HL Deb 08 March 1934 vol 91 cc93-5

My Lords, the Question of which I have given Notice, to ask His Majesty's Government, is whether they will state what is the undertaking to refrain from propaganda in the Empire which they have received from the Soviet Government, and what power they have to see that the undertaking is regarded. I thought, and I think the majority of the people of this country thought, that as in the Commercial Agreement made between this country and the Soviet Government, which was discussed in this House only two days ago, there was no clause about propaganda, the Government had refrained from asking for assurances on that matter from the Soviet Government. Six months ago, when there was a debate on this question in your Lordships' House, I urged that such a clause should not be inserted in any Trade Agreement, not because I did not wait to stop propaganda, but because I recognised that as during ten years while this clause had been in operation no Government of any complexion had been able to stop propaganda in any way, it would be well not to put in such a clause. Having that clause in only made us the laughing-stock of the world; and indeed. I think that when spoke in this House on Tuesday last stated that I welcomed the omission of such a clause.

But I had not then seen a very important statement—really an important statement—which was made at the end of the debate in another place on March I last, when the Commercial Agreement was discussed. It comes at the very end of the debate, and it reads as follows: Sir N. STEWAET SANDEMAN: Will the honourable and gallant member— that is Lieut.-Colonel Colville, the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department— say a word on the question of Russian Propaganda? Lieut.-Colonel COLVTLLE: The Agreement, which is a purely Commercial Agreement, does not include propaganda, but we have an undertaking on the subject of propaganda which holds good, and we think that we have sufficient power to see that the undertaking is regarded. The debate then ended. Having regard to the form in which I have put down this Question, I understand that the rules of your Lordships' House preclude me from saying anything after the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, has replied. Therefore all I will say is that it is to my mind a very important omission which was made by Lieut.-Colonel Colville when replying for His Majesty's Government. If they have some undertaking which will stop propaganda, no one will be more pleased than myself and I am sure every member of your Lordships' House, but the point put in my Question which I would like to press is, what power have they to enforce this undertaking if the Soviet Government chooses to break it? I therefore await with interest what the noble Earl has to say, and he will not mind, supposing that his answer is not as satisfactory as I should like, if I raise the matter again at a future date.


My Lords, this matter was referred to in the debate which took place, as my noble friend said, two (lays ago, and I then stated to your Lordships that I thought the undertaking referred to was an arrangement which had been made in 1930. I was slightly wrong in my date, because it appeared in Clause. 7 of a Protocol signed on October 3, 1929, by Mr. Arthur Henderson, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and by M. Dovgalevski, the Soviet Ambassador at Paris, by which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Soviet Government engaged themselves to confirm the pledge with regard to propaganda contained in Article 16 of the unratified Anglo-Soviet Treaty of August 8, 1924; and that engagement was confirmed in an exchange of notes on December 21, of that year between Sir Edward Ovey, then Ambassador at Moscow, and M. Litvinov, Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

I may say that this Protocol has been published in a White Paper, Cmd. 3467 of 1930. The terms of the relevant Article were as follows: The contracting parties solemnly affirm their desire and intention to live in peace and amity with, each other, scrupulously to respect the undoubted right of a State to order its own life within its own jurisdiction in its own way, to refrain and to restrain all persons and organisations under their direct or indirect control, including organisations in receipt of financial assistance from them, from any act overt or covert liable in any way whatsoever to endanger the tranquillity or prosperity of any part of the territory of the British Empire or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or intended to embitter the relations of the British Empire or the Union with their neighbours or any other countries. I have conferred with my honourable and gallant friend the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, who informs me that what he had in mind in stating that we had the power to carry this out was, of course, that anybody indulging in propaganda who transgressed the law could be dealt with in the ordinary course of events in the Courts. But, apart from that, it will be clear to the House that His Majesty's Government possess at all times various means of pressure, diplomatic and other, which they are able, if necessary, to bring to bear against any foreign Government disregarding its obligations towards them. His Majesty's Government, of course, always reserve the right to judge for themselves when it is desirable to exercise pressure in any given case and, if so, what means and what degree of pressure should be employed; and until any particular case arises it does not seem necessary or desirable to discuss the particular action which they might take in hypothetical circumstances.

Probably my noble friend will think that he would like to have greater powers than are contained in that answer, but he will see that this is not an arrangement which has been made by the present Government—it is one which they inherited, and which has gone on since 1929. I think he will at any rate agree with me that we have had little cause during recent times to complain of propaganda from the Soviet Government, either here or in other parts of the Empire, and the hope of His Majesty's Government is that, as a result of the increased trading facilities in the Agreement which we discussed recently, we shall have less cause to complain in the future than we have had in the past.