HC Deb 12 June 1947 vol 438 cc1352-8
The Minister of State (Mr. McNeil)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement on the situation in Hungary. As the House was informed on 9th June His Majesty's Government have been awaiting further information about the recent happenings in Hungary, which have caused grave anxiety in this and other countries. Accordingly, we instructed His Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow to discuss the whole position with M. Molotov, the Soviet Minister for Foreign Affairs, and if possible to obtain from him a clarification of Soviet policy towards Hungary. Our Ambassador was instructed to point out that under the Armistice Agreement the Soviet Government recognised the right of His Majesty's Government to share in the control of Hungary during the Armistice period. It was further provided under the Statutes of the Allied Control Commission that the United Kingdom representative should have the right "to receive copies of all communications, reports and other documents which might interest His Majesty's Government." Despite this the British and American Representatives have so far failed even to obtain copies of the documents recently communicated by the Soviet chairman of the Commission to the Hungarian Government without their knowledge, and which led to the resignation of the former Hungarian Prime Minister.

M. Molotov, in reply to these inquiries, said that our desire for knowledge in these matters constituted an interference in Hungarian internal affairs. That further he was not prepared to admit our contention that as one of the Powers represented on the Allied Control Commission we were thereby given a right to the information for which we had asked. Accordingly M. Molotov refused to give any details of the situation but maintained that the policy of the U.S.S.R. was to refrain from interference in Hungarian internal affairs. These misrepresentations and inaccuracies, as the House is aware, have already been rebutted in another place. His Majesty's Government regret our Ally's response to our inquiries. For it was because His Majesty's Government desired to avoid possible misunderstandings, that information was sought. We made no accusations against our Ally. We were asking for information of what was happening in Hungary in order that His Majesty's Government might form a just and accurate opinion on the position. My right hon. Friend is surprised and greatly regrets that our proper and measured inquiries should have been met with accusations that they constituted a renewed attempt on our part to interfere in Hungarian internal affairs. Because we are co-signatories to the Armistice Agreement, and because also of our Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Government, we shall continue to press both our Ally and the Hungarian Government for the full information on developments in Hungary, to which we are entitled.

Mr. Eden

I think that the House will have heard the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made with concern and with regret, but also, I think, with general approval of its tenor. If I may be allowed to do so I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, as the Minister responsible for negotiating the armistice terms which are now under discussion, just three brief questions. First of all, was it not as the result of that armistice agreement that the Allied Control Commission was set up, and should not all information have been made available to that Commission without any request by any of the Governments who were members? May I further ask him on that issue whether in Italy, where the arrangements were precisely the same as those in Hungary except that we were the major party whereas in Hungary we are the minor party, we did not in fact consistently furnish such information and never refused any information for which we were asked? If my assessment of these matters is right, may I also ask him to convey to the Soviet Government on behalf of everyone in this country that, however strongly we desire friendly relations with them, disrespect of engagements we have entered into in good faith in the past years must shake confidence between Allies, and that that is a factor which we in this country would regret but which we cannot fail to note?

Mr. McNeil

I must compliment the right hon. Gentleman upon the restrained manner in which he has addressed him- self to this matter. The answer to the three questions which he has put to me is, "Yes" in each case. In Hungary, however, the Soviet have been in the chair, but under an Article—I think Article 6C—it is expressly provided that, automatically and without request, all relevant documents should be made available to all the elements of the Commission. That, of course, was the pattern of the agreement which we followed in Italy without offence or departure.

Mr. John E. Haire

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is to be regretted that there has been considerable misrepresentation on the part of Press correspondents and others in reporting the events in Hungary of the last few days? In view of the fact that this present situation has arisen out of the resignation in exile of M. Nagy, the former Prime Minister, is it, not highly desirable that we should seek full information from him by every possible means, and is it not somewhat curious that in seeking to obtain support from the British Government the ex-Prime Minister of Hungary should have written to Lord Vansittart for his support? Would my right hon. Friend say whether he considers that in Hungary there is not also considerable pressure from Fascist elements, particularly the right wing of the Smallholders Party, which, unfortunately leads to reciprocal action from the Left? In seeking full information with regard to the Hungarian situation from our representative there, will my right hon. Friend call for evidence of these Right Wing activities in Hungary?

Mr. McNeil

Of course, His Majesty's Government are bound under the agreement to co-operate in preventing the arising of any Fascist elements, and one of the means prescribed under the agreement was the availability of all relevant documents. It would, therefore seem inappropriate that we should address ourselves to the former Hungarian Prime Minister when machinery and official documents are available. As to the Press, I am certainly not prepared to subscribe to the assertion that they have misrepresented the situation, but if the documents had been available there would have been no need for the Press correspondents to speculate upon the situation. As to the statement by Lord Vansittart, no one deprecates more than my right hon. Friend the number of unofficial Foreign Secretaries we have to put up with.

Professor Savory

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that President Tildy, a former student of the Queen's University of Belfast, was induced to remain in his present position only by the threat of deportation to Russia acording to the statement of his own Prime Minister?

Mr. McNeil

Of course, on this subject as on the other related subjects, I prefer to have the facts.

Major Cecil Poole

Since attempts are being made to besmirch the name of the late Prime Minister of Hungary without any full knowledge of the facts on either side, and since it has been alleged that he fled the country in order to escape arrest, may I be permitted to say, as one who was with him on the evening before he left, that he disclosed to me quite freely and frankly that he was going to Switzerland for a fortnight's holiday? Might I ask the Minister if it is not correct that Hungary is now functioning as a complete police State and that the police do not belong to the Fascists or the Right?

Mr. McNeil

I certainly think it is true that there are two of these political police forces operating in Hungary, neither of which I approve of, and neither of which I know to be associated with the Right.

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain

If very reasonable requests to Moscow are not complied with, will the right hon. Gentleman consider referring the whole matter to the United Nations organisation, particularly in view of the fact that a number of counter-charges have been made against this country?

Mr. McNeil

I do not want in any way to seem to be minimising our anxiety on this subject but I hope that I shall not be pressed even by my hon. Friend to affirm what action is contemplated, because until we know the facts we do not know what action is seemly, appropriate and legal.

Mr. Wadsworth

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was reported to me in Budapest in May, 1946, that these circumstances would arise on 1st May this year and that events have proved that my information was accurate on that occasion 12 months ago?

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the questions which have been put from the Opposition, I want to ask if it is not the case that this was a Government crisis which was solved—[Interruption.]—and solved with the least possible trouble? Have we not the glaring fact before us that this Prime Minister telephoned his resignation from abroad and left others to carry on? Why did he not go back? [Interruption.] I do not care what anyone says. Any man with courage and with a clear conscience would go back to his own country and face his accusers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] I ask the Minister if it is not the case that in going back to his own country to face his accusers—

Professor Savory

He would have been deported to Russia.

Mr. Gallacher

—he would have had the support not only of this country, but of every other country to ensure that he got fair treatment?

Mr. McNeil

I do not want to be drawn into controversy, but I must point out that a colleague of this former Prime Minister has been in prison since February, despite the representations of this Government, without a charge being preferred against him. Moreover, I cannot deny that this political crisis has been solved with great speed and great thoroughness. That was a facility which Hitler displayed.

Mr. Gallacher

I have been in prison several times and I would go again rather than run away.

Mr. Blackburn

May I ask my right hon. Friend, in the interests of Anglo-Soviet friendship, to point out to the Soviet authorities that their failure to produce evidence in accordance with their obligations under the Control Statutes will force most people to draw the worst conclusions possible, even worse than they ought to be?

Mr. McNeil

I am sure that the House and the Soviet Government will appreciate that we have acted with the maximum restraint here. We are not seeking a quarrel. We are seeking the facts and legal methods. I hope that even at this stage the Soviet Government will be so persuaded.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

While I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his moderation combined with firmness in the statement he has made, would he not agree that it is a great pity that other parties involved in this matter did not show the same restraint instead of rushing in with charges that this matter was an outrage before ever they had made any request for information or had any evidence at all?

Mr. McNeil

I am responsible for the activities of this Government. I find that quite sufficient.

Mr. Nicholson

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information to give the House about cognate happenings in Bulgaria?

Mr. Haire

Will my right hon. Friend make a further effort with the authorities in Moscow and press for the early trial of Bela Kovacs out of whose arrest most of these events have arisen?

Mr. McNeil

I have indicated that we will continue to press for information.