HC Deb 09 November 1953 vol 520 cc599-603
Mr. Attlee

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make any statement regarding the disturbances in Trieste.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)

Yes, Sir. According to the reports which I have received, the disturbances began on 4th November, when stones were thrown at the police who had to use their truncheons. Seventeen arrests were made. One policeman was injured and another compelled to fire a warning shot in the air when surrounded by a hostile crowd.

On 5th November the students came out on strike and their activities were organised by older men, members of the neo-Fascist Party. During the afternoon large crowds collected. At one point the police, who were pelted with stones and other missiles, were obliged to fire in order to extricate themselves from a very threatening situation. The Zone Commander, General Sir John Winterton, was finally compelled to call out one company of British and one of United States troops. This had a salutary effect.

On the following day, however, 6th November, a general strike was called and further serious rioting occurred, in the course of which firearms and grenades were used by the rioters against the police. Four companies of troops were called out and order was restored without their having to use their weapons. In the three days of rioting six persons were killed and 162 injured, including 79 policemen. I should add that the police seem to have shown admirable discipline and restraint in face of extreme provocation.

My reports leave no doubt that these disorders were deliberately provoked and at least partly organised from outside Zone A. Irresponsible elements had evidently planned to exploit certain national Italian anniversaries in order to provoke incidents in Trieste. The demonstrations seemed to be aimed at causing a breakdown of law and order and the disruption of the local security forces.

On 3rd and 4th November the Anglo-American Allied Military Government turned back about 3,000 persons who attempted to enter Zone A from Italy in organised parties. In spite of this, large numbers succeeded in entering or infiltrating into the Zone and took part in the riots.

Her Majesty's Government take a grave view of these events. They sincerely deplore the loss of life, the injuries suffered and the destruction of property in Trieste. But the sole responsibility for these tragic results must rest with those extremist elements who deliberately provoked and organised these disorders. The Zone Commander, who is, of course, responsible jointly to the United Kingdom and United States Governments through their Chiefs of Staff, has the full support of Her Majesty's Government in taking all necessary steps for the restoration and maintenance of order.

The United States Government has also announced that it has full confidence in the Zone Commander and the other officials of the Allied Military Government and in their ability faithfully to carry out their responsibilities. There has been the closest contact and agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government throughout this very difficult period.

I have made the views of Her Majesty's Government quite clear to the Italian Government and urged that they should do all in their power to curb those elements who have been responsible for provoking the disturbances in Trieste and the subsequent anti-allied demonstrations in Italy.

Our first duty is to ensure that order is firmly restored in Trieste. This is being done. As the House is aware, Her Majesty's Government have been working, together with the United States and French Governments, on specific suggestions regarding the basis on which a five-Power Conference might be called.

We are also considering certain proposals put forward in this connection by the Yugoslav Government. We still consider that a conference offers the best chance of finding a solution of the vexed problem of Trieste. We shall persevere in our attempts to secure an acceptable and lasting settlement, and we shall not be deflected from this purpose by violence from any quarter.

Mr. Attlee

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that full statement. May I take it that the Italian Government have been left in no doubt that violent action of this kind is not calculated to make public opinion in this country sympathetic to the Italian case?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. I think that public opinion in this country also feels strong resentment at being made the whipping boy, when trying to discharge an international responsibility at its own expense and without the slightest personal advantage to us at all.

Mr. Bowles

The question I was going to put is almost covered by the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's answer, but is it not true that the main animosities are directed towards the British and not towards the United States? It seems so from the pictures and the reports in the Press.

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, I think that is very largely true, and I have drawn the attention of the Italian Government to it. It is a fact that the military commander and the commnader of the police are both British, but it is equally true that the American Government has very firmly underlined over the week-end that the responsibility is a joint one.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Can my right hon. Friend say whether any damage was caused either to British persons or British property in the riots in Trieste or the subsequent demonstration in Rome?

Mr. Eden

I am not sure whether there was any in Rome to British persons, but there was some to property. Perhaps my hon. Friend will give me notice of the other point about Trieste, where, as far as I know, no persons were injured.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Has the Foreign Secretary made it plain to the Italian Government that we attach great importance to the sanctity of the Treaty by which Italy is bound and under which she has no right to use or threaten, or allow the use or threat, of force to settle international disputes? Will he make it plain to the Italians that unless a conference can quickly be agreed to we shall have no option but to take this to the supreme tribunal of the Assembly of the United Nations?

Mr. Eden

I should like, if I might, to consider that supplementary, which, in the present state of affairs, would have certain very important consequences. I should like perhaps to add—I think I ought to try to hold the balance evenly—that it has to be remembered by this House that there are many people in Italy who are not supporters of the present Italian Government and who are most anxious to wreck any possibility of a conference at all.

Mr. Wyatt

Does not this incident show the danger of trying to implement the Anglo-American decision to evacuate Zone A at the tremendous pace which even the Foreign Secretary was describing as necessary in the recent debate on the subject? He mentioned evacuation within a matter of months, but do not these riots show that it would be extremely dangerous to try to implement this decision within a matter of months, and that it must be spread over a year or more?

Mr. Eden

I think it can also be accepted that it shows how immensely important it is to try to get a final settlement of this business, because there have been other Trieste riots recently. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Certainly; there were, annual riots on the anniversary of the 1948 Declaration.

Mr. Paget

Does this not also demonstrate, by the Italians' own action, that they are very unfit to be given the government of minorities?

Mr. Foot

Can the Foreign Secretary say whether the form of conference for which he is working is a conference in which none of the parties is committed by previous conditions and previous acceptance of the Anglo-American declaration?

Mr. Eden

I certainly could not give details of what we are trying to achieve, but the hon. Gentleman can take it that, if this conference is brought about, it will be because there is understanding between the parties on the basis on which it will meet.

Mr. Callaghan

Would not the Foreign Secretary accept our congratulations on so contriving a situation that he has managed to get both the Italians and the Yugoslavs equally angry with us?