§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDEhad given Notice that he would call attention to the issue of the Proclamation on April the 19th imposing an embargo on the chief Russian imports into this country; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I want at the outset to repeat the apology which I made yesterday at having given such short notice that I desired to move this Motion to-day, but circumstances compelled me to postpone giving notice till almost the last moment, and then I made it as public as I could. But I do not apologise for the subject that I have put upon the Paper because it is one of very urgent importance at the present time, and there is no opportunity for it to be raised in another place this week, or probably even next week. Therefore on behalf of the Opposition I want to place before your Lordships some considerations with regard to the handling of this very serious question of the trial of the six engineers in Moscow.
The question of the position of a British national in a foreign country who is under arrest is one that may be hedged round with a certain amount of doubt; but I do not think that the position of such a man has ever been put more clearly than it was put by the Foreign Secretary, who was at that time Sir Austen Chamberlain, in 1924. At the end of 1924 a British subject, a, Mr. Rutherford, was imprisoned in California because he was a
member of the Industrial Workers of the World. An appeal was made to the Foreign Secretary with regard to this man's position, and Sir Austen Chamberlain, in a letter, replied:
As you are doubtless aware, British subjects who go to a foreign country are subject to the local law as they find it, and the fact that something may constitute an offence in one country and not in another affords no ground for protesting against the conviction of a British subject in the former case.
I agree that that is a very correct statement of the position with regard to the imprisonment of a British national in a foreign country, but it is not one that was remembered in this particular instance.
§ Political trials in all countries are matters of grave difficulty. I would shrink from going on my trial in any country for a political offence; and this, in many of its aspects, did amount to a political trial. His Majesty's Government stated frequently that their one, main, and only object was to secure the release of these six men and their return to this country. The Labour Party have never for a moment deviated from their desire that these men should be released, and that no breach of relations between the two countries should take place. If that was the desire of His Majesty's Government, I want first of all to examine the diplomatic method that they adopted in order to secure that end. The proper function of diplomacy is to study very carefully the nature, the disposition, the character, the political system of the particular country with whom you are negotiating, and then to present your case in such a way as to enlist their support and acquiescence in the representations you are making. The function of diplomacy is not to attack a country because it has a different system, a different method, a different outlook, a different code from your own, and, by threat and punitive treatment, try to force it to take the particular action that you want. That is the wrong way. Now, my Lords, I think I shall be able to show that, although that is the wrong method, that was the method adopted from the outset by His Majesty's Government.
Going back to the first White Paper that was issued, and issued after considerable difficulty and after a practical refusal first of all from the Prime Minister, we see a Despatch of the British
Ambassador in Moscow, that is No. 5, making very strong suggestions with regard to the action that should be taken by His Majesty's Government—a very unusual thing, and I shall return to it when I am regarding these Despatches from a different point of view. But No. 27, the account given by the Permament Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office of his interview with the Soviet Ambassador, stands out as one of the most extraordinary documents that have ever been published in a diplomatic record. The Soviet Ambassador was spoken to in a way that no Ambassador has ever been spoken to. I must read just a few sentences. Sir Robert Vansittart said that—
…the allegations against these men were grotesque and hysterical; and that these arrests were a stage performance, and a very bad one at that, mounted simply to disguise, by serving up scapegoats, the ill-success of certain industrial undertakings in Russia. The Soviet Government might say what they liked; but public opinion here would never look upon this performance in any other light.
That may have been his opinion, but I will show later on exactly what the significance of his speaking like that was, and the cheers I have just heard will support me when I get to that point. That is not the way in which any practised diplomat of Sir Robert Vansittart's very high standing would ever dream of talking to any Ambassador if he wanted him to acquiesce in the representations he was making.
§ Then we come to the suspension of the negotiations on the trade agreement which were going on. We have next the Lord President of the Council's statement of March 15 in the House of Commons, in which he said that there could be no justification for the charge on which the arrests were made, and declaring the men to be absolutely innocent before the charges had been fully formulated; and the statement of the Secretary of State for the Dominions in the country on March 17, again declaring that the men were entirely innocent. These statements may have been perfectly fully believed; they may be justified or not—I am not entering into that question—but if the desire was to get the release of these men, if the desire was to get the Soviet Government to take our point of view and to drop these charges, it is inexplicable to all of us that they should have initiated what seems to me to be 621 the most short-sighted way of going to work. But we went on, and the Russian Goods (Import Prohibition) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons and the Second Reading moved on April 5.
§ The Foreign Secretary then made a speech which I do not suppose any Foreign Secretary has ever made in the same way in Parliament. In that speech he did his utmost to arouse the deepest animosity against the Soviet Government. If his object, again, had been the release of the prisoners the whole tone of his speech is inexplicable. He referred several times to the shooting of the prisoners by the Ogpu in Russia; he insinuated throughout his speech that these Englishmen were going to be tried by the Ogpu, knowing, as he did at the time, that the trial was going to be by the Supreme Court; and he did everything he could to get the House of Commons in such a state of frenzied indignation that members would readily acquiesce in some punitive measures being taken against the Soviet Government. Although the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, on the Second Reading here—I listened to his speech most attentively—did not take quite so strong a line, nine-tenths of his speech did consist in showing up the awful system, in condemning the methods, in disputing the rights of the Soviet Government to act as they did, all of which was calculated to harden opinion on the other side if the real object was the release of these men. Then the verdicts were given. The verdicts came as a great surprise, I suppose, to the public outside, who, after all these inflammatory speeches, were certain that all these unfortunate six men were going to be shot. The verdicts came that one was acquitted, three were deported, one was given three years' imprisonment and another two years' imprisonment.
§ Then the Government, so pleased with their violent action, went in for pure melodrama. They went off to Windsor at nine o'clock in the morning. They called a Council at nine o'clock in the morning; they could not wait; and off they went to Windsor Castle to have a Privy Council. That is the diplomacy of Ruritania, the diplomacy of the penny novelette. One expects to see Sir John Simon perpetually behind the arras with his finger on ibis nose, but if it was to get these two men out of prison it was the most blunder- 622 ing move conceivable. I venture to say that if they had waited forty-eight hours Mr. Thornton and Mr. Macdonald would have been in London to-day.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
No question about it at all. I am told the foreign Press in Moscow was completely convinced, after the verdict was given, that the remaining two prisoners would, after a very short interval, be deported also.
§ LORD DANESFORT
Did the Soviet Government make any such communications to the right honourable gentleman?
§ LOAN PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I am not in communication with them. I am quite prepared for that. When one wants to put the case fairly and squarely one is accused of recommending and commending the Soviet system and the Soviet Government. I have been used to it ever since 1924, so it does not affect me.
§ LOAN PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I think if the noble Lord will allow me to get on with my speech it will be better.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
Do your Lordships suppose that we in the Labour Patty are the only people who take this point of view? A large part of the Press is entirely in agreement with us. TheSpectatoris not a Bolshevist newspaper; it is not even a Labour newspaper. This is what theSpectatorsaid on April 21:To declare the defendants innocent in advance and then threaten an embargo was to demand a complete acquittal under menace. It is, of course, arguable that the Embargo Bill was responsible for the lightness of the sentences, but it is equally arguable that without it they would have been lighter still. The actual imposition of an embargo now makes it next to impossible for the Soviet Government to revise the sentences. For what the Cabinet's action amounts to is a confident assertion that Thornton and Macdonald are completely innocent, and a claim to dictate the verdict, of a foreign court. That is an impossible attitude for any Government to adopt.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I have no idea. I am not on the staff of theSpectator. Now I am going to go through this action from a different point of view. Sir Esmond Ovey and Sir Robert Vansittart are both of them very distinguished diplomatists with great careers behind them, and when I saw these Despatches I felt absolutely convinced that neither the one nor the other would have adopted this tone, or taken this course, unless they had had very good prompting from the Government. One sees it in the preparation of the White Paper. Of course a White Paper is eloquent not only for what it gives but also for what it omits, and when one reads Sir Esmond Ovey's Despatch of March 12, and one knows that the chief function of an Ambassador is not only to negotiate and keep on good terms with the Government to whom he is accredited but to voice the opinion of the Government who sends him, then one can understand this Despatch from that point of view. As I shall show, right the way through the intention of the Government was to use this opportunity to get a breach with Russia.
Sir Robert Vansittart would never have dreamed of speaking to the Soviet Ambassador as he did—no permanent Under-Secretary would—unless he knew that his chief and the Cabinet behind him approved and recommended the particular tone that he adopted. No civil servant would take it upon himself to speak like that if he had not received full instructions to take that line of argument. All the way through the stages are so obvious that they show in every detail that it was not the safety of the prisoners that was uppermost in the minds of the Government, but the magnificent opportunity that this afforded for once again making a break with the Soviet Government. The speech of the Foreign Secretary tends absolutely in that direction. Why should be insinuate all these things? Why should he charge the atmosphere with that deep indignation to which the House so readily responded if he wanted, and only wanted, the release of these men? With proper diplomacy, with friendly relations, with a friendly advance I believe that this trial need never have taken place at all.
624 But from the way it was handled at the outset the Soviet Government were put in a more and more impossible position and it was made more and more difficult for them to accede to the request which we have made. We want the release of these two men. We want them sent home. But now the Government have made it almost impossible. They have placed on his embargo.
The noble and learned Viscount who will reply later in the debate will no doubt tell us exactly what the embargo consists of, what the exceptions are going to be, how long it is going to last. This embargo, this economic weapon that we are using, the economic bludgeon, as usual—very much like war—falls not on the people making the quarrel, but on the poorest in the land. It will increase unemployment and probably raise prices. If the release of these men does come in spite of the embargo we shall certainly welcome it, but it will show that the unspeakable, impossible and criminal Soviet Government have managed to keep their heads while the model Government composed of His Majesty's present advisers here have become a prey to melodramatic hysteria.
But there is another aspect of this matter which in some ways I regard as being just as important as the release of these last two men. That is the international repercussions that this quarrel will have. My Lords, the state of Europe and the state of the world to-day is not such that we can afford to add further embarrassment. One more sore place may be a very vital danger. We know what is going on in the Far East—or rather we do not know. That is the trouble with foreign affairs. You are never quite certain of the sequence of foreign affairs because some domestic question comes and the Press are obliged to deal with it and to shut out foreign affairs. But we know that in the Far East things are still very dangerous. A great tract of Russia lies between Western Europe and the Far East. Another country quarrelling with Russia adds further fuel to the possible flames of international discord. From this point of view I think it is deeply to be regretted that the Government should not have been able to show a little more patience and a little better diplomacy instead of blundering with the flourish 625 of a bludgeon and making further ill will in Europe.
The Labour Party have consistently pursued one purpose, and that was to secure the release of these men. No one can conceive why the Soviet Government should have initiated these proceedings at all. I do not believe that they any more than we want a breach in relations. When I say "we" I mean the Labour Party; I do not mean His Majesty's Government. I cannot understand why the Soviet Government should have initiated these proceedings. We are no defenders of the system of government that they adopt or of their judicial methods, any more than we defend the judicial methods of many other countries in the world. But we do feel that in difficult negotiations if your real desire is towards a certain object, which in this case, ostensibly anyhow, was the release of prisoners, more skill and care and patience should be exercised.
To sum up, my Lords, in our opinion the Government in their action have not done anything to help these men either at the beginning or later, whereas we have been and are still anxious for the release of every one of them. The Government are quite obviously acting under the pressure of a very large section of their followers who desire a final and irreparable breach with the Soviet Government—and it would be far more honest to say so—whereas we desire the maintenance of good relations between two great countries and the further increase of commercial intercourse. The Government's main concern has been to hit the Bolshevik. Our main concern is to avoid another ounce of suffering falling upon our own people. The Government have been utterly callous of the results and the influence that this may have on the very ticklish state of international relations in the world to-day, whereas we regard it as of the very highest importance that nothing in the nature of more strife should be added in a world in which there is already turmoil enough. This wide divergence of opinion with regard to this matter has made me, on behalf of the Opposition, put down this Motion in order to represent to your Lordships how deeply we differ from the policy of His Majesty's Government. I beg to move for Papers.
§ Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers re- 626 lating to the issue of the Proclamation on April the 19th imposing an embargo on the chief Russian imports into this country—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede).
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
My Lords, I most deeply deplore the action of His Majesty's Opposition in moving this Motion. I cannot conceive anything more inopportune at the present moment. What is the position? Happily, owing to the energetic and courageous action of His Majesty's Government, we have safely in this country four out of the six Britishers who were tried by the Soviet Court after the travesty of justice of which anybody who read the account day by day must be deeply conscious: and now the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, seeks, on behalf of the Socialist Party, to impress upon the Soviet Government that we are not united in this country in doing all we can to secure the release of the other two prisoners. I am sure your Lordships in the vote you will give this evening will, at any rate as far as this House is concerned, demonstrate most strongly that you have no sympathy with the Motion now before your Lordships.
Why is it the Socialist Party are always the friends of every country except their own, and why is it they always assume that their own Government, the Government elected by the vast majority of the people in this country, must be wrong? They pay lip service to the fact that they think these men innocent and want to secure their release; then why do they do everything they can to prevent their release and to hearten the Soviet Government in the course they have taken? What would the noble Lord like the Government to do? Would he like them to do nothing? Would he like them to follow the dreary course taken by previous Governments, and indeed by the present Government, of making representations to the Soviet Government? We made representations about debts, the Lena Goldfields, and one-hundred-and-one other things and never got an ounce of satisfaction by making representations. Would the noble Lord like us to go to war? I suppose he does not wish that. If he is not in favour of doing nothing and not in favour of going to war, what other course remains but the course followed by His Majesty's Government? I say, without fear of contradiction, that this course is the most efficient way of dealing with 627 a country whose exports here are three or four times greater than our exports to them—namely, to put this embargo on 80 per cent. of their goods till they give justice to our imprisoned nationals.
I will not burden your Lordships with a lengthy speech to-day because I have a Motion down for next Tuesday, but I would like, with your Lordships' permission, to occupy a couple of minutes longer in reading what I take to be the best exposition ever made of the duty of His Majesty's Government on behalf of the nation towards nationals when in trouble abroad. In 1850 there was an admirable debate in another place and Lord Palmerston, the then Foreign Secretary, in a four-hours' speech—wonderful for a man over 70—indicated the policy of Her Majesty's Government with reference to a man called Don Pacifico who was a British subject with a claim against the Greek Government. Lord Palmerston said:
"The country is told that British subjects in foreign lands are entitled to nothing but the protection of the laws and the tribunals of the land in which they happen to reside. The country is told that British subjects abroad must not look to their own country for protection, but must trust to that indifferent justice which they may happen to receive at the hands of the Government and tribunals of the country in which they may be.
Now I deny that proposition, and I say it is a doctrine on which no British Minister ever yet has acted, and on which the people of England never will suffer any British Minister to act. Do I mean to say that British subjects abroad are to be above the law, or are to be taken out of the scope of the law, of the land in which they live? I mean no such thing. I contend for no such principle."
And I ask your Lordships' particular attention to the following sentence: "But there may he cases in which no confidence can be placed in the tribunals, those tribunals being from their composition and nature not of a character to inspire any hope of obtaining justice from them."
Lord Palmerston ended:
"I therefore fearlessly challenge the verdict which this House, as representing a political, a commercial, a constitutional country, is to give on the question now brought before it—whether the principles on which the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government has been conducted, and the sense of duty which has led us to think ourselves bound to afford protection to our fellow-subjects abroad, are proper and fitting guides for those who are charged with the government of England; and whether, 628 as the Roman in days of old held himself free from indignity when he could say 'Civis Romanus sum,' so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and the strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong."
Then the author of the Life of Lord Palmerston states:
"As Lord Palmerston sat down the House greeted him with loud and prolonged cheers, echoing, as it seemed, by anticipation, the words extorted later on in the debate from his generous antagonist, Sir Robert Peel, when he decleared: 'It has made us all proud of him.'"
So far as my humble voice is concerned I may say I am proud of Sir John Simon.
§ THE SECRETARY of STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, the noble Lord opposite began his speech by repeating the apology which he was good enough to make yesterday for the short notice with which this debate was brought before the House. As he truly realised, it necessitated that some of your Lordships whom we should have wished to be here were unable to receive the summons in sufficient time. But we all recognise that it was hot possible to give longer notice and I do not think there is any need for an apology for the shortness of notice. The real apology should have been for ever bringing on the Motion at all. The noble Lord protested at intervals that the Socialist Party were anxious for the release of these men, but every syllable of his speech seemed to be calculated to prevent that end. I can only hope that if the Soviet Government pay attention to the debates in this House they will not imagine that the attitude of the Socialist Party, or at any rate of the official Socialist Party, represents any large body of opinion in this country. I hope they will realise, as we do, that by some odd kink in their mentality the Socialist Party are always disposed to think that in any international controversy their own country must be in the wrong. It is a fallacy which seems not to characterise Socialism in any other country, but, unfortunately, it has very deeply infected the Party of which the noble Lord is the representative this afternoon. They appear to think that it is broad-minded. I think there is a less complimentary epithet which would properly characterise their position.
If the Soviet Government do, perchance, pay any attention to our discus- 629 sion this afternoon, it may be that they will realise that the most remarkable feature of it is the fact that, although the Socialist Party always think their own country is in the wrong, even they profess to be confident of the innocence of these men, and to desire their prompt release from imprisonment. That is a far more significant feature than the attitude which they take in criticising the Government. To my mind it is significant especially from this point of Since they desire the release of these men presumably they must be as satisfied as we are that these men are innocent of the offence with which they are charged, and if they are satisfied of that fact they must equally be satisfied that there has been a gross miscarriage of justice in their condemnation. Therefore we are in a position in which men, subjects of our own race, have been unjustly condemned in a foreign court and are at present suffering an unjust sentence of imprisonment in a foreign country.
What relevance, then, when you have taken those facts, has the quotation given to us from Sir Austen Chamberlain to the facts of to-day? There Sir Austen Chamberlain told us what I said, possibly less excellently but equally sincerely, in the debate a fortnight ago. We have never pretended, and we do not pretend, that a British subject who goes into a foreign country is not subject to the Criminal Law of that country, and is not bound to observe the laws of that country, even if they differ from our own. We do not contend that the rules of evidence and of procedure have to be the same as those which prevail over here; but what we do contend is that there must be a fair trial by an independent court, and that the evidence on which a condemnation is obtained must be evidence obtained in such circumstances, and of such a character, as can be reasonably relied upon. When once you admit, as the noble Lord admits, that these men are innocent and have been unjustly condemned, it seems to me that his whole case for complaining of our intervention falls to the ground.
More than that, we asked for the powers which Parliament conferred upon us a fortnight ago, as we told Parliament at the time, for the express purpose of endeavouring to secure the lives and liberties of these men. It was open to argument whether those powers were 630 well adapted to the purpose. Parliament thought that they were, as we thought that they were, and that is why Parliament gave them to us. When Parliament has conferred those powers upon us for this express purpose, what would the country and what would Parliament have said if, after we had obtained those powers, and these men admittedly had been unjustly imprisoned in Russia, we had failed to make use of those powers? As to this talk about melodrama, and about meeting at nine o'clock in the morning, the reason for that, if it was at nine o'clock in the morning, was that His Majesty is a person of numerous engagements and happened to have engagements for the rest of the day, and therefore had the Privy Council before leaving for those other engagements.
I waited to hear from the noble Lord what the Socialist Party would have done. I gather that they would have done nothing, and would have proceeded to hope that if nothing were done the Soviet Government, having obtained the condemnation of these men, would then have been graciously pleased not to enforce the sentences. The noble Lord says that he is satisfied that they would have got lighter sentences if we had not taken these powers, and would have been let out if we had not used these powers. He is welcome to his opinion, but there are no facts to bear it out, because when we look at the precedents of previous trials we do not find that these sentences are heavier than those of previous occasions, and we certainly do not find them doing anything by way of not putting the sentences into execution. When the noble Lord says that when the men had been arrested it was a shocking thing to make any complaint, or to take the attitude that we adopted, he has to remember that on the very day when these men were arrested there had been thirty-five men shot by the very people who arrested them, without trial. He, would have waited until these men were shot, I suppose, and until the Soviet Government graciously expressed regret that they had shot one person who now is admitted to be innocent. That is not the way to protect the lives and liberties of British subjects in a foreign country.
The noble Lord was good enough to say that we desired these powers in order to bring about a rupture of commercial relations with the Soviet Government.
631 That is a statement singularly ill-adapted to assist us in obtaining the release of these men, but I am glad in one way that it has been made, because I am able now in this House categorically to state that that statement is absolutely untrue. It was stated deliberately by the President of the Board of Trade in another place that we obtained these powers for the purpose of securing, as far as we could, the lives and liberties of these men: that we asked for them for that purpose only and intended to use them for that purpose only; and I assure the House that that statement is absolutely true—that we asked for these powers for no other reason and intend to use them for no other purpose at all. When he asks me how long the embargo will go on my answer is that it will go on so long as these men are kept in prison in Russia. How long that will be I do not know, and I can only hope, in spite of the Motion, that it will not be as long as the sentences originally suggested.
There is not a great deal more that I have to say in answer to the noble Lord. He has said that we ought to have exercised a little more patience. By that he means that we should have done nothing. He says he cannot understand why it was that the Soviet Government ever initiated these proceedings. I am tempted very much to give certain explanations, but unlike the noble Lord I am conscious very much of the risk of saying things which might have a bad effect upon the prospects of Mr. Thornton and Mr. Macdonald, and therefore I do not desire at this stage to discuss that matter at all.
I want if I may to say a word or two on the effect of the embargo in terms of trade. I do not dispute that a rupture, however temporary, of trade relations between two countries must to that extent harm the trade of both countries. I do not think that that can be challenged, but I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that the effect is likely to be much less serious than the noble Lord would have you believe. I have obtained the figures given by the Soviet Government of their foreign trade, because I feel sure that those figures will appeal more to the noble Lord than anything emanating from our own Board of Trade. For the first two months of 1932 the total exports from Russia were of the value of 100 million gold roubles and the total 632 imports into Russia from foreign countries were of the value of 133 million gold roubles. In the present year, 1933, during the same two months the figure of the exports was 81 millions and that of the imports 66 million gold roubles, showing that their exports had dropped 20 per cent. and their purchases from abroad had been reduced by, roughly, a half. And there is no doubt—I think they have themselves stated it—that it is the definite policy of the Soviet Government to effect a drastic reduction in the imports of industrial equipment from abroad.
Now, if I turn to the trade with this country of the same two months I find that in 1932 their sales in this country were 25 million gold roubles and their purchases 22 million gold roubles, showing an adverse balance of trade, as far as we were concerned, of three millions. During the same two months of 1933, that is to say before this dispute had arisen, before any action had been taken—it happened on March 11—the sales to this country amounted to 18 million gold roubles and the purchases from this country to 6 million gold roubles. So that their sales fell by 28 per cent., and their purchases fell by 73 per cent., and during those two months our adverse balance of trade with Russia had risen from just over 3 million gold roubles in 1932 to nearly 12 millions in 1933. In other words, it is manifest that, even before this dispute had arisen, the Soviet purchases in this country had fallen to very small proportions indeed, and that the trade was one which was resulting in a very heavy adverse balance to this country.
Notwithstanding that fact, I say again, I do not dispute that an embargo must interfere with trade, and must, to that extent, be damaging to both countries. The embargo can be removed, and will be removed, as soon as Mr. Thornton and Mr. Macdonald return safe to Great Britain: and until they return safe to Great Britain it is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to make any change in the sense of raising an embargo which we were empowered to put on for the very purpose for which we have used it. I hope that makes clear what the position of His Majesty's Government in this matter is. I hope also it makes clear how absolutely unfounded the suggestion of the noble Lord is that the purpose of 633 the embargo was something other than that which we have stated. The noble Lord told us that the Foreign Secretary had roused the House of Commons to a pitch of frenzied indignation by his speech. If your Lordships have read the speech you will see that all that the Foreign Secretary did was to state the facts. Not one of them has been controverted or challenged; and if the facts were calculated to rouse the House of Commons to a state of frenzied indignation, surely that is the most scathing condemnation which we could find of the conduct of the noble Lord's friends of the Soviet Government and of the way in which they have conducted the proceedings against these unfortunate men.
Your Lordships will have read that yesterday in another place the Foreign Secretary stated that, after having seen these four men, he was absolutely satisfied of their innocence and of the innocence of the other two, and that the four men themselves were absolutely confident of the innocence of their two colleagues. The noble Lord complained that when the arrest took place we lost no time in assuring the Soviet Government that we were confident of their innocence. It is difficult for me to understand the mentality of a serious politician who apparently thinks that when one of our fellow-subjects is charged with acting as a spy on behalf of the British Government in a foreign country, and when we, the Government, know that he is innocent of that charge, it is wrong of us to tell the foreign Government that they are making a mistake and that there is absolutely no ground for their suspicion. I should have thought that there would have e been a real reason for criticism and condemnation if, with that knowledge in our possession, we had allowed the Soviet Government to go on with these proceedings under the impression that we could not at any rate disclaim any spying activities on our behalf by these unfortunate men in Soviet territory.
So far as the Government are concerned we are satisfied—as I gather even the Socialists are—that these men are innocent. We believe that a grave injustice is being done by keeping them under condemnation in Russia. We believe, and we are satisfied, that the trial which they have had was not a fair trial and that the judgment was, as the 634 noble Lord's own confession involved, an unjust condemnation; and we shall spare no efforts to endeavour to rescue them from that unjust sentence and to do our best to bring them safely back to this country. I only hope that our efforts will not be hampered by many more Motions such as that which the noble Lord has brought before the House to-day.
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
My Lords, I have one question which I should like to put to the noble and learned Viscount. When the embargo was put upon Russian imports I—and I think my friends on this Bench—were at a loss to understand why that should have been done before all the processes of justice, whether they be good processes or not, in Russia had been exhausted. Would it not perhaps have been wiser to wait until at least the result of the petition to the Supreme Court in Moscow had bean heard? Possibly if that had been done the two men who are now in prison might have been released. Speaking, I think, for my noble friends on this side of the House, we cannot be accused of any love for tyrannies. We cannot be accused, as perhaps the noble Lord who moved this Motion can be accused, of sympathy for methods such as are adopted in Russia. We cannot be accused of wishing to truckle to any savage bestiality, such as we know is committed daily in Russia. But we do question, I think, the wisdom of bullying people into taking courses which would otherwise not have been taken, had they not been forced into them by a sense of suspicion and a belief in enmities abroad. I do ask the noble and learned Viscount most seriously whether it would not possibly have been better not to have placed this embargo upon Russian imports before the usual channels of justice in Moscow had been exhausted.
§ LORD NOEL-BUXTON
My Lords, I think there is one small point which might be added to what I regard as the convincing argument of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, and it is a point which possibly may appeal to His Majesty's Government. His Majesty's Government have announced their very strong desire to see a successful Disarmament Conference, but it seems to me that in their Russian policy, which I cannot help regarding as a policy of violent prejudice 635 in regard to Russia, they are putting a spoke in their own wheel in regard to the Disarmament Conference. The opponents of disarmament who, as we are given to understand, are opposing His Majesty's Government, constantly point to the great size of the Russian Army. Those of us who have met leading Russians, as every one does at Geneva, where they attend certain Conferences connected with the League, have had the experience of discussing with Russian leaders this matter of their Army, and one raises the question of the absurdity of maintaining a large Army when nobody is proposing to attack the Russian State. But they invariably declare their conviction that they are in danger, that the attitude of obvious hatred which animates several of the Western States is a fact against which they at least should take precautions.
It may seem very absurd to us that there should be such grounds offered for maintaining a larger Army than some of us think they need, but we know that in every country there are war-mongers. There are people inclined to urge a policy of very large forces. Well, surely, it is not in the interests of His Majesty's Government's disarmament policy to give any material to that section of Russians whose attitude is inimical to His Majesty's Government's policy? Of course they see in the action which His Majesty's Government have lately taken a further proof of our extreme animosity, which surely is a welcome fact to those Russians, if such there are, who argue that, if only in self-defence, they must add to the forces for defence. Surely, a policy aiming primarily at peace would remove all possible arguments which help the factors in Russia to which I have alluded? Surely, His Majesty's Government in this respect, whatever other reason they see for their Russian policy, are hampering their own aims in the Disarmament Conference, and I fervently hope His Majesty's Government will put peace as their prime object.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, in view of some observations which have been made during the debate, I cannot but think it is a little unfortunate we should be discussing this Motion to-day. I can quite understand the views which have been presented, and that some may doubt whether this was the wisest 636 course for the Government to adopt, but the view I hold strongly is that in a matter of this character we are all seeking—and when I say "all" I include the Labour Party—to do everything possible to secure the release of these men. Once I have come to that conclusion, there is the fact that Parliament has granted the power to impose this embargo in case it should be deemed desirable by the Government for the purpose of facilitating and assisting the release of these two British subjects. For my part I say I am not disposed now to criticise anything they are doing with regard to it. I think it really is a matter for the Government.
The Government are in a better position to judge of a matter of this kind than we can be, and I do feel that I should say that I cannot believe, and I do not believe, there is any foundation for the statement that the Government introduced this measure enabling them to impose the embargo for the purpose of breaking with the Soviet Government. I really think there is no foundation for that. After all that has been said, and particularly bearing in mind the occasion which led to the introduction of the Bill before the embargo, and the purpose for which it was stated it was introduced, I cannot but think it is unfortunate in the present circumstances that we should be questioning the very clear affirmation which was made by the responsible Ministers in the other House, and repeated here to-day by the noble Viscount who leads the House. I wish to state emphatically on my own part that I accept that as absolute truth, and I do not for a moment suspect there is anything behind it.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I cannot speak twice, but the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, addressed a question directly to me. I am sure he will realise that if he wants to ask the Government a question he must ask it before the Government's spokesman has replied. But, if I may answer by leave of the House, the question was this: Why did not we wait until the judicial processes at Moscow had been exhausted, until the appeal to the Supreme Court had been determined? The answer is, there is no appeal in Moscow to the Supreme Court. The judicial processes had been exhausted. The only appeal that takes place is the appeal for 637 clemency to the Executive Council, which is like asking the Home Secretary in this country. As far as the judicial processes are concerned, they were completely exhausted before we took any action at all.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, there are just a few remarks I would like to make before we go to a Division. The noble and learned Viscount who leads the House brought the accusation against us, which we have heard very often before, that we are friends of every country but our own, and that we consider our own country always to be in the wrong. I think that accusation arises from this, that we are rather more jealous of the good name of our country than the Party represented by noble Lords opposite, and it is when they are in power that that good name is in danger of being tarnished and sullied. As we are, in a very much higher sense than the Conservative Party, patriotic, we can always dismiss this accusation with the indifference it deserves. The noble and learned Viscount said that if I was convinced of the innocence of the prisoners my arguments rather contradicted themselves. I never said anything about the guilt or innocence of the prisoners. I never said anything at all about the trial, purposely, because know that the extracts I have seen in the newspapers are no sort of indication of what took place. I would note that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, in his question asked whether all the processes of justice had been exhausted, and the noble Viscount has told him they were: but there were two things that had not been exhausted. One was the examination of the evidence which the Government had not seen. They have
§ never seen the evidence, they have only seen the telegraphic reports; they have not seen the full account. Also, as the noble Viscount explained, what is equivalent to the Home Secretary's sanction had not been given to the sentence.
§ LORD HARDINGE OF PENSHURST
My Lords, I imagine the Government have had the same opportunities as I have had of seeing the actual English translation of the text of the whole trial—the shorthand text of the whole trial.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for telling me that, because I was not aware of it. If the Government have had the full test of the whole trial, I entirely withdraw the remark. The noble Viscount kept on asking me what I should have done. I thought I had explained to the best of my ability in the course of my remarks that on the occasion of the verdict being given, and the verdict coming, as it did to most of us, certainly after what we heard, more or less as a surprise, a delay of forty-eight hours I am perfectly certain would have shown that the Government were not impatient to quarrel. The absence of any delay showed that we were most certainly impatient to quarrel. I noticed that the noble Viscount made no reference whatever to the repercussions on the international situation, and I am not surprised because, as I said in the course of my remarks, I believe His Majesty's Government, are entirely indifferent to what this may do in the very distressing condition Europe is in to-day. Owing to the very unsatisfactory nature of the reply I have received we shall divide the House.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 7; Not-Contents, 53.639
|Arnold, L.||Marley, L. [Teller.]||Parmoor, L.|
|Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Noel-Buxton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) [Teller.]|
|Sankey, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Linlithgow, M.||Iddesleigh, E.|
|Reading, M.||Lucan, E. [Teller.]|
|Rutland, D.||Munster, E.|
|Sutherland, D.||Cawdor, E.||Radnor, E.|
|Denbigh, E.||Stanhope, E.|
|Bath, M.||Halsbury, E.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Brocket, L.||Harris, L.|
|Burnham, V.||Carrington, L.||Kilmaine, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Charnwood, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Churchill, V.||Chesham, L.||Lloyd, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clan william.)||Merrivale, L.|
|Esher, V.||Mount Temple, L.|
|Hailsham, V.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)||O'Hagan, L.|
|Hampden, V.||Danesfort, L.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Daryngton, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Alvingham, L.||Desart, L.(E. Desart.)||Remnant, L.|
|Auckland L.||Ernle, L.||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]||Stonehaven, L.|
|Brabourne, L.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Teynham, L.|
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative and Motion disagreed to accordingly.