§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether and, if so, what conditions were agreed, and whether and, if so, what understanding was arrived at between His Majesty's Government and the Government of the Union of the Soviet Republics before diplomatic relations were resumed; and whether His Majesty's Government have found it necessary to represent to the Soviet Government or to their diplomatic representative in London that there has been any breach of any such conditions or understanding, and if so, what reply, if any, was received by His Majesty's Government; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble and learned Earl said: My Lords, the Questions that stand in my name on the Paper have a rather limited scope, but some introductory matter might seem to be not altogether unhelpful 640 in approaching them. I observe that the most rev. Primate, in the speech that he delivered on the subject of religious persecution in Russia a few days ago, emphasised the importance of distinguishing between the topic to which he addressed himself and that which, as he pointed out, was to be dealt with by me to-night. If I did not misread the most rev. Primate, he claimed that the subject under discussion, in which he intervened, differed from that which I raise to-day inasmuch as it was not in its character political. With deep respect to the most rev. Primate, I am not able to concur in this view. Indeed, I know of no definition of politics, from the most ancient days until the writings of the most recent political philosophers, which would exclude from the term "politics" the topics with which the most rev. Primate, in my humble opinion most rightly and usefully, concerned himself on that occasion.
§ The term "politics" has often been defined. It can be defined simply by calling it "the science or business of governing men and administering their affairs in organised societies." Very ancient authority lies behind such a definition. How can it be contended by any one that the science of governing men and administering their affairs, which, as we have seen, is a branch of the art of politics, can be divorced from the treatment by the country whose affairs are under analysis of large sections of their people in matters which appertain to religion? The Massacre of the Innocents by Herod was, I conceive, undoubtedly a political act. It may have been bad politics, though hardly worse politics, in my understanding, than some of the acts that have been in evidence before our eyes. The question of order in Russia is undoubtedly political, and I cannot conceive of any of those on whose behalf the Primate spoke so feelingly, and on whose behalf His Holiness the Pope had spoken with so much power a few days earlier, if they were asked whether the misfortunes from which they were suffering so cruelly were political in their origin, that their opinions would differ from those of the most rev. Primate and others who spoke from that Bench. If it be true, as indisputably it is, that these matters are political in Russia, equally the reaction to those matters in this country, their treatment by the authorities of this country, the 641 views which constituted authority forms upon the qualities of those acts, are purely political.
§ In the history of diplomacy it has never, so far as I know, been disputed, and as a matter of International Law it has never been disputed, that if in the opinion of a country which entertained the diplomatic representative of another country a deliberate line of policy was pursued in that country so outrageous to the civilised sentiments of the whole world that it could only be described by the most moderate of men in terms of complete abhorrence—it has never, I say, been disputed that if the State which offered hospitality to the representatives of such a Power conceived either that its duty to civilisation as a whole required such a step, or that a due regard to the inculcation of a humaner course of conduct in relation to its own citizens pointed to a similar conclusion as a matter of politics, it was in the power of such a country to request that diplomatic associations with the offending country should cease.
§ I could give many illustrations drawn from ancient days, but it is sufficient if I take two which occurred within, or very nearly within, my own Parliamentary experience. It will be within the memory of many of your Lordships that after the brutal regicidal murders in Serbia—if my memory serves me aright they took place about 1904—the Serbian Minister, unless I am mistaken, was requested to leave this country, and our own representative was withdrawn from the Serbian Court. Equally, and more recently, when certain judicial murders, or so they were conceived to be by the Government of the day in this country, were committed by the then authorities of Greece, an immediate breach of diplomatic relations took place. If this course has recommended itself to the Government in the case of an isolated outrage, a fortiori it must apply to a scheme and a campaign so deeply founded in the purposes of the rulers of Russia, carried out with such penetrating and unpitying cruelty into the branches of almost every religious community.
§ Some questions are asked as to where the evidence is to be found of these outrages. I confess that I was astonished when I heard the noble and learned 642 Lord, Lord Parmoor—one who, I know, feels strongly upon these subjects—state not indeed as legal evidence (he did not make such an attempt) but as a matter that was worthy of the consideration of the House, that he had been informed that a member of the Russian Government had announced that whatever harsh measures had been adopted had been adopted solely in relation to those who had been guilty of counter-propaganda. Be it observed that this valuable witness felt it quite impossible to allow his name to be mentioned. I have not observed that those who in the first place had been guilty of directing, supervising and carrying out these outrages have felt the slightest delicacy in advertising their names to the whole civilised world, but I suppose that this gentleman thought it right to shroud his identity in a decent ambiguity, having regard to the fact that he was not claiming the right to repudiate the practice of wholesale murder applied to every religious community in Russia.
§ I read to-day, as noble Lords everywhere must have read, published and re-published with the plain approval of the Government of Russia, a news bulletin, "This week's report upon the anti-God front." What, it may be asked, is the meaning of this? It means, of course, and it can only mean, that in the course of those outrageous crimes, the existence of which some pretend to deny, the events of the week have been favourable to the campaign. Does it mean that the pious persuasions to religious people to reform their superstitious practices have been carried on with gratifying success? Is that what they mean by the success of the anti-God campaign? I do not know whether in the interesting (I am sure they must be) and hitherto carefully veiled conversations which take place weekly between the Foreign Secretary and the Russian representative information is asked for or information is given as to what is the success—on the assumption that the outrages are to be denied—of the anti-God campaign.
§ And I would add this: of all the clumsy forgeries, and they have been many, which have been put forward by the Soviet Government, surely there has been none more impudently clumsy than that which was associated with the name of the Metropolitan Sergius. I know the 643 opinions upon these matters of the noble and learned Lord opposite too well to believe that for one moment the would allow himself to be deceived by this document. The Metropolitan is a man, according to all the information which I have been able to gain, who has been an ornament to the faith of which he has been a pious and—until his energies were violently curtailed—an inspiring administrator; and we are asked to accept an alleged interview with the Metropolitan in contradiction of the evidence which is available to, and is known to, every Chancellery in the world. What is the Metropolitan made to say? He allows his attention to pass to the speech of the most rev. Primate, and, having quoted one or two sentences, he makes the trenchant, if ungraceful, comment "Fishy!" with a mark of exclamation. Then, having glanced at the address of His Holiness the Pope, he proceeds to accuse the Pope of being associated with, if not in the pay of, the money markets of the Continent. These are the very taunts which have been common upon Bolshevist lips in the course of the last few years, and I can only marvel at the clumsiness of the folly, and the folly of the clumsiness.
§ The facts are known to all, and I would earnestly say to noble Lords opposite that we, who had deep experience of what these men are capable of, we, who from the days of the Coalition had occasion to negotiate with them, knew that no pledge that they gave was worth the paper upon which it was written. We knew that the introduction of their diplomatic representation in this country could only add to our anxieties and increase our dangers. We pointed this out to the Government of the day. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, who on the last occasion when I raised this topic made an interesting speech in reply, dwelt upon the business advantages which were to be gained by diplomatic recognition of Russia. This was, indeed, the only argument that was put forward. Is it a worthy argument of a civilised country, confronted by the tragic events before which at the present moment every country in Europe and the United States of America is recoiling in almost incredulous horror? The only reply is nummi non olent. Nor is even that a very satisfactory rejoinder if one were for a moment to pass by the 644 morality of the argument. For we observed that the United States of America, which gave its reasons for refusing any association with the Soviet Government in burning language, which I think must have caused deep and repeated contrition to members of the Government when they considered and re-considered its terms—the United States of America has indignantly refused, upon those very moral grounds which have been stated and re-stated in this House; yet it has increased its business with Soviet Russia both in its actual volume and in its developing ratio in a higher degree than we who have been subjected to this ignominy.
§ And with how much humiliation have we in this House and those who agree with us in another place been treated by the Government in this matter! I will not now go back to the singular circumstance that the Foreign Secretary happened to be unaware that by constitutional usage the term "Parliament" included an obscure Assembly which occasionally meets here. I will not in detail dwell upon the fact that the assurance made to us that we should have an opportunity of debating this matter was only redeemed—only partially redeemed—upon the action of a private member, when I myself asked a question of noble Lords opposite, and, had I not so intervened, that promise would have been completely unfulfilled, because the responsible Minister happened to be ignorant of the proper use of the most elementary terms of constitutional law in this country.
§ And when the debate which I initiated took place I was bold enough to ask certain very definite questions of noble Lords who sit upon the opposite Bench, and there was one question which interested us above all others. When we were assured that the Soviet Government had entered into an undertaking neither directly nor indirectly to carry on any propaganda against this country or against this Empire, I most explicitly asked the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, this question which the noble and learned Lord will find in the pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT: Does this pledge include propaganda carried on by the Third International or the Comintern? This was not a pointless or an unconsidered question. We had before us at that moment the statement contained in the present 645 Prime Minister's much discussed letter to the Russian Government, the statement in which he swept aside the futility and the dishonesty of pretending that the Soviet Government could disinterest itself of responsibility for the crimes against the organised civilisation of other countries which were committed by the Third International. That was the view of the colleagues of noble Lords who were their predecessors in the short Labour Government, in the course of which that letter was written. The view of the Labour Government then was clear and precise. It is to be presumed that the view of the present Government has not altered; at any rate, if it has altered we have been indulged with no explanations upon that point.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, in reply to that question said: "Yes, it does include the Third International"—an assurance which, if well founded, if one could accept it, if it was put forward, I do not mean by the noble Lord but by those who gave it, with good faith and with an intention to observe it, would have afforded some considerable reassurance to those who entertained so much doubt in relation to this controversy. I cannot and I will not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, who has held many positions of responsibility and has never incurred the charge of using light or ill-considered language in any of those capacities, assured Parliament and assured the Legislative Chamber of which he is a member that the pledge so given by the Soviet Government included the Comintern unless that conviction in his mind was founded upon some warranty of reliable information. Be it observed that most obviously this matter must have been the subject of discussion and re-discussion at the Cabinet. It must have been the subject of the most detailed and precise inquiry in the conversations, written or spoken, which took place between the Russian and British Governments.
§ I say so emphatically that it must have been the subject of precise inquiry because it was the very rock upon which relations had first been formidably impaired under the predecessors of the Government of noble Lords opposite. Therefore, no one who was fit to be trusted with the government of the affairs of any country having in diplomatic matters so grave had a difference of 646 opinion not less grave a few years ago, could possibly resume diplomatic associations without satisfying himself that there was not to be a recurrence of these gross and continued injuries to this country. We are consequently driven to the conclusion, and I accept the conclusion, that discussions had taken place between the Russian and British Governments before the Minister was received in this country, which authorised the noble Lord to give that assurance to the House of Lords. I see no answer to that inference consistent with what we know of the noble Lord's carefulness in such matters.
§ It is necessary, therefore, to carry the matter a step further. The Soviet Minister is reintroduced into this country carrying with him on behalf of his Government a definite assurance that they will undertake the responsibility of curtailing the propaganda activities of the Comintern. What happened before our eyes without concealment from the first day that the Minister was received into this country? Insulting contempt is poured over the assurances given in this House by noble Lords, contempt proceeding from organs which are admitted to speak with high official authority in Russia and which indeed, did they not speak with such authority, would not be permitted to speak at all. All of them with one accord deny that any such pledge was ever given, affirm its impossibility, and contemptuously deny that any such proposal will be observed by them in the future. It follows inevitably from this that here in limine there was a breach of the very essence of the undertaking that was given. No one, be it observed, can deny that who is not prepared to rise in his place tonight to contradict the assurances which were given to us before, and to say: "No, the assurances which we received from the Soviet Government did not include the Comintern." I doubt whether there is a Minister in either House who will be bold enough to make such a statement in view of the assurances already given. Nor, indeed, can there be a Minister in either House who would, or could, justify the resumption of that relationship unless, as they told us was the case, these assurances had been given.
§ What then has happened? They have been broken, and they have been broken with every circumstance of public con- 647 tempt. It is no use any member of the Government replying that there have not been overt acts in Great Britain or the British Empire since this Minister came. I dispute it absolutely. If the time which it was reasonable for me to request from the House would allow of its examination I could show the profound untruth of such an attempted defence. It is unnecessary to do so. It is unnecessary to show that this assurance has been broken in any specific case, when those who are alleged to have given it have told us in plain terms that they did not give it and that they do not intend to observe it. Such is the situation to-day.
§ We understand from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that certain discussions have taken place between himself and the Soviet representative with reference to the activities of which we complain on the part of the Comintern. If it is not asking too much I should like to be informed of any rational consideration of State which makes it impossible even at this stage to communicate to us for our reassurance the general effect of the discussions that have taken place between the Foreign Secretary and the Soviet Minister. It is not reasonable or, indeed, possible to say that considerations of State render it impossible. How can considerations of State render it impossible to acquaint us with an explanation when we have been publicly told before the whole world what the nature of the understanding is? If, in other words, as is indisputably the case, we were told that the understanding was that propaganda was to cease, if it be the fact that the Foreign Secretary has felt it necessary to ask for explanations of these continuous activities in the Russian Press and elsewhere—if that is so, either an explanation has been given by the Ambassador or it has not. If it has been given, why are we to be deprived of the advantage of hearing it? Parliament is entitled to hear it. If, on the other hand, no explanation has been given, if no explanation can be given, are we not equally entitled to be told that the Soviet Minister, who has previously given the assurance to which I have referred so often, has now explained that it meant nothing, that he is not in a position to carry if out, that it was never intended to carry it out? On what grounds these matters cannot 648 be mentioned I do not know. It is all, I suppose, a part of the new diplomacy—open discussions, openly carried out!
§ And I observe, in the same association, that a communication has been received from our Ambassador in relation to the subject matter of the earlier period of my observations—a Despatch or the preliminary part of a Despatch, elicited by a request for official information as to the nature and extent of the religious persecutions which have taken place in Russia. Is it too much to hope that in the fullness of time, and at a convenient moment, we may be informed what the information contained in this Official Report may be? Is the excuse for not giving it now that the information is incomplete? If that be the excuse, may we assume that when a completed explanation is supplied that will be printed as a White Paper and placed before Parliament; or are we to be denied, is the nation to be denied, all means of obtaining official information while we are told daily that no doubt hundreds of people have been shot, perhaps religiously-minded people by a coincidence, but, if they will resort to counter propaganda, it is really in the interests of discipline and good government that they should be shot? If that is indeed to be the last word in defence, and if we are to be excluded from the means of checking this statement, the diplomatic course pursued by His Majesty's Government may win some success, but it will be fugitive indeed in its character and in its duration.
§ We are told that there has been a cessation. Without going in detail into the large number of cases which have been and are being accumulated, it is notorious that the Government and its agencies have publicly boasted of the support which, while the Minister has been in this country, they have continued to give to revolutionary newspapers accepting both financial support and revolutionary instruction from the Government in Russia. It is equally notorious that there has been no cessation of energetic activities against us in India. It is a matter upon which I speak in the hearing of the Under-Secretary for India. I myself had some years of experience at an early stage of these activities, and I have made it my business, as far as the published sources of information extend, to keep myself abreast of the recent developments in India, and I say, chaos- 649 ing my words carefully, not only has there been no alleviation of the intensity of Soviet intrigue and propaganda in India, but that in the last twelve months it has positively increased. The same is unquestionably true of Afghanistan. It cannot be forgotten that this assurance was given not only in relation to this country but also in relation to the British Empire, and is, indeed, more important in relation to the British Empire than it is in relation to the people of this country, for there is still a residuum of plain common sense and intelligence among the people of this country which enables us to preserve the hope that, amid all difficulties and trials, they will retain a balance and a poise which, historically, have distinguished them. But when we deal with India, we deal with very different considerations. There are inflammable materials there for those who will apply the torch, and the torch is ready to be supplied by those whose representative we are supposed to welcome at the Court of St. James's to-day.
§ And what an irony, what a commentary upon the error of judgment which this Government have shown it is that at the very moment when they have decided, for reasons I have hitherto not heard adequately explained, to restore relations with Russia, those relations are becoming more strained, are more menaced with determination in almost, every country in Europe than they have been since the earliest recognition of the Soviet Government took place. We have seen the exasperations to which France has been subjected in Indo-China as well as in her own domestic politics. We know the bitter complaints which are made by powerful political Parties in France and the demands there that this association should be brought to an end. At the very same moment they have chosen to affront Germany, in relation to whom they lie under so many material obligations, whose business enterprises, encouraged by their invitation to transplant themselves into Russia, they have robbed and treated with insulting violence. It was at the very moment when the whole of the commercial civilisation of Europe, when the whole of the organised conscience of the world is turning more and more against this dangerous and malignant power, that this Government has chosen for recognition.650
§ Now, my Lords, I have asked plain questions. The matter is too grave to import heat unnecessarily into it, and I have tried to avoid it, but if the Government is able to answer two questions I would desire to put those questions very positively. First of all, may we still assume that the engagement entered into by the Soviet Government neither directly nor indirectly to carry on propaganda in the British Empire included an undertaking to curtail the activities of a similar kind of the Comintern? The second question is: In the view of the Government has there been a breach of such an undertaking? And, collaterally to this last question, there are two others. Has His Majesty's Government made a complaint to the Soviet representative in London of the breach to which I have called attention, and, if so, what reply has His Majesty's Government received?
§ I should be very unwilling that it should be thought—because after all I was, I suppose for some twelve years, myself a Minister in not unimportant and irresponsible positions—that I was lightly asking questions which any reasonable Government might reasonably meet by saying: "We cannot answer these questions in the public interest." Part of them has been answered already, but the events which have passed since they were answered have challenged the accuracy and the reliability of the replies that were given. Those who took, and take, the view that until there has been a complete change of mind in the Russian people, a recasting of social polity, a, readjustment of the views which in every civilised country in the world are regarded as elementary and axiomatic, there can be neither peaceful nor fruitful relationship between this country and the Soviet Government—those of us who hold that view would entreat the Government at this last moment, if misled they have been, to say so frankly. It is not indeed an ignoble error to be deceived by assurances, apparently given in good faith, of amendment; but if that error has been realised there can be no excuse for those who still persist in their course and deny the truth of that which is recognised and known in every Foreign Office in Europe and in the New World. I beg to move formally for Papers.651
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, we have had a powerful speech this afternoon from the noble and learned Earl, a speech of powerful criticism and rhetoric, spoilt I think, if I may say so, by over-statement of what is undoubtedly a difficult matter and of which I will give the explanation for which he has asked. At the outset may I say that the noble and learned Earl in the first part of his speech referred I think wholly to what we have called in this House and elsewhere the religious question. This matter was fully discussed in the House a few days ago, and I should like to reiterate now what I made perfectly clear at the time, that I was prepared and the Government were prepared to support the views so ably put forward by the most rev. Primate and by the Archbishop of York. I am sorry that the noble and learned Earl was not here on that occasion, because I could not ask your Lordships a second time to listen to the arguments which I then put forward.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
The noble and learned Lord knows why. I wrote to him. I expressed regret that I could not be here.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I apologise. I did not mean to intimate anything disrespectful of the noble and learned Earl. I perfectly realise his position if he will allow me to say so. He wrote to me in a most courteous manner and explained the reasons why he could not be present last Thursday. That, however, does not in my opinion alter the position. As a matter of fact the religious question was amply and fully discussed at that time. Then as now, without reservation or limitation, I expressed the opinion that the views of the two Archbishops are accurate and I said that the Government were prepared to accept them. I noticed to-day, if I may come to a little fresh ground, that the same views have been expressed in very nearly the same language by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. What I said then I must repeat to this extent—although I cannot go back to my whole argument—that we are all agreed I think in this House that there is a distinction between the religious and the political outlook on this question.
I do not deny—indeed perhaps I go farther than the noble and learned Earl 652 —that in one sense religion should be the dominant factor in all our world relationships and our public and private morality, and on another view one may say, taking the illustration which the noble and learned Earl gave, the word politics has a very wide-reaching signification. But that is not the point that we were discussing. What we discussed was: What is the wise attitude that the Government should adopt if they desire to avoid the great risk of adding to the persecution of the very religious bodies whom they desire to protect in every possible way? I quoted on that point—and I think no one took objection to it—the very valuable statement made on the matter of principle in old days by the late Marquess of Salisbury, the father of the present Leader of the Opposition. Everyone, I should have thought, who was cognisant of this matter must have felt that it was not a question of general definition as regards terms used. The question is: Shall we do good or harm if we take particular action in regard to the persecution of Christians in another country? What I want to say upon that point is that, in my opinion, no Government, certainly no Government of a great country and Empire like ours, would be worthy of being entrusted for one month with its great duties unless in a matter of this kind it resolved, with all the skill and judgment at its command, to come to a determination and, having come to that determination, was prepared to accept it without alteration or limitation until the whole basis, by some fundamental differences, was again altered.
I do not agree with what the noble and learned Earl said upon this point. He quoted, I think, one reference of mine which, when I gave it to your Lordships, I said that I gave only as a quotation, for the truth of which I did not take any responsibility: but he forgot the evidence that I gave from Mr. Donald Grant who had lately been in Moscow, he forgot the evidence that I quoted from, amongst others. Prebendary Gough, and he forgot that I had personal experience in the case of the Patriarch Tikhon—a case in which my recollection was corroborated by the noble Archbishop, Lord Davidson of Lambeth. But I will not go back into these matters. Will any one say that a question of this kind can or 653 ought to be decided merely on the general definition of terms on which we can all agree, and that we either can or ought to put out of mind all the special conditions which, if they are not carefully regarded, may bring the utmost misery, distress and even death to the very people whom we are hoping to assist? That is the answer that I make to what I call the religious portion of the noble and learned Earl's speech, I do not know whether the most rev. Primate is again going to assist us in this matter this evening, but I say unreservedly that I am opposed to the attitude of the noble and learned Earl, who stated quite frankly, as I think, that he criticised the attitude and the language of the most rev. Primate on a former occasion. That is not our attitude. It is not my attitude, and I must leave the matter as it stands before the House, so that your Lordships may make up your minds between those two views of this difficult religious question.
The next question which the noble and learned Earl approached—and I should like to say a word or two upon it before I come to the definite evidence, of which I think there is ample for replying to his Questions—concerned our attitude towards the Third International. He quoted in this regard some very clear statements, made without reservation or limitation by my noble friend Lord Thomson. Of course this Government, both in 1924 and since it returned to power, has unreservedly said on many occasions—not on one occasion only—that it considers that the undertaking of the Soviet Government covered an undertaking for the action of the Third International. Why should anyone be disposed to doubt a statement of that kind? In a moment I will give chapter and verse for what I am saying, but I should like any member of this House, if he can, to find any statement published or any statement made by a responsible Minister of the present Government which could possibly throw a shadow of doubt as to the accuracy of my statement on the question that was asked by the noble and learned Earl.
The noble and learned Earl, I think, asked a second question which I do not wish to ignore. I shall refer in a moment to the actual Questions on the Paper. He asked whether there had been, in the view of the Government, a breach of 654 the undertaking so given. That there has been what I might call a technical breach—is this a matter for laughter?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I do not think so. I think it is far too important for laughter. Whether, owing to an obscure paragraph in a paper of no significance, of which the name was probably unknown beforehand to every member of your Lordships' House, a paper of uncertain life and of very small circulation, your Lordships would say that it would show a proper discretion in any Government, on a breach, if it is one, of that kind, that they should throw over their whole policy for the friendly resumption of diplomatic relations between this country and Soviet Russia—
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I was thinking, of course, apart from the Daily Worker of the admittedly official organs of the Russian Government.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I will come to that, if I may, presently, and I will give the whole story when I come to it. I am much obliged to the noble and learned Earl for reminding me. I certainly do not intend to forget it. But the particular act to which attention was called in the other House, and in reference to which the Foreign Secretary made a specific answer in that House, was the publication in this obscure organ of a paragraph which was said—and I do not deny it in any way—to be published under the direction and authority of the Third International. Where the headquarters of the Third International might have been then I do not know—whether in Paris, Berlin, Moscow or elsewhere—but I think that there should be no difference of opinion upon this point: that, without reservation or limitation, so far as any action of the Third International renders it necessary in the opinion of the Government to break diplomatic relations with the Russian Government, they will do it just in the same way as if the action had been taken by the Soviet Government itself. No distinction whatever has ever been 655 raised, or ever will be raised, by this Government as between those two bodies.
I think I have now answered the two questions that the noble and learned Earl put to me specifically. The first was whether the Third International is, in the view of the Government, included in the undertaking given to them by the Russian Ambassador—or rather, it was by Litvinov that the special undertaking was given. His second question was whether there was a breach. My answer is: No such breach as any Government, in my opinion, ought to take notice of in the sense of breaking off diplomatic relations between this country and Russia. I beg to say that that is the only point. You have to face it from that standpoint. Facing it from that standpoint, let us see what the noble and learned Earl tells us. He has told us that the Russian people and the Russian Government have been treated with disdain—I think he used that word or a similar one—by all the countries of Europe, including our own. Has that been an effective remedy for the conditions in Russia? I admit that I take entirely a contrary view. I take the view of the present Government that if you want improvement in Russia, if you want the conditions there to come to the higher level intimated by the noble and learned Earl, the way to obtain it is by a friendly resumption of ordinary normal diplomatic relations, and that is the only way in which, in the long run, I think Russia will come into co-operation with the general life and general outlook of other European countries. I should have thought that the noble Earl would have quoted what had happened in the past as indication of a total failure as regards the improvement of Russia. So it appears to me to be. We are going to try in the other direction. We desire the resumption of friendly intercourse, and I believe that it is in the resumption of friendly intercourse that the path of improvement and progress really lies.
Not to take up your attention too long, might I now refer to the particular Questions which were asked by the noble Earl in his Notice, and give what I think are the answers to them. They are covered by what I have already said in one sense, but I want to be more direct and more specific. The first Question he asks is as to what general conditions 656 were agreed, and whether any and if so what understanding was arrived at between His Majesty's Government and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics before diplomatic relations were resumed. The answers are perfectly clear. They are contained in Command Papers laid on the Table of your Lordships' House, and the same answers have been repeated more than once by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who is the responsible Minister in matters of this kind, from his place in the House of Commons. In this House, moreover, a debate was initiated, I think by the noble Earl himself, on December 4, and to that debate the noble Earl has already referred.
Let me ask your Lordships, if I may, to see what the answer is from the public Command Papers laid on the Table of this House, with which I would assume that at any rate a large number of members of this House must already be acquainted. The first is Command Paper No. 3418. It contains the Protocol applicable to the resumption of relations with the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was submitted to and approved by the other House on November 5 of last year, and if your Lordships will look at paragraph 7 on page 8 you will see exactly what the undertaking was. It is as follows:—7. Immediately on the actual exchange of Ambassadors, and not later than the same day as that on which the respective Ambassadors present their credentials, both Governments will reciprocally confirm the pledge with regard to propaganda contained in Article 16 of the Treaty signed on the 8th August, 1924, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.We all know what Article 16 means. It was Article 16 in the letter of the then Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, in which it appears to me he states in the widest terms the range of the obligation which is to be in force as between the two parties.
Then later, in Command Paper No. 3467, we have the carrying out of that obligation in terms, and in fact, before diplomatic relationships were renewed. Perhaps the most crucial document which appeared in Command Paper No. 3467 is one signed by Litvinov. It is on page 7, and the writer says this:—In taking due note of this declaration, I have the honour to inform you that, in 657 accordance with the understanding between the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, as recorded in the Protocol of the 3rd October, 1929, the Ambassador of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in London has been instructed to inform His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of India that the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, for their part, also regard the undertaking contained in Article 16 of the Treaty signed on the 8th August, 1924, as having full force and effect as between themselves and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of India.Therefore, my Lords, it is perfectly obvious, in answer to the first part of the noble Earl's Question, taking the actual words themselves, that in the published White Papers submitted to both Houses of Parliament the conditions are specifically set out as they were agreed between His Majesty's Government and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, before diplomatic relations were resumed. I do not see how any publicity could make that matter clearer. There cannot be the smallest doubt, I think, if you read what is called Article 16, that it in terms not only places the obligation upon the Soviet Government itself, but also places the obligation upon any organisation, of any kind, which in any degree, directly or indirectly, is under the control of the Soviet Government, and as I have said before it has been pointed out on several occasions that this Government at any rate have no doubt whatever, and have expressed the view, that that undertaking includes propaganda work carried out through the Third International.
The next part of the noble Earl's Question is this. He asks as to any understanding arrived at between His Majesty's Government and the Soviet Government before relations were resumed. He asks both as regards conditions and as regards arrangements. I think that Mr. Henderson, the Foreign Secretary, made it clear to the Soviet representative that His Majesty's Government placed upon the Government of the Soviet and its representatives the responsibility for any subversive activity of the Third International. This point was laid down before the resumption of relations, and there never has been any departure so far as the Government are concerned, and 658 there never will be any departure either in the form of reservation or limitation.
The second part of the noble Earl's Question is this. He asks whether His Majesty's Government have found it necessary to represent to the Soviet Government that there has been any breach of this condition or understanding. Here again I think the whole matter has been made absolutely clear by the Foreign Secretary in another place. I am not now discussing, of course, whether noble Lords opposite agree with the policy of the present Government or not—that is not the question. The policy of the present Government has been absolutely clear, and I cannot understand how any doubt can have arisen after the publication of the two White Papers and the statements of the Foreign Secretary in another place. Of course, the responsibility rests on the Foreign Secretary.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
The noble and learned Lord will perceive that we do not enjoy the advantage of illumining debate in another place. We cannot, for instance, ask questions of the Foreign Secretary, and it has always been regarded as our constitutional right as a separate branch of the Legislature to ask the Minister who represents a Depart-merit to give his own explanations for our own consideration.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I have not the least desire to avoid doing that, but the noble Earl knows perfectly well that, where negotiations have been carried on and statements made by the Foreign Secretary, and questions are further asked desiring explanation of what he has already said, the place to obtain those explanations is another House. I have not the least desire to shirk any responsibility of any kind in this matter, nor have any of us who represent the Government here; but to ask us or any one else to enter into minute details of negotiations at which we were not present, and which in their details are unknown to us, is of course to demand an impossible task, as the noble Earl must know perfectly well.
On January 1 last the Daily Worker, a Communist Paper of insignificant circulation and no influence, published a message of greetings from the Third International. I believe it was the first occasion on which that paper had been published. These greetings are in them- 659 selves of little importance, and certainly not of a character to which great weight should be attached. Nevertheless, on January 6 the Foreign Secretary, as he has already stated in another place—and this, I think, deals with what the noble Earl particularly asked me—drew the attention of the Soviet Ambassador Sokolnikov to this message. The position then created was made clear when the question was raised in the House of Commons on January 22. This is what the Foreign Secretary said—and may I ask your Lordships to accept from me what the Foreign Secretary said? It is for him really to give the explanation. I can only give the explanation from the information I have derived—and I have derived all the information that was possible on this point—from him. The Foreign Secretary said:—Although His Majesty's Government are not without hope that the agreement recently entered into will result in a permanent improvement, a message from the Third International which appeared in a daily paper on January 1 led me to inform the Soviet Ambassador that such action was calculated to impede that improvement in the relations between the two countries. … For the present His Majesty's Government do not propose to take further action.They were aware of what is called the breach. They called the Soviet Ambassador's attention to it; and then the Foreign Secretary states what I regard as a right judgment, and that is that for the present His Majesty's Government are not prepared to take further action.
Then, on February 3, the Foreign Secretary stated:—Should causes of serious complaint arise, the Government will not hesitate to take the House into their confidence, but they must in the first instance be the judges as to the action which may be expedient and necessary to safeguard the interests of the country.Would any Government be worthy of the confidence of this country if they did not take that responsibility? I should like to ask any noble Lord here whether he would care, I will not say to be a member of a Government, but to be a supporter of any Government which would not take the responsibility of making up its, mind on a diplomatic question of that character? Of course, it is the duty of the Government, and they intend to perform that duty. And the fact that other members of this House may differ from them will not alter the judgment to which they have come.
660 I cannot help making a reference to a quotation which was made last autumn from a speech by Lord Balfour in 1926:—The condition of the world, the condition at least of the European world, at this moment requires us to walk in all these international matters with a very cautious tread.That is the attitude of the present Government. It does not mean that they are shirking their responsibility. It means that they are taking it as a most serious matter. It means that in their duty towards the people of this country they intend to the best of their discretion and judgment to deal with the difficulties with Russia as and when they may arise. Of course, the object of the Government is undoubtedly the resumption of friendly relationship, so far as it may be possible, with the Soviet Republics. That is their policy. It is a settled policy which they put forward in 1924, which they reiterated many times between 1924 and 1929, and which, on coming into power in 1929, they again stated as one of the first steps they intended to take towards the wider policy of peace, both in Europe and in the world at large.
I do not believe that anyone who has studied the peace question in its broader aspects has come to any other conclusion. It is almost impossible to have a successful issue while these conditions continue as they are at the present time in Russia; and those who care for the policy of peace, who care for a new foundation of a more moral kind in international relationships, should, in our view, do all they can not to irritate opinion in Russia, not to make statements which cannot but arouse indignation in Russia, but, on the other hand, within the limits which this Government have laid down, do what they can, and in every way that they can, to promote peace, friendliness and goodwill between the people of Russia and the people of this country.
There is one other factor to which the noble Earl referred. I do not think he gave due weight to the consideration of the economic importance of the Russian market to the people of this country. Unemployment is the curse of the moment. Why should we not do what we can within the limits I have announced to open the Russian market to the products of this country? The noble 661 and learned Earl has referred to the case of America. Conditions between America and Russia have differed in many respects. I recollect that during the great famine, when we were doing all we could in Russia and helping about 250,000 people during the winter, the Americans were at that time feeding more than 10,000,000. There is a feeling of gratitude, of proper gratitude, for the treatment which the Russian peasants received during that most difficult period through which they passed. I do not want to go into matters of that kind, but I have here the actual statistics which speak for themselves. In 1924 the trade of the United Kingdom with Russia was £11,000,000 odd. It went up to £19,000,000, and then in 1928 after the Arcos raid it fell to £4,801,000. In the meantime the German trade, which was £4,935,000 in 1924, rose in 1928 to £19,783,000, Surely we are entitled, and surely it is the duty of every Government to do all that can be done, to get a fair share of the Russian market and in that way to help the unfortunately numerous people in this country, admirable workmen and able to produce what Russia wants, and to give them continuous employment; not by shutting up one of the best markets but by opening it in the spirit of friendly relationship and with a renewal of normal diplomatic intercourse.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord who has just addressed your Lordships appears to regard Russia as something in the nature of a wasp's nest. I am not at all sure that there is not a good deal of force in the analogy. Towards the end of his speech he told us that the policy to be pursued with regard to Russia was above all not to do anything to irritate opinion. That is very much the advice that he would give to any one in the neighbourhood of a wasp's nest. The noble and learned Lord told us that it was the settled policy of the Government, as of course we knew, to resume diplomatic relations with Russia. We know that the Government have resolved to do that and that they will not be turned from it by any consideration, good, bad or indifferent. The noble and learned Lord said in the courts of his speech that he regarded friendly diplomatic relations as the most likely method of producing improved conditions in Russia. I believe 662 that to be a complete illusion. I do not in the least believe that anything we can do will produce improved conditions in Russia, if by that the noble and leaned Lord refers not to their relations with us but to their internal domestic concerns. I do not believe that any policy we can pursue will have any effect whatever in that direction.
The noble and learned Lord referred in his speech mainly to two questions raised by my noble friend Lord Birkenhead, and I must say that his reply upon those two points appeared to me to be extremely unsatisfactory. The first one he dealt with was what he calls, and what we all call, the religious question. The noble and learned Lord told us that that question was amply debated the other day, that he was quite content to refer to that as if it was a chose jugée and there was nothing further to be said. He adopted the opinion expressed by the most rev. Primate, and did not pursue the matter—
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Your Lordships will forgive this interruption, but I do not want it to be understood for a moment that I consider that the discussion which took place a week ago on the religious aspect of the question has concluded the matter. On the contrary, as I think I stated, I propose to make the most exhaustive inquiries possible. I have already received a great deal of information which greatly increases both the gravity and the difficulty of the subject. I desire, after there has been greater opportunity to consider the whole matter and to discuss it with the fulness which is impossible now, to have the matter debated again in your Lordships' House. Therefore, so far from regarding the matter as being settled a week ago, I desire most emphatically to reserve the right of raising the distinct issue when information has been received which makes it possible to do so in a really responsible manner.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
I was very glad indeed to hear the declaration which has just been made by the most rev. Primate because I was about to express exactly the same opinion. I was about to demur to the argument of the noble and learned Lord opposite that the debate the other day had been so ample and so conclusive that there was nothing further to be said. I do not accept that view at all.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I mean for the time being. I do not mean for all time; I mean now. I have, as I said the other day, adopted the same view as the most rev. Primate. Of course we want fuller inquiry and fuller information and when the time comes I hope there will be a very full further discussion.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
I was only going to say that I differed entirely from the noble Lord in thinking that the matter was amply discussed the other day. There was a debate and various opinions were expressed: but, so far from the matter having been thrashed out, there was a great deal left unsaid and there were some things that I should have liked to say had I had the opportunity on that occasion. I am going to say them now. I entirely differ from the opinion which was expressed generally the other day that we are likely to do more harm than good. Noble Lords will remember the argument and the way it was used. I freely admit, of course, that it is possible we might, in certain circumstances, do more harm than good. We might, as the noble and learned Lord has put it, irritate opinion. We might possibly intensify the terrible persecution that all in Russia are suffering who owe allegiance to any form of religion whatever. That is always assuming that the policy which the noble and learned Lord has said is the settled policy of the Government is their policy. I agree, if you continue diplomatic relations with Russia, if you continue trying to avoid irritation (and that means trying to conciliate in every weak manner possible opinion in Russia) it is very likely that things that might be said in this House or in another place might lead to an intensification of the persecution.
But Russia has shown herself in the past desperately anxious for recognition. No one can doubt that it was a very great object with Russia to obtain recognition by this country, and that they would do a great deal to retain diplomatic relations. I have no hesitation in saying that in these circumstances this Government should have boldly said: "You are behaving like savages, you are intolerant, you are outside the pale of decent, civilised nations, and whatever we may have done, whatever we may have attempted to do on the falsely raised enthusiasm of a few months ago, now that 664 you have shown yourselves in these colours we will resume our freedom, we will recall our Ambassador, we will compel your representative to leave London and we will also order out of London those other Russian citizens who, for good or for ill"—and I am very much afraid it is more for ill than for good—"have been allowed to come in during the last few weeks or months." Therefore, I do not accept the idea that there is no alternative to the weak policy which I think was prevalent in your Lordships' House last week—the weak policy of saying that because we might cause intense suffering by irritating opinion there is therefore no alternative. I do not believe that. I think a bold, a dignified, a Christian policy pursued by this country would have had effect. But I go further and I say that whether it had effect or not it was the policy we ought to have pursued. It is the only policy which offers any hope of permanently improved relations with Russia, and in any ca-se it is the only policy which is reconcilable with the dignity, with the history and with the instinct of this country and its people.
I pass from that to the subject of the Third International. I tried to follow the explanation given by the noble Lord, and up to a point I agree that his explanation was not unsatisfactory, because I understood him to say that this Government had laid it down that any breach of the propaganda pledge of which the Third International might be guilty would be treated by the Government as if it were a breach by the Russian Government. I understood the noble Lord to lay that down. But that does not cover quite the whole ground. It is all very well to say we regard a breach by the Third International as equivalent to a breach by the Soviet Government, but do the Soviet Government accept that proposition? I do not think they do. My impression is that the Soviet Government have said emphatically over and over again that they will not be responsible for the actions or the words of the Third International, and as long as that position remains there is at least an ambiguity between the two Governments which cannot be regarded as satisfactory. I do not think, therefore, that in that respect the noble Lord in the least answered the case that was made earlier this afternoon by my noble friend Lord Birkenhead.
665 I do not propose at this hour to occupy your Lordships' time by reference to the Russian market, to which the noble Lord alluded towards the end of his speech. I will only say in that respect that we shall have an opportunity later on no doubt of discussing this when the question of a commercial treaty comes before your Lordships' House, and, therefore, I need not go into it in any detail now. I should like to say, however, that in regard to the Russian market I believe the Government and their supporters are labouring under the greatest possible illusion. I do not believe for a moment that there is any Russian market open to us of any very great value. To begin with there was not any Russian market of any value before the War. The whole of our exports to Russia before the War amounted to some 3 per cent. of our total exports, and, therefore, the Russian market for our manufactured articles is almost a negligible market. I believe someone who spoke with knowledge mentioned the other day that the magnitude of our Russian trade was almost exactly the same as our trade with Holland. Therefore it is a minor matter, almost a negligible matter, and when some supporters of the Government in another place talk as if there were millions and millions of orders only waiting to c pine to this country if we could arrange the finance of the transactions, I am perfectly confident that this is an entire illusion.
What happens, of course, is that these representations are made by Russian traders, or rather by the Russian Government which is the only permitted trader in that country, and it is a very easy thing to represent that an order for so many hundreds of millions of goods will be forthcoming in this country if you can only arrange a satisfactory credit, whereas everybody who thinks about the matter knows perfectly well that even if you could arrange the credit—which you could not do—you would not have the orders. The orders are not there. The Russian economic position is not such as would enable them to give large orders of that kind. Therefore do not let us delude ourselves with the thought that we are doing anything which is deleterious from the point of view of unemployment, or from the point of view of the expansion of trade, or that we could do anything that would harm us if we took the bold line 666 which I earnestly wish the Government would take of cutting off all diplomatic relations with Russia. We should not do ourselves any harm so far as trade is concerned, and from the example that we have of the United States of America it is perfectly obvious that the amount of trade that is done is not in any way dependent on the diplomatic relations one way or the other. Therefore I repeat that I think the noble Lord has dealt very unsatisfactorily, as regards the propaganda issue, the markets issue and the religious issue, with the powerful case which was made earlier by my noble friend.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I cannot help feeling that if everybody who spoke in this debate expressed his exact feelings we should discover that nobody regrets more than noble Lords sitting upon the Front Bench the return of the Bolsheviks to this country. It has been productive to them of misfortune in the past, and it will no doubt be productive of even greater misfortune to them in the future. But in this connection I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, and I do not think that justice has ever been done to him with regard to this particular matter. The noble and learned Lord, in the course of a long and honourable career at the Bar, amassed, I believe, a considerable fortune, largely by defending the interests of capital in the Committee rooms upstairs, and he invested a large portion of his hard-earned gains in Russia. The moment the Bolsheviks came into power I believe they seized every penny that he possessed. Yet the noble and learned Lord bears no malice. He is the first to fling himself, so to speak, upon their necks. Personally, I am quite incapable of soaring to heights of altruism of that description. If a man had flagrantly robbed me and if I was again called upon to associate with him, I should feel rather reluctant to do so. especially if not only having robbed me in the past he now indulged in continual vituperation of me and my associates. In those circumstances I could not accord these people any hearty welcome when they returned to this country, and I cannot help thinking that that is probably the feeling that animates most of the noble Lords I am addressing at this moment.
667 I have always been struck by the fact—perhaps my impression is quite inaccurate—that neither this Government nor the previous Government nor the first Socialist Government have ever understood properly what kind of persons they were dealing with. The Bolsheviks have quite a different mentality and everything else from every other people. I confess that they always rather remind me of those unattractive members of the animal world which are pronounced to be untamable, such as boa-constrictors, alligators and so forth, who will accept food from you but show no sense of gratitude or pleasure, and who if they were able to obtain the opportunity would be only too ready to swallow their keepers and the people who look after them. That seems to my mind to be the attitude of the Bolsheviks towards the countries which offer them hospitality. I may remind the noble and learned Lord that every nation which has so to speak accorded hospitality to the Bolsheviks has suffered in turn. Take any nation that you like—Finland, Bulgaria, Turkey, France (as we have been reminded this afternoon) and Germany: they have all suffered in consequence of their action; and to that list I may even add Mexico where I believe there are many sympathizers with Bolshevist doctrines. All those countries have found the presence of Russian Missions an intolerable nuisance and have been only too pleased to get rid of them when they had the opportunity.
The only country that has got solid tangible benefit is America, and that has been done by keeping the Bolsheviks at arm's length. Considering the perpetual grovelling attitude which in this country we always assume towards America, it is somewhat surprising that we should not have had the good sense in this instance to follow their example. The proper way, in my opinion, to deal with Bolsheviks is to keep them at arm's length, to keep them away as much as possible, and if they are really anxious to return and if they show any signs of repentance, then to let them sue in forma pouperis, so to speak, and give pledges, if they are able to do so, with regard to their future behaviour. I do not think that any greater instance of ingenuous innocence has been shown than by the present Government in 668 imagining that if they resumed relations with the Bolshevist Government propaganda would cease. Propaganda is the basis of Bolshevism, and it consists in a relentless war upon all established forms of government and upon ourselves in particular. The only way in which you can carry out the real Bolshevist principle is by eternal, untiring propaganda. It is not easy to grasp this fact until you have been to Soviet Russia itself, and unfortunately it is very difficult to obtain information on the subject.
We really know very little about Soviet Russia and we are not likely to know much from the statements made from time to time by the Foreign Secretary in another place which seem to me, to put it mildly, to be of a very evasive description. We are not likely to learn much about the condition of that country in present circumstances—more especially as, if I read the Foreign Secretary's answers correctly, he is not disposed to disclose any information regarding the Soviet Government which may be distasteful to the comrades from Clydeside and elsewhere who will never believe anything to the disadvantage of their friends. But if people were able to go to Soviet Russia, not in organised groups of Socialists with opinions already formed and under the guidance of practised showmen, but as independent observers, they would find many illusions disappear. They would find that there had been a certain amount of exaggeration on both sides. They would find that Soviet Russia is not altogether the hell it has been frequently described as being, but on the other hand they would find that the so-called proletarian paradise is certainly one of the poorest and most unpleasant countries in the civilised world at the present moment.
But what they would realise, and what they could not help realising above all, is the enormous influence exerted by propaganda. Propaganda in Soviet Russia overwhelms everybody with a kind of flood. There is no getting away from it. Every agency is called in for this purpose. The Press, the arts, the theatre, the Army, and the school—all these agencies are used for the purpose of perpetually impressing upon the unfortunate inhabitants of the country that in the Bolshevist principle lies the only salvation for the individual. For something 669 like twelve or thirteen years this propaganda has been going on incessantly. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that at the present moment and for the last twelve or thirteen years Russia has been a kind of vast internment camp, a place from which it is very difficult to escape and into which it is equally difficult to penetrate. What does not pentrate there is any knowledge of the outside world, and the unfortunate subjects of the Soviet Government have been stuffed like fowls or geese for these twelve or thirteen years with the Bolshevist pabulum. They know nothing, or practically nothing, about the outside world and many of them are firmly convinced that every other country is in the depths of misery. The propaganda of which I speak consists of course, as everybody knows, of hostility to three things—hostility to capital, hostility to any form of settled government, and hostility to religion. As I hay e already explained, the people get no opportunity of learning what is going on in another country.
What amazes me and seems almost incredible is that His Majesty's Government should accept the impudent assertion of the Soviet Government, which is far and away the most despotic Government in existence at the present time, that they are unable to control the various propaganda organisations. I really do not care—it does not seem to me a matter of enormous importance—whether these organisations are controlled by the Government or not. As a matter of fact, everything is controlled by the Government, but that, to my mind, is not the point. The point is the intention, and the intention is perfectly clear. The, intention for which the Soviet Government are continually working—and they make no concealment about the fact—is the eventual overthrow of other existing forms of government, and of the British Empire in particular. That is a concise statement of their real aim; and all I can say in conclusion is that having once got rid of these people and having been foolish enough to re-admit them to this country, we shall be looked upon with derision by the rest of the civilised world, and rightly too.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE)
My Lords, perhaps I may venture to 670 make a few observations before the conclusion of this debate, as it fell to my lot in 1924 to conduct the negotiations with the Soviet Government of that day. No one pretends that this is in any way an easy thing to do. I found myself in the position of a Socialist Minister, acting on behalf of a capitalist country, negotiating with a Communist Government, and my right hon. friend the present Foreign Secretary finds himself in the same position, and his path is not an easy one. As to whether it is to be made easier by the debate that has taken place here to-night remains to be seen. I do not think it is the intention of the noble and learned Earl who raised this question to-day that the path should be made easier. On the contrary, I think it is his intention that every obstacle and barrier should be put in the way of a successful reconciliation with the Soviet Government.
I could not help being grateful, on hearing the speeches of the noble and learned Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, that they are not in charge of the conduct of diplomatic negotiations on behalf of Great Britain. I think Lord Cushendun said that he would have them in and say to them: "You are savages," and a lot of other very direct phrases. I do not know if that method of diplomacy would be likely to succeed, nor do I think that the noble and learned Earl's reference to a country with which this Government, anyhow, has declared itself to be in friendly relations, as a Government which is a dangerous and malignant power, is calculated to bring about a peaceful atmosphere in Europe and the world. There is a tendency to suppose that anything may be said about the Russians to-day, and, curiously enough, one notices that what is said about them would be just as true of the Russians before the Revolution. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, said that the Bolsheviks were different from anybody else. The mistake he made was to use the word "Bolsheviks"; he ought to have said "Russians."
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
We talk much about propaganda. Was there no propaganda before the Revolution, in the old days of the rule of the Tsar? There was propaganda, and pro- 671 paganda of a very dangerous character—far more dangerous than anything that exists to-day. A twopenny-halfpenny newspaper produces a few hundred copies down in a slum in London, and you call that propaganda and make a great fuss about it. It is of no account whatsoever. But the propaganda of the Russian Government in days gone by made us so nervous in India, in Afghanistan, in Turkey, that steps had to be taken in order to counter their very careful and clever diplomatic intrigues, backed by the forces of the Russian Army and Navy. That was propaganda that was really dangerous.
Those who know the facts about the Communist Party in this country really cannot repress their laughter at the supposition that the propaganda of the Comintern and the Socialist International is going to have any effect whatsoever in this country. Why, you could nearly get the whole Communist Party into this Chamber. The Communist Party now, I think, amounts to about 2,000 people. It shows a considerable fall in number, and the only assistance it gets is from members of the Party opposite, who will insist on advertising it. This newspaper would have died a natural death in a week or two, but now, I believe, its circulation has revived. When a Labour Member of Parliament or politician makes a speech he is lucky if he gets two or three lines in the newspapers. When a Communist makes a speech he will get half a column, if not a whole column. They are advertised every time. The noble Viscount, who is not present to-day, Lord Brentford, when he made his great raid on Arcos, produced a fat Blue Book which provided untold advertisement for Communism, but really showed up the nakedness of the land and the folly and absurdity of supposing for a single moment that this country is in danger from Communist propaganda. We are just as likely to listen to the propaganda of Mormon missionaries over here. They are just as likely to convert us to Mormonism as these puny efforts are likely to convert this country to Communism.
When a debate of this sort takes place, when these very close questions are asked—embarrassing very often from the diplomatic point of view, when a Foreign Secretary is in the middle of negotia- 672 tions—one is obliged to look for the motive behind them. It is perfectly certain that the motive is purely political. I think it is a matter for surprise that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who has such a very great reputation and whose judicial mind is well known throughout the country, should lend himself to becoming the leader of what I may call this anti-Bolshevik hysteria. It really is taking the thing in a wrong proportion and in wrong perspective. So far as I can understand, the noble and learned Earl advocates a breach with the Soviet Government. He declares that all he hears is true, and he refuses to accept any denial on their part. I admit that it is very difficult to carry on any sort of relations with people whose word you refuse to take on any subject whatever, and, since that is what he believes, his conclusion is perfectly logical—namely, that it is impossible to deal with them.
But surely there is a better way. Ought we not to face the fact that this country has made, and is still making, every endeavour for good relationships with other countries of the world? As during the last ten years or so a great spirit has grown up with a view to preventing the outbreak of war between countries in their attempts to settle international disputes, can it be right that we should cast this great nation outside the pale and refuse to have any relationships with it? From the point of view not only of diplomacy but of humanity and common sense, I believe that that would be a very disastrous policy, and I can assure noble Lords that it is not one which His Majesty's present Government intend to adopt. We may find the path difficult, but the Foreign Secretary has laid down our intentions very clearly.
My noble and learned friend has already stated that the Third International is included in our interpretation of Article 16. Lord Cushendun asked a very pertinent question. He asked: "Does the Soviet Government accept that?" I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, who said that they had repudiated time after time that interpretation. I cannot say that I have come across those repudiations. I think there was one passage in the Pravda in which the editor said that that was not the interpretation that Mr. Dovgalevsky 673 had put upon it. I think that was the only reference; but, whether that is so or not, it is sufficient for our purpose that our interpretation is perfectly clear, and we do include the activities of the Comintern; but the Foreign Secretary holds himself free to exercise his discretion and not in an hysterical way to go and break off the relations with Russia because of some article in a miserable newspaper, which is of no account whatsoever.
I differ from Lord Cushendun. He says that you can get on better with them if you keep them at arm's length. I think that was the expression used by Lord Newton. In my short experience in 1924, when on several occasions difficulties arose—cases of propaganda and cases of abuse—I was able to talk matters over with Mr. Rakovsky, and so smoothed over some of the minor difficulties in that way. The inconvenience of not having a representative of a country in this country is so great that I hope it will never be resorted to again. France has had cause for quarrel with the Soviet authorities, but France has never dismissed the Soviet Ambassador, because it is very much better to have intercourse in such a way as to be able to discuss things. After all, these Governments are here to-day and gone tomorrow in all countries, whereas the people are there all the time, and there ought to be links between peoples of all countries of a permanent character, and these channels of communication ought to be kept free and open.
The points raised were points with which we have become closely acquainted ever since the Soviet Government was established in Russia. Very deep feelings are stirred and undoubtedly great indignation is aroused. Before we have another debate on what is called the religious side of the question I hope we shall be able to have authentic information, because the atrocities I am very suspicious of. I think some of them bear a very great resemblance to the Belgian baby without hands. Some of them have been published in the Morning Post, and I very much distrust them. At any rate we know that although a service was arranged for the 300 naval officers supposed to have been shot, it was found that that report was not true.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I admit that to get at the truth is very difficult, because Lord Birkenhead refuses to accept any communication, or evidence, or Despatch or statement which comes from Russia.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
The information is sent from Russia and can be given by the Ambassador in this country, but noble Lords refuse to accept what he says, and so it is very difficult indeed to get information. But I hope we are not going to get hysterical about it, and believe every little snippet reproduced in the Press, which is there to get some sort of stick with which to beat the present Government. That is the underlying motive, and we see through it and understand it, and when we saw the Motion on the Paper we recognised how authentic our view was.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, I shall not trouble you for more than a moment at this late period of the evening. I retain some recollection of the admiration felt by a certain section of thought in another place for the lecturing capacities possessed by the noble Lord. He has been good enough to indulge in them to-night. As far as I am concerned, he will give me leave to tell him that the majority of the observations which he has made are entirely ill-founded, and 'his inferences without the slightest warrant. I have not brought forward this Motion with any political purpose. I am outside active politics. I have a position as a Peer of Parliament which entitles me to raise any subject of foreign affairs, on a discussion which I think on the whole to be requisite in the interests of this country. So far as the Socialist Government are concerned, I am no particular enemy of it. If they will avoid increasing the numbers of the unemployed by 100,000 a week, if they will leave me something to live on when they 675 come to their next Budget, and if I still find a Navy and an Egypt and an India in existence when they go out of office, I shall have no quarrel at all with them; and I entirely resent the suggestion which underlies the observations made by the noble Lord.
And his tone as a lecturer, it seems to me, might have been somewhat abated by the historical facts of which he himself thought proper to remind us. I suppose most of us had forgotten them, if we ever knew them. He tells us that he negotiated the first Treaty with Bolshevist Russia. I have not the slightest doubt that at the time when he negotiated that Treaty he was convinced that they would not indulge in propaganda. Either he was or he was not. If he was convinced he was made a fool of; if he was not convinced he betrayed his duty to this country by recommending that we should enter into diplomatic relations with them. There is no escape from that dilemma. The truth, of course, is that the noble Lord was completely deceived by those whom he pompously invites us to-day to accept as faithful and rather agreeable acquaintances. The noble Lord was completely deceived by them, and the result was that in the Election which very shortly followed one of the most aggravating circumstances which contributed to the happy decease of that Government was the very fact that the noble Lord had made such an incompetent Treaty that the Zinoviev letter was disclosed at the relevant moment. [Laughter.]
Noble Lords think it perhaps a little more humorous now than they did at the time. They might realise—though they may not be aware of a circumstance so inconsiderable—that I happened to be on two Committees which investigated this matter and four other Zinoviev letters identical in tenor with this one, were discovered. And, believe me, it is démodé now to doubt the authenticity of the Zinoviev letter. It is not even done in Russia. The noble Lord is three years behind the time. Having been completely deceived on one occasion, the noble Lord might be well advised not to come and accuse us of hysteria because we think nothing good about the Bolsheviks. You might think, from what the noble Lord said—it was not "peccadilloes," but a 676 more dignified word; "snippets" I think was his description—of any unfavourable judgment which the partial eye of the noble Lord is able to discern of his Russian friends, that during the period of his efforts which were so happily crowned by fruition, when he had discussions with the Russian representatives he was often able to influence them, that the kindly relationship, the friendly social appreciation that sprang up between the noble Lord and the temporary guests, as they were on that occasion, was of advantage to the State. Well, all I can say is, in the first place, that they treated him with the most absolute contempt, that they broke every promise that they had made to him, so that his own Leader had to point it out in that famous letter which I believe is called No. 16—his own Leader had to point out that he could no longer be deceived. It seems to amuse the noble Lord, but what I say is I think not susceptible to challenge. In Number 16 the then Prime Minister—
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Yes, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord. He points out most distinctly that this contention was not a contention put forward in good faith, or one that could be accepted. Obviously, it had been accepted by the noble Lord. And what guarantee have we, who are the recipients of these lectures, that the same mistake has not been made to-day? We have, on the contrary, every reason to suppose that it has. And in neither speech has there been the slightest answer to the main point in my speech, and the main point in the speech of my noble friend Lord Cushendun. It is this, that at this moment we are in the supremely dangerous position that the Government of this country believes it has entered into a grave negotiation upon one basis, and the Government of the negotiating party believes, or states, that it has entered into that negotiation upon an entirely different basis. The noble Lord is entirely wrong in what he says that this statement has been confined to one paper, the Pravda, which, with very great lack of knowledge, he describes as an obscure organ.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Well, if the noble Lord reads the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see; he may have been referring to the opinion which he had of the Daily Worker. There, again, the noble Lord's treatment of this paper was very characteristic. The noble Lord has the advantage over most of us of knowing everything. He says that paper would have ceased to exist if it had not been for the advertisement that was given to it. How does the noble Lord know whether it would have ceased to exist or not? He admits that its circulation has grown. Has there ever been a Communist paper in this country which could get as much Moscow money as it wanted which has ceased to exist? Why should it cease to exist? It is its only means of livelihood, and it is very likely to continue until the financial contributions are withdrawn.
And when the noble Lord represents that I am willing to believe nothing which can be said on behalf of the Bolsheviks, and I am willing to believe everything that is stated against them, the noble Lord does me great injustice. The moment I can obtain any reliable evidence in support of any official statement made by the Soviet Government I am prepared to accept it and to consider it; but there is no reliable evidence forthcoming, because they have made themselves an inaccessible country, because they dare not face the consequences which would be produced upon the mind of the world if the actual conditions ruling in that country became known. The noble Lord and his friends can go there. I do not know whether the noble Lord has been himself, but their Russian hosts perfectly understand alike their mentality and their gullibility. There is always hospitality waiting for them, carefully arranged houses, and Courts of Justices, and hospitals, and schools—all known as "the tourists' round." Who else can go? What independent witness can collect evidence as to what is taking place in Soviet Russia to-day?
I cannot believe that a dangerous situation has not been created by this disparity of view as to the meaning of these negotiations; and when the noble Lord, imputing, a little unusually, motives in this matter, says that I introduced the subject of this debate in order to damage relations between this country and 678 Russia, he is partially accurate. I will explain the range of his accuracy. I am convinced that in existing conditions we shall sustain nothing but injury, humiliation, constant, futile and dangerous controversy, by offering diplomatic hospitality to these people in this country. And my object in raising this debate is to call the attention of Parliament, and, as far as I can, of the country to the mentality of these people, with a view to terminating these relations. I have never put forward any other view, or any other purpose. And when the noble Lord establishes a comparison between pre-War Russia and the Bolshevist system, when he corrects my noble friend Lord Cushendun for using the word "Bolshevik" and says he should use the word "Russian," surely the noble Lord knows that hardly one in a hundred of the governing and influential Bolsheviks is Russian; and ill indeed and superficially has that man read history who, with all the faults, the admitted faults, of the pre-War Russian régime, attempts to establish a sincere and honest comparison between the faults of that régime, such as they were, and the crimes, the negation of all civilisation, of all conscience, which have rendered and will render the régime which at the present moment discredits and disgraces Russia, the most unworthy, perhaps the most criminal, in the history of the world. After the noble and learned Lord has been courteous enough to call my attention to the several Papers, I ask the leave of your Lordships to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.