of the differing spheres of religious and political action in the conduct of international affairs. Of course there must be a great difference between the two. I welcomed what the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said. Speaking here of course in his constitutional right as a Bishop of the Established Church, he yet spoke not from the political standpoint but from the religious outlook in our own country, where the policy of religious liberty has been illustrated in many pages of our history.

There is equally conclusive evidence—and this is the difficulty—of our strong objection to interference by any other country in our internal politics. I do not say that in any way as a reproach to the spirit of this country. I say it is the right spirit in international relationships. Then you have to consider what it means in the particular instance of these particular difficulties which have arisen in Russia. I would ask your Lordships to maintain that difficulty in your minds. I certainly think it is a great difficulty, and it is of cardinal importance to remember it for the right treatment of the question now in debate. I took out an extract upon this point from what was said in admirable language, as it appeared to me, by the most rev. Prelate the Archbishop of York. I took the extract from his speech, not because it in any way is different from the address of the most rev. Primate, but because it was put in a more convenient form for quotation in this House.

I will read what he said and state on behalf of the Government that I believe we agree with it wholeheartedly. He said this:— Anything that can be done to mitigate the horrors of that persecution, and to bring it to an end ought certainly to be done. But there is real danger— this is where the difficulty arises— lest we relieve our own feelings at the cost of the very people whom we wish to succour.— I am going to give a personal illustration of this in a moment. Nothing could be more disastrous than to give to the persecuting Government the smallest ground for appealing to patriotism in support of its persecuting policy … Let us indeed do anything that may truly help our persecuted brethren; but let us be vary careful that we do not add to their sufferings in order to satisfy our own generous emotions. Those words so uttered by the Archbishop are well worth consideration not only for their statement of the problem, but because it is just at that point that a great difficulty arises. I do not want to say that what is applicable in one case is necessarily applicable in another, but I dare say the noble Marquess [the Marquess of Salisbury] will recollect what was said by the late Lord Salisbury in 1896 on the question of the persecution of Christians by the Turks in Asia Minor. He said this:— I do not think the expression of opinion here has any effect whatever in restraining the action of the wild population who are guilty of these horrors. Of course, what is said here may have the effect of increasing the intensity of feeling between Mussulman and Christian, and that intensity of feeling is precisely what I think every friend of humanity must wish to diminish as rapidly as he can. I do not think any one will be found in this House or elsewhere who does not agree with that statement. We must be very careful in what we do—whatever our own emotional feelings in themselves require, as we think—that we may not in the result do injury by increasing this persecution against the very persons and the very Churches whom we desire especially to protect.

I said I would give one illustration. I am glad to see the Archbishop Lord Davidson here, because we worked together in old days upon this matter, I am proud to say, as we have in many other matters. We have often been referred to the case of the Patriarch Tikhon. I had the honour of a personal acquaintance with him, and at the time when the persecution against him was being strongly commented on in this country he wrote me a letter. I was one of those who endeavoured to do what I could, as I thought, to help him. He said: Please be careful, and ask your friends to be careful, lest in their desire to help me they really arouse passions and difficulties which may make my position far worse than it is at the present moment. I happened to have an opportunity of asking a friend of mine to visit the Patriarch Tikhon. I am not suggesting that at that time he was not very badly treated. He was. At that time he was imprisoned by being secluded in a monastery. It was not like a prison in the ordinary form, but it was monastic life, and the message he sent back to me—that is all need deal with—was: "Please be careful lest in what you do you really make my position worse than it is at the present moment." It is a great responsibility. I feel these matters very deeply personally. What one says here and what one does here are matters of very great responsibility. We may desire, as we naturally do, to get rid of persecution, and to save those who are the subject of persecution from further horrors; yet, if we are not careful, the result will be exactly in the opposite direction.

A similar expression of the dangers, as I call them, arising from diplomatic action in trying to interfere, are to be found—I do not know how many of your Lordships have read it, and I do not propose to read the whole—in a letter from Prebendary Gough to The Times of January 11. Writing as chairman of the Committee of the Christian Protest Movement—that is the very movement which is concerning itself with these horrors to which his Grace has referred—he says:— May I ask you to allow me to make it known"— that is to make it publicly known; he is writing to The Timesthat at the Kingsway Hall meeting to be held on Monday evening and at subsequent meetings we propose to make no suggestion of diplomatic action as a means of mitigating the persecution of religion in Russia? I feel, and my committee agrees with me, that as our basis is not political we are not justified in applying for Government representations. There is a profound truth in what Prebendary Gough says, and the profound truth is not any dereliction of the feeling of duty on our part, but if we are to do the best possible then real political restraint is often essential.

I have no intention on this occasion, nor do I desire, to belittle the horrors in Russia. I believe they are very bad. I have no intention on this occasion of making a critical analysis of the conditions, but I would urge on the most rev. Primate—no one can do it better, and it ought to be done from the religious standpoint—to press on the inquiry which himself thinks is necessary in order that the real truth may be ascertained. To my mind that is a most important matter. It is almost impossible, if I may say so, to get the truth merely from messages which do not come from Russia but very often come from places quite outside Russia. Only to-day I received a message from the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee—I have no special knowledge of them myself—enclosing a note of an official statement made in Russia by a spokesmen of the Government only last Sunday, February 9. I am not asking your Lordships to accept as truth any statement of this kind, but it emphasises my point that the whole truth must be sought for and studied. It cannot be got from the statements which we see from day to day in the newspapers.

This is what the note says. This is an official statement made in Russia last Sunday, February 9:— To this day tens of thousands of churches of all denominations function in the U.S.S.R.— that is the Union of Soviet and Socialist Republics— and priests who refrain from counterrevolutionary activities are allowed to conduct religious services unmolested. As I say I am not asking your Lordships—of course no one who is accustomed to deal with matters of evidence would ask it—to accept a statement of that kind without further inquiry, but what I say is that there are statements on both sides and if by means of such an inquiry as has been indicated into what appears, at the present time, a horror to our whole Christian civilisation we can find the truth, an enormous step in advance will have been made.

I would like to read one further extract if I may. This is an extract from a statement made by Mr. Donald Grant, who is a Presbyterian professor in Edinburgh University and who spent last August in Moscow. He only went there in order to ascertain as far as he could what the conditions were. He is a very well known man, of course, in all questions of philosophic inquiry. He said this:— The Orthodox churches, as a rule— it would not be fair if I did not say that he said that what he called the churches of sects had been very much persecuted, but he says the Orthodox churches (they are the Church of the mass in Russia)— remain open and worship is carried on in them. I attended several during my visit to Russia in August. There were always several scores of people present, most of them really taking part in the liturgical and song service. Constitutionally a Russian citizen may belong to any religion or to none. I can only say from experience in Russia that before what is called the Bolshevist time I have never seen any cathedral in any town crowded to the extent that they were in what was then St. Petersburg and is now Leningrad.

These Orthodox churches—and the Orthodox Church, after all, covers I will not say all Christians in Russia but a very large number—he found left open and used and there was no interference with the priests last August. I hope, therefore, the noble Lord who asked this Question will realise at once the delicacy of making representations to a foreign Government on a matter which falls within the domestic affairs of that country and especially touching matters of this character. I am quite certain that the present Foreign Secretary will do all he can, of course not without regard to what he considers the necessities of the position and his knowledge. We now, of course, have Sir Esmond Ovey, our Ambassador, stationed in Moscow. I am sure he will do all he can in every direction to see if this horror can be mitigated and to push on one side this terrible outburst, as it appears to be, of religious persecution.

As I was coming into the House this afternoon I heard that a Question was going to be asked in another place very much in the same terms as the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hayter. That Question was to be asked of the Foreign Secretary himself and, of course, in a matter of this kind it is no derogation of the dignity of this House to say that it is important to have the authority and words of the person immediately and directly responsible in a policy of this category. The Question was put by Mr. Godfrey Locker-Lampson, and I think in order to make it quite clear I had better read both the Question and Answer. The Question was:— To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will take immediate steps under Article 11 of the Covenant of the League of Nations to bring before the League the question of the conditions affecting religious liberty in Russia. The Foreign Secretary's Answer was in these terms:— The reports current as regards the religious situation in Russia have caused widespread and deep concern in this and other countries and are receiving the serious consideration of His Majesty's Government. I have grave doubts whether the course suggested by the right hon. gentleman would promote the object which he has in view, but the House may rest assured that His Majesty's Government will, when possible or compatible with the interests of those affected, use all its influence in support of the cause of religious liberty and the freedom of religious practice. I can say no more than that, but I think that should go a very long way to assure your Lordships and the most rev. Primate that this is not a matter that, so long as I am a member of any Government, I can look upon as less than one of most serious moment. I think religious persecution has been and may be the curse of the world. So far as my influence goes, I shall use every effort within my power to help the Foreign Secretary to carry out the policy that is indicated in the answer given in the House of Commons.


May I take it that the answer of His Majesty's Government to my Question is that the Russian Government have not been approached? I asked if His Majesty's Government had called the attention of the Soviet Government to this matter. Is the answer No?




Thank you.


May I ask the noble and learned Lord if it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to do anything in the matter or to make any representation upon the subject to the Soviet Government?


I answered in the words of the Foreign Secretary in the other House. The Government will take every possible opportunity when a proper one arises to press forward this question and to stop this persecution. The noble Duke knows that I can say no more than that.


May I ask the noble and learned Lord what he calls a proper occasion?


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord inti- mated to me that he would be glad if I could corroborate his recollection with regard to what passed during the imprisonment of the Patriarch Tikhon. That is some half dozen years ago or more, and for a considerable time—I should think for something like two years—I was in constant communication with those who represented the Patriarch Tikhon and were able to give such information as was practicable about the terms of his imprisonment, the prospects of an alleviation of his bondage or of his release, or, on the other hand, the fear that he might be done to death. I was unprepared with details, which I cannot give at this moment, but I had constant correspondence at that time with those who were in a position to be directly in communication with the Patriarch Tikhon during his imprisonment. I think that I should paint a rather darker picture of that imprisonment than my noble and learned friend did. I was in constant communication with those who were seeing him. He declined to write letters, on the ground of the danger that what he wrote would be seized, distorted and published, as he feared, in a garbled form, and he begged that any communication might be verbal and confidential.

He did, however, distinctly say on more than one occasion that he begged that we would take the greatest care not to allow our sympathies to lead us to use incautious terms respecting his imprisonment and the severity of it, or respecting the prospect of his life being imperilled, that we should use the greatest caution about it, because he was afraid that the results might be to his detriment if the matter could be regarded as having been exaggerated in this country. I have confined myself to that one point in a very large subject because the noble and learned Lord asked me to corroborate him. On the great question I would say, of course, that the condition of things during the lifetime of the Patriarch Tikhon, bad as it was, hard as was the lot of Christians, of the Greek Church of the Russian Church or any other, at that time, it was entirely different from the facts of to-day, There was nothing of the nature of the persecution of Christians as Christians that is going on to-day, though there was hardship enough, God knows, for those unhappy people. So far as it goes, what the noble and learned Lord said as to the need of great caution in what we say publicly about it is corroborated by my own recollection.


My Lords, I hope that noble Lords opposite will not, if I may so put it, be too hard on the noble and learned Lord who answered for the Government, because, after all, he to our great thankfulness was given away at the end by the Foreign Secretary's answer in another place. What the Foreign Secretary appears to have said went very much further than the sort of encouragement that the noble and learned Lord was able to give us in the course of his speech. We shall be quite satisfied if any Article in the Covenant which deals with the question of religious liberty is taken advantage of by the Foreign Secretary in the course of his negotiations and his conversations with the Ambassador of the Soviet Republics. What we have never been able to get hitherto was a definite statement that anything of that sort would be done. The most rev. Primate undertakes, quite naturally, to do the best he can to get at the facts of this most difficult question. We all know quite well that we are talking about it very largely in the dark, but I do want most respectfully to suggest to the Government that they have a responsibility in that matter quite apart from the most rev. Primate. If so be there is any treaty or covenant that, has reference to religious liberty, then the Government have the responsibility of seeing that this part of the Covenant is really decently carried out. If I may by way of example—


One moment. There is no reference to religious liberty in the Covenant. There is no question as regards Article 11.


I am sorry, but the noble Lord was speaking with his back to me and, to my great regret, I misunderstood him. But I did understand him to say—I should like to be quite clear about this—that it is the intention of the Foreign Secretary to bring this matter quite definitely to the notice of the Soviet Ambassador.




I read the words of the answer. I did not find those words in the answer, and I am certainly not going to make a gloss on what the Foreign Secretary said.


My Lords, perhaps I might be allowed to ask the noble Lord who leads the House whether the Government are taking any steps to verify the appalling statements that have been made as to religious persecution by the Soviet Government, with a view to taking action upon it?


So far as I know—I do not pretend to be omniscient of everything that has gone on—the answer is, No.


May I, by leave of the House, say one word more? May I urge upon the Government that it is their duty, if they are a civilised Government, to take steps to inquire through their Ambassador or through other sources of information in Russia whether there is truth in the statements that have had some doubt cast upon them in his speech, and upon which I am quite certain that the British nation and every nation in Christendom desires to have information?


Do not let there be misunderstanding. I am sorry that there should be. Of course there are constant communications passing between the Government and our Ambassador.


My Lords, we are restrained, of course, from saying anything by the observation of the noble and learned Lord that anything we say may do more harm than good. That is what is restraining us, but I think it is right that what the Foreign Secretary actually said in another place should be cleared up. I am aware that the noble and learned Lord was good enough to read it. I certainly gathered from it that Mr. Henderson undertook to do his utmost in every respect to urge, as I understood, in some form or other, the necessity for better treatment of our fellow Christians.


I think the noble Marquess is quite right, but it would be wiser if I read it out again. It is as follows:— I have grave doubts whether the course suggested by the right hon. gentleman would promote the object which he has in view, but"—


That was an appeal to the Covenant.


Yes. The reply of Mr. Henderson continues:— —"the House may rest assured that His Majesty's Government will, when possible or compatible with the interests of those affected, use all its influence in support of the cause of religious liberty and the freedom of religious practice.