HC Deb 18 December 1953 vol 522 cc710-33

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."

11.21 a.m.

Sir G. Hutchinson

When our proceedings were interrupted I was saying that the Roman Catholic Church in Poland has been the principal object of this new outbreak of intolerance. It has been upon the devoted leaders of that Church that the full fury and sinister venom of the present Communist leaders of Poland has been visited.

For some weeks past there has stood upon the Order Paper two Motions upon this subject, one in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan), and one in my own. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House have placed their names upon the Order Paper in support of these two Motions. The number of hon. Members who have been able to subscribe to these Motions encourages me to hope that the discussion which is about to take place will demonstrate that we are all of one mind upon this grave subject.

I hope that the voice of this House will speak once more with all the authority of past ages in this twin cause of individual liberty and religious freedom. If that should happen I think we can be sure that it will carry a message of renewed hope and encouragement to the unhappy people of Poland. This House, throughout its long history, has shown itself the advocate of freedom in religion, as in all else. Today, it would, indeed, be in accordance with our age-old tradition that we should speak with all the emphasis at our command, and I trust with unanimity, upon the side of these great causes which the House has so long and so strenuously upheld. I am certain that the oppressed people of Poland will gather new courage from the knowledge that this House of Commons is aware of their misfortunes and resents them bitterly.

I should like to say something about these Motions which have been placed upon the Order Paper. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland has put down a Motion to which I would gladly have added my name. But the hon. Gentleman's Motion calls for instructions to be given to Her Majesty's Ambassador, and it appears, for certain formal or diplomatic reasons into which the House will not wish me to enter, that the Ambassador might not find himself in a position to carry these instructions into effect. In those circumstances, therefore, the hon. Gentleman's Motion was not one which any of us would wish to press upon Her Majesty's Government. So I placed upon the Paper a Motion of my own which was not open to the objection which had been felt to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, and to which I am glad to think the hon. Gentleman was able to append his name.

I have been acquainted with the hon. Gentleman in this House for many years now. During those years I have always learned to look upon him, as I think we all have done, as a fearless and outspoken champion of the cause of religious liberty, not only in foreign lands but sometimes in this country as well. The hon. Gentleman has never hesitated to express the conviction, which we know that he so earnestly and disinterestedly entertains, of the essential need of the Christian faith in what sometimes seems to be an unchristian world. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, if the hon. Gentleman is so fortunate as to catch your eye in the later stages of the proceedings, I shall look forward to his help and support.

It would in some ways have been more appropriate that he should have opened this discussion this morning, and I would gladly have yielded my place to him to enable him to do so; but it was his generous wish that I should open the discussion and it is in accordance with his wish that I do so. It may be that the fact that I am not myself a member of the Roman Catholic Church prompted the hon. Gentleman to think that that fact in itself might lend greater force to the views which this House will express this morning.

The events of which I have been speaking have aroused throughout the civilised world, where personal freedom is still cherished, a deep sense of abhorrence and revulsion. I am sure the House would not wish me or expect me to recall these events in detail. They are, indeed, familiar to us all. It is, I think, enough for me this morning to say that at the end of September last it was announced that the Cardinal Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski, had been arrested and had been removed from his see

A statement, purporting to have been issued by the Polish bishops but actually circulated by Communist agencies, was, I understand, published in Poland. In this statement the bishops were made to accuse the Cardinal of what is described as anti-political propaganda, and to request that he be banished. At this time, I understand, many of the Polish bishops were actually in prison, and it is clear that this proceeding was a mere device intended to invest the proceedings which it had been decided to institute against the Cardinal Primate with some semblance of the authority of the Church. Indeed, the bishops who are supposed to have subscribed to this memorandum had themselves a few months before presented a memorandum to the Polish Government protesting against the treatment which the Church had received and asserting the independence and non-political character of the Roman Church.

The House will recall that some years ago it was announced that an agreement had been reached between the leaders of the Church in Poland and the Polish Communist Government. The effect of this purported agreement was entirely to subordinate the Church to the civil Government of Poland. The agreement followed lines which have now become familiar in the attack which the Communist Governments in Eastern Europe have made upon the Roman Church and other Christian communities in different countries. Its true purpose was to impose more fiercely and more ruthlessly than before upon the unhappy Polish people the tyranny by which they are now oppressed. The Cardinal Primate has refused to be a party to this piece of trickery. He has continued to preach and to discharge his ecclesiastical office. It is for that reason that he has now incurred the displeasure of the present rulers of Poland.

It is not only against the Cardinal Primate that the persecution of the Polish Government has been directed. The Cardinal's Auxiliary Bishop has also been arrested, presumably on some similar fabricated charges. There can be no doubt that these arrests indicate a renewed outbreak of the persecution of the Church in Poland and, with the Church, of the Christian religion, which has been a familiar feature of Communist rule in Poland and throughout the occupied countries.

This House will recall that in September the Bishop of Kielce was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment on allegations that for years he had acted as the correspondent of the authorities in the United States, and that the Catholic Hierarchy in Poland had been employed for political purposes. The Cardinal Primate vigorously repudiated these charges in a memorandum which he submitted to the Polish Government. No doubt it was this action which was made the immediate cause and justification for his arrest. The trial of the Bishop of Kielce followed the now familiar pattern of such events behind the Iron Curtain. As a preliminary to his trial the Bishop had been imprisoned for something like two years, and during that long and terrible ordeal his will power had been entirely broken and destroyed.

At his trial he confessed—as is common in trials which take place in Communist countries—to every charge that bad been made againt him and in his defence the only evidence which he tendered was an appeal for clemency, accompanied by certain political declarations which reproduced exactly the propaganda of his accusers. In the Western world we are not accustomed to trials of that character. It is clear that the trial of the Bishop was no more than a part of the attack and propaganda of the Communist Government against the Church in Poland.

Our gaze cannot penetrate freely through the Iron Curtain, but we can see enough to recognise that this renewed outbreak of persecution in Poland is one of the most sinister features of the history of Europe since the war. This persecution has fallen not only upon the Primate of the Roman Church and his immediate associates; it has been stated, and not contradicted, that seven bishops have been imprisoned, that more than 2,000 Polish priests have been imprisoned, deported, or made to flee into exile, and it is known that 37 priests have been put to death. Nearly half the religious houses in Poland have been closed, and more than 70 per cent. of the Catholic schools are no longer open.

All these events follow the pattern, with which we are now familiar, of similar happenings in Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere where Communist governments pursue their policy of suppression of the Christian Church. I do not know what action is open to Her Majesty's Government in this matter. I understand that in our relations with Poland the situation is not the same as it is in the case of those countries with which we were at war, and with which we have treaties which provide for certain liberties of conscience. Those treaties do not exist in case of Poland, and it may well be that Her Majesty's Government have no locusto represent to the Polish Government the feelings which their action has aroused in this country.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to hold out some prospect that our views may be made known to the Polish Government. I hope that he will be able to tell us that when an opportunity presents itself, as I trust it may, Her Majesty's Government will convey to the Polish Government, in no uncertain terms, the repugnance which is felt throughout our country, and, indeed, throughout all free countries, at the action which they have taken, and will assure them that that repugnance will not be allayed until there is clear and positive evidence that this campaign against a Christian Church will be discontinued and not resumed.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

It is with a sense of responsibility that I address the House today. I want at once to thank the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) for his kindly reference to me, and also for the support which he has given to our idea of a Motion of this kind being brought forward. I am very sorry that the House of Commons is not more fully packed, and that this Motion could not have been debated earlier in the Session. But in the House of Commons beggars cannot be choosers, and we must be grateful for any little mead which comes along.

This is an all-party Motion. We are not meeting this morning in a spirit of propaganda. We are meeting because, throughout Europe—aye, throughout the world today—there is evidence of grow- ing discontent not only at the persecution which has gone on yesterday and is going on today but, according to the policy which has been enunciated, is likely to go on for a long, long time in the future. One would be a coward to be silent in the House of Commons, and not express his feelings about the persecution not only of the bishops or Primates of the Church but also of Jewry and of Christians.

The common denominator which unites all men who believe the Credo in unum Deum is expressed in every form of godhead. I do not want to enter into a dispute about different creeds, but to emphasise the unifying factor of the belief in God. The genesis of our complaint is our belief that what is going on round about us, instead of being beneficial, has a deterioriating influence on the peoples of the world, and that, sooner or later, this problem has to be settled. How, I do not know—the ways of God are certainly mysterious—but some day we shall find an answer to this question.

The materialistic conception of life is the basis of a policy which is negative to peace and which is brought about by Communist rule. Take it wherever one finds it, in any part of the world where Communist infiltration has gone on, it has ruined the morale of the people. They have been subjected to terror; Governments have been overthrown, and the avowed policy, shown by all Communist thought and expression, is to destroy the power of Governments, to get rid of religion because it is above politics, and to gain universal power if it be possible.

I have been making some researches into history, and I find that this sort of thing has been going on for a long, long time. I remember reading that in an epoch of Christian history 1,953 years ago there was a change from the old law into the new, and the Messiah came. New life and new blood were brought into the body politic. We were given then a new enunciation of first principles, on which we stand today. It is because of that enunciation 1,953 years ago, that we are here today expressing these opinions.

As a Christian, I wish to give my reasons for supporting the Motions that are on the Paper. Under the Old Law the prophets foretold of the coming of the Messiah, and the coming of the Saviour was the fulfilment of the prophecy, and during His 33 years he taught the Christian mode of life, and when he asked, "But, whom say ye that I am?" he got the reply, "Thou art the Christ the son of the living God." The preaching and teaching Church came into existence. "Pax vobiscum" was announced to the people: My peace I give unto you. My peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives give I unto you. It is peace which the world cannot give; in other words, it is dissociated from the material things of life and was and is to bring home to the minds of the people the verity of life eternal.

I am not giving a sermon. I am stating historical facts. I am speaking of a time when a great change came to the world, when a Man, unkown in His early days, after 33 years of His Mission was recognised as a power never known before. He was the eternal Son of God. He laid down definitely the alpha and the omega of Christian belief. From that time until now has been preached a new life, a new course and a new mode for men to follow.

Unfortunately, we have never reached an age of peace. We have never been able to get rid of strife and troubles. Now we find ourselves ridiculed by a body that has usurped position and authority. It is a living cancer in the world. Through infiltration it has spread to all the countries of the world. Even in this country we have the fellow travellers. I make no apology for saying so, when speaking here from the Christian point of view. I speak of those who sympathise with Communism. I sympathise with the Russian people, but not with the dragooning that they are experiencing at the hands of the Government in Russia.

Communism has infiltrated into other countries. In Bulgaria, for instance, the bishops of the Church, not leading an insurrection against the Government, were persecuted for trying to see that Christian morality and teaching were not subjugated by terrorism. In Yugoslavia, Archbishop Stepinac was imprisoned. Only a few months ago, in Poland, Cardinal Wyszinski, who is mentioned in the Motions on the Order Paper, was arrested. We feel, Christians and Jews alike, that persecution must have an end. Here, in this country, we have this House of Commons, as a forum open to us to put forward our views. We do so not because we think that it will start a counter revolution. I wish it would. We do so to bring to the minds of the people of England the knowledge that there is persecution of the leaders of Christian thought throughout the world.

In doing so, we have the support of 50 million at least in Europe, and at least 400 million Catholics in the world at large. I was glad to find a leading Protestant divine, only a week ago, giving his support to us, and I found a rabbi of the Jews also supporting these Motions. We are concerned not with the question of creed, but with the unifying of the people who believe in one God in the old, and the new Christian, thought. It is high time and right and proper that we should tell the world what we think about these things.

I do not think I can do better than quote a Catholic writer about the position in Poland. I want the people of this country to realise how this infiltration of evil is going on. My purpose is to bring home to the people of this country the power of that evil that is in existence, and to make them aware of the danger that it may come here, as come it surely will if we are not prepared against it. This is what a catholic writer has said: In Poland, which, for a thousand years, was a Catholic country, where more than 90 per cent. of the people are Catholics, most strongly attached to their faith, the children of Catholics are now being educated and trained, contrary to the wishes of their parents, in the Marxist spirit, which is not only indifferent to religion, but which is directly anti-religious and anti-Christian. The management of the schools hinders by all means, or simply makes it impossible for the young to perform their religious duties, by arranging all sorts of school and athletic events during the time of the religious services. They are being diverted from their religious duties, from all that is most important in training them in good citizenship, by these devices, by the teaching of gymnastics, and soon, good things in themselves, at the expense of other equally good and even more important things. The writer goes on: Catholics have been deprived of the possibility of belonging to religious organisations, which have all been disbanded long ago. On the other hand, such conditions have been created that young Catholics who do not want to find themselves deprived of the possibility of continuing their studies and of professional work find themselves under moral pressure to enlist in the Polish Youth League, though they are aware that this organisation stands on the basis of aetheism and materialism. I am convinced that without religion, without good moral fibre in men and women, we shall never be able to be good citizens, we shall never even have any loyalty to a Government constitutionally set up. We cannot have loyalty to usurping Governments, and democracy is a farce if it believes in ideas of this kind or supports that kind of revolution in the name of bringing about the betterment of the people. I am one of those who believe that the first rule comes from God, and I believe we are subject to authority. Now, in this House, late in this part of the Session, we are able to give this message to the people of this country and of the world at large. It is a good thing that in this forum we can say these things. There are many parts of the world where anyone who said these things would suffer imprisonment or banishment.

I ask every Member of Parliament to support the Motions. I say, frankly, that I want sympathy for this cause. I want people to think about it. I want action. I want from the Government not only sympathy, but action when we return after the Recess. I want to see the dynamic action which we used to show to the world. I want it to be understood that this brief discussion of one-and-a-half hours today is not the end of the subject. Until this battle is ended, until we are able to get redress of our grievances, until we are able to feel that the body politic in England is willing to give us suport, we shall not be satisfied. I thank the Government for the sympathy which they have extended to us, but I want a little more than sympathy; I want action.

I thank the House for listening to me; my words are most sincere. I feel very deeply and intensely with my co-religionists in other parts of the world about the sufferings in Poland. Poland played so great a part in the war, and I should like to pay a tribute to her. When the port of Liverpool was in such danger the Polish airmen flew for eight nights, with our gallant airmen; for eight nights they were in the skies protecting our citizens. I wish to pay my tribute to them and, in speaking on their behalf today, I may in a small measure be able to repay them for the great help they gave us in saving lives in the City of Liverpool. I am pleased to be the second hon. Member to speak on this subject today.

11.52 a.m.

Mr. Christopher Hollis (Devizes)

The facts of this case have been so clearly stated by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) that it is certainly not necessary for me to detain the House for more than a minute or two.

As hon. Members know, I happen to be a Roman Catholic, but we Catholics appreciate that the great majority of hon. Members and the great majority of the inhabitants of this country are not of our persuasion. I am sure I speak for all my co-religionists when I say how deep is the debt of gratitude which we feel to my hon. and learned Friend, and also to hon. Members in every part of the House who are not of our communion and numerous people throughout the country, for the sympathy which they have shown with the sufferings of our co-religionists in Poland.

At the same time, I fully appreciate that it could not be expected that this Government or this House should consider it its duty to support a purely Catholic cause simply because it was a Catholic cause. As hon. Members have truly said, however, the additional devotion of this country is a devotion to the cause of freedom at large, and it is to that appeal which we have always acceded in the best moments of our history. Happily to say, together with many other unhappy events, in the past years there have been many examples of a growing sense between religious denominations of the necessity of supporting one another in the case of attack upon the common faith of everybody. There has been no more moving passage in modern history than the passage in which 700 leaders of the Jewish community, immediately after the close of the war, went to thank the Pope for what they called the magnificent service which he had rendered to protect the Jews from the persecution under the Hitler régime. It is in that spirit that this debate is being conducted.

I noticed that when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland put down his Motion, a number of hon. Members, of whom I think the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) was one, put down an Amendment calling attention to and deploring the punishment without proper trial of certain individuals in Spain. I know nothing about that case, but if those hon. Members put down that Motion in a responsible spirit, which I have not the smallest reason to doubt they did, it is entirely proper that, if there is injustice, they should make their protests against it. The fact that there is injustice in one part of the world does not make it right that we should not make a protest against an injustice in another part of the world.

Whatever the merits of the case, however, it seems somewhat different from the case which we are considering today, for at any rate two reasons. First, their protest was a protest against political action and not a protest against religious persecution, which happens to be the topic which we are discussing today. A further reason why I think it was a slightly different situation is this: it is our duty and task to make protests against injustice and tyranny in any quarter of the world wherever we have a proper opportunity to make that protest an effective one—as the hon. Member, for Liverpool, Scotland indicated, we have that duty to all men—but in this country, by an accident of circumstances, we have a special duty to do everything which lies in our power to see that a régime of justice comes about in Poland.

Poland, after all, is a country which should be especially dear to us since it was under our guarantee that all the ghastly events of suffering of recent years have come to Poland. This is not the moment to enter into any sort of political discussion as to whether Governments should have pursued a different policy in the past or what would be the best policy for Governments to pursue at the moment to try to restore freedom to Poland, although if, when he replies to the debate, my hon. Friend can give us some concrete examples of things which the British Government can usefully do at the moment, we shall be most grateful to him and most interested to hear of them.

Apart from decisions of what can be done in concrete fact, I feel that whatever differences of opinion and whatever similarity of opinions we may have, there can be no Englishman who is not in profound discomfort of soul when he reflects upon the present position of the Poles after the last war. We guaranteed that Poland should have freedom. That does not in any sense mean that it is any business of ours whether this or that politician should govern them, but it means that there cannot be an ease in our conscience until there is a situation where the Poles are able to lead a generally free life and above all a life of the free practice of religion which is so dear to them.

If my hon. Friend can give us some concrete encouragement about these things—I do not know whether he can or not—which Her Majesty's Government can do we shall be delighted, but even if there is not very much concrete which can come out of the debate it may be profoundly important that the House and the country and the Polish Government are reminded as a result of this debate that the people of this country are profoundly at dis-ease with the present condition of tyranny in Poland.

11.59 a.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I am quite sure that every hon. Member will find himself in cordial agreement with the case which has been advanced by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan). As one who is not a Catholic but belongs to what Edmund Burke described as the "very dissidence of dissent," I want to express my support for the views which they have put forward.

I do not intend to occupy the attention of the House for very long, but it would be wrong if it were thought that it was merely the authoritarian churches in this country which supported the views which have so far been put forward. I want to make this quite plain: that those of us who stand for religious toleration everywhere in the world have by no means less urgent feelings about these cases where political and religious persecution has been carried to the extent which hon. Members have indicated.

After all, the fight for religious toleration in this country was a very long one. There had been in the past many Acts on the Statute Book which none of us would now regard with anything other than detestation. In fact, the House was so pernickety at one time that when it passed an Act of toleration it happened to exclude my particular denomination from its beneficient purposes. It was not until 1871 that the House even thought that people who could not subscribe to the tenets of the established church should be allowed to go to the two ancient universities of the country.

I merely say that, not for the sake of reviving old controversies, but to point out how essential it is that those of us who believe in religious toleration should understand how tender and modern a plant it actually is and how essential it is to stand up for it wherever it may be assailed. I hope that wherever in the world and whenever in the world the State attempts by the secular arm to stand between men and God we in this country will always protest.

Wherever persecution may be in the world today we believe that the atmosphere of generous toleration and the recognition of the right of the individual soul that we have achieved in this country should be asked for in the places where it has not yet been conceded.

12.2 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

I only wish to make one point and not to repeat what has been said. I, also, am not sure what a Government can do about this further than making protests, but I think it important that the Foreign Office and those who have responsibility for our foreign affairs should bear in mind that, although they may be beset by pressing and immediate political problems in all parts of the world—although they may be wondering what they are to do immediately about Germany in Europe and about the Suez Canal in the Middle East—it would not behoove any Government to ignore the importance of the point that was so ably put by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).

If we ignore the real basis of existence either in our home or foreign affairs, if we ignore the rights of man, we do not really deserve to be able to solve the manifold problems with which this country is beset abroad. I hope it will never be necessary for hon. Members to press this Christian Government to take the strongest possible action immediately that is possible in any case where there is religious persecution in any part of the world.

12.4 p.m.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

I wish to add my voice to those who have expressed their detestation of the persecution of Roman Catholics in Poland and particularly of their distinguished Primate. I would abhor the persecution of any religious denomination.

I am sure I am speaking on behalf of my fellow Jews of the faith in this great country, and throughout the world, in expressing to Roman Catholics our deepest sympathy and fellow feeling with them in the great sufferings through which they are passing at the present time. I belong to a people and a faith which have been persecuted throughout the centuries. Perhaps it may be a warning to the Polish Government in regard to their persecution of Roman Catholics in Poland that, just as the Jews have stood at the graves of their persecutors, so Roman Catholics will stand at the grave of their persecutors in Poland. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House for having arranged to debate this business and not just leave the matter as the subject of a pious Motion on the Order Paper.

I feel that perhaps this situation in Poland can be best brought home to the people of this country by way of contrast. We know that leaders of the English Church—the late Bishop of Birmingham, the Archbishop of York and others—have expressed views which have differed from the expressed views of the Government of the day, and they have every right to do so. It is as if those archbishops and bishops, because they disagreed with the views of the Government of the day, were put into prison by that Government. Such a situation would be fantastic and unthinkable in this country. Perhaps it is not sufficiently recognised by enough people how fortunate we are to live in a country where there is tolerance and where men and women can practise their faith without let or hindrance. I, personally, love every inch of the sacred soil of this great country because of its great toleration and love of fair play.

I hope that the present regime in Poland, which have decided to subordinate the Church to the totalitarian State to such an extent as to deny freedom of conscience, will mend its ways. If they do not, I hope that Her Majesty's Government—true to the British temperament for toleration will leave the Polish Government in no doubt of the views of hon. Members of this House and the overwhelming views of the people of this country and the British Commonwealth of every denomination about what is happening in Poland.

As other hon. Members should have an opportunity of expressing their point of view, I will conclude by saying that we could not have concluded our Parliamentary labours at this season any better than by proclaiming our belief in the freedom of conscience. We hope that the day will soon dawn when, as a result of representations which we hope Her Majesty's Government will lose no time in making to the Polish authorities, freedom of conscience will be restored to Poland so that she might occupy the great place in the comity of nations that we wish for her.

12.9 p.m.

Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)

I only wish to put a few points to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. First, could he let us know whether he has any information about where the Polish Cardinal is? It is my information, although I do not know whether it is correct, that he has already been taken to Moscow. If that is the case it may be that not only to the Polish Government but also to the Russian Government would it be proper for our Government to make some form of protest.

As we are shortly to have a meeting of the four Powers, it might be appropriate if the Prime Minister or somebody else could bring up this matter and have it discussed at that time. In the last century, many opportunities were taken of protesting about similar conditions in different parts of the world. Those protests were made by the Government. They were done in those days also by the Queen, who had many relations on thrones in Europe at the time. I am sure that there are many ways that could be found today, through different political parties, to get in touch with influential people even behind the Iron Curtain.

It is not only the Roman Catholics who are being attacked in this systematic persecution. The same persecution has been going on in the Baltic States, throughout Poland and in Roumania, and in the Ukraine also, where there have been many difficult cases which have often been forgotten.

It is not only the Government that can do things on this occasion, but Parliament itself. That is why I am grateful to you. Mr. Speaker, for giving us this opportunity of debate today. Parliament can do things because Parliament can be heard throughout the world and behind the Iron Curtain; and there are many there who look to us and to England more than to any other country.

I should like to tell a story about the Cardinal Primate of Hungary, relating to just before he was taken prisoner. He visited this country and happened to be in Westminster Cathedral and saw the chapel of Saint John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester. Although it is now 400 years since the time of Henry VIII, Saint John Fisher was the last person of that standing in the whole of Europe to be arrested and tried in the same way that these things are happening in Eastern Europe today. It was in the same way that the Pope has made cardinals of those who are being persecuted today that he made Bishop Fisher, when he was already a prisoner, a cardinal at that time.

That greatly impressed Cardinal Mindszenty. It was actually the feast day of the Bishop of Rochester and he said Mass at his chapel. Later, when Cardinal Mindszenty was taken prisoner, his chaplain wrote to the Cardinal at Westminster Cathedral and said that the Cardinal remembered that occasion and was greatly strengthened by what went on in England in those days 400 years ago and the knowledge of how today, after all that persecution, we were able to have our religious freedom and to speak for others in other parts of the world; this was a great comfort to him. As a result, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholics here have approached the Vatican to make Saint John Fisher the Patron Saint of all those who are being persecuted by States at the present time.

If, as I believe, those persecuted people are looking to England almost more than to any other country, it is our bounden duty not only for the Government to do all that they can, to be as little materialistic as possible, and to stick up for our principles as much as we can abroad; it is also our job as back benchers to bring these matters forward as much as we possibly can. We are being looked to for support by those behind the Iron Curtain.

12.13 p.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

The House, the country and the Christian faiths throughout the world are, I am sure, indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) for initiating this debate today. I was very pleased indeed with the very glowing and worthy tribute which he paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan). After hearing my hon. Friend this morning, I feel perfectly sure that every section of the Christian faith in his constituency will be proud of him for the speech he has made.

It should be made clear that the all-party Motion on the Order Paper represents the strongest possible views of the feelings of Members on all sides of the House against not only the persecution, but the restriction, of Christian worship in certain parts of the world. It is very appropriate that one of the Christmas Adjournment debates should be upon a matter which deeply affects the spiritual side of life. If this short debate sends out a message of hope and comfort to those imprisoned for their religious beliefs, or if it helps to bring about a greater measure of tolerance, it will have been well worth while.

I speak as a Methodist, conscious of the fight which Nonconformists have had to establish their right to freedom of religious thought and worship in the days long ago. The persecution of the Catholics in Poland and elsewhere fills all of us with a righteous indignation, and we would wish that the Foreign Secretary would find some means of conveying to the Governments concerned our most urgent plea for the release of all those who are in prison and that they should be allowed to administer to the spiritual needs of their Christian brethren.

This debate cannot be confined to the persecution of Catholics alone. It is one in which the wider issue of religious freedom throughout the world is involved. One of the tragedies of dictatorship in all its forms, whether Fascist or Communist, is that having enslaved the bodies of its victims, it then seeks to destroy the spiritual force and the very soul of man. The older we grow and the closer our contacts with all the problems of life, we become more conscious than ever of the vital importance of spiritual values. To destroy these values, which bring out the very best within us, is to destroy life itself. The whole foundation of our Christian faith is based upon the brotherhood of man. It is by the acceptance of this faith, in the fullest possible means, that all we treasure in world society can be preserved.

12.18 p.m.

Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

it is most significant and a fine thing that such a debate can take place in this House today. It is remarkable to note the diversity of religious beliefs which we all hold. I speak as a member of the Established Church of this country, but the unanimity with which we speak on this subject of persecution is notable and noteworthy. Let there be no doubt in our minds that evil things are being done in Europe today. They are things which, thank God, we have passed out of in this country many years ago.

It was some years ago that I had the honour of being the guest of Cardinal Mindszenty, in Hungary. I was impressed by the fact that he was a fine Christian gentleman. We never at any time talked politics, but we did on many occasions talk of those things of the spirit and the mind which are far more important than any matters of daily political life. We in this country are trying—I think, absolutely sincerely—to see what is the right course to take. We believe that a man has the right to be, if he so wishes, an atheist and even a fool, and we do not believe that anyone has the right to compel his fellow man to take a course which he cannot in his own conscience follow.

Persecution and toleration, as, curiously enough, a Russian once said, are indivisible. You cannot apply a set of laws in Poland and another set in another country. They must apply throughout the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) talked of the possibility of persecution taking place in Spain. Of that I know nothing, but if there be such persecution, even as it is in Poland, so, in Spain, it is devilish. We can draw no distinction between the two.

Today, I am sad and unhappy; sad because of what is taking place, and unhappy because of my importance in the matter. There seems to be little I can do. I earnestly hope that if my hon. Friend has any suggestion, or can hold out any hope, he will have the support of every hon. Member of the House.

12.21 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

I shall not make a speech, because I wish to allow the maximum amount of time for the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to reply to the debate. But I hope to do what not one of the other nine speakers has tried to do, and that is to offer some practical advice to the hon. Gentleman.

Her Majesty's Government, through their representatives at the United Nations, might consider the setting up of an ad hoc committee to study religious persecution in Poland, or even in Spain or anywhere it may take place. There is an admirable precedent for such a committee. The House will recollect that there is, or was, in existence an ad hoc committee on forced labour of which the chairman was that very distinguished Indian, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar. That committee did admirable work and produced an exhaustive report of more than 600 pages which gave all the relevant information on the subject. I think, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government might consider setting up a similar committee to investigate religious persecution everywhere.

12.23 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker)

The House is grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) and to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) for having persuaded you, Mr. Speaker, to provide us with the opportunity to debate this subject. It is difficult to find an occasion to raise these issues, which all hon. Members will agree are the fundamental issues of the life of tolerance which we like to live in this country, and no better subject for debate could have been found at this pre-Christmas period. Nothing has been said by any hon. Member which has not the fullest agreement of the Government.

This topic is one extending far beyond the confines of a debate in this House. It is of interest, not just to the Catholics whose problems we are debating, but to all Christians, all men of good will and even of the monotheistic religions mentioned by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland in his stirring speech. Throughout the whole free world and beyond the Iron Curtain people will, no doubt, hear about what has been said in this debate and will regret that religious persecution should have come again to these territories.

This House is continuing in the rôle it has played so often in the past by enabling these great issues of fundamental human importance to be debated. Every hon. Member who has spoken has been of a different faith, with the exception of three who are Catholics, and all have been accorded the chance of exhibiting the unanimity with which the House regards these problems. Perhaps we spend too much time disagreeing and so do not often get the opportunity of showing that we are united in expressing our horror of such things as are happening in Poland today.

There are certain shortcomings, or apparent shortcomings, in the effectiveness of diplomatic protests. But do not let us underestimate what can be done by public expressions such as have been made here today. I have not much time, and I do not propose to embroider the picture. But this is the ninth Christmas since the war, and I suppose that today there are more refugees, more oppressed people, more unhappiness and despair and more religious persecution than ever before in history in the Communist controlled territories in the Far East and in East and Central Europe.

The particular aspect we are discussing today is the persecution of Catholics in Poland, and particularly the case of Cardinal Wyszynski, the Primate of Poland. As several hon. Members have pointed out, this is but one aspect of Christian and religious persecution going on throughout the Communist dominated world, and today we are suffering one of the greatest setbacks to religious toleration which we have ever experienced. Various aspects of this problem have been raised in the years since the war, and many statements have been made by different British Governments. I have not time to give the full facts, but I think they have been before the House, and hon. Members are only too well aware of them. We have all received letters from constituents protesting strongly.

Ever since the war there has been an attempt by the Polish Government to root out the Roman Catholic Church, and to obtain control of what is the last stronghold of Roman Catholicism behind the Iron Curtain, by the suppression of its publications, by attempts to suppress its traditional influence in educational institutions, by misusing the vexed question of the western territories and by attempting to divorce the Church of Poland from the authority of the Papacy.

The first five years of this attempt did not succeed so well as the Communists had hoped. In 1950, they made another agreement and, needless to say, it was not honoured. The Government have broken both the spirit and the letter of it. That led Cardinal Wyszynski to make the protest he did in the autumn of this year. After a month or so an attack was launched on the Bishop of Kielce, Monseigneur Kaczmarek, who has been arrested and tried. It was not until 26th September, following certain allegations, that Cardinal Wyszynski was arrested, but I have no information for the House about what has happened to him. I have not heard, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton. Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) that he had been taken to Moscow. If I obtain any information about that I will communicate with my hon. Friend.

The immediate objective of the Polish Government is, obviously, the severance of relations between the Vatican and the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Poland. It is some acknowledgment of the weakness of their campaign that they have to go to the extent of arresting and taking away the most popular and revered figure in Poland. The fact that they have done this without any reference to any authority in Poland shows the extent to which they are prepared to fly in the face of public opinion in that deeply religious country.

Ever since this new campaign started in the autumn of this year the Polish Government have been attempting to set up a hierarchy subservient to it. It is with great regret that I have to inform the House, on the latest information we have, that only yesterday the Polish hierarchy took the oath of allegiance to the Polish Republic. I do not believe that there is any reason to think that the hierarchy had gone outside the legitimate functions of a religious hierarchy and had opposed the legitimate functions of the Government. All of us in this House must know what this action will mean. Do not let us underrate the significance of yesterday's action in a totalitarian régime.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, speaking on 5th November, used the following words: In Poland, the Communist régime has arrested the Cardinal Primate and sentenced a bishop to imprisonment on the customary charges of treason and espionage. Successive Governments of this country have expressed their abhorrence of the persecution of religion and the denial of human, rights anywhere in the world, and I hope the Polish Government is in no doubt about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government and of public opinion in this country upon these matters."—[Official Report, 5th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 313.] I take this opportunity of repeating in the strongest terms the abhorrence of Her Majesty's Government of the persecution of religion which my right hon. Friend pointed out.

I have been asked why we do not take more action about this matter at the United Nations. I have noted the suggestion of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). I will certainly follow it up and let him know whether we see any chance of taking successful action along those lines. At present, the situation is as reported by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State on 6th December, 1952, when he said that the Assembly is entitled to discuss human rights in principle, but the moment it passes beyond those to discuss the internal policies of a particular state on a specific matter it exceeds its competence. As hon. Members on all sides know, this is a most thorny problem at the United Nations today. Again, I was asked why we could not make a protest under the Human Rights clauses of the Peace Treaties of Central Europe. The answer is that these affect only Hungary, Roumania and Bulgaria, which are ex-enemy territories, and do not affect Poland, which was an ally during the last war.

I should like to emphasise what I think certain hon. Members know, that on 19th November the Heads of Missions accredited to the Holy See were received in audience by His Holiness the Pope. On their behalf the doyen of the corps, the Irish Ambassador, expressed sympathy with the Pope in his sorrow over the persecution in Poland. Her Majesty's Chargé ďAffaires was authorised to associate himself with this expression of sympathy.

There are other things we can do outside this House. On 3rd December, as many hon. Members know—in fact, some hon. Members were present—a protest meeting was held at the Albert Hall in the presence of the Apostolic delegates and almost the entire hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales. Cardinal Griffin and General Anders were also present. A resolution was passed in the name of the Roman Catholics of the British Commonwealth condemning the arrest of the Patriarch and the attacks on religious freedom. I am sure that all hon. Members would like to associate themselves with that protest.

Although our time has been cut short a little, we have had a satisfactory number of speeches which show the unanimity of opinion in this House on these issues. I speak with personal feeling, as did the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan), because I served with the Poles practically throughout the war. I was in Poland when the German-Russian agreement started the conflagration. I saw them in Angers and in the Middle East on the first long-distance flights from this country to Poland, and I lived with them through the agony of Warsaw, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has mentioned in the last extracts from his final volume of war memoirs. I was with them when we had to fly from Italy—one of the costly operations of the war—to try to relieve those Poles who had risen in Warsaw in an endeavour to help the advancing Russian troops, and who were left in the lurch and so many of whom were killed.

Therefore, like many hon. Members in different parts of the House, we think of our friends at this season of the year and we watch with abhorrence what is going on in Poland. When the day comes when Poland is free again, and religion is free once more in that country, I am sure that the men we are honouring today will be among the heroes of the Polish future.