HC Deb 26 October 1920 vol 133 cc1517-20
5. Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what is the number of British prisoners still in Russia; what is the number of Russians interned in this country; whether the Soviet Government has proposed that all the Russians still detained should be sent back when the first batch of British prisoners is repatriated; and whether, as a security for the safety of the Baku and other prisoners in Russia, a certain number of Russians will be retained until the last British prisoner returns?


A list containing the names of British subjects was handed to M. Kameneff before his departure, and of these 69 civilians are still presumed to be in Russia. A further list containing 170 names, concerning whom inquiries have been received, has since been forwarded to the Soviet Government. To these must be added the military prisoners at Moscow as well as the prisoners and civilians detained in Baku. I must, however, point out that it is extremely difficult to know how many more British subjects there may be whose relations have not communicated with the Foreign Office, or who have no friends in this country, and that it is therefore impossible to say exactly how many may still remain in Russia. There are six Russians in this country on their way from India who were detained, pending satisfactory assurances regarding the British subjects in Russia and at Baku. The answer to the third and fourth parts of the question is in the negative. The intention of His Majesty's Government is to give effect to the exchange on the lines indicated in their message to Moscow of 9th October, as far as practical arrangements permit.


What security have we that British prisoners in Russia shall be repatriated into this country if we are not going to retain some of the Russian prisoners in this country?


It is proposed that the exchange should be made simultaneously at the frontier.


Has the list handed to Mr. Kameneff been sent to Russia?


I suppose so.

Commander Viscount CURZON

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that most unsatisfactory reports are still coming through with regard to the treatment of prisoners in Russia and can we not know something definite?


Yes. I am aware of those unsatisfactory reports, but we have every hope that the exchange will be made with regard to the prisoners at Baku almost immediately.

6. Sir F. HALL

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the, general effect of the arrangement recently come to with the Soviet Government for the exchange of prisoners and the cessation of Bolshevist propaganda efforts; what steps have been taken as regards the release of British prisoners under this arrangement; and how it is proposed effectively to stop the propaganda activities of the Bolshevist leaders and their agents, in view of the repeated disregard shown for previous assurances on this matter?


The general effect of the recent arrangements are that a comprehensive repatriation of British subjects in Russia and of Russians under the control of His Majesty's Government is to take place forthwith. As regards the second part of the question, the Soviet Government has agreed to notify His Majesty's Minister at Helsingfors of the arrangements made for the release of British subjects in Russia, whereas that of those at Baku is to be arranged by a Soviet representative with His Majesty's representative at Tiflis. On the subject of propaganda and the cognate matter of hostile activities in Asia, a reply is still awaited to the telegrams despatched to Moscow.


Are trade negotiations to be re-opened with Russia while propaganda inimical to this country is still being proceeded with?


That is a rather large question, and I would prefer my hon. Friend to give notice.


Is it not a question of the utmost importance to this country that propaganda inimical to this country is still being distributed, and will the Government, before entering into any negotiations, take care that this propaganda is stopped for good?


My hon. Friend may rest assured that that matter is engaging very earnest attention.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Is not the best way to stop propaganda to make it worth the while of the Russian Government to be on friendly terms with us?


asked the Prime Minister whether 16 or 18 British citizens are still kept as prisoners in Moscow by the Bolshevist Government; and will he inform the House what steps are being taken to secure their immediate release?

Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)

The information we have received from the Soviet Government gives us reason to believe that arrangements are now being made for the release of British prisoners in Russia. The first party of Russians in this country to return to Soviet Russia will leave to-morrow, and it is hoped that within a very few days they will be exchanged on the Finnish frontier for about 30 British subjects (including the 15 members of the Military Mission and the so-called grave offenders) who, according to a wireless message from Moscow, are on the point of starting. As regards the Baku prisoners, it is hoped to obtain their release on 5th November in exchange for some 300 Russians to be repatriated from Egypt and Constantinople.


Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is advisable to re-open trade negotiations with Russia when these people will not carry out what they have agreed to do?


If I may, I would like to say that the Government have made it perfectly plain that the condition precedent to negotiations being re-opened is that prisoners should be released.


Are we to understand that if what the right hon. Gentleman says takes place, all British prisoners in Russia will be repatriated?


We have made the demand, and it is part of the condition we have laid down, that all British prisoners who wish to leave Russia should be allowed to do so.