HC Deb 07 November 1956 vol 560 cc113-7
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Hope)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on developments in Hungary.

According to the latest available information, fighting was continuing yesterday evening in many parts of Budapest. Some sections of the town were in flames. According to a Red Cross report, civilian casualties from Russian firing have become very heavy. There is a complete curfew and anyone seen on the streets is liable to be shot by Soviet troops.

I have no information to confirm that the Kadar Government has succeeded in establishing itself in Budapest. In broadcasts from Hungary, there is now no pretence that Hungarians and Russians are fighting side by side. It is openly declared that Soviet soldiers are defeating "the reactionary forces". Other announcements have been made in the names of the local Soviet commanders. In other words, the fighting in Hungary bears the exclusive character of a Soviet campaign of repression.

So far as I know, the Soviet Government have not yet replied to the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly which called for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary, and the admission of United Nations observers, and which urged the provision of relief supplies for the Hungarian people. Such supplies are now desperately needed. The International Red Cross is organising a convoy of food and medical supplies from Vienna, which will leave as soon as Soviet permission has been given for it to enter Hungary. Her Majesty's Government appeal to the Soviet Government to grant this permission forthwith.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that Her Majesty's Government are now investigating, as a matter of urgency, detailed arrangements whereby 2,500 Hungarian refugees can be received into this country.

Mr. Robens

The House will have received this further statement with considerable dismay, in view of the terrible tragedy through which the Hungarian are now going. On behalf of right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House I should like to say that we support wholeheartedly the Government's action in supporting the International Red Cross and the relief convoy which, it is hoped, will get to Hungary shortly. We should also like to associate ourselves with the offer of Her Majesty's Government to receive Hungarian refugees and grant them asylum in this country. I would ask the hon. Gentleman, however, if he can tell us whether the approximate total number of refugees that have already crossed into Austria is known, so that we might know the sort of proportion that we are taking?

Lord John Hope

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman that figure, but I can say that, in our view, if those other countries who have the chance of doing so do roughly what we are doing with our 2,500, the problem should be solved.

Mr. McAdden

In view of what my hon. Friend has just said about the mass slaughter of innocent civilians by the Russians, will he urge upon hon. Members in this House who are proposing to join in the festivities at the Russian Embassy this evening that they would serve their country better toy staying away?

Mr. Bellenger

Would the hon. Gentleman say what further action, if any, the United Nations proposes to take? It acted speedily enough in the case of Egypt. What is it doing in the case of Hungary?

Lord John Hope

I have no more information to give the right hon. Gentleman than that which he already knows on what the United Nations has recommended.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Does my hon. Friend think, in view of the great sympathy which everyone in this House feels for these poor people, that he would be able to elicit a promise from the trade unions that they will allow them to work when they get here?

Hon. Members


Mr. A. Henderson

In view of the fact that we are told of the presence in Budapest of a considerable number of British civilians, can the Minister say anything about their position?

Lord John Hope

So far as we know, those with whom the Legation is in touch are all right. Further than that it is impossible to go. The Legation cannot at the moment get into touch with anyone except by telephone, and telephonic communications are certainly deteriorating.

Mr. Royle

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) any right to make innuendoes against the trade union movement of our country under these circumstances?

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Further to that point of order, Sir. Italian workers have been refused—

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think, if I may be allowed to say so, that in view of the grave situation which has been announced, the House would be wise to keep off these sources of friction between hon. Members. We all wish to help these poor people.

Mr. Burden

In view of the strain upon the Austrian economy that the acceptance of these refugees will cause, even though it may be for a short time, may I ask my hon. Friend whether the Government will consider dispatching to Austria, quickly, supplies that will assist them in aiding the Hungarians during the time they are there?

Lord John Hope

I will certainly take note of my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I thank you, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the House, for the words which you addressed to us a moment ago, which were a rebuke to the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris)—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] May I say, quietly, that, for our part, we regret the supplementary question which he put—and which I am sure, on reflection, he would wish to withdraw—and may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that the National Council of Labour is meeting this evening as a matter of urgency to consider what it can do in the present situation?

Mr. Wade

While associating myself with the remarks already made about the appalling and shocking events in Hungary, may I ask a further question about British subjects, particularly those who went out recently to help with cal and other relief? Is there any means, apart from communicating with the British Legation, whereby information can be obtained? Can any information be obtained through the International Red Cross?

Lord John Hope

I doubt that at the moment, but I will certainly look into that and consider whether anything can be done to help these inquiries to be made.

Air Commodore Harvey

Many people in this country would like to give some help to the Hungarian people, but they are in doubt about where they should send it. Can my hon. Friend give some guidance in this matter?

Lord John Hope

Not without notice, but I am sure that were they to send them to the headquarters of the Red Cross, their donations would reach the right destination.

Mr. Daines

Has the attention of the Minister been called to a reported statement that President Eisenhower has made a pronouncement on a threat to the independence of Austria? If that is so, when will the Government give us their views on the statement by the President and, if correct, associate themselves with it?

Lord John Hope

I have nothing to say on that particular statement, or on that matter, this afternoon.

Mr. Brooman-White

In the light of what my hon. Friend has said this afternoon, and what the Foreign Secretary said the other day, is it right to assume that the policy of Her Majesty's Government is to associate themselves with any action—any practical course of action—which could be devised to mitigate the sufferings of the Hungarian people irrespective of the risk?

Lord John Hope

Yes, Sir.

Mr. McLeavy

Is the Minister aware that not only will the trade union movement of this country welcome these refugees, but that it will give every possible assistance to them? Is he further aware that the trade union movement has already made substantial grants towards relief for the Hungarians and that trade union Members of this House resent the accusation which has been made?

Sir T. Moore

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Anglo-Hungarian Cultural Friendship Society has set up a fund for the purpose of helping so far as humanly possible their compatriots in Hungary, and that they will be ready to receive all subscriptions and ensure that they are devoted to that purpose only?

Lord John Hope

The House will be grateful for that information.

Mr. Healey

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), can the Minister tell us anything about the Note which the Soviet Government is reported to have addressed to the Austrian Government regarding help which it is alleged to be giving to the Hungarian people? Can he reaffirm in the strongest possible terms this country's obligation as a signatory of the Austrian Peace Treaty, to maintain—if necessary, by force—the neutrality of that Stale?

Lord John Hope

I would rather not go beyond my statement of this afternoon, which was confined to Hungary.


Mr. Grant-Ferris

With your kind permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a very short personal statement about the supplementary question I put to my noble Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs earlier this afternoon. I felt very strongly about the subject, but I realise, on reflection, that what I said might have caused great offence to some hon. Members opposite. I therefore wish most unreservedly to withdraw what I said and to express the hope that hon. Members will accept my apology.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker

I think that that observation does the hon. Member credit.