HL Deb 01 December 1948 vol 159 cc693-730

2.36 p.m.

LORD VANSITTART rose to call attention to the growing disrespect of British subjects and British interests abroad; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the loss of an affectionate friend, of which I read in a newspaper only on the way here today, takes the heart out of one; but I will do my best. The world has to go on, and it is on the question of how that I have something to say this afternoon. Perhaps some of your Lordships may be willing to cast your minds back to a production of Mr. Coward's some twenty years ago called Cavalcade, in which he reviewed the existences of ordinary British people back into the last century. He reached this conclusion: It is a pretty exciting thing to be British. So it was. I was born into the long August afternoon of the late Victorian era and I travelled in my teens. It was a pretty stimulating experience. Everywhere the Briton's cheques were widely cashed—an operation lately confined to Mr. Max Intrator! Everywhere in the world the palabra inglese stood for the spirit of the highest obligation of honour. Everywhere men were proud to be our friends. Even in our darkest hour, our very enemies looked up to us with dislike. We were all conscious of some sort of a moral heritage which may be summed up in two words—"self respect." Other times, other manners: we have changed all that. It is still a pretty exciting thing to be British, but in a very different sense. The question now runs: Is it safe to be British? It is bad enough to have to ask that question; it is still worse when the answer is "No."

It is two thousand years since St. Paul's classic utterance: I am …. a citizen of no mean city.

I think we might profitably and pertinently continue with a little more of that dialogue. Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, 'Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman and uncondemned?' When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying. 'Take heed what thou doest; for this man is a Roman.'

That was our position, and is no more. Perhaps T. S. Eliot was right to say: This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang, but a whimper. Anyhow that world has ended, and the cause of it is twofold.

In the first place, we are tired, so tired after two world wars that we have been tending to lose faith not only in religion but in almost everything, including ourselves. So it has come about almost naturally that vigorous self-respect sometimes seems unEnglish. For three years our policy was smitten with the fear of offending the most terrible tyranny that has ever threatened the soul of man. We were hamstrung by the hope of placating the implacable and so, by an attitude of acquiescence, we came to a thin-faced time, so unlike our "native hue of resolution." I speak in no petty spirit but from the broadest national aspect and from a long and consistent conviction. In proof of that, may I adduce to your Lordships something that I wrote fifteen years ago, when I was not only looking back to the First World War but looking ahead to the Second World War? This is what I wrote: We were predictably landed in the war of 1914 by two cardinal errors: lack of a known foreign policy and the underestimation of this country which we allowed to develop abroad. Europe became unbalanced for lack of weight in the west.

I submit to your Lordships that that is not only an accurate diagnosis of the past but an accurate prophecy of the future. Our case is much the same to-day. Before I begin to explain it, I should like to say that my complaints are directed against tyrannies of all descriptions, Right or Left. It so happens that most of the recent instances have come from the Left, but all kinds have been manifold for years. So we are now confronted with a world very different from that of Cavalcade. Chile and Argentina are, and have long been, in occupation of British territory. Guatemala protests that we dare to reinforce our own Possessions. Over two years ago, forty-four British seamen were murdered in the Corfu Channel. I am aware that this case is now before the International Court, and I shall say little about it—only as much, in fact, as I am entitled to say: that, judging by the way the world wags nowadays, it is still very doubtful whether we should gain amends even if we secured a verdict against Totalitaria.

I say that because, not so long ago, the Kremlin killed twelve British subjects at Gatow. The facts were plain beyond peradventure, so we sent in a claim for compensation for the relatives of the dead. All we received in reply was a sneering counter-claim for compensation for the culprit. Well, British lives are rather cheaper nowadays! This is a matter that concerns us all. That Note was sent with the deliberate intention of rubbing our faces in the dirt. The principal objective was the Government, but the lives of individual British subjects are involved everywhere. British subjects have been freely murdered in Palestine they are being freely murdered in Malaya. In Egypt they go in fear of the riff-raff of the Moslem brotherhood and of the grotesque hooligans of the anti-trouser brigade. In Burma, where we have unfortunately given way to incompetence that amounts almost to anarchy, this is the position as described by a despatch sent to the British Press in the middle of last month: It is more than a politician's career, possibly even his life, is worth to gain the reputation of being pro-British. The British Embassy, the representatives of what is left of British business, and migrant journalists are in isolation, as if they were curiously diseased.

And that goes for every country behind the iron curtain. We are treated there with an absolute lack of respect, and it fills me with the greatest disquiet.

Everywhere behind that iron curtain to be pro-British is almost a sentence of death. How different from the times of respect! For four years past, prison, noose or bullet has awaited those who had the temerity to call on a British Mission or to make a British acquaintance. Hardly a quaking Nicodemus dare come near us now, and, in turn, British representatives are afraid of their contacts, and still more afraid to help a sufferer. I have received many complaints about that. The whole long story has been one of beastly local persecution and of studied insults to British representatives and British subjects. In all my experience I have never known the representatives of a great Power treated with such outrageous rudeness as was meted out to our people at the time of the Belgrade Conference on the Navigation of the Danube. I will not prolong my remarks on that, because the circumstances are known to all your Lordships. But I am going to pick out three quite recent examples, which I think deserve your Lordships' closest attention.

Last month there were put on trial in Sofia the very last remnants of the Bulgarian Opposition. Only nine of them remained, and they were headed by a man of great courage and integrity who I think will be respected by all, particularly by noble Lords on my left. His name is Kosta Lulchev. He got fifteen years' solitary confinement. His nearest friend got twelve years, and the rest of them got ten years' solitary confinement. My Lords, that amounts to a sentence of slow and abominable death. What were the charges against these men? I followed the Sofia radio on that matter. One was—and I think this will again touch noble Lords on my left—that these people had tried to communicate with the British Labour Party. On November 10, Sofia radio blared out triumphantly that one at least of the accused had been forced to confess, by torture of course, to another charge—namely, that he had had contact with a British diplomatist. That is what matters have come to in the Eastern parts of Europe. These are heinous crimes, are they not? You can get your head blown off for nodding it to a British Third Secretary or to a British Socialist. Of course I make an exception of Mr. Mack, who went out to "suck up" to the assassins of Petkov.

Simultaneously, there was put on trial in Warsaw the remnants of the Polish Independent Socialists. Only six of them reached the dock. Two others were tortured to death in prison. These men, again, were headed by a man with a magnificent record, a man of courage and integrity, Kasimir Puzak, aged seventy. He had been Secretary-General of the Party since 1921. He had spent nearly five years in a German concentration camp and had served seven years in a Czarist gaol. They, too, all received swingeing sentences. What were the charges against them? One (and your Lordships may have difficulty in believing it, even of the sordid lunatics of totalitarianism) was that during the German occupation these men had circulated the programme of the British Labour Party. The other charges were manifold. But one was the same—it is always the same—namely, that they had Western leanings. They leaned towards us, my Lords. And what have we done for them?

Almost simultaneously, again, twelve Socialists—always Socialists, please note—were put on trial in Bucharest. Seven of them were sentenced to imprisonment for life; the other five received sentences varying between fifteen years and twenty-five years. Those, too, are sentences of slow and dreadful death. It takes twenty-five minutes to strangle a man to death in Eastern Europe—for that is what is meant by hanging. What were the charges here? The charges were that they had held communication with British diplomatists. Names of British diplomatists were mentioned in court, but no Briton was allowed to attend. I say that this long list of outrages is something of which we cannot fail to take notice. We really cannot allow ourselves and our friends to be treated in that way. I submit that the Government owes action, not only to itself and its friends but to all of us, to everyone; for this long list of linked charges is all devoted to one purpose, the furthering of the Russian policy of outlawing the West, of exterminating those who look to it and of bringing Britons into obloquy and contempt everywhere.

About a fortnight ago, the Secretary of the Labour Party issued a dignified and dispassionate denunciation of these misdeeds. All honour to him for that. But words alone produce no effect and, therefore, something more than words is necessary. What we need, I am sure, is more fire—a flame of indignation. I have spoken on this subject several times before in this House; I have pointed to the extermination of democrats in general, and Socialists in particular, in Eastern Europe; and I have asked—as I ask again to-day—why it should be left to me to flare up, to incur the charge of letting the sun go down on my wrath—as indeed I do. To-day, I hope that we shall all be united, because it is in part, at least, for sheer lack of righteous wrath in Westminster and Whitehall that our representatives abroad are unable adequately to protect British subjects.

I mentioned Burma just now. Take this as a specimen. In September, a British subject, Mr. Alexander Campbell, was arrested on a then unspecified charge. He was thrown into gaol and kept there incommunicado. He was never tried, and he was later thrown out like an empty sack. I do not make very much of that case because there is a great deal worse to follow. In Yugoslavia it has happened more than once that British soldiers have been kidnapped near—not necessarily over—the frontier, and have been hustled off to harsh confinement. They also have been thrown out again in a far-spent condition. I believe there are four airmen detained now in Yugoslavia in circumstances of mystery and danger.

But quite recently there has been an even worse case, that of a civilian, Mr. Whalley, who approached the Yugoslav frontier—it is not suggested that he crossed it—was immediately taken across and, again, flung into confinement for six weeks. And when he was ultimately released—incidentally, despite all our protests, he also was kept incommunicado—here is the account that appeared in our Press. This is an extract from The Times: The British authorities here said that Mr. Whalley's present condition"— "Here," by the way, is Trieste— was such that he could not be questioned by security officers. What do your Lordships make of that? This is Mr. Whalley's explanation and it is obvious why he could not be questioned. He said that he was kept in solitary confinement in a small cell in Ljubljana for forty days, "which nearly drove me crazy." He was half-starved and suffered from the cold. No charge was preferred. That is pretty bad, is it not?

Now let us look at Czechoslovakia. A little while ago Mr. Wallin, First Secretary to the British Information Officer of the British Embassy in Prague, was arrested on premises owned by His Majesty's Government by the thugs of the S.M.B., which is the Czech equivalent of the Gestapo or the M.V.D., as it is now called in Soviet Russia—it has changed its name no fewer than five times. He was thrown head-first into a car, taken off to police headquarters and detained there after he had revealed his identity. And, to crown all, the person who has taken Jan Masaryk's place, since the liquidation of Jan Masaryk refused to receive the personal protest of His Majesty's Ambassador. I will add only two comments to that: one that Masaryk himself was doomed because he had Western leanings, and the other that on the occasion of Benes' funeral, people were arrested in the streets for speaking English.

I come now to Palestine. I will say little of the butchery of our boys there, or of the vituperative orgies of the American Zionists—there was a pretty bad one, by the way, on Monday night; a big dinner was held, at £12 10s. a head, at which even the King's illness was derided. But I will pass to other topics. Four British subjects were recently arrested on grave charges, without a scintilla of proof or justification. They were all held in extremely harsh—indeed in brutal—confinement, as I shall show in a minute, and when the case was ultimately brought into court it was so flimsy that it broke down immediately against three of them. But the fourth of our persecuted people—for we are now in a sense persecuted people—was released only after he had been condemned to seven years' imprisonment, a savage sentence on the level, or below the level, of the vilest People's Court in Eastern Europe. Why did he get that sentence? Because he was British. But when he was released—and he an innocent man—it took forty-one people to secure his physical safety and get him out of the country alive. Why? Because he was British.

These proceedings have been described in very much greater detail by this man, Mr. Sylvester, on his return to this country. He gave physical details to the Press. Here are some of them: After I was arrested by Irgun in Jerusalem, they threw me into a cellar for 133 days, and in all that time I was kept in complete darkness. I was allowed no exercise. The rest of the prisoners were thieves and murderers. I and the other arrested Britons were given a daily third degree … for ten days. Every time we were blindfolded. They used to sit me in a chair, then order me to stand up. When I stood up, they would shout 'Sit down.' only there would be no chair, and I would fall down. Then they would say: 'We told you to sit down, not to lie down.' and kick me as I lay on the ground. The Jews also threatened to get my wife if I didn't confess. Whenever I refused to say what they wanted I was hit on the head with a rubber truncheon. I never knew what 'seeing stars' meant till then. Then he adds this final detail—it is his opinion, and I cannot vouch for it: There was never any question of the Jews really thinking me guilty; they wanted to get the Jerusalem Electric Corporation out of the country and that was one reason for the charge. Whether the last part be true or not, I think that the rest of the proceedings speak for themselves and need no words from me, except a paraphrase of those of the Jew of Tarsus: Is it lawful for you to scourge men that are Britons and uncondemned? I think, after all, I will say something more on that. What are British subjects, anyway? Are they whipping boys, or are they the pioneers of freedom, the sons of the very men but for whose exploits in the First World War practicable Zionism would never have been? My Lords, it is just one hundred years since Prince Schwarzenberg coined his famous phrase, that he would astonish the world with his ingratitude. Unhappily, the echoes of him have not died, but, by an ugly miracle, roll round and round the world increasingly. I come now to Roumania, where we have suffered many other flouts and injustices. Here I pick the most recent case—that of a British subject. Mr. Evans, who on the flimsiest of charges was sentenced to three years' imprisonment and fines of various categories, amounting in all to something like £30,000. Again, I will say little of that case, because Mr. Evans's appeal is sub judice. But I ask, under what judge? This is the sort of thing that goes on in that satrapy. This is Mr. Mayhew speaking in the House of Commons: No adequate facilities were given for the legal defence. Owing to the purge of the Roumanian legal profession no counsel was available willing to undertake Mr. Evans's defence. A lawyer was finally appointed by the examining magistrate, but even then, despite repeated protests by His Majesty's Legation, Mr. Evans was not afforded the normal facilities for consulting him. I say that, whatever the outcome of the appeal, the whole of this episode is a disgrace; and it would not have happened if the man had not been British. Again I ask: Is it safe to be British? And now there is none to whisper: "Take heed what thou doest, for this man is a Briton." "A Briton? The devil he is! Then boot him round the block again." I have had just about enough of this, and I hope your Lordships have, too. I mention Roumania as the type of country where the other kind of injustice which we so frequently suffer is at its worst. I will say nothing of those iniquitous Sovrom companies, whereby Russia, in flagrant breach of faith and to our great detriment, has stolen Roumania's main industries. Nor will I say anything further of the very great damage to British commerce that is involved in our exclusion from any means of ensuring the free navigation of the Danube, which will now, of course, not be free. I will take a much more recent incident: it occurred only the other day, and may have escaped your Lordships' notice. I quote again from a message sent to The Times and dated November 14. The Roumanian Astra-Romana Oil Company, a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch-Shell Group, has been fined … more than £7,000,000 for having robbed oil from the State owned sub-soil. Rador, the Roumanian news agency, stated that the fine had been imposed on the company's. 'former leadership.' The Royal Dutch-Shell Group withdrew all its British and Dutch staff from Roumania last year.

Why did they withdraw them? Because they thought we were powerless to help them. But I propose to tell your Lordships to-day that we are not. We can do good and plenty to end this tale of contumely and robbery. I do not think the measures I propose to you to-day should excite much opposition. I submit to your Lordships that the point has been reached where something must now be done and must be done quickly, because, as a question and answer in the House of Commons on Monday shows, even now Tito is haggling at his end to despoil British citizens of their due so far as it is inhumanly possible. Let me turn from the sorry and unfinished chapter of injustices and come to that of remedies. For remedies do exist. They exist; and abuses abound only because hitherto we have confined ourselves to unheeded protests. Here are the remedies.

First of all, take Palestine. We must ask for full compensation for Mr. Sylvester and his associates. I hope that that request will meet with a more gracious reception than in the Russian case. It well may be an indication of our future relations. To be "a judge in Israel" was a phrase from the Old Testament that rang finely in my ears as a boy. It seemed to me to be something pretty big; and I hope the new State will revert to those better traditions. Leaving Palestine out of account altogether for a moment, I have long been of the opinion that it is doubtful whether it is really to the advantage of either party to have full and close diplomatic relations with a new country or countries who treat us as vile enemies and our innocent British citizens as something almost sub-human.

Next I turn to Yugoslavia. Let us tell Tito quite plainly that any further mishandling of British subjects will entail severe economic consequences. Tito has always been anti-West and will probably remain so, but he is in need of Western supplies, particularly wool, oil and machinery, now that he has quarrelled with the megalomaniac, Stalin, and failed in "praise to the holiest in the height" of that peculiar materialism which compensates man for loss of God by making him pay six months' salary for a pair of paper shoes. Exactly the same applies to Czechoslovakia, where the need for Western commerce is even greater.

In the case of Roumania, I am quite ready to wait for the end of Mr. Evans's appeal; but no longer. If we do not then receive conspicuous and eminent justice, I propose that we should break relations. I do not favour diplomatic ruptures as a weapon. The mere withdrawal of Ambassadors from Franco has been not only useless, but probably rather worse than useless. But there is a great deal of usefulness in getting rid of satellite agents. All of them, without exception, are engaged not only in the legitimate purpose of diplomacy but in other highly undesirable activities. The French, for example, have had great difficulties with their Czechs, their Poles, and their Roumanians, and have had to expel quite a few.

Your Lordships will remember that, since the heresy hunt began, the Cominform has transferred its headquarters from Belgrade to Bucharest. Now the Roumanian Legation in Paris has been used for the transmission of orders from the Cominform to the authors of subversion and treachery in France. I may add that these activities are financed by copious subscriptions from the East, sent through the Soviet-controlled bank called the Banque Commerciale pour l'Europe du Nord. We have the Moscow Narodny Bank here, and I recommended in this House nearly a year ago that it might be well to consider closing it. Moreover, only a little while ago we detected a Czech official red-handed in espionage, and expelled him. Now we have also uncovered a Czech spy ring, operating for Russian benefit in Southern and Western Germany. We shall only be tinkering with the scandal if we do not attack it at the source.

I would like us to tell Stalin to call his jackals to order. Unless he will enjoin on these unhouse-broken creatures some respect for the ordinary decencies of international intercourse, I would like us to add that we will ask him to remove from this country all Missions for which no British counterpart exists in Moscow. Believe me, there are plenty of them. I would also like us to tell Stalin plainly that if we can receive neither justice nor courtesy, where he could always impose it, we shall reduce Russian trade representation in this country to parity with ours in Russia. We have not forty-eight trade telephones in Moscow. Just as an earnest that we do mean business, why do we not, from now on, stop Russia from stock-piling any more rubber? That is an important munition of war. We ought to be stock-piling rubber instead. The same argument applies, for instance, to industrial diamonds. I shall be glad if the noble Lord who is to reply to me will, at his leisure and convenience—of course, not to-day—let me know what amount of industrial diamonds have already left this country.

You will see, my Lords, that we have plenty of means of self-defence in the "cold war," if we are not afraid of using them. After all, what does anybody here believe that we gain by maintaining full diplomatic relations with Russia's insolent vassals? We have no such representation in Byelo-Russia; nor in the Ukraine. We get on very well without it. I am sure we see quite enough of Mr. Manuilsky, anyway. Or, take the case of Queen Pauker in Roumania. Your Lordships have all heard much recently of that odious modern phrase, "Pie for the boys." This is a case of, "Tart for the girls." Queen Pauker (this is common knowledge in Eastern Europe), when she had had her fill of her consort, had him liquidated by the Soviet Secret Police. Have we any great pleasure or advantage in shaking hands so soiled? Indeed, to me it is a measure of the degradation of politics in Eastern Europe that power has slithered into such hands. Moreover, again, as I have shown unchallengeably to-day, by maintaining full diplomatic relations we only provide a continual pretext for the liquidation of democrats in general and Socialists in particular. Moreover, yet again, by maintaining these relations, we receive neither courtesy nor information of any value.

When I first joined the Diplomatic Service, at the beginning of the century, some of my older colleagues had served under a yet more remote generation of Ambassadors, who flourished about the time of the grandfather of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. One of these colleagues told me that one of his Ambassadors was an old man with a long white beard, and a long top-hat with a very narrow ribbon round the base; and he was, to put it politely, past his best. It so happened that the Minister for Foreign Affairs to whom he was accredited also had a long white beard and a long top-hat with a narrow ribbon round the base, and he, too, was considerably past his best. Once a week, when the old Queen's Messenger passed through, the Ambassador used to put on his long hat and go for a long confabulation with his fellow greybeard. Then he used to return to the Embassy and indict a long despatch to the Foreign Office, with a long goose-quill, which was copied downstairs by the secretary, also with a long goose-quill. The rigmarole always ran as follows: "My Lords, I have the honour to report that I this day called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I said to him…. He said to me…. I said to him…. He said to me…." So it went on like a game of consequences, while the goose-quills spluttered upstairs and down, and the Queen's Messenger champed and jingled in the porch. But the last sentence, very often pruned by a merciful and vigilant staff, usually ran as follows: "I attach, however, no importance to anything that his Excellency says." Those are rather my feelings. I attach no importance to anything any Communist Excellency says; and I do not think any Communist word is worth a "cuss"—observe with what tact I say nothing of "tinkers"!

I ask myself, therefore: whereunto does full representation really serve? As an old hand, I know perfectly well that diplomatic representation serves some very useful purposes. All I am trying to point out to the House to-day is that if dignity and self-respect impose rupture, we have some very cogent and comforting arguments to set in the other scale. After all, to clear up centres, potential and actual, of disaffection and espionage, is surely as much a part of our national preparedness as recruiting or anything else. Here, perhaps I may say a brief word on a subject on which I speak with some experience. These swollen Communist Missions—Soviet and satellite—with all their innumerable appendages, are bound to put an almost impossible strain on our counterespionage service, because there are so many of them. To neglect a precaution in so grave a matter would surely be almost a dereliction of duty, seeing the acuity of the crisis.

The present situation seems to me to be intolerable. I arrived at that conclusion reluctantly but invincibly, and I hope the House will share that view and be in mind to act on it. The last time I had the honour of addressing your Lordships I said that patience was indeed a virtue, but that too much virtue turned you into a punch-bag. I remember forty years ago, when I was on leave, I was set to play bridge with a couple of Russians and a figure who may still be remembered by some of the elder of your Lordships, the General in command of the London District who was known as "Bully" Oliphant. The General played high and badly, and with a moustache that looked like a constant ultimatum; and he lost. But he soon made it very plain to us young fellows that we would not be allowed to go to bed until he got home. In the small hours of the morning he won a whopper and signified that the revels were ended. One of the Russians said: "Excuse me, General, but I'm afraid that after all you did not win that rubber, because, you see, you revoked, not once, but twice." He turned up the tricks and there were the revokes. Whereupon all the General said as he swept in majesty from the room was: "God give tie patience to argue with these damned foreigners!"

I do not, of course, recommend that principle for general application, but a certain dose of it, I think, is necessary in dealing with totalitarians; and I hope, when I say that, you will not think me insular—I am the least insular of men. Of my own free choice I have, so far as possible, made the interests of my life world-wide. Now it is drawing towards its close, and its principal conclusion is that the people of this country have rendered great service to mankind. So I end as I began. I was born "a citizen of no mean city", and I mean to die one. I beg to move for Papers.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened to a brilliant though sombre exposition from the noble Lord who introduced this Motion. When we see his name on the Order Paper, we expect to hear something out of the common run of speeches. Certainly our expectations have not been deceived to-day, even though some of us may not agree with some of the historical assumptions which he made. I fear that I cannot soar to anything like the heights reached by the noble Lord, and I propose to deal with the Motion in a more humdrum fashion. I feel that the fact mentioned in the Motion, of "disrespect of British subjects and British interests abroad," is well-founded and cannot be denied, though I am not sure whether I would accept the word "growing," which also appears in the text. I do not contest, and I would not think of contesting, the story related by the noble Lord, but it is clear from what he has said that disrespect is already there; it may or may not be increasing.

I would remind your Lordships that this disrespect is in no way limited to British subjects or to British interests, though of course these are our immediate concern. But we are not the only sufferers. Many foreign citizens and many foreign interests are exposed to this disrespect in various countries. The attack is not only upon our own people and our own interests—it is of a much more general character. Owing to our past history and our past achievements, our interests in foreign countries are particularly widespread, and those who watch over them locally are, therefore, numerous. Because of that, we are perhaps the most sensitive and the most vulnerable of all countries to attacks of this kind.

Perhaps it is worth considering for a moment the main causes which have led to this hostility on the part of many countries to foreign interests. The first is a kind of super-nationalism, accompanied in many cases by xenophobia. That, unhappily, began to develop during the 1914–18 war, and it certainly increased during the last war, until to-day it has reached an extreme pitch, a pitch which I think all reasonable and tolerant people must deplore. The vociferous claims of the Argentine Republic to the Falkland Islands, the claims of Chile and the Argentine to British Possessions in Antarctica and the claim of Guatemala to British Honduras, are to my mind examples of this excessive nationalism, though happily in none of these cases has there been any resort to violent action. Clearly, cases of this kind ought to be referred to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, as His Majesty's Government have expressed their willingness to refer them, for a decision on legal ownership. The claimants, however, are showing themselves reluctant to adopt this procedure, and I cannot but deduce from their hesitation that in fact the claims are not legally sound. Before any settlement can be reached, it is essential that the legal position should be made abundantly clear.

The second cause is the decrease in international morality in certain countries, particularly since the war, and I gather that it is those countries which the noble Lord has specially in mind. Last week, on the Motion by the right reverend Primate, we were discussing the increase of crime and of gangsterism in this country. I fear that the same thing is occurring in the international sphere. In certain countries now under the control of an ideology (which, despite Mr. Gallacher's apologia to The Times, is utterly opposed to the Christian faith, since it denies the existence of God, and therefore equally of the Christian creed), the old international morality has largely disappeared. Foreigners—and not only British foreigners—from the West are accused of treason and imprisoned and foreign interests are abused and expropriated without adequate compensation. Such action must be expected when the Treaties into which these countries have entered are regularly violated. For example, the armed forces of Bulgaria are far in excess of those laid down and stipulated by the Treaty. Roumania is by Treaty pledged—I will quote the Treaty: … to take all measures necessary to secure to all persons under their jurisdiction, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, the enjoyment of human rights and of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, of Press and publication, of religious worship, of political opinion and of public meeting. Is there any noble Lord here who would maintain for a moment that these fundamental freedoms are enjoyed in either Roumania or Hungary to-day? In Poland, the Yalta Agreements have been thrown completely overboard. In short, the countries that solemnly entered into those engagements now completely ignore them.

Therefore, is it to be wondered that they completely ignore and pay little respect to foreign subjects and foreign interests?

I want for a moment to deal with the case of Mr. Sylvester. He was arrested in a building which was under the protection of the United Nations authorities. That in itself was clearly an outrage. The fact that the Jewish Government did not release him immediately he came under their authority made that Government, to my mind, a partner in the evil deed. Mr. Sylvester, happily, has returned home. Whether he will receive compensation or not I do not know, but I entirely agree with the noble Lord that we should press most strongly for it. In effect, the history of the Sylvester affair shows that the terrorist influences in Palestine are exceedingly powerful. So far as I am aware, the murderers of Count Bernadotte remain still untried. Indeed, should a recognised State of Israel emerge out of the present discussions in Paris and elsewhere, its history cannot be free from bloodshed and crime. I want to make it clear that I place no blame for these happenings on the Jewish community in this country. They are in no way responsible, and those who for unworthy motives try to place some guilt upon their shoulders are utterly to be condemned. We must do our utmost to eradicate from this country the seeds of anti-Semitism that Hitler sowed—unhappily, with considerable success in Europe as a whole.

Having discussed and outlined a situation which is certainly gloomy, I now turn to a question with which the noble Lord also dealt—that is, of possible remedies. Of course, the first procedure, which I feel sure our Government adopt in most cases, is that of diplomatic protests. Diplomatic protests may sometimes prove successful, but I fear that as a general rule they are likely to be of little avail in the countries under the influence of or behind the iron curtain. Then there is the step which was suggested by the noble Lord—the withdrawal of the heads of Missions accredited to the countries concerned. That has always seemed to me to be perfectly futile. I have mentioned it because it is the measure which has been adopted in certain cases recently. It can really have little or no effect. It only causes irritation and does not in any way benefit the withdrawing Power or Powers.

I now come to the remedy upon which the noble Lord laid more stress—namely, economic reprisals. I have no objection to economic reprisals as such. I hope the noble Lord will agree that they must be effective, and that they must not do more harm to this country than they do to other countries. We must think of the economic position of the world today, and particularly of our own economic situation. No one ought to advocate measures of economic reprisals unless the Government themselves, who alone can have the necessary knowledge of the consequences, find it desirable that they should be applied. I then come to the breaking off of diplomatic relations. I am extremely doubtful whether that would be effective. It certainly would not be effective as regards the protection of British interests or British subjects. That is a perfectly clear fact. It may be desirable, from the security point of view, that something should be done to equalise the numbers attached to Missions. That is a difficult matter, but to think that such action would assist British interests and subjects in the country concerned seems to me to be an illusion.

There is one other thing that is possible, which the noble Lord did not even mention; that is, an appeal to the United Nations. If it is a really serious case, there is a good deal to be said for such a course, but of course we cannot bring every case before the Assembly. I think particular cases, however, might well be placed before it. Unhappily, it is true, that while, previous to the late war and in bygone days, the public opinion of the world exercised a very great influence, and no nation would lightly or easily disregard it, to-day in some countries of Eastern Europe it is realised that world opinion condemns both their régimes and their actions, and therefore they do not pay very much attention, even to decisions taken in the Assembly of the United Nations.

There is, of course, one final and ultimate resort—the use of force. I am glad that the noble Lord did not advocate that, because I think it ought to be ruled out, at any rate in the cases which have occurred up to the present. The use of force, as we all know, always entails the risk of war. Therefore, I rule it out. I have tried to outline the various possibilities which are in the hands of the Government. To-day we must decide whether any of them, or any combination of them, is likely to be effective in each particular case. My own feeling is that we cannot expect to achieve anything spectacular in existing circumstances. I think that we can only continue to be patient and enduring, tackling each particular problem as it arises, pegging away and doing our best. We must hope that international relationships will improve, that international morality will gradually be re-established and that all countries will come to realise not only that treaties are sacred and must be respected, but that respect is also due and justice must be done to all interests, whether national or foreign.

I have often pleaded that our foreign policy should be placed outside the sphere of Party controversy—and the protection of British interests abroad is clearly an important part of our foreign policy. If the noble Marquess who is to speak can suggest any remedies which are not open to the objections and difficulties which I have outlined, I will certainly give them my full support; but I am not prepared to make an issue of this with the Government—largely because I remember that in the old days, when I was closely associated with Foreign Secretaries of different political complexions from our present Foreign Secretary, they were from time to time accused of being indifferent to British interests and British subjects abroad. From my personal experience, I knew that they were doing their very utmost to protect and defend those interests.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, in the few words which I address to your Lordships this afternoon I do not propose to deal with individual cases of hardship or injury, such as the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has referred to already—cases such as those of Mr. Sylvester, Mr. Evans, the Astra-Romana Oil Company, and so on—though I think we must all, in every part of the House, feel intense resentment at the suffering and the insults which have been inflicted upon British subjects and British firms who, after all, have been engaged in the pursuit only of their lawful avocations. My purpose is to deal rather with the broader aspects of the issues raised this Motion, and to emphasise, if I can, the damage which is done to the prestige and authority of this country by a nerveless or supine policy on the part of this, or indeed of any, British Government in respect of the protection of British nationals and British interests in foreign lands.

There is no doubt at all that our authority has disastrously diminished in the course of the last three years. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, said that he did not object to the word "disrespect" in the Motion, and there is no doubt that that disrespect exists. When the war came to an end—and every Party in this country can claim credit for this—our name probably stood higher than at any other time in our long history. But now it appears that every nation, however unimportant in the counsels of the world—Roumania, Albania, Guatemala—think that they can bully and badger British citizens and can snap their fingers at Britain with absolute impunity. Very few weeks pass without some evidence of this. We hear of men being arrested, imprisoned, sometimes actually killed, and nothing apparently happens. A mild protest is made, and nothing more is done. This is not only bad in itself, but the effect even on our friends abroad is cumulative and deplorable. We do not perhaps notice it here in this country, but I know and I am told from all quarters that it is rapidly apparent to anyone who travels in the outside world. In the past, the reaction of the British Government and of the British people to such events would have been immediate and united. That is really why our name was so highly respected. To-day we are no doubt still regarded—in friendly quarters—as a lion, but as an old, weary lion with no teeth and no claws, only anxious for a quiet time. I do not say that that impression is well founded. It is an impression which has been current before, and it has been disproved when the crisis came. But it is a very dangerous impression to get about.

I would remind your Lordships of some words which were spoken about one hundred years ago by a great Liberal Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, whose speech, unlike others which the noble Lord frequently delivered, was on this particular occasion praised even by his political opponents. This is what Lord Palmerston said: I 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, 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. That was the spirit which maintained this country in its position as a great nation, in the fullest sense of the word. It was not the area of Great Britain itself, which was always small; it was not the measure of our population, which was far less than it is to-day; it was the spirit of courage and resolution among those who conducted our affairs. To them, British nationals and British property were a sacred charge. Even if they could take no positive action in individual cases to protect against injury and injustice, they showed in no uncertain fashion their indignation and resentment.

Now, apparently, there is little or no reaction at all; there is hardly even, in many cases, a wringing of hands. I would assure the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that I make no complaint of the Foreign Secretary himself. I think he has shown himself a worthy defender of this country's citizens and interests, and I know he does his best. But only too often he does not get much support from his colleagues or his Party. There is therefore no punch behind these protests. The facts are reported in the public Press and nothing more happens, and the Labour Party as a whole turns to the more congenial task of making hay of British industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has said, when a foreign Power, without a shadow of legal justification, occupies British territory in the South Atlantic—and while that Power is still in occupation of that territory—the Government enters into negotiations with the Government in question for the sale of a British cruiser, the "Ajax," which can only tend to strengthen that country's maritime position in those seas. When the President of Guatemala, very impertinently, as most of us think, complained of a landing of British sailors in British territory, not a word was said from the Government Front Bench in this House, at least so far as I am aware. All that happened was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech in the course of which he welcomed the liquidation of the British Empire and boasted of what the Government had done in that direction up to now. And indeed, if that is really the aim of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think he can fairly claim that he has every cause for satisfaction.

But where is all this going to lead? At what point do we stand firm? Every time it becomes more difficult. In a nation, as in a house, as I expect the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, knows, once decay starts, once rot sets in, it is rapid and progressive. I may be—I expect I will be—asked by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who is going to reply: "What would you do? Would you go to war? Is there, indeed, anything which can be done, any action that can be taken, in the world of force in which we live?" That was very much the attitude which was adopted by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, just now. His whole attitude appeared to me to be one of melancholy acquiescence. I thought, if I may be allowed to say so, that he made a terrible speech. It is always possible to find good reasons and good precedents for doing nothing. Of course nobody wants war; that is common ground in every quarter of this House. But surely there are many measures short of war, which do not even raise the issue of war, which can be taken. Our position is not so weak as all that.


Would the noble Marquess forgive me for one moment? He said I made a sad, lugubrious and melancholy speech. He said there are many things we could do. Would he give them in detail?


I am just coming to that. We are still one of the greatest manufacturing nations of the world, and, with our Colonies, one of the greatest producing nations. Unless British Governments—I will not say "this British Government"—by their domestic policy destroy this position, we shall continue to be so. We are, so I understand, producing and supplying, even to the countries that so ill use us, quantities of goods which they desperately need. Have we not this lever, at any rate, to persuade them to behave with courtesy and decency towards our nation and citizens?

We read recently—I think the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, spoke of this matter—of the sale to Russia of great quantities of rubber, which is a commodity which it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to obtain in any large quantity except from us; also, numbers of jet engines for military aeroplanes, an article which, probably, they are not able to manufacture for themselves, and, no doubt as well, machine tools, industrial diamonds and other things to which reference has been made. Doubtless, similar sales of essential articles are being made to other countries whose attitude remains studiously offensive to British interests and British citizens. Could not this flow be stopped pending the adoption of a more proper attitude to this country? And there are numerous other measures, to which the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has referred, and still others of a far from warlike character which the Government could, no doubt, think out for themselves, which could easily be taken and which might well, I suggest, be effective. I believe the Government and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, are profoundly mistaken if they think that we shall ourselves suffer economically from adopting a firm attitude. On the contrary, our prestige would immediately rise. These countries need things which we alone can provide. Moreover—and this is important—we should be recognised as a force which must be taken into account, and that, in itself, will improve our position in the world.

It may be that the Government feel inhibited from taking individual, isolated action owing to our membership of the United Nations. I understand that difficulty. It is a real difficulty. When one becomes a member of an international concern naturally it may be regarded as, to a certain extent, qualifying the action one can take. No doubt, in the case of territorial disputes, such as some of those to which reference has been made, it is right and desirable to make use of the international machinery that has been set up to deal with the situation, though, even there, we should not allow ourselves to be jockeyed into the position of admitting the existence of claims where, in fact, no colourable claims exist. But, in any case, it clearly was not the intention of those who framed the Charter that member-States should be prevented from giving any individual protection to their own law-abiding nationals who might be injured by the arbitrary action of other Governments.

The noble Earl, Lord Perth, has said quite rightly that the evil is not limited to British nationals. That is no doubt true. But it is no reason why we should allow such a situation to continue. If that is the way the Charter is working out, civilised nations will have to consider the possibility of buttressing the United Nations Organisation by some such ancillary organisation as we discussed in another connection in this House the other day. At any rate, we, in this country, cannot absolve ourselves from our own responsibilities. I would beg the Government to realise that there is one thing which is absolutely indefensible. It is to allow the greatness of Britain to slip through our fingers for lack of apparent will-power to maintain it. If we do that, then we shall richly deserve the fate that will certainly come upon us.

My Lords, if I may be allowed one more quotation from the past—and perhaps it is good that we should look back for a moment, if we are to recapture our traditional spirit—I would like to conclude by repeating some words spoken by the younger Pitt in 1797, at a time of equal danger and anxiety for the British people and the British Government. This is what he said: What is the real foundation of the strength of a nation? Spirit, security and conscious pride, that cannot stoop to dishonour. It comprehends a character that will neither offer nor receive an insult. To anything dishonourable I will never submit; nor will this country ever submit to it, I trust. There can be no man who has an English heart within his bosom who can wish it; or can wish that you may, by an untimely diminution of your strength, expose yourselves to the renewal, with aggravated insults, of those evils which we have already had too much reason to deplore. That is the spirit which carried us through those difficult times 150 years ago. Only that spirit can maintain our position now. If I have spoken strongly to-day, I hope that noble Lords opposite will forgive me. I feel very strongly about this. I do not doubt their patriotism or love of their country. I believe there is no difference on this score in any part of the House. But I cannot think that they realise the danger that they run by the placid acceptance of accomplished facts. Facts are what a nation makes them, and unless we show in no uncertain fashion that we will not acquiesce meekly in these constant injustices and injuries to British citizens when they are only pursuing their lawful occasions, wherever they may be, our whole position in the world will be gravely endangered. The whole House, in my belief, should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, for raising this great issue; and I hope most sincerely that the Government will be able to give an answer which will show that the reputation of Britain and the security of her citizens are safe in their hands.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a very interesting and important debate, and I was glad to hear the last speaker, the noble Marquess, say that he regarded the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as a worthy defender of this country's interests. He then went on to say, however, that the Foreign Secretary had not the Labour Party behind him. I think that is the sort of comment which does damage to our foreign policy. It creates the impression that the Secretary of State in the present Government is in the main pursuing a policy in which, for the bulk of his support, he has to rely upon his opponents.


I never said that.


No, but it creates that impression. I want to suggest that it is not correct, either in this House or in another place, for the Opposition to create the impression that in their foreign policy the Government do not carry with them the enthusiastic support of the vast bulk of their members.

The noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, at the beginning of his speech, gave many illustrations of Communist repression and tyranny in South-East European countries and he quoted Bulgaria, Roumania and Hungary as countries in which repressive action had been taken against Social Democrats and other believers in democracy. He went on to say that he alone was raising his voice in defence of these people; or, at any rate, that the Labour Party were not taking very much notice of these things. I venture to suggest to the noble Lord that if he follows the course of the Labour Party's activities at the annual conference, and in the Party declarations, he will find that the Labour Party has throughout denounced all this terrorist and repressive action which is taking place against democrats in the Communised countries. I would also remind him, when he asks whether we can illustrate our interest and intervention, that in the case of (I think it was) Petkov, in Bulgaria, intervention not only did him no good but did him harm.

The noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, has convinced us (if we need to be convinced) that British subjects, and British trade and commercial interests, are being made the objects of Communist injustice and intolerance in many parts of the world. The evidence is such as to suggest that this is a deliberate policy of humiliation and indignity. I think that every one of us realises that this is broadly true. In the face of the evidence that has been produced here this afternoon, and which is available, I do not think it is possible to come to any other reasonable conclusion. I am sure we had all hoped that, with the Allied victories, all nations would seize the opportunity to work together in harmony and friendship, to repair the vast devastation and destruction of the war and to employ together all their energies and creative powers to build up the standards of life and comfort and happiness of all the peoples. That, unfortunately, is not happening, and the main reason for that is to be found in the destructive policies, activities and intrigues of Russian Communism and its satellites. The result is conflict, unsettledness and anxiety in many parts of the world; and I suggest that that is part of the background against which we are discussing our problems this afternoon.

It is true, as has been said, that British citizens are being subjected to persecution, intimidation and disrespect. It is true that British interests are being treated with scant courtesy and little consideration, and are being subjected to a deliberate policy to frustrate, injure and, ultimately, to exclude them from the satellite countries in which they operate. It is also true that in the application of nationalisation in these countries, for the national ownership of enterprises, British companies are being expropriated in a most peremptory manner. We cannot, of course, prevent nationalisation legislation in these countries. What we can, and do, press for is the proper payment of compensation, and whenever a British interest has been affected by a nationalisation law, we have pressed for adequate compensation in a negotiable currency. In any case where a satisfactory settlement has not been reached, it is our present policy not to sign a trade agreement with the country concerned unless at the same time an agreement for satisfactory compensation is concluded. As an illustration of this policy, no trade agreement with Yugoslavia has been signed because negotiations for the accompanying compensation agreement have not been concluded.

I think these things can be regarded as evidence of the completely different standard of morality obtaining in Communist countries, and unless and until a normal moral standard is accepted across the whole of Europe, there does not seem very much hope of improvement. I would like to remind your Lordships of a sentence used by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in an earlier Debate—namely: Those who are responsible for the policy of Russia are committing a very great error if they think it will be regarded as an act of strength to refuse to do something which is obviously right. I suggest that in the light of experience we must recognise that Soviet Russia does not do what is right because it is right to do it. Moral considerations appear to have little influence on Russian policies. It is a common feature of the three modern types of totalitarian régime that the human rights and personal liberties of their own people count for little when they run counter to what the authorities deem to be the interests and policies of the State.

Such régimes, of course, are not likely to be unduly concerned about the rights of citizens of other nations, against whom, for political and other reasons, they are employing the method of what has come to be known as the "cold war." Of course it has not been the case that British citizens and British interests have been singled out for exclusive attention. The subjects and interests of other non-Communist states are not immune. I believe it is the case, however, that the Communists of the Kremlin have an overwhelming hatred of social democracy and social democrats, and this country is, rightly, regarded by them as the greatest social democratic country in the world. It is to this country, and not to Moscow, that Western Europe is looking for spiritual, political and economic leadership. No doubt, also, servile satellites may think that this policy of treating British subjects with disrespect, and British interests with disruptive interference and discrimination, will enable them to curry favour with their Moscow masters. If, therefore, as I suggest is the case, these unfriendly, and at times outrageous, actions on the part of the Communised countries are part of the political and economic "cold war" which is being carried on against Western Europe, it seems to me that it may be expected to continue so long as the "cold war" itself continues.

We all recognise that we have grounds for indignation and resentment, and I share these feelings, but I do not think that either indignation or resentment will make any impression on the Communist rulers, any more than considerations of what is right and what is moral. In psychological warfare, as we discovered in the last war, it is a mistake to take up a position or to make a declaration which cannot be followed, if necessary, by action, or to invoke action which is seen in advance not to have a reasonable chance of success. In present circumstances, the test of action is surely not merely whether it is right or desirable but also whether it would be effective. When the Berlin blockade was established, we did not look for action that was merely right or desirable, but for action that would also be effective. I submit to your Lordships that it is precisely because the joint air lift has been so tremendously effective in its continuing results that not only the countries west of the iron curtain but Russia herself, and all her satellites, have been deeply impressed.

That brings me to the suggested measures for protecting our interests in those countries where British subjects and British interests are victims of wrongful treatment. Despite the difficulties under which our Missions at those posts carry on their work, they have done everything possible to assist the persons concerned. In circumstances which are known to most of us, this action is not always effective—though I might add that usually it is only the action which is not effective which receives publicity, and not the action which is effective. But, even so, that is not due to any hesitation, weakness or lack of resolution or pertinacity on the part of our diplomatic representatives. It is due to the fact that the appropriate authorities of, the so-called "New Order" on the other side of the iron curtain are largely impervious to normal diplomatic approaches in such matters. Indeed, it may also be that they are powerless to do anything, even if they think that something should be done. As we know, the police State is a ruthless State within the State, and it is not only foreigners who may be made its innocent victims. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if the normal standards of conduct and civilised practices between communities are less successful with countries where freedom has been crushed. That, I submit, is part of the problem we are discussing, and we cannot afford to ignore it.

The noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, suggested in the course of his speech that we ought not to recoil, if necessary, from diplomatic rupture. The noble Lord speaks with very great experience of diplomatic practice, and the whole House listens to his suggestions with great attention. But I cannot help feeling that breaking off relations would not necessarily alleviate the situation in any way. It has been done before, and not always with the results desired. I feel that it will not be overlooked that the presence of a diplomatic Mission is, to a certain extent, a safeguard of British interests, and to withdraw that Mission would be merely to withdraw such protection as it is able to afford. The noble Lord then suggested economic sanctions, and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, suggested that it might be possible to have collective economic sanctions—that is to say, that the matter should go to the United Nations.


What I said was that I had no objection to economic reprisals, provided that the Government thought they ought to be applied and that they would not do more harm to this country than to the country to which they were applied.


I think the noble Earl has put his finger on the difficulty of unilateral sanctions. The possibility must be borne in mind that the country concerned may be in a position to take retaliatory action which would seriously prejudice our own interests. We must also remember that our own action, while harming ourselves in this way, may yet prove partially or totally ineffective in its aim of embarrassing the foreign country against which it is directed. Moreover, once sanctions have been applied, an all-round deterioration of relations between the two nations follows inevitably, and an atmosphere is created in which it becomes increasingly difficult, either to solve the difficulties which have led to the sanctions or to avoid widening the area of the dispute. These are difficulties which have to be borne in mind if the question of applying economic sanctions is to be given consideration.


Is not this talk of sanctions a misnomer? Supposing a country was meditating going to war with you, and that you had reason to believe that that country was meditating going to war with you, then it would be foolish to sell to that nation articles which she would obviously need for the purposes of war. Refusal to sell such articles could not be called sanctions. You have a perfect right to refuse to sell what you do not wish to sell. In a similar way, if a country treats British interests in a way which is harmful to British interests, it is not a question of sanctions: in that case it is merely that you do not propose to do business with that country, and that is all there is to it.


That is the point I was trying to make. If you take straight reprisals against a country, you may be withholding from that country things which she wants and, at the same time, losing for yourself commodities which you want. After all, our trade with Russia is not done on the basis of love for Russia; our trade with Russia is done because it is good business. While it may be true, as the noble Marquess suggests, that there may be commodities which for various reasons should be withheld from export—and this is what I was about to say when he interrupted me—these are matters which obviously require careful consideration. Both the noble Marquess and the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, when they raised the question of sanctions, said they did not expect me to give a firm answer this afternoon. Naturally, in view of the strong emphasis which has been laid on this matter, it will be my business to take it before the Secretary of State for him to consider.

There is one further point which the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, raised with regard to dealing with what he called the swollen staffs of Soviet Missions. I think on that point he was very properly answered by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I am quite prepared to take note of the arguments advanced by noble Lords, but at this stage I cannot go any further. I think I have dealt with most of the points which have been raised. While I have been cautious and non-committal on the proposals which have been submitted, I am sure noble Lords realise that it is not possible for me to deal with them now, and naturally I do not propose to indulge in any snap answers. As I have said, I shall bring these proposals to the attention of the Secretary of State, and I hope that for the time being noble Lords will be content with that assurance.


Could the noble Lord say something about the three Western Hemisphere countries? He has not mentioned Guatemala, Chile or the Argentine, but only countries behind the iron curtain.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, it was not my intention to intervene in this discussion, but in view of the character of certain parts of it I feel it is necessary that I should do so. It will be noticed from the illustrations given by the noble Lord who moved this Motion that what he described as "insulting conduct to British subjects"—with the exception of the incidents in Palestine which stand in a very special position—were all cases taken from behind what is now colloquially known as the iron curtain. Of course, we resent insults. The noble Lord is not the only one who resents insults. It is not some new discovery of his that he does not like our being badly talked about. It is nothing new in British history either, as I shall show in a moment. Of course we object to it, but, as practical people, we have to ask ourselves what is the practical thing to do about it.

Now, what is the reason why, at the present time, Great Britain is to some extent—not altogether—singled out, so far as she can be said to be singled out, for these attacks? It is because it is recognised that Great Britain is the bulwark of freedom in Europe, that we are particularly attacked by those who want to destroy it. It is a compliment to us. Again, it is no new thing to attack this country because we are standing in the way of some aggressor or other. As I have said, we are without a doubt the mainstay of freedom in Western Europe. We are looked to all over the world as the mainstay of that freedom, and those who want to destroy it by the "cold war" or any other kind of war naturally attack us. We expect it. But when I listened to the noble Marquess there came into my mind incidents with which his noble grandfather dealt, with great success. I can well remember, even from the time I was a boy, being given illustrations of how various nations derived immense satisfaction from "twisting the lion's tail." Why, it became a by-word all over the world what a glorious thing it was to "twist the lion's tail"! It is nothing new for Great Britain to be attacked.

I remember there was an old ditty about Venezuela. We all remember the incidents of Venezuela. I think it was the noble Marquess's grandfather who dealt with it with great statesmanship, and, in dealing with it with the restraint that his policy showed, he went a long way to make sure of the foundations of our real friendship with the United States. Our protests did not stop the massacres in Armenia. The noble Marquess's grandfather himself did not have much success with the Sultan of Turkey. We have not always been successful in our remonstrances.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Viscount. I agree that we have not always been successful, and I myself said that in individual cases we have not. But public feeling and the strong attitude of the Government were very different then from what they are now.


I do not know. I can well remember the discussions at the time of the Venezuelan incident, and those who did not like it complained of the pusillanimity and the weakness of the British Government. As a matter of fact, I was happily in circles who did not take any account of that, but who applauded the noble Marquess's grandfather who rendered an immense service to this country by disregarding the cries of impatient people.

Now I come to another aspect of this debate which, quite frankly, I resent, and that is why I am speaking now. The noble Marquess regarded us as a weary lion—I think that was his phrase.


I did not say I did. I said "we were regarded."


That will do for my purpose. But the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, did say that we were tired—not merely that we were regarded as tired. I do not accept either version. Neither are we tired, nor are we regarded as tired. Those statements are not true—neither one nor the other of them.

Now what are we doing at the present time? We are turning out more production than this country has ever turned out and, quite frankly, I do not like this "stinking fish" business. I really do not, and your Lordships must excuse the gross language. This sort of thing is not any good, and it actually does us harm. This country is working harder and turning out more goods than it has ever done in its history. My Lords, that is not a characteristic of a weary animal—it is a characteristic of a very active animal. So, I resent the noble Lord's description of this good old country. We have not lost faith in ourselves, as we are supposed to have done, and I do not think we have given any evidence of having lost faith in ourselves. What we have done in the Berlin air lift does not show any sign of moral depravity. These things are conveniently left out. The air lift was the most striking and courageous reply to insults that has ever been made; and besides, it was a practical thing to do; and that is why it was done. But, my Lords, it was a manifestation neither of weariness nor lack of faith—it was something practicable, something that could be done.

Finally, I should like to say that I think it is very unfortunate indeed that a debate of this kind should be turned, as it were, into a partisan disposition—that is wrong. We have never sought to introduce Party politics into the conduct of our foreign affairs, and I wish with all my heart that the noble Marquess had not let himself say that the Labour Party is weak in its support of the Foreign Secretary, but, as he said, "turns rather to the more congenial tasks of making hay of British industry." I really cannot accept that.


I cannot let the noble Viscount "get away with it" entirely. What about the Nenni telegram?


I agree that there have been incidents (and there always have been within my political recollection) where minorities in any large Party take upon themselves to represent, as it were, their Party, and to send, if you like, subversive telegrams—telegrams which, by the way, were adequately dealt with, for we gave very effective support before the Italian elections to the Italian Socialist Party, notwithstanding the Nenni telegram. It has always been the case that where there are large Parties a few selected individuals think that they represent the best of all things and choose to send messages on their own account. There is nothing new about that; it has happened lots of times and will, I dare say, continue to happen.

I resent the suggestion that the Labour Party in this country, or in the House of Commons, has failed to back up the Foreign Secretary who has been struggling against unimagined difficulties created as the sequel of the two wars. Now we are confronted with what is called a "cold war," and I want to pay tribute to the patience, ingenuity and unflinching courage of the Foreign Secretary. I think it is wrong that this kind of Motion should be dragged up and made the subject of Party conflict. It is on that account—quite regardless of the suggestions which the noble Lord has made, one or two of which may be of little use, but not of much, so far as I could assess them—that I have spoken to-day.

But let me add this: to suggest that we should cut off supplies to certain countries is wrong. We are contracting in Poland for large supplies of food which do not cost dollars. We recently received nearly 800,000 tons of coarse grain from Russia, delivered, by the way—every ton of it—before the contract time had fully expired. Moreover (and this should rejoice the hearts of the noble Lords opposite), we obtained that immense tonnage of grain without having to pay dollars. You have to take that into account when reckoning these things. I give that as a single illustration. I assure noble Lords opposite that we on this side of the House resent being insulted as much as anyone else does. At the same time, that is no reason why we should do foolish or impracticable things.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, this debate seems to have generated a little more heat than I had originally anticipated. I will endeavour to reply to some of the points that have been made, although there are a large number of them. I begin with the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Perth. Obviously, he did not think much of my speech, and I am bound to agree with the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, in not thinking an awful lot of his. However, I think there has been some misunderstanding. The noble Earl suggested that I wished to break off trade relations. I did not say that. I said that we were in a position where we could exercise some economic squeeze, which is a very different thing. As to the withdrawal of the other Missions, he either forgot or entirely evaded my point, for I said that I was not in favour, as he is not in favour, of using the rupture of diplomatic relations as a diplomatic weapon, although there is something to be said for it when it may enable you to get rid of a considerable number of undesirables in your own country. I see no reason at all why diplomatic relations should not be reduced, for instance, to bare consular relations for the purposes of trade. We would still effect here a useful salutary clearance.

The general impression made upon me by the speech of the noble Earl was that he walks resolutely in the middle of the road on the assumption that there is no traffic or else that there is a continual fog. But the middle of the road is not always the safest place to walk. One may sometimes suffer consequences, often, and indeed nearly always, painful and unpleasant. I agree strongly with the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition when, in relation to the speech of the noble Earl, he said that it seemed to be based on the assumption that strong action must always lead to war. If one is to start on that basis, one might as well shut up not only all the Missions to which I have referred to-day but also the Foreign Office, because the raison d'être of the Foreign Office is to find a course of action between war and passivity. I think that is incontestable.

I feel, as does the noble Marquess, that matters are gradually getting into a position where we cannot absolve ourselves from our responsibility to do something more than protest. Again, the noble Earl said that we must trust to an improvement in international relations: but does the noble Earl really see any sign of that? Does he think that any improvement will result from what was done in Berlin yesterday? The situation is definitely becoming worse. We must act against such things. Is it any use referring to the United Nations for the actual protection of British subjects? It is a mere gesture, a mere formality. We must come down to earth in the long run.

With regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, I would point out that he misinterpreted me on one point. It would never have occurred to me to say that the Labour Party took no interest in the fate of Continental Socialists. I said that, when I had particularly and specifically raised the question in this House of the fate of these people nobody else had backed me up. I should like to make that clear. Hansard is there to prove it. I do not wish to dispute the point in any way. Another point made was that totalitarian countries are just as impervious to expressions of anger or indignation as they are to questions of right or wrong. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord say that, because we are entirely in agreement on that point. That only goes to emphasise what I said about the need for action, because it has been proved that mere argument and words are no use at all. Again, I think that from what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, he misunderstood something that I said in regard to breaking off diplomatic relations. I repeat to him, as I said in the case of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that I do not favour diplomatic rupture as a diplomatic weapon, but I do feel that, when there is something else to be gained by it—to wit, that which I have just mentioned—there is something to be put in the balance on the other side. I think that was a fair argument.

I will say a word, as briefly as I can, on the speech of the noble Viscount. He said—of course, quite rightly—that it is nothing new to "twist the lion's tail." I quite agree with that. It has gone on all my life, and probably further back still; but the "lion" has not always taken it so quietly. I cannot recollect any period in which foreign Powers have been in possession or occupation of British territory for any prolonged period without receiving a peremptory summons to retire. I think that that is a new factor. The noble Viscount went on to suggest that I had been crying "stinking fish." I think it is absolutely useless to refrain from looking facts in the face. A country that has been through two World Wars, with infinite losses of men, material and wealth, cannot but be in sonic respects tired. I was not alluding to industrial output. That is not in my sphere. I speak only of foreign affairs.

What is incontestable is that a great deal of wrong has been suffered by this country. It is not a question of the Government or the Opposition: it is a question of public reaction. We have been swindled over and over again. We have been promised that ordinary human rights would be established in Eastern Europe, and that there would be free elections. Every time we have been made the victim of grossest swindle. It produces a little effect upon our public opinion, and then it dies away. There was a little indignation produced over the murder of Petkov, but it did not last. If we feel strongly about these matters, as we did in the case of the Armenian massacres, I think the Government will find it easier to secure public support for action. There is a marked difference to-day in the public temperament, and that is due to moral fatigue. Noble Lords have much greater experience than I have on the matter of physical fatigue, but I am not talking about biceps for the moment.

I have listened to what has been said by the Government spokesmen. I am still in a little doubt as to whether action is really contemplated. I am certain that nothing short of action will succeed in securing protection for British subjects. We have, for example, such levers as the denial of rubber to our adversaries. Why should we not use such levers? When you have a good hand of cards occasionally, why not play the trumps if necessary? I gather from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that some of the suggestions that I have made will at least be considered, although I am afraid that the noble Viscount who followed him treated them in a rather cavalier fashion, and said that he did not think they were any good. I hope he will revise that opinion.

In the course of the afternoon, it occurred to me that the best way of terminating the proceedings to-day would be to ask the House to accept a Motion that resolute action is necessary to protect British interests and subjects abroad. I believe that would not be quite in order, however, so I shall refrain from making such a request. There has been strong and plain speaking this afternoon, which is exactly what I required, and I hope that it may have done some good. I trust that these suggestions will be borne in mind and that some action will be taken because, if no action is taken, if we confine ourselves merely to protests and I have to go on watching one British subject after another suffer injury, then I must naturally reserve the right to refer later to the project of specific action in a specific case—but action and not merely protest. With that reservation, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes before live o'clock.