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Volume 462: debated on Monday 7 March 1949

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Local Defence Units

14 and 15.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) what military training it is proposed shall be undertaken by Control Commission civilian personnel recruited into the armed local defence units about to be set up in the British zone of Germany;

(2) why there is being set up in Germany a force of armed local defence units composed of Control Commission civilian personnel; whether he is aware of the widespread feeling that the force is in fact intended to be a strike-breaking organisation in the event of political or industrial unrest in the British zone; and whether he will give orders for the scheme to be abandoned forthwith.

Proposals are under consideration to organise British civilian members of the Control Commission for the temporary protection of British lives and premises in the event of civil disturbance until the Armed Forces of Occupation can take over. My right hon. Friend is not prepared to order the abandonment of this commonsense security precaution. The duties involved would be of a static nature, small arms only would be carried and training would be confined to the use of such weapons. There is no question of the volunteers being used for strike breaking and my right hon. Friend wishes to take this opportunity of dispelling ill-founded beliefs and maliciously circulated rumours which may exist to this effect.

As what was suggested to be a rumour has been stated most openly as being the fear of the Staff Side of the Whitley Council for the C.C.G., would my right hon. Friend like to reconsider his description of it; and as this whole policy contemplates the breakdown of sensible relationships between the German people and the Western zone and the occupying Forces, would it not be better to give up this business of trying to divide Germany, which is bound to lead to breakdown?

This does not contemplate the breakdown of these relationships, and if it is left to the British Occupation Forces and the German people, such a breakdown will not occur. This is an ordinary security precaution which ought to be taken against a contingency which none of us believe will arise.

Is it not the case that these voluntary units have been in operation for at least two years and that there has never been any question of their being used for strike breaking?

British Relations Board


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if the British Relations Board in the British zone of Germany will receive the full support of His Majesty's Government in the development of cultural relations between Great Britain and Germany; and if reports on its activities will he presented to the House.

The answer to the first part of the Question is, "Yes, Sir." The activities of the British Relations Board will be covered in the Monthly Report on the work of the Control Commission for Germany which is placed in the Library of the House of Commons

Will the right hon. Gentleman make use of the British Council in the development of these relations in Germany? Is the Commanderin-Chief in the British zone in touch with the British Council in that zone?



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will publish as a White Paper the proposals submitted by His Majesty's Government to the Committee of Experts of the Security Council of the United Nations on the Berlin Dispute.

No, Sir. While the United Kingdom expert, like the other experts, explained his point of view to the Committee, he did not submit proposals to it.

Would the Minister of State elaborate his view about the publication of the report of the Committee, and would he care to correct the impression which he gave last week that the Government are against the publication of the report of this Committee, which was completed a month ago?

If I gave a wrong impression about the attitude of the Government in relation to the report itself, I would gladly correct it. We are in consultation with other Governments affected, and, subject to what may be said in the course of these consultations, our inclination is rather in favour of publication. That, of course, is a decision for the President of the Security Council, but the report of the observations of the representative of this Government is quite a different matter. In relation to the full report, however, subject to the views of the other interested Governments, we are rather inclined, if our opinion is sought, towards recommending that the President of the Security Council should publish it.

Palestine (Holy Places)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will direct inquiry to be made through the United Nations organisation on the present conditions of the Holy Places in Jerusalem and at Nazareth and Bethlehem and convey the result to the House.

His Majesty's ConsulGeneral at Jerusalem has been instructed to ask the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine for a report.

When does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate that he will get that report, and will he do all that he can to accelerate its presentation?

Most certainly, but of course the Commission has other work than this, although I agree that this is work of great importance.

Hungary And Bulgaria (Trials)


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.

Burma (New Delhi Meeting)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the conference at New Delhi to discuss the situation in Burma.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement with regard to the Commonwealth Conference recently held in New Delhi to discuss the Burmese situation; and if he will state what decisions were taken to help the Burmese Government.

As the reply is necessarily long, I propose, with permission, to circulate it in HANSARD.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, in view of the fact that we have been told by the Government of Burma that our good offices apparently are not required, no further loans will be given to Burma?

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the Commonwealth the possibility of giving loans to the Burmese Government to rehabilitate the country so that we can feed South-East Asia and limit the disturbances arising from food shortages there?

As my hon. Friend knows, this was one of the subjects discussed at Delhi, and consideration of the same subject will be continued with the Commonwealth Governments affected and interested.

Is it not a fact that, as part of the Treaty, Burma has already received large loans, and is there not a point where it may become unwise to throw good money after bad?

Will the right hon. Gentleman take cognizance of the fact that, whilst the administration of Burma is a matter for the Government of Burma, the reactions throughout the whole of the Middle East of any failure of that Government may be of incomparable consequence to other populations owing to the closure of this great reservoir of food of which these people are in great need?

That is one of the main points in the anxiety of the Government and one of the main considerations forwarded at the Delhi informal conversations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman read his answer after Questions instead of merely having it printed in HANSARD, because this is a matter of urgent importance?

I would have no objection at all. However, it is a subject upon which I should like guidance from you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

It may be that we shall finish Questions early and that there will be time for that to be done by agreement.

At the end of Questions

Would you grant permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the Minister of State to answer verbally Question 19, in view of its importance?

Is that the wish of the House? If there is any objection it cannot be done. Is there any objection?

Then it cannot be done.

Following is the reply:

During January the Burmese Government made a request to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom for financial assistance principally in order to meet the anticipated budget deficit for the year 1948–49 and to finance the purchase of the rice crop.

His Majesty's Government considered that the situation concerned other Commonwealth Governments with interests and responsibilities in South-East Asia and accordingly consulted the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Ceylon with a view to joint discussions, to which the Government of Burma raised no objection. It proved possible to hold an informal meeting at New Delhi on 28th February at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India: my hon. Friend, the Secretary for Overseas Trade, represented the United Kingdom, and representatives of Australia, India and Ceylon were present. Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, Commissioner-General in Singapore, also attended.

The meeting unanimously agreed that the surest and quickest way of restoring prosperity in Burma was to end the present communal strife through conciliation. Pandit Nehru, as the Chairman of the meeting, accordingly sent a message in these terms to Thakin Nu, Burmese Prime Minister, to which, I regret to state, the Burmese Government have returned a negative reply.

I should like to emphasise that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, like the other Commonwealth Governments concerned, are animated by a spirit of friendship towards the new Burma and a desire to assist in maintaining her unity and integrity.

Argentine Railways (British Employees)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to attempts that have been made by the Argentine Government to force British personnel employed on the Argentine railways to give up employment guaranteed to them under the terms of the agreement between His Majesty's Government and the Argentine Government; and what representations he has made to ensure that the Clauses of the sales agreement relating to the employment of British personnel are properly carried out.

I am not aware of any instance in which a British employee of the Argentine railways has been forced out of employment. On the other hand, the provisions relating to the employees, as set out in the agreement of sale concluded between the former British-owned railways and the Argentine authorities, have not been fulfilled. My right hon. Friend took this subject up with Dr. Bramuglia during his visit to London in November, and His Majesty's Ambassador in Buenos Aires has since made representations to the Argentine Government upon this subject.

Is it not part of the agreement that the employment and pensions rights of the European employees of these railways were guaranteed under the agreement, and what steps have been taken to see that the agreement is carried out?

It is true that the agreement covered pensions rights and their positions, but I am unaware that their pension rights have been threatened or jeopardised. I want to make it plain that we have no knowledge of dismissals, though it is true that men have been shifted from responsible posts in a fashion which does not seem to us to be consistent with the agreement.

Eastern Europe (British Broadcasts)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will in future arrange for his Department to limit the material supplied to the British Broadcasting Corporation for the purpose of broadcasts to the countries of Eastern Europe to information dealing only with current affairs in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Member to Clause (5) of the Licence and Agreement of 29th November, 1946, between His Majesty's Postmaster - General and the British Broadcasting Corporation. This clause provides that the British Broadcasting Corporation shall obtain and accept from Government Departments such information regarding conditions in and the policies of His Majesty's Government towards the countries to which broadcasts are addressed as will enable the Corporation to plan and prepare its programmes in the national interest.

As there are so many things that are happening in Britain of which the Government are proud but which need explaining in Europe, such as frozen wages, profits reaching an all-time high, nationalisation—

The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to go into a catalogue of that sort, but should ask a question.

May I limit the catalogue and finish the question by asking whether it is not most desirable that we should limit ourselves to an explanation of what is happening in our own country, which, no doubt, many people in Europe would like to hear?

No, Sir. Where the British Broadcasting Corporation is prevented from obtaining the facts about areas to which it broadcasts, it is not only provided for in the Charter but is also essential that the Government should give them such help as they can.

Would it not save a great many Questions and a great waste of time if the Minister could give a comprehensive answer to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) that he will never do anything of which either the British Communist Party or Moscow would disapprove?

Japanese Trade Mission (Central And South America)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Japanese trade delegation to South America has gone there on the instructions of General MacArthur or of the Far Eastern Commission; and whether the British delegate approved or was consulted.

I understand that although General MacArthur is considering sending a trade mission to Central and South America no final decision has yet been taken.

Can the right hen. Gentleman give us any information about this mission? Is it likely to take part in agreements that may be damaging to the export trade of this country, for instance?

I could not do so, because this is at the planning level so far, although, to be frank, I understand it is contemplated that the mission should survey trade relationships between Japan and the countries of Central and South America.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is the gravest anxiety in Lancashire, not about the development of Japanese trade, because they know they can meet any fair competition, but about the conditions of sale, and, in particular, allowing prices to fall below the level of world prices, which would be unfair competition which Lancashire could not be expected to stand?

The Government are aware of that, and will continue to keep that point of view in mind. Perhaps if my hon. Friend has any detailed information, he would address it to another Minister?