HC Deb 11 June 1947 vol 438 cc1058-60
35. Mr. M. Philips Price

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action he is taking in connection with the arrest of Mr. Nicola Petkov, the deputy of the Bulgarian Parliament, in view of Bulgaria's obligations under the peace treaty.

36. Mr. Blackburn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action His Majesty's Government are taking, by diplomatic note or otherwise, in respect of the recent arrest of M. Petkov, the leader of the opposition in Bulgaria, in view of the clause in the Bulgarian peace treaty providing for freedom of speech and political association.

Mr. Bevin

The British Political Representative in Sofia sought an interview with the Bulgarian Prime Minister on 7th June, and stressed the concern which would be felt in this country at the arrest of a respected public figure such as Monsieur Petkov, whose courageous attitude during recent years should have won him the respect even of his opponents. Monsieur Dimitrov gave the British Political Representative his personal assurance that not one hair of Monsieur Petkov's head should be harmed while he was under arrest, and that he would receive good treatment in prison. He stated that the trial would be public, that Monsieur Petkov would have access to his legal adviser and that no torture or other means of physical coercion would be employed. In these circumstances His Majesty's Government can only await the formulation of the charges to be brought against Monsieur Petkov. Meanwhile I can state-that this arrest, following on the suppression of the two remaining opposition Bulgarian newspapers and other measures to deprive their political opponents of their freedom of action, has aroused serious anxiety in the mind of His Majesty's Government lest it may be the intention, of the Bulgarian Government to extinguish the last vestiges of liberty in Bulgaria. Nevertheless, I hope that in spite of these disturbing developments, the Bulgarian Government will realise how greatly the respect in which they are held abroad will depend upon their abiding by the undertakings which they will shortly assume under Article 2 of the Peace Treaty.

Mr. Philips Price

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information as to the nature of the charges being made against Mr. Petkov?

Mr. Bevin

No, Sir. That is one of the troubles in these cases; it is so difficult to get the charges.

Major Cecil Poole

In view of the fact that freedom is in process of disappearing in South-Eastern Europe, does not the Foreign Secretary deem it wise to make it known to the world that this Government's policy is to give support only to democratic governments freely elected by a free vote, irrespective of the political complexions of those governments?

Mr. Bevin

. That certainly has been our policy. I do not care whether it is a Communist, Socialist, Conservative or any other form of government. What we want is a government which is freely elected, and able to conduct the business of government without foreign interference.

Mr. Blackburn

In view of the fact that Mr. Petkov's follower in the Bulgarian Parliament, M. Koev, was tortured for three month3 will the right hon. Gentleman instruct our Ambassador to watch this case very closely to see that we do all that is possible for this very brave man?

Mr. Bevin

I have already instructed him to do that. I regard this as a test case.

Major Mott-Radclyffe

Does not the Foreign Secretary agree that the arrest of M. Petkov so soon after the signature of the Peace Treaty gives the unfortunate impression that the Bulgarian Government are paying scant attention either to the spirit or letter of that Treaty?

Mr. Mack

In view of the fact that there is nothing known about the charges against M. Petkov, and of the fact that M. Dimitrov, the great leader of the working classes and present Prime Minister, has given an assurance that this will be a free and open trial, is it not wrong to approach this matter by casting aspersions on the gallant Bulgarians?

Mr. Eden

Is not the position in this country that no one objects to charges being brought against any individual, but with our own sense of justice, we like to know what these charges are and to see the individuals fairly and freely tried?

Mr. Bevin

Two points arise from these questions. I would say this to my hon. Friend. I hope that Bulgaria will not be misled by him or others as to the real character of the British people.

Mr. Mack

That is a cheap gibe.

Mr. Bevin

I assure my hon. Friend that it is not a cheap gibe.

Mr. Mack

It is most unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bevin

I have great difficulty when dealing with these countries to get them to believe that we are adopting a different attitude from that which some would lead them to suppose, and I ask my hon. Friend to have regard to that fact. With regard to the prosecution, I have asked that the charges shall be named and that the trial shall be fair. I hold no brief for anyone who acts against the State, either in this country or any other country, but what I am anxious about is that—having signed the Treaty, although it is not yet ratified, the spirit of the Treaty shall be given effect to.