HC Deb 17 March 1955 vol 538 cc1449-51
46. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister why Her Majesty's Government have declined to agree to the publication of the official record of the Yalta Conference.

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government did not decline to agree to the publication which the United States Government wished to make. It is, of course, the American version and in no sense an agreed official record of the Powers concerned. I have not myself expressed any opinion on the subject. I have not seen anything but the extracts which now appear in the Press. Even these disclose some serious mistakes.

On general grounds Her Majesty's Government informed the United States that in their view it was undesirable that detailed records of important international discussions should be published so soon after the event. If this became the established practice, it might hamper a free exchange of views at future conferences. In any case it would seem a good thing to consult together upon the text of any publication during the lifetime of the individuals concerned.

When the United States Government asked if we would nevertheless agree to publication, Her Majesty's Government gave their consent. This does not, however, imply that we accept responsibility for the accuracy of the American version. When we receive the full text of the United States publication we will consider whether any corrections are necessary. But as the document is reported to extend to 500 pages, I cannot promise the House any speedy decision.

Mr. Brockway

As we have only been able to see summaries of the documents in the Press this morning, and in view of their very grave importance, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the publication of some version of these conversations which represents the point of view which he expressed at the Conference? Will he also say whether, after that, there might be some opportunity of discussion in this House?

The Prime Minister

I think that was really contained in my answer. We will consider, when we see the document, whether any answer is necessary, and then there will be another stage in the proceedings, to consider whether, in view of that, any debate on the subject is necessary.

Mr. Henderson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in view of the fact that the United States Government thought fit to publish the documents yesterday, the time factor will so operate as to prejudice the views of Her Majesty's Government?

Major Legge-Bourke

In welcoming the statement which my right hon. Friend has made, and especially his indication that Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to consider possible corrections, will he give an assurance that he will pay particular attention to remarks attributed to him about the Polish people, and especially that section now living in this country?

The Prime Minister

I am very glad that that has been mentioned. As a matter of fact, I do not at all accept the suggestion which is made. I think that my record throughout the war and this period will show with what deep sympathy I viewed the fate of the people of Poland and the conditions in which they were treated after the Yalta Conference was over.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the Prime Minister recall that immediately after the holding of the Yalta Conference a debate was in fact held in this House on a report, made I think by himself, of what took place at the Conference? Does he not recall that there was indeed a vote of the House of Commons about it in which 20 or 25 members from both sides of the House actually went into the Opposition Lobby? I was not one of them. In view of the fact that, whether desirable or not, a version has now been published by the United States of America, would it not now be desirable to publish the British Government's account of what took place without waiting to see, or making it a matter of controversy between the two countries, which is the correct version?

The Prime Minister

I certainly think that that ought to be considered, but I should first like to see the United States document.

Mr. Alport

Does the Prime Minister consider that it would be advisable, in the event of future conferences of this type, that agreement should be reached at the time about the date at which some future publication of documents of this sort should be undertaken?

The Prime Minister

I hope that we are not to go through another three or four years of war before we reach a similar set of circumstances.

Mr. Daines

Can the Prime Minister convey to the United States Government the view that publication of documents of this sort should be dependent upon international necessity rather than upon the desire of one party in the United States to take advantage of another party?

The Prime Minister

The Yalta Conference has long raised very acute party issues in the United States, whereas in this country it has not done so.

Mr. Assheton

Does not the Prime Minister agree that all unauthorised reports of private and confidential meetings are apt to be very embarrassing?