HC Deb 20 July 1955 vol 544 cc349-52
5. Mr. J. R. H. Hutchison

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has now been able to check the number of British nationals in Russian and satellite hands after studying information from repatriated Austrians.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Hope)

No, Sir. Information is still being received from the repatriated Austrians. It is expected that the last reports may not be available until the end of August or mid-September. As reports come in it is necessary to make further inquiries with a view to identifying any persons who may be named in them and determining their nationality. The information concerns persons imprisoned in the Soviet Union only.

Mr. Hutchison

My hon. Friend will have noticed that the Question covers also the satellite countries, and I hope that he is making inquiries about those held in the satellite countries also? Is this question one which will come up in the discussions at Geneva as part of the general policy of straightening things out?

Lord John Hope

I cannot answer that last question, but we shall certainly pursue this matter energetically from our end here.

6. Mr. Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Governments of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Roumania and Bulgaria have now indicated whether they will permit British-born wives of nationals of those countries to visit their parents or relations in the United Kingdom under any conditions whatsoever; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nutting

Her Majesty's representatives in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Roumania have for some time past taken up on humanitarian grounds cases of British-born wives who wish to leave these countries. Further approaches to the three Governments were made only recently, and the situation now seems to hold some prospects of improvement.

In Czechoslovakia eleven British-born wives are awaiting exit permits and Her Majesty's Ambassador has been assured by the Minister of Foreign Affairs this week that their applications are being dealt with in a benevolent spirit.

In Roumania there are four British-born women who have applied to leave. Her Majesty's Minister renewed his inquiries about them last week and was told by the Minister of Foreign Affairs that their cases are being sympathetically considered. I have since learnt that one of these British-born women has now been granted an exit visa.

In Hungary five of the six wives wishing to come home have only recently applied for permission, and Her Majesty's Minister has urged the Hungarian authorities to facilitate their departure. As I informed my hon. Friend on 6th July, there is no problem in Bulgaria where, so far as is known, the only British-born wife has not applied for an exit permit.

As regards Poland, I would refer my hon. Friend to my reply to his next Question.

Mr. Nicholson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that recent events have caused great anxiety in this country and that people are wondering whether there are not many more British-born wives who have not dared to register? Will my right hon. Friend recognise that there is considerable public anxiety on the matter, and will the Government take every opportunity to point out to the Governments in question that it is not in consonance with civilised international practice to prevent nationals returning to the country of their birth?

Mr. Nutting

I assure my hon. Friend that I entirely accept his view of British feeling in this matter. I have represented that view most strongly myself to representatives of these countries in London. I saw the Roumanian chargé d'affaires only this morning, and only a few days ago, just before Mrs. Sispera was let out of Czechoslovakia, I had an interview with the Czechoslovak Ambassador. We shall do everything in our power. We shall make it our personal task at the Foreign Office to bring these points to the attention of the Governments concerned, and we shall not relent in any way until we have reached a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

While maintaining human rights in these matters, will the right hon. Gentleman be very careful indeed to ensure that the individual cases justify Government action?

Mr. Nutting

So far as the Government are concerned, the freedom of movement of any British-born individual justifies British Government action.

7. Mr. Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what new representations he will make to the Government of Poland regarding the cases of Mrs. Paszukowa and 72 other British-born wives of Polish nationals who have applied to leave Poland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nutting

Her Majesty's Ambassador at Warsaw has taken up with the Polish Government the question of British born women in Poland who wish to travel to this country. The Polish Government have assured him that they intend to deal with all these cases in a humanitarian spirit, and that they are now trying to reduce delays in the issue of passports to British-born wives. A further nine passports for visits to the United Kingdom have been issued this month in addition to the fourteen mentioned in my reply to my hon. Friend on 6th July.

As regards Mrs. Paszukowa, she is herself free to leave Poland, but her husband was given the custody of the two children when the divorce decree was granted in 1952. I understand that Mrs. Paszukowa intends to try and obtain the custody of the children by having recourse to the Polish court concerned.

Mr. Gower

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his exertions in this matter?

Mr. Hamilton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is a hard-and-fast rule of the Polish Government that in all cases where these wives are allowed to come to this country the children are automatically kept in Poland? Is he aware that I have had a case with his Department for some months now and cannot make any progress at all?

Mr. Nutting

It is an extremely complicated matter, but I will try to explain it as simply and briefly as I can. Where custody of the children has been granted to the wife a passport should be forthcoming to enable the wife to bring herself and her children to this country, but where, as in the case which I quoted in the substantive reply, custody has been granted to the husband, there are difficulties, and the wife cannot in the normal course of events bring the children with her if she wishes to come to this country.

Dr. Stross

Is not it a fact that these complicated human problems can, and should, only be solved in a humane way, and is not it fair to say that if any particular case is made the subject of tendentious and sneering attacks upon the whole of a nation, that does not help the Foreign Office nor does it help our womenfolk who are living in countries outside our own land?

Mr. Nutting

I should certainly not dispute what the hon. Gentleman has said, but equally I hope that he will agree that it is for Her Majesty's Government, whatever may be the legal position involved, to do what they can, unofficially and on humanitarian grounds, to protect British-born wives wherever they may be.

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