§ LORD NEWTON asked if His Majesty's Government are in possession of any official information bearing upon the statement that certain Soviet exports to this country are produced under a so-called slave State system, and, if so, whether they will consent to its publication. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put this Question upon the Paper in consequence mainly of a controversy which arose between the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and the noble and learned Lord opposite with regard to the question of Russian dumping. A controversy between these two noble Lords is not in itself a matter of much importance, but, on the other hand, this question of Russian dumping is a matter of enormous importance, although I confess it does not seem to have dawned upon many people. It has, I observe, dawned on Mr. Lloyd George—which is a somewhat surprising event—but it has not dawned apparently, much to my surprise, upon that great economist, Lord Beaverbrook, who is firmly convinced that the one thing that this country desires more than anything else is dear food. Perhaps he and his disciples will awake to the importance of the question one of these days. I have little doubt that before long the Albert Hall and the parks will be crowded with demonstrators 278 against dumping. I have no doubt, either, that the next time the question is raised in this House there will be a more representative attendance.
I do not ask the noble and learned Lord opposite to accept my opinion upon the importance of this question. I candidly admit that I do not profess to be an authority upon economics, but I will refer the noble and learned Lord to an opinion which I am sure he will deeply value—namely, the opinion of the Labour Office of the League of Nations, a body presided over by a very well-known French Socialist, M. Albert Thomas, and a body which is not in the least likely to be influenced by reactionary feelings. I extract the following significant passage from their Report of this year:—
In spite of difficulties of all kinds, economic or otherwise, which may result from such action, Russia is setting out to isolate herself from, and to Organise herself against, the rest of the world.
In other words, Soviet Russia has declared economic war, not only against this country but against every other European country, and I do not think that anybody who is not absolutely devoid of imagination can conceal from himself the importance of this attitude. Here you have a country of 140,000,000 people, increasing by several millions every year, directed and absolutely controlled by an irresponsible and despotic Government and acting literally as one man, with the object of destroying capitalism and promoting revolution by means of unemployment and so forth in European countries.
§ In the debate to which I alluded just now I intervened for a few moments and stated that, in pursuance of this policy of what is known as the five-year plan, unemployment had been pronounced to be a crime in Soviet Russia. The noble and learned Lord opposite corrected me and said that there was no unemployment in Russia. It so happens—it does not often happen—that we were both right. In the beginning of the year, in fact as late as June, there were no fewer than 662,000 unemployed in Soviet Russia. I take these figures again from an international source. A little more than a month ago all these unemployed disappeared. They did not disappear by the ordinary process of being absorbed into industry, but they were literally abolished by a stroke of the pen. I think it was on November 8 that the Soviet Government issued a de- 279 cree abolishing all unemployment relief and ordering the drafting of all registered unemployed for compulsory work all over the country. This was followed by a similar decree two days later. This all-important fact was disclosed by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons yesterday, but apparently the Press did not consider it to be worth their notice, and there is nothing about it.
§ The plain facts are that in the so-called proletarian paradise the unemployed person dues not receive a "dole," as he does here and in other countries, but he is drafted off to work in whatever direction the Government chooses. Those seized upon are both men and women, provided that are able bodied, and they are drafted off to work on farms, in mines or factories, or in forests and timber works of various kinds. My noble friend Lord Ernle, who I am sorry not to see in his place to-day, pointed out with great force last week the effect which this Russian dumping of agricultural products would have upon this country; and here again, utilising my source of information, the Report of the International Labour Office, I may point out that they say with some acidity that the process of collectivism is so vigorous in Soviet Russia that not only has the poorer class of peasant disappeared but, in pursuance of this policy of collectivism, many peasants were executed in the course of last winter.
§ The noble and learned Lord opposite will probably contend that no great harm accrues to us by reason of this collectivist system of farming. It is quite possible that he will think it a very good thing for us because, although the Russians themselves may starve, we shall be able to get our food cheaper, although a vast number of persons may be ruined in consequence. I expect that, if he entertains these views, he will be warmly supported by his colleagues, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He will probably add that dumping has at least one very great merit, because it helps to facilitate and increase our export trade with Russia. Our export trade, in fact all our trade, with Russia appears to me to be a very one-sided business. So far as I am able to judge—as I said before, I do not profess to be an economist—the case seems to be that we lend 280 money to the Russians in order to pay for a few articles from us, including armaments which are probably intended to be used some day against us, and they on their side dump here an enormous amount of stuff which we do not require, and which does us harm because it throws a vast number of our people out of employment.
I am not going to detain the House long, but I would pass for a moment to what is known as industrial dumping. I really use the term "dumping" with a certain amount of diffidence, because the noble and learned Lord opposite is of so amiable a disposition that he cannot see anything wrong about anybody or any institution. It is quite plain to me that in his heart he has what I will venture almost to describe as a profound affection for dumping. He is thoroughly sympathetic with the practice, as will be judged from the speech that he delivered on the subject last week. The noble and learned Lord said:—
But unless you can find unfair conditions, I am bound to admit that I think the word 'dumping' is a mere term of prejudice. Of course, if there are unfair conditions it is different, but when the noble Viscount talks about unfair conditions, we want the conditions very carefully ascertained and very carefully stated in order not to make any error in a matter of that kind.
I could not have found any words that suited my purpose more admirably. That is the exact reason why I am making my request to him this afternoon.
§ It is not disputed that there is conscription of labour in Russia. Conscription of wealth came first, but conscription of labour, perhaps to the surprise of the Soviet citizen, has now succeeded it. It is not denied that the products of what has been described as the slave system are now dumped all over Europe, with the double purpose of ruining capitalism and bringing about political trouble. The Socialist Party may perhaps argue that this is a justifiable course, but what they cannot possibly defend is the employment of a so-called slave system, if it really exists. Sweated goods have always been a supreme abomination to the Labour Party, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, has gone so far as to say that products of this kind ought not to be dealt with by taxation, but by actual prohibition. According to the numerous statements that I have seen 281 in the Press, which I am not going to quote, this conscript labour is carried on, apparently, under almost intolerable conditions. The conscript labourers, according to an eminent Labour authority, Mr. Bevin, do not even receive pay. They only receive very inadequate clothing and food. They work for preposterously long hours, they are given very little to eat, and finally, are treated with extreme brutality; and when I use these expressions have in mind principally the accounts received from merchant seamen, and others, who have been engaged in the timber trade in North Russian ports. So far as one can judge, the position of these unfortunate men and women—I am speaking of those employed in the timber trade—is exactly the same as that of many of those unfortunate prisoners during the late War whose fate excited the commiseration of everybody. Yet in spite of these conditions, more or less substantiated, no protest has been made on the part of any responsible body. Certainly the League of Nations have not moved in the matter, although eventually they may be stirred up to do so.
§ I have risen to ask whether these statements are true or not. If they are not true, then all these charges of slave labour and so forth fall to the ground, and there is nothing more to be said. If, as is represented by some visitors who have been to Russia, the fact is that everybody employed in various labour is doing it in a spirit of generous emulation—every man trying to produce more than another for the benefit of the State, in the spirit in which people engaged in a football tie here—nothing more is to be said. If, however, the allegations which I have mentioned are true, then I do not see how the Labour Party can possibly resist exercising prohibition. There is only one method that I can see by which this question can be settled, and that is by means of an official Report. There has been no Report whatever published in this country on labour conditions in Russia since Lord Curzon was at the Foreign Office in 1921, and I am perfectly confident myself that Reports of this kind exist. They either exist in the Foreign Office or in the Board of Trade, or in the Overseas Department, or somewhere.
§ I shall probably be told—I am quite prepared to be told—that to produce any 282 Report of this character might be embarrassing to a friendly Government. To my mind the great mistake all through this business has been to pretend that Russia is a friendly country. So far from being a friendly country Russia is a distinctly hostile country, and grows more hostile. You may search Russian newspapers and official communications, and I defy anybody to find one word of friendliness towards this country. Russia is in reality a bitter enemy of this country, and I cannot believe that the issue of any Report of the kind for which I am asking could make our relations with Russia any worse than they are at the present moment. When I say that, I am quite sure that noble Lords opposite detest the Soviet Government just as much as I do. We were told, when they decided to resume relations with Russia, that one of the great advantages would be that we should be able to obtain reliable information with regard to Soviet Russia, but ever since the surreptitious meeting in some pot-house near Brighton between the Foreign Secretary and the Soviet representative, the Foreign Secretary has maintained an air of mystery and of reticence which would better become a Metternich or a Talleyrand than a representative of democracy. It is time that we got rid of this secrecy and were told what is going on. In conclusion, I ask the noble Lord opposite to cast his mind back and to reflect for a moment upon the impassioned oratory of former years relating to the iniquity of secret diplomacy. If he does so, he will find it difficult to refuse the very reasonable and moderate request which I am making.
My Lords, I do not pretend to have any special knowledge of this subject more than is available to any reader of the newspapers, but I think we must realise that the Government is skating over very thin ice. The following is, I think, a very accurate picture of popular impressions. During the War the old Imperial Government of Russia perished of inefficiency, and the only organised body of people capable of taking their place were a set of conspirators who by means of a ruthless reign of terror acquired the control of the destinies of the whole Russian nation. We need not trouble ourselves with what they said, but having 283 destroyed all means of production they were unable to avoid plunging their country into a state of almost indescribable misery. Being unable to find anything else to do and being in control of overwhelming physical force, it occurred to them, as it has occurred to many embarrassed revolutionaries before them, that the best thing to do to put off the day of reckoning for themselves, and to distract attention from their own failures, was to involve other people in the destruction which they had brought about in their own country.
In these circumstances it was obviously desirable to obtain complete control of the man-power of Russia. What more natural than to turn Russia into a slave State? This appears to be what has happened. The impression may be a wrong one, but there is a great deal in support of it, and so far as I know no serious attempt has ever been made to disprove it. If it is accurate the position of His Majesty's Government is one of the greatest embarrassment. Obviously they depend enormously upon the support of those elements in this country who are in the strongest sympathy with the clique which now controls Russia, and who are indeed in open and avowed communication and alliance with that clique. His Majesty's Government defer to these people on all occasions. They introduce measures which are obviously calculated to undermine the strength of this country. At their bidding they proclaim loudly that black is white and that two and two are five if enough people vote in this sense. At their bidding they promise their deluded supporters a new heaven and a new earth, where no one need do any more work than the electorate sees fit to decree, and all trouble shall be transferred to the shoulders of that unpatriotic section of the people who have dared to exercise thrift.
And all the time the people at whose bidding they do these things are the people who are responsible for the reintroduction of slavery in Russia. No wonder that the Government refuse to answer questions upon Russia. No wonder they are shy of the subject of slavery. No wonder they refuse to tell the truth, which is that men who willingly live upon the "dole" are in character already slaves, and in fact more than half way to slavery. This, 284 I say again, is the impression that has been created. It may be a wrong impression. I hope His Majesty's Government will tell us all about it, but I am terribly afraid that they dare not. Mum's the word!
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, it is perfectly well known that conscripted labour is being used at this moment in Russia. I should like to give your Lordships one instance of the result of conscript labour in Russia with regard to our own trade. This comes from the British Empire Producers' Organisation Canning Committee and relates to British Columbia. In 1910 this country imported 10,000 cases of tinned salmon from Russia. In 1929–30 over 1,000,000 cases were imported from Russia, which has practically brought the British Columbia salmon industry down to nothing at all. They are exporting hardly anything this year. The manager of one of the biggest firms in British Columbia told the representative of this organisation that the Russian agents were ordered to undersell as far as they possibly could. Of course, this does not affect this country at present very much. It affects more the primary producer in Canada. It should be realised that the time will come when it will affect this country, because all the money that is being collected from this dumping is used to finance the five-year plan, which aims at setting up factories to export £175,000,000 worth of manufactured goods. The fact of this conscript labour in Russia is perfectly well known. Throughout the world measures have been taken to stop it. In practically every country in the world these measures have been taken. In Rumania and Yugo-Slavia and Hungary they have absolutely prohibited the import of all Russian goods. In France and other countries in Europe, except Finland, they have committees sitting which will not allow any Russian goods to enter without a licence. In America it is the same. We are the only country which has this laisser faire policy, and one simply cannot understand it.
My Lords, I understand that my noble friend Lord Newton has asked for an official Report. May I add to that a request that if, in reply to that application to His Majesty's representatives, the Govern- 285 ment are informed that there are limitations which prevent these facts and figures being obtained, those limitations are also reported upon? May I also ask the noble and learned Lord to ascertain the number of convicts and administratively deported persons in the Soviet Union at the present moment, and whether or not it is the fact that under Tsarism there were approximately 500,000 convicts or administratively deported persons, whereas at the present time the number is something well over 5,000,000. Because I am afraid that we may be told that there is no slavery in Russia, but that there is convict labour. When you have 5,000,000 convicts, even in a population of 140,000,000, you have a largish labour corps to draw upon. I hope we may have that additional information.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, I should like at the outset to repudiate the notion, brought forward I think by Lord Monkswell, that we have any desire not to give all the information we can about Russian labour conditions and Russian trade, or that we have ever acted in a way to suggest that we have such a desire. The noble Lord said that he had not studied the question, and I am sure he cannot have studied either the answers which have been given both here and elsewhere, or the discussions which have taken place at Geneva, or the information that is already known about conditions in Russia. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, I am not aware at present whether we can give any more information on the points to which he referred, but I do not want to suggest that I will not make further inquiries as to the particular points which he mentioned.
In the debate the other afternoon I was asked both by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, to approach the Departments concerned in order to see whether further information could not be given and certain documents laid on the Table giving the information for which they asked. I at once communicated with the Departments, and this enables me to start by answering the questions which the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has raised specifically. There has been, of course, diplomatic correspondence between this country and Russia. Lord Newton would 286 admit, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, frankly admitted the other day, that diplomatic correspondence of that kind cannot be made public. It is not a question of this particular instance: you would imperil the whole basis of diplomatic relationships if correspondence of a diplomatic character were not preserved against publicity. You might at once destroy the whole advantage and merit of the position of a particular representative in a foreign country. But, more than that, I state quite positively that on no occasion has it ever been suggested that a diplomatic correspondence of that kind should be made public, because to do so would be against the public interest.
The second point raised by the noble Lord was whether, apart from diplomatic correspondence, there have been any questions asked or answered as between our Government and the Government of Soviet Russia. The reply to that is that there are no such communications. All the communications which have passed between us have passed through diplomatic channels, and therefore there is no Paper under that head which we can lay upon the Table, because no such Paper exists. The last point on which I should like to answer him before I come to other matters is this. No doubt we have, I should think in a form which could not be obtained elsewhere, a large number of documents referring to all that the Soviet Government have done either by legislation or ordinance upon this labour question. Those documents in many respects are complex and difficult. They are documents which might lead to one interpretation or another; I shall state presently what our interpretation has been. And it would be far better that all the documents so far as they have been collected should be published in a White Paper and laid on the Table of your Lordships' House; that is to say, published as a Parliamentary document.
Judging from what I have seen—I cannot go beyond that—I think that both sides of the case, both the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and the very different suggestions that I have made, can be fairly judged when the documents themselves are published in a form in which we can study them and endeavour to ascertain what they really mean. That the Government are 287 prepared to do. I am told that I must utter one word of caution about that. It will take some time to collect these documents so as to make a complete collection in order that they may be published in as complete a form as possible. The process will commence at once, but I cannot promise that it will not take some time before the actual documents are published.
Having said that, let me deal with the other matters to which the noble Lord referred. He rather sought, I think, to re-open matters which we discussed the other day in this House. I do not wish to re-open those matters because it would be necessary to discuss them at very considerable length. The first objection I take to what the noble Lord, Lord Newton, said is as to the form of his question on the Paper. He talks about "a so-called slave State system." What does he mean by slave State system? I think if one thing is more certain than another in the matters we are discussing it is that "a slave State system" cannot be applied to Soviet Russia and is in no sense whatever applicable to Soviet Russia. When I say that I am not putting out of sight what I shall refer to later—what is called forced labour. Forced labour is a very different thing from a state of slavery.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I wonder at the laughter of noble Lords because I am perfectly certain that no one who has studied this question will deny the statement I am making when I say that the question of forced labour has been considered by the International Labour Office; whereas the question of slavery has always been considered by the political side of the League. I think there is no doubt whatever that the statement I am making is absolutely true. I regret that matters of this kind should be laughed at in your Lordships' House, whether you agree with them or not. I should have thought it was the prerogative of this House to discuss matters of this kind in a most serious sense and with every attention. Slavery suggests a status, and a slave system suggests a system in which the slave population are in the nature of property or chattels belonging to their master. That is the 288 way in which the word "slavery" was used in his great decision by Lord Mansfield, who said that it meant treating a human being as a chattel, and that it was inconsistent with all ideas of morality or religion. Therefore, he negatived the suggestion that the slave who had escaped into this country could ever, under our principle of habeas corpus, be restored to his master.
But may I quote the last definition on this matter? I think it is perfectly accurate and I hope that those of your Lordships who have not studied the question will consider these words. It was in the Slavery Convention of 1927, which was before we were in power, but that makes no difference. There is not the slightest possibility of difference or misunderstanding between the two political Parties under this head if they realise what words really mean. This is the definition of slavery which they took: Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom all or any of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised. That is a perfectly complete and perfectly simple definition. Surely, when we are dealing with a matter of this kind, when we do not want to import mere prejudice, we may have regard in using words to their real, technical, legal and general signification.
That is rather important here for this reason. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, very properly no doubt—I do not want to refer to it at any length though I have a note about it—referred to a Report of 1921. That was the Report (I think we are referring to the same matter) of a Committee of which Lord Emmott was Chairman and which was appointed by Lord Curzon. As regards the matters which we are now discussing—I am not going back into it—that Report stated that on the evidence before them the Committee could not come to any certain conclusion. But there were two matters upon which they did come to a conclusion. They never used the word "slavery" at all, but they came to a conclusion on two matters even at that date which are absolutely and wholly inconsistent with the idea of slavery. One was that it was utterly illegal to have compulsory unpaid labour. It has never been questioned that I know of, that that 289 has not been always so. Of course, it is utterly inconsistent with the whole notion of slavery. The second was that all labour which was employed was to be paid and must be paid, and the suggestion was made—I admit it is a difficult one economically—that payment should be made as far as possible in relation to the productivity of the labourer's work. Those are two organic laws of the Soviet Government at the present time.
I ask, in the sense of fairness of one country considering the social conditions of another, whether in those circumstances the system of slavery is possibly applicable to conditions in Soviet Russia? That was in 1921. And that, of course, was the time when the Soviet Government were in immense difficulties. No one can imagine really, I think, the terrible conditions in Russia at the end of the War and the starvation which subsequently took place in the Saratov district, with which I happen to be somewhat closely connected. No one can imagine the extraordinary state of disorganisation and poverty without really feeling admiration for the extent to which order and some proportion at any rate of food were introduced in a comparatively short time.
The next matter in history which I think the noble Lord referred to and to which I should also like to refer, was the statement made the other day by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place. I quote the passage because it is no good going over these matters again and again. I am only giving your Lordships the best information which we, as a Government, could obtain and which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs gave to the House of Commons a very short time ago; I think only a week ago. These Articles have to be considered, I admit, in much greater detail. Speaking from the legal point of view that is most certainly so. I can only give a brief summary. I am quite willing that all the Articles themselves should be published in a White Paper in full. I think it would be of the greatest advantage that these matters should not be left in the realm of prejudice, but should, if possible, be within the realm of fact. The Foreign Secretary said:— 290Article 9 of the Constitution of Soviet Russia imposes the duty of labour on all its citizens, but compulsory unpaid labour of whatever nature is illegal.There is an end to the slavery question.Forced labour may be imposed by judicial and administrative organs as a punishment for crime or misdemeanour,"—we do the same here—and, in addition, labour may be mobilised for special national emergencies (e.g., earthquakes, floods, etc.).He next referred to the timber industry. This is a specially important matter and I want to deal with it. In regard to this the Foreign Secretary said:—As regards the timber industry, provincial communities are empowered by a decree of the 13th February last to employ compulsory labour at special rates of pay where the fulfilment of a production programme calls for such action.I am not going to defend that scheme so promulgated, but reading, as I have, Article 9, it wholly negatives the idea of slavery. It states what is the principle of the whole of Russian labour legislation—that labour is to be fairly paid, except in special conditions and as a punishment or penalty such as we might have in our own country. Then the Article gives the special regulation as regards timber. I think that that regulation covers a great deal of the ground to which attention has been called. But, apart from timber, take the case of wheat. I do not want to go into what we discussed the other day, nor is it necessary to do so, but the information that I have is that labour is popular on the State and collective farms on which these great areas of wheat are being grown, and for two reasons. This labour on the whole is better paid than labour in the towns, and, further, owing to the aggregations of labour, you can have inter-communication in games and other ways. That is something which is very popular in a country like Russia, where there is so much isolation.
While I am dealing with that, may I give another figure which has been supplied to me, and it is this. If you compare the conditions as regards the standard of life in Russia now with what they were in old times you get this result, that they are sixty seven per cent. higher. That does not mean that the conditions are satisfactory. It is almost impossible that they should be so with 291 things as they now exist in Russia, but it shows that a really great effort has been made, whether we agree with the basis of it or not, and that there has been a real advance in the social condition and prospects of at any rate a very large number of the 130,000,000 or 140,000,000 to whom the noble Lord, Lord Newton, referred.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I do not know exactly what you mean by "sweated labour." Sweated labour is labour judged in reference to some standard.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Perhaps I might answer that. I do not want to be misunderstood about these matters, and it is not easy to avoid being misunderstood. Protests are made against imports into this country on the ground that it is dumping because the products are said to have been made by sweated labour. That is quite untrue. What I should mean by "sweated labour" is this, that if we had certain international standards of living which must be complied with wherever commodities are produced, then, in my opinion, to produce commodities under worse conditions than those which have been internationally agreed upon would make them into "sweated labour" goods, but you cannot compare the labour in one country with the labour in another. It is said that labour in England is three or four times—I think those were Mr. Bennett's figures—less well paid than labour in Canada. You have to consider all the conditions, the price of food, which the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, is so anxious sometimes to refer me to, and matters of that kind. But I do not go into those questions. I believe that in this country the conditions of labour compare favourably with those in any other country when properly ascertained and considered, and I 292 am, in favour of pressing forward International Conventions under which other countries would have to maintain the same level, having regard to the conditions of each particular country, and then the export of goods produced under conditions of labour of a worse kind would be regarded as dumping under unfair conditions.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
May I ask the noble Lord, will he state whether labour in Russia is sweated or does he not consider it to be sweated?
§ LORD PARMOOR
That is exactly the question. What basis are you going to take? I cannot profess to have been all over Russia, but I do know Russia pretty well in some ways, and, as far as I know, the conditions in Russia now compare most favourably with what they were some years ago. That there is no sweated labour I am sure I cannot say, nor do I think the noble Lord can, but what I do say is that so far as the Russian Government are concerned they do what they can to raise the standard of labour, and they make it a condition not only that there should be no employment without payment, but that the payment when given should be in relation to the productivity of the labour employed. I do not think I can go farther than that. It is all very well to use these terms, but they do not really mean much unless you know what the standard of comparison is. Let me go a little further, if I may, because I have some accounts of how labour is dealt with in Russia. Here, again, let me enter this caveat. I want all these documents to be before your Lordships, but all I can do at the present time is to give a summary which has been carefully supervised by other minds than my own.
A general review of the nature of the labour conditions in Russia would be incomplete without some consideration being given to the classes of the community who may be regarded as occupying a special position in these matters and to special legislation which may, to some extent, affect the general position. There are three classes of persons occupying positions in this respect. This is going as far as I can to-day. Why it should be thought that I do not desire to give all the information we can I do not know. That suggestion is quite untrue. I think 293 I shall have to go back to one other passage before that. There are five sub-divisions which I ought to refer to. There are five such categories. There is labour for hire, forced labour, mobilised labour, labour in places of incarceration and public labour. Now what are those classes and how are they dealt with? Labour for hire is on a purely voluntary basis between the two parties and is in accordance with existing rates of pay and insurance regulations. Payment is made in money and, where necessary, in kind also, but payment in kind must be in addition to money payments. That is to say, you may not have the truck system, which we have abolished here.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Really I am giving all the information I can. It has been very carefully obtained. Unpaid work is prohibited. I find I can give a figure which has been asked for by the noble Lord. It has just been given to me, but I must consider it. Forced labour is imposed by judicial and administrative organs as a punishment for crime or misdemeanour. It is carried out at the place of work of the condemned person for a period of from two weeks to one year. Payment—this is even for labour as a criminal punishment—must be made at the State minimum rate (ten roubles per month), or at a percentage fixed in accordance with local conditions, or at a special percentage to be decided on by the Court, being not less than the State minimum. I think that perhaps answers the question.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It has been prepared for me and I helped to prepare it in order to show what the conditions of labour are as far as we have been able to ascertain them in Russia at the present time.
Would the noble and learned Lord say what the value of the rouble is? What is the exchange rate at present?
§ LORD PARMOOR
Perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to finish my argument. I do not mind cross-examination—though I prefer to administer it rather than to be the subject of it—but it really interrupts the whole argument if every second some noble Lord jumps up. Mobilised labour is used only in special emergencies, such as earth quakes, floods, etc. That is what I referred to generally before. In that case, the population is mobilised and is paid a daily wage at a rate decreed for the occasion. Fortunately, they do not have these special matters every day even in Russia. As regards labour in places of incarceration—that is what we call prison labour—those condemned to solitary confinement carry on the work either of their profession or, if that is not practicable, some work available at the place of detention provided that this work is in accordance with the education and the moral and physical condition of the prisoner. As a rule, the wages paid to the prisoner are at a rate specially fixed, somewhat lower than the rate for other citizens. A part of the money goes towards the keep of the prisoner and the balance is put to his account and is paid to him on release. I should have thought myself, I must say, that that is an admirable system.
Is it not right—you want to maintain the level as far as possible of a man in prison—that lie should be given work he is capable of doing and be paid a substantial rate of payment, and that when he comes out the surplus should be at his command to start life afresh? I should have thought that was an admirable and humane system. As regard, public labour, that is purely voluntary and is based exclusively on the good will of the workers. In most cases it is word of a cultural and educational nature and is unpaid. I think under those various heads I have explained what was put in much shorter terms by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Henderson, when he gave an answer some time ago in the House of Commons. I do not think that you would stand all the information I have got, in spite of the apparent desire for more, and I must 295 pass on to a later stage of the information which I managed to acquire in order that I might tell you all that I could.
There is one other matter I want to speak about, and that is the question of what is called prison-made goods. Your Lordships know that under the Statute—I think of 1895—prison-made goods cannot be imported into this country, and the system is that the Customs officers should be made acquainted with the charge and that then they should make such inquiry as they can. This matter was raised in another place, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an answer. He said he had not had any complaints to be brought before the Customs officials and, therefore, up to date there could have been no inquiry because no basis for inquiry had ever been suggested. If you ask me for my opinion for what it is worth, I think that to allow prison-made goods to be imported so as to compete with free made goods would be to permit unfair competition, and in a case of that kind I for one would rejoice in prohibition.
Would the noble and learned Lord extend that to goods produced by prison labour outside the prison?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am not sure whether that would be so. You must look at the Act of 1895. Personally, I think that will have to be dealt with at present under the terms of that Act. If the Act is not sufficiently comprehensive, or is considered on inquiry not to be sufficiently comprehensive, that is another matter, but at the present time it must depend upon the terms of the Act and the action taken after inquiry by the officials.
I think I have answered as well and as fairly as I can, and certainly with no other desire than to give such explanations as I could, the Question asked by the noble Lord, and also one or two inquiries that he made in the course of his speech and which did not appear on the Paper. I make no complaint of that fact. The noble Lord is as well aware as I am of what can be disclosed in response to inquiries of this kind and what Papers can be laid upon the Table. I hope that he will feel that, if he gets the information which the Departments concerned are prepared to supply, he 296 will be sufficiently informed to form a just judgment on the matters to which he has referred. Nothing can be worse than to live under conditions of doubt and suspicion. Nothing can be worse, in my view, than that the intercourse between countries like Russia and England should be spoilt by being based on suspicion instead of on friendship and industrial amity. That is a matter into which I do not want to go further at the present time. We will give all the information we can in any connection, and we hope that by that information these suspicions may be lessened and we may spend our time more profitably than in merely criticising another country without sufficient information upon which to found our criticism.
My Lords, I desire to raise one point in connection with this subject which will, perhaps, give an opportunity for debating it at a slightly different angle. Naturally I am not going into the difference between slave status and forced labour conditions. I do not think the country as a whole is interested in the distinction between the two. What they want to know is whether goods that are being sent from Russia to England are produced under anything like similar conditions to those that are enjoyed under the regulations of this country. If His Majesty's Government think that it would be unfriendly to ask for an inquiry into labour conditions under the Soviet Government, I should like to know if they could ask for an inquiry into the reason why the Soviet rule is so efficient that it is able to produce timber at a far lower cost than anybody else, although we are told that the conditions of labour are so much better than they were under the Imperial rule; and also as to how they are able to produce wheat at a lower cost than any other country in the world, with this great increase in the labour bill: and, finally, how they are able now to compete with the thoroughly organised canned salmon industry which is of such long standing in Canada. If there is such efficiency, surely the Russians would be only too delighted for us to see how they achieved it, So that we may adopt their system of government.
Let me take the example of timber. The Russian Government are now able 297 to compete with, and indeed absolutely to knock out, the pit prop product at Cardiff which used to be sent from the North. In the Landes, as you know, this is an industry which has been going on for many decades. The pit prop which is sent from there is simply a surplus product. The resin has been extracted and all the value taken from it, and it is sent as a return cargo in vessels which go out with coal. Yet the same labour bill has to be paid there, and the Landes can now barely compete and in many cases those who run the industry have been knocked out by the activities in Russia. Surely all this gives us ground to imagine that there must be either some astounding efficiency or a curious absence of labour payment, or at any rate some method of payment which allows unfair competition. Surely we might have smile inquiry as to how Soviet Russia is so efficient that it is able to compete in timber. The same thing is true in regard to wheat. Apparently they are able to dump wheat into various countries of Europe at a much lower price than is possible for the well-organised, well-tilled and easily marketed crops of Canada. I know Russian land and I know Canadian land. I know what the organisation has been in both. I can hardly imagine that any reasonable labour wages could be paid so as to make it possible for Russia to compete with Canada.
There is one rather anxious fact which has been dealt with by the noble Lord. He mentioned five classes of labour. I note that only one of those classes is both voluntary and paid. It would be very interesting to know what proportions of employees are in the various categories. There is forced labour, which gets the payment. of 10 roubles a month as the minimum. Any one who has travelled recently in Russia knows what the value of the rouble is. Ten roubles a month represents very much less than is paid to any native in any part of His Majesty's Dominions. Then the noble and learned Lord referred to mobilised labour, which may be used for dealing with earthquakes and so on. He talks about prison labour, but he is most careful to abstain from giving us any precise figures in that connection. With regard to the public labour, it will be noted that it is unpaid. If there is any truth in the reports that we have from 298 Russia, a certain amount of political pressure is sometimes introduced to make people do things out of public spirit which they would not do if they did not have a very efficient Government.
Let me return for one moment to timber. That is a matter with which I had very much to do in the last twelve years, and naturally I have a great many acquaintances who are actually engaged in the trade. I do not say that I have been out there, but I base my remarks upon information received, not from casual sailors, who may tell sailors' yarns, but from men who took part in the War and in whose veracity I believe. I gather that the conditions which exist, both at the sawmills in the White Sea and at the loading stations, are inhuman. Unless the Soviet Government can show, either that they have astonishing efficiency or that they are able by some method of their own to produce timber, wheat and salmon at a cheaper rate than other nations, we have at least grave ground for suspicion that it is done at the cost of the labour which, after all, accounts for a very high proportion of the cost of production of all those articles.
This question of dumping into this country, which was debated last night, is really a very vital thing for the country at large. A dumped market has no bottom. The mere fact that great cargoes are on the way to this country, of wheat and timber which can be produced at a cost with which no other country can compete makes it impossible in this country to go forward with agricultural production with any confidence at all. May I remind the Government that hard things will be said about them in the near future, because the largest buyers of Russian wheat at these knockout prices are their own friends and supporters in the co-operative associations. Have they put down the price of bread? Is it right that they should be making a profit out of the labour conditions which exist in Russia and not pass it on here to their customers, who also support the Government? They are making a hidden profit, to which I suggest they have no right. I think that we ought to press for an inquiry into the labour conditions in Russia. It is quite immaterial whether it is called slave labour or forced labour. What we want to know is whether the conditions 299 there are similar to those which we have here. If not, are we right to allow these materials to come in and force people out of employment and off the land, and add to the enormous roll of unemployed?
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
My Lords, I am bound to confess that seldom, it ever, have I had to listen to a Ministerial reply, either in this or the other Rouse, winch seemed to me so deplorably unsatisfactory as that delivered by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. The first question I have to ask is how does the noble Lord know what he has told us? Where has he got his information from? He told us quite truly that diplomatic correspondence cannot be published. With that I agree, but I go further and I say, in this particular case, that even if we had the diplomatic correspondence it would be of very little value, because one of the false points made by His Majesty's Government when they resumed diplomatic relations with Russia was the utterly false idea that by doing so they would be able to command larger and more accurate information of Russia itself. That is entirely untrue. I do not believe that any diplomatic correspondence that comes to us from our representative in Russia would have the slightest value at the present time.
I have said that the noble and learned Lord's reply to my mind was deplorably unsatisfactory, but there was something almost pathetic, I think, in the laborious way in which he tried, in very difficult circumstances, to make out some colourable case against the suggestion of my noble friend behind me. He took great trouble to give us definitions which are not of the smallest account or of the slightest value. He took considerable time and trouble to define slave labour. He said that slavery implied that the slave was a chattel. To begin with, I entirely deny that that is so, because there have been lots of instances of slavery in the world, and some exist now, where that has not been true; but in Russia it is true, and every labourer in Russia at this moment is a chattel. He is not the chattel of an individual. That is the only difference. All property in Russia is the property, not of individuals but of the State, and every labourer is the chattel of the State. He is at the beck and call of the State. He is shot by the State if he does not obey its 300 orders, and large numbers of them have been shot within the last few months, and I believe within the last few weeks, because they demurred to obeying their orders or offended in some way against the decrees of the oligarchy which rules Russia.
I believe in many cases the only offence these wretched people were guilty of was being hungry, or something of that sort. I saw not long ago that there was a decree making it illegal to go into a food queue, and I believe many people have been shot because they were hungry and had the impudence to say so, or to show that they were. Therefore, nothing which the noble and learned Lord has said is likely to convince this House that you have anything in Russia except slave labour. The noble Lord tried to draw a distinction between slave labour and forced labour. There may be a distinction, but it is not an interesting one. It does not matter in the least to any of us whether the wretched labourer is a slave or whether he is a forced labourer. The noble Lord read us, or summarised, an elaborate document referring to the payments said to be given to labourers in Russia. I ventured to interrupt him, and to ask him what that document was. He was rather annoyed with me for doing so.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
I thought he was. At any rate he did not give me an answer. All he told us was that it was a document, which I knew already. It was a document which had been put into his hands, but where and by whom he did not say, and I go so far as to say—the noble and learned Lord, I am sure, perfectly honestly used that information and endeavoured to give us correct information—that I do not believe a word of it. I do not believe that document has any substance whatever. Of course one may have to revise that opinion if, and when, the noble and learned Lord condescends to tell us where the document comes from.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
Who wrote it, and what is its significance in the eyes of His Majesty's Government? So far it is merely an anonymous document, which has been read out, making certain allegations to which I do not think your 301 Lordships are likely to pay any attention, with regard to payments to labour in Russia. I do not believe from all I have seen, and I have read a great deal about it, there is any honest and real payment to labour in Russia. There may be certain colourable conditions, and no doubt the Soviet Government are quite astute enough to put forward decrees and laws and so on, which the noble and learned Lord can come and read to us here, telling us how many roubles an hour are paid to Russian labour. But that is all humbug. We do not believe that in the least.
My difficulty in discussing this matter at all is that I do not think that it is primarily an economic question. It is a moral question, and I do not care what benefits we might be going to derive from the dumping of these Russian goods—I believe that the underlying morality of the whole case is such that no decent nation ought to submit to it. That is my own belief. But, beyond that, the fact is that at the present moment there is no honest production in Russia at all. Large quantities of grain are being produced, though not nearly enough to keep the Russian people themselves from starvation. And how? It is being produced in the main by the forcible confiscation of the property of the kulaks, the shooting of large numbers of them and the forcible distribution of that grain under a system of forced and communal labour for the sake of putting something on the balance sheet of the five-year plan. But that dumping of grain which is going on is not merely a great disadvantage to us. It is not merely an economic fact which we have a right to resent and to resist. It is far more than that: it is an immoral and dishonest production of their own stuff because they have no right under any system of right and wrong to export Own grain either to this country or anywhere else.
It is the same thing with regard to their industry. Under the five-year plan, they are by the system of forced labour trying to produce credits, trying to produce a balance of trade by exporting timber and other things. There again it is all hopelessly dishonest ab initio. They have imported for some of their industries a considerable number of foreign experts and engineers. They have 302 shot a good many of those foreign experts and engineers. It is very easy for them to trump up a story of some counter-revolutionary plot which these Germans or Latvians—I do not know whether there are any English among them—have been guilty of; and numbers of them have been assassinated by the Russian Government. With regard to a great many other properties, we have recently had the revelations about the Lena Goldfields. In the same way, property which does not belong to the Russian Government under any circumstances has been hopelessly confiscated. It is not merely a question of legislation nationalising property. That is not the case. In this particular case the Russian Government actually consented to a system of arbitration in the arrangements they made with the Lena Goldfields, and then, when it came to a question of a dispute between them, they repudiated their own signature. Therefore wherever we turn, whether we turn to the oilfields of Baku or the grain of the Ukraine or to the coal of the Donetz Basin, you find that for their own purposes the Soviet Government are, by immoral and dishonest means, trying to produce something to export in order to get credits from us, or return imports into Russia; and with all that aspect of the question, the noble and learned Lord does not attempt to deal in any way.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
He spent the whole of his time in trying to work out some futile little definitions and distinctions between slave labour and forced labour. I do not think that my noble friend will get any Papers that will be of any value. I do not believe there are any Papers of any value. I do not know what the noble and learned Lord meant by a whole volume of Papers which he hoped to see published in a White Paper, but he did not tell us what they were or anything about them. I am very sceptical of their value, but I think my noble friend has done a very good piece of work this afternoon in bringing the matter before your Lordships' House.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE)
My Lords, I think the debate this afternoon has been a most striking example 303 of the prejudice which is introduced into this subject whenever the Soviet Government is mentioned. The noble Lord who has just resumed his seat has attacked my noble friend the Lord President for a speech which he delivered under considerable difficulty, being constantly interrupted and prevented from continuing his argument. Not content with that, the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, has further attacked him in language which quite reminds me of old days when the noble Lord's sphere was in another place. He taunted the Lord President for holding in his hand some mysterious document. We at this box always have to hold in our hands documents from which we make our speeches in order that we may show the necessary courtesy to noble Lords in giving them the fullest information we can. That document was nothing more than what the noble and learned Lord himself had drawn up with the assistance of officials from the Foreign Office in order to give your Lordships full information. Why should there be anything irregular in that? It was merely an attempt on this subject to attack the Lord President, whose good nature is proverbial in this House, and to introduce bad blood in this dispute.
The noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, will not believe anybody on any point connected with this question of the Soviet Government. He will not believe our Ambassador, he will not believe any statements made by the Lord President. He says that his correspondence is of no value. In those circumstances it seems almost useless for us to attempt to reply to questions that are put down on the Paper.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
The noble Lord is quite in error when he says I would not believe the Ambassador. I never said anything of the sort.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I took down the noble Lord's words: "No correspondence is of any value." Well, that is correspondence of our Ambassador, who sends us reports. And I hope our Ambassador notes the way that a former occupant of the Foreign Office treats his Despatches. Then, having said that in regard to information which has been very carefully collected so as to give the noble 304 Lord, Lord Newton, full information, this is the kind of statement he expects us to believe—I took this down—" I believe a good many people have been shot because they said they were hungry." That is the sort of information we get from the noble Lord. That is the sort of prejudice he introduces into the debate and the attack he has brought against the Soviet Government. I have no objection to people attacking the Soviet Government. But the noble Lord has sufficient knowledge about diplomacy to know that a Government that is in official friendly relations with us may be very much estranged by, and must necessarily take into account, statements made in your Lordships' House by responsible ex-Ministers.
Lord Cushendun said that this was not an economic matter. I agree with him. The whole matter has been brought forward, not because your Lordships are concerned with dumping, but because this is a fresh opportunity of attack against the Soviet Government. That is really what is at the basis of the whole debate. It comes up constantly both in your Lordships' House and in another place. Concern is pretended because of the conditions under which products in Russia are manufactured and produced—wheat, timber and other things. Is it suggested that we should send for reports into the labour conditions in the countries of the world? Are your Lordships perfectly satisfied that the dried fruits from the Levant, the products from Poland, the products from Spain and the products from South America are all imported into this country and exported from those countries under conditions which we in Great Britain would regard as perfectly satisfactory? Of course not. When by an international decree we lay down general conditions by which all labour shall be regulated in whatever country in the world, then it will be time for us to say that this or that country is in default and we shall reject their products. Until that time comes it is invidious to select one country or another country. On this occasion Russia has been selected, not because there is any suspicion that their goods are being produced under very much worse conditions than in any other part of the world—
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
—but merely because an attack is desired against the Soviet Government. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, brought forward the case of timber and of wheat. We may regret that we are not able very fully to describe the labour conditions in Russia. That your Lordships would not find them satisfactory I have no doubt. We might none of us find them satisfactory; but, as I say, that might apply equally well to any other country, or to several other countries. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, heard Lord Ernie's speech the other day—a very interesting speech it was—in which he described the methods by which the cultivation of wheat in Russia has been brought about. At any rate, apart from the conditions of the workers, he illustrated how by this great effort they are making they are able to turn out so large an output of wheat as to export it, as they are doing. Whether the Soviet Government have the right method or the wrong method it is not for me to say. Condemnations of their morality coining from the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, carry very little weight with me. But anybody who has investigated this vast, this terrific, this perhaps savage experiment that is going on in Soviet Russia, must recognise that they are experimenting in a way that may open out an entirely new economic idea in the world, and that those of us who are going on with old systems may find that we shall have to revise our systems. It is a great experiment which may fail. On the other hand, it may, as generations pass, succeed. A new effort is always regarded with suspicion, and by those minds which cannot adapt themselves to anything new it is always condemned. But for us in your Lordships' House—
May I just say that that is exactly my point. As this experiment is going on and as this is being done so successfully, surely it would be a good thing to go and see how it is done? Then we should know. At any rate we should know about the labour.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I am sure that the Soviet Government would be delighted if the noble Lord would go over there and investigate. I 306 am sure they would give him a very warm welcome, and he would be able to talk with great authority when he returned co this House. In fact, it would be very refreshing to have somebody who had first-hand knowledge of this question.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
However that may be, I think in reference to a question which is a very far-reaching one, that to touch one corner of it with a view, as the speeches have shown to-day, more especially the speech of the noble Lord opposite, to attacking a Government with which we are on official friendly relations, is unworthy of the level of debate which is usually maintained in your Lordships' House.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I should like to intervene for a moment or two in order to express my view and I hope the views of those with whom I am usually associated. Most of us on these Benches believe that tariffs are in restraint of trade and are not advisable. But we have had a lesson from Russia during the last few years which, I think, justifies the noble Lord in imputing to noble Lords on my left a desire to express themselves as against the Soviet Government. The policy of the Soviet Government apparently has been to produce articles in its country at a particular cost and then to sell those articles to other countries in, order to destroy the industries of those other countries, and not because it is in love with those countries or desires to help the consumer in those countries. It seeks to destroy nation by nation in order to secure revolutions everywhere. It is that policy to which those of us on these Benches object. Where there is no freedom there can be no right trading. The Russians are entitled, no doubt, to make their own laws in their own way. But there are human considerations which justify us in protesting against the inhuman treatment which has been meted out to the workers in Russia. There is no freedom in that country.
You may ask where I get my information. I get my information weekly from individuals who have studied the Russian Press and have put it into the English language. From the evidence which has 307 been before me I am satisfied that the poverty in Russia is greater to-day than at any time in the history of that country, that the misery of the individual is greater, that the people have not sufficient clothes or even the ordinary comforts of life, and that they are underfed. It is not a question of a few hundreds; it is a question of millions being in that condition to-day. When those conditions occur it is perhaps not unnatural that some of us should desire to speak about the Soviet Government and try to secure for the benefit of everyone in this country true first-hand information. I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord who leads the House for giving us such information as he has been able to do. I am obliged to him for saying that he will try to get further information, and circulate it so that we may have as much official information as we can get. That is all to the good. All I desire to press upon the noble, and learned Lord finally is that no delay shall occur in furnishing us with that information in order that everybody may realise what is the true position in Russia in regard to the production of its commodities.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I regret that I was not in the House when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, began his remarks, and I am not sure as to the nature of the documents which he said he would include in the White Paper. With reference to what my noble friend who has just spoken said regarding the desirability of getting additional information, may I suggest that information should also be got from our representatives in the Baltic Provinces. We should get information from Latvia and Finland, because our representatives there will be able to write more freely than our representatives in Russia. I think it desirable to get additional information in that way, because, two or three days ago, I had information given to me which shows what the Russian Government are doing at the present time. It is quite true that they are experimenting in the wonderful way referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and no doubt they have an elaborate organisation established in connection with factory and agricultural production. Possibly also the workers under that organisation may 308 be fairly well off so far as the wages are concerned. But their conditions are different from the conditions of the millions who are outside these Government employment organisations. Those outside are treated as nothing. They are allowed to starve or are shot. The Russian Government have established organisations at great expense. They have had the most skilled advice from all countries in the world, they have installed the best machinery, and they have acquired funds to pay for those things by dumping their goods into various countries. Even into Persia sugar and matches have been dumped to the ruin of the trade of Persia.
I do not wish to go into the general argument raised in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, but I do want to urge that it is desirable that we should get information from all quarters which are situated near to Russia. I may say that the Provinces to which I have referred live in a state of constant alarm because of the machinations of the Soviet Government. They do not know what will happen. The Russian Government have tried to break down trade in other countries so as to establish a revolution there. If they make a success of this wonderful organisation they can say to these other countries: "See what we can do." They can inculcate the principles of revolution in those who know no other form of government. It is an endeavour to convince these other countries that the Russian form of government is the best for mankind. I think it is best that we should get information from those who perhaps know better even than the noble and learned Lord and his friends in Whitehall.
§ LORD DARLING
My Lords, I should not have ventured to interpose in this debate if it were not for the fact that, when it was proposed to renew diplomatic relations and trade relations with Russia, I think I was the only member on this side of the House who voted in favour of that proposal, and I did so in what was, as I now see, the mistaken belief that if we entered into those relations we should get full information of what was going on in Russia, and what was being done to affect our trade relations with that country. Will anybody who has noticed what has gone on since then 309 say that those anticipations have been realised, or anything like realised? The Whole of the speech of my noble friend Lord Gainford went to this, that we do not know, in spite of our diplomatic relations, what is really going on in Russia, and as far as I can make out no one is satisfied to be so little informed on the subject except the noble and learned Lord who leads this House.
My noble friend Lord Newton has got something at all events by his Question. He has had a paper read by the noble Lord opposite of which the noble Lord, Lord Cushendun, did not understand the nature. He has been told since by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that it is not any diplomatic document, but that it is a composition of some one given to the noble Lord who leads this House, having been compiled from various Papers and documents to give him facts which he can lay before your Lordships. Therefore, it is practically nothing but a brief which has been handed to the noble Lord opposite. Now Lord Cushendun knows that is so, and of course he will speak of it with that respect with which any lawyer would speak of a brief. But anybody who has ever had a brief knows very well that one must not trust to all the things in it as being accurately stated. I have had many briefs which stated that die person for whom I appeared was not guilty, but somehow or another he went to gaol—all my fault I dare say, but he went.
There was a little instance which I think perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, did not notice. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, seemed to be perfectly satisfied with the conditions in which all these goods that are being sent to this country were produced, satisfied that they were perfectly proper conditions, and were not in the least of a nature that could displease anyone. When a noble Lord not far from me asked "Are they not sweated goods?" the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, asked to be told what was meant by "sweated." Why the Party to which he belongs uses the word constantly; I may say daily. There is not a trade unionist in the country who does not loony what "sweated" means. Instead of asking some noble Lord, who, of course, spends his time in idleness, like all of us, why not ask some hardworking 310 trade unionist what "sweated" is, and remain ignorant on that subject no longer?
My noble friend Lord Newton asked for information regarding "a so-called slave State system." He used the word "so-called," and did not even put it into French. He put it quite plainly in English—"so-called slave State system." The noble and learned Lord—and if he were not learned he would have satisfied this House—at once pointed out that my noble friend Lord Newton was very inaccurate in using the word slavery, or in implying that what is being done in Russia might be described as slavery, and he said—it may be with perfect truth, but not all lawyers would agree with him—that you cannot be a slave unless the property in you belongs to somebody else. He said slavery is a status. Many people are struggling for that. We ought to be thankful that a man has got that. It arises not out of any contract into which he has entered. He is born to it, and he has status. These people in Russia are not slaves. They are working harder than slaves generally work, but they ought to be perfectly happy and contented. Really the noble and learned Lord reminds me of Dr. Pangloss. They ought to say: "Everything is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds. We are not slaves. It is true we are not free. We cannot go home when we like. We cannot live where we like. We cannot work at work we like. We cannot make a contract. No, but we are not slaves. The people who stand over us can order us to get up when they like, to sit down when they like, to work when they like, to eat when they like, and not when we are hungry—not whenever we are hungry, at 911 events. But it is not slavery, and therefore we are happy as sandboys."
I regretted that some of my noble friends tittered slightly. But lawyers must always expect that kind of treatment when they explain the real inwardness of things, for my noble friends here do not see the difference. They are only laity. Of course, I except the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. For the rest, there are so many of them who are mere laity and they do laugh. I know they should not—I wish they would not—but they do laugh, when the noble Lord says it is not slavery, it does not depend 311 upon the conditions of life, it does not depend upon whether you are paid wages or not, it does not depend upon whether your labour is State labour or not, it does not depend on whether you are allowed to dispose of what you make or not; it depends entirely upon this: that you have the status of a slave. Of course every Russian, every well educated Russian, knows exactly what the noble and learned Lord means and is happy in consequence.
Other people have differed a little about this. A noble and learned Lord, who long, long sat where the Lord Chancellor sits now, published a book upon the laws of England. It defines many things. "status" among them. Lord Halsbury says this in his work:—There is no precise legal definition of slavery.Of course, unfortunately he died before hearing the noble and learned Lord opposite. Although he lived a very long time, I wish he had lived until to-day. He goes on:—but it may he described as a service for life, for bare necessaries, and power in the master over the person and property of the slave "—property—there is the word that the noble and learned Lord opposite insists upon—and a right of alienation "—that means that you may sell him when you think you can get a profit on him—and the like power over the slave's descendants.Now, I think the noble and learned Lord was gentle with my noble friend Lord Newton there. He did not point out how wrong he was, because there is no proof whatever that the children of these workmen in Russia will be in the position of being sold. I should think it is very probable that before their grandchildren have grown up there will be a revolution which will upset the governors.
Then there is this note:—A man is not a slave if he is taken as a free labourer under local immigration laws, even though he has been kidnapped for the purpose.It reminded me of the line: O fortunatos nimium, sue si bona norint. Oh happy Russians! You are not slaves. You have been kidnapped, we have heard that you have been taken from your homes involuntarily, you have been put to work 312 when you do not want to work, at work which you do not want to work at, but you are not slaves! There is nothing to inquire into with regard to Russia. You make a lot of goods which the English want and other nations want, and you make them so that they are disposed of cry cheaply. What is the matter with that? That is exactly what Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright and many others of that period said was the proper system for England—buy in the cheapest market, sell in the dearest. The misfortune about that maxim is that we buy in the cheapest market, but we cannot sell what we make. Why? Because our workmen are not subject to those happy laws which prevail in Russia and which received, I think, no word of condemnation from the noble and learned Lord opposite.
Before I sit done, I must say that there is another definition. It is Dr. Johnson's definition. Of course, it may not be appropriate to the present time, but he says: "A slave is one subject to compulsory labour." Of course, my noble friend Lord Newton did not read all those hooks about status, I dare say. He is content with Dr. Johnson, rather than to be right with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor. "Better to err with Pope—"I will not finish the quotation. Rut there was somebody else who was a lawyer. I have heard him use language in exactly the same manner as many have used it in the course of this debate. He was a lawyer to this extent, that he was Chief Justice of England. He was a member of this House as an Appellate Court, and when I was young at the Bar and he sat in the Criminal Court, I have often heard him pass sentence of penal servitude in these words:—" You will go into slavery "for five, six, seven, or twenty years as may have been the case. Of course, I regret that he used language so loosely. There was no excuse for 'it, really, because he should have known that the man when he went into penal servitude did not lose his status as a free born Englishman. He was, of course, in there enjoying all the liberties of a Russian of to-day. I regret, even at this distance of time, that Lord Coleridge should have left those who came after him uninformed as to the difference between status and a condition not to be distinguished from slavery.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I do not think the noble Lord moved a Motion. I am unwilling to interfere if anything more is to be said, but no Motion stands in the noble Lord's name.