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Hungary And Bulgaria (Trials)

Volume 462: debated on Monday 7 March 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the fact that recent trials in Hungary and Bulgaria have been characterised by the starving of prisoners and the administering to them of drugs, especially acreton, he will instruct His Majesty's Government's representative at the United Nations to propose a resolution to condemn these practices.

If the hon. Member has concrete evidence to support the allegations he makes and will supply me with it, my right hon. Friend will consider whether action is possible.

In any case, will the Government give an undertaking that they will do all in their power to expose and to prevent the further use of these diabolical Communist methods?

Of course, I do not want to appear unsympathetic. Our disapproval of these methods has already been displayed, but we have no concrete evidence relating to this accusation. It may be true, but we have no evidence.

In view of the widespread disgust with the treatment meted out to the cardinal in question and to the Protestant pastors in Bulgaria, and in view of it having been admitted to be in conflict with the Charter of Human Rights, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to bring any pressure to bear or to apply any sanctions in connection with the Governments of the countries concerned?

The question of sanctions is quite a different matter which I am sure I shall not be expected to answer off-hand. It is rather loose, in relation to the first part of the Question, to talk about the Charter of Human Rights. There is a Declaration. It is the anxiety of His Majesty's Government that there should be a convenant upon that subject, but there is not yet such an instrument.

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I draw your attention to the wording of this Question which has evidently passed the Clerk at the Table? Normally when one wants to put a Question, if there is any point which appears to be without evidence, the Clerk asks the Member concerned to support it or to declare that he is able to support it. Very often Questions of mine, and I have no doubt Questions of other hon. Members, have been refused because they have been based only on newspaper reports. In this case, may I ask for your Ruling as to how it was that the Clerk at the Table was able to accept this Question from the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) in view of the fact that there is no evidence whatever for these statements, As the Minister of State himself has just admitted?

As the House knows, the hon. Member putting a Question takes responsibility for the statements included therein. It is generally no part of thé duties of the Table to decide whether or not those statements are true. That is the responsibility of the hon. Member.

In that case, are we to take it that in future, when hon. Members have their Questions, or proposed Questions, refused at the Table on the grounds of factual ambiguity, we may cite this instance and say that we are prepared to take responsibility?

I do not think that I can take the responsibility of giving the hon. Member general guidance to that extent.

May I take it that Questions submitted by me which have been refused on this ground as recently as last week may now be submitted once again to the Table, and that I may have hopes that they will get on to the Order Paper?

Obviously each Question must be decided on its merits. I cannot give a general Ruling on that point.

Can we take it, after your Ruling, that the Rule is now perfectly clear that a Question will not be refused by Mr. Speaker where the Member who seeks to put it down undertakes to accept responsibility for the facts contained in it?

As I have said, I cannot give a general Ruling. There are cases where it is obvious that because the facts are not clear, or for other good reasons, the Table may think it right to refuse to admit a Question.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what report he has now received of the trial in Bulgaria of the 15 Protestant pastors; and whether he is satisfied that the provisions of Article 2 of the Peace Treaty have been observed.

My right hon. Friend has received many reports of the proceedings, which have been closely followed by His Majesty's Legation in Sofia. These reports show that most of the witnesses for the prosecution were themselves persons already under arrest, and that their testimony dealt largely with the pastors' association with the former opposition parties. In democratic countries this is not, of course, a crime. His Majesty's Government are satisfied that there is not the slightest foundation for any of the allegations made concerning past or present members of the Legation staff.

As regards the second part of the Question, it is not possible to say whether or not the provisions of Article 2 of the Peace Treaty have been observed, until the trial ends.

In view of the secret instructions to the Communist Party, which have now been published in this country, is it not clear that these so-called trials are part of a deliberate campaign of persecution of this small evangelical minority in Bulgaria on religious grounds, and will the Minister take all steps, whether by protest or otherwise, that are open to him under the Peace Treaty?

Of course, the falsity of part of the confessions must lead everyone to doubt the rest of the confessions, and there are, surely, strong grounds for believing that these trials, not only in that country but in comparable countries, are part of a propaganda campaign rather than a judicial process. His Majesty's Government will continue to see that such rights as we have are observed in relation to these trials.