HL Deb 23 May 1950 vol 167 cc381-3

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government whether commercial negotiations with Hungary have already been suspended owing to the maltreatment of British subjects and interests; whether another such case has just occurred, and whether in view of the Hungarian refusal to pay compensation for British property that has been nationalised, His Majesty's Government will now sever commercial relations with the Hungarian Government.]


My Lords, negotiations for a trade agreement with the Hungarian Government were broken off on December 19 last because the Hungarian Government refused to allow a British Consular officer to visit Mr. Sanders, who was at that time in gaol awaiting trial. Recently, another British subject, Mr. Lamerton, was held incommunicado for three and a half weeks and then expelled from Hungary. A protest has been made by the British Minister but no satisfaction has been received. This repeated ill-treatment of British subjects in Hungary is a regrettable reflection of the conditions of life in that country.

As regards the last part of the question, His Majesty's Government have consistently maintained that no commercial agreement could be negotiated with the Hungarian Government which did not include provision for the compensation of those British subjects and companies who have suffered loss by the nationalisation of property in Hungary. So far as I am aware, the Hungarian Government have not actually refused to pay compensation. Their position is that they will be unable to compensate British subjects so long as they are unable, as at present, to earn sterling by regularly selling goods to the United Kingdom. This is not an unreasonable attitude on their part and it is certainly not such as to warrant the drastic action suggested by the noble Lord.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is a fact that in 1948 we took 40 per cent. of Hungary's exportable agricultural surplus, which represented.4 per cent. of our imports? Is not the margin between 40 per cent. and.4 per cent. the measure of our capacity to enforce respect for British interests and British subjects? I should be glad if the noble Lord would verify that figure.


My Lords, I was going to say that the noble Lord would not expect me to answer a question on details of that sort. I shall be very glad to look into it.


There is one other point I should like to put arising out of this question. The trouble began by Hungary expelling two British representatives. We then expelled one Hungarian. They now expel three British subjects and we expel one Hungarian. If we always—


My Lords, I rise on a point of order. I must point out to the noble Lord that it is against the Rules of the House to make anything purporting to be a speech on a starred question. He can only ask questions arising out of the answer.


My Lords, arising out of the reply, do I understand the noble Lord to suggest that exports from Hungary to this country are being pre, vented? Am I to understand that the existing trade relations between the two countries prevent Hungary making exports to this country?


My Lords, there is no trade agreement between the two countries at the present time.


My Lords, I was asking a question. I was asking whether it was a fact that this began by the expulsion of two British subjects and one Hungarian and then three British subjects and one Hungarian. The point of my question is this: if we continue to get the worse of the exchange, will it not operate as putting a premium on less and less respect being paid to us?


My Lords, I cannot admit that we are getting the worse of the exchange.