HC Deb 02 February 1949 vol 460 cc1796-804

9.35 p.m.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)

Perhaps I should apologise to the Under-Secretary of State for making it necessary for him to reply to a second Adjournment Debate this evening over a matter which concerns his Department. But I think that it would be an ill omen if we in this House at any time became disinterested in the fate of a British subject at the hands of a foreign government, and this evening I desire to raise the question of the expulsion from Hungary of a British subject named Mr. Palgrave Brown, whose details I have already given to the Under-Secretary.

Briefly, the facts are as follows. Mr. Palgrave Brown was awarded an Hungarian State scholarship for the academic year 1948–49. The selection of candidates took place under the auspices of the British Council and the Director of the Hungarian Cultural Institute. The scholarship was awarded for agricultural study, including a survey of the production of oilseed. Mr. Brown had no difficulty whatever in obtaining a visa to go to Hungary; he arrived in Budapest early in November, and, so far as I can discover, about a week later he made ordinary application to the Hungarian authorities for a permit to reside in Hungary until June, 1949, by which date his scholarship expired. On 20th November Mr. Brown was summoned to the headquarters of the Hungarian Security Police in Budapest and told that his permit would not be granted, and that an expulsion order to take effect from 12th December would be served on him; he was further informed by the police official who interviewed him that there was no appeal against this expulsion order, and that no explanation would be tendered to him as to why the expulsion order had been made.

This put Mr. Brown in a very awkward situation, because by this time he had been admitted into the University of Agriculture in Budapest; he had already started his studies. During the ensuing fortnight he made repeated attempts, both through the British Legation and the British Consulate, and with various Hungarian Government Departments, to discover the reasons for the expulsion order, and to endeavour to get it rescinded, but without success. Finally, he left Budapest on 11th December.

Of course, it is useless to speculate as to the reasons which lay behind the expulsion order; since Hungary was enveloped in the folds of the "Iron Curtain" all freedom in that country has disappeared. The fact that Mr. Palgrave Brown had an agricultural scholarship certainly entailed his travelling about the country a good deal, and it may well be that those in control of the "police State" were most anxious that any firsthand knowledge of conditions in that country should not become known in this country, or indeed outside Hungary's own frontiers. Whatever our speculations may be, the fact remains that an expulsion order was made, and no explanation was given.

This is the first point I want to make. Mr. Palgrave Brown naturally sought assistance from the British Legation and the British Consulate in his troubles; he naturally asked that they should make inquiries to discover the reasons for the expulsion order, and when no reasons were forthcoming he naturally asked that a very strongly worded protest should be delivered. From the information I have received, and according to the answer given by the Minister of State to a Question put down by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) on 19th January, I have the impression that the British Legation were no more than courteous about the whole affair. They said that they would make a few formal inquiries, but that these would be quite fruitless; that not much could be done about this kind of thing; that questions of this sort were always arising; that the Hungarian Government being a Communist-controlled Government which was a law unto itself, within the meaning of those words behind the "Iron Curtain"; and that they were perfectly entitled to expel any British subject from Hungary without giving any reason, still less any proof of the charges brought against him. That attitude was confirmed in a letter which the Under-Secretary of State wrote to me about this case. I certainly cannot accept the view that there was no reason why a protest should be lodged merely because after 11th December Mr. Brown had left Hungary.

I do not wish to underestimate the difficulties under which our representatives behind the "Iron Curtain" are asked to function. Anybody who has been abroad since the war, and especially to South Eastern Europe, will know how immense those difficulties are. I do not under-estimate these difficulties, but, have we really reached the stage when a British subject can be expelled from a foreign country without redress, appeal, or reason; having a year's planned study abroad turned completely upside down; having lost the chance of spending a post-graduate year in an English University for which he would have received financial assistance from his own Government, merely because he was awarded a scholarship for study abroad, incidentally incurring travelling expenses to the tune of £60 or £70 in the process?

There were days when the possession of a British passport entitled the holder to some protection; to expect at least that the British authorities in the country concerned would, under instructions from His Majesty's Government, lodge a very strongly-worded protest in this sort of case, and demand compensation coupled with the threat that unless satisfaction were given some sanctions might be taken against Hungarian nationals in a comparable capacity in the United Kingdom. Could we be told by the hon. Gentleman why no protest has been made and why his Department is not of the opinion that Mr. Palgrave Brown has a claim for compensation against the Hungarian Government; and why the case of the expulsion of this entirely innocent British subject in possession of a Hungarian scholarship was not considered of sufficient importance for the Foreign Office to know about it on 3rd January although the incident happened towards the end of November?

If you will look at your passport, Mr. Speaker, you will see that the Foreign Secretary requires, in the name of His Majesty's Government, all whom it may concern, to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every assistance or protection of which he may stand in need. If those words are meaningless, if His Majesty's Government cannot even protest when the holder of a British passport is subjected to this kind of treatment, is it not time that those words were altered?

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)

Some Members of the House should express the appreciation of back bench Members at the decision of Mr. Speaker to allocate the time in the way that it has been allocated during the last few weeks, when time has been available for discussions of this character. We are living in times when events move quickly and situations develop and change at a quicker rate than ever they did in the history of the world. I have sat here during most of this afternoon and have heard hon. Members speak who have not spoken for a long time. They have had an opportunity. They have utilised it to the best advantage.

While we have a representative of the Foreign Office here I want to make some observations on another matter which is receiving great consideration outside this House. Travelling on the Underground about three hours ago, I saw practically everyone reading their newspapers, and others were in deep conversation. It was obvious that world affairs were arousing deep interest. I listen to conversations in order to learn from them and I derive great pleasure from the welcome which the average man and woman have given to the impact now being made on world affairs by President Truman and Premier Stalin. This matter has aroused world interest, and from this House should go out a message expressing the aspirations of those of us who claim to belong to the common people. If anyone has any doubt about this, he should listen to the Wilfred Pickles item in the B.B.C. programmes. There we get right to the heart of the common people. When Wilfred Pickles asks, "What is your greatest desire in the world?" person after person, especially the women, answers, "We hope that there will be no more war." Wherever there is a ray of hope, a message ought to go out from the common people of the country that they want to be involved in any move which is taking place in the world to bring about reconciliation.

To the great credit of both sides of the House, in spite of the fact that there is a deep political cleavage on the issue being discussed, the main idea in the speeches tonight has been the need to bring about a reconciliation between the peoples of every country in the world. I am therefore very pleased to see that Mr. Trygve Lie, the General Secretary of the United Nations, has taken the initiative, a courageous act for a civil servant. When such a thing occurs, we ought to let it be known that we have noticed it and will give credit for it. He is prepared to place the organising services of his staff at the disposal of the leaders of the countries concerned so that they may meet together in order to try to bring about a reconciliation. Mr. Warren Austin, of the United States of America, and other senators have made their attitude quite clear on this issue. It is time the British Government took the initiative more in affairs of this kind. I know of the responsibility which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has and I do not expect a reply from him tonight. I am satisfied as long as someone in this House is placing this subject on record and stimulating further thought on it. I would add that the House was very gratified at his last reply.

With regard to the war, it was Russia, Britain and America who made the greatest sacrifices in order to save all that was best in the world. Therefore, these are the three countries who are entitled to take the initiative in the world and should have the biggest say in the world. Therefore, if any move is being made, Great Britain should be in on it along with the two other countries who made the greatest sacrifices. We have exerted great influence recently in regard to trade pacts, which have been welcomed by all the people of this country. I was speaking in Bolton with three other hon. Members of this House when the announcement about the new trading agreement between this country and Poland was made. When speakers made reference to that agreement the large audience immediately and spontaneously gave it a great welcome. I believe this is laying the basis of economic cooperation and by building economic cooperation we are going a long way towards bringing about reconciliation between peoples.

I very closely followed the Presidential campaign in the United States. That great Liberal, that generous, magnanimous Liberal, the elected President of the United States, made speech after speech containing the same sentiments as I am expressing tonight. I believe the great vote he got, in spite of the fact that nearly all the world thought he would not be re-elected, was a vote for peace and for a move of the kind which is being made in the world tonight. Because of that, people are now shedding their pessimism and, listening to them on the Underground, and in other places where we move among the people, we find that that is so. An hon. Member talked about pulling down the Iron Curtain and other hon. Members associated themselves with him. They were appealing for a new start in world affairs and for a reconciliation. If one goes to the Library one will find a book called "The Challenge of Our Time, Will There be Another War?" Those of us who have passed through two world wars and, by the way in which things are drifting may see another, ought to make it clear before we reach that situation that, on behalf of the common people of this country, we welcome every move to bring about a reconciliation between the peoples of the world.

9.53 p.m.

Mr. E. L. Gandar Dower (Caithness and Sutherland)

In a very brief fashion, I wish to support the question which has been raised by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe). In doing so and confining myself to that issue, I hope I shall not be accused of any disrespect of the wider issue raised by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith).

Time was, and you will have personal remembrance of it, Sir, when a British passport carried the right of entry and respect throughout the world, and, although there are great difficulties in modern days between two ideologies, which, unfortunately, appear to be splitting the world, I would ask the Foreign Office to stand up for the British passport. Surely the words written on it, which we all know, mean something, or nothing. If a British citizen can be expelled from a country without charge and without redress, when he has a scholarship at a university, the Foreign Office are failing in their duty if they are not prepared to press the issue to the utmost. I well remember in youth being very grateful to having been born a British citizen and feeling that it was something akin to the Roman Empire which carried respect. When a man said, as the Bible tells us, "I am a Roman," he felt the same as we do about being British.

On the wider issue, I would like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stoke for using this Adjournment Debate to repeat with truth that the nation is today weighing the offer of Premier Stalin to visit President Truman and trying with honesty to decide, if it is made sincerely—which I pray God is true, because who could wish for another holocaust of horror descending on this world—whether ideologies can be matched together with patience. Never again must this country be caught napping.

Not only this House, but all outside it will sympathise with the hon. Gentleman who is about to reply to this Motion, for no Department of His Majesty's Government carries greater responsibility today than does the Foreign Office. I shall, therefore, listen to his reply with very great interest.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. Mayhew

I reply by leave of the House. I am sure that hon. Members appreciated the spirit in which the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen the Members for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Gandar Dower) were made. I appreciate very much their suggestion that they were not expecting a reply from me tonight on the substance of what they discussed. They raised the higher issues of policy based upon a newspaper report which I have not seen. Therefore, I take the liberty of not replying to the speeches which they made.

On the subject of the Adjournment I cannot accept all the implications of the speech of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe). The greater part of his facts as I could follow them were accurate, but the implied criticism of His Majesty's Legation in Budapest is not, I think, quite just. I would like, if I may, briefly to give our version of the facts. It is as follows: Mr. Palgrave Brown, who is an Oxford agricultural student, was awarded a Hungarian State scholarship for the year 1948–49 to study agriculture in Hungary. He proceeded to Budapest on 7th November and on 16th November he applied for his permis de séjour to be extended in accordance with local regulations. On 20th November he was summoned to police headquarters, where he was told it would not be possible for him to receive an extension and that he must leave the country by 12th December. No reasons were given by the police for this action. Subsequently an expulsion order was issued giving the grounds that Mr. Palgrave Brown was undesirable.

Mr. Palgrave Brown referred his case to His Majesty's Legation, who took it up immediately together with the case of another British subject holding a Hungarian State scholarship who had been similarly ordered to leave Hungary. The Legation took up the matter with the head of the cultural section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who undertook to make inquiries and to assist if he could. Meanwhile, Mr. Brown stated that, unless there were a reasonable certainty that he would be allowed to stay, he would rather leave at once and so avoid additional, and possibly pointless, expenditure by remaining in Hungary. That is rather an important point.

Since experience of the arbitrary methods only too often adopted in police States naturally precluded the giving of any firm assurance on this point, Mr. Palgrave Brown decided to leave Hungary on or about 9th December, by which date repeated attempts by His Majesty's Legation to elicit a reply from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had failed to produce any reply. However, a few days later the Ministry stated—after Mr. Brown had left—that the expulsion order had been rescinded in the case of the second student. She had remained in Budapest and is, I believe, still there. Nothing was said about Mr. Brown, but since he had already left Hungary the matter was not pursued with the Ministry.

It being Ten o'Clock the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

Mr. Mayhew

In view of the fact that Mr. Palgrave Brown had to pay his own fare to Hungary and back, the Hungarian State scholarship proved a somewhat expensive business for him, and it has been suggested that he should approach the Hungarian Legation in London and claim reimbursement on the ground that the Hungarian Government defaulted on a specific undertaking.

That is the sum total of my information on this typical piece of pin-pricking. Whatever may be the true explanation of the action of the Hungarian authorities I am satisfied that His Majesty's Legation did what was appropriate and in their power to have the decision rescinded, and it only remains for me to express sympathy with yet one more victim of police state methods.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down could he explain why the mere fact that Mr. Palgrave Brown left Budapest for Austria, giving his address to the British Legation before his departure should be an excuse for failure to deliver a very forcible protest? Why cannot a protest be made after the individual has left the country?

Mr. Mayhew

It is not clear that the expulsion order would have been applied to Mr. Brown, had he not left at the time he did leave. In the case of the other student, it was rescinded as a result of our inquiries. I cannot say that the order would not have been rescinded had Mr. Brown not left the country, and therefore it did not seem appropriate to put a protest forward as suggested by the hon. Member.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Will the hon. Gentleman now do something with the Hungarian authorities in Budapest to pay compensation for Mr. Brown having been interrupted in his post-graduate course, and not merely leave it to Mr. Brown himself to do something with the Hungarian Legation in London?

Mr. Mayhew

No, on this story our judgment is that it would be appropriate for Mr. Brown to make these inquiries, and if he wishes to approach us again later we shall, of course, be ready to receive him, and to listen to what he has to say.

Mr. E. L. Gandar Dower (Caithness and Sutherland)

I would like to ask one question because I think it would be beneficial to place on the record the contrast between British methods and the methods of other countries. May I ask if in all cases of expulsion from Great Britain reasons are in fact given?

Adjourned accordingly at Three Minutes past Ten o'Clock.

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