2017 09 – Parliament And World War One

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry

STATEMENT BY MR. BALFOUR. 10 January 1918

Mr. R. MACDONALD asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Government has any official diplomatic means of communication with the Council of People’s Commissioners which is the Government of Russia; whether any diplomatic official has been sent to the British Embassy at Petrograd; whether he is exercising the usual privileges of an Ambassador as regards couriers and other means of communication; and whether he is yet in a position to make any statement regarding the recognition of the Government at Petrograd?

Mr. KING asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether Constantine Nabokoff is still in communication with the Foreign Office as in October, 1917; whether he will state the exact diplomatic relations existing with Russia; (2) whether M. Litvinoff, Russian Plenipotentiary in London, is recognised in any official capacity by the Government; if not, whether the Government has any channel of official communication with the Russian Government; what is that channel; (3) whether it is due to any decision of the War Cabinet that M. Litvinoff, Russian Plenipotentiary in London, is not allowed to receive telegrams from Russia; that his cables to Russia are held up; and that he is not allowed the usual courtesies given to other international representatives; and whether M. Litvinoff will now be allowed the facilities needed by his accredited mission to the British nation?

Mr. BALFOUR The question of the hon. Member for Leicester is the first of a series of four questions on the subject of our diplomatic relations with the Administration at Petrograd, and a single answer will perhaps suffice. We have not recognised that Administration as being de facto or de jure the Government of the Russian people, but we carry on necessary business in an unofficial manner through an agent acting under the direction of our Embassy at Petrograd. The Bolshevik Administration have appointed M. Litvinoff as their representative in London, and we are about to establish similar unofficial relations with him. M. Nabokoff, who was the Chargé d’Affaires under the late Republican Russian Government, will presumably remain in London until he is either confirmed or superseded in his post by a Government recognised as representing the Russian people. The present arrangement is obviously both irregular and transitory. Though it cannot be fitted into any customary diplomatic framework, it is, in our opinion, the best that can be devised to meet the necessities of the moment.

Mr. KING Can the right lion. Gentleman tell us exactly the position of M. Nabokoff; whether he will be able to tender communications, or even advice, to His Majesty’s Government, although he has been officially superseded by the authorities now in power?

Mr. BALFOUR I cannot say that he has been officially superseded, but I do not think I can really add anything to the statement in the answer, which I attempted to make clear, and which I think was clear.

Mr. KING In view of the attempt being made by the party to which M. Nabokoff belongs to foster revolt against the present authorities in Petrograd, can the right hon. Gentleman not make it clear that we have no part with persons who are plotting against the existing power in Russia?

Mr. BALFOUR I cannot add anything.

Mr. LYNCH Will the right hon. Gentleman endeavour to follow the lead given by President Wilson, and the Government cultivate good relations with this Government, which, whether we wish it or not, is, de facto, ruling Russia? May I ask —

Mr. SPEAKER The right hon. Gentleman has said that he can add nothing to his answer.

Mr. KING asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the statement that Mr. George Tchitcherine was sent back to Russia at the personal request of Mr. Trotsky was made on the authority of the Foreign Office; if so, by what channel was this personal request of Mr. Trotsky communicated; whether any subsequent communications have been received from him; and whether such communications have been returned to him simply acknowledged or diplomatically considered?

Mr. BALFOUR The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. The release of Mr. Tchitcherine was decided on the recommendation of His Majesty’s Ambassador at Petrograd, who had been informed by an official attached to the Embassy of the attitude adopted by Mr. Trotsky in the matter. As far as I am aware, Mr. Trotsky has not, since the early days of his assumption of office, endeavoured to open diplomatic intercourse with His Majesty’s Embassy in Petrograd.

Mr. KING Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the first part of the answer, denying that Mr. Tchitcherine was sent back at the personal request of Mr. Trotsky, is in direct opposition to the information given to Mr. Tchitcherine himself by the Home Office?

Mr. BALFOUR I have said that the statement was not made on the authority of the Foreign Office.

Mr. KING asked the Prime Minister on what date and on what grounds the decision was taken to return to Russia Mr. George Tchitcherine, Mr. Peter Petroff, and Mrs. Petroff?

Mr. BALFOUR I have no further statement to make on the subject.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE asked the Secretary for Scotland what arrangements have now been made to reimburse parishes in Scotland for the cost of maintaining the dependants of Russian subjects who have returned to Russia under the recent convention?

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Munro) I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife on the 20th December. The whole cost of maintaining the dependants of Russian subjects is reimbursed to parish councils from public funds.

 

RUSSIA. 17 January 1918

Mr. KING asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Sir George Buchanan and the British Embassy in Petrograd were subject to any threats, insults, dangers, or other indignities during the last two months of his stay in Petrograd; and whether he can make a reassuring statement on the subject?

Mr. BALFOUR If the hon. Member desires information on this subject perhaps he will be good enough to postpone his question until Sir G. Buchanan has returned to this country and I have had an opportunity of consulting him.

Mr. KING asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that, after Mr. Trotsky’s release from a German prisoners’ camp at Halifax, Sir George Buchanan in Petrograd repeated the accusation against Mr. Trotsky of being a German agent; and whether, in order to remove any ground for recrimination, he will now instruct Sir George Buchanan to apologise to Mr. Trotsky for this affront?

Mr. BALFOUR The answer to both parts of the question is in the negative.

Mr. KING asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that after the Russian revolution Mr. Trotsky was arrested by British authorities and placed in a camp with German prisoners at Halifax; that he was charged with being a German agent; and whether, in order to remove any ground for suspicion will he now instruct our Ambassador or Chargé d’Affaires in Petrograd to convey to Mr. Trotsky the British Government’s regret for this incident?

Mr. BALFOUR Mr. Trotsky was detained at Halifax on suspicion of being a German agent. The answer to the last part of the question is in the negative.

Mr. KING asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that Sir George Buchanan on his way home gave an interview at Petrograd stating that the British Government would not recognise the present Russian government; and whether this statement of policy was made at the direction of the War Cabinet on Instructions from the Foreign Office or upon Sir George Buchanan’s own initiative?

Mr. BALFOUR I am not aware that Sir G. Buchanan made any such statement.

Mr. KING asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, before Sir George Buchanan left Petrograd, he made arrangements that the diplomatic representatives of any other Power should look after the interests of British subjects in Russia?

Mr. BALFOUR No, Sir. The Counsellor and other members of the staff of the Embassy are still in Petrograd, and Mr. Lindley is in charge of British interests.

Mr. TREVELYAN asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether consignments of food for the population of Russia, which had already reached Archangel, have recently been shipped back by orders of the British Government, and what the reasons are for this step?

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of BLOCKADE (Commander Leverton Harris) The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative; the second part, therefore, does not arise.

 

RUSSIA. 23 January 1918

Mr. KING asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that when M. Trotsky, the present Foreign Minister of Russia, was returning to Russia after the Revolution of March, 1916, his ship was stopped by a British war vessel and M. Trotsky was taken prisoner and charged with being a German agent; on whose instruction was this action taken; and whether he will arrange to remove any possibility of ill-will by requesting the officer in command of this British war vessel to offer his regrets to M. Trotsky?

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara) The vessel in which M. Trotsky left the United States called at Halifax, where M. Trotsky and others were detained, pending inquiries as to wishes of the Russian Government, which were immediately met. The remainder of the question does not arise.

Mr. OUTHWAITE Is it not a fact that M. Trotsky was sentenced by a Russian Court to six months’ imprisonment for revolutionary action, and had to leave Russia on that account? Is he likely to have any sympathy with Germany?

Mr. LYNCH By having M. Trotsky arrested, were you not merely making yourself the cat’s-paw of the Czar?

Dr. MACNAMARA No!

Mr. LYNCH Yes, you were!

Mr. KING Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the last part of my question, that it is very desirable to be agreeable and polite to those who have high authority and great power in the world?

Mr. LYNCH asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in order to dispel suspicions created by various acts of the Government that it is less favourable to the Republican regime now established in Russia than to the old autocratic government of the Czar, he will take steps to cultivate sympathetic relations with the de facto rulers representing the Republic from stage to stage, and discourage attempts on the part of British institutions to afford help or to honour by distinctions the enemies of the Russian Republic?

The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Balfour) There is not, and never has been, any ground whatever for the suspicions which the hon. Gentleman supposes to exist. I have not the slightest idea to what the suggestion contained in the last clause refers.

Mr. OUTHWAITE Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report issued yesterday that the Government are making representations to the Revolutionary Government on behalf of British mining syndicates whose land has been confiscated, and would they do that in respect to any other Government than a revolutionary one?

Mr. BALFOUR Certainly ! I do not know the facts, and I have not seen the report; but if British property is confiscated in any country it would be within the sphere of the Foreign Office to make representations.

Mr. OUTHWAITE Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is only carrying out the policy of the conscription of capital, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has advocated, in the form of the land policy of the Prime Minister?

Mr. BALFOUR I do not see the relevancy of that suggestion.

 Mr. OUTHWAITE asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the attacks made upon the Russian revolutionary government at the meetings of Anglo-Russian syndicates as a result of the abolition of private property in land; and will he take steps to assure the Russian people that these attacks do not reflect public opinion in this country?

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law) I have no knowledge of these attacks, but in any case, I do not see why at the present moment I should express an opinion on any of the Russian schemes of land legislation.

Mr. OUTHWAITE Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was reported Yesterday in the Press that the British Government has made representations in Petrograd as regards the expropriation of land and capital? If the Government has taken action, cannot the right hon. Gentleman make a statement?

Mr. BONAR LAW I did not see the statement referred to.

Mr. KING asked whether Colonel Poole and the members of the Russian military mission are still in Russia; and, if so, whether they will be recalled?

Mr. BONAR LAW There is no present intention of removing the Mission.

Mr. KING Can the right hon. Gentleman say what service they can now perform in view of the military position in Russia and our attitude in not supplying them with any more munitions?

Mr. BONAR LAW I hardly think it would be useful to make a statement.

Mr. KING Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether they are doing useful work at present?

 

RUSSIA. 28 January 1918

Mr. LYNCH asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the possibility that Russia may still play an important military part in the war, and considering also the danger that a policy of ill-will may turn that fighting force against one or other of the Allies, and in face of the fact also that in the visit of Ambassadors and Ministers to M. Lenin the absence of a British representative was conspicuous, he will now arrange for a special Embassy to Petrograd composed of distinguished men in sympathy with Republican ideals, and make all arrangements for the appointment of an Ambassador to succeed Sir George Buchanan?

The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Balfour) The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is in the negative. Let me add that he is utterly mistaken in supposing that there is any policy of “ill-will” to Russia or Russians.

Mr. LYNCH May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if in this question he will assert his own personality more, and rise out of the grooves of a hopeless Foreign Office?

Mr. OUTHWAITE Does the right hon. Gentleman disagree with the action of the French Government, whose Foreign Minister has stigmatised the Russian Government as a set of usurpers with whom he has nothing to do?

Mr. BALFOUR I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should put that question to the French Minister.

Mr. OUTHWAITE I wish I could.

Mr. LYNCH asked the Home Secretary whether he exercises any powers of censorship over the telegrams arriving from foreign parts or over other communications concerning the actions of the present Russian Government?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir George Cave) All telegrams from abroad have been since the beginning of the War, and still are, subject to censorship.

Mr. LYNCH Is it correct to say that whereas his Department keeps back telegrams from M. Trotsky, yet it allows currency to be given to the wildest rumours detrimental to the present rulers of Russia?

Sir G. CAVE I do not know anything about that.

 

BRITISH SOCIALIST PARTY. 22 January 1918

Mr. TREVELYAN (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the premises of the British Socialist party were raided by agents of Scotland Yard on Thursday night, and a supply of leaflets taken away which were intended for distribution to the delegates at the Labour Conference in Nottingham, containing the views of the British Socialist party as to the policy which Labour ought to pursue at this juncture, and also a message from M. Litvinoff, representative of the Russian Government, to the workers of Great Britain; whether he will promptly return these leaflets, in order that a section of British Labour may not be deprived of its ordinary right of putting its views before colleagues in print, and in order that the Russian representative may be allowed to address the British working class in what words he pleases without the interference of the Government?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave) It is a fact that the premises of the British Socialist party were entered by the police on the date named, and a number of copies of a leaflet of the nature described were seized. I am advised that the publication of this leaflet, which contains gross misrepresentations of the attitude of the British Government towards the Russian people, and incitements calculated to lead to civil strife and the defeat of our arms, is a clear breach of the Regulations for the Defence of the Realm, and the question of prosecution is being considered. In the meanwhile I cannot direct the return of the documents seized. I may add that I do not accept the suggestion of the hon. Member that a person who claims to be the representative of a foreign Government is at liberty to engage in propaganda in this country as he pleases without the interference of His Majesty’s Government. No such liberty is allowed either to the authorised representative of a foreign Government or to an alien resident here and not occupying that position.

Mr. CHANCELLOR Will the Home Secretary reconsider his decision, and will he place the British Labour party on the same footing as the smaller body? The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that he had decided not to take any action against the Labour party for having broken Regulation 27 c. Will he put these two parties on one footing in regard to this matter, or does he differentiate between them because he is afraid of one and he is not afraid of the other?

Sir G. CAVE No. The hon. Gentleman does not represent me fairly. I said that the manifesto of the British Labour party was a technical breach of Regulation 27 c, but not of substantial Regulations like 37 and 42. The leaflet in question is a serious breach of a substantial Regulation.

Mr. CHANCELLOR Has not there been a definite breach of the law, and is the law to be broken by some people without a prosecution, while other people are to be prosecuted?

Sir G. CAVE I said very carefully yesterday that I thought there had been a breach of 27 c. There was the same breach in this case, and if there had been nothing more I would not have taken the serious steps which I have taken.

Mr. D. MASON Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House of the contents?

 

REFERENDUM, IRELAND. 23 January 1918

Mr. BYRNE asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that a referendum is at present being taken in Ireland for the purpose of ascertaining the views of the Irish people as to the future government of that; country, and with a view to having these views represented at the Peace Conference; and whether Civil servants are free to record their opinions on the questions involved through this referendum?

The CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. Duke) I understand that a memorial is being circulated of which the text is in these words: We appeal to the Peace Congress to secure the establishment of Ireland as an independent State. It is obvious that such a document could not be signed by any loyal servant of the Crown

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