HC Deb 29 October 1956 vol 558 cc1068-72
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement about the grave developments in Hungary.

As the House is aware, the crisis began with a peaceful demonstration by students and others on the afternoon of 23rd October. Violence broke out when the Security Police fired on the crowd. As the situation deteriorated the Hungarian Government called in the aid of Soviet troops. Those already in Hungary were speedily reinforced by Soviet forces from neighbouring countries. Some of the Soviet units have behaved with the utmost ruthlessness, as has the Hungarian Security Police throughout. Nevertheless, the Hungarians have not given in and appear from some reports to have established control over large parts of their country.

Her Majesty's Government and, I am sure, the whole British people have followed the struggle of the Hungarian people for their freedom and rights with profound sympathy and admiration.

Her Majesty's Government deemed it their duty, in concert with their Allies, to bring the matter before the Security Council of the United Nations at the earliest possible moment. The House will have seen the report of the proceedings in the Security Council yesterday evening. While the Hungarian Government may have been entitled to agree to the presence of Soviet troops in their country under the Warsaw Treaty, it is quite a different thing to use those troops to repress the Hungarian population and to call in additional Soviet forces for that purpose. There is no justification for that in the Warsaw Treaty.

The Hungarian Prime Minister announced last night that he has secured agreement with the Soviet commander to withdraw his troops from Budapest and that he was negotiating with the Soviet Government their withdrawal from the whole of Hungary.

As a practical gesture of sympathy, Her Majesty's Government have ordered the despatch by Royal Air Force aircraft of £15,000 worth of medical supplies and £10,000 worth of food from British Army stores in Germany to Vienna for relief work in Hungary. The distribution of these relief supplies, together with others, provided by the British Red Cross, is being arranged by the British, International and other national Red Cross organisations, to whose work I wish to pay tribute.

I am informed that these supplies should begin to reach Vienna today by air.

Mr. Gaitskell

On behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I desire to join with the Government in expressing our very sincere sympathy with all those who have suffered so grievously in the fighting in Hungary during these last few days. I should also like to express our admiration for the courage of the Hungarian people in what is evidently a nation-wide struggle for independence and political freedom.

I cannot refrain from adding that we are deeply shocked by the use of Soviet tanks and troops against unarmed crowds. It is not from any lack of friendship for the Russian people to say this, but, on the contrary, because of that friendship that we express the hope that there will be a speedy withdrawal of Russian forces from Hungary altogether.

May I ask the Foreign Secretary two questions? He referred to the announcement that Russian troops were being withdrawn from Budapest. Would he explain how that is reconciled with the information given to the Security Council by our representative that additional Russian troops—two armoured units and other forces—were entering Hungary and advancing on Budapest, and whether he has any further information about the movement of Russian forces in Hungary at the moment? Secondly, can he say whether the Security Council will be meeting again later today or when its next meeting will take place?

Mr. Lloyd

On the question of Soviet troops, what I said in my statement was that the Hungarian Prime Minister announced agreement to withdraw from Budapest. Our latest information is that they have not yet withdrawn from Buda- pest. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the movement of additional troops. Our information is in accordance with what he said, that further Soviet troops are being moved into Hungary towards the capital. As to further meetings of the Security Council, I am not in a position to tell the right hon. Gentleman at present.

Mr. A. Henderson

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make it clear that under Article 34 of the Charter the Security Council is fully authorised to investigate any situation which might give rise to international friction?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir, that is our view and that is why, in the letter addressed to the President of the Security Council, Article 34 was mentioned. In reply to the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition, one of the points about the next meeting of the Security Council is, I understand, that a representative of the Hungarian Government is on his way to New York.

Mr. Donnelly

While applauding every word that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said about these historic events, may I ask whether the Foreign Secretary is aware how much more effective would have been our country's representations to the United Nations had we been able to make them with completely clean hands and if there had been no repression in Cyprus?

Hon. Members


Mr. Lloyd

I cannot accept what the hon. Member has said at all.

Mr. Healey

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this country has a direct responsibility for the maintenance of human rights in Hungary as a signatory to the Hungarian Peace Treaty? Can he, therefore, state that Her Majesty's Government will take the gravest view of any further moves by the Soviet Union—which also is a signatory of the Hungary Peace Treaty—to abolish human rights in that unhappy country?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Member is quite correct. The position under the Treaty was also referred to in the letter addressed to the President of the Security Council. I think that what we have to do is to hone to mobilise the force of world opinion in this matter, so that a reasonable attitude may be taken.

Major Beamish

Since the Hungarian Peace Treaty made specific guarantees about the holding of free elections and the enjoyment of human rights and there were similar clauses in the Peace Treaties with Roumania and Bulgaria, and since similar promises were made at Yalta about Poland, may I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will consider consulting with the Soviet Union and the United States with a view to using his utmost influence to ensure, through peaceful negotiations, that the promises then made will now be fulfilled?

Mr. Lloyd

We are dealing today with the question of Hungary. I certainly hope that the progress of events there will move towards a free expression of opinion.

Mr. Benn

While thanking the Foreign Secretary for what he has done by way of relief, may I ask whether he will consider methods by which people in this country could demonstrate their solidarity by sending gifts of blood, materials and food to Hungary, the possibility of some longer-run economic aid for Hungary and the desirability of doing all this without in any way provoking the Soviet Government to think that their security is endangered?

Mr. Lloyd

I think it is premature at this moment to talk of longer-term economic aid, but I will take into account the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Following on the questions about human rights, may I ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend has any news he can give the House about Cardinal Mindszenty and other religious leaders of all persuasions who have been suffering Communist persecution in Hungary?

Mr. Lloyd

At the moment I have no further information on that.

Mr. Paget

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm whether, as stated on the tape, the Hungarian Government have thanked Her Majesty's Government for the offer of medical supplies and asked when and where they may expect them? If that is so, would it not be desirable to fly them directly to Hungary, to aerodromes designated by the Hungarian Government? The idea that the Hungarian Government had friends outside might have a psychological effect.

Mr. Lloyd

I have no official information of what the hon. and learned Member has said. All I know is that the first aircraft has already left the Royal Air Force station in Germany. I will consider what the hon. and learned Member has said.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that better publicity is given to Sir Pierson Dixon's statement in the Security Council, which I have had the opportunity of seeing in full, and which contains a great deal of extra information which I do not think is generally available? Secondly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an undertaking that he will keep the House fully informed of any development that may take place, and, if necessary, make a further statement tomorrow?

Mr. Lloyd

I certainly promise the right hon. Gentleman that, and I will also consider how the admirable statement by Sir Pierson Dixon can be given additional publicity.