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Religious Situation

Volume 236: debated on Monday 10 March 1930

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25.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has now satisfied himself as to whether there is religious persecution in Russia; whether he will also state the facts in relation thereto that are within the knowledge of the Government; and whether any action is being taken in the matter?

32.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can now state what action he proposes to take on the report of the British ambassador as to religious persecution in Russia?

From a study of the Decree respecting Religious Associations, I have no doubt that it indicates a continuance of the anti-religious pressure which has consistently and for many years past been a notorious feature of Soviet policy. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, in pressing me for a statement on this matter, is sincerely desirous of promoting the cause of religious liberty. I fully sympathise with his object, but cannot share his belief that any action which it is open to His Majesty's Government to take would be calculated to further that object.

I ignore the personal references to myself, but would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks that it is a proper description of what is going on at the present time in Russia to call it pressure? Is it not persecution, and is not the right hon. Gentleman going to do something in the matter?

Do I understand my right hon. Friend to say that this pressure has continued for several years, and, if so, was this pressure not operating during the time of his predecessor; and what did his predecessor do?

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that I at least belong to a creed that has suffered severely—[Interruption.]

On a point of Order. Is it in order for hon. Members opposite, in these questions, to give a statement of their personal beliefs, and also to make speeches during the course of their questions?

I hope that references to personal religious beliefs will not be made by either side.

May I make an appeal on behalf of the creed to which I belong —[Interruption.]

It is all very well for us to make appeals to behalf of any of our creeds, but I have said, in answer to the question, that it is very difficult to see what the Government can do to assist even members of the creed to which the hon. Member belongs.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any instructions have been issued to British diplomatic representatives abroad respecting their attendance at intercessory services on behalf of Christians in Russia; and, if so, of what nature?

The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. The second part, therefore, does not arise.

Does the right hon. Gentleman say that no instructions have been issued to the diplomatic representatives of this country in foreign countries with regard to this subject?

45.

asked the Prime Minister if he will state the number of written representations made to the Government by religious bodies, officials and members of the public as to their decision with regard to prayers in military and naval services on behalf of Christians in Russia; whether he has received any deputations on the question; and whether the heads of the Church of England and of any of the other religious denominations in England have approached the Government on this subject with a view to a change of policy?

Without circularising Departments, I am unable to give a definite answer to the first part of the question, but I understand that the representations of those interested in this matter have been voiced more fully in Parliament and the Press than by correspondence. The answer to the second part of the question is in the negative. As regards the third part, since this matter was raised there have, I understand, been exchanges of views between the Government and the various denominations.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied now that there is much more in this than mere political agitation?

I think the answer to that question might be inferred from what I said in the reply I have just given. The representations received from outside bodies are less numerous than the strength of those interested in the matter which has been shown in Parliament and the Press. It may interest the House to know that so far as I have been able to ascertain, representations have only been received from four bodies and six individuals.

I cannot say what the bodies were except that they were religious bodies.

Did the right hon. Gentleman read the speech of the Archbishop of Canterbury last week?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Chairman of the Committee carrying on this campaign happens to be the most notorious anti-Socialist in this country?

49.

asked the Prime Minister whether the attendance of any of the fighting services at churches or chapels at which prayers in regard to Russian religious persecution are to be read on Sunday, 16th March, is to be compulsory?

Certain administrative details are now being adjusted. The only matter with which the Government is concerned is to take care that these prayers will not amount to an official exercise contrary to well-established usage in diplomatic relations.

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Prime Minister the very strong feeling, at any rate on this side of the House, that any soldiers or sailors should be compelled to go to these services to listen to these prayers?

I will convey what the hon. Member himself has said about this matter to the Prime Minister.

Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been called to a speech by the Secretary of State for War at Preston on Friday, where he made a disgraceful accusation—