HL Deb 11 April 1933 vol 87 cc505-40

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, before I move the Second Reading of this Bill I am asked to mention that my noble friend Lord Danesfort has, I understand, made up his mind that the Performing Animals (Regulation) Amendment Bill will not be taken this evening, and is postponed till Thursday, May 4. I believe some of your Lordships who are largely interested in that Bill will like to have that information, although I hope we may have the benefit of their attendance during the discussion of this Bill. The Motion I have to bring forward is for the Second Reading of the Russian Goods (Import Prohibition) Bill. I have thought, that the best way in which I can explain the case to your Lordships, and I am afraid I must take a little time for that purpose, as the matter is of great importance, would be to reverse the usual order of things, and first of all to tell your Lordships what the Bill does and then, when I have explained the provisions of the Bill, to explain in some little detail the circumstances which, in the opinion of the Government, render it necessary for us to ask the House to pass the Bill through all its stages this afternoon.

The Bill by its first subsection provides that: It shall be lawful by Proclamation to prohibit the importation into the United Kingdom of all goods whatsoever grown, produced or manufactured in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or of any class or description of such goods specified in the Proclamation. This, as your Lordships will observe, does not impose any prohibition of any kind at all, but gives power to the Government, if the Government see fit to exercise it. In subsection (2) there is a provision which places goods so prohibited in the same category as goods prohibited under any other Act of Parliament, which is a usual provision where such a Proclamation takes place. Then, in subsection (3), there is a provision as to proof of the origin of goods. In subsection (4) there is a provision as to goods which have been partly manufactured within the Soviet Union and partly manufactured outside it, and such goods are entitled to be exempt from the prohibition if 25 per cent. or more of their value is attributable to processes of manufacture which the goods have undergone since they last left the Soviet Union. Both those provisions are taken from other Acts of Parliament dealing with similar subject matter. Subsection (5) exempts the entrepôt trade. Subsection (6) gives power to revoke or vary a Proclamation by a subsequent Proclamation, and subsection (7) provides that a Proclamation under this Act shall only be valid for three months, unless during the continuance of those three months a Resolution is passed by each House of Parliament asking that the Proclamation shall continue in force.

Clause 2 is declaratory in form, because it probably is the law that where there are goods prohibited by Proclamation His Majesty can, by licence, authorise the importation of goods. Clause 3 provides for relief in case of non-fulfilment of any contracts due to the existence of the Proclamation. This is to deal with the somewhat tangled skein of case law which grew up during the War, as to how far the interference with trade constituted a good defence or the frustration of the contract sc as to render it impossible of fulfilment. Clause 4 states the short title and fixes the date on which the Act shall come into operation—namely, the 18th of April, 1933. The reason that day is chosen is that the present trade relations between Great Britain and Russia are regulated by a trade agreement entered into some years ago which was terminable by six months' notice on either side. In that trade agreement there was a most-favoured-nation clause. The agreement was in fact terminated by six months' notice given after the return of the delegation from the Ottawa Conference, and consequently the present bade agreement will come to an end on April 17, and under this Bill therefore no Proclamation can validly be made during the currency of the trade agreement, because the most-favoured-nation clause would he violated if such a Proclamation were made.

So much for the terms of the Bill I ought perhaps to tell your Lordships how much trade is potentially affected. In 1932 the total imports into the United Kingdom from the Soviet Union were £19,697,013, and the exports from this country, which are not affected by this Bill, were £9,274,534. Therefore, the trade balance in favour of the Soviet is just over £10,000,000. If one goes back to earlier years the imports were larger and the trade balance in favour of the Soviet considerably larger than last year.

Now, my Lords, having said so much, I have to explain to your Lordships why it is that we ask Parliament to give the Government these admittedly exceptional powers at this present moment. The story begins about a month ago, and it relates to a company called the Metropolitan-Vickers Company and certain British subjects employees of that company in Russia. The Metropolitan-Vickers Company, as a great many of your Lordships' House are probably aware, is a company which has a. very high reputation in the electrical engineering world. It carries on a very large business. Some ten years ago the Metropolitan-Vickers Company began dealings with Soviet Russia. As your Lordships know, after the Bolshevist revolution the Government of Russia desired to industrialise to a very large extent some parts of Russia, and for that purpose it was necessary for them to make some very important contracts with foreign firms. Among those foreign firms was the Metropolitan-Vickers Company, which, beginning ten years ago, has had a number of contracts with Soviet Russia under which it has supplied and erected some very important electrical machinery—some almost ultra-modern machinery, because the Russians were anxious to have the very latest things, and in some cases I believe got some machinery which had gone very little beyond the experimental stage. The most recent contract was only six months ago.

In addition to the contracts for the supply of machinery the Soviet Government entered into contracts for what was called "technical assistance." The first was made seven years ago, for a period of five years, and under that the company undertook to supply skilled engineers to Soviet Russia, who should take care of and supervise some of the highly technical plant. That contract ran for five years successfully, and then the Soviet Government renewed it for another term of years, of which there are some years still to run. In pursuance of that contract it was necessary for the Metropolitan-Vickers Company to send to Soviet Russia a number of highly-skilled engineers, men of very high standing and reputation in their own trade and business, who have been there for some years and who, in the ordinary course of events, would have stayed there for a good long time to come. The relevance of that explanation lies only in this: First of all, the people concerned, the company and the employees, were people who have the very highest standing and reputation; secondly, both the company and its employees are people who have had dealings with the Russians for a long time, with whom the Russians by experience have proved themselves very well satisfied, and they are people who have every inducement, so far as self-interest is concerned, to continue on the friendliest terms with the Soviet Government, because actually there was outstanding at the end of last month something like £1,500,000 owing from Soviet Russia to the Metropolitan-Vickers Company.

These skilled engineers, as I say, have had a long period of service in Russia and in the ordinary course might look forward to another long period before their contracts came to an end. In these circumstances it was that on Saturday, March 11, at about half-past nine in the evening, secret police agents came to the house of Mr. Monkhouse, who was, I think, the principal of the engineers employed by Metropolitan-Vickers in Russia, armed with warrants to arrest and. warrants to search. They arrested Mr. Monkhouse and Mr. Thornton, another of the engineers employed, and they made a search of everything that was to be found on the premises. There were also a certain number of Russian employees who were also arrested at the same time. Mr. Monkhouse was taken away to the Lyubianka, the great State prison in Moscow, and one of the employees of the company, Mr. Buckell, who happened to be present when the arrest was made, went next morning, which was Sunday, March 12, to the British Embassy and reported what had happened. Inquiries were made and it then appeared that another of the flats occupied by one of these employees, Mr. Cushny, had been raided early that morning, about half-past eight, and Mr. Cushny and Mr. Macdonald, both British subjects and employees of the company, had, like their colleagues, been arrested and a number of documents had been seized.

As soon as that information reached Sir Esmond Ovey he at once reported it to this country and he at once attempted to get into touch with the Russian Foreign Office. Unfortunately, it was what is known in Russia as a rest day—I think every sixth day is a rest day, and by a coincidence it was the same day as our Sunday. The Russian Foreign Office disclaimed any knowledge of what had happened, and said they could not attend to it until the next day. On the 13th further inquiries were made and attempts were made to ascertain whether or not there was going to be a trial of these men, what charge it was on which they were arrested, and to get the fullest possible particulars. The Soviet Government were informed that the British subjects arrested were men of the highest standing, and that we at any rate felt confidence that they were not the sort of people who were to be regarded as potential criminals. Of course, at that time we did not know the nature of the charges that had been made. That was Monday, March 13. On Tuesday, March 14, Mr. Monkhouse was released on parole and Mr. Monk-house was able therefore to see Sir Esmond Ovey and to give an account of what had happened to him.

It will be found in document No. 13 in the first of the two White Papers which have been issued in connection with this matter. Mr. Monkhouse, having been taken to the Lyubianka prison, was cross-examined, his cross-examination beginning at 8 a.m. on the Sunday morning after his arrest and continuing in the first instance without intermission for a period of no less than 19 hours. There were three successive teams of cross-examiners, who took it in turn to relieve one another. Mr. Monk-house was allowed to have meals during his cross-examination but the cross-examination went on uninterruptedly during his meals; and accordingly for a period of 19 hours consecutively Mr. Monkhouse was kept under cross-examination. I venture to stress that a little, because I am not sure whether anyone who has not had experience of what examination and cross-examination mean can quite realise the nervous and mental strain involved in keeping a man continuously under cross-examination for so long a period of time. A time comes when the nervous and mental exhaustion is so great that a man will say almost anything to bring the examination to a conclusion. And there is good reason to fear, as your Lordships will see when I get later on in the story, that that is a favourite method which is adopted by the secret Russian Police of the G.P.U.

Mr. Monkhouse's examination having continued for these nineteen hours, it is remarkable to notice that there was no material evidence which the Russian Police had with which to confront him. The whole time was taken up in endeavours to entrap him into what they describe as a confession. He was asked every sort of question with regard to his activities in Russia and pressed all the time to confess that he had been guilty of some form of political crime against the Russian State. At three o'clock in the morning he was allowed to go to his cell for 4½ hours' rest. Unfortunately under the regulations prevailing in Russian prisons, he was disturbed and wakened up three times during the 4½ hours that he was allowed to be there. At half-past seven in the morning he was again brought forward for cross-examination and this time his cross-examination went on without a break until eleven at night. At eleven o'clock at night the examiners threatened him that unless he confessed he would be treated as a criminal, and, as I shall show your Lordships presently, in fact they threatened him with summary execution if he did not confess. Mr. Monkhouse stuck to it and said that there was nothing to confess. The Russians then changed their tactics during, an hour's pause and he was released on parole.

The story of Mr. Monkhouse is mainly relevant for the moment as indicating the sort of treatment to which our subjects have been submitted in their prison. On the same 14th of March it was permitted for the British Embassy representatives, or one of them, to go and see the remaining prisoners who were in prison. But it was made a condition first that each prisoner should be seen separately; secondly, that they should be seen in the presence of the Russian police and, thirdly, that no reference at all should be made to anything connected with the case or with regard to their imprisonment. The result was that, although the conversation was reassuring in so far as it showed that these men were still alive, they had obviously completely to ignore the situation in which they found themselves and were really confined to sending reassuring messages to their wives and friends at home. That interview took place on March 14. The terms are set out in the White Paper and the effect produced on the appearance of the prisoners is shown in Document No.20, where Sir Esmond Ovey reports: While the prisoners seemed generally in good heath, the drawn expressions of Messrs. Thornton and Cushny gave me definite impression of their having been put through it.' They were all obviously terrified of speaking and confined themselves to minimum of replies. And the telegram concludes: While I was of course received with utmost courtesy and military display, the obsequiousness of the unfortunate prisoners and utterly artificial atmosphere of restraint created an uncanny impression. That was after three days in a Russian prison. It is not a very reassuring account to get of our fellow subjects under these conditions—obviously terrified of speaking, obsequious, acting in an utterly artificial atmosphere of restraint—it takes a great deal to produce that result in three days on an English or Scottish engineer.

On the same day a Decree was published by the Central Executive Committee which you will find in Document No. 23 on page 15. This Decree states: There have been recently disclosed instances of the participation in counterrevolutionary wrecking activities of certain State employees especially bound by their position and by the right with which they are invested to maintain an honourable and conscientious attitude towards the Workers' and Peasant State. In this connection the Central Executive Committee of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics explains that the right accorded to the Ogpu— that is the Secret Police of Russia— …of dealing at judicial sessions of the Collegium of the Ogpu with cases of sabotage, arson, explosion, damage to machine plant of State undertakings and other forms of sabotage and of applying all measures of repression according to the nature of the offence must be exercised with especial severity in regard to employees of State institutions and undertakings convicted of such offences. Apparently, from such inquiries as we have been able to make, these engineers, since they are employed under contract in Russian State institutions and undertakings, are regarded as employees of those institutions within the meaning of chat Decree.

That Decree caused considerable anxiety both at the Embassy at Moscow and at home, because we had received on the 12th of March, the same day that our subjects were arrested, a telegram which is No. 3 on page 3 describing how the Ogpu had exercised their right of dealing with these cases. This is the telegram: Ogpu have to-day issued a communiqué stating that case of officials accused of agricultural sabotage was examined by Collegium of Ogpu on March 11. Thirty-five condemned to death by shooting; twenty-two to ten years and eighteen to six years imprisonment. Communiqué states sentences have been executed. Your Lordships will see that apparently under the law of the Russian Soviet Republic, if the charge is one of political sabotage or damage to machine plant, it is within the competence of the Secret Police of Russia to condemn and execute those persons so accused without trial and without communication, and to act on the sentences immediately without anybody knowing anything about it. In these circumstances we were not reassured by knowing that "especial severity" was to be exercised in future. You will find a telegram of March 16 on page 18 stating that nine Russian employees of the firm had been arrested as well, and on the same day, in Document No. 29, there is a report from Sir Esmond Ovey to Sir John Simon of his interview with M. Litvinov in which he explains his apprehensions in view of the documents to which I have called attention.

I do not want to take up too much time, and that is all I need to refer to in the first White Paper; but since this matter was discussed in another place we have found it possible, and have thought it useful, both for your Lordships and to inform public opinion in the country generally, to publish certain further correspondence which I hope is in the possession of most of your Lordships this afternoon. If I may venture to call attention to one or two documents in that second White Paper you will see that on the 19th of March, that was a week after the arrest—the following Sunday—permission was accorded to a representative of the Embassy to go and see the prisoners in Lyubianka prison, still under the conditions I have referred to that nothing was to be said about the case at all. In Document No. 2 on page 2 we get a report as to the impression created: Condition of Mr. Thornton indicates severe gruelling, impression given being of one who had lost power of concentration and was reduced to mental apathy. Mr. Walton"— that was the British. Embassy official who attended— informs me of distinct relaxation in general atmosphere. Mr. Macdonald's reference to troubled sleep was evidently intended to indicate constant disturbance. I shall be able to show your Lordships later on what had produced that condition in Mr. Thornton, and how natural it was that he should show in his appearance the symptoms which Mr. Walton there described.

On March 26 Mr. Monkhouse was sent for to see the Public Prosecutor. Mr. Monkhouse is the one who had been let out on parole; and in Document No. 7 you will see the report of what happened at that interview:

Mr. Monkhouse was called upon to admit knowledge of a certain entry in company's books involving approximately 250 roubles Torgsin bonds, and, having admitted knowledge of this transaction, he made a statement that he knew of no other transaction having occurred which could he interpreted as bribery He was then confronted with a signed statement in Mr. Thornton's own handwriting admitting a long list of small presents and monetary payments which had been made by Mr. Thornton over a period of nearly ten years. Most of the items were quite small, being for suits of clothes, etc., given to Russian engineers and technicians with whom the company had worked. Mr. Monkhouse, after having read the list, said he had no statement to make in regard to this, and that he regarded most of the transactions as the personal affairs of Mr. Thornton. "He was then shown another list involving larger sums, but up to the moment has only been permitted to see the first item, which covers an amount approximately of 2,000 paper roubles"—

that is about £26—

allegedly admitted by Mr. Thornton to have been handed over to Mr. Macdonald to distribute amongst technicians and others at Zlatoust, a munition works, for 'political and economic spying purposes'. The reason I call attention to that interview and that report is that later on Mr. Thornton came out of prison and was seen at the Embassy. It appears that this statement then made to Mr. Monkhouse by the Public Prosecutor that Thornton had admitted handing over this money for "political and economic spying purposes" was declared a complete untruth.

Your Lordships will find that in Document No. 7 the last paragraph but two states:

The examiners stated that money had been paid in order to arrange a serious breakdown at the Zlatoust works, but Mr. Monkhouse pointed out that the company had only carried out a comparatively small turbine installation at these works and that no trouble had been experienced. The examiners then stated that there had been a serious breakdown, but not on the Metropolitan-Vickers plant. Mr. Monkhouse then made a declaration that he knew nothing whatever of any breakdowns at Zlatoust or any transactions involving sum named. To him it is incredible that an amount relatively as large as this could have been paid from any of the company's resources without the fact having come to his knowlege. Mr. Monk-house was also shown Mr. Macdonald's confession of the handing over of the money at Zlatoust. From the folders which were produced and which Mr. Monkhouse was able to see (only selected paragraphs being shown…) it is obvious that Mr. Thornton has, during the period of his incarceration, written extraordinarily lengthly statements covering practically every activity of the company during its nearly ten years' work in the Soviet Union. The comment on that is in the telegram in Document No. 8: Sums referred to are trifling. Alleged evidence on the subject can only come from confessions extorted from prisoners under conditions which one can only presume were at least as trying as those to which Mr Monkhouse was subjected. I shall be able to show your Lordships from the story of the prisoners themselves that that is, if anything, an understatement. The document goes on: Prosecution had a whole mass of papers which they indicated to Mr. Monkhouse contained further evidence with which to confront him. Then on the 28th, two days later, Mr. Nordwall, who was in their employ, and who had been let out after, I think, only a mere ten hours' examination, was sent for and the Public Prosecutor's interview appears in Document No. 15, page 9: Mr. Nordwall was asked by Public Prosecutor to admit that he had distributed considerable sums of money in Ivanova-Voznesensk district at the end of 1931 and in January, 1932, for wrecking purposes. Mr. Nordwall stoutly denied suggestion, which is completely untrue. He was then shown an alleged confession by Mr. Thornton to the effect that Mr. Thornton had given Mr. Nordwall money for this purpose. Again, if your Lordships will be good enough to look at Document No. 24, in its last paragraph but one, you will find that no such confession was ever made. Document No. 15 continues: Mr. Nordwall repeated his denial. He was next confronted with a Russian engineer whom he knew at Ivanova and who, by his appearance, had obviously been brought from prison. This engineer in Mr. Nordwall's presence confessed that Mr. Nordwall had on several occasions given him sums of the order of 2,000 and 3,000 roubles for wrecking activities, and that he had actually engaged in various wrecking work of which he gave details. Engineer stated that he had been instructed by Mr. Nordwall not to wreck any Metropolitan-Vickers plant so long as it was under guarantee from the firm, but to devote his attention to other companies' plant or to Metropolitan-Vickers plant which was out of guarantee. Mr. Nordwall denied any such thing ever having occurred. Engineer then appealed to Mr. Nordwall to confess his guilt in the same way as he himself had done. Prosecutor then said to Mr. Nordwall; 'You did anyhow give him a fur coat.' It is true that this engineer did purchase a fur coat for 400 roubles from Mr. Taylor, one of the company's test department engineers, who visited Ivanova about that time and who is now in England. Mr. Nordwall was in the transaction as an interpreter only and as channel for receipt of purchase price. Mr. Nordwall told Prosecutor that money had passed through his personal account which is available at the company's Moscow office. Police immediately searched office accounts and found that Mr. Nordwall was mistaken in his recollection. If your Lordships would go back to No. 14 you will see a little of the methods which the Russian Secret Service use to obtain these confessions: Last October ….Mr. Cushny was approached and asked to undertake secret work unknown to his firm in connection with purchase and supply of electrical plant for Soviet power stations. He was offered 250 dollars a month for this work. Mr. Cushny refused to consider proposition, although he was approached on several occasions. In November a Russian woman was sent for by authorities and instructed to seduce Mr. Monkhouse and persuade him to do this work. She refused. Then in No. 16, on page 10, there is something which I think explains why we are a little anxious about Soviet trials: Two of defending counsel in Shakhti case were exiled after the trial. Their ostensible private conferences with accused were overheard and recorded by microphone by G.P.U. After the trial they were confronted with this record and told that their conduct was incorrect and that they must suffer for it. That is one method of ensuring that the defending counsel shall not put forward too plausible or convincing a defence.

On the 1st April we got in Document No. 22 a telegram which shows how puzzled Mr. Monkhouse was over these alleged voluminous confessions of Mr. Thornton:

"Mr. Monkhouse is puzzled and disturbed by Mr. Thornton's apparent voluminous 'confessions.'

"Possible explanation are—

"1. That Mr. Thornton, who was born in Russia and is a man of the world with intimate knowledge of Soviet ways and of history of past Soviet trials, has written down everything suggested to him by the G.P.U. or Prosecutor, however absurd with intention of repudiating every word of it at the trial.

"2. That in his present state of nerves he has broken down and made false 'confession' under one of the well-known forms of G.P.U. pressure, such as threat of consequences either to himself or Mme. Kutosova"— the Russian secretary of the company— or both in the event of his failure to 'confess' (Mr. Monkhouse was so threatened—see his letter to Mr. Richards of March 14), offer of release if full 'confession' is made, or threat of exposure to the world of his alleged intimate relations with Mme. Kutosova. That is a suggestion, I understand, for which there is no sort of foundation. The telegram goes on: At Lyubianka G.P.U. threatened to confront Mr. Monkhouse with Mme. Kutosova, and he challenged them to do so, whereupon they let the matter drop. 3. That being of generous nature and well liked by all Russians with whom he works, he has been indiscreet in helping them in their need, either in money or in kind, conduct which G.P.U. and Prosecutor have twisted into ground for accusation of either sabotage or espionage. Every foreigner in Russia brings in necessities from abroad for Russians, friends or associates. I do not think I need read the rest of that telegram. Perhaps, however, I ought to mention that your Lordships will see a reference to Mr. Monkhouse's letter to Mr. Richards, who is a director in London of the Metropolitan-Vickers Company, of the 14th March. It is a long letter and I do not propose to read it all, but there is one passage which is worth reading. It is Mr. Monkhouse's own account of what happened at the end of his second seventeen hours of cross-examination. Your Lordships may remember that in the original account which appeared Mr. Monkhouse was threatened if he did not make a confession. This elaborates it a little: At this stage my examiners rushed away and left me under guard in the examining room for about an hour. When they returned they told me I had not made a full confession and was hiding information and that I must be regarded as a criminal and he punished accordingly. They were most threatening at this stage and the senior man told me that if I persisted in this attitude, it would be the end of being of any service either to the Soviet Union or to Great Britain and he asked me if I realised what he meant. I told him I did and was prepared. He knew what was meant—that he might be shot in prison, ES so many other un-fortunate victims of Ogpu have been in the past.

On April 4 Mr. Thornton was let out on bail and his account of what happened appears in Document No. 24, which is on page 16 of the White Paper: Mr. Thornton is worn out, and it was not easy to get a connected story from him. He has been under interrogation from the day of his arrest until this morning"— that is, from March 12 until April 4— on one occasion for about twenty-one hours without a break. He found suspense of waiting for the next summons and perpetual tramping up and down stairs in a heavy coat most exhausting. He was never directly threatened or offered a straight bargain for a 'confession,' but there was a strong undercurrent of menacing hints during his examination and occasional suggestions of lucrative employment in return for satisfactory answers. He was confronted with Mr. Cushny and Mr. Macdonald and many Russians, including Mine Kutosova, sometimes unexpectedly. Russians made most fantastic accusations against him, and were either in a state of terror or obviously in league with G.P.U. He was many times deliberately misled, e.g.,

  1. 1. He was told that all the company's British employees in Russia had been arrested.
  2. 2. He was given daily bulletins of Mr. Monkhouse's health to make him think Mr. Monkhouse was still in prison.
  3. 3. Examiners read to him what purported to be Mr. Monkhouse's statements in his deposition regarding two instances of failure of plant supplied by the company some years ago (K 5 switches and Shatura transformers), to which Mr. Monkhouse had, in fact, made no reference whatever in his deposition."
Acts of economic espionage which Mr. Thornton has admitted amount to no more than collection of information for company on state of company's plant, general condition of the country and prospects of future business. His admission of military espionage is founded on collection of three pieces of information which were common knowledge. As regards charge of bribery, he admits he gave small presents to Russians (which might be so described): a list which covers last eight years he has included in his deposition. He has a satisfactory explanation of transfer of money to Mr. Macdonald at Zlatoust which he will produce at the trial…. He remembers mentioning it casually to Mr. Richards. Examiner deliberately deceived Mr. Monkhouse in suggesting that Mr. Thornton had admitted that this money was for spying purposes and in leading him to believe that this was only one of a number of similar large transactions. He totally denies charges of wrecking and made no such confession as that produced by prosecutor to Mr. Nordwall of having given the latter money for this purpose. … G.P.U. tried unsuccessfully the whole time to make him confess (1) to working for Intelligence Service, (2) to obtaining funds for his activities from His Majesty's Consulate. Mme. Kutosova, company's secretary, who had been obviously terrorised, asserted in his presence on confrontation that he hail drawn 50,000 roubles from consulate. This is, of course, without foundation. Then, my Lords—I am getting to the end of these stories—your Lordships will see in Document No. 25, on page 18: Mr. Thornton is astounded by what occurred at his confrontation with Mr. Macdonald. Mr. Macdonald stated that Mr. Thornton instructed him to engage in economic and military spying at Zlatoust. Mr. Thornton agreed that he had received information from Mr. Macdonald about state of Metropolitan-Vickers plant there, possibilities of future business and condition of workers. Mr. Macdonald asserted that Mr. Thornton had given him these instructions at his house near Moscow. Mr. Thornton denied this. Mr. Macdonald being questioned, agreed that he had told Mr. Thornton about wrecking of certain plant and that Mr. Thornton had expressed satisfaction. Mr. Thornton said Mr. Macdonald had told him no such thing. Mr. Macdonald said that he had received 4,500 roubles "— that is, about £50— from Mr. Thornton for 'espionage purposes.' Being questioned, Mr. Macdonald agreed that he had given Mr. Thornton information about number and calibre of shells made at Zlatoust and about electrical mobilisation plant. Mr. Thornton totally denied this. M. Gusev, Mr. Macdonald's friend, made similar statements on confrontation, but put sum at 10,000 roubles. That is, more than twice as much. The telegram proceeds: Mr. Cushny was shown Mr. Macdonald's charge, which is atrocious, of espionage in conjunction with M. Gusev in connection with military factories in and around Gheliabinsk and also at Leningrad. Mr. Cushny also saw the final protocol of Mr. Macdonald's deposition in which he pleads guilty to the offences with which he is charged. Then in Document No. 26 we get this: Mr. Gregory and Mr. Cushny also made statements at Embassy this evening. Neither appears to have made any admissions under interrogation. Mr. Gregory has only been questioned for a few hours in all and his direct simplicity made his continued imprisonment inexplicable. Mr. Gushny was under daily examination, lasting, at first, for as much as twelve hours, until quite recently. I need not read the whole of that; it is a very long document. Then we have Document No. 27 which says, under date April 7: Mr. Thornton this morning reported to me the following incident which occurred during his examination by Ogpu. It well illustrates one of the means of pressure exercised by Ogpu to extract confessions. For two days examiners tried to make him admit that he had received money from His Majesty's consulate and that he was member of Intelligence Service. They told him that Mine. Kutosova, the company's secretary, had testified to this effect and threatened to confront him with her. On erroneous assumption apparently that their relations were more intimate than that of friends and colleagues, and rightly thinking that he has great regard for her directly, they added that, if at this consultation he said that she was not speaking the truth, she would, under the articles of criminal code relating to bearing false witness at an investigation, suffer the highest measure of punishment, i.e., presumably death… I ask your Lordships just to visualise for a moment what that means. You get some unfortunate man, you interrogate him for twelve hours, fifteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one hours at a stretch until he is almost willing to say anything to escape from the terror of perpetual examination. You then tell him that if he confesses he will get off with a comparatively light sentence, but if not he will probably be executed then and there. If that does not succeed you tell many other people have admitted it and that if he contradicts it those people, his friends, will be executed because they must have given false testimony. Can one imagine a more terrible manner of trying to torture a man into giving an untrue story? I ought, perhaps, to continue reading this document. It goes on: When confronted with him, Mme. Kutosova, who is normally an able, intelligent woman of about forty, was in pitiable state of terror and, like other Russians with whom Mr. Thornton has been confronted, after an initial hesitation, reeled off her accusation mechanically in an unnatural voice as if by heart. She asserted that he had drawn money from consulate, that he was a member of Intelligence Service, and that he had been engaged in wrecking. Mr. Thornton repudiated the whole of her statement. Mr. Monkhouse and Mr. Thornton suspect that Mme. Kutosova, who was already shattered by her arrest and examination last January, has now been broken by the usual threats in regard to her relatives. Mr. Thornton also recalls that at his confrontation with Mr. Macdonald…his amazement at Mr. Macdonald's statements began to embarrass the latter, whereupon examiners made Mr. Thornton sit with his hack to Mr. Macdonald for remainder of confrontation. He says that Mr. Macdonald 'looked awful.' My Lords, that is the end of the story down to the date to which the White Paper brings us. What we have now to make quite clear to your Lordships is what it is that we say and what it is that we do not say. First of all His Majesty's Government do not say and never have said that if a British subject goes to a foreign country he is not liable to be punished for offences against the law of that country or that he can with impunity commit crimes in that country. Secondly, His Majesty's Government do not say and never have said that they insist that the methods of administration of justice in every other country to which our subjects may go, are to conform with our own or that the rules of evidence which regulate our Courts have to regulate their Courts. That would be an impossible and preposterous proposal. What we do say is that a Britsh subject is entitled to a fair trial by an impartial tribunal, by an independent Court, and we say clearly that at that trial the evidence which is produced against the accused, while it need in no way conform with our own canons of evidence, must be of such a nature and given in such circumstances as to afford a reasonable assurance that it can be relied upon. The danger which we see in the present case is that neither of those conditions seem likely to be fulfilled.

First of all as to the independence of the tribunal. Thanks to the linguistic attainments of my secretary I have obtained a translation of a book called "Courts and Law in the U.S.S.R." by N. V. Krylenko, former Public State Prosecutor and now Minister of Justice of the Soviet Republics. It was published by the State Publishing Department in 1927, and it may therefore be taken as an authoritative statement of Soviet views of their own Courts of Justice. This is the translation: The Courts are organs of State administration, and as such do not differ by their nature from any other organs of State administration, which are all called upon to give effect to and carry out one and the same State policy. In particular, in their specific work of maintaining the existing legal order, the Courts do not differ qualitatively in any way from such an organ as the Cheka. This results in an essential incompatibility between the idea of Soviet justice on the one hand and on the other the ideas of division of powers and independence of the Courts, the peculiar ideological philosphy of bourgeois liberalism. Soviet justice entirely repudiates both these principles. The Proletarian Court—the organ of the class in power—does not separate itself either from this class or from its policy. The Courts are the organs of State power, and as such have as their basic function the defence of the interests of the revolution and the defence of the existing social order. Every Court worker must therefore be fully conversant with all the questions of State policy, and must bear in mind that in his judgments in particular cases, whether civil or criminal, he is to give effect to this policy of the ruling class and to nothing else…. In other words, when a man is brought before a Soviet Court on a criminal charge in which any question of State policy is involved the question is not whether the man is guilty or not, but whether or not it is in the interests of the State administration that he should be convicted and sentenced. How can one rely on justice administered by such a Court based on such principles?

When the debate took place in another place one member who had been in Russia and had been present at Russian trials, Mr. Patrick, described how he sat through one of the State trials "looking at an enormous red banner hung behind the Judges table at which the Judges were sitting smoking." Mr. Patrick said: Upon the banner in large white letters was written, "This Court is the organ of the Proletariat.' That is one of Lenin's classic remarks; typical of his sayings quoted as texts on all occasions. Those words mean precisely what they say. The Court is the organ of the proletariat, and by a simple chain of Communist doctrine which I will not go into on this occasion, the Court is the organ of the class war, and exists for that main purpose. Then he goes on to describe the methods by which they obtained evidence and when you remember that this was before the publication of the second White Paper you will see how remarkably it fits in: Most certainly these State trials have not suffered from lack of evidence. The explanation of that is very simple. The matter has been in each ease in the hands of the Ogpu, and the procedure has been the same in every case. It has been decided in advance what type and sort of evidence is required, and the usual course has been to arrest a number of people and put them into prison.…The arrests are usually made in the early hours of the morning. The arrested man disappears, and very often his family hears nothing of his whereabouts for weeks or months. At the end of that time, possibly, his family may receive a curt message that he has been shot a fortnight or three weeks before. In other cases they may hear nothing. Their relative has gone and is lost, without any news at any time. Having obtained the necessary number of prisoners and determined on the plan of action, the next step is to get their evidence, and they do it by selecting one or two who are known as the lucky ones. They are subjected to long cross-examination, and when the prisoner is in the right frame of mind they say to him: 'In exchange for your sig- nature to this confession, we will promise you a light sentence. In default of that signature, your sentence will be death.' The prisoners knows that that is not an idle threat. Therefore, he has no alternative, and he signs his confession implicating himself very often in most fantastic charges, and, what is more painful, from our point of view, he almost inevitably implicates a great number of his comrades. It was stated in debate elsewhere that during the whole history of the Russian Soviet there never has been an acquittal in a political trial; in every one there has been the evidence of confession, such as that described, and such as that which we see was attempted to be obtained, and in some cases was obtained, in the present instance. In one instance—I think it was in 1928—there was a trial in which elaborate confessions were produced showing that a plot had been organised by Colonel Lawrence, now known as Aircraftman Shaw, and the witnesses described interviews which were supposed to have taken place with him in London at a time when Aircraftman Shaw was at Karachi. There was another trial in which elaborate confessions were obtained of people who had conspired with an alleged White Russian leader—Ryabschinsky, I think it was—in Paris who had been dead three years when the confessions were obtained. None the less the confessions were obtained and conviction also. Can you wonder if His Majesty's Government are anxious when they know that those are the methods adopted and that those are the results in other cases?

For myself, and I believe I speak here for the Government also, we earnestly hope it may not be necessary to make use of these powers, but we are anxious by every means in our power, and especially by the overwhelming decision which I hope I shall obtain presently from your Lordships' House, to satisfy the Soviet Government how seriously this matter is regarded in this country. We want them to understand that the whole of the people of this country are behind the Government in this matter and that we are determined to leave no stone unturned to secure justice for our fellow subjects in peril in Moscow. I say I hope it will not be necessary to use these powers, but after all the powers, when obtained, are no other than those the Russians already have, and I venture to think that it is not unreasonable, in view of the facts and documents which I have produced to the House this evening, that we should ask your Lordships to give us the economic power which is proposed, in the form of pressure which we could use, in order that we may be armed as far as may be to protect His Majesty's subjects in peril in a foreign country.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Hailsham.)


My Lords, I want to state at the outset that whilst I cannot say that I entirely concur in the manner in which the noble and learned Viscount has put his case—as to which I shall have something to say presently—I do entirely concur in thinking that the Government, that is to say, the members of Consulates and Embassies in all parts of the world, should intervene whenever any British subject is arrested, and not merely when he represents a firm of high standing, or is of high character. The fact of being arrested in a foreign country and held in a foreign prison, under an entirely different system of legal procedure, is in itself so disturbing and seriously affecting to the person arrested that I want His Majesty's Government to intervene in every such case in the most effective way, in the interests of British subjects who are there.

As a matter of fact, as the noble Viscount probably knows, Consular officers and Embassies in the different countries are constantly intervening whenever arrest takes place of British subjects, and not in Soviet Russia alone. It is a regular thing, and I have seen it myself quite frequently. Certainly, if His Majesty's Government want to be furnished with further powers of intervention for the protection of British subjects, neither I nor my friends will stand in the way of their getting those powers, but there has been worked out in practice a method by which this is constantly done in the Foreign Office, so that it has almost come to be a code of conduct. If you are bona fide interested, with a single eye to help the unfortunate victim, there are various things which you must do or which you must avoid doing. You have to proceed by way of making friendly relations with the Government, and by private representations, in order that the foreign Government may be able, if it is willing, to accede to your request. You can only ask. You must not give the least sus- picion that you want to interfere in the internal government of the country. You can only ask for what can be legitimately given to the unfortunate people who have been arrested. You can ask for comforts to be given in prison, or for bail, or for prisoners to be allowed to communicate with their relatives, or for an early trial, or for a proper defence; but it is necessary to avoid all trace of suspicion that you are seeking to interfere with the foreign Government in its internal affairs, however wrong you may think that Government may be in its system.

If you are really trying to protect British subjects, it is vital that you should not, so to speak, put up the backs of the foreign Government with whom you are dealing, and above all it is vital that you should avoid all threats. Therefore I have nothing to say in criticism of the Government for having taken up these cases, and I am not going here to defend the police system of Russia, except to say that private investigation, in prison, though alien to our system, is not confined to Soviet Russia. It is a system which prevails nearly all over Europe, and the case of what has happened in Russia is nothing to what has happened under a similar system in Poland, and nothing to be compared to the horrible tales which we have heard on the best authority as having taken place in the United States of America. I am not saying that in any way as palliation of this system, but only by way of suggesting that if you want to help these victims you will not do so by assuming that these things are confined to Russia. We may think that only the British Empire has a better system of justice, but, as the noble Viscount knows very well, our own police have been guilty of very much the same thing in particular cases.

However, it is not my business and I am not going to palliate these cases, but we have the greatest possible misgivings as to whether His Majesty's Government have gone the right way, or are going the right way, to attain the things which we all desire—namely, that these prisoners should be treated with what we consider to be justice, and we all hope that they are all of them guiltless. These misgivings relate to the constant attitude of the Government from the beginning. The very day that the Ambassador discovered that these men were arrested he suggested, and His Majesty's Government acted on his suggestion, that they should proceed by way of a threat, and it is interesting to notice that the threat of these tremendous reprisals, by stopping the import of goods from Russia, was first brought before the House of Commons by the Prime Minister, who talked as if it was in connection with the renewal of negotiations for a trade agreement. It was so mixed up with the renewal of trade relations that members of the House of Commons pressed for an explanation, and asked for an assurance that the Government only wanted these powers to secure the discharge of these six prisoners. Even the noble and learned Viscount rather suggested a connection between the powers and a new trade agreement, but I am glad to say that the Government practically confessed in the other House that that was a mistake or misunderstanding.

A very definite pledge was given in the House of Commons by the Government that these powers, if granted, would not be used for anything in connection with the trade agreement, or with fiscal bargaining, and that they would not be used even in the case of any future aggression upon British subjects in Russia, but exclusively for the cases of these six men. I would ask the noble Viscount to confirm that. The Government have given that specific pledge. The President of the Board of Trade said: I say at once that the primary consideration is the life and liberty of, these men. I will at once therefore give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that we shall not use these powers for any other purpose. That was confirmed by the Attorney-General, and Sir Austen Chamberlain made it clear that if any further power were required for that purpose the House would begin the matter de novo. I am glad to say that the Government have made it clear that they will not use the powers which are to be conferred by this Bill for any purpose whatsoever other than the defence of these six men. If some other men in the course of the year have grievances against the Russian Government His Majesty's Government will have to get new powers. They have undertaken clearly, specifically, unequivocally, that they will not use these powers which Parliament will give them except for this purpose of saving these particular six men, and no others.

I am anxious to make that clear, to put that on record in this House, as it has been put on record in the House of Commons. It is interesting to notice that several members of the Conservative Party received that intimation with dismay, and one hon. member said that he had received it with dismay because he had been hoping that the powers would be used to secure benefits for his constituents, farmers and fishermen. He was interrupted by someone who said: "Are you asking the Government to break its pledge?" and he replied, "No, but I hope they will do so." I am quoting that in this House because I am sure that the noble Viscount—and noble Lords generally—will not sanction a breach of a pledge which has been thus given in another place. Therefore in voting on this Bill we can vote that its powers will be used solely for the rescue of these particular six men, and not for any other purpose whatsoever.

Though on the whole I am glad of that, consider how nakedly it makes it appear to the Soviet Government that we are demanding of them that they shall go contrary to their practice which the noble Viscount has described, and say that they shall confer a privilege upon these six men which they deny to their own subjects—confer that privilege because these six men are British subjects and because the British Government have used against them this great threat. Will that make it easier for the soviet Government to agree? They have their clamour of public opinion as we unfortunately have ours. If you want a Government to do something—a Government which is a first-rate Power, remember, with a population of 160 millions—if you want them to give some special privilege to your subjects, is it the best way to do it by a threat, and to go out of your way to make it clear that the threat applies to these six men by promising that you will never use the powers for any other purpose? That makes it absolutely clear that you are holding not a pistol but a machine-gun at the Soviet Government. We do not yet know what the evidence is against these six men; we have only heard the ex-parte accounts of some of the evidence against them. But to say: "Unless you let off these six men"—and that was our demand, that they should be discharged without trial—"we are going to inflict this great penalty upon you of stopping the whole of your external trade"—is that the way to get what you want?

The worst of threats is that they often have the very opposite effect from that which the user intends them to have. I give the Government credit for believing that the best way to save these men was to make this threat and that the best way to make the threat was to make it quite definitely with regard to these men and to say: "It is not that we are going to alter our policy, our Customs policy or our trade policy—nothing to do with that; we make this threat that we will stop the whole of your trade in order to make you let off these six men without trial." And you make that threat to the Government of a great Power. Is that the way to conduct foreign affairs? We have misgivings that that threat will have—has had already—exactly the wrong effect. In fact, you can see in the White Paper that the Soviet Government have gone a long way, as it will seem to them. They have hurried through this preliminary investigation, which generally lasts much longer. They have let out five of the men on bail. The Government were anxious that the trial should not be by the G.P.U. As a matter of fact it was already announced on March 24—ten days before the Foreign Secretary spoke in the House of Commons—but he did not tell the House, though the Government must have known then, that already it had been settled that the trial would be, not by the G.P.U., but by the highest Court, the Supreme Court of the Soviet Republic. They could not do better than that.

They had already announced that the prisoners would be allowed to have any Counsel to defend them which has the right of audience, just as we would allow anyone who had been called to the English Bar to defend prisoners. They were told that they could have their British lawyer in Court to consult with and to see to their case and instruct Counsel. They had done all that, but the Government were not satisfied with that, and the noble Viscount has told us why. Because, he says, none of the Law Courts of the Soviet Republic can be trusted, simply because their theory is that they should be equal to the executive organs of the State; the Judicature is not separate from the Executive, and consequently you could not expect justice from such a Court. It may be that that means that it is impossible for the Soviet Government to comply with the request. They cannot give you a better Court than they have got, and, as the noble Viscount says, a British subject who goes to a foreign country must submit to the law and the procedure of the foreign country. Here these men are to be tried in the best way that the Soviet Government knows how. They are to have all this paraphernalia. And now what is the consequence after a somewhat provocative speech to-night on the state of mind of the Soviet Government? But first notice the other thing about a threat. It not only has very often the reverse effect from that which you expect it to have. Instead of securing freedom for these men it is very likely preventing them from having their freedom. Instead of securing an acquittal at the trial is not there the danger that it will have the further effect—as the noble Viscount said, nobody is ever acquitted at these trials—of making quite sure that nobody will be acquitted at this trial?

See what dreadful peril we are getting into. And then consider the next thing also about the threat. The noble Viscount has repeated what the Foreign Secretary said, that he hoped it would not be necessary to put the powers of this Bill into operation. I do them both he justice of believing that they do fervently hope that it will not be necessary to put these powers into operation. But what will satisfy them? Will it satisfy them that these men are brought to trial before the Supreme Court of the Soviet Republic, that they are defended by the best Counsel that can be got, that they have a British lawyer there in Court, that they have all the resources of Metropolitan-Vickers behind to see that the case does not suffer for lack of money Supposing the trial ends in the conviction of one of these men. Sup-losing the trial ends in the conviction of all six. I do not think it will, but what I am much more alarmed about is that it may end in the conviction of one of them. I do not know which one—I am not speaking from facts—but I am very much afraid that this may be the result of your threats. Then what are you going to do? One of the evil things about a threat is that you may have to face the difficulty of carrying it out. If it should happen that after this trial, after this defence, after this giving of all the justice that the Soviet Republic can give according to its procedure, one of these men should be convicted, what will His Majesty's Government do?

I do not want them to answer, but I want them to consider in advance before they go on with their threat. Supposing one of these men, only one of them, is convicted, will they have the magnanimity and the courage to come forward and say: "Although we do not agree with the Soviet Government, yet the men have had a trial, which is the best they could have had, and unfortunately, though five have been acquitted, one has been found guilty of something we do, not understand. He is to be given"—I do not suppose he will be shot—" some sentence." What are they going to do then? If we are really anxious to save these men had not we better think a moment in advance, just as when you are playing chess it is not sufficient to think of the next move but to think of half a dozen moves ahead? When the Government, in their anxiety to save these men, rushed in with this tremendous threat, had they thought it out? Because, after a trial, after a conviction, after a sentence, there comes in Soviet Russia, as in this country, an opportunity for grace, for clemency, for amnesty, for commutation of the sentence—perhaps imprisonment instead of death, perhaps a fine instead of imprisonment, perhaps mere deportation instead of even a fine. Just as the Crown has the right to pardon and commute in this country, so in Soviet Russia the Central Executive Committee, presumably through one of the Ministers acting for it, has the right and the power to extend this clemency. Supposing, unfortunately, one of these men is convicted, will the Government, having at heart the interests of the men—that being their sole motive—take proper steps to save this man? One of these proper steps would be a private friendly communication to the Soviet Government inviting them to extend clemency to the convicted man. Would that not be more likely to secure its object than the carrying out of a threat?

Will the Government take the responsibility of carrying out the threat, assuming this happens as I have suggested, rather than ask for clemency? You cannot do both. You will not get any Government to extend clemency at the point of the bayonet. Should we extend clemency to a prisoner, who had been properly convicted, at the threat of the Soviet Government that unless we did that something or other would happen to our trade? Is it likely that we should give way? I am afraid we should not. The right course, the magnanimous course, the noble course in both cases would be to ignore all that sort of feeling and extend clemency. Really it will be a competition between the British Government and the Soviet Government as to who will show the highest nobility and the greatest magnanimity in this matter. That is the trouble you get into with regard to your threat.

Just one word more. This threat is a proposal to stop Russian imports into this country. The noble Viscount said it did not extend to exports, but the noble Viscount must know perfectly well that if you stop imports from Russia you, at the same time, stop our exports to Russia. Are we not at this moment engaged in endeavouring to persuade the American people that if they will not receive our goods we cannot pay our debts to them? The only way we can pay our debts is by sending goods. If we refuse to receive goods from Russia under this Bill, does not that mean that Russia cannot buy anything from this country, cannot buy the machine tools which occupy 80 per cent. of our machine tool workers employed? Not only that, but Russia cannot pay any debts to this country, just as we cannot pay any debts to the United States. If the Government, because of this rash threat which this House is now going to sanction, take the responsibility of saying that the Russian Government should not be allowed to send any goods here, it means quite clearly that we do not intend our people to sell any goods to Soviet Russia at all, and that we do not intend to permit Soviet Russia to pay those debts to us if we refuse to receive their goods, because we know that that is the only way they can pay their debts.


I confess I am finding it very difficult to follow the noble Lord. He is arguing here about questions of trade. Does he mean that when we are trying to save these men, and when there is all this danger to them, these questions which he is now discussing about the relative merits of trade between the two countries enter into it at all?


I hope that magnanimity and nobility will rise above these considerations of trade, but unfortunately we know the Soviet Government is not a person of magnanimity and nobility of soul. It may be that the Soviet Government think the same of us. Therefore I will not go on with that. My sole object in this matter would be to endeavour to get these men saved—saved in one way or another from whatever is in store for them. I am afraid, very much afraid, that the Government, by taking the method of threat, have injured the chances of these men and not improved them. The Government say, and rightly say, they hope it will not be necessary to put the Bill into operation. Well, let them consider in advance what they will be satisfied with, because, supposing one man is convicted and one man is sentenced, we want to get him off. You can only get him off by appealing for clemency, and you cannot yet clemency if you demand it by threats.


My Lords, I only desire to say that I rise to express my support of the Bill that the Government have produced, and to testify for what my voice is worth—not much, I know—my profound belief that the country is ready to sanction, and support the Government in, any action they may think it necessary to take in order to save the lives of these men. After all, the elementary, almost the most elementary, duty of a Government is to protect its subjects. That is the very foundation of the whole relation between the sovereign power and the governed, and I cannot doubt for a moment that the country, the whole country without any exception, is anxious that everything that can be done should be done with that object.

No one who listened to the very remarkable speech of my noble friend can have felt other than profound anxiety in this case. I admit all that has been said both here and elsewhere as to the difference of criminal administration in the different countries and the mistake of trying to apply our rules of fair treatment of prisoners in their entirety to other criminal systems, but I do not think that any one who has read the two White Papers can have failed to come to the conclusion that in this matter it was not merely a case of certain British subjects being brought up to answer charges of having broker the criminal law of a foreign country. It was more than that. It was that British subjects were in peril because they were up against a system which accepted the principle that the courts of justice were part of the administrative system of the country and designed not only to punish crime but to forward the general policy of the country. A condition of that kind is one that must give us a profound anxiety with reference to what has occurred, and when the responsible Government of the country come down to Parliament and state their case fully as far as they can, and ask for a particular measure which they believe will be of advantage in one of their primary duties, that of protecting the lives and liberty of the subjects of His Majesty, it does not seem to me that Parliament can do other than accept the proposal and, as unanimously as possible, vote for its adoption.

A good deal has been said by my noble friend Lord Passfield about what he conceives to be the unwisdom of certain actions which the Government have taken, and particularly with reference to what he calls the threats that the Government have made against the Soviet authorities. It is only fair to the Government to point out that if you read the early part of the first White Paper, as far as I can learn, no threats were uttered in the first instance, and the period of threats only arose when it seemed probable that the Soviet Government were not going to yield to the ordinary diplomatic representations that had been made. However that may be, I do not see that any member of this House could say—I certainly should feel utterly incompetent to say—whether the particular method that the Government had adopted was or was not the best one. That seems to me a matter upon which only the executive Government of the day can possibly form a judgment. They have access to the whole facts. They have had the benefit of the presence in this country of their principal representative in Russia. They have no doubt heard all he has to say, and, having heard all that and having considered the whole thing, they come down and deliberately say that they do believe, if they are given the power to refuse imports from Russia, that will be a very important means of argument with the Russian authorities in this case.

My noble friend Lord Passfield will forgive me if I say I a little regret, as aid the noble Marquess, the intrusion into his speech of questions of economic policy and that kind of thing. They are very important, but they are not comparably important with the question of saving the lives of these men. Therefore, I should certainly be disposed to say, and do say, that it is our duty to support the Government and grant them the powers they ask. If it is not the right policy they must bear the responsibility for that. It is our duty, as it seems to me, to give them all the powers they ask on an occasion of this kind.

I want to say one word more which has a very indirect bearing, if it has any bearing, on this particular case. I want to mention it because otherwise I think misunderstanding in this country may arise. Of the two powers that the Government desire to exercise in this case, the first is the withdrawal of the head of our Diplomatic Mission from Russia. They asked him to return for consultation. That was, apparently, the reason, but it was also no doubt to express our dissatisfaction with the proceedings of the Soviet Government. Secondly, they propose this other measure, the refusal of Russian imports. In another very important international matter—not less important than this; though not making such a poignant appeal to our hearts and sympathy, yet perhaps in the end not less important for the happiness and welfare of this country and of the world—I mean the controversies in the Far East—some of us have more than once begged the Government to consider the possibilities of some such measure as they are now adopting unilaterally against Russia, to consider whether some such measure as that could not be adopted, not unilaterally but in common with all the rest of the world, in order to enforce what we believe—what I profoundly believe—to be our absolute rights in the matter, our treaty rights clearly expressed in more than one treaty which have been hopelessly disregarded. And not only to enforce our treaty rights but to maintain that attempt, on the success of which the future of the world depends, to organise some system for the effective maintenance of the peace of the world.

It would be trespassing on your Lordships' patience to ask you to listen to any further disquisition on that topic. I am anxious to mention it because it is a matter that is occupying a good deal of the attention of the people of this country, outside Parliament, and I earnestly hope the Government will now consider most carefully whether the policy which it is right, as I think it is right, to support in order to enforce our duty to protect our fellow-subjects is not also the right policy to pursue in order to enforce our rights to the maintenance of treaties and the observance of obligations which lie at the root of the whole system of preserving the peace of the world. While I hold that view, though I think it is important it should be stated, though I trust earnestly the Government will consider it and consider it impartially with a desire to deal with it as favourably as they can, that does not alter my view that in this particular case, and in these circumstances, there can be no question in my judgment that it is our duty to support the Government and to support them whole-heartedly in any measures, on their responsibility, which they come and state to Parliament are regarded as an advantage in the efforts to save the lives of these men.


My Lords, I am sure I need not assure you, and I trust I need not assure the noble Viscount who has just sat down, that I would not stand between him and your Lordships' House for a single moment. I understand that the sole and the isolated purpose of this Bill is to afford some protection to five of our fellow-subjects who, at this moment, are standing in grave peril. The assurances in another place that that was its purpose have been repeated here, and indeed, so far as I was concerned, it appeared to me unnecessary that they should be repeated because, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, said about some excitable interjection in another place, I would never believe that the Government would be guilty of such an unworthy action as to introduce a Bill designed to protect people who stand in jeopardy and then use it for the purpose of advancing some other form of policy. I should be slow indeed to believe any such thing, and I wish to add that I know nothing in what the Government have done that could justify anybody in making that assumption. Therefore this measure must be looked at in that light and in that light alone.

The noble Lord, Lord Passfield, appears to look at it in almost every other light, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, could not refrain—I quite understand it—from adding to it a matter with regard to the general application of just such a policy, which diverts our minds from the real question. While I am speaking there are five of our fellow subjects who have got into the net of a system of law which, from what the noble Viscount has told us, we can only regard with the gravest possible apprehension. I feel myself some uneasiness about the matter for this reason. The Government think that this is the only course that can be taken. It may be that they are right, but one thing at least is certain, that people who think that there may or may not have been another course are now too late to put it forward. The trial of these men begins to-morrow. If action is to be taken it must be prompt. If the Government's attitude in relation to the Russian Government is to be effective, if it is to be strong, it must be action which has behind it the united opinion of both Houses of Parliament and which commands the assent of the people of this country. It is therefore too late in the day to consider anything else.

The Government on their sole responsibility—responsibility which I am thankful to think I do not share—have decided that this is the only effective course that they can take. That being so, I am bound to say that I heard with great regret the speech that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Passfield. That, I thought, might have had some effect in a debating society meeting held in some back drawing-room, but could only be dangerous when delivered at this moment in these circumstances. I at least, speaking for myself, desire to say that I give support without qualification to the Government's proposal. But as everybody is permitted something in the nature of a rider I should like to add this. I do wish that it was possible that someone who has an influence that I cannot claim, and an authority which I can never possess, could make the Russian Government understand that what we have said is really what we mean, and that we are not using this for the purpose of breaking commercial or other relations with them—that, indeed, we have no desire to do anything of the kind, but that we are driven to it by circumstances which have been forced upon us.

I should also like them to understand that the conception that there are either individuals or groups of people here acting with the belief that they can overthrow in Russia the idea which is embodied in the Russian Government is the purest fairy-tale. Whatever people may think about the possibility of such a system here, there is not one that has the least desire to overthrow it there. Let them work out their own salvation. Let them understand that. Let them understand even more that there are quite a number of people here who have no objection to the idea embodied in their Government, but who object to the means by which they have attempted to carry that idea into effect. Let these people know that after all to do justice and to execute mercy is the only firm foundation oil which they can maintain the great experiment that they have undertaken.


My Lords, anyone who speaks in this debate must do so with the greatest sense of responsibility and some of us who in the past have criticised the policy of His Majesty's Government as regards Russia must be specially careful in anything we may say this evening. Whether the Government are right or wrong in the views they have chosen it is the obvious duty of everybody in this country to support them at the present crisis. The Government have means of knowing what should be done which is denied to outside people. The Government have had the advantage of conferring with the Ambassador. Therefore it seems to me, as they have come here this afternoon to say that in their considered judgment this Bill is the best way of saving the lives and the liberty of these imprisoned men, that we ought by a unanimous vote and by a unanimous voice to support them in the course they have pursued.

I hope and trust that the policy of the Socialist Party is more patriotic than that outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Passfield. I say that because in reading the speech of the right hon. gentleman who moved the official Amendment to this Bill on Second Reading in another place, I notice that Sir Stafford Cripps used the following words: Beyond this right to make the fullest inquiry and obtain the fullest information, International Law recognises no right of interference in the internal affairs of a foreign country"— now mark these words: unless certain specified states of affairs can be shown to have arisen with regard to the nationals of another country. That means, I take it, unless there are very exceptional circumstances. What more special circumstances could there possibly be than arise in the case of these arrested British employees? I cannot conceive that Sir Stafford Cripps could find a case in which the exception to the ordinary rules of International Law is so patent.

As we have been told by the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, the Soviet Courts are not independent or impartial. They do not pretend to be. They are part of the Government machine and the Courts are subservient to policy. Therefore if the Soviet Government consider that these British engineers should be convicted for the benefit of the Soviet Government, convicted they will be, end the Soviet Government will decide on the sentence to be imposed. That ground alone seems to me ample ground for the action which His Majesty's Government have taken and for any extraordinary interference which they may consider right. Further, must not the Government regard as an exceptional circumstance the fact that on the day these men were arrested thirty-five Russians were shot without trial by the same organisation? Lord Passfield seems to take it as an ordinary state of affairs that their form of trial should be different from what it is here, but would lie not consider that the Russians would have a right to interfere here if Scotland Yard arbitrarily arrested certain Russian subjects, and within a day or so of other people having been shot? Again, are not the torture and questioning of Mr. Thornton for twenty-one hours on end and Mr. Monk-house for nineteen hours and seventeen hours appalling ordeals? These men were alone, not knowing the language and allowed no sleep and no rest. Surely on such grounds His Majesty's Government are entitled to intervene. These British subjects can only be defended by people who do not understand their language. As has been pointed out, when defending Counsel have been proved to have been too anxious to save their clients they have been dismissed from the College and punished. It seems to me that the Government are amply justified and I hope the House will give them its unanimous support.


My Lords, I desire to say very few words in summing up this debate, but I should like to be allowed to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and the noble Lord, Lord Mount Temple, for their support and the language which they have used. I cannot help feeling that the weight which we desire this decision to have will be enormously increased when it is realised that figures which stand so high in public estimation, not only in this country but in the world, as the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches and the ex-Lord Chancellor on the Liberal Benches, associate themselves so wholeheartedly with the policy of the Government.

I only want to say one or two words in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Pass-field. He assured us that his sole object was to get these men saved. Of course I accept his assurance, but I think the method he adopted in his speech was singularly ill-adapted to that end. He criticised my right honourable friend Sir John Simon for never having told the House of Commons that there was going to be a trial, but if he had taken the trouble to read the White Paper before the House of Commons he would have seen that that fact was expressly set out in Document No. 30, telephoned from Sir Esmond Ovey on the 16th March. That fact was extracted after five days of intensive questioning by the Embassy from the Russian Foreign Office. To suggest that that fact was not disclosed to the House of Commons was a little unfair.

And when he criticised us for what we are doing one wondered a little what his policy would have been. I began to think he would rather have waited to see whether the men were shot before he made up his mind to make any protest. That is not the attitude His Majesty's Government see fit to adopt, and his bland assumption that there existed in the Soviet Republic that clamour of public opinion which he thought would have such weight upon their Government showed an innocence of mind which would almost explain his singular infelicity of attitude. I do not wish to take up forther time in discussing this matter because I cannot help thinking that your Lordships have made up your minds. I am grateful to the House for allowing me to take so long in opening. Your Lordships will realise this is a matter on which the Government feel the most grave anxiety and on which I believe the feeling of this country has been intensely aroused.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House forthwith. House in Committee accordingly: Bill reported without amendment: Bill read 3a, and passed.

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