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Peace Treaties (Violations)

Volume 462: debated on Wednesday 16 March 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

The Peace Treaties with Bulgaria, Roumania and Hungary entrusted the Heads of the Diplomatic Missions, in those countries, of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, acting in concert with the task of representing the Allied and Associated Powers, in dealing with all matters concerning the execution and interpretation of the Peace Treaties for a period of 18 months from the time when the Treaties came into force. This period came to an end yesterday. A review of this period shows that there have been violations of the human rights, military and economic clauses of the Peace Treaties by all three ex-enemy Governments. But whenever His Majesty's Government or the United States representative in any of the three countries has attempted to invoke the Peace Treaty by calling a meeting of the representatives of the three Allied Powers with a view to concerting action, the Soviet representative has refused to attend.

The House will recall that Article 2 of the Peace Treaty with Bulgaria, and the corresponding articles in the Peace Treaties with Roumania and Hungary guaranteed to all persons, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, the enjoyment of human rights and of the fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression of press and publication, of religious worship, of political opinion and of public meeting.

In Bulgaria, the Agrarian Party was liquidated as an effective force by a process which culminated in the death of Nikola Petkov. All the other parties which held out and refused to be merged with the Communists subsequently met a similar fate. In Roumania, the same pattern was followed, the leader of the National Peasant Party, Mr. Maniu, being sentenced to imprisonment for life.

In Hungary, the suppression and liquidation of the political opponents of the Communist regime was less naked but just as effective. Last month Mr. Barankovics, leader of the only remaining opposition party in the Hungarian Parliament, found it advisable to flee the country. Together with the suppression of the political parties went the suppression of all independent organs of opinion. Religious liberty has also been attacked and it has become clear that the calculated diminution of the influence of the Christian Churches is an integral part of the totalitarian plan for establishing a Communist monopoly of thought. The House knows that, this has been the case in Bulgaria, Roumania and Hungary.

But it is not only the political organisations, the press and organised religion which have suffered; the day to day persecution of the man-in-the-street must also be remembered—and the arbitrary and frequently exercised power of the administrative authorities to detain, arrest, judge and dispose of people without proper charges or warrants and without the necessity of according them adequate defence or even trial.

The position is no better in relation to the military clauses of the Treaties. The Bulgarian and Roumanian armed forces are in excess of the strengths laid down in the Treaties and, while the Hungarian forces may still be below treaty strength, their expansion is reported to be contemplated. Bulgaria and Roumania are moreover attempting to evade their obligations by the organisation, training and equipment of groups which, although not included in the strength of the regular armed forces, could, if necessary, be used readily to augment those forces.

In Bulgaria, the regular armed forces, which already exceed the Treaty strength laid down, do not include the frontier guards and militia and the labour detachment known as "Trudovaks," all of which receive some form of para-military training. Bulgaria has also been unwilling to allow inspection of the Greco-Bulgarian frontier where she is forbidden by the Peace Treaty to erect permanent fortifications.

In Roumania, the gendarmerie, which, after the signature of the Peace Treaty, was transferred from the Ministry of War to the Ministry of the Interior, is now armed not only with rifles but also with machine guns, mortars, field guns and anti-tank guns. Its strength is not included in the regular armed forces.

Towards the end of 1947, His Majesty's Government and the United States Government decided, after consultation, to request the three ex-enemy Governments under the terms of the Peace Treaties, to provide detailed information regarding the state of their armed forces. In each case the satellite government concerned declined to provide the information required on the pretext that the Peace Treaty laid down that such requests should be made by the three Allied Heads of Mission acting in concert. In such circumstances His Majesty's Government are entitled to conclude that the ex-enemy Governments, in collusion with the Government of the U.S.S.R., are not implementing the military clauses of the Peace Treaties.

The three Treaties also had certain economic clauses which provide, among other things, that the ex-enemy Governments shall grant to the nationals of members of the United Nations, on a reciprocal basis, national and most favoured nation treatment in all matters pertaining to commerce, industry, shipping and other forms of business activity within their territory. Nevertheless, the ex-enemy States, in collusion with the U.S.S.R., have persistently enacted laws or imposed measures which, even though nominally non-discriminatory in form, have, in intention and effect, been aimed at Western proprietary and commercial interests in general and against British interests in particular.

There is little doubt that, in practice at any rate, Soviet and Soviet bloc interests have been exempted from the operation of all these economic measures or have not had them applied in the same way or with the same results.

My right hon. Friend felt it desirable that details should be offered upon this important subject. The plain fact is that, although the Governments of Bulgaria, Hungary and Roumania have committed flagrant violations of the terms of the Peace Treaties, they have so far succeeded, with Soviet connivance and even support, in obstructing the attempts of His Majesty's Government and the United States Government to set in motion the Treaty machinery, by which concerted action by the Allied Governments should have ensured the proper fulfilment of these obligations. In these circumstances His Majesty's Government have not, for some time past, felt that any useful purpose would be served by renewing those efforts. They nevertheless intend to continue to draw public attention to violations of the Treaty as these occur.

But the Treaties do not expire with the passage of the 18 months period, which concluded yesterday; and my right hon. Friend desires formally to assure the House that His Majesty's Government fully maintain their rights to invoke the Treaty machinery in the future, whether in relation to the human rights articles or to any other portions of the Treaties.

In view of the most serious statement which my right hon. Friend has made, the gravity of which, I am sure, will not be lost on the country, I should like to ask him two questions. First of all, in view of the flagrant violations of the Peace Treaties to which he has referred and which, as he has said, have taken place with the collusion and assistance of Russia, and in view of the complete breakdown of the machinery for dealing with those violations contemplated in the Treaties, will my right hon. Friend bring the matter to the attention of the United Nations at the earliest possible opportunity? Secondly, will he confirm that the whole structure of the Peace Treaty settlements, as of the United Nations itself, is based on the belief, which was universally expressed three years ago at the end of the war, that terror, persecution and a denial of human rights in any country or group of countries are a threat to freedom everywhere and a menace to world peace?

In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, I should prefer to say that, without prejudice to any United Nations activity which might be appropriate, His Majesty's Government would prefer first to exhaust the machinery of the Treaty which now becomes operative after 18 months. As to the second part of the supplementary question, plainly His Majesty's Government consider that these injustices create suspicion, impair diplomatic relations, and, of course, at all times impair international stability and understanding.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my right hon. and hon. Friends agree generally with the tone of his observations this afternoon? We have not had an opportunity of studying his statement in detail and therefore we must reserve further observations to a later period. However, in view of his remarks about the discrimination which has existed in the economic sphere, do I understand that his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade proposes to engage in future discussions with a view to improving trade between us and these countries? In the second place, in view of the fact that the Treaties have not in fact been carried out and that the military clauses have not in fact been implemented, what reliance does His Majesty's Government place on using the Treaty machinery in future to achieve any desirable ends in relation to our conduct of foreign policy with these nations?

As to the first part of the supplementary question, I should prefer that to be put down on the Order Paper to my right hon. Friend. As to the second part, there is now an operative part of the Treaty which would not depend upon the three parties acting in concert. We should attempt to utilise that part of the Treaty in order to satisfy ourselves upon the military clauses. Of course, if no co-operation is offered in examining the implications of these military clauses, the worst fears of His Majesty's Government will be realised, and their attitude will be varied accordingly.

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's very important statement and the equally important question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the B.B C will make a point of seeing that both state- ments are broadcast to the appropriate countries? Furthermore, in view of the religious side of the statement and the fact that in Roumania the Jews and the Uniate Church, in Bulgaria the Protestants, and in Hungary both Protestants and Catholics have been involved, will it be possible for more detailed information on these subjects to be given at another time in this House?

The statement will, of course, be made in the normal way by the B.B.C. I would not seek to direct them, nor have I any powers so to do, but I am certain that they will deal fitly with the material. As to the second part of the supplementary question, I think that we could quite easily arrange for the details of these religious persecutions, relating at any rate to the main individuals of all sects, to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the right hon. Gentleman inform the House of the provisions of the Treaty which now become operative and what kind of action would be open to His Majesty's Government under them?

Simplifying it, the new machinery provides that where there is a question of interpretation or execution, any one of the signatories together with the country affected—Roumania, Bulgaria or Hungary—can ask for a commission of two people with an independent chairman to be set up, and if one of the countries fails to agree to the independent chairman within a reasonable period, either country can ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations to make such an appointment.

In view of the references made to justice and human rights, does the Minister now ask this House—on the basis of a statement he has made containing the most serious accusations against several countries—to accept his or his right hon. Friend's statements, and bring in a verdict of guilty without a trial of any kind? We have heard from the questions asked that the statement is being accepted without any question, that it must be right because it comes from the Foreign Office. I ask, is this the conception of justice that the Minister has put before us—that is, they make a statement, it is true, and nothing else can be said against it? Shall we have an opportunity of discussing this statement?

The House is not asked to accept my statement. Unfortunately, my statement only summarises the facts which are already in the possession of the House. If the hon. Gentleman has any doubt about the facts, then I hope he will use such influence as he disposes of, in relation to these Governments, to ensure that the Treaty is operated so that the facts can be established.

As these three countries are not observing the military clauses of their Peace Treaties—

will the right hon. Gentleman consult with the United States authorities with a view to a joint declaration that we do not regard Italy as bound by the military clauses of her Peace Treaty?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that none of the matters mentioned in his statement will have surprised anybody who has taken the trouble to read the sacred writings of Communism, such as Mr. Stalin's work on the "Problems of Leninism"?

The right hon. Gentleman has carefully excluded Yugoslavia from his statement; has he any reason to believe that the situation in that country is any more hopeful?

I think the situation there is different, but at any rate it does not arise here. I was asked to draw the attention of the House to the lapse of a period in these three Treaties dealing with these three ex-enemy countries.

While not disagreeing with the Minister's analysis of the situation in Eastern Europe, to which we on this side of the House have drawn frequent attention during the last three years, is he aware that the whole gloomy catalogue he read out to us is a measure of the decline of British prestige and of the weakening influence of British foreign policy since the Socialist Party came into power?

I cannot see that the refusal of these three countries to operate clauses to which they have given their signatures is at all related to the prestige of His Majesty's Government or to their foreign policy.

Following are the details:

In Bulgaria, 15 Protestant pastors have recently been condemned to long terms of imprisonment, four of them to life imprisonment, on charges of espionage which only thinly veil the policy of rooting out all elements sympathetic to Western ideas.

In Roumania, the Uniate Church has recently been suppressed and its adherents penalised. The Jewish Democratic Committee has been used for the liquidation of Jewish religious organisations and schools, and the Chief Rabbi has fled abroad.

In Hungary, the arrest and imprisonment last September of Bishop Ordass, the local Head of the Lutheran Church, has been followed by the trial and imprisonment for life of Cardinal Mindszenty, Prince Primate of the Catholic Church of Hungary, whose resistance to the advance of Communism in that country compelled the Communist authorities to seek his elimination by the methods which they have made their own.