HC Deb 23 October 1950 vol 478 cc2485-6
54. Major Tufton Beamish

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many members of the Soviet armed forces have deserted to the British zones in Germany and Austria since 1945, showing each year separately; how many such persons have been handed back to the Soviet authorities; how many have remained in British hands as political refugees; and if he will give an assurance that all future deserters will be treated as political refugees, unless there are over-riding security reasons.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Davies)

It would not be in the public interest to disclose detailed figures of Soviet deserters. As regards the policy of His Majesty's Government, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the Minister of State's reply of 4th July, 1949, to the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), of which I am sending him the text. I have nothing to add to this statement except that it applies equally to political refugees reaching the British zone of Austria.

Major Beamish

Is not the Under-Secretary aware that the forcible repatriation, during the last five years, of large numbers of Soviet officers and other ranks has meant that desertion to the Western world has largely ceased? Should not this policy be made widely known through the B.B.C.?

Mr. Davies

I cannot accept the assumption in the hon. and gallant Member's supplementary question. All I can say is that no Soviet deserters who come to the British zone are forcibly repatriated, and we have every intention of maintaining our tradition of political asylum.

Major Lloyd

Is it not a fact that although they may not be forcibly repatriated they are deported under compulsion unless they conform to certain of our rigid regulations about manual labour?

Mr. Davies

That is not a fact. If a Soviet deserter reaches a British zone he is given the choice of returning to the zone from whence he came or of staying in the British zone.

Air Commodore Harvey

As the figures are known to the Soviet Government can the Under-Secretary say how many such persons have returned?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Why are we not allowed to know the number of Soviet citizens who come over to the British zone?

Mr. Davies

Very careful consideration has been given to this matter and we have come to the conclusion that it would not be in the public interest to disclose this information.

Hon. Members