HL Deb 25 July 1934 vol 93 cc1097-117

LORD CHARNWOOD had given Notice to call attention to information circulated in this country upon apparently good authority according to which the systematic policy of the Russian Government has recently caused widespread starvation among the population of grain producing areas in Russia, and is likely to do so this year through the measures taken for the rapid introduction of collectivist cultivation and the enforcement of a law transferring property in the produce of agriculture to the State, and through the removal by the Government of grain for purposes of exportation, and for the supply of the Army, without regard to the needs of subsistence of the cultivators of the grain; to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have information which tends to confute this allegation against the Russian Government; and to move for Papers.


My Lords, on a point of order, before the noble Lord moves his Motion. I desire to call your Lordships' attention to the terms of the Motion which he is about to move. The undesirability of discussing in Parliament the internal policy and concerns of foreign nations has been generally admitted and such a Motion as this would certainly not be allowed on the Order Paper in another place either as a Question or as a Motion. While the Government may, and indeed should, have information with regard to all public proceedings in other nations, there are domestic matters over which it can have neither control nor responsibility and the discussion of which may cause embarrassment and even mischief.

So far as I am aware, there is no method in your Lordships' House of controlling the Motions which may be put down on the Order Paper for discussion, and this matter, as indeed all matters of order, rests in your Lordships' hands. While discussions have, of course, taken place on matters such as the German debt situation or the obligations of Germany under the Treaty of Versailles, in that case we had a responsibility. Discussions years ago took place on the question of Rumania which may have been interpreted as an internal concern of the Ottoman Empire, but we, as protectors of Christians in the Ottoman Empire, had a, direct responsibility. I dare say occasions have arisen in your Lordships' House where what I am trying to put before your Lordships has been contravened. I think my noble friend Lord Marley did put down such a Motion and I called his attention to it, and I hope he will not offend again.

I think it is clearly undesirable that we, especially in the present state of Europe, should have discussions on internal matters in foreign countries for which we have no responsibility whatsoever. I feel sure, if the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House were to intimate his concurrence with the view I have expressed, he would receive the general support of your Lordships, and he would prevent the establishment of a precedent which, if extended further, might lead to grave abuse and be seriously embarrassing to the Government of the day. In the event of the noble and learned Viscount taking the view which I am trying to present to your Lordships now I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, would not proceed with his Motion.


My Lords, as the noble Lord opposite has said, these matters are, in your Lordships' House, not the subject of a ruling from the Woolsack and are not the subject, so far as I know, of any express Standing Order. On the other hand, it is quite plain from precedent that your Lordships have always exercised, and no doubt are still in a position to exercise, a control over the Questions and Motions which appear on the Order Paper. There are precedents. The noble Lord was good enough to tell me that he was proposing to raise this matter. Therefore I looked into some of them, and I find, for instance, that in the year 1883 there was an occasion when a series of Questions was put down containing the very gravest imputations against a distinguished member of the Indian Civil Service. The course adopted in that case was for the Leader of the House to move "that these Questions be not put and that they do not remain on the Minutes of your Lordships' House," and that was carried. Therefore there is power to control Questions if any noble Lord brings before your Lordships a matter which is thought undesirable.

There are other methods which are sometimes less dramatic but more effective. For example, in the year 1906, there was a Question of which Notice was given with regard to the action of a particular club in London towards an eminent public person in connection with an election. That Question was thought undesirable, and the Clerk of the Parliaments in those days communicated with the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition and, ultimately, the noble Lord who had given notice of the Question agreed that it should not appear on the Order Paper and it disappeared. There is no doubt that there is full power in your Lordships' House to control these matters. The question then arises as to the circumstances under which that power should be exercised, and I think your Lordships will probably all be agreed that, while it is eminently desirable that we should retain, and should assert our retention of, a complete discretion, at the same time it is plainly a discretion which must be exercised with very considerable restraint and care because we do not desire that any noble Lord should be unduly fettered in bringing before the House any matter with regard to which he thinks that discussion would be useful or valuable, unless the Question was in itself offensive or in itself dangerous to the interests of this country.

The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition referred to what I think is the most recent, as well as perhaps the closest precedent. That was the Question which was put down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marley, but which was in fact asked on his behalf by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. It was a Question calling attention to the disquieting information now being received from Germany with regard to the treatment of political prisoners, particularly the treatment of the leaders of the suppressed political Parties, and to ask whether His Majesty's Government has any information as to the allegation that the Reichstag Deputy Torgler is being kept in chains in prison. The noble Lord has said that is undesirable. It may be he is right but at any rate no objection was raised at the time and, without wishing to make Party capital out of it, I cannot help noting that noble Lords opposite are more tender when it comes to Russia than they seem to be when Germany is the country which is involved.

So far as the present Question is concerned I think it is quite true to say that it is not probable that His Majesty's Government will be able to give to the noble Lord who raises it very much information. On the other hand I cannot myself see that we can properly say that it is not a Question that might be asked because, among other reasons, your Lordships will remember that under the Covenant of the League of Nations to which this country is a party, we are bound, under Article 23, to endeavour to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labour for men, women and children, both in their own countries"— that is, in our own country— and in all countries to which their commercial and industrial relations extend, and for that purpose will establish various organisations, and so on. I do not think it is quite right to say that it is a matter with regard to which we have no concern at all, although it is perfectly true, as the noble Lord said, that it is a matter on which we are not likely to have much information, with regard to which we cannot, as a Government, accept any responsibility, and with regard to which we, as a Government, should not think it right in any way to attempt intervention. As the Question is only directed to obtaining information, I think it hardly fails within the category of Questions which your Lordships would not allow to be asked, although, for reasons I have indicated, I do not think it is a Question which will admit of any lengthy discussion or in reply to which the noble Lord can hope to receive very full information.


My Lords, the reason why, with your Lordships' permission, I am raising this certainly very disagreeable Question is a simple one. All the people that I know who are in a position to judge at all assure me of their belief that some amount of definite good is done to unfortunate persons in Russia from time to time by the manifestation of interest shown in other countries, more particularly in this country, in regard to certain matters which prima facie are the domestic concern of Russia. At the present moment, and in the particular case to which my Question refers, there is some special reason for thinking that good results are not at all unlikely to follow. That being the best advice that I can get, I was not willing—except in compliance, of course, with your Lordships' opinion on the point just raised—to keep silent.

May I add one further word of preface? I, at any rate, do not approach these matters with any rooted or bitter prejudice against the Communist idea as such. On the contrary, hopes, however visionary, of somehow producing a much more equal distribution of wealth and a more equal state of society do, I confess, arouse in me a very decided sympathy. I am quite aware that many Russian Communists in particular, have been pursuing these objects, however visionary, with sincerity and with self devotion. But, my Lords, if in that pursuit they are led, an my Question plainly suggests, into a good deal of action which from our point of view seems actually atrocious, I should in imputing that merely be imputing to them the consistent practice of principles which from first to last every one of their leaders has proclaimed or preached—principles which I do not want to de- scribe in harsh language, but which are directly contrary to those principles and sentiments of compassion with suffering humanity as such which we are glad to know in this country permeate our own Socialists through and through.

But if I am to ask a Question at all I must give as fairly as I can a somewhat dry statement of what the information is to which I refer. I want to ask the Government whether the knowledge which they have runs contrary to what is so widely circulated. I would like to say that I have carefully avoided even looking at information which I thought might possibly be coloured by any political aims in regard, for example, to the independence of the Ukraine. Your Lordships know quite well the difficulty of naming publicly those authorities on whom reasonable persons in this country most rely for information, inasmuch as they are men of business in Russia or travellers there to whom it would be highly inconvenient that their names should be published in this connection. I refer only to one or two authorities. I think I have done pretty well all I can to put the Foreign Office in full possession of my sources of information and I should be willing to give them privately to any of your Lordships who are interested.

The first of the sources of information I would like to mention to-day is the statement widely circulated in this country by an interconfessional committee of which the President is the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna. This consists of leading ministers of various denominations, not only of the cardinal's own Church but Lutherans also and, I believe, Jews whose congregations in countries bordering on Russia have constant relations with men of like race and religion in that country. It would be ridiculous, I think, to suggest that statements coming from a source like that, statements from an organisation of which so important a personage as the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna allows himself to be the principal spokesman, constitute evidence of a negligible kind. They are also supported—to mention only two other printed sources of information—by articles which have lately appeared in the Christian Science Monitor of America, an able paper, from the pen of a Mr. Chamberlin and articles from the pen of Mr. Mug- geridge, a Socialist gentleman I believe, whose articles appeared in the Morning Post. I have made inquiries about both these gentlemen and there is no question that they are publicists of very high standing, singularly well informed. Last, but not least, of my sources of information there are the Decrees and other pronouncements of the Soviet Government.

There is at this moment, and there has been for some months past, very grave fear entertained as to a possible failure to a considerable extent of the actual harvest in Russia. There are many indications of that, and with the weather of the world as it is, it seems in itself not improbable, though recent information at any rate has not come my way as to how the actual growing crops are at this moment in Southern Russia, Southern Russia being the whole grain-producing area of Russia. Even a very slight failure of the crop would be likely to produce the most terrible consequences unless something were done very different from what was done last year. Even in the absence of any actual shortage of crop, the experience of last year makes the prospects of the rural inhabitants gloomy enough. During the year 1933 all authorities concurred that there was famine on a quite terrible scale, presumably not absolutely everywhere but throughout vast tracts in almost all parts of Southern Russia.

I ignore the largest figures of deaths from famine that I have heard mentioned by quite reasonable men, and content myself with an estimate derived from what I personally think is the most reliable source at which I could get, which puts the deaths from famine alone in Southern Russia during 1933 as being 3,000,000 at least, and possibly several millions more. That is enough. On the surface of all that we know this famine appears to have been purely artificial. In the early part of 1933 of course it was the grain which remained unused from the previous year that mattered. I believe it was not up to the average. I have not seen it suggested at all that the crop was a very bad crop. The crop of last year, though at first the amount of it was over-estimated, is known to have been a very good one, allowing for some considerable wastage that may have occurred in the getting of it in. Yet the famine went on through the whole of last year, as far as I can gather. During the early months of this year, as I know from people to whom I have talked who have been travelling in Southern Russia and have come home during the last two months at the outside, the agricultural population generally was quite manifestly suffering from insufficient nutrition.

Now how did that happen? I think it is necessary for me to trouble your Lordships with something of a survey of the events of the last five years. For some years previously to 1929, as your Lordships may know, the Soviet Government encouraged peasant proprietors, many of whom throve enormously, I believe, under that policy. Suddenly in 1929, without any one in this country knowing anything about it, their whole policy was reversed, and the Government began the process of driving the rural population into large collective farms. These now cover the greater part of the grain area. There is a minority of individual farmers remaining on sufferance, and about them I would only say that they are under heavy taxation, to be delivered to the Government in grain. At the same time modern American tractors and other machinery have been rapidly introduced, and with their introduction old and accustomed methods of cultivation have been prohibited. There are stringent regulations establishing control by the Government of the whole produce, and I need not mention that the whole trade in corn and the whole transport of the country is completely in the Government's hands. There are stringent regulations to enforce delivery to the Government of all grain that it claims for use elsewhere, leaving what is supposed to be a stated proportion of the whole on the farms for distribution as wages. Of course, the welfare of the cultivators always depends on whether in the end that actual proportion supposed to be reserved for them is left there at all, a point to which I shall later refer.

This revolutionary change, as your Lordships will imagine, met with stubborn resistance, and that resistance was met with unhesitating ruthlessness. The greater part of the resistance was vapidly damped down to very slight proportions. There were great numbers of people shot, and innumerable whole families were deported to labour camps, the conditions of which appear to be very various indeed. In all cases the inmates are what we should call slaves. Not only that, but in the grain-growing district there has been the removal from certain villages of the whole population bodily to regions in the north, where they can hardly, if at all, raise a subsistence for themselves. All that has gone on, and by that means undoubtedly all the most vigorous element of the rural population has been simply eliminated, and the remnant live in what is evidently a state of mutual suspicion and of penetrating espionage and terrorism everywhere. For the running of this whole system of the organisation of labour, the utilisation of the new machinery and, above all, ensuring the delivery to the Government of all the grain that they want, the Government expressly rely not only on strictly Government officials, as we understand them, but equally—and here I am quoting—on "Party organisations," "secretaries of provincial Party committees" and on "Party cells" on the farms, "chiefs of political departments" and so on. Those are a few of the phrases by which the Government themselves have described the agency upon which they principally rely for running the whole system.

The Party to which I have referred is itself repeatedly purged to get rid of "alien elements who have worked their way in" and "to secure iron proletarian discipline in the Party and to expel from the Party all unreliable, unstable and selfish elements" of any kind; also "to achieve a higher ideological standard among Party members," and, finally, to ensure "accurate fulfilment of grain deliveries." The workers are roused by the Government to a due state of Party fervour by national conferences and by exhortations of Comrade Stalin, quoted in Government publications. I notice in a circular, which happens this time to concern railway workers in particular, that they are to be "inoculated with a sense of revolutionary watchfulness" and that they are cautioned against "blindness and naïve tolerance to wreckers and other class enemies." That is the standard mainly required of persons who are responsible for the running, in this case, of the transport system.

Last year these local agencies were reinforced—I am going to the same set of authorities—by sending "thousands of trained Bolshevist organisers to the villages as members of the political departments attached to the machine and tractor stations." What in practice has resulted very naturally is the shooting of a great number of people without trial, for such offences as wrecking machinery, a thing which no doubt has happened, or may happen, but which is indiscriminately suggested as the natural and common practice of the whole wretched population concerned. Particularly there have been shootings for what is called grain stealing, where men have been trying to keep back for their families some small portion of the grain which they themselves have grown, and which they have been led by long custom to regard as their own property. These shootings are not, so far as I know, recorded in any official publication of the Russian Government.

There is, however, a result of that policy which is recorded in the same Decree of last January. After the famine of 1933 there is a result recorded by the Russian Government with satisfaction—namely, that in 1933 "the grain deliveries were fulfilled before the time, and in full." I refer to this because it is I believe the fact that early last year there were exaggerated estimates of what the grain produce was going to amount to, and then what quantity was to be given to the Government and what quantity was to be reserved on the farms was fixed in accordance with that exaggerated estimate. That the estimate was exaggerated was very soon known, but what then happened? The Government got the deliveries which they had demanded in full, and the whole shortage fell upon that portion which was supposed to be reserved for the sustenance of the people who grew it. The Government on that result congratulated themselves upon the success of their agrarian policy, making no mention of facts which in other countries are becoming notorious. Therefore I need not ask very closely how the grain was disposed of. The cultivators at any rate did not get their proportion of it.

I have in my Notice mentioned exportation because the committee I have referred to attaches importance to it. For all I know to the contrary the exports may have ceased since that mistake in the estimates of the harvest was made. I therefore am not anxious for the Government, unless they happen to have information, to deal with that question of exports. Then, of course, the food of the industrial population in the towns is a very large object for which the Russian Government require their portion of the grain. Observers note not, indeed, great prosperity but comparative comfort on the part of the industrial population of the towns, and, broadly speaking, I have found no suggestion anywhere of famine touching the towns such as ravaged the agricultural districts. There is one other class of people who do not go short, and that is, of course, the Army. I mention this because the most marked point in stories by recent travellers in Russia was the contrast between the famished state of the agricultural workers and the markedly well-cared-for condition of all soldiers. I find that it is the opinion of the most weighty authorities that the one primary object of the Soviet Government throughout is to see that they keep in good fettle what I understand to be the second largest army in the world. The bulk of it, I believe, to be stationed in a very remote part of the Russian Empire, for purposes which, good or bad, are distinctly Imperialistic, and are only remotely connected with the welfare of the producers of the grain in Russia. Anyway the Government got their full share and the rural population which produced the grain did not, but to a large extent, on the contrary, died from famine.

I want to make this quite clear, that there seem to have been some recent regulations on the part of the Government of Russia connected with these matters which do appear to be aimed, so far as they go, at making better provision for the peasantry than last year. As to the effect which they are going to produce—and what I am going to say now is largely the reason for my Question—it is going to depend upon the spirit in which, and the energy with which, these regulations are carried out. It will necessarily be long before we get news of what happened in that matter, but many people in the civilised world will watch with anxiety to see whether, in the season now beginning, the human claims of this great mass of the subjects of the Soviet Government have at last begun to count with the Soviet Government as a matter of first-rate importance. I have purposely avoided any horrifying details which may be exceptional; I have tried to be even dry in my treatment of this matter; I know I have been moderate in my summing up of the results; and I apologise for delaying your Lordships so long. I beg to move.


My Lords, I think those of your Lordships who have been able to follow the noble Lord will feel that he had some justification for calling your attention to this most painful matter. As one who may be regarded in some sense as a representative of Christian public opinion in this country I cannot be wholly silent on this occasion. It is an extremely distasteful thing to criticise in this House or anywhere the domestic affairs of another country, but I think that the Parliament of this country would be a very different place from what it has been in the past if it were afraid to raise a voice of protest against what seem to be violations of the ordinary instincts of humanity, whether they occur in a small country like Liberia or a great country like Russia.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in the remarks with which he prefaced this discussion, was animated entirely by his vigilant care for the traditions of this House and the purity of Parliamentary procedure, but I cannot refrain from saying that I am sometimes surprised to notice on the part of some of those commonly associated with him that, while they are most eager to defend workers and peasants in this country who are alleged to be exploited by capitalism, they seem so extraordinarily averse from considering peasants and workers in Russia who are exploited by a powerful capitalist bureaucracy. And I must say I am sometimes surprised—because the noble Lord knows that I share to the full his care for any in this country who are living under conditions of misery and poverty or in distress—that they seem always to resent any attempt to lift the veil which is so carefully placed over foreign observers by the Soviet Government and to realise the appalling misery which over vast areas of Russia lies behind.

I am not going into any details—the noble Lord has done that quite sufficiently—I can only give you the impression left upon my mind after a long and full study of an immense mass of documents and evidence coming from all quarters, partly from impartial foreign observers who have penetrated the far recesses of Russia, particularly in this matter of Southern Russia from eye-witnesses of scenes, and in many cases from sufferers themselves, some of whom have escaped from Russia and whom I have examined, and as to whose trustworthiness and freedom from party bias I can have no manner of doubt. The impression left on my mind is that the condition of things last year in Russia, particularly in the Southern parts of Russia, was appalling; that there was going on a famine of a degree of severity which has hardly ever been known. I think the noble Lord was most moderate, as he was in all his statements, in saying that the number who perished in the famine was about 3,000,000. I think it would be much nearer the mark to put it at 6,000,000. I know that in one town of 240,000—because it was not merely confined to the country districts—no less than 40,000 died of hunger. For the reasons given by the noble Lord, your Lordships will understand that not even here can I quote the names of my informants or even the places where these things occurred, because, in the event of the most distant allusion, all-vigilant eyes will find the means of tracking out the informants and visiting them with death, or with expulsion to a labour colony, or will let them loose in the wastes of Siberia.

I think there is no question as to the reality, and indeed the extent, of this appalling famine, and, even as to the living, they have been for a large part of last year subsisting on dogs and cats, and horse flesh was a luxury. In some places the advent of mice in the spring was regarded as almost providential as a means of securing food. I do not want to exaggerate, but I fear there is no doubt that at the beginning of last year there were even cases of cannibalism in what is regarded as a civilised country. I have seen photographs myself, the authenticity of which it is impossible to doubt, of corpses lying in the streets, and other bodies lying simply waiting for death on the pavement, and the people of the town passing by as if there was almost nothing particular in it to notice because it had all become so customary, and bodies have been carried off the streets in lorries and buried anyhow.

I do not think it can be said that the harvest last year was from a natural point of view conspicuously bad. It was that the conditions imposed by the policy of the Government were such as to make it almost impossible for the grain which was there to be brought in. It was a case of demanding bricks without straw. The workers even in the collective farms had not really enough on which to live, much less to work. No wonder that the results disappointed expectations when you had a whole agricultural population ill-nourished and broken in spirit and in heart. As the noble Lord pointed out, there were many cases where the peasants concealed grain in the hope that they might be able to get some of it for themselves and their families, and when it was discovered they were either shot or sent at once to one of the labour colonies in the North. Therefore it was exceedingly difficult for these people, when there was any harvest at all, even to reap enough on which to live.

It may be said that all that refers to the past. I earnestly hope that some of these appalling events do belong to the past, but there cannot but be apprehension about the future. How is this vast population of Russia, who went through that experience last year, to be fed and kept alive in this present year? In one part of Russia which used to be the richest granary in Europe there are now forests of weeds, and I am assured it will take a campaign of four or five years to clear this rich ground of the weeds which have been allowed to accumulate. It is impossible for these peasants, under the conditions in which they live, even to work as ordinary peasants might on the land. Who are to clear the weeds? I am informed that in large parts of Russia, further away than foreigners are allowed to travel, the men have largely perished or been banished and the work is left to be done by the women and children, ill-nourished as they are, and horses and oxen, also ill-nourished and scarcely able to carry a load. As for the hope of multiplying the use of tractors on which the regulators of this policy in Moscow depend, you cannot even work them without good will and intelligence and keenness on the part of the people. As in many cases the people are broken-spirited, ill-nourished, and apathetic, it has become necessary to send droves of young workers from the various towns, but their ignorance of machinery and agricultural conditions is so great that no wonder the machines break down; and then it is not these workers but the unfortunate peasants who are punished for the sabotage of tractors and the like.

There is some apprehension that even this year there will be export of grain from Russia. I hope that is not true. I hope there will be no further export of grain from Russia until it is clear they can feed their own people. I hope it is not true that ample grain is only secured for the bread and food of the Army and for the privileged town workers. If the Government are able to give us some assurance that that is not so, or that these accounts have been exaggerated, no one will be more thankful than myself. How can any one but be thankful if these statements are exaggerated when we realise what they mean in terms of human life, and therefore if the noble Lord can give us any assurance that these things are exaggerated it will be welcome. Perhaps he may be able to give us also an assurance that the Soviet Government are taking strenuous steps to see that the conditions of last year are not repeated. If so, that also will be some alleviation of anxiety.

My hope is that if the Government make some inquiry as to statements of this kind at Moscow it will be an indication to the Soviet Government that public opinion in this country is gravely concerned about the things that happened last year. I have said more than I meant, but the matter is really very terrible, having in view this mass of destitution, often veiled from inspection by the most careful system of superintendence. I rejoice that Russia is showing a new desire to enter into friendly relations with other countries. I desire to see Russia inside the League of Nations. I have no objection myself to the trade arrangements that are being made, but, if Russia is to be welcomed in the comity of nations, I venture to say it must necessarily depend on how far its Government shows that it has for its own people, the masses of its peasant people, that care which civilisation and the common instincts of humanity demand.


My Lords, I do not want to keep your Lordships more than a few minutes, but I should like to say with what pleasure I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, was drawing attention to this matter. I have been in a position to hear a great deal lately concerning the appalling conditions in the Ukraine where, as it so happens, the largest portion of the Catholic population of Russia is to be found. I have heard authentic accounts of the treatment of Bishops and clergy and others in the Ukraine, and of course they are only one portion of the population. Incidentally, I have seen also all the photographs and information to which the most reverend Primate has alluded, describing the appalling state of affairs in the streets and in the country generally. I do not want to hurt the feelings of noble Lords opposite, but we have to remember that all this is being brought about by the deliberate policy of that bloodthirsty and callous system which has been practised over there for the purpose of forcing the population into doctrines of Communism. There is no getting away from that fact.

With regard to the reluctance of noble Lords opposite that this House should pay any attention to these matters, I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that in the House of Representatives in the United States in May there was a Resolution submitted which was ordered to be printed and referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and this Resolution called attention to the fact that: Whereas several millions of the population of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the constituent part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, died of starvation during the years of 1932 and 1933; and Whereas the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, although being fully aware of the famine in Ukraine and although having full and complete control of the entire food supplies within its borders, nevertheless failed to take relief measures designed to check the famine or to alleviate the terrible conditions arising from it, but on the contrary used the famine as a means of reducing the Ukrainian population and destroying the Ukrainian political, cultural, and national rights; and Whereas intercessions have been made at various times by the United States during the course of its history on behalf of citizens of States other than the United States, oppressed or persecuted by their own Governments, indicating that it has been the traditional policy of the United States to take cognisance of such invasions of human rights aid liberties: Therefore be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives express its sympathy for all those who have suffered … I shall not read the whole of it, but it is rather a striking Resolution to have been brought up in Congress in the United States, and it shows at all events that on that side there are not such delicate feelings as some people have on this side.

In the Party of noble Lords opposite there are many who show the most extraordinary sympathy with the perpetrators of these iniquities. Let me mention Lord Marley, who, I regret, is not here to-day. I should like to have called the attention of Lord Marley to a report by the correspondent of the New York Times, quoting the words of the noble Lord in the course of a broadcast discussion on disarmament between him and Rear-Admiral Yates Stirling, of the United States Navy, in New York on March 1 this year, when he said: Russia is the only country on earth where there is any justice"— a nice thing to come from a Peer and a member of your Lordships' House. I should recommend Lord Marley to pay some attention to what appeared in the Daily Telegraph a few days ago. A telegram from Moscow appearing in that newspaper called attention to a speech made by M. Krilenko, Commissary for Justice, in which he chastised the judicial officials who had been making a mockery of justice through the sentences they had been passing in so many cases in Russia. At all events it is hopeful of a better feeling in Russia that the Commissary for Justice should have been moved to call attention to that matter. Among the sentences of ten years in a concentration camp quoted by the Daily Telegraph are these: Peasant, for stealing 2 lbs. of grain; Peasant, for openly taking a handful of peas, when hungry after a long day's threshing; Aged watchman on a collecting farm, for eating three potatoes after being left at his post forty-eight hours without any food. I think if Lord Marley would pay more attention to such things he would have a different opinion as to whether there is any justice to be found in Russia or not.


My Lords, I had no intention of intervening in this debate had it not been for the speech of the most reverend Primate. I would only say, with reference to the noble Lord who has just spoken, that it is usual and courteous in this House to give warning to a noble Lord if you intend to refer to him, to attack him or to quote him. The most reverend Primate has illustrated precisely what I meant when I said it was undesirable to discuss the internal affairs of foreign nations. The door has been opened. The noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House described the situation with regard to these Motions perfectly accurately, and I was quite satisfied with the reply he gave to me, but I would ask him now whether there was not some justification for my protest.

We are discussing Russia to-day. We may be discussing Italy next week or when we resume; we may be discussing Austria and what goes on in Vienna, and discussing what goes on in Berlin, and what goes on in the United States or any other country; and then the most reverend Primate is going to get up and make one of those most eloquent, pleasant speeches telling these foreign countries how they ought to behave and pointing to the wretched condition of their citizens and their cruelty to them. It makes me perfectly hot to think that our Parliament should assume a self-righteous rôle of that sort. This is precisely what I thought would happen and it has happened, and it is the most undesirable thing. It makes me wish more than ever that I Was back in another place where the rules would prevent anything so undesirable, so mischievous as this from happening. May I remind the most reverend Primate, when he accuses my Party of only having compassion that has a Party bias in it, that people in glass houses had better not throw stones and that the position of the Anglican Church—


May I interrupt to say that what I did was to express surprise that sometimes that impression had been created?


That is the way the most reverend Primate emphasises some things, by putting them in the mildest possible terms. The fact remains that the Anglican Church is pre-eminently in a glass house because it is pre-eminently on the side of authority. What authority does has to be praised, and what other people do has to be distorted. I do not remember the most reverend Primate getting into a state of indignation about the appalling atrocities that were committed under the Tsarist régime, and which were brought out with documentary evidence rather than with the amount of hearsay we have in the charges made against the Soviet Government to-day. But the Anglican Church is those days was perfectly silent. Not a word was said, because it was authority.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord but I remember myself taking part in a most strongly worded attack upon the authorities in those days for their persecution of the Jews.


I withdraw if the most reverend Primate made a protest against the persecution of the Jews, but there were many terrible persecutions in those days, and I do not seem to remember the Anglican Church being particularly articulate on the subject. But I rose to register my protest, and the protest of those who act with me in this House, at these opportunities being taken to lecture foreign countries, to tell them how they ought to behave, on very insufficient evidence to give catalogues of crime and instances of hardship when, as we all know, if we had research into other parts of the world we might receive information which would rouse us to great indignation. I am sorry to say that if we had investigations into some of the cruelties that are taking place in our own country because of the poverty and malnutrition and destitution that exist we should find that perhaps our eyes had better be turned at home before we find fault with our neighbours. Famines have the most terrible consequences. There have been famines in India. In the United States to-day the Middle West is in a very parlous condition. It is not the business of Parliament in this country to point the finger of scorn at other countries, to deride and attack them for maladministration of their affairs. We on these Benches very much regret that this opportunity should have been taken to turn this debate in the direction which I did my best to prevent when I intervened at the beginning.


My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House intimated to your Lordships that my reply would necessarily be brief, and I think the noble Lord who initiated this debate realised that that would be the case. I am not, of course, going to follow the noble Lords who have just spoken into the many points they have raised. I would merely remark in passing that I do not think it is necessary for this House to take its example from the Legislature of any foreign country, or indeed from another place. I think we are capable of looking after ourselves. His Majesty's Government are familiar with a great deal of the information which has been given to your Lordships both by the noble Lord who put down this Motion and by the most reverend Primate. I think I recognise some of the sources of the information which has been given.

But it is not the business of the Government to enter into discussions on the subject of the internal affairs of foreign countries. It does not collect information for that purpose, and there are, therefore, no Papers which I can lay. Nor have the Government any material for contradicting the information given by noble Lords except that which has been published through the official propaganda of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That, of course, is available to your Lordships, and your Lordships are aware that it does not correspond with information which comes from other sources. Your Lordships are fully capable of deciding which of those sources of information you think is the more reliable. I have no other information which I can lay before your Lordships, and as I have no Papers to lay I am afraid that that is the only contribution I can make to the debate on the subject. I hope that the noble Lord will not accuse me of any lack of courtesy in that my reply is so brief.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl for his reply. I am quite aware that if there were any Papers which might be laid he would be very ready to lay them. Perhaps I might be allowed to recall the extreme patience and courtesy with which, when he was Foreign Secretary, Mr. Henderson met those interested in similar questions a few years back, and the pains he took to satisfy them as to what Papers could possibly be laid. I well remember the courtesy and straightforwardness of Mr. Henderson on that occasion and I am perfectly certain that the noble Earl would not fall behind him in that respect. I would like also to remark, on the speech of the most reverend Primate, that whatever defects my speech may have had he has more than amply made good. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, rebuked the most reverend Primate in a very authoritative manner. I think I may leave him and the most reverend Primate alone, because I recollect that when two or three years ago the most reverend Primate made a powerful speech, amply well informed, replete with sufficient evidence, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, got up and rebuked him in tones of very serious admonition for the rashness and inexperience which he had displayed. The noble Lord had then been a member of this House, I think, for a period of about three months.

I do not think I need take upon myself the charge of defending the Archbishop, but I must be allowed to make one remark and I make it without the slightest wish to be personally discourteous to the noble Lord. He spoke like a man who, seeing a cruel thing being done and seeing another man trying to intervene, rebukes him for his self-righteousness. I am convinced at the back of my mind, absolutely convinced, that the noble Lord himself is a man of humane instincts, but since he came to this House it has been appalling and distressing to me to see how readily and how consistently he has stepped into debates connected at all with this subject—on which he invariably remarks ho has no information—in the pose of a man steeped in abnormal callousness towards human suffering, towards oppression, and towards human woe. I beg leave to withdraw.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.