HL Deb 05 February 1931 vol 79 cc842-80

LORD NEWTON rose to call attention to the recently published "Selection of Documents Relative to the Labour Legislation in force in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (Russia, No. 1, 1931). The noble Lords said: My Lords, the collection of Papers to which I am about to call attention this afternoon represents, I presume, the response to the request which was made by myself and other noble Lords before Christmas for information on the subject of conditions of Soviet labour in Russia, and I desire to express my acknowledgment of this concession. At the same time, my satisfaction at the action of the Government is considerably diminished by the fact that this collection of Papers does not contain in the least what we asked for. What we asked for was an independent report by the British representative of the conditions in Soviet Russia. Instead of receiving that, we are presented with a collection of documents which embody the various laws that have been recently passed by the Soviet Government; and the Blue-book is padded out with voluminous matter relating to what are called the fundamental laws of the Soviet Government.

In spite of this somewhat unsatisfactory collection, however, at all events it does serve one purpose: it firmly establishes the fact that we were practically correct in asserting that free labour in Soviet Russia no longer exists, and that the State is practically, although not technically, a slave State. In fact I will go so far as to say that these Papers show that every citizen in the Soviet Republic who is not a military conscript is an industrial conscript. I do not think I am exaggerating in the least when I use those expressions. With regard to the military conscription, I cannot forbear from referring to some extraordinary statements which were recently made in a debate on disarmament by two noble Lords—Viscount Cecil and Lord Parmoor. Both of those noble Lords went out of their way to pay a most unexpected tribute to the pacific tendencies of the Soviet Government. Lord Cecil said that the Soviet Government was sincerely desirous of peace and ready to accept disarmament. Lord Parmoor, whose absence to-day I much deplore, not to be behindhand, said that he was not one of those 'who believed in the warlike preparations of Russia at the present moment. The inference which I draw from these statements is that we, in this respect, compare very unfavourably with the pacific Soviet Government. It appears to me, and I expect it will appear to everybody else, with a few exceptions, that if this is the case appearances are extremely misleading, the fact being that the Soviet Government not only spend a great deal more money upon armaments than any other Power, but they also maintain much larger forces.

From an answer which was given in another place only a few days ago, I gather that the total expenditure of the Soviet Government upon armaments of all kinds—that is to say, not only for the regular forces but for what I may call the subsidiary forces—must amount to something like £200,000,000, a perfectly stupefying amount which is not approached by any other country. Apart from this enormous expenditure, and quite apart from the enormous number of men who are maintained under arms, and of the huge expenditure, continually increasing, upon aviation and all other military and naval forms of war preparation, the Soviet Government show, if I may use the expression, a far more aggressive war mentality than any other civilised nation. The Soviet Government, who are pronounced to be of pacific disposition by the two noble Lords whom I have quoted, are always bragging about their wonderful military power, and only to-day I read in the newspaper that at a military festival it was stated, amongst other things, that the Soviet forces are already more or less prepared and waiting at what they are pleased to call the gates of India in order to take action. They are not only always boasting about their strength, but they are always preaching preparation for war, and they are always pretending that some unnamed power is meditating an onslaught upon them. All these vapourings reached a climax at the preposterous trial which took place in Moscow not so long ago, in which the equivalent of our Attorney-General, the Public Prosecutor, had the brazen impudence to contend that the British General Staff was planning an attack upon his country. The supreme impudence of this charge even awoke Mr. Henderson to a display of some kind of indignation, and, having been pressed to do so, he uttered a kind of feeble bleat, which met with the contempt that one would naturally expect from the Soviet Government.

What does all this expenditure upon armaments mean? According to Viscount Cecil and to Lord Parmoor, all this is symptomatic of peace. I do not interpret it in that way at all. Whatever they may be, the men who govern Russia at the present moment are not fools, and they are not going to waste their substance in piling up armaments and maintaining a huge army for, so to speak, the fun of the thing. There must be some deliberate purpose behind it, and for my part when I hear a Government like this talking about dangers from other countries, I am reminded of the state of things which prevailed at the beginning of the last century when much the same language was heard from the first Napoleon, and again, later, of the language held by Bismarck before the Franco-German War. These preparations are intended against someone or other. Some day this enormous force will be made use of and those who believe in the pacific words of the Soviet Government will have a rude awakening.

I pass from the military conscripts to what I have termed industrial conscripts and again I maintain that there is no exaggeration in the term. Soviet Russia at the present moment is the most completely militarised State that the world has ever seen. All the men, and a great many women, are absolutely at the disposal of the State. They are regimented, brigaded and ordered about exactly like the military conscripts. They are absolutely at the disposal of the Government The industrial worker in Russia—or the agricultural worker as far as that goes—has not even the privilege of striking, and is not permitted to indulge in the luxury of doing nothing, because unemployment has become a crime. Persons who are unemployed are put to forced labour by the Government in whatever direction the Government may require.

I ventured in a previous debate to describe this state of things as something closely analogous to slavery, and I was reprimanded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, who denied that it was slavery. He maintained that it was only forced labour and drew an elaborate distinction between the two terms. All I can say with regard to that argument is that if I were a harmless Soviet citizen and was suddenly seized upon for no particular reason and ordered off to work in a forest or a mine or whatever it may be, under the conditions with which we are now familiar, it would not be the smallest consolation for me to be told that I was not a slave but a free citizen in the Soviet State who was undergoing forced labour. That would be no consolation to me at all, and I think that my reply would be: "On the whole I would prefer to be a Liberian, because at all events in that case I should have the support of the League of Nations and of the British Labour Party, whereas at the present moment I do not get any support from anybody, except the members of the Conservative Party in England."

At the present moment we are chiefly concerned with the circumstances connected with the timber trade, and my noble friend Lord Phillimore has a Question upon the Paper making certain inquiries. I feel quite sure that when the time comes he will not get any reply from the Government at all, and that they will probably say—they are sure to say, in fact—"We know nothing about the conditions, and what is more we do not want to know and we are going to take very good care not to enquire." Fortunately, we are in the position—even I am in a position—to reply to my noble friend's inquiries. We have now a large amount of evidence before us. The first kind of evidence is that provided by the British seamen and others who have experience of the timber ports in the North or Russia, and although it has been thought fit to throw doubt upon their statements there is no reason what- ever why these statements should not be considered credible. I have another and perhaps more interesting form of evidence here. I do not know whether the House is aware that the American House of Representatives—that is to say the corresponding body to our House of Commons—has lately instituted an inquiry into the question of Communist propaganda in the United States. In the course of this inquiry this Parliamentary Committee examined a large number of witnesses and amongst those witnesses were a large number of men who gave evidence with regard to the timber trade. I would ask noble Lords to pay special attention to the passages of the Report which deal with this question.

The Report says:— From the testimony of a large number of escaped convicts who testified before the committee, it is apparent that a considerable part of the cutting of timber and pulpwood in Russia and transportation and loading is done by convict labour under the most brutal conditions …. The stories of the escaped prisoners, whether they were convicted for political offences as counter-revolutionists or as kulaks or for some criminal act, all agree as to the unbelievable conditions in the timber camps along the borders of the Arctic Ocean. The O.G.P.U., or secret police of Russia, the testimony disclosed, has charge of these camps, and no foreigners are permitted to visit them. The only sources of information are from escaped convicts who smuggle themselves into the ships or succeed in escaping across the frontiers …. It would be extremely difficult to exaggerate the plight of the convicts in the timber camps of Northern Russia; it is a constant story of under-nourishment, uninterrupted toil, misery, and blond. The testimony offered to the committee discloses that hundreds of thousands of aristocrats, former professional and business men, army officers, kulaks, and social democrats and other counter-revolutionists have disappeared into the forests without leaving any trace. The mystery and the horror of the convict labour camps is yet to be told in its lurid details.


Would the noble Lord give me the page from which he is, quoting?


I am quoting from the Report of the Committee appointed by the American House of Representatives. The Report was presented—


What is the page?


Pages 40 and 41. There is a third class of information to which I feel bound to refer. In The Times of a few days ago there appeared a statement made by an escaped Ogpu official who had been interned in Finland and whose story bears every mark of truth. According to this former Ogpu official—this constitutes the answer to my noble friend's Question—there were in May last no fewer than 669,000 convicts in the North of Russia, of whom 73,000 were women and 19,000 young people. I would like to draw attention to the fact that these figures refer only to camps in the North of Russia and therefore we have no idea as to the number of so-called convicts who are working in other parts of the country—that is to say, in the Caucasus, in Siberia and in other parts. This man goes on to say that, if a convict accomplishes his daily work—that is, the whole of his work—he receives some black bread, a ration of soup composed of rotten fish, and twice a week he is supplied with horseflesh. A large proportion of these unfortunate people are without clothes, and those who are lucky enough to survive their time in the convict camps are not allowed to return home, but are kept on the spot as colonists for five years. Perhaps the most remarkable fact of all is that there appear to be no fewer than 72,000 so-called casualties amongst these unfortunate convicts.

I should like to point out to the House that it is very questionable whether these unfortunate people are convicts at all, in our sense of the word. I believe that the genuine offenders or criminals must form a very small proportion of them. I make that statement because, when the Bolsheviks came into power, they abolished nearly all crimes. Most crimes are not punished at all at the present moment. Murder, for instance, is visited with an almost infinitesimal penalty. It is regarded as an every-day event. Accordingly I think we may take it for granted that the majority of these "convicts" are so-called offenders who belong to what is called the bourgeois class, or entertain ideas which are not altogether in consonance with those of their rulers. When allegations of this kind are made which bear the impress of truth, it seems to me that we have every right to turn to the subject and demand that the Government should enquire into them if only for moral and humanitarian reasons.

When we ask if these stories are true, the reply that we get is that the Government have no information whatever upon the subject, and therefore they cannot tell us. I find it, I confess, very difficult fully to credit this statement. We have had an Ambassador in Moscow, if I am not mistaken, for over a year, and, more remarkable still, we have two commercial representatives at Moscow. One of the reasons given for re-establishing diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia was that we should then be able to obtain really reliable and official information with regard to the conditions in that country. I find it quite impossible to believe, from my experience of diplomatic service, that these gentlemen have never written any report upon the conditions of labour in Russia. That is what they are sent there for. I repeat that I am convinced that these reports exist somewhere or other, and the reasons for refusing to disclose them are to my mind not only unsatisfactory, but clearly discreditable.

There can be only two reasons why these reports are not made public. The first is that, if they were published, they would be distasteful to the Government's supporters here. The second reason must be that if these reports were published, our representatives in Russia would be in personal danger. What a comment that is upon our action in renewing diplomatic relations with that country! There is a third possibility which I decline to take seriously—namely, that publication might give offence to the Soviet Government itself. I am quite satisfied in my own mind that there is nothing that we can say about the Soviet Government that could equal the abuse that we get from the Soviet Government of ourselves. All these explanations and excuses, therefore, seem to me to be equally unsatisfactory. But whatever reasons there are—if there are any—for not complying with our request, I should have thought we might claim that a distinct case, in view of all this evidence before us, has been made out for the real enforcement of the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act. The onus of proof or disproof lies in this case, in view of the evidence that we have received, upon the Soviet Govern- ment itself, and I submit, therefore, that steps ought to be taken either to enforce that Act or, if necessary, to amend it, or else to fall back upon what other countries are going to do—namely, a policy of licence and prohibition.

What is really to my mind more amazing than anything else in this business of the timber camps is the attitude of the British Labour Party and the trade unions. The Labour Party and the trade unions in this country have always prided themselves upon being champions of the oppressed and downtrodden, and one would really have supposed that they would be the first to protest against the condition of things to which the Russian proletarian is subjected, the cruelty, oppression and privation, in order that the product of this sweated labour might be brought over here to undersell our own goods. All this seems to me to show how much you can do and what iniquities you can perpetrate if you only give yourself the right name. The Soviet Government had sufficient ingenuity to describe itself as a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, being, in effect, the most tyrannical Government that has existed in modern times. The mere fact that it calls itself the Dictatorship of the Proletariat appears to render it at once immune from any hostile criticism on the part of the Labour Party in this country.

This is no new phenomenon. There must be noble Lords here who are old enough to remember the indignation that was excited in this country at the so-called Armenian atrocities. These atrocities were attributed, with great justice, to the despotic rule of the then Sultan, Abdul Hamid. When Abdul Hamid was got rid of and was replaced by the people who called themselves Young Turks and who set up a sham Parliament, they at once set about exterminating the Armenians in a more scientific way, and completely outdid the achievements in that line of Abdul Hamid. Was there any protest here? I cannot remember any objection being taken at all, merely because they claimed to have Parliamentary Government. Take another case. When the bloodthirsty Bela Kun succeeded in establishing himself in power in Hungary and executed people right and left, not a word of protest was uttered by the Labour Party here; but when the legitimate Government returned and reasserted itself the place rang with denunciations of what was called the White Terror. I am not sure that the agitation on the subject does not still proceed. I cannot help wondering what the effect would have been upon the Labour Party if one-tenth of the charges that have been made against the Soviet Government had been made against a Government of which they do not happen to approve. I wonder what their attitude would be supposing these allegations had been made against, for instance, Italy, or Spain, or even Poland or Hungary. I cannot help thinking they would have been much more vocal than at the present moment, that they would have clamoured for a cessation of relations between the two countries, and that it would have been necessary to preserve the Embassies and Legations of the offending Power against the attacks of the mob in this country.

I have already occupied more time than I had intended, and I do not wish to detain the House, because it seems to me very desirable that as many people as possible should express their opinions upon this subject. I have confined my remarks chiefly to the question of the conditions with regard to the timber trade, but, as a matter of fact, this question of the timber camps is only a portion of a very much larger question. When the Government, at the bidding of their supporters, committed the disastrous folly of renewing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Government, I cannot help thinking that they did not fully foresee the consequences. They cannot have been under any illusions as to the political sentiments entertained towards this country by the Soviet Government because, to do them justice, the Soviet leaders have never concealed their opinions. They have always made it plain that this is the country that they dislike more than any other and have occupied themselves in stirring up trouble for us in all parts of the world.

I do not think, however, the Government realised that the political war would be supplemented by an industrial war. We nearly all profess in this country to be anti-Communists, but the five-year plan, of which we hear so much, and which is intended to transform Russia from an agricultural into an industrial country, is not really so much an internal question for Russia as a carefully thought-out scheme for forcing Communism upon Western Europe. Personally, I look upon it—I may be quite wrong—as a trial of strength between Communism and Western civilisation, in which the whole of Western Europe is threatened. You may say that it is a common danger and does not concern us particularly. That is perfectly true, and if the League of Nations were a really practical body, which it is not, it would set to work to organise some kind of combined defence by these nations against the danger with which they are threatened. Some nations are awake to the danger and I observe that they propose to take action, but I do not observe that on the part of our own Government, although we are in far greater danger than any other country because we have got no means of defence. With our crowded population, and Free Trade system, it is much more difficult for us to oppose an attack of this kind than for anybody else.

As I have said, other nations are taking steps to deal with the danger, but our own Government remains absolutely apathetic, and I cannot help being reminded of the well-known couplet:— Pleas'd to the last he crops the flowery food, And licks the hand just rais'd to shed his blood. That seems to me to typify the action of the Government with regard to the threat of the Soviet Government. I sincerely hope that I am wrong, but I cannot help feeling myself that every purchase which we make from Soviet Russia and, in particular, every credit which we concede to Soviet Russia, is a step to wards bringing Communism eventually into force. It seems to me that by our inaction and apathy we are presenting the world with the perfectly amazing spectacle of a great Power deliberately assisting its greatest enemy to work for its own destruction.

LORD PHILLFMORE had the following Notice on the Paper:—

To ask His Majesty's Government:—

  1. 1. Whether further inquiries have now been made as to the number of persons in the Union of Soviet Republics who are undergoing forced labour, either as convicts or as administratively deported persons;
  2. 852
  3. 2. Whether this information is now available;
  4. 3. Whether these figures can be given separately for the lumber trade;
  5. 4. Whether particulars can now be given as to the conditions in which articles imported into this country from Russia are produced, particularly in regard to the wages and treatment of the labourers and others engaged in their production;
And to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, if it be acceptable to noble Lords opposite, I will now deal with the Questions standing in my name. To-day, I particularly crave your indulgence. Not only am I a young member of your House but I am labouring under great distress of mind. I am conscious that I have taken upon myself the responsibility of bringing forward the case of these hundreds of thousands of wretched unfortunates in Russia, that I am likely to become involved in my arguments, to halt in my eloquence, and to fail them. It is now some months since by night and by day these people have been haunting my mind. I beg your Lordships to remember that whilst we consider this to be an uncomfortable, raw, snowy day, these men are working now in twelve degrees under zero Centigrade.

If I get somewhat confused, I beg your Lordships to forgive me, because what I ought to do at the outset is to ask you to bring out the Blue-book which has lately been issued, and the OFFICIAL REPORT for November, 1930, and to compare the Blue-book with statements made by both sides in November, 1930. My position is not any easier because the Leader of the Opposition is not in his place today. I regret his absence, but I would particularly draw your attention to the statements which he made, and when I draw your attention to those statements I am, of course, drawing your attention to them as statements of His Majesty's Government and not of the noble and learned Lord personally. It would perhaps be as well before I started to go into details that I should state what is the argument of my plea. It is this, that, as my noble friend Lord Newton has said, there is a wholesale system of compulsory penal labour in Russia to-day, involving hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens and that that labour has been recruited, extended and rigorised more particularly since the initiation of the five-year plan. As the Blue-book shows, decree after decree has been passed, dated 1928, 1929 and 1930, each of which is a more full and a more savage attempt to enforce this penal labour on the Russian people.

Since the initiation of the five-year plan a great attempt has at the same time been made to increase the exporting capacity of Russia, a thing with which in itself noble Lords would have the greatest sympathy if it were not at the expense of the Russians' flesh and blood. Since the initiation of the five-year plan, or perhaps I should say since the advent of this Government to power, the greatest sympathy with that economic effort has been shown by His Majesty's Government. No one could blame them for that in itself, and no one, no doubt, does blame them. But when I show that the extension of these hardships runs parallel with the development of the five-year plan and that that development runs parallel with the encouragement given by His Majesty's Government to the exporting programme of the. Soviet, I venture to say that this country will realise, if I can only show it clearly enough, that there is a moral responsibility on them in this matter.

To deal with the answers of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, in November last, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, stated that Lord Parmoor was quoting from a document which he, Lord Parmoor, had prepared with the assistance of the Foreign Office officials. He was therefore speaking with some care. What did he say? He said all labour in Russia; whether forced, penal, or otherwise, was labour for pay. Now, what is the fact? Will noble Lords look at page 57 or 58 of the recently issued Blue-book, and see there that the normal condition of the worker in a compulsory labour camp is that he is to receive no pay, as laid down by law? The noble and learned Lord said that he observed that there was an admirable system by which the convict received a share—and he rather intimated a considerable share—of the profits which he could be said to have earned for the State. What is the fact, as shown by the Russian Government's own laws? That 70 or 75 per cent. of the profits is taken for the extension of compulsory labour bureaux, that 15 per cent. goes to pay the comrades in some other way, and that 5 per cent. is left for the poor wretch as recompense for his work. The noble and learned Lord would hesitate, I think, with the fuller information which he now has, but which he might have had then, to state that that is an admirable system.

There has been, I venture to say, a policy of concealment by the Government. I will give another instance. The noble and learned Lord professed to quote from one of the Russian laws which, I think, deals with mobilised labour, and which points out that the State has a right to call up the people in the case of earthquakes, floods—and there the noble and learned Lord stopped. He stopped, oddly enough, at a comma. He did not go on to the full stop. If he had, he would have seen the words (I think I am quoting them correctly) "or in any case where the State is short of labour." Now, what a difference. How noble it sounds that you should call upon the people in the case of an earthquake or a flood. How it conjures up (shall we say?) the picture of one of those towns in the South of Italy where the Fascists rush to the rescue of the Population, and how little it conjures up the true state of affairs in Russia. It is an odd thing, is not it, when you are quoting a sentence to stop at a comma? Is it the practice of His Majesty's Government to stop at any point in a sentence that suits them? Are they not in the habit of reading even a sentence to the end?

A great man, who never sat in this House, but of whom many of you have heard, once dealt with a similar policy of concealment, and he dealt with it in such wonderful language that I hope you will permit me to quote it. He began:— The people of this country have shown a just but a very remarkable disposition to repose confidence in the Government of the day: and the Government of the day has availed itself to the uttermost of that disposition. For months the nation was content …. to remain without official information, and to subsist upon the fragmentary and uncertain notices which alone would transpire through the Press. It had to dispense not only with official information, but with discussion in the House of Commons …. it sounds extraordinarily apt in relation to the situation to-day. It goes on: — And the ending of this extraordinary confidence on the one side and of these free drafts upon it from the other, what has it been? That we have had by degrees, from private and voluntary exertion, the knowledge winch it was the bounden duty of the administration to supply: and that by the light which this knowledge casts upon past events we learn with astonishment and horror that, so far as appears, we have been involved in some amount at least of moral complicity with the basest and blackest outrages upon record within the present century …. If that extract from a pamphlet written by Mr. Gladstone is not an apt quotation to the situation to-day I do not know what is.

I am concerned to show, not only what the noble and learned Lord concealed, but also what he has now revealed by the publication of this Blue-book. The noble and learned Lord admitted that in Russia there were five categories of labour—labour for hire, forced labour, mobilised labour, labour in places of incarceration, and public labour. Re defined one or two of these forms of labour. It is perfectly true that there are these forms of labour, and noble Lords who have read through that Bluebook will not hesitate to agree with my noble friend Lord Newton, that every one of those forms of labour is in some degree compulsory. The fact is that the Blue-book reveals that since the initiation of the five-year plan—it is only a selection of documents—there have been no less than thirteen decrees besides a general alteration of the Labour Code of Soviet Russia harshening the laws against the Russian citizens and forcing compulsory labour of one kind or another upon them. The Blue-book by itself shows a deliberately constructed framework within which every citizen of the Soviet Republic can be forced to labour. It goes further. It shows by the number of decrees dealing with the lumber trade that those penal powers have been made free use of. It shows further that they have had great difficulties in forcing their people to work in the timber forests, and that they have had to take fresh powers again to force their people to work. There you have a framework which shows what is possible under the Russian law of to-day.

If the noble and learned Lord who spoke in November had not appreciated the situation, it was, no doubt, because he had not grasped that since the five-year plan was initiated the whole Russian code on this subject had been altered, and altered for the worse. Parallel with this alteration there has been an increasing trade done with this country in timber. In 1927 we imported £6,300,000 worth. In 1929 we imported £9,309,000 worth. In the nine months ending September last we imported just under £7,000,000 worth. In other words, as these poor people have been driven to labour we have taken more and more advantage of it. As for the conditions under which these people work, a great many people may have told lies. My attention was first drawn to them through a merchant skipper whom I had known in the War and who I know to be a stolid, respectable, God-fearing person. He told me that the conditions under which the people work who loaded his ship at Archangel and Murmansk were something too horrible for words to express. I said to him: "Will you swear to that?" He replied: "My dear fellow, I would if I dared, but I have to go back there." What a situation is that for a man who fought in the War and who, when his ship was submarined under him, came up smiling, but who dares not speak on this subject because his life would not be safe for a moment when he went on shore at Archangel! It is for reasons like that that we have not more evidence.

But I have here sworn evidence. I have here the principal Finnish newspaper in which you will find, in Finnish—I have a translation—the sworn testimony of refugees from Russia, not of one but many. What do they say? They say that at Vishesky there are 30,000 prisoners; at Ussoisk there are 10,000; at Penujsky there are 25,000; at Kotlas there are 30,000; at Solovetsky there are 20,000 and at Kema there are 20,000 prisoners working in the main at this lumber trade, which, mark you, is not a subject for the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act of 1897. I do not wish to detain your Lordships. I do not want to pile horror upon horror and import prejudice into this question; but I feel that something must be done for these poor people. These people say that they not only have to work all day for twelve to fourteen hours, but they have to work as horses as well, that they must drag the timber to the saw-mill because there is a shortage of horses, that when they are sick they get no help, and that when they are exhausted they are flogged. If none of this is true then make the Government prove it, but there is too much evidence to avoid inquiry as to whether it is true.


My Lords, I must apologise for intervening even for one moment in this debate because I have no title by the possession of any direct or first-hand information to ask your Lordships to hear me on this subject. Indeed, after the two powerful speeches to which your Lordships have listened any further elaboration of argument in detail appears to me unnecessary. But I do represent in this House a great and, I believe, a waxing mass of opinion in this country. Moreover, I speak from a Bench which cannot be indifferent to the large issues which have been raised in your Lordships' House this afternoon. This is not only an economic issue of the utmost gravity to this country, but it raises a moral question which we cannot permanently or without losing our national self-respect leave unanswered. Therefore, for a very few minutes I shall ask your Lordships to listen to me while I endeavour as far as one man can to associate the Episcopate with the expressions of sorrow, consternation and shame which the present relations of our country and Soviet Russia are stirring in the minds of considerate and informed citizens.

It does not appear to me that the Government realise the strength or the justice of those feelings which are thus finding expression. I will try to do what I can to impress upon them the obligation in which they stand not to take a light view of the feelings which we are endeavouring to express here this afternoon, but even at the eleventh hour to take some responsible action which will relieve our wounded national self-respect and do something to dissociate us as a nation and an Empire from the abominable proceedings which are now unquestionably going forward in Russia. It must have appeared to your Lordships as, indeed, to any considerate observer of that long page of varied horrors which the history of Russia has presented since 1917, a very strong thing that in our free English democracy these horrors should have waked so little public repudiation. I remember reading how, when the news of the murder of Louis XVI in Paris reached this country, a day or so afterwards Bishop Horsley was preaching to your Lordships and the members of the House of Commons in Westminster Abbey, and as he approached the peroration of his sermon he made an allusion to the recently reported tragedy in Paris, and immediately, such was the response of emotion, the whole of the Lords and Commons rose and remained standing until the conclusion of the sermon. When I reflect with what apathy, nay, with what brutal indifference, these horrors in Russia have been received in this country, I ask myself why is it?

Why is it that Lord Newton raised the question? Why is it that the trade unions of this country, who represent so large a part of the more intelligent of our working people, have been so strangely slow to manifest any kind of sympathy with their fellow workmen in Russia? Why is it? I fear that we must say that it is a crucial and shocking example of the blinding effect of class bias. I have lived all my working life with working people. I know them well. I love them well. There are no people more quickly responsive to the appeal of tyranny or oppression than the English people. I beg leave, with your Lordships' permission, to say there is no section of working people so quick of response to the appeal for justice as that great mass of the workers in the mines with which, as Bishop of Durham, I have the honour to be in some degree associated. But they see these things not as they are but through a disfiguring and concealing haze of class prejudice, which makes it impossible for them to give release to those generous instincts which are so ready to flow forward in response to a genuine appeal.

I think it is impossible for us really to plead ignorance of the facts. I notice that there have been published during the last few years a great many books on Russia, and, so deeply was I impressed by the magnitude and significance of those happenings in that country. I set myself from the first to try to get hold of the books which seemed to promise any illumination or trustworthy information about those tremendous happenings. I waded through many books. They vary greatly in value and quality, but many do seem to me to carry conviction. They certainly seem to be based on information so well documented that I cannot imagine how anybody with any capability of judging evidence could pretend to doubt the horrors which are proceeding in Soviet Russia. Notably within the last few weeks, we have had many personal confessions which carry truth upon their surface. And now we have the Bluebook. If anybody will be at the pains to read carefully between the lines of that book, he cannot have the smallest doubt that even within the precincts of these glossing phrases, there are revealed all the potentialities of the worst tyrannies alleged in Russia.

We maintain that the conditions of labour in the timber camps in Russia—and not there only—are conditions of slavery, slavery in the worst degree. The whole theory of Communism, as it has been interpreted and applied in Russia, implies a brutal contempt of elementary individual rights. The very core and essence of slavery is precisely that contempt of individual rights. We maintain that as the conditions of labour are disclosed officially by Russia, and as a great mass of evidence authenticates them as existing at this moment—we maintain that all the worst elements of slavery are present in these labour camps. Any intelligent estimate of the evidence based upon the facts does not admit of doubt that conditions in Russia are ton favourably described as conditions of slavery.

I began by saying that I have no right to your Lordships' audience, and I must not trespass upon your patience. The economic menace which this slave labour creates for this country is very grave. The wisest economic judges remind us that when this five-year plan is carried through this country will be subjected to a strain of unfair competition against which no modern organised industrial community could hold out. That is a very grave matter. It does not particularly touch me, except, so far as this, that, as Bishop of Durham, I have to live in a community broken by economic distress, and I cannot be indifferent to the prospect looming dark on the national horizon of still worse pressure being brought to bear upon these distressed people in our mining areas. As I said, there is a greater question—the moral disgrace involved in our indifference to these horrors, and in being in any degree associated by the Government of this country with some kind of apology for them. That is too terrible for any self-respecting man to contemplate. I believe that there is a Nemesis upon the kind of moral indifference to which we are tending at this moment. I hope very earnestly that His Majesty's Government will be able this afternoon in answer to the Questions that have been addressed to them, to remove the grave anxieties which are in all our minds, and do something which will begin to lift the great shadow of shame.


My Lords, I should have preferred that the Government should have made some statement at this early hour, which might have enabled us to answer them later on, but if it is their wish I will proceed to try and enforce by documentary evidence the very urgent claims that have been made by the right rev. Prelate who has just spoken with regard to the moral liability of the Government, which is, of course, different from that of the man who is dealing in slave-grown or slave-cut and loaded timber. There is this difference, that our country perhaps is more responsible than any other in this matter, because a company of commercial men quite recently entered into a contract to buy no less than £7,000,000 worth of this timber. The leading official of this company, Mr. Meyer, the Chairman, in a letter to The Times on January 3 this year, lays it down quite frankly that the conditions have nothing to do with him. This company, he stated, has no knowledge of the conditions, and, as a trading organisation, does not consider itself qualified or required to investigate this matter, but can only deal with the broad fact that goods are produced for our market and, in our case, will be needed for the requirements of our customers. I do not know whether the Government is going to take up the attitude of Mr. Montague Meyer, head of this association of British financial gentlemen, who are dealing in timber, that it matters nothing whatever to them and to the purchasers of timber in this country how it is produced, how it is cut, how it is loaded and what terrible iniquities are committed in the course of that cutting and loading. I hope at least the Government will not take that attitude.

I should have thought that perhaps after what has been said the Government would have been prepared to admit the existence of these cruelties and these horrors. I know that when Sir Hilton Young, a member of the House of Commons, wrote and sent certain information to the Prime Minister the Prime Minister was good enough to reply that there was no evidence upon which he could take any stand whatever in regard to this slave-cut and slave-imported timber. Since that time the matter has been made still clearer. The Lord Bishop referred to these very human documents. I do not know whether it is necessary to read them. I do not know whether even at the eleventh hour the noble Lord will admit the existence of these miseries and these horrors, of which, I venture to say to him, 90 per cent. of the reading population of this country are already convinced. We have read of the horrors of men who are ill and weak being compelled to work, of men being thrashed when they do not work, of their dying like flies of disease of every kind in these prison camps, of no wages, of little food, food consisting of 2½ lbs. of black or brown bread and a little soup made of mouldy or rotten fish. That has been said over and over again.

I do not know whether the noble Lord who is going to answer will say: "I do not believe it. I am not prepared to admit it." It has been stated in all these documents which have been produced and mentioned in the public Press. There are men working in extreme climatic conditions, without adequate clothing, sleeping on bare boards without any beds, in filth indescribable, no laundries, no sanitary conveniences, the place swarming with bugs and fleas and lice. Does the noble Lord agree or not? Does he agree that these things are taking place? I do not want to take up the time of the House because these things have been so fully stated in the public Press. Only a few days ago—on January 31—The Times published a very long and important statement from its correspondent at Helsingfors. I think the noble Lord will agree that a paper of European or world-wide reputation would not insert a long state- ment of this kind unless it had reason to believe that it was true. The statement published in The Times was from a man who was in the Ogpu service and was sent to the camps as a prisoner but escaped. He says that there were in May 662,000 prisoners, men, women and young people—73,000 of them women and 19,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 17. During the winter, as my noble friend Lord Newton said, there were 72,000 casualties in these timber camps—deaths from pure exhaustion, deaths from typhoid, deaths from scurvy and a very large number of deaths from being shot or murdered in some other fashion.

When, at a meeting of Ogpu representatives at one of the camps, the chairman was asked: "Don't you think we are running the risk of being held responsible in Moscow for the terrible mortality among the prisoners, who are actually being worked to death?" the chairman replied with a grin: "You know we only supply you with counterrevolutionaries and other enemies of the Soviet." That is what is said in the summary of the Ogpu official's deposition published in The Times. Is the noble Lord going to say: "I decline to accept any evidence of The Times correspondent"? There was a very remarkable statement made in the Daily Mail on February 2 in regard to the labour in these timber camps, by Mr. Carl W. Barr, an American who is over here on behalf of the National Lumber Manufacturers' Association of America. He has been out and has made inquiries from the lumber captains and so forth. A friend of mine—I ought to say this perhaps, as it may have some weight—has personally seen Mr. Barr and discussed the matter with him, and he authorises me to say that he formed the opinion that Mr. Barr is a man of striking intelligence and that on the face of it he would say that he was a man of most complete honesty. My friend said he would be prepared to accept every word Mr. Barr has said with regard to these horrible atrocities which are taking place.

But I have more than that. I have in my hand an actual affidavit which was sworn on the 22nd of last month before the British Consul in Paris. This is an affidavit by a man who, I think, is most likely the same man who gave information to The Times correspondent. There is so much uniformity with the statement published in The Times that I think it is probably the same man. He says he was a member of the Ogpu, of the Secret police of Russia. For Anti-Soviet propaganda amongst the ranks he was sent for a three-year term to the prison camp. He says he was at Solovetsky from July 8, 1929, to July 1, 1930. He was there a whole year and of course he spent a winter there. He has been at the forest works in various places. He says the prisoners live under conditions of unparalleled hardship. He says the prisoners sleep—perhaps that is to be imagined—on bare planks or under them. Only those are in possession of blankets or pillows who brought them with them. The Ogpu do not give any to the prisoners.

I will not trouble to read the whole of the affidavit. He says he fell ill with typhus himself and that tens of thousands of human beings lost their lives through typhus and other diseases. The hospital was designed for seventy-five patients, but there were over 200 patients lying on bare planks closely pressed one to the other. There were deaths not only from typhus but from gangrene in consequence of frozen limbs. Prisoners had to sleep on the frozen ground. On November 29 thirty people got frost bitten. I do not give the man's name because I do not want to identify him. He is safely out of Russia himself but it might get others into trouble. Men have to work from five o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock in the evening. I remember that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord President, on the occasion of the last debate seemed not to know what was sweated labour. The House will remember his speech on November 20. I submit that this kind of work from five o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock in the evening—that is, in winter, it is sometimes until midnight in summer—may be considered sweated labour.

This affidavit goes on to say that those who do not complete their tasks get thrashed by the Cheka. A special stick is used for this purpose. Such punishments for the non-accomplishment of tasks are an everyday occurrence. The Bolsheviks do not abstain from applying hard labour even to children. Lads of fifteen, sixteen and seventeen were in the camp when this informant was there. They get the same tasks as the grown up men. Nor are the clergy free. The right rev. Prelate will be interested in this. The statement adds:— I saw at those works aged priests from 55 to 60 working on these tasks. They get their meals twice a day. At four in the morning they receive a gruel of millet and water, at ten in the evening a soup made of fish and millet grains, and under 2 lbs. of black bread. That is all they get.

I do not know whether the noble Lord is going to take the view that the Prime Minister seemed to take, that there is no evidence. Here is a sworn document. I am prepared to tell the noble Lord how it came into my possession. It was sent over to me from a former colleague, Commander Carly-on Bellairs, who to his great honour has taken the greatest interest in the matter and, with the assistance of Sir Hilton Young, has got a good deal of evidence together. It was sent to me direct from Paris, where it was sworn before our own Consul-General. These facts are true. The right rev. Prelate who has spoken had no doubt whatever in his own mind. He is convinced, as I am convinced, and I think most noble Lords who have read their newspapers in the last few months are and must be convinced, that these things are a horror greater perhaps than anything in modern times. I could have read other statements made by these prisoners. If this be so, surely we have established a prima facie case for some answer from the Government.

The next point is as to whether this is really pressed labour or not, whether these people are criminals or whether it is the ordinary type of labour. Russia, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, said, has become a communistic and compulsorily-laboured State. There is no possible doubt about that. I suppose the noble Lord who is going to answer has looked at this Blue-book (Cd. 3775). He has seen how for the last twelve months a series of decrees has been issued, one after the other of increasing severity, in regard to the compulsory labour of the Russian people. Practically the whole of Russian labour is now compulsory. There is no freedom of contract. All are engaged by the trade unions or by the labour organisa- tions, and they are sent wherever the Government like to send them.

He will see on page 144 that the Councils of People's Commissars of autonomous Republics and regional and provincial executive committees are authorised to enforce temporary compulsory labour in carrying out the loading and unloading of grain cargoes. That, I think, is almost the first example. Curiously, there is a penalty—I do not know if it would be tolerated in trade unions here—for the systematic and mass production of inferior goods. The penalty is deprivation of liberty for not more than five years, or forced labour for not more than one year. On page 146 you find the following: — In the event of any person or persons resisting the fulfilment of the allotted task in the preparation and haulage of timber, and likewise should any person or persons refuse to fulfil their allotted task, the rural assembly is empowered to institute criminal proceedings against such person or persons under Article 61 of the Criminal Code. I do not want to take up your Lordships' time by reading more examples, but if you turn to the decrees of last year, you will find that they increase in violence and severity, showing how the demand for labour is to be met by compulsory recruiting, and refusal to work is to be dealt with as a criminal offence.

Here is another example, dated September, 1930. Your Lordships will find it on page 160:— In the event of a dearth on the spot of detachments of porters for loading or unloading …. all those unemployed on the register of labour organisations, whether they be physical or intellectual workers, who are physically fit …. must be compulsorily despatched to work. Whether they are physical or intellectual workers, they must be despatched, because there is a shortage of labour, to work in these camps. The decree goes on to say— A refusal by the unemployed worker to undertake loading and unloading operations without valid reasons is to be considered as a refusal to perform work of any kind, with the consequences arising therefrom (removal of his name from the register, deprivation of relief, etc.). This involves no food card at all, inability to get food and death by starvation. That is the provision of the Russian decree.

I congratulate the Government, if the noble Lord will allow me to do so, for their honesty in publishing these documents. It is a most wonderful, and at the same time a most painful collection of documents from a so-called civilised Government. Here is another instance. We are told that the labour exchanges are instructed to take all necessary measures in order that the unemployed may be sent to work, and the first to be sent are persons entitled to draw unemployment benefit. At all events they do not like the "dole" in Russia. No excuse for refusal to work, except illness, will be considered, and the penalty is removal from the register, which I have just explained. I could go on quoting, but surely the Government must be forced to admit two facts which I want to emphasise and place before them. These cruelties are a fact. The right rev. Prelate has dealt with the moral aspect of the question. If they are a fact, we, as a great nation dealing with Russia, having diplomatic relations with Russia and having our own nationals purchasing the timber which is the result of the blood, cruelty and misery of these men, have at least a moral obligation to enquire and to see what steps can be taken.

The question arises of what steps can be taken, or should be taken, by His Majesty's Government in the matter. I think they might possibly take some steps under the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876. If there is any dispute as to whether anything is legally imported or not, then in every case the proof lies upon the defendants in such a prosecution. That is not often the case in this country, but it is so under the Customs legislation when there is any dispute as to the legality of an importation. It is only fair to say that, under Section 1 of the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act, 1897, which links up with the Customs Consolidation Act, it is declared that goods which are proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioners of Customs to be made in foreign prisons, and so on, shall be put into a schedule of goods that are prohibited under the original Act. I agree that the position is not quite clear. I think, in fact, that there is a gap between the two Acts. But, in the case of ordinarily prohibited goods, the onus is upon the defendant if an attempt is made to introduce them into this country.

I am going to say to the Government that, whatever the law may be, they must act if these things are proved—and the Blue-book is enough, I should have thought, to convince any trade unionist that these goods are made by sweated labour, and something far worse than sweated labour—namely, compulsory slave labour of the very worst description. I find that the Labour Party has considered this matter before, because Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, at the Socialist Labour Party Conference at Birmingham, in October, 1928, made a speech in which he said this: Where there were glaring examples of sweated goods, produced under conditions against which British people could not compete without lowering their standard of living, the remedy was not safeguarding but prohibiting the entry of those goods. I claim the Prime Minister's definition. I like it far better than that of the Lord President, who tried to get out of what was sweated labour. Every kind of excuse was made by him, but the Prime Minister does know what is meant by sweated labour. It seems to be a pity that the Lord President did not have in his mind the speech of the Prime Minister. The Lord President, as appears in column 291 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, said: You cannot compare the labour in one country with the labour in another. That is exactly what the Prime Minister said you must do, because he said that if the goods were produced under conditions against which British people could not compete without lowering their standard of living, the remedy was to prohibit the entry of those goods.

We on this side of the House desire to maintain the standard of living, and we say quite definitely that British manufacturers and British workmen cannot compete with the products of this Russian slave labour. I am not dealing merely with timber at the moment, but with all these things with regard to which there is this gigantic export, quite deliberately undertaken by the disciples of Lenin as a means of breaking down the capitalist system in this country and the other civilised countries of the world. It is not armed warfare, but political warfare, deliberate and definite, and they are, under this five-year plan, endeavouring to swamp the civilised nations of the world with goods produced under this slave labour. I am told, and I believe it to be the fact, that very shortly some 50,000 tons of soap are coming into this country from Russia, made at a price at which it cannot be produced in this country. I have here a beautiful cake of soap, guaranteed pure and of fine quality. It is bath soap, produced in Russia and being exported here. I dare say people here would like to buy it, for the price here is only 1½d. per tablet. That is a price at which it is utterly impossible for English labour to produce it. What are the Government going to do? The price of Russian timber is far less than that at which our friends in Scandinavia, Latvia and Finland are able to sell it, and they are purchasers from us. Their trade is being almost ruined by the action of Russia.

Surely the time has come for our Government to take its courage in both hands and to act upon the statement made by the Prime Minister to which I have alluded. The Labour Party appointed a Committee to deal with this matter, and they have stated as follows:— We do not suggest that cheap goods should be excluded because they are cheap,"— nor do I— but that goods, whether cheap or not, should be excluded if they are made under conditions which violate the world's standards. I see that the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, is good enough to accept that. I go further, and say that these goods are produced under conditions which violate the world's standards. Does the noble Lord agree with that?


I am not in a position to say.


I would not have asked the noble Lord but for his agreement with the previous statement. He agrees that they are produced under conditions with which British labour cannot compete, and I put it to him that it has been proved beyond possibility of doubt by any intelligent man reading these documents, and the Press, and affidavits.


And the Daily Mail.


That remark is not worthy of the noble Lord. I told the noble Lord in regard to that particular interview in the Daily Mail that I was in a position through a great friend to guarantee the bona fides of the man who made that statement, and the noble Lord sneers. If that is the way in which the Government are going to meet this case, then they will only add to their difficulties and to the lack of confidence which the country has in them. We ask them to deal with the matter as a Government. They have the power, and there is no difficulty about passing legislation through this House. They have a large number of followers who will obediently follow them, and the Conservative Party will help them. If they have not already the power, let them take the power. Let them do what America is already beginning to do. France is dealing with the matter, and Germany and Rumania are already beginning to find that this dumping cannot be allowed to go on. Therefore I ask the Government to govern. It was said not long ago you have either got to govern or get out. The difficulty of noble Lords opposite and their colleagues is that they cannot govern and they will not get out.


My Lords, may I begin by apologising to the House for the absence of my noble and learned friend the Lord President of the Council, who desired me to say he regretted very much he was unable to be present to-day owing to illness. I regret it myself very much, because on an occasion like the present I feel that perhaps I cannot adequately deal with the speeches of eloquence and force that have been made from the Benches opposite, and by the right rev. Prelate. I will, however, endeavour to do my best. I want to make it perfectly clear at the outset that I am not here to defend the Soviet Government. I am not here to defend the Soviet system or the labour conditions in Russia. I am not here to defend what is printed in this Blue-book, but I am here to defend His Majesty's Government. His Majesty's Government have been accused during the course of the debate, and very grave charges have been made against them, and if I therefore speak with some warmth I hope your Lordships will excuse me.

I should like to refer, at the outset, to the remarks of the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Durham, because he put plainly the underlying principle which stands at the back, not only of this debate, but of every debate that I have taken part in on this subject in another place and here—and I have taken part in a good many, if not every one of them. The Lord Bishop said that there was sorrow, consternation, and shame growing up in the country because of the attitude of His Majesty's Government with regard to Russia, which was based, in the face of evidence that was before the country, on the blinding effect of class bias. I just want to examine that for a moment. The right rev. Prelate will remember the year 1908, when not the evidence of stray witnesses, of refugees, or the sworn testimony of friends of prisoners, or discharged officials, but an authentic report produced by the Russian Duma, of such a character as to rouse the indignation of any humanitarian or right-thinking man, was before this country. Did the right rev. Prelate then from his pulpit denounce the Government of the day? He had very great influence even in those days as a leading light of the Church. Did the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who raised the discussion this afternoon, when he knew that convict labour was used at Archangel and in Northern Russia for timber under the Tsarist Government call the attention of this House to it, and denounce the Government of the day for allowing this timber to enter this country? No such thing. If there is class prejudice and class bias and Party feeling, it is most unfair that noble Lords of the Conservative Party should put themselves on a pedestal and declare that we alone are guilty of such conduct.


May I say that it was the noble Lord's friends who were in office in 1908—the Party to which he then belonged?


The noble Marquess is perfectly correct; and I never ceased attacking them for this, and that is one of the things, I think, that brought about the present state that they are in now. The right rev. Prelate and the noble Viscount who has just sat down say that their case is well documented, that we have got now before us sufficient evidence upon which a British Government can act. That is what is meant by a well-documented case. I do not dispute the evidence for one moment; I am not going to say a word against it. The noble Viscount assures us that the testimony that he has got is perfectly authentic, and I do not doubt it for a single moment. But when one does look through some of the evidence which is brought forward with regard to the conditions in Russia, it may be right or it may be wrong, but one very often finds that it is a little bit contradictory.

I think in the course of the afternoon we have had considerable difference of opinion with regard to the number of prisoners there are in Russia. We find in the document which is supposed to be authentic and vouched for, and which really started the whole of this particular movement—I refer to Sir Edward Hilton Young's letter to the Prime Minister, with the statement of the escaped prisoners—we find so careful a student as Sir Edward Hilton Young saying in the beginning of his letter:— The industry"— that is the timber industry— is apparently manned mainly by prisoners. He then goes on to show that the prisoners working on timber number 60,000. He gives all the prisoners as 135,000 and the Ogpu official gives the prisoners as 660,000. We have no authentic figure whatsoever. They all contradict one another. But it is sufficient to say that when Sir Edward says that the timber industry is manned mainly by prisoners and quotes the figure of 60,000, and there are rather more than two million people engaged in the timber industry in Russia., that is quite obviously incorrect.

Again, when he says, at the end of his letter, that an interpreter says that there are 500 prisoners employed on loading each of the ships, well, the ships are about 800 tons and about 300 feet long. Anybody knows that for 500 men to load a ship of that size is quite out of the question. You can do it with forty or fifty. And then he says the prisoners said:— We would like also to say a word also about the priests. Most of the churches in Russia have been closed by force by the Soviet Government. Ninety-three per cent. of the churches are still open. I only point to that because this is supposed to be the sort of text upon which everybody else has built his argument, to show that even a cursory glance through the documents proves that they are full of discrepancies, contradictions and inaccuracies. And to ask His Majesty's Government to take documents and letters and testimonies such as these in order to formulate a case against another European Government appears to me to be absolutely beside the mark. We have heard a great deal said by the noble Viscount with regard to these horrors. They may be true. I am not disputing the facts. They are very horrible. But, as we know, when one Government takes upon itself the task of looking into the horrors of the world it becomes rather a difficult one, and when we are going to correct other nations because they do not observe the same standards of morality and social decencies that we do, I am afraid we shall find out hands very full. At any rate, before we embark upon a task of that sort, let us have authentic, indisputable evidence. And that we have not got.

But at the end of the noble Viscount's eloquent denunciation of this system, I was waiting to know what he suggested, and I have been waiting ever since four o'clock to know what is suggested. I have only heard, very, very tentatively, from the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and the noble Viscount who spoke last, that we should do something under the Act to prohibit the importation of foreign prison-made goods. That is the only thing I have heard this afternoon in the way of a suggestion.


No, more. I said if that Act is not sufficient then I suggested further legislation, and promised, on behalf of my Party, absolute facilities to get it through.


Yes, I beg the noble Viscount's pardon. And he knows—because he knows these matters very closely—that the Foreign Prison-made Goods Act of 1897 does not meet the case at all. Goods have to be made wholly or in part in a foreign prison, jail house, house of correction, or penitentiary; and that has to be proved. I am told there is only one isolated case that has been proved under this Act—with regard to some flax I think that came from a prison in America. On that occasion, that was stopped. Otherwise this particular Act would certainly not meet this case. Then it is suggested that we should amend it. Amend it what to do? Are we to introduce an Act of Parliament to say that we are not going to receive into this country goods made by forced labour? If we do that we must then undertake an investigation in all countries and find out where forced labour exists. Do your Lordships suppose that Russia is the only country in which forced labour exists? I could quote places, but I do not want to embitter the foreign atmosphere by any words that I might let fall. Of course it is not the only country where forced labour exists. I do not see that the proposition that we should have legislation meets the case in any way at all.


What does the Prime Minister mean?


The Prime Minister's utterance that the noble Lord quoted I have not by me; but, in any case, I am authorised to say that the Prime Minister and His Majesty's Government have no intention of introducing elaborate legislation to meet a condition of affairs about which we have not any sure and authentic data. We have grave suspicions but we have not any authentic data that we could put before Parliament in order to frame legislation.


Did the noble Lord say: "We have grave suspicions?" I did not quite catch the phrase.


I do not think I said that. I said: "We may have suspicions."


No; the noble Lord said: "We may have grave suspicions." That is what he said.


I might have said that; but we cannot legislate on suspicion. I think that even the noble and learned Viscount would agree that you cannot legislate on suspicions. If we have suspicions it is that the labour conditions in Russia are extremely cruel and rough and of such a character as our workers would not tolerate for a moment—not for a moment. That is not a sufficient reason, however, for legislation to prevent goods coming from that country into this country.

I noted several things and, although do not want to delay your Lordships, I must say a word or two about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, because he seemed to accuse my noble and learned friend the Lord President of deliberately trying to mislead the House. I really do not think that was fair. At that time, that is to say in November, my noble friend had not before him the information that we have now. He had not this Blue-book. There were at his disposal only summaries of the regulations and the various decrees of the Russian Government. I am sure if he gave a false impression and it was not exactly in accordance with what appears now, he would be the first to be ready to correct it. But we had not got the correctional labour code before us in November and we could not quote from it.

Searching through this Blue-book, as I have, to find out whether there are many cases in which these workers receive no remuneration at all, the only instance I can find is at the top of page 57. Certainly there it says that all persons sentenced to compulsory labour without detention under guard shall not, with the exception of those who are working at places where they habitually work, receive remuneration. That is to say, people who are taken away from their homes, while they are given board and lodging—remember that these are people who are under detention, they are sentenced people—shall not receive any remuneration. If a case can be built up on that very slender basis, I am quite ready to give it to the noble Lord. But I must correct him more particularly in his figures with regard to the import of timber into this country. He said that it had increased during the last few years. That is perfectly correct, although I think he rather exaggerated the figure because I believe he mentioned that it had reached £9,000,000. That is not correct. The figures for the last four years are £5,779,000, £6,025,000, £8,009,000, and there is a slight drop to £7,881,000 in the figures for 1930, which are just now available.


Is the noble Lord including all forms of timber in those statistics?


I rather think so; perhaps I had better make quite sure about that. I may say that this talk of flooding the market with timber is quite inaccurate. It is only just about the pre-War level, that is all. It has not reached any dimensions where there is any need for alarm. We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for raising this Question to-day as he has raised it on previous occasions. I am very sorry he is not satisfied with the Blue-book, because I thought it was more or less what he asked for. I regret that we cannot do more than give the House what is in that Blue-book. I might say here with regard to the Questions of the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, that we have made further inquiries in addition to the Bluebook with respect to the first Question that he placed on the Paper, but our Ambassador is not able to give us full and authentic information, so I am afraid the three further Questions must be answered in the negative. Our Ambassador and officials have done their very utmost to collect all the documents possible and I think they have succeeded in giving what has been called in the Press a very full collection, which presents an amazing picture of this Soviet effort. It is one that appeals to us not at all. It is one that, I quite agree with noble Lords, will in time have to be reckoned with. It is of enormous dimensions, and of a nature which simply is so foreign to us that we do not understand it at all. On the other hand, it is not one which calls forth from us any need for particular official protest.


Would the noble Lord give us the information which he says he has got from our Ambassador in Moscow even though it is not as full as might be desirable?


I am afraid not. I am afraid the correspondence that has passed shows there is nothing that would be of any value for publication on the lines which the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, suggests.


Surely, if he has given you some information, are we not entitled to hear what that information is? And if not, why is he unable to give us more information on a matter which is surely within his competence to find out?


I am afraid I can only repeat my reply. I have nothing to add to it. May I say that our Ambassador asked whether an inquiry might be conducted into the timber trade in Russia, and the Russian Government resented that suggestion, saying that no sovereign State could admit the power of any other State to carry out investigations in its territory.

Noble Lords opposite may not take it as being of any value, but we are bound to accept official statements that are brought before us, and His Majesty's Ambassador has been informed by the Soviet authorities that neither prison labour nor any general labour of sentenced persons is employed in the branches of the timber industry for export. That has also been further elaborated by Mr. Danishevsky, the Chairman of the Export of the Soviet Republic, in a letter to the Manchester Guardian, from which I must give this quotation:— These accusations endeavour to create in the mind of the British public that timber exported from the Soviet Union is produced by convict labour. This I can emphatically deny. As Chairman of the Exportles (the organisation controlling the export of the whole of the timber from the Soviet Union) I am in possession of the most complete and up-to-date information, and I am in a position to state that not a single standard of timber exported from the Soviet Union is produced otherwise than on conditions established by collective agreements between trade unions representing the workers and the State timber-producing trusts. I may add that the export of timber from Russia is only a very small portion of the timber trade. By far the largest part of the timber trade is for home consumption, largely for fuel and also for building.

May I end where the noble Lord, Lord Newton, began in his criticism of speeches made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and my noble friend the Lord President the other day in the debate on disarmament, saying that he regards the Soviet Government as being the most warlike and the greatest danger to the peace of the world. I fully admit the preparations of the Soviet Government for war, and I go further and say the reliance of the Soviet Government on force is an element which is particularly distasteful to me, and which I very much regret. But with their experience, with their knowledge that the Western Powers did their very utmost to overthrow them in the early years of their existence, with their continued fear that this may happen again, with their utter distrust of the protestations and promises made by the Western Powers 'with regard to the cessation of war and disarmament, I think they perhaps have some right to be critical on that line. They regard the safety of their system and their country still to depend upon force, and they are not neglecting to see that it is adequate.

But far more than shot and shell and explosives and all the hideous armoury of war to-day, what brings disunion and conflict are suspicion and hostility expressed by one nation about another. I do not think that these debates and the attitude adopted by noble Lords opposite are going to make their task any easier if ever they are called upon to take up the government of this country. Foreign relations are extremely delicate matters. They are so closely inter-linked that you cannot shatter them in one direction without dislocating them all over the world. It has been the underlying intention of His Majesty's Government to bring Russia into the comity of nations, and to endeavour, by dealing with her, difficult as it is, difficult as it will be, to prevent her going outside, to prevent her hostility, to prevent her directing her concerted attacks against us or our friends. I venture to think that during the last year His Majesty's Government have done more towards bringing about an amicable spirit in Europe than has been done for many years past, and if one of the elements which they regard as essential for the peace of the world is to keen Russia within the comity of nations, I, for one, very much regret that these occasions are taken periodically and so constantly to try to make disparaging and insulting remarks about a Government with which we are officially on friendly terms.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I am moved to do so by the speech to which your Lordships have just listened. I doubt whether in the records of this House there has been a speech which has been more equivocal, more inconsistent, more unsatisfactory, more deliberately evasive of plain questions than the one to which the noble Lord has just given utterance. The noble Lord told us that they accepted the evidence which had been put before them. Your Lordships have heard extracts from that evidence. Having said that he accepted the evidence, he then proceeded to minimise its importance, and to sneer at its accuracy by suggesting that, for instance, numbers varied. Somebody had said there were 135,000 persons that he knew of, someone else said he knew of 600,000; therefore, says the noble Lord, they must both be telling lies. I do not suppose anybody knows with precision the number of unfortunates who have been herded into these prison dens in Northern Russia to starve and die, but because one man may know of more than another is that good reason for saying that either of them is saying what is untrue?

If the Government accept the truth of the evidence, as they say they do, then these facts at least are established, that in Northern Russia to-day there are hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are being starved and tortured, ill-treated, bound down, decimated by disease, used in the pursuance of a plan by which Russia at once destroys her own best citizens because they will not accept the cursed doctrines of Communism, and uses the product of their labour whilst they are worked to death, in the endeavour to destroy the economic system of this country. The noble Lord says that they are bound to accept official statements. I wonder why. Does the noble Lord himself believe them? I venture to suggest that not even the innocence of the Front Bench opposite would accept the official statement as being true—or would believe it to be true, at least. The official statement is that there is no such thing as the use of prison or forced labour in the timber which is exported to this country, and the noble Lord says: "Well, but what can we do?" At least there are some things he could leave undone. If in truth this timber is being produced under these conditions, if in truth these other products, the soap and other things, are being produced under these conditions, if in truth that is being done in order to undersell the products of British labour produced under decent working conditions, the Government can come to the House of Commons and to this House and ask for power to stop these things coming in. Instead of that, what they actually do is to find British money to finance Russia so that she may be able to use the money in producing these articles and carrying out her plans.

I suppose that there is no great value to be gained by passing a Motion for Papers when we are told that there are none, but I venture to think that every member of your Lordships' House, apart from the dignified occupants of the Front Bench opposite, will view with profound dissatisfaction the answers which have been given to the questions which have been put to-day. They will share to the full the moral indignation which has been so well and so eloquently expressed from the Episcopal Bench, and they will feel, as the country will feel, that we cannot avoid a responsibility for conditions into which we refuse to enquire, as to which we refuse to accept the evidence, although we believe it is true, and with regard to which we take no steps to put an end to the exploitation of these unhappy people in Russia for the very purpose of destroying industrial conditions at home.


Does the noble Lord press his Motion for Papers?


My Lords, I should like to say two things only. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made a great point in the first place of saying that we had no authentic data. His second point was: What did we propose should be done? The answer I give, and the answer I have put forward from the beginning, is: get the authentic data, make inquiries. When I first rose in this House in November last Sir Hilton Young's correspondence in the Press had not appeared. It is quite untrue to suggest that that debate arose out of Sir Hilton Young's correspondence. It did not. I suggested then that under Tsarism there were 500,000 convicts and I estimated that there are now approximately five million. I suggested that on certain information which I quite agree I cannot trust. I asked for figures. I am told to-day that I cannot have the figures. Why not? I am told that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord President, whose statements, I venture to say, were not accurate, did not know of the decrees of 1928 and 1929 and 1930 when he rose in this House in November last. Why did he not know? Surely, anyhow, the decrees of the Russian Government could have been at the noble and learned Lord's disposal. I rose on behalf of these prisoners. On that side of the subject I am well informed. I know what it is to be a prisoner. Although I am grateful for this Blue-book and for the information in it, I shall not be satisfied unless His Majesty's Government will pursue their inquiries. I only ask that they should pursue their inquiries into the conditions prevailing in the timber camps in Northern Russia, and if they will pursue their inquiries I am quite convinced that they will see that justice is done. I do not press my Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before seven o'clock.